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I’ve been screaming for most of my life. Ever since innocence was taken from me at a tender age. I’ve been screaming, but you haven’t heard me. This scream has been trapped behind a polite smile. This scream has been buried in the haze of blurry memories and life moving forward. It’s been lying in wait while I went about living what turned into a pretty happy life. But it’s always been there. I didn’t ask for this primal urge, it was gifted to me by a sick soul. Silently screaming for decades.

No more. I’ve written about my experience. I’ve purged and I’ve felt some release. I’ve spent years doing the work of healing and I’ve dealt with my demons. I’m good.

But sometimes? Sometimes I still want to scream out loud.

When I see rapists getting a paternal pat on the head from sympathetic judges, I want to scream.

When I see girls getting shamed for being victims, I want to scream.

When I see child molesters go free and live to abuse another day, I want to scream.

When I see a culture that still shames mothers for breast feeding because our breasts are for sexual gratification only, and not for feeding our babies, and how dare you use your body for anything other than a man’s satisfaction, I want to scream.

When I see young girls sent home from school because they are wearing leggings, or their skirts don’t meet the fingertip rule, or they are standing awkwardly while a teacher puts a ruler up to their thighs, or they squirm in the shirt that is tighter and more revealing than it was last week, or they get sent to the office to put on a sweater from the Lost and Found because their fucking shoulders are showing, I want to scream.

When I read comments on my own blog telling my own experiences in life aren’t real. When they say that I’m ridiculous for even speaking up about the everyday sexism that is an insidious undercurrent in our culture that leads to permissibility of rape by the community and the judiciary and the media, I want to scream.

When I see fierce friends open up their old wounds and write about their own rape and they have men respond with comments of “you look like the type of woman who deserves to be raped,” I want to scream.

When I have my 12 year old daughter come home from school telling me about the boy who sits next to her and jokes about raping classmates, and the boy in P.E. class who talks about the girls’ breasts while staring at them intently, and the boys in the hallways who make lewd comments. And she worries about what she wears and whether the boys will say something, or whether the administration will say something so she wears nothing but loose t shirts and long shorts, I want to scream.

When I realize that my son went through three years of Middle School with no complaints. Without ever feeling uncomfortable about his safety or his body, I want to scream for my daughter.

When I see women get torn apart in court for what they wore, or how much they drank, or how many times they had sex in the past, or how many people they had sex with… as if drinking or enjoying sex is an open invitation for rape. When I see rapists shrouded in entitlement and anger. Emboldened up by a lifetime of seeing women blamed for rape. And girls blamed for distracting in school, and women blamed for tempting with how they are dressed and blamed for not fighting back and blamed for politely resisting his advances and… and… blamed for just being there, I want to scream.

When I see people quibble over the statistics on rape… is it 1 in 4? You know, that study was flawed… When I have lost count of the women I personally know who’ve been raped and assaulted, and I can only count one that has reported it, and does it even matter because it sounds to me like arguing over the statistics is a convenient diversion from the harsh reality that rape happens way too fucking much, I want to scream.

When I hear women say they don’t need feminism while their sisters in the world are being raped and sexually assaulted, I want to scream.

When I see athletes and musicians get a pass on rape because, you know, they can run the ball real good or they have gold records and we get angry over trivial things instead of men raping women and girls, I want to scream.

When I hear “stop being a victim” because I wrote about sexism, and they equate speaking about it to being curled up in a corner in some strange warped fallacy that means they really just don’t want to think about hard things, I want to scream.

When I see, all around me, women getting judged by their looks. Held to a different standard. Walking the fine line between looking attractive because it’s what society expects of us, but not too attractive because then you’re begging to be raped… or women who don’t care and don’t dress or put on makeup according to society’s “standards” get blasted for not being attractive enough, I want to scream.

When I see a purity culture than shames women and heaps guilt and feelings of being “used” and “worthless” on victims of rape because there is a premium on virgin brides, and promotes phrases like “modest is hottest” without even seeing the sick irony in such a phrase, and treats female sexuality like a commodity instead of something that belongs solely to her, I want to scream.

When I see grown ass men -fathers and husbands- leering at young girls who are only a few years older than their own daughters, who are feeding the very monster they so desperately want to protect their own daughters from, not caring that the young girl is squirming under their gaze or that her own father is desperately hoping that other men will treat his daughter with respect and not as a sexual object to be drooled over, I want to scream.

When I hear -over and over again- that sexism “happens to men too.” I want to scream about the power structure in our patriarchal society and the oppressive blanket of sexism that women live under from the time they enter puberty until they are too old to be considered desirable anymore. And I want to scream about the fact that your one or two incidences of being objectified does not equal my lifetime of it so it’s about time for you to sit down and listen or write your own damn article.

When I hear “boys will be boys” as an excuse for doing something inappropriate, a phrase that tells girls that boys’ impulses matter more than their own safety and autonomy, and tells boys they lack self control, and sets our kids up for a lifetime of “acceptable” sexism and, we learn to just laugh it off or looking the other way or just going about our business because this is normal to us… normal because we heard “boys will be boys” used as a dismissal of bad behavior when we were little. I want to scream.

When I see harsher jail sentences for marijuana possession than for rape, I want to scream.

When I see the privilege of class and race come into play even when it comes to deciding how to arrest, charge, prosecute and sentence a man for rape, I want to scream.

