Category Archives: Gender Politics

The Stars at Night: Blogging for Wendy

This is something I’ve never done before, or even imagined doing, to be frank. Keep in mind, I’m a journalist who primarily covers books and authors. When I’m feeling especially relevant, I write about a movie. And yet here I am participating in a fundraising campaign for Wendy Davis, and asking other people to participate too—by donating here, and by reposting and tweeting this with the hashtag #GiveToWendy.

Miss that link? Oh, don’t worry, you’ll see it again. Read this first:

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The nice thing about living in a state where you’re always losing—where the majority of lawmakers want to trample on your rights so badly that they will actively look for ways to turn minority, college-age, and other Democratic voters away from the polls on election day to do it—and they can do it, too, thanks, SCOTUS!—the nice thing, in short, about living in my favorite state, Texas, is that you never have to try to win.

After all, a female, pro-choice Democrat running for governor has about as much chance in Texas as a snowball in . . . Texas. And I never dreamed I’d be raising money for a snowball.

Then again, I never dreamed that I would be sitting in the Capitol wearing the same orange t-shirt for days in a row, eyes riveted on the Senate floor, watching a woman in neon tennies stand up for women’s rights against Rick Perry’s stooges and win.

And she did win, folks, no matter what happened afterward. I was there. That’s me in the hoodie, surrounded by my friends Frank, Kaci, Kareem, and Val.

WeWereThere

WE were there!

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That night, Wendy Davis won. They had to lie and cheat and bend the rules and finally call a rematch to undo the victory. But that doesn’t erase the fact that that night, against tremendous odds, Wendy won.

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Can Wendy win again? Check out the articles here, here, and here for the reasons why she could.

Every one of them contains the word “longshot.” Every one of them also contains the words “Ann Richards.”

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Texas is a weird place, y’all.

In 1990, the stars aligned for Ann Richards, and she won an impossible election in an overwhelmingly red state. When people talk about how she did it, they use the word “fluke” a lot. After all, it was a race without an incumbent, and GOP candidate Clayton Williams made that gruesome rape joke just in time, and a third-party candidate drew off a small but crucial number of votes. Total and complete fluke.

Leaving aside the fact that the state has inched blue-ward slowly but steadily over the past two decades, and that over the past year Republicans at the state level have become infamous for their rape gaffes, and that Wendy Davis is just the kind of misogyny magnet to bring out the very worst in the most bigoted Republicans—including, already, likely opponent Greg Abbott—and leaving aside the fact that most Americans blame the GOP for the expensive government shutdown—leaving aside all those things, let’s just take a look at the phrase “the stars aligned.”

When the stars align, we call it a “fluke.” But it wasn’t Clayton Williams along who got Ann Richards elected. It was my Nia instructor, who went door to door in the hot Texas summer, and my friend’s mom, who did fundraising, and all the women and men who campaigned tirelessly when Ann Richards looked like a poofy-haired and very melty snowball. It was the foundation of support that allowed her campaign to capitalize on that fluke and bring it home. It was everyone who had contributed to the campaign with their time and their dollars up until that point.

Dollars are important. Abbott’s already got 20 million of them socked away in his campaign fund, and there’s plenty more funneling into state groups like Texas Right to Life, which is already flooding the airwaves of South Texas with bilingual attack ads calling Wendy an “abortion zealot.” (Mattel must have started demanding royalties for the use of their other favorite term. Guess I’ll have to stop production on my “Furlough Ken” Ted Cruz t-shirts.)

Early money improves a candidate’s chances by making them look viable. All of the national media sources about Wendy’s campaign mention she was able to raise $1 million before even confirming her plans to run. They also say she’ll need a whole, whole lot more. If you know you’re going to vote for her in the election, and you want her to be a strong enough candidate to keep attracting support later in the race, go ahead and throw a dollar or two in the bucket right now. I hate to return to this snowball metaphor one more time, so I won’t mention how snowballs get bigger. You get the point.

If you checked out the Texas Observer piece I linked to up above, you may have noticed that in addition to listing the reasons why Wendy Davis can win, it also lists three reasons she can’t. The most important and daunting one? “Democratic Defeatism“: “Democrats aren’t just lacking party infrastructure. In some areas, they lack hope. Losing has become acceptable, even expected, among Texas Democrats.”

Why try to win? We keep hearing that Wendy Davis’s “star power” may not be enough. We fear it, in our sad little defeatist Texas Democrat hearts. But Wendy Davis’s star power, prodigious as it is, does not lie in her enviable hairdo. It lies in us. The stars aligned for Wendy in June, and the stars were the thousands of orange-t-shirted folks at the Capitol who risked losing their jobs to show up day after day in orange; the ones who got de-tamponized at the door, arrestedtased; the ones who watched the live feed and re-tweeted updates coming out of the Capitol when national news wasn’t covering the story; finally, the ones who helped her stand upright during the final moments of the filibuster, just before midnight, by standing with her and making our voices heard.

We’re the stars that aligned, y’all. And you know what the stars at night do in Texas.

Here’s the secure link. Give ’em hell.

Wendy Davis

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To Answer Your Question, Sir

During all the hubbub surrounding the passage of HB2 and the suppressing of women’s constitutional rights here in Texas, I was asked a very reasonable question by a very kind friend. He’s a guy I like a lot. I have been pondering his question since he asked it, and I hope he takes this post in the spirit it was intended.

Anyway, his question is not exactly what spurred me to write this post. I’m writing it now because I’ve seen the same question asked several times following the Trayvon Martin verdict Saturday night. It’s a question people ask a lot during weeks as horrifying as this one. After a particularly violent round of racism or misogyny or homophobia plays out on a national stage–after a teenager has been shot and killed and his killer absolved, or a woman has been sentenced to 20 years for protecting herself against an abusive partner, or the rights of 13 million women have been systematically bullied out of existence–it surfaces again and again:

What can we [non-marginalized allies] do? What can we [men] do to fight sexism? What can we [white people] do to combat racism? 

It may surprise you, if you have asked this question recently, to find out that not everybody wants to hear it. Depending on who you are and whom you’re asking, you might get your head bitten off. You may be told to back off, be quiet, and stop making it all about you. Or you may be given an icy rejoinder instead of the folder full of anti-racism or anti-sexism instructions you were expecting.

This can lead to hurt feelings, which is a shame, because nobody wants to hurt your feelings. In my experience, during shitty times like these, most of us just want to talk about what it feels like to be the target of institutional violence among other people who know the feeling, and with the people who are closest to us. We may want to express our outrage and grief in public, or we may want to sit in silence for a while and hug our knees.

Just to be clear, I’m a white cis woman living in a patriarchal, racist, heterosexist country. I’ve had plenty of advantages in life. My privilege is considerable. As someone who is both an oppressor and oppressed, I can’t claim to be speaking for victims of racism or other types of discrimination. I am working off my own experience as a member of a marginalized group. So if you read this and feel I’m not speaking for you, please feel free to let me know. I have tried where possible to listen and defer to those who are experts in their own oppression. (And I know there are other posts like this one out there, so if you know of a good one, link to it in the comments.)

So first I want to explain why some of us get so mad when people who do not share our particular oppression ask the question, and then I want to honor the good intentions behind the question itself and do my best to answer it. First off, it’s not really the question itself that’s the problem. It’s WHEN you ask, and WHOM you ask.

I’m angry because you only asked it today. To me, that implies that you never noticed this type of thing (racism, misogyny, etc.) going down before, or you didn’t pay attention to or believe the people who told you about it. It implies that you are only asking now because it has become so obvious you can’t possibly ignore it. It implies that you only asked because it made you sad. Tragedy begets empathy, and empathy is important; but why should I have to get kicked right in front of you for you to believe me when I say people want to kick me?

We all have bystander disorder when it comes to social justice; we look the other way until we are forced, by someone or something too big and bold and upsetting to ignore, to stop. But imagine how it feels to be the person shouting for help the whole time, or giving up on shouting for help because they’re tired of being dismissed or ignored or even attacked for it. Now something made the national news, and now you are finally paying attention.

I’m angry because you asked me. To me, this implies that I am your only or best source of information about this stuff, which is not true; and besides, we’re tired right now. We’re tired of educating you on your terms. We talk and talk and talk about this stuff, and you stifle a yawn or ask why every single thing has to be seen through that lens. (Because I can’t wake up and not be a woman, that’s why.) By the time you ask us to talk, our jaws hurt and we have a headache, and we’ve just been smacked in the face so hard that you are finally taking notice. We are tired right now from being oppressed, and we should not have to have this conversation with you on demand, when there are other resources out there. Think about waiting at least until the initial trauma is over and using the time to do a little research on your own.

So what CAN you do? 

Listen, believe, and defer. Listen to us when we talk about these issues. Believe us when we say something in our world is happening because of racism, sexism, ablism, homophobia, etc. Listen and believe not just the first time, but the hundredth. Racism is still there the hundredth time. Defer to our expert knowledge of our own oppression. We have lived it, through no choice of our own.

And please, please, do not discount us when we occasionally sound (to you, to ourselves) like crazy people. Being a woman in a patriarchy, or what have you, can make you feel crazy, and then that craziness can be used to disenfranchise you; that’s called “gaslighting,” and it’s a tool of the oppressor. But members of marginalized groups aren’t crazy; they’re sensitive. (Have you ever noticed how quickly the connotation of the word “sensitive” shifts from positive to negative when it’s thrown at someone else? “I think I’m a pretty sensitive guy” vs. “I think you’re just really sensitive.” Think about the payoff of that shift for a moment, and then think about gaslighting again.)

Oppression does make a person sensitive, in the same way that dogs have sensitive noses and cats have sensitive hearing. Just as one instrument is more sensitive than another to the thing it is meant to measure, so most women are more sensitive to misogyny, black people to anti-black racism, Asian-Americans to anti-Asian racism, etc. Walking around in a female body is the best crash course in sexism any man can have; just ask Dustin Hoffman, or this guy. But as long as a man can take off his lady clothes or add a Mr. to his name and be accepted as a man, it doesn’t make him an expert. Sensitivity is a survival skill. The fact that we are sensitive is only a problem for people who don’t want to feel implicated by problems they have the privilege of being able to ignore.

Try not to say “I feel bad” over and over. Watching people get oppressed does feel bad, but it feels worse to be oppressed–just like watching someone get treated for cancer is extremely painful, but not as painful as actually having cancer. It’s fine to have bad feelings, but be judicious about where and how you express them. Bringing your sadness about it to the person who is most directly affected by it may feel like solidarity to you, but to us it may feel like a request for comfort–or, worse, absolution. “Don’t worry, you’re not the problem,” we feel compelled to say. “I’m not talking about you.” But sometimes you really are the problem, or at least you’re not part of the solution, and we just don’t want to hurt your feelings, so we squash our own.

Susan Silk and Barry Goldman have a great piece about the right way to structure intimate interactions around trauma and grief. It’s called the “ring theory of kvetching.” I think it was originally written about relationships with sick people, but it works very well for oppressed and marginalized groups as well, particularly in these heightened moments. The idea is to picture any traumatic situation as a bull’s-eye, with concentric circles coming out from the person most directly affected. The person at the center of the trauma (i.e. the one with cancer) should always be exactly that: at the center. The circle of people who interact directly with the central person are experiencing secondary trauma, too. But whenever possible they should be taking their sadness about the central trauma to the next circle out, to their friends who are less directly affected, not inward, to the primary person. We do not ask the person who is more directly affected by the trauma than we are to absolve or take care of us. That is not their job. We have cats and therapists and other friends for that.

Do not apologize for being in a position of privilege. Your being a man/white/cisgender/financially stable is not the problem. Somebody is going to be those things. The problem is the social, political, and economic structures within which those characteristics make your life worth more than others’ lives. The energy you waste apologizing could better be spent helping. Privilege is not a sin to atone for. It’s a tool you can use to help. Atoning implies you’re helping in order to make up for being who you are; but helping is what all of us should be doing, to the extent that we can. In religious terms, it’s the difference between penance (atonement) and mitzvah (duty).

Do apologize for doing something that hurts others—even if you didn’t mean to. Apologizing IS the right thing to do when it’s you who made the mistake. If you’re not willing to apologize for a real harm that you caused, even if you didn’t mean to, your other apologies are going to seem kind of disingenuous. So, wrong way to apologize: “I’m sorry, on behalf of men, about misogyny.” Right way to apologize: “I’m sorry I linked to that article; I thought it was funny and I didn’t see how problematic it was, thanks for taking the time to explain it to me.” Resist the urge to dwell on your feelings of shame over having made the mistake. It’s harder to be oppressed than to have the embarrassing realization that you’ve contributed to oppressing someone else.

