Eye Exam

Hello. I am currently dictating my blog post to my parrot.* He is typing with his talons. I hope he is doing a good job. He probably is – he is basically human but very little and also green. His name is Birdbird.

parrot-with-laptop---macaw-birdbird

I thought my eye sensitivity would diminish at some point tonight (and I could more quickly write this post), but it has not. It turns out my eyes are dumb and one of them decided to be farsighted and the other decided to be nearsighted. So we had to put the extra dilating drops in them to figure out exactly how much. It’s funny — the doctors make you bleary blind and then you can’t even see the price stickers on the frames they try to sell you and then they give you film sunglasses in an envelope and say it’s perfectly safe to drive home.

The doctor put up the usual test — a chart on the far wall. I covered my left eye. I read all but the last row. I covered my right eye. Startled, I read the entire chart.  “I thought this was my bad eye.” Through a series of tests — flipping lenses, cards of letters, those stinging drops — I learned something about myself I had never known. My left eye is farsighted, and amblyopic.

Last night I sat in the hot tub in my parents’ backyard. They were out of town. I glimpsed my nude body below me — something I don’t see often. I am not familiar with my topography. I think we all find our own bodies strange to some degree. Yet, I am entirely comfortable in my strangeness. For 7 years of my life, I believed this body wasn’t mine, and so, I am used to my body feeling alien.

“This is why I tell parents to take their kids for eye exams,” my doctor said. “If we had caught this when you were 10 or 11, you could have had a chance.” Point blank, she told me, “You will never have normal vision in your left eye. It is what it is.” This eye had always been that way, the other compensated, and now that the dominant one is starting to change, I am noticing the discrepancy more and more. Luckily, for whatever reason, my brain continued to use partial information from this amblyopic, or lazy eye, and its vision is fairly ok. Just a little farsighted.

Younger, disinvested in my borrowed host body, I ignored inconsistencies. I took the eye tests and passed them robotically. I didn’t bother to explain that I often closed my “bad” eye so that I could see better. I didn’t mention my surprise at doing well for these simple readings of letters on flash cards. I was an alien, someday I would go home, and these things mattered little.

Now I’m here. I’m very much human. It might be nice to have better vision, yes? It might be comforting to recognize myself more often in the mirror. Oh, but the losses are small, in my case. I am glad to be learning my body like it is new. And glad to not have learned to suffer at its limitations, to assume ownership of flaws. So, now I’ll take these vision quirks, and the sense of wonder at still being able to find something new about my physical self, even at age 25. When my hair starts turning gray, I imagine I will feel the same.

It is what it is. At least now, I know.


*I love my bird. I got him when I was 4. For political reasons I have to say I don’t think it’s humane to own a pet parrot or exotic bird. They are wild animals and need to be able to fly, have friends all day, and eat a variety of foods. There are other pets more suited to domestic life. That said, he was born in captivity and has never been able to fly due to deformity. I think the life I give him is ok but could be better. Some parrots also have very little chance of being reconditioned to the wild and I support rescuing them. Please choose birds that could use a second or third or fourth home!

My Older Brother’s Birthday

Most don’t know about my older brother, Ian. I don’t often talk about him, and not even until recently did I think I had the right. Though I think of him from time to time and though I know he will always be a part of me, I am timid when it comes to saying his name. It has taken me the better part of my 25 years to claim the grief of losing someone I have never met.

Today would have been his 27th birthday. I didn’t expect this, but tears crawled up to strangle my throat when I wrote this. Each June 13th does not get easier, it gets harder as I catch up after years spent thinking his death was not a shadow that fell on me.

It becomes clearer that his ghost has informed so many parts of me. Losing their first, at 4 weeks, changed the way my parents held me as a baby. I think that grief, too, is carried tenderly like something so small and delicate and breakable even though it is what crushes us.

This year will be the first I spend without my parents on Ian’s birthday. My younger brother has already done this. For years I’ve watched my family plant trees and flowers in his remembrance, and I’ve carried small handfuls of soil and patted them down. This year I’m in Michigan, and all day I will be gazing at the ground looking for a place to plant a seed. Perhaps I’ll find a grassy patch by a house I do not know, opened to me by borrowed family, people I’ve never met who may be welcoming or may be cold — I’m never quite sure what Katelyn’s extended family thinks of me, thinks of us, thinks of what we represent, though so far they have said nothing. Perhaps I will sneak away to the shade of some tree and call my living brother.