When I realize that my daughters will have to be on guard when the stranger on the street speaks to them, when their boss flirts with them, when they walk alone at night, when they go out on a first date with a guy. That they will have to listen to the tormented pain of a friend who has been assaulted, that they will have to know the harsh reality of what rape culture has done to our society and what it’s doing to them, that they may feel the horror of being violated themselves. I WANT TO SCREAM.

When I hear people scoff at the words Rape Culture, ignoring the very things that are embedded into our society, woven into our criminal justice system, whispered into the ears of our young girls, laughed off as jokes, shouted at young women walking down the street, rubbed up against us in crowds, shoved down the throats of women who dare to speak up, paraded in front of you at The Grammys or during Sunday Night Football, and seared into the subconscious of every woman who never asked to be raped…

I want to scream.

Consider this my not so silent scream.

 

 

 

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American flag

My first political debate took place in the back of the school bus in First Grade. My friend and I had started arguing about the upcoming election. We were going at it pretty hard over Reagan v Carter. We were spitting out words and throwing around phrases we had heard but didn’t really understand. But we both sat firmly in our separate corners, glaring at each other and sizing each other up.

It got a little intense. Other kids joined in and took his side. I was alone. It became clear that I was the only person on team Carter. They were yelling at me about the Iran Hostage Crisis and the gas shortage. I felt myself shrinking into my seat. Mercifully the bus brakes squeaked and I was able to make my clumsy exit. I walked home with tears stinging my eyes.

The next day I got on the bus and sat next to my friend and we were back to making plans to catch crawdads in the creek that weekend. The harsh words and heat of yesterday’s debate was forgotten as we compared scuffs and scrapes from our most recent bike accidents (that were accidentally on purpose to get the scars that we wore like a badge of honor.)

I still care about politics. But these days I avoid the debates. College was the last time I felt free to engage in the healthy exchange of ideals and positions with anyone outside of my innermost circle.

I’m a liberal who’s lived in the South my whole life. In the Bible Belt.

I’ve had a lifetime of listening to listen to viewpoints I disagree with. And that’s completely fine. In fact, I think it’s been healthy for me. It’s made me realize that sometimes it’s better to just listen. Sometimes I can learn from someone who holds a radically different view from me. It’s shown me that political disagreements are just that. I can have many other more important things in common with someone and care about them even if we disagree politically.

But sometimes I’ve also had to hear things that grated my senses, things that were known falsehoods and sometimes things that  were tinged with racism or homophobia but passed off as political opinion. I usually held my tongue except for the few occasions where I trusted a healthy debate could be had. I sometimes seethed that others could just spout off when I had to stay quiet for the sake of not ruffling feathers, being of minority opinion and all.

I’ve marveled at how freely people would speak their mind, not concerned that they might be speaking to someone who disagreed- not inviting debate or discussion- just spouting off because it feels good to unleash a little political fervor every now and then. I’ve found myself a little jealous of the people I would encounter at school/work/in my neighborhood/on the playground/at the store who felt entitled to go off on a political rant without any concern.

Such is the privilege of living some place where your politics are the widely held ideology. The privilege of majority opinion.

I’ve become an expert at changing the subject. Or smiling politely. Or redirecting a red faced diatribe. Or just calmly walking away because I don’t need to listen to anyone’s one-sided viewpoint when they only wanted an audience, not a discussion.

So when I started this blog three years ago, I vowed to never write about politics. I knew it would only bring drama and that is not what I wanted.

I write about the things that matterto me. My first post was a response to a blogger who slut shamed her son’s social media girl friends. My second post was about a 7 year old girl who got kicked out of her school because she had dreadlocks. And I wrote about grief and life and a random assortment of things. Not political, but sometimes still controversial. And sometimes I get a fierce backlash. Hateful comments. Private messages saying vile things. I have learned to ignore them. I’ve had to delete violent comments attacking me or other readers on my blog. My skin has developed a tough shell.

Writing about the things I care about has caused plenty of drama, even when politics aren’t involved.

I’ve always said that writing about social justice or inequality isn’t political. At least it shouldn’t be. These issues definitely seep into politics sometimes, especially when racism or homophobia or sexism motivates legislation.

But this year, this election, is different. I’m no stranger to my “team” not winning.

This isn’t about liberal vs conservative.

This isn’t Reagan vs Carter.

This isn’t politics as usual.

This is about racism and homophobia and fascism. We are faced for the first time in our political history with someone who threatens everything our country stands for. There is an enormous swell of people, conservative and liberal, politicians and pundits, academics, historians, economists, psychiatrists… who are all ringing the alarm bells.

People who have never come together politically are saying This man is dangerous.

Telling us that this is repeating, eerily repeating, the things said and done in Germany while Hitler was climbing to power. This is not exaggeration. This is not people just offering political opinions. These are people from all walks and all persuasions trying to warn the rest of us that history, the absolute worst of our world’s history, is repeating itself right here, right now, in the United States.

So, yes. I will write about politics this time. Because this time it IS about racism and homophobia and civil liberties and the very life we all know. And because I am still intent on keeping this blog politics free,  I will be publishing political posts on other sites.

This week, I am at the Good Men Project, where I will be appearing weekly as a columnist.  This one is a dating advice piece, having a little bit of fun with a serious issue. More specifically, why you should not date Donald Trump.

