The Terrorist Who Looks Like You

•November 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

This last week we have seen an outpouring of Islamophobia in the United States.  It has been predictable, in the wake of the attacks in Paris and the heightened attention being granted Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States and Europe.  It has also been heartbreaking, and has prompted some truly problematic rhetoric from high-profile individuals within this country.

Much of this rhetoric has been a reversion to the “Muslims are terrorists” argumentation we saw in the early 2000s.  Of course, this rhetoric doesn’t even come close to the reality of Islam: the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists (and I only even included a link there for those looking for further reading, not because I think this should require statistical substantiation).  There’s really no good argument as to why we allow people to assign this blanket label to practitioners of a major world religion because a very small subset uses the religion to justify their use of violence, when we do not do so for any other group.

The real explanation is, I suspect, that terrorists from the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia do not look like us, while those who commit acts of terror here in the US do.  But I would entreat those who claim that America’s problem comes from terrorists who identify as Muslims.  The terrorist that looks like you is a terrorist still, and domestic terror is certainly an ongoing and too-often invisible battle in the United States.

The argument I’ve heard in response to this is that “Islamic terrorists have a coordinated agenda, but violence in the United States is random”.  Certainly not all violence in the United States has to do with the perpetuation of particular agendas, but pretending that none of it does, just because a large amount is not carried out in the name of a specific group, is just ignoring the reality of racialized and gendered violence in the U.S.

Besides that, in case anyone had not noticed, violence is carried out in the name of organized hate groups like the KKK.  Just a few short months ago, attendees at a KKK rally in North Carolina were overheard discussing wiping out Black people in the state in response to the removal of the Confederate flag, a well-known symbol of racism and oppression in the American South. And the problem hardly ends with the KKK: from threats against African-American students at the University of Missouri to the anonymous threats made against students at Howard University in Washington, DC to those made at Michigan Tech, it no longer matters if there is a central organizing force.  The reality is that racialized violence in the United States does not appear to be going anywhere, and recent waves of threats at universities are indicative of a trend designed to frighten Black college students into missing classes and compromising their education.  If terrorism is the use of fear and violence to promote a political end, threats and violence against Black university students certainly seems to fit the mold.

Student leaders of Concerned Student 1950 address protesters at the University of Missouri demanding policies promoting greater inclusivity and safety for Black students

But white terrorism in the United States unfortunately doesn’t even end with the targeting of Black individuals; it extends very much to targeting institutions meant to foster community and support a way of life for people.  With recent threats against Black churches and Jewish synagogues in the news once again, it is important to remember that White supremacists in the U.S. have notoriously targeted places of worship, and have targeted all kinds of non-white groups plus Jewish Americans in their efforts to uphold a society dominated by white Christians.  These recent events should not be interpreted as isolated incidents divorced from any kind of broader narrative of violence: there is a substantial recent history of threats and violence against Black churches in the US, including numerous cases of arson, and threats against church members when congregations have made public statements about racial affairs.

That’s a whole lot of white Christian violence, without even touching on violence against the American Muslim community.  Hate crimes against Muslim Americans are still occurring at high rates, according to the FBI, and the Southern Poverty Law Center predicts that these numbers will continue to climb through 2015.  The shootings in Chapel Hill, NC, were just one recent high-profile example; there have been numerous crimes against Muslim individuals, not to mention threats against a large number of mosques in the United States and harassment of mosque members or defacement of the facilities.

Just for good measure, I want to include a mention of anti-choice violence in the United States, which is alarmingly common and not treated in our discussions as terrorism.  Threats against the lives of medical professionals and clinics, even in light of the Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, continues to pervade this country as anti-abortion activists work to prevent individuals from seeking desired and legal medical services.  Intimidation tactics and even direct acts of violence have been utilized in the name of being pro-life, and while we treat it just as the clash of ideas, it is certainly far more menacing than a simple debate.

Lastly, but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the prevalence of white male violence across the United States.  Statistically speaking, white men are the most likely to commit mass shootings.  97% of school shooters in recent years have been male, and 79% have been white, numbers too great to be a statistical accident.  Many experts assert that toxic masculinity is a major contributor to male violence, and that privilege plays a role in allowing white men to justify taking violent actions.  A 2013 study at the University of Washington found a notable correlation between feelings of entitlement and homicidal revenge against particular groups, including women or black individuals.  Those statistics play out on both ends: according to the Huffington Post’s analysis, approximately 64% of mass shooting victims are women and children.  Add this to other statistics about gender-based and intimate partner violence, and one starts to see a broad pattern of violence, intimidation, and coercion by those who are currently privileged within our society against those who are not.

