Let’s Talk About Trans Bodies

By: Trishula Oswald

Trishula is a genderfluid philosopher and digital hospitality professional. They know a lot about beer and wine and treating others with kindness.Trishula eats ice cream with their partner in the East Bay.


Trishula is a genderfluid philosopher and digital hospitality professional. They know a lot about beer and wine and treating others with kindness. Trishula eats ice cream with their partner in the East Bay.

I know, this is not considered polite conversation. Our sex and our bodies are private matters. What’s going on in my pants and what I do with my body is, in fact, none of your business.

I get why we don’t always like to talk about our trans bodies. We bemoan the questions that follow a low-key coming out. What does it look like now? What did it look like before? Are your partners into it? How do you have sex?

I know I don’t always want to discuss the details of my body. Particularly when these questions come at inappropriate times. Like when I offer my pronouns to a new colleague. Often these questions carry the tone of complete bewilderment. I feel marginalized, othered, different, strange and weird.

I also understand the curiosity. I am often curious. I once asked a friend what sex was like with their trans girlfriend. She responded in a soft correction, “Like normal.”

These questions come from a place of pure ignorance. Westerners are told throughout their  lives that they exist in a strict gender and sexual binary. This monochromatic view limits not only cis people from an awareness of the range of experience, but it also stops our quietly closeted selves from knowing that our genders and bodies are valid.

Be gentle in your curiosity. These questions, although born of an imposed ignorance (not your fault), can be triggering (kind of your fault). Like someone reminding us that we are unusual. These questions can sounds like society telling us how VERY DIFFERENT we are. The ignorance and curiosity behind these questions can reinforce internalized transphobia. Remind us trans people that trans people have been viewed as “rare,” and unable to conform or identify “correctly," with the bodies we are born into. Sometimes we’re forced into a teaching moment when we really just wanted a hot chocolate.

Questions about our bodies can trigger internalized transphobia. If someone opens up about their body to you, be kind. Just listen. Validate and normalize our experience. If you can’t think of anything to say, you can reflect our language to show that you’ve been listening. That you honor our vulnerability.

Don’t ask more questions.

Ask the Internet!

I do feel it’s important to talk about trans experiences. Knowing that sex and gender are separate spectrums helped me come out to myself. Learning the vocabulary helped me name my trans-ness. I hope this helps you, too.

Our bodies, trans and otherwise, are all unique. Think about all the vulvas you’ve seen. Haven’t seen many? Go look at some. I’ll wait.

There are many ways our characteristics can combine and shift through our lifetime. There are so many ways we change our bodies to fit a physical idea of ourselves. Trans bodies are not monolithic.

There are many forms our bodies can take when we are born. There are more than two ways our primary and secondary sex characteristics develop. A person with a penis may have a uterus. A person with a vulva may also have a penis. One out of every 100 children born in the world are intersex, meaning they’re bodies don’t conform to the strict categories of “male” or “female.” Having a body that is outside of “male” and “female” is totally natural. Here’s a book about it.

People who are intersex might identify as a binary gender, as male or female. They may identify as trans or cis or non-binary. That all depends on their experience with the gender assigned to them at birth. They are not necessarily transgender.

Trans Bodies

We present ourselves in this world according to whatever feels right. Sometimes we use surgery and injections, sometimes clothes, sometimes exercise. You know, just like real housewives.

Some non-binary people and trans men have top surgery, which usually means

removing the mammaries from our chests. Some people who have breast cancer also get that surgery. If we’re not ready or interested in surgery, but want a flatter silhouette, we wear chest binders. We reduce the visibility of or remove our breasts to gain a more masculine or androgynous legibility.

Some of us sport a packer in the front of our boxers for that extra masc bulge. Doctors haven’t yet figured out a safe way to build a penis for those with a vulva. Pssht. Doctors. It’s cool though. You can get a packer in all colors and sizes and circumcisions.

Trans men would like tampons in the men’s restroom. Or, you know, gender neutral

restrooms that are stocked with tampons, q-tips and mouthwash. That would be awesome. I would like that, too.

Some ladies tuck, which means putting our dicks back and between our legs and butt cheeks. Testicles can go back there too, or upfront or inside, it all depends on the girl.

This give the pubis mons more prominence and your crotch looks super cute in those panties.

Some ladies get surgical vulvas and vaginas. Some ladies have vulvas and vaginas from birth. Some ladies have flat chests and penises. Some ladies have breasts and penises.

Some men have breasts and vulvas. Some men have breasts and penises. Some men are intersex. Some women are intersex.

Some non-binary people are intersex. Some non-binary people have breasts and penises. Some non-binary people have flat chests and vulvas. Some non-binary people

have bodies others call “female,” or “male.” We don’t always call our bodies “female,” or “male.” Our bodies are exactly what we say they are.

We all have butts! Some people put padding to build out a more Jessica Rabbit shapeliness. Some get implants to get bigger butts. I’ve heard cis women do that, too.

Some of us take hormones and hormone blockers to redistribute the fat or muscle of our body so that people read us as more masculine, feminine, or androgynous.

Some of us don’t want to change our bodies. Some trans people believe medical transitioning is done for the sake of cis people. That it lets us translate our genderqueer experience into a visual language for the benefit of people who have never questioned the identities assigned to them. We might feel like surgery or hormones are another form of conforming to the binary.

Some of us want to change our bodies. Some of us want to be seen and treated in a way that aligns with our gender. Many of us want people to assume the right pronouns and feel that medical transition will facilitate that experience. Some people seek medical transition to bring our bodies in line with a way we want our bodies to look.

I know some transphobic people say that to change our appearance without actually altering how we can reproduce is “unnatural,” and doesn’t count as actually changing our gender and therefore is, I dunno , a sin?

We humans change our appearance regardless of gender and gender expression. Besides the recent medical and cosmetic surgeries we’ve developed, humans have done this for millennia. We alter our bodies with tattoos, piercings, gages, plus whatever the fuck Pilates and Powerlifting does. We imagine ourselves different than we are and bring that vision into reality. We think about it and then make it happen. It’s a very natural part of the human experience.

I’m non-binary, assigned female at birth. That means a doctor looked at my baby crotch and condemned me to a life of harassment, marriage, childbearing and housework.

I am not “female bodied.” My body and my sex have no gender. My body is as non-binary as I am. I do have a vulva, in case you were wondering. I’ve had a menstrual cycle since I was 15. I had an abortion when I was 20. My breasts came later in life. I

like fingers on my pussy and other people’s parts in my mouth. I’m comfortable using “gendered” terms for my body because I’ve never felt that my body was strictly feminine. (Did you know that “cock” may have been 18th c Creole slang for “vulva”?) It’s just the equipment I’m working with. I don’t feel like these words gender me.

You might like different names for your body. Whatever helps you feel connected to your physical vehicle is exactly what you can do. Your body is the only gift truly given to you. Your body is the only thing that is always only yours.

Remember: we all have heads, hearts and butts.

You do you!



How I Made Political Change While Sitting in Bed

Imagine a disease that caused men to lose an average of 11 hours of productivity per week due to pain. A disease that caused over 50% of male infertility. A disease that cost over $119 billion each year in lost wages, lost productivity, and medical costs. How quickly do you think we’d have a cure for it? I’d venture to say pretty quickly.


Well, such a disease exists but it doesn’t affect men. Endometriosis is a disease affecting 1 in 10 women, trans men, and people with uteruses. It is the leading cause of infertility among women (50% of infertility cases). And, yes, it costs over $119 billion each year in lost wages, lost productivity, and medical costs. Not to mention, it’s debilitatingly painful.


The thing about endo is that even though it affects 1 in 10 women in the US, it is HARDLY spoken about. There’s minimal research on it, few specialists in it, and no cure. While I have access to great health insurance, brilliant specialists, and the financial means to deal with it, I am hyper-aware of the fact that there are millions of people out there suffering with no access to doctors who can help. And, since birth control is currently the primary treatment of endo, millions of women rely on Planned Parenthood to access the most basic standard of care for a disease that impacts every moment of their day.


It’s my belief that a societal problem like this should be a focus of our nation’s leaders, ranging from medical to political. When I was in the process of being diagnosed with this disease, I saw firsthand how minimal the awareness of this disease was. I couldn’t talk to my friends about my doctor appointments because they didn’t understand the problem. Half of the doctors that I saw wrote off my pain as simply a “women’s problem.” I realized that something needed to be done, so I took a chance, wrote a letter, and saw real change happen.


I spent the summer after my senior year in college living with my parents in Massachusetts before moving to New York for my job. I spent almost every day in bed because of my endometriosis, and I was gearing up for my first, but unfortunately not last, surgery.


At this point during the Summer of 2017, healthcare in America was a big political argument. Along with this discussion arose the topic of Planned Parenthood, which  was, and still is, facing potential defunding. Knowing what I know about the importance of birth control and healthcare, I decided I’d submit my thoughts for consideration, knowing that I’d likely get an automatic “thank you for sharing” return message, as I had in the past.


