A Letter to the Youth of Today Who Deserve to be Heard

Feb 21 2018

Young friends, there are things you need to know. Things that must be said. Things you’ve hopefully heard, but just in case… just in case…

You’ve heard it said that you’re the leaders of the future, friends. But I need you to know that’s a lie. You are NOT the leaders of the future. You are the leaders of NOW. Your time is NOT still to come; it has ARRIVED. You already know this, or you sense it inside. You are ready to join the ranks of the resistance. You already have. You are its soul. You are ready to persist, and you will. You are fierce and on fire, and you have a perspective our world desperately needs. 

There are those who will tell you to slow down in the days ahead. They’ll tell you that change takes time. They’ll tell you there are more polite ways to protest. They’ll tell you to use your nice words and to be content. They’ll tell you it could be worse and they’ll ask why you can’t just be happy with what you have. Guess what? They told Martin Luther King, Jr. the same thing. And Sojourner Truth. And Malala Yousafzai. And Adam Rippon. Every great Change Maker has heard the same message. And every great Change Maker ignored it in favor of Justice and Equality and the Wild Call to be more Fully Free. 

There are those who will tell you you’re simply pawns, that you don’t know your own minds, that you’re patsies and proxies and being used for causes you can’t possibly understand. They’re wrong. They’re attempting to quiet you. They’re afraid of your voice. They’re eager to undermine your senses of agency and  conviction. Know why? Because you are POWERFUL, and when your generation speaks together, you will CHANGE OUR WORLD. You’re changing it already. 

There are people who will try to belittle you. They will try to undermine your confidence. They will try to shame you. Dare to speak anyway.

They’ll say you’re reacting out of trauma instead of truth, as though trauma isn’t an author of understanding. They’ll say you’re being manipulated. They’ll tell you your political opinions are worthless because you’re too young to know better. They’re wrong. Dare to speak anyway, friends.

They’ll say you’re undeveloped and immature. They’ll say you’re responding to strong emotions as though strong emotions don’t tell us Important Things. They will do whatever it takes to maintain a power structure that benefits them. Dare anyway. Dare and dare and dare again.

You will face hard things in the days and weeks and months ahead, and you are up for the task. You can do hard things. People will be mean. Ugly words will be hurled at your entire generation. They will be wrong, but you will feel discouraged at times. Dare anyway. Your world needs you to.

You will lose people in this fight. There will be those who cannot stand to let you speak. But there will also be those who encourage you. Those who champion you. Like Mr. Rogers said, “When things are bad, look for the helpers.” Look for the helpers. We’ll be here, daring with you.

You will make mistakes along the way. Hooray for mistakes! Mistakes — failure, even — means you’re in the arena. You’re trying. And it’s only by striving for positive change that it’s ever happened. This is the meaning of persistence. We try. We fail. We try. We make mistakes. We try. We LEARN. We make smarter mistakes next time. And then we succeed. We succeed because we DARED to persist. We dared to stay in the arena and damn the booing crowd.

Here’s what you must do — TRUST YOURSELF. You feel it in your gut, the things that are Right. Listen to that voice. Question what you’re taught and what you’ve been told; the things that are Truth can always withstand the questions. Always. 

Listen. I will follow you. I will follow your lead when you say enough is enough. I will sign my own youth and children out of class when you say it’s time to take to the streets. I will back you with my words, my money, my time, and my actions. 

I will believe you. When you say you’re being harmed, I believe you. When you say our schools aren’t safe — physically or emotionally— I believe you. When you sound the rallying cry, I will amplify your voice. And when you tell me it’s time for boots on the ground, I’ll cinch up my laces. 

And I am not the only one. Those of us who BELIEVE IN YOU are legion. In the thousands. In the millions. Look for us. We’re your support troops.

You know things we no longer know. You hear the Polar Express bell, and we’ve grown immune. Hardened. We need you to hear the clarion call. We need your passion, your energy. Your knowledge of right and wrong. Your clarity. Your wisdom. Your strength. 

You, friends, are of deepest worth. You are worthy of our respect. You deserve to be heard. 

