Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Me too?

Me too.

Two simple words. On Monday morning, my social media was flooded with messages of solidarity. Throughout the week, I’ve seen more and more, and I’ve struggled with what it all means to me. On Monday, I typed the words in my own status bar, and then erased them. I thought about what it meant to say those words, and whether or not I could join in with those affirming what had been done to them. I hadn’t experienced the sheer horrors of so many I know.  

I knew what I had experienced and the ways in which I felt that I had been harassed. Yet, I tried to pinpoint one single event that was “bad enough” to assert that I felt that I, too, had been violated. I easily thought of eight to ten examples. But were they valid? Would people think I was asking for sympathy or being dramatic? Surely, as one who had an ideal childhood and has been spared from so many tragic occurrences, I didn’t have anything that was as bad as those around me, and I didn’t want to step on toes of those whose stories had far more significance.

This wasn’t about being a part of something for me, and I wasn't asking for attention. And I felt as though I didn’t deserve to make that statement. However, for me, this was about showing how widespread the problem was and affirming solidarity with women (and men) who had been harassed or assaulted. I knew I had experienced harassment, but I struggled with the guilt and uncertainty about making that statement.

I typed “me too,” again in the status. Again, I erased it. I closed my eyes and thought back to the first instance I could remember.

I was 15 and on a school trip. There were other younger kids in the van, and I’d always prided myself on being a good example. When it got dark on the ride home, the “friend” sitting next to me started trying to touch me. I gave him a quiet, but stern, “No!” He laughed and continued. One of the younger kids looked back and asked what was wrong. I lied. I said “nothing,” because I wasn’t ready for that conversation. He continued. Despite how many times I elbowed him and shook my head, he continued. By the time I got out of the van, I had been taught for the first time that my requests about my own body didn’t matter.

The next day at school, he had told others of his conquest. Unequipped with the words to say he had done it against my will, I simply told everyone he had lied. I didn’t know what else to do, and even at my young age, I figured no one would believe me. I had already been conditioned to give him the benefit of the doubt that maybe he hadn't meant to hurt me. I stayed silent about it, because society had already showed me that stories like that were my fault. 

But does that count? I started questioning myself and thought of a million ways I should have been more assertive and stopped what was happening. At 15, I had felt the shame that I hadn’t done enough to make him stop. At almost 29, I felt that shame again.

As I erased my “me too” status for probably the eighth time, I thought of another incident. At a sandwich shop in downtown Albuquerque in my late twenties, I stood in line and waited to order a turkey sandwich. The sandwich shop also sold craft beer, and I was greeted by a man who had clearly been partaking in the beverages. He not-so-politely solicited me with a lewd request. I shut him down. He persisted. I backed up, only to have my chest grabbed—right there in public. People saw. People did nothing. I slapped his hand away, only to have him more forcefully grab and grope. He finally stopped, after I elbowed him, but not before calling me some choice names and walking away.

Once again, I wondered if that counted. All I had wanted was a sandwich. I hadn’t asked for that, but maybe I should have done more. I thought of the catcalls, the times I’ve been grabbed inappropriately, the time I was stalked by an older man who wouldn’t take my “no” as an actual answer, the times I received lewd comments or requests from those in positions of power, the time I was thrown up against a wall and held in place while receiving threats of what would be done to me, the times my protests were laughed at and mocked.

Yes, my stories are tame compared to those of many I know. The sad truth is that many have experienced worse. But, even those things that happened to me are still wrong. I just had never categorized them in that way, until I was faced with the words "me too."

You see, I felt guilty lumping myself in with so many women who have experienced far more horrific situations than I have. And then I realized I was doing what we’re taught to do by society. I was giving the benefit of the doubt to these individuals who never gave me the respect of listening to my wishes. I was blaming myself for each of these situations, and I was trying to decide whether or not these occurrences were “bad enough” to be considered harassment. I was giving into the very culture that has perpetuated these events and has stopped victims from coming forward. I was shedding doubt and shame on my own experiences.

