I step out the front door, onto the dark porch, and the warm yellow light pours past me onto the floor boards and I look up and see the moon, bonewhite and dazzling, just past first quarter, lighting up a sky dotted with glowing cottony greywhite clouds and I think, I am a person on a planet.
This planet exists in space and the moon does too and we are whirling together, facing towards and away from a star so massive that I can’t imagine it in any meaningful way, only feel it in my throat and the pit of my stomach. And I think, this planet is dying, well, not the planet, us, and most of the other quick life on this planet. What is that called? It’s bigger than genocide, there must be a word for it, and here we are at the end of the world, or maybe not maybe we can stop it, and it just feels like Wednesday night.
It feels like sitting on the steps of the front porch, feeling the summer breeze, warm as water and smelling like a hundred different flowers, and looking up at the moon. The end of us is coming and we are still playing and putting our babies to sleep and snuggling on the couch and eating candy and trying and failing and fucking and fucking up and trying again and making dinner and arguing and feeling hurt and confused and elated and peaceful and flirting and loving each other and trying so hard to heal and to imagine something different and to make a new world, and we want to live! We look up at the moon and think, we want to live.
CN: Holocaust references
I came into the shul and it was full, packed to standing room in the back, with people sitting on the floor. And then we were going to say kaddish. Normally when you do this, the people who are in mourning stand up if they are able to, and the rabbi looks around and when she looks toward you, you say the name of the person you are mourning for and when everyone is done the mourners lead the prayer and it’s quiet and solemn and orderly. But this time everyone who was able to stood up and this whole crowded shul was full of people standing. And then the rabbi said to everyone, say the names of the people you are mourning for, and people said them, all at once, in a huge crashing wave of names going in every direction, and then it was over. And she said, more. And people said more names and we were crying and the names welled up and filled the shul, up to the roof, and then we were quiet. And she said, more! And people said more and more names, jagged and chaotic and loud, and one person said, I don’t know their names! And then we were quiet. And she talked about how we mourn for everyone whose names we can say, and also for those who died without even the dignity of a name to be remembered, and how there are a limited number of souls and we share them, from generation to generation, l’dor vador, and no one can ever fall out of that cycle or be lost, even if we don’t know their names, even if we can’t remember. And then we said kaddish together.
She talked about how grief has to come before action, grief is essential, feeling and facing our grief allows us to stay human. And about how joy is an act of defiance.
She told us the story of the Lublin Jews who sang mir veln zey iberlebn, we will outlive you, in defiance, when Nazis took them out to an empty field and ordered them to sing.
I went to another event later, even though I was late and a mess, because I couldn’t stand to be alone. It was in this tiny, rickety white shul, and I could see a few people inside. As I walked in, a friend came running up to me and threw herself into my arms, sobbing, and we held each other and cried, and then a year later we pulled back and she said, I’m glad you came, would you like a cookie, and I said yes and she gave me one. There were five or six of us, sitting in a circle on the ground, with a few others off to the side. They talked quietly and passed around whiskey and chocolate cookies and I ate cookies and didn’t say anything because I couldn’t think of anything to say. I just held hands with my friend and listened. And then most people left but a few of us stayed and did readings with an oracle deck. While we were doing that, someone went outside and saw that the neighbors had left flowers on the steps, a big crystal vase full of the last autumn dahlias from someone’s yard, with a card that said, you do not cry alone tonight. We all started to cry again and a different person threw themselves into my arms, and after a while we stopped and did one more reading, and there was a cat sitting in front of the heater and she was so quiet and serene and beautiful and I watched her and felt safe.
I am part of so many communities, overlapping in complex, difficult ways. We are full of so much fear and grief and courage and defiance.
The lesson of the Lublin Jews in the empty field--one of the lessons--is this: they died. We don’t know what happened to them for sure; all we know is that of the 42,000 Jews of Lublin, 300 lived. But even though they almost certainly died, we still outlived the Nazis. WE did.
Some of us have died. Some of us are going to die in the days to come. All of us will eventually die. But we can still be defiant, in our bottomless grief and collective identity and history and power, in the joy of our solidarity and the peace of showing the fuck up for what we know is right even when it’s dangerous, we can still fight and we can still win and we can outlive them.
Mir veln zey iberlebn.
CN: sexual assault and abuse, no detailed descriptions.
A lot of people are saying a lot of stuff on the internet about the Kavanaugh nomination. It's bringing up so much for almost everyone who has experienced sexual assault or trauma, and there's so much pain around how to talk about it and who gets included and what all of the consequences of that are. I thought I knew a lot about sexual assault before this week, but I am learning so much so fast about the depth and breadth and complexity of experience around sexual assault and abuse.
One of the most intense things for me was a discussion about including nonbinary people in women's spaces created to address sexual assault, and how folks want to be inclusive but that can feel really complicated and sometimes bad to nonbinary people. It brought to the surface a bunch of feelings that I've been wrestling with for a while, and I want to share them.
[Note: I am speaking from my own experience. I am not speaking for all nonbinary people. Please listen to other nonbinary people when they tell you their experiences and needs, which may be totally different from mine.]