 

With love,

 

 

I Got Dressed Today (and I Don’t Think That Bar Is Particularly Low)

Jan 17 2018

I don’t want to brag, but I’m a big goal setter, and I usually accomplish my goals, too. Last night, for example, I thought about what I really wanted for myself today (it’s important to plan ahead, you know), and I decided I’d set a goal to Get Dressed. Friends, I DID IT. I got dressed today! All the way dressed, including panties and shoes, because when I do goals, I do thorough goals.

I realize this sounds like a Setting the Bar Low piece, and it is, I guess, but it also isn’t. It’s been hard lately to get up while it’s still morning, to wash my face, to brush my teeth, to shower more than once/week, and, frankly, even that often feels like a chore. I mean, I like being clean, it’s just that that’s becoming more of a memory or an ideal at this point and not so much a reality. 

I’m not worried, yet, about depression rearing its head. To be clear, that’s exactly what it’s doing, but I’m still winning, and this is just part of it. A new skirmish in an ongoing war, but I have depression outgunned for now.

Last night, I just wanted to lay on my couch, face down in smashed Cheerio shards and wispy dog hair, prone and unmoving, breathing through the corners of my mouth. I managed to make it through yesterday, but barely, and I wanted today to be better.

Now, if I had my druthers, I’d wave my magic wand and be All the Way Better, Right Now. Like the magician who reappears after her trick in a puff of smoke, a slinky sequined dress, and stilletos, hair perfectly coiffed and hand upraised. TA DA! Sadly, though, my wand is on the fritz, so I have to try for better the old fashioned way. Incrementally, which is a real bummer. 

So I set a goal. One thing about today that I wanted to be different than yesterday. I picked Wearing Clothes. I wanted to pick wearing clothes, grocery shopping, writing, actually responding to emails instead of reading them and intending to respond, showering, scheduling, budgeting, and cleaning my room, but I know better. One thing at a time, Beth, for sustainable change. One thing at a time for a lot longer than I would wish. One thing at a time because, in a shocking twist, Something Sometimes is often healthier than the All or Nothing I prefer

In conclusion, I got dressed today, friends. I planned it, I prepared diligently, and I achieved my goal. Rejoice with me! And feel proud of yourself, too, please. Sometimes, reaching for the goals that seem small to others are, in fact, making a choice to live. 

With love,

A Jumbled Mess That Makes No Sense But Maybe I’ll Write About Watermelon Thumbs Tomorrow

Jan 12 2018

I keep trying to write to you but my brain is all over the place in the current political and religious environment in the U.S., so half the time I want to unload my thoughts on serious subjects like our president’s abhorrent use today of the word shitholes to describe Nearly All the Countries Where Black People Come From, and the other half of the time I want to ask you how many Maturity Points I get, exactly, for not posting the photos I took of Greg sporting the kitten speedo I gave him for Christmas. 

In other words, my thoughts are like a tumble dryer spinning on the infinite cycle, a symptom, I suspect, of the anxiety of our modern era, and it’s difficult to stop the spinning long enough to pull out Just One Thing and write about it well. Do you do this, too? Do you spin and spin and spin and spin? Or is it just me?

I tried again tonight, and no luck. Zero. So I stream-of-conscienced it, instead, which did no good at all.

All I want in this moment is five minutes of quiet — five minutes to gather my thoughts and take a deep breath and just, you know, try to release a modicum of the pressure that’s been building in my neck and shoulders and back all day — and, because I’m a good communicator who doesn’t expect my family to read my mind, I have told them this. With words. And also with the red laser beams shooting from my eyes, dramatic sighing, and saying, “Seriously, you guys. SERIOUSLY.” 

Here’s how it’s going:

  1. I have one kid reading me all the titles in a cookbook — “Pressure cooker Chinese chicken, Mom. Tex-Mex beef and rice casserole! Bacon apple pork chops. That sounds good. You should make that one, Mom. Mom? You should… oh! Souvlaki! What’s souvlaki? Mom? Mom. Mom. MOM. Are you even listening to me, Mom?”
  2. I have one kid with expressive language disorder and an abiding desire to be the Boss of Everything correcting the first kid on his pronunciation — “Dude. That’s SHELL LOCKEY.”
  3. I have one kid who just slammed his toes on the leg of the couch, jumping on one foot and yelling, “FUCK. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck,” because of science.
  4. And I have one kid turning up the volume on his Minecraft YouTube videos because “EVERYONE IS TOO LOUD FOR ME TO HEAR. EVERYONE. EVERYONE IS TOO LOUD,” which I couldn’t agree with more.

