Why is Pride Important?

In light of the #heterosexualpride hashtag trending on Twitter, in light of the Orlando, FL massacre, in light of countless instances of institutionalized and individualized homophobia, is this question even worth asking?

Recently, a friend of mine who is marrying his boyfriend in a year from now was booking wedding photographers. Once the photographer found out it was a ‘gay wedding’ she declined the offer because as this photographer said so pointedly, they only do ‘legitimate weddings.’

Another friend of mine was once kicked out of a youth group because it was discovered that she was gay.

While I don’t have any close trans gendered friends, it comes to mind that I have students in my classes sometimes poking fun at Caitlyn Jenner.

Do I really want to press on bruises of the LGBTQ community by bringing up all the instances of prejudice and discrimination that are thrown in that community’s face every single day? Can you really ask someone who would spew this kind of hatred why pride is important? Is it true what Brian Kinney said on Queer as Folk, that “there are two kinds of straight people in this world — the ones who hate you to your face, and the ones who hate you behind your back”? I don’t believe that last statement for a moment. But, if you are a member of this beautiful, diverse, amazingly familial community that faces this kind of disgusting and somehow socially acceptable discrimination, can you blame someone for believing this?

Pride is important because every life deserves equality. Pride is important because of the alarmingly high suicide rate among LGBTQ teenagers. Pride is important because to this day, it is still considered somewhat acceptable to call someone a ‘sissy’, to hashtag ‘#nohomo’, to proclaim to men that being gay is the worst thing they can possibly be. Because people are afraid to come out to their friends and family because of how they might be perceived differently by those who love and care for them. Because trans-gendered people are arguably THE most discriminated group of individuals on this planet.

Pride is more than just a celebration of homosexuality; it is a celebration of diversity and of its importance. Pride is about being proud to be different and sticking it to the bullies, and the bigots. I’ve participated in pride celebrations not as a gay woman but as an ally, and despite being an outsider in that community, I felt completely at home because despite that the LGBTQ community is one that often experiences hate, never responds with anything except love.

Pride is important because it gives voice to the voiceless, no matter who they are and how they identify.

What I Would Want My Children to Know About Consent.

If I have children (God forbid I do, as I fear for my abilities and capabilities as a parent every time I stop to entertain the thought) I would want them to know that I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, and sexual assault – the latter, twice – once at the hand of a close friend and ex-boyfriend.

I would want them to know that I at first, felt like in some uncertain terms these things were my fault. That I was confused about them, that I was unsure of how it was ‘supposed to feel’ to be “raped” — that I always told myself this narrative that being “raped” happens in back alleys at the hands of total strangers grabbing you on a sidewalk somewhere, or that afterwards you feel completely ripped to shreds from the inside out and you go to the hospital and do the whole rape kit thing and so on. And I would want them to know that for these reasons, all of the assault I’ve been privy to didn’t “feel” the way I thought assault would feel. I was mostly numb to it after it happened. I carried on with my day, or days, as though my life was totally normal and I was the same as everyone else who this hadn’t happened to, and that for these reasons I thought to myself, “well.. I couldn’t have been raped or abused; or if I was, it wasn’t as bad as other people’s experiences so I don’t have a right to say anything about them.”

I would want them to know this simple thing about sexual assault and sexual molestation, at any age, by someone of any gender: if you believe it to be rape, it is rape. If you did not consent to what happened to you, and/or you were too young to consent, then you didn’t consent. And that your own personal feelings and way of dealing with that are yours and yours alone and nobody is allowed to tell you things like “you should have told on them” or “you should have been more devastated” or worse, “you didn’t say no so it wasn’t rape” or “you can’t really be raped by someone you know or invited over to your house.”

