Thursday, December 12, 2013


Today I read an incredibly important post by Franklin Veaux of the blog More Than Two.  Veaux is a blogger in the poly community, and he was talking about the importance of ethics, and specifically of not allowing abusive behaviors to thrive in one's community.

I'm not going to repeat his arguments; they are brilliant and eloquent, and should be read in the original. However, I do have a few words to say in support of them.

There is no neutral ground when it comes to abuse.

Abuse doesn't keep happening because a few people over there in a dark alley are abusing their partner/friend/a complete stranger.

Abuse happens because of all the people who refuse to believe that *their* friend could have done such a thing.

Abuse happens because of all the people who silently look away.

Abuse happens because we don't WANT to see it.

Abuse happens because we ostracize the victims and anyone who says "Hey, he/she's an abuser", and let the abusers themselves remain.

I hate the man who abused me, and the one who assaulted me in my apartment hallway when I was walking home from work.  I hate what they've done to me.  But you know who I really hate?

I hate all the people who thought something might be wrong when Max was hitting me, threatening me, harming and terrorizing me, but did nothing because they were his friend too.

I hate the people who avoid us so that they don't have to hear our side, so that when they're questioned they can uncomfortably dismiss "the issue" with "I don't really know what happened".

I don't hate them every day, but I hate them every time I'm reminded that a victim's right to safety is considered less important than "setting a bad precedent".
How the hell, I ask you, is excluding a known predator a bad freaking precedent?

Listen up.

There is no neutral.

That's not just my opinion; abuse is traumatic, and trauma has specific properties.  Being near the person who abused you can be exceptionally traumatic.  

An abuse victim can't go to your party or game night or larp and feel safe if they know their abuser might be there. They can't speak openly to you about what they're going through if they think you might not believe them because you "refuse to take sides".  What kind of friend is it that you can't trust with your problems?  What kind of friend doesn't want to protect you from harm?

When someone says "he abused me" and his partner says "I didn't", there are only two possible truths: He abused her and is lying about abusing her (which he has every reason to do because it gets him off scot free) or he didn't, and she's lying about being abused (which she has little reason to do because it gets her a lot of pain and grief, and possibly ostricization).

Saying you're "neutral" means that you think the victim may be crazy, or lying, or worse, and think you can still be friends with her while thinking that. Would you want to be friends with someone who thought you were lying about something that important, especially if it meant that they were also still interacting with the person that hurt you? You either believe the victim or you don't.  If you don't, then get the hell out of the way, but don't pretend to be her friend.  If you do, stand up beside her.

If you claim not to know who's telling the truth, and so take the abuser's side by acting like nothing happened, you're going with the flow - that's what most people do, after all - but against the statistics; MRA bullshit aside, they tell us that most abuse reports are valid.

So, yes, you have to choose.
It sucks.
You know what else sucks?  Being abused.

For those of you out there who say that you are empathizing with the abuser because he has needs too, understand that you're not doing anything new or brave.
You're not brave for standing with someone who's hurt their partner for years. "Seeing his side" isn't an act of courage; it's the status quo.  It's 12,000 years of history.  It's women in Pakistan who still need 4 witnesses.  It's the Steubenville rapists "having their futures torn from them".
You know, because they didn't actually participate in the tearing by, say, raping someone.

And it's almost every case of domestic abuse, because he's always a "great guy" who "has a bit of a temper" or "drinks a bit too much".  No one wants to see anything else.

So, it's not courageous to protect the abuser, no matter how much positive reinforcement you get for it from people who want the "problem" to go away.
Courage isn't going along with everyone in ignoring the problem and then patting yourself on the back for how well and truly you've ignored it.

Try taking a stand against people - many people, not one person - who call you crazy for saying that their friends abused you or others you care about. Listen to people whom you once thought of as family call you illegal and immoral, call you a bitch and worse, act like you're crazy and unreliable, just for telling the truth? Who alternately cajole and threaten, anything in order to shut you up?

Try doing it alone, with little support outside of your immediate family.

Try watching your hope that these people you thought so much of would prove worthy of your respect and admiration die a prolonged and bitter death.

Try it when it's not just internet people in a little echo chamber.  People you know.  People you loved.  Loved.  Past tense.

