On Forgiveness and Repentance

Take a deep breath, dear reader. Why did my last blog post have to be so explicit about childhood trauma?

Because I’m committed to making the world a better place for the teenagers who are now going through what grown-ups spent my teenage years with their eyes closed, pretending couldn’t possibly be happening around them. Because when adults tell me now, as an adult, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” or “I’m sorry I did that to you,” I want to see their verbal “sorry” backed with observable, meaningful action to prevent those harms from happening again. Faith without works is dead.

I don’t tell the stories of my childhood trauma because I’m unhealed; I tell these stories because I have done the work to heal, and I have come to realize that my silence helps no one but abusers. I tell my stories out loud to take away your plausible deniability that this is happening in your own county, your own city, your own communities. I tell my stories so maybe another 11 year old, hurt by the same unjust and abusive systems that began as slave patrols, which we’ve refused to dismantle and re-culture for the past 400+ years, won’t have to tell their stories of childhood abuse 23 years from now.

My mother says if I’ve truly forgiven her, I would let the past go and not bring it up again. But there is another 11 year old to whom my past is still happening. Forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending the harms never happened. Forgiveness is agreeing to work through the mess of repairing the damage rather than holding onto anger about the harm that’s been done. You do not have to be physically present with your abuser while they undertake the work of repentance, to forgive them. Repentance is agreeing to work through the mess of repairing the damage you’ve contributed to, refraining from perpetuating that harm against anyone else again, and taking a stand against allowing that harm to be committed against others again.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean folks of African descent whose grandparents endured chattel slavery should “forget” the harms white people have done to them. Forgiveness means they give us the chance to make reparations and repent.

Repentance means white folks step up to help heal the damage we’ve caused, and stand up against allowing that harm to be committed again. Repentance requires white folks to acknowledge, “I can’t change the past, but I’m going to make this active effort to ensure this harm doesn’t continue to be the next generation’s future any longer.” Repentance means denouncing mistreatment of humans; holding our elected representatives accountable for abuses of the 13th Amendment’s exception clause and its role in the for-profit prison system; holding our local county jails accountable for their worker release program’s failure to pay minimum wage to shackled, enslaved laborers who are disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and/or Latine; and cultivating community resources that divert our neighbors away from prisons, drugs, and crimes against one another, proactively.

Forgiveness from Native American peoples doesn’t mean they stop talking about their experience of colonization ever again just because we feel bad and want to forget our grandparents ever started it. Forgiveness means Native American peoples agree to let white people put our apology into action and contribute to their collective healing. Their forgiveness is an opportunity for us to stop perpetuating harms, and put our sincere desire for a better future into motion by humbling ourselves and offering our energy to restore and rebuild what we’ve unjustly taken from them.

Repentance means we show up for Native Americans in the supportive ways they ask us to, without defensiveness, and take our white discomfort about this to our therapists instead of unleashing our guilt-driven feelings onto people we’re supposed to be making amends to. Repentance means honoring every existing Treaty, giving back custody over lands to the tribes from whom they’ve been taken, investing as much in the search for missing and murdered Indigenous people as we’ve invested in Jon Benet Ramsey and Gabby Petito, and shifting ourselves to non-fossil-fuel sources of energy that do not require white-owned companies to encroach on sacred or Treaty-protected lands held by Native American peoples. If you are not showing up in some way to end the genocide, you do not repent of the genocide, and you are contributing to the ongoing genocide.

Repentance is agreeing to work through the mess of repairing the damage you’ve contributed to, refraining from perpetuating that harm against anyone else again, and taking a stand against allowing that harm to be committed against others again.

I name abuses that I’ve personally experienced because it’s a way to offer everyone who has been complicit in abuse an opportunity to repent. When I’ve made these offers in private, they’ve been dismissed. So now I make the offer publicly, before a wide audience. When people of color take a knee, or protest in the streets, or even just quietly shake their head at me while my white-culture-trained mouth is moving again, I am grateful to them for expressing to me, in the best way they know how, that there is more opportunity for me to repent of my ways of thinking, of doing, and of being that keep causing them harm. I also am sorry that their less-public, less-attention-grabbing efforts fell on un-listening ears for so long.

My mother doesn’t want to hear the opportunity I keep offering her to have a relationship with her own offspring, if she would please, please, please just repent of the abuses she emptily says she’s “sorry” for. This is as simple as not attempting to silence me or deny my identity, and just doing something — literally anything constructive at all — to keep the same abuses from happening again to other children like me. But, abusers take the opportunity to repent as if it’s an attack on their personal character. Abusers want us to pretend the harms never happened, and maintain their comfort at all costs.

Why wouldn’t everyone want to repent and be forgiven by those we’ve wronged? Why does anyone say, “You should talk to your therapist instead of writing online. Not everyone needs to know about the family’s dirty laundry,” as if my therapist can do the work of ending child abuse in your neighborhood for you? As if my therapist can make reparations or call your legislators for you? As if my therapist can show up in November to hold your nose and vote Democrat on your behalf?

As if the point of airing my trauma-stained laundry is for me to feel better, rather than for you to learn something new, discuss these learnings with your neighbors, and do better?

Take a deep breath. We have an opportunity to do better for one another, starting today, here and now. What will you do with the opportunity?

On BDSM

Lots of small-minded folks weaponize BDSM against Queer communities, claiming that we are immoral heathens who can’t be trusted due to the things we do between fully consenting adults. In a twist of immense irony, they ignore the fact that BDSM is often an adaptive strategy we use to cope with the sadistic pain, bondage, and control they exercise over us without our consent.

For example, when I was a teenager I used to write rape fantasies in my diary. I wrote about being choked and physically forced to do things I absolutely would not have consented to and did not want to happen. These fantasies were part of how I coped psychologically with my body being sexualized by all the adults around me from age 10, when I first grew breasts. I felt like maybe if I could write about those fears, if I could turn them into something safely contained in a book like Goosebumps novels did with the monster under the bed, maybe being raped wouldn’t feel so gross when it inevitably happened to me. I thought I could use my words in private pages to turn the kids on my elementary school playground groping my breasts and bullying me, into something that, somehow, I could gain control over. As an 11 year old with an acute sense that men could and would do whatever they wanted with my body whether I allowed it or not, I believed rape was unavoidable forever. And not too long later, in a predictably abusive relationship I stayed in to “prove” I was heterosexual, after a student in my high school attempted to murder me for being Queer, that rape finally did happen.

When my mother invaded my room to read my diary as a teenager while I was at school, I came home to find her sitting with a bookmarked passage in hand. She made me read the rape scene out loud to her and her new husband while I squirmed uncomfortably and cried. What I was forced to read was a private thought, never meant to be shared with her or anyone else. She asked me why I was such a slut, and what I would do if this really happened to me, and told me if I got myself pregnant from “letting” someone rape me, I would have to carry the baby even if it killed me, and live with the punishment for the rest of my life. That’s the kind of humiliation and coercion even many of the most seasoned BDSM veterans I know won’t touch, because it’s the kind that can do irreparable harm to a person’s psyche. In BDSM, we care too much about one another to cause that kind of harm. What my mother did there was violate my consent, dispose of my autonomy, and deny my sense of safety in my own home. She convinced me that if I was raped, it was my own fault. If there were consequences to that rape, I would be the only one burdened with facing them. No wonder I was thinking about intimacy in terms of sexual assault as a young teenager! No one ever taught me I could have my consent respected! No one taught me a place existed where my body was safe. No one around me bothered to create a world where I could even imagine I was safe as a queer teenager.

As an adult, my mother and I went to a family therapy visit once. She brought up those diary entries again, saying that she “had to be” the way she was — controlling, invasive, dominating, forceful, disrespectful, humiliating, shaming — because I was (*gasp!*) fantasizing about being raped and writing about it in my diaries. No acknowledgement that she should never have read my private diary in the first place. No acknowledgement that she taught me “boys only want one thing”. No acknowledgement that she had a responsibility to create a world around me where I felt safe enough as a child to say “no” to someone forcing their control over me. No acknowledgement that she forced her control over me in ways that showed me I had no freedom, no right to my own consent or privacy in the home she forced me to live in under legal threat if I ran away. No acknowledgement that she had a responsibility to create a world around me where I felt empowered to say “yes” to what I truly wanted instead. Just blame.