I am motivated to write this because friends of mine are carrying their own griefs. I think I ought to say that mourning follows me just as it might follow them. Each grief is as different as the person or people who inspire it; I cannot measure the shape of my grief and hold it to anyone else’s and expect to pass along the same condolences that work for me. Yet I will nod at yours if you will nod at mine as we walk by each other in these familiar long corridors of pining, back and forth, back and forth, every year marked, every year counted, and remembered.

R.I.P. Ian

6-13-88 — 7-13-88

 

Consent: Beyond Words

Using speech to ask for consent is the entry point and the bare minimum. Absolutely, we much teach each other to ask and teach each other to listen for the answers. No means no. Confirm that the yes is enthusiastic. Words are what we have chosen as a species to transcend the skin and skulls that keep us separate, words and their offspring are as close as we can currently get to telepathy.

Yet this world did not teach me to say, “no,” and the greatest betrayals I have faced happened when men not only did not hear my timid refusals in my voice, but they also did not hear the timid refusals in my shoulders, in my breath, in my eyes. These nonverbal cues scream to me when I see them in other women because I, too, have raised tiny shields and tiny trumpets and gone to war in silence. I ask, “How can you not see this?”

Still, I empathize. When I was first coming out of the closet, first to myself and then to others, I felt many things but one that I sensed intensely was, as I called it, my lack of agency. I saw the way some men took of women and seemed to get what they wanted, and I did not know how to enter this dance of lust and love and get what I wanted. I was frustrated. I was angry. I felt robbed.

I think all men enter this private battle that I entered. Do we trust the story we are seeing play out in front of our eyes and teach ourselves to take what we desire? For me, such a thing was patently unacceptable. I learned my own other way and I learned to ask and the love I receive is abundant. I realized that feeling robbed was my first mistake — I am not entitled to sex or touch or love. You get those things when you are good, when you are sweet, when you are open, and honestly just when you are lucky. I realized I was angry with myself the most; for being too cowardly to even ask, let alone touch. My frustration was my own fault, and on top of that, it made me unattractive.

Yet it is not so easy to come to these realizations. It is far easier to believe that asking for consent is just not sexy, or that practicing consent is simply doing nothing at all for fear of harming anyone. It is easy to believe a false dichotomy; either I’m an asshole and I get laid, or I’m nice and I get nothing.

My first steps towards shattering these myths were to realize 1) There are a wealth of messages sent nonverbally between human beings and I can hear them, see them, feel them if I try and 2) It is better to realize quickly a woman is not interested in me and move on than to postpone the discomfort of understanding rejection. The truth is, it hurts far more to pine secretly after someone than to let go when, in the end, it turns out they don’t want you.

Consent beyond words is learning to actively listen with all of your senses. The first wall you will face is the overwhelming tsunami of “No” and disinterest that you had been willfully ignoring to protect your own pride.  There are other walls, too, that I can’t even begin to describe in one blog post.

Beyond this initial sting, you will find a peaceful clarity. You will be able to forge honest friendships, untainted with motive. You will be able to present your truer, more vulnerable, less needy self. This self is, if we’re going to be practical, a more attractive self. And beyond your new calm, you will begin to recognize warm rays of “yes” beaming onto you. One might, unsmiling, avoid your eyes with hers when you ask her flirtful questions (no) while another will soak up your interest and laugh and speak back to you (yes?). The latter may, of course, be only seeking friendship, but she will be kind to you when you ask for her kiss and she’s not interested, because she does care for you. Bolstered by this kindness, you will be less timid to ask another your heart’s next desire.

Listen and see, listen and see. Cast aside your motivations and expectations. Offer your desires as gifts of insight, not as trials of sadness v. pleasure. That is the only way I can happily live, and happily live I do.

P.S. I am going on vacation, so next time will be posting early, on Saturday.

Facebook: a Foggy Intersection of the Personal vs Political

I don't really know how to choose a picture for a post like this, so here's a selfie.

I don’t really know how to choose a picture for a post like this, so here’s a selfie. Like an author byline pic or something.

On Facebook you might make a personal statement to discuss as friends often do. You may not expect the vitriol, the name-calling, the war of opposing linked articles. Some people take themselves way too seriously.

On Facebook you might publish an important political or philosophical thought. You may not expect the sophomoric joking, the name-calling, or even disappointing silence. Some people just seem to stumble into fires without realizing how much their ignorance hurts others.

Facebook is a paradoxical scrapbook bulletin. Is it a self-help message board, or a public debate forum? Friends and strangers eavesdrop on conversations which only seem private. Yes, there is a difference between a personal and a political statement, but to “post” either makes it visible to an ever-more difficult to filter list of viewers.

