Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bridging the Trump Gap


Inhale. Exhale. Disengage. Re-engage. Try to figure it all out. Just forget it and move on. Try to be positive. But I can't.

After Tuesday night's election, where Donald Trump was elected as the next President of the United States, I was thrust into a state of grief, hopelessness and devastation I haven't felt in awhile. I cried alone Tuesday night. I cried Wednesday with my colleagues and co-workers. And we cried not simply for the loss of Hillary, but for the loss of our faith in humanity. Eventually my depression subsided, but as I watched the surge in hate crimes around America, I became afraid. And now, as I see more and more people supporting Trump, glossing over the "fine details", and ignoring the impact that his election has had on the social climate around us is simply pissing me off. And to process these feelings, I must blog.

Now I recognize that there are varying degrees of support for Trump: some people (like the KKK) are blatant racists who identified with the candidate who systematically attacked every non-white ethnic group from Hispanics to Middle Easterners, from Blacks to Asians. Some people (like right wing Christians) are not at all racist, but they identified with the man who swore to abolish abortion and overturn the Supreme Court ruling of Marriage Equality because he aligned with their religious beliefs. Some people are none of those things, but they are still feeling the after effects of 9/11 and are facing the very real dangers of terrorism in an ISIS world.So they identified with a self-proclaimed leader who has promised to ban potentially dangerous Muslims and refugees because they are scared and need to feel safe somehow.

Others on the other hand are not at all racist, heterosexist (this is the more appropriate term beyond homophobic), or misogynistic, and they're not against refugees or Muslims. These are the people who simply agreed with Trump's actual campaign and platform about changing the welfare state, securing gun rights, creating more jobs, reforming socialized medical care, etc. Now I highly doubt that there has ever been a political candidate that anyone has agreed with 100%. There are always issues that we don't necessarily care for, there are usually topics which we find ourselves on the exact opposite side of the debate, and often times there are presented solutions that are not as powerful or effective as we would like them to be. But we prioritize the issues that are most important to us, and use this as our guiding compass to determine which candidate will help the country become the home we want it to be.

Unfortunately many people don't seem to prioritize racism, sexism, heterosexism, and sexual assault as bigger issues. As one person said when I was debating over the precarious Trump campaign on Facebook, "we need to agree to disagree on the fine details and recognize that we agree on the major points." The fine details. So suddenly these extremely perilous social illnesses are minute details in the greater scheme of the race to become the most powerful leader in the world. For those who glossed over the fine details and voted for Trump, what they don't understand is whether or not they agreed with the racism, the sexism, the heterosexism, and the sexual assault, they voted for a man who represented these things.

Now he's president. It's a catastrophe that...ahem...trumps the debacle of Brexit in the UK and our future is dreary and uncertain. But the difference between us and Brexit is the morning after their vote, most Brits realized they made a mistake. Most people, steeped in regret, begged for another chance to vote. And they now cling to hope that as Parliament reviews the decision, the vote will not be honored. Here, many people have cheered, many people have celebrated, no one has uttered a single "my god what have we done?" Trump supporters are arguing, justifying, and ignoring in the worst case of confirmation bias I have ever seen. Many refuse to discuss the hate-filled rants that made Trump notorious throughout the world. Others acknowledge their existence only to refute it, blaming the media for making Trump look bad with doctored videos, edited sound bites, and fabricated quotes, even though the evidence is there in front of them. Some people have pleaded with us to "find the good in him" and give him a chance. While he may have had a few positive moments worth highlighting during his campaign, Trump's escalating derogatory comments against minorities often eclipsed any good deeds, and this was no one's fault but his own. In the end, he made it very clear that today's colorful America was not the America he planned to maintain. And now our society is falling apart at the seams.

Hate crimes are rising. More and more reports are flowing in all over the nation of people attacking minorities and many of us do not feel safe walking down the streets. Adult men are grabbing Muslim women's hijabs off their heads, throwing them to the ground, telling other women they are going to grab them by the pussy, and actually trying to. White men are beating black men and gays. The KKK is throwing a celebratory march for Trump's victory, and came out in droves yesterday in Anaheim, California to battle the anti-Trump protests. Children are chanting "build that wall" in lunchrooms, driving Latino youth to tears. One high-schooler created homemade Deportation notices and handed them out to everyone in his school who looked even remotely Hispanic. Someone hanged a black baby doll in a college university. A friend of mine told me she witnessed a hate crime sitting outside a restaurant in Long Beach, where a white man told an Asian man to "pack [his] bags, because [his] time in this country is limited." Following Brexit, another vote saturated in xenophobia, hate crimes rose by 60% and are continuing in spite of the time that has passed. This is our future. With his demonizing, divisive speeches, our President-elect has created an atmosphere where people feel it is okay to perpetuate these acts of violence and hatred, and we're terrified of it. But Trump supporters refuse to acknowledge it. They don't mention it and won't denounce it. Trump finally did, in an interview with 60 Minutes he gave a very effective "stop it."

They also refuse to acknowledge the very real threats Trump/Pence poses to minorities with promises to overturn Marriage Equality and stop any protective measures for LGBTs, promises to kick out refugees and refuse to provide them a safe haven from their war torn countries, promises to bring back torture tactics in the military, ending environment protection, and defund planned parenthood (which is mostly HIV treatments, contraception, and cancer screenings, far beyond the small percentage of abortions).

I can't count how many times I have heard that we are acting like babies, throwing tantrums, whining like children because we didn't win the game. Others maintain that we should respect other peoples' opinions, that we need to learn to agree to disagree. Many say that we are being uncooperative and we need to learn to unite and work together for our country. So how do we bridge the gap?

