What Does It Mean To Be An Ally?

Yesterday we all woke up reeling to the horrific news about the worst mass shooting in US history. Yesterday I mourned, cursed, and cried. Today I continue to mourn but am also wondering what it means to be an ally.

I haven’t changed my Facebook profile picture. I haven’t posted my feelings about this tragedy. I haven’t publicly offered my sympathy to the victims or their families. No one directly impacted will read my status so who would I be offering those thoughts to? Would it just be to make myself feel better? Would it be a token of solidarity to my LGBTQ friends or would it be another example of someone in a privileged group co-opting a cause? And if I say nothing does that give the impression that I don’t care? Does that impression matter in the grand scheme of things?

As much as I want my LGBTQ friends to know that I understand how horrific and frightening this is what I really want to express is that I *know* this isn’t about me or how *I* feel. I am an ally but that doesn’t just mean that I speak out for the rights of others. It also means, sometimes more importantly, that I listen. I listen to my LGBTQ friends and their families. I listen to the stories of the victims. I listen to leaders in the equality movement and *their* suggestions for what I can do to be a true ally. This group does not need another straight, white, cis woman, who has never questioned which bathroom to use or if it’s safe to hold her partner’s hand in public, to speak on their behalf. There are plenty of people already speaking for themselves if we only listen.

Yep, I’m Unfriending People

It’s been over a year since I’ve posted to this blog. Life has been busy. I write but don’t polish so nothing sees the light of day. But I find myself increasingly frustrated with election season and I need an outlet so I’m back. 

The main source of my frustration is Facebook. Too much misinformation and half truths floating around. I could just scroll past it but every time I do have a little voice inside me that challenges me for not speaking up. And when I speak up I’m anxiety ridden because I hate conflict. My business requires I spend some time on social media so walking away completely isn’t really an option either. It’s a no win situation. 

So, here’s the deal. In an effort to maintain my emotional and mental well being I’m unfriending and hiding people (some family members hound my mother when I unfriend them so hiding makes things easier for her). Not everyone. Not for sharing political views that differ from my own. Just those who post vitriol, lies, and/or illogical memes, articles, and rants. If you think that’s a cowards way out, you may be right. But I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do so I’m not walking around constantly feeling anxious. I may miss some posts I’d really like to see of kids, vacations, promotions, etc. but again, I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do. 

And for those who share opinions without shaming, lying, and falling for logical fallacies, thanks. I’ll see you on Facebbok. 

Day 18/Post 17: Please Shop Responsibly

I try very hard to be a conscientious shopper and I believe in the idea of “voting with your dollars”. Many times the act of consumers raising their voices, and withholding their money, has caused change in corporate policy.

However, I’m growing a bit weary as it becomes increasingly clear that there are very few, if any, good choices. I’m tired of feeling guilty when all I’m trying to do is feed and clothe my family. When are we going to stop laying the blame at the feet of the working class and demand that corporate giants be held responsible for their crappy policies?

Yes, consumers have responsibilities but we are often limited by economic and regional factors. I don’t want to buy clothes that may be made in dangerous sweat shops but I also recognize that even dangerous, low paying jobs can be important to families living in third world countries. Or am I just deluding myself with that line of thinking as well? How can I be a conscientious consumer when the lines are so blurry?

Second hand seems like a viable option so I turn to thrift shops. Except that the Salvation Army has some very questionable anti-gay practices and Goodwill is paying workers with disabilities pennies per hour.

So, maybe I should just avoid the label “Made in China”. Except the U.S. economy is dependent on our trade with China because it’s a profitable, albeit complex, relationship for us, not just for them.

Buying local and avoiding big box stores is also a rallying battle cry of the responsible consumer.

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Except that large businesses, especially those with responsible labor practices, help pay for all of those things too. I know plenty of parents working for big box companies who depend on that money for their food, dance lessons and mortgage.

People like to believe that these issues are black and white, that if we all simply stop buying from the places with questionable policies then we’ll create a better world. These people have a stronger belief in unchecked capitalism than I do. I still believe it’s important to vote with my dollars but I also believe it’s far more important to actually vote. I’ll be letting my elected representatives know that it’s high time we hold corporations accountable for these policies instead of, once again, piling the responsibility on the backs of the working class.

Day 16/Post 14: Yes, I’m (Usually) Politically Correct

Lately the phrase politically correct is tossed around like it’s dirty at best, dangerous at worst. As I searched for images to include with this post every single quote was a slam about the idiocy of political correctness. Every. Single. One.

