Thank you, Jennifer Madison

“Middle school is kind of like Middle-earth. It’s a magical journey filled with elves, dwarves, hobbits, queens, kings, and a few corrupt wizards. Word to the wise: pick your traveling companions well. Ones with the courage and moral fiber to persevere. Ones who wield their lip gloss like magic wands when confronted with danger. This way, when you pass through the congested hallways rife with pernicious diversion, you achieve your desired destination—or at least your next class.

― Kimberly Dana, Lucy and CeCee’s How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School

I hated middle school. At least when I was in elementary school I had the freedom to go to classes appropriate to my learning level. But when I was in middle school, there was no real differentiation. There were three tracks, period: behind, average, or honors. Now, we were at a Catholic school, so even the kids in the “behind” class would have been considered average in a non-parochial school system, but to be put in a remedial class was considered a death sentence for any social life you were going to attempt. Throw in the towel now, kiddo; you aren’t even a nerd. You’re a LOSER.

Because I had to transfer from a different parochial school, I was an outsider. I wasn’t as foreign and exotic as those kids whose parents were recent immigrants (Humberto or Amadeli), or as new to uniforms as someone who had previously gone to public schools (Christopher or Bernard), so I didn’t have a special aura. I was just another Catholic kid who had gone to another Catholic school. Worse yet, I was younger than everyone else, too. In sixth grade it looked like a third grader had escaped their class and was trying to hide in Sister Kathleen’s room. Which, given Sister Kathleen’s temperament, would have been a desperate act indeed.

Add to this my complete inability to mask successfully with the popular kids, and it was an inevitable race to disaster. While I managed to keep the meltdowns at bay (for the most part), it was obvious that I would not fit in with any of the established cliques. Let’s face it, in a school riddled with Quinns, I was a Daria.

eventually, I learned to keep my mouth shut.

That changed the day that I sat next to a girl named Jennifer Madison.
The entire school seemed to be named Jennifer back then, and there were at least four in my class alone. My math teacher preferred to seat us alphabetically, and by the luck of the draw I was placed in the back of the class next to Jennifer Madison, behind Charles P. (who was rumoured to pick his nose and EAT HIS BOOGERS), and with Bernard (Bernie) T. on the other side. So there we sat for the first month–me just trying to keep up with 6th grade math, not really caring about making friends anymore, when we had a fire drill. As per the norm, we dutifully lined up and walked out the door and into a large field next to the school

As an aside, this particular field was full of DRY GRASS, by the way, so I’m not sure how this would have been any safer in the event of a real fire. We also inevitably ended up in the spear grass / burr grass area, and I had a rash for like a week afterwards.

As we were walking, I tripped and almost fell. Jennifer pulled me back up and asked me if I was okay as the other kids taunted (nice trip, KLUTZ!). I thanked her quietly, and readied to move on quietly with the rest of the class, head down so that I could see where I was going. She leaned in and whispered to me, “don’t let the assholes get to you. They’re stupid, anyway.” I almost tripped again and I snickered lightly.

When we got to our spot (in the spear grass, again), I subtlety moved to the back of our group, away from the popular kids and any potential rash causing grass, Jennifer moved with me. I stopped to look at her; she was like nothing I had ever seen outside of a movie. Jennifer wore a purple purse covered with pins and buttons advertising 80’s hair bands like Motley Crüe and Def Leppard. She opened it up to rummage around and I could see the make-up inside. She had MAKE UP–at like 11. She pulled out a small tube of cream and handed it to me.

“here, it’s Benadryl. I get rashes, too.”
Mumbles, “thanks.”

I looked up at her, since at my age EVERYONE was taller than me. Her black hair glistened blue in the afternoon sun. I would later find out that she dyed it black. Her natural hair was a darkish brown, but she preferred to have blue-black hair, like her idol, Joan Jett. Jennifer wore eyeliner and mascara, which set off her blue eyes. At our age, none of us had even mastered blush correctly, but she had a perfect cat-eye. Her skin was paler than I had ever seen on a girl with dark hair with a few freckles dotted across her nose. Her lips were stained red with lip gloss, since we weren’t allowed to wear lipstick at school; she looked like she had just eaten a cherry popsicle. She wore the typical jelly bracelets of the 80’s, but hers were all BLACK (not a whiff of neon) along with a studded leather bracelet. And while the rest of us were wearing saddle-shoes or Bass shoes… she wore patent leather Mary Janes with a tiny wedge heel. In a word, she was COOL.

