I Will Not Be Silent

**TW: sexual violence**

When I was around 10 years old, I was raped. I say around, because that time of my life is a largely blank canvas on which few long-term memories were etched, thanks to the way trauma effects a brain. I was chased, and terrorized, and mocked, and assaulted, and after I had been raped, I was promised that if I told anyone, I would be killed–a threat I am still struggling not to buy into, despite the crater of time between then and now. I believed him because I hadn’t been told anything to counter what he said at that point in my life.

When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President, he stated that all Mexican immigrants are rapists. He called female reporters “dogs” and “bimbos” and attacked them for their looks. He has talked about his daughter inappropriately and was once heard saying “I’m going to be dating her in 10 years, can you believe it?” while staring at a group of 12 year-old girls. He insinuated that Hillary Clinton could not satisfy her husband, and therefore wouldn’t satisfy the US. He talked explicitly about kissing women and grabbing them by the pussy, as you’re allowed to do that when you’re a star, and “moving on her like a bitch” towards a married women. You know what, here is a list of every terrible thing Trump has openly said to a member of the press about women. I’ll wait here.

Can you imagine what this man says when he is not talking to the press? The words that come out of his mouth when he is speaking to a woman? Worse yet, can you imagine what he does towards women? I can; I know this man’s track record. He has not been shy about his views that women are to be seen and not heard; they are to be thin and young and beautiful, and should stay at home and satisfy their husbands and be punished if they have abortions and expect sexual assault if they serve in the military. We know what he does because he has done it before. Over one dozen women have now come forward to accuse Donald Trump of inappropriate sexual conduct, all of whom Trump states are lying and will be sued, because–look at them–they are not people he would be sexually interested in.

This campaign, for me, has been exhausting. Almost every day of the campaign, he has said something insulting towards women, African-Americans, Latinos, and Muslims. He has spoken in favor of appointing Supreme Court justices who will overturn marriage equality, and has chosen Mike Pence as his running mate; Mike, who for the LGBT community is the face of evil. A man who is in favor of electroshock therapy being used to reverse someone’s sexuality, who has voted against every bill protecting LGBT people, and whose religious freedom bill is one of the most discriminatory towards us. But I had hope, through the 16-month election, that America would at least unite about what a terrible, sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, narcissistic bigot Trump was, and work to keep him out of the Oval Office.

I was wrong.

On November 9, I woke up to the realization that we would have an accused rapist as our 45th President. We would have someone with no political acumen, someone who is insulted by any comment that does not favor him and will fire back with insults, someone who has climbed to the top on the backs of the people he religiously beats. As an American people, we have told the young girls who are being abused and scared that the person hurting them could one day be the leader of the free world. This country, where anything is possible but justice. Anything is possible if you are rich enough and loud enough and cruel enough.

My 10 year-old self was told that if I told anyone what happened, I would die. But what if I told and was completely ignored? What if I told and my rapist was congratulated?

I am fighting back against this presidency because I am not allowing little girls to hear that they can be objectified and made small. I am not allowing fellow survivors to hear that their stories have not been heard and there will be no justice. I am not allowing women to continue to be silenced and mocked and turned into looks and told they can be touched that way because the President can touch people that way. This is not about politics, this is about an abuse of power. This is about the worst kind of person being told that what they are doing is something to be praised. This is about the 1 in 4 women, the 1 in 6 men. This is about 10 year-old me. This is personal. And I’m going to fight.

Girls and women reading this, please know that your experiences and stories are valid. What happened to you was not okay. It is not okay to be hurt by someone and then made to feel ashamed. I am here if you need to tell your story. I am here if you need to rage. RAINN has a hotline  (800-656-HOPE) that can put you in touch with crisis centers or support groups or  help you through the reporting process or be a listening ear. There are millions of people in this country who are behind you. I believe you. It’s not your fault

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We Need to Talk about Sex

 

“Ironically, it may take greater intimacy to discuss sex than to engage in it.”