CALL SHIT OUT. You’re in a bar, and your friend makes a nasty slut-shaming joke. Call it out. You saw a movie with a bunch of friends who liked it. You liked it too, except for that one awful character who was a creepy Asian stereotype. Call it out. Say it out loud: “Fuck that shit.” Somebody makes a rape joke. It’s a comic you like. Call it out: “Fuck that shit.” (You can even call yourself out. You find yourself starting to talk smack about your body as a way of bonding with other women, the kind of talk that can start off a round of competitive body-shaming, which is triggering. Call it out: “My bad. Fuck that shit.” See, it’s fun!)

One side effect of male privilege, white privilege, etc., is that people listen to you and take you seriously when you talk. The fear you feel that keeps you from calling shit out is the fear of losing that privilege, being lumped with the boring old oppressed people, and feeling for a single moment what people feel who don’t have a choice in the matter. Examine that feeling! And in general . . .

Examine your privilege. Contrary to many of our (for me, Protestant) instincts, privilege is NOT a sin for which you have to atone. It is a tool that you have been given and others haven’t. That’s not fair, obviously, but throwing away privilege isn’t usually an option even if you think you want to. For instance, throwing away male privilege or white privilege is literally impossible, and throwing away class privilege doesn’t make you a saint unless you gave it to someone else. Far more useful: get used to seeing it, noticing that it’s there. It’s natural and comfortable for your own privilege to be invisible to you; fight nature, fight comfort. Handle your privilege with care, because it’s dangerous. Use it to help others, because it’s powerful. Above all, don’t ever deny it. That is the most insulting thing you can do. 

And yes, if you are successful at leveraging your privilege for others, it might eventually, one day, disappear. That’s something you have to look in the face and see for what it is. Equality means you might lose some of your edge. Decide whether you’re okay with that and act accordingly.

Talk amongst yourselves. This would be a great time for you to reach out to other men/white people/straight people etc. who want to be allies and brainstorm ways to make a difference as an above-mentioned with like-minded above-mentioneds. Remember, I don’t know what it’s like to be a man any more than you know what it’s like to be a woman, so I don’t know all your available options. Listen to this dude about men’s leadership role in ending sexism for inspiration, and share it with dudes you know.

Be prepared to be wrong, even when you’re trying. Let go of your ego for a minute. Be embarrassed in private, then let it go and resume trying. That’s how we cope with mistakes.

Do your research. Believe it or not, there are whole institutions devoted to the study of these problems, and courses, many of them free, which you can take to learn more about them. If you live in Austin, I highly, highly, highly recommend the Safeplace Volunteer Training for a complex introduction to issues of violence against women. Yes it’s 40 hours; consider it a free course, even if you don’t go on to volunteer, though hopefully you will want to. There is no way you can sit through that training and not come out the other side with a better understanding of institutionalized violence against women, and the intersectionalities of race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality that contribute to it. There are resources like that in your town. Look them up.

Ask more specific questions. Instead of “What can I do?” ask, “Where can I donate?” Instead of “What book should I read?” ask, “What’s a better place to start, bell hooks or Judith Butler?” In other words, do your homework, and ask questions that imply you are actually ready to do something.

Follow up. This is the hardest part, for everyone, including me. Don’t sit around flagellating yourself, but keep paying attention and trying to find ways to help. Sign up for the Safeplace training course and attend every session you can. And when you find you’ve slacked off or lapsed in paying attention or let time pass without doing what you meant to do, don’t waste time beating yourself up. Just try again.

Forgive us when we’re bitchy. Nobody’s perfect. We’re not either. Sometimes we snap and snipe, sometimes we say things that sound over-the-top or vengeful or ungenerous. Please understand why and give us space for our anger. Your continued empathy is a balm to us, especially over time. My husband’s continuing efforts to understand misogyny have made me a stronger and better feminist, because he supports and loves me and forgives me when I let my anger get the best of me, and that has made me trust him and given me hope. Be that person for someone in your life. You have that power.

Once more with feeling, these things are not useful: ATONING, SELF-FLAGELLATING,  APOLOGIZING FOR HAVING PRIVILEGE.

These things are useful: LISTENING, DEFERRING, BELIEVING, LEARNING ON YOUR OWN TIME, APOLOGIZING FOR ABUSING PRIVILEGE, ACTING, STAYING INTERESTED PAST THE MOMENT.

Thanks for reading.

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Our Bodies, Our Voices

I have a new essay up at The Rumpus called “Bodies That Mattered,” where I talk about the use of the word “choice,” the silencing of Texas women, and other stuff.

I never thought I’d end up writing so publicly about abortion – it’s a scary issue to become involved with because of the violence, both rhetorical and physical, that has surrounded it for decades in this country. But women my age are waking up to the fact that options our mothers (and grandmothers) fought for and won are being taken away from us. The pro-life position, however sincere, is fundamentally at odds with women being able to have the same degree of physical autonomy and the same types of life choices as men. It isn’t the only issue we have to fight for, but it is pretty critical. And I am beginning to realize that women who make this choice have been demonized and demeaned by the silence of women like me on this issue as much as by the words of the opposition.

So anyway, check out my essay, and if you have your own personal and direct experience with abortion and you’re brave enough to tell it, I hope you find a way to do so.

*Yesterday I was interviewed live about this issue, and about rape culture, for an ACLU radio show  called “Give Me Liberty” on KPFT Houston. You can find and listen to the episode here – scroll down to June 30, 7:00 pm – and tell me whether I sound as terrified as I felt.

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It’s Democracy, English!

The line to get into the Senate gallery wrapped three times around the Capitol rotunda.

The line to get into the Senate gallery wrapped three times around the Capitol rotunda.

This is a follow-up to my previous post, “I’m Naive, Not Stupid. There’s a Difference.”

I am still reeling a little from the number of readers who contacted me about that piece, which I wrote the morning after sitting through the Texas House of Representatives hearing on the now-infamous Senate Bill 5. My blog typically generates about 8 page-views a day. That single post has generated about 70,000 page-views since Monday. (By the way, if you haven’t already, please read Dan Solomon’s 3-part series in the Austin Chronicle for the most substantive and informed coverage of the week.)

Now, having watched the history-making Senate filibuster alongside 2,000 protestors inside the Capitol and at least 170,000 around the globe, I feel almost embarrassed about how naive that post, in fact, was.

My shock and anger over GOP representatives’ churlish behavior on the House floor prompted me to write that post. I truly could not believe my eyes. Some have pointed out, rightly, that this is standard for the legislative sausage-making process, the endless train of amendments only part of the grand political theater that would culminate Tuesday night in thousands of demonstrators shaking their fists and screaming “Let her speak!” as Sen. Wendy Davis stood calmly in her back brace and pink sneaks for the thirteenth hour in a row. As such, Republican House members could not be expected to listen or care about the “chubbing,” as it is called when proceedings are artificially prolonged in the House.

Was it just “chubbing”? Although House Democrats were undeniably running down the clock, I still say no. Every single amendment introduced a reasonable exception to an unreasonable bill, and was backed up by evidence of the catastrophic “unintended consequences” of the unamended bill. The only disingenuous aspect of their testimony was the word “unintended,” which everyone knew was a lie.

* * * * *

Regardless, I am here to tell you that if the Texas State House of Representatives is a frat-house, the Texas State Senate is a shark pit. Having watched it from the gallery for eight hours and the auditorium for seven, I can tell you, new depths of my naivete have been plumbed. Every time a point of order was called over some new imaginary violation of the filibuster rules, I was flabbergasted anew. The back brace! The ruling that Roe v. Wade was not “germane” to a bill about abortion! The ruling that discussing the state’s already-rigid restrictions on abortion was not “germane” to a bill introducing further such restrictions!

(And I would like to point out, in case anyone watching missed it, that Sen. Kirk Watson was reprimanded on the “germane” issue for discussing a woman’s right to choose just moments after pro-life Democrat Sen. Eddie Lucio had given the Senate an earful of his own personal beliefs on the matter. In fact, the only legitimately germane questions I heard all night from a Republican came from Sen. Bob Deuell. Note that I didn’t say “evidence-based.” I said “germane.”)

Every time the mics went dead as Lt. Gov. Dewhurst consulted with the parliamentarian and other senators, I thought, “There is no way that objection is going to be sustained. There is just no way the Texas GOP would risk shutting down a high-profile filibuster on a technicality—not when they’re just planning to pull a second special session anyway if the bill is blocked.”

Once again, I was naive enough to believe that the reasoned and impassioned words of Sen. Rodney Ellis, Sen. Kirk Watson, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, and most of all, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, whose absence due to her father’s death the GOP tried to exploit for political gain—I was naive enough to believe that their brandishing of the rule book would shame even Republican senators into voting with the interest of “the body.”

But then again, why would they vote to protect “the body” of the Texas Senate when they wouldn’t vote to protect the bodies of Texas women? Or the body of the fiercely intelligent and candid and brave woman who stood before them in her pink tennis shoes, who forewent food and drink and bathroom breaks to withstand a punishing filibuster during which every word out of her mouth made perfect, crystal-clear sense.

Ladies and gentlemen of the world, Sen. Wendy Davis makes more sense after standing alone on her own two feet talking about abortion for 12 hours than House Rep. Jodie Laubenberg does when she’s propped up at the podium for five minutes answering questions about her own bill. Both women refused to answer questions after a while. The difference is, Sen. Davis wanted to be heard, while Rep. Laubenberg wanted to be silent. Only one of them got their wish.

When the words “sustained” rang out each time, a collective gasp of shock rang through the spectators even before the boos and angry yells. Honestly, even cynical (read: knowledgeable) watchers of the proceedings did not believe those calls would be made, that when Sen. Ellis called out a list of examples of assistance being given to filibustering senators in the past without garnering warnings, that when Sen. Zaffirini read the rules out loud (getting in a delicious dig about the applicability of the word “his”), these direct allusions to the law would make a difference.

Nope!

But there was one more big surprise waiting for us all at the end of the night. After Sen. Davis had been interrupted so many times that it became clear a full-on battle was being pitched against the filibuster, the atmosphere among orange-shirted protestors in the Capitol were tense. It had by that time become a relief to me that there was no chance I would get back into the gallery, because at least the spectators in the auditorium were free to cheer and boo and chant as loudly as we wanted to, while those in the gallery could only lean forward in their seats, white-knuckled and close-mouthed.

When Sen. Kirk Watson, whom I’m proud to call my senator, began raising parliamentary procedure questions, essentially filibustering in Sen. Davis’s stead for the last hour with the help of the other Dems, the thing started to turn into a bit of a spectator sport. But it wasn’t until that final half hour, when GOP senators turned their attack on Watson, that it really hit the fan. I have no idea what happened in that last half hour. Try as I might to keep up with who was contesting what motion and what was being put to a vote, I simply could not follow the recursive logic of the proceedings, except to note that Sen. Ellis (I think?) kept asking for the transcript to be read to determine what order some things happened in.

I have to say, though, the room around me was on top of it. I know they were, because every time Sen. Duncan (who got called in to replace Lt. Gov. Dewhurst as the President at Sen. Watson’s request) claimed a particular motion had been tabled, the noise around the room was genuine astonishment. Not rage (though that was bubbling under the surface), but astonishment and confusion. “That’s not right!” the spectators in the auditorium yelled pointlessly at the screen, and “Check the transcript! You’re wrong!” The minutes ticked on.

In the last twenty minutes before midnight, as we in orange began to congratulate ourselves, tentatively, for having outlasted them, Sen. Duncan again and again tried to steamroll past the legitimate questions raised about what was quickly becoming a parliamentary nightmare. Sen. Van de Putte called out to be recognized and was ignored during a roll call for a vote on a motion to who-the-hell-knows-what, and a few minutes later, after the vote was counted, she delivered one of the final crushing blows to SB5 by stating in a calm, quiet, voice. “Mr. President, parliamentary inquiry. At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”

This time, when the gallery erupted, it never died down. Sen. Duncan reached for his gavel, picked it up, looked up at the gallery, and then put it down. Women in the gallery and the Capitol, women all over Texas, were sick at this point of not being heard: not being listened to during the public hearing, being ignored in the House hearing, not being permitted to filibuster in the Senate, not being recognized by the President, and, most of all, not being heard when we yell at the top of our lungs that we want the right guaranteed to us by the 1973 Supreme Court decision that, germane or not, gave us the right to a legal abortion. Duncan banged his gavel and said the precise wrong thing at the right time, “If this continues we will have to suspend the vote,” at which point the yellers in the gallery went berserk for a solid 5 minutes. In the auditorium, someone started a call-and-response chant, “Whose House? OUR HOUSE!” And for a minute, it really felt like it was.