And more than that, look at the courage of the thousands of women and men and trans folks and others who are out there every day facing abuse, from partners and strangers and stalkers and bigots.  The courage it takes them just to keep going is more, I guarantee, than most people ever have to muster.

I say try, and I do mean it.  You should try.  We all should.

Join us. Stand against that tide.  I'm not perfect, and I've done it.  I know others who've done it.  You can do it as well.
I wish to hell I never had to, that no one ever had to; standing up to this sucks too.  I won't lie, it is likely to lose you some friends, and that hurts like hell, but we need you here, on the front lines, every day.  If you don't stand up in your communities, in your families both natural and created, in your tribes and circles and groups, nothing will ever change.  It's not enough to say "abuse is bad".  We need to say "You are abusing your partner, and that is bad".  It needs to happen on the uncomfortable, messy microcosm.

This needs to end.  We need to look at abuse and call it by its name.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Yes, Virginia, Fat Shaming IS Prejudice: For Denis and Everyone Else

I was going to write a nice, measured, thoughtful post about weight, privilege and intersectionality today. To use the colloquial, this ain't it.  While there are fat men who deal with sizeism, fat women experience it intersectionally with gender discrimination, so It's getting posted here as well as at Weight We Carry, my other blog.

This one is not going to be nice. 
It's not going to be measured or polite. 
It's not going to cite studies and logically weigh the value of different points of view. 
You've been warned.

Today my brother-in-law posted an article.  He posted it with the comment "I know the F word is offensive and there may be better language to get her point across. I also know this is a painful subject. Most importantly I know I don't want to lose people I care about because I was too uncomfortable with the conversation." as his qualifier.  This is my response, not just to him, but to all the people out there who feel like they have a right to treat me as different or lesser because of how much I weigh.

I've read this article, and ones like it, a thousand fucking times.  I suspect my readers have too, although if you feel a need to read this one as well, here you go.  Trigger warnings: fat shaming, cherry-picked scientific studies, acclamation of thinness as morally valuable, patronizing health care industry crap, an ill-informed doctor with a heavy dose of confirmation bias.

Its thesis is "Fat people are weak willed creatures who would lose weight if they just ate less junk food, and who are morally inferior to thin people, who are that way because of willpower".  It was written by a doctor in the condescending fashion of someone who considers what they're saying to be simple, self-evident truth.  Her evidence was mostly anecdotal; as a doctor she'd seen lots of unhealthy fat people.  You know, because healthy fat people love going to see doctors, who will inevitably fat shame us and treat us like crap.  Where she quoted studies, she failed to mention the portions of them that directly disputed her conclusions.

She spends plenty of time letting us know what a saint she is for being involved with a bariatric clinic, all the while talking about how dirty, sweaty, weak-willed, and dishonest her fat patients are.  She then bemoans how terribly miserable all her fat patients are, obviously because they're fat.

Here's the thing: fat people aren't miserable because we're fat.  Being fat is inconvenient, uncomfortable, and sometimes awkward, but the size of my body is not the thing that contributes to my depression, that makes me want to kill myself some nights, that makes going out in public an exhausting, demoralizing experience.  It's not my body that makes making new friends hard.  It's not my body that makes potential employers turn me away.  It's not my body that makes people decide at a glance that I am worthless, useless, lazy, stupid, and ugly. 

It is not my body.

It is your prejudice.


Your prejudice and the prejudice of people like you.  People who think they're good people.  People who go to bed at night convinced that they make the world a better place.  People who are tolerant, giving and kind most of the time. 

Your prejudice.

Here's a quote from the article. 

Is homesexuality inherently wrong? Ask Aristotle, Susie Orbach, Naomi Wolf. Their answers are different, their 

arguments from different places. It is not an empirical question although it reads as one. Today when we look at 

those who are straight, part of what we see is a triumph of will over desire, so the beauty is a moral beauty

Oh, by the way, I did you the favor of replacing references to "fat" with references to "homosexuality".  Does it still ring true?  No?  That's hideously bigoted?  Gee, you know what, I think so too.

When you look at me and make assumptions about my intelligence, my competence, my kindness or my will based on the size of my waistline, you are being a bigot. 