It is hard to talk about sex. It is hard for educators to speak about it with children, and it is hard for medical professionals to talk about it with patients. It is hard, often, for people engaging in sexual activity to talk about it with their partners. It is hard for religious institutions to know how to talk about it. While this is an issue in most settings, the one I’d like to focus on is the lack of sexual education for children.

SHAME THROUGH SILENCE

Listen, while I would love to live in a world where children are safe from all harm, that world has yet to be created [through social discourse, the destruction of the patriarchy, and political activism, but that’s another conversation for another day]. Evidence has shown that teaching children correct anatomical terms for their body parts is a key part of abuse prevention. Teaching children these parts of the body and covering topics like privacy, consent, and respect, encourages children to understand what kind of touch is appropriate and what is not. It also teaches children that they are allowed to talk about their body–to tell people “no” and to tell a trusted person if someone touches their body. A child who knows the anatomical name for their body parts, and understands good and bad touch, can accurately report this to a parent or teacher.

Elizabeth Smart has openly discussed how her “sex ed” prior to her kidnapping greatly impacted her self-worth when she was raped. She had been told that sex was like gum: once a piece of gum was chewed up, it was disgusting and no one would want that piece of gum again. Even after she had been rescued, she sat through another such lesson: you’re a beautiful fence, and every time you hammer a nail into the fence, it looks less and less beautiful. Many such analogies exist: a piece of tape loses its stickiness (its worth) over time. A pizza can only have so many slices removed (its wholeness). A cup filled with many different juices cannot be enjoyed (its value). A white cloth can only have so many stains and dyes on it before it will get thrown away (its purity). No one, especially children, should be told that their self-worth should be tied to their sexual activity. For victims of abuse, it tells them that they are worthless or dirty even though they were not responsible for what happened. For people who willingly engage in sexual acts, it tells them that they cannot talk about these experiences and that they are somehow impure or not whole because of this.

INCREASED MEDICAL ISSUES THROUGH MISINFORMATION

Mean Girls, 2004

Somehow, in this progressive country we live in, the concept that teens will not have sex if we tell them not to still exists. I’m going to let you in on a secret: PEOPLE ARE STILL HAVING SEX. In fact, in states that teach abstinence-only sexual education, teen pregnancy rates are the highest. Abstinence-only sexual education has been promoted in schools throughout the country with the understanding that if we simply teach teenagers the immorality and fear of sex, they will abstain from it until marriage. There is a federal Title V that funds states choosing to teach abstinence-only to their students,which operates on eight principles regarding sex ed, including that “sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.”  Numerous states have opted not to buy into this policy and instead create their own guidelines for teaching sexual education. Ohio, for instance, did not take the Title V funding, but the state policy reports that sexual education does not have to include scientifically or medically sound information, including providing information on the use of contraceptives.

A study released this week by the Center for Disease Control reports that the rate of STDs is at an all-time high. Those highest at risk? Young people and men who have sex with men. Young people are developing sexually transmitted infections and diseases because they are not being taught about proper protection during sexual acts–and are often unaware that STDs can be contracted through oral sex, or (in the cases of herpes and HPV) can be contracted through any skin-to-skin contact.

Get jiggy with it, but safely.

INADEQUATE AND INACCURATE EDUCATION

There is a myth that if we teach children about sex, they are more likely to engage in it, and therefore more likely to contract an STD. In fact, the opposite is true: schools that taught comprehensive sexual education saw that this did not increase the likelihood that teens would have sex and saw a significant reduction in sexually risky behaviors. So by not talking about sex, people are literally feeding the monster that they are afraid of.

Comprehensive sexual education informs teens that the safest way to prevent STDs or teen pregnancy is by abstaining from sex. But then, because it also understands that wishing does not make it so, it also provides medically accurate information on how to have safe sex in order to reduce the chances of pregnancy or STDs.

