Friday, January 12, 2018

No shirt, no shoes, no service.

But what about skirts?

Standing at the counter to pay my family's bill at a local diner in no-where Iowa. Maybe if I hadn't driven by a corner vendor selling "Make America Great Again" crap out of the back of a van, I would have thought the diner was cozy. But it was all white people, many older, who stared and visibly distorted their faces at me as I walked by in my kilt. I guess maybe if it was in a proper tartan it would be more palatable? Worst. Meal. Ever.

Maybe the food was ok. I honestly don't remember. I just remember fighting the urge to run out the door. Holding my seat took all of my energy.

It took all of my focus to stand in the line after the meal and just chill. A voice behind me says something about a skirt. Turn around. "I like your kilt. It looks really comfy for summer."

The man speaking is 10-15 years older, shorter than I am, and sporting a worn-out t-shirt. "Thank you! It really is the most comfortable thing I've ever worn." The woman behind him in line tries and fails to hide her reaction.

Bill paid, I say good bye and walk out the door clinging to the thinnest of threads of hope for humanity, restored by a random guy in a t-shirt.

We pile into our car, the kids asking about the conversation with random guy, and I see him leave the restaurant and get into a volkswagen bug with a rainbow bumper sticker. This guy is my fucking hero today. I may be an atheist now, but I still know what it means to let your light shine.

Another town. Another restaurant. Middle of nowhere middle America. Panda Express seemed less shitty for us than the usual road food. There was a logic there, right?

It is hard to communicate what it is like as a man to walk around every day in a kilt. So many people call it a skirt. I guess because it is the Mountain Hardwear brand kilt made of a nice lightweight gray quick-dry fabric it doesn't quite look like a kilt? Or maybe its just too much, no matter what its made out of. Maybe they just jealous of the fabulous pleats. Whatever. Anyway.

The every day experience is a mix of stuff. I know where every reflective surface is when I stand at a urinal because I watch behind me like my life depends on it in public bathrooms. Truck stops are still the scariest. But there are a ton of places in this country where people are working to pass laws (with the support of the local population) that make deviation from their norm illegal. Religious freedom my ass. It is the same argument they used to try to fight equal rights around race.

So when we're in the middle of one of these states with public officials who say sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic things, I'm on constant alert. Stopping for gas feels epic sometimes.

As we get in line at Panda Express, a tap on my shoulder startles me. Understatement.

I peel myself off the ceiling and turn around. "Nice ink, man! Who's your artist?"


For the first 15 years that I had tattoos, they were only under my swimsuit or under swimsuit and t-shirt. I hadn't quite realized what would happen when I got my first ink that was not under clothing most of the time. A tat on my calf was just more ink. But to this guy, it was something worth talking about.

I'm putting these two stories out there because I've held onto them. On the days when the negative bias dominates my experience, real or imagined, these are the conversations that remind me not to believe everything I think. These two folks remind me that while some are trying to harm me for disrupting the man card narrative, there are other folks who need the end of the man card as much as I do.

Shine on, friends.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Whistling is always predatory...

So that happened.

I've continued wearing kilts daily 7-8 months of the year. About once a week when I'm out and about I'll hear a guy whistle. At first I had my usual reaction and looked around to see the woman they were whistling at. Then I started seeing that sometimes they were looking at me and whistling at me. At first, it made me curious. Like what were they trying to communicate? I've been in plenty of queer settings where guys objectified me, and frankly, I enjoyed it. But this wasn't that. The whistles were accompanied by sneers and snickers. And gradually I learned to fear the whistles. They would always come from behind me. Sometimes I couldn't even tell who whistled. Internal reactions started kicking up. Somewhere in my childhood, I was bullied to the point that I developed some PTSD reactions and the whistles started pinging to that. I started feeling adrenaline spike and my internal 90 pound weakling wanted to run and hide. Hulk, my inner bully, started straightening up and would turn around looking for a fight. And somewhere in there, the real me would frantically try to scramble back into the drivers seat and keep the car on the road. Sometimes his ass is locked in the trunk.

This happened one time on my way into the dollar store to meet my spouse. I mentioned to her the fear reactions I was having, saying something about it feeling predatory. Her reply stopped my world cold.

Whistling is always predatory

Cue deep focus movie thing where the whole context shifts in the background and I'm disoriented in the middle of it because the world will never be the same.