When American politicians argue that we cannot let in Syrian refugees because a few among them might be terrorists, they fundamentally miss the point: acts of terror take place in the US more often than we would like to admit. It would be absurd if I said that all white Christian men in the US were terrorists-~-it wouldn’t make any sense-~-but that’s the same rhetoric we use when discussing terrorism and Islam.  But on top of that, when we talk about terrorism solely in terms of the acts of a few groups based overseas, we delegitimize the experiences of those targeted by white, domestic terrorism in the United States.  Fear is still very much a tactic used by those who currently hold particular positions of power and privilege in America to keep other groups in line, to prevent them from feeling safe or from reaching for further rights or opportunities, and this violence needs to be addressed.  It’s past time that we take this violence seriously, and certainly past time that we admitted that terrorists who look like us are still terrorists, no matter how uncomfortable that truth may be.


Getting Amped Up for Transgender Awareness Week

•November 23, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It’s no longer October, which means my posting on Domestic Violence won’t stop, but it’ll be a little more intermittent.  It’s time to redirect attention to the MYRIAD of other issues worth discussing, starting with the recently-passed Transgender Awareness Week.

(For the record, this post was originally schedule to go up a week ago, as a lead-in to Transgender Awareness Week, but some sort of glitch seems to have prevented its earlier publication; apologies)

TW: Violence, Trans-targeted violence

Let me be clear: feminism as a movement needs to care about the trans community.  Trans women are women, and trans folks of all genders deserve respect and dignity that they are too often denied in our society.  Their issues intersect with all the issues the feminist movement claims to care about: sexual assault, domestic violence, homelessness, employment discrimination, reproductive justice (the list goes on and is unsurprising since trans people are, after all, people who therefore face problems that cut across our society), along with some unique issues related to violence, acceptance, healthcare, media representation, etc.  I’m not trans, and I won’t try to speak for the trans community, but I will say this: we should never speak over the trans community, but those in a position to do so have an obligation to speak up for them when we can.

The reality is that being trans in the United States is often not an easy experience. While transition surgery is becoming more and more accessible via insurance, one needs to actually be insured to access that benefit, and some health plans will exclude surgeries commonly used in transition if they are linked to gender dysphoria or gender transition.  That’s a problem, but it’s far from the only one.  The trans community disproportionately experiences poverty and homelessness, especially since trans individuals experience unemployment at twice the rate of their cisgender counterparts, and rules regarding homeless shelters and other housing programs can make it difficult to help those in need.  This isn’t overly surprising, since many housing discrimination laws don’t cover gender identity, and may states continue to fail to protect individuals from employment discrimination based on gender identity as well.

Given that Trans Awareness Week led up to the Trans Day of Remembrance, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the issue of anti-trans violence.  The statistics related to transphobic violence in the U.S are staggering: of anti-LGBT homicides in the United States in 2013, 72% of the victims were trans women (and 67% of the victims were specifically trans women of color).  That’s not even counting other forms of physical or sexual violence targeting trans individuals, which is alarming as well: 75% of openly trans students have reported feeling unsafe at school, and according to the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crimes, as many as 1 in 2 trans individuals may experience sexual assault or sexual abuse over the course of their lives.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that trans people are just victims: they’re not.  I do want to draw attention to why Transgender Awareness Week and the Trans Day of Remembrance are so important, but I also want to reiterate that the best way to learn about trans issues is always going to be by listening to trans individuals. Check out Laverne Cox’s videos on “the T word”, and on issues facing the trans community.  Read Janet Mock’s book, Redefining Realnessand this article she wrote on Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover. Check out Susan Kuklin’s collection, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, in which the author interviewed six transgender and agender adolescents to allow them to tell their own stories.  Take a moment to look through some of Meredith Talusan’s articles and op-eds on trans issues in the U.S, or Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw, or heck, any of these books on transgender lives and issues.  And don’t forget to look at this incredible collection of videos put together by GLAAD for Transgender Awareness Week.