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I have a great deal of respect for Stephen Fry and I appreciate the context of this quote. When people are trying to limit the legal  rights of others simply because they are offended but otherwise unaffected they need to just shut up. Or, I guess they can whine but that’s it. Stop trying to pass laws or prevent the changing of current laws simply because you’re offended.

 

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In case you weren’t sure what I was referring to.

But what if someone isn’t trying to pass laws or otherwise infringe upon the rights of others? What if the person standing up to say they’re offended is simply trying to raise consciousness where none previously existed?

When I was a kid it was completely acceptable to call someone retarded when you didn’t like what they were doing. The go to insult these days seems to be calling people gay. When people say they are offended by these things it’s easy to have a knee jerk reaction that they are just being  politically correct and ignore it. We don’t want to come to the point where we have to think about and choose every word carefully because we may offend someone. But in the examples above shouldn’t we be thinking twice?

I taught special education for three years and worked with some really great kids who had an official diagnosis of mental retardation. I’m offended on their behalf when I hear someone use the word retarded because I’ve seen those kids be hurt by the casual use of the word. I’m offended when people use the word gay as an insult because words matter. When we, as a society, agree that it’s okay to use gay as an insult we collectively agree that people who are gay are second class citizens. The fact that you don’t mean any harm with your words doesn’t mean that you don’t do any harm with them.

Yet, right now people on every side of every argument are extremely proud of being politically incorrect. After all, aren’t politically correct people just sheep who bleat back whatever they ‘re told?

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Well, sometimes yes. Sometimes people don’t really think a lot and, as I said earlier, are so worried about being offensive that they don’t stand up for injustice. But here’s the rub; people use the badge of political incorrectness in the same way. Being politically incorrect doesn’t automatically mean you’re thinking for yourself either.

All too often I hear people say that they don’t care about political correctness in an attempt to mask their own prejudices. What they really mean is that they don’t care if their racist, homophobic, misogynistic ideas are from the dark ages; they’re going to cling tightly to them and find a way to feel like they are the brave one in this scenario.

I don’t consider it to be particularly brave or intelligent to be either politically correct or incorrect. These phrases have become a bit meaningless in our culture anyway. So, political correctness isn’t my goal but when it’s pointed out to me that someone finds something I said offensive it gives me pause. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll change or ultimately agree that it’s offensive. But I at least consider it.

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So, does that mean we’re back to that idea about feeling on edge and having to choose every word carefully? Isn’t that just exhausting? Well, sometimes I suppose it is but I don’t think is has to be. When my only motivation is not offending other people then yes, it’s exhausting.  But if I truly entertain those thoughts and try to figure out if I accept them because the offended person has a point it’s a bit easier to eliminate certain words and phrases from my vernacular. Ultimately if my goal is compassion, not political correctness or incorrectness,  it’s not so difficult.

Day 13/Post 12: Happy Birthday, America!

In the U.S. we are celebrating Independence Day today. July 4th marks the day that our forefathers declared we would be a free nation. A lot followed in the months and years ahead while establishing and defining that freedom. Some of it is amazingly inspirational, some deeply shameful. Standing up to distant and oppressive leadership is what we like to remember; caring only about the freedoms of wealthy, white men is something we try to forget. Both still exist and linger in the undercurrent of American culture. Those of us who oppose the latter are often accused of treading upon the former.

But I can love my country without believing it’s perfect. I can even love my country without believing it’s better or more important than other countries. I can look back through American history with an open mind and heart in an effort to glean truth. I can be unabashedly proud of the accomplishments of our forefathers without deifying them. I respect these men, not because they were super human, but because they were so very human. Full of flaws, personal demons and prejudices these ordinary men came together to accomplish something extraordinary. This is so much more remarkable to me than if they were perfect; accomplishing greatness is easy if you’re a god, not so much if you’re human.

So, today, along with many others in my home country, I reflect upon our independence and the men in our history books. I respect their memories, not through blind allegiance, but instead thoughtful reflection. I honor their work by recognizing that what they set in motion is not finished. They understood their own imperfection and mortality; this is why they made our founding document a living, breathing one. There was an expectation that we would carry on that which they laid the groundwork for.

And I’m quite sure, as a woman, I am not someone many of them expected (or perhaps even wanted) to carry on in their place. But I forgive them this flaw and focus instead on the path ahead; the one they paved for us that is in constant need of repairs and improvements. The one that leads the way to true equality for all of its citizens. The ability to work toward this noble goal, not a belief that we’ve already reached it, is the real freedom I’m celebrating today.

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Day 5: DOMA is Dead!

The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today I sit back with a sigh of relief that we are still bending toward justice.

