you don’t have to be useful / you aren’t here to be productive

trying to figure out what i want to do, work-wise, is… so much. every kind of work i think of doing feels like a trap — like i’ll get in there, maybe even excited about the work, only to discover it makes me want to die as much as the last thing (because what the work is doesn’t really matter, does it). i feel like my brain is constantly wailing: surely this can’t be all there is?

but like… in this capitalist hell state, this is what there is. it’s not all there is, and in my opinion, this is neither the only nor the ideal outcome of a developed state. not that the US actually shows that many markers of development, given the levels of violence against women, massive and widespread income inequality, a government that represents the interests of an extreme minority, and truly embarrassing levels of child poverty, but i digress.

i was listening to my favorite podcast today (Call Your Girlfriend) to an episode about universal basic income (UBI), which is this economic idea that is in use in several high-income countries and many low-income countries, that basically says every citizen will get a certain amount of money ($500-1000) monthly, no questions asked. the money replaces all forms of welfare payments for low-income folks, and replaces what amounts to welfare for wealthy folks — all the tax exceptions and loopholes and mortgage throwbacks they receive that decrease their monthly burden in the same way that welfare payments do. basically, the thought (and the evidence supports this) is that giving people this money flat out will do more to alleviate poverty and provide a financial net for people than the welfare system can successfully do. if you want to get people out of poverty, literally give them money.

i’m all for it. despite capitalist lore, the purpose of a human life is not to function as a cog in the GDP machine for a nation that refuses to supply even basic needs in return. governments exist to serve their people. what people need is access to housing, water, food, education, and health. what people desire is time enough to be happy, to find a mental health balance, to socialize, to create. just think of all the creation and joy humans would be experiencing if only they were given the time. governments need not exist to exploit the humans that live within their borders. governments should absolutely not exist to outright murder or indirectly sanction the murder of their citizens, to steal land and deny rights to indigenous people, to steal labor without compensating the laborers, and so on.

our value as humans does not correlate to our “usefulness” as determined by how much money we can make for our government over the course of our lifetimes. our value as humans is inherent and inalienable. a human being is valuable regardless of: their salary, their job title, their gender, their race, their sexuality, their disability/ability, their immigration status, their willingness to participate in the great capitalist race. we are valuable in and of ourselves, and we deserve to have our basic needs and desires met, and that is a fact.

the dichotomy of knowing and believing this and also needing to work endless hours at something i do not want to work at so that i can scrape by meeting my basic needs is infuriating and deeply depressing. the stress of finding a job that will cover your costs and also be engaging? endless. and that’s where i’m at, folks! thoughts?

 

on Assassination Nation, witch hunts, and feminine rage

Have you seen Assassination Nation yet? It came out on Friday, and to sum it up, it’s about a wide-scale hacking that happens in Salem, Massachusetts (yes, that Salem — very intentional) and the veritable witch hunt that follows, wreaking violence and sexism all around town. The following absolutely contains spoilers, as well as reference to sexual violence, so proceed with caution.

For me, Assassination Nation took the feeling of simmering, explosive rage that women* have been feeling extra hard since the 2016 election and bottled it up into one kick-ass film. The film’s message isn’t exactly subtle — “don’t dress like that, you’re asking for it; don’t take pictures like that, you’re a whore; come on, show a little skin, you’re such a prude” — as the main character Lily explains explicitly in voiceover several times, but it’s effective and viscerally real. It taps into the rage that women have been feeling so intensely these past 2 years, because we now live under the regime of a sexual predator/overall monster, we now live in a state that is actively defending the election of a r*pist (though obviously many of our public officials have been sexual predators) and we have always lived in a patriarchal, white supremacist state that is violent and oppressive to us, especially non-white, non-cis women.

The young women are so, so clearly the victims here. The more the men in the film hyper-sexualize and de-humanize them, the more apparent it becomes that they are girls, they are children, regardless of what they are doing and how they are dressing. The scariest character in the whole film is *heart eyes*Daddy (the father of a toddler that Lily used to babysit for) who groomed and seduced her, texting her for naked pictures, asking her to play the child/daughter role in their sexual scenarios. Towards the end of the movie — at this point their affair has been leaked and both are dealing with fallout, though Lily much more so — we discover that *heart eyes*Daddy murdered his wife and presumably his baby daughter when they tried to leave him. Running from *heart eyes*Daddy, Lily falls into the corpse of the wife in the bathtub, comes up screaming and drenched in her blood. He’s terrifying because his violence seems senseless, uncontrollable — but actually we know that it’s grounded in his understanding of his power over women as absolute. He sees himself as being the final authority in his relationships with women; he decides when to end them, when to end their lives.

