Tag Archives: rape culture

uprooting and untangling the binds of rape culture

Squash seedlings, damp, spreading out in morning sunlight

Squash seedlings almost ready for transplant!

Good morning, good morning. What’s the sun doing where you are right now? How is it feeding your heart?

Even though it’s possible, here in California, to garden year-round, I still live with the rhythms I learned growing up in zone 5 out in the midwest, where one had to take a break in gardening overwinter because, you know, snow. But every late February, something about the quality of light changes, and I get called back out into the garden. We moved last fall, so I have a new garden to build here. I’ve put in some carrot and radish seeds, have peas and chard and onions and herbs and nasturtium and sweet pea growing, and I can just barely see the tips of gai lan seedlings. It’s hard not to want to do it all right now, to have the garden bursting with color and fruit and flower that we left behind in Oakland. I’m re-learning the slow work of cultivation.

I had to dig out some kind of tenacious weed yesterday — California burclover, I discovered — and, while I dug my fingers around a particularly obstinate stem, I got to thinking about the work of uprooting rape culture.

The burclover, right now, is lovely, tender, with clover-like leaves and small yellow flowers. You can just barely see the buds of the fruit next to those flowers; the green pods are covered with a fine fringe that, when they get brown and dry, will turn into spines that dig into any bare feet or paws that go walking through the lawn. I know from past experience how difficult it is to get rid of these plants once they’re established in a garden, so I started pulling them out of this new yard as soon as I realized they were what was matting the area around my garden bed. But they don’t come up easy — though each plant just has one white taproot (like a dandelion) holding it in place, aboveground it sends out suckers and vines that also put down little roots in the soil as they spread. If you can get the whole rosette in hand and twist up, often you can pull up the taproot, too, but the sucker branches twist into those of other plants, growing over and under, through and around. Untangling those as best as possible, trying to save other small plants caught in between, becomes the slowest part of the weeding process.

I spent more than an hour on this yesterday, and still only managed to clean out a couple of square feet, barely noticeable if you’re not paying close attention. The ground I’m working with is clay-y and hardening — often, instead of getting the taproot out, I just tore off the surface greenery, leaving the slick greenbrown stems. I got out tools, used the hand cultivator and trowel, spent several minutes on each one of these plants, trying to dig out the root.

It was good and patient work, centering, calming.

While I was at this, I thought, This is what the struggle against rape is like — this is what it takes to end or change a cultural mindset that says that some people (mostly men) should get to have sexual access to the bodies of the people (mostly women and children) whenever they want. This mindset has deep roots, is well-established, can look harmless at first, in certain lights or seasons or when young or early in relationships, say, and gets twisted into and through the rest of society, choking the life from other things — both wild and cultivated — that need air and light and room to grow.

A bucketful of burweed

I can’t pull out one plant and be done with it. I have to try and get them all. But I can’t do it all at one time, nor can I do it all alone, as burweed certainly has a presence in every neighbor’s garden and in the wildlands back behind the house. I have to be vigilant, return to the same spots that I worked over yesterday to pull up the plants that I missed or whose roots kept hold. And during the time that I live here, I won’t eradicate all the California burclover. But I’m also choosing not to lean on the easy solution of poison, which will damage the soil I’m trying to reclaim and make it less hospitable for other life, will kill other plants also deemed weeds by a certain type of gardener and the gardening industrial complex, but that I want to nurture and save.

So I keep going in with my bare hands, now, when the fruits are still young — before they dry into hard burrs that are intended to dig into feet and feathers and fur, get carried away to establish new colonies elsewhere — and root out what I can.

The work of change is like this — slow, persistent, requiring patience and tenacity and vigilance. And with as many people as there are tangled up in the binds of rape culture, uprooting it is going to take time, as we try and help untangle the thoughts and beliefs and behaviors and entitlements and shames from the other stuff inside that needs room to breathe but has been choked of light and air — kindness, creativity, vulnerability, humility, grief, tenderness. The work is slow. It may take our combined lifetimes.

But I’ll tell you that yesterday, when I took a break, I noticed how good my body and mind felt, being at this labor, how grateful I was to be outside, my hands embedded with dirt, back sore, the work begun—incomplete, sure, but begun.

milkweed seedlings

My mother taught me the rhythm out of weeding, which, inadvertently taught me the rhythm of change work. She cleared out her huge garden a little bit every day, pulled a few weeds, tended the loosed soil, planted something new – until eventually she had the messy gorgeous beauty that is her sprawling wildflower-herb-vegetable garden. It’s a rhythm, a daily practice, something that can sustain us as we engage in the work of uprooting ideas and mindsets (of say, patriarchy and white supremacy) that have overtaken much more than their fair share of the earth, digging out space for more beauty, more birds and butterflies and bees, more sustenance, more space where it safe to walk on a spring morning in your bare feet.