I would want my children to know that sadly, assault and abuse are more common than we’d like to think; that I know several people in my life who have dealt with the repercussions and pain and numbness and self-hatred that they’ve brought on, internalized, thought about as as a result of their own experiences with rape. Those “1 in 5” or whatever numbered statistics are true — it is true that this is a very common thing. It goes unreported because as we know now, the law does not protect or often believe survivors of assault; it goes un-talked about because for many, these conversations are still taboo and they’re still difficult to swallow and they force people to re-live their traumas over again. But is it true? Absolutely. Once you speak about your assault, others will too; countless others. Go on Twitter after a highly publicized unfair case where a rapist got off scot-free. And you will see thousands of men and women voicing not just support and solidarity, but voicing “this happened to me too”… many, for the first time. I want my children to know that those stories are painful and brutal and speak to injustice in our society, but they are true and should and deserve to be believed, and supported.

I want my children to know that if anything happens to them they should tell someone but if they don’t they shouldn’t beat themselves up about it because I never told. I never told on anyone who has abused me. One of them is dead. He went to his grave with a daughter that still looks to him as the greatest father and best friend a little girl ever had. And I could have changed an entire family and the course of an old man’s life by ‘telling’. And I wish I had. But at the same time, if I had I would then make victims of a widow and a daughter and a son who had no part in, or control over, what their father did, not just to me, but other little local girls too. Is that fair? No, it’s not. And so I am now more at ease with the decision I made than I ever have been and I’m not angry about it anymore. But as victims, do we have a duty to tell? No. We’re victims and we only know how we feel and what we feel we need to protect ourselves and protect our own reputations, lives, families, and emotional well-being. I want my children to know I’m here for them but at the same time, if they don’t want me to be they should come to their own decisions about the right time to tell me something in time.

And finally, on sexual assault and abuse I would want my children to know that at any point, the best thing to do is say no. Children say no all the time: to their teachers, their parents, to their friends. And if there was ever the best time to say no, it would be when someone is doing something that you don’t like or want in or on or around your body. Saying no to someone who cares for you will not make them hate you; and saying no to someone who you don’t know doesn’t matter because who gives a shit what they think, you don’t owe them a thing. But saying no once and feeling weird about in the moment could save your life and in some strange way, theirs too.

Consent is not an easy thing to talk about; if you don’t say no but believe you were raped anyways, will anyone believe you were ‘raped’? And if you didn’t say no does that make the assault your fault? What kind of people do you trust with your body? What kind of people can rape you? I would want my children to know that this is complicated and there are no simple answers but in time, if this happens to you or a friend, it is important to note that how you feel is the subjective but ultimate truth.

We’re having the “rape culture” converstion. Again.

This year, there has been so many conversations about ‘rape culture’; Jian Ghomeshi’s victims, verdicts of trials, women creating extraordinarily brave open letters to their rapists, run ramped on the internet. Survivor bravery is at its peak, as are memes and gifs and statuses and shares that support victim bravery, whether we know the victims or not. That is the good news.

The “bad news” of all of this is that despite all of this, we are STILL talking about rape culture. We are still lambasting media outlets and misogynistic judges and bystanders who applaud athletic effort over shunning abhorrent, disgusting behaviour of star athletes who rape — and care more about their feelings than that of those they have violated and victimized to the point where they must re-piece their lives, their agency, their sexual freedom and freedom to go to parties with the assumption that ‘nothing will happen.’ Despite positive steps in the right direction, here we are, again, collectively appalled by the results of a sexual assault trial; 6 months for being caught red-handed assaulting an unconscious woman. Because any more than that might have a significantly negative impact on the poor young rapist. And we wonder collectively why more women don’t speak up and stand up to their rapists: why? Because they are forced to be publicly scrutinized, judged, and most importantly, forced to re-live that moment again but this time, in front of everyone including lawyers and judges who clearly don’t give a shit what they have to say. Because the poor young student star athlete is suffering due to his remorseful actions (which he refuses, in the case of Brock Turner, to even acknowledge).