And then, a few minutes after midnight came the astounding announcement that the bill had passed.

What followed—the tampering with date-stamps on the Texas lege website to “prove” the vote happened before midnight, the AP reporting the bill passed, since no major national news outlets had covered it were there to contradict it, the violence by some of the DPS officers in the gallery, who put one young activist’s arm in a sling (and having seen the video, I can tell you she wasn’t resisting, in truth she was bawling her eyes out after being awake for nearly three days straight)—I found, once again, that I had been appallingly naive. Again, I am saying, I hope I never lose the ability to be astonished by lawmakers in Texas who ruthlessly abuse their power. Because the more blatant the abuse, the more I want to stand up and never sit down, to talk and never go silent.

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards and daughter of Ann Richards, Texas's second female governor

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards and daughter of Ann Richards, Texas’s second female governor, rallies the troops Monday night at The Rattle Inn

* * * * *

I think the reason so many people identified with my previous post is that we’re afraid. We’re afraid of being “policitized,” afraid of the time it will take away from our already busy lives, afraid of having to learn that we understand even less about the process than we think we do. We’re afraid of boring our friends and of making new enemies, people we have not wronged but who seek us out to wrong us. We are afraid of being called that most hateful of words, “babykiller”—when our beloved President, on whom we pinned so many hopes, has allowed drones to kill babies and children in countries we’d prefer not to think about.

But most of all, and I’m speaking for myself here, we are afraid to care. We are afraid to get invested because we are going to lose again and again, many losses for every hard-won victory, and it’s going to hurt so much. After the House voted to approve SB5 at 3:30 a.m. Monday morning, I found myself crying and saying, “those bastards” over and over again as the legislators on the floor looked up for the first time and grinned at us up in the gallery. Tuesday I cried tears of joy at midnight, followed by tears of rage, and by the time I learned we had “won,” I could only think about when Gov. Perry would call the inevitable second special session to show us that our voices still don’t matter. No matter how loud we scream for our rights, he will always have the upper hand, and because of the relentless gerrymandering in our state he or someone like him probably always will. It hurts so much when something you love hurts you, and I love Texas, guys, I really, really do.

The only other time I have been involved in organized protests, it was in graduate school. I briefly became active in the Graduate Students United movement at the University of Chicago, where we hoped that we could improve stipend support, working pay, and living conditions for students who often became stuck in their graduate programs for a decade, indentured servants unable to finish because they had to support themselves on extremely low pay. Those meetings were long and often grueling, filled with the quibbling and in-fighting over fine procedure and large ideology that so often divides movements from within. I would drag myself home at 2:00 a.m., sometimes without even getting to vote on the main point of the meeting, because I had to get up and write a paper the next day.

I was, at the time, one of perhaps two humanities students at the meetings and the only one from the English department; the majority were from the social sciences. I remember one guy, a very young Marxist in an olive drab hat, who knew my name but called me “English” instead, which made me feel like I was simultaneously on a barracks and in a Cary Grant movie. Whenever he noticed me sighing in frustration at yet another point of order, or yawning and rubbing my dark-circled eyes, he would lean over, tap my shoulder, and say, with a smile and a clenched fist, “It’s democracy, English!”

It was, and is. The fight in a democracy is not always as exciting as it was Tuesday night. It involves canvassing on foot and registering people to vote and following local government initiatives that most media will never begin to care about. But because of all those groggy, boring meetings, GSU succeeded in doubling the pay of graduate student TAs whose wages had been stagnant for 18 years. And I have no doubt that all the sitting and waiting and standing and yelling and walking and slogging and quibbling and chanting I am prepared to do with my newly politicized peers alongside those who have been there the whole time will eventually turn Texas into the state it was always meant to be.

Pro-choice protestors in the Texas State Capitol rotunda sing “The Eyes of Texas” after the defeat of Senate Bill 5 is announced in early Wednesday morning.

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I’m Naive, Not Stupid. There’s a Difference.

Gathering in the rotunda. Drop in the bucket of orange pro-choice supporters.

Gathering in the rotunda. Drop in the bucket of orange pro-choice supporters.

This morning I woke up after a surreal night with a lot on my mind. One phrase in particular was ringing in my ears: “Don’t be naive, Amy.”

Back when I quit writing for CultureMap Austin over a nasty, misogynist editorial masquerading as a news story by the Dallas staff, the business manager (then–he’s since been fired) called me up on the phone to “discuss” my decision.

What he really wanted was to cajole or shame me into reversing my position–if not publicly, at least in a private phone call. He talked in circles, but having survived grad school, I am not easily confused even by smart people talking in circles, much less idiots. While some of the details of the call have become fuzzy in my mind, one stands out. After he had failed to make his arguments look logical for half an hour, he went ahead and said what bullies always say in situations like this:

“Don’t be naive, Amy. We both know how this works. This is going to be news for about ten minutes, and then it’s going to blow over, and we’ll be fine. Why would we apologize?”

Why, indeed.

* * * * *

Yesterday, I went to the Capitol wearing a faded orange UT shirt to stand in an orange block of women’s rights advocates protesting the omnibus anti-choice legislation being forced through using Rick Perry’s weapon of choice, a special session, which allows Republicans to circumvent ordinary procedural rules.

I have never done anything like that before. I was in Chicago last week when my husband signed up along with 700 other citizens who had assembled, amazingly, in under 24 hours to testify against the bill in a public hearing. He was silenced in the early hours of the morning along with 300 other citizens when proceedings were shut down and testimony was arbitrarily cut off. I followed it all on the internet from O’Hare and promised myself that if it was still going on when I got back, I would surmount my embarrassment about my political ignorance and go there too.

I went to the Capitol because reading about Thursday night’s proceedings  made me wish I had the chance to show the world that Texans care about the rights of women.

In case you don’t know what the legislation would do, find some background here andhere, or just Google SB5. The information’s out there. The most important thing is that it will introduce burdensome restrictions that will shut down abortion providers statewide, leaving only 5 in the entire state of Texas.

Have you seen the state of Texas recently? It’s the size of France. 26 million people live here. About 13 million of them are women.

About 9.75 million of those women live in the “urban triangle” in close-ish (close is a relative term in a state this big) proximity to Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio. Those 9.75 million women would have their pick of 5 abortion providers, assuming they were willing and able to drive up to 6 hours to get one.And, you know, if there’s not a line.

The other 3.25 million women in Texas live in rural areas, in the Rio Grande Valley, in the Panhandle, in the long stretch of rocky desert that is West Texas. Many of these women suffer under conditions of poverty and marginalization that most Americans don’t believe still exist in their country. Pleading for exceptions, a rep from the Valley  testified that many of her constituents don’t have running water or indoor plumbing. These Texans are uninsured, and because of the dismantling of the Texas Women’s Health Program, they have no access to breast cancer screenings, cervical cancer screenings, STD screenings and prevention, and, of course, birth control. We also, as a state, withhold sex education from these women and girls.

(And always remember, when we talk about women getting health care, we are also talking about girls, children as young as 12, who cannot give their consent but somehow get pregnant anyway due to their extreme vulnerability to sexual abuse and assault, especially in impoverished and underserved communities.)

As a representative from a rural district pointed out last night, to ask these women to somehow pick up and drive 400 miles to a San Antonio clinic within the time frame and restrictions already dictated by Texas law (don’t forget that ultrasound, ladies!) is absurd, stunning, and laughable. (Is cryable a word?)

The irony of all this, the disgusting, horrific irony, is that the Republicans pushing this legislation have the unbridled gall to suggest that they are doing it “to protect women.” They are doing it under the auspices of increasing safety standards. They say that currently abortion providers have medical standards no better than “butcher shops.”

Do they understand what an actual “butcher shop” is? Because they will. Back-alley butcher shops will pop up like mushrooms if these bills go through. And we will learn a bloody lesson about what it means to vote “pro-life.” We will learn it on women’s bodies.

* * * * *

Now here’s the part where Amy, naive Amy, gets politicized. Are you ready? Because I went down to the Capitol with butterflies in my stomach, not just because of my ignorance of the political process, but because of my untested views on abortion, views I have never had to examine, explain, or defend at length, to myself or others.

I know that abortion is a moral, religious, ethical, and philosophical issue for many people. You don’t have to be a religious zealot to see that there are serious questions to be posed, especially in later-term pregnancy. As a doctor friend of mine told me, at 20 weeks, a fetus is approaching viability. There is a case to be made for restrictions after 20 weeks (though not, I want to emphasize, a ban). [There are already intense restrictions on these abortions in the state of Texas, and women who must make this difficult decision for medical reasons face enormous stigma. Please see the comments section for some of those women’s stories. -Oed]

I will say it again: There is room for a real, legitimate debate about the specific terms and restrictions surrounding abortion.

So why should you still be out there screaming, “My body, my life, my right to decide,” with the orange-shirted women and men at the Capitol? If you have conflicting feelings, if you take the ethical concerns surrounding abortion at face value, why should you stand up and shake your fist and yell at the top of your lungs for “choice”?

Because the debate will never happen. Because it’s all a big fucking sham.

Don’t be naive, Amy, I can hear you saying. You didn’t know it was a sham? You thought Texas Republicans were actually invested in women’s health when they introduced this bill, in making medical procedures safer for women?

I wasn’t that naive. But I did think that state reps maybe, just maybe, had ethical and moral objections to abortion.

I no longer believe this is the case.

If they did, they would have debated the issue.

If they did, they would have answered questions about their own bill.

If they did, they wouldn’t have been playing Candy Crush on their cell phones, talking loudly to one another, milling around the floor, snoozing in their chairs, and cutting up like a pack of fourth-grade boys in gym class.

They wouldn’t have been showing each other stuff on their laptops and slapping each other on the back during nonpartisan testimony from the Texas Medical Association that as written, the legislation would introduce a new medical threat to all pregnant women because of a chilling effect on doctors—not abortion providers, mind you, we’re talking about ob/gyns—preventing them from making medical decisions to save the life of mother and child.

They wouldn’t have been smiling and bursting into unrelated laughter as a Democratic rep testified about the difficulty he and his wife had of conceiving their first child, speaking movingly of how serious and complicated an issue abortion was for him.

They wouldn’t have been facing the opposite direction or talking loudly on their cell phones when Rep. Dukes told the story of a woman she met who went through a botched, back-alley abortion before Roe V. Wade.

If Republican Pat Fallon, for instance, gave a shit about the life of the fetus, he wouldn’t have spent the entire eight hours of debate sneaking potato chips from a manila envelope, doing bizarre little dances from his chair, and brandishing a yardstick like a play sword to poke his buddies in the butt as they walked by. But Rep. Pat Fallon wasn’t actually fighting for the life of anything but his own political career. And all he had to do to accomplish that goal was to ignore every logical argument,  compassionate plea, and harrowing anecdote delivered that night, just plug his fat little ears and pretend he was back in the frat house. Mission accomplished.

House Republicans visibly not giving a shit. Couldn't catch the yardstick in action, sadly. It was hilarious though.

House Republicans visibly not giving a shit. Couldn’t catch the yardstick in action, sadly. It was hilarious though.

The blue-shirted true believers up in the gallery cared. They (or, more probably, others like them from out of town) elected him to fight for their pro-life agenda, and as far as they are concerned, he is doing his job, more or less. But do not for one second think it’s because he cares about the pro-life agenda. I watched him like a hawk last night, and while he provided plenty of much-needed amusement in the small hours of the morning, I guarantee you ladies and gentlemen, he did not care.

Rep. Farrar (Democrat from Houston) cared. She lost her voice after 19 hours of logical, compassionate, well-spoken argumentation that she knew was futile. Never once did Dems fall into meaningless chatter, not even after the bill’s supposed author (read: figurehead), Rep. Laubenberg, refused to answer further questions about her own bill. (I would think it was a strategic move, given her ridiculous gaffes–including demonstrating she literally has no idea what a rape kit is–but honestly she was probably just tired of pretending to care.) Rep. Dawnna Dukes (from the EAST SIDE baby! And classy as they come!) cared. She made reasonable, detailed, informed arguments, and delivered her last piece of well-crafted rhetoric at 3 in the morning in a crystal-clear voice. There were more. Believe me, I will figure out who is fighting for me, and I will thank them, individually, in emails when this is all over.

The amazing Rep. Sylvester Turner from Houston said it best in his rousing speech at the end of the night. I can’t find the exact quote on the internet, but the gist of it was this: If abortion is such a goddam serious issue, why wasn’t this legislation introduced earlier? Why was it introduced in a special session designed to push past all procedural rules and force the issue in a matter of days, with no chance for reasoned debate on both sides?