Your prejudice, and that of others like you, is the worst thing I experience every day.  It makes my life hell.  It is a major factor in why I stayed in an abusive relationship for twelve years.  It does me material harm.

You say you are concerned about my health.  One of my most damaging health problems is major depression.  You know what's the single biggest factor in that?  Living in a world where every person I meet treats me like crap until I've proven to them that I'm a "good" fat person, one who is clean and smart and mostly smells okay, and whose fat "isn't really her fault".  Even then, they don't want to be too close to me or touch me; after all, it might be contagious. 

I have to deal with this any time I leave my home.  I see the prejudice in the faces of many of my friends, although they are mostly kind and brave enough to fight it.  I hear it in the voices of people I interact with casually, see it in the way people studiously don't look at me on the sidewalk, or the way they stare. When I apply for a job, my biggest concern isn't whether I'm qualified, or able; it's whether some bigoted asshole is going to reject me simply because of my waistline.  I don't wonder if I'm going to experience prejudice when I walk out my front door; my only question ishow much there will be, and whether it will be blatant enough that I can't ignore it.

My body does not do this, any more than a rape victim's dress causes her rape, a gay child's sexuality causes his suicide, or a black teen's hoodie justifies his murder.  My body is not at fault.

Your prejudice is.   

Your prejudice makes my life hell and it is going to STOP.

I'm not asking nicely; I've done that.  I'm demanding it. 

You WILL stop treating me as if I am worthless, stupid, mean, smelly, lazy, ugly, disgusting, weak-willed and valueless. 

You WILL stop creating media that portrays me and all women like me this way. 

You WILL stop discriminating against me when I apply for a job or walk into a hospital. 

You WILL stop ignoring the fact that modern scientific data does not support your views. 

You WILL stop telling me that I can't be beautiful, special, sexy or wonderful. 

You will stop doing this because I and millions like me are done being "nice".  We are done being patient. We are done being quiet. We are done hating ourselves for your benefit.  We are done taking whatever scraps of acceptance you choose to throw our way and pretending they're as much as we need or want or deserve.

We are done.
I am done.

You can keep thinking what you think, behaving as you behave, but not if you want to be in my life.  If you want to be my friend, my family member, my acquaintance, you have to be better than that.  I don't tolerate bigots.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Ruination of Abusers

In the last couple months, I've been speaking out a lot about domestic abuse, both in general and in the cases specific to the Circle that I mentioned in my previous posts.  I'm going to take a moment, now, to address just a few of the arguments men I know (and it has been exclusively men who have said these things) have made against me doing so.

First and in particular, I want to address the claim that, in discussing publicly what they've done, I'm "ruining the abusers' lives".

When a man (or a woman, but men make up the majority of abusers) decides to hit his partner, he is making a choice.  He is choosing to do something that he knows is not only wrong but also illegal.  He's decided that the sense of control and empowerment that he gains from doing so is worth the risk, especially since women who come forward about abuse are often not believed.  Physical abuse, when it falls short of bruises and broken bones, is hard to prove.  Psychological, emotional and financial abuse are harder still.  So, an abuser does the mental math and understands that, as long as he is careful not to leave marks, he can probably get away with it.

Abusers also count on their ability to convince their victims that the abuse is their fault.  My ex hit me because I was "a worthless cunt", or because the house was too messy, or because I questioned whether he was sober when he was deeply intoxicated, or on one memorable occasion to prove to me that he'd hit me when he was sober and that it was therefore not about his drinking.  Whatever the "reason" it was always ultimately "my fault".  Even a smart person internalizes some of that.  It turns into a "he didn't have the right to do that but..." that plays to the fallacy of there being two legitimate sides to the "story" of abuse.  Your partner isn't really an abuser; he'd stop if you could just...  This allows the cycle of abuse to continue and discourages the victim from talking about it; after all, everyone will just think it's her fault.

On the rare occasion that a victim gets past all that and speaks out, she is then often berated (as I have been) for "ruining her abuser's life" with her accusations.  Talking about abuse that others have suffered as I do, even with their explicit and well informed consent, is condemned even more shrilly.  People foam at the mouth, tell me my experiences make me too close to the issue (more on that later), and claim that I just hate men (my fiance would disagree).  However, all their teeth gnashing and torch waving is missing one key point:

  I didn't ruin their lives; they did.