^^^That’s it.^^^ That’s all I was able to write. It felt like my brain was cross-eyed and on fire.

But now it’s after 10pm and the children are in bed, which means I’ve got approximately 9 minutes before someone comes back out with a question about this week’s schedule… or a request to make cookies tomorrow… or a permission slip to sign. I will remind them that bedtime is Not the Time for These Things and tell them to ask again tomorrow, they will fuss because they forgot and they neeeeeeeeeed to know noooooooowww, and I will threaten to take away their screens which obviously distracted them from remembering. I’ve wasted 2 minutes already telling you this, which, if you have children, you already know, so that’s 2 minutes I’ll never get back. 

Friends, I am weary. For real. So, SO tired. I mean, physically tired, yes, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually spent. And trying to raise kids right now? Knowing the Trump presidency and the church’s complicity in it, along with the church’s exclusion of us and of gender and sexual minorities, will be a major part of their formative memories? It’s overwhelming. 

So, in lieu of a brain that works, I’ll leave you with the encouragement to go watch this today, on the 8th anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake: Anderson Cooper’s emotional tribute to and defense of Haiti whose people deserve our love. He explains more eloquently than I ever could why we need to treasure each other and learn from the dignity of the Haitian people. 

Waving in the dark,

 

 

 

P.S. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write about watermelon thumbs. That will make more sense than this jumbled mess. Maybe.

 

Sometimes We Can Walk Through the Mystery and Not Even Know It’s There: Thoughts on the Cluster That Is 2017

Dec 17 2017

I have been moving at a frenetic pace, friends. Every minute of every day it seems, and I hardly have words to put to the whirlwind of desperate activity in my mind.

Two thousand seventeen has been a series of flash floods; powerful, destructive, and pulling everything off its foundation. I feel like I’ve spent December trying to distract myself from the devastation — QUICK, BETH! DO ALL THE THINGS! COOK! CLEAN! TRAVEL! MAKE CINNAMON BREAD, STAT! — and simultaneously picking through the rubble to see what’s left.

Refugee crisis = FLASH FLOOD.

Brexit = FLASH FLOOD. 

America elected the Lyingest President of All Time = FLASH FLOOD.

Trump, who brags about sexually assaulting women and bans immigrants during the largest displacement of vulnerable populations the world has ever known is mainly supported by Christian Evangelicals. FLASH FLOOD. 

Our umbrella group of churches has removed us from membership. FLASH FLOOD.

The camp our kids have always attended — the one at which Greg and I met and volunteered for 24 years — has notified those of our ilk (who are affirming and inclusive of our gender and sexual minority (GSM) neighbors) that we are no longer allowed to be in leadership roles. FLASH FLOOD.

And, of course, the knock-down, gut-punch, breathless realization that our GSM friends were systematically wounded by our churches and our camp all along, while we remained silent and were complicit in maintaining the power structure that caused such pain. FLASH FLOOD. And ugh. 

Flash floods, friends — calamity after calamity — are running down the hills of 2017 and crashing together at the bottom, the confluence too tumultuous to separate into streams that can can be crafted into concise explanations. Words become hard to shape from the madness, and my pace in trying to outrun the landslides keeps increasing. It’s like being manic, I suspect, this relentless frenzy I find so appealing lately. Like being on uppers, rushing from cooking to baking to cleaning to shopping to wrapping to cooking again. Running to events. Running up the stairs because I forgot my wallet. Running out the door to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, and the next. No time to rest or else 2017 will catch me, and I’ll be swept away. 

My right butt cheek hurts — it has for days, so if anyone can explain why and what to do about a butt injury other than, you know, rest, please do tell — and also my left bicep, the space between my shoulders, and the back of my skull. I should sit down. I should go to sleep at a reasonable time. I should stop watching zit popping videos until midnight. Instead, I pop ibuprofen like it’s candy and keep going as fast as my internal monologue which never stops. “THOSE 6 LOAVES OF CINNAMON BREAD ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE THEMSELVES, BETH. DO MORE.”