“What you vote for in the dark of night, you will be accountable for in the light of day!” he thundered, and the gallery, disobeying the House rules for the first time in 14 hours, burst into shouts and applause. Rep. Turner gestured toward us and demanded to know, if this was such an important issue, why  we had been silenced during the public hearing? Why wouldn’t Republicans defend their bill, or even answer questions about it, or consider any amendments?

The only answer of sorts came from the gallery, in the form of applause, and it was of course immediately suppressed with threats to remove us. The reps on the floor? They did not feel the need to look up from their Blackberries and iPhones, their potato chips and their yardsticks, their private conversations about the game or whatever else was on their minds.

Meanwhile, we who cared enough to sit there silently, powerlessly, for 14 hours were not even allowed to wiggle our fingers in the “silent clap” of solidarity. We who lined the gallery on all four sides, we who cared enough to be up in the middle of the night, were kept to the strictest rules of decorum, while overgrown frat boys threw figurative spitballs at one another on the floor during this serious debate.

It was a fucking sham.

Daylight left, these people hung around. And a whole whole bunch more.

Shhhh, no clapping from up there! This is just a tiny fraction of the folks who stayed into the night.

* * * * *

So by now you must be asking yourself: Is Amy still naive? Unbelievably, the answer is yes.

Despite the amazing cynicism I saw down on the floor last night, I am still naive enough to believe that my visible and vocal support of women’s rights will make a difference. And so are the hundreds of other orange-shirted Texans—more than a thousand all told, both women and the men who support us because they understand that we are all people, goddammit it. We are incredibly naive. We are naive enough to believe that our presence mattered, that it filled the House Dems with spirit and pride and motivation to do the most thankless work imaginable on the House floor: taking an issue seriously that Republicans in our state honestly could give a flying fuck about, so long as they get reelected.

We who are the under-dogs can afford to be naive, because we’ve got nothing but our bodies to lose.

*Read my follow-up account of Tuesday’s filibuster here.

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Vagina‘s Voice, or, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Young Feminism

I’m a grumpy old feminist. (And if almost-35 doesn’t seem old to you, just focus on the “grumpy” part.) I started noticing patriarchal bullshit when I was 15, before I knew what to call it, and that’s 20 years of noticing and stewing and bitching and getting over it and then noticing some more.

If there’s one encouraging thing about the wash-rinse-repeat cycle of feminism, post-feminism, and conservative backlash that we seem to be stuck in these days, it’s that people are still finding names for the soft oppressions of patriarchal culture and disseminating them via this messy tool we call the internet.

But, to borrow from Dazed and Confused, I keep getting older while the feminists stay the same age. Every couple of years a new micro-generation of awesome, talented young women go through the phases that all awesome, talented young people are entitled to, and I have to continually remind myself that all lessons have to be re-taught and re-learned, and many have to be lived firsthand.

I started this blog with a vague sense of discomfort over certain habits and expectations younger women I know grew up with, habits I perceived as confusingly anti-feminist, or potentially so, although I struggled to figure out why. While I don’t have a clear answer about what makes a feminist (nor does anyone, nor should anyone), I still find it incredibly frustrating to watch strong, cool, smart women go through their I’m-Not-A-Feminist phase, or, down the line, their Feminism-Means-Whatever-We-Do-Is-Totally-Fine-And-Unproblematic phase. (Of course we can do whatever we want. But nobody is free of structural inequality and the cultural systems that help prop it up–not black women, not white men, not me, not you. I don’t believe it’s in our DNA, but it’s in our brains, and it’s just as hard to root it out as if it were in our DNA. All you can do is look at it long and hard, and keep looking.)

That’s one reason why Hillary-Anne Crosby made such an impression on me. I first interviewed the founding editor of Vagina : : The Zine when I was researching my article about Austin’s booming print culture a few months ago. I found so many great journals and independent presses to write about that I ultimately didn’t have room to delve into zines (embarrassment of riches!), but I was intrigued by Hillary-Anne’s personality and presence, enough to do a follow-up piece on her for the Austin Chronicle. [Disclosure! After the interview, Crosby asked my sketch troupe, Every Girl’s Annual, to perform at the upcoming release party this Saturday.]

I’m not sure who I was expecting to walk in the door of Cherrywood Coffeehouse to talk up a zine called Vagina–more visible tattoos, perhaps? Definitely not the bouncy, upbeat, up-talking 23-year-old with a pixie cut and a huge smile who walked through the door. Crosby, despite her zine’s in-your-face name, is the opposite of confrontational. Ultimately, my surprise is a little embarrassing in that it reveals a lot about my own preconceptions about the V-Word and about feminism itself–that in its most active and purest form, it’s loud, prickly, and above all, mad.

I’m a grumpy old feminist, but I really liked this perky young feminist a lot. It relieved me to hear her call herself a feminist, and it heartened me that she seems so young and confident, and it didn’t scare me that she seems to have lots to learn. So do I. Ladies and gentlemen, the voice behind the Vagina.

————-

THE OEDITRIX: So tell me a little bit about how Vagina : : The Zine got started.

HILLARY-ANNE CROSBY: I started it the second semester of my last year in undergrad. Basically I was really bored with things in general, the past four years, and then I was going to graduate in a few months, and I had worked my way through school so I didn’t have any journalism internships. That was my major and that was what I wanted to do. I was kind of terrified of how bad that was going to hurt me when I graduated. And so I kind of just made this my own little internship to try and grind my teeth on something, so that I’ll have learned stuff in the past couple of years, and I was a viable future employee. And that’s how I decided to start doing a zine. I’d never even seen a zine. I’d only heard of them, a couple months prior to that, and I hadn’t even seen one. It was just trying to figure it out as you go along.

OED: So how did you decide to make it a showcase for women’s work?

HAC: I was a photojournalism student, and a lot of had these websites and these blogs full of our work and no one  was seeing them. Like, yay, I have a website! And there are a million websites out there. I wanted a place where they could really share their work with a wider audience who was really looking at it rather than browsing it, flipping through Facebook and things like that. And so I just decided to make it all-girls. I had really no reason for it at the time, that was just my decision. And I called it “Vagina” in my head as, like, a nickname that I had given it before I could decide on a name. But I’d been thinking about it for so long that after our first meting came on January 2, I was like, all right, Vagina. We’re going with it. It’ll stand out. At this point I hadn’t really thought about any other names because I’d just nicknamed it for so long.

OED: Would you say it’s a feminist zine?

HAC: My definition of feminism is just respecting and supporting women. I think that’s what feminism comes down to. So I label us a feminist magazine because I think that everything that we’re doing is respecting and supporting women and their different views on things. We have girls that write really openly about their sex lives, or abortions, or their dream of being a stay-at-home mom. I mean it’s kind of across the board. Instead of being like, oh you need to lose ten pounds and also maybe dye your hair blond. Where it’s like, sure, if you wanted to do those things! But this is to support women in general and all their different opinions and what they want to do.

OED: It takes a lot of guts to call yourself a feminist these days. I think having a magazine that calls itself “Vagina” already paints a certain picture of what you guys might be. The name has this very confrontational kind of connotation to it. Your vision is a little bit different than that.

HAC: Yeah. When you bring that word up it’s like a punch, it’s really in your face. I almost never said the word “vagina” before I started this zine, because it was so in your face and it seemed really aggressive. I was brought up with that being an offensive word that you should never use. But the whole point of the word vagina is just, here’s this sex organ that you have. Or maybe you’re male and you wish you had one! I don’t know. But it’s not like this offensive thing. It’s not meant to be. But I feel like in our culture we’ve made it that, and so Vagina’s also kind of about being—feminism isn’t meant to be aggressive and in your face. No one wants to beat you over the head because you’re a man, or because you want to be a stay-at-home mom. We’re really acculturated in a really specific way. I like that about Vagina, that it scares people into the open. That’s why I like having our events at Cheer Up Charlie’s versus a really dedicated literary space. A lot of people come that are just there for the bar that night, and they would come across the zine, and they would be like, Is it porn? And I would be like, no it’s not! It’s just the word “vagina.” I think it’s great that it’s so in your face, that it gets your attention, but we’re trying to normalize it more and more, basically. I say “vagina” all the time now. My tote bag is not with me but it says “vagina” on it in two different places. I have a lot of interest in trying to normalize feminism and maybe stop believing all these stereotypes that we grew up with. I have a few friends that were like, Oh I don’t consider myself a feminist. And so I was like what, do you think a feminist is? And a few months later they would come back and be like, yeah, I’ve been thinking about that, I’m a feminist now, I guess. They’d grown up saying “feminazi.” Just like you grow up thinking vagina is a bad word. I guess we’re all just trying to make that transition.

OED: So the zine started as an experience-building thing. Do you think you’ll keep it going?

HAC: Honestly in that first meeting, I was like, I think I’m going to give this a year, and if it dies, it dies. If it’s not successful, no big deal. But it didn’t die, and I was really happy about that. It’s grown since then, and I kind of don’t ever want to stop now. We love that we’re not a magazine, not a journal, we are very specifically a zine. That [points to a copy of the zine] is computer paper and some staples, you know. And I love that, I love it so much. Maybe in a few years, if we had a big enough following, I would love to make that transition that Bitch and Bust made, from being a zine to being a more, like, grown-up zine that you can call a magazine. I would love that in the next few years to happen. I can’t really imagine it happening right now, but it would be my dream. Those were my inspirations, Bitch and Bust. So I would love that to happen, to really sell on newsstands, maybe on glossy paper. Maybe stop stapling them on my kitchen table! But I love doing it, I love doing a zine.

OED: Are there other feminist magazines coming out of Austin right now that you know of?

HAC: I haven’t seen any. I get a lot of jokes, people who are like, I’m going to think about doing like, “The Gentlemanly Penis.” And I’m like, you should! No one’s doing it. If I can start a zine, having never seen one? Zines are the easiest.

OED: You have a significant online presence too. So why is it even necessary to have a physical publication that’s an object?

HAC: I am really into print journalism in general. I wish I had been a newspaper person. I love that physical object, having something you can sit down and read, versus something you’re going to glance over. You can glance over a website any old time, while you’re on Facebook. I do it too. As opposed to having this physical handmade product that we put time and effort into. And people really buy it! You can read all of this on our website for free, we put the stuff that’s in here online a couple months after it comes out. You can read all of it for free. But I think people like that you can buy the thing that was made by these girls in the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes my tears get on here! [pointing to zine]—I don’t think any of them show it. But this one–like, I myself don’t sew, but for a past issue I used a sewing machine, and there were all these problems where like my blood would end up on the design, and I’d be like, here you go friend! It’s really blood, sweat, and tears that go into it. When you make the layout, it comes from scratch every time, we can’t just pop anything into our layout. I think people really like that. I crafted this for you, you can sit down and read it whenever you want, you can throw it in your bag and mess it up versus just browsing it online.

OED: Are you into craft culture more generally?

HAC: Yes. If you had seen  our first two issues, it was literally, like, HEB bags, and inside were the pages, and then it was yarn or glue. Our first issue was a SXSW special issue, and I hand-stitched the letters onto the cover. I remember sitting in my design class stitching one night, and my professor, who was also really into zines, was like, everybody grab one! We’re all going to stitch while we do the lecture! It was cute, there were twelve of us stitching “vagina” into a bunch of brown paper bags. I love craft culture. And we’re getting more and more connected. I’m the only editor here in Austin, it used to be so much easier to have that assembly line, but now it just me and my kitchen table and a stapler.

OED: The making is just you?

HAC: Me and any friends that take pity on me that week.

OED: Anything else about Vagina : : The Zine you’d like people to know? 

HAC: I  really like to drive home how we’re kind of meant to be an alternative to a lot of women’s magazines and everything. Like I’m sorry, and I’m not even trying to be like super-vagina-feminist about this, but I hate Cosmopolitan. I’ll try and read it and I’ll come away really disheartened, and not really sure how I feel about myself. Vagina is meant to be for that woman who’s confident and isn’t wanting to change who she is to fit a certain mold. Who likes who she is. I like how this wide array of girls that write about how they want to be homemakers, and then there are girls who write about masturbation. I love the complete dichotomy and how we’re meant to be for a specific woman who’s confident and funny. That’s how I feel about Bust and Bitch, especially Bust. Bust is this awesome alternative: do you want to learn how to do your hair real pretty? Awesome! Do you want to read about punk music? Here it is! Versus trying to fit you into these specific molds: how to give your boyfriend orgasms—rather than how to give your girlfriend, or yourself orgasms. I’d rather focus on that than on losing 10 pounds and seventeen sex moves you’re not going to remember.

OED: That could be a spoof title: “Seventeen Sex Moves You’re Not Going to Remember.”

