social issues

All posts in the social issues category

Quit Complicating Your Kids’ Questions About Gender and Sexuality

Published April 6, 2016 by April Fox

Every time legislation is passed that has anything to do with civil rights, things like being allowed to marry or use the bathroom in peace or whatever, people start using children as proxies for their fear and lack of understanding. It spreads like a rash across social media, this epidemic of made-up conversations kids are having with the adults in their lives and the resulting deep and moving concern about what to tell the children. “What am I supposed to say when little Khloweei asks about the gay couple in the produce section? How am I supposed to explain transsexuals in the bathroom? My child is too young to be talking about sex!”

Spoiler alert, in case you don’t want to read this whole super-long thing: You don’t have to talk about sex. It isn’t about sex, even. Not at all. I know, it’s shocking, what with the gays and the trannies humping each other all over the bus stop and the amusement parks and shit like that. I know they look like normal people doing normal things with their normal lives, but underneath, totally humping, willy-nilly everywhere.

But really, I’m sorry if you’re confused about how to address your kids’ questions. I’m not belittling that, at all. My kids have asked some things that have made me wish for a time machine so that I could go back and hide in the bathroom five minutes before they decided to ask. Kids ask some intense questions, and some very serious questions, and those should without a doubt be answered. But. (You know me, there’s always a but.)

Here’s what’s really important to remember: children don’t think like adults.

To a small child, everything is new and different. They don’t have decades of experience and context to which they can relate their everyday lives and observations, like we do. Their points of reference are self-centered. I don’t mean that in the negative way it’s often used, but literally: their experience centers around themselves.

And so when you’re standing at a crosswalk beside two men holding hands, you’re taking in everything: They’re adults. They’re smiling at each other, leaning into each other, laughing quietly. One has a take-out box from that fancy candle-lit restaurant up the street; clearly, they’re on a date, and if they only got one box for leftovers, they must be going home together. One man has a bottle of wine tucked into his elbow. They’re going home to drink wine. It’s going to be romantic. They’ll probably end up having sex. That’s what’s running through your head when your child says, “Mommy, why are those boys holding hands?”

You know what’s going through your kid’s head, most likely? Why do those boys have to hold hands to cross the street? They’re grown-ups. Grown-ups can go by themselves. That’s weird.  So how do you answer that question? Try something like, “Sometimes people hold hands when they like each other. I guess they must like each other.” Chances are, your kid is going to give you a really insightful response, probably something along the lines of, “Oh. Look, there’s a squashed caterpillar on the sidewalk. Can I touch it?”

When your child asks why Auntie has a girlfriend, he’s probably not wondering why she prefers women to men. It’s probably just the same question kids ask roughly eleven million times a day: Why? Why are my socks blue? Why is that spaghetti? Why is that lady’s butt so big? Why can’t I touch that squashed caterpillar? Why does Auntie have a girlfriend?

And just like above, it’s a pretty simple answer: “They must like each other.”

If your child is old enough that he’s beginning to understand what kind of relationships are more common than others and to notice when things look a little different than what he’s used to, and his question really is about why Auntie likes girls and not boys, that’s an easy answer too: “Some girls like other girls.” If they ask for more, you can give that information without making everything about sex. I’m pretty sure when your kid asked you why you and Daddy got married, for example, you didn’t say, “Well, Snugglemuffin, we just wanted to make sure your daddy would be able to stick his pecker in me every night for the rest of his life.” You probably talked about love and happiness and friendship — and those are the same things you talk about when you’re talking about Auntie and her girlfriend. Easy peasy, man. You don’t even have to learn anything new.

Of course, the big thing now is transgender. Everybody’s freaking out about the transgenders in the bathrooms and Oh…my… Gawwwwwwd what if my precious little snowflake Mhaddisynne Claire goes in the bathroom and sees a person who looks like a man in a dress? WHAT DO I TELL HER?”

Well first off, tell her potty time is privacy time, which is what you should have been telling her since she was old enough to start having a decent grasp of receptive language.

If it does come up, if your little one sees someone with masculine-appearing features in traditionally feminine clothing and says (at the top of her lungs, at that piercing pitch children only hit when they’re saying something that makes you want to crawl into the toilet and die) “Why is that man wearing a dress?” what the heck do you say?

I’ll tell you. If that happens, then you go, like, “That’s a lady.”

And then if your kid is like, “That looks like a man,” then you go, “People look all different ways. She’s just trying to use the restroom, like you are. Go wash your hands. Go. Use soap. Not that much soap.” (Because that’s how bathroom conversations always end, I don’t care if there’s a band of Civil War reenacting drag queens in there, you’re going to say the soap thing. And also, you really don’t know, do you? Unless you’re the weirdo peeking up her skirt, you don’t know that that lady isn’t a biological woman with stronger features than most.)

