On Racism, Nearby

I’ve been hesitating to even blog about everything that’s happening right now – the Ferguson, Missouri situation has reminded me that no matter how well-intentioned, I’ll always be white. As history has shown, that’s clearly not a bad thing, but it does mean that while I’d love to chime in and offer my take on the situation, I shouldn’t. It’s not that I can’t still be a part of the push against class warfare and racism – it’s just that I’ll never truly understand what it’s like to be anything but white.

That’s not to say that I can’t be an ally, that I can’t be someone who pushes for reform and truth and justice and tolerance and all of those wonderful, idealistic things I thought everyone believed in. The hard truth is that people don’t believe in those things. You learn the rose-colored worldview of tolerance and peace and then you hit the real world and it’s filled with ignorance and hate.

I was at 7-11 yesterday, buying iced coffee before I headed out to babysit, when a short, grandfatherly looking white man cut me in line holding two Cokes. He got up to the cashier, a nice woman who’d greeted me cheerfully when I walked in, and when he was told that it was going to be like $2.89, he flipped out. He asked how much one Coke was, because he’d been under the impression that they were 2 for $2.22. The cashier told him that they were no longer on sale, at which point he began yelling for her to come to the back and look. He turned around, nearly hitting me.

I don’t usually get scared, but something about him coming two inches from full body contact unnerved me. Apparently, the 7-11 people had put Pepsi on sale instead of Coke, but forgotten to take down the advertisements. I get that – it’s annoying. If you want to sell products and offer a discount, properly advertise it. She apologized for the confusion, admitting that they’d made a mistake.

They got back to the counter and he continued yelling (I’m not exaggerating here – the entire store could hear) about how this is what is wrong with America, greed and blah blah, and then he paused and told the cashier, “You wouldn’t know. You’re just visiting here.” She insisted, with a lovely accent, that she was an American too.

That’s when he lost it. He started going off about Judgement Day and how God would know that she was lying about being an American. (I almost cut in and asked him if God was American, but I didn’t and I’m glad.) He yelled at the cashier, and to her credit, she handled it beautifully. When he got to the part where he was yelling about how his mother would know that she wasn’t an American, she calmly told him that she didn’t care what his mother thought.

It was horrible. She was clearly an African immigrant, and I don’t care whether she was a citizen or here on a visa, she’s working and she’s nice and she’s obviously someone who is stronger than she looks. He was clearly the worst sort of American. After he left, I told her that I was sorry that she’d had to deal with someone so rude and that I hoped that her customers from then on were pleasant to deal with. The woman behind me offered her support as well. I would have been in tears – I was impressed with how calm she was.

It’s 2014. Any illusions of a white America should have been dashed years ago – it’s over, or rather, it never was going to be a thing. At some point, these people are going to have to embrace the fact that diversity is here to stay, whether they like it or not. I can’t fathom how anyone could be so cruel to someone based on their skin color, or their accent, or the fact that they work at a 7-11.

I’m still appalled. I wish I’d spoken up. Better yet, I wish the boyfriend had been there. He’s not always the most forward-thinking human, but I know that he wouldn’t have stood for this kind of hate. He’d have had words with the man.

It’s not just 7-11. It’s Facebook. I live in a very educated bubble. Most of my friends are white like me, have at least a college education, and are pretty progressive and liberal-leaning. (Not all. Most.) The posts that I’ve seen lately about Ferguson, Missouri and racism have been about being a white ally, class warfare and the threats to the white majority stronghold of our economy, and so on.

Boyfriend comes from a different place. His bubble is different. I love skimming his news feed to see how different they are. He probably thinks I’m trying to glean information about his lady friends, but honestly, it’s a remarkable sociological difference, whether it’s based on location, education level, or career path, and I’m fascinated by it. That and the lady friends.

Last week, a Marine friend of his posted something about the Ferguson, Missouri situation, including the riots, with a very inappropriate caption. I was appalled that an active member of our military would be allowed to post something like this – but it wasn’t just the post, it was the comments on it that aggravated me.

A plump, blond, middle-aged white woman commented on the post and said something about how upset she was about “these savages” and how “we bring our Lord to them and they act like animals” and so on and so forth. Our Lord? The same God of White America that the 7-11 dude worships? What are these people smoking?

I did a terrible job at describing the post and the comments, but I’m trying to illustrate how frustrating it has been for me to see that not only is racism alive and well, but it still wears the well-meaning mask of religion. I wanted to believe that while racism still existed, it at least had the decency to hide deep in a person’s soul and not be broadcasted around on social media and spit at cashiers in convenience stores. I wanted to believe that so badly, and clung to that hope. I was wrong.

I may scoff at the well-intentioned ally posts and the never-ending parade of sociological examinations of cross-sections of our society, but today I am grateful for them. I’m glad that I get to sit and click and read them – I’m glad they’re being published and that people are reading them, and sharing them, and spreading a message that shouldn’t be new to some people but clearly is. I need to do more — we’ll talk about hashtag activism at a later point. And the next time I see a man yelling at a woman because of her accent and the color of her skin, I’ll give him a piece of my mind. At the very least, a little social sanctioning may give him pause.

We can do better. We need to do better.

On Feminism, Needily

I’m a feminist. I have been since before I understood what feminism was, and I’m grateful for that. I grew up thinking that I could do anything that I wanted to, without any concern for gender. I hung out with the boys until fourth grade, was never consumed by beauty or girlie things, but absolutely loved my Barbie dolls and everything else girl. It wasn’t an issue. My parents never pushed a gender identity, and I never felt the need to have one. I still consider myself somewhat of a tomboy, although I recently learned how to fill in my eyebrows with powder to make them look more fantastic. I appreciate that knowledge immensely.

I got to college, full of wonder and amazement at the mountains of theory that could be produced by academia, and found my calling. Sociology, women’s studies, and everything that goes along with it fascinated me. I thrived in those classes – to me, it’s like common sense, but more in-depth. More focused. More history, reflection, examination.

One thing that always struck me was Judith Butler’s description of heterosexuality as a performance of drag, meaning that in order to participate in society as a heterosexual man or woman, you’d have to put on the right clothes, and do your makeup a certain way, and act in a way that was socially acceptable.

It all started to click. When I was in high school, I’d given up my nerd persona to try to fit in as a teenage girl. Of course, that meant denying my identity as a “know it all” in pursuit of acceptance. In time, of course, I found that trying on different identities had led me to the truth – that I am who I am, regardless of my outward appearance. I came into my own and found that it was entirely freeing and wonderful.

But let’s get back to feminism. To me, feminism can be summed up in one word: equality. It’s not about being better than anyone, or denying anyone. It’s about being respected and treated as equals.