Elizabeth Warren was my senator in Massachusetts where my family lives, and she was fighting the pro-Planned Parenthood fight that I believed in. So, from my bed, with my heating pads on (yes, plural... endo SUCKS), I typed up my thoughts.


I mentioned the importance of considering the actual implications of stripping Americans of healthcare, defunding planned parenthood, and giving employers the power to deny healthcare. I explained how 1 in 10 women live with a debilitating disease that can’t be cured, only treated via birth control or surgery. I wrote about how there are very few doctors specializing in this disease, and the ones who do specialize in it are expensive, and often out of network. I reiterated how the government’s decisions affect the ability for 1 in 10 women to get out of bed and go to work most days.


A few weeks later, I got a note back -- not just an automated note, either. A representative from Senator Warren’s office asked me if Elizabeth could use my letter as ammo on the Senate Floor during the hearing that would discuss access to Healthcare. I mean, WOW. And, obviously...YES!


A few weeks later, I watched on C-Span as Senator Elizabeth Warren read my letter on the floor of the senate to fight for Americans’ right to access the care that they need. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life (see video here).


But, that’s not all. Fast forward a year, and the organization Endo What? posted a video of the one and only Elizabeth Warren discussing the importance of raising awareness of a disease that impacts the lives of so many.


A week later, due to the efforts of Senator Elizabeth Warren (partnered with Senator Orrin Hatch, making it a bipartisan initiative) and Endo What?, it was announced that endometriosis would get federal funding from the Department of Defense for the FIRST TIME EVER.


I don’t want to take credit for the incredible work of the senators and the organization, but I would like to think I played a small part in planting the seed in Senator Warren’s head a year ago. Who knows? Maybe if I hadn’t written that letter, she never would have heard of endometriosis. I’m glad we’ll never know the alternative.


In the current administration, there’s a serious epidemic of people not listening. Not listening to women, not listening to large demonstrations, not listening to facts or reason...the list goes on. But that doesn’t mean we should stop yelling. While it’s easy to be cynical in this society right now, instances like this help me to remember that change can happen, but only if we take chances and share our thoughts. Who knows, maybe the federal funding that’s being given to endometriosis will help  find the cure. And maybe, just maybe, I will have played a small part in us getting there. Maybe one day I will be able to tell my daughter that her cured endometriosis was a result of me speaking up.

Four Lessons from Marsha P. Johnson

By: Trishula Oswald

Trishula is a genderfluid philosopher and digital hospitality professional. They know a lot about beer and wine and treating others with kindness.Trishula eats ice cream with their partner in the East Bay.

Happy Trans Day of Remembrance, Friends!

Today, we remember our trans siblings who we have lost to suicide and gender-based violence. It is important that we continue to fight for our fallen sisters and brothers. We call out their names despite parents, news anchors and cops.

Trans Day of Remembrance is an important day. The loss of trans life is monumentally unnecessary. Visibility is the first step to addressing oppression.

It is equally important to celebrate our trans lives. Repeating a tragic narrative of trans life can have dangerous and oppressive implications. The high murder rate  of the trans community is informally posed as a cautionary tale. This tale warns that if we come out, if we are visible, if we deviate, we invite violence. It’s a promise of violence in dark corners of a city where no one will protect us. Often the story of a trans person’s death is proof that we cannot survive in this world, there’s no safety for us. Many young trans people, take this lesson to heart and take their own lives.

In the face of those tales, we must remember that Trans is Beautiful.

Today is also a day to celebrate your gender non-conforming loved ones who deserve to be remembered and celebrated. Send a rose (even if it’s an emoji) to let us know you love us and you’re happy we are still fucking here despite those who would try to erase us.

To celebrate, I’d like to share four lessons I’ve learned from NYC based Trans Rights Activist, Marsha P. Johnson.


  1. You May as Well Be Visible


Marsha “Pay it no Mind” Johnson came up in New Jersey in the 50’s. THE 1950’s. Pre-Civil Rights, Pre-Gay Rights Movement, Pre-Women’s Lib. Being black, gay, femme and gender non-conforming was pretty much illegal. Cop’s no. 1 job was harassing and assaulting folks like Ms. Johnson.

That didn’t stop her. Marsha took the bus to NYC, put on her dress and walked out that station to become the mayor of Christopher St.

Jobs, housing and money weren’t always easy to come by. Marsha chose to live as herself all the time, and make the rest of it work. She found the means to live in a flower crown and lipstick for most of her adult life.

She showed all the way up.

Because it made her happy.

  1. Femme is Powerful


I remember being told that if I wanted to be taken seriously in the world, I would have to be less “girly.” Femme, to me, means two things: dolled up  and compassionate. I was told throughout my life that being at all concerned with how you look was vanity. Being emotionally connected to others was weakness.

Marsha’s style made her larger than life. Her perfectly coordinated outfits drew attention to the causes she fought for. They gave visibility to Mid Century trans life and the demand for trans rights. Ms. Johnson taught us all how to dress up for a fight.

Plus her style has the power to make people  smile.

Marsha discovered that androgynous sex workers were in high demand. Fur coats, glitter, makeup, jewelry, stockings, blouses, wigs, hats, crowns and clutches helped her pay rent and give money to others.

Marsha was generous. She looked out for the wellbeing of trans and gay kids who came to New York, the only place that had space for them. Marsha gave kindness, money, food and shelter to those who had been rejected by their families and society. She helped fellow trans activist, Sylvia Rivera establish STAR House, a safe space for homeless trans kids and sex workers.

Femininity on Marsha was not vanity or weakness.

Femme is joy and heart.

  1. White dudes will always tell you to wait your turn

The early days of the Gay Rights Movement were as transphobic as any present-day Texas Republican Rally. Gay, white men who had college degrees, houses and jobs were happy with the gender binary being what it was. These dudes took over the story and the direction of gay rights in the 70’s to benefit themselves (and maybe some white lesbians). Gay, white men wanted to be 1950’s “normal,” plus some sodomy. And they weren’t going to let trans rights stall their dreams.

People who are proximal to power love to say that the world isn’t ready for big change, yet.

Meanwhile, everyone else has been waiting for legal rights and representation for generations.

Cisgender gay and lesbian people won national protections against discrimination in the workplace in 1996. Transgender people were omitted from the legislation for fear that it wouldn’t pass. We still face legal discrimination in 32 states.

We navigate the same hazards of systemic discrimination that the trans community has faced the since the middle ages.

  1. The First Pride was a Riot

You know the story of Stonewall, right? Gay club, owned by mafia, patronized by the GNC of 1960’s New York, targeted by the local police for “raids.” One night in June 1969, cops stop by cuz they're bored and wanna harass and assault some vulnerable populations. Cops are out of hand. Marsha is over it. She yells, “I got my Civil Rights!” and throws a glass. Or a brick. It depends on who you ask, but Ms. Johnson was there. She started the riot. She fought for her rights.

We are powerful.

Collectively and alone.

Governments and individuals can try to take away our rights.

We will not let them.

We have our voices.

We can find bricks.

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Why I talk about my endometriosis so much

I talk about my uterus a lot. Some of my friends joke about it, saying things like “is there anything you don’t share?” or “I think I know more about your uterus than I do about my own!” While these aren't my favorite comments, I know that those who love and support me mean them with good intentions.

I know that some people think I over-share. I understand that everyone I know doesn’t need to hear about the inner workings of my body. But frankly, I don’t care. An incredible boss of mine told me, “if you were a man, nobody would call it over-sharing.” I believe that wholeheartedly. I think everyone needs to just grow up. A uterus is nothing more than a body part. Just like a lung, and a kidney, and a brain, and an elbow. A uterus brought everyone into this world, and isn’t something we should feel weird talking about. And that’s why I talk about it.

There are a few reasons why I share so much about my experience with endometriosis. First of all, it’s ridiculous to me that things like periods and uteruses are considered taboo. Many women, trans men, and other people with uteruses get periods every month, just like many people get headaches every month. Periods suck but they’re important, and they’re the reason why every single person in this world is alive.

Secondly, dealing with chronic pain is a lonely thing, and sharing our experiences with the people that we love can help us feel less alone. A friend of mine who is dealing with a different type of chronic pain once said that “frequently talking about how [our illnesses] affect us can be essential to our overall well being.” When you're dealing with something painful or traumatic you secretly wish you had someone to share it with, even though you would never wish your experience on anyone else. You wish someone understood. So, by talking about what I’m going through, I feel like I’m not in it alone.