She leaned in slightly so I could hear her better.
“I’ve been in school with these bitches for the last 5 years.”
I gasped. She was cussing! Within earshot of the nuns!
“But I’ll tell you something…”
I leaned in a little closer.
“Shannon once peed her pants in front of everyone in Kindergarten. So don’t sweat her giving you any shit.”

And with that, we were friends. She showed me how to put on make-up, and introduced me to pop and rock/roll music. My parents, bless them, had opted to listen to a radio station that specialized in “the best of the 60’s, 70’s and today!” But it was mostly oldies. Little by little, I began to care a little less what the popular girls were doing, and developed my own interests. I made friends with some of the other excluded girls… I read more horror and young adult books. I quit dance class (which was paired with the cheer-leading/gymnastics class, so I was stuck with the popular girls again) to take art and EXCELLED at it. And through it all Jennifer Madison just hung out with me, along with a few of the other not-quite-popular-enough girls.

When I got my period at school unexpectedly, she was the one who helped me navigate through the Carrie-like horror that is an 11 year-old girl bleeding all over the place–and she didn’t shame me, or make fun of me. She just told me that I needed to keep pads in my purse, and change of underwear and shorts in my backpack or desk so I had options if there was an accident. She explained to me how to clean blood out of clothing, and showed me to sit on sheets of loose leaf paper the rest of the day so as not to leave prints on the desk chairs. She even showed me how to descreetly place and throw the paper away so as not to alert the other girls. She understood just how to explain things to me: no euphemisms, no condescension, best of all: no shaming. She was like a super-cool big sister who would tell me the unvarnished truth, but with compassion behind it.

When I graduated from middle-school (yeah, we had a graduation mass), my parents decided I should go to public school, and I lost track of Jennifer M. Sometimes I wonder if she ever got to see all those heavy metal bands she loved so much. I wonder if she got to go to a regular school where she could finally dress how she wanted to instead of gothing up her uniform. I wonder if she ever had any kids, because I’m pretty sure they would be awesome and have the best taste in music ever.

Maybe someday we’ll connect again on Facebook or something. Until then… I’ll just always carry some pads/tampons in my purse, and have a change of clothes in my desk at work. Because… hey, you never know.

un-diagnosed is not the same as “normal”

Sometimes being spectrum is like having a super-power. Not like a really fun super-power like flying, or being super-stretchy, or laser-beam eyes… but in that having a brain that’s wired just a little different means you can do things that “normal” people can’t do.

cccda322ec99a8849a53fa81d65a6f1cBut what is normal?

Now, given my academic background, I know that society decides norms, and those norms, when taken together constitute a state of normal-ness. Think of it as social constructivism, or a societal contract, where we (as a society) decide that there are things we all just DO and things we just DON’T DO… these are norms.  Norms exist on various scales, we have societal norms that may apply to the whole human race, and norms that exist within just a small group of friends. The important thing is that everyone agrees. For instance, we may all agree as Americans that it is normal for us to be able to say what we like about government officials without fear of imprisonment. This is NOT the norm in other countries. Or, perhaps it is normal in Texas during the summer to consider flip-flops an all purpose shoe that can be worn anywhere from the river to a wedding (provided it’s “dressy”). This would NOT go over well in Wisconsin.  Or finally, maybe in your family it’s considered normal to refer to your relatives by a nickname that (to others) may seem rather mean. Someone coming into your family may not understand why you refer to your cousin as “Africa,” and when you explain it’s because of the scar on the back of their head that is shaped like the Nile river, which was acquired by under-age drinking and falling off the back of a moving vehicle…. yeah, you know, that is really mean. never mind that example.

But those of us that are on the spectrum, we find it a little more difficult to recognize and apply these norms, particularly social norms. I have had people explain to me that my manner is “gruff,” and I’m “too blunt,” when talking with people. I like to wear what is comfortable, and don’t really follow fashion trends (unless that trend is comfortable). When I was in high school, I would cut the labels out of my clothing, which my fashion fiend friends found horrifying. It was the 1980’s after all…. labels were IMPORTANT.

“How,” they would ask, “will people know what you’re wearing?”
“why does it matter?” I would answer, honestly confused as to why it mattered. “I’m just wearing this I’m not naked.”