What’s the solution to rising STD rates, high rates of teenage pregnancy, and shame and guilt surrounding talking about sex? LITERALLY BY TALKING ABOUT SEX! We need to properly train teachers and educators on how to teach this information to their students, as 80% of teachers report that they don’t feel properly trained in this area. We need to start teaching comprehensive sexual education that includes information on proper anatomical terms, consent, medically accurate information regarding STDs, and safe sex methods such as contraceptive use.

Talking about sex can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s start the conversation at a younger age, and teach children that they can freely ask questions and know body parts and be curious and that those things are normal and natural and good. And let’s allow that conversation to bleed into our religious institutions, doctor’s offices, and bedrooms.

This is Not About Cake

 

Dear Christians,

Why are you so afraid of us?

I worry that you all are insistent on passing so many ‘religious freedom’ bills because you are genuinely concerned that if you do not, we, the LGBT community, will burst in through your front door and demand lodging and goods. Bills supporting religious freedom are not new, but they are being revamped to specifically deal with LGBT issues. Primarily, the issues of who uses what restroom, and whether or not businesses have to provide services to people who don’t share their morals. Arkansas, Georgia, and Kansas have all determined not to pass these laws at this time. The most recent of these was Georgia; the Governor vetoed this March 28, 2016. Georgia Governor Deal stated, “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives.” Indiana passed their bill in March 2015, Mississippi passed theirs April 5, 2016.  Arguably the most extreme opposition on this front, legally, has been North Carolina’s recent law, which was pushed to and signed by the governor all on the same day.

I recognize that the “bathroom bills” are to keep people from being attacked in restrooms, but listen: there is no statisstical evidence that a trans* person has ever attacked someone in a restroomYou know who has been attacked in restrooms? Trans* and gender non-conforming individuals. OVERWHELMINGLY SO. Please do not continue to be ignorant about this: no one has ever reported being the victim of violence from a trans* person in a bathroom, whereas in this survey 70% of trans* people report negative reactions in bathrooms, 9% report being physically assaulted, 58% report that they have avoided going out in public because of bathroom issues.

trans-bathroom-law-south-dakota

Listen, I get it: everyone is worried that people will dress up as the opposite sex to assault someone–most of the arguments I’ve heard are that men will dress up as women in order to gain access to  women’s restrooms and assault women and children. Sexual assault is awful, always. No one trying to protect trans rights is trying to minimize this. But I have an issue with society making the trans community responsible and punishing them for these possible attacks, rather than the male community. To me, this feels the same as teaching women how not to be raped, rather than dealing with the cause and teaching men not to rape. The bathroom issue is strange to me in general because it seems so simple, if people are so terrified that others are going to be using the restroom for dubious means rather than to relieve their bladders, then businesses should just install single-stall restrooms that are accessible to everyone, rather than making it a biological issue.

As a mental health counselor, I work with suicidal people every day. And I can testify that when statistics report 41% of trans individuals have attempted suicide, this is most likely a conservative figure. When someone faces discrimination, negative reactions, and the threat of violence every day, there is naturally going to be depression, anxiety, and trauma. When you have to choose between being true to your own identity and conforming to society’s standards for you, something is wrong with society. Violence against trans women, especially trans women of color, is at an all-time high, with 23 known murders taking place in 2015 alone.

 

I understand that many people do not agree with marriage equality and do not condone my marriage. I understand that they do not want to be forced to take photographs, sell flowers, solemnize the wedding, or bake a god-forsaken (pun intended) cake. And that’s fine. I don’t want to sue those people. But these laws go farther than providing an ‘out’ for businesses that want to condemn someone’s else’s “lifestyle:” laws that allow employers of religious organizations to fire, or not hire, individuals based on their sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression. Landlords can choose to deny housing–or can kick out tenants–based on their code of ethics. Adoption agencies can choose not to allow gay couples to foster or adopt children–and conversely, Mississippi’s law makes sure that adoption agencies are NOT allowed to make this decision based upon a couple’s religion. LGBT people can be refused services at restaurants, hotels, stores, and can legally be denied access to restrooms. This is discrimination. This is ironically exactly what Christians are afraid may happen to them, to they have written laws protecting themselves and condemning others to the same kind of “persecution” that they try to avoid.

indiane

Unfortunately, nationwide, unless your state or city has specific ordinances against these discriminatory acts, LGBT are largely unprotected under the law. Larger cities generally have some type of protection for their citizens, but for those that live in more rural areas, there is not a lot of protection to begin with–now that these laws are becoming so popular, their protection will shrink even more.