Stop blaming Queers for how we cope with what you do to hurt us.

This is where anti-Queer people fail to observe the massive plank in their own eye when threatening us with violent domination and forced control, stripping away our freedoms and human rights, over an alleged splinter in ours. They say we shouldn’t engage in BDSM, that it’s immoral or some such insanity. But BDSM is literally just consenting adults getting together to play consensual, negotiated, respectful games with power, pain, and control. The irony of using your authoritarian-style power to cause us emotional and physical pain, deprive us of the freedom to heal ourselves in the ways that works best for us, and control us in ways we do not consent to by restricting how we are(n’t) allowed to express ourselves, runs deep. The irony of my mother blaming me for having rape fantasies as a teen instead of blaming the environment she created which caused me to feel I had no alternative, consensual, safe reality I could turn to, runs deep.

BDSM is a common and vital coping strategy for Queers. The weaponization of our coping strategies plays out every year at Pride parades between folks who want family-friendly, historically-sanitized, corporate rainbow events — and those of us who express leather-bound, minimally-clothed, AIDS-epidemic-aware gratitude for the unconventional coping skills that have helped us survive against all odds. People do exist who call themselves queer but then shame those of us who use BDSM as a healing strategy. I don’t know what kind of paradise they’re living in that they don’t feel the need to process their oppression through kinky affirmations of identity, love, trust, and respect in the privacy of their own home, ever. I do know that sometimes they try to earn brownie points from cisgender, vanilla outsiders by eagerly distancing themselves from us to show how “respectable” they are. Those folks can take their betrayal of the Queer community up with God.

Judgment of our coping strategies has been the basis for oppressive legal maneuvers to erase us for decades, by the same people who refuse to simply cultivate a less traumatizing world where maybe BDSM wouldn’t be necessary to cope with what they do to us. In the absence of that utopia, BDSM remains an historically imperative tool that trans and Queer people use to 

•reclaim our identities

•explore power dynamics in ways that have been denied to us by the patriarchy

•establish our bodily autonomy

•give voice to our consent in a world where where consent is not always afforded to us

•process pain and trauma in healthy ways that allow us to let go of what isn’t good for us

•and liberate one another from the absolute exhaustion of being on protective high-alert at all times in a society that loathes us. 

At a physiological and neurochemical level, BDSM functions to bring many of us down from daily states of fight-or-flight, recover from PTSD, and transcend the overwhelm so we can bear to face another day. BDSM is consent-respecting, safe, healthy, queer, cathartic, empowering, and usually community-centered. It’s an activity that allows us to collectively say, “This is the pain the world has caused me, and this is what we’re going to do for the next two hours to reclaim my sense of safety, personal responsibility, and healing from that pain.” Erasing BDSM from the trans experience is to erase much of the trans experience itself. Erasing BDSM from conversations about queerness means erasing Queer trauma, Queer survival strategies, and Queer methods of overcoming indescribable barriers. To deny us conversational space where BDSM is acceptable to discuss is to deny us conversational space where being fully, unapologetically Queer is acceptable. 

Is there any safe enough space to express myself? If so, where is that space? Does it only come one week a year? And only ever the kid-friendly version? Does that safe space even exist in Arkansas? What do we need to do for and with one another to create an adequately safe, adult, emotionally supportive, judgment-free space together?

Recently, I overheard more than a dozen teenagers gathered outside in a courtyard, passing around their phones and discussing their BDSM test results. One of them said “My highest score is age play,” and I shuddered. Is anyone sitting them down to teach him consent? How to negotiate? How to respectfully honor boundaries? How to choose dates and partners who will respect their boundaries? Or is that just going to be left up to the Washington County police officer who lives next door to them, like the one who taught me these things with his hand in my pants from the time I was 12 to 14?

One teen came up to me and asked how to tell the other kids he didn’t want to talk about it when he goes back to school, because the BDSM test has been a popular discussion topic in his jr. high school. He said his friends have been getting their sexual health education from Reddit because only abstinence-only education is allowed in Arkansas schools, which means they get no real education about sexual health and safety at all. For us to pretend the kids don’t already know about BDSM, and refuse to construct healthy conversations with them around it, is to set them up for a probable future of abusive relationships, mismanaged consent, and poor boundaries. 

I believe we owe the kids better education than to let them suffer through the unsafe learning experiences that taught me about BDSM when I was their age. I believe we owe them a world that doesn’t push them toward BDSM as a necessary coping strategy for reclaiming their autonomy from a society where their literal human rights, medical rights, and rights to participate in sports with their peers are being legislated against as though these teens are already second-class, sub-human citizens.

If you have a problem with teens exploring BDSM amongst themselves, stop doing non-consensual, sadistic forms of domination to them through legislative and social maneuvers designed to mistreat, abuse, and denigrate them.

And if you have a problem with adults who engage in BDSM as a completely valid, scientifically proven strategy for lowering our blood pressure, disengaging an overactive fight-or-flight response that stays hyper-engaged all the time for fear of what the next attack on us is going to be, and psychologically cushioning the impact of harms against us that are beyond our control — how about you take all your misplaced outrage, and turn that energy toward making the world less harmful for us, so we can find easier ways to relax than being tied up and beaten? You trying to control what we do with our bodies is precisely why we do what we do with our bodies to regain the control over ourselves that you’re taking, or allowing to be taken, away from us.

When you stop trying to control and take away personal power from Queer people, you might just be pleasantly surprised to find that we stop going to such intense lengths to take back our personal power from you.


Some light reading, for your educational convenience:

This article explores BDSM and how its practice can be used to cultivate healthy romantic relationships.

A new study finds that practitioners of bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism, or BDSM, score better on a variety of personality and psychological measures than “vanilla” people.

Recent research suggests that BDSM does not indicate a disordered mind and that its practitioners have relatively good mental health: they’re less neurotic, more conscientious, less sensitive to rejection and more open-minded. In 2013, a study also found that they report being generally happier than the general population.

It’s all about creating a safe space. It’s no wonder that some practitioners report feeling relaxed both after scenes and within their romantic relationships.

Queer Camp 2022

Camp was amazing. I am exhausted. The kids are alright.

Last week, 85 queer, transgender, and queer-friendly teenagers filled the building of our little Arkansas church to share activities, laughter, tears, sweat, creativity, and passion together. I was a “parental”, or what most folks would call a camp counselor. Spending the whole week with other queer adults providing safe space and support for queer kids was a tremendous nourishment for my soul.

I’ve decided we need to make a world where we get to be Queer together all the time. Straight people get to be around straight people all the time, everywhere they go. Cisgender people can expect to be around cisgender people in every space they occupy, daily. They just take for granted that the people around them are usually like them. And those of us who aren’t like them, we’re expected to keep our mouths shut about how we’re different. I know the social consequences of being the only openly trans person in an office, or the queer person, or the autistic person. We are expected to hide parts of ourselves that are integral to who we are, so the people who aren’t like us don’t feel uncomfortable, even though their insecurities are really not our problem. It’s even become second-nature to censor ourselves so we don’t upset the cis-hets.

Last week I didn’t have to censor myself at Queer Camp. I didn’t have to pretend some key part of my identity doesn’t exist. Even cooler, I was surrounded by people who shared these attributes with me. I felt at home. This needs to happen more than one week a year. And not just when we’re getting together for the kids. We need this deep community connection as adults, and we need it often.

My team co-leader cuddled with me at the end of Monday in the hallway of the church. That felt reminiscent of when I was in Seattle and had daily access to physical intimacy from a number of good friends. Cultivating active community where physical touch is normal, healthy, consensual, and nurturing is so underrated in Arkansas.