Here we are, in the twenty-first century. We’re officially post-postmodern, but we’re at a crossroads. Women have gotten the right to vote, and we’ve proved ourselves to be a force to be reckoned with at the polls. We’ve attained degrees, and sought higher education. We’ve entered the workforce and become politicians. We are no longer relegated to the role of teachers or secretaries, not that those roles aren’t absolutely necessary. We’ve been given choices. Motherhood isn’t an absolute identity.

And yet, we’re not there. There isn’t true, sweeping equality. We haven’t broken all of the glass ceilings. The pushback has been intense. Men’s emasculation at the hands of feminists have caused many a sleepless night for those concerned with that sort of thing, those people who believe that it’s a serious fear, that somehow women are determined to undermine our societal stability. (What societal stability?)

Recently, I was made aware of a blog that is focused on submissions from people who believe that they don’t need feminism. It’s called “Women Against Feminism.” It hurts me to read.

We’ve got women being raped and gang raped in India without any assistance from the police. We’ve got ISIS ordering Iraqi women to undergo female genital mutilation, and then backtracking to deny those claims. We’ve got women being kidnapped in Africa for wanting to get an education. It goes on and on. Our world is a broken place, one where being a woman is often a very dangerous thing to be.

You think you don’t need feminism?

The posts are laughable. They claim that they don’t need feminism because they don’t want to be a victim, or because they want to be a stay-at-home mom, or because they want respect and equality.

That’s feminism!

Feminism is about respect. It’s about equality. Feminism has nothing to do with “angry vaginas” or victimization or the furthering of political agendas. (Well….feminists do believe that women should be able to advocate for themselves, so I guess that in itself is a political agenda. I’m guilty of wanting to make my own decisions about my body! One poster says that her daughter is a privilege and not a choice. I’m confused about how feminism had a hand in that. I’m curious how the struggle for equality and respect became the choice to procreate or not — even natural family planning attempts to in some ways influence procreation, and regardless, that’s not about feminism. That’s about birth control. I’m a feminist. I’m pro-choice. I would never have an abortion. See what I did there? I made a choice about my own body….I didn’t make a choice that affected anyone else’s body. That’s feminism.)

One of the posts denies that patriarchy exists; another claims that she can’t think of an instance where feminism hasn’t caused more destruction and violence (I’d love to see her sources). Yet another claims that she doesn’t need feminism because her son shouldn’t be made to feel like less of a person because of his gender. That one got to me. Where does it say that feminism is about making a person feel like less of a person? Aren’t we fighting for the exact opposite thing?

I have a boyfriend. I’ve had him for a while now. Six weeks after we met, I dumped him because he was being a misogynist. He was ridiculous. He made comments that offended me. He said things that outraged me. He made me feel disrespected, devalued, and incompetent. We later had a long talk about what it means to feel respected and valued.

I know that he will always be a “man’s man,” embodying a very traditional type of masculinity. He knows that I’ll always be a feminist. We’re an odd pair, but we’ve learned from each other. We’ve learned to live with each other. He’s learned that I’m a valuable partner and that my intelligence is an asset. He’s become more understanding. He’s become more open. He’s grown emotionally. I’ve done the same. I’ve learned where he’s coming from. We’ve had endless amounts of debates about things, particularly women’s roles in the world. I expect us to contribute equally to everything, be it financial or domestic. Since he’s working right now and I’m not, I’ve taken on more domestic tasks. It’s a give and take.

One thing that I take from my discussions with him is that the physical differences between men and women are tangible. He’s stronger than me. (He was a Marine. It was really no contest.) I’m smarter than him, at least on paper. We both enjoy learning. He’s wittier than me – dry humor. I’m better at expressing emotions. He’s horrible at it. He’s better at math and cooking. I’m better at socializing, communication, and administrative tasks. I pay the bills. He pays me.

Feminism is not about one gender being better than the other. (This is based on the heteronormative assumption that there are only two genders….it’s not a discussion I want to have here, I have points to make.) Feminism is about acceptance and equality. I’m not trying to feminize men. I’m not trying to make all men seem like rapists, and all women victims.

The reason boyfriend and I work is because we complement each other. My weaknesses are his strengths, and vice versa. We’ve been able to work together to begin to achieve our goals. We’ve been able to laugh about our differences, talk about our differences, and grow as people because of them.

We need feminism.

I write about my relationship with my boyfriend because I feel that it’s important to discuss – feminists are often portrayed as lesbians (oh god, not lesbians!), or militants (what does that even mean in this context?), or violent, abusive, women-hating people, man-haters, or some combination of those adjectives. Feel free to insert your own.

Feminists aren’t those things. We’re people. We’re human beings. We exist with or without a partner. Some of us are men. My identity is not just his girlfriend. My identity is my own. I am a human being. I seek the same things that other people seek: happiness, love, acceptance, friendship, shelter, food, accomplishments, glory, and so on. (Glory, because who doesn’t want that?)

Another poster writes that she doesn’t need feminism because she likes men like Christian Grey, the super dominant billionaire sex god from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” books. Okay. That’s fine. As a feminist, I would also love a super dominant billionaire sex god. Doesn’t mean I can’t be a feminist and still get one. (Super dominant billionaire sex gods, please feel free to apply.)

I bring up my boyfriend because I think that feminism and anything can co-exist. Maybe not. Feminism and racism aren’t a great pair, nor are feminism and fear-mongering, nor feminism and slut-shaming, which is often cited as being something in which feminists engage. I disagree. I’m pro-women. I’m pro-people. I’m pro-human. I’m pro-good-people-doing-well-for-themselves-and-others.

He’s way stronger than me. I was joking with his grandparents on Facebook today (after posting an article talking about the Women Against Feminism and their repeated insisting that feminism is moot because we need men to open jars) that every time I threaten to strangle my boyfriend, he responds that I don’t have the upper body strength. It’s true. I probably don’t.

But that’s not important. What I bring into our relationship is. To me, it’s like this: everybody has certain abilities, certain areas in which they excel. Lately, we’ve been seeing a rise in women in the workforce and stay-at-home dads. This has caused plenty of concern for plenty of people. But here’s how it is for me: I believe that everyone is suited to some things. For instance, my brother, who’s super manly, is way better at organizing than I will ever be. He’s in charge of organizing. I’m in charge of scrubbing. It works out.

Every relationship is based on give and take. Boyfriend is good at some things, I’m good at some things. Together, we’re great at a lot of things. Every single relationship is based on complementary attributes. So what if someone is great at childcare and the other is  whiz at engineering? Are those tasks only to be completed by someone of one gender or another? No. Everyone has an energy, whether it’s more masculine or feminine doesn’t matter.