There’s a lot more that could be said here to unpack, as well, the specific type of violence that Bex, a transgirl character, is subjected to. Interesting to note is that Bex was never misgendered, even as a mob of fuck-wad jocks colluded to literally hang her for “emasculating” one of their own who had hooked up with her. Their rage against Bex was a mix of homophobia and transphobia as in, they were reacting homophobically to the boy who hooked up with Bex, which is transphobic in and of itself because it denies Bex her girlhood, and further it represents established cis-male violence against transwomen. I liked that the film itself supported and respected Bex’s girlhood, though the jock mob did not.

This movie is wild, y’all. Essays could and should be written. Towards the end there’s this perfect image of the four main girls in these red patent trench coats with a load of guns and various weapons strapped to their bodies just gunning down their would-be assailants. I loved the aesthetic, which was an ode to Tumblr’s kawaii-sex-baby look — think ringer shirts with pink hearts above the nipples, platform jellies, lots of pink, tiny sunglasses, all washed out pastel lighting.

And then, of course, the ending. Who did the hacking? We know that the hacker used Lily’s family’s IP address — it really could not have been her, and definitely not her luddite parents. Naturally we forget about the silent, almost unnoticeable little brother character; just a geeky little white boy with very little impact thus far, of course the only other person with access to that IP address. He’s the one who did it, “for the lols” — for no reason except his privilege and his inability to see or care about the impact on other people, for no reason except perhaps he felt outshone by his wise-cracking, beautiful older sister. You could just hear in the theatre the chorus of confused murmuring — but honestly, who else could it have been? Like most terrorists in America, the culprit behind it all was a dissatisfied young white man.

 

*and everyone who is not a cis man, though gendered policing is against femininity/femme-ness, perceived or actual, IMO

 

(Also! Can we talk about how Mike Montgomery from Pretty Little Liars played the evil ringleader of the jocks — I screeeeamed.)

Mental health in the U.S. requires structural change, not individual action. (CW: mention of suicide)

In the wake of last week’s news of the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain who died, back-to-back, by suicide we are left to grapple yet again with mental health in America and what it means about all of us when even seemingly hyper-successful people struggle to stay afloat and stay alive.

It’s proof of how far the capitalist mentality has seeped into the American consciousness that the immediate reaction to any death by suicide is to agitate for increased individual responsibility “reach out to your friends, check in!” becomes the national cry, as well as consistent invocation of the suicide hotline. The onus remains squarely on the individual for the mentally ill person or the person who has died, the implicit accusation is that health and recovery would come if only they could do more work to reach out and get help. And, despite what the more able and compassionate among us might say (or tweet) about being available to support their suffering friends, in reality, most of the time most people are too bogged down in the day to day emotional strife of living in America to be able to extend their emotional resources to a friend so seriously ill as to consider suicide. People have limited emotional capacity, and that’s okay the trap we’ve fallen into is thinking that the primary responsibility of healing mental illness in this country is on individuals.

In actuality, all of us are struggling constantly to stay afloat some have the resources to do so more easily or successfully. Individual resources are finite, community resources may stretch further, but truly the state has the greatest capacity to effect change for the most people. Universalized access to additional supports such as therapy and medication, access to jobs that pay enough for folks to eat and live well, access to free time and nature, safe housing, and so on, would immensely improve mental health in America.

We can’t ignore the fact that there are many overlapping structures that disallow mental well-being reasons that folks who are already prone to mental illnesses will experience them more severely, and reasons that situational mental illnesses abound as well.

Marginalized groups experience discrimination and micro- and macro-violences that degrade their mental well-being this includes racism, ableism, and homo/transphobia, among others. Poverty is a big contributor to mental illness, and includes not only the fact of being poor, but also the things that prevent people from gaining wealth or financial stability. Access to jobs is connected to houselessness, which is connected, for example, to addiction, to homophobia and transphobia in the home that force queer youth into the streets, and also to racial, homo/transphobic, and classist discrimination in the workplace. Also connected to joblessness is lack of access to higher education due to the exorbitant and ever-rising costs of college, and lack of access to even primary education in areas with high high school dropout rates. And all of these individual factors contribute to mental health problems too. Social support that would allow folks access to education, job training, mental health services, medical care, and so on, do not exist or do not function in a way that meets a massive need for them.