Because the reality of all of this is this: many people say one thing, and do another. They pretend to be male feminists, but they are still at parties taking advantage of women who won’t consent. They say they support and believe survivors, but they shun and isolate friends who have been assaulted and talk shit about them behind their back. They post memes with good intentions but then go on their merry way, ignoring anything that looks suspect at a bar because they don’t want to get involved. Because as long as there are vulnerable people, there will be people who want to take advantage of them and all of these good intentions is all for nothing because at the end of the day, rapists win in court and all the good intentions and combative posting and vehement sharing of posts like Turner’s victim’s powerful open letter to her attacker do nothing. We need to do more. We need to be better. We need to not only acknowledge and empathize with victims, but do more to fight for them, support them, listen to them, ask the right questions, make them feel validated and welcomed and most importantly of all, ‘NORMAL’. Whatever that normal looks like to the survivor.

Words I will never forget are from a former friend who once said to me in faux-concern that “[my] friends all agree that [I] need help” and that she “hopes [I] figure [my] shit out” or I will lose everyone I love. These words haunt me. When I think of them, I think of rape culture. Not from men who assault, but from women whose passive aggressiveness and their ability to attempt to use your own assault to fling back to you in your face, all the shitty things you’ve done and all your own fears of being alone or abnormal or isolated. Sometimes we assume all women and most men do their part to actively combat rape culture because they post positive messages and claim to believe survivors. And then behind closed doors they send a former best friend a private email like this and reveal that they might as well be assaulting girls and women too. This might sound harsh, but as a survivor of sexual assault, that’s how words like that feel: like a dagger in your back, like re-living your attack, by being reminded of how you often feel — as though you are nothing and nobody and it’s your fault that you were victimized.

“Rape culture” is oft-considered a buzz word that doesn’t really mean much because it means so many things. Like many areas of approaching the conversation about sexual assault, it’s best to ask victims how they see and feel and understand this supposed ‘culture’; to me, it is simply this:

Rape culture is the lack of actual support for victims. 

Rape culture is about hypocrisy, people who neglect to truly educate themselves about what survivors go through not just immediately after their assaults but possibly for months, years, decades after; rape culture is claiming to someone’s face that you believe them then going behind their back and gossiping about your “rape” to their friends; rape culture is men who take advantage of vulnerable men and women; rape culture is a lack of actively taking a stance on an individual, global or local scale against sexual assault; rape culture is claiming that women lie to entrap men; rape culture is not listening to the word “no”, and/or not understanding that rape culture is not just about ‘no means no’, but also and importantly, about ‘yes means yes’. Rape culture is isolating victims because you don’t understand them, rather than being supportive in your efforts to try to. Rape culture is acknowledging that the crime of penetration isn’t just about a penis in a vagina – it can be touching, groping, fingering, dry humping or unwanted oral sex but the feelings of the victim can still be the same regardless; all sexual assault is wrong and horrendous, no matter how the public perceives your experiences with assault and measuring it by comparing it to others’ assaults.

If you don’t support survivors, you support rape culture. It’s for this reason, rape culture still persists to this day. And why we all sit here angrily wondering how someone caught RED-HANDED can be sentenced to 6 months in prison. Why someone’s athletic career is prominently featured in an article about the crime they were convicted of. We don’t do enough to believe and support victims. We’re catty, we’re apathetic, we naturally exclude or fear what we don’t understand. We are sometimes people who take advantage of others And when we continue to stoop down to the lowest common denomination of what it means to be human, that’s when we continue a cycle of rape and assault.

 

Two Years.

It is four days until my second anniversary.

I didn’t ever really think that I would be able to be with someone for two years. In some ways, two years feels like a lifetime and in other ways it’s amazing it hasn’t been longer.

The thing about love is this: all love is beautiful. It is illuminating, surprising, deep, frustrating, confusing, messy, complex, life-affirming, and joyous. It is something that changes the course of your values, your goals, your dreams, and yourself – but for the better. Love is all around us in everything we do. And it’s all beautiful. I would never sit here and make the claim that love I have or found is better or more significant than anyone else’s love.