I hope you go over there and read it. I hope you like it. If you don’t, that is fine. I am comfortable with people disagreeing with me. I’m kind of used to it. And I don’t mind if you want to have a debate either. As long as tomorrow, when I get on the bus, you and I are still cool.

https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/4-ways-to-know-if-hes-the-one-presidential-edition-kelly-jrmk/

 

raised fist patterned with the rainbow flag, symbolizing the fight for gay rights

“Darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable,

And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear”

Closer To Fine, The Indigo Girls

I believe that love always wins, that love will always defeat hate. This week that belief has been shaken.

Last Sunday, hate opened fire on innocent souls in their sanctuary. A gay night club was attacked. Hate drove murder into a place where love reigns.

Our nation is mourning. We are asking how this could happen. Why this would happen. We are trying to believe that love trumps hate. We are clinging to the feel good stories of heroes and community support. We are left wondering what we can do. Wanting to extend our love, to lift up the victims and the community, but feeling helpless.

Because our love is not enough. Yes, love can win. I still believe this. But love alone is not enough, not now. Not after hate came storming in on a Sunday morning.

So, it is with love that I say the following:

We need to fight.

We need to fight the hate that is becoming all too familiar in our country. Love won’t win if the loving people curl up on their couches and stay quiet. Not if we wrap our arms around each other but don’t raise our fist in the air in protest.

Now is the time to get loud. To get our hands dirty. To do some serious soul searching. To dig in and refuse to allow hate one more inch.

It means things are going to get uncomfortable. It means challenging beliefs and social norms. Norms that have been accepted in our country for too long.

The norms that say that being gay is a sin.

The norms that say that being gay is “unnatural.”

The norms that say that LGBT people are “freaks.”

“Mentally ill.” “Sick.” “Deranged.” “Deviants.”

Norms that say gay people shouldn’t get married.

Norms that give cover to parents who disown their children because they are gay.

Norms that say it’s ok for a clerk to refuse to grant a marriage license in the name of religious freedom. As if steadfast beliefs could actually be shaken by doing one’s job. Norms that allow good people to stand behind the clerk and support her bigotry.

Norms that have politicians saying that gay people adopting would be a social experiment.

Norms that have large religious organizations condemning a population of people.

Norms that have evangelists saying that hurricanes and natural disasters and even murder is the price to pay for homosexuality. Norms that allow these things to be spoken without widespread condemnation. Without their followers leaving their flock en masse.

Norms that repeat “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” A phrase used as a band aid for bigotry. Because bigotry is what it is when people themselves are classified as sins.

Think about that. A person is a sin. 

That is hate. That is demonizing a whole population.

Apparently these things are ok to say.  To say it as a “belief” makes it ok. Hate cloaked in ideology. Hate under the veil of spirituality.

But make no mistake, it’s hate.

I have heard these words sitting in a church pew. I have heard them shouted on the playground. I have heard them in casual conversation with adults. My kids have come home relaying stories of kids repeating these hateful words. I have read them in the comments section on my own blog post.

Words matter. Words spoken in houses of worship of many faiths matter. These words may not be said from a place of hate, but once spoken they become permission to condemn. To judge. To look down upon.

To hate.

And for some people? To kill.

Hate is swelling as we speak. Hate is running amok out of fear, fear of progress and fear of change. We see more hate when rights are being given to people who have been oppressed. As we progress and we give more rights to LGBT, as most of us welcome and love our brothers and sisters regardless of who they are, without any concern for who they love, as we move forward and make progress on being a better, more inclusive society… we see more hate.

Hate doesn’t like progress.Hate will always try to stop it. Hate will try to keep things stagnant. To regress. To make America great again. Progress is the antidote to hate, so hate will call in the reinforcements and do everything it can to stop forward motion.

Hate needs fuel. It needs people to buy into it. It needs people to repeat tired and senseless words of oppression and judgement. Words repeated so often over the years. Repetition. Routine. Tradition. Hate that survives in our modern day out of tradition. Is that a reason to allow hate to continue? Is tradition so important that we won’t stand up to words that speak hate? Hate infiltrates the routine. It repeats softly, sings it’s hateful words with a sweet melody. Repeat after me… 

I’m sick of hate. I’m tired of seeing it when I read the news, tired of hearing it from people who aim to be our leaders. Tired of hearing it from people who think they have the right to pass judgement. I’m tired of hearing kids spout off the hate they are hearing in their homes. The DNA of hate being embedded in their young bones. I’m tired of reading it when I write about LGBT rights.

I’m just tired.

But I refuse to give in to hate. I refuse to concede. I will call it out every time I see it or hear it. I will defy the sick social norms we’ve all become accustomed to.

Whether the hate comes from a twisting of an ancient faith, whether it comes from self loathing, whether it comes from fear of change, whether it comes from ignorance, I will not let hate go unchallenged.

Hate under the guise of beliefs has a long history. It was hate when interracial marriages were considered against “natural law.” It was hate that allowed Nazi Germany to commit genocide. It is hate that radical Islamic extremists employ to stone gay people to death. It is hate when Vladimir Putin jails people for being gay. It is hate when the influential American Family Association advocates criminalizing LGBT, advocates abducting the children of gay couples, among other despicable things. And it is hate when fundamentalist Christianity decries homosexuality as a sin.