Mind you, by saying “me too,” this is not some club we all want to be in. For everyone who posted “me too,” many of us were searching and asking, “me too?” It’s not a cry for sympathy or a need for attention. It’s simply an affirmation that sexual assault and harassment exist and are a very real problem. In fact, I’m saddened to say I don’t know too many women who haven’t experienced these situations. It is a problem. It is real. By asserting “me too,” we’re all working to bring that to light to encourage action and change.

Society has taught us that, often, it's not worth speaking out about it. Society has framed a culture (rape culture) that tells us that it's better to keep it to yourself unless you can "prove" it or unless it's "really bad." The reality is that we’re conditioned to determine a tiered level of how “bad” things are or are not—or if we’re being dramatic or blowing things out of proportion. Stories are shrouded with doubt, we’re told we’re overreacting, so victims stay silent. Sometimes, we don’t want to get someone in trouble, sometimes we don’t think it’s bad enough to say anything, sometimes we know we'll be blamed for getting ourselves into a situation, sometimes we think it'll make us look bad. In many situations, we stay quiet, because we're taught not to categorize our experiences as harassment, abuse, or assault, because it wasn't that bad. Perhaps it was a "blurred line," whatever that is supposed to mean. We're conditioned to give these people slack or to give them the benefit of the doubt, and it's worked. We do. We look the other way. We tell ourselves it's not a big deal. We stay silent.

So, until this week, many stories have remained untold. For every “me too” you see, remember that there are likely thousands of others staying silent because we’re not sure if it’s bad enough, or because we’re scared we won’t be believed. For others, maybe they’re not ready to tell their story, or they’re still grappling with the realities of what has happened. No one owes you their story, but remember that there are many more affected than have spoken.   

Rape culture is real. Sexual assault is real. Sexual harassment is real. By saying “me too,” we’re working to bring light to rape culture and to fight it, so maybe future generations of women don’t all have to say “me too.”

So, me too? Yes, me too.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bless Your Heart...

Growing up just a hop, skip and a jump from West Texas, sayings like "y'all," "bless your heart," and "oh my stars," were commonplace. We listened to country music and grew up in a rural setting. In a way, even though we were geographically removed from it, I thought I understood southern charm and southern life.

I had even visited southern areas and watched my fair share of movies set in the south (shout-out to Sweet Home Alabama, which was my favorite for years). But, last August, after deciding to move across the country, my eyes were opened to a whole new world.

For the last six months, as of today, I have called Pensacola, FL my home. Having always loved Florida, I was excited for the adventure, even though I'd never lived anywhere outside my home state of New Mexico. When I announced my decision, I had a great deal of variation in terms of feedback, to most, I was "living the dream," or "taking up the beach lifestyle."

In some ways, they were right. There is a beach (the most beautiful beach I've ever seen in person, I might add), and there is definitely a beach atmosphere in terms of the way people approach life. However, there's also the caveat of this place often being referred to as LA. That's "Lower Alabama" for those of you who don't know, and it's an accurate representation.

I had visited the area, but I couldn't tell you how accurate it was until I actually lived here. Pensacola may be in Florida, but it is definitely down-home southern around here. In my first month, I saw and heard things my New Mexican mind had a hard time computing. 

In true southern form, sometimes you just have to be a little colorful...

From an outsider perspective, here's what I can tell you about the place I now call home.

There are commonplace sayings 'outsiders' have never even heard before. 
Seriously, y'all, there are things I've heard roll off the tongue of some of the locals that no one bats an eye at, while I'm left with my mouth agape, wondering what in the world they meant. Some of them are gems, though, and I plan to pick up as many as I can while I'm here.