Do you get it, friends? Do you know what I’m saying? 

I mean, I realize I could blame “the Season.” There’s so much to do for Christmas, after all, but if I’m honest it’s not Christmas. Sadly, no. The pressure comes from me in my haste to busy myself out of feeling all that 2017 has had to offer. 

But I went to church this morning — our church that kept us when the other churches had no room for us in the inn — and I sat with the cool college humans, and I sang the Christmas songs, and I discovered I have something important to tell those of us who are the Frenzied Folks right now. I remembered something critical. 

We are in the middle of the mess. 
Yes. OBVIOUSLY.
Which also means we need to be on the lookout for the magic.

I FORGOT for a while. I forgot that there is ALWAYS magic in the mess. Even though we talk about it ALL THE TIME here, I forgot until Pastor Kim talked about the Mystery. 

Pastor Kim is our children’s pastor. She wore her grey dreads up in a yellow wrap this morning, and she was very beautiful and very brave as she taught her lesson to the kids on the big brown rug, with us, the host of larger humans, looking on. 

“Sometimes we can walk through a Mystery and not even know it’s there,” she said. “And this is a time of Mystery, because we are waiting for Jesus to be born, but Jesus is also already here.”

Now, remember, friends, that you can substitute “Love” for “Jesus” anytime we get too Jesusy up in here, and the point is the same. Love made flesh and dwelling among us. Love that challenges everything we thought we knew. Love that champions the lonely and distressed. Love that is fierce. Love that makes the weak strong. Love that never fails. 

Sometimes we can walk through a Mystery and not even know it’s there. And this is a time of Mystery, because we are waiting for Love to be born, but Love is also already here. 

THE WORLD IS SUCH A MESS RIGHT NOW. But there is magic in the mess, friends. There is magic here, too, for those of us on the lookout. There is magic, called Love, and even as we’re longing for it, not sure we can wait for it to be made REAL, to be BORN already and dwell among us, it’s also already here. And we get to make more.

The flash floods of 2017 took out some of our foundations, sure, but only the faulty ones. False worship of America. False adherence to Silence and Compliance. The false idol of Maintaining the Status Quo. But I’m digging through the rubble now, and I’m starting to hit bedrock; a firmer foundations than the former could ever be. Two thousand seventeen has given me the gift of sight. The cards are on the table. We know where folks stand. We know who’s in. We know who’s out. And we get to pick where and with whom we stand. We get to pick what we stand for. 

As for me and my people, we serve Love. That’s it. That’s the foundation. So we stand with the vulnerable. We make camp in the wreckage with the outcasts. We share whatever little we have as refugees of another life, even if all we have is our words. We are the Magic-Bringers, after all. The Agents of Love. The Justice Mongers. The Voice Amplifiers. We are the Hope-ers who sit in the darkness and believe the dawn is coming. We are the ones grasp the hands of our neighbors and whisper, “You don’t wait alone.”

This year has asked a lot of us. A LOT, a lot. And next year looks to bring its own share of the mess, so we must be very brave. But remember how the Christmas story started, with an angel saying, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. We have every reason to be, but we can defy fear anyway. We can embrace the promise of dawn after darkness. We can search for the magic in the mess. And we can stand together on Love…

…which I’m sending you now,

This I Believe: On Self Acceptance by Eleanor Gustavel

Dec 7 2017

Eleanor Gustavel is one of my heroes. She spins words like magic, she’s not afraid of the mess, and I hope to be like her when I grow up. Eleanor is also 16, and I’ve never met her in person — not that in person matters when we’ve met by heart.

Eleanor’s mama, Wendy, introduced us a while back. Two years ago, maybe? I remember it was Christmas time, and I remember Eleanor wasn’t OK. She wasn’t well. She was mired in the mud and the muck of which I’m far too familiar as her brain sucked her under, into the mental darkness. Her mama was wasn’t OK, either, as mamas never are when their children suffer and don’t know their way out of the dark. And so Wendy and Eleanor and I spent that Christmas texting and emailing, sitting figuratively together and waving in the dark, hoping dawn would come swiftly, but whispering to each other that we weren’t alone while we waited. 