Is there something in your life that needs some room to grow, to breathe? What would you be cultivating right now, if you gave yourself permission? Take 10 minutes with a notebook, open to a new page, and just write whatever comes when you think about these questions. Try not to edit or think too much about it, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. Be easy with you today, ok? And thank you for your good words.

is it dystopian if it’s happening now?

stencil graffiti of woman's symbol with a fist in the circle, beneath the words (cw: discussion of rape and current events)
 
This weekend I finished reading Marge Piercy’s “Woman on the Edge of Time,” a speculative novel about a poor Chicana, Consuelo, in the 1970s who is involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution when she beats up her niece’s pimp — labelled crazy because she doesn’t accept the way things are, struggles against her lot in life, isn’t playing the role of happy woman. She is contacted by a woman from the future, and, over the course of the book, is able to see and experience two possible futures: one in which the people have taken power back from white supremacy and corporations, work cooperatively and live communally, share resources, and use technology for the betterment of all; and one in which society has been even further fragmented into layers of have and have-not than our is now — Consuelo meets a woman in this latter reality who is kept in an apartment for sexual companionship, her body so modified to exaggerate her breasts and ass that she can barely walk. This woman tells Consuelo about the television programs now available (for the cost of organs, apparently harvested from the very poor), available in what we would call high-definition virtual reality: full-stim, they say — the viewer is able to experience every action. She gives Consuelo a program guide, and we see that the programs are intensely violent, with rape and gore emphasized as enticements for the viewers.
 
Of course, I read this with dismay, understanding that it’s a not-altogether-unlikely dystopian future for our power-and-violence obsessed culture. But a future, surely – who is tuning in for “full-stim” experience of another person’s violation?
 
Then I turned on the radio. Teenage boys rape a young woman and live-stream it on facebook. Forty people tune in to watch, and none of them contact authorities. Forty people. Forty.
 
That’s the part that keeps ringing in my head. Forty people tuned in to watch.
 
Is there such a thing as dystopian fiction anymore? Don’t we just call it realism now?
 
(Because I don’t want to just link to a news story about the crime, I just tried to look up a site with info about how to help this young woman, and discovered that you have to be specific about WHICH woman whose rape was live-streamed on fb you want to learn about. And so now I’d like to know what the hell FB is doing to help with investigations and shut this shit down.)
 
Be easy with yourselves and your beloveds today. Remind your sons not to rape anyone as they go out into the world. Remind everyone to please call the fucking police if they find that a friend of theirs is being raped on a live-stream somewhere.

the dance floor was the one safe place to have a body

CW: violence, sex, grief, a graphic detail about rape

This morning, I’m out at my neighborhood cafe, where they are playing club music to wake up the patrons. Or maybe in solidarity and grief and resistance. this cafe is queer-owned/-operated, and has sizable queer clientele. A handful of folks come in who I read as queer; we’re subdued this morning. We don’t smile big. We give each other the side eye, we purse our lips in that sort of sad smile that says, I’m grieving, too, even though I’m out in the world trying to look like I have my shit together. The world feels quieter today, muted, and not just because of the fog dampening the trees and the morning commute.

This morning I am grieving like so many of us are grieving because we’ve had a mass shooting hit us in our back yard. Many others of us are grieving because this is only the latest shooting to target someone or some community we love.

My love and I spent early Sunday morning with the New York Times, out on the back deck in the sun. After more than a week of doing everything I could to avoid hearing or reading about the Stanford Rape fiasco, I finally felt like I was ready to look. To open my eyes and look. To pull my head out of the sand and look, read, take it in. I’d been avoiding the news because I didn’t want to be surprised by details of the violence, I didn’t want to hear any more about how a white man’s future is protected by all the white men in power, even though he raped a drunk woman in the bushes and was witnessed in the act. I didn’t yet want to read her letter. I wasn’t ready. I just didn’t have the room in my body for the details, and for the rage that rises up in me every time I even think about it, and I wanted to wait until I did have some room in me before I tried to take in the story. I avoided Facebook even more studiously that usual, not wanting to run into excerpts of the survivor’s letter, into yet another story about the rapist or, even worse, learning the details from some ironic Facebookable image or satirical story.