The people are nicer than anything movies can express. 
We've all heard about southern charm and southern hospitality (sometimes tongue-in-cheek), but until you've seen it firsthand, there's really no accurate description. In the short time I've been here, I've been invited into people's homes, people talk to you in the grocery store or at a restaurant, I've met my neighbors (something rare in Albuquerque), I've made friends just by sitting down for dinner, my dog has developed an almost cult following in the streets of downtown (I mean, he is pretty cute, but still...), and meeting people wasn't nearly as difficult as I've found it to be in other areas. It's all pretty simple. People talk to you, you talk to them. Conversations and meaningful interactions still matter a lot to people down here, and I love it.

The food...there are hardly words... 
If you're not a fan of pimento cheese, good barbecue, out-of-this-world seafood, the most amazing things put between two slices of bread and called sandwiches, the best fried foods you've ever had, and dishes you didn't even know existed but now can't get enough of, this may not apply to you. But if you are, come to the south, and eat the food. Just do it. You can thank me later.

Even in "Lower Alabama," the beaches are unreal. 
I've heard a handful of people from other (somehow deemed fancier places, which really hams my biscuits...I'm trying to get the hang of the slang) parts of Florida cast a few jabs at Pensacola. And to be honest, when I first got here, I was almost right there with them. But I've been to beaches in other parts of Florida, and I can tell you nothing holds a candle to the Emerald Coast. The white, sandy beaches and emerald waters are a sight to be seen. And best of all, we have options. If you enjoy taking your dogs to the beach, we've got a dog beach. If you want to lounge in a nearly isolated area with a good book and a quiet spot for some thinking, we've got those. If you want a party beach, complete with tiki huts serving your favorite frozen concoctions right on the water, we've got those, too. Maybe that's why we secured the hashtag #upsideofflorida ;)

 Taken just last weekend (yes, you can have a beach day in February)

Mardi Gras is no joke in the south.
In New Mexico, Mardi Gras wasn't really a thing I really to which I paid much attention. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the meaning of Lent and have even gone to a few Ash Wednesday services. But the whole Mardi Gras season was something that pretty much escaped me, at least until Fat Tuesday, when my friends and I would usually meet for a beer. But that was it...pretty much just an excuse to grab a beer on a Tuesday. This year, I was introduced to a new reality, complete with costumes, bead (and moon pie) throwing, crowds, all day champagne brunches, and a slight touch of insanity. If you come down here during Mardi Gras season, at least check it out. It might be a tad much for some people...but trust me, you'll have fun!

Gators and bears, oh my! 
This is not a drill. There are gators and bears. I haven't seen any yet, but just the other day, while checking out potential camping grounds, I noticed the strict rules on bringing dogs to campsites. After doing a little research, I read that gators tend to frequent most campsites. On that note, I'm not sure I want to bring myself camping, let alone the dogs. And bears too...those are scary. 

People who live other places will complain about the humidity for you. 
I can't count the number of people who, when I tell them where I live, tell me how awful the humidity is. I know. I'm living it. The truth of the matter is, you somewhat adjust (okay, not really all the way), and what you can't adjust to, you make it better with a beach day at the aforementioned gorgeous beach. Besides, I have naturally curly hair that doesn't tame anyway. Now I just have an excuse for it to be out of control.

I'm adopting this motto. Consider it adopted.

There's truly no place like the south.
New Mexico is my home, and there is certainly no place like home. I don't mean to say that this place is the best place in the world, but I do mean it when I say this place is unlike anywhere I've seen. There are pros and cons, just like anywhere else, and I most definitely had my adjustment period before I wrote this blog, but there is nowhere else this quirky and amusing, full of life, still focused on the things that matter most–namely people, oozing with southern charm (and some southern hilarity that will make you look at things twice), and welcoming. Also, the beach...I've mentioned how great that place is. All in all, this place somehow manages to combine the feel of a simpler time in terms of the way people interact with one another with all the things you'd need in a city, and somehow also throws in the element of a stunning beach town. 
If you've been dying to check out a slice of southern living and start a new adventure, bite the bullet and give it a try. You might run for the hills screaming when you see that Sweet Home Alabama is a semi-accurate portrayal (it really is, I've found, after watching it three times since I've lived here), or you might just find a whole new world to explore.