Until someone explained to me that what I was doing/wearing/saying just wasn’t done I would just keep on doing it…. as you can imagine, my middle and high-school years were a nightmare.

A superpower?

But sometimes, sometimes what makes us different or not-normal is what makes us better than normal. Sometimes those quirks of our brain’s wiring give us powers.

If I decide I want to learn something, I can learn it quick. When I decided I wanted to learn how to play a drum-kit, I borrowed a friend’s electronic drum-set and watched YouTube tutorials all weekend…. and then I could play the kit. I did the same with my parlor guitar and a ukulele. It’s the patterns, you see. I did similar things when I was learning Kung Fu, Jeet Kun Do, and FMA. Once I got the pattern, it was mine to do with as I would. 

I also have near-perfect audio recollection, and pretty decent pitch when singing. When people ask me how I do that, I have to answer, “I don’t know. I just can.”  And this is what gives me hope for the future. Perhaps now, with girls being diagnosed at much younger ages, girls like Greta Thunberg can truly change the world in ways my generation could not. Because even though they know they don’t fully understand “norms,” they also don’t care.

Hillsong is …. problematic

Our church band recently had a meeting about whether or not we would continue to play Hillsong written/arranged songs. Here is a letter I wrote to our director about the issue:

[Director],

Hillsong believes that homosexuality is a “lifestyle,” and is incompatible with the teachings of Christianity. The founder of Hillsong has said as much. This is equivalent to “love the sinner, hate the sin” thinking. They profess to loving and caring for the LGTBQ+ community, but then (and in the NEXT paragraph) they say they are a church “that adheres to mainstream biblical values shared by the overwhelming majority of evangelical Christian churches around the world, and millions of Christians across the USA.” Once again, this is ‘code’ for “homosexuality is a sin.”

I understand why you have difficulty finding clarity in this. For instance, Church Clarity, a website that is specifically designed to rate the clarity of the church’s positions on LGTBQ+ and Women’s roles has this to say about Hillsong:

We scored Hillsong NYC’s website as “unclear” because this policy is quite difficult to find from Hillsong NYC’s website. It is not listed in the website’s primary pages and is nowhere to be found on its Beliefs page or Policies page. It can only be found by clicking on About > Media > Media Releases, at which point you have to scroll down to read the statement on same-sex marriage, as it is dated August 2017. If it takes a user more than 2-3 clicks from the homepage, and it’s not conveniently  located, you can bet that we will score a church’s website as “unclear.” Our goal is to elevate the standard of clarity for policy disclosure.

What does this mean? It means that Hillsong is going out of its way to hide and obfuscate their stance on LGTBQ+ issues. And while they state that they do not advocate “gay conversion therapy,” that does seem to be a more recent change in position.

But, it becomes more clear when you consider the founder’s* own words about queer folk (https://brianchouston.com/2015/08/04/do-i-love-gay-people/ ):

I also live by my own convictions, and hold to traditional Christian thought on gay lifestyles and gay marriage. I do believe God’s word is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. The writings of the apostle Paul in scripture on the subject of homosexuality are also clear, as I have mentioned in previous public statements.

Hillsong Church welcomes ALL people but does not affirm all lifestyles. Put clearly, we do not affirm a gay lifestyle and because of this we do not knowingly have actively gay people in positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid. I recognise this one statement alone is upsetting to people on both sides of this discussion, which points to the complexity of the issue for churches all over the world

[…]

So if you are gay, are you welcome at Hillsong Church? Of course! You are welcome to attend, worship with us, and participate as a congregation member with the assurance that you are personally included and accepted within our community. But (this is where it gets vexing), can you take an active leadership role? No.

For what it’s worth, I find any church that says it is inclusive and open to all but is not clear about its stance on non-heteronormativity problematic. I find OUR church problematic. I find the “big C” United Methodist Chuch highly problematic–even before this latest power-grab by the conservative bloc. You don’t have to identify as queer to feel this way, you just have to be a human being. These types of policies hurt people and do NOT bring them closer to God.**

Remember that Jesus did not say “love the sinner, hate the sin,” he said, “love your neighbour as yourself.” To label someone as a “sinner” is to say they exist outside of God’s grace and unless they clean up their act, cannot be forgiven. People are complex; it is nigh impossible to separate what a person does from who a person is (this is especially true when a person was literally born that way).

