Dear Walton High School,

May 25, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Posted in Coming Out | Leave a comment
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Thank you.

I’ll expand on that. But, my dear high school, thank you.

I may not have liked you all that much when I was there, but sometimes, nowadays, I can appreciate you.

Thank you for not making me go through what Constance McMillen had to go through. Thank you for not making me a figure in the national news, because I certainly wasn’t strong enough to have handled such at the time. Thank you for taking a hands-off approach which, while not particularly pleasant at the time, I realize now is much better than other approaches you may have taken.

Let’s start from the beginning.

I was 15 when I realized that I was attracted to girls as well as boys. I was 16 when I started telling people at school. I was 17 when I became vice-president of the Gay-Straight Alliance, and I was 18 when I decided to take my girlfriend at the time, Holly, to my senior prom.

Now, Walton High School, you did some smart things: rather than require everyone to have a paper ticket, which goodness knows a bunch of 17- and 18-year-olds can’t possibly be expected to hold onto, you created a list of everyone who had a ticket to prom, so that with a quick flash of an ID card (or enough friends to verify your identity if your purse was left in the limo), you could still get in and no one’s night was ruined because a little piece of paper fell out somewhere along the line. This means, though, that when we bought tickets for non-WHS students, we had to put their names on the list. So I went to the table outside the cafeteria, and a PTA mom was sitting there, cheerily taking checks for $50 and writing students’ dates’ names on a spreadsheet. This PTA mom was my “room mom” when I was in second grade, I think, so she’d seen me around for many years, and she smiled when I stepped up to the table. “Hi, Rae, how are you doing? Bringing someone special with you?”

“I am, indeed!” I smiled back at her.

“All right, it’ll be $50.” I handed her the check, she writes down my name and checks off the “paid” box, then asks, “What school does he go to?”

“Rome High School.”

“And his name?”

“Holly [last name].”

She paused. “Sorry?”

“Holly [last name].”

She paused again. “I’m not sure we can do that.” I just looked at her with raised eyebrows. I’d kinda expected something like this to happen. But she was my old room mom. She liked me. She thought of me as the sweet, quiet girl in the front of the classroom who squinted because I hadn’t been given glasses yet, and who never talked except when her hand was raised, and who wore her Brownie uniform to school and sold Girl Scout cookies and brought Matzah to class for a week and taught everyone what it was because this was Georgia, so a lot of people didn’t know. So she thought for a second, then said, “Hang on.” She went to the vice principal. They had a hushed whispered conference. The PTA mom came back to the table, all smiles, and said, “Well, that’s not a problem, you’re certainly welcome to bring a friend to prom. It is your senior prom after all, right?” She emphasized “friend” more than necessary. I sighed on the inside, and I’m sure my smile drooped a little, but the PTA mom wasn’t looking at me anymore, she was just writing “Holly [last name]” on the spreadsheet, and then reaching into the envelope for a paper ticket in case we wanted to have it as a keepsake. I didn’t put up a fight beyond that — all I wanted was to bring my girl with me to prom, and hey, I had a ticket for her, so whatever. One step at a time, I decided. Can’t push these East Cobb County Georgians too far at once, because then maybe I won’t be able to use the ticket at all. Baby steps. Baby steps.

Prom approached. Holly and I were excited. I had a satin purple dress, and she had a fluffy yellow dress, and they actually looked really great next to each other. It was a little like Easter, to be honest, but I didn’t care: she was beautiful, and she was my date to the prom, and I was happy. We had a group to go with: several of my friends who had stuck by me after I came out, and some other kids from the more liberal social circles on campus. We did the whole shabang: picture party, limo, fancy dinner, and then the prom itself. Holly and I presented our tickets at the table, and no one questioned it as we walked in. We held hands, walked around, said hi to people; I introduced her to my friends who she hadn’t met before, and we danced together. We drank punch and ate cheese cubes and threw off our shoes when they started pinching and we just wanted to do the Macarena (it was already hilariously out of date by then, which made it thoroughly amusing). She went to the bathroom, and I waited outside chatting with a friend. My ears perked up at a few words being whispered around me: “dyke,” “gay,” “lesbo,” “queer,” all words which I may have used to describe myself at one point or another but when said with that amount of vitriol are less than flattering. And then on the other side of the spectrum: we went to the dance floor, grinding as any good teenager would do to the type of music they play at prom, and we’d kiss, and boys would whoop and holler and make comments like “That’s hot!” “Keep going!” “Yeah, baby,” and “Can I get in on that?” To be honest, I’m not sure which was worse: being called names that showed obvious scorn, or being treated as sex objects which immature boys (not men, for sure: boys) felt weren’t worthy of the respect they would give to any of their friends kissing their dates on the dance floor.