But the love I have is something that’s sustained so many difficulties; demanding careers that eat up everyone’s time; frustrating nights alone when all I want is to be with the person I care for the most; utter mental breakdowns at the loss of what is, and what should or could be if we were just a little bit closer, if everything was just a little bit easier, if we were just a little more in sync in terms of location. This second year has been a year of driving, careening into ditches during storms, feeling like I’m drowning in a depressive messy state, emptying my pockets for the sake of being a huge part of every minute that I’m fortunate enough to spend with the person I love most. Honestly, it’s been so hard. And there were times I was completely discouraged and wanted to fall flat on my face and then just give up. But it’s worthwhile. Love is worthwhile. It’s the most worthwhile thing in the world. I’ll be grateful for this love forever. I wake up grateful for it every single day.

The last two years have been years of flux, of mental anguish, of huge changes in life, culture shocks, meeting new friends and leaving old ones behind, of uncertainty and frustration and insecurity and disappointment, and tough realizations. All of this is a parot of growing up and are harsh reminders that what they said to us as children is often true: that growing up sucks. But the constant force through everything, whether we were driving to the states together and pausing in sweet little towns and drinking at local breweries, or sleeping in the front seats of my car after waking up at 5:00 a.m. to catch a ferry to Vancouver Island, or whether I’m crying on his bed because I don’t want to go back to the horrible place where I live. Everything was slipping out of my hands in this lucid, liquid form. Except him. He was always there for me, through everything, buying me pizza when I felt like I failed at everything; waking up for a moment in the morning so he could put his arm around me before going back to sleep; comforting me in the middle of the night if my teeth grinding woke him up; telling me I look beautiful when I feel like garbage about myself.

I’m so grateful for these two years and as difficult and frustrating and depressing as they were, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I got to spend two years supporting and being supported by the person who loves me when I can’t mustre up the courage to love myself, who cares for me in a way no one else has ever been, and who has truly been a pillar, a permanent thread in the tapestry of my life,  a lighthouse for my ship. He means everything to me. I’m so fortunate.

Favourite Albums Ever.

In light of the difficult news about Gord Downie’s diagnosis, I started thinking about music. The artists I love, the ones that are staples not just in my life but in the musical world, the people like Gord Downie who have produced generations of solidly important songs are records which are so incredibly important to so many people for so many different reasons. I wanted to point out a few of mine from different time periods of my life that have affected me the way artists surely long to affect and make meaningful memories, words of advice, gifts and caring voices for others.

HIGH SCHOOL

The Beatles – The White Album

When I was in high school, I was bullied for listening to my parents’ music (a trend which, of course, now everyone in their late teens and early twenties has come to embrace… of course). The Beatles with this record showed me what it meant to truly be talented and have a gift of music. It was more than just that awe-striking talent though. It was this wavering emotional power, the capturing a time of change and revolution not just lyrically but melodically too; it was Paul McCartney’s voice both crooning on “Martha My Dear” one disc, and yelling out “I GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!” on the next. The Beatles changed everything for me. Suddenly I realized I belonged in another generation, and nothing from my generation could ever be good enough again.

UNDERGRAD

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

Recently re-released, Ryan Adams said in a recent interview that this record was a reflection of stress and uncertainty in his twenties where he was destitute, post-breakp depressed, and wondering what was next in life. When I came upon this record, my place in life was similarly stark and I was constantly searching for meaning. From the moment I heard “To Be Young (is to be Sad, is to be High)” I knew I had found it, at least in part. I cry with this record, laugh with some of it, but mostly just use it to help me reflect and get through the grim times. “Heartbreaker” is everything. It is my biography written by someone else. It is ‘heartbreak’.