I can’t be trusted in the kitchen. (Look at my foot scars and my lifetime knife ban…) Boyfriend is fantastic. You should try his pork tenderloin some time. Does that mean I do a lot of dishes? Yes. Because he cooks. Do I do a lot of sweeping? Yes, because he gets all the stuff in the right place before the sweeping.

These internet people (yes, internet people, take it with a grain of salt) claim that they want to be stay-at-home moms without being harassed. They should be allowed to do that. Anyone who’s harassing them is not a feminist. They say that they’re not afraid of men. Feminists aren’t afraid of men. I was assaulted by one, but I’m not afraid of them.

What I’m trying to say is that you do need feminism.

These women who are against feminism are allowed to do the things that they do because of the courageous women who fought so hard for basic human rights. They are allowed to vote because women stood up for that right. They are allowed to walk in the streets alone, which isn’t allowed in some places, places that could use some feminism! They are allowed to be stay-at-home moms or nuclear physicists or teachers or doctors or lawyers because of the perseverance of the women who came before them. That is not something to deny. That is not something that should be shunned. Their choices are their own because of the people who spent their lives fighting for that freedom.

Our world is not a world without women. The world needs mothers and lawyers and teachers and thinkers — men cannot shoulder that burden alone. The world needs people who think and create and nurture and care. Women are half of our future — we need to make it so that their voices are heard.

Denying feminism is at best ignorant and at worst setting us back as humans. The stigma that surrounds feminism is shameful, because women are active participants in our future as a global society. We are feminists because there is a need for understanding and equality. We are feminists because we work for freedom. We are feminists because we support education for all people. We are feminists because at the end of the day, a woman’s work is never done, nor is it valued enough.

I hate that there are women out there who decry feminism as an attack on men. I love men, but I don’t love men who don’t give me the respect that I deserve. I love to get dressed up and put on makeup (and now, fill in my eyebrows!) but it doesn’t make me less of a feminist, or less of a woman.

I am woman. I am so much more than that, though. I’m a human being.

On Long-Awaited Life Updates, Determinedly

Oh man, life is indeed a roller coaster.

I’ll do the briefest of brief updates, just because I can’t go back and catch up on everything.

– The last spring snowstorm we had in Colorado cracked two of my tree branches in our backyard. I was heartbroken. I loved that tree because of its crooked branches. The boys spent an entire afternoon taking down the tree branches, which had narrowly missed power lines. My backyard is a bit more naked, but I’m grateful that I still have part of my tree. 

We keep joking that we’re going to make a treehouse out of a boat and put it in the tree. As we walk around our neighborhood, I get exited every time I see a boat, no matter how ridiculous it might be to image it in our tree. Boyfriend remarked sarcastically to my mom the other day that having a boat in the tree is a great idea because it’s clearly so structurally sound.

– My recovery from the torn EHL tendon has been slow. I have regained about 50% of the movement. I am now a full 8 weeks post surgery. I am working on keeping my foot protected but also trying to get it to do some movement on its own. I was finally cleared to leave the boot two weeks ago! I have some nasty looking scars, and I’m not convinced I’ll ever have full movement back, but I’m alive. And I can sort of wiggle my toe.

– I lost my job two weeks ago. Long story short – bad business practices and disagreements about my working conditions (they wanted me full-time back in the stores due to nearly a dozen people quitting; I cannot be on my feet full-time, nor do I want to be). I filed for unemployment, which they told me they would not contest. Heartbroken again. I had been finally really starting to enjoy myself but also to utilize my strengths as a leader and as someone who wanted what was best for all of the stores.

— Boyfriend and I are thinking about moving to Mississippi. It’d be more of a study-abroad deal for me, since it’s going to be such a huge culture shock. He’d be pursing a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics or similar and I’d be after a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration.

I feel that Mississippi is a state in dire need of help on a very real and large scale, and that my involvement there would be a fantastic kick-start to a rewarding career in public policy of all kinds. (Non-profit administration also stems from this degree, and over the years, I’ve come to realize that it’s something I’d love to do.)
The reason that the Public Policy and Administration program intrigues me is because it is the only Master’s degree that really encompasses my loves of government, social issues, writing, and law, while furthering my drive to make a lasting difference in our world.
I’m hoping that this degree will help me sharpen my leadership and communication skills, but also allow me to participate fully in the community in the most effective way.
— I lost my car keys. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I lost my car keys. Like, gone. MIA. Nowhere to be found. I am so frustrated. We went to Costco the other day, and I came home and opened the door and we haven’t seen them since. I have torn my car and house apart to no avail. I am waiting. If they don’t turn up by Monday, I must have my car towed to a dealership so they can make me a new key.
— Acorn is definitely part shepherd. He plays basketball. It’s the most adorable thing I’ve seen in a long time. He comes with us to a school by our house, or a park close by, and runs around while we (usually the boys, only sometimes me) play basketball. He’ll play defense and try to get the ball from you, he’ll bark while he’s waiting for the rebound, and he’ll jump up to get it. Once he gets it, he’ll shepherd it around the court until he gets bored with it. He’s just like Air Bud, sort of!

On the Law, Lawlessly

It’s no secret that our justice system is a weak and broken beast. The laws that govern us (to a certain extent) are the products of a demonstrated need, and yet they provide countless loopholes and the ever-present problem of interpretation. They are further proof that all things well intended suffer from equivalent potential for ill intent.

The laws we abide by are meant to provide us with a guide for living, but more than that, a guide for our own behaviors and interactions with others. The lure of the law lies in the illusion of safety that it provides, in the clear demarcation of right vs. wrong. However, the punishments imposed as a means of failure to follow the law, which once loomed over the populous as the ultimate deterrent, have lost their luster, their ability to strike fear into the hearts of citizens.

Why is that?

Well, part of the blame rests with lawyers. They’re intelligent creatures, capable of doing great good in the world, but they often turn into legislators and judges. Not that all legislators or judges are bad people (to be honest, I’d love nothing more than to hold court and render stunning opinions), but they can fall victim to the lure of their own convictions, disregarding the spirit of the law and the best interests of their constituents in favor of their own political advancement.

Part of the blame rests with the people, who call for more laws to be written in response to events that upset them. More laws don’t help clean up existing laws that aren’t working; instead, we find ourselves buried under the oppressive crush of laws that govern our every moment. The good news is that these laws contradict themselves in such a manner that if you have a proper legal team, you can throw enough chaos into the mix and walk away scot-free.

So while it may be illegal to kill someone, it’s not actually a firm black and white thing. Mitigating circumstances have long existed, of course, but now we’ve entered an era of self-righteous self-defense.