Whistling is always predatory

The rest of the conversation is lost in the fog of the clarity of the moment she said.

Whistling. Is. ALWAYS. Predatory

Holy fuck.

How many times have I whistled at my spouse and thought I was complimenting her, and she was triggered AF? How much trauma have I participated in causing for people I loved? WTF. How the hell did this happen? How come no one ever told me?

Growing up, I was often told whistling was disrespectful. I fucking hate these kinds of rules. They were often well intentioned, tied to deeper truths, but they were just one more bullshit rule in a system of bullshit rules intended to norm me to standards I could never live up to. The actual problems they were tied to went completely unnoticed.

In reality, whistling at women participates in the objectification of women, literally turning them into things of beauty, physical objects to be consumed by our eyes. Turning a person into an object is one of the well-established mechanisms that supports our greater sexist rape culture. I had never considered that even if there is generalized consent with my spouse to compliment her, whistling was so closely tied with the system of objectification that whatever compliment was intended was lost in the fog of our wolf pack whistles.

Looking around at behavior like this, I've started to think that even if my partner sometimes likes attention from me like this, when we're around other people it will often cause reactions in other folks.

Well shit.

No idea how to end this thing. Retraining my brain on some of this stuff is really frustrating.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


I wish I could say #IHaveAndNeverAgain

But I can't.

I take promises seriously, and this is one I cannot make. I cannot say that I will never again exercise the privilege I am granted simply because of my gender in a manner that hurts people. Because every time I act with that privilege, it hurts people. The problem here is that not acting is an act of privilege, too. Sounds like a catch 22, and it is.

This problem is too complex for hashtags, so I'm not trying to critique the men who are striving to be supportive. I've been sexually harassed, coerced into sexual activity, so I get, too, how important it is for men who have are survivors to say #metoo out of both solidarity and finding voice. But I am going to explore this because when I saw #IHaveAndNeverAgain, something in me said I couldn't say that. I'm glad there are men who can say it. I just can't. There have been too many times when I have done my damnedest to help, and I have hurt the very people I'm trying to help. There have been too many times when I've done things I thought were agreed to, only to learn that because of the privilege and power I have, there was no way for the person I thought of as a partner to consent. My understanding of what is helpful or appropriate has changed over time, and, I hope, will continue to change over time. As change moves forward, I see my past behavior in new light and know that I must do better. Even as I write this, I wonder if I am taking up space that isn't mine.

All of that adds up to a big pile of broken promises if I say #IHaveAndNeverAgain. While it is my intention to never use my privilege in a manner that hurts, I know that it is unrealistic to never hurt people with it as long as I have privilege.

Instead, I'm sticking with #IHave. I'm standing in the place of responsibility because it is the only thing I can do.

I have abused my power
I have assaulted
I have violated boundaries
I have sexually harrassed
I have coerced
I have pushed
I have ignored my conscience
I have objectified
I have made women small
I have taken up space that wasn't mine
I have occupied
I have colonized
I have forgotten

The last one hits me hard. When I have been victimized by power, I don't forget, but as someone who has abused power, I have forgotten. How many of my early sexual experiences or explorations as a child with boys and girls, were consensual? None of us could consent under the law. But more importantly, power imbalances were a part of so many of those early experiences. Some days I don't think any of my relationships before my current one were consensual.

Consent isn't just "no means no." Consent is "only yes means yes," and the person saying "yes" must be able to consent. That just wasn't a part of my thinking growing up. I'm horrified by my behavior in some of my past relationships. I met with a high school friend a few months ago and while we were talking I told her I felt lucky that anyone I was sexually involved with back then would talk to me.

All too often in my relationships I have assumed that the person I was with could say no. The reason I am a feminist, the reason I wrote this blog, the reason I am looking for an end to the system of Great White Male privilege is because I feel terribly alone. It is horribly difficult to have relationships with other men. Relationships with women cannot be equal simply because no matter how much our constitution guarantees equality under the law, our society refuses to change its rape culture.

So take my fucking man card already. Take my white bro card. Until the system of privilege ends, I will shovel this shit.

#IHave an extra shovel if you want to join me

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

It is finished? Not really...

Memorial day was the last day of 30 days in a skirt. At least the formal project. Fitting, really. What better way to honor those who served than to exercise the freedom we so often take for granted in this country. I didn't plan it this way, but when I realized yesterday that I was on day 30, there was something profoundly satisfying about it.