But the biggest reason why I talk about my pain so much is because I need people to know and understand this disease, and I’ve found that people only begin to care about a disease when it affects someone they know. One in 10 women/trans men/people with uteruses of reproductive age has endometriosis -- that’s almost 200 million people worldwide. It is the leading cause of female infertility, largely because it takes so long to diagnose. Why? Because most women are not believed about their pain. It causes people to skip class, miss work, and turn down social invitations. It makes many women feel like they’re crazy because their periods are unbearable and their doctors refuse to listen. It affects them at a deep psychological level. I would venture to say that there’s nobody in this world who doesn’t know someone who has endo, whether that person knows they have it or not.

I have had people ask me if endometriosis is an STD. Some people can’t even pronounce it. Even if someone has heard of it, the response is typically something very cavalier like 'that's that period thing, right?' It kills me when this debilitating disease which takes so much of my life away from me is passed of as just a “period thing,” or worse: totally ignored. I know I’m not the only endo sufferer who feels this way. So, I’ve made it my mission to educate as many people as I can about the reality of this disease -- and the way I do that is by telling the truth about what I go through.

To be clear, I don’t want to be “that sick friend.” I don’t want to be a dark cloud that people look at and think, “illness.” I don’t want to be pitied. But I believe it’s vital for everyone to have a face that they can put to the name “endometriosis.” Think about it: before someone you knew was diagnosed with cancer, did you ever think much about the disease? Or was it an upsetting, but ultimately abstract, concept to you? In my experience,, on the rare occasion that someone has heard of endometriosis, it’s usually just an abstract concept to them.

In the recent Kavanaugh hearings, I heard many people saying things like, “imagine if Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was your sister, daughter, or friend!” While I don’t think we should have to put a personal connection to sexual assault in order to agree that it’s bad, I think that right now we’re in a place where certain issues need to be humanized in order to be paid attention to. Especially those issues that primarily affect women. So I’m happy to be the personification of endometriosis for the people I know if that means that they’ll pay attention to it, look it up, tell their friends about it, and simply care.

Endometriosis is real. It’s debilitating. It’s painful. It’s upsetting. It controls almost every part of my life. And I’m very honest about that. It’s hard to have something negatively affect you twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and not talk about it. You know when you have a bad cold and you wish your mom was there to comfort you? Having a chronic illness is like that, times 100, every single day. It’s especially hard when the people around you don’t understand it, or, worse yet, don’t care about it.

When I talk about it, I make people aware of this disease that could be affecting their loved ones. I’ve had several friends (and friends of friends) reach out to me and ultimately be diagnosed because they saw their symptoms in my story. I’ve been told by friends of mine that they looked up the disease and told friends of theirs about it. I’ve had people tell me that they had never heard of it before I started talking about it. And this is why I do what I do.

Many people live with abnormal and excruciating pain for YEARS, simply because they’ve never heard of endometriosis. It’s important to understand the symptoms and implications of it before you begin talking to doctors about it, because often they’ll dismiss you if you don’t introduce the issue “properly.” The diagnosis process is long and hellish, and, ultimately, requires surgical intervention to confirm. It’s not easy. It’s scary. It’s full of ups and downs. But by sharing my experience with this disease, I can hopefully spare a few other people from some of the difficulties I’ve gone through.

By discussing my endometriosis, I can create my own ripple  effect of people talking about the disease. I can raise awareness and make people take it seriously. This is the first step towards making it a globally known disease, making it a focus within the medical community, and helping the next generation of women suffer less than we did. It starts with me.



Trauma is a Mother Fucker

This has been an especially rough week. Few weeks, actually. I remember a while back I read this article that summarized a study that had been carried out on Vietnam Vets. Please excuse my lapse in memory since I read this a long time ago and am a little fuzzy on the details but the gist of it is as follows:

Following the Vietnam War, some social scientists questioned a number of soldiers returning from battle. They asked them specific questions about their experiences, what happened, how they felt. They took detailed notes, took down their names and said they would follow up in a few decades time. The years passed and then, 30 or 40 years later, they tracked down the people that they could find and asked the exact same questions they had asked upon their initial return. The vets fell distinctly into two different groups: those whose memories had changed, and those whose memories had not. They had all experienced some horrible things while overseas but some of them had the distinct markers of trauma and some of them did not. Those whose memories had changed over time – who in hindsight saw their experience at war through rose-colored glasses – had not developed PTSD. It was the returnees who explained scenarios exactly as they had decades before, those who remembered all the details of specific events as if they had happened just yesterday, that were suffering the longterm psychological effects of war.

I think about that study a lot in regards to myself and my life. What do I have unwavering memory of and what has faded and changed. I’ve been thinking about it a lot these past few weeks as we have read about Christine Blasey Ford and as we watched her speak before the Senate Judicial Committee. I thought about it while she talked about her hippocampus and the fact that she installed a second front door in her home. You see, we never forget. Trauma simply does not allow for that.

But there’s more there than just that. I have been watching as the women in my life have struggled. How we have all been sad and in pain; how we have had old wounds torn open; how we have seen women on the subway, walking down the street, in cafes huddled over their phones crying. We all know why. It is because all of us, or at least most of us, have either been or almost been Christine Blasey Ford. We have either reported our experiences, not reported our experiences, or tried to report our experiences and been turned away or dissuaded. Her story is not just hers it is mine, it is yours, it is all of ours. How do I figure? I’ll tell you.

Last night I finished an especially busy shift at work and decided to sit down and have a shift drink and a chat with my coworkers. I was sitting at the bar talking to my friend to my left when I felt a quick *tap tap* on my right shoulder. I turned but no one was there. And then I saw hands and realized that the man who had tapped me had then used my distraction to place one hand on either side of me on the bar, essentially trapping me in my seat. I was immediately transported back to my senior year in college when at a frat party a “friend” of mine, upset with me for who knows what reason (he always seemed to have a reason) trapped me against a wall by placing one hand on either side of my shoulders and leaning his body towards me, making escape feel impossible. Not that it matters but I’ll say it anyway: he was drunk, I was not. And I know that because he had tricked me into driving our mutual friend to the airport at 3 in the morning because he wanted to enjoy the party; he knew me well enough to know I was too responsible, even at 21, to put my friends at risk or cause someone to miss their flight home. I don’t remember how long we stood like that, me cowering and him talking loudly at me before I broke free, he lost interest or someone came to my rescue. But I specifically remembered that feeling of knowing that anything could happen, anything could be done to me in that moment and I would have very little ability to stop it. I experienced that feeling again last night and I realized something.

The man who trapped me wasn’t trying to scare me. He wasn’t trying to make me feel powerless or intimidate me. He was just treating me the way a lot of people treat and think of women: as slightly less human than men. My personal space wasn’t his concern, nor my personal safety. He could do what he wanted because even though we are not friends and have never had more than casual conversation he owns me a little bit. He is entitled to me. And even though he might not have been actively thinking that in the moment, or been actively trying to make me feel like I had  no right to take up space, that’s exactly what he did. He reminded me in that small yet aggressive action that I, and women in general, are only permitted to taking up exactly the amount of space a man deems necessary and that amount of space is subject to change at any time depending on any specific man’s mood or level of intoxication.

Let’s bring it back a little. Back when the #MeToo movement had its second life (it was originally conceived by Tarana Burke and, surprise surprise, co-opted by wealthy white women) a lot of people were afraid of an impending sex panic. How will men ride in elevators with women? How will they hit on us? How will they interview for and secure jobs? How will they have sex? How will they do all of this when any woman at any time can accuse them of sexual misconduct, sexual assault or rape and ruin their lives? Clearly women are unhinged and it is the men who are really at risk here. But let me remind you of something:

  • Donald Trump has 16 credible accusations of sexual misconduct, assault and rape and he is the president of the United States (vomit)

  • Larry Nassar sexually assaulted 400 women and counting; he was first accused back in 1997 and nothing was done for 20 years

  • Louis C.K. jerked off in front of women, stopped performing for 9 months and then walked on stage at the Comedy Cellar here in New York City and got a standing ovation before he even opened his mouth

  • Bill Cosby was sentenced 3-10 years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. He drugged and assaulted or raped other women as well, something he admitted to in front of a grand jury in the early 2000s

  • Brett Kavanaugh had been accused of sexual assault by 4 women – one of whom detailed “train rapes” that he and his childhood friend Mark Judge participated in – and there is a very good chance he will be confirmed and end up with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court

So I guess what I am trying to tell you is this: yes, things have been changing. Yes, women are being heard now (whether or not they are being believed is still up for debate). But remind yourself which women are being heard. And remind yourself that the entire country just watched, transfixed, as a giant man baby blubbered to a group of politicians about how his life was being ruined.  And while you’re thinking about that, don’t forget about the woman who had carefully, and respectfully, testified earlier that morning about how her life had been turned upside down by actions taken by a young Brett Kavanaugh. She wasn’t just effected by this now, in 2018. She has been dealing with this, and living with it, since the early 1980s. While every one is saying that we need due process, that we cannot “just believe the victims,” that she is probably part of some conspiracy to keep the court from becoming more conservative just remember that it is Dr. Ford who was hacked, it is Dr. Ford who is being called a slut and a liar, it is Dr. Ford who had to move her family out of their home and hire protection. She is not guaranteed a right to space, to her story and to her humanity. None of us are. And trauma? Trauma doesn’t allow us to forget. That is what this is about.