I am infuriated, Christians and conservatives. Heartbroken that you will not hear the LGBT population when we try to speak with you about our concerns and fears. Frustrated that you are shielding yourself behind the law and claiming that we “got our marriage equality but that’s never enough.” Marriage equality isn’t enough: my wife and I are legally married, yes, but if we did not live in a large city that protected us, we could be thrown out of our home, denied jobs, and denied services by city workers if we were attacked (yes, that is in the law as well). It is not enough when trans individuals fear for their lives and their safety and are often too scared of police brutality to come forward when they are hurt. It is not enough when access to appropriate healthcare and mental health services is impossible for those in the community who have been kicked out of their homes and their families and are living on the streets.

Of course it is not enough. It cannot be enough until every citizen is equal under the law. We do not want more rights than you, we want equality.

 

Your Heaven is My Hell

Dear Christian,

Hello again. Today we meet on the other side of a door that, until this week, had been left unopened: nationwide marriage equality. This was a historic, monumental day and it is a day that many in the LGBTQ+ community never imagined would come true, in large part, friend, because of you. You have put so much effort—so many arguments, so many articles filled with biased polls and inaccurate information, so many prayers, so many days petitioning or voting against us—in keeping us from gaining as many rights as you possibly could. You’ve done very well, and had many successes. But this year, dear friend, the tides have turned. Marriage equality is nationwide (notice that I call it marriage equality and not “gay marriage”), the President has formally spoken against reparative therapy, the general public is being educated on trans* rights and issues. We have a long way left to go, but we have come far.

This makes you sad. Or mad. Or, as many of you have put it, “heartbroken.” You take a public Facebook stand, proclaiming “I believe the Bible’s definition of marriage, which is one man and one woman,” you send messages loaded with Bible verses encouraging acquaintances to repent, you rally a group of friends and march in or picket a Pride Parade to tell the participants they are going to hell. You call trans people confused, you call us sinners. “But don’t worry!” you say, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!” There is still time, you imply.

Chicago Pride Parade

Here’s the thing, Christian, that I’ve been saying in my head for years. Here’s the thing that I wish you knew when trying to sell me on eternity spent with you. Your heaven is my hell. A place that shames and excludes, a place filled with those who proudly stand against my own and my friends’ rights, a place where no one may think for themselves or love who they love or be who they are? That is not a place for me. Everyone agrees that Westboro Baptist Church takes their messages too far, but you, friend, are preaching the same message, and it is not a message of love. It’s not a message that makes me want to draw closer, I want to push farther. You have tried to deny me my rights, and are still calling for it. You have stopped speaking to my wife and I upon our coming out. You have refused to be a part of our lives because you disagree with our “lifestyle.” You toss Bible verses our way when we have not asked for your interpretation of your Scripture. The murder of 9 transwomen this year alone is on your hands because you publicly state that they are confused. The countless LGBTQ+ youth who are thrown out of their homes, cannot access needed services, and attempt or complete suicide because they are told, directly or by this hate-infested culture, that they are leading perverse, sinful lives is on you. Do you see how hurtful religion is to the LGBT community? We have been shot down and shut out as a community for decades. Come on, friend, you’re killing us.

A comic depicting Georgia’s new Religious Freedom Law

You have made this life hell for people, so excuse me if I pass on an invitation to your heaven. If it is more of the same, I’d like to avoid it at all costs.