In Texas, it’s like this:

“The Texas provision authorizes deadly force not only to “retrieve stolen property at night” but also during “criminal mischief in the nighttime” and even to prevent someone who is fleeing immediately after a theft during the night or a burglary or robbery, so long as the individual “reasonably” thinks the property cannot be protected by other means.” – source here

This is why the internet now finds itself upset at Texas (that’s not new), enraged that a jury could find a man who killed someone not guilty by reason of shitty lawmaking and a thin defense that shouldn’t have held up. One of my lawyer friends applied reason (pssh, reason? This is Texas, there is no reason) to counter my annoyance by stating that it is the law, the lawmakers, and the jury who all did exactly what they were supposed to do here. The jury followed the law.

I see his point, but he’s wrong. It used to be legal to rape your wife. Just doing it because it’s the law doesn’t make me feel any better and it doesn’t make it right. As a juror, you’re obligated to follow the law, but have we not spent years debating whether or not we should be following the letter of the law or its spirit?

We live in a society that’s used to broad application of excuses as a way to escape punishment or to justify horrifying behavior (Patriot Act, anyone?). We live in a society that simultaneously glorifies pseudo-piety and hyper-masculine aggression. It’s a funny line between the righteous and the hypocrite, in the same way that the Pharisees were the paragons of virtue back in the day.

Regardless, here’s what happened in Texas:

Man is on Craigslist. Man hires escort to come over and hang out. Man is presumably excited – he “believes” that sex is going to occur. Escort comes over, no one comes. Man is upset about the lack of sex. He demands the money ($150) back from escort. Escort says no, gets into waiting car. Man shoots at the car, injuring escort. Escort dies some months later. Man is charged with murder. Man goes trial. Lawyers claim that it’s legal to shoot someone who’s absconding with your property. Jurors are idiots, rule not-guilty. Prosecutors are also idiots, should have shot holes through that defense. (See what I did there?)

That deadly force law is ridiculous and should never have been passed. At what point did lawmakers not see that this was going to be a terrible law? At what point did it come to pass that a dude who shoots an alleged hooker can walk away from it?

My suggestion was this:

I would like to see valuation limits (or minimums?) of property established so that even though it may be legal to use deadly force to recover stolen property, you won’t be able to use that as a weak defense for murdering someone over $150. I know, I know, “what is the value of a human life?”, “how can we quantify sentimental value?” and so on, but come on, killing an escort over $150 because she wouldn’t have sex with you should not be justifiably legal in any way.

And – going further – how did the defense justify that he had been robbed (thus giving him the theft that allowed him to shoot her) while still holding onto the fact that he just “believed” he was going to get sex. If at no point was sex an explicit part of the illicit deal, then there could be no theft because the services rendered (escorting – which I imagine to be really awkward hanging out in a mini dress with a fur draped around your neck) were the services initially agreed to. Wait, since prostitution is technically illegal (unless the escort decides to have consensual non-escort sex with you, of course), wouldn’t he have no right to shoot her under that law anyway? Doesn’t criminal activity negate other stuff? (Forgive me for my pathetic grasp of our legal system and its laws, it’s been a while.)

I’m going to withhold my calls for more laws and instead call for fewer laws. No law advocating street justice (deadly force for nighttime theft) should ever be passed. No man should feel that he has the right to take a human life over $150. Shit, I would have sent him a check for $200, the additional $50 for his humiliation. Problem solved. No person should believe that they have the right to take the life of another human being unless their own live is in immediate, indisputable danger. Self-defense should not apply when the victim is driving away from you. Or when they’re unarmed and in a car. Or when you’re upset that you didn’t get laid.

I’ve also got a million dollar idea. Evan thinks it’s dumb and dangerous, and he’s probably right, but wouldn’t this be awesome (in theory)?

I’m thinking that it would be awesome to be a street justice mediator. I’d be responsible for hearing cases where parties have disagreements that can’t be settled via normal legal channels but might result in violence if not addressed. They’d come to me for gang wars, turf disputes, drug-related complaints, and so on. I’d hear both parties and then render a decision. That decision would be concrete. They’d have to follow it.

That’s where the idea gets a bit murky. I feel as though street justice is problematic because of the fact that “your word is your bond” doesn’t really apply here. I’ve watched enough Game of Thrones of late (and read enough history, novels, and so on) to understand that you’re never safe, especially when you’re consorting with criminals. But – at the same time – it would be a pretty sweet gig. And hopefully it would result in fewer gang-related deaths. (Even though in actuality, it would probably just result in mine.)

On Earth Day 2013, Sandily

Happy Earth Day 2013!

When we were little, Earth Day was a big deal. We did projects, and papers, and dioramas about Earth Day. Maybe I’m making that up, but I remember loving Earth Day. I looked forward to it. I think I imagined that my future self (which would equate to present me) would be this great planter of trees every year on Earth Day. To date, I have planted zero trees.

I did, however, rake my entire garden last weekend and plan on planting some things this year, so I feel like that’s a baby step in the right direction. Some day, we may be eating vegetables that I grew. I’m thinking tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, basil, mint, and so on. In reality, it will most likely be a sad plot that starts out magnificent but ends up overgrown with weeds. But everyone does that at least once, right?

I may have no idea what I’m doing, but I have friends who know how to do this, so I imagine I can call on them to help assist me with planning, planting, and harvesting.

In the meantime, let’s focus on current ecological issues (of which there about ten billion). I was reading this article about building structures out of plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are great (not really – they’re terrible for the environment, but they’re ubiquitous), and they’ve been used in a ton of very ingenious ways such as providing light to homes and being used to help grow gardens inside.

However, reading about building structures out of plastic, all I could think about were the drawbacks. What about weather? What about security? How is the building going to hold up and be a strong structure going forward?

When I was in South Africa, one of the biggest problems in the townships (informal settlements) was the fact that the houses were built out of essentially reclaimed materials. The houses (some more shack than house) were built out of wood, sheet metal, plastic, anything and everything. The floors were often dirt, or dirt covered in carpeting. It’s hard to keep a place like that clean, but more than that, it’s hard to protect that sort of structure from the elements.

When a fire breaks out in a township, it’s often inside one of the homes. However, it’s nearly impossible to contain the fire based on a number of factors, including the lack of accessibility to running water, proximity to the other homes, and the materials from which the houses are constructed. When one house burns, it’s likely that the others around it are going to burn too, causing unnecessary damage and threatening human life.

The building project I visited was creating a house out of sandbags. These sandbags are laid down in a concrete foundation and eventually plastered or covered in concrete, creating a structure that is nearly impermeable, providing a safer structure that can withstand the elements.

This sandbag house is such a wonderful idea because it makes use of the ubiquitous sand that’s found in and around the Cape Flats where many of these townships are located. It’s cheap to buy the concrete mix and the bags for the sand, and with some community involvement and a little planning, a building can be built relatively quickly and very cheaply. Even better? It’s not flammable like the other houses, offering protection in case of a rapidly spreading fire.