It’s time to challenge some antiquated, misguided, despicable norms.

It means challenging people you may respect. It means calling them out. Saying “No more.” It means not tolerating hate speech.

Love sometimes means fighting. Hate doesn’t play fair. We can’t hug our way to a better place. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t make groundbreaking progress by disassociating and only looking at the positive. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought hate and injustice. He challenged notions that were being defended as faith. He advocated for love and peace while fighting oppression. He did it eloquently and fervently and loudly.

You can fight in the name of love. Change doesn’t happen with a whisper.

There’s much work to do, my friends. It’s time to challenge norms, change mindsets, change the words that are acceptable to say. It’s time to change what we accept. We have people who have been attacked. They have been attacked with hateful policies, with ignorant laws, with slurs and bullying.  And now they have been attacked in cold blood.

It’s time to shine a hot, glaring light on darkness and hate. It’s time to stop it’s angry feeding, to cut off it’s food supply.

Carry love in your heart while you shut down the hate you see and hear. Let love be the reason you decide No more. No more hate under the guise of faith. No more co-opting something we hold sacred to further an agenda. No more tolerating bigotry, no matter where it comes from. No one is above reproach in this battle.

No more staying quiet.

Let’s get loud.

 

target

I hear you.

You’re angry.

I get it, I’m angry too.

I’m not talking to the people who are angry at Target because their Pro Transgender bathroom policy flies in the face of their cherry picked moral compass. I’m not under any obligation  to respect their beliefs. 

I’m talking to you… the people who have no issue with sharing a bathroom with LGBT people. I’m talking to those of you who are speaking out about this bathroom policy, expressing concern over the women and children who you fear will be in danger because of this policy.

You’re reasonable people. You aren’t expressing hate or bigotry. You just worry. You worry about your kids, your wives, your sisters. I worry too.

I probably worry too much. I have always accompanied my younger kids to the bathroom in public places. When my son was too old to go into the women’s room, I would stand right outside the Men’s room door. If he was taking a while I would yell through the door, asking if he was ok. So, yes, I’m that mom.

I worry. I have always been a little leery of public restrooms.

But I’m not boycotting Target and I’m no more worried about my kids’ safety than I was before.

Even though I’m a worrier, I read and I research. Facts help to calm my fears. Facts that show that in states with pro-Transgender bathroom policies, there has been no increase in assaults. Research that leads me to find an article by a Sexual Assault Victim’s Advocacy Group that is stating very clearly that pro-Trans bathroom policies do not increase the danger of sexual assault for anyone. They in fact minimize it for LGBT people.

What I see is a lot of fear mongering going around. Stories of men sneaking into the ladies room, emboldened by these laws. Stories that have proven to be false.  And some that are orchestrated to incite more fear.

So, I’m going to try to say the rest of this gently because to be honest, it’s all got me worked up and more than a little angry. It’s got a question bouncing around my head for the last few days… one that makes me angrier every time I think it…

Where have you been?

You say you are concerned for women and children. That the thought of sexual assault in a Target bathroom is so concerning that you may boycott, that you are forgoing your usual pleasant FaceBook anecdotes and memes to shout about the new policy…

Where the hell have you been?

You, the protectors of women and children. Where have you been when we’ve been writing and talking about rape?  When some of us have been shouting about these things for years, begging for people to listen, to care. To see the pain and destruction of these things that plague our society.

When we’ve been the ones to make you feel uncomfortable because we are invading your mindless FaceBooking and Tweeting with rants about injustice and startling statistics of rape that should have any sane person’s hair standing on end?

Where were your angry voices when a Presidential candidate suggested that women who don’t want to be raped shouldn’t go to parties?

When actual real life Congressmen claimed that rape victims can’t get pregnant because their body “will shut that down.”

When a court rules that oral sex is not rape if the victim is unconscious from drinking?

When a state legislator in Tennessee is ordered by the TN Attorney General to stay away from women at work because he is a danger to them?

Where were your petitions? Where was your concern? WHY AREN’T YOU SHOUTING ABOUT THESE THINGS???

Where were you when yet another woman was killed by her abusive husband? When a mother was beaten repeatedly. When the “system” that is supposed to protect her allows her violent husband to keep his gun , which he then uses to kill her and her children? Where has your concern been for the 3 women murdered every day by their intimate partner?

Where were you when your favorite college or professional sports hero was accused of rape? Or caught on video beating his wife? Are you still a fan of some of these guys? Do you still cheer them on? Where was the moral outrage to a society that looks past it because he can throw a ball and win games?

Where were you when R.Kelly was allowed to perform, put out another album, collaborate with famous pop singers? Even though he was accused of raping minors and committing cruel acts and even video taped himself doing these horrific and illegal things? Did you stand up and protest then? Did the account of a 15 year old girl’s “disembodied stare” at the video camera as he assaulted her not make you angry?

Where was your angry voice when a rapist was sentenced to 45 days for raping a 14 year old girl?

Where were you when girls were slut shamed after coming forward about their rape?

Where is your loud voice standing up for the homeless women and children? When the U.S. has largest number of homeless women and children among industrialized nations? Is the Target bathroom more of a concern than a mother and her children sleeping in their cars? Or on the street? Or bouncing around homeless shelters?