HAC: I made this whole double-page spread of all of these spoof headlines. I never have put in the issue how much I loathe Cosmo because I think that would be kind of mean. Personally, when you know me, then you’re like yeah, you would loathe Cosmo. But I feel like it would be too mean if I put it in print.

OED: For someone who runs a magazine with a confrontational name, you’re very polite. 

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Thanks for Slut-Shaming a Teen Rape Victim, CultureMap!

In 2012, I published 24 articles in CultureMap, many of which I’m very proud of. A few weeks ago the smart, kind editor who encouraged me to write for them in the first place, who gave me tips on pitching and interviewing and dealt with my clumsy mistakes for almost a year, left CultureMap for greener pastures. I was happy for him but sad for me—I lost the first person who put me in e-print. Meanwhile the company had slashed its already modest compensation, and the editors seemed to be more overworked and less careful than before. So I was already starting to pitch elsewhere. But after all, it was such an easy gig, and as I said, they had done a lot for me.

That’s why I initially told my husband I didn’t want to write anything about this thing. I still don’t. It makes me tired. But the queasy feeling won’t go away, so here I go.

On Halloween, CultureMap Dallas published an article by one of its managing editors. The article implied a young Dallas rape victim might be lying (or rather, suffering from “guilt” over “impulsive teenage decisions”), and expressed sympathy for her alleged rapist, a promising high school baseball star. CultureMap freelance contributor Dan Solomon, as he relates in the XOJane article I read yesterday, posted about his disappointment with CultureMap on his personal blog. He was then approached by his editors and asked to remove the piece, under threat of losing further opportunities to publish there. A freelance contributor being asked to remove his own reflections about the magazine from his personal blog. Solomon, obviously, did not.

Well, I’m a freelancer too. I have a personal blog too. And if freelancers for CultureMap are associated closely enough with the brand to warrant that kind of attention from the editors, then it’s a two-way street. Put another way: CultureMap has demanded passive support from its freelancers in the form of silence on their personal blogs. So I’m posting this in order to feel that I have not granted it.

What I would like to do that I have not seen done yet is take us step-by-step through the article. No apology or statement has been issued, although St. Amant defended her piece in a follow-up entitled “Bandwagon reporting doesn’t do victims of sex crimes any favors.” (Surprisingly given the headline, the article isn’t actually a compendium of quotes from victims of sex crime who agree with St. Amant!)

The point of this exercise is not just to show that the article was sloppily and lazily written–that doesn’t take a close reading to prove. It’s to show how once again, this type of sloppy, lazy writing covers up an opinion that would be too noxious to spell out in a well-reasoned argument.

Maybe it’s the Freudian in me, but I don’t believe in “sloppy writing” any more than I believe in all those supposed “gaffes” from Republican rape apologists earlier this year. I do believe in slipshod thinking that covers up the misogynistic attitudes that buoy up rape culture. These people don’t want to believe they believe the things they believe. When you listen to their language, you start hearing the mental blurs, the murky pits where thinking goes to die, the cesspools of plausible deniability where slut-shaming and victim-blaming grow like an algae bloom.

At first, the article appears to be pointing out a relevant fact: the second-degree felony charge implies the victim (whose age was not released) is under 17. Despite the actual headline, the opening paragraph leads a reader to expect an argument that the rape should not be charged as a crime against a child, but rather a crime against an adult. The lede:

There are few things more complicated than the line between adolescence and adulthood. While the Texas legal system makes a clear-cut distinction from age 16 (a child) to age 17 (an adult), the transformation occurs only on paper.

Leaving aside that wretched first line (oops, I didn’t leave it aside, oh well), it’s an interesting enough angle for me to ease warily into the article. I’m ready to hear an argument about the severity of these charges, perhaps with references to statutory rape law and child molestation cases.

This, however, does not occur. Six sentences lay out the bare facts of the case (two of those sentences are about how this guy’s dad is a CEO of something or other and how the kid is a great baseball player, but whatever). Then we get this:

Many criminal cases hinge on he-said, she-said evidence, but when the parties in question are high school students, the information is under even greater scrutiny than usual.

Uh, okay. If you say it’s under greater scrutiny, it’s under greater scrutiny. Oh hey, have you ever noticed that only in acquaintance rape and sexual harassment suits is what we normally refer to as “evidence” renamed “the he-said, she-said”? Just a side note! Okay, still listening. What next?

Kids are supposed to mess up. They lie. They cheat. They get caught. They grow up. But throw a sex act in the mix, and childish ways are all but left behind.

What the what now? This paragraph says nothing. Its sole function is to be a transitional paragraph between dubious sense and utter nonsense. What are these “childish ways” St. Amant is writing about? I literally have no idea what is happening here or where this argument will go next, which is part of the point. While my mind is still echoing with the words what-the-what-now, here comes the next paragraph, which returns to the point just long enough to make me think, Argument alert! Here it comes!:

However, it still seems bizarre to call a girl his peer while they are kissing but a child if their clothes come off.

Okay! Let’s ignore the general tone this is taking and stick with this statement, which is consistent with the premise presented in the lede. St. Amant goes on to present another “fact” paragraph, the only one in fact where the girl’s story is laid out with any detail at all:

The girl who pressed charges against Romo says she told him “No, I don’t want to do this,” as well as “Stop!” She says Romo told her “It would be okay,” and to “let it happen.” A sexual assault exam revealed trauma consistent with force, the affidavit states. [emphasis added]

And now–immediately following the statement about the results of the sexual assault exam!–the kicker, the final paragraph, where St. Amant pulls the misogynistic rabbit out of the sloppily-written hat:

No matter the facts, there is no good outcome in this case. If Romo forced himself on a girl in the backseat of his Chevy Tahoe as alleged, then he’s a sexual predator. If it’s a case of impulsive teenage decisions, remorse and guilt, then no one suffers more than 18-year-old Ryan Romo.

Actually, Claire St. Amant, there IS a “good outcome”! We call it “justice.” If this girl was raped, as substantiated by her exam, a “good outcome” would be that her rapist would be convicted and sentenced, and that would be a “good outcome” even if her rapist proved to be Romo! That is, if by “good outcome” what you mean is “good outcome” for the victim; I suppose, as is the case with all accused and convicted criminals, it wouldn’t technically be a “good outcome” for Romo. At any rate, as per the second sentence in the paragraph, Romo being “a sexual predator” would not actually be an “outcome” of the criminal proceedings of the trial, but rather an outcome of his having raped a girl under the age of 17.

However, the last sentence really brings home St. Amant’s readiness to call the victim a liar, not by saying she might have falsely accused Romo, but by implying that she might not have been raped at all. Despite the results of the sexual assault exam cited in the previous paragraph, the alternative St. Amant finds to Romo being a sexual predator is not that she was raped by someone else. It’s that this was a “case of impulsive teenage decisions, remorse and guilt.” (I assume she means the girl’s potential “impulsive teenage decision” to have sex with Romo, not Romo’s potential “impulsive teenage decision” to rape her.) The question has been shifted from “Who raped her?” to “Was it rape?”

Acquaintance rape: the only kind of crime where being accused is actually a worse fate than having been a victim. What’s important, as always, is that a “promising” young man’s career got jeopardized by a woman who probably invented her rape charge because, why again? Why, Claire? Because rape charges make you super popular? Because she WANTS to be strapped to a table and probed by the county examiners? Because she WANTS to be gently chided in the local press for her impulsive teenage decisions, in an article that seems to delight in the phrase “Chevy Tahoe,” as if it stood for every teenage slut that has ever climbed into the back of a senior’s car and then sniveled later that he didn’t stop when she said “no”?

Maybe I should invent a rape charge! It would bring me so much welcome notoriety. I crave trolls on this blog. Now all I have to do is seduce some poor schmo into having sex with me, manufacture some bruises and lacerations, smear my mascara, and hobble to the nearest police station so I can sit for several hours on a cold bench under flourescent lights, talk to skeptical police officers, and then spread my legs for the county examiner. DONE!

(Next I plan to get pregnant so I can have an abortion, thereby sticking it to yet another group of beleaguered conservatives. Or alternatively I could become a single mom, thereby flaunting my sluttiness in public for 18 years and contributing to the decay of society as we know it.)

In her follow-up piece, Claire St. Amant attempts to “clarify” her original argument, with about as much success as GOP candidates clarified their “gaffes” earlier this year.

[W]hen men don’t listen, it’s rape. Period. However, we don’t know that’s what happened in that Chevy Tahoe on Saturday [DAMN “Chevy Tahoe” is fun to say! -Oed]. And when the two parties are high school students, the situation is much murkier than, say, a 32-year-old teacher preying on his pupil.

ACTUALLY NO, IT IS NOT MURKIER, CLAIRE! IT’S STILL RAPE. And yeah, if the victim is 16 (and she could be 14 or all we know), by law, she is a child. Sorry if that offends you. A girl who gets raped in the back of a Chevy by someone a year older than her has not been raped any more “murkily” than a girl who gets raped by her math teacher.

And anyway, that’s not the point that your article put across. It is about whether she was raped at all. And unless you want to start writing a “maybe this didn’t happen” article about every crime that happens in your county, I am going to assume you have some underlying motives to account for, even if you’re not entirely clear on them yourself.

Earlier this year CultureMap Austin published my husband’s angry response to the Daniel Tosh rape joke incident. The screed had been circulating on Facebook, and my former editor picked it up and ran it. And because of that my husband got internet famous for a day, as the male comedian in Austin who took a nasty, funny, smart stand against rape culture.

For 48 hours we lived and breathed rape culture. It was a difficult time. In the aftermath, after the fifteen minutes of internet attention had died down, my husband suggested we put our money where our (loud) mouths were and volunteer at SafePlace. Last month we finally started the process, which is fairly long and arduous. After sitting in that room, knowing that we were there partly because an editor at CultureMap took a risk on running a very controversial piece, knowing that part of what propelled us to that moment was the notoriety and conversation that his piece had generated in our lives—after all that—the very same corporate entity has unapologetically endorsed a public slut-shaming of a teen rape victim who reported her rape—Brave! Rare!—showed her bruises, submitted to the rape exam, and was deemed by a third party to bear “trauma consistent with force,” which I daresay even Todd Akin might concede is “legitimate”. . . .

Well, my coherency is gone. A rape joke uttered in a comedy club hundreds of miles away warrants a risky op-ed. An irresponsible, victim-blaming article about a girl in our own back yard gets nothing. No apology.

In her follow-up, Claire St. Amant asserts her solidarity with rape victims. (Apparently if a woman walked down the street naked and gets raped, it’s okay by St. Amant to call it rape! Truly radical.) But even if that’s the case, if you doubt that her article justifies less enlightened people in their view that teenage girls who have sex consensually can’t really have been raped, but are just experiencing morning-after regrets—I dare you to read the comment section on the Dallas Observer blog, where Anna Merlan called out the CultureMap article the day after it was written, giving far more detail into the crime report than St. Amant bothered to give. Read those comments and tell me if they get better, because I had to stop after the first handful of them.

Well, really after the guy who was like, “yeah man, this one girl I used to sleep with said ‘no’ one time, and then she seemed like she changed her mind and we had sex anyway, and also a bunch of other times where she didn’t even say no, and then later she just told her friends about that one time and then everybody thought I was a rapist. Ergo, this didn’t happen.”

THAT is the kind of thinking you are encouraging with your generous speculations on the subject of “but maybe she’s lying!”, Claire St. Amant. That is what you, and CultureMap too, are being called to task for.

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“Just” Teaching

MITT ROMNEY: I love teachers.  

BOB SCHIEFFER: I think we all love teachers.

I just accepted a job teaching writing at a small private high school with a liberal slant and a hippie-fied aesthetic. I have applied to many teaching jobs, but I fought hard for this one, because it sounded better than any job I’ve applied to so far—perfect for me, in fact. I have been walking on air since I got the offer.

And then this morning I woke up with a sudden panic in my chest.

The woman who founded and runs the school has a PhD in rhetoric and composition and helped shape the writing center at a major university. She left academia 40 years ago, disgusted by male peers who, she hinted, ran the department like a cross between a Chuck E. Cheese and a gentleman’s club. She believes in her school, she believes in her kids, and she believes in her lifestyle, which as far as I can tell involves a lot of time spent working and reading in a cozy armchair next to her spouse in the shabby but beautiful house they have filled with books and precious artifacts.

Despite this, there was one moment of our meeting when her face clouded over and she said, “I’ve never done anything my whole life, except just teach.”

“Just” teach.