Halfway through the week, Jason Moore — yes, the director of Avenue Q and Pitch Perfect — showed up to help lead the campers’ film production project. I noticed him sitting in the auditorium on Wednesday and walked over to find out who the adult stranger in our midst was. We ended up talking for hours. Turns out he’s from Fayetteville and hadn’t been back in town for years. While many of the kids went fan-girly over his fame and fanfare, I found myself bewitched, bothered, and bewildered for a much rarer reason: Jason Moore is perhaps the most gracious human being I have ever met. When Jason walks in a room, he draws all the energy around him like a lightning rod. He commands that energy with indescribable grace, organizes it into gentle encouragements and humble suggestions, and disperses it back into the folks around him like rich seeds dropping into fertile soil during a light spring rain. He is kindness and brilliance incarnate — and he flew all the way to Arkansas from New York City just to hang out with us at Queer Camp like the kids were his very own beloved children. He learned their names. He played games. He was 100% down to earth, and just an absolute joy to be around.

Early in the week, I caught myself developing a crush on the Kitchen Lead. This startled me, because I’m typically attracted to gay men, and she is very much a lesbian woman. I dismissed the attraction all week in favor of focusing on my duties with the campers. The single most attractive feature that draws me to a person is competence, and she has plenty of that. Competent people tend to already be busy with all the important things going on in their lives though, and I assumed she wouldn’t be interested. But wouldn’t you know — she messaged me Saturday after camp to ask if we could get to know one another better!

Since then, we had our first date: a Quorum Court meeting where we both spoke out against the Republican Justices of the Peace’s efforts to expand the county jail and imprison more of us instead of investing in the drug rehabilitation and mental health services our communities need, and lack. I got up in front of the court to talk about how I was abused as a child raised by law enforcement professionals, and how I believe we need to heal the authoritarian culture within jails and police departments before we give any consideration (or taxes!) to expanding that culture. My date heard me lay my ugly truth out in full public witness — and she still wanted to hold my hand by the end of the night, so I guess the dating is going well. Thanks, Queer Camp!

Callie and Andi directed and led the camp this year with outstanding prowess. They took feedback, made adjustments, and rolled with the punches unfailingly. They handled crises. They organized the whole kit and kaboodle. They lifted the kids up, and lifted us volunteers up, and made the whole experience safe, honest, and real. If someone had told me five years ago I’d be spending a week in a church volunteering for a youth camp, I’d have thought they were out of their mind. But Callie and Andi, and the volunteer team they brought together, made it all worth showing up for. They helped turn a church, a place known for its history of harming queers, into a place that gave us healing.

Already we’re planning better things for next year’s Queer Camp. It’s a high bar as-is. Teaching queer youth how to hold space for one another, to heal their own hurts rather than oppressing others as they’ve been oppressed, and to recognize and resist bullying amongst themselves, is no small task. We’re talking about major cultural changes that take shape one conversation at a time. But next year, we’re going to build upon what we’ve learned in 2022 and hold such a space even better.

In the meantime, we have a whole year to explore being kind to one another, giving the love we want to receive in our communities, and practice being the kinds of adults we want our queer youth to grow into.

Love in a Time of Fear, part 2

Since attachment styles are formed early in childhood and continue to affect how we form relationships throughout our lives, the following writing builds upon a foundation described in Love in a Time of Fear, part 1.

This week I shaved my face. I dressed myself up like a woman, because my hair is long and I live in Arkansas where men ain’t looked upon favorably with long hair. These days I can pass myself off as cisgender better as a woman than as a man. The charade just to keep “Christians” from violently hating me and denying me my basic human rights because they hate me is exhausting. All gussied up and pretty, I went out onto a literal Civil War battlefield to fight for my freedom by asking folks to vote for Josh Moody for Washington County Judge and Chris Jones for Governor this November.

Two days later, I went walking with Josh on the Square of a rural Arkansas town where men sitting around the hardware store literally asked him to instate slavery through the county jail to address the worker shortage, talked about wanting to tie their neighbors up with rope hanging from a tree and torture them for days, and said with unapologetic casualness, “1818 was a good year.”

I knew what was expected of me, and what my safety depended on. I stood there like a good girl and kept my damn mouth shut while the men folk talked about important grown-up business.

Arkansas lately is making me feel like I’m back in my teenage home. Once more, I’m just considered a living, breathing piece of property forced into this world so religious white zealots could control me, not so I could be loved or wanted for real. My heart breaks for all the babies being brought into the world by forced birth now who will grow to feel the same way. I hope God will lead them to the survival guides left behind by the previous generations who know their struggle to be loved all too well. They deserve to be loved and wanted — not for what they can do for white men, but because they are divine beings with inherent, sacred worthiness.

As a white girl-child in the South, I learned that asking for love is an expression of vulnerability to be answered according to the interests of white men. Even in relationships with women, as was the case with my mother and grandmothers, vulnerability was a power lever to advance one’s standing in proximity to white men — fathers, grandfathers, boyfriends, bosses, police officers — who benefit from keeping us divided against one another like crabs in a bucket.

I learned to do mental gymnastics with older men as a child like they were my tumbling instructors, kneeling to offer the assurance that I won’t fall as long as I have the safety of their arms supporting me from behind, while I learned to flip myself upside down and around and ’round at their command. They taught me to be a good girl and keep my damn mouth shut while they talked about important grown-up business like slavery and rape.

In my 20’s, I rejected my role as their trophy, as their woman-prize, as their life raft to be clung to and climbed upon in a sea of responsibility these men had somehow convinced me they were keeping me from drowning in. I decided to become a man and find out what equality with them really felt like. For five years, I had that equality. It was bitter and poisonous, but I had it. It felt good. Like fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, knowing how it felt to walk through the world as a white man’s equal was delicious.

At 30, I retransitioned. I’d made myself sick on the wrong kind of power. I wasn’t who I’d intended to become. I’d become entitled, demanding, and had zero awareness of how much space I took up in conversations with women. I thought if someone just made me President, I’d wave a practical magic wand and fix all the problems that the Democrats ain’t got the guts to do anything about. I needed to lower my testosterone dose, among other things, and come back down to earth. So I did.


At 33, I began dating a white cisgender pansexual man in Arkansas. He’s frequently the only white person in the room, and he keeps getting invited back to the cookout. I could see this from his Facebook photos when I was considering whether or not to date him, and figured if Black folks could stand to be around him, maybe I could too. We’ve now been together for 7 months.

We spend one evening a week together. I yearn for a partner I can share my daily life, meals, and home with — but also a partner who doesn’t frighten or abuse me. There are plenty of available men who think casual rape jokes are cool, who give me no confidence that they respect my bodily autonomy. This one man I’ve found is less available than I’d like, but he doesn’t punch down at me, or at anyone, when he makes jokes. At present, I accept a one-day-a-week relationship as part of the price for being with someone I trust won’t rape me or make me question my sanity. He agrees with me that this is too low a bar, and I deserve better. I’m keeping my eyes open and looking for a better-suited partner, but I’m not going to end a decent relationship with someone I wholeheartedly love while I wait for a better and more consistent relationship to come along.

Expecting a partner to respect me as a full human with equal rights is really the bare minimum. It’s just a bare minimum most men in the United States don’t live up to.

The men when I was a teen were cops, lawyers, and rednecks who took advantage of my desperate yearning for someone, anyone, to please just love me. I was 12, 13, 14. They were 28, 44, 50. But thanks to this recent Evangelical power-grab across the whole damn government, I feel 12 again. I’m 34 years old, and I feel like a trapped child among merciless “Christian” savages in their quest for control over my body. I am the 10 year old girl in Ohio who had to go to Illinois for an abortion. I am the 11 year old child whose body can’t take the physical demands of pregnancy. I am a survivor of Focus on the Family which taught me in childhood to be a “good girl” for white men who don’t respect me as a human being. If I had never become a man myself, I don’t know that I would have gained enough perspective to hold real boundaries today against the white men who have always felt entitled to control my body.

Recently I talked with my partner about this. It’s a power dynamic threatening to knock our relationship out of sustainable balance. It’s a power dynamic knocking me out of sustainable balance. He didn’t understand, at first. He sees me as his equal. So when I described myself as “property,” and remarked how I appreciate that he “grants” me my full humanity in our relationship, he was appalled. He found it gross to think of my rights as his to grant or deny to me. As far as he’s concerned, he doesn’t have that kind of power over me.

