So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

27 October, 2008

Slipping Down the Slope

I've been thinking, for a couple of reasons, about classism and how it interacted with the feminism of my childhood.

(This is riffing on my "Spoiling Feminism" post on last year, in part.)

I had a damn weird upbringing in some ways, class-wise, but one of the things that was a big part of it was that I would go to college. On the one side of the family, it was "Of course you will go to college; we are Yankee bluebloods and our kind has gone to college since Colonial days." On the other side of the family it was, "Going to college is how we can have a better lot in life than our parents and lift ourselves out of the working class. Your grandfather gave up a scholarship that would have made him the first in the family to attend college because his family needed his income, and you need to honor that sacrifice."

And threaded in through all that childhood is this very class-conscious feminism, one that barely touches on issues of violence and genuine misogyny for a very professional-class set of concerns that mostly were relevant to the women who were college-educated. Glass ceilings. Access to the boardroom and the White House. Economics without any sense that people bleed, except in the past, where that bleeding was done so that you, meaning me, could go out and accomplish the great things that Our Feminist Foremothers could only dream of seeing their daughters do. Just Do It feminism at its worst. I had to prove myself for womanhood, and because as a woman I couldn't afford to depend on anyone else for care and support, especially not a man.

I tell you a secret: I had no damn clue what I might want to do in college. This was my secret shame, that I didn't have A Goal, some sort of appropriately middle-class college-educated thing I would do to prove my merit (and, incidentally, Further The Cause Of Women). I wanted to write, and I couldn't think of a thing to study in college that would help me with that. (Literature classes were, in my experience, entirely painful, and not useful for actual writing in any case.) It was acceptable to take classes in Random Interesting Shit, but only in and around the edges of what was required to manage establishing that Proper Career. I had no Career dreams, and I knew that this was a great failure for me as a human being (for classist reasons) and as a woman (for feminist reasons).

So what happens when I went to college?

I went mad.

Load that wacky classist baggage with mental health ablism, now. Depression isn't a legitimate disability, you know, it's just the excuse of the lazy for their failures. It's certainly not a reason to drop out of college, because college is what I was supposed to do, and none of this fluffy insanity shit gets me out of my obligations to family, to class, to women as a whole, right?

I worked junior tech support and pink-collar for a while to make rent and food. My happiness at my state of freedom collided messily with, again, the whole class thing, the downward mobility of not being college-educated and the sense of hamartia that came of that -- not merely falling short, but sinfully so.

And, in time, freedom faded too, as the stress of the work started to be too much for me to handle. My migraines returned, my health degraded, and I could feel the edges of sanity sliding again, especially when I had to choose between being a good person by my own lights and making the rent. Eventually, I quit, and slid, more quietly this time, into madness and self-negation, truly knowing myself worthless and not worthy of living because of the shame of dependence -- dependence on a man, to boot.

I've had to come to terms with it. All of it. The classism, the ablism, the giant morass in my head. I've never gone back to college -- something that shocks people from backgrounds like mine, where the "of course you're college-educated, you're intelligent" assumptions run deep. I've had to accept that the odds are good that I can't work enough to support myself on my earnings and keep my sanity; I have to pick one or the other. I've had to deal with people who talk about how it's irresponsible for a woman to not be able to support herself on her own earnings, because other people are unreliable, untrustworthy, can't be counted on to not betray me and leave me on the street.

Which leaves me an autodidact with a freelancing job, working at home, writing between contracts because that leaves me saner than not, doing the laundry and all despite still occasionally facing failure-as-a-person and failure-as-a-woman for "settling for" a life where I have a chance at being happy and reasonably successful on my own terms, rather than miserably a good example of womankind.

16 October, 2008

O The Embarrassment

I can't respond to this in a way that makes sense on the threads, because where I'm coming from is utterly tangential; the origin of the discussion is here and here.

One of those places that I'm ludicrously short-fused is when I run into stuff that equates submission with humiliation. I sort of touched on it obliquely when writing about language and terminology and 'name-calling' before.

I actually had a long conversation with my husband a while back trying to get an explanation of mere erotic embarassment that made any sense to me. After going back and forth for over an hour, I still didn't really see how it could work. So the best I can do is figure that other people are wired up differently from me and not think about it too hard because it makes me queasy.

Which it really does.