Where was your self righteous indignation when a child was killed at a park playing with a toy gun? When the police officer who shot him within seconds of arriving on the scene was let off without being charged?

Where were you when a child was shot because his radio was too loud?

Where were you when a child was killed after walking home from buying Skittles? When his murderer was acquitted and went on to make assault two different girlfriends and threaten them with his gun. That he’s still allowed to own.

Where were you when these children were killed? Because I didn’t hear any of you then. I didn’t hear a whole lot of yelling and hand wringing for these children who were mowed down by white male outrage and misguided fear.

When we speak or write or Tweet about everyday sexism and rape culture -that you damn well better believe gives rise to rape and assault- you shrugged. Or rolled your eyes. Or looked away. Or clicked “Unfollow.” Did we make you uncomfortable? All of our ranting and raving about the insidious nature of a society that views women (and hell, children too) as commodities, did it make you feel icky?

You see, I care about women and children (and boys and men) outside of the Target bathrooms. I care about them at home, at school, on the bus, at work, on the street. I care about them regardless of how they’re dressed, regardless of their economic class, no matter their sexual orientation. I care about them when they are being victimized and the world just looks on in apathy.

Those predators you’re so worried will sneak into the Target bathroom? They’re all around you.

They are your Priest, your kid’s coach, your neighbor, your uncle, your youth group leader, your United States Speaker of the House.

They are a savvy bunch, these sick bastards. They flock to places where they can gain your trust. They go to great pains to appear normal and friendly. They don’t sport a beard and a dress and waltz into the bathroom to attack your women and children.

And I can’t help but question concern that only seem to flare up when it’s anti-something. When it’s an “alternative lifestyle.” I question the motivation. I wonder, where the hell have your morals been? Where was your moral outrage when kids were gunned down and college girls were sexually assaulted and women serving in the military were being raped? When women and children were murdered by angry husbands? When restraining orders were granted but in reality offered no protection. When women were threatened online with violence. With rape. With comments like “I know where you live and I will find you and kill you.” Comments that are generated because the woman had the audacity to speak up or write or actually just do her job.

Because I haven’t heard from you about these things. I haven’t heard of petitions or moral outrage from the masses on these things. I haven’t heard much from you at all.

Until now, your silence has been deafening.

So excuse me if I find your newfound activism a little disingenuous. Excuse me if I am rolling my eyes over the furor over using a public restroom. Excuse me if I’m a little worked up over the idea that the “problem” is a Target policy but not the fact that women and children have to be careful and on guard because of a culture that has encouraged male entitlement and subversive sexism and blatant sexualization.

The “problem” you’re screaming about is not the problem. The problem is your apathy all these years to the reality that you refuse to see or acknowledge. It’s a lot easier to believe in the boogey man in the Target bathroom than the real threat that is woven into the very fabric of your Made In the USA security blanket.

Excuse me if I’m a little put off by a flurry of chicken scratched signatures on a fear mongering petition. Excuse me if I think your priorities seem a little slippery.

Because until now? Your silence has been deafening.

no-respect

Right now everyone’s talking about beliefs. Beliefs that prompted the infamous Religious Freedom Act in Indiana last year, and last week’s Georgia’s Religious Freedom Bill and most recently North Carolina’s wide reaching and shocking HB 2, along with other similar initiatives that are peppering the country. Laws and bills aimed at limiting or taking away rights.

It’s supposedly all about beliefs. A conversation that has echoes of the not too distant past. Beliefs that are being recycled but not repurposed. A hand me down with historical context.

Beliefs are being held up and declared all while clutched in sweaty, angry fists. Beliefs are being trotted out like a prize pig at a State Fair.

So much talk of beliefs. And we all know that talk is the cheapest currency.

All of this talk is treading on some sacred ground. Beliefs (especially the religious kind) are for most of us a taboo subject. We don’t discuss them, we don’t engage in debate about them. Just try to bring it up on FaceBook and watch the insults fly and the defriending begin. No, we prefer to leave others to their beliefs and quietly go about living our lives guided by our own.

Most of us, that is.

Others? Well, they like to scream their beliefs in the faces of those who dare stand up to bigotry. Spittle forming in their taut mouth as they spout their reasons for the taking away of rights from others.

So what’s a respectful equality loving person to do when we see beliefs being molded into a vehicle for injustice and discrimination? What do we do when we see someone using their beliefs to leave people out, to treat them differently? When it’s affecting people’s rights to rent an apartment or a home? People’s rights to access to anything and everything that most of us take for granted. People’s rights to patronize a business? Sound familiar?

Do we sit quietly out of politeness and deference to said beliefs?

I have been struggling with this. I don’t want to step on anyone’s faith or beliefs. It’s not my way. But this conversation needs to happen and it doesn’t have to turn into debates over beliefs.

I don’t care about your beliefs.

I’m not here to trample your beliefs. I’m not here to comment on anyone’s beliefs.

I don’t feel like your beliefs are any of my business.

I don’t feel the need to say that I respect your beliefs.

It’s not my place to evaluate or determine whether your beliefs are worthy of respect.

Because I don’t care about your beliefs.

I care about your actions.

I care about how you treat the people you come in contact with every day.

I care about how you treat people you may not agree with.

Your beliefs? Who am I to judge them? They are for you to wrestle with and to determine.

If you are my neighbor, my friend, my boss, my congressman? I don’t care if you’re Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or Atheist. Your beliefs are not my business nor my concern.