* * * * *

From what I can tell, the University of Chicago, where I got my PhD in English, considers me deceased. If you don’t believe me, look at their “job placement” page, which lists every academic job their graduates get, no matter how transient or low-status, but makes no mention of the writers, teachers, consultants, journalists, programmers, lawyers, etc., who come out of their program every year.

As far as the University of Chicago is concerned, not only was my graduation in December 2011 my most recent accomplishment, but it will always be my most recent accomplishment, unless I get a university job down the line. Many academics consider the world outside of academia devoid of all intellectual stimulation and rigor, and the decision to leave seemingly strikes them as tantamount to abandoning the “life of the mind” for an endless parade of Katy Perry tunes, American cheese, reality TV, and trips to Six Flags.

This is obviously silly, and good, smart academics certainly don’t think that way. But this assumption about leaving academia masks certain others that are decidedly less silly. Assumptions that most people never articulate when you’re thinking of leaving, because they’re too painful, too gendered, and maybe sometimes a little too true.

For a man, opting out of academia sort of implies choosing corporate lucre over the intellectual life, which is a bit déclassé. But for a woman, it is far more likely to mean choosing a low-status job in the public sector over a high-status (if still underpaid) university job.

If you lined up in a row all the women I know who left grad school, they would look something like a female version of The Village People. Public school teacher, public interest lawyer, nurse—all models of civic responsibility, public servants who keep our society running on public-sector paychecks, and with no expectations of the deference granted their high-status peers. These are the people who are lauded on bumper stickers instead of listened to in election years. And they are disproportionately female.*

They are also the smartest women I have ever met. They are writers, thinkers, activists, poets, performers, and artists. Their conversation has made me smarter and their accomplishments have inspired me to do more. Selfishly, I hope they will eventually become mothers, so I can meet their brilliant kids.

Kids who will grow up to be . . . . well it depends. Are they boys or girls? Do they want to have a family? How much? Will someone else be able to help take care of the family? Support it financially? Will they be willing to tough it out in a career where they’re either an outnumbered minority or an undervalued majority?

How important will status be to them, and what will they sacrifice to chase it across the finish line?

* * * * *

I think I will love this job teaching high schoolers to write. I love it already, and I haven’t started yet. Sitting with the director of the school, going over the class material, imagining myself imparting the fundamentals of self-expression, which I picture getting these kids into good colleges and then good jobs after that, I think, this is so much more fucking important than anything I ever did in grad school.

“You have to learn how to express yourself,” I imagine myself telling these kids. “When you know how to communicate your ideas in writing, people take you seriously. You can tell the world your thoughts, your experiences, and the world will listen. You can argue your points. And then you can achieve . . . ”

I picture myself really thinking about this one. I guess it depends?

“Anything,” I would have to finish, even though I don’t really know what that means anymore.

Once when I lived in Chicago an exterminator came by the apartment. We made small talk as he wandered around, poking the long nozzle of the pesticide sprayer into closets and checking for ants under the sink. His head and shoulders deep in the kitchen cabinets, he asked me what I did for a living. I said “student.” He asked about my post-graduation plans, and I said, “I hope to become a professor and teach English at a university.”

He emerged from under the sink right away. He said, “I got a lot of respect for schoolteachers. They got the most important job in the world. My mother was a schoolteacher, my grandmother too. You gotta be really smart to be a schoolteacher. They got the hardest job in the world.”

His head disappeared back under the sink, but he went on talking about it for some time. I felt a little squirmy. I wasn’t the one he was talking to. I wasn’t a noble public servant. I was in school because I loved ideas. I was in school for the life of the mind. I was in school—let’s face it, I was in it because everyone told me I was smart enough to win the whole game, to wear the tweed suit, to be a professor. I felt a million miles away from being the person this man thought he was talking to. It made me feel a little guilty, like I was getting away with something.

Before he left the apartment, he shook my hand. “Good luck with the teacher thing,” he said. “It’s a tough job. I really admire you.”

I’m still not the person he means. I’m not taking on the overwhelming odds against public school teachers. I’m not working with the disadvantaged kids who need it most. The kids I will teach are just shy, or weird, or they’ve been bullied or ignored in bigger schools, and their parents can afford to send them to a small hippie school with tiny classes. If being a teacher is the hardest job in the world, I hardly qualify as a teacher at all. But I no longer feel a million miles away from the person the exterminator thought he was talking to. If I work hard, someday I will be “just” a teacher, too.

In making decisions about our lives, we measure out what we can handle in tiny little increments, slivers of difference. We weigh our talents and our passions, our dreams and our guilt, what we need and what we can give, what the world says and what it means. And if, at the end of the day, we feel womaned by these decisions, we put it into next week’s lesson plan.

 

*They were also disproportionately women of color. Women of color left my program in tiny, silent droves while I was there.

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Intellectual Negging at Shakespeare & Co., a Womansplanation

Yesterday we ate lamb testicles in Paris. It was the most expensive lunch I’ve ever had, and it was worth it. “Remember those lamb testicles we ate?” is a phrase I fully intend to integrate into my vocabulary, and I hope Curtis will always answer, as he did last night, “Those lamb testicles were so amazing.”

After our lamb testicle lunch, we wandered around the corner to Shakespeare & Co., the English-language bookstore and lending library Sylvia Beach ran for American ex-pats in the 1920s. I was there ten years ago, but must not have gone past the first room, because I did not remember it being so amazing.

The cramped rooms twist around one another like a baroque series of stomachs in a fantastical beast. Nooks and alcoves, curtained or cushioned and decorated with newspaper clippings and old photographs, appear around every corner. Improbably-shaped bookshelves line the narrow staircase and arch over the doorways, almost as if they’re supporting the sagging walls instead of weighing them down. Under a display table, a sunken wishing bowl holds pennies, euros and pounds.

This is not even to speak of the selection. English-language books not just numerous but also different than I’m used to seeing, by authors barely read in America—oddballs without genre like Michael Moorcock, humorists taken seriously like Jerome K. Jerome. Dalkey Archive Press paperbacks, vintage Rebecca West hardbacks, and a volume of Grimm’s fairy tales illustrated by Mervyn Peake and introduced by Sarah Waters. Not to mention a theory section stocked with all the Derrida, all the Barthes, all the Deleuze and Badiou and Ranciere. It was like Domy, Powell’s, Half-Price Books and the Seminary Co-op rolled into one, then crammed into a space the size of our apartment.

Because the bookstore is so small and so full of people, you can hear every conversation. Most shoppers murmur softly in French or English, gently jostling one another for a better glimpse of the display table or reaching for the shelves nearest the ceiling with a quiet “pardon.”

As I peruse the Doris Lessing shelf, a man’s voice rises above the others. One of those voices that, while not particularly loud, never lowers itself even when personal space is at a premium or silence is requested (subways and library stacks, respectively). And because he is speaking English in perfectly audible tones, I feel not only obligated to listen, but entitled to that delicious thrill of judgment which is the compensation for overhearing conversations you’d rather not.

The young man, of slightly less than average height, wears a backpack. Over the course of my visit he converses with two female compatriots, not at the same time. Having glimpsed a sign on the register directed at NYU exchange students, I automatically assume these three are from NYU, though it doesn’t really matter if they are or not. The young women speak with excitement and curiosity. The young man consistently mistakes their attempts to engage him in conversation as serious appeals to his superior knowledge, and proceeds accordingly.

HER: I can’t decide which of these to buy! They’re both amazing. What do you think, which one?

HIM: Um, neither is really my thing?

HER: I meant for me, not for you.

HIM: Well, I don’t know, because I would never read either one.

He comes up with ingenious ways of expressing his lack of knowledge and interest in such a way as to make it seem like a fascinating aspect of his personality about which every girl is dying to hear more.

HER, holding up a children’s book: I loved this when I was little. The illustrations are so beautiful.

HIM: [Silence.]

HER, holding up a novel: How about this, do you know if it’s good?

HIM: Yeah, I read it, but it’s been soooo long ago, I don’t really remember anything about it. Like early in high school? A long time ago.

I have to congratulate this dude on getting a jump start on a time-honored convention of academic discourse. “You’ve read X, right?” “Yes, but it’s been a long time.” In academia, everyone knows this is code for “I haven’t read it. Please do not reveal that you know this. Instead, give me a detailed summary so that we can converse comfortably about it, and so that in the future I can pretend I’ve read it more convincingly.” It should be noted, however, that, ridiculous as this encrypted dialogue is, it sounds a lot more dignified coming from a professor in his fifties than from a 20-year-old. A 20-year-old has barely had time to forget anything.

HIM: If you think getting a motorcycle is going to save you money, you’re wrong. It’s incredibly expensive to run and seriously inconvenient. I mean, Iguess if you’re getting it to look cool, fine, but if you’re getting it because you think it’s going to be cheaper or something, it won’t be.

HER: Well anyway, I’m pretty excited about it. It’ll be ready for me to pick up tomorrow.

These two women, both petite (I cannot help thinking this was one reason he enjoyed talking to them so much) were being mansplained within an inch of their lives. Hostages in a tight space, they gave this guy the benefit of the doubt, possibly for no other reason than a desire to share their enthusiasm with someone, and resignation at being stuck in Paris with this blowhard for the entire semester.

How many smart women, do you suppose, are at this very moment listening to men in bookstores and music stores and movie stores throw cold water on everything they’re saying, treat them like idiots, just because they can get away with it, and because they’re too busy intellectually negging these women like some kind of nerd/Mystery hybrid to realize they’re just being plain rude—not to mention inaccurate, ill-informed, or at the very least, over-confident in opinions that could use a little fresh air and opposition?

The sheer lack of intellectual curiosity of the mansplainer is only rivaled by his paranoia that if he doesn’t give an opinion dump right away, the girl might not think he is the smart one in the conversation. How many women are nodding along because (a) they’ve been taught that manners are important, (b) it’s just too tiring to try to penetrate this nonsense, and, worst of all, (c) on some deep level, based on implicit and explicit messages they’ve received over the course of their lives, they believe the mansplainer must be right–or at least right enough to not be worth arguing with?

I want to grab that guy by the backpack straps and say, One of these days, these girls are going to get wise and run out of patience with you. So you better practice listening to them, otherwise good luck getting laid in your thirties.

But the truth is, some girls will become women without ever running out of patience for this guy. Telling the mansplainer he was raised in a barn will not solve the problem unless you also take the women aside and say, Hey listen, you get that this guy is just being a douche, right? You get that he’s afraid of your brain and is pretending you don’t have one, right? You get that he sees you as a source of continual reassurance to shore up his self-worth, right? And you get that you do not have to take this bullshit, that you can express yourself back, forcefully, or, if you don’t feel like it, just walk away with a pained look on your face and find someone better to talk to?

Maybe the young women in the bookstore already know this. Maybe he started talking to the second one because the first one walked away in irritation. Maybe both girls are in the process of figuring it out right now, and this guy is part of the lesson plan.

By the time I got to college I was already becoming aware of it, but I could have used the knowledge a lot earlier. Every time I think back to Libba Bray’s keynote address at the Austin Teen Book Festival, I think, Where was this when I was young and literate and pissed off and didn’t know why? Where was this when I stopped wearing makeup and shopping at the Gap and started coming to school with unbrushed hair, in knee-length cut-offs and baggy tee shirts? I didn’t know I was a feminist then. I didn’t have a name for my anger, or anyone to tell about it.

When I get back to Austin, I start teaching writing classes at a tiny private high school run by a woman who left academia decades ago. I will have only six students in each class—not a lot of teenagers, but a lot of time with each one. These are students who have had trouble fitting in socially at the big wealthy public schools in the west hills of Austin, nerds and weirdos and the occasional miscreant. I’m not really clear on whether these kids are considered “troubled” or not. I guess I’ll find out soon.

But if they are, I can relate. I’m troubled too, by lots of things. I want to help high school girls put a name to their anger so they can start talking back. Everyone will benefit from this, including the budding mansplainer in the front row.

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“The Roy G. Biv of Female Experience”: A Big Ol’ Interview with Libba Bray

*vital note: You can find an abridged version of this interview on CultureMap Austin. Enjoy!

Preparing to interview young adult novelist Libba Bray, I wrote at the top of my notebook page, “THE GOAL IS NOT TO BE HER FRIEND.”

Though seemingly written in reality-TV-ese, these words of advice are reasonable. If there’s anything that Jennifer Egan interview taught me (and dear God let there be something), it’s that a reporter should never secretly want the approval of the interviewee, because that is the road to a little town I call Klonopinsville. So I rode into this encounter in full battle armor, having banned myself  on pain of death from all forms of gushing, as well as any appeals to common ground or comments that might be construed as hints at my own humanity.