I pretty much ignored it all. Whatever. I was at prom with a gorgeous girl, and I’m bisexual, and they can suck it if they give a damn.

Nothing remarkable happened other than that, though. The dance ended, and we all hopped back in the limo, and we went to Waffle House for some late-night food, and to a friend’s house for an overnight chill party.

Overall, it was a great senior prom.

So, thank you, Walton High School. I may not have appreciated it at the time, but you were so much nicer than you could have been. I can deal with name-calling. I can handle being unnecessarily sexualized. I can even put up with having my girlfriend being demoted to “friend” in your eyes.

What I could not have handled is being utterly shamed and denied my right to exist. I could not have dealt with being lied to and rejected from the only school community I knew at the time. I could not have put up with trickery and going to court and having a night which was supposed to be such an icon for the high school experience turned into a pawn for you to push through your agenda. You may not have treated me with the utmost respect, but you didn’t dehumanize me. You didn’t make me grow up much faster than I needed to like Itawamba High School did to Constance McMillen when they dragged her through a court case, repeated media exposure, and a fake prom which did nothing but send a message that said, “We don’t want you to exist among us. We deny your right to exist at all.” Then being forced to transfer schools because of the whole ordeal, just weeks before graduation, and then have Westboro Baptist Church (the “God Hates Fags” hate-mongering nitwits) threaten to picket at her graduation. I admire Constance so, so much. I could never have been nearly as mature about the situation as she was.

As much as I value every hardship I’ve encountered as a chance to grow and become stronger, I still thank you. Thank you, Walton High School, for allowing me to attend prom with the girl I liked. Thank you, WHS, for not ruining over 600 people’s prom experience to make a stand on my bisexuality. Thank you, WHS, for not being as bad as I thought you were.

I do have one request, though. Next time, when a girl goes up to the prom ticket table, and she wants to bring her girlfriend from another school to prom, tell the PTA mom to smile and say, “Of course! Here’s your ticket.” Maybe you’ve changed since my senior prom in 2005 and this is already the case. But teenagers are so susceptible to damage at the hands of an adult who simply doesn’t understand what that teen is going through in her journey to discover herself. She’s already made a dangerous choice to bring a date of the same sex to the prom in Georgia. She’s probably going to be called names and be treated cruelly at the hands of the other students. Be an adult. Be an example. Say, with your actions, “This is your prom, and you should be allowed to go with whomever you please, and I’m not going to get in your way.” If you’re opposed to same-sex coupling, don’t insert your politics into a teenager’s life. Let her make her own decisions. I’m glad I was able to make mine, even with some resistance.

So thank you, WHS. You made my life easier than Constance’s life. And I do appreciate that. You have some work to do before you’re a safe haven for teens of all orientations. But you’re one step ahead of some in the pack, and I want to thank you for that.

My five-year class reunion is coming up on August. I won’t be able to attend, since I’ll be in graduate school in Israel by that time. However, I wouldn’t be ashamed to attend if I were able to go. Because as much as I may have disliked the school at the time I was there, I realize that you weren’t all bad. I learned a lot from you. Perhaps not in the easiest way — but I did learn, and I thank you for the opportunity to do that learning.


Walton High School Class of ’05

PS: Thank you to Senators Franken and Gilibrand for introducing legislation to defend LGBT youth from bullying four days ago. I’m sure I’ll write more on this later, but this deserves mention in this context as well. So thank you, Senators, and thank you, Walton High school, in advance, for supporting this legislation. I hope you will, because there should never have to be another Constance McMillen in our midst: only people as strong as her.

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Boobquake: One Step Forward in Overcoming Shame

May 1, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Posted in Shame | 1 Comment
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Okay, so it’s a new month, and therefore, I should try to update a bit.