Just yesterday, sitting on the back porch with the New York Times review section, I ran into yet another article about the case — I suppose I should be grateful that rape is finally deemed newsworthy in this way — and thought, Ok. All right. Fine. I’ll read it. I took a deep breath, and got about a quarter of the way in, until I reached a line that included details about gravel in the victim’s vagina. And then I shouted, “That’s enough!” and turned the page. My beloved looked at me sympathetically as I was shrieking at newsprint.

Until we got in the car an hour after that to drive the 45 minutes to the little church that I fell in love with when I lived in Tiburon, I didn’t know about the violence in Orlando. We switched on the radio, which was turned down low, and heard the whisper of one of the NPR announcers talking about special coverage of yet another mass shooting — and then I grabbed my phone and looked up the news.” It was a gay bar,” I said. “A gay bar.”

~~ ~~ ~~

I still haven’t read anything that explains why it took the police three hours to get into that bar after patrons started calling 911.

~~ ~~ ~~

Yesterday, driving down the hill from church and looking out on the San Francisco Bay, I thought about how it could have been us. I thought, Those were kids, the people in that bar — queer youth looking for sanctuary, looking for sweetness and solidarity and, yes, sex.

They were like us, who piled into Anna’s suburban late on a Sunday to head over to the one bar in the Upper Valley that had an “alternative lifestyle” night, who knew that if we timed it just right, the bouncer wouldn’t care that some of us were underage because the bar was going to close in an hour anyway, and we tumbled into the place like a bunch of oversexed puppies and took over (we thought we took over, I thought we took over) the dance floor, and we preened and performed for each other and the “older folks” (who were what, 35?) and spun and bounced and flirted and had one place that we were “normal,” we were the majority, we were right. This place was one of the few sanctuaries I had in the world, one of the places my stepfather would have never thought to try and track me down, one of the places where sometimes I almost even forgot about him and what he had made me into. The club, the dance floor, was my reclamation space, my resistance to incest and rape; it was, for some years, some many years, the only place it felt truly safe to have a body.

I thought about the majority young, majority-Latinx queer folks at Pulse this weekend and what that night, last Saturday night/early Sunday morning, was supposed to be for them. I thought about how hard some of the people in that club had had to work just to walk in the door. I thought about the joy and delight, the sexuality, the history and ache throbbing in that place.

The word we have for the act of violating a place of holiness and worship is desecration. What the shooter did on Saturday night was a desecration.

Where can we go to be safe? Where can we go to let down our guard? As women, as queer folks, and I think even more for my QTPOC beloveds and community, what does ‘safe space’ even mean?

~~ ~~ ~~

 I listened to the news yesterday, learned that the shooter was of Middle Eastern descent, and thought, Just wait for what Trump is going to say. Just wait for the Republicans to pretend to be friends of the queer community now. Meanwhile, LGBTQ rights are under assault across the country. Meanwhile, the same politicians who called us perverts yesterday are going to try and use us now to further their cause for war. They don’t care about queer people. They care about power and violence.

Meanwhile, queer men still can’t donate blood unless they’ve been celibate for a year. (In protest of this rule, I myself haven’t donated blood since the 90s.)

I’m afraid of what white gay folks and queers will do, are doing, with news like this. We tend to make it all about ourselves, and only about ourselves — all gay and only gay, forgetting about or actively erasing the intersections. This was an attack on queer folks, yes, and primarily on queer people of color. Yesterday I turned on the radio for a minute, just to be with people who were talking about the horror, and I heard a reporter relay the comments of someone at a rally: “This is our Charleston, SC!” I can only imagine this was a white person speaking, though I might be wrong; I make this assumption because white queer folks have a history of laying claim to Black struggle with entitlement. I had to turn off the radio immediately, because I started shouting again. Queer folks have been under attack throughout human history; we don’t have to appropriate an atrocity committed on Black folks (some of whom may certainly have been queer) in a house of worship (who were targeted for their Blackness in a place of sanctuary by a white man whose actions were not called terrorism and initiated no calls to remove all white men or white people from the country, though because historically violence of this nature is committed overwhelmingly by white men, a case could be made that we might be a safer country if we did just that).

~~ ~~ ~~

At the end of last week, while having sex with my beloved, I ran my hands up and down her body, over and over, and felt a kind of thick astonishment that I get to be with this woman. With this woman. It was an old feeling, like I imagine dykes in the 50s or 60s felt, this terrified wonder, this sense of transgressing, of holding something I was never supposed to be able to hold, of experiencing a kind of joy and pleasure I was never supposed to be able to experience. Like I was doing something wrong. Maybe that feeling is my legacy, a kind of queer bone memory. I thought, But why should I be feeling this way today, in 2016, when queer folks have so much acceptance, when no one cares anymore if you’re queer?