And dawn came, like it always does. And then day. And then dusk. And then dark. And then dawn again. Eleanor lived. Then Eleanor thrived. Then Eleanor found her voice, which is brilliant. And her brain still betrays her. And she is still the Phoenix, rising from the ashes, again and again. 

I love Eleanor to the moon. And it’s with a tender heart, I share her words below with you, knowing you’ll love her like I do.

 

 

 


On Self Acceptance
by Eleanor Gustavel

I believe in self acceptance.

Self love is simply a stupid, fabricated, superficial idea. We never love ourselves 100 percent of the time, but we can learn to accept ourselves. We can learn to look at ourselves and accept what we see, even if we don’t love it.

As a child I loved who I was as a person, but as time passed ideas seeped into my brain like slow, black, cruel molasses saying I wasn’t good enough.

I started to notice how my hair doesn’t fall like a perfect silk curtain, and I grow out of my child sized jeans and suddenly I start to pay a lot more attention to those little embroidered numbers on the tags.

I start to measure my worth in the calories in an apple, slip smoke out of my nostrils and eat the ashes of who I used to be because they’re calorie free, and I’m not pretty unless I can fit in a size zero.

Zero.

Nothing.

I am nothing.

I drink my tears to drown my sorrows.

I start to notice my nose and how ugly and hook shaped it is. And I hate my cheekbones because Angelina Jolie wears them better.

I cover up my feelings with foundation and put glitter on my eyelids because I just want to shine like a crystal slipper, but I look more like a crystal pipe.

I live in a funhouse, full of carnival mirrors. Bending me, breaking me. I shatter.

Acceptance came when I decided to breathe in and out without the smoke, without the tears, without the calculator in my head.

Acceptance came when I decided to fight those monsters that snuck into my head.

Acceptance isn’t easy.

Acceptance is a tear streaked face. Acceptance is red puffy eyes. Acceptance is many hours of self hatred turned into determination.

Acceptance is messy, and beautiful, and scary, and necessary.

This I believe.


Beth told me to write a bio about myself. I was going to write it last night, but I’m a procrastinator. Oops. My name is Eleanor Gustavel. I am 16 years old and from Rhode Island. I enjoy dying my hair unnatural colors and playing as many instruments as I can teach myself. I’m a trapeze artist, an animal lover, and a free spirit. Oh, and I’m clinically depressed, suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and have Anorexia Nervosa. I have self harmed, attempted suicide, been in an abusive relationship, and been bullied. That is my icebreaker. I‘m laying it all out for you because my writing is my therapy, and those who read it are people I could be helping out of a dark place. I lay it all out because I want people to know they’re not alone and it’s okay to be not okay. My writing has helped me through my darkest moments. From being hospitalized, to being bullied in the halls at school, when I take pen to paper I feel a little bit better. I don’t write for sympathy, but for empathy. I hope for my writing to make people more empathetic, not towards me, but towards the rest of the world and the struggles people may be going through.

Gun Rights AND Gun Control: What If We ACTUALLY FOLLOWED the Second Amendment?

Nov 5 2017

I can start this blog post one of two ways: I can either tell you I’m the proud daughter of a Marine who responsibly owns guns, in which case you’ll think I’m a proponent of Gun Rights, or I can tell you I’m a pacifist Quaker married to a conscientious objector, in which case you’ll think I’m a proponent of Gun Control.

You’d be right.

Yes, I am.

I’m also, quite frankly, BAFFLED by the conversation about guns in the United States of America, and if I could just take one minute to Piss Off All the People, I’d  like to propose a solution.

It’s just, I have this idea, after 1,000 conversations with my gun-toting father who floated it first, and after 1,000 more chats with my peacenik friends… that we could do this RADICAL THING in America and ACTUALLY FOLLOW THE SECOND AMENDMENT.