The thing is, I know all of the verses. I know your intention: you’re trying to save me from eternal damnation, which is in some ways really sweet and caring, but also forceful, unsolicited, and generally pretty ignorant. A blog on Herman Cain’s website explained why Christians’ nonacceptance of marriage equality should be seen as loving, and I have to say: I know it already. I went to a Christian college and—believe it or not—studied the six verses damning me to hell long and hard, and I’m still happily here with my wife. I’m tired of having long, circular discussions: everyone knows where I stand, and I can pretty much tell where you stand without you having to spell it out for me.

I’m not trying to win a spitting contest. I just want me and my community to be recognized as whole people who aren’t wearing “ask me if I know about your Savior” signs. We are people who deserve love, safety under the law, and peace, just as everyone deserves.

[Also, gay heaven has ice cream.]

Unbelievers—Vampire Weekend

Country Mouse City Mouse, A History

 

She grew up covered in the dirt of her softball fields and her grandparent’s farm. I grew up covered in the prayers of my family, celebrating Sabbath with the sacraments. She grew up hearing the blare of the train by her bedroom, I grew up sitting on my rooftop listening to the sounds coming from the train yard. She grew up in public school and small church, where neighbors knew your comings and goings. I grew up homeschooling and attending church in rented buildings, where I imagined no one knew anything about me. With sunset-red hair, freckles blooming over her skin in the summer, and strong, sturdy hands, her body bore witness to her country heritage. I, brown sugar hair and big eyes and a penchant to emote through theatre, bowed to the city.

Gwen and I grew up in opposites regarding family, schooling, hobbies, and hometowns, so when we met at a Mennonite camp we were both working at, there wasn’t a lot of common ground for us to talk about, other than our love for softball and how excited we were for campers to arrive. We spent that summer forming a small bond of friendship, and both idly wondered if that would last the test of distance and time. Lo and behold: here we are, five summers later, each with two new degrees notched into our belts and a set of rings adorning our fingers. Not long after I met her, I knew that this girl, with impeccable memory, sharp wit, and a kind smile, complemented my absent-mindedness and ceaseless fiery and unapologetic passion. We were in the car, and she was running an errand for someone else on her birthday because that’s who she is, and Paramore’s “The Only Exception” came on the radio. I looked at this beautiful, talented, selfless woman sitting next to me and knew it to be true: she was, always, my only exception. “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once,” (John Green).

On October 17, my love and I made vows to each other in front of those who fill our lives with love and support; the final lines of our vows filling the space between us: “I choose you to embark upon this great journey with me. I am stronger with you than alone. I promise to be there for you for all your life, come what may.” We celebrated with paper flowers and candlelight, with cake pops and notes, with dances with our friends and fathers.
DSC_7670.jpg

Of course, Gwen and I don’t have a legitimate relationship. Our country has decided, in a fit of religious zeal, that we should allow the whims of the majority to decide the rights of the minority (Ayn Rand) by favoring one group’s moral code over all others. Gwen and I are not wife and wife because, to some people, that is an abomination; it weirds them out, it disappoints God, it is part of an agenda, it doesn’t lead to natural childbirth. GOT IT. Those people have made all of their messages loud and clear. I have seen the “fags burn in Hell” signs, I have seen the protesters ordering me to repent, I have been witness to the laws that neither recognize my marriage nor protect me and my wife from hate crimes. We have been told, my country mouse and I, that we are far less than and more deviant than any couple that contains one man and one woman.

A large portion of my contention for all of this comes from how subjective some things are. You say “homosexuality is a choice.” I would like to clarify what you mean. You mean having sexual acts with someone is a choice, because that’s what you’ve boiled down all LGBTQ+ people’s existence to: sex. We aren’t anything but our sexuality to you. So when you say “it’s a choice,” being part of this welcoming community, I want to take two steps back and say being queer is not a choice. I would have been super gay whether or not Gwen and I found one another. That wasn’t a choice on my part; I was not approached with a “be gay today, get a free t-shirt” offer, nor was there a time when I flipped a coin for what type of people I would be attracted to. I didn’t choose a path that has been the source of hurtful conversations, lost friendships, restricted rights, and exclusion from religious communities. What I did choose was to pursue a relationship with someone who makes me a better person, who encourages me and shares coffee with me, who writes me notes and goes on walks with me. I chose to pursue a relationship, the same way that all of my friends and family who have partners have chosen to pursue their relationships. No one chooses who they are attracted to. You choose whom you invest in.