In general, I think learning more about these issues is an important step in becoming a better ally; more informed people are less likely to make easy mistakes in talking about trans issues or to trans individuals.  I had meant that to be a lead-up to the Trans Week of Action, but even with the Week of Action behind us, we shouldn’t pretend that we can afford for this discourse to be limited to one week.  That said, I’d like to re-focus a bit on allyship in general, and ways that we as cisgendered activists can better support the trans community.

First off, for anyone new to allyship for the trans community, just some very quick basics.  Always defer to the experiences and voices of trans individuals: you are supporting their work, not talking over them.  Always be respectful of pronoun preferences, even if switching pronouns after knowing someone for a while feels strange; avoid deadnaming (using a name that a trans individual was assigned at birth which they no longer use) since it is dismissive of a trans person’s identity.  If you’re going to ask questions, ask politely, and be respectful: transition is none of your business unless a trans person chooses to bring it up with you of their own accord.  Cisgender fascination with physical transition often derails important discussions.

Second, pay attention when acts of violence are committed against the trans community.  Pay attention to how those around you are talking about it, and do what you can to make these events more visible.  America will never solve the problems that the trans community faces here if they are not forced to recognize what is happening.  Speak up also when you see acts of aggression, even microaggressions, being committed against trans persons you know.  Correct people if you hear them misgendering someone; it’s not enough, but it is certainly better than remaining silent.  And don’t forget to pay attention to employment and housing non-discrimination legislation when it is introduced at the state level; actively supporting laws to protect trans individuals is a concrete step you can take in using your voice to help.

This won’t be my last post on these issues-~-far from it-~-but I hope I have at least made my point in saying that we need to talk about these issues a lot more.  I haven’t given trans issues enough coverage on this blog, and I’ll work to improve that in the next several months.  If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming writer and would like to submit a post on your experiences or on an issue of your choice, please contact me at

Seven Things to Know About Trauma Recovery

•November 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

One of the things I’ve noticed, over all this time I’ve spent dealing with trauma and working with trauma survivors, is that there is a lot of confusion or lack of understanding as to what trauma recovery entails or how trauma can impact survivors.  I want to be clear from the start of this post, I’m not a psychologist or a licensed clinical social worker, but these observations do come from my observations and the accounts of other survivors I know, so take them as you will.  Here are some general things about trauma worth knowing:

1. Trauma impacts everyone differently

Everyone experiences trauma differently, and the details of any two traumatic experiences are likely to be very different as well.  This means that just because you have experienced a trauma, does not mean that everyone’s precise experience will match yours; and likewise, just because you have known someone or been close to someone who identified as a trauma survivors does not mean that the experience they conveyed to you can be universalized.  Respect the personal and unique ways that trauma colors people’s experiences and be open to learning about how the particular individual you’re talking to experiences trauma, if they are willing to share

2. Trauma recovery is non-linear

Just because it seems like someone has been doing well does not mean that they won’t experience backsliding or relapsing; and just because someone does seem to be slipping doesn’t mean they aren’t still recovering.  Trauma recovery is non-linear, which means that a bad week doesn’t mean that the whole process of recovery has been derailed, and a good week doesn’t mean that everything is totally solved.  It is okay and completely normal for a survivor to experience a mix of both.

3. If anything, trauma recovery is seasonal or cyclical

This is a relatively anecdotal observation, but given that certain events of times of year, like holidays or anniversaries of events or relationships, can stir up difficult feelings, it makes sense that people would swing through good and bad periods and then shift back between them.  This can last for a while, so don’t be upset or put off when a friend is still dealing with difficult memories three or four years out from a trauma; that doesn’t mean they are necessarily always struggling, or like they haven’t made progress.  It just means that certain times of year may be more difficult for them.

4. Triggers are not always what you think they will be

While detailed discussion of certain topics can be enough to stir up difficult emotions, the things that are more likely to be triggers for people are new iterations of events that prompted abuse, the use of similar phrases to those an abuser or attacker used, certain smells that prompt abrupt memory recall, narratives that are very similar to the survivor’s own experiences, certain dates or events on the calendar, songs that had meaning in a relationship, etc.  (For example, if a certain song was playing while someone was being sexually assaulted, you wouldn’t necessarily know that, but hearing the song could potentially trigger the survivor).  Be respectful if someone points out that something is difficult or triggering, and if you want to more actively support the survivor, just ask what they need.