Then I remembered the number of trans women murdered just so far this year. Then I remembered that I live in a bubble here in the Bay Area — that when I met my sweetheart at the airport in Omaha when I was there visiting a couple of weeks ago, we both hesitated before kissing hello. I put my lips on her forehead instead. Just taking her hand and wrapping her up in my welcoming arms felt wildly visible, potentially dangerous. We laughed about it nervously, but I kept an eye on the people who were keeping their eyes on us. (A few days later, back in the airport on our way out, we passed a man arriving in Omaha wearing a tshirt that read Black Guns Matter – and I was so sad to acknowledge that I was glad to be leaving.)

Then I heard the news about Orlando.

Yes, it’s still transgressive to love and want a woman the way I love and want mine. Yes, there are still plenty of people who want to see queerfolks “cured” or fixed or killed. Yes, there are still plenty of people who “love the sinner and hate the sin. Yes, there are politicians – and plenty of folks in their constituencies – who would happily legislate queerfolks out of existence.

~~ ~~ ~~

These are days for grief and rage. We live in a white supremacist patriarchy that privileges access to weaponry over the sanctity of human life, that cares more about the future well-being of a white male rapist than about holding him accountable for his crimes, that over and over deems Black and Brown bodies expendable, that treats gender transgressive bodies as crimes against nature. Change is possible — isn’t it true that change must be possible, that resistance and solidarity and the vision of something different must take precedence over hopelessness and resignation? But today it’s a struggle to pull away from the quicksand of hopelessness.

I have been thinking since yesterday of a poem by Essex Hemphill that I’ve handed out at many of my erotic writing groups – his words speak louder and more clearly than anything else I could say.

American Wedding
by Essex Hemphill

In america,
I place my ring
on your cock
where it belongs.
No horsemen
bearing terror,
no soldiers of doom
will swoop in
and sweep us apart.
They’re too busy
looting the land
to watch us.
They don’t know
we need each other
critically.
They expect us to call in sick,
watch television all night,
die by our own hands.
They don’t know
we are becoming powerful.
Every time we kiss
we confirm the new world coming.

What the rose whispers
before blooming
I vow to you.
I give you my heart,
a safe house.
I give you promises other than
milk, honey, liberty.
I assume you will always
be a free man with a dream.
In america,
place your ring
on my cock
where it belongs.
Long may we live
to free this dream.

I’m going to use all the details I damn well need

Today I am pissed off. This is a post about rape and rape culture. And uses bad language. And is angry. Just know that ahead of time.

Still reading? All right then.

There is a post on the VIDA website detailing assaults on just eleven (just eleven!) of what sounds like the many many women harassed and assaulted by a famous, well-respected, powerful man in various arts communities. A poet and photographer, he’s been involved in Cave Canem, taught at Sarah Lawrence College and Case Western, and women in the community, in his circles, have known about and warned each other about him for years – and yet only now is there collective voice enough to speak out, over and in spite of his threats to ruin his victims’ careers and credibility if they told.

And because I was stupid enough to read the comments about a link to this post on the VIDA FB page, here’s what I saw – Why was this done anonymously? How can we believe these stories if the tellers don’t include their names? Why didn’t they tell before? Why didn’t they go to the authorities? And why did they have to include such salacious details? What if it’s a false accusation—people’s lives are ruined by false accusations. (Eleven women’s testimonies! How many women have to come forward before their collective voices aren’t automatically decried as yet another attempt to ruin the name of a “good man” for their own malicious, apparently hysterical ends? Someone posted statistics of false allegations – here’s how often that actually happens, my friend.)

So, you know, obviously, overwhelming support for the women violated.

Just this week, articles about intimidation and harassment of women in science and deans of law schools accused of ongoing sexual harassment who admit their crimes, and get to write a letter of aploogy rather than lose their jobs because, you know, the chancellor didn’t want to ruin the guuy’s career (I can only assume it was only after massive outcry that he was eventually put on indefinite leave).

Over and over, women harassed, assaulted, violated, raped by men who have power, “mentors,” teachers, helpers. We are worth their time and attention because they find us sexy and want to fuck us – but then what then what then what? But then our ideas are worthless, our words, our theories, our art, our minds: worthless. What we are good for, according to these men, these leaders in their fields, is cunt. We are good for satisfying the bodily or harassment needs of our “mentors” who are just “out of control.” They can’t stop thinking about us, they need us, we should be flattered—obsession is our romantic norm, after all. And they warn us they could get in trouble, they know they shouldn’t be telling us these things, they want us to feel bad for them, they need us to help. We’re supposed to be swept away when he can’t keep his hands to himself, when he can’t listen to your presentation, recital, ideas because you’re just too beautiful, too sexy, that mouth those eyes those legs those tits—what do you expect me to do when you’re up there having a body in front of my wanting?