I’ve clearly chosen to invest in my relationship with Gwen. Whether or not this falls under someone else’s moral code is really of no concern to me. What is a concern to me is that our tiny family is protected under the law like all tiny families should be. The Supreme Court is currently ruling on whether or not we deserve the right to legally marry, an issue that was denied us by our own State. For Gwen and I, at this point in our lives, this is primarily about being told by our government that we are equal to other couples. For other couples, this is about both being on their children’s birth certificates, or having hospital visitation rights, or being on their partner’s health insurance. You say that marriage equality isn’t giving LGBTQ+ equal rights, but is giving us special rights. Giving a group of people the same rights as yourself is not giving them special rights, it is recognizing that group of people as human beings who deserve respect and protection under the law. Our nation is not a Christian nation. You cannot plaster one religion’s beliefs on an entire nation. I understand that this nation has an extensive history of being overbearing with every minority group, but I believe it is high time for this cycle to end. #LoveCantWait. Couples deserve to say “I do” and be recognized in the eyes of the law. Children deserve to live authentically and be protected under the law from bullies and bigoted teachers. Teens coming out as anything other straight deserve to be shown respect and acceptance rather than rejection and conversion therapy. Gay men deserve to be able to donate blood. Trans individuals deserve to be called by the right name, the right pronouns, and to not be told that their identity is a mental illness. Aging couples deserve the peace of mind in knowing that their partners will be financially cared for after they die. My country mouse and I deserve to be married. We deserve not to be fired from a job just because of our sexual orientation. We deserve to have our own beliefs rather than someone else’s. Respectfully, it is not your job to police others’ actions by your own moral code.

The SCOTUS ruling for marriage equality won’t change everything, because there are many more issues that our community is facing that are far more pressing,  but it’s a damn good place to start.

 

Suicide

Emily C. Byler

Life is scary. Life is constantly scary, and cruel, and messy and hard. Adding onto that a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, and the world is much darker than it is light. Some people know how to shut the darkness out, but others feel lost in it. I don’t believe that either of those is more right than the other; I believe that each person walks on their own path and that we are blessed to have others walking along beside us. I also believe that when the darkness is so encompassing, a person may not be able to see the people walking beside them, and may not be able to spot any kind of hope.

Over 40,000 people die by suicide in the United States every year. A terrible, inconceivable, devastatingly large number of people. Two painful weeks ago, one of them was close to me. I have a lot of conflicting feelings about what happened: sad, angry, confused, relieved, lost. My friend died after years and years of fighting some of the fiercest depression that I’ve ever seen. I knew that she ached daily from the weight of it. People did what they could to relieve her load, but I know that the person holding the weight still carries most of it on their own back. She wore depression on her back, and on her arms, and in her lungs, and all through her body. No one could take that.

We live in a society that is slowly, slowly allowing hard conversations to happen. Suicide is an elephant in a room, one that people feel that cannot talk about, so instead they joke about it and dance over it and under it and around without facing it head on. I sometimes wonder, idly, what would happen if we made suicide the center of attention rather than a whispered, shameful secret. I wonder what would happen if people were brave enough to ask the people in their lives if they were okay, or if they needed to talk, or if they were safe, or if they needed a person or a hand to hold or someone to tell them to put down the bottle of pills or the razor blade or the loaded gun or to turn off the car or untie the rope. I wonder if my friend talked to anyone the day she died. I know that not every person reaches out for comfort or for help. I wonder if someone tried to make her feel better by ignoring what she said or what she didn’t say and by staying on subjects that made them feel comfortable, because no one is comfortable with suicide. No one should be comfortable with suicide.