When people are in a place to reach out and ask for mental health supports, they often face continued discrimination in trying to seek therapy people of color are selected against by therapists in America, who as a group are largely white and tend to select white and female clients. Queer and trans people face a dearth of therapists who are affirming of their sexualities and genders, and may end up avoiding therapy to avoid the invalidation and emotional violence they might suffer. Mental health medication is prescribed by psychiatrists who, if you have health insurance to begin with, are frequently out-of-network, making their hundreds-of-dollars-an-hour costs a huge barrier to those who need medications to manage their mental illnesses. There is very little state support or subsidies for mental health medication.

Structural change is necessary if we truly want to improve mental health in the U.S. This is not an all-inclusive article mental health is complex and layered, and there is no simple “fix.” But there are factors we can begin to address with policy and programs that would up the baseline for mental health in the U.S. Focusing the conversation on individual actions to prevent suicide obscures a greater need for conversations about what will truly help mental illness on a national scale structural change and social supports.

Consider, too, whose deaths we see and whose deaths we do not see, and remember that American society has been intentionally constructed so that this is the case we don’t see the homeless, we don’t see the mentally ill, we don’t see queer people, we don’t see people of color, we don’t see the poor so when people who are high in the public eye die by suicide and open up this important conversation, remember whose voices are left out and bring them to the table.

Post-#MeToo: restorative justice & reconciling abuse done by survivors of sexual violence

I wrote the piece below for the blog of the non-profit I work for (name redacted) and despite initial support from the organization, they decided not to go ahead with publishing it because of the very upfront way it portrays a current spokesperson. The spokesperson, mentioned in the final paragraphs below, is a survivor of child sexual abuse who has spoken very honestly and very publicly about the ways his trauma played out, including decades of abusing women. He is currently undertaking a run across the United States to, ironically, “break the silence” around child abuse and encourage more open, honest conversations about it. 

The last post published on the — blog discussed Junot Diaz’s piece in the New Yorker detailing his experience with child sexual abuse and the subsequent decades-long payout of his trauma, especially in his relationships with the women in his life. In the month following that post, a number of women with various levels of association with Mr. Diaz – among them students and readers of his work – have come forward with their own stories of Mr. Diaz’s abusive behavior towards them. Mr. Diaz’s position as both a survivor and an abuser is not an uncommon one – abused people who don’t get help often repeat the cycle. And as a man in a particular position of power and platform, Mr. Diaz’s situation calls up questions around whose stories are being told and how, how we can hold abusers accountable while still allowing them to grow and change, and how we can continue to mindfully center survivors in this conversation as we move forward.

We can hold to be true both that Mr. Diaz displayed a great deal of bravery and strength in coming forward about his abuse, and the knowledge that in the aftermath of his abuse he hurt a great many people in ways that he will never be able to undo or atone for. As he moves forward now in his healing process, he will hopefully begin to own up to the damage he’s done. But really, how can abusers truly atone for the pain they’ve caused? Sexual and gendered violence are woven into the fabric of our culture such that even in trying to acknowledge men’s* healing processes we are willing to subvert the emotional impact their rebounded abuse had on women* and others in their lives as some kind of necessary evil in their journey to asking for help.  

Why are we so willing to exchange women’s pain for any small degree of men’s emotional or relational growth? What does it mean that the bodies of women, children, and other marginalized people are seen as acceptable fields upon which men can act out their violence and aggression and eventually use as stepping stones towards their own emotional growth? Why are women’s, children’s, and other marginalized people’s bodies expendable in that way?