First of all, let me tell you, there is not and never will be an "Agree to Disagree" on racism, sexism, heterosexism, or sexual assault. There is no gray area, no common ground where we should compromise on these issues. But if we agree that not all of you who voted for Trump are racist, misogynistic, heterosexist, or rapists, you must acknowledge that Trump has made very racist, misogynistic, heterosexist comments that are not okay, and you cannot pretend that he did not admit to sexually assaulting women. Secondly if we agree that not all of you are going to attack us or rob us of our rights, you cannot disregard or dismiss that we minorities are being threatened and attacked by other Trump supporters and by Trump's own promises to degrade and devalue us as human beings. You cannot mock us for feeling unsafe just because the violence and future laws don't impact you. Thirdly, if you think we are overreacting or panicking needlessly, you can laugh skeptically and assure us that nothing bad is going to happen, but you must promise to stand with us if we are being attacked in the community or if our basic rights are going to be threatened by some law or Supreme Court ruling in the future.

This is the beginning of this compromise. Refusal to acknowledge these basic truths is a refusal to begin the conversation. If we listen to you, you must listen to us, support us, and stand with us. Then and only then can we converse, problem-solve, and unite.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Darkness Beyond The Donald

I was sitting with my supervisor in the lunchroom at work today, and of course the conversation inevitably steered towards the upcoming election, as I'm sure it has for so many others 'round the water cooler for the past year since Donald Trump announced he was running for President. We sighed in utter exhaustion over the psychological battering we've endured from the media, especially in the past few months as the race has heated up and the scandals have forged a colossal blaze that would put the bowels of Hell to shame. We set our weary eyes to the rapidly approaching finale to this nightmare, November 8th, election day. Like so many others, we can't wait for this circus to be over. But as I settled back into my office alone, I realized that it is not that simple, that win or lose, this nightmare will not end once the final ballot is cast and counted. The presence of Trump has changed the face of America, and this election has propelled us into a darkness we cannot easily rebound from, because Trump was never the problem to begin with.

When Trump first announced his intention to run for president, I rolled my eyes as I'm sure many did, expecting this to be a publicity stunt for his TV programs, an upcoming project, or just a desperate attempt to stay relevant. As the election carried on and Trump gained momentum, I continued to cling to hope that he would announce his resignation from the run and we would all have a good laugh at the absurdity of this self-righteous silk-stocking seeking any position in our governmental system. But the announcement never came. Instead, we were pummeled with rage-filled tirades promoting violence toward the opposition, eliciting riots and assaults. This quickly escalated to sexist and racist rants, leaving no demographic untouched and none of us were safe from his degradation unless you were a rich, straight, white, Christian male. As the Donald became more and more of a loose cannon and the GOP slowly realized they were losing control, the Republican party began to back away from their elected candidate. Many withdrew their support, some even demanded that runner-up Ted Cruz be passed the torch for the election. But the catalyst came when a tape from Trump's past was exhumed and the GOP world collapsed.

Just before a scheduled television debate with Hillary Clinton, a 2005 audio interview with TV personality Billy Bush hit the internet. In the midst of what Trump would soon write off as locker room talk, the boys bantered about women, and Trump gave horrifying details of how he slayed the ladies, including forcibly kissing them and grabbing their genitals. Following the release of these tapes, tens of women came forward to give their own account of assault and harassment they have endured from Trump. Like drowning rats trying to escape a sinking ship, the GOP exploded, but it was too late. They had missed the deadline to recant their nominee; the ballots had been printed and sent out, and some absentee votes had already been cast. They were stuck with him, and thus, so are we.

With his radicalized spouting, his comments supporting the Japanese internment camps, the vows to "make America great again" that were followed by the abolition of several cultural and religious groups, it was all too easy for people to draw parallels between Trump and dictator Adolf Hitler. After rising to power in the 1930s, Hitler was eventually responsible for the deaths of millions of innocents, including Jews, blacks, Indians, Muslims and other non-Christians, homosexuals, and psychologically and physically disabled Europeans. Many have fired off warnings about the potential for historic repetition if Trump is elected, fearful of whatever ethnic cleansing would follow. But as I look back at the past year and the campaign trail Trump has traveled, he is not the one we should be afraid of, he's not the one that frightens me.

It's true that Trump bought his way into the running. The billionaire's net worth circles around $3.7 and with that kind of cold cash sitting in the bank (or is it in a tower like Scrooge McDuck's?), it's not hard to finance your own campaign. He had more rich friends who secured his first few months on the trail and helped his popularity for a time, but as Trump became angrier, as he spoke louder, as he lied, denied, and repeated his slogan without any substantial statements or clear plans to make anything great, he appealed to the masses. Granted, many of the masses were inbred rednecks with a 6th grade education, but there are a hell of a lot of them in America. The others are people who are scared or angry and horribly misinformed. Feeding off the fears and suspicion that the right-wing media has fueled through the years, Americans were led to believe that the problems they face were the fault of dangerous minorities. If you're scared, it's because of the terrorist Muslims and the criminals who migrate illegally across the border. If you're poor, blame the mooching minorities on welfare. If you're suffering in any way, blame the sins of free-loving homosexuals, bleeding emotional aborting women, and overzealous comb-overs (did you think you'd get through a Trump blog without a hair joke?). Trump latched on to these stereotypes and swore to exorcise America of these foul demons that plague our society. With these fears comfortably stoked, Trump was able to use this ace in the hole to strengthen his popularity and carry him through to the GOP nomination. And in spite of the outrageous statements, the sexual assault, the lies, the tax evasion, the support has continued to grow for him in greater America. This is what terrifies me.

When Hitler first composed Mein Kampf and began to gain support, he too fed off this Us vs. Them mentality. Wounded and weakened from the loss of World War I, the pride of the country suffered, and so did its people as many were struggling: destitute, hopeless, and hungry. Seeking a scapegoat, Hitler set his eyes on the Jews, though to this day, I'm not sure why he initially chose them. Drawing from beliefs that had been ingrained in European thought for years, Hitler told the Germans that their desolate plight was because of this dark-haired studious population. He continued to circulate rumors that the Jews had sabotaged the military efforts and contributed to the fall of the German government, that they were richer than others because they stole and embezzled money, and that they were weakening the country from within like a parasite because they didn't share the patriotic views of the Aryan race (sound familiar?). Eventually he expanded his hatred to every culture that didn't fit the bill of tall, blonde, blue-eyed, heterosexual Christians. The people ate this rhetoric up, and the rest is history.