Beliefs are something that may guide you to live life with integrity and compassion. Or beliefs can be something you can carry around in your back pocket and pull out at any moment to justify actions. The difference boils down to character.

I’m interested in the fairness and compassion and empathy you do or do not express to your brothers and sisters of all faiths, all sexes, all races, all sexual orientations.

If you have to justify your behavior with your beliefs? That I can’t respect. Your beliefs are inconsequential. Your actions are the mark of your character. Making excuses or justification is just a lazy way to explain bad behavior. To pat yourself on the back as you step on the backs of others. If that’s your standard operating procedure, then I don’t respect you.

If you think you are better than others because of your beliefs? Then I can’t respect you. If you judge the lifestyle of other good people just trying to make it in this harsh world? Then I can’t respect you. If you cloak your compassion in judgmental pity? Then I can’t respect you. If you only lend a helping hand to others under the condition that they have to listen to your beliefs and subscribe to them? Then I can’t respect you.

If you are using beliefs to justify inequality? Then maybe you should check your beliefs. Because this is an old song and most of us are tired of hearing the tune. There was a time when beliefs were used as justification for unequal and in-humane and degrading treatment of black people in our country. Looking back I think we can all agree that it was a perversion of the beliefs that were held up as testimony. I think we can all agree that the beliefs that were co-opted and intertwined with vitriol were being abused and used as a cover for fear and hate.

Using beliefs to take away rights? Using beliefs to make a group of people less than? That’s ideology cloaked in fear and hate’s clothing. And it has the faint smell of disingenuousness. Don’t hide behind the safe and untouchable veil of your beliefs. Own your actions. Don’t pass the buck or the blame on to something you claim you hold sacred.

Here’s a little of what I believe.

I believe that equality is equality is equality.

No prerequisites. No conditions. No parameters.

I believe that compassion and caring and empathy for people who are not like you is one of the most important elements of our character.

I believe that actions speak louder than beliefs.

Equality.

It’s really not that complicated.

I believe the loving people in this world far outnumber the fearful and hateful people.

I think most of us want to live peacefully and harmoniously with our brothers and sisters who are just trying to make it in this harsh world.

I do not buy into the politicization of beliefs. The co-opting and the twisting of ideals. The cult of fear and judgement.

If you look upon everyone who is different from you with contempt and fear and condemnation? Then you are going to be spending a lot more time in a dark place my friend. Because our world is becoming smaller. We are connected and exposed in ways never before possible. Thanks to our digital age, we hear from and see and meet people from all over.

Along with this connectedness comes lots of new. New ideas, new lifestyles, new perspectives, new experiences. There’s no turning back from the world we now inhabit, one that is becoming increasingly… one. So maybe now is a good time to open our minds and open our hearts. To accept all the differences that come with living amongst other people.

Maybe now is a good time to embrace the differences and learn to adapt to our changing world. Maybe now is a good time to operate with an open mind. To realize that your way may not always be the best way. That change is not always bad.

Maybe now is the time to stop using your beliefs as a shield against all that you fear. Maybe now is the time to realize that your beliefs belong to you. No one can take them from you. The lifestyle of others does not impact or change your beliefs. If someone else’s way of living affects your beliefs? Maybe now is the time to check the shaky ground upon which your beliefs are tenuously perched.

Maybe you will find that your beliefs shouldn’t cause you to mistreat or discriminate.

Maybe you will come to the conclusion that no good ever comes from taking away rights.

Maybe you’ll see that it’s not even about your beliefs.

It’s about your actions.

Maybe you’ll realize that it’s time to leave beliefs out of the equation.

Maybe we’ll all be better off for it.

 

** Author’s Note: This is a post I wrote last year in response to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law. I am re-posting it today given the recent legislative actions in Georgia and North Carolina. If you would like to make your voice heard, use the hashtag #WeAreNotThis on Twitter and Facebook (hashtags and social media have proven very effective in raising awareness and enacting change.) If you are still concerned about Transgender people using the same restroom as you, please read these articles and learn more about what the NC law entails and what it is to be transgender. 

http://www.upworthy.com/heres-what-itll-look-like-if-trans-people-arent-allowed-to-use-the-right-bathroom?c=ufb7

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/king-n-passes-anti-lgbt-bill-country-article-1.2576194?cid=bitly

girl with cell phone, laptop and cup of coffee, vintage photo ef

The drums are beating again.

The anger has swelled and keyboards are being pounded in condemnation.

It’s a fury that’s been simmering for a while. The Huffington Post is under fire for not paying for content, for not paying the bloggers whose words beef up their site. And people are pissed. This time their hackles have been raised by the Editor of the UK Huffington Post, Stephen Hull. In an interview he commented on being “proud of not paying for content” and then went on to say some epically stupid stuff about the integrity of writing being corrupted by payment, or some kind of nonsensical bullshit that I still can’t wrap my brain around.

I get why people are angry. His words were insulting and his reasoning absurd. Hell, I’m angry. This man took the very thing that feeds the machine that pays his “authentic” salary and flicked it off the bottom of his shoe like something he stepped in.