Usually, public conversations on guns go like this, “I HAVE A RIGHT TO MY GUNS BECAUSE THE CONSTITUTION SAYS SO,” and then, “BUT PEOPLE ARE DYING,” and then, “BUT GUN RIGHTS,” and then, “BUT GUN CONTROL,” and I realize I may be being simplistic here, but the Second Amendment LITERALLY ALREADY SOLVED THIS PROBLEM.

Have you read it recently? The Second Amendment? It’s only 27 words long, but I rarely see it quoted in articles debating gun rights and gun control. It goes like this:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

In other words, yes; Americans have the right to keep and bear arms. And yes; that right shall not be infringed. AND ALSO, these rights are to be exercised within the parameters of a well regulated militia. TRAINING, in other words. ORGANIZED. Within a COMMUNITY of people that supervises and monitors the use of said weapons. 

Listen; I get it. I understand that there are Originalists and Textualists constantly debating what Militia means… what well-regulated means… what exactly is “necessary to the security of a free State”… and whether any of those refer to individual rights, community rights, states’ rights or all of the above. But regardless of how you interpret any of those definitions, it remains that our Founders set parameters and presumed some type of coordination, administration and management of our arms-bearing citizens. And it remains that we currently have none.

I’ve heard my friends and I’ve seen the memes that if we did nothing after Sandy Hook, we never will. I’ve felt the same hopelessness watching the innocent die month after month, year after year, and I doubt that today — the day 26 more Americans died in a mass shooting, this time while sitting in church in Texas — will be the reason we finally act. But although I give in to despair for a time, I refuse to dwell there. I refuse to stop talking about it. I refuse to stop pushing for solutions that both protect the fundamental American right to bear arms AND the fundamental human right to basic safety.

Maybe we could start by actually following the Second Amendment. Or maybe that’s far too practical. I’m curious what you think…

Me, too. But I didn’t realize it for 25 years.

Oct 16 2017

Have you seen #MeToo rolling around social media? It goes like this,

Me too.

If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “me, too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Copy and paste.

#metoo

So first I want to say, if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, you’re not alone. Me, too.

Second, if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, you should ONLY copy and paste this as your status if YOU ARE READY TO DO SO. Because not only need we not feel shame for being harassed and assaulted, we also need not feel shame about when we’re ready to talk about it. Some of us are ready. We have processed enough of our stories and/or trauma that we can say it out loud, even to the world wide webs. Some of us haven’t. Some of us aren’t ready. Some of us, by sharing now, would be retraumatizing ourselves and making it worse, not better. Pretty please, dearest friend, share when YOU are ready, not when the world decides you should be. OK? OK. Glad we had this chat.

And third, this is my story.

[Trigger/Content Warning: Sexual Assault]

I didn’t let my teenage daughter have a job in high school. Instead, I paid for dance tuition — usually hundreds of dollars per month we had to scrimp and save — so she could dance 20 hours each week and participate in conventions and competitions that cost hundreds more.

I was alternately embarrassed and relieved by this decision. Embarrassed because we were choosing to live a rather elitist lifestyle, pouring money into our child and not requiring her to earn it. Relieved because she wouldn’t be dry-humped and felt up by her McDonald’s manager in the drive-thru like I was at age 16. 

Oh, sure; dance taught Abby a hard work ethic, physical fitness, goal setting, and time management. It was a fantastic part of her education, and she was grateful, but still; LOTS OF MONEY and rhinestones and my kid graduated high school without ever working a job beyond the occasional babysitting gig. This was not at all how I was raised, nor is it how my husband was, and I couldn’t help but wonder if we were setting her up for a lifetime of entitlement. After all, we hear all the time about today’s teenagers who are “too good” for honest, hard work at less glamorous places like fast food restaurants. But every time I thought she could at least work a fryer during the summer and pursue dance, every time I tried to convince myself that just because it happened to me didn’t mean it was going to happen to her — every time I thought of her alone, closing the restaurant at midnight with a man bigger and older than her, my hands got sweaty, and my heart pumped faster, and I knew I was never going to ask her to apply to grill burgers. Not ever. I couldn’t do it.

Which is how, at age 40ish, I finally realized I was sexually assaulted. 

