Fatherless by Choice!

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the annual onslaught of “Dads and Grads!!!” advertising, today is Father’s Day in the United States, If you have a happy relationship with a good dad, take some time to celebrate that. If you’re feeling down today because you don’t have a dad, don’t have a relationship with a dad, have a bad/absent/abusive dad, it’s okay.

It’s okay to feel less-than-thrilled about today. It’s okay to have complicated and confusing emotions. It’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to be indifferent. Maybe your dad has died and you feel that loss immensely today. Maybe you have a single mom and you want to give her some extra love today. Maybe you have two moms and aren’t even paying attention to this holiday. Maybe you have a dad, and he’s not great, and you feel conflicted today. It’s okay!

Despite overwhelming evidence that we’re social creatures who thrive in community situations, we have a heavy-handed cultural mythos that holds up the heteronormative nuclear family as the One True family. And when your reality doesn’t fit that narrative, holidays such as this one can be painful and difficult.

I’ve been hesitant to share too much of my personal history here, mostly because I know some ~hate commenters~ will use it to derail our conversations. But, y’know, the personal is political, so here we are. I haven’t had a relationship with my biological father in nearly a decade. And it was only by entering that estrangement that I’ve been able to blossom and grow.

I have a Bad Dad. Like, a very bad dad. I’m not nostalgic for my childhood because most of it was such an abusive and fearful time. My memories of my childhood are of being abused by my dad, and of watching him abuse my mom and sister. It was not good, friends! It was physical, emotional, financial, and yep, probably all those other checkboxes you’re wondering about, too. That dude was not a good dude!

Even after extracting myself, I was stalked, threatened, and further terrorized by him. It sucked so much! (I’m using exclamation points because I don’t want you to feel too bad about this!) Eventually, I lived out my favorite The National song: left my home, changed my name, and now I’m eating my cake. My life is really good now, and it’s in large part due to the fact that my Very Bad Dad isn’t part of my life.

But it took me a long time to feel okay about it. In the beginning, I couldn’t believe how much pressure there was from acquaintances, friends, and even family members to “make amends” and “not burn bridges” – and these were people who had borne witness to years of abuse. Consequently, the first few years of my freedom/liberation/estrangement were wildly difficult. I was made to feel such guilt and shame for refusing to continue a relationship with a clinically ill and dangerous man, just because he was my father.

We have cultivated a ludicrous adherence to biological ties as an absolution of all wrongdoing. I’m here to tell you that idea is bananas. If anyone (even your own family!) tries to guilt you for not associating with an abuser… it should be clear that they’re the deranged ones, not you. You know your own heart and needs better than anyone else. And having a Bad Dad (or any bad relation!) is not a reflection on you or your worth. That we have an official holiday for Fathers (and Mothers/Grandparents/Siblings/whatever) does not in any way invalidate your experiences and the choice to end a relationship.

If you feel sad today, that’s okay. It’s a lil sad! Sometimes I wish I had a dad. Not the biological nightmare I ended up with, but a dad who embodies all the greeting card sentiments. Like I said, it’s a complicated day. But you’re not alone and you’re going to be okay. The most important thing I’ve learned in my fatherless decade is that letting go of bad people makes room for really good people. And those people, the family I’ve chosen, are whom I’ll be celebrating today.

If today is difficult for you, be gentle with yourself. Whether you’re fatherless-by-choice (a new term I just made up and am now in love with), wish your dad was around more, or have lost a father you desperately miss, treat yourself with compassion today. There’s nothing wrong with you or your feelings.

 

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Last Year’s Rent

Let’s start with a few seemingly disconnected tidbits from my life: my friend recently sent me an Atlantic article about rethinking what we mean when we talk about capital-f Feminism; I can’t stop listening to the Rent soundtrack—it’s like I’ve reverted to my most extreme 2005 theater kid days and I’m not trying to make it stop; in the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time with women I admire and love but don’t get to see often; I still don’t know how to talk about the past year.

I haven’t talked about last year much here. Just the one time, actually. And it’s probably not lost on you that the way I wrote was detached and impersonal. I didn’t know how to talk about it then, and I don’t know how to talk about it now. But I can’t stop listening to Rent and thinking about how we examine a year of our lives.

It was this time last year that all the bad things really kicked into high gear. My whole life unraveled in a torrential whirl, and the thing I try to avoid talking about is that it left me completely unmoored. I lost myself entirely. Fundamental aspects of my life and identity shifted. I’m so different than I was before. I didn’t find my way back to myself. I veered off course and became someone completely different.