He does have that kind of power though, and he can choose to wield it over me if ever he wants to. As much as I trust he won’t abuse that power, I cannot pretend he doesn’t have that power, any more than I can pretend a lion doesn’t have large teeth when I’m in his habitat. The lion and I may have an established, loving relationship that would make the cutest viral TikTok video ever — but if he ever has a Really Bad Day and decides to turn on me, I know who would win and who would lose that fight. I cannot pretend homicide isn’t the number one cause of death for pregnant people. I cannot pretend cops and judges don’t consistently side with abusive white men who argue in court that “she had it comin’.” I cannot pretend the law protects me as a transgender person even half as well as it fails to protect the cisgender women who still get killed, stalked, and discriminated against in this country every day. I cannot pretend I wasn’t raped just one year ago, by a man who used the Trans Panic Defense to (easily) convince management at our workplace that he was the one who’d been wronged because he’d allegedly thought I was a woman, and this alleged deception was a worse offense than the fact that I’d told him “no” more than a dozen times and repeatedly pushed him off me before he forced himself into my body. The patriarchal landscape in which my relationship with my partner exists puts a weight in my knapsack that I’m constantly carrying around. His participation in the oppression isn’t required for me to experience the weight of that oppression.

If you want me by your side in a relationship, I need you to acknowledge I’m carrying around the weight of how society gives you the option to abuse me, regardless of what you choose to do or not do with that power. If you want me to be your equal in a partnership, I need you to understand how unequal we are in the scope of social power systems. If you’re legally and socially empowered to harm me without consequence, what’s to keep you from abusing me and simply calling it by another name?

Since the government considers me less than a full human, to be owned or controlled by white men, what does it take to make me an equal in a relationship with a white cisgender man? Is equality in our current society even possible? What changes would that require? What Constitutional amendments would that require? What changes in manhood and the standards men set for themselves would our equality require?

Love in a time of fear is soul-crushing, like the full weight of unrelenting gravity trying to squash stars out of existence. I hear persistent messages from the government, from neighbors, from media, all basically saying I should just count my blessings every day I’m not beaten or shot to death. I should just be grateful I have a relationship with a man at all. I should be glad that when unwelcome men hit on me I can say, “I have a boyfriend,” persuading them to leave another man’s already-claimed property alone in peace. I should be grateful for that “protection” having a boyfriend adds to my life, as if simply saying “Please leave me alone” isn’t reason enough to respect my boundaries.

My partner doesn’t like that I see myself as property. I don’t know how to explain to him with words what it feels like to go from being a white woman, to being a white man, to not being a white man anymore. I don’t know how to say, “I believe that you see me as a full human, but I also know most people don’t see me that way, and it’s dangerous for me to pretend they do,” in a way he’ll fully comprehend.

This week I shaved my face. When date night rolled around, he looked at me and scrunched his nose with disapproval. I don’t look right without my beard, he says. I’m not “me”. He’s not wrong. But I survived the Old Boys’ banter in the hardware store about bringing back slavery and lynchings without being followed home or hurt, and I lived to show up for date night this week. If I’d been visibly transgender in that hardware store…. Well, being able to blend in as if I were cisgender helps keep me alive and safe around here. It’s humiliating and infuriating, but at least I’m alive to be mad about the injustice.

Love in a time of fear is also brilliant. We’re stars committed to shining amidst profoundly frigid darkness, resisting the gravity trying to squash us out of existence. I hear persistent messages from my lover, from friends, from Mother Earth, all basically saying they count their blessings every day I’m not beaten or shot to death. I am glad we create warmth for one another. I am grateful for our commitment to nurturing one another’s invaluable lives. I am delighted to cultivate a brighter future together than the darkness into which we’ve been delivered.

My partner holds space for me to breathe when we’re together. The nausea and headaches ease up in the wondrous force-field of his embrace. I do not pretend his individual white-cis-man-ness can singularly protect me from the big bad world, but he digs deep enough within himself and takes care not to replicate the cruelty most men casually take for granted as their right to inflict. He figures out how to make me laugh in spite of the fear. Those moments of laughter and joy, of warmth and embrace, of care and growth, of passion and devotion, are worth living for. Even in a world filled with hate, love is worth living for.

Even in a time of fear, love is worth living for.

Love in a Time of Fear, part 1

Times have been hard lately. I lost my relationship with my mother — or perhaps I’m just now accepting that I never had a real relationship with her to begin with. Her full participation in my life was always contingent on my pretending to be someone I’m not. She never wanted the queer, polyamorous, democratic socialist, Jesus-loving version of me who adamantly believes in liberty and justice for all. I’ve finally grown to understand that she doesn’t mind losing me from her life now because my role as her child was, at best, an illusion she maintained only when it served her own sense of control over me anyway. She never wanted my happiness or freedom as much as she wanted to believe I can’t live without her. She never wanted to fight for my rights and liberty as much as she wanted to allow chaos to happen in my life so she could swoop in and take the credit for “saving” me with an “I told you so” on top.

It’s an especially uncomfortable dynamic in light of an Evangelical political movement taking over the country right now. I spent childhood and adolescence waiting patiently for the Freedom that would come with turning 18. I knew if I just performed well enough for another week at a Baptist church that saw me as a walking incubator, or if I just got through one more enraged episode of my step-father exercising his violent control over us, or if I just hid in my room long enough to survive without being noticed, I could eventually stop living in that “Christian” reality best described as Hell. I survived without killing myself, and without killing my parents despite many nights of lying awake genuinely contemplating that possibility, only because I knew there would eventually be Freedom to look forward to at age 18.

And for a while, I didn’t have to live in that Baptist reality. From age 18-34 I’ve mostly had a choice to stay away from it. I knew the Evangelical reality still existed, but I was no longer forced into it. That’s what we white folks call living in “a free country”. Not being forced to live according to someone else’s beliefs.

Family dinners were always still tense. I’ve been supposed to keep my mouth shut about my love life, about my partners, about my work, about my passions, about my interests, and most of all, about my feelings as a human being trying to survive in this crazy, hurtful world. When I tell my family I’m afraid for my life, their response is a very silent, “Well what did you expect?”

As if cooperating with the delusions of white men, to make them feel powerful and in control at every available level of everyone else’s lives, is somehow supposed to make me less afraid? As if naming this truth out loud should be dangerous? As if I deserve punishment for not stroking their Evangelical egos hard enough?

That’s been our survival strategy as white folks for 500+ years though, hasn’t it? Defer to the white men. They’ll come to bat for white women and children, as long as we never question their authority. If you dare to ask questions, or to think sincerely about the evident and abundant truth, all the white women gon’ do is tilt their heads at you pitifully over the pain you just invited upon yourself. Then they gon’ ask you like a child who just touched a hot stove, “Well what did you expect?”

I expected my mother not to leave a stove burner turned on she knew would probably hurt me. I expected her to believe I deserve safety and freedom, even as a queer, polyamorous, transgender person. I expected her to make the effort to protect me, as a child and as an adult, from being burned by a system that wants to punish me for being who I am. I don’t know why I expected that. I guess I thought being a mother would be more important to her than being white and comfortable.

Maybe I looked at the Hispanic woman who slipped out of handcuffs in Uvalde, TX and ran into the elementary school to get her two children during the shooting, without giving a damn about all the white men with guns pointed at her, because her children were the most precious and important people on the planet in her eyes. Maybe I thought my mother might hold that same kind of reverence for me, somewhere deep in the dark recesses of feelings she never shares with me? Maybe I thought when push came to shove, she would feel the motherly instinct to demand my survival, instead of being apathetic that the white men with guns are standing back and actively investing in my death?

This week I sat with a financially-quite-comfortable, white, cisgender, heterosexual, married father who is running for office on the Democratic ticket. When I expressed to him my sincere and founded concern that if the Democrats lose this election I will be jailed for being who I am, his response was, “Don’t worry. We’ll bring you hot meals and protest outside the jail for you.”

White women, I don’t know if y’all are starting to figure this out yet or what, but white men are not going to save any of us. They don’t even do the damn laundry. They call spending time with their own children “babysitting.” They might bring you hot meals and protest outside the jail for you after you have a miscarriage, if you survive at all. But they care as much about your liberty as my mother and father care about mine. Just enough to say “But I do care!” and then make you feel crazy for wondering why it doesn’t feel like they really mean it.