The one similarity that rings all too true in these two stories is that these men did not deserve to succeed, they did not earn their success, and they did not succeed on their own. They only succeeded because they were allowed to. A dangerous man is only as powerful as the people who follow him. Hitler only rose to power because enough people bought into his bullshit. Trump has only come this far because people agree with his nonsensical ranting and his sniveling grade school retorts. With all his racism, sexism, and incoherence, he has garnered 42% of America's support. Forty two percent of Americans agree with this carrot-hued ape because he feeds off of and fuels the fear and anger Americans already had, and the reality is, Trump is and would be nothing without them. Americans have created a social and political climate in which ideas like his can thrive; America has made Trump great. I see their defenses on Facebook, I see their protests and their tailgating rallies on TV (presumably recorded before they begin crushing beer cans on their heads and head off to Wally World for another 24 pack), and I can't wrap my head around it all. But as one so eloquently put it, never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups, and these stupid people are the substance of my nightmares, my deepest fears for the future of America.

The dark side of America has re-emerged, the animosity has saturated the land. While Trump may have awoken this sleeping giant, the racism and sexism we hoped was dissipating has been lingering in the shadows so quietly, like the glowing embers of a dying fire that was never quite extinguished. Though Donald has fanned the flames back to life, the hatred and ignorance has burned within the hearts of his supporters long before he hit the campaign trail, and win or lose, they will be there long after November 8th. With America so deeply divided, how can we bridge the gap when the dust settles and the anger subsides? Will it subside? Like that horribly awkward moment when a friend accidentally lets a racist or homophobic comment slip and you realize the friendship is over, how can we learn to function with the 42% who were ready to elect this genetic defect as our Commander in Chief?

I used to find comfort in my belief that Trump will lose next week and he will fade away, hopefully never to be heard from again, but I now realize that the darkness that consumes his supporters, the darkness that fueled his success over the past year, is alive and well, and the brush fire that has begun is showing no sign of receding. Darker days are coming, my fellow Americans, and this is not Trump's America, this was our America all along.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Lump Named Lucille


I sat in the chilly examination room, my legs dangling from the padded table with nothing to shield me from the germ-annihilating cold but a thin cloth gown, opening in the front. My heart was racing, which prompted a warning of concern about blood pressure from the nurse, but I stopped short of arguing. How do I point out that my heart is racing because I'm terrified of doctors' offices, that I dread being poked and prodded, and that I'm here because I found a large lump in my breast?

In reality, I found the lump over a year earlier. The small, marble-sized bump in my left breast was easily discernible, but my doctor wasn't concerned. She noted that I was young and that there was no history of breast cancer in my family, writing off the lump as a simple anomaly. She advised me to monitor it nonetheless and sent me home. She wasn't worried, I felt foolish for overreacting, and I went on about my life.

Over the months, I continued with blase breast exams, grazing my hands haphazardly over my chest once in awhile, checking to make sure the little marble hadn't grown, and finding virtually no change. I began to experience a distinct ache in my chest and beneath my left shoulder blade, but chalked it up to stress and a poor sleeping position. It wasn't until March of this year that I noticed changes in my breast I had never seen before. Distinct dimples had developed over the side, creating a field of pock-marks in my skin. A bulge had begun to distend slightly a few inches from my marble. In a panic, I began aggressively examining my breast, digging my fingers deep into my skin until my chest ached. As I dug deeper, I found that my little marble was not so little anymore. 

I have a large chest, sporting a DD bra, and one of the pitfalls of having such a large chest (besides the adverse effects of gravity) is that detecting changes in your breasts can be extremely complicated. While the little marble felt small on the surface of my breast, what I didn't know was that the lump was extending deeper into the center of my chest, where I could barely detect it. Coupled with half-assed breast exams, anything could grow, any change could happen without my knowledge. I began to panic but tried to reason with myself and rationalize the anxiety away: this lump has been here for over a year, surely if it was cancer some other signs would have been obvious, right? There's no family history of breast cancer. I'm young, it's rare for women my age to develop breast cancer! But the negative thoughts flowed in and overpowered my feeble attempts to set myself at ease: the lump has grown. I have dimples and a bulge, which I learned could be a sign of breast cancer. There's still a family history of cancer in general, and young women can develop breast cancer just as easily as older women.

Initially, I tried to avoid overreacting, fearful I would look like a hypochondriac rushing into the doctor's office again. I noted I was due for a physical, and figured I would schedule one, then mention the change when I saw my doctor. The problem with scheduling a physical is because it's considered a routine examination, the appointment is not given priority, and I wasn't scheduled to see the doctor for another month. I tried to keep myself busy and distracted, but it seemed stories of cancer and diagnoses were everywhere I went, and I couldn't bear the wait any longer. I called the doctor's office to request an earlier appointment and I was in the examination room two days later. 

The doctor, a per diem physician I had never met before, examined me, and like me, had difficulty locating the lump at first. After detection, she considered conducting a biopsy then and there, but noted that the lump was too deep to draw a good sample from. Noting again that I am young and there's no family history, she eventually advised I get an ultrasound and a biopsy done and provided the number. If I have one complaint about Kaiser, it is the extreme difficulty in scheduling these critical tests. I was instructed to call a number, and was informed by the individual who had answered that she would leave a voicemail for the specialist and they would contact me in 2-3 business days. Of course, I was calling on a Friday, so I had to wait the weekend in addition to the business days. My weekend was spent in angst, my stomach in knots. By Wednesday the following week, they still hadn't called. Frustrated, I called again, and was met with the same response: she would leave them another voicemail and hope I get a response. Finally the following day I received a call, and my ultrasound and biopsy were scheduled for the following week.