It wasn’t that I’d dismissed what happened to me working swing shifts at McDonald’s. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten. It was simply — and this has come to be even more terrifying to me than assault amnesia — that I believed my experience was wholly unremarkable. As normal as tripping over a curb or missing my seat in 6th grade math class and crashing to the ground. Which is to say, an experience that is memorable and uncomfortable but not anything out of the ordinary or worth commenting on.

THAT is how ingrained sexual assault is in our culture. THAT is how embedded. THAT is how common and mundane. That 16-year-old me thought having a man push me into a corner and rub his erection on me while trying to grab my boobs was just another, normal, unfortunate work condition. A bummer of a surprise like seeing how much of my paycheck went to taxes. A meh, whatever, shrug-it-off situation. Something we girls bitched about in the work room while we ate our $3.49 of free food per shift. But also something none of us even considered reporting. Not because it wouldn’t do any good, but because clothed sexual assault didn’t seem to rise to the “Must Report” level. Any ejaculate was contained in his pants, after all, and, if we said no and pushed him off enough, if we smiled at him so he wouldn’t be mad, he left us alone for the rest of the shift.

I read that now, and I go, DEAR GOD. I mean, DEAR LORD JESUS IN HEAVEN, WHAT THE HELL? It seems impossible to me now that I didn’t see it then. But it’s still true.

I didn’t tell my parents. The same parents who were always so good about telling me no one has the right to touch me in the bathing suit area and that I could talk to them anytime about anything which was true. I didn’t tell them because it didn’t cross my mind. I didn’t tell them until they, too, wondered why Abby wasn’t doing time at a local burger joint. My dad pumped gas as a teen. My husband washed cars at his dad’s used car dealership. I flipped burgers and worked a cash register. Shouldn’t Abby learn the same way? I didn’t tell them until we were having the conversation in my kitchen, and I answered casually, “I just don’t think I want my kid to be dry-humped by her manager.” I said it casually because I still felt casual about it. But as soon as it fell from my mouth, I did a mental double take. And ever since, I’ve been realizing how very ingrained assault is in our culture, our communities, and our lives as women navigating an unfriendly world.

My story is unbelievably common. Unbelievably normal. Obvious assault and harassment experiences we didn’t see as obvious or as assault because we are subconsciously, insidiously trained not to recognize it. One of my girlfriends posted this yesterday, “I was just about to post how extraordinarily lucky I feel to have never been a victim of assault as a woman. Then I remembered the time I was drugged in a bar and (thank goodness) passed out while still in the bar, spending the night in the hospital. I guess that’s another “me too.””

We are trained not to see it, and we are trained to belittle it when it happens to us.Well, sure; I’ve felt unsafe hundreds of times around men, but it’s not as bad as what happened to ____.” Or “He only felt on top of my clothes so I wouldn’t say it was assault, exactly.” Or “It wasn’t technically rape, so… Or I knew better than to go to his room alone.” We have unlimited excuses and dismissals, really. I know I did. Until I had to decide what was OK for my daughter. It turns out what happened to me is definitely Not OK if it happens to her. Which means it’s Not OK that it happened to me. This particular assault was Not OK, and neither are the other times I was grabbed and groped; neither are the dozens of times I was sexually harassed with words and actions. Who knew? 

I’m telling you this story, friends, for specific reasons, which are these:

1. I refuse to be ashamed or embarrassed about this, and I will absolutely do my part to name the things that are Not OK — the things that Must Change — so our world has to face it and do better.

2. Not everyone can share her story. Not yet. Maybe not ever. And I want you to know, whether or not you are able to declare your “me, too,” I still see you. And so do countless others. We know you’re there. We know that for every person who can share, there are myriad more who can’t. We see you. We’re waving in the dark. You’re not alone.

3. You’re also not alone if you, like me, have suddenly become aware. You’re not alone if you realized belatedly you were assaulted. You’re not alone as you reluctantly claim membership in this club. You’re not alone as you realize how widespread this problem is and how brainwashed you were not to see it earlier. You’re not alone as you grieve your discovery of both your own experiences and of our culture as it actually is, rather than as you thought it was. And you’re not alone as you wonder what in the world we might actually do to change it.

Me, too, friends. Me, too.

With love, always,