There are a few more posts that have been percolating and will emerge over the next few weeks as I continue to process the experience with folks, and maybe set up some more concrete projects based on it.

1) I really like having the skirt as an option in my wardrobe. Putting shorts on this morning felt weird. Seriously. I had to go looking for them. It is really interesting to me how much clothing effects my experience of the world.

2) This was just a snowflake on the tip of the iceberg. The variation of responses and thoughts on this thing is pretty massive. The skirt is really an intersection of a number of issues that are worth exploring more fully.

Looking forward to catching up soon. Stay tuned for more!

Friday, May 22, 2015

It Finally Happened...the other "f" bomb

I've been lazy about posting the last week or so. On Day 27 now. I've been having lots of great conversations about gender, and I'll be posting them to the blog over the next week or so. But this morning's events kinda pushed me a bit to get a post up today.

Out this morning with my spouse and a friend engaging our new obsession, and location game called Ingress. Join the Resistance. You know you wanna. While we were standing on a corner with a fire station and police station on it, someone (well, two someones, really) across the street yelled "faggot."

At first I didn't even understand what was yelled. I was "hacking" a very important portal in the game, you see. And as I looked across the street, I saw the guys notice I looked and they started walking faster, and suddenly weren't interested in looking at a dude in a skirt any more. I had totally forgotten I even had the thing on.

At this point in the project, the biggest issue I've had is keeping the skirts clean because while I planned to rotate between 3, the sarong I ordered was see-through and just didn't work. So it was frankly almost funny to hear this insult yelled. I started walking to cross the street and they started hurrying around the corner. I wanted to actually engage in some conversation, but they weren't interested.

I haven't been called a faggot in a long time. I'm guessing if it happened more often, it would threaten to tear open that old wound, but it was obviously an act of cowardice in this instance. Although maybe they call every woman they see wearing pants a dyke.

Friday, May 8, 2015

What is the least offensive way for a dude to wear a skirt?

I actually said that this morning.

One of my favorite networking events is today. The list of things that are awesome about it runs really long, but perhaps the best part about it is the facilitator. She's just one of those fabulous, heartfelt people. Which is why the group has been meeting regularly for 14 years now.

So what's the problem? Probably just me. The event is held at a country club. I called before the first one I attended last fall just to find out what the dress code was for men, and the only requirement mentioned was a shirt with a collar. For women the dress code is pretty relaxed, and frankly, I haven't seen the dress code be upheld strictly for either gender. But what's the dress code going to look like for a dude in a skirt? Originally, I was going to wear my bright pink t-shirt with printed on it, because it tends to generate conversation rather than conflict. And just explaining what I'm doing before they confront me on dress code seems like it might give the opportunity for some grace.

Flip-flops are probably not dress code compliant, either.
After much debate with my spouse, I went with my usual Hawaiian shirt. Standard networking garb on my part. It has a collar, is considered dressy enough for most settings, feels authentically fun to me, and frankly, is memorable, which is key to networking.

But I'm still sitting here scared of the dress code.

Its hard not to see an intersection with class here. I'm automatically out of place in country clubs, even in my nicest suit. My parents were public school teachers and church employees while I was growing up, so we just didn't ever see the inside of a country club. I've visited clubs as an adult, but again, I know that a lot of what has been in play has been my own privilege. I can pass as a Great White Male.

The skirt kind of wrecks that myth. One of the best things about it, actually.

I work with clients all the time as they prepare for big events, and one thing that comes up often is how to dress. The question I ask is "What supports you in feeling confident?" Or if not confident, whatever state of being they want to embody. The problem is...feeling confident in a skirt just doesn't work for me. While it feels incredibly comfortable, it also feels very vulnerable. Feeling confident while wearing a skirt is an act of sheer will on my part, in spite of my clothing.

Maybe this is yet another time I'm going to be surprised at the generous, curious nature of others. Feeling hopeful...

but not confident...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

#Howtospotafeminist = #7 on the list of dumbest things ever said

Had to say it, just to lighten this blog a bit

A friend shared this hashtag on facebook and I lost it when I looked into it some more. Here are some posts with this tag:

: when you talk about real problems in the world, they interrupt you and go on to complain about bikini ads.