The women who speak out publicly are called mentally unstable (my stepfather said the same thing about me). We are crazy because we broke silence, we are crazy for not wanting their dicks in the first place, we are crazy for thinking we have the right to say no, crazy to believe that when we tell what happened to us, our words will be held in the same regard as those who raped or attempted to rape us. We are crazy when we go to the police. We are crazy when we say you will be held accountable. We are crazy when we speak up knowing the rapists won’t be held accountable.

Of course we’re not crazy. And of course we arehow could we not feel crazy? With the whole world telling us we made it up/it wasn’t that bad/you should get over it/you probably asked for it/what did you do to make him mad/I’m sorry I promise I’ll stop oops I just did it again

Look at you they get to do. Wherever and whenever and with impunity. With impunity. And folks of all genders keep on protecting your right to do it. Rapists in cultural communities. Rapists who are celebrities. Rapists who form the backbone of revered and massively powerful religious institutions (and this one and this one and this one and this one  and…)

So many stories, and people don’t want the details. Why’d you have to say he had bad breath? Why’d you have to give the size of his penis, the smells of his body, the cigarette stains between his fingers. Why’d you have to tell so much? Can’t you just, like, say it without giving us all those details?

Let me give you excerpts from American Psycho, Lolita, Game of Thrones, many Quentin Tarentino films, any number of Henry Miller books, the alt-lit boys who use their sexual assaults as fodder for their “art,” Andrew Dice Clay, shock jocks, who else who else who else—the men who are unafraid of the details, unapologetic about the details, the men who use all of it –

but we are supposed to be quiet about these facts of our lives, this raw material you shoved into our hands and mouths and cunts.

Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot, you only like to read rape through the rapists’ eyes!

Fuck you for expecting that we’re not going to take your assaults, your attempts to tear us open and down, use us for your physical and “artistic” purposes and then toss us to the side and step on us like rugs and doormats and trash– that we’re not going to take all of that shit to make our own art, to tell our own truths in the art forms that choose us.

We will tell it in poetry and fiction and essay and song and spoken word and performance art  and art show and painting and comedy routine and we will not always look like the victims you convinced the word we have to look and act like (the good victims) in order to be listened to and believed. We are not fodder for your chivalry. You don’t get to rape us and then turn around and soothe us when we “act right.” We have been acting right all along.

In understand you don’t want to hear the details. I don’t either. But details, as we have been told by writing teachers since secondary school, are what makes an effective scene

If we don’t include details, you’ll impute our reliability—Is that really what happened? It all sounds so fuzzy. If it as as bad as you say, wouldn’t you be able to remember more?

But give the details, and suddenly we’re harming this man unnecessarily. “Can’t we just agree that he did something bad without dragging his name and reputation through the mud? Without shaming him? Without telling us all these tales out of school with out embarrassing him too much?”

Why are we protecting the tender feelings of the serial rapist assailant harasser?

I don’t want the details either, but they’re in me. I understand you don’t want the smell of my stepfather’s crotch. I don’t want it either. I don’t want the taste, the look on his face, the feel of his tongue in my mouth and elsewhere, but, my friends, this is what rape is like. Rape is in the details.

This word “rape” doesn’t seem to bother you. “Harassment” doesn’t seem to bother you. Molestation, fondle, messed around with, touched, abused—all these euphemisms have no impact on you anymore, if they ever did. You can put whatever picture you want behind those euphemisms. You can imagine it was “easier” than it was, you can assign “no big deal” to those imprecise words.

So we are going to quit making our reality easy for you. We are going to quit using euphemisms and tell you what “molestation” means, what “assault” means, what “date rape” means. Fuck you if you don’t like it. Fuck you for telling me I can only tell my story in a way you’re comfortable hearing it. Fuck you for thinking you have some authority over my art.

And fuck you for demanding that we attach our names and addresses and sexual histories and marital status to our testimonies. Do you ask all sources to break their anonymity? When people have a fear of repercussion—economic, physical, social—our journalistic standards allow for sources to be protected. You don’t get to dismiss her words because she needs to remain anonymous. Deep Throat was anonymous, remember, and that was just fine, understandable, even, but let a woman fear for her life and livelihood and safety (can I give you the statistics of women murdered by boyfriends, husbands, and why doesn’t someone take a look at how many women’s lives actually improve on campus, at the workplace, in the military, in cultural and professional communities, after they come forward publicly with experiences of rape and harassment by superiors or colleagues/classmates?) and suddenly she is a liar until someone can provide the video evidence, and then that will be sold as reality or revenge porn.