So last Monday, a bunch of us on the Internets celebrated the much-renowned “Boobquake.” I wore a somewhat low-cut shirt to celebrate myself, but I had work all day, so the low-cut-ness had to be curbed a bit compared to what it would be had I not been in my office all day.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? How about checking it out, as well as some responses:

Original Post/ProposalFacebook EventA Clarification on BoobquakeThe Results Are InA Feminist Defense of Boobquake – Why Boobquake Isn’t Destroying Feminism

Now that I’ve given you a not-so-small novel to read (and that’s not even all I’d recommend reading on it, but I figured I’d get on with my rant), let me put this out there: I fully support the Boobquake event.

I agree with all of the feminist reasoning behind the event; feminism is about choice, and therefore, we ought to have the freedom to choose whether we show off our tits or cover ’em up, and regardless of our choice, we have the right not to encounter sexism, objectification, anger, suppression, oppression….

Or shame.

From a queer perspective, Boobquake is fantastic. As a community, LGBTQ people have been battling with shame for as long as our communal memory can remember. From Oscar Wilde with the “open secret” (i.e. those who knew to look for homosexuality in his works saw it, but those who didn’t know wouldn’t see it, and no one talked about it because then they’d be admitting to being “in on the secret,” and no “good” person even considered homosexuality in the world, so you don’t talk about it lest you be accused of sodomy) to transpeople who get arrested while using the restroom to young lesbians told they can’t go to prom in a tux because that’s a boy thing to do, shame has been a big part of the queer experience.  Shame regarding our orientations, our gender identities, our masculine or feminine external styling, our lifestyles, our proclivities, our politics, our relationships, our families… and our bodies.

As a person in Western culture, I have been taught to be ashamed of my body. Especially as a woman in American culture, I have been commanded to be ashamed of my body. I’m too short, I’m too fat, I’m too curvy, I’m too pale, I’m too freckle-y, I’m too imperfect.

And if I’m the only one who’d been made to feel this way, I’ll eat the wire plugged into my laptop.

Many of us respond to this shaming by shrinking away, trying to fit in to what would be less shameful: trying to lose or gain weight, wearing push-up or minimizing bras, getting plastic surgery, wearing makeup, or if we can’t make our bodies better, we cover them up with clothing.

You know what I say to that?

Fuck. That.

I’m not going to let them shame me about my body, and neither should you. Those so-called “feminists” who oppose Boobquake on the “men are pigs, and you’re just feeding the wolf-whistling machine” reasoning don’t get it. Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, the prayer leader in Iran who said,

Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes

What was he doing with that statement? Not only saying something hilarious for us to make fun of online (Increases earthquakes? I mean, really?), but he was shaming women who are comfortable showing their bodies in public. He was shaming women for having body parts which men find attractive. He was also shaming men who are attracted to women’s bodies.

These men and women who call themselves “feminists” and yet believe that Boobquake is a backwards step for feminism–they’re doing the exact same thing. They’re shaming women who want to show off their assets. They’re shaming those of us who appreciate the aesthetic value of boobs. They’re shaming boobs themselves.

Let’s get this straight: Boobs are awesome.

You know what’s not awesome?

Here’s what’s not awesome: Shame. A one-size-fits-all view for how women should show their bodies. Urging suppression of choice. Treating women as objects which happen to carry some tits on them. Treating men as animals who can’t control their actions when faced with the sight of some cleavage.

And I’ll say it again: Shame. Shame is not awesome. In fact, it’s quite the opposite of awesome. It does no one any good any any level. Those who are ashamed of their bodies are more likely to harm them. (Whether by crash-dieting which causes more harm than good, by binge-eating comfort foods, by going under the knife unnecessarily only to wake up from the anesthesia to realize the lipo didn’t suck away their self-doubt, by self-injury, by committing suicide… the list goes on.) People who are proud of and comfortable in their bodies are more likely to live healthy lifestyles. In my own struggle to lose weight, the pounds only started slipping away after I became comfortable in the skin I was in; when I was ashamed of my body, I’d “cheat” on my diet more and more and only ended up gaining weight. However, as soon as I started loving myself and realizing that I can feel beautiful even 40 pounds overweight, hey! Look at that! Six weeks later, I’m down 10 pounds. I loved myself, and instead of reaching for the chocolate to make myself feel better for a minute only to have that feeling slip away as soon as I swallowed, I wanted to eat a salad and take the long way to work so I could walk more. Instead of beating myself up because I didn’t look like the magazines told me I should look like, I gave myself a hug and a smile and a little bit of self-love which, in turn, made me healthier.