The #MeToo movement has been flawed in many ways; centrally, it is flawed in the way that it privileges certain stories and voices over others. Who was encouraged to speak out? White, wealthy cis-women – people who already exist near, though not at, the axis of power. The entire conversation pits women against men, which ignores the fact that trans folks are subject to an incredible amount of sexual and gendered violence. Immigration status plays a role in who could come forward; undocumented survivors have to juggle fear for their lives and the stability of their families if they have any sort of engagement with the justice system. Whiteness, too, has been largely ignored – and it is not just white men who tend to treat non-white bodies as less than, othered; white women are complicit here as well. And children, whose voices are so frequently disregarded and manipulated, have been consistently left out, as if child abuse and child sexual abuse aren’t significant facets of sexual violence more broadly. And so on. Wealth and power open the door to justice for victims of sexual violence – survivors who exist at the intersection of any number of marginalized identities simply do not have the same access to justice, healing, and recognition.

How do we consider the R*n2Heal within this framework? Much like Junot Diaz, Christian —–, —– spokesperson and the ultra-athlete performing the run, was abused as a child and has owned up to the many ways his enduring trauma played itself out over the subsequent decades of his life, including ways in which he was violent towards women (particularly emotionally and psychologically). Now he’s come forward as a voice for men who’ve suffered childhood abuse – among the many layers of the toxic masculinity rooted in our culture is one that prevents men and masculine people from expressing their emotionality and being vulnerable, and Christian’s and Junot’s honesty defies this stipulation. At the same time, Christian’s role as an advocate does not erase his past behaviors. Both pieces are part of him, and we need to be comfortable allowing him that. Junot both deserves treatment and a path forward, and needs to be held responsible for the women he’s spent a lifetime hurting. So does Christian.

The system is broken and people are still accountable for their own actions. No one forced Junot Diaz into emotionally and potentially physically abusive relationships. Nor did he ask for his trauma; his abuse was not his fault. Restorative justice is complicated and of-yet undefined; how can abusers be honestly and mindfully reintegrated into the communities and families they’ve hurt? Can they be? Is there a point at which someone becomes unforgiveable? These are the deeper questions we need to examine as we move further into this post-#MeToo moment in order to truly begin to heal, treat, and prevent child, sexual, and gendered abuse in our communities.

*“Men” and “women” used here as shorthand for cis men and women; this does not fully account for the experiences of gender-non-conforming or transfolks.*

the bodies of our leaders: mental and physical health stigmas & talking about Tr*mp

When someone steps into the public sphere, how much of themselves are they giving over to the people they’ve committed to serving? Public criticisms of Trump frequently descend from nuanced political debate to ridicule of his physical and mental health. Arguably, some discussion of Trump’s health as it aligns with his ability to perform as president may be warranted. As an elected official, and one with an incomparable amount of power, “we” empower him in theory he owes it to us to use that power in the way that will most benefit us. If the highest ranking official in our government is physically or mentally unable to do that job, does it not fall to the people to demand that he make changes such that he become capable, at risk being removed from his office? But if it’s on us to do so, certainly it’s on us as well to examine our cultural standards of mental and physical health and what it means to apply them to our elected (and potential!) leaders.

Our bodies are one of few things we tend to feel are under our ultimate control. We’re wrong of course sickness, genetics, environment, race, gender, sexuality, trauma, and so on work together to determine how our bodies behave. But one of the essential lies our culture tells us is that Wellness can be achieved if only we restrict, if only we exercise in just the right way, if only we buy the right supplements, if only we exert an iron will and bend and shape our bodies into lithe, pure things. We can stave off illness and ugliness and, ultimately, maybe, our mortality. So is the promise of the Wellness movement and the frenzy that accompanies it, driven largely by able-bodied wealthy white folks. But the perception of control and the satisfaction that comes of controlling one’s body are real can we hold our presidents to some standard of mental and physical wellbeing, taking away this one last thing, control over food and body, when the president is already asked to give up control over so many aspects of his life?

Importantly, we have to acknowledge that to hold Trump or any president to a level of health is to hold him to our very American definitions of health. In America, to be physically healthy is basically just to be not-fat. Aesthetic Wellness is in; fatness remains massively stigmatized. We hypermoralize body size and body fat and food choice. Early in Trump’s presidency, descriptions of him in bed at 6:30p eating McDonalds and yelling at unflattering news reports of himself were heavy in circulation. The food he chooses to consume is monitored and mocked, as if to lambast him for what he eats is to throw a dagger straight to the center of his moral ineptitudes. When he underwent a presidential health exam, the results of which have historically been released (at least in part) to the American public, there was a veritable outcry about whether or not he’d fudged his height to escape having his BMI land in the “obese” range. Picking at Trump’s weight and physical health has become a national pastime, an outlet for the unparsable rage we’re confronted with as our politics and culture become more and more farcical — but it’s grounded firmly in fatphobia and in classist ideas of what foods and bodies represent moral Goods (thin bodies, kale) and which represent moral Ills (fat bodies, so-called fast foods).

