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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…

Sassy, Classy, and a little bit Aspy

When my oldest was in elementary school, he was having a lot of problems with his reading. We were convinced he had dyslexia but had no money to get him tested. We had tried in vain to get the school to test him; they turned us down. I eventually a turned to a friend who is an ARD Facilitator.  She told me the magic phrases to use and soon we had an officially diagnosed child with a 504 plan and accommodations in place.

The Sunday after the diagnosis, I met her at church and thanked her for what she had done. She had saved us a lot of money and I was very grateful. As we talked about getting kids tested and what not we talked about undiagnosed children in the church. I laughed and told her, “oh, but you can take a quiz online and be diagnosed with just about anything. I mean, according to a test I took online I’m high-functioning autistic.” Her response? “Oh yeah, I could see that, you’re a little Aspy.”

Autism in females is understudied and misdiagnosed1. When you look at the list of traits, it’s easy to see how many of the traits could be mistaken for other things, or as quirks of “just being smart and a little eccentric.” Often they are diagnosed with secondary illnesses that are side-effects of the Aspergers/autism (depression, anorexia, obsessive/compulsive disorder, etc.).

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In some cases, it is noted that women are much more successful at masking their symptoms and acting in a “normal manner.”2  They work from meticulous notes kept in their head. They might even channel their hyperfocus to their advantage in work or play. In short, women in autism can often turn their “illness” to an advantage.

Here’s where it gets interesting… I think the internet (and my friend) are probably right. I’ve never been what you would call a “normal” girl. I had always chalked it up to me being a year younger than my classmates. “There was no way I could be as socially adept as my classmates,” I would tell myself, “since they’re all older than me. Everyone is always telling me there is a huge difference between a 13-year-old and 14-year-old.”  When I manifested my need for control as anorexia in my junior and senior year of high-school, I passed it off as OCD and a need to please my parents. I was never really good at mimicking a popular person, instead, I would befriend people of many varied groups and ensure that I had people I could count as “friends” no matter where I was.

Down the line, I was checking off traits: yes, yes, yes, sometimes, yes…. it was both frightening and vindicating. I had always assumed my awkwardness to be a function of my age or my upbringing. But as it turns out… my upbringing had probably forced me to be closer to “normal” than I would have been if left to my own devices.

  • Forced manners classes gave me a basis on which I could build my persona.
  • Dance classes gave me a feminine friendly focus for my hyperfocus.
  • The one trophy I ever earned was for writing over 30 book reports in a single month—which I did at the age of 5.
  • My parents seemed to keep up with trends and bought me civilian clothing I could wear when I was not in my school uniform. And when I was forced into public school, I wore all black, since I didn’t have to worry about matching my clothes

quote-temple-grandin-mild-autism-can-give-you-a-genius-1-248433And you know what? I’m okay with this. I take a low dose of anti-anxiety/depression pills to keep the worst of my OCD type symptoms at bay, and that mostly works. Sometimes having a name to call your bundle of weirdness is in and of itself comforting. And honestly, I’m not horrified to learn these things about myself. After all, it has some positive benefits: I taught myself to play drums from YouTube, I can draw and paint very well, and my need to correct injustice created a social justice warrior (much to the chagrin of my more conforming relatives). Rather on focusing on fitting in, I’m more concerned with finding my own tribe, and it makes me happy when I can recognize someone with the same “quirkiness.”

After all, it’s like Temple Grandin says:

The thing about being autistic is that you gradually get less and less autistic, because you keep learning, you keep learning how to behave. It’s like being in a play; I’m always in a play.

Temple Grandin

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired… now I’m just mad.

So. On November 10th, I wrote this post on Facebook:

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Let’s talk about it a little further.

I would like to say that I was shocked and appalled by what happened, but the sad truth is that I’m not. And that is because this is not the first time I’ve heard those words, or felt the anger rise up in my chest like bile…. it’s just the first time I’ve had that kind of hate directed at one of my children.I had always hoped that no child of mine would ever have to deal with this kind of stupidity. Not because they could “pass,” but because we should be living in a post-racial society by now. All I wanted for them was to not have to deal with the name calling, and the stereotypes, and the assumptions that I had to deal with… that my parents had to deal with… that my grandparents had to deal with… and so on.

But that is not what happened on Thursday.

On Thursday, my son was a target because the color of his skin and the company that he keeps. On Thursday, children that he has known for the majority of his life said some really hurtful things. And he already knew that they felt that way. He’s had to have multiple talks with them about the “stupid things they were saying about Hispanics and Mexicans.” And to their credit, they stopped doing so… around him. Until Thursday. And you know what? It would have been Wednesday, but the kids were out on Wednesday because they needed a mental health day after the nightmare of Tuesday.

I am grateful to have such good friends that sympathize and are similarly offended. It was never my intention for the post to go viral—all ever wanted to do is show people I know that this is REAL. These kinds of stories that you hear on the news aren’t just kids saying things to get attention. My kiddo HATES attention; I kept his name out of the story on purpose. But I needed to show people—many of whom are still my friends—that the choices that we make can have real consequences for real people. And yes, perhaps it was the work of a few asshole kids at this one school… but that’s not the only school that is experiencing this kind of backlash against minority children. There are children who are being told that they’re going to have to go to another school because soon their school will be “all white again.” There are families that are desperately afraid that someone will be knocking on their door and rounding them up in the night, regardless of the immigration status of the various family members. There are young women afraid to walk anywhere at night, and church members afraid to attend services.  And they are just as real as my son.

children-are-not-a-zoo-of-entertainingly-exotic-creatures-but-an-array-of-mirrors-in-which-the-quote-1Ultimately, our family will be okay. We are strong, and we raised strong children. My sons are social justice warriors and will gladly take up the fight. They’ve marched in Pride Parades, worn “I am a Feminist” buttons, and stood up to teachers when they’ve felt the lesson was biased or racist in its premise. But if you are reading this… please. Please take a minute to think of the other children who are waking up in a world where they are suddenly “other.” Think before you speak, before you post, or  before you say something thoughtless. Kids aren’t hateful by nature. It’s LEARNED.