And I think it comes down to a place where the contrarian iron is in my spine. The short enough to be catchy but a little too short to be perfectly accurate way of putting it would be:

If I got off on being a lesser being, I'd have run back to mommy when they threw me out of school.

And it's not just the mommy issues or the failure at college thing; it's that my life has made me into someone who wants to defy shame. (And one of the things that I find powerfully attractive about my liege is his lack of shame, and lack of interest in it.)

And experience with bullies and experience with abuse means that my reaction to someone trying to twist a perceived weak spot, to humiliate, or degrade ... is cold fury. Sometimes controlled; sometimes not. I protect my vulnerable spots, and someone who wants to get me alone to twist a knife into them will run into my defenses, not get happy pervy goodness out of it.

I spent my childhood as scrawny, bookish, socially inept; my early adolescence in a maze of social abuse and sexual harassment and appropriation; my adolescence shaken by the aftermath of assault and a growing awareness of myself as Unacceptable due to my sexuality, my religion, my politics, my lack of class-appropriate ambition, my failure at higher education, my domestic focus, my mental illness. I have had enough of being treated as a defective or lesser being, well past enough.

And when she tried to coerce me back to the explosive shelter of my disintegrating parental home where I could be further humiliated and degraded, I refused. That's the key thing: I refused. I drew the line, I extracted myself from that.

I'm not going back, not to anything like that.

My happy pervy goodness comes out of being in an interaction where I am able to be whole. Not crushed into something lesser, but where my entire self, including the darker and more fragile pieces, including the parts that the outside world wants to break me of (like an impulse to service) are honored, are valuable, are precious, are holy.

Someone who thinks that my desire to be possessed and of service is a matter of humiliating me is not treating that desire with any respect, and thus becomes someone from whom that desire must be protected. Not someone who can share it.

13 October, 2008

Blood and Water

Family is a complicated thing.

It's on my mind, in a complicated interlacing of reasons, the whole shape of the thing. Bloodkin and chosen, all.

I'm thinking it over in a vast tangle of things. Thinking about a conversation a few days ago where I admitted to someone that I thought of her as a sister and she admitted reciprocation, all as tender and awkward as taking a new lover, making a mark of that. Knowing that that is real and true in a way blood isn't, can't be, at least not for the likes of us, the children of the Mother of Demons.

What is family? Is family blood, genetics; or is family what held me while I was in the depths of panicked depression on seeing the phrase "Playing with my grandchildren" in a notebook, this thing looked forward to and so deeply full of threat.

One of the most enduring ruptures in my relationship with my brother is the fact that we grew up in different families. Same parents, same household, and everything changed so fundamentally after I went away, went mad, stayed away, and in those years we were lost to each other for a while. Entire different realities lie between us, and we know it, and maybe forgive each other a little for becoming strangers.

A long time ago, when I was still semi-active in science fiction fandom, I had a massive blowout with that subculture over 'family'. I ran into a lot of people who talked about how fandom was their true family, how they felt alienated from their bloodkin, how it was a welcoming place for people like me, people who read the stuff, cared about the sorts of things fen cared about, the downtrodden nerds of the world. And it was all well and good, I suppose; I lurked on the fringes and avoided the culty-lovebombing bits of it because I had family, thanks. And then the shibboleths came out. Saying "sci-fi". Liking the occasional television show in genre. When I commented on it, I got mail from people who did costuming saying, "Yeah, looks just like the 'costuming is frivolous' argument to me. Sucks." It was, occasionally, vicious. And it ... pretty much prepared me for every subsequent "We're a welcoming group for people like you so long as you shut up about that."

I'm getting married in the spring. It wakes up all kinds of family tangles something fierce, and not just because the whole process is a familial declaration.

Who is in the real families being brought together there? Where is the line on blood and choice?

It's not a simple question. And it preoccupies me.

02 October, 2008

Forever Proud and Free

AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka speaks on racism to the steelworker's union.

Because all men are brothers wherever men may be
One Union shall unite us forever proud and free
No tyrant shall defeat us, no nation strike us down
All men who toil shall greet us the whole wide world around.

My brothers are all others forever hand in hand
Where chimes the bell of freedom there is my native land
My brother's fears are my fears yellow white or brown
My brother's tears are my tears the whole wide world around.

- Peter, Paul, and Mary, "Because All Men Are Brothers"

Actual post later, just getting back into the swing of things.