Another week to wait. Sadly, I've never been one of those chicks who lose their appetite when they're nervous or stressed, and I began to eat my way to an unattainable comfort, gaining a fair amount of weight. I lost sleep, and my hair began to fall out as well. I made the mistake of not telling anyone about my circumstances, which only added to my burden. Though I wanted to reach out to my mom, like me, she tends to jump to the worst conclusions and instantly panic. Given that my mom had just lost her mother a few months earlier, I didn't want her faced with the prospect that her daughter may be ill as well. So I kept it to myself. Eventually I told my best friend, but it did little to relax me. Humor is usually the best medicine, and the only way I could cope was trying to lighten the mood in the dark cloud around me. Having a propensity for naming the lumps and bumps on my body (I have a bunion named Bertha), I found it only fitting that I should name the lump in my breast as well, and the pestilent mass became known as Lucille. I personified her, talked shit to her and about her, and vowed to mercilessly shank her ass if she turned out to be cancer. I could laugh about this at times, and other times, I just cried and hated Lucille with a passion.

When the time for the appointment came, I drove myself to the hospital and checked myself in to Radiology. The technician was friendly, and attempted gentle conversation with me while taking pictures of Lucille (she too had trouble locating Lucille, this bitch is like Carmen San Diego running around the globe that is my boob). She rose and stated she needed to consult with the doctor, which surged my anxiety. Did she find something? Was something wrong? Is it worse than we thought? I lay on the table freezing in yet another paper thin gown with a horrible pattern scattered across it (who designs this shit?) with my heart racing again. Finally she returned, and with a smile on her face, she informed me that I was clear. There was no need for a biopsy as the scan had come back clear. She stood in wait as I attempted to process this information, then cracked a smile and breathed a sigh of relief. I think she expected me to jump up and scream and shout, but after a month and a half of anxiety and stress, I couldn't switch my mood up that fast. I thanked her, she hugged me and guided me back to the lobby. As I walked to the car, I teared up and allowed the emotions to wash over me as I broke down crying. I called my mom that night and shared the news, finally disclosing what I had been struggling with for the past 6 weeks. She chided me for not telling her sooner and I cried on the phone with her for awhile. For the first night in weeks I slept soundly, and the weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

This moment of bliss was to be short lived, as a few days later I got another call from the doctor's office. I sat in my car listening to the voicemail as the doctor informed me that they wanted to run more tests and wanted me to get a full mammogram. Lucille was ruining my life. I yelled and cursed in my car as I was thrust into another episode of panic and distress. I called my mom crying, and this time I had her shoulder to lean on. I went through the disastrous process of scheduling another appointment, again waiting the weekend and the 2-3 business days for a call back, then was scheduled for a mammogram a week and a half later. Another week and a half of waiting on this bitch Lucille. I had my mom accompany me to the hospital this time, and put on the all too familiar, poorly designed gown in preparation for my pancake boob tests. The technician was not as friendly as the ultrasound one. She stuck little metal stickers on my nipples (likely used as a point of reference for the x-ray), and she stretched and pulled my boob like it was a lump of bread dough with absolutely no sense of feeling. She flattened me between two slabs of plastic and demanded I hold my breath and hold still. One photo-shoot for each side and I was sent to another waiting room. The consensus came back and I was told again that Lucille was nothing but an obnoxious presence in my chest, not a deadly one. My ultimate relief was almost overshadowed by trying to pull those super-glued stickers off my nipples (a pain rivaled only by childbirth), but I went home with a sense of peace I hadn't known in two months.

It turned out that Lucille was a mass of hardened breast tissue that had gained considerable density over the year. This contributed to the pain in my shoulder and chest as well, as my breast has become heavier and my body is struggling to adapt to the added weight. But this process has been an important one, and in spite of having a clean bill of health, there are many things to be noted here during this Breast Cancer Awareness month. First off, age doesn't mean shit. I have had many friends, one as young as 16, who were diagnosed with breast cancer, and while it is not as common as it is in older women, it is not impossible for a woman my age to get cancer. Second, while family history is a good predictor for breast cancer risk, it is not the only indicator; clearly you can get cancer even if your family has never had it. Third, breast exams are crucial, and you might as well start them now to get into the habit. Check here for information on how to correctly check yourself, and ladies, if you have big breasts, remember to dig deep! And last, in spite of being afraid of overreacting, don't let your doctor make you feel foolish or crazy, you know your body better than anyone else. Taking time to go to the doctor only to find out nothing is wrong is far better than avoiding the doctor only to find out it's too late when you finally get the nerve to go.

I was fortunate that my journey stopped here. Given the emotional toll the diagnostic process took, I can't imagine the anxiety, the stress, the overwhelming feelings that come with a true cancer diagnosis, and I give all my admiration and respect to women everywhere who have fought and are fighting this terrible disease. The sad reality that I found is the reason Kaiser takes so long to schedule these appointments is because there are so many women getting the exact same tests, some routine, some out of concern, and we should haven't to go through this any longer. Though we edge closer to a cure in the future, self-exams, early detection, and good health care make all the difference today. And if you are fighting, give that lump a name and beat the hell out of that bitch with everything you've got.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Driving Out the Darkness

Our world is drowning in violence. Terrorism, rape, homicide, police brutality, and the aggressive responses such attacks foster in a social existence that is tired of the blood bath we've been wading in. Anger is of course the natural reflex that surges when we see our families, friends, and countrymen harmed by a perceived outsider, and even more so when they're hurt by the very system intended to protect us. But what dangers could this fury unleash when left unbridled in the hands of a nation scorned? What could we possibly accomplish with the draconian eye for an eye mentality that leaves us blind beyond the pupils of our enemy? There are many battles to fight, but there are many paths to victory, and the descending spiral of violence is not one of them.

Many arguments in the history of the world have been settled by war in one respect or another, but while they led to ceasefires and peace agreements, they rarely led to harmony and tranquility. More recently, the wars waged across the geographical lines of international borders have raged on without any possibility of resolution in sight. The war on ISIS and Al Qaeda, the Boko Haram Insurgency, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict have been battling on for years and even decades, with millions dead and more dying every year. Even here in the US, internal combats have spattered our streets with blood thanks to gang wars, drug wars, gun violence, racism, homophobia, and yes, even police brutality.