The mixed-message, or even missing, interface metaphors don’t help either. In this serious debate we can “like” with a cheeky thumb. In this string of jokes no one can hear the timbre of our laugh, our indecipherable (are you being sarcastic??) “LOL.” This flexibility can lead to gibberish.

What I see is a stream of consciousness. What I see is a reflection of my own thought process, the way ideas snag each other, the way I flit from a picture memory of wearing Charmander pajamas at last night’s party to the Atlantic article on protesting in Baltimore.

But it is so political to “share.” Leveraging your private thoughts onto others is a political act:  a decision by the few (or one) on which content should be consumed by the many. “But I was just thinking out loud.” If you don’t want to be held to your word, then why say it at all? I could try to end the argument there, but I’d be a hypocrite. Sure, my personal Facebook philosophy is “make it interesting or funny, or else don’t bother.” But I’m an out-loud thinker in life. And I have so many avenues to be heard, which others might not.

Oh Facebook “friends.” We are apparently not all chums who know each other. We have different backgrounds and needs. You let me glance your wedding photos, and that is perhaps how I mistake our intimacy. But I can only keep your name with your face because everything is so efficiently indexed and hyperlinked.

As with most things, I return to the analogy of a party. There are strangers here just as there are best friends. Not all of us are interested in drinking. Not all of us are interested in sex. Not all of us are interested in laughing. Some may debate our constitutional rights. Some may cry over ex girlfriends. Some may write what they see in tiny notebooks. We all seem to want something. In this wild collage, this rowdy jumble, this grasp at boredom’s death, we might find it.

Or just avoid getting any work done ;)

Don’t Say Sorry, Say “Wait”

(Sorry I missed last week. I took a sick day. I should have made it up, but whoops it’s Tuesday again already.)

“Sorry,” he’ll say, “Did it bother you when I _____?”

This little formula seems fairly good between casual friends and strangers, but I noticed a little hiccup between romantic partners.

“You’re not sorry,” she says.

It’s true, he’s not yet sorry. He initially wanted to ______, which is why he did it in the first place. He’s only conditionally sorry. His apology is weakened by his unanswered question.

It would be better, I think, to say, “Wait.”

wait-callout-speech-bubble-sketch

“Wait, was it bad that I did _____?”

If she says yes, he could then say sorry, and truly mean it. And if she says no… Well, crisis averted!

Too often, I see people wielding “Sorry” like a catchall disclaimer. They prematurely apologize “just in case” they are in trouble. What this seems to communicate, to me, is that they’re going to go ahead and make mistakes, and simply blanket-apologize to clear themselves. Like a Catholic confession.

Better, I think, to give the agency back to the person who may be affronted. Let them judge your actions. By saying “Wait,” you put more emphasis on checking-in rather than jumping to your own conclusions. Wait, let’s really find out what my partner thinks here, before I go ahead and say what is bad and what is good. And it lends itself to the next step…

“Wait, did you really like that?”

And she can even say, “Hell yes I did.”

(We should be asking, “wait,” for the good things too.)

A sorry jumps down your throat. A sorry prescribes how you are supposed to feel, supposed to react. And a premature or misplaced sorry demands soothing. “Oh, it’s ok. It’s fine. It’s no big deal.”

“Wait” is a friendly pause. Wait is considerate. Wait is teamwork, is improv, is communication. Wait is constructively neutral. And we can say “Wait” beyond where a simple sorry will do.

Related: another blog post where I complain about apologies.

Catcalling is Just Bullying, End of Story

catcall-im-a-person-not-a-parrotI would say for a very, very, small fraction of men, catcalling can be a misguided attempt to compliment women, and there can even be subcultures which find it more, well, complimentary. For most people, however, catcalling is just bullying. Deep down, we all know that.

Let’s go back to elementary school. Little Tommy sits at his desk near the back of the room (his seat was assigned by the teacher). Bully Bobby is rapping the back of Tommy’s chair with a pencil. Tommy feels very nervous. To be honest, he feels a little scared. He doesn’t want to tell on Bobby. But, when the teacher calls on Tommy, and he doesn’t know the answer, he can’t help but sputter, “S-sorry, Bobby was hitting the back of my chair and, and—“

“I wasn’t doing anything!” Bobby shouts, of course.

If all Bobby was doing was tapping the back of a chair, then why was Tommy scared? It’s annoying, but by itself, it’s not that big of a deal, right? The problem is that last week, Bobby also told Tommy he was going to kick him in the head at recess, and before that, he even pushed Tommy against the wall when no one could see them in the bathroom. And last year, Jack gave Tommy a black eye (Jack has since moved on to middle school).

What happens when you confront a catcaller? They nearly always say, “It’s just a compliment!”