Here is the real question I think we should consider. Is it worth singing songs that a majority of the band, and possibly members of this church, find to be problematic? We’ve done without Hillsong songs in the past. We’ve established that there are LOTS of other bands, writers, and music to choose from.  Why is this an issue? While I agree that it’s the intention of the band and not the writer of the song that’s important — we know that there are members of our congregation that are feeling hurt and cast aside. Why chance that we might make it worse? I mean, I like “What a Beautiful Name,” too, but I won’t sing it if it’s going to make a single congregation member think that I don’t find them to be equal with every other person in the congregation.

And, as we said before, this isn’t an ultimatum or a power grab or anything else. We simply need you to know that members of the band are uncomfortable singing songs that promote Hillsong, and we don’t want to play them. We’re not leaving the band. We’re not taking the instruments and going home. We just don’t want to sing those songs

Let me know if you want to talk more.

~Jenn
“…you are defined not by life’s imperfect moments, but by your reaction to them.” ― Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess

FOOTNOTES:
*As an aside, I also find people who write stuff like this and add “I have gay friends” HIGHLY suspicious.

** This is the reason I don’t take communion in church anymore. How can we say it’s a truly open table if we are excluding our queer brothers and sisters? 

For what it’s worth, I understand that for someone that is used to playing songs written by this group, it seems a daunting task to choose other bands. But I also understand what it’s like to be in a church where you do not see anyone that resembles you in a position of leadership. I grew up in the Catholic church, where the leaders were almost exclusively white men (I mean, in Catholic school there were nuns, but that’s not really the same thing). Women, and more specifically minority women, were relegated to the cleaning and upkeep of the church. They were not equal, they were valued for providing two things: service to the church, and children as more congregants. If you could do neither, you were not valued.

The UMC currently has a stance that is frighteningly close to that of Hillsong. And if the Traditional Plan passes, it will be even more so. Sometimes showing true love is a difficulty. Sometimes it means giving up delicious chicken nuggets. Sometimes it means not supporting businesses that in turn support people that stand for horrible things. And sometimes that means not singing some nice songs because they were written by people that don’t understand that you can’t love the sinner and hate the sin… you can only hate.

About Sticks

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One of my favorite stories in the Tao of Pooh has to do with a game called “poohsticks.” Poohsticks is now such a famous game, there are world championships (now in it’s 35th year)… but in it’s simplicity, it is “a simple sport which may be played on any bridge over running water; each player drops a stick on the upstream side of a bridge and the one whose stick first appears on the downstream side is the winner” (Wikipedia entry on Poohsticks). But Benjamin Hoff sees it as more, he sees it as the embodiment of taoist scientific exploration…

In that Poohishly humble incident, one can see all the elements of pure science as practiced by the Taoists: the chance occurrence, the observant and inquisitive mind, deduction of the principles involved, application of those principles, modification of materials, and a new practice or way of doing things. Not bad. But after all, Pooh is That sort of Bear…… If we were asked to condense Taoist teachings regarding everyday life to their irreducible essentials, we would say: Observe, Deduce, and Apply. Watch what is around you – putting aside, as best you can, previous conceptions that you or others might have about it. Ideally, look at it as though you were seeing it for the first time. Mentally reduce it to its basic elements – “See simplicity in complexity,” as Lao-tse put it. Use intuition as well as logic in order to understand what you see (a vital difference between the Whole Reasoner and the Left-Brain Technician). Look for connections between one thing and another – notice patterns and relationships. Study the natural laws you see operating through them. Then work with those laws, applying the smallest possible amount of interference and effort, in order to learn more and achieve whatever you need to – and no more.

Sometimes this is a difficulty for those of us that are more logic than intuition. But Hoff continues in this vein…

Carefully observe the natural laws in operation in the world around you, and live by them. From following them, you will learn the morality of modesty, moderation, compassion, and consideration (not just one society’s rules and regulations), the wisdom of seeing things as they are (not of merely collecting “facts” about them), and the happiness of being in harmony with the Way (which has nothing to do with self-righteous “spiritual” obsessions and fanaticism). And you will live lightly, Spontaneously, and effortlessly.