5. Everyone responds to triggers in different ways

There is no one thing that happens when someone is triggered with regards to a trauma, or when someone encounters a difficult anniversary.  They may become quiet and withdrawn and need to be alone; they may need to cry; they may have dissociative episodes; they may start shaking; they may need physical contact to help them ground themselves; they may feel like their symptoms are exacerbated by physical contact.  Just because you or another survivor you know experiences triggers in a certain way, or just because a certain thing helps you or someone you know, does not mean this will hold true for everyone.  If you want to be helpful, again, just ask the survivor in question what they need and respond accordingly.

6. Trauma is not necessarily a stand-alone event

Some traumas are, in and of themselves, complex traumas: abusive relationships that include sexual assault, traumatic experiences that become tied to suicide attempts, etc.  Other times, a trauma may not seem explicitly linked to other difficult or traumatic incidents in a person’s life, but may be more subtly connected; this can be particularly true in cases where a survivor of childhood abuse is later re-victimized as an adult, especially if there are similarities in the pattern of their abuse.  Be aware that trying to dig through the emotional baggage of one trauma can cause a survivor to re-open wounds that they never thought they’d have to revisit, and that recovery dealing with complex trauma can be a long and difficult process.  Have patience for your friends who are struggling and remember that even if it takes a long time and doesn’t always seem like progress is happening (see #2), your friends are taking steps towards healing and your support can help them get there.

7. Trauma recovery sucks

I’ve heard so many trauma survivors say this, and it’s true: recovery sucks.  Unpacking unpleasant things that have happened to you is painful, difficult, and exhausting.  Coming to terms with a traumatic event often means revisiting the trauma (and possibly interrelated incidents; see #6). There are times when recovery feels like it will never end; there are times when it feels like you are fighting against an enemy that has the ability to just overwhelm you.  And because people can be supportive but no one can actually go through the process with you, parts of recovery feel lonely, sad, and isolating.  Those are the parts where support can matter the most, though: if you know a friend is going through trauma recovery and they seem withdrawn, check in with them, and remember that there is no right way to experience recovery, and no right length of time for recovery to take.

8. Recovery is worth the mess

I know that I said there are seven things I wanted people to know when interacting with survivors, but there’s an 8th thing I want to say, and I would particularly want survivors themselves to hear this: if you are going through trauma recovery and you feel overwhelmed, if you feel like you can’t keep fighting, if you feel like maybe it isn’t worth it, you are not alone.  So many people feel this way at some point in their recovery process, and that is 100% okay.  Even if the light at the end of the tunnel seems tiny and distant, please remember that it is there, and you can make it.  Let yourself feel bad on the bad days, but remember to take care of yourself when those days come: remember to engage in active self-care, give yourself space as needed, and reach out for support.

If you need additional help, please check out the following resources:

81 Mental Health Resources When You Can’t Afford a Therapist (includes resources for depression, PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders, and other common mental health needs)

Hotlines for when you really just need someone to talk to

Mentor-Connect, which pairs up individuals who are going through recovery for eating disorders with others who have already gone through recovery to provide additional support

RAINN’s list of nationally available resources for survivors of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and CSA

MaleSurvivor, which provides support to male survivors of sexual and domestic violence

Collection of self-care tips, suggestions, and resources

5 Ways You Can Help Make a Difference In the Fight Against Domestic Violence

•October 23, 2015 • Leave a Comment

As we continue on our journey through Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I want everyone to realize two things: 1) domestic violence impacts every community, so even if it has not impacted you directly, odds are it has impacted someone you know, and 2) there are things you can do about it.

There is no magic button you can press to alleviate the problems of domestic violence (though if wishing made it so…), but there ARE things you can do to help in the fight against domestic violence, even if they sometimes seem small.

1 Talk About It.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month may only last throughout October, but make it your mission to have important conversations about this subject year-round.  Educate yourself about domestic violence so that when the opportunity to teach others arises, you’ll be prepared. Learn more about how to spot the signs of an abusive relationship, before physical violence necessarily occurs, and learn more about how to talk to a friend you’re concerned may be experiencing abuse.  When you hear people make comments that are victim-blaming or that minimize issues like intimate partner violence or sexual assault, speak up.  You don’t know what kind of difference you could make.