Though Bobby understands just rapping on Tommy’s chair with a pencil “isn’t doing anything,” and neither is stepping on the back of his shoe to make it fall off, or even giving a head-rub with his knuckles, he does know actual violence will result in detention. What he’s discovered through bullying, however, is that he can get the same delightful rise out of Tommy, the same jolt of power, by riding that line of permissible taunts and insults.

Like Jack and Bobby (and other bullies), I think catcallers, too, exist on a spectrum of what they want out of their taunts. The ends of the curve really do want punch and hurt and blacken eyes. Others want to test their strength, their control, while remaining safe within the confines of social acceptance. Still, more of them have found a trick that makes them feel powerful. Maybe they’re not really sure why, but they love it.

Now, Bobby is an amateur bully and is never going to actually beat Tommy up and make him bleed, but Tommy doesn’t know that. What Bobby isn’t sophisticated enough to understand is that he’s high on the fear instilled in Tommy by others. Maybe Bobby’s dad is also a bully, or maybe Bobby just has some misguided ideas about what it means to be a ‘macho’ man, but all he really understands is that having power over Tommy makes him forget he’s really, actually, very small.

I am (of course) inspired to write this post based on a friend’s recent experience (which he said I could recount here). He tactfully confronted a man who’d been voicing his interest in nearby women he seemingly found attractive. As it was, it’s telling that this catcaller used the “scatter gun” approach to his outbursts. Real flattery is when one human being gives a special interest to another human being in a moment that says, “gee whiz, I’m noticing you.” I don’t personally even believe in the One or anything like that, but even I don’t feel particularly chuffed by the desperate broken-record that is a catcall voiced to many and for everyone to hear.

What’s most disturbing, however, is this man’s last excuse. When pressed, he said, “Why? I’m not gonna rape ’em.”

Rape? Really?? Let’s be clear, nobody brought up rape except the dude who was saying, “Mhhmm,” and “Hey girl, you fine.” He’s the one who made that connection. And that, folks, is why I know he knows he’s nothing but a bully. He knows the line he can’t cross. He knows what other people are thinking, anyway. He knows the threat he’s still managing to imply with something as “innocent” as a compliment. End of story.

My Curious Immunity

I sometimes exist in the eerie intersection between a man’s respect for my sexuality and his mistreatment of women. Sometimes I end up getting very friendly with a guy, only to be approached later by my (often closest) girl friends about the times he has acted inappropriately toward them. Wait, what? I totally gave him my stamp. How can this be?

curious-immunity

I hang out in interesting subcultures where it’s possible for someone to not have issues with acting homophobic, but still act in misogynistic ways.  Knowing I’m gay, the dudes will be kind to me, they won’t try to sleep with me, and they’ll even pay attention to what I have to say. I have found myself very close to people that other women prefer to avoid.

I imagine the whiplash I feel is similar to that of many guys out there who learn that their best bro friends are consent-violators. He treats them with respect, so it’s hard to believe he acts any differently to anyone else. I have to suppress my instinct to defend my guy friend who has acted inappropriately. After all, I know the friend telling me about his trespasses deserves just as much of my respect for her truth as I would give to him.

Then there are the times where I begin to feel the curious immunity slipping away. My friend’s vision begins to blur, he begins to see his enemy in my place. After lashing out, this Mr. Hyde slithers away to its dark corner. Or perhaps I sense a possessive charge burning underneath his eyes that I had not recognized before, and yet it fades away too quickly for me to say to myself that he has always seen me this way. In either case, these moments are less tangible than secrets.

And let me say, of course it is wrong for these guy friends to respect me more because I am not sexually available to them. Of course it is wrong that I am treated as an exception and not a rule. Of course it is wrong that they require a more powerful rejection in order to respect my boundaries, they need a rejection that gives them the security of blamelessness.

I see red flags, and I have unintentionally ignored them. A man will be too forward and touchy with me, and backs off only when I explain my sexuality (and not when I shirk away from his touch, or point-blank tell him I don’t like it). Or I have had the gut instinct he is being “creepy” with someone else, but because I feel like I can trust him, I assume I am wrong.

Recognizing this curious immunity, I feel a responsibility to use and learn from it. I am able to have empathy for these men, when other women (for their own safety and/or comfort) cannot. I am able to be an undercover operator in his world. Perhaps I could even be a positive influence. If he can treat me with respect, perhaps opening his eyes will help him to respect all women.

In the very least, I must do better to see my red flags and to figure out if a guy friend of mine is doing this before it comes down to another woman telling me he has hurt her. I owe it to all women.