Last year, a few close friends and I participated in the Out of the Darkness walk,  a way to bring awareness to suicide as well as giving hope to those struggling with depression and other mental illness and survivors of suicide loss. The event was put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and it was excellent and informative. Scribbled across our walking path were chalk messages from others who cared deeply: messages like “we’re here for you,” and “if you feel too much, don’t go,” and “we’ll miss you, Jennifer,” but also messages that said “Cheer Up!” and “Smile!” And I think a large portion of Americans believe that if someone who feels suicidal can just cheer up, then they’ll be fine. Sadly, smiles don’t heal the Darkness. Depression and other mental illnesses that cause people to complete suicide are incredibly serious and need treatment, just like any other illness a body faces. “Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.

I want us as a society to be brave enough to ask hard questions. I want us to look someone in the eye and ask them if they are suicidal. I want those who are feeling suicidal to know that they are not alone in their feelings, and that there is treatment available to them. There is a National Suicide Prevention Line that anyone feeling suicidal can call at any time to talk with someone (1-800-273-8255). There is an online chat that those in crisis can use at any time. There are programs that train people to recognize the warning signs of mental illnesses and suicidality and to know what steps to take next. There are organizations like AFSP or TWLOHA that help bring awareness to suicide and offer hope to those struggling with suicide.

Emily, I love you, and I ache when I think about how much I will miss your sweet and beautiful presence in my life. I am sorry that you felt that Weight for so long, and am glad that you no longer have to carry it. But there is an Emily-sized hole here and we will all miss it being filled. Be at peace.

Why Every Young Woman Needs to Watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or, How Sci-Fi Changed My Li-Fi)

(This is the re-make of a paper that I wrote in undergrad, so don’t plague me, plagiarizing gods)

Tabula Rasa: Season 6, ep. 8

One of the many hazards of being a human is that of the troublesome process of growing up. One primary spot in which this is almost universally apparent is that of adolescence, and female adolescence in particular. Oh, what a turbulent time! In one fell swoop, young girls are going through physical and physiological changes, their emotions are shifting, and culture begins expecting new, challenging things from them. Girls are expected to grow up rapidly; but instead of just being required to master growing up, they are also expected to turn into divine beauties during some of the most physically awkward years of their lives.

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Adolescence looks about like this for pretty much everyone

In Reviving Ophelia: saving the selves of adolescent girls, Mary Pipher (1994) says, “The culture is what causes girls to abandon their true selves and take up false selves.” Feminists are trying to give adolescent girls power to fight societal ideals like this. Some see feminism as a call to allow girls to be humans, individuals, and valued members of society rather than something with which to be bought and played. Ophelia Speaks, a commentary on Reviving Ophelia and a collection of adolescent girls’ writings, author Sara Shandler (1999) dismisses the simplicity of this idea.

“It is not for lack of understanding or intelligence that my circle of friends is plagued by drug abuse, eating disorders, and depression. We have all been told to love ourselves. We are all intelligent. We are all aware that we have been raised in culture that cradles double standards, impossible ideals of beauty, and asks us to listen. But we are caught in the crossfire between where we have been told we should be and where we really are. Self-directed girls are sometimes lost.”

Her argument is that girls have heard all of the self-affirming speeches and know they are supposed to attack the world’s philosophies and presuppositions; but there is a wide gap between knowing something and finding how it applies to one’s own life. Sometimes even the most stable, self-reliant girl cannot help but listen to the media and agree with what it says about her appearance, behavior, and demeanor. Adolescence is both confusing to navigate and hard to know whose advice to take regarding who to be and what to do. Even secure girls fall prey to this on occasion. As Shandler says, “self-directed girls are sometimes lost.”

Fortunately for us, others have gone before us on this rocky path and are doing what they can to help us get through. One such person: Buffy Summers, high school graduate and resident Sunnydale vampire slayer.