2 Volunteer with a Local Domestic Violence Organization

One of the tricky things about victims’ services is that many across the country operate on a 24/7 schedule.  That kind of service is often only possible with the help of dedicated volunteers who can take hotline shifts or perform other tasks that help keep the organization running.  You can find information about what kinds of organizations might exist in your community by searching the National DV Hotline’s database, which is organized by state, or searching your state’s coalition against domestic violence’s organization, which will usually have resources organized by county.  If you are between the ages of 21 and 26 and live in DC or LA, you may also be able to apply to be a peer educator with Break the Cycle.

3 Donate Supplies to a Local Domestic Violence Shelter

Domestic violence shelters often help individuals who have to leave their home with little notice, who aren’t able to bring a lot with them.  Though this is a great time of year to think about donating supplies, keep in mind that DV shelters need help getting the things they need year-round.  Every shelter’s specific needs are different, but in general, many shelters need things like non-perishable food, things for children (coloring books and crayons, small stuffed animals), toiletries (things like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and deodorant), and sanitary products (tampons and sanitary pads).  Check with your local program to see if they accept donations of things like clothing; some do and some do not.

4 Support Anti-Domestic Violence Organizations Nationally or Near You

I’ve already listed resources to locate community-based domestic violence organizations, and I’m a big proponent of supporting them in the work that they do, both with time or with money.  But you can also contribute to organizations that work on a larger scale, and you can find a list of some truly wonderful organizations working to combat domestic violence here.  In particular, I wanted to highlight a few great organizations I’ve been lucky enough to see in action.  Break the Cycle focuses on interventions with individuals ages 18-24, the demographic most at-risk for intimate partner violence, to help stop the cycle of victimization.  Futures Without Violence focuses on the connection between medical care and domestic violence interventions, providing training and technical assistance to medical professionals to help them better screen for and intervene in cases of domestic abuse.  Mending the Sacred Hoop is a unique organization focused on Native American communities, which face disproportionately high rates of domestic violence but often have limited resources.  Do you research and choose an organization that you feel good about supporting!

5 Stand Up for Survivors Politically

There are a ton of issues that intersect with domestic violence: affordable housing, access to low-cost healthcare, access to reproductive health services, immigration laws, consent education, and so many others, in addition to the direct funding of domestic violence programs across the country.  Contact your national and state-level politicians and let them know how important these issues are to you.  Write to your Senators and urge them to stand with Planned Parenthood.  Pay attention to how proposed policies might impact survivors, and stand up for survivors of domestic violence when the opportunities arise.

Domestic violence may be a pervasive problem in the United States, but there are ways to help.  This National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, take a moment to think about the ways in which this issue might impact your friends, family, and community, and how you can make a difference.  Together, we can all take steps to reduce domestic violence and protect survivors in our communities.

Self-Care in a Month of Trauma Recognition

•October 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

“Self-care” is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot, but it’s one that is worth understanding.  Activists and trauma professionals alike use this term to address a very real need to attend to one’s mental and spiritual health, especially when encountering triggering or draining subjects or events.  For many who work in social work fields, or are activists on issues that carry emotional weigh-~-and of course, for those who struggle with their own issues in their own lives, be that a history of trauma or anxiety or just situational difficulties-~-self-care refers to the mechanisms by which we help uphold our own health and re-prioritize our own needs.

As we work our way through Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I want to give a big shout-out to everyone who is experiencing this heightened awareness as an inundation with domestic violence stories, articles, and conversations.  Having this discourse is obviously valuable, but especially for DV professionals and survivors, it can be triggering or further cause burnout. (And just as a reminder to all my readers out there, “triggering” doesn’t mean “makes someone feel uncomfortable”, it means “makes someone feel like they are mentally or emotionally re-living a traumatic experience”).  To all of you I say, hang in there, and please don’t forget to take care of yourself!

That said, we talk about “taking care of ourselves” all the time, but other than sleeping and making sure we consume food, what does that look like?  Here are just a couple of self-care ideas and sites to take a look at if you are feeling overwhelmed, this month or ever.