Mental health in America is defined even more nebulously. To be mentally healthy, besides presenting as someone with no overt struggles with anxiety, depression, and the like, seems to be a designation that belongs mainly to cis straight white men.  Mental wellbeing seems to be equated in the mainstream with this idea of “rationality” who is capable of making a “rational” choice, who should be followed, trusted, believed? Whosoever gets to lay claim to rationality is another interesting if self-evident question women certainly don’t; our “hyper-emotionality” precludes our ability to be rational. And “rational” choices are essentially those which uphold the mainstream power structures choices and statements that uphold the white supremacist cis-patriarchy that is American power. Choices and statements that undercut this mainstream power structure are thus viewed as “irrational,” “hysterical,” “fraudulent” whether they come from women demanding accountability for the perpetual sexual violence our nation supports, people of color demanding accountability for the perpetual racial violence our nation supports, low-income folks demanding accountability for the flawed economic structures supporting ever-growing wealth gaps, and so on. To be mentally unhealthy is a designation only given to white men when to do so actually functions to uphold their power as in the many, many cases of white male gunmen in school shootings and incidents of mass violence, who are called mentally ill in a way that disallows a fuller conversation about the violent intersections of white male entitlement and toxic masculinity. In our conversations about the president, Trump’s rationality is at once questioned by his detractors and assured by his supporters.

Obviously people are fulfilling certain needs by critiquing Trump’s body and brain. Criticizing someone’s physical appearance is a universalizing, accessible form of criticism you don’t have to engage critically, you just get to express your rage. And feeling rage at the current state of our politics and the person and people leading them is inevitable if you’re a person who is impacted by their leadership (many people) or a person with any level of basic empathy (hopefully many other people).

Picking at Trump’s mental (un)health gives people something to blame, a simple explanation for the complex, layered bigotry he regularly spews and espouses. Much like other situations where an empowered group is exercising their power through violence white male gun violence, white supremacist violence, sexual and gendered violence pointing to mental illness in the perpetrator gives us a simple answer to a complex problem. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the idea that Trump’s violence is the natural outcome of someone who exists at the top of so many power structures and is thus completely removed from the lived reality of most other people. It’s easier to see this as anomalous, something alien to the rest of us and our society, rather than contend with the arduous work of deconstructing the power structures at the core.

But critiquing Trump in such a way only serves to hurt already marginalized communities people with mental health issues and people who are overweight or obese, factoring in as well the overlap of these two with racial and class dynamics in the U.S. These kinds of criticisms of Trump add further stigma without adding any real value to the conversation these are surface level critiques that avoid any real engagement with the many layers of Trump’s bigotry and violence. In addition, if our view of health is bigoted (it is) how can we uphold it as any kind of standard? Where is the line of “healthy enough” to be president or to serve as a leader? If we’re upholding a fairly arbitrary and biased definition of mental health, it adds weight to the millstone telling folks with mental health problems that they are incapable of doing difficult and important work. And as we should know but collectively seem incapable of recognizing, weight is not a determining factor of health. Trump’s weight is not what’s making him a horrible president and person, and Trump’s mental health is a red herring as to the real cause of his bigotry and violence.

This all said, Trump does seem fundamentally unstable but is this because he’s legitimately mentally ill in a way that precludes his ability to do his job, or because he’s never been in a position where he had to be “stable”? He’s always been empowered to act however he wants and he’s still just doing that. To a degree, his ability to function within the bounds of “normality” is imperative to his position as the leader of our country, and it’s worth discussing whether or not we can set levels of acceptable behavior for our most powerful leaders. But in our discussions and critiques of Trump, we need to be aware of how the stigma around bodies’ mental and physical health does damage above all else. And how in this case it is further stigmatizing those who live in fat bodies and those who live with various mental health problems, rather than adding useful context to our conversations around Trump’s presidential viability.

 

*Piece inspired by conversations on the She’s All Fat podcast (season 2, episode 8, “Our Fat President”)