I love the idea of this, I really do–but it is a difficult thing to do, especially in the world today. And, secondarily, even I know that spontaneous is not a word anyone would use to describe me. But, you see, this idea of sticks as a learning method is not just found in reading material.


IMG_20141222_164332A little over 3 years ago I got my black belt in JKD/Gung Fu alongside my children. We had been working hard for that belt, and I was very proud of us for following something through to completion. I had studied multiple other styles, but like Goldilocks I found them all inadequate in some way: this one is too violent, this one is all kicking, this one is not useful for someone of my stature… etc. The mix of JKD and Gung Fu seemed to fit all of the various requirements I had.  I also began to study Filipino Martial Arts on the side, since I had been introduced to Escrima stick fighting and just fell in love with it.

At some point, it became clear that I wanted to continue my education more in the FMA side than JKD/Gung Fu, and I found myself studying in the Garimot Arnis Training (GAT) system. And here is where I found the difference between theory and application
aid1010132-v4-728px-block-punches-in-karate-step-8Many of the systems I studied previously focused on a 1:1 application method. Which is to say, they would teach in the following way: IF [someone does this] THEN [you counter like that]. There’s a counter for everything! If they’re standing on the right side of you, and they attack with a front punch, and you have your right hand up…. then you put your left leg at a right angle, and move the left hand in a semi circle to the east and…..

…and that’s great, there are a lot of things you can do with that.  So long as you have a mind like an encyclopedia with instant recall. That’s a great place to start. We’ve got the rules, but there’s nothing beyond rote response. And here is where my stick fighting interest led me to something entirely new… GAT may have begun with the basics, but there was no 1:1 instruction.  Yes, there was an instigating action… but rather than focusing on specific reactions, the focus was instead: “here are a whole bunch of ways you can react to someone coming at you, let’s figure out what is going to work for you.”

This becomes even more evident when stick fighting. It is a difficult thing to train yourself to react by instinct. When you start out, you want to measure, and come up with formulas or rules to make sure you’re doing what you need to do to stay out of harm’s way. You hit your opponent’s stick, and stay the heck out of their range (and yours). The thought of getting hit by a stick is scary–and since you’re practicing with your friends, the thought of hitting your friends is equally unappealing. But you have to learn to put yourself out there in order to get close enough to strike–and further, you have to learn to “feel” your opponent. If you don’t learn to move, and counter, and strike, you won’t get hurt–but you also will not strike.

In the end, it comes down to this: after you practice enough, you will be able to move in such a way that you are out of striking distance, but can still strike your opponent, and you won’t even think about it. After you practice enough, you will be able to feel (and tell if there is maliciousness) in the grasping of your wrist, or shoulder, and react before your opponent has time to complete their action. After you practice enough, you can use intuition as well as logic in order to understand what you see, and react accordingly.

Greetings. Are you a Heather? *

When I was younger, I longed to be non-descript. Not exactly longing to be white, or have blonde hair, I just wanted to fit in with the other girls. Try as I might, I couldn’t do it. There was a myriad of reasons: I was socially awkward, I didn’t dress in the right clothes, I didn’t have the right shoes, I was too young, I didn’t have a boyfriend… the list could go on and on. I was seldom a target of bullying–a couple of scraps with the mean girls identified me as someone who would fight back–but I was excluded. There was an “otherness” around me that would not allow me to fit in, period.  It never occurred to me that the girls I wanted to be like were largely white, or upper-middle-class, and Protestant. I took refuge with the outcasts, and I was better for it.

But every once in a while, I would find myself sitting at the popular table for one reason or another. Maybe I helped someone with their homework, or maybe someone lost a bet or something. But here’s the thing, every time that happened, I realized I didn’t really want to sit there. Because here’s what they don’t tell you about sitting at the popular table when you are something other: you will be constantly reminded that it is through the mean girl’s indulgence that you are able to sup with them.  If not for their pity, you would be sitting with the rest of the other girls, feeding off the scraps they throw from the table.  I realized pretty quickly that I would much rather just bring my own lunch instead of eating anyone’s scraps… either at or under the table.

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I’m a long way from those crazy middle and high-school years, but sometimes I feel the same thing from my well-meaning CIS-white friends. They want me, the POC to sit with them at the CIS-white table. Because that means they’re helping in the fight against racism! They’re trying… it’s just that…

…as my old sociology professor, Dr. Trepaigner used to say, “they mean well enough, bless their little white hearts.” In their mind, they honestly think that accepting a POC as (for all practical purposes) “an honorary white person” is the way to go.  They don’t really realize that it doesn’t work that way… it can’t  work that way.  Most POC are not interested in becoming white, they just want to not be something other than white.