I think our impulse in these moments is to talk about how we Survived the Trauma because we’re Warriors and Better because of the Struggle. I’m tired of that narrative. I don’t think I’m better because these things happened to me. I don’t feel broken or fragile, but I don’t feel like this was an essential to my personal growth. Any good things to have come out of the past year could have come about a different way. Preferably a way that didn’t involve having my life threatened, sleeping on couches because staying at home wasn’t safe, talking to police and  detectives, learning about filing restraining orders and temporary protection orders. I’m not glad that any of those things happened to me. There’s not one single part of me that’s grateful for any of those experiences.

The past year was devastating. I hardly recognize the shell I became for several months last winter. I spent most of my time huddled in a bathtub, trying to grow accustomed to the painful tinnitus that pounded in my ear. I completely isolated myself because, even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t ask for or encourage any of it… it still felt like my fault. And I have a degree in Women’s Studies! I literally have a degree in learning to recognize these patterns, to understand how abuse happens, how getting you to think that it IS your fault is a tactic manipulators use to gain more control.

It didn’t help that every system put in place to stop these kind of abuses failed spectacularly. There was never any retribution for the perpetrator. There was never any justice for me or for the friend who also experienced it. Our whole lives were upended. We left our jobs. We spent unseemly sums of money paying people to help us sort out the physical and emotional fallout that degraded our bodies.

I don’t like to acknowledge exactly how much of a toll being a Victim took on me. I don’t want people to treat me like I’m fragile. I know I should have acknowledged my own fragility, and that I should be able to talk about the ways my life remains completely altered. Because my experiences aren’t unique. This kind of trauma has an unfortunately ubiquitous quality. I like to blame my bad luck, but I think the reality is that we live in a perniciously malicious society, where the negative percolates to the top. I try to believe that there’s more good than not, but it seems like bad actions are constantly rewarded.

One of the disappointing aspects of my experience was that it left me wary of participating in the same kind of activism I’d done before. Spaces that were once safe felt foreign and dangerous. When I read that Atlantic article, I’d already been thinking a lot about the ways that Feminism, like many movements catalyzed by our reactionary internet culture, has gone off the rails in truly unproductive ways. When I started this blog its title (it. was. a. joke.) was a light-hearted jab at my own mellow, goofy personality and the way passivity sustains harmful norms. Now… I’m not as comfortable with the name. I’m still trying to articulate how in the quest for justice and inclusion, radicalized facets have created more discord and polarization.

I can see the ways that this exact inability to converse contributed to how the past year of my life unfurled. The institutional structures that should have protected me didn’t. The discussion was so bogged down in politics that what could have been solved quickly and painlessly turned into one of the most traumatic and prolonged experiences of my life. How else can I explain why the same person (who had the most ability and responsibility to rectify the damage) was able to say, “You’re not safe. You should never be alone—these are truly dangerous threats.” And a short time later, “Well, we do need to let him express his personality. We can’t ask him to change who he is.” …I mean… really? ‘Stalker’ is a protected identity now??

But then I come back to women who are smart and graceful and funny, who change the world by being themselves, who remind me that I’m doing just fine by doing exactly what I’m doing, who gently let me know that removing myself from the conversation isn’t the path to healing. And that’s the kind of feminism that matters to me. I wouldn’t have survived the last year without it.

We have to keep critiquing and reflecting and evaluating the ways our movement is working and the ways it isn’t. There’s not an end goal—we’re never going to be done. But we have the opportunity to save lives, and that’s not something we should give up on. So I’m not going to change the name of this site, or delete it, even though I sometimes think about doing both. I’m not an authority, but I do have a stake in this work. We all do.

When I think about the last 525,600 minutes I don’t think of them as being seasons of love. (I’m not going to apologize for that. Did you really think I wasn’t going to bring that in??) I want to be very clear that I do not believe those platitudes. None of this made me a better person. None of this should have happened. It was like being on a rollercoaster that was so violent you vomited the whole time and needed a chiropractor after. You don’t get off of that feeling Better. Different, but not better.

One last thought in this discordant jumble: autumn has always been my favorite season. And it’s been hard to love it in the same way this year, because now I associate it with the start of one of the worst times of my life. But nobody gets to take an entire season from me. I’m still here and I’m still trying. And I’m still an Angry Feminist Killjoy, but not in the way you might think.