Imagine my surprise when Libba Bray turned out to be a human herself, with a gift for hilarious turns of phrase and a healthy supply of anger against patriarchal politics and religious shame-mongering. She was brave, open, weird, and funny. When I tentatively followed up a question about her religious upbringing by asking her about her current spiritual beliefs, not only did she answer me at great length, but she asked me the same question right back. And then listened to the answer.

At Libba’s request I’m not putting up that part of the interview, but there’s a ton of fascinating stuff in this version. She talks about her gay Presbyterian minister father, the life-changing car accident that left her with a glass eye when she was 18, and the crippling depression that followed. And oh, thank god, she talked feminism. She brought it up on her own, and she nailed it time and time again. Listening to her on the phone, I was pumping my fists and silently cheering.

While there are no plans for matching friendship bracelets, I believe if it came down to a reality TV-style survival situation, she would have my back.

——-

OED: How did you get started writing YA, after being a playwright?

LB: The first books I wrote, I actually wrote for a packager. They hire people to go, “McNovel, drive-through, please!” They would say here’s your premise, we’d like you to write a book. It taught me an awful lot. If you can outline a book and then write it in six weeks, you can do just about anything. But I wanted to write my own stories. My first idea, honestly, was, man, wouldn’t it be cool to write a Victorian “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”? That was the inspiration [for A Great and Terrible Beauty], and then I just kind of kept noodling around with it. I loved Victorian novels growing up, I loved Wuthering Heights and I loved Jane Eyre and anything gothic.

OED: You say that it was “love at first sight” for you with YA. What was it that drew you?

LB: I want to say, the sincerity of the story telling? I just read this great quote by Junot Diaz. He was talking about true intimacy, and he was saying that it was the willingness to be vulnerable and to be found out. I loved that phrase, that you were willing to be found out. That’s what I felt that YA did. It wasn’t pretentious, and it wasn’t hiding its heart. It wanted to be found out. The first YA book that I remember really falling in love with was Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas. Rob Thomas went on to make “Veronica Mars,” and he’s from Texas. . . I felt this kinship. It just felt very honest to me, and I appreciated that. It was kind of a relief. It felt like those moments when you go to a party and you’re standing around for a long time going, I don’t fit in here, and what am I going to talk to these people about, and everybody’s getting drunk, and then you find this one person and you end up sitting in some corner talking about all these arcane things, and then before you know it you’re having a conversation about the meaning of life and it’s four o’clock in the morning? That kind of feeling, that kind of intimacy? I felt like that’s what I got from YA.

OED: Do you think that sincerity is part of why there’s been this big boom in YA fiction?

LB: I always hesitate to generalize about YA because it’s so vast . . . But I would say the teens, our audience, keeps us honest. Because they can smell bullshit a mile away, and they will call you on it. And so you really kind of have to be willing to get down to it. This is one of the things I always say when I’m doing writing workshops when teens. I always say, “You can lie, because fiction is made up of lies. But just don’t bullshit me. And there’s a difference.” So I think that’s it . . . you don’t have to bullshit.

OED: I’m not a big follower of YA, but I was walking through Bookpeople one day and I saw your covers and the first thing I thought was there’s somebody who—you’re working within the YA wheelhouse but you’ve done so much different stuff, and that seems to be kind of unique. So I wonder if you could talk about playing with different genres.

LB: I like to read a lot of different stuff, and I think that’s part of it. As rudimentary as this sounds, some days I wake up and I think “I would like to wear an outfit that’s very Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.” Or, “Today I would like to dress like Devo.”. . . I like horror, and I like political thrillers, and I like supernatural things. But I also really like satire, and I like Thomas Pynchon and I like—trying to think of something far afield from Thomas Pynchon, but my brain cells are not working! I mean I like so many different things that I couldn’t imagine being tied to one kind of storytelling, that’s just not the way that I am. I am an eclectic person, and so, because my interests are quite varied and my reading tastes are quite varied, I feel like it would make sense that my storytelling would also be quite varied.

One of the things that was tough for me in writing the Gemma Doyle trilogy was, there’s humor in there, but the humor is very particular to a Victorian sensibility. And so it’s corseted, for lack of a better term. It’s restrained. So it was kind of fun to then be able to open up the throttle and write something like Going Bovine. All of my friends who knew me really well, when I came out with A Great and Terrible Beauty, all went, “Huh, that is not the book I thought you would write.” And then when I wrote Going Bovine all my friends went, “Oh yeah, I totally get that you would write that book!” But anybody who’s read the Gemma Doyle trilogy, they went, “Huh, that is not the book I thought you would follow up with.” [Pause.] Or perhaps I just have a penchant for career suicide.

OED: It is interesting because those Gemma Doyle books, I remember seeing them on the shelf for the first time years and years back, they’ve got the sexy young adult thing going on with the covers.

LB: They were pretty daring for the time, the covers.

OED: I kind of made a beeline for them for that very reason. But it’s a trilogy, and there are so many YA series that can stretch on and on. Especially since those books were so successful, to go in a different direction seems very daring in a way.

LB: She eats danger for breakfast! And then she gets, like, a little repeating action. Danger repeats on her. Yeah, it was a craaaaazy thing to do, but you know you must [parodic serious tone] tell the story you need to tell.

OED: I’m right in the middle of Beauty Queens right now. And I have to say, I love it. And I think it really has to do partly with, like you said, the release of the corsets. I thought, Oh, all bets are off! Also being a Texas Girl, as soon as that Taylor [Miss Texas] character opened her mouth I was like there it is! That is the accent, I can hear it. I was like, oh, I know those girls!

LB: I’m not gonna lie, it was really fun. I hail from the home town of two Miss Americas you know. I’m from Denton, north of Dallas. I always say it’s like Tatooine with a Walmart.

OED: In Beauty Queens, the satire that you mentioned really comes out swinging. That is a book with a very intense point of view, which is part of what makes it so delightful to read. And I wonder, people have asked you about gender in your books before, but also the critique of consumerism and all that, is that something you feel really strongly about?

LB: I heard Lois Lowry speak this summer, and I loved what she said. She was talking about how people say to “write what you know.” And she said, “I want to write about what troubles me, what keeps me up at night.” And I thought, yes! That is part of it, is that there’s something that’s like, I’m not entirely—I have all kind of thoughts and feelings about that, but I feel like I need to explore that.

A few years ago David Levithan called me up and said, “I have an idea for a story and you need to write it. Let’s go have lunch.” He said the magic word, which was lunch. And so we went to have lunch and he said, “Okay here’s the one sentence: planeload of teen beauty queens crash on an island.” And I was like aw, dude! I want to write that book! But I was finishing up [the Gemma Doyle trilogy], so I said, “Okay, but it’s going be a while before I can get to that.” My first thought was, I’m just gonna do a crazy, crazy book, like a full six-pack of crazy. I thought that would be so fun, to lampoon that kind of stuff. And then when I actually got down to writing it, I thought, I don’t want to lampoon these girls, because I feel for them. The truth is that so much had happened in terms of setting women back in that amount of time, and I was really troubled by that. I thought, why is there so much misogyny? I mean I know that misogyny is always with us, but why is there so much misogyny? Why are we so hard on ourselves? I had walked into the grocery store or 7-11 or something, and there were all those magazines up front, you know like the tabloids and People. And every single freakin’ magazine cover was “So-and-so, what will she wear! Look at her engagement ring!” “So-and-so tells you all—she wants babies!” You know. And it was all so just reductive and regressive. Hey man, I love being married and having a baby. I have a son, and I enjoy motherhood and all that. But it became almost Stepford Wife in the way that we were supposed to kind of parrot these things back. It’s like, “Of course my family is the most important thing!” All of these things that just felt like a corset again. And I thought, what is going on that this kind of stuff is happening? And I felt troubled by it, and I felt angry.

And at the same time I had a lot of questions about gender. I think that one of the things that I enjoy about writing is that it forces me to question my own status quo. It is really easy to get complacent and think, well I believe this, or I think this. And when you start getting in there and digging around in the guts of the story, you’re like, I thought I believed this, but I don’t know, I’m not really sure, maybe I’m just really guarded about this. Maybe I’m not willing to be vulnerable about what this feels like. I think sometimes in literature we can also kind of police ourselves.

I know a lot of people talked about Twilight, and they would say, oh, but the heroine is so, she kind of lets this man make her decisions. And I thought, that may not be the—I’m saying fantasy here, because it’s the only word I can think of, it’s not really the right word. But you know, like, that may not be the particular fantasy or trope that works for me. But could we ever deny that—Listen man, I read Wuthering Heights! I wanted me a little Heathcliff action. I mean like, why can’t we indulge that fantasy and also be like, “And now I would like the ERA passed, please. Also, this lipstick is fuckin’ killer.” I always say I want the whole Roy G. Biv of female experience. I don’t want it to just be Roy, or G., or Biv. . . . Also I was pissed off, I was pissed off about everything that was going on, the way that we were being sort of chipped away at. Also I really love James Bond, and I was like “I want a female James Bond.” And there’s a way in which they could all be Bond girls, but instead they become Bond.

The one thing I was very, very clear about was, I did not want this to be a big cat fight. Because my experience with my own female friends is that we have been there for each other through everything, and that we’re a support system for each other. I didn’t want it to become this female against female kind of thing, because that wasn’t my experience.

OED: The book is full of women who are struggling with their identities, not just as women, but as people of color, or disabled, or transgendered people. A lot of the heart of the book seems to come from that struggle with identity. So I wondered if there was any basis for that in your own life, if your experience either as a woman or with your identity has informed that. 

LB: Absolutely. And this actually gets back to your question, too, about why does YA appeal. One of the things I always say is, “Because we never stop coming of age.” It doesn’t matter if you’re 14 or 40, you’re still working on identity, you’re still trying to figure out who you are, and who you are now. Like all right, well who am I now? And I think that never goes away. It’s interesting, when I started writing Beauty Queens I thought Adina [the feminist character] was going to be my touchstone. And that did not turn out to be the case at all. In fact, the passage that I wrote where I went, that’s it, now I’m under the skin of the novel, was Mary Lou. There’s the whole part where she talks about her sister Annie, and she talks about sex and sexuality. And I think that was a huge part for me. Growing up in Texas, where there is this sort of—you’re supposed to be alluring, but also have a sort of Britney child-bride thing. You’re supposed to be sort of alluring, but also kind of wholesome. And you’re not supposed to take charge of your sexuality. And I just did not feel that way! I was like, well I feel kind of large-and-in-charge about my sexuality! And I grew up in the church as well, you know, and I thought, but I feel so, you know, I feel really sexual, and why is that I have to hide that? Why is the world is so afraid of that? Why is it that I have to apologize for it and pretend that I don’t have it, that I don’t enjoy it, that it’s not like this great juicy awesome thing? Why is it that I have to feel shame about it? And that has bothered me my whole life. I think it is a real push-pull for women, and I think we get a lot of mixed messages, and I think we give ourselves mixed messages. And we give our daughters mixed messages, because it just perpetuates. And that is one of the things that I would love to be able to just completely deconstruct is that whole . . . I think it is very much tied into religion.

OED: How restrictive was your Presbyterian upbringing? I also was raised in a Presbyterian almost mega-church myself, so . . .  

LB: Really? Was it really conservative?

OED: Well, it had not been so. In the ‘70s and early ‘80s when I was really young, it was really inflected by that hippie movement. . .

LB: Sounds like we had very similar—yeah, the church you’re talking about is exactly the one I know, so keep talking.

OED: Now there’s big screens with bouncing balls, and everything is projected onto these screens, and there’s a praise band, and now it just seems so conservative to me, I just can’t stand it. But when I was growing up in it, as a young child, it was a very loving nurturing kind of hippie-ish place for me to be. 

LB: I had almost exactly the same experience. And a thing that informed it was the fact that my father was a minister, and my father was gay. I was 14 when he came out to us. The message from my liberal, Democrat, Presbyterian, the-Bible-is-an-allegory folks was, “This is fine, and there’s nothing wrong with being gay, and we can talk about it. But you can’t tell anybody, because your dad could lose his job, or worse.” So my dad was in the closet, but then so was I, because I had to keep it a secret. I’d go visit my dad and his lover, and we’d go out to Oak Lawn, which was the gay area of Dallas, and it was like leading a secret life, a double life. Someday I would love to be able to write about it, because it was a really interesting thing.

But I had the same kind of thing, where when I was young and we were living in Corpus Christi—this would be the late ‘60s early ‘70s through the ‘70s—because of the hippie movement, and because of the Civil Rights movement, I think there was this wonderful opening up of the church at that time. I felt the same way, it felt kind of hippie-ish. Kind of like, “Agape, y’all!” And then when we moved to Denton it was like the climate changed. The ‘80s had come in, and the religious right starts kicking in. It was a sea change. It felt restrictive to me. Definitely those mixed messages about how girls were supposed to be. And my mom, God bless her, she’s lovely, but she came of age in the ‘50s, postwar, with very different messages about how you were supposed to be. I think she’s very cool, I love my mom, but certainly the message was, “How about this nice dirndl skirt?” It was like, How about I die first? How about I stab myself through the head with a knitting needle? I was not wearing that ugly ass thing!

