A conversation with my six-year-old son:
“Mama, why do you have hair under your arms?”
“Why do you think I might have hair under my arms?”
“Oh, because you’re trans.”
“Nope. I have hair under my arms because hair grows under my arms.”
“You didn’t have it before.”
“That’s because for most of my life I was trying to fit into what other people thought I should look like. In our culture most people believe that women shouldn’t have hair on their bodies. But hair grows on women’s bodies, just like on men’s bodies. So, if it grows there, why shouldn’t it belong there?”
“Oh, we have hair to keep us warm! Like winter foxes, and bears!”
“I mean, sure.”
For the record, I have never told my son that I am trans. I’m not trans. He knows about it because of my former partner, who is non-binary, and because of a character in one of his favorite graphic novel series, The Backstagers (which you should all read regardless of if you have kids or not). He knows his grandpa wears women’s clothing sometimes, but I think he thinks it’s because Grandpa “likes to disguise himself as a woman sometimes.” I think Monty understands “trans” more than “crossdresser.” Now that I think about it, he’s not alone there. As unaccepting as our culture is of transgender people, I think it’s an easier concept to grasp than crossdressing. GENERALLY SPEAKING, transgender people tend fit more neatly within the gender binary than cis-gender or gender-fluid people who choose to wear clothing more typical of the “opposite” sex, or who don’t bind their chests, or shave their beards, or mask whatever secondary sex characteristics they might have. As for gender-fluid people, I don’t even know how my son tries to fit that in his head. It’s easier for him to understand that someone might have been born with the wrong body parts than it is for him to understand that someone might be comfortable with their body parts and also not fully identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, or even just refuse to accept the gender norms placed on them by our puritanical culture. Even I have trouble with that concept, and I am one of those people.
I’m very proud that my six-year-old has a concept of what “trans” means, but I also know it would never occur to him to ask his dad why he has hair under his arms. And he’s being raised in a household with a parent who is gender nonconforming, who has friends and family who are gender nonconforming, and who make sure that the media he consumes includes gender nonconforming and trans people. This is how absolutely insidious misogyny and sexism are.
Just a quick thought on a very complex subject. Happy Thursday!
Trigger warning: Rape
When I was 16 or 17 I was in college at a school that catered to younger students. Ostensibly we were intellectually done with high school. I don’t know how many of us really were ready for college, either academically or socially. I think their main criteria for acceptance was whether students could pay tuition or not. Most freshmen were 16 or 17. I turned 16 in my freshman year.
There was a small group of boys whose parents were low-level somebodies; one of their fathers was Slim Goodbody. They were wealthy, white, NYC prep school kids, complete with the privileged attitudes, blaring-loud rap music, and baggy pants. They were snotty shits. They were also not attractive. By any stretch. But they had a facebook (an actual facebook) that they used as a catalogue for girls. They put stars next to the girls they wanted to fuck. I have no idea what their stats were. I don’t care. But I would bet that they didn’t get much action.
One night I ended up in one of these kids’ dorm rooms with a friend of mine. I’m not going to use his name, but I will say he had no neck. Like, his head ended and his shoulders just began. I can’t remember if this was in my first or second year. I feel like it was in my second year, but I’m just not sure. For some reason the three of us were watching porn. I was really uncomfortable. I didn’t understand the point of watching porn with people you weren’t planning on immediately sleeping with and I wasn’t planning on sleeping with of either of them immediately or, ever. When the, ahem, film was over, my friend said she was heading back to her dorm. I got up to go with her and the No-neck asked me to stay. I said no. I looked around for my shoes and could only find one. He told me he’d hidden the other one. My friend laughed and left. I’m going to repeat that. My friend laughed and left. She heard me say I wanted to leave, heard No-neck say he hid my shoe, and she left me there with him. She’s a therapist now.
No-neck came on to me. I said no. What proceeded was an hour or so of him talking me into having sex and me saying no and asking for my shoe. Maybe it was less than an hour. I have no idea how long I stood there telling him I really didn’t want to have sex with him and I really wanted to go home. It felt like forever.