Telling me to hide my tits because oh noes, the big bad men could enjoy the sight and do something awful (*Gasp!*)… that’s only going to harm me. Don’t tell me to hide my body. Tell those who objectify women to get their heads out of their asses and treat women like human beings rather than walking pairs of tits. Tell whose who refuse to accept transpeople to wake up and enter the 21st century, where we recognize a person’s right to dress and identify however he/she/ze wants. Tell those who can’t get past the need to shame others for their bodies to grow up, because we’re not on the kindergarten playground anymore. Though even on the kindergarten playground, my teacher would have put me in time-out if I’d made fun of someone for dressing a certain way.

Don’t want to see my tits? Don’t look at them. If you do, I’m not ashamed of them, and here they are.

I'm not ashamed of my cleavage. And no Muslim cleric or anti-feminist blog-commenter will change that.

The queer community has a long way to go before we overcome the centuries of shame placed upon us. But light-hearted events which poke fun at those who put that shame on us can only help. And that, my friends, is why I support Boobquake.

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Ambiqueerious, The Blog.

October 23, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Posted in American Politics, Legislation, Let's Get Personal | Leave a comment
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Bisexuality: the third letter in the oft-cited acronym “LGBT” intended to be inclusive of all people with non-mainstream sexual orientations or gender identities.

Two problems:

  1. “LGBT” doesn’t even come close to describing every single sexual or gender identity out there which doesn’t fit into the heteronormative mainstream view of how people should look/act/be with/sleep with/fuck/love/whatever with other people.
  2. “Bisexual” is 95% of the time merely a perfunctory inclusion. No one actually intends to discuss or consider bisexual identities, politics, relationships, or existences.

What are the solutions?

I don’t know. That’s why I’m writing. Maybe you can help me out.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is RaeAn. (All right, it’s a pen name, but it’s one I use for everything — I’m not hiding anything.) I’m in my early twenties. I went to the University of Maryland, where I got a degree in Jewish Studies, a certificate in LGBT Studies, and a notation in Creative Writing. I figured out I was bisexual when I was 15 or 16; I was very lucky to figure this out in an extremely open and welcoming environment, a summer camp in NY, where people supported me and helped me grow into my newfound identity throughout the summer, as opposed to back home in Georgia where I encountered quite a bit of animosity and needed to be confident in my identity before I could defend it as much as I had to. I alternate between describing myself as bisexual, queer, and “I-don’t-care-what-you-are-as-long-as-you’re-pretty”-sexual. I identify as polyamorous, but have no issue with monogamy and have had monogamous relationships in the past which have been equally as fulfilling as my poly relationships in the past. I’m currently in no relationships. I’m content with that for the moment.

I find queer theory and discourse to be fascinating, and I wanted to maintain my participation in such discussions past graduation from my LGBT Studies program. I started a Twitter account, @ambiqueerious, since I already maintained a personal Twitter and a Twitter for my internship in DC. I figured I may as well tack another one onto my TweetDeck app that might be relevant to people I don’t necessarily know personally, but to whom I may be connected via my frustrations with the “LGBT” community and the way the world treats and views queer people of all stripes and colors.

Then I came across an article in the Washington Post that had me ranting to a friend on Google Chat for quite some time. I posted it to the Twitter, but I so did not want to be limited to 140 characters for this one.

And thus it was born: Ambiqueerious, The Blog.

I don’t know how often I’ll post. To be honest, I’m working full-time in a very frustrating and dead-end restaurant job to pay the bills, interning with a Jewish LGBT organization in DC for free to get work experience in my desired field, and on a dance team, so free time is limited. But I’ll devote some of it to this blog whenever I can. I get frustrated often enough to need to vent. But I also see some awesome, great stuff going on that I need to point out. There are some people doing great work out there for bi visibility. I’ll shout out to those people as I go along.

Also, happy LGBT History Month!

Speaking of history: let’s get into the issue that started this need for a blog.

Matthew Shepard. We all know his story. (If you don’t: go here to catch up.) His mother, Judy Shepard, has done wonders for the community in promoting and defending hate crimes legislation. We sort of had it, then we didn’t, then it only included some people and not others, and… etc.