Below is the article that I wrote while I was there, that was published in the Cape Chameleon, the publication of the Projects Abroad journalism project. I think it’s important to highlight sustainable building because it can help draw attention to solutions for problems that badly need solving.

Houses of Sand

THE FUTURE OF ECO-BUILDING

Issue No.52010

Words: Katherine Barry

A pile of charred wood is all that’s left of the shacks. The sand where they sat is littered with burned belongings: a blackened Bible, an office chair, clothes no longer usable. The metal sheets that had once been walls have been salvaged, taken for use in new shacks, the obviously burnt edges blending in amongst the rust.

The first fire broke out three weeks before in the same shack that would be the ignition point of the second fire, which would tear through the informal settlement of Village Heights in Cape Town, depriving 15 families of their homes.

Fires in informal settlements – like Village Heights – represent one of the biggest dangers of living in such a community. Even with attempts to build with space on all sides, fires such as the one that destroyed those 15 shacks can spread quickly since the materials used to construct the homes are highly flammable and unregulated.

‘It was better under apartheid,’ says Bernadine, the community leader who has created and maintained the Village Heights library, and who is the recipient of the first Projects Abroad sandbag house in South Africa. ‘At least then we all had our own homes and jobs. Now we have nothing.’

Government response

According to residents, after the first fire the government offered four wooden posts, five pieces of metal and some grounding plastic as a replacement. However, the metal went to the construction of a roof and the residents were left to use plastic to create walls. During the second fire, a woman was badly burned when the plastic melted onto her skin.

Proper housing is something that many people living in South Africa lack, for a multitude of reasons, including long waiting times after application for government housing. ‘I’ve been on a waiting list for twenty-one years,’ says one woman who lost her home in the fire. ‘My daughter is 20 now.’ She went on to detail her experience, saying that she makes regular visits to go check on the status of her application, only to be told that she is indeed still on the list, but that no further information can be released about the status of the application.

While debates rage about governmental involvement and personal contribution for houses, the issue remains that people lack proper living quarters. Residents of the informal settlements around Cape Town and throughout South Africa are forced to create homes using materials that they can find, salvage, or buy, resulting in homes that often lack even basic features such as a floor. Security measures are an afterthought as well, allowing for criminal activity to flourish in the crowded neighbourhoods. Where to go from here?

Sand is nearly ubiquitous in Cape Town and the surrounding areas. It also might present a feasible solution to the problem of the shack homes in the ever-expanding informal settlements. Filling bags with sand and then stacking them within a frame can create a solid structure that is built both efficiently and quickly.

Beginning with materials, construction with sandbags can be a cheap alternative to traditional building methods. Since all that is needed to build a sandbag structure are bags, sand, cement and wooden and metal framing, the cost drops significantly due to the lack of construction equipment needed. No cranes, no stacks of bricks and no heavy vehicles entering or leaving the construction site.

20% of the materials need to be allocated for the construction of the frame of the sandbag building, but there is a certain amount of flexibility as to what those might be – including the use of wood or tin. Bricks can be used as well, but in order to maintain the eco-friendly atmosphere, they should only be implemented if they are within reach to avoid the entrance of trucks and other machinery in to the site.

Benefits of sand building

This cost-effective creation is incredibly ecofriendly. Since most of the building can be done with materials found on-site, the need for waste is nearly eliminated. This waste elimination plays a large factor in the ecofriendly nature of the sandbag buildings.

Builders who choose to use sandbag building as an alternative to conventional construction methods also stand to gain carbon credits for their choices. Carbon credit programmes offer financial incentives for companies to build in keeping with the ‘green’ trends and for waste elimination and recycling of materials.

This waste elimination and recycling process, presents an opportunity for those who are economically disadvantaged. By being able to build effectively and also save money, they can increase community bonds and safety.

Structural soundness

Besides being fireproof, the sand structures also present an element of soundproofing not found in the corrugated iron structures, which currently make up most of the homes in the townships and informal settlements in the Cape Town area.

They are also not easy to deconstruct or demolish, in essence creating a lasting home that won’t be victim to natural disasters such as flooding or tornadoes. The solidity of the sand as it is packed and stacked neatly to create walls allows for an element of indoor climate control that supersedes that provided by the corrugated structures as well. The sand essentially insulates the home, keeping it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Spreading the word

The surmountable caveat to sand building is that it is not well known as a possible method for creating homes. The newly homeless fire victims had never heard of sandbag building when asked about it, yet were curious as to how it might work. They eagerly agreed that the community would want to be involved in such a building plan, given the right materials.

Based on the readily available materials and the community mentality that many of the neighbourhoods have, it seems that if sandbag structures could catch on, they might make a wonderful improvement for communities who are underfunded and under protected.

Projects Abroad began constructing their first sandbag house at the site of the Village Heights Library in August of 2010. While normally the construction of such a building (one room) would take less than a month, due to staggered volunteer arrivals, the project has continued for more than three months. Nevertheless, the house is beginning to take shape.

Bernadine hopes to show off the building project as a model of sustainable building. As of the beginning of December, the structure was complete and the roof had been added and finalisation of the exterior decoration was beginning. The hope is that the building will remain a long-standing testament to the possibility of creation from local materials and community involvement.

The project supervisor – Deen Singh – remains optimistic that the sandbag building will be used for the betterment of the community. He explained that everything must be done to help the children. The building has been designated for use in a crèche, or a childcare centre, one that will hopefully create a safe haven for children from all over Village Heights. Currently there are five volunteers working on the building. Rick, a German volunteer, feels that the building he is helping to construct will last, showing immediate change in the place that he came to volunteer. ‘It’s nice to leave something behind,’ he said.

Perhaps this sandbag building can be a model of change for a community that is desperate for change, but lacking the resources with which to create it.

On Fifty Shades of Gray Areas of Rape, Legitimately Angrily

WARNING: This post may contain triggers related to sexual assault and rape.

Note: For the purposes of this post, I’m using “rape” as an umbrella term to cover all things sexual assault. I’m also focusing particularly on heterosexual sexual assault (say that three times fast). These are an attempt to generalize my discussion of rape/sexual assault and to hopefully make it so that I don’t have to qualify every statement I make.

***

Part of eliminating our oppressive rape culture is attempting to take back the power that comes out of experiences of sexual assault. We’ve seen it with the “Slutwalks,” where women dress in provocative clothing and assert that the way that they are dressed is not an invitation for rape. We see it in the social media postings of rape victims who refuse to stay silent about their experiences.

However, we see the rape culture pushing back. We see women being expelled from colleges because they took action against a rapist (and by “action,” I mean “reporting the rape to the proper authorities through the proper channels”). We see families in other countries cloaked in shame, ostracized from their own communities because a female family member was raped. Was raped. Passive. Rapists rape a woman and then her family is left out in the cold? How fucked up is that?