I finally gave in. I said, “Fine,” and sat down on his bed. Then he asked me for a blowjob. And the whole thing began again: me saying no and him begging. My old roommate and I had bragged the semester before about how good we were at giving head. He said I needed to prove it. I held firm and refused. I guess he decided to quit while he was ahead and take what I was extremely reluctantly giving him.
He humped me for a few minutes and came. I felt filthy and small and filled with shame. He got up, dumped the condom in the trash, walked over to his stereo, and said, “Hold on,” and stared into space for about 10 or 15 seconds, and then said, “I was farting that entire time.” He turned his music on full blast, walked out of the room, came back with my shoe, and tossed it at me.
“It was in the freezer,” he said.
I got dressed, put my freezing shoe on, and walked back to my dorm alone.
I dropped out of school shortly thereafter, had a nervous breakdown a few weeks after that, and ended up in a psych ward. That was not all a result of the rape, there were a lot of factors, but it was definitely one of the final straws.
It took me many years to come to terms with what happened that night and admit that it was rape. I have carried around the shame of this. Even now, 20 years later, I hear myself thinking, “You could have walked home without your shoe,” “You shouldn’t have been watching porn with him,” “You shouldn’t have bragged about blow jobs,” “You shouldn’t have said yes.” I said yes. Well, I said “fine.” And even if I had eventually said yes, it would have come after many, many “nos.” No one should have to say no twice.
I can not imagine wanting to have sex with someone who says “fine” after I’ve coerced them. I can not imagine coercing someone into having sex with me. Recently I was with a woman who said she didn’t like doing a particular thing and it never occurred to me to ask her again. Why would you want someone to do something to you or with you that they weren’t totally enthusiastic about?
No-neck is not alone. Hell, he’s not even the only person who sexually assaulted me. This is common. I have an ex who’s entire m.o. was “getting women” to sleep with him. Some men think coercion is foreplay. Listening to some of the stories coming out about Harvey Weinstein, I’m not at all surprised, though it is traumatizing and deeply triggering. Listening to him beg Ambra Guiterrez to come into his hotel room and to not “embarrass” him is sickening. I started shaking when I heard it. I’ve heard those words. I’ve heard that tone. I have been Ambra. So many of us have.
Coercion is rape. Coercion is rape. Coercion is rape.
To anyone who has experienced sexual assault (and there are billions of us), I love you and I stand with you. You are not alone. It was not your fault. It doesn’t define you. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
We are strong. We are beautiful. We are warriors.
Excuse me. Have any of you guys read Curious George recently? I'm talking about the original book. Not Curious George Visits the Aquarium (Which, by the way is RIDDLED with errors. Just sloppy, lazy book-writing. The baby penguin almost drowns because it hasn't learned to swim yet even though it was swimming one page back? George, inside the penguin habitat, uses a rope to swing out "over the beluga tank" to help the baby penguin? And the zoo makes him an honorary staff person for saving the baby penguin who wouldn't have been in trouble in the first place were it not for George and his "curiosity."), or Curious George and the Puppies (Dreck). I'm talking about the very first book by Margaret and H.A. Rey. If you haven't read it recently, let me summarize (Even if you have read it, I'm still going to summarize.):
• The man with the yellow hat sees a monkey in the jungle and decides he should be in a zoo because fuck animals.
• The man with the yellow hat then lures George with the hat and when George tries it on the man snatches him up IN A BAG.
• The man in the yellow hat takes George aboard a ship and let's him go off by himself. George falls off the ship because he's pretending to be be a bird BECAUSE HE'S A MONKEY AND SHOULDN'T BE LEFT ALONE OR BE ON THE SHIP IN THE FIRST PLACE. George gets rescued by some sailors.
• Once they get to the man with the yellow hat's place, George has dinner AND A PIPE.
• The next day the douchebag with the yellow hat leaves George alone (AGAIN) in his apartment and says, "Be a good little monkey." Hey, dude. Fuck you. You ripped me away from my home and family, gave me tobacco, and now you just want me to sit here with my thumb up my ass? You're lucky I don't rip your face off. Because that's what monkies do, or haven't you learned that from the monkies at your fucking zoo?