Faith, Hope, and Trick: Season 3, ep. 3

Yes, I am turning to a fictional character for post-adolescents to look to as an example. You’re welcome.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show that ran for seven seasons, beginning in 1997 and ending in 2003. It centered around a girl in high school who discovered that she was “the Chosen One,” whose mission it was to “fight vampires, to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their numbers.” While she has extraordinary strength and is the coolest superhero, she also has to deal with the daily donkey work of high school, homework, and family problems. In Reason Magazine online, Victoria Postrel writes, “The show…began as a reification of the horrors of high school.” All of the horrors of high school combined in one show, plus some real monsters thrown on top. One of the points the show’s creator, Joss Whedon, wanted to get across was that sometimes the real life stuff was scarier than the vampires or other monsters that came into the picture (and there were some scary ones).

The Gentlemen, from Hush: season 4, ep. 10

After Season Three, the main characters graduated from high school (an incredibly strenuous day for all of them, due to monsters and the threat of not getting their diplomas), and the show turned to life outside of high school. They dealt with issues like starting college, feeling like an outsider, struggling with addictions, questioning personal goals and morals, death of loved ones, and lots of relationship issues. Normal life with monsters (or normal life as monsters). And unlike most shows, the issues that the characters struggled with were not neatly packaged and wrapped up by the end of the show (Seventh Heaven, I’m looking at  you). Buffy illustrated that there is no quick fix to the difficulties of life, and that is still okay. Postrel continues:

“The mere existence of Buffy proves the declinists wrong about one thing: Hollywood commercialism can produce great art. Complex and evolving characters. Playful language. Joy and sorrow, pathos and elation…Big themes and terrible choices…Buffy assumes and enacts the consensus moral understanding of contemporary American culture… This understanding depends on no particular religious tradition. It’s informed not by revelation but by experience. It is inclusive and humane, without denying distinctions or the tough facts of life. There are lots of jokes in Buffy — humor itself is a moral imperative — but no psychobabble and no excuses.”

I have never cared so much about a television show’s characters the way that I cared about Buffy’s. I rooted for, cried with, laughed with, and looked up to Buffy. She drove me crazy sometimes, but she would always redeem herself. She always put those she loved first; the only thing that kept her grounded in such chaos. I felt elation with her first love, heartbreak at her first rejection. Fear, sadness, timid new beginnings. I kept rooting for Willow the nerd-turned super-powerful chick, sometimes even cheering out loud, and crying with her as each new heartbreak occurred. I respected Xander for being such a faithful big brother to “his girls,” commended him for his personal sacrifices, and smiled as he used his optimistic sarcasm to lift everyone’s spirits. I understood Cordelia more than I expected to and found myself unnaturally proud of her as she tuned her empathy strings, and I mourned with her as her heart broke and all she knew was to make it hard again. I resonated deeply with Faith: her pain, her isolation, her longing for Buffy’s beautiful world, her self-loathing, her falling in with the power of evil, her struggle, her fear, her strength to fight her way back.

Welcome to the Hellmouth, Season 1, ep. 1

While I willingly admit that this sounds a touch ridiculous, being so close to fictional characters, I am not ashamed in the least. If I could sit every woman on the verge of adulthood down and ask them to watch 144 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I would; not for them to become obsessed with the show or immersed in the back stories of the characters, but to see that growing up is tricky and messy and every bit worth fighting for. The show was about life, with all of its mess and joy. It was about giving power to a generation of young women who feel completely powerless. It was about permission to be confused and strong at the same time. Friendship. Love. Pain. Redemption. Kicking demon ass. Learning how to be comfortable in your own skin and how to keep fighting when it feels like there is nothing left.

Girls (and guys who also feel like they don’t know exactly who they are yet), I write this to you to whet your appetite for a show; to name characters that are brilliantly complex, and to give you a small bit of evidence that this show is worth every bit of its seven seasons. I can only explain so much, though (and by so much, I mean so much; I could talk about Buffy for hours). Now it is your turn to act: go watch, cry, laugh, and discover a new piece of yourself, or discover that you are not alone for thinking that growing up feels like hell sometimes. All of us self-directed girls are sometimes lost, and we are lost together. You are not alone. Welcome to the party!

Chosen: Season 7, ep. 22