OED: Church clothes, right?

LB: Church clothes, exactly. So, certainly that was an influence on me. And again it gets back to the why’s of things. Why is it this way? Okay, this is what you say, but how is it that you’re basing an entire system of oppression on it? If you get to say, well God told me. . . Where am I supposed to go with that argument? Well, tell God he’s wrong! Or have your God talk to my God, because my God isn’t saying that. One of our Gods is wrong, and I’m just sayin’, I’m going to put my money on mine. . . . That is part of what I wanted to get to in Beauty Queens too. Just pay attention to the rhetoric. Pay attention to the messages. Because if you can deconstruct the rhetoric, it’s like “The Matrix.” Those are the bullets that you are trying to learn how to dodge and make fall in front of you. But if you don’t know how to think critically, if you can’t hear a message like “Well, we really want to protect women” and understand that “protect” really means “oppress”—Yes, it makes you angry to hear that, but then you also have to think, where does that come from? I have to snake it back to where it comes from. What is the fear, what is the threat that it seems to pose for these people? Because unless you can trace it back, you can’t really start trying to root it out at the source, you can’t really try to fight. But when push comes to shove about somebody trying to take your rights away, you can try to do all that, but if you’re up against somebody who’s irrational, you just have to fight like hell. You just have to say Oh hell no, you are not taking my rights.

OED: Yeah, sing it. What’s going on now is just making me feel that way every day.

LB: It’s mind-boggling. . . the hate that is coming out.

OED: Unbelievable.

LB: It’s not just one or two misguided people. I mean like, this is scary stuff. And it is I don’t know did you by any chance, I don’t know if you ever read my blog, but I had done a blog post, it’s called Transvaginal Overdrive, and it was a hysterical post. It was spelling out, here’s all the legislation, just in case you were asleep, here’s what’s been happening. But it is terrifying to me.

OED: Have you seen , this is a pretty awful and bizarre thing to see, the Youtube video that’s a commercial for “legitimate rape” as birth control? It is hilarious satire, it’s perfectly done, and it’s very informative as well. But it’s harrowing to watch at the same time. It’s almost too scary. . . Now I feel like I’ve taken us on this road.

LB: No it’s fine, I love conversations that go all over the place. Just like I like to write lots of different genres.

OED: I do too! I was going to ask you, so you’re writing from a place of anger and curiosity and sort of trying to work out these feelings. But do you also write specifically to educate? Is there a pedagogical thing behind your writing for young girls specifically? 

LB: No. Because I think that when you get into that, it’s a PSA and not a story. There always has to be a beating heart to a story. It gets back to that Junot Diaz quote, your willingness to drop all your defenses and explore yourself, with a sort of brutal honesty. And if you are adopting some kind of pedagogical perch, then you’re not there. You’re not inside your story, you’re outside of your story.

[religion stuff]

OED: Can you talk a little bit about your accident? Only if you want to, but you brought it up earlier and I understand that it was a pretty serious accident that had a long-lasting effect.

LB: So it was about three weeks after high school graduation, and I was driving my dad to the airport. He was actually flying off to the Presbyterian General Assembly. And I had gotten the car, I had had it about a month. It was stick, not automatic. So I was getting a little more practice, and he asked if I could take him to the airport and I said sure. As I was coming back, it was raining, and I hydroplaned. I went into a spin, my brakes locked, and you know just that kind of panic of, like, not being in control of your car. And . . . um . . . I was right near a major intersection, and I thought I don’t want to go into the intersection, so then there’s a grassy median, and I thought, okay, if I can just get to the median. Well I say “okay,” but I was in panic. All I can think is maybe I hit the gas instead of the brake, because it was like clutch, brake, you know, all that stuff. I hit this big light pole. The front end of the car caved in, and I hit the steering wheel so hard with my face that it broke it off at its column. I basically broke my face. I lost my left eye, broke my legs, although I didn’t realize that until they were getting me out of the—and I definitely had, while I was out, I had that “see your life in reverse” moment. I can remember that. And so yeah, so. . . . I was in exploratory surgery for nine and a half hours, and then I was in the hospital for two weeks in Dallas while they tried to put me back together. It was quite physically painful. I broke my jaw, they had to wire it shut, and I couldn’t breathe because my nose was completely demolished, and my cheekbones.

But the big thing was about the eye. I couldn’t see, because I couldn’t open my right eye, so it was like being in a sensory deprivation tank in a way. The doctor would come in, and he would shine a flashlight, and he would say, “Tell me when you can see the light.” And for a while on my left side, there was some residual light. And then by day three, I remember he came in and said “Tell me when you can see the light”. . . . . and it was a long time. I thought, I’m pretty sure he’s not going to go “Psyche! I wasn’t even shining a light!” I thought, he’s clearly shining a light, and I can’t see it. I can’t see it. And he said, here’s the deal. You have damaged your eye basically beyond all repair. Um. And he said, you can keep your eye, but it will look unsightly and the risk of infection is good, and if you get an infection then it can travel to your right eye and you can go blind. Or you can remove the eye and we can fit you with a prosthesis. And I remember my parents were really upset, because they were like, you can’t ask her that! And he said, she’s 18. She has to make the decision, because she has to live with it for the rest of her life. Of course I said, take it, I don’t want to go blind.

Even at 18 there’s some of that magical thinking of childhood. You just think, well, this can be fixed, this can be a do-over, I’ll be fine, by the time they finish with me I’ll be good as new. And then of course, by the end of the summer, um . . . . they fitted me for my first prosthesis and I finally got my jaws unwired, and I looked at myself. And I was like, that’s not my face. That is not my face, and what the hell is this piece of plastic where my left eye used to be. And it hit me. It was like a death. It was that realization of, like, oh wait a minute. This is not a do-over. And also coming to terms with mortality at 18 was pretty heavy. Because you think of yourself as so invincible. Um . . .  so it was huge.

I moved into the dorm and all my friends were going out to parties. I had not really dated much in high school, and I remember my teachers always saying, when you go to college, I swear, you’re going to get dates. So I thought, wow, when I got to college, that’s when things are going to be fun. And here I was in college, and I felt like I was getting robbed of the experience.

And people can be cruel. There was a guy I had worked at an independent bookstore after school when I was in high school. One of the guys who used to come in there all the time, he was a filmmaker—pretentious asshole. I ran into him on campus when I moved into the dorm, and he didn’t recognize me. I told him who I was, and I told him what had happened. And he said, Oh I wondered, he said, because you know, part of your face, over here, is as beautiful as it always was. Except the rest of you looks like Frankenstein. Yeah. Like, oh, thanks for that.

I felt broken on the inside as well as on the outside. The only thing I can say is, it was just despair. I was suicidal. I was so depressed I stopped going to class, I was in the same pair of sweats for like two weeks. There was a lot of self destructive behavior, I call that my Lindsay Lohan period. I had no one to talk to, I felt completely cut off. I would listen to side four of Quadrophenia over and over again. Pete Townsend kind of helped save my life. But the other thing, one of my graduation gifts was, somebody had given me a journal. And I started to write in it, because that was the only way, honestly, to keep from killing myself. I just started to write down everything I thought I couldn’t say out loud. And that was when I discovered how powerful writing was. Because it literally saved my life. And then I began to do it for its own sake, I began to look forward to the writing. And that’s what got me through.

OED: Wow. That is really an amazing story. Isn’t that amazing, that that experience actually became formative for your writing. 

LB: Yeah. I mean, to get back to our larger spiritual questions, there’s a part of me that’s like, well now, huh . . . There is that trial, there is that—and then the worst possible experience of your life turns out to be the thing that saves you.

OED: That’s pretty intense. 

LB: That is pretty intense. Now maybe you should ask me about, like, nail color. “That was okay, cool, thanks Libba. But like, what I really want to know is like, okay, Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift? Okay, you can only pick one!”

OED: “If you could be a type of tree what would you be?” . . . But yeah, I was going to ask if you had read Jennifer Egan’s Look at Me.

LB: I have not.

OED: The main character is a model who gets into a terrible car accident and her face has to be completely reconstructed. The first part of the book is about her walking around and feeling unrecognizable, the feeling of being unrecognized, for a model who’s been looked at her whole life. 

LB: Yeah, I mean certainly I was not a model! But just the experience of not having the same face.

OED: That must be so weird.

LB: And it’s also such a crash course in perception. Because people treat you differently. It doesn’t matter that you’re the same person, people treat you differently.

OED: Well that kind of goes back to that whole question of identity. I mean, that seems to be a profound interrogation of the whole concept of identity, right? 

LB: Yeah absolutely. I mean, I think it’s one of the things that’s really interesting about David Levithan’s book Every Day. There is a character, and his—and I just said “his”! There you go. The character’s name is “A”, that’s it. The character has no gender, no culture, no race. It is a pure being who wakes up in the body of somebody different every single day. Trying to get past your notions of gender, of race, of culture, of sexuality. Those boundaries that we erect are kind of fascinating to me. Because I think there’s so much more fluidity.

OED: Yeah. But they’re so hard to tear down. I mean you go around, you think that you’ve done away with that sort of thinking and then you go and assign a gender automatically, and it’s male! 

LB: Right, exactly.

OED: I catch myself all the time reading about characters in books, and I’m just picturing a white guy. And I’m like, Oh right, because people are just white, right? Like, automatically! You know, the default position is that. It’s amazing how you can spend so much time working to erode that, those ideas, and still be weirdly imprisoned by them.

LB: I know. It’s like when you’re a kid, and you go, well infinity goes on until . . . uh, hold on.

OED: We haven’t talked about The Diviners much. So, you took off the corset from the Victorian Era, and now you’re in with the flappers. . .  

LB: Wow, Diviners. So I basically just took everything that I’m interested in and threw it into a big Cobb salad of a series. The Diviners is set in the 1920s in New York City. It combines horror and politics and, I suppose, superheroes, in a way. The inspiration for that was, I was writing it as historical and supernatural, but at the same time I had wanted to write something about post-9/11 America. Because, and this is four or five years ago, I thought, we are doing things like waterboarding, we are torturing people and calling it “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Is this really the America that I belong to? You know, what is it, this America, how is it that we’re letting this happen? . . . So I started reading up on the 1920s, and I was doing this research. And as I looked at it I thought, well holy cow, we never learn anything do we? Because there were all these uncomfortable parallels between the two, like the anti-immigration fervor, the fears of terrorism because of anarchism and the red scare, and the eugenics movement, which is scary as hell. So you know I’m looking and start reading about all of this stuff, and I thought, wow, the monsters that we think we’re fighting are never as scary as the monsters that are actually happening. And so it is a story about America and politics, and the American myth, and flappers and booze and things that go bump in the night. And monsters.

OED: I absolutely love the heroine.

LB: She’s pretty unapologetic.

OED: She’s fun to hang out with.

LB: You know that if you ever got stuck somewhere, she would have the gin.

—————————————–

Postlude: Libba Bray making me feel better about the Jennifer Egan thing.

LB: No, I have been there. My friend Laurie still talks about my John Turturro story.

OED: Oh my god, you met John Turturro?

LB: Yeah, because he used to live in my neighborhood, and he was on the train one night. And it was like I had fucking Tourettes, man. I don’t know what my deal was. I went up to him–and first of all, whatever possessed me to go up and speak to him?–but I went up to him, this was maybe 15, 18 years ago, and I went up to him and was like, “I just have to tell you, I think you’re really great.”

And he was like, “Thank you.”

“I just, I just, I think you’re great.”

He’s like, “Thank you.”

I was like, “No, I mean, like Barton Fink, you were, you’re great. You’re so, so great.”

And he moves away from me. “Thank you. Thank you.”

“Just, yeah. No, I’d go see you in anything, I would see you in anything. You’re just, you’re so–” And inside I’m screaming Shut up! Shut up! Jesus Christ, shut your pie-hole! And it’s like I can’t stop, I cannot stop telling him how great he is. And he is so gracious, and the doors open and he bolts. And I’m standing on the subway going, I just made an ass of myself. I made an ass of myself with John Turturro. Yeah.

OED: So now there’s this person that will now forever think of you–like they’ll ever think of us ever again!–but like, if they do, they’ll be like, oh remember that crazy person who just was completely out of line every second? Yeah, totally.

LB: So, you’re among friends.

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