  1. Reconnect with your spirituality.  Go to your house of worship for a service, to talk to a religious leader, or just to sit and think.  Reconnecting with this part of your identity, if it is a part of your identity, can sometimes help people feel renewed and refreshed.
  2. Make sure you’re eating well, not just eating.  People tend to eat more when they are stressed, so make sure that what you’re putting in your body makes you feel good.  If you can, keep healthy snacks like fruits, cut or baby vegetables, nuts, trail mix, or cheese sticks around, and try to make sure you’re eating balanced meals, with at least 2-3 food groups.
  3. Give yourself time to just sit and have a meal or a snack.  Use food as a chance to take a brief break from all the other stuff-~-don’t just work through every meal, or read news articles about the thing that is adding to your stress.  Give yourself a mental break.
  4. Read or watch TV programming just for fun.  Don’t let the fact that an issue is important or speaks to an area of your life mean that it becomes The Thing in your life.  People will tend to send you articles or videos about an issue if they know you care, and that can introduce some interesting ideas into your discourse, but it’s also important to make sure you engage with media you just enjoy, rather than media that forces you to re-engage with your work.
  5. Don’t be afraid to take yourself on a date.  I’ll admit that there’s maybe a degree of financial privilege attached to this, though there doesn’t necessarily have to be. Go on a picnic by yourself and just bring a good book or a notebook to write in.  Go to a movie by yourself, or just plan a night to stay in and watch a movie on Netflix with popcorn popped in your kitchen.  Go to a local restaurant or get ice cream, and let yourself just enjoy it.  There are all kinds of ideas for dates to take yourself on out there, so find one that appeals to you and go for it!
  6. Make sure you stay connected with friends.  Isolation tends to increase feelings of depression, loneliness (shocker), and stress, so if you can, try to make plans with friends.  They don’t have to be big or fancy or involve spending lots of money, they can just be a night of watching TV on the couch, or an afternoon of walking around in a park.  If you live in a city, there are likely lots of free events or museums you can take advantage of if you want to go out, so don’t be shy.  Even if you don’t want to talk about the things that may be bothering you, just spending time with people you like is important.
  7. Do little things that make you feel good.  Paint your nails, do your makeup, wear a face-mask, take a bath, go for a jog, light some candles, play with your cat, take 10 minutes in the morning to stretch, whatever it is that makes you feel like, hey, this was a good moment today.  It’s amazing how small good moments can make a big difference.
  8. Do something creative.  Put together a single scrapbook page of a memory you like to look back on.  Print out adult coloring sheets and let yourself spend some time just coloring (it’s very therapeutic).  Get some blank paper and just draw.  Not visually inclined?  Let yourself write, make up a dance to a favorite song, decorate a cake, play some music if you know how to play an instrument.  There are all kinds of ways to tap into creative energies and let them help you release stress.
  9. Give yourself credit for the little things you accomplish.  Sometimes even just handling basic but important everyday tasks can be a struggle, so give yourself credit for actually getting them done.  You could give yourself little awards, make a list of everything you’ve accomplished in a day/week (even, and especially, the mundane stuff), whatever you want to help you see that you are in fact handling things, even if it feels like you’re falling apart.  Don’t forget to include things like remembering to take your medications if you have any, being compliant with treatment if you are struggling with a mental illness, eating regular meals, and making the list in the first place.
  10. Find a self-care strategy that makes sense for you.  There are tons of resources online to help you explore and develop self-care plans, so pick things that make you feel good, and help you escape from the things that add stress to your life, at least for a few minutes.  Take a look at some of these ideas here, here, and here.

Maybe most importantly, don’t be afraid to admit to yourself or to tell others that you need to take time for these things.  Self-care is part of both service and the healing process, and everyone has a need for it sometimes.  Even after October ends, I hope you’ll keep in mind how important it is to take care of yourself, and develop strategies to do so that work in your life.  Trauma, vicarious trauma, and just general stress are a part of many people’s realities, and there is absolutely no shame in realizing that they need to be addressed.

We Need to Start Talking About Gun Violence as a Feminist Issue

•October 7, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Feminism spans a pretty wide range of issues; everyone knows the old staples (reproductive choice, equal pay, childcare, women in STEM, etc.) but the movement has been growing, in recent years, in an effort to recognize how other issues (including economic issues and racial issues, to name a few) can be examined from a feminist lens.

Today, I want to draw your attention to the issue of gun violence.