This is such an old, old story.

And I am tired of the energy it takes to be this mad.

I get it: you don’t want to read the details, You don’t want to be made to feel in the parts of your body where the violences were done to us. You don’t want the confusion of arousal while reading about violence.

Welcome to rape. That’s it’s reality.

And rape isn’t just my problem, that is, the problem of the victims. Rape belongs to all of us. The more you try to silence and ignore it and pretend it’s someone else’s issue, the more it belongs to you.

We will tell in all the ways there are to tell, and we will use the details, the accurate words, we will give, when we can, the low by blow, as you call it in your boxing lingo, in your lingo of violence and decimation. We will show the rapists’ pitiful tactics, childishness, temper tantrums. We will not let you wriggle and preen behind euphamism anymore.

And if you get turned on by the bald, true details (which, my friend, are not the same as pornography no matter how much you want to silence us by making those accusations), then that will be on your conscience, not ours.

poems and bookwork and dayfog, oh my

So I stayed up until after 1am finishing A Wolf at the Table, Augusten Burroughs’ memoir about his father, who is portrayed as a man so sociopathic and terrifying I was afraid I might not be able to sleep after taking the stories into my head. I’ll admit this to you: I did some skimming. I wanted to get the book done. It’s presented as a prequel to Running with Scissors, and gives some interesting backstory and depth to that book, in which the mother is presented as simply selfish and wildly unhinged, resolutely putting herself first before anyone or anything else, including her son. A Wolf at the Table gives me a different mother, one who was able to at least attempt to protect her son from the damage and violence his father / her husband brought into their home. I read the book like I might a mystery, trying to figure out whodunnit, only in this case, I wanted to know, just like any tabloid reader: what did he do? Burroughs book is filled with mostly psychological terrorizing, which was familiar to me in my teenage home, too. I’m left with images from the book that I can’t erase. I can’t tell yet whether or not I’m glad I read it.

I managed to fall asleep and didn’t have any nightmares I can remember. I woke up grateful that I was finished with the Burroughs book, though. There’s not a great deal of closure at the end of Wolf, but then again, how do we really get closure after being tortured by a parent or someone pretending to be a parent? What does that mean, closure, when there’s someone we love or loved who said they loved us and then stuck their pinkies into the soft skin at the lowest part of our backs, pushed in and tugged at our spines until everything in us collapsed? What does closure look like when our minds and bodies, our childhoods, and thus our adulthoods, have been warped out of all recognition, bent fully away from wherever we might once have thought we were going, could become? How can I expect closure from such a text? Wouldn’t it be more authentic — that is, less mainstream trauma narrative redemptive story arc — to end the book with no closure at all: These fucked-up things happened, and I am fucked up as a result. The end.

It’s been a day of reading. I read the paper in the morning — Bill Cosby felt entailed to lure young women into his gravitational pull with promises of mentorship and assistance. He kept a stash of quaaludes around just so he could offer them to young women. He “helped” the women he was finished having sex with, paying for school or other bills, so that they wouldn’t reveal anything to his wife. He is our cultural father figure, our Mr. Huxtable. Doesn’t that tell you’ll you need to know about our culture — this is our father figure. This man. They have two sides, our father figures: the side the public sees and remains determined to believe in no matter what, and the side that the people inside the house, behind closed doors, are forced to know.

Who can we trust? What does trust even mean?

If I were a man, a man who didn’t rape and who didn’t condone other men’s rape, I’d be pissed as hell — why do I have to be associated with these assholes, this history? I’d be doing everything I could to try and undo this culture that leads women to understand that, because of my maleness, by virtue of my masculinity, I am not to be trusted — I am guilty until proven innocent. Women have developed this intuition, this need to assume the worst, for our own safety. Wouldn’t that break your heart, if you were a so-called “good” man? Wouldn’t you get crazy at night, sitting alone in your little apartment, thinking about how much distance there was between you and the women you wanted to know, care for, befriend, love? Thinking about all the work you were going to have to do just to prove that you weren’t a rapist asshole. Since all the rapist assholes do such a good job of prsentinging themselves to the world as “good guys.”

(One might ask the same sorts of questions about white folks who want to think of themselves as “good guys,” too, though, huh?)