Shining Like Fireworks

When Taylor Swift was 19 she was in an abusive relationship. Statistically, most women will experience these kinds of destructive relationships. It may come from an intimate partner, a family member, or in my case– a guy you had the extreme misfortune of working with.

Most abusers want power. Most abuse is about power. Rape isn’t about sex; it’s about power and control. While abusers are clearly mentally unwell, they’re often intelligent and charming. They’re clever manipulators and will often use tactics like gaslighting to make the people they choose to abuse doubt themselves. If you’re able to speak out, they may try (and unfortunately may succeed) to portray themselves as innocent, as the victims of vindictive slander. It’s a terrible situation that virtually every woman has experienced more than once in her life. I don’t know a single woman who can’t recall such a situation.

What do you do when someone is trying to take control of your life, wants to turn people against you, and engages in stalking behavior patterns in an attempt to assert power? Well if you’re Taylor Swift, you don’t take it sitting down, that’s for damn sure. When Taylor Swift was nineteen she wrote a song that clearly says, “You’re trying to make me into a victim and I’m not going to let you.” She did that when she was 19! Of course, the media used this to further their narrative of her as boy crazy and vengeful, not realizing that she’d just given young women of the 2000s what Kathleen Hanna gave young women of the 1990s: a clear path out of that media narrative of victimized women.

Thanks to Tumblr user Monica-Geller, we can all take a moment to appreciate this perfect moment in the song Dear John:

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The lyrics of that song beautifully capture what it’s like to have a mentally unwell man try to control you, and then what it’s like to decide you won’t be victimized, to reassert power over your own life. The man referenced in Dear John tried to manipulate the situation by releasing (a truly pathetic) song trying to deny his abuse, to make people feel bad for him. That’s what abusive men do. They’ll never take responsibility for their actions. And if you have the added struggle of dealing with an abuser who has sociopathic tendencies, you’ve got even more to go up against.

You probably can’t prevent abusive people from showing up in your life. And the very real and volatile, often deadly, fallout should never be ignored. But you also don’t have to resign yourself to a life of fear and mistrust. The person abusing you is sad and empty. You are not, which is probably one of the reasons you were targeted in the first place. An abusive person might stay in your life for a long time, because they’re sad and empty. But that doesn’t need to get you down, because you should be so busy shining like fireworks that when that pitiful abusive person tries to pull another stunt you pause and laugh and think, “You? Still?” and then get right back to your amazing and fulfilling life.

I’m so grateful that Taylor Swift was brave enough to write and share this song, to give young women this incredible example of owning your truth, speaking out, and living fearlessly. I’m so glad I got over my internalized misogyny, stopped exclusively listening to sad white boys, and became the conductor of the Taylor Swift Defense Train.

And I’m especially glad I did all of that before that sad empty guy I had the misfortune of working next to decided to start sexually harassing and stalking me. It’s a truly disgusting situation and it’s always disappointing to see how thoroughly wretched and actively malicious people can be, but that’s his lot to live with. All I’ve been doing in the months this has been occurring is casually achieving all of my personal and professional goals.

My world and life keep getting bigger and happier, and while it’s aggravating to still be dealing with a person who is so clearly and dangerously unwell… my fireworks are shining so bright I barely even notice.

I decided to climb my career ladder and was able to juggle multiple job offers, and then choose to accept one that makes me happy and pays more than I probably deserve. I wanted to brush up my web development skills, so I learned Sass and Javascript and all kinds of frontend and backend tricks. I go out on dates because somebody else’s unwanted infatuation isn’t going to prevent me from having a rich life. I’ve been living with incredible people. I go on runs and every mile feels better than the last. I decided to learn how to cook fancy meals, and most of them have been stellar. I get to cuddle sweet dogs.

All of my relationships are flourishing.

My friends are all shining in their own lives and making me better as a result. I love that I get to catch a plane, just because I want to drink wine with Madelaine. I can drive around with Whitney, screaming, “Testify!” Sam sends me mail addressed to “Bagels” and it gets delivered. Megan and Sarah meet me for Lady Brunch. Lindsay and I discuss the books we’re reading as if we’re living in the stories. Jennie wears silly cat ear headbands around the house with me. Taylor reminds me that our kind of love is immutable. Sue thinks I’m capable of performing and presenting alongside her (!). The coolest 11-year-old girl lets me goofily dance around with her. Lydia inspires me to do no harm, but take no shit. Vani reminds me that even small acts of resistance can have a big effect.