Because apparently if we're concerned about the scientifically verified connection between violence against women (and all folks who are gender non-conforming) and the commodification of women (especially women's bodies), we're not concerned about real world problems. The only real world problem that effects more people daily is probably poverty. Seeing as how half the population (roughly) is female, about the only group regularly oppressed that I know to be larger is folks who live without daily basic needs. Also, there's a strong correlation between oppression of women and poverty. Go figure. That's not a real world problem, however.

Follow the stench of cigarette, B.O. and kitty litter...

I hope all cat owners caught that last one. Because if you own a cat, you're a feminazi according to this person.

Someone who blames others(generally whites, capitalism, cops and all that commie shit) for all wrong in the world.

Check it. #blacklivesmatter is actually a feminist plot. Also, I wonder if anyone notified Stalin that he's now a feminist. Or Kim Jong-un.

They are ugly

Aside from the obvious beauty value being stated here, I'm glad to hear that now all "ugly" people are feminists. Makes me rest easier at night.

Struggling at the side of the road to change a tire, in the pouring rain, refusing all 'male' help. Oh, & her beard.

Feeling for all the bearded folks out there today. It's been a rough week. Between a study finding fecal matter in beards to this fun little shot of wisdom, anyone with a beard who can't change a tire just got pwnt (especially if they have a vagina). 

Because that's how this hashtag works. Take a characteristic that is especially visible and generalize it. Its a great exercise for the Great White Male to go through these hashtags and see how many of their own traits they find on the list of condemned feminist features. 

Don't worry. You're different. You're our friend. We weren't talking about you.

There were definitely violent, angry responses from in the feminist movement, too, but here's the difference. This thing was started by a someone with power (radio shows are a type of power, like it or not, and this person is also a dude, so...) out to discredit an entire group of people who are constantly oppressed. To return to the prison metaphor, when a guard (the group in power, hence the conservative male radio show host) threatens a prisoner (here, the feminist who is attempting to reclaim her humanity), there is much more power, authority, and actual chance of violence than when a prisoner wishes death on the oppressor for the thousandth time. In fact, there is actual violence done to the prisoner constantly in this scenario. Refer to the Stanford Prisoner study again for those who question this outcome. In short, the above quotes were the exact type of quotes the instigator was prompting.

If you prefer the specific to the hypothetical, here's one that was sent to me. The portion my friend sent is in italics, with my comments in plain print.

Some blog fodder - messaged rather than posted so I can avoid the whiney female label. 

Pause right here. This intelligent, highly educated, employed human (take my word for it, or don't) privately messaged me about this incident rather than post it to the blog or facebook because of her fear of a backlash. Instead of throwing around "I'm not walking on eggshells blah blah blah male privilege blah," stop and ask yourself "What would cause a reasonable human being to assume that they would be labeled that way?"
At Saturday's [church organization name] meeting there was man I did not know taking up more than his fair share of space. He asked a question about upstream advocacy [in a particular location]. When I answered, he interrupted three times, and when I finally finished (I am unusually not easy to speak over for a woman) this was his response: Well that's nice, but my question was what are pastors and churches doing. After handing out a sharp correction, I learned he... has been doing social justice work since the 60s. This is yet another small example of the Great White Male Liberal...someone who imagines they are an ally but actually fiercely perpetuates the problem.

Something as simple as voice exercise, the amount of time speaking, volume, listening and interacting or interrupting, ends up being a battlefield, at least to this person. And frankly, as a dude, I've been in the dude circles after exchanges like this and heard the term for female dog used enough to know that she's naming a real dynamic. Hell. I've done more than my share of running over women in scenarios like this, without even intending harm (there was that one person that just really needed to be interrupted).

This post is charged for me because it is part of the reason I'm doing the 30 days in a skirt project. Any time I hear someone generalizing about a woman, the majority of what they say could be said about me. And to hear it done in a derogatory manner tears me down, too. And here's the intersection for me personally. I need feminism to succeed because I'm reclaiming my own humanity through it. I need gay marriage to succeed because I'm reclaiming my own humanity through it. I need anti-racism work to succeed because I'm reclaiming my own humanity through it. I'm tired of locking parts of my own story, my own self, up with sexist, racism, homophobic systems of oppression. Tired of having parts of me cut off because they aren't part of the Great White Male myth. I'm just tired of not being whole. Tired of not being a real hu-man, just as I am.