Part 2 of this writing will dive into the impact this reliance on white men to be our saviors has on romantic love in times like these. But for now, I ask us to sit and reflect on what it means when silence becomes betrayal. Parents, what does it mean when your queer child asks for your support, your listening, or your compassion, and all they get in return is your deafening silence?

Or worse, they get hot meals and a protest outside the prison you’ve already locked them in?

“Why you gotta make it about being white?”

If you have never read The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr., fix that today, please. I particularly recommend the audiobook edition. Karen Chilton knocks the narration performance all the way out of the park. Plus, there’s this one little detail white folks (like me) don’t like to admit: The book is written beyond our literacy level. Having The Prophets read to you by someone who knows how to say the words out loud will help you follow the story better. I’m just being honest.

Today the United States Supreme Court decided that, although States have no right to make their own decisions about concealed carry laws, and all people must be allowed to carry a gun openly, States absolutely have the right to make their own decisions about abortion laws, and no people must be guaranteed access to a safe and legal, life-saving medical procedure. In Thomas’s concurring opinion, he writes that the right to access contraception (which prevents abortions from being necessary), the right to have sex in the privacy of your own home without being arrested, and the right to same-gender marriage should also be reviewed by the Supreme Court to reconsider those “mistakes” as well.

I’m not sitting here with images of the Handmaid’s Tale going through my head today. Is it likely that we’ll soon be living in a Gilead society where women are property whose only value is to produce new babies for powerful men? The Supreme Court would have that become our reality if they can. But there’s something I notice about the Handmaid’s Tale memes going around that has me even more terrified: those women are all white. In that story, what has happened to the Black folks? The Indigenous folks? The women evangelical white men don’t want to be caught impregnating? Where have they been sent? There is a reason “Gilead” memes are full of white women only. One of the reasons is to keep white women afraid of a fictional future instead of fearing the repeating history of our non-fiction past.

The images running through my mind today are of a place far more real: The United States of America, 1822. People are saying reproductive rights were rolled back 50 years today, but I suspect they were in fact rolled back closer to 200 years.

Throughout the United States’ history, more often than not, raping people has been legal and common. Forcing them to produce children against their will has been legal and common. Demanding a human be born and not giving a damn about the child once it is alive has been legal and common.

“About 22 years of age; used to both house work and farming, and sold for not fault but for want of employ. She has a child about 9 months old, which will be at the purchaser’s option.”

Has your outrage about the overturn of Roe v. Wade drawn your attention away from the January 6 insurrection hearings yet? If Republicans can make us focus on “women’s rights” instead of addressing White Supremacy, they can lull us into a 1920 voting rights moment where white women believe they’ve won some kind of freedom without even noticing that the same freedom won’t be extended to Black women until 1964. If we stay focused on dismantling racism, we win liberty and justice for all.

For 400 years, Black women learned and practiced the art of bodily autonomy in shackles. They found ways to end pregnancies. They helped one another keep waking up to endure another day of monstrous labor under the whip-enforced command of white men who hated them almost as much as they desired them. Many died. White women did not speak up, clinging to what little power they were “given” by their husbands, and unwilling to part with it in favor of real liberation. No one needs a fictional story about Gilead to see where we’re headed. Our history tells the story just fine on its own.

Why do I have to make reproductive rights an issue about race? Because who gets the right to choose their own body’s fate has always been about race. From the forced sterilization of Native American women through the 1970’s, to the forced breeding of enslaved African Americans, to the difficulty of white women to find providers willing to sterilize them because they “might change their mind later”, race has always been a determinant in who gets the privilege to control their reproductive autonomy.

When choosing leaders, experience matters. This is why we need to elect as many people of color as we can in November. This is why we need the descendants of those enslaved people running our government now, to prevent us from going back there again. They know things in ways white people are only beginning to scratch the surface of recognizing. We have opportunities today, through them, to move the nation forward into a path of loving kindness.

My heart is heavy today, as I lament the truth that my own parents and grandparents care more about some exercising power over a theoretical clump of unviable fetal cells than they care about their own living, breathing, hurting, hated, crying, queer offspring. I want to offer you some words of encouragement. I want to tell you it gets better. But all I can really find the words for right now is: Please vote in November. We need you here with us.

And if you can, please volunteer with and donate to these campaigns:

Chris Jones

Monique Jones

Natalie James

Stacey Abrams

Marcus Flowers

Truth No. 2: On the 2016 Election

CW: child abuse // Every link here is a song. Enjoy.

My parents ran against one another for President in 2016. I could see as soon as my mother became the Democratic nominee that the whole country was bound to lose, no matter who won.

As a child I was told, “If anyone ever touches you in your private places, you do everything you can to stop them and then tell a trusted grown-up right away.” As a follow-up, my mother added, “I’ll make sure they go to jail. I’ll always believe you.”

When I was 12 years old, a freshly-graduated student from the Leflar School of Law at the University of Arkansas offered me my first-ever margarita, just before slipping his hand into my swimsuit at the Law Quad, an apartment complex then owned by Professor Rafael Guzman, where law students lived. My mother was a year behind him in law school, approaching her third year as I approached the 7th grade. The week her 28 year old classmate and I spent together in that swimming pool, with him holding my hand, telling me how pretty, how smart, how mature for my age I was, happened in June — or was it July? — of 2000. He was in town visiting his girlfriend before returning to Alabama to begin his career as a JAG attorney.

One afternoon in August, I came home from school on the bus at the usual time to find the apartment door locked. Thinking my mother wasn’t home, I let myself in through the screen window. I discovered not only that she was in fact home, but that I’d been locked out so as not to interrupt her private time with a married man. Annoyed that she had so little regard for my right to access my own home on time after school, I walked outside, fully clothed, and jumped into the swimming pool. Ray Schlegel was sitting there and asked if I was okay. I said no.

Maybe half an hour later, I saw a man I’d never met (at whose home I would be orally raped 6 months later) leave our apartment, #27. He turned out to be another of her classmates. Then my mother came outside to ask why I was wearing clothes in the swimming pool. Ray excused himself and left.

As a child whose father had just thrown all my belongings into trash bags and literally put me out on the curb with a portable phone to “Call someone. Anyone. Just leave here and don’t ever come back,” four months earlier in April, I was infuriated that my mother had locked me out of my own home. I was infuriated that I never felt like I had a home; not since Grandma Doris had died, anyway. My mother sat there offering platitudes and empty assurances of understanding. She Hillary Clinton’d her way through that conversation until I blew my lid and said something that I just knew would really get her to listen to me: I told her about her friend sliding his hand inside my swimsuit earlier that summer. I told her that if she’d been paying more attention to me instead of to the sleezy men she wanted to build her career around, she’d have already known about it. I told her the truth, and I expected her to make good on believing me like she’d said she would, damnit.

Oh, she believed me. Then she chided me for being a slut and for letting him do it.

“At least he noticed I exist!” I stood up and yelled. “He cared about me more than you do!”

In 2015, the Democratic Party attempted to force-feed us my mother for President. She knew about the ways Donald Trump had slipped his hand into America’s swimsuit and left us sitting like trash to be picked up along the curb of his house, but she was more concerned with playing by a rule book that would advance her career than in demanding accountability for the well-being of the American people whose safety she wanted, but didn’t deserve, to be entrusted with. She wore smugness onto the debate stage when her wardrobe manager should have dressed her in deeply rooted, mama-bear fabrics of protective outrage. Her eyes were shaded with cunning self-assuredness where her makeup artist should have presented her to us in hues of compassion, lined with poignant commitment, and integrity-based mascara. The satisfied smirk painted on her face was the worst possible lipstick a leader could ever choose. There was clearly no satisfaction in that sad situation for her to be smirking about.

Soon enough, and as I predicted, Clinton was on the defensive against email scandal allegations and all manner of distracting criticisms — ultimately for committing just one locking-her-child-out-of-their-own-home level sin: She put her desire for career and power over her desire for our genuine well-being as vulnerable, exploited communities spanning from sea to shining sea.