What else? At the beach it was mostly grey, the atmosphere fuzzy and chilled, and the sand dollars are hiding themselves from our eyes. We walked the beach a couple of times, and did spend an hour or so stubbornly lying out on the beach reading our books in our bathing suits even though the sun sucked itself back under fog and clouds almost immediately after we lay down, and the wind kicked up and I had to wrap my shoulders with my beach towel to keep warm. I started Tery McMillan’s The Interruption of Everything, and it satisfying and good reading. Makes me want to find some April Sinclair, though. And then, mid-morning, when it was clear that the clouds were socked in for the time being, I took out my own pages and did some work, editing, revising, a couple of hours settled up on the porch of this sweet house, cosseted in by grey and good music, working on the book that I hope someday will be a thing that sits in others’ hands, when they are curled up in a comfy chair or in the corner of the couch or at a cafe table with their notebook open and a pen uncapped and a cup of coffee warming their hands they are reading these words and these words make them think and they put down the book and start to write their own words. I edit with them in mind. So this work was a good part of the day.

Later we found a bookstore in Portland that had a miraculously kick-ass poetry selection — all the books from Writebloody Publishing (including Tara Hardy’s Bring Down the Chandeliers)! A collection of prose poems and micro fictions from Australia. A collection of Nebraska poetry (what?). And Patricia Lockwood’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, which contains (we were delighted to discover after we took it home with us) one of the first poems my sweetheart ever sent me (back when we were serenading each other with poems every day, wooing each other with words, wooing ourselves, too, back into the poems we had each once loved and had forsaken for different reasons over the course of our separate lives), as well as one of my most recent favorite poems, “Rape Joke,” which includes these lines:

The rape joke is that he knew you when you were 12 years old. He once helped your family move two states over, and you drove from Cincinnati to St. Louis with him, all by yourselves, and he was kind to you, and you talked the whole way. He had chaw in his mouth the entire time, and you told him he was disgusting and he laughed, and spat the juice through his goatee into a Mountain Dew bottle.

The rape joke is that come on, you should have seen it coming. This rape joke is practically writing itself.

(now go read the whole thing)

We bought the collection of prose poetry and the Lockwood, just because we were so thrilled to have found a Lockwood collection on the shelf of this small bookstore’s small poetry section. Then we went to a little bar in the Old Port and got decaf coffee and she got blueberry pie and I got a slice of dark chocolate torte and the decaf coffee was just brewed and was strong and good (unlike at most places where there’s no decaf or it’s been sitting on the warming plate for 3 hours and so tastes like the scrapings off a piece of burnt toast) and the dark chocolate torte was dark and rich and strong and good and not at all too sweet.  We sat across from each other and read our poems and exclaimed. It was a good date.

Now there’s more reading. The sea is serenading itself not far away from us. Outside, the headlights brush through the neighbors’ yards, spotlighting mist and nightshadow.

rapists don’t need taming

Good morning good morning. I am achy today after dancing for a couple of hours yesterday morning, and bruised and scraped up after falling flat on my face into the street. I was leaving the Whole Foods in Oakland, relaxed and still joyful and tenderized and sweaty after the dancing, and managed to get my feet caught in a piece of plastic tape used to bundle newspapers or magazines; it hadn’t been cut, and was still a solid circle. I’d just begun crossing at an intersection, and my momentum propelled me forward right down onto the blacktop — I managed to brace my fall with my hand, not my face, and broke nothing but the skin on my arm and a container of tabouleh. After picking up the plastic circle and putting it in the trashcan, I walked home along Lake Merritt with my forearm bleeding and hands resting on my belly. I was so grateful that I hadn’t been more badly hurt. I had some surgical tape at home from the cut to my hand some years ago, and bandaged myself up before my Dive Deep group arrived for our potluck and meeting.

While I was waiting in line at the checkout stand, I scanned covers of the magazines they keep at the registers: Yoga, Vegetarian Times, The Atlantic…something on the cover of The Atlantic caught my eye — at the top right corner, a tiny headline, promoting a story inside about taming the American college male.

Taming.

“Oh, no,” I said out loud, making noises of consternation. I stopped myself from buying the magazine to read the article. i stopped myself from rewarding this kind of language-tease. Maybe I’ll read the article eventually — I don’t know if I want the aggravation, or the increase in my blood pressure. Better exercise for me to go dancing again, I think.

Is the problem of on-campus rape really an issue of men not being tame? What about rape in the military? What about rape in the home? What about rape everywhere else?