Kathie Klages, David Pecker, Mollie Tibbetts and the Devaluing of Women

At the very early stages of recording Welcome to My Vagina the Almost Famous Podcast, Jessy and I talked about the sexual abuse scandal that was tearing USA gymnastics to shreds. (I wrote about it here and then again here.) We called the episode "A Girl's Worth," which was based off of Rachael Denhollander's victim impact statement in which she asked, time and again, "how much is a little girl worth?" I find myself asking this question of myself often, but extending that to include not just little girls but grown women as well. I extend it to include all of us. And every time I ask myself this question and then go on to answer it, every time I think about what value I hold to society at large, how much my life is worth in the eyes of law enforcement, the justice system, the media and our very own president I can only come to the exact same conclusion over and over and over again: I am not worth very much. And then I think to myself that I was born with white skin to upper middle class parents in a safe neighborhood that had good schools and I realize that the small amount that I have determined my own worth to be in the eyes of so many is higher still than a lot of other women. It's a lot to take in, to live in a culture that hates and diminishes you. There are constant reminders of this. A few of which I want to talk about here.

Kathie Klages

For those of you who don't know much about the Nassar scandal in USA Gymnastics, let me give you an ever-so-brief overview. Over the 20+ years that Larry Nassar was treating gymnasts and other female athletes through his offices at Michigan State University, his 'volunteer position' with USA Gymnastics as the women's national team doctor and his arrangement with John Geddert of Geddert's Twistar's in Lansing, Michigan, he sexually assaulted over 300 women and girls that we know of. And he did not act alone. It took other people ignoring reports or looking the other way. Kathie Klages was one of those people.  

Back in 1997, a gymnast by the name of Larissa Boyce reported to Klages that Nassar had been sexually inappropriate with her during an appointment for an injury. Another woman, who has chosen to remain anonymous, also reported to Klages at the same time. Klages did not go to MSU and she did not go to law enforcement. Instead, she shamed the women until they stayed silent. Kathie Klages knew about Nassar, knew that he was a predator, for 20 years and she did nothing, she said nothing. She continued coaching the MSU women's gymnastics team until she was forced to resign in 2016 and in that time she sent countless athletes to see a doctor who she had been told had a habit of sticking his ungloved fingers into their vaginas under the guise of medical treatment. One of those women, Lindsey Lemke, gave an impact statement while she was still competing for MSU this past January, 2018, 21 years after Klages was originally told of Nassar's behavior. Klages could have done something, could have stopped him, but the reputation of one single doctor was more important, more valuable, than the physical and mental well-being of hundreds of women. As far as Kathie Klages was concerned, a woman's worth is but a fraction of a man with medals and awards, a man who will die in prison, a man whom she still defends.

American Media Inc.

Next we have The National Enquirer, its parent company, American Media, Inc. (AMI) and David Pecker - no, really, his last name is Pecker - the CEO and Chairman of American Media. The other night, I hunkered down on the sofa to watch Rachel Maddow explain the breaking news of the day and it was big. We had already found out that Michael Cohen had made a deal with the feds in which he plead guilty to 5 counts of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution and two counts that are related to the breaking of campaign-finance laws. Those last two charges were due to payments that he made to Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, AKA Stormy Daniels. Cohen said he was directed by then-candidate, now the worst president of all times, Donald J. Trump in order to keep the two women from speaking out and therefore hurting Trump's chances at winning the election. Each of these women were paid $130,000, which was determined to be the amount that their silence was worth. Our country's norms and values were sold on the market for a combined total of $260,000 to a snake-oil salesman who knows nothing about the rules of grammar, let alone international politics and, you know, how to have a conscience. But that isn't even what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the other breaking news. The Pecker stuff.

So apparently AMI, led by David Pecker, had a habit of what has been dubbed the "catch and kill." For years they would find negative stories about Donald Trump, catch them, get exclusive rights to them, and then bury them. This happened in the case of Karen McDougal. AMI bought the life rights to McDougal's story for a sum of $150,000, which precluded her from sharing the story of her 9-month affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007, right around the time Trump's son Barron was born, if memory serves. But AMI also interviewed Beth Ferrier, one of the women who accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping her, and then buried it in exchange for an exclusive interview with Cosby. Ferrier didn't sign the rights away and could have told her story elsewhere, although she was ever informed of the trade AMI had made. And we also know that women were speaking out about Cosby for years before any of the allegations really stuck. So how much is Beth Ferrier worth? About $7,500 that she never received from AMI and one exclusive interview with a wealthy and powerful man.

Mollie Tibbets

A few days ago, the body of missing college student Mollie Tibbetts was found near her boyfriend's home in Brooklyn, Iowa. She was murdered and buried under some corn stalks in a field by a man she did not know after she rebuffed his advances while she was out for a run.  I am a runner and I have had the same experience Mollie had, with an obviously very different ending. I have been out for my daily run and been followed by men on foot, in cars and once on a bicycle. It is terrifying and infuriating. I have been lucky. I've been able to shoot men down without having them rape and/or kill me. Mollie, and way too many other women, have not been as lucky. There is a lot to be said here.

First, let us engage with the reason Mollie was killed. Mollie was killed because she rejected a man and he got angry. It does not matter where this man came from, why he was in the United States or what his legal status was. He was a man who could not handle rejection and believed that the proper retribution for the fact that she didn't want him was her death. He killed her because she said no. Plain and simple. To this man, Mollie's life was less important than his ego.

Second, let us talk about the narrative that has arisen around her death. Predictably, the party that tells us not to talk about gun control after another mass shooting claims scores of our young people did not skip a beat before using Mollie's death to make a plea for "The Wall" and in defense of racist immigration policies. And all of this while Mollie's family itself has said the following:

“Hey i’m a member of mollie’s family and we are not so fucking small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals. now stop being a fucking snake and using my cousins death as political propaganda. take her name out of your mouth.”

It's true that if this man wasn't here he would not have killed Mollie. But do you know what he would have done? He would have killed another woman. I am certainly not valuing one woman's life over another's, but I am saying that this is a conversation about murderous misogyny and not immigration. In the aftermath of this, we need to be having a conversation about how to educate men to be better, not having one about how we should or should not spend billions of dollars to build some bullshit wall that's going to become a symbol for racism and will ultimately be torn down. To our asshole president and many members of the Republican Party, Mollie Tibbett's life is worth a few talking points about illegal immigration.

Third, we need to look at this case and notice one thing: Mollie Tibbets was a beautiul, strong-willed, smart, athletic, white woman. The fact that she was white matters here because in our culture, whiteness is associated with purity. That's why our newspapers, magazines and tabloids were ablaze with the stories of Elizabeth Smart, Jonbenet Ramsey and Natalee Holloway and yet none of us have heard of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year old Muslim woman who was killed last year while walking back to her Mosque with a group of friends in Virginia. A driver, who got angry after he exchanged words with one of the young men in Hassanen's group, grabbed Hassanen and beat her to death with a baseball bat before dropping her in a pond. There was no national coverage of her death, nor is there national coverage of African American children who go missing. Mollie Tibbett's life was worth more than Nabra Hassanen, and is worth more than the African American children whose disappearances have never been on the cover of any newspaper or magazine. All life should be valued the same regardless of the color of your skin, your country of origin, or what you have between your legs.

***

I don't have too much more to say here other than this: being a woman is hard. It is harder for some more than it is for others but the reality is that every single one of us knows what it is to be silenced and to have our experiences devalued. And if we haven't been silenced ourselves, although I do not know a single woman who has been so lucky, we know what it looks like because we are surrounded by it every single day. There are so many things that are not said, not heard or "caught and killed." And that silence, that under valuing of women's worth, has terrible, and sometimes deadly, consequences. 

 

Here’s How to Help

We at Welcome to My Vagina are horrified and heart broken at the events that have been unfolding at our southern border and at the lack of moral character demonstrated by our current administration. But being enraged is not enough. We have to take action and make our feelings known and heard. Here are some suggestions for things we can all do to let people in positions of power know that we will not stand for this and to let those being treated as less than human know that we stand with them.

  1. Write to your Representatives 
  • You can find out who represents you at www.govtrack.us/congress/members 
  • If you can’t think of what to say here is a quick blurb you can copy, paste, print and mail: I, (enter name here), am writing to ask you to vote no on Speaker Ryan’s immigration bill. This is an inhumane, unjust bill that places families in immigration camps. Indefinite detention is against the law in the United States and that should not change under any circumstance. We cannot allow this to become who we are. Our country is better than this. 