All of these things would be happening even if I never had to deal with being harassed. But abusers want to crush all the good things in your life and, like Taylor Swift, I soundly reject that kind of manipulation. This angry feminist killjoy is shining like fireworks.

Walking is Still Honest: A Message From the Westnedge Hill Abductee

I want to share something I came across yesterday. To be clear, I have no affiliation with this situation, but it’s incredibly important that we listen when survivors of violent crimes, especially rape, speak out. Please keep in mind all applicable trigger warnings before proceeding.

Transcript:

First of all, I would like to thank the community of Kalamazoo for the outpouring of love, support, and help they have shown me. We are a community of so many wonderful, amazing people of all sorts. We make our city stronger by standing up for each other, being positive forces in each others lives, and by making conscious and consistent efforts to improve our city and ourselves, bit by bit. I have never been more proud of my city.

Secondly, I would like to commend the KDPS for the work they have done involving my case so far and the work they continue to do. Too often we criticize these strong, smart, brave people for their actions. But please remember these are the people that devote their lives to protecting and helping us, and don’t ever ask for our thanks. We forget they are people, just like you or I. We have so many names for them as if they are not like us; they are like us. They shop at the same stores we do; they stop at the same coffee shops; they have families and friends and lives outside their uniforms. They deserve our respect, and our thanks. And I am so glad to be alive to give my thanks. Thank you. I appreciate every one of you.

I would also like to thank all the amazing people who assisted me in the hours after my attack at Bronson and the YWCA. You were all so kind and helped put my mind at ease that I was only left with cuts and bruises in the wake of my attack.

My friends and family have already heard it many times, but thank you for standing by me. I was asked what I had to live for, and all I could say was my friends, my family.

I would like to say to Brad Mason’s family that I’m very sorry you have to go through this. I understand you have a lot of questions and are going through a very difficult time. I think our families are probably very similar. I’m sorry you have to endure so much judgment while mourning the loss of your family member. I’m sure this is a very confusing and frustrating time for you. Please have the strength to get through this. At times I worry you may be very angry with me, but I hope that you are not.

Finally, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts, feelings, and a couple quotes with and for everyone to consider during this difficult time. I’ll begin with the quotes.

‘He was gone, and I did not have time to tell him what I had just now realized: that I forgave him, and that she forgave us, and that we had to forgive to survive in the labyrinth. There were so many of us who would have to live with things done and things left undone that day. Things that did not go right, things that seemed okay at the time because we could not see the future. If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing better is useless.’ – John Green, ‘Looking for Alaska’

‘The good times and the bad times both will pass. It will pass. It will get easier. But the fact that it will get easier does not mean that it doesn’t hurt now. And when people try to minimize your pain they are doing you a disservice. And when you try to minimize your own pain you’re doing yourself a disservice. Don’t do that. The truth is that it hurts because it’s real. It hurts because it mattered. And that’s an important thing to acknowledge to yourself. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t end, that it won’t get better. Because it will.’ – John Green

A lot of people have commended me on my strength in the wake of my attack. And I am a strong person, but yes I was scared after the attack. More so for my family’s safety based on the information he took from me. After I got a few hours of sleep I started to inform those closest to me. By Thursday morning I decided to post about what had happened to me, provide some more details, and call on my vast network of friends near and far for their help.

As for me, I am doing just fine, all things considered. I am still me, through and through. And I will continue to be myself despite all that has happened. My physical wounds are healing quickly and I honestly feel that I’m the same strong person I’ve always been. Every day changes us a little bit. Some days are just a bit longer and more happens. But you just have to accept and process what happened that day and move on. Personally, I have been working on mastering that art for a very long time, and I think my constant conviction to self-reflection and self-improvement have helped make me the strong, confident person I am today.

Please stay safe Kalamazoo. I love you SO much. Please don’t live in fear. This is YOUR city, this is OUR city, and no one is going to take it away from us. Please don’t forget that.

Stay Positive.

Be excellent to each other.

Thank you.

And Don’t Forget to Be Awesome.

Sincerely,

The girl with the ‘Walking is Still Honest’ tattoo

For any questions or requests, please use the following:

WalkingIsStillHonestKalamazoo@gmail.com