If she’d had a half-decent communications director, that “Black children must be brought to heel” comment Clinton couldn’t erase would have turned into “Black children must be brought to heal,” as she unveiled plans for improved mental health infrastructure, with student debt forgiveness and dedicated scholarship funding for BIPOC mental health students to get their graduate degrees and licensing credentials. But that would have required Clinton to genuinely believe their lives matter more than my mother believed my life mattered when she locked me out of my home. When the rubber met the road, Clinton showed us she’d rather carry around a bottle of hot sauce in her bag and threaten us with the only alternative — “Do you want to go live with your father? Hmm?” — than do the work of ensuring a country — a home — children can grow up in fearlessly.

When that moment came to a head with Ms. Rodham-Clinton, like it did by the poolside with my mother, half the country stood up, their clothing drenched with chlorinated water, and yelled, “At least he notices I exist! He cares about me more than you do!”

We were traumatized 12 year olds in adult bodies, clinging to the idea that at least the rapist was honest about not loving us. Somehow that honesty felt better than being lied to, and still not really being loved.

I saw the results of the 2016 election coming. Anyone in Seattle, where I was living at the time, can tell you I saw it coming. They said I was out of touch, angrily dismissed my perspective, and even called me anti-feminist for refusing to vote. They didn’t believe, but they did fear, Donald Trump could get elected. They didn’t believe Clinton was as awful as I said she was, I guess because they’d never been raised by her kind in Arkansas. I knew what being under the thumb of someone with her particular power complex felt like, and I didn’t want that outcome any more than I wanted to be under her opponent’s thumb with his power complex. I saw no “lesser of the evils” between the two. No, I didn’t want to live with Trump in power. I knew how bad that would be. But I also knew how bad life was with her, too. I grew up in Arkansas, after all.

What I wanted was the 2008 Obama who’d made us believe we could somehow suddenly live in a safe home where children wouldn’t be pawns between two power-hungry presidential parents anymore. I think we all wanted that. Maybe especially the folks who swung for Trump. We’d voted for Change, Hope, and Yes We Can. The Democratic Party wanted me to move back in with my abusive mother after 8 years of living at Uncle Barack’s house? Hell. No.

You don’t like the sound of the truth comin’ from my mouth.

“This time when he swung a bat and I found myself laying flat I wondered”…

  • Who is the trusted adult I’m supposed to tell about inappropriate behavior when the President was a rapist? When Sarah Huckabee Sanders, running for Governor of Arkansas, is allied with Proud Boys and insurrectionists? When Patrick Deakins is running for County Judge and won’t even say hello to his transgender colleague because he prides himself on being difficult to work with and apparently dislikes people like me? When I’ve been sexually assaulted by more police in Washington County than by any other group of people in my life? Who is the trusted adult responsible for ensuring I’m safe in Washington County, AR?
  • Where do I go for safety when the Democrats’ house is unorganized, dirty, unstable, and unwelcoming; while the Republicans’ house offers a pretty solid guarantee that Uncle Duggar will come in my bedroom in the middle of the night, in every sense of the verb?
  • Why do I feel like I just transitioned at 18 into being the ward of a government which has transferred unto itself my parents’ childhood right to abuse me, instead of liberating me from abuse? Is this a childhood nightmare I’m going to wake up from? When? How?
  • Should I refrain from publishing these truths publicly, to protect my mother’s feelings? I always felt sad for Eminem’s mother when he said he was ‘sorry but cleaning out his closet.’ But cleaning out that closet is also how he moved from 8 Mile to being able to provide for his child and give her a better future than he’d been handed. Is it wrong to be honest about a personal history that I see still repeating itself on a national, state, and local stage every day of my life?
  • Would I be seeing my childhood trauma patterns in every aspect of our government today if I hadn’t been raised by cops?
  • Will any of this matter if I’m murdered at the grocery store tomorrow by an angry white man with a gun?
  • When I recently told my mother I was afraid of being killed by white supremacist terrorists threatening the Pride parade, why wouldn’t she engage me in conversation about how I felt? Why did she shut down instead, and pretend my daily fears founded in reality don’t exist? Why let my feelings boil over and curdle until I end up writing about them?
  • Why didn’t my mother hug me before I left the house for the Pride parade? I left my notarized Will and Healthcare Directive sitting on her table because I expected someone might hate me enough to kill me, and she didn’t even care to give me a hug?
  • Does she care enough to vote? Or is that too much like hugging me?
  • Does she vote Republican, delusionally thinking the people she’s voting for aren’t actively trying to make me dead?
  • Or does she vote Democrat, thinking she’s doing her part to create a world I can live in, and that should be enough so she doesn’t have to do anything more?
  • Why do so many people think voting Democrat is all they have to do to make the world a better place, instead of understanding that communities require active effort and ongoing investment? How do we persuade them to do better moving forward?
  • What would happen if the 1 million voters in Arkansas who didn’t vote in the last election turned out this year? Would they vote to give me a hug, or let me die?

I’ve written a fair amount lately about my concerns regarding the Democratic Party, but this is all it boils down to. These are the questions weighing on my mind every day. These are the questions I need our leaders to relieve me from, unflinchingly and unapologetically, with real policies and quantifiable outcomes. No bullshit.

No dancing around the truth to keep my raging, former-President father from flying off the handle again because he got caught being an insufferable, racist windbag. Just swing a frying pan upside his head already, and lock him up for the crimes he’s committed.

No sweeping the truth aside because my mother, who never listened when her child screamed to be heard, doesn’t like the uncomfortable facts.

No pretending I’ve had a home in the United States of America at any point in the past seven years.

There is no lukewarm middle here. You’re hot, or you’re cold. You’re on fire with passion for our communities, for our state, for our nation, and for our planet; or you’re content to destroy everything God has created and entrusted us with, and to leave future generations with nothing at all. You believe my life matters, and you want me to feel loved beyond a shadow of doubt; or you don’t care enough to give me a hug knowing you may never see me alive again. Hot; or cold. Choose.

I look forward to seeing the Democrats step up into being the blazing, guiding star of moral and social integrity that we need against the cold, soul-crushing gravity of the Republican Party, because being lukewarm doesn’t cut it. The Democrats have a long way to go to reach that point, but I see hope on the horizon in candidates like Chris Jones, Monique Jones, Natalie James, Kelly Krout, and Josh Moody. They’re stepping up to blaze brightly, but they cannot outshine the darkness all alone.

I look forward to the day I can turn toward the people of Arkansas and not see my childhood trauma reflected back to me in their apathy. Until then, I’ll be over here dreaming I’m not living in a nightmare anymore.

“We’ve Invited the People of Color. Where Are They?”

I believe that transparency is fundamental to Democracy, and fundamental to healthy community building. I hope the organizations who’ve inspired this post will share this belief, as it forms the basis upon which I write the following in a spirit of goodwill and community healing:

Last night I attended my first-ever local Democrats meeting. I’d been asked by half a dozen people to show up and get involved.

“We need you,” they said. I’m allergic to being needed, after 5 years of living as a white man and developing a disastrous savior complex in my 20’s. Highly allergic. You don’t need me. You need to look within yourself and be honest about what you see.

“We lack organization since the old guard has phased out,” one told me. “That generation of Democrat didn’t listen, but they were organized. The newer folks care enough to listen, but we aren’t as organized.”

“Our Black caucus and Hispanic caucus have already peaced out,” a couple of them shared. “How can we be a Democratic group without a Black caucus and Hispanic caucus? They won’t even show up anymore! How can we live up to our values with just white people at the table?”

So I showed up. I listened. I learned. I ate lemon cake.

I noticed there was one visibly Native American person in the room, and everyone else was white. I was the only transgender person in the room; everyone else was cisgender. There was one Black woman on the zoom call, who also happens to be the only Black Justice of the Peace for the whole county; everyone else on zoom appeared to be white or had their cameras turned off.

I asked the leadership about this lack of diversity after the meeting concluded. The white woman in command began naming a list of BIPOC community organizers she knows, none of whom want to be involved with the county Democrats. I asked her why they don’t get involved (as if people she named hadn’t already told me themselves.)

“Well I’ve invited Irvin, but he doesn’t want to get involved until he sees us in Springdale doing the work in the community,” she answered. She looked resigned, like there was simply nothing more the Democrats could do to persuade the magical and illustrious Irvin Camacho to give a flying flip about the Democrats who want his communities’ votes so desperately for their many candidates.