In a country where law enforcement has been given the ultimate power to protect the innocent civilians of the US, it seems the long arm of the law too often sees color beyond Justice's blindfold, and reaches for the firearm on its hip too quickly. As a result, several innocent black lives have been lost. Violations of the law that include being in the wrong place at the wrong time, following directions, lying motionless on the ground, placing your hands in the air are all things that can get you killed when you are the wrong color in this country. Especially if you are confronted with the misfortune of having a police officer who is quicker to reach for more lethal means beyond a taser or pepper spray.

Of course every time, and far too often, when these stories splash across my computer screen, when they haunt the water cooler at work, the anger rises in my chest, bitter as bile. While I admit I have never faced the onslaught of violence and aggression the boys and girls in blue deal with on a daily basis, I have worked in high intensity environments, where individuals were unstable and as such became violent and aggressive towards themselves, towards others, and towards staff, including me. We were taught (minimally) how to address these attacks, usually involving a quick ProACT restraint, tackling the client to the ground, holding them in place as they writhed and struggled beneath our grips. We fielded globs of spit as they flew in the general direction of our faces, we shifted our hands so they were just out of the reach of their gnashing teeth, we fought to gain and regain control of their flailing arms and legs as we were punched, kicked in the the face and the chest. Sometimes we had to wrestle potential weapons from them, including broken shards of glass, broken bottles, and rocks. Our safety and well being was endangered. Many staff ended up in the emergency room with cuts, abrasions, bleeding bite marks, and concussions. But at the end of the day, we understood this was the job.

We worked with psychologically disturbed clients. Granted the facility was not well run and the clients were out of control, but still we did our best to keep the peace with the little training we had. We were not afforded tasers, pepper spray, batons, or cuffs and certainly not granted guns. We had many opportunities to lose our cool in the heat of the moment and lash out at our attackers, we had every reason to panic in the many crises that flooded our hallways. I even developed mild PTSD after being strangled at work. But this was the job. This is what we signed up for. And this is what police officers sign up for every day when they put on the badge. Now of course I am not asking them to risk their lives, and if the gun is genuinely necessary, they must do what they have to do. But with the extensive training they have to de-escalate and manage crises and the multiple tools in their belt they can work with, what excuse do they have for impulse, for panic, for repeated deadly force?

I can't wrap my head around it. I never could. But as angry as I get, I understand that violence is not the answer. Fighting brutality with brutality brings no calm to the tumultuous sea of our society, but adds to the confusion, the irrationality, and the impulsive decisions that can completely destroy the remaining scaffolding of our crumbling world. In spite of the overwhelming desire to bash in the heads of the guilty parties across the nation, I understand that killing innocent officers during a protest is not a solution. Assaults and arrests are not the solution. Rioting and looting is not the solution. Much like the result of police brutality, violence breeds nothing more than distrust, suspicion, and fear. There are thousands of peaceful demonstrators in the Black Lives Matter movement, but the more aggressive members seek to garner attention, notoriety, progress and respect, these intimidation tactics only breed deep-seated trepidation which will eventually turn to animosity and onward toward hostility. Blame will be placed, distrust will grow, the Us vs. Them mentality will thrive, and violence will build in an ever-growing cycle until it becomes an unstoppable force; before the nation is swallowed in a bloody tidal wave.

Violence begets violence. Martin Luther King, one of the more prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement built his legacy on non-violent approaches to challenging the constructs of social injustice in the 1960s. There were several other leaders in the movement who made their own contributions, but aside from Malcolm X, they have not been as prominent, and unlike Malcolm X, MLK made his lasting mark in history without the "any means necessary" tactics. There were sit-ins, there were boycotts, there were peaceful marches that garnered the attention and the notoriety the movement deserved in order to facilitate change. Many people have turned to his teachings and cited his speeches in their tireless arguments for peaceful battles, not because they're trying to change history or "whitewash" the violence out of it, but simply out of desire to follow the path that he cleared through the decades. Because it was the better path of the two laid out before us.

Now in the midst of these desperate pleas for peaceful strategies, I was called complacent, accused of indifference because I wasn't angry enough to be aggressive. I was even told that my opinion on the ineffectiveness of violence was invalid and unwarranted because I'm not black, and I don't have the right to criticize the way black people address their own issues. I don't need to be black to know that violence is not the answer; I don't need to be violent to prove that I care. I can be and will be a peaceful warrior in fostering change in the world, because this is my tactic: to avoid adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Busting the Senate


In this very moment as I type, in Washington DC the country stands on the precipice of making history. In this moment, Democratic Senators, specifically the Senator of Connecticut, home of the Newtown school massacre, have taken the US Congress hostage in what is currently clocked at a 12+ hour filibuster, a dramatic and divisive effort to move the hands of the nation's lawmakers to draw more stringent gun control laws. For those unaware, Congress opens sessions each morning and closes them each evening, but these sessions cannot be closed if a senator is holding the floor and actively addressing the Senate. No one can force the senator holding the floor to give it up, and if the senator continues to talk, the session cannot close. The other senators cannot leave, Congress cannot close for the evening, and they can continue long into the night and into the next day if they choose. These filibusters are effective tactics to motivate action in the Senate. Following the devastating massacre that took place Sunday morning at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, as the country and the world heaved another exasperated sigh at another mass shooting in the US, people have demanded a change. For once, our representatives have heard us.

Gun control laws have been lax as gun proponents and powerful NRA members have blocked multiple attempts to create stricter laws and policies in regards to gun purchasing and possession, and limitations on types of firearms permitted. Falling victim to the slippery slope mentality, fear of losing their guns completely eliminated any possibility of negotiation on this forefront. Now the NRA has not always been the picture of tact and grace when dealing with their adversaries and victims of gun violence. In spite of the multiple shootings that had taken place, the NRA has even at times been callous in their swift response to secure gun support. Following the Columbine shootings, the NRA had a scheduled gun show in Denver that they refused to cancel, in case gun support waned in the face of innocent children being shot to death. Then just months after Columbine, when a six year old child took a gun to school in Flint, Michigan and shot another six year old, the NRA was there too, ready to represent as the community mourned another senseless act of violence.