2. Call your Representative

  • The ACLU offers this script: Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and my zip code is [YOUR ZIP]. I’m asking the Representative to vote NO on Speaker Ryan’s immigration bill. This is an inhumane, unjust bill that will put families in prison camps – we can’t let that be what this country becomes.

3. Donate. There are a lot of organizations doing a lot of incredible work and that costs a lot of money. So one of the best things you can do, other than reaching out to your representatives, is to donate. Even a little bit makes a huge difference. The ACLU recommends the following but there are tons more. Just make sure to do your research before hitting that donate button!

4. Attend A Protest

  • On June 30th, cities across the country will host protests against family separation policy. 

5. If you can volunteer here are some suggestions

  • Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) – based in NYC this group connects refugee families with emergency legal aid and community support. Mostly looking for volunteer attorneys, law students and interpreters.
  • Chicago-based Young Center is seeking adults (21+) who want to become child advocates for unaccompanied immigrant children. No legal background needed.
  • The New Sanctuary Coalition in NYC will train people to accompany immigrants when they check in with immigration enforcement and attend immigration hearings.

This Is Not Who We Are

Senators: Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Hakeem Jeffries, Nydia Velazquez

 

To Whom it May Concern:

 

We are writing to you today out of concern and heartache. The atrocities that are occurring at our southern border – atrocities that have been occurring for months now – must stop immediately. As you know, in January of 1945 the Allied Forces liberated Auschwitz, the largest killing center and concentration camp of all those run by the Nazi Party. And here we sit today, in the country that spearheaded the liberation of people who were starved and tortured, families who were torn apart, communities that were decimated and we find that we are not much better. We find that this country that has, since its establishment, claimed to be a safe haven for the worlds most marginalized communities, has turned its back, once again, on morality and decency and is instead using the force of its laws and immigration officers to further disempower those who lack voice, who lack protection, and who lack a safe space to simply live. We said never again. And now here we are, as we lose the last of the Holocaust survivors, moving close to repeating the same horrific mistakes.

 

This is not who we are. This is not who we want to be. This has to end now.

 

So we are writing to you to ask that you do not stop acting now that the horrific policy of separating children from their parents has ended. We are asking that you stand strong and say no to Trump’s attempt to overturn the Flores decision. We are asking that you stand with the people who are fleeing gang violence, domestic violence, drug wars and oppressive governments. We are asking that you stand with those who come to this country seeking safety and opportunity for themselves and their children. We are asking that you stand with them, not against them. Let us not continue to repeat the mistakes we have made in the past. We had internment camps once before, we cannot go down that road again. Indefinite detention is not who we are, it is not what we stand for, and it simply cannot continue.

 

Please, stand strong. Just because we have a president who lacks a moral compass, a president who uses the plight of others to drum up his hateful base in an effort to continue eroding our democracy, does not mean that we should follow along blindly. It means we must be stronger than we have ever been before. And the first step is to show the people arriving at our southern border the respect they deserve. They are human beings just like us and should be treated as such. We urge you to do what we put you in office for: to help those who cannot help themselves and to stand in the way of Trump and the GOP’s effort to make the United States a place that is only for the white and the wealthy. This is a country of immigrants and underdogs and that is what makes it so special. Do the right thing.

 

Your constituents

 

Jessy Caron and Rebekah Frank

ICYMI: The Gymnastics Sex Abuse Scandal Broke 14 Months Ago

By: Rebekah Frank

As many of you who know me personally are probably aware, I am a HUGE gymnastics fan. While friends are binge watching the newest series on Netflix and Hulu, I am rewatching National Championships from the late 90’s, exploring NCAA gymnastics meets and reviewing some of my favorite routines and gymnasts from over the years, amazed by what they have been able to do with their bodies in such limited pieces of air. It is death defying, beautiful, seemingly impossible and yet they do it. And what’s even more amazing is that they make it look easy.

As many of you also know, being a gymnastics fan right now is a very unenviable position to be in. I have watched over the past year and change as my favorite sport has been ripped apart from the inside out, slowly, methodically, and the world has paid no attention. Not until the past few weeks, anyway, and I am so angry. I am so angry that I feel as though I could punch a hole through a brick wall. I am so angry that I am afraid that if I didn’t stop myself from clenching my jaw my entire face might explode. I am so angry that if I ever met Larry Nassar in person I think I could do something I never thought possible of myself; I think I could actually kill him with my bare hands and feel no remorse whatsoever. I am so angry that I want to shake every single person in this entire fucking country and ask them where they were, why they haven’t been listening and why, when the Indy Star broke this story over 14 months ago, why no other goddamn news source picked it up. Where were you, New York Times? Washington Post? NPR? ESPN? Where were you when these women were coming to terms with what was done to them? Where were you to tell them that we were listening, that we cared, when people ignored their pleas for help for decades?

Let us not forget, these were children.

I remember back in 2015 when Larry Nassar disappeared from USA Gymnastics with no fanfare, not even a word. As an avid fan I knew how well respected he was, I knew that he was touted as the best gymnastics doctor in the world. He was a miracle worker, he could fix anything. But then one day, leading up to the 2015 World Championships and the 2016 Olympic Games when we were expected to sweep the field yet again, he was gone. Just poof. Shortly thereafter Marvin Sharpe, coach of 2008 Olympians Bridget Sloan and Sam Peszek, was arrested on child pornography charges. He was later found dead of an apparent suicide. No one said a word. And then it came out that the national governing body of the sport, USA Gymnastics (USAG) had been covering up abuse charges for decades, Catholic Church style. They had complaints about 50 coaches spanning decades. Coaches who they allowed to transfer to different facilities around the country without informing the owners and other coaches of the monsters that were in their ranks, monsters that were training young boys and girls who entrusted them with their safety. When the story broke in the Star it became clear that USAG was an organization capable of covering up the worst in the interest of maintaining a clean reputation all in an effort to win medals, and money, on the backs of young athletes whom they mistreated and did not protect.

These were children.

There were reports about Nassar going back decades. Athletes who went to school counselors, local police departments, coaches, Child Protective Services, university athletic directors going all the way back to the 1990s. No one said anything. No one stopped him. We are talking about a man who stuck his ungloved fingers inside the vaginas of scores of young women under the guise of medical treatment. We are talking about a man so vile that he told girls he could help them achieve their dreams, all while robbing them of their innocence. We are talking about a man who angled himself into a career, a position, where he would have unfettered access to girls who thought he was their friend, their protector. And we are talking about organizations – USAG, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), Michigan State University (MSU), Geddert’s Twistars – who looked the other way for decades as this man violated women who they were obligated to protect. And then, when they couldn’t ignore it any more, they tried to sweep it under the rug and hope that no one would notice and they almost managed it.

They almost fucking managed it. Here were are, in the middle of the #MeToo movement and #TimesUP and a serial pedophile who preyed on young girls for decades was almost tried and convicted with no media acknowledgment whatsoever. USAG, MSU and the USOC have been putting out toothless statements about the bravery of the young women who have come forward and have done absolutely nothing to take on some of that work themselves. These women are survivors and, as is always the case, they are out there alone doing the heavy lifting. These women, women who have been trying to get people to listen to them for decades, some of whom have brought fame on USAG and the USOC through their performance on the national and international stage have been cast aside. They have been made to feel as though they only hold worth as long as they fly through the air in sparkly leotards adorned with the Stars and Stripes. So I have to ask, where has everyone been? At this moment when people are finally, finally listening to women, why did it take 14 goddamn months of a constant cascade of information for The New York Times to put this on the front fucking page? This is the biggest sexual abuse scandal in sports history and they were children and it was not deemed important enough to print until now. I’ll tell you why. Because for as important as the #MeToo Movement has been we are still knee deep in a disgusting patriarchal culture that does not listen to the voices of women even while news outlets congratulate themselves on how much space they have been giving to our voices. If they cannot make space to out a serial pedophile and the organizations that stood blindly by all while creating an environment that was just aching to host a monster like Nassar then we have gotten no where, our voices, our pain, still mean nothing.

I have been saying since the beginning that our downfall is our tendency to valuate the experiences of victims in order to decide whether the career of one man is worth being ruined. How many of our voices does it take? How many of our careers, our lives, have to be stymied in order to protect the trajectory of a man’s life? How many young girls coming forward to the people whom they trusted with their safety and their happiness and their innocence does it take to get one serial fucking pedophile put behind bars? I think we have our number and it is higher than we know.

When will people start listening? At what point will one abuse be enough to end it? When will our stories permanently stop being relegated to women’s interest subsites as if our experiences do not have universal effects on the societies in which we live. Our experiences matter. What we endure shapes the world around us. I would love to tell everyone to shut up and listen but the problem is that they claim to be but they simply aren’t. How long did it take the news to go crazy over some bullshit story about tide pods? Not 14 months, I can tell you that much. The bottom line is that we as a society simply do not care about women and we do not care about little girls. This story has made that abundantly clear and it breaks my heart every single day.