“Great!” I said. I mean, really, this was wonderful news for the Democratic Party in Arkansas! Apparently Irvin’s still open to them earning his presence at their table. He hasn’t slammed the door in their face and told them to go masturbate with sandpaper. There is opportunity here! All the Democrats have to do is show up for grassroots community engagement and help out in the ways that are needed by the people they’re supposed to serve.

“So what are you doing to help get Alice Gachuzo elected to city council in Springdale right now?” I asked. I was on the edge of my seat, ready to hear about the door-knocking, the phone calling, the texting, the donation drives, the events these experienced, political-savvy people were helping Alice with for her campaign as a first-time candidate with a solid history of non-political leadership in the community.

“Oh, I know Alice!” the leader said excitedly.

“Yes, but what are you doing to help her get elected?” I asked again. “What are all the people who were in this room tonight doing to help her get elected?”

Another leader of the group spoke up. “City Council is a non-partisan race,” he said. “We don’t usually get involved in those.”

White Democrats, this is where the fork in the road requires us to choose between white colonization practices, or community, and walk the path we choose. What we “usually get involved in” and what we need to get involved in if we care to repair our communities are not the same path. Let me explain:

City Council may be a non-partisan race, but the impact of the first-ever Black woman being elected to office in Springdale, a predominantly non-white city run by wildly non-representative, white council members, is immeasurable. The impact of her representing the people of Springdale instead of the special interests of the political and financial elite, is immeasurable. Her potential impact on our communities as minoritized humans is immeasurable. I don’t even live in Springdale anymore, and I’m working to help Alice get elected because I know she will make the world a better place. That’s all the reason I need to show up and help.

The old ways of the Democratic Party were about playing by a two-party rule book of numbers and cunning out-maneuvering. The Democrats approached politics like a chess game with Republican opponents, instead of a life-or-death struggle that transcends party lines. That old style and approach gave rise to Hillary Clinton. The United States had already made very clear when we voted for Obama that we wanted Change. We wanted freedom and justice for all. We wanted hope. We wanted to stop playing old political games of oppression olympics, and start investing in our children, in our well-being, in our planet, and in our future. But then the Democratic Party in 2015, turning to its old, familiar, abusive patterns under the arrogant assumption that Donald Trump couldn’t possibly get elected, tried to force-feed us one of the most repugnant candidates it could: Hillary Clinton. The Democratic Party tried to make us accept as our leader a woman who talked about Black children as if “they must be brought to heel”, a woman who verbally eviscerated a 12 year old rape victim on the witness stand in Arkansas to advance her career as an attorney, a woman who deliberately aligned herself with the man responsible for “three strikes and you’re out” executive legislation — as well as the soaring stock prices of Corrections Corporations of America, a for-profit prison system continuing to this day to profit on the enslaved labor of primarily Black and brown bodied people. The national Democratic Party chose the white colonization practices path instead of the community path, and walked the path they chose, and got Donald Trump as a result.

When you tell God you want white colonization practices, God will give you what you ask for.
When you tell God you want anti-racism, God will give you what you ask for.
When you’re lukewarm, God will spit you out like Hillary Clinton’s hot sauce.

When Irvin tells the leader of the local Democrats he’ll show up for us when he sees us showing up for his communities, he’s offering us a way out of that predicament. The price his presence will cost us is a simple, sincere commitment to prioritizing the needs of the people, and doing what’s right, over the “usual” procedural vestiges of a crumbling Party.

That’s probably what the Black caucus’s presence will cost us. That’s probably what the Hispanic caucus’s presence will cost us. That’s what the privilege of enjoying Indigenous people at our decision-making tables will cost us. White Democrats like me must pay the price of humility and committed action to earn their presence at our table. Nothing is free.

This is like any other relationship, y’all. You can’t just offer a half-assed contribution to an unhealthy relationship and expect the best-ever partners to stick around for that relationship. You get what you give. People who know their worth will go where they are appreciated.

White Democrats have been showing up with pretty-worded apologies, and maybe occasionally a dozen roses, asking minoritized people for yet another chance to hold an abusive relationship together. Then when they get another chance, they crack open another cold one in front of the TV and sit down to relax like they’ve done a gazillion times before. Meanwhile, people of color have been asking Democrats to be full-fledged partners in their lives — doing our part for laundry day, doing the dishes, and treating the children like they’re our responsibility to show up for.

You don’t get people of color at a table built by white supremacy simply by asking them to show up. You get people of color at the table by scrapping the bullshit and building a new table they feel comfortable at. You get people of color at the table by acknowledging openly and honestly where the harms have been your own fault, and not repeating the mistakes again. They don’t want roses and chocolate. They want you to not sit back down in that old chair while asking them to bring you another beer — or get out and take your roses with you. I feel like they’ve been really clear about this.

By the end of the night, one of the leaders casually offered to me, “You can be in charge of our diversity!”

Oh, what I would have given last night to still feel even an ounce of the honor, the excitement, and the pleasure I used to feel when people invited me to be a First, Only, and Different participant in a game they had already fully constructed around and without me. But I see the F.O.D.s who’ve already told the Democratic Party what kind of community participation they need in order to feel invested in in this relationship, and I’ll be honest: I don’t want to be the next in line for the kind of relationship they got served.

In the interest of not picking on just one organization, it’s not like the Democrats are alone with the White Blinders problem. I saw a similar mess this week where a local, white-led LGB(T) organization responded to Black and Indigenous queer community organizers who’d identified a specific white supremacist threat against the Pride parade, by issuing a statement that they’d enlisted extra help from the police department, denied any known specific threats existed, and low-key urged queers of color not to arm themselves for self-defense and just trust the police to handle it — all while choosing not to engage any of the queers of color in meaningful conversation.

I didn’t have to know their organization is entirely white, to know their organization is entirely white. I didn’t have to know the only trans person on their board of directors left earlier this year, to conclude they are entirely cisgender-led. Their statements this week made the evidence abundantly clear. We can hear whose voices are missing from organizations’ decision-making tables as clearly as we can hear the voices missing from the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir of 1992.

White supremacy is a retropsychopathology affecting us no less intensely than the unchecked retroviral epidemic of the 1980’s. What will it take for us to look within our hearts and choose the path of our loving, friendship-focused, generous, inner child rather than the policies and systems of white entitlement we’ve been trained into as adults?

Having diverse voices in your ranks is how you avoid these fiascos when unexpected or urgent situations arise. You build the relationships when times are good, so you have diverse people to collaborate with when times are hard. And you don’t get those relationships by setting the terms of the relationship and then inviting others in. You get those relationships by co-creating and sharing in the work as much as in the fruits of the labor.

White people, we can do this. Just take a deep breath, and choose what you’ll invest your energy in today.

On Democracy and Our Humanity

For the first time, I’ve gotten involved in a political campaign. Two of them. I’m learning things about the way our “democracy” is systematically structured against democracy though. Can we talk about what I’m seeing?

Observation #1: Non-profits are not allowed to support any political candidate.

Observation #2: Many cities and towns prohibit political candidates from gathering on public property.

Observation #3: People with lots of money host fundraisers and events on private property for the candidate of their choice.

Stir them all together, and what do we have? Vote-buying power for the financially wealthy. Cities and towns with uneducated voters. And a real struggle for average, non-politician, service-oriented people who care enough to take on the establishment and represent our communities appropriately in the government.

I’m working on a small, local campaign for Josh Moody for Washington County Judge. I feel strongly about Josh’s efforts because he will work to reduce incarceration of Washington County citizens, push back against $100 million in taxpayer funds being spent to build a new jail that we don’t need, and redirect existing funds toward providing mental health and housing stability services. He will nurture and heal Washington County residents. He’s committed to investing in our strengths, not our weaknesses.

My job is to schedule “Think Out Loud” community listening sessions where he goes around Washington County and listens to what you care to say. He wants to know your needs, your ambitions, your hopes, and your requests. This is what every prospective government official should be doing.

I keep running into roadblocks though. “No political campaigning on city property” and “We would love to host you, but as a non-profit organization we cannot let you use our space or be affiliated with us in any way.” This keeps Josh from getting to listen to the most marginalized people — especially people who rely on non-profit services to stay alive. This keeps him out of homeless shelters, out of churches, out of community groups, out of public libraries, and out of city parks. This system of government interference in political campaigns keeps him from having access to Washington County residents, and keeps Washington County residents from having access to him.