But in this discussion, senators are finally breaching above the obstacle in this conversation and clarifying once and for all that guns will remain protected for the responsible, for the mentally healthy, for the upstanding citizens and residents of this country who are trying to live a decent and safe life above and beyond terror. However, we will not allow guns to fall into the hands of those who will do grave harm to innocent people around them. We will not stand for another mass shooting in this country.

I don't particularly expect drastic changes in this single filibuster. As a nation we work in baby steps before we can nudge the opposition in the direction we wish to fall. And what is becoming evident in these ongoing discussions is that the senators are presenting taking on the safer issues and tip-toeing around the more significant and sensitive ones. The broader suggestion that has currently taken the floor is the prohibition of "individuals of concern" or people on the FBI's watch list from purchasing weapons, and prohibiting any form of gun sales without background checks. While this is a good start to achieving change, it is certainly not enough; the senators are grazing on issues that have almost unanimously been decided and supported by the American people, therefore evade any significant risk in standing up in Congress and voicing their concerns. In the hours they've been on the air, not one senator that I have seen has mentioned the ban of assault rifles or high capacity magazines because this a more delicate subject, one that would spark those slippery slope concerns from gun proponents "well if you're going to take this type of gun how do I know you won't take my other guns?" While I commend the senators for taking action, they are also taking credit for a debate that is likely already won amongst the people and the other senators in the building. Edit: Senator of Connecticut finally acknowledged these issues in the 14th hour but wishes to focus on the safe issues mentioned above to start the movement.

As we move forward it will take more time and more initiatives to accomplish what we truly need to make this nation safe again. The senate has discussed but has not proposed changes to policies regarding individuals with mental health issues, which, as I cited in my LGBT blog, needs significant revisions in order to prevent guns from falling into the hands of the mentally ill; a five year waiting period for a released psychiatric patient does not imply sudden mental stability. Some senators have argued that individual states are making their own laws to handle gun control and this should be sufficient, but it is not. The state legislative process involved and the opposition from the NRA and gun proponents is too long and too strong for many states to achieve this level of protection on their own. They need the power of the federal government behind them to expedite and enforce this movement, and the country deserves the umbrella of federal protection in the face of nation-wide and constant tragedies. But, we cannot deny that this is one giant leap in the right direction.

As the discussions go on and we enter our 13th hour, more and more senators are fueling the filibuster with heart-wrenching stories of the realities we have faced in the last few decades regarding gun violence. The woman above, though I did not catch which state she represented, recounting the mass shootings that have occurred since 2007 and listed the locations, number of fatalities, and numbers of the wounded. My heart ached and I shook my head in disbelief at all the recorded massacres that have been buried in the shadows of the past, buried beneath the headlines of the latest shootings, only the bloodiest worthy of remembrance. So many lives, so many cut short in tragedies, which, for many, could have been prevented with stricter gun laws.

What I do love about this discussion is a point easily recognized around the world and in some places in America, but one in danger of being glossed over: this was not just an act of terrorism. Yes, he claimed affiliation with ISIS, but as more information comes out, this was an act of hate and aggression towards a particular group of people: the LGBTQ community. And it happened specifically during our own month of celebration, our anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. This was not just terrorism, this was a terrorist act embedded in a hate crime, the first of its kind in our sad, sordid history of human violence. And some amazing senators will not let you forget it. They have worked tirelessly in their speeches to remind us that this was a hate crime, an attack on people who loved whom they chose, who wanted to be who they are, and live life as they were made to. Hundreds and thousands of demonstrators around the world held vigil for those who passed, but they did it waving the rainbow flag, not the American flag. This was not just an attack on American soil, on American freedom and lives, this was an attack on the gay community. After everything we have endured, after the hate, the discrimination, the struggles we have absorbed, we must find room in our lives to comprehend one more tragedy and one more devastating fact: that we are not yet safe in this world before us.

But in watching the international response, I find hope. The world I grew up in rallied against any type of gay rights; they shamed us, they beat us, they even murdered us, as some from my generation will recall the brutal deaths of Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena. I am still shocked and overwhelmed when I see thousands standing in the streets of London, praying outside vigils in India, holding their own pride parades with their mothers in Asia, and waving their rainbow flags in solidarity. I was still stunned when I saw the hundreds of straight allies who answered the call for blood donations when gay men could not donate. In spite of the message this one man attempted to send, I can see that we have the love and support of millions more, and we can survive and thrive through these final dark hours before the rainbow shines through this storm. But we can't do it alone.

It is currently 2 am in Washington now, and they are still fighting. Filibuster on...14 hours and counting.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Desolation of Cultural Appropriation

As the internet grows ever sensitive to...well...everything, political correctness has taken an ugly turn into a mob of screaming whining children who seem to have nothing better to do than stir up shit storms on social media. Lately the discussion has turned to the copyright holders of various ethic groups and their cries of violations. From dreadlocks to head dresses, from song lines to clothing, the term cultural appropriation has certainly gotten worn out over the past few months. Laying claim to various elements of their own cultures, when an individual of a different culture adopts or uses one of these elements, the group as a whole denounces the use as crossing boundaries. But why do we create these boundaries to begin with and why are we so protective of the cultures we're so proud of?

We all have rich cultures with several wonderful layers and aspects that make our cultures what they are. Exquisite cuisines, hairstyles, clothing, accessories, music, dance, art, architecture, history are the colorful pieces that create the mosaic of our homelands and roots. I'm half Mexican; we have amazing things like tamales and enchiladas, ponchos and china poblanas, charros, mariachis, Frida Kahlo, and the Alamo. And tequila. Tequila es muy importante. I'm also half Irish. And we have beer...and beer...and corned beef and cabbage...and beer. No seriously, there's some Celtic stuff and River Dancing, and Bono, he's pretty important. Okay so my Irish family is probably 5th or 6th generation American and I'm not as incredibly aware of Irish culture like I am of my Hispanic culture from my more recently immigrated Mexican family members, but there's some great shite going on in Ireland.