Hate crimes legislation has finally made it to Congress! And it’s all-inclusive of both “sexual orientation” AND “gender identity!” Yay! Big high-five for all of us who want people to pay for bias-related crimes more than random-victim crimes! (Maybe I’ll get into why I support this later — it’s complicated, but I have a different issue at the moment.)

It passes the Senate! And it even makes it into the Washington Post! Hey, look, Mr. Reporter Sir, tell us the good news! We have a bill that’s going to protect all of us, right?

The Senate cleared a historic hate crimes bill Thursday for President Obama’s signature, approving new federal penalties for attacks on gay men and lesbians.

Oh. Right. Gay men and lesbians. I love me some of them, but uh, you do realize what the wording of the bill is, right?

Allow me a quote from the text of the legislation. This is the part where the punishments are delineated for perpetrators of hate crimes who are defined as *Ahem*:

    Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B) or paragraph (3), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person
    (Source: Library of Congress, emphasis added)

Let’s pick this apart as it relates to queer people. (Not knocking the impact this has on people with disabilities or of minority national origins or religions, but those parts have been on the books for quite some time, and this is a queer blog, after all.)

  • “Actual or perceived.” This is the BEST part of this legislation! It made me so giddy when I read this. That means that if you get beaten up because someone thinks you’re in a protected class, such as those listed after these three words, even if you’re not, hate crimes legislation can still apply. Remember Jaheem Hererra? He committed suicide in my home town in Georgia after being bullied at school because other students perceived him to be gay and labeled him as such. He was never out and nobody knows if he was gay or not. It doesn’t matter. He was bullied because of his perceived sexuality–and that would fall under this hate crimes legislation if these bullies caused, or attempted to cause, bodily harm to Jaheem.
  • “Gender” and “gender identity.” These two work best in combination with each other. Transpeople are finally going to be protected in hate crimes. Now, if someone is attacked for their “actual or perceived” gender or gender identity, it carried the same penalty as a crime perpetrated based on race. This means biological females who identify as women, male-to-female transgender people, female-to-male transgender people, drag queens, cross-dressers, pre- and post-op transpeople, transpeople with no intention of having surgery, gender-queer people, intersex people, agendered people, whatever you want to be and whoever you are: hate crimes legislation can apply to a crime based on these, and many more, identities, people, and situations.
  • “Sexual orientation.” Here’s my biggie. Listen up, Mr. Reporter Sir (whose name is actually Ben Pershing–I hope he Googles his name and gets this at some point), and read those two words again: “sexual orientation.” It does not say “gay and lesbian orientation.” It’s more general and all-encompassing than that. It includes bisexuals. Pansexuals. Asexuals. People who don’t fit into any category and yet don’t fit into your heteronormative category either. Or people perceived to be in any of these categories or non-categories. Which means, Mr. Reporter Sir, you, too, are included in this. I don’t know what your sexual identity is. But it doesn’t matter. This covers straight people and queer people alike. Because if you walked into the wrong neighborhood wearing something that someone thought made you look queer and you got attacked for it–this legislation covers you.

This is my beef with common perceptions of gender and sexuality. It’s such a dichotomy: you’re either black or white, male or female, gay or straight. Well, some of us are in between.

This legislation could be a life-saver. Or perhaps just make victims feel safer in their conviction that their attacker(s) get what they deserve. Let’s take a situation: A man goes out among gay men. He identifies as bisexual. One of the gay men starts making cracks about fence-sitters, about how he’ll come all the way out of the closet eventually, he’s just too scared to make the leap to being gay. Another guy chimes in with more vicious comments about bisexual men spreading diseases more quickly than gay men, and another says he finds bisexuals to be disgusting. It escalates. The bisexual man doesn’t know how to respond; he starts walking away, but one of the other guys grabs him, another grabs him but harder, and the bisexual man panics. He struggles trying to get away, but this only eggs on the other men. One of the guys throws the first punch, and soon enough, our bisexual man is lying next to a building with a cracked rib, swollen black eyes, and no way to call for help.

It could happen.

God forbid it ever does. But it could.

And the legislation which just passed the Senate protects against that, too, Mr. Pershing.

I thank whatever deity there is that someone more aware of the world than you wrote this legislation.


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