"Privilege," food jerks, and history

So: I never thought I’d be one of those “food jerks” that I wanted to punch in the face.  You know the types. Their battle cry is high-pitched and poorly modulated for indoor environs:  ”I won’t eat anything that isn’t locally source and non-grass-fed and hasn’t had its chi properly aligned with the goddess and has been exposed to over .5 hours of traditional, oppressive mass media per day…” They are found at shitty, over-spiced and undercooked potlucks everywhere, shoveling gruel into their smug faces and smiling all the while. 

Well, okay. My food jerkism is limited to cutting out carbs and sugar in the interest of a) reducing my cancer risk (see: PCOS) without having to take hormonal birth control (see:  feminizing effects of) and b) losing some damn weight (see: my body, rampant hatred of). It’s working thus far, which gives me hope for some kind of future that doesn’t involve covering my chest with a towel when I brush my teeth naked. (Okay, the boobs won’t go away entirely, but perhaps they will reduce some).

But that’s not quite the point. The point is: those who closely monitor their food choice often also subscribe to the “check your privilege” movement, a trend that is comprised of a well-intentioned but inherently flawed system that is designed to provoke introspection in those who… Well, are poor at the practice, to say the least. These questioned parties are privy to advantages they are ostensibly unaware of based upon their sex (male), race (white), and class (upper-middle), and use such intrinsic status to their advantage.

The idea of privilege-checking makes sound sense. Those in protected classes should not throw their weight around just because they can, or because they are oblivious to their actions. We are far too advanced as a species for excusing total ignorance of social issues relating to this. 

HOWEVER: Is there a built-in check-and-balance of those who nudge others to check themselves? At first blush, it appears that there is. “We must examine ourselves and our thoughts” is a common sentiment. Does it happen, though? And where does food choice come in? And: WHY DO I CARE?

I care because a lot had to happen before I was granted the - yes - privilege to pick and choose what I wish to eat. In 1949, my father was six years old. His family home was a cramped room, shared with at least one other group of people, in a displaced persons camp in Mannheim, Germany. He had never seen an orange, a banana, or eaten an egg. He arrived in the USA in 1950 with a tapeworm in his stomach from consuming minute portions of rotten meat.

It took years for my father to be able to fill his belly. In high school, he lived on a single pretzel stick and a root beer slipped to him by a sympathetic emigre cafeteria worker, and this meal had to sustain him throughout the day and into football practice. After he graduated, he attempted college until the money ran out. And then, as a white, male 21-year-old, he was snapped up into the draft; yes, in addition to these markers of status, he was “uneducated” and poor, which deemed him expendable in the eyes of the US government.

Why the hell am I bringing this up? Because fuck, look at your OWN damn privilege. Really look at it. Your vegetarianism, your organic-only lifestyle, your farm-to-table bent, and your goddamn CSA are a privilege and a half. My no-carbs, no-sugar is, too. And for god’s sake, remember that little boy with the WORM IN HIS GUT. That kid still exists, across many cultures and races and locations. He can be brown and he can be white. He can be your neighbor all grown up, and your assumptions about him, his experiences, and his advantages can cut to the quick in ways you cannot imagine. For the moment, table the fact that this guy can now get ahead because of his sex or race or color. Just for a moment.

Because at one time, this guy COULDN’T FUCKING EAT. 

(Yes, women can be rapists!)

Photo by Demond Henderson via flickr. Note that the person in the Yankees cap on the left is holding a sign that says, “I was raped by [female symbol] & men, 9, 11, 12, 28. They walk the streets.”

NOTE: This post contains descriptions of and comments about violence, specifically sexual violence, and laws and attitudes relating to rape and assault. It may not be suitable for all readers, so please take caution.

2003: I can still kind of see it in my head. Just a little bit. With a bit more light than there was, I think, like a helicopter is beaming down as we’re setting it all up. It’s the gang of us, maybe five or six people, and we’ve taken over the empty dorm room at the end of the hall. It’s just three desks, three chairs, a single bed, and a wooden bunk - blocky and utilitarian all.

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Everyone is Stephanie

So, once upon a time, two years ago, I had a fairly cushy corporate job. It was in a field I genuinely enjoyed, with people who seemed decent enough - likable, even. I’d never worked in an office before, and found the prospect exciting. 

My boss had a young (paid) intern working for our team when I started at LargeCorp. She was a good kid, naive, like she’d just gotten off the MetroNorth from Scarsdale. But I liked her. Her name was Stephanie, and she did an assortment of tasks, from making copies to doing light research. Sometimes, the results of her work would land on my desk. I had no issues with it, as Stephanie seemed to know what she was doing, and never grumbled at being run around by the more senior staff members.

One day, Big Boss and I were having a chat in her office, and she disclosed to me that she feared she’d have to fire Stephanie. I was taken aback, but listened as Big Boss trotted out a list of the intern’s flaws - shoddy work, missing the point, and general unprofessionalism. “She reminds me a little of me years ago,” Big Boss sighed. “Right down to the Talbot’s Petite dresses.”