Am I happy that this monster will die in jail? Yes. If there was a way for us to keep him alive for every single second of his 175 year sentence, I would support it. I want that man to suffer for every moment of the rest of his miserable life. When he is sleeping I hope he replays these past few days in his mind until his very last day. But that is not all that I want. I want USA Gymnastics to be decertified as a governing body until they completely clean house. Every person that worked at that organization while this was allowed to happen has got to go and we need to start fresh. If that means less medals, so be it. The athletes must always come first. I want Marta and Bela Karolyi investigated for their role in this atrocity and fuck them if they think they get to retire in peace and determine their own legacies. They did this. I want every person who had involvement with the athletic department at MSU gone, starting with the president of the University, Lou Anna Simon. I want a complete overhaul at the USOC because that is clearly not an organization that can or should be trusted with the safety of any athlete. And I want people to finally listen to women and girls when we speak. I want people to trust that we understand the difference between a good touch and a bad one, that we can discern a joke from abuse. We are raised to protect ourselves from men, it is the only thing that allows us to survive.

So no, I am not happy and I am not relieved. I am fucking angry. Remember Dominique Moceanu? That little girl who danced into our hearts in 1996? She has been trying to expose the abuse within USA Gymnastics for years and she was maligned. And here’s a name you might not know: Rachel Denhollander. She was the one who started this whole process by reaching out to the Indy Star over a year ago when they published an article critical of the culture of USA Gymnastics. She knew what Nassar did was wrong when it happened to her but she didn’t report it until now. Why? Because she knew no one would listen to her, no one would believe her. And she was right.

This is not just about one man. This is not just about one sport or a few governing bodies. This is not just about the countless adults who did nothing in the face of decades of abuse. This is about all of us. We need to start caring. And not just paying lip service. We need to demand that these stories are told front and center because that is the only way we can stop this from happening again. Because if we continue the way we are, it will happen again. Who knows, it might be happening right now.

Be About Consent: My Thoughts on the #MeToo Movement

 

By Rebekah Frank of FranklyRebekah.com

 

Me Too. Yes. Of course. Me fucking too.  I’ve written about it so many times here. Talked about it so much with friends and family. Gotten into deep discussions with people about the nature of consent and the evils of the patriarchy. And in ways I am happy to see that people responded to Alyssa Milano’s call. But at the same time goddamnit am I pissed, and sad, and frankly, in some ways, dumbfounded. Why? Oh, let me count the ways.

***

One. I am pissed that the burden of this has fallen, once again, on women. That always seems to be the case. We are supposed to take self defense classes to protect ourselves when we go about our daily lives. We are supposed to keep an eye on our drinks, never leaving them unattended, even around men who we consider our friends. We are tasked with walking home in groups, with putting our friends in cars, with connecting with each other through apps for our short, yet perilous, rides or walks home. We are supposed to be careful what we wear, where we go, who we smile at or talk to, who we trust. And then, almost inevitably when at some point in our lives something happens to us, we feel guilty, we are blamed, we are tasked with telling our painful stories, reliving horrifying events, walking back through a door we worked so goddamn hard to close. We have to do those things. And we do. And yet here we are, doing them again.

Two. I am saddened by the fact that people, mostly men, seem so surprised by the magnitude of this problem. I guess that was the point. But the thing that this says to me is that a lot of the men out there haven’t been listening all along. That we had to turn our experiences into a hashtag for them to finally be listened to. We go through this shit every single mother fucking day and we talk about it. Oh god do we talk about it! Because it is part of our daily lives. And we aren’t doing it to ourselves. It is being done to us. Mostly by men. And so my logical conclusion is that if most women have experienced some sort of sexual abuse or sexual harassment or sexual assault, then there are A LOT of men who have perpetrated it. It’s not like there are 10 guys out there making the rounds like fucking Rapey Santa Claus, dropping through chimneys, into work places, dorm rooms, company parties, first dates, marriages. If what this hashtag campaign has taught us is that if most women have experienced this, then it stands to reason that at some point or another most men have perpetrated it.

Three. We have a consent issue. And a power dynamic issue. And a huge fucking gender issue. Not to mention a value issue. And what, in my mind, this hashtag has not done, at least in my experience, is force those topics into daily conversation. It’s all well and good to retweet things, write notes of support and ruminate on the number of your friends who have gone through different versions of the same nightmare. It is an entirely different thing to take all of that information and ask yourself one simple question: why. Why is this happening? There are so many reasons but one of them is that women’s stories, our experiences, are not heard, they are not respected and they are not taken as real. How many women did it take to finally bring down Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, Larry Nasser? How many Lupita Nyong’os or Angelina Jolies or Rose McGowans equal one Harvey Weinstein? How many victims could have been spared if we were believed, if we felt empowered, if we actually thought that sharing our stories would save others? Because the reality is that sharing oftentimes has the effect of turning our lives upside-down. Just ask Anita Hill.

Four. The number of people who asked why the hashtag only applied to women because men get sexually abused too. Way to “all lives matter” this shit. It is true. Men do get sexually assaulted. And it is an issue that is not discussed nearly enough. It also is deeply rooted in power dynamics, our fucked up way of engaging with gender and sexual expression as well as aspects of shame and control. What I don’t think it is, and correct me if I am wrong, is a massive systemic problem. So please, let’s talk about that. Definitely. But let us not, once again, let the plight of some men overtake the experience of the vast majority of women. I am not arguing that it is less important, or less horrible to experience, or less life altering. What I am saying is that this is not the place for it. This is about systemic and institutionalized sexism that doesn’t only exist in Hollywood. It is in politics, it is at work, it is in our homes, at school. This is about Women, as a group, being undervalued, controlled, disempowered, abused and about it being the year 2017 and all we can do is come up with a damn hashtag.

Five. This is somewhat tangential but I am really sick of people being like “I believe this is bad because I have a mother.” Congratulations, you have a mom. It stands to reason that since, you know, we all exist then probably at some point we all also had mothers. And think about this. Your mother was more likely than not the victim of sexual violence of some kind at some point in her life. Your mother. Because she is a woman and if this hashtag has taught us anything it is that most women have been assaulted in some way. It shouldn’t take you having a mom, or a sister, or a daughter, or an aunt, or a best friend who also happens to be a girl to give a shit. We are people. And we deserve to be treated as such regardless of our decision to procreate or our relation to someone of the opposite sex. We are not important because of the roles we play in men’s lives. We are simply important. Period. End of story.

Six. It is 2017. TWO THOUSAND AND SEVENTEEN! This has been written about so much. And talked about. And so much of that has been done so poorly but it doesn’t take a genius to know that Brock Turner is a garbage human and so is his dad and so is the judge who let him off easy. And it doesn’t take a genius to know that our President has sexually assaulted women. He admitted to it! On tape! And it doesn’t seem to matter! And really, I know that a lot of big names are being taken down right now. But these dudes are old. They are ooooooold. They have been doing this for so long. And do you know what? There are young, powerful men who are doing the same fucking thing right now. Because while we hashtag and have conversations about Harvey Weinstein, and Bill O’Reilly, and all the other pieces of shit we are not talking about MEN. We are not talking about toxic masculinity, the patriarchy and what that does to society as a whole. We are not talking about how we raise our boys and how we blame our girls. We are not taking on the bigger issue, instead we just bought a huge Harvey Weinstein shaped bandaid and acted like something really got done. He is a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself.

***

I don’t think I am offering any sort of new analysis here so I don’t know what the point is. I’m just frustrated. I am frustrated because this has been happening to all of us for so long. So long. And I think that our definition of sexual assault is too limited. There are so many experiences that I have had, that my friends have had, that I believe qualify. It is as simple as your girlfriend, or wife, saying no to sex and you continuing to push and her eventually just giving in. No one wants to just give in to having a penis inserted into her body. It’s incredibly invasive. And I know that men have this experience too. But the difference is the system. The way we value things. The way we doubt women and their experiences. And the way we, as a society, are somehow shocked that this is as big a problem as it is. I can’t tell you the number of times I have read the RAINN statistics and thought they were actually too damn low. We have a problem. We have had a problem for a long time. And no hashtag is going to miraculously fix it. Be an ally. Be an ear. Be compassionate. And for crying outloud, be about consent.

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Rebekah Esther Frank

She's better at writing then you are - But she's here for you.

I Thought We Were Friends

By Rebekah Frank

 

Sometime in the late spring, early summer of 2010 I rode the B63 bus down Atlantic Avenue from my bartending job towards home. I was drunk. I was drunk a lot that summer. I was heartbroken and in complete free fall. I sat staring out the window, tears silently streaming down my cheeks as they often did, wondering what I had done wrong, how I could fix it and when the pain – so emotionally present that it turned into physical hurt – would stop. I was pretty sure it never would, that the pain was my new normal. The bus stopped and a man, probably around my age, appeared in front of me. He smiled and gave me a hand-written note before he walked off the bus and into the night.