We see women afraid to take action after a sexual assault for fear of being labeled as a liar or a slut. We see women’s sexual pasts dragged up to the forefront of discussions. We see their behavior critiqued, every action dissected for proof that the woman is really a wanton whore who begged for sex and then regretted it later.

That’s bullshit. Yes, again, there are women who do “cry rape” (much like crying wolf). Yes, those women give all women a bad name and undermine progress because it’s come to the point now that every rape victim is arguably essentially guilty of crying rape until proven raped. That is the single most damaging thing, because rape is already one of the most under-reported crimes.

I read this post from the Ms. magazine blog last night. It’s about whether or not you should out your rapist – that is, speak publicly about them and release their name.

After I finished it, I couldn’t stop thinking about Todd Aikin’s “legitimate rape” comments that set our feminist hearts ablaze late last year. And you know what? They finally make sense. (Actually, what he said will never make sense or be in any way correct.) But “legitimate rape” is really hard to define, and to someone who’s never had to go through any experience that falls on the rape spectrum, the gray areas of rape may seem a little silly.

The gray areas of rape are the areas where “legitimate rape” can’t be defined. One man’s idea of “just some fun” may be the beginning of a woman’s trip to the brink of hell, a trip into the darkest places of human consciousness, where there is nothing left but pain and hopelessness. Todd Aikin, I’m using you as my example because your words are haunting me, but have you ever walked to edge of hell and been swallowed by it? If not, then you are hardly qualified to tell me or any others that the gray areas of rape don’t exist.

Outing your rapist isn’t always possible, particularly when it falls into the deepest of the gray areas, a place consumed by shadows of doubt. Sometimes, your rapist may be an acquaintance. Sometimes, the risks of speaking out outweigh the pain of staying silent.

Reading Professor Steve Landsburg’s post about being sexually assaulted while unconscious sickened me. Granted, it was ultimately a question of behavior and morality, but I’m still appalled at that lack of respect for a victim’s experiences, memory of it or no. Sure, no harm, no foul, Steve. Sexual assault upon a victim who won’t know about it is a win-win for all. (Not.) Fuck you.

The worst part is not knowing. The worst part is that some victims of sexual assault will never know what happened. You’re telling me that waking up naked with eleven hours of your memory wiped clean from  your mind is a no harm, no foul situation? Fuck you. The consequences of “some fun” aren’t the same for you – and yes, perhaps you are spared the searing memories of violence and forcible penetration – but the shame and fear and lingering doubts are in no way less traumatic.

Did sex ever happen? The victim doesn’t know. Was I drugged? The victim doesn’t know. Am I okay? No. Will I ever be okay? The victim doesn’t know. What happened? “We just had some fun,” he says. The victim doesn’t know what that means, may not be able to find the words to ask. May not want to ask.

Victims of sexual assault are cloaked in shame; their experiences are automatically invalidated by claims of “she was asking for it” and “she did this to herself” and “she’s not a paragon of virtue” and so on.

I was reading a facebook post by a man who claimed that “Men don’t stop rape by not raping,” but I beg to differ. That’s the most simple step. That’s the first step. Men can help stop rape by not raping. They can help stop rape by ensuring that they’ve received appropriate consent. They can help stop the cycle of rape culture by accepting their own end of responsibility for their actions. All too often, it is the women who are left to suffer the psychological and physical damages of sexual assault and the men who walk away unscathed, free from consequences.

When the victim is sliding a blade across her thigh because she doesn’t have any tears left and she’s desperate to make the pain stop, is she in any way better off than someone who’s been “legitimately raped”? No.

“Legitimate rape” may be the easiest rape to see and define and fight against, but the gray areas of rape are very real. They don’t exist solely in the ivory theories of academia. They are the secrets that people carry closest to their hearts. They are the painful experiences that shape people, that kill the safest parts of their souls.

You can’t out a rapist when there’s no proof of rape. You can’t do anything. It’s the ultimate in powerlessness. It’s clever (on the part of the rapist) and it’s horrible. You don’t know if anyone will believe you. You don’t want people to think less of you. So you stay silent. But you are not alone. You’re not alone at all. Hopefully that notion will save the women who are being swallowed up by the darkest circles of hell, who can’t see anything bright ahead of them, who wonder if the pain and shame and questions will ever stop.

We’ve spent far too long pushing these issues under the rug. We’ve spent far too long assuming that the justice system will take care of the problem, that we are not culpable or complicit in our perpetuation of rape culture.

It needs to end. I don’t know where I stand on the ethics of  publicly naming your rapist, but I do know that we need to stop shushing our victims. Where is the support? Where is the outrage? Where are the people who feel that respect and responsibility are attainable and within reach?

Oh yeah, they’re stuck in the gray areas. They’re stuck in the places where the light of social justice doesn’t quite reach. They’re marginalized, quieted, ignored. It’s time to stop victim blaming, shut shaming, and virtue preaching (I’m looking at you Foster Friess, you Bayer aspirin asshole), and time to start supporting, educating, and validating each and every one of these experiences. That is how we move forward.

On Hate, Sadly but Love, Optimistically (Legitimately)

no8, marriage equality, gay rights, human rights, love,

A glimpse of the “Mermaid’s Tears” nails to start your day. But more importantly, let’s chat about the gays. (I’ve scribbled a symbol for marriage equality across my ring finger.)

Emily came over for our girls night last night – since GIRLS is over, we ended up making mac and cheese and then funfetti cupcakes. Delicious. We had to chase the cat-beast because he got out and hid under the stairs. (Scary. I don’t want him to escape because if he does, he might get eaten by a wild animal. And my heart…..oh my heart would break into thousands of pieces. I’d be inconsolable.)

We were talking about friendship. We’ve been friends since high school – she was afraid of me until we went on the forensic science trip to Ireland/London, where we absolutely bonded.

We were talking about unconditional love and acceptance – the kind that goes with friendship. We talked about how valuable it is to have a strong support system, the kind where you can be your true self, the kind where you can share your fears and your heartbreaks and your successes.

Why the long lead-in? (What? You don’t care about my cat or what I ate for dinner last night?!)

For me, knowing that the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in Hollingsworth v Perry
– 
the gay marriage debate has reached the Supreme Court! – is such progress, such a monumental advancement, such a terrifying time. This ruling, although it most likely won’t be handed down for some time, is such an important map of the future of our country and the future of civil rights as we know them.

What does this have to do with friendship, with solidarity?

As it turns out, I sometimes worry that I don’t have a diverse enough friend group. And by that, I mean that I sometimes worry that I need more straight friends. (Kidding, mostly. Mike and I were talking about our friend groups after the adoption panel a few weeks ago – he’s got a very racially diverse friend group and I’ve got a diverse friend group that includes a wide range of people in all professions, age groups, walks of life, and sexual orientations.)