A week later, Stephanie was gone. She’d left town, actually, and gone back to Scarsdale. Whether or not Big Boss actually had gone through with canning her I never found out. If the rumor mill was to be believed, she’d endured a breakup and high-tailed it home.

Either way, I remember sitting at my desk, thanking my luck stars I wasn’t her. I may be many things, I thought. But at least I’m not Stephanie.

Fast forward about a year to when I sat  in Big Boss’s new, swankier office at LargeCorp, as she told me that they would not be renewing my contract. I was crestfallen but not ultimately that surprised; Little Boss, Big Boss’s right hand, has wanted me out for months. The same allegations that had been pointed like lasers at young Stephanie had been trained on me. Most of them, I felt, were invalid - or at the very least deserved a closer look.

Through it all, though, I began to get paranoid; what if I was a terrible employee? But my father, never one to let me off the hook if I’ve truly screwed the pooch, added it up for me at dinner one night before Big Boss closed down the show. I described a few instances when information had been withheld from or simply misstated to me, ultimately resulting in an error on my part. I was bewildered, and said as much, crying over my overpriced but delicious gourmet burger. Dad, looking me in the eye, said, “they’re setting you up. Oldest trick in the book.” 

It likely wasn’t personal, he told me. They needed to eliminate the position and, thus, me. To do so, they needed cause, and quickly drummed up more than enough. I’d made mistakes, sure, but none that warranted what had transpired. “It’s the nature of the beast,” Dad said.

But it hurt. And it felt personal. And I thought of Stephanie.

And it wasn’t the last time. Not a week after hearing my fate at LargeCorp, my long distance (I know, I know!) then-girlfriend backed out of moving to my home state (even after having secured an apartment), Stephanie hovered in my memory in her perky pink dress. She was there again when, my job and my girl gone, I scanned the medicine cabinet late into the night as I fought back a new and terrifying urge to grab all the Tylenol bottles and toss them down my throat. And AGAIN, just recently, when ExWonderWoman finally sank the knife into our would-be, on-again, off-again, relationship, citing - oh, irony - my lack of full time employment as her chief complaint against me, I became Stephanie all over again. In the same breath that I’d been the love of ExWonderWoman’s life, her “home,” her “destiny,” she’d decided to stack the deck against me and there was nothing I could do. “It’s been two years,” she said. “If it was meant to happen, it would have happened by now.” My own anger roared in my ears, met swiftly with sadness and, eventually, a tearing grief.

And maybe she’s right. Maybe she’s not, who knows? What I do know is, however, that we are all Stephanie at some point or another - especially when we falsely think we can never be. As long as the rug is there, it can be pulled out from under us - yes, whether we’re wearing Talbot’s Petite or Old Navy, our mother’s borrowed pumps or year-old sneakers. We are. We are all Stephanie.

Could be my sibling. I look at this person and see my own face and body, though I have had no surgery. I see a chain of history that could be like mine, an ancestry of cold lands and birch trees and wars, a present day life of nature walks and book hoarding and naps with cats. I see contentment and hope and serenity. And I see beauty. Bless your heart, sweet stranger.


3 months post-op

Why Queer is Boring: An Introduction

Yeah, yeah. We’ve heard it all before: the sex is amaaaaazing and everyone has better haircuts and hey, NO OPPRESSION!* Plus, we’re so inclusive,** everyone is beautiful, and GLITTER!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but being queer does not make you better. It doesn’t elevate you in some way. You haven’t surpassed, say, your nice straight married neighbors, or your parents, or your grandparents, because of your identity. Maybe you have in other ways, but that’s not going to be one of them. 

Being queer doesn’t make me better, either, because yeah, for all my bitching, I’m queer, too. And I’m bored of it. It doesn’t make me a more talented singer, or improve my international geography. It hasn’t helped me learn a second language, redo my bathroom, reduce my mile time, or get rich quick. 

But, jokes aside, my queerness doesn’t make me more interesting - you, either. Queerness does not ensure that we are more compassionate, more loving, or more fair, or that we are kinder, stronger, realer people.

Why do I carp on so?

Because there can be a real danger in thinking, somehow, that a queer person, space, or community exists in a vacuum and is immune to the pitfalls of the rest of the world. Queer folks can be just as biased, dismissive, hurtful, mean, or violent as anyone else. Queer venues and events are not free of discrimination, bad politics, or poor judgement. Nor is the queer community at large.

It’s true - shit happens, it’s normal. Nothing and no one is perfect. That’s not the problem, though; the problem is that we cannot continue to behave as though all things queer are immune to these issues (and more) - yet so many of us perpetuate the myth that they are. The longer the rose-colored glasses stay on, the less progress is made - as people, no more and no less.

So, let’s start small, shall we?

Hell, let’s start period.


*This is a lie

**This is another lie