Wilco – A Ghost is Born

I first heard Wilco back in 2004. I was in a drama class and this guy I liked introduced me to that lengthy noisy portion of the song “Less Than You Think” that he used for his final presentation for drama class. Later on, I purchased “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” to try and cultivate this undergrad college radio hipster that I badly wanted to be back then. To be honest, I didn’t like the record. It was noisy. It was vibrant. I didn’t quite get the melodies, production, or Tweedy’s voice. I had no idea what songs like “Pot Kettle Black” really meant. It wasn’t until later in life I truly understood the stunningly amazing and powerful raw experimental energy of this band that has come to be one of my all-time favourites. “Ghost” is a more piano and synth-driven collection of songs. It is softer, sadder, less kinetic and electrifying than “Yankee” and I think that’s what I needed at the time I developed an obsession with this record. Wilco often writes songs I don’t ‘get’ and can’t fully relate to. They don’t necessarily speak to where I am in life, or where I long to be. What they do so well though is write melodies that etch themselves into the paper of my life and bring me back to times when all I needed was to put on a record like this and lay on the floor, drifting away.

LOSS

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

There is something lighthearted and summertime-y about this record. And yet, the dark undertones of alcoholism, death and heartbreak retain this record’s intensity beneath the string-laden, rising-and-falling surface. “Astral Weeks” is like a pulse. When you feel it, you know you’re alive. When I coasted through years of settling for less than what I wanted out of life, this record was always there reminding me not to; that everything is more beautiful, more important, more grave, than it seemed. I just had to dig deeper.

Joni Mitchell – Blue

One time, I had a conversation with a now former friend about a recent (but not recent enough for this to actually be a justified comment) breakup and I said, “I just don’t know how I am ever going to push through this.” I was in love. Disgustingly, sickeningly, annoyingly hopelessly in love. And it was unreasonable, unrealistic and ridiculous. Suddenly, I was leaden inside. And then I became addicted to this record. I remember listening to Joni Mitchell say “All good dreamers pass this way some day/Hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes” for the first time and thinking, ‘this is my life right now.’ Songs are like tattoos.

Memory Lane.

Yesterday, I walked by the spot of my first kiss for the first time in a couple of years. The spot looked exactly as it did except with summer blooming all around it, and construction down the street polluting what I think of as a quit, romantic little corner of the world with unnecessary noise and the scent of shiny tar.

He doesn’t live there anymore. Beyond those double glass and iron gates into the complex was what was then, a really truly magical and significant moment in my life that’s gone forever, melted away with a freak spring snowfall eight years ago. So much has happened since then. But walking by that spot feels like nothing has changed; that I still live in this neighbourhood. That this is still my place, that it’s still my best friends’ place just down the street, and that he still lives there and by walking by there I might risk running into him and then we’d have to find some way to say hi to one another and pretend that we’re just old friends from some undergrad class.

Your first love, the formative years of your twenties, your ex-best friends, your former neighbourhood, that apartment with the view, that coffee shop that turned into a Chinese restaurant, which turned into a bubble tea bar, which turned back into a coffee shop that’s a shade of what it was back in those happy years when I’d meet my friends there almost every night, are all gone. It occurred to me yesterday that I don’t know a single person who lives there anymore. I don’t know any undergraduate students anymore. I don’t know of any reason why anyone would come back to re-live all these mixed up memories except to wait for a dental appointment that you took a day off to attend and be frozen and scraped at and prodded for nearly two hours. The world is different now. The new one is good too, but different. And the old one seems lifetimes away.

I walked past that spot and remembered that kiss and then I moved on and went home and I was okay. Things are okay now.

Ex-friends.

I had a whole life 7-8 years ago and that life has been completely destroyed. I look back at old photos and think about old memories as if I’m someone looking at the rubble of their former city. I wonder sometimes how I even go to a place in my life when almost everyone and everything that was so important to me — that once made me feel complete, and alive, and safe – dissipated entirely until it was 100% nothing. People that I once shared everything with from jewelry, to Halloweens, to annual birthday trips, are now just old crumbled foundations of buildings – strong, beautiful buildings — that have been burnt to the ground. They’re glimpses of something that is long, long gone as if in an old decrepit and unrelateable photo in a history book. I never expected life to turn out that way.