One thing that I’m grateful for is that I exist in such a welcoming, open space. My friends are people who love and respect and genuinely welcome diversity. I often find myself the lone straight girl in a group, and instead of allowing that to remove me from it, I embrace it. Honestly, I don’t even notice it anymore. The people I hang out with are my friends first, gays and straights and whatever else second….a far second.

Marriage is something that I want some day. It’s something that I want for myself and for each of my friends (each of them who wants to be married, of course). My hope, a hope that springs from a place of love, from a place of peace, and from a place of community, is to someday attend the weddings of the people who I care the most about; it is to know that should something happen, both partners have the full protections that legal marriage can offer them; it is to know that love has overcome hate and that we have known the peace that can come after hard work and struggle to promote change.

I hope that future generations understand the full weight of this upcoming decision and that they understand the amount of work that so many people have put in to make this a national discussion. I also hope they sit back and shake their heads with disgust as they think about the people who tried so hard to prevent this. I hope that my children think that gay marriage is common sense; that being gay is natural; that it’s okay to be who you are. I hope they don’t have to fear for their lives or defend themselves against attacks based on who they are, what they look like, who they love.

Because at the end of the day, it comes down to love and community. There’s nothing I want more than a community based on love and support, the kind that comes from strong friendships and shared goals.

It’s love. It’s more than religion or politics. It’s love. Love is the stuff that makes the world go ’round. Love is the life force that drives us, that moves us, that picks us up and leaves us breathless. What kind of monster would you have to be to deny love? (As soon as I typed that, I started thinking of certain kinds of weird love that we should deny. But my point stands: between consenting adults, love – the kind of love that makes them want to commit to each other in the eyes of the law – is a beautiful, natural thing that should be revered, celebrated, shouted out, and respected.)

 

Edit: [Typing with long, reptile claw nails is ridiculously difficult. I’ve been making serious errors everywhere. If you were to somehow calculate correct usage of the English language and keep a chart of it, you’d see a sudden drop-off in exactness, or even near-ness. I feel like I’m just banging on the keyboard and hoping that words come out. Ugh. First world problems, I know. But seriously. Try it some time. Example – last night, I tried to unwrap a fresh cupcake. Could I do it? No. Weak. It was the ultimate in shame.]

On the State of the Church, Heretically

I’m really not sure why I hate the Pope so much. It’s not all Popes, just Benedict. (Fun fact: John Paul II and I have the same birthday, which we share with Tina Fey. Yeah, I’d be jealous of me, too.)

Benedict was always too conservative for the good of the Church – the tide of losses in both your youth and already established bases isn’t going to be helped by electing a Pope whose hypocrisy and lack of transparency serve to make the Catholic Church the butt of jokes the world over while alienating many of the faithful with your antiquated catechism and refusal to adapt to modernity. I’m not wrong here.

Don’t sit there thinking, “Oh, but tradition!” (In your best internal British accent…for some reason.) I think it’s high time we called Vatican III and sorted this out. I really think we can do something about the issues plaguing Catholics around the world. Also, a good shaking up in the ranks of the Cardinals wouldn’t be the worst thing. They’ve gotten far too comfortable.

The Church has gone through some rough periods after missteps by its leaders. However, the Church carries on – but it’s up to its leaders to make sure that the Church stays on the right moral path. (Think of the souls currently rotting in hell – if there is one – because they thought their purchased indulgences would save their souls. The Church definitely got the last laugh there – tons of cash money and a less-crowded VIP section heaven.)

My prescription for the Church: 1. Vatican III 2. A pope from either Africa or Central/South America. 3. A pope who’s not approaching octogenarian status. Just a thought.

Additional reading: These two articles made me laugh this morning, contributing to my excellent mood.

On Paying Taxes, Resignedly

In theory, I love the idea of taxes. I’m the only one of my friends who regularly votes for tax increases. That whole egalitarian ideal of paying for the provision of necessary services really pleases me on a human level. It’s such a hopeful concept. It does take a village…

But of course, theory never translates into real life quite the way anyone would imagine. Human nature tends to corrupt even the processes created with the purest intentions. This democratic society in which we live is a prime example of greed, waste, and corruption.

[Side note: There are moments in life when the gratitude for corruption is undeniable. In South Africa, we had managed to lose a few hub caps on our rental car – to say nothing of the rim that I dented….oops. But since they never found out about the rim, that’s irrelevant. Upon returning the cars, we bribed the rental car lady to take us to a super shady garage where they sold hub caps. I had to bargain with them – still got ripped off, but I was desperate and they knew it – in order to replace the hub caps. In that moment, I realized how awful I was for participating in the perpetuation of a corrupt society, but I was almost giddy with relief that we’d managed to avoid a serious foreign rental car debacle. Thank you, cash.]

I love the idea of paying for better roads, better hospitals, better schools. I have deep appreciation for certain (emphasis on certain, like the Dutch) European models. I love the idea of living somewhere where my contributions can be seen around me in positive and beautiful ways.

What I don’t like? Paying into a social security system that will never be able to provide for me. Paying taxes but not seeing spending allocated to serve the needs of the mentally ill, veterans, and other people who need those services most. Excessive defense spending. And so on. But we can only hope that the people we’ve elected have our best interests at heart (hardly likely) and work to change processes from within.

I’m always pleased to get my tax refund. For the past few years, my income has been such that I have received a very welcome check from the government after I file my taxes.

This year, I sat down to do them and was astonished to see how much I owe. Yes, you read that right. Owe. I was floating on a cloud of newly accrued savings bliss, and now I am floating on a storm cloud of hatred for forms and lines.

I’m just being grumpy. I love adulthood. I love freedom and responsibility. I love taking charge of things. I love all of that, but I so hate stuff like library fines (finally got them again after over a year without them), parking tickets, and newly, taxes.

I guess this is one of the instances where it doesn’t bother you until it happens to you. (I’ve been known to say things like, “I don’t understand why they don’t want tax increases! What about the good of the people?” But now I may some day be quoted as saying, “Grumble grumble grumble….taxes.”)

I will pay with grace. It is a privilege to participate in government, even if my participation is involuntary. Use my money wisely, government, that’s all I’m asking.

[Second – and last, I swear – side note: This is a super cool use of government and citizen willingness to cooperate for good – Englewood, Colorado has this concrete utility. It’s voluntary to participate, but you pay into it and then if your sidewalk or curb needs repaired, they’ll fix it for free! You would have had to get it fixed or face trouble anyway, so this is the ultimate solution. You pay into something at a pretty low rate and then when you need help, they’ll evaluate your damage and fit you into their schedule. I called the utility to ask them about it before we moved, and I had the best conversation with the guy who worked there. He was so friendly and so willing to answer all of my weird concrete questions. Caveat: once you’ve gotten assistance from the concrete utility, your participation in the program is no longer voluntary. But that makes total sense, so I bet they don’t get many complaints about it.]