The abuser ruined his own life.  He did.  He ruined his life when he decided to hit his partner, or tell her that she's useless, or keep her from holding a job by showing up at her work repeatedly until she got fired.  He ruined his own life when he decided that she was his physical, mental, and emotional punching bag and that her well being didn't matter.  He made that choice.  If I could unmake those choices, I'd do it in a second on behalf of all battered partners, but those choices weren't mine to make in the first place.

Telling people about an abuser's behavior doesn't somehow make that behavior worse.  All it does is make sure that people know what happened so that he faces the legal and social consequences of his actions, for which he is rightly accountable.

If you don't believe me, lets compare this to a DUI.  A drunk guy hits a pedestrian with his car.  If she presses charges, is she ruining his life?  Of course not; he did that.  If the local paper reports on the accident are they ruining his life?  Of course not, he did that.  He was driving the car.  He committed the crime.
It's the same damn thing.

With that out of the way, on to point two.  I've had a few people tell me that I'm not qualified to talk about domestic abuse because I've been domestically abused and therefore am incapable of being rational about it.

I'll repeat.  They say I'm not qualified to talk about it or have opinions about it because it happened to me.

I'll just let that soak in for a minute.

Ok, at this point I'm hoping that sounds as ridiculous to you as it did to me.  If not, here's the long version of why it's crap.

First off, this is classic gaslighting.  When people don't like what a woman is saying, they call her hysterical or irrational.  It doesn't matter if she is (as I do) citing facts, studies and evidence and making a logical argument; the simple fact that she's a woman and emotionally involved with an issue means that anyone can discredit her stance.  Gaslighting is a derailing technique used to prevent unwanted speech.  It works really well because the idea that women can't be logical and emotional at the same time is pretty ingrained in our society.  It's also utter crap.  Unless your argument is actually better than mine factually, you're not going to have much luck using this tactic with me.  If your argument is better factually, I will probably eventually agree with you, but I'll note that opinions (even your strongly held ones) are not facts.

Secondly, this is logically speaking a stupid argument.  When you've gone through an experience, you  typically know more about it than people who haven't been through that experience (obviously psychologists and other professionals specializing in domestic violence are an exception in this case).  In the last year, two women have come to me for help leaving abusive situations.  In both cases, there were warning signs that I noticed and commented on beforehand.  This is because I have first hand experience with how abusers behave, and can recognize the small holes in their protective covering.  In one case, his unreasonable and unexplained rage over a game was a warning sign, as was her nervous silence and the fact that the couple only had one email address.  I recognized these things as possible problems because I've experienced some of them (the inexplicable, sudden, and unreasonable rages, the nervous silence when you're afraid how he might react), and because dealing with my own abuse and with my brother's struggles has made me highly aware of controlling, manipulative behavior in others.

Finally, the argument is particularly stupid  in my case.  I'm pretty smart to begin with and I did extensive research into domestic abuse to try to understand and cope with what I went through myself.  When I say "abusers typically do x" it's because I've made a point of learning about it in order to process my own trauma.  I'm not pulling it out of an orifice; it's part of the clinical information and I can point you at sources.

Moving on, lets tackle "how do you know she's telling the truth"?

Well, in one case she is me.  Obviously I believe me, but why should you?  Well, first off, I don't exactly have a reputation for lying (except among those who are claiming I'm lying about this, and that's pretty recent).  I can be awkward, stubborn, and blunt, but I'm honest.  In addition, for a lot of the incidents that happened to me, I was the only reliable witness.  My ex was an alcoholic who had a problem with blackouts.  So yeah, I think my memories are more reliable than his on pretty much any matter you care to mention.

What about the other cases, though?

Both of these women came to me with their stories.

The first woman who came to me (lets call her Joan) had been isolated with her partner for the better part of 18 years.  After moving back to our city, I never saw her go anywhere without him; not even down to the store to grab a soda. She was also incredibly quiet, and her quietness had a very nervous quality to it.  She emailed me shortly before a larp we were all planning to attend and told me what was going on: that he was abusive, that she needed help getting out.  She emailed me because she had no one else to turn to; everyone else she knew was either a mutual friend or a member of his family.  She felt comfortable talking to me because she knew I'd been through it myself.