First, victims of gun violence are disproportionately disadvantaged groups in the United States, particularly racial minorities and women.  That’s a pretty broad statement, so I’ll break it down into a couple of different issues, the first being police violence.  Across the United States, African-Americans are disproportionately the victims of shootings by police officers.  Take a look at this graph generated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

As feminists have rushed to embrace the #BlackLivesMatter movement, to stand in solidarity with the African-American community, several issues have stood out.  First, people cannot fully achieve their potential if they grow up in communities surrounded by fear.  Racial justice has even been framed in terms of reproductive justice, based on the simple argument that people have the right to have children without fear that they will die as a result of societal imbalances of power.  Second, while the media has drawn significant attention towards the killings of individuals such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the deaths of women of color, and especially trans women of color, tend not to get nearly as much attention.  This is a problem, because women of color are also harmed by racialized violence in the United States, and deserve justice as much as any other victims.

The other major disparity I wanted to highlight, however, is this: mass shootings disproportionately impact women. While opponents of gun control have rushed to once again blame mental illness-~-as they do every time the offender is a lone white shooter-~-and therefore perpetuate the problematic stigmatization of mental illness in the United States, the actual offender has, once again, cited being rejected by women as a motivator of this violence.  A culture of toxic masculinity continues to fuel retaliatory violence, particularly violence towards women, as men who have been socialized to believe that they are entitled to women’s attention and/or affection, romantically, sexually, or otherwise, lash out at innocent individuals.  Given our glorification of violence as masculine and powerful, we shouldn’t be surprised that individuals who believe they are being denied what is rightfully theirs seek to regain their sense of power through the use of violence-~-and our unwillingness to address these issues has had tragic results.

Even mass shootings aside, when you look you can find case after case after case after case after case (you get the point, this happens a lot) of women being physically attacked and even killed after refusing men’s advances.  And that trend doesn’t even take into account gun violence within domestic violence relationships, which I’d be mentioning here even if it weren’t domestic violence awareness month.  The reality is that guns are a major problem in the context of domestic violence relationships, so much so that victims of domestic violence are  up to twenty times more likely to be killed by a violent or controlling intimate partner if the abuser has access to a gun.  According to one study, in 2010 approximately three women per day were killed by their intimate partners in the United States, and the majority of those homicides were committed using a gun.

When you look at these trends of gun violence towards women, they are each shocking, but an international study noted that among high-income countries, the United States was home to 32% of the female population, but accounted for 84% of female homicides.  Read that statistic again, then tell me that gun violence is not a feminist issue.

Earlier this year, female politicians in the United States latched onto these issues to try to revamp their efforts to bring into effect new gun control legislation.  Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Michigan Representative Debbie Dingell are pushing for legislation that would get guns out of the hands of abusers in the form of the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act; Klobuchar also re-introduced legislation this year that would provide similar measure to limit or eliminate access to guns for those convicted of stalking or dating abuse.  Current law prevents those convicted of domestic abuse from possessing firearms, but it doesn’t address individuals who were previously convicted of abusing current or former “dating” partners.  This legislation follows a trend that has been growing at the state level, with over 30 new laws addressing intimate partner violence and gun access having been passed since 2008.   It is worth noting that additional laws also prohibit individuals who have been the subjects of domestic violence-related protective orders from possessing a firearm.

(It is unsurprising, but nevertheless worth noting, that the NRA opposes the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act, claiming that it casts too wide a net to reduce access to guns).

Part of the problem is that domestic violence laws are defined by state, meaning that the relationships qualifying as “domestic abuse” are subject to state-provided definitions.  For many individuals subject to intimate partner violence, this may mean that if they were abused by a partner with whom they did not live or to whom they were not married, the current provisions may not apply to prevent the abuser from accessing a weapon; the proposed legislation aims to change that, to protect more individuals.

The reality is that as long as we continue to ignore how gun violence is used, not on sporadic occasions for self-defense, but in order to uphold systems of power and privilege, we will never be able to meaningfully address how gun violence is enacted in the United States.  (And while we are on the subject, an incredibly small number of mentally ill persons perpetrate gun violence, so we need to stop pinning this issue on mental illness and actually talk about what is going on).  The fact that so many individuals are killed, and are killed as those who want to exercise power of them strike out to maintain their own social position, is horrifying.  It is a tragedy that we all need to speak out against, and one for which we should demand a remedy.

It’s Time to Imagine a World Without Domestic Violence

•October 1, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Domestic violence has, I have no doubt, been around about as long as gender has.  It exists in every society, and impacts people of every racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic group, though admittedly at different rates.  One in three women around the world will experience some form of intimate partner violence in her lifetime, the statistics tell us.  That is terrifying. We should be outraged at the prevalence of this violence in the world around us.