I’m an AFAB genderqueer femme who is perceived as a cis woman 99.9% of the time unless I out myself. I can go into virtually any women’s space and be welcomed. This is, for the most part, because people are actively misgendering me or, if I’m out to them, because they don’t understand what I’m talking about when I say I’m genderqueer. And I am constantly being placed in women’s space without my consent when I am misgendered in public and private spaces, every day, all day.
I’ve also often been invited into “women and nonbinary” spaces, and I have a lot of complicated feelings about that. I know it's done with good intentions. And it’s true that in terms of how the world treats me, I have a huge amount of overlap with women. But, to be clear: I’m really, actually, FOR REALS not a woman. I’m not mostly-a-woman, or pretty-much-a-woman, or for-all-practical-purposes-a-woman. I’m genderqueer, and for me that is something totally separate from being a woman. And being invited into women’s spaces as a nonbinary/genderqueer person often (although not always) feels like being rounded up to “woman,” especially since these spaces are almost always centered on women’s needs and experiences.
[Note: I’m NOT suggesting that folks stop inviting nonbinary people into women and nonbinary spaces. I'm not even suggesting that people stop inviting me into women and nonbinary spaces, because some of them really are inviting me to bring my whole self. They are also pretty much the only spaces to get support around sexual assault and abuse, and what doesn't work for me may work fine for someone else. I just want people to have the awareness that it's really complicated. I do think that organizers should check in with people individually, when possible, and ask them if they personally want to be invited—even though the answer to that might be complicated.]
I also don't agree with the idea that we make spaces safe by excluding men. This is not to say that I don’t support women-only spaces or see the value of them—I absolutely do. But women-only space is not a safe space either.
I’ve been abused and assaulted and harassed by men; I know very few people for whom this is not true. I'm incredibly suspicious of men. As a result, I spend almost all of my time in spaces that do not center men, and my relationships, platonic and romantic, are almost exclusively with women and nonbinary people. And you know what? That has not kept me safe.
My first abuser was a woman and my most recent abuser was a woman. The first person who sexually harassed me in a professional context was a woman and the boss who told me there was nothing she could do about it was a woman. I spent several years working in an intentionally all-woman environment—created in explicit response to men’s violence against women—and abuse of power there was fucking rampant.
It’s scary to even talk about that because I know there are assholes just waiting to wave it around and say, see, sexism is a myth, which is not what I’m saying. What’s true is that sexism gives men a huge set of tools they can use for abuse of power. It makes them complicit in misogyny no matter what their personal choices are, just like any group in a position of relative privilege in a hierarchy. So it makes sense that men are far more likely than women to be abusive in relationships between men and women, and while I'm not familiar with the data, I think it's likely that most sexual assault and abuse, if you look at a population level, is being done by men.
But population-level data doesn’t mean shit when you are experiencing abuse. Women (and nonbinary people) still have tools they can use to abuse power (racism, heterosexism, ableism, etc.). And abusers don’t always have more privilege than the people they abuse.
Women are not more evolved than men, or more peaceful or more cooperative or any of that gender essentialist bullshit. If a given set of women are behaving better than a given set of men, maybe it’s because they understand power and privilege and are choosing to behave differently. Or maybe it’s because there aren’t any major power imbalances in the group along lines of privilege other than gender. I don’t know why it is. But it’s not just because they are women.
I feel like we are still working with an incredibly heteronormative conception of what abuse looks like. While that works well for people whose experiences of sexual assault and abuse fall along those lines (regardless of their actual sexual orientations), it also makes it really hard to name a lot of the violence that goes on in our lives.
The people who are most likely to abuse and assault us are the people we are close to: our families and chosen families and our friends and our partners and our dates. To give just one example, if the people you are dating are not men or mostly not men, the people you are most likely to be sexually assaulted by? Not men. Naming that doesn’t erase the vast and brutal reality of men’s violence against women—it adds to the complexity of it.
So for me, it’s not just that I feel like I’m being actively or low-key misgendered when I’m invited into women’s spaces, and sometimes when I’m invited into women and nonbinary spaces. It’s also that when I want to talk about my experiences of abuse and assault, some of the abusers I want to talk about are women and those experiences count.
I have tons of points of commonality and connection with women abused by men, but that doesn’t make my experience the same as theirs. And solutions that work for them do not necessarily work for me.
I think the overall discussion about abuse and sexual assault needs to get way, way more complex. Not in every space, but in some spaces. I don’t want to take up too much of this current cultural space because I get that it’s not about me and my experiences, but the problem is that there aren’t any other spaces.
The only time there’s a major public discussion about sexual assault is when a woman is assaulted by a man. And those are only happening at scale right now because white women have been the victims (see, e.g., the current iteration of #metoo and the Kavanaugh hearings). That’s fucked up. Yes, we should be having discussions about men's violence against women, times one million. We literally cannot talk about it enough. It is so necessary!
But we should be having a lot of other discussions too. There is also a super real privilege dynamic around binary vs non-binary gender identities, and while I get that it’s complicated as shit, I’m really, really ready for some 201-level discussions about gender and abuse and sexual assault.
This is a Facebook post that got really big, and I don't know how to end it. I'm sad and frustrated and tired and I know everyone else is too. Thanks for listening,