Anyways I am proud of my cultures, I'm proud of these amazing factors and details that set us apart from other cultures and make us unique, and I want to share these things with people. I want to shout out "hey look how great we are! Listen to U2 and Selena, try our pan dulce (skip the boiled potatoes), check out our museums and kick ass Irish castles, buy this intricately handmade serape, drink tequila, stop at a pub, drink tequila in a pub!" I want the world to experience my history, my home countries, the things that make my life my life.

But it would seem lately some people have gotten a little stingy with their own cultures. Like five year olds who don't want anyone else to play with their toys, the whining babes of the internet are screaming "don't touch! That's MY culture! You can't have my culture! Go away poopy face!" Though the conversation of appropriation has been going on for years, it gained momentum more recently when some little twerp white singer decided to get dreadlocks in his Bieberiffic hair. Now don't get me wrong, I don't like the dude, I never did, and frankly I don't know any white people who have effectively pulled off the dreadlocks look, but I didn't see anything wrong with the move. However, hundreds of people immediately took to the internet to voice their discontent with the hijacking of a hairstyle that is often mis-attributed to the black culture (it originated in the Egyptian culture). Shortly after that in a similar situation of a young light lad and his knotted mane, a black woman became aggressive with him on a college campus because he had adopted the hairstyle as well, and stated he couldn't have the hairstyle "because it's [her] culture."

A few years ago, Pharrell appeared on the cover of Elle magazine in a beautiful Native American headdress, and the NAs were up in arms screaming appropriation and demanding an apology from the musician for his offensive depiction of their culture. There was no war paint, no stereotypical warrior on a horse. Just a beautiful headdress on a beautiful black man. When I Googled the image, I came across the Native American magazine Native Peoples, featuring a NA man wearing a headdress with a boasting comment below stating "our headdresses were featured in NP Magazine!" Even though there was no difference between the beautifully photographed models of either magazine aside from their ethnicity, one was crucified while the other placed on an artistic pedestal.

More recently Blake Lively found herself in hot water as well when she posted a photo of herself on the red carpet with a beautiful front side and a well endowed back side. The caption read "LA face with an Oakland booty" to quote Sir Mix-a-Lot's famous song Baby Got Back. Some claimed the fact that a white woman was quoting a black song indicated her caption was "racially charged"and inappropriate. One person stated she was using WOC's bodies as punchlines and another person wrote "you can never trust the whites." She was just proud of her large ass and quoted a large ass song. Did it matter that the singer of said large ass song was black? Sir Mix-a-Lot recently came to her defense noting women of all colors have curves and should be proud of them, but why did he have to defend her to begin with?

Not one person in all these examples was trying to make a mockery of any particular culture. No one was dancing around making black (Egyptian) jokes in dreadlocks, no one was riding off to war with cowboys in some offensive depiction of violent Indians, no one was claiming superiority or putting down black women's rear ends just because white women can have rear ends too (I don't have one, but some are more fortunate than I in the large ass department). These people only utilized the elements of these cultures because they admired them, because they enjoyed them, because they appreciated them as much as everyone else does. And that, my friends, is what strengthens our unity as a global community. Taking part in someone else's culture gives us the opportunity to learn more about that culture and appreciate the history of those people. It helps us understand that while we have our differences, they make us unique and beautiful and we can learn so much from one another. If we shut that down, if we demand that our cultures remain untainted by the hands of outsiders, we only build up barriers that create racial and cultural divides. Those divides create a lack of understanding, suspicion, and the increasingly detrimental Us versus Them mentality that has become so damaging to our society today.

And remember, each and every one of you that has claimed appropriation has probably eaten a burrito at some point, if you don't want to share your culture, we don't have to share ours. So kiss your chile verde adios bebes...

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Responsibility of Rape


Someone I know was raped last week. It was of course devastating for her, as we would expect nothing less after falling victim to such a heinous crime. Unfortunately, the World Health Organization estimates that one in three women will become the victims of sexual assault in their lifetime, a number incomprehensible when you consider how many women that comes out to in our global population of 7 billion (that's roughly 1,139,353,126 rape victims worldwide). Historically, however, judgment has always fallen on the victim: fingers were always pointed as meticulous investigations sought out every detail of what they felt the victim did wrong. In turn, they cast their eyes away from the perpetrator, often but not always male, who could not be held responsible for his carnal instincts. Now the world has lashed out in warranted outrage in response and demanded a change. A movement has begun to battle victim blaming, to turn the focus away from what the victim was wearing, saying, doing, drinking and simply acknowledging that the victim said no. I wholeheartedly agree that no matter what the circumstances, no means no, and that should end all progressions. But is the movement against victim blaming reaching an unsafe extreme? Is perpetuating the fantasy of an idyllic society that has yet to be created minimizing the need for self-protection and risk reduction? Living in a world of shoulds does not guarantee your hopes and expectations; it may just end them.

Victim blaming is, at its core, a societal problem. Of course, some perpetrators are victims of catastrophic childhoods wherein they themselves may have been victims of abuse, and now, as adults, they seek to regain the control and power they lost by dominating and stripping others of their own control and power. Some male perpetrators, however, are taught from an early age that women are inferior and therefore property to be controlled and dominated by a heavy hand. The latter became clear when I was watching the documentary India's Daughter, the story of Jyoti Singh, an Indian woman who was brutally gang-raped by six men in a bus in Delhi. Jyoti had gone against traditional cultural norms and went to a movie with a male friend at night to celebrate the end of her school term. On the way home, she and her friend jumped on the city bus. It was here that her friend was assaulted, and the six men took turns brutally raping her and penetrating her with an iron rod that left her disemboweled. After 13 days and multiple surgeries, Jyoti succumbed to her injuries and died on December 29, 2012.