On Joy, Happily

The shameless hipster that lives in me felt the need to post this quote today. The impulsive emoter (psssh, it’s a word now) that shares the space agrees. Deal with it.

“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”

– Jack Kerouac

After spending the better part of the last month fighting a strange bout of utterly consuming melancholy, I seem to have emerged radiating joy. I can feel good energy flowing around me, and I’ve noticed that the world seems to be noticing that as well. I’ve been having the best conversations with friends and strangers; I’ve been smiling and laughing; I’ve been hooked by the promise of what is still to come.

I heard someone talking about what they’ve learned about grief and pain – they said that someone once told them that instead of fighting it, you should just let the waves of emotion wash over you. I did exactly that. Instead of struggling, I let the seemingly infinite sadness surround me.

Apparently, my life force was too much for the sadness, and I’ve been returned to my usual state of good humor. Oh, how I had missed it. This weekend was my first full-on return to joyous revelry.

I ended up in Boulder on Friday night at a show that my friends were excited about. They told me that some guy named Dave Au Jus would be playing…and all I could imagine was a man holding a French dip sandwich. As it turns out, there were no sandwiches nor a man who spells his last name Au Jus (très disappointing on both counts). The man, Dave Aju, was more amazing than a sandwich. I had a blast. I forget how much I like to dance. As much as I gently ridicule my friends for their love of “techno parties,” I’ve never had a bad time at one and I always end up having some sort of excellent adventure.

An excellent adventure it was. I ended up on a porch at an after-party trying to find Orion in the sky – I was extremely disappointed to find that the night had progressed so far that he had slipped away, but the people around me were kind enough to provide me with their sky maps so that I could search. (Note to self: find more constellations to love. I can find Jupiter, sometimes, or Cassiopeia, but other than that, I’ve got nothing. Not even the Big Dipper.) I slipped back into my house at 6 am, an hour I’ve not seen from the side of night in ages, desperate to find sleep before the sun started to creep into the sky.

***

Saturday brought a lingering breakfast of coffee and bagels, then babysitting. I didn’t see the girls last week, and it’s funny how much I missed them. From there, it was off to get ready for the drag ball and Emily’s birthday celebration.

This is the lovely birthday girl!

My costume and a direwolf – he made that himself and the hood was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. I would very much like to own one.

More of us, but with my wig:

Since it was a drag ball, there were categories that people would walk in to win trophies and glory. I ended up judging at the last minute because one of the judges didn’t show. It was part terrifying, part really fun.

Jacob and Gina are beautiful people – Jacob won the (S)Executive Realness category for his stunning outfit and walking ability. (You should have seen the suit jacket he wore.)

Sunday brought brunch – if you ever need to lure me out of bed, just say “brunch” and I’m there. You might also want to say “bacon,” “gravy,” or “mimosas.”  Then I’ll hurry.

After the drag ball, there was quite a flurry of internet activity, mostly comments about the party the night before. The original “Denver is Burning” drag ball was held last year in a DIY space. The party was a smashing success. It wasn’t repeated due to space issues – it’s really hard to find a good place to hold a sweet party sometimes.

[Odd side note – that silver cuff that I wear was gifted to me by an artist who was painting in the same building that night. I wandered in and apologized for bothering him, but I was fascinated by his work. He gave me the cuff and a necklace. It’s become one of my most treasured possessions, and I think of that man fondly every time I wear it.]

The chief dissenting comments discussed voguing, ball culture in general, and racial issues related to all of it. It is frustrating to see such good intentions be torn apart by misunderstanding. It also reminds me that Denver’s racial demographics aren’t conducive to creating the underground ball scene that Harlem saw in times past. Denver just isn’t that diverse.

Granted, some of the categories were a bit weird. Game of Thrones? Totally shouldn’t have been a category (even though I loved it). But it was awesome. I wish you could have been there – there was music and dancing, and I ran into friends that I haven’t seen in ages. Everyone looked amazing, and free, and happy. Isn’t that what life is all about? (Minus the looking amazing part. Just the free and happy part.)

Some people were frustrated about what they perceived to be the over-involvement of white people. As a white person who spends a ton of time in the gay/queer scene, I find it frustrating that people are so quick to jump on race like that. I was born white and straight. I can’t help that. But it doesn’t mean that I should be excluded from activities because of my biological sex, my gender, my race, my sexual orientation, etc. (Isn’t all that inclusion what we’re all working for?! We’re working backwards if we can’t start to love people of all colors, genders, body types, hair colors, whatever. Also include my obligatory “understanding of white privilege” statement, but I’m not going any further into it because it doesn’t apply here.)

Plenty of appropriate thought was put into it – plenty of links about the origination of ball culture and voguing were shared in the lead up to the party. Plenty of respect is held by everyone for the original ball culture, the original intent of ball culture, and the struggles that people have faced while trying to achieve the equality, respect, and recognition that they deserve.

Ball culture will never be what it once was – it’s impossible, not because of people’s refusal to embrace tradition, but because of the fact that situations have changed drastically. The world is a different place now in some ways, and exactly the same in others. The people who threw this party wanted to be respectful of the past, but also embrace something new. It’s how things will work, communities will grow, and people can become more educated.

I think that it did open up a very important dialogue, but it was hard to watch the pain that my friends felt – they worked so hard, and with such pure intentions, to create something magical. I hope that this doesn’t stop more like this from happening in the future – Denver could use more of it, and needs people to remain involved and motivated to create beautiful things.

***

I returned home from brunch to be lazy and do nothing. It was lovely. I killed some bugs on the side of the house. (That’s a lie – I made my brother do it.) Then I did some googling about said bugs. They’re harmless but annoying, and I imagine that the Barrys vs bugs battle that will undoubtedly take place this coming spring and summer will be nothing short of frustrating. (I can be a very determined woman – those bugs haven’t seen anything yet.)

***

When I was 18, I dated a guy who always used to tell me he was going to make me a bunch of rocks that said “Katie” on them. So they’d be Katie rocks. (Get it? I rock!) This weekend, my phone dinged and told me I had a message – there, out of the blue, was a picture of a rock with my name on it. A Katie rock. The caption? “I know it’s been years, but you still rock.” My heart cracked into a million pieces and a huge smile spread across my face. It absolutely made my day.

***

And so now it’s back to work, back to reality, back to responsibility, but with a renewed energy. I’m back to being my radiant weird self and I’m beyond thrilled about it.