But for some reason, too often, we are not.

Until the 1970’s, domestic violence was not even considered a crime in the United States.  It would be considered assault to beat up a stranger in an alleyway, but if it was your wife, it was somehow considered a ‘domestic issue’.  Those familiar with the history of the anti-violence movement may recall that initially, anti-violence efforts were not conducted through recognized institutions as they are today; they were simply the efforts of women helping other women, giving them shelter when they needed it, helping them plan ways out of dangerous and unstable marriages.  We have come a long way when it comes to helping survivors of domestic violence: the Violence Against Women Act helps to fund programs designed to provide much-needed services, including shelter, to survivors of domestic violence; legal agencies in many cities offer pro bono services to low-income survivors who need help navigating the legal system; the Affordable Care Act funds domestic violence screenings conducted by medical professionals to help catch the signs earlier.

I spend 40 hours a week working with survivors of domestic violence.  I know the ways that the system offers help, and the ways in which it makes that help sometimes difficult to access.  But I also know that so much of our work on domestic violence is focused on mitigating the effects of domestic violence, to helping people who have already been hurt.  It is my opinion that we do not spend enough time or energy or resources stopping domestic violence before it happens.  By the time an individual needs shelter, or confides in a doctor, or reaches out for legal advice, it is too late.  Much of the damage is already done.

Today, October 1st, marks the start of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States.  Throughout the month, feminist organizations and domestic violence-specific organizations alike will fight to bring attention to the rampant problems of intimate partner violence in the U.S.  That’s important work, and I’ll absolutely be a part of it this year.  We need to talk about how likely it is that an individual will experience abuse in the course of their lifetime; we need to publicize the resources available to intimate partner violence survivors who need help; we need to call attention to the various kinds of abuse that an individual can experience, because all the PSAs in the world that show black eyes and bruises cannot capture the full spectrum of tactics used by the perpetrators of intimate partner violence.  Those are conversations worth having, conversations we must start having.

They are conversations I wish we were starting to have earlier.

I believe it is time for us to start imagining a world without domestic violence.  The road to get there is difficult, and I cannot speak to what it might take for societies outside the United States to reduce or eliminate domestic violence; I won’t pretend to have that knowledge or authority.  But it is my belief that, if we were to even imagine an America without domestic violence, we would have to start talking about it very differently than we have been.

We would need realistic portrayals of what domestic violence looks like when it is shown in our popular media.  Not all domestic violence leaves black eyes; even other forms of physical violence (especially choking) are underrepresented in our current discussions about domestic abuse.  But far more than that, we are ignoring by and large the other problems that pervade the landscape of domestic violence: gaslighting, emotional abuse, financial control, sexual assault, sexual coercion, pregnancy coercion, and so many others that are used by abusers to gain and maintain control in relationships.  People are never going to recognize abuse for what it is if they only think that being hit counts (and before anyone says anything, there are absolutely individuals who don’t realize they are experiencing abusive behaviors because they have not been hit).

We would need to talk about healthy relationships in our schools, starting at a younger age.  I don’t just mean consent education, of which I have been a long-time proponent, but I mean a larger discussion of what a healthy relationship looks like.  We aren’t talking about the importance of respect, or what coercion looks like, or what the warning signs are of abusive behavior.  Adolescents in the United States are still listening to songs that frame masculinity (or even sometimes femininity) in terms of relationships and sexual behavior, some of which glorify emotional abuse or other unhealthy relationship behaviors, and too often they aren’t receiving a counter-argument from their peers, their teachers, their families, or the media, because no one wants to think about the need to have an explicit conversation about what respect actually looks like.  People believe that you can just “demand respect” but what, exactly, does that mean?

Our conversations are getting better; TV shows are slowly but surely moving towards talking about relationship issues and getting into problems like domestic violence.  Advocates and activists are pushing for consent education (and so are our politicians), but we need more.  More conversations, more books, more media, more laws, more education, and we need it all sooner.  And yes, we need more resources for survivors who are currently struggling with the effects of intimate partner violence.  We need more interventions for families with children who witness violence in the home.  We need more shelters that are able to take people outside of jurisdictional funding limitations.  We need greater access to trauma-informed rehabilitation programs in prisons.  As a society, we need to look for these opportunities to break the cycle, to change the conversation.  We need to look for these opportunities to work towards a future without domestic violence.


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