Losing people so catastrophically, violently and grandly feels like a divorce, a death, a train crash. It’s so much more than just letting events and people and memories go. It’s rebuilding your life, a new life where you have to consider that everyone and everything you trusted, held true and believed so deeply in, was all a big, nasty lie. That there are no such thing as the ‘bffs’ that your first real love told you in his cynical, sardonic tone did not in fact exist. That there’s no such thing as retiring to Palm Springs with your lifelong college mates as Carol Shields suggests in “The Stone Diaries”. That the notion of girlhood and everything associated with it as you believed it, to be washed away as simply as waves dredging rogue seaweed scraps onto barren sand. Losing people this way- with betrayal on one end and yelling and purposeful hurt on the other – is something you don’t really forget. You may not lose sleep over it, but what happens instead is this pang. This realization whenever these people come to mind, that out there in this big wide universe, you have enemies. Enemies that couldn’t even be bothered to make things right. Enemies that talked shit about you on social media in their late twenties. Enemies who at one point cried in your arms because of the boy who ghosted. Enemies who at one point you sent care packages to when they moved across the country. Enemies you texted so often each day that you literally blew up each other’s phones with mundane and frivolous conversations. Enemies that make you an enemy, too. When you never wanted to be ‘enemies’. The most hurtful thing is that you both became enemies. And if you encounter each other again, there will be either death stares, or side eye, or worse: truly, painfully awkward silence. Enemies who are all still as close as anything in the world with one another but who have all decided to kick you to the curb.

Why did this happen? How does this happen? What I lost is different from similar losses. The enemies I have made now were so close with me we received joint wedding invitations; we were never seen apart; when in the same classes during our undergrad years, we literally blew our TA’s mind with our thinking alike and acting alike and laughing alike. We weren’t just friends. We weren’t just friends who had a ‘falling out’. We were family whose family tree rotted, died, turned black, fell apart into irreparable ash. And when I think about it, even for more than the split millisecond I think about each day, I cannot fathom that pain, that shattered dream, that ruined close connection. If I dwell on this for even one split millisecond longer, I get suddenly so angry and sad and confused and ask again: WHY? WHY and HOW do people who were  this close with me, completely disappear? Why can’t things ever be like they were? What happened to the formative years of my twenties and when can or will something replace that notion of girlhood that has been cruelly ripped out of my gut? Why do people get divorced, why do we have to let go of the ones we love so much that an old photo just triggers so much of this incredible anger that I feel towards people that I would have done anything for?

In life now I have the most amazing career someone could ever ask for. I live in a place that doesn’t feel like home but it’s quiet, charming even, and full of incredibly wonderful people. I have a partner who I’ve gone to hell and back with and still value our Friday night dinner dates as much as I did when we were first falling in love. I have reconnected with my oldest friends and realized the qualities they possess, and the qualities they awaken in me, have been more worthwhile and important than I ever realized and that realization has both made me feel guilty, but also made me feel grateful. We can’t have it all, and we can’t sometimes let things go as easily as we’d like but we also can’t ignore the hope that the good things have brought in the wake of what has been broken. The world is incredibly complicated and strange and shocking. There are things that pain and things that heal, and things that lay dormant in the small, cozy caves of your mind before one day out of nowhere they sneak out of their hideaways just long enough to make you feel that pale-faced, hand-shaking anger and springing tears just one more stupid time before you cram them back into the place where they came from. I took a day today to think of and honour those feelings in a way I haven’t really done in a long time.

 

Now I’m going to floss my teeth, and turn on Sports Net, and then go back to the tedium of my idle Tuesday in late April.