You’re beautiful when you cry. Call me.

The tears stopped. I held the note in my right hand between by thumb and fore finger and stared blankly out the window. I took it with me as I exited the bus and looked at it as I made my way home. At the first trashcan I found I spit violently on the small slip of paper – imagining it was the man’s face – crumpled it up and threw it into the garbage. Being mad at him and all the other strangers who seemed to smell my vulnerability that summer was so easy. It felt as though men – anonymous men, not the men I knew – were all dogs.

The pain eventually dulled. I fell in love again.

***

Going on two years ago my most recent relationship ended. We were together for almost four years. What do they say in all those articles about break-ups, that it takes half the length of the relationship to get over it? Maybe there is something to that because I am just now about back to normal and by normal I mean that the idea of being involved in the dating scene makes me want to scream. This guy at work last night asked me how I meet people to date and my honest response was that I don’t. I just don’t.

I could chalk it up to my work schedule. That being almost entirely unavailable on weekends makes it near impossible to meet someone. I could blame modern dating and the rise of internet dating sites. As someone who works in a social setting with already precarious power dynamics, the idea of some guy seeing me on the Internet and then walking into my bar and thinking he has some kind of leverage terrifies me. I could blame my most recent dating experiences and the assumption men seem to have that if a date is going halfway decently it’s their cue to try and come home with me. Good fucking luck. But the reality is that I blame my friends. Or, more accurately, people I thought were my friends. I blame the people that made me feel like my only value is in my body and what it can offer them.

Let me quote an article from Salon that finally gave me the strength to write this post, this post that I have been writing over and over again in my head but never wanted to actually put to paper, so to speak, for fear of hurting the feelings of people who never had any consideration for mine.

When the bad things that happen are normal, you become tough. It’s devastating how tough I am.

So, as a 30-year-old woman who has been through a range of horribly exploitative sexual and emotional experiences—you know, just like pretty much every woman you know—I really don’t want to know anymore if a stranger finds me attractive. Not right out of the gate. Hell no. There are so many more interesting things about me than my body… This is why I cherish my friendships with straight dudes who would never try to fuck me even if we are trashed, and is probably part of why I hang out with a lot of queer people. 

This is why I’ve gone home in tears after someone I respect says they think I’m smart and funny and interesting and they’d like to have a drink and rap about the world, and then just tries to fuck me after I patiently dodge their advances all night. Were they not even paying attention? … I am still, as a grown woman, trying not to mentally respond to that situation by thinking: “Well, that person just wanted to fuck you. Maybe you are not really that smart or interesting.” That precise feeling is one that I don’t really think straight dudes can fully relate to: You are invisible, but they still want to fuck you. They do not see you or hear you. They still might rape you. This is why somebody putting their eyes all over me or immediately telling me they like the way I look is no longer flattering. Because it makes me feel fucking invisible.

The woman who wrote this article is a bartender in her 30s, like me. And she, too, is fucking exhausted by how much she is sexualized at work. This past week, I have been given 2 phone numbers, been told by a customer that he has wet dreams about me, had a coworker hit on me by alluding to the version of 50 Shades of Grey that we could make together, and had to tell someone that my tits could not pour him his beer so if he would please look at my face when requesting service it would be appreciated. Sometimes I leave work feeling like a pair of boobs and a hole to fuck, with arms conveniently attached to provide liquid courage. The thing I make my money off of is the same one that empowers men to disempower me and managing that disempowerment, that power dynamic, is tricky. It is intertwined with my ability to earn a living. And it is exhausting.

When I leave work at 4am, I try to leave all of that behind me. I try to reenter a world where I am valued for more than my body and my ability to pour liquid into a cup. Of course, I want people to find me attractive but I want that to be attached to the fact that I am smart and funny and interesting. Those are the things I value about myself. So when I read this line — This is why I have gone home in tears after someone I respect says they think I’m smart and funny and interesting and they’d like to have a drink and rap about the world, and then just tries to fuck me after I patiently dodge their advances all night. Were they not even paying attention? — I was like, finally, someone else said it. Because I, too, have gone home in tears. I have spent the better part of the last two years thinking my taste in (male) friends sucks because one after another after another after another of my straight male friends have tried to fuck me. I barely have any left. To those who have been my friend all this time I value you more than I can really say.

Somewhat recently I met up with an old friend for a drink. We hadn’t hung out in awhile because life took us in different directions but I was happy to catch up. It took him about 2 hours to try and fuck me. I told him about my life, what I’ve been up to, what I’ve been thinking about. He told me how he always thought I was so hot. He thought he was flattering me. I have never felt so cheap, so misled, so socially inept. How did I not know? How did I ever think this drink was about us catching up as friends? How did I not see this coming? How stupid can a person be?

I, like the well-trained woman that I am, blamed myself. Over and over again.

My ex-boyfriends all knew that the best way into my pants was through loving my brain, not lusting after my body. But of course, they were listening. There was more in it for them. I was visible. Me. I was more than just  a conquest, or the fulfillment of a long curiosity. I was a human being with unique value. And I am done feeling as though I did something wrong to mislead people about what I was looking for. I have always been clear. So be my friend or don’t be. But if you’re just looking to fuck, move along. I’m not interested. Stop wasting my time. Stop making me feel like garbage. Because after all these years it takes me more and more time to rebuild myself after work. If you’re really my friend, you should be supporting me. So stop tearing me down.

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Rebekah Frank

Don't forget to check out FranklyRebekah.com

Sexual Abuse Allegations Rock USA Gymnastics

 

by Rebekah Frank

 

 

On Tuesday, March 28th, 2017, former Olympic gymnast Jamie Dantzscher testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about her experiences as an elite athlete. Dantzscher reported that starting when she was 12 years old and continuing through the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games six years later, she was sexually abused by the USA Gymnastics (USAG) team doctor, Larry Nassar. She spoke in front of The Committee in support of an amendment to the federal law that governs Olympic sports organizations in America. This amendment, formulated by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cali), would overhaul the ways in which organizations that put together the United States Olympic teams deal with allegations of sexual assault and misconduct within their sport. The legislation would require anyone associated with an Olympic governing body, such as USAG, to report allegations of sexual misconduct to law enforcement and would create procedures intended to prevent coaches who have been fired due to such accusations from getting a job at another club. Although this legislation would impact all Olympic sports, it appears to be in direct response to what some have characterized as gross negligence on the part of USAG when it comes to protecting its athletes from serial sexual predators.

Women’s gymnastics poses a unique challenge when it comes to preventing misconduct. Athletes spend roughly 35 hours per week in the gym, sometimes working one-on-one with their coaches. Hands-on spotting is required to assure athlete safety, and as a result coaches are often male owing to the fact that on average men are taller and have more upper body strength than women. The sport also requires that an incredibly high level of trust exists between coach and athlete; a poorly placed foot or a missed hand could result in serious injury or death. In the best cases, this leads to an incredible bond between gymnast and mentor, where the two individuals function as a team and are able to help one another reach the goals they have set. In the worst case, this unquestioned trust and imbalanced power dynamic can result in a situation where a coach abuses the athlete or else turns a blind eye to the misconduct of others in pursuit of a shared dream. In the case of Dr. Larry Nassar, and of 2010 USAG Coach of the Year Marvin Sharp before him, the organization seems to have prioritized its own success over the safety of the athletes, many of whom are minors.

In an interview with 60 Minutes this past February, former USAG National Team member Jessica Howard summarized her experience of abuse and explained why she and the dozens of other gymnasts who have come forward since Nassar’s arrest didn’t do so previously. She said, “no one wants to step out of line because there’s a group of people that make decisions that dictate whether you’re successful or not. So you just comply with what you’re told to do.” The people who make up the governing body of USAG, the body that chooses who represents the United States in international competition, are the same people who see these young women monthly at the National Team Training Camp in Huntsville, Texas and they are the same people who hire the support and medical staff that are tasked with keeping the athletes safe and healthy. The gymnasts spend their entire childhood and early adulthood attempting to impress the members of USAG because those people hold the key to their futures; without the approval of the USAG Selection Committee the gymnasts dreams simply cannot come true. As a result, the athletes unquestioningly do as they are told because they assume, understandably and probably correctly, that obedience is required for the realization of their dreams.

As of March 23rd, 103 women have come forward and joined the federal lawsuit against Dr. Larry Nassar. Among these women are members of the USA gymnastics national team, club gymnasts in Eastern Michigan as well as student athletes at Michigan State University where Dr. Nassar had an office. Almost all of the suits list USAG, MSU and Geddert’s Twistars, a Lansing-area gymnastics club, as codefendants for ignoring red flags about Nassar’s behavior. What this growing lawsuit indicates is that over the course of at least 2 decades USAG, as well as other organizations and individuals, shirked their moral responsibility to protect the women under their guidance and instead allowed a doctor to have unfettered access to them. Perhaps these organizations operated in a shadowy area of the law, but what they did was look the other way as young women were routinely victimized and disempowered under the guise of medical attention. If the situation involving the Catholic Church is any indication of what is to come, it seems likely that this lawsuit will grow larger by the week, month and year and the uphill battle that USAG will have to fight to regain its reputation as a safe space for young athletes is only beginning.