I’ve experienced this a number of ways, from friends, from family, and from strangers. Every single one of them thought they were doing a good thing. Every single one of them thought it was a compliment to say things like, “oh, not like you honey, you’re family,” or “well, you’re one of the good ones, you know.” I’ve had people speak for my experience without letting me speak. I’ve had people nod as I explain myself, but only hear what they wanted to hear… none of them understood.

A metaphor…

I was trying to explain it to my oldest the other day, and I likened it to being an adopted foster child.  As a foster child, you may have known unspeakable pain and suffering, and you long for stability. And maybe someone fosters you, and you get along with the family and the other kids and they decide to adopt you. And you are THRILLED… at first.

Maybe…. every so often… members of your adopted family will remind you how lucky you are that they adopted you, and how much better off you are now that you’re with them.  Not in a mean way… in a.. “we’re so glad we rescued you and now you’re our family” kind of way.

You are encouraged to forget your past and everything that may have come with it. YES, the pain, but also the happy times, too. Because now this is your family and reality. And every time you try to explain that the time before they adopted you was bad, yes, it also is a part of you and who you are… they look at you like you like a rescue dog that peed on the rug. How could you be so ungrateful? Didn’t they adopt you? Those were other people that hurt you, they’re nothing like that. How could you want to put your NEW family in the same category of memory as those AWFUL people? Can’t you just forget what happened before?

Ugh, so what? I can’t do anything?

Yes, I’m kind of oversimplifying it for the sake of explanation. There are always nuances and special circumstances and whatnot. But at the heart, that’s really what it feels like. I can’t forget that I have been racially profiled. I can’t forget that I have been a victim of sexual harassment and assault. I can’t forget any number of things that were a direct result of my perceived gender or race. And yes, I understand that allies are trying to help by using their privilege for good.

Just remember these three things….

Being an ally means you are helping with the fight. You are standing behind to help make the voices of those who have suffered injustice louder, not talking for them. I have my own voice, and I have my own story. Not even my dear husband would presume to speak for me insofar as my race or gender is concerned. Don’t try to speak for me.

Being an ally means acknowledging that people like yourself have done some bad shit to others. Maybe you did some of that shit too, and now you’re trying to make up for it. Good on you. Maybe you never did. Good for you! But it doesn’t mean that you get to draw a line in the sand and say… okay, all those people over there were bad so you need to move on because we’re here to help you. Don’t try to revise or rewrite my history to make yourself feel better.

Being an ally means listening, so you know how you can best help. You may want to jump in with both feet and get this fight going, and that’s great. As Willy Wonka said, “enthusiasm is key.” But listen to those you are trying to help. You can save yourself some heartache and hurt feelings if you just take a minute to listen to the problem without immediately forcing your solution.  Don’t try to take over.

I’ve learned these things through my own trial and error trying to help those that are other than myself. I’ve also learned these things when people other than myself have tried to help me. I don’t want to discourage anyone… quite the opposite! I appreciate the help. And maybe, every once in a while, why don’t you come on over and sit at that other table. You might learn something about yourself.


*did you know they’re making Heathers into a TV series? I am both horrified and intrigued by this.

Mexican Americans love education, so they go to night school and they take Spanish… and get a B.

There’s a scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves that pops up in my head from time to time*. It is when a little girl is studying Azeem with careful curiosity and finally asks him, “Did God paint you?” and Azeem chuckles and says, “Because Allah loves wondrous varieties.” (We’ll skip the bit of racism from Friar Tuck that immediately follows)


You mean I’m going to stay this color?

the talking flowers scold alice

Yesterday as we were riding back from Target (where I got a GREAT deal on a “party platter lasagna”), the youngest and I were discussing his Spanish class and some of his difficulty with the class. I mentioned that when I took Spanish in high school I had a hard time of it. Not because I knew too much Spanish, but because what Spanish I knew was considered slang. In our class, we were expected to learn PROPER Spanish—Spain Spanish—instead of this Tex-Mex nonsense we were speaking in the home.