Angry blog posts ensued. You could almost hear the zip and zing of paper being ripped out of typewriters as these denunciations were fired off. They rightly took Hull to task. They thrashed his reasoning and his gall and had me raising my fist in the air in solidarity. Calls for all out war were screamed through key strokes. (You can read those posts here and here and here)

But my fist slowly dropped to my side as I continued to read.

Boycott The Huffington Post. Don’t read it. Don’t share it. Don’t support fellow writers who publish their work there.

I love a good fight. I will always be on the side of the underdog, the down trodden.

I am all for raging against the machine, but I won’t be lacing up my combat boots for this one.

This is not me bowing out. Nor am I taking up the cause for the Huffington Post. I don’t do their bidding. But this is not a situation of the unsuspecting innocents being manhandled by the cruel machinations of a huge corporate conglomerate.

No one is under any illusions that they will make any money or make a living by posting on HuffPost. Unless you’re one of their 200+ unionized employees (who do, in fact, get paid to write/edit/promote/distribute) you are not pulling in a paycheck. But guess what? You’re also not under a contract. You don’t have to show up. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t like the HuffPost model? Don’t send them your content.

But the fact is, a lot of bloggers do like it. They like it so much they send their blog posts there. Often.

I  happen to be one of those people. It works for me. I don’t write original material for HuffPost. I use it to syndicate my work. I only send them previously published blog posts. And I have yet to meet any blogging or media entities that pay for syndicated material. If I’m going to write an original blog post for money I have a list of sites that I can submit to. Huffington Post is not on that list. They are on another list.

They are on the exposure and influence list.

Before you start telling me that exposure won’t pay the rent, a la Wil Wheaton, let me assure you that I know that. But I also don’t buy into the idea that exposure = selling out.

Exposure = marketing.

Let’s be real. If you’re writing beyond your own private diary, you need to be in the business of marketing. And marketing in all its forms is part of the deal. Let’s not play silly games pretending it’s not. Why else would we spend countless hours building our Twitter/FaceBook/Pinterest/GooglePlus/StumbleUpon followings? Because we’re all Social Media whores who are desperate for attention? Well, maybe. But mostly because we want people to read our words. None of us are here to shout into the abyss. We want views, clicks, comments, shares. We want exposure.

Yes. Exposure. It has value. Does it pay my bills? No. Maybe one day it will, but until then my bread is buttered elsewhere. I may not be filling my belly with that sought after exposure, but I am not starving because of it either.

Exposure. After a blog post of mine went viral, Huffington Post grabbed it and put it on their front page. Three months later I’m still getting steady traffic. And more eyes on a topic I care about.

Exposure was crucial for my friend who wrote about her daughters terminal illness. After being on HuffPost her FaceBook page swelled to over 10,000 likes. She was able to raise awareness and money for the devastating rare disease she and other families are fighting to fund a clinical trial for.

Exposure resulted in an invite for a fellow blogger to appear on The Jenny McCarthy Radio Show.

Exposure has resulted in bloggers being contacted by Agents and Publishers and regular paying writing jobs in some cases.

All of this was exposure from “free” non-paid writing that was published on Huffington Post.

But artists shouldn’t work for free, right? I’m not suggesting they should, unless they want to – and some people do art for the sake of art. Struggling artists all give their stuff away. It’s networking. It’s publicity.

An up and coming singer may do a free radio show. Clear Channel can probably afford to fork over some cash to the newcomer, but not too many wannabe pop stars are going to quibble over dollars if they can reach a massive audience in a one-off opportunity.

Photographers show their work in a gallery just to generate buzz.

Authors give away their books on Kindle for free to boost their Amazon rankings.

Hell. Sometimes bloggers pay for exposure. They “Boost” their post on FaceBook.

Bloggers do guest posts for exposure. All the time.

But…  you’re telling me that I shouldn’t do it on a site with 100 million readers because the corporate fat cats that run said site are fat? Because one of their editors spouted off some ridiculous dribble? I am not concerned one bit with their personalities or their wealth. I’m happy to take full advantage of the system. I’m grateful there’s a place that allows me to publish my posts with no concerns for whether it’s been published here, there or everywhere.

I’m looking at the long game. And for me that game involves writing for exposure, writing for money and ultimately building a strong portfolio that will get me to my ultimate goal of having my novel published. Or a steady writing gig with The Atlantic. Or both. I’m not picky.

You see, I have a plan. And I get a little testy when someone tries to tell me how to play it.

So these posts, these stormy words that are intended to galvanize us and demand our worth? I get it. I do. But syndicating a blog post to the largest digital platform in the world isn’t decreasing my stock value. And these people calling for a boycott? They are bad ass writers. They are the people that most of us look up to and learn from. And I know their aim is true and their passion fueled by camaraderie for the writing community as a whole. And I appreciate that. I have huge respect for them.

But don’t tell me what’s best for me.

Don’t tell me to forsake my place at the table, I don’t care how crowded it is. I worked to get to that table. I’m not giving up my seat just yet.

Don’t tell me that exposure is overrated when you have book deals. When you’ve made it in the publishing world. When you are a famous actor who’s fame garners you a heavy following. Don’t dismiss the value of a large platform when you’re yelling through a megaphone from your own lofty perch. You made it. I have immense respect for the ass busting it took to get where you are. But excuse me while I make my way.

Huffington Post may be using me by accepting my words on to their site. That’s fine by me. I’m using them too. There’s no sweat furrowing my brow. Not to copy and paste something I already toiled over.