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Rebekah Frank

Period Poops and Politics

Written by Rebekah Frank

I am tired. So damn tired. And it’s not because I have a cold, the heaviest flow I have had in months and the period shits all at once. Nope, that I can take in stride. It’s that while I have a cold and the heaviest flow I have had in months and the period shits I am still stuck fighting. I just need a couple of days off to relax and heal myself and stop dripping fluid from damned near every orifice in my body. But no, this fight still wages on. What fight? The fight against men trying to tell me things they (sometimes intentionally) know not a god damned thing about but think that for some reason their genitalia gives them some level of expertise I could never hope to obtain. It is fucking exhausting.

 

Just real quick, I don’t want you to read this and think that I am some sort of fearless feminist warrior, running headfirst towards every battle, proving my intelligence over and over again by carefully formulated take downs. Not even close. I am a woman filled with the same self doubt as all other women, trying to make my way in a world where my opinions are constantly questioned, my reasoning and intelligence doubted by default. I am a woman who was taught to always protect the feelings of others before my own, to deescalate even if it means ceding a point I know to be right. A woman who was raised to provide emotional support to those who would never return the favor, to soften my words with phrases such as “I feel as though” and “I might be wrong, but.” I am a woman like all other women who has to fight against her socialized instincts to instill in others the fact that we are here, that we are strong as fuck and that we are a force to be reckoned with.

 

This past year and change has been especially exhausting. During the Democratic primaries I found myself in this weird position of having to “break the news” to some of my peers that I was not an avid Bernie Sanders supporter and that I would be casting my ballot for Hillary Clinton. This decision, by the way, was made over weeks, after hours of discussions with friends about the two candidates policy positions, what we thought they could achieve in office, their electability, etc. It was not a decision I made lightly. And yet I found I had to fend off accusations that I was only voting for Hillary because she was a woman. It was incredibly insulting. It insinuated that I was soemotional about the possibility of a woman holding the highest office in the land that I was incapable of making an informed and rational decision about how I would vote. It was basically the same old argument that people have been making for decades: that women are too hormonal to be able to run the government (or hold other important positions, for that matter). The blowback that I received for my decision turned me harder against Sanders, largely because for months he did not deem calling out the misogyny coming from his supporters worthy of his time. I do not hold candidates responsible for the actions of their most vehement supporters but I do expect them to speak out when this sort of wide spread behavior – because my experience was in no way unique – begins to bleed from the extremes and wind its way throughout the campaign. It took him too long and that made me worry about how he might deal with issues of misogyny and racism if he were to advance further.

 

I know that some of you, if you have even made it this far, might have been turned off by my negative words about BernieSanders but please, listen to my point. You can reject it, but at least hear it. Because this specific point I am making is a lot less about him and a lot more about us as a society. What I experienced in the primaries was more of the same of what I have experienced my entire life: my opinion being second-guessed because I am female. I have been bullied a half dozen times in the last week alone – whether in person or on the internet – by men who have made unsupported claims and then responded to my well-reasoned and well-researched responses with more unsupported claims. I have been told not to be fooled by those saying that there is no misogyny on the far left, a claim that I didn’t make and never would make because my experience tells me otherwise. I would count myself an expert in very few things but I am certainly an expert in experiencing misogyny so hands off that one, I got it covered.

 

So I don’t know, dear readers. It’s been hard. It’s been hard and it’s been exhausting and it’s been hurtful. And if I’m being completely honest it just keeps hurting and I don’t see it stopping any time soon. Every time I see discussion arising around a female candidate for president – be it Kamala Harris orElizabeth Warren or Kirsten Gillibrand – it is immediately shot down by people who claim they want to see a female president but say simply “she is not the one.” And then, when people pointout the fact that no politician is perfect and that women are simply held to a higher standard, they are instructed that playing the sexism card is not a good idea and that that tactic will not play to the standard bearer, ie. white men. And meanwhile we sit here watching as Trump continues to be president and the DNC makes moves to support anti-choice candidates and we wonder if we even matter, we wonder if we ever did. At least I do. And the thing is that it is coming from all directions. We are seeing growing vitriol from the right and the left and meanwhile at this very moment, yes while I write this blog post, I am arguing with white men about the ways in which they are misinterpreting an article I posted because their interpretation clearly must be right because it is they who are the norm, it is their opinions that have been proven over the centuries to be the ones that matter. And I am saying the same things over and over and over again and it just goes nowhere. I think I might explode.

 

SoI am going to stop now. If you need me, I will be blowing my nose and changing my tampon for what feels like the 50th time today. (Update: the period shits have ceased, for now. Maybe there is a god.)

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Rebekah Frank

She'll tell you how it is

Rebekah Frank strikes again! Making sense like she always do! 

The Most Difficult Word in the World

by Rebekah Frank

When I was a little girl, I was an asshole. I was headstrong and opinionated and completely unreasonable. I wasn’t spoiled but I knew what I wanted and, by extension, what I didn’t want. I wanted to watch Inspector Gadget (which happened to come on during dinner time – TV during dinner was a huge no-no growing up), I wanted to play with my friends at all times and I didn’t want to wear a dress or tights to temple on Saturday mornings. In fact, I didn’t want to wear anything to temple on Saturday mornings because I didn’t want to go to temple on Saturday mornings. Ever. Temple was boring and tights were itchy and besides, most of the service was in Hebrew and I had no idea what was going on. But since my parents were mean and horrible (not at all true) and would force me to go to temple (entirely true), I would make it a point to excuse myself to the bathroom but would instead head to the “wall of death,” as I thought of it, and count the number of Fannys memorialized there. If I remember correctly, there were 7 Fannys on that wall which always seemed to me like an awful number of women to be named for a part of the body that was the butt of all my jokes back then,* pun 100% intended. But I digress. Since I was a girl who knew what she did and did not want, I figured out quite clearly how to best communicate that to the people around me, namely, my parents. I would get overly excited and do handstands when I wanted to do something or I would utter the word which at that time seemed so easy: no (and then I would go hide under a table for emphasis).

 

It’s crazy to say but those were the good old days. The days before I became overly susceptible to cultural and societal norms. The days before I understood that, as a woman, my value necessarily went down every time those two letters –  N O – escaped my lips. Those days before I realized that sometimes, and especially when it comes to dealings with the opposite sex, it is easier to acquiesce than to fight. I wish I could say that I could count for you on one hand the number of times I made out with a dude, let him touch my breasts, allowed his finger inside me or had sex when I didn’t want to because it simply seemed easier, safer even, than speaking my mind. It would take more hands than I care to admit to myself to count all those experiences and, truth be told, I’m sure I would forget a few. The girl who said no so much as a child grew into one who in certain circumstances didn’t say anything at all.

 

If I could I would draw you a neat little map; a map that would demonstrate for you all the experiences that brought me from point A to Point B to Point C, which is a where I live now. Point C is somewhere in between the incredibly outspoken tendencies I had during my youth and the fear of disapproval that I developed in my late teens and held on to for over a decade. I can’t draw you that map because there are just too many stops and diversions along the way, too many things that I would miss in the process. Things like the children’s books that reinforce social norms; the catcalls that make me feel less than human; the never-ending string of legislation that takes reproductive rights out of women’s hands; the men who have groped me on the street and jerked off to me while on trains; the sheer number of rape kits untested, rapists unjailed and rape victims made out to be the perpetrators; and the fact that I have to keep asking the same dudes over and over to please wear a condom and, truth be told, eventually I just get tired and stop asking. Sometimes this world, this fight, just wears me down and the only thing I can do is keep quiet and cry about it alone in my room because my inability to say no, my inability to be strong all the time, is a source of intense shame. I should be better than this by now.

 

The thing is though that rejecting social norms, rejecting the foundation of the society in which we were brought up, is something we cannot each do alone. I cannot one day wake up and decide that I am equal and then expect the entire world to fall in line with that. Things like the laughable sentencing of Brock Turner, the condescension directed at April Ryan and most notably the election of Donald Trump reminds me and other women daily that we are not deserving of the same level of respect as our male peers. And after a lifetime of being reminded, it can be challenging to muster enough self-respect to balance the scales. But I think maybe that the first step to getting there is to take back that word that at one point seemed so easy. Let’s start saying no again. No to the catcallers; no to the men who pressure us, oh so gently, into doing something we don’t want; no to this bullshit sham of an administration; no to the sexist school dress codes; no to the victim blaming. I mean, we’ve got to start somewhere, right? And to me, no seems as good a place as any.

 

*This has not changed. Butts are still funny.

 
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Rebekah

Frank

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