Because she was afraid of what her partner might do if she confronted him, we snuck Jane out of her hotel room at the larp at 3am.  When we dropped her off, she asked us not to tell him where she was; she was afraid he'd come after her.  Now we call it the Weirdest Spy Movie Ever, but I don't know if I've ever seen anyone as frightened as she was that night.  I also don't know if I've ever admired anyone's courage so much.  Leaving is an incredible leap of faith, and she took it head on.  She's our roommate now, and has been for five months.

Joan's a smart, capable woman who's still struggling with the aftermath of years of abuse.  I recognize that struggle; I've been there.  It would be pretty much impossible to fake it on a twenty-four hour a day basis.  

Joan and I have also spent many, many hours talking about our respective experiences.  She has no reason to lie about them; we would have helped her whether she was being abused or not.  Everyone has the right to leave a relationship that they're unhappy in.

Joan's ex is a man known in the Circle for his temper.  I've personally seen him react multiple times with really irrational anger to in-game situations that most people don't find upsetting (not rape, incest, torture or any other major trigger).  He then claimed that he was just doing what his character would do, rather than explaining why he was so upset. When Joan left him, the very first thing he did upon realizing she was gone was to cancel her ATM card so that she would be unable to care for herself effectively on her own.  He later claimed that he did this because he was concerned for her safety, but given that sitting outside in an unfamiliar city at night is pretty unsafe, I find his argument unconvincing.  I've also seen him treat Joan dismissively, not in large ways, but enough so that it made me take notice.

Joan has no reason to lie about what her ex did.  She gains nothing from it; to the contrary people in the Circle would much prefer it if she (and I) pretended that it was just a bad breakup.  By contrast, her ex has his reputation to protect.  I think, given that, believing her is pretty damn rational.  

The second  woman (lets call her Kate) called me in the middle of the night in tears because her ex boyfriend had thrown a chair and a glass at her, taken her cell when she said she'd call the cops, and then locked her out of the apartment after she fled when he gave it back.  She was terrified and didn't know what to do.

Kate is intelligent, capable, and quiet.  She's an editor and works on a poetry journal in her spare time.  I have no reason whatsoever to think she'd make this up.

The man in question has hit two of his former partners, one of them many times.  I've seen him be domineering, controlling, and violent with his ex wife (the relationship was mutually abusive, but that doesn't excuse his behavior).

Kate had nothing to gain from saying he did this.  It's made her life harder and sadder.  She'll soon have to walk into court and face him, something she'd rather never do again.

The man in question is facing jail time if he can't convince people she's lying.  He has every reason to lie himself, and his history makes me think he's fully capable of doing what he's accused of.

Given their respective histories, and the obvious distress Kate was experiencing when I spoke to her, I see no reason not to believe her.  She has nothing to gain by lying, and he has everything to lose by telling the truth.  Again, I believe her because her story makes sense and the facts support it.

So, to reiterate: I believe them because they're generally honest people, their stories make sense, and both of their partners have a history of aggressive behavior.  That said, I also believe them because, popular opinion to the contrary, victims generally don't lie about this.  Given the amount of societal pressure to stay silent, most victims (male and female) don't talk about it at all.  These women only felt comfortable coming to me because I'd talked about my own experiences and so they knew I might believe them.  At very least, they knew I wouldn't dismiss their experiences offhand.  I didn't start talking about my own experiences for years because I thought people wouldn't believe me; it was only after I got some distance from the Circle that I felt safe enough to speak out.  Speaking out is hard.  I'm sure there is a tiny percentage of people who lie about this, but I have no reason to believe that either of these women are part of it.

Speaking out about domestic violence is important.  Silence provides safety for the abusers and harms the victims.  I speak out because I want to live in a culture where hitting your partner is considered worse than hitting a stranger on the street, not better.  I want to live in a culture where a person who's been abused can speak up, confident in the knowledge that she or he will be believed.  I most certainly want to live in a world where abusers are made to face the consequences of their actions.  That world doesn't exist yet, and it won't until people speak up and speak out.  This is me doing my small part.