And giving it away for free does not a harlot nor a victim make. I’m getting mine, getting it in SEO advantages, followers and readers.

All I’m saying to my fellow writers and bloggers, is you do you and I’ll do me. Your path to get to where you are wanting to go is yours to decide. I won’t judge you for it or try to tell you how to do it. I will applaud you, read you, support you. You see, I believe strongly in this community of writers. I have learned and grown from reading and in some cases knowing you. If you don’t want your words published on The Huffington Post, I respect that.

I’m just saying don’t try to burn down the house before you consider all those who are taking shelter.

And for those of you who are staring at a shelf of books with your name on them or drying the ink on your own book deal, those of you who’ve “made it”…  you guys are my heroes. You guys give me hope every day that I’ll one day deserve a seat at the cool table. And when I get there I’ll shake your hand and thank you for being an inspiration to a thirsty writer. When I get there, I’ll lend support to my fellow writers, both big and small.

Until then, I’ll be here. Pounding away on my own keyboard.

 

 

 

 

 

photo: Christian Peterson/Getty
photo: Christian Peterson/Getty

Did you feel that? It was subtle, so maybe you missed it. The ground shook a little and the skies cracked open. Swear jars and chore charts toppled off of the shelves of suburban track homes all across the country. There was a collective gasp from young children, their eyes assaulted. Parents everywhere rushed to shield their children’s eyes from the horror, sloshing their Lite Beers in the process. Salsa was spilled while furious Tweeters and FaceBookers took to the social media airways to express their disgust and admonishments. What was responsible for this onslaught of carpet stains and sticky phones?

Boobs.

Nuclear families all across our great land had settled in to watch a game of skull crashing, mind pulverizing, wholesome fun. It was the College National Championship game. What should have been a time to bond as a family and celebrate good old fashioned Americana was sullied. Because boobs.

Ciara sang the National Anthem wearing a lovely rhinestoned dress and cape that would have had Liberachi drooling in his bedazzled goblet. She was pristine in her white sparkliness. Her hair pulled back in an elegant chignon. She stood regally, mid field, and sang the most sacred song of our nation. The one that makes every good American pause, hand over heart, one single tear slowly trickling down their cheek. Except the eyes were dry on this good night. The patriotic moment overshadowed by her classless display of body parts.

“It’s a family event!” the people cried. “Cover up!” “Not appropriate!”

There were Tweets from ESPN reporters, the arbiters of decency and propriety.

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The pearl clutching was in full effect. It was a little too much for a nation still in recovery from the yoga pants episodes of 2015. You know, the one where women and girls were shamed and scolded for wearing yoga pants as… err… pants? The wound is too fresh on our delicate sensibilities to now have to contend with breasts.

It was reckless and selfish of Ciara. Being all… there. With her body. Who the hell does she think she is, trying to draw attention to herself on national tv? Because of her, the fans of the SEC and ACC were distracted from the game. They could only half-heartedly scream profanities at their tv screens when coaches called the wrong plays. Their FaceBook updates -that the public at large relies on for game updates and sideline coaching- were lackluster. Their hearts weren’t in it knowing that their children would never be the same.

Breasts have no place on tv. If you have them, it is your duty, nay your responsibility,  to make sure they are covered at all times. It doesn’t matter if you are 13 and headed off to middle school or 25 and headed to the gym. Breasts have no business being seen. Throw on that turtle neck and get thee to a baked goods sale, ladies!

It’s a slippery slope for our youth. They see breasts when their young brains are still supple and growing. The next thing you know, they’re snorting meth off the stomach of a stripper at the Lucky Penny. Breasts are the gateway drug for debauchery and a lifetime of Hooters Happy Hours eating bad wings and drinking stale beer. No one wants this for the youth of our country. Our kids deserve better.

And please, spare me the arguments. I’ve heard them all: “breasts are natural, they shouldn’t be sexualized” “I just want to feed my baby without being banished to a smelly public restroom” and “other cultures aren’t afraid of breasts.” Pffftt. I scoff a these pleas that are trotted out to try to instill some common sense and civility. In our country we like our breasts hidden from view, modestly hidden from sight. Until we want to see them. And then you can wear that v-neck shirt that’s been gathering dust in the back of your closet. Then you can proudly strap on your Victorias Secret Miracle Bra with pride. But only when we want to see them. It’s up to every single one of you to figure out the difference. Getting it wrong can have dire effects so tread carefully. Public shaming or assumptions about your character will be doled out based on the status of your breasts. It’s best to think of your boobs as weapons. Unless you have an open carry permit, you best keep ’em wrapped up tight.

I tried to stay strong through this whole ordeal. I tried to not get upset at the awful display that came across my tv screen. But then I saw this:

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Ciara. Women everywhere. Next time you’re getting dressed to sing the National Anthem,  or getting dressed to go to the grocery store or to go anywhere for that matter, think of Coop. What would Coop say? Coop and all the other innocent children out there. Can we spare them this kind of inappropriateness? Coop hasn’t even grown into her Vineyard Vines Shep Shirt yet and already she’s had her poor little mind tainted.

It’s incumbent upon all of us, those of the ever present breasts, to consider the ramifications of the clothes we wear. To speculate upon the effects our OOTD may have on the people who cross our paths. And, most importantly, to think of the legacy we are leaving the children.