Meanwhile, Republican candidates seem to have plenty of for-profit business owners ready, willing, and legally allowed to host their events for community outreach. With promises of jail expansion, using covid relief funds to expand imprisonment instead of honoring Washington County residents with rent stability, and sometimes even a blatant indecency to kindly say hello to certain minoritized constituents, Republican candidates in local races are buying votes through a crony system that only allows gathering in for-profit spaces.

I’m watching a parallel tragedy unfold in my volunteer work on the Chris Jones for Governor campaign. For so many decades of Arkansas history, the Democratic Party has played by an oppressive two-party rule book; few people — particularly people of minoritized race, gender, and class — feel heard or cared about by the Democratic Party. Arkansas is not a red state. Arkansas is a non-voting state. Arkansas is a state that asks, “What’s the point?” when I plead for their vote this November in support of candidates who want to invest in our children, in our economy, and in our future.

The alternative to Chris Jones for Governor is Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has repeatedly shown up in photos with, allied herself with, and chosen not to denounce white supremacist insurrectionists. She’s proposing tax cuts to benefit the wealthy (think Walton- and Tyson-wealthy) that will negatively affect already underfunded social services. Her father was the same terrible governor who took me out of class in high school so I could be weighed and have my BMI printed on my report card, because he believed having our parents shame us for being fat would leave a better impact on Arkansas’ youth than making healthier school lunches more affordable than a dollar menu McDonald’s burger. She responded to the Uvalde shooting by saying that very evening, “We will make sure that when a kid is in the womb, they’re as safe as they are in the classroom” — completely missing the reality that people who are not white and financially wealthy, like her, are not safe in Arkansas. Also missing the reality that Arkansans will die from ectopic pregnancies under her plans for anti-abortion laws. Or maybe she just doesn’t care if poor Arkansans die, since rich Arkansans will always have access to abortions whether it’s legal or not. She has spent her life preparing herself as a political pawn for a group of anti-Democratic, anti-American goons who want to take the government my uncle gave his life in the US Army to protect, and replace it with an authoritarian regime. This terrifies me.

Sanders’ campaign has raised over $13 million to Chris Jones’ $2 million at this point. She is buying her way into the governor’s seat, while Jones is out walking all over the state to meet with communities, truly listen, and consider the feedback and solutions that real Arkansans are now proposing to him. He is not a politician. He is a minister who sees a need for Arkansas to be represented and cared for in a spirit of faith, hope, and hard work. Chris Jones is currently doing what I was taught in high school American Government that our elected officials exist to do. He doesn’t have as much money, but he does have the power of people who know Arkansas needs relief and empowerment.

If people vote. If he can reach them. If he’s allowed to gather with them. If local anti-political ordinances don’t keep Chris Jones from being allowed hear to all voters, like they have been keeping Josh Moody from hearing all voters.

I’m sitting with the weight of this truth and trying to explain it to my inner 16 year old who once sat in Bob McKee’s American Government class at Fayetteville High School, bright-eyed and trusting about the promise of freedom and justice for all.

Can you explain any of this to my inner 16 year old? Can you say anything that will make the pain of betrayal by my own country, my own state, my own city goverment sting less? Can you do anything to change the system so it serves the people affected by it? Even just one small thing? Even just show up to vote for candidates who care about living up to the values of liberty and equality which America purports to uphold, rather than sustaining the values of division, hatred, violence, and heartlessness we’ve been suffering from for too long? Maybe putting up yard signs and talking with your neighbors? Something? Anything?

There’s a 16 year old in Arkansas who needs you to leave them a better reality than what’s been handed down to me. Please show up for them?

On Father’s Day and Juneteenth

Father’s Day has been weird for me since I was 4 years old. That it falls on Juneteenth this year gives the weirdness a uniquely ironic twist.

I don’t have to worry about what I say in a Facebook post because my father already blocked me — or did I block him, this time? We’ve done this un-loving dance so many times now, I don’t remember. What I do remember is the last message he sent me in December 2021, angry about how I allegedly believe myself to no longer be white.

What I had said was: White people need to stop enacting harms against ourselves and one another in some delusional attempt to control our progeny, to control women, and to control folks of color.

What I had said was: I will never again tolerate you showing up at my house unannounced on a day when I explicitly told you I was unavailable, expecting me to perform for your newest woman like a seal in a zoo.

What I had said to my father, not 6 months after I had been raped at work, and just days after he showed up at my house interrupting my writing workshop retreat so he could force me to meet his newest fiancee after I had told him I didn’t want to meet her, was: You are never going to violate my consent again, no matter what it takes to keep you from violating me.

What I said was: expecting me to perform so you can hold the illusions in your life together is a symptom of the entitlement you cling to as a white man, and I will no longer play a part in upholding your lies.

Apparently the man who impregnated my mother doesn’t know how to be honest about the abuses he has perpetrated and hold himself accountable to not continuing those abuses. He isn’t honest about telling me at four years old, when our new Mexican neighbors moved in, that they would have to defer to him because he was a police officer and they had moved into “our” neighborhood and could “go back where they came from if they don’t like it”. He isn’t honest about how he treated them, and he isn’t honest about the racist, dehumanizing ways he taught me to treat them from that very early age. He isn’t honest about what his being a white man truly means, especially for people who have been at his mercy. He isn’t even honest about how much I myself have been at his mercy.

Apparently my father concludes that I reject my own whiteness because, like him, I must be incapable of humbly acknowledging I’ve benefited from — and contributed to — making mistakes which have harmed people of color throughout my life. My father thinks I can’t hate what white culture has done, without hating myself. So he took what I said about no longer tolerating white male entitlement in my life, and turned it into a story about how I am the delusional one, allegedly now believing myself to be Native American or Black or I’m not sure what, because he believes I cannot simultaneously accept that I am white and also that white people have some serious growing up to do. He doesn’t believe I can accept that I have some growing up to do without violently hating myself for it. That cognitive dissonance is just too much for him to bear.

Just for the record: I am 8-generations-in-America white. I’ve read the old archived news article describing my 6th great grandfather murdering Native Americans in the conquest of this land. I may do things like learn words in Cherokee, because I believe that Indigenous language preservation is critical and I owe a debt to Native peoples which can never truly be repaid, but you will never hear me claim to be Cherokee. I may spend a lot of time with Black friends because they’re generally more humane and comfortable to be around than most white people, but you will never hear me claim to be Black. I may have been mentored extensively by Indigenous elders who’ve invested more in my well-being and knowledge than anyone else on the planet, but I have no delusions that learning what I know from them will ever make me an Indigenous person. I know who I am, and I know the responsibilities of social and spiritual repair these facts put on my shoulders.

This is not the first year that my father and I are not speaking on Father’s Day. In fact, we’ve spoken on far fewer Father’s Days than not, in my 34 years on planet Earth. But this is the first year I feel some real peace about not welcoming his entitlement, his presumptuousness, and his demands of my energy into my life. There is still a tinge of sadness that he chooses not to appreciate or respect the adult human I’ve become. But I am at peace.

This is the first year I can truly say that I have relationships with men in my life that are mutually healthy. No clinging or chasing. No prioritizing one abusive male partner over everyone else. No domestic violence in my home. These relationships are very different from the old, familiar, unhealthy, comfortable, soothing toxicity of the relationship I struggled in for 33 years with my father. These men aren’t my “saviors” and they don’t pretend to have all the answers. They listen when other people speak. When they don’t understand something, they ask questions. They are not afraid of conversation. They are not afraid of truth. They are not afraid to help me heal what my own whiteness has done to scar me, and they are not afraid to hold space with me while I open myself up and perform my own surgeries on the wounds that caused the scars.

There are so many beautiful men showing me I can and do deserve healthy models of masculinity in my life. To these men, I want to wish you a very happy and beautiful Father’s Day.

And to the Black folks who fill my life with such wonderful examples of humanity, love, and dignity, I wish you a Juneteenth filled with peace and gentleness as we continue toward a future in which your unabridged Liberation becomes a collective, full-scale reality.