My Spanish teacher, Señora Chatten was from SPAIN. And not just anywhere in Spain, either. She was Castillian — which meant she had an affected lisp.  And just to throw a total wrench in the works, not only was she from Spain, she looked Spanish. Which is to say, she looked like a slightly overweight Barbara Eden. She was tall, blonde, had beautifully clear blue eyes, and even wore her hair in a high ponytail.  For those of us in our small class (of 30 kids) that had never encountered someone truly Spanish, it was a bit of a shock. Walking into class, we saw a güera standing by the desk and thought, “oh, substitute teacher… sweet.” And then she just starts rattling off Spanish like crazy. And not Tex-Mex, or border Spanish, or even Mexican Spanish…. REAL Spanish.

As I’m talking about Señora Chatten to the youngest, his eyes got huge. “Wait, wait,” and then a pause, “she was WHITE?” “Well, yes,” I explain, “she was from Spain.” There was another long pause. “People from Spain,” he continued, “are WHITE.”

And here I had to laugh. Because growing up in Central Texas there was no real reason for him to assume that someone speaking Spanish that was not “clearly” Hispanic had done anything but learn the language in school. “My darling child,” I said, “where on earth did you think your lovely alabaster skin and green eyes came from? My great-grandfather was from Spain. He had green eyes, red hair, and beautiful pale skin. I mean, yeah, those genes are recessive—but they are not THAT recessive.”  He mulled it over.

“Look,” I explained, “all the things that people, including yourself, tend to associate with Hispanic-ness are actually things that are more accurately Indigenous features. The dark skin, the full lips, the broad noses… being short… those are all more Indigenous features, honey.  Think Native American. The truth is that Spanish people are about as diverse as any other European country.” This seemed to disturb him in a way that I had not anticipated. “I’m not saying you didn’t get ANY of the indigenous features… you’ve got some big ol’ lips, and your hair is closer in texture to native hair. But mostly, you got a whole bunch of European going on up in there.”

He seemed to be thoughtful for a while, and then tentatively asked, “so I .. I AM Hispanic, then.” I shrugged, “what you call yourself is what you call yourself, kiddo. But for the purposes of applying for colleges and scholarships, I would say the answer is YES.”

 


Meanwhile, back at the ranch….

Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland

More recently, I’ve discovered my older child, who has just started college, and I have a shared experience.

“Mom,” he said as we walked to the bank, “the other day some guy in my class was all, ‘so what ARE you,’ and I was all, ‘what?'” I stopped walking in the middle of a crosswalk, and took a second to gather my thoughts before I asked him, “what did you say?”

He laughed, “I just said, ‘what the hell kind of question is that?'” I resumed walking across the street with him. “Yeah, I used to get that too. Most people guessed I was half… something other than Hispanic. I was too pale, my eyes just a little too tilted at the ends, my lips just a little too big… they just didn’t understand.”

He continued gamely, “well, this guy thought I was half-Filipino because he thought I looked Asian and Hispanic… which apparently means Filipino!”
I laughed. “your nose is a little broad, too. I can’t get away with Filipino, my nose tilts up too much. It is decidedly European.”

We stopped in the parking lot of the bank and he turned to me… “But the guy wouldn’t just accept that I’m just Hispanic. He was all, ‘are you SURE there’s no Asian?’ And I was all, ‘nope, as far as I know, this is just what you get when you mix white with Mexican, no Asian involved.”
I laughed, “yeah, I told your dad, ‘no.'” He wisely let that one go.


Six of One, Half-a-dozen of the Other

The plain truth is that my youngest–with his pale alabaster skin and carefully modulated tones–is far more likely to pass as white than my oldest, who shares my skin coloration albeit a bit lighter.  He hasn’t rejected his Hispanic-ness, necessarily… but he has (in my opinion) made it something outside himself. To him, it’s an accessory, to be worn as needed. And that’s okay. I’m okay with him doing that if that’s what makes him happy.

My oldest, however, has an exoticness around him that doesn’t completely overcome the clear-blue of his eyes and brown curly hair. He has a foot in both worlds but can never exist completely in just one. In a way, I kind of envy that fluidity–because it doesn’t come with the baggage of being allowed to exist in a world that is not of your own.