Tomorrow I will pick up my mantle again and continue fighting the good fight. We know this is not the end. Too many citizens are still denied the basic right to marry whom they choose. We are moving in the right direction but we haven’t reached our destination just yet.

And when we do reach our destination we will again pause to celebrate but we won’t rest for long. History has repeatedly taught us that a SCOTUS decision isn’t a guarantee of true equality.

Tomorrow when you argue that this isn’t fair because the people of California voted I’ll patiently explain that we don’t get to vote on whether other people have basic rights.

Tomorrow when you make ignorant statements about people marrying their dogs I’ll less patiently explain that LGBT people are not dogs.

Yes, tomorrow we will go back to sharing information, calling our elected representatives and doing what we can to ensure justice prevails.

But today I sit back and sigh with relief. I smile. I rejoice.

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Conflicting Ideals

There are many things which I feel passionate about and as a result I sometimes find myself conflicted. I accepted long ago that it is IMPOSSIBLE to always live up to every ideal we have and that at times we must prioritize and compromise. Compromising our principles is something we often lament and associate with greed, hypocrisy and a host of other bad qualities. But life is messy and complicated; things aren’t always simple and therefore sometimes we have to make compromises, not because we’re weak or giving in, but in order to attain another ideal.

Right now I’m working toward a healthier lifestyle. I’ve let go of the idea that healthier means thinner which means I’m also letting go of some clothing I will probably never wear again. I need some new clothes. But…

Plus size clothing tends to be expensive. I have found a few cheaper options that I’ve used in the past and I’ve been pretty happy with them. Our decision to unschool our children means we are no longer a full time, two income family. R still works full time but no longer works extra weekend hours because we want that time for our family. I didn’t work outside the home at all for a few years, in which time we made a sizable dent in our savings. I’ve gone back to work part-time and this helps but we still have to follow a budget. There’s not a lot of extra money for clothes. I’m okay with that because doing what’s best for our family is more important than expensive clothes. But…

You may have heard about the fire in a clothing factory in Bangladesh. How can I, in good conscience, purchase clothing that is made in unsafe working conditions? In the past I’ve rationalized buying cheap clothes because shockingly low wages in a factory is still preferable to a life of begging or prostitution; I figured cheaply made clothes were the lesser of two evils. I came to this conclusion after reading stories of workers who were distraught after the infamous Kathy Lee clothing line shut down its sweat shops. The workers were incensed because these working conditions, deplorable by American standards, where the best available to many in the area. However, cheap labor and unsafe labor are not the same things. Hundreds of people dying, pictures of a makeshift slide made from fabric used by those fortunate enough to escape… I am at a loss. I still don’t know if it’s better or worse to take my business elsewhere but I feel I must. But…

Remember that fixed income? Remember why it’s important? Remember that I need plus size clothing? Remember why that is also important? Some of the American made clothing sites I found had a single dress on clearance for $108. That was the cheapest one on the website. The first four websites I found had similar prices. Which of my ideals do I live up to in this circumstance? I know the idea of HAES is that my weight will stabilize meaning I’ll be able to wear the clothes for years. I know I can build my wardrobe slowly. But I don’t have $100 to spend, whether it’s for several items or one. I just can’t.

Thankfully, I did find ONE store with affordable (not cheap, but manageable) prices. Macy’s has a good collection of plus size clothing and if you type “plus sizes USA” into the keyword search it brings up over 200 items with prices beginning at under $20 for a few clearance items. And, as an added bonus, a quick search on Labor 411 shows me that Macy’s is unionized. Yay! (This post did NOT start out as a way for me to endorse a particular store but this is what my research turned up. I am not affiliated with Macy’s in any way and am not being compensated in any way for my opinions here.)

A family member once told me that I overthink these things and I’m trying to hard. He’s conservative and thinks I worry about some of these issues only because of some “liberal agenda”. But the truth is that I’m not trying to be a “good” liberal or “good” anything else. I’m simply aware of what is happening around me. I see that my children thrive when R and I work fewer hours outside the home. I see that people suffer and die so others can profit. I see people, myself included, slip into depression and dangerous yo-yo dieting to try to fit a societal expectation that has nothing to do with health. I see these things and I don’t know how NOT to think about them or try so hard to live up to what I believe is the best I can do. And when they seemingly conflict with each other I feel compelled to spend a little time with my friend, Google. I’m not always so lucky but this time I was able to find a solution. I do realize that made in the US doesn’t necessarily mean safe, fair wage, etc. but it is more likely. It may not be perfect, but at least I can live with it.