• George calls the fire department by mistake who come thinking it's a fire and then ARREST George AND TAKE HIM TO PRISON.
• George escapes prison, steals some balloons, floats away, and lands on a traffic light where the sociopath with the yellow hat happens to see him. •The White Devil with the yellow hat then takes George to the zoo and leaves him there. And George is happy be because he has a balloon, a banana, and his very own tree. One tree. Singular.
THAT'S IT, GUYS. That's one of our most beloved children's books. What even is its message? What the hell was Margaret Rey trying to say? Where's the lesson? Where's the moral? People are awful? White men have serious privilige? Maybe she was being subversive? Somehow I doubt that.
Let me pause for a brief P.S.A. for those of you whose critical thinking skills need polishing: Let me be clear, I'm not likening the people taken from Africa and turned into slaves to monkies. I'm pointing to the parallel of taking a living thing away from its home, against its will for the purposes of one's own comfort or enjoyment.
I'm annoyed that I feel the need to explain the obvious. But ever since some White dude said my Ben Brantley piece showed a "self-righteous ignorance of Steinbeck's work", I feel like heading stupidity off at the pass might be worth it. Thanks, dude. The Ben Brantley piece had almost nothing to do with Steinbeck's work. Jackass.
Anyway, Curious George the book, the subsequent book series, and the PBS TV show seem to be aimed at reinforcing the narrative that White dudes can just do whatever the shit they want. I would add the identifier "straight", but, in all fairness, I don't know what the man in the yellow hat's sexual orientation is. He seems to have a crush on the scientist from the museum, but he's never asked her out. Maybe he's asexual? I don't know. The point is, he's constantly placing trust in an animal that has, time and time again, shown he is not trustworthy. Just because you say, "Be a good little monkey" doesn't mean your domesticated chimpanzee isn't going to flood your living room. And guess what? When he does flood your living room, or buy 1000 donuts instead of 10, or glue all your furniture together, that shit is on you, man. You're the asshole who repeatedly leaves a monkey by himself. But whatever. You're a White man (of unidentified sexual orientation). You get to do whatever you want. You and your trouble-making monkey never face any consequences. In fact, after letting the penguins out of their habitat, your monkey gets made an honorary staff member at the zoo! "You saved the baby penguin, George!" What the fuck are you talking about, dude? The baby penguin wouldn't have fallen into the water If George hadn't let all the penguins out. After causing mayhem at the chocolate factory he gets free chocolate? What is the matter with these people? Oh, right. The man with the yellow hat just gives them an "Aww shucks" look and they're like, "Oh, he's with you? All is forgiven!" It reminds me of that brilliant sketch Eddie Murphy did on SNL where he walked around in white face and got free shit. "You don't have to pay for that; You're White!"
It should go without saying that I'm not suggesting the writers involved with the Curious George franchise sit down everyday and go, "How can we help maintain the status quo today?" I'm suggesting that they're not questioning the status quo and their complicity in it.
Also, I'm well aware that not all White men walk around thinking they have carte blanche. But many do walk around with no awareness of their own privilege. I know some men who are well aware of their privilege and generally behave accordingly. I know more who aren't. (Have you ever said, "Why are you offended? It's just a joke!"? Yeah. Knock that shit off. Here's a suggested response when someone has a different reaction to something than you do: "Hmm. I'd like to understand your point of view. Tell me more.") It's tough. I know. It requires a rewiring. And I know some of this stuff makes you (Dear White male reader) uncomfortable. But as a group you guys could stand to be a little uncomfortable for a bit. You've had it pretty easy for a loooooooong time.
As things are getting rearranged and we're learning to treat all human beings with dignity and respect, and as those of us in a privileged position learn to always remember our privilege and what it means in regards to those without, we're going to go through some growing pains. It's okay. We will survive.
Wow. That was just supposed to be a post about the book. I did not mean to get all Social Justice-y. When I sat down to write this a few days ago I literally just wanted to talk about how insane this particular piece of children's entertainment is. I know, I know, it's just a book, right? Right? Right?