As Salt ‘n Pepa says, it’s “None of Your Business”

I am an Ally for many different causes. Frequently these seem to cause some sort of trouble for either myself of my family. Now I know my immediate family (husband/kids) don’t really sweat it, but sometimes it has some interesting consequences–particularly with our extended family.

purseSome people wear their feelings on their sleeves… I wear mine as buttons and patches on my purse.  With the exception of the lavender bespectacled unicorn in the center (with “Haters gonna Hate” embroidered below) every patch and button has been hand-selected and added by me.  I bought the bag (with the unicorn on it) from Etsy a few years ago, and then just started adding things on.

The front is pretty self-explanatory, though a couple of the patches are a tiny bit obscure. My personal favorites are the “do no harm but take no shit” button towards the bottom center, and the “feminist killjoy” patch to the left of the unicorn.

Now, by placing these patches and buttons onto my purse, I have made something of a social contract. I understand that when I visibly wear something that declares a like or a dislike for something, I am implicitly allowing people to ask me about it.  Most of the time I get people telling me they “love my purse,” or “did you sew all those on yourself?”  But every once in a while, someone finds something they might not agree with—and now it’s awkward.

Let’s start small. I once had a lively discussion on the juxtaposition of the Star Trek command badge with the floral Vader patch. After I pointed out that I also had a Galaxy Quest mission patch, a Tyrell corporation patch (not shown) and Browncoat patch (also not shown), we agreed it was ok to put the two franchises next to each other because I was being all inclusive.

Speaking of all-inclusive…. that brings me to my point. You might also see that I have several buttons that out me as an LGTBQ Ally.  On one occasion, this prompted a “what are you a queer?” from a perfect stranger (to which I responded, “oh, I’m sorry, I’m already married,” and smiled sweetly before continuing, “but I’m sure you’ll find someone lovely.”  I have also had people who know me a little better—and know that I am married someone of the opposite sex—ask me if there’s a particular reason why I might be an advocate equal rights.

Let me lay it out for you. It’s honestly none of your business why I support equal rights, if indeed I have one at all.  Is it necessary to have a child who identifies as something other than heteronormative in order to support rights for all?  Are you asking me my orientation? Would it matter if I said I was bi? or gender non-conformative?  Should it? Is that ANY of your business?  Because it’s not. WHY do you think I need a reason to be a decent human being?

There’s this great passage from Rose Madder where Rosie asks Anna why Anna’s parent founded Daughters and Sisters, the secure shelter where Rosie is staying. And Anna hands Rosie a Paul Sheldon Misery novel, and says:

Bodice-rippers are one of my secret vices… but they’re trash, and do you know why? Because the whole round world is explained in them. There are reasons for everytyhing. They may be as farfetched as the stories in the supermarket tabloids and thye may run counter to everything a halfway intelligent person understanda bout how peopel behave in real life, but they’re there…In life, Rosie, sometimes people do things, both bad and good, just-because.

I don’t need a reason to be a thoughtful human being, any more than some jerk has a reason for being an asshole. Sometimes people are good (or bad) just because. I wear my allyship on my purse so that people who might need help can see where to turn. I put my Ally sign on my cube door, so people who need help understand that I am a safe place and I will listen, not judge, and help them.  And you had better hope that I don’t see you being a jerk to someone (based on their orientation or otherwise) because I. Will. End. You.

Here’s the thing. sexual orientation is just one small part of a whole human being, and I feel that to discriminate against people for something that is (honestly) not something that the public should know/care about. Now, if that person chooses to make their orientation known AND part of their persona, I’m all for it, too. But it should not be a defining point on which human rights are granted or taken away. This is a horrendously complex thing that involves an infinite continuum of:

  • biological sex (the parts you get at birth)
  • gender identity (pronouns)
  •  sexual orientation (who you are attracted to) — which can include asexual
  • romantic orientation (who you want a long relationship with)
  • sexual behavior (not preference, but BEHAVIOR)
  • gender roles (what society expects)

Here watch this:

To a lot of people…it’s easy to imagine that human beings are simple, and you can know a person’s sex, and then you will know all sorts of things about them deeply and clearly. And if you don’t fit into this nice little box, people who do can get really confused and sometimes even angry…

[people should understand that] there are no nice shiney boxes, or if there are shiney boxes, there are an infinite number of them. Enough to put all of the people who currently exist, have ever existed, and will ever exit.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… it’s none of [our] business.


 

And now because you have that wonderful song from 1993 in your head…