The word tame comes from Latin and Greek words meaning to subdue. Tame means to domesticate, to ‘make less powerful and easier to control’ (according to the dictionary on my computer). The Atlantic is furthering the old messaging that young college-age (and other) men are wildings, simply out of control, not educated or otherwise able to control their urges. That’s why there’s so much rape on college campuses.

What a nice thing for these men, to get a pass like this.

It may not surprise you to read that I don’t think that “wildness” is the problem. Young people who get into college aren’t wild animals. They are highly educated beings, able to concentrate and focus and behave according to social norms when it serves their purposes: they study for exams, they write papers; they go to class and manage not to rape anyone while listening to the lecture; they managed to show up for college interviews looking like civilized human beings, not raping anyone at the restaurant or cafe where the interview was held. These are folks who know how to behave and when. They are the epitome of civilized.

It’s only when they have access, and communal license, that they behave badly and prey on their classmates.

By wild, maybe The Atlantic is meaning to evoke the idea of a predator out in the woods, stalking its prey. Predators know how to act when. They don’t stalk those with more power than they have, or even those of equal status. They don’t stalk their own kind. They hunt animals that are weaker and slower than they are, in order that they might feed.

All this language of animal behavior and the need to domesticate wild beasts hearkens back to the messaging that women used to get routinely — that men simply couldn’t control their sexual urges, and so women had to be the ones to control themselves, to exert control, to say no and mean it, not to get themselves into “bad” situations, not to dress or speak or behave or exist in a way that might incite some man somewhere to violent sexual attack. The language of taming and domestication was behind the prohibition movements of the early 20th century — women wanting to outlaw alcohol in order to help their men be better able to behave (the rationale being that it was the alcohol that caused men to beat or rape women, rather than tacit and overt license from communities, peers, and the law). The messaging remains the same: men can’t be held responsible for controlling themselves — they have needs, urges, don’t you know, and those needs must be attended to.

Beyond this messaging of taming the wild beast (that old staple of women’s romances), I hesitate even around this idea that college-age men need educating about rape and how to avoid it. Does anyone reach the age of 18 not knowing that it’s not ok to force someone else to have sex with  you? What, exactly, do these men need to be educated about? Do they need to know that women are humans too and have feelings and are harmed by their actions? Do they need to learn that their actions have consequences, that life is not a video game, that the damage they do has a real and lasting impact on a real person?

Do most men really enjoy being thought of this way? Do they like being associated with rampaging beasts, with beings that need taming, with out-of-control animals? Maybe something in them does like it — what a privilege, not to be held accountable for your actions, for hundreds and hundreds of years: He was turned on, officer — what was he supposed to do?

Of course, the issue as much about power as it is about sex. It’s as much about (some? can I say some?) men believing, fundamentally, that women (or children) don’t have as much right to bodily agency as they do. It’s about adult men continuing to pass on the message to their sons that rape is their right, that access to other human’s bodies is their right as men, that if you want to be a real man, you better be able to violate, be comfortable with violence, be willing to take.

I don’t have a very nuanced analysis of rape, and I don’t have a lot of patience around it. The issue is pretty clear to me. Don’t have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you. Don’t have sex when you’re drunk. Don’t get someone drunk in order to have sex with them. If someone is drunk and appears to want to have sex with you, wait until they are sober and then ask again. Be willing to have sex sober. Be willing to say what you want, and be willing to hear no as well as yes. Don’t shame those who say yes or those who say no.  Anyone can stop any instance of sex at any time, and though you might be disappointed or even physically hurting, your job is to stop when someone else says stop. Period. If you get mad that that person asked you to stop, don’t have sex with them anymore. Your turn on is not a license for sex. Just because your flesh is engorged with blood doesn’t mean anything about anyone else’s behavior, doesn’t mean you get to have sex with someone just to discharge those feelings, doesn’t mean you have a right to take sex from someone else in order to increase those feelings of pleasure or get to a place of release. Other people’s bodies aren’t there for you to use or inflict yourself upon.  I don’t want to hear that you couldn’t help yourself, or you thought she was coming on to you (even though she was passed out on your frat basement couch and you had to practically drag her up to your bedroom), or that she must have wanted it because she was wearing a low-cut blouse and dancing hard and drinking and made eye contact with you.

I’m glad that other people are doing the slow and patient work of re-educating folks around the issues of rape and sexual violence; I’m afraid I wouldn’t be a lot of use in that classroom, given my impatience. I continue to get tangled up in what feels to me to be a straightforward matter: don’t have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you, or who you can’t be sure is sober enough to consent. I don’t know why I keep falling face first into so much other bullshit, and why I’m so sore all the time, listening to the rationalizations of the rapists and pain of the survivors.