Friday, April 12, 2013

The Need to Talk, Without Talking

A couple days ago, I posted a link on Facebook to this story about a teenage girl who was gang-raped by four classmates at a friend's house, then shamed and bullied by her peers after photos of the incident were shared online and went viral in her community. The girl hanged herself last week and her family took her off of life support on Sunday.

Despite the photos, an investigation found there was "insufficient evidence to lay charges."

When I shared the link, I wrote above it, "Fuck victim-blaming, slut-shaming, rape culture."  

Rape culture. Our culture in which the victims of violent assault are often treated as though what happened to them was their fault. Our culture in which our justice system too often fails these victims. 

Shortly after I posted the link, a female co-worker (who I will call "Jane") wrote me the following email:

Jane: Just spent 5 minutes in the bathroom crying over that story you posted. I wish I knew how to help, or how to even start helping, without getting cry-y and breaking down.

Jack: Damn, I'm sorry.
Yeah, I know what you mean though. Horrible feeling of helplessness.
This is why I shouldn't be allowed to internet at work. 

Two days later, a message from Jane:

Really? Really? Second story this week?
I just don't understand.

Jack: This has become an epidemic and it scares the shit out of me as a father. Bullying, cyber-bullying, victim blaming.... gay kids, girls who simply got drunk around the wrong people ..... It's so heartbreaking and so enraging that a beautiful loved one can be taken from you in this fashion.

Jane: It scares the shit out of me as a human. And it is heartbreaking, and enraging, and scary. It shouldn't happen - the rape, the glorification of it through shared images, the ridicule, the suicide. It breaks my heart. As angry as I am about it, I'm equally scared. I can't relate, but I can totally understand their feelings. I was talking with [boyfriend] last fall and started bawling (it was after an episode of SVU), I told him I don't know how people do it. I started to seriously think if I was ever raped, I don't know how I would live with myself and what happened. And would probably end my life.

I guess that was a long pointless rant. I'm just angry and scared. That's all.

Jack: Not pointless at all. I think it take a lot of strength for someone to overcome something like that happening to them in the first place. And to be so young makes it seem so much more impossible. Especially when your "world" is so small. Your high school is your world and your classmates are *everyone* and when you feel like everyone thinks you're a slut/whore/piece-of-garbage, life feels hopeless.

Scariest of all is the fact that every decision involved, by all parties involved, all the way from the initial assault, to the sharing of the photos, to the shaming, the blaming, the bullying, to the decision to take one's own life--every one of those decisions are made by young people who aren't equipped mentally, emotionally, or hormonally to make those decisions. Throw in the high school peer pressure/herd mentality and you've got a recipe for disaster.
You've got this tenuous balance of idiot sub-adults making decisions with horrific consequences.

And now we have this share-everything-online culture these kids are raised into, making the situation spiral out of control that much faster.

That's me analyzing the shit out of it. The other part of me just wants these bullies and rapists to suffer for the rest of their lives.

Jane: I want that too. I want justice. But rather than want justice after the fact, I'd rather it not happen at all. And I'm struggling, because I really don't know what to do to even begin to help stop it. I feel so helpless.

Jack: I don't know. Maybe the only thing you can do is to do your part in teaching the young people in your family right from wrong. Which is really the best thing you can possibly do.

Jane: Right. At the very least, it's something. Okay. SORRY about the sadness this morning.

Jack: No need to apologize. Real talk.

Jane and I never actually said a single word to each other during this discussion. We didn't even mention it afterward. Maybe because we were at work. Maybe because it would feel too awkward, talking about such a serious matter. Yet we both needed an outlet. We needed to talk about it. Somehow.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why You're Absolutely Wrong if You're Against Gay Marriage

There are many divisive issues in this country, but gay people getting married really ought not to be one of them. Here's why:

First, the Constitution. Duh. In fact, the First Amendment of the Constitution. That alone should kill the argument. Unfortunately, a lot of people think religion should play a role in government. But which religion? Oh, yours? How convenient for you.

Second, about that whole religion thing. Yeah, sorry to break it to you, but from the very first marriages in recorded history to the present day, religion has nothing to do with marriage. Some people (including myself) choose to include religious ceremony and values in their marriage. But the institution of marriage itself (and its legal implications) has absolutely nothing to do with religion. It never has. And even if it did, that whole First Amendment thing kind of overrides that argument. Rock beats scissors.

Third, the argument that people of the same sex getting married is "unnatural?" Two human beings born with the genetics to love and be attracted to their own sex, instead of the opposite sex--that, my friends, is the very definition of nature. Paper covers rock.

These three facts alone (and they are facts--these are not opinions) ought, logically, to kill the whole debate before it even begins. Unfortunately, we are not a logical, fact-based society. We are one of selfish politics, social anxieties, and church-influenced government. But I have faith--if you want to call it that--that leveler heads will prevail. Intelligence and logic will have their day all across this country.

Oh, there no doubt will be pockets of stubborn ignorance here and there. But we will win this. The people against us simply do not have a leg to stand on. Their politicking will only hold off absolute justice for so long.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Winter Cycling in the Pacific Northwest

In May of 2012, we bought a new house in North Edmonds, nearly twice as far north from downtown Seattle as our previous home. Not only was my commute going to get longer, it got a little more complicated as well. Where before, I was able to catch a single bus downtown, it would now take two buses to get there. Either that, or find another option... Bike!

Not all the way, mind you. That would take about three hours. Bike to the nearest Park & Ride, however, and that gets rid of the need for that first bus trip. You know what's worse than riding a bus? Riding two buses.

I'd always wished I could live close enough to work to become a bicycle commuter, but I don't make nearly enough money to afford the size of home we need while being close enough to do that. So incorporating my bike into my daily commute has been a sort of compromise to make that dream come true.

Now, when I started riding, it was late May/early June. Then I had all summer--an Indian Summer at that--to get used to the ride (the ride itself isn't real long--takes about fifteen minutes-- but it is mostly uphill in the morning), so the big question to me was, how is this going to work come winter when it's dark, cold, and raining every day? Am I going to be able to do this?

The answer is yes. There was the matter of purchasing the right clothing (believe me, you get what you pay for in this department--my Showers Pass jacket, though pricey, has been amazing) and the right bicycle gear (lots of blinking lights!), but beyond that it was a simple matter of saying, "Fuck you, rain!" and hitting the road.

There have, of course, been days when it was simply too crazy to ride: an apocalyptic downpour, icy roads, etc. And there are days here and there that I simply don't feel like riding. But it only takes a couple days of taking two buses to get to work and two to get home before I'm back on my bike. 

Now spring has arrived. The days are getting longer and we're having more nice days more often. I feel like I can see the light. Like I've made it through my first dark, cold season and I'm pedaling on through to the other side. It's been a really cool experience, actually.

Last month, Showers Pass held a poetry competition on Facebook for Valentine's Day. The winner was to receive a new jacket and pants. I decided to enter. I didn't win, but it was really fun to sit down and write something. It had been too long.

The submitted poem had to be 50 words or less. Here is the full 82-word version:

sideways looks, shaking heads,
gaping maws of disbelief.
but we smile, because we know.

we know what holds us here,
in the dark, the icy rain,
painting plumes of white breath
on black canvas.

we know what holds us here,
we, flashing red comets,
slicing ghoulish beams of light
through predawn fog.

here, our morning climb, frosted over.
fire in the legs,
ice in the lungs.
feeling of lightness at the crest,
of floating, of release.

in our descent, freedom
and knowing.