The men who were convicted of this crime gave plenty of excuses and justifications for their actions. Mukesh, one of the rapists, told the documentary "a decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy." But while this comment will undoubtedly raise the wrath of hell in any morally sound mind, Jyoti supporters in the documentary take full responsibility for the inhuman spawns of their own society. In a culture where men are revered and women are inferior, how can these men grow to respect them? In these homes, the male child is placed on a pedestal; he will carry the family name, he will be the ultimate representative of his lineage and upbringing, and he sees the benefits of his gender from the beginning. He is first to eat, he gets the largest portion of the meal and the most precious milk, as his sister is left to eat the remaining morsels, the smallest amount of milk, and to eat only when all the men in the home have been served. He goes out to play and study, she stays home and cleans, taking care of her brothers and father. He is the king, she is the servant, there to satisfy his needs. Growing up in such an inequitable environment, why wouldn't they think that these needs extend to sexual in addition to domestic? Even Mukesh could not fully understand the problem with the mentality that he had been indoctrinated with since a small child; he genuinely could not comprehend what he had done wrong. She was, after all, just a girl.

The refusal to hear the word no, to respect the limitations and boundaries set by your partner, is a sense of entitlement that has been deeply ingrained in the minds of these perpetrators by their own environments. While the west may not be as extreme as some eastern cultures in their gendered favoritism, there is still underlying messages about the value of a woman versus a man that have yet to be rectified. As such, even in our progressive society, there is still a savage need to dominate over one another that some people simply cannot suppress, which leads to the most important component of the anti-victim blaming movement: teaching a man to take no for an answer. Teaching respect for any partner you may be engaging with, accepting that sex won't happen tonight and moving on. Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg in addressing the multi-faceted gender gap problems of this country, from wage gaps, exclusions, double standards, etc, we've definitely got our work cut out for us to rectify this imbalance. But change starts at home with our own sons and brothers, teaching them the true value of their female counterparts.

Note from the author: I want to clarify at this point that in these examples provided, I am not negating that women cannot and have not been perpetrators, or that homosexual assaults occur as well; however there are limited studies in female rapists and same-sex sexual assaults, and the underlying causes of such likely stem from differing factors. Therefore most supporting points made in this blog focus on the imbalance of power between men and women in heterosexual assaults. 

Of course, tipping the scales of the world and leveling the gender difference is a social movement, which by definition, progresses and evolves over the course of decades and at times even centuries. Being the realist-borderline pessimist that I am, I don't expect significant results in my lifetime, and thus I know that we as women need to be proactive in our own risk reduction. This is where the anti-victim blaming movement gets a little deluded. Granted, there is a fine line between blaming and taking responsibility for our own safety, and more zealous feminists will send up the battle cry for anyone who remotely suggests that we should be cautious, because that indicates that a lack of caution amounts to fault. This became blindingly clear when Nia Sanchez, crowned Miss USA in 2014, was asked a question involving sexual assaults on college-aged women. In response, the Tae-Kwon-Do black belt stated that she believed women should know how to defend themselves. Following this outrageously sane answer, the torches were lit and the pitchforks were thrust overhead as many screamed "victim blamer" at the pageant winner. "Women should not have to defend themselves, men should learn to take no for an answer!" Well that's half-true. But in my career and in life we have learned about the importance of risk reduction, in spite of life's Shoulds.

Risk reduction is simply taking responsibility for preventive measures, to ensure our well-being to the best of our ability and using our common sense and instinct. For example, I often engage in risk reduction by avoiding walking down the street by myself in the middle of the night in case someone may approach me and attack me. If I go to a club or a bar, I do not leave my drink unsupervised, and I never accept a drink from a stranger in case someone might drug me. If I am at said bar or club, I don't leave the establishment with some random person I just met. If I am online dating, I refuse to meet anywhere but in public places and I never go back to their place or take them to mine until I have gotten to know them and feel comfortable with them. It is ridiculous that such steps must be taken; I should be able to walk where I want when I want. I should be able to set down my drink without worrying because I can't dance and hold my drink without spilling it. I should be able to spend time getting to know someone new without keeping a free hand on the pepper spray in my purse, just in case. I should be able to wear what I want without someone thinking it's an irrevocable invitation into my pants. But I don't live in a world of Shoulds. No matter how society should treat me, life simply isn't this way. As Nia Sanchez said, "it would be great to live in a world without crime and without rape or murder. But that's not reality."

I must admit, in being human, as I sat with this young woman who had so recently been attacked, I had to check and re-check myself as victim-blaming thoughts crept into the back of my mind. Didn't we talk about risk reduction just a few weeks ago? Why would you go anywhere with a man you just met? If you had gotten to know him before you went with him, you might have learned he was a registered sex offender! But these thoughts had been swirling in her mind in the countless hours following her attack, most likely during the attack, and she didn't need to hear them from me. So I jammed those thoughts out of my head and reminded her that no matter what choices she made, he was nothing more than a sick, twisted fuck who took advantage of her, and it wasn't her fault.

I see more and more articles and videos of people in protest of victim blaming, and while most of the arguments are entirely justified and unfathomably legitimate, the pendulum is swinging towards the extremist idealist perspective that may end in someone getting raped simply because the Shoulds they had lived by all their lives could not protect them in that crucial moment. We shouldn't have to deal with an issue like rape at all, but in this less-than-utopian world we live in, it is all-encompassing, and since we cannot rely upon the people around us to make the right decision, until society changes, we have to take care of ourselves the best that we can. The choices we make may mean the difference between safety and assault. Of course, risk reduction is not risk elimination, we may take all the necessary steps to protect ourselves and it still may not be enough. Either way, whatever happens, in the end it is never our faults: no still means no, and whomever you're with bears the full brunt of the responsibility for whatever ensues. But if they can't take no for an answer, a karate chop to the throat and a knee to the crotch may just get the message across.