I’m not saying not to have conversations about gender and sexuality with your kids. These are issues they’re going to face, if not personally, than as witnesses as their family and friends deal with them. But it’s ridiculous to think these conversations have to center around what people do in their private bedrooms or wardrobes. If you wouldn’t talk about the sex lives or genitalia of straight, cisgendered people, then it’s not appropriate conversation-period. As your child gets older, your conversations can become more comprehensive, but when your child is small, your answers about sexuality and gender should be as simple and gentle as conversations about love and death and anything else that you have a responsibility to explain. Don’t complicate it. Teach love, compassion, respect and inclusion, and your simple answers will grow into understanding soon enough.

 

 

On Beliefs, and Why They’re Irrelevant

Published December 10, 2015 by April Fox

Belief: n:

  1. a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing

  2. something believed; especially :  a tenet or body of tenets held by a group

  3. conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence  –Merriam Webster.

There seems to be some confusion lately about the importance of beliefs. We have people running around spouting all kinds of cruel, nasty, ugly, misinformed shit that makes no sense at all, and another group of people (often overlapping) running around spouting all kinds of shit about how it’s okay to spout the crazy shit because we have to respect everyone’s beliefs. It’s okay to want to marginalize and demonize and actually physically harm people because your beliefs say it’s okay, right?

Except the reality is, we don’t really have to respect anyone’s beliefs, unless by “respect” you mean “ignore,” because BELIEFS DON’T MATTER.

Beliefs are opinions. They’re feelings. They don’t make a darn bit of difference because they live inside your head and nobody else is in there but you. Now, beliefs can influence behavior, and that’s something you have to worry about.

For example, let’s say you believe you’re a rottweiler. You believe this because you like to try and chew on your feet, and you chased a cat once, and you have black hair and cute little brown eyebrows. Or just because someone told you when you were a kid that if you didn’t believe you were a rottweiler, you were going to burn up in a fiery pit for ever and ever and ever. It doesn’t matter why you believe it, you just do, and that’s cool. You can post pictures of your Kibbles n’ Bits dinner all over social media, people might think it’s kind of strange, but you’re not hurting anyone. If someone asks why you believe you’re a rottweiler, you can tell them, and share that belief with anyone you like. You can choose to wear a spiked collar because they look cool as shit on a rottweiler (and also on some people, although I haven’t worn mine in years). You can even bark when someone knocks on the door, if you want. You might scare away the pizza guy, but then again, he might just drop the box and run, and free pizza is awesome, even when you’re a dog.

Here’s where it gets tricky.

You believe that you’re a rottweiler, and you start trying to force restaurants to stop serving things like soysage souffle (soysage is a thing, I’m not even kidding) and serve Kibbles n’ Bits instead because Kibbles n’ Bits is the only good thing to eat. You want to close down the cathouses and terrariums and turn everything into a dog park because you’re a rottweiler and rottweilers are better than other animals. You start humping people’s legs and pissing on their tires and all of a sudden your beliefs are making you act batballs motherfucking crazy and it’s not about respecting your beliefs at all, it’s about get your red rocket off my leg, you fucking asshole.

And so now imagine that scenario applied to people. That’s what’s happening all over America right now: people are letting their beliefs, to which they are one hundred percent entitled, turn them into raging leg-humping tire-pissing jackholes, and we’re all sitting around going “no no, it’s just my leg, it’ll wash off, because we have to respect everyone’s beliefs.

Respecting other people’s beliefs has not a single goddamn thing to do with letting people be mean to each other, letting them be racist or xenophobic or homophobic or any other fucking euphemism you want to use to sugarcoat the reality which is that some people are fucking mean-spirited jerks and you don’t get to use your beliefs to get away with that shit.

Mutual respect is always good. Being considerate of others is wonderful. We live in a huge, diverse community, and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s lovely to be supportive and understanding of things that are important to the people around us, including their systems of belief. But it is just as important to make sure people know that it is not okay to use your beliefs as launchpads for your prejudice and hate.

Now go fetch my slippers and quit humping my leg, you fucking nut.

 

 

Bliss 

Published December 2, 2015 by April Fox

Assume the position 

It’s time for your daily 15 minutes of outrage

time for furrowed brows and fingertips to lips and scripted measures

of concern

your eyes so blacked by ignorance 

you can’t see the gun in your hand. 

Let us pray

for the victims

this sorrowful collection of

lone gunmen. 

Why does this keep happening? Lord, someone make it stop.

And let he who is without sin

fire the first shot.

  

  

The Smallest Ones

Published November 20, 2015 by April Fox

In my nightmares, there are children playing in a field of tall grass, so tall that the only way I know the children are there is by the sound of their voices and the way the grass moves as they run. Then there are men, impossibly tall men, dressed all in camouflage, with guns strapped to their chests and their sides. They tower above the grass as if they’re on stilts. They look as if they weigh a thousand pounds. They are wearing high pointed hoods that cover their faces, like the KKK, but these too are camouflage. The grass and sky seem almost fluorescent against the dull shades of the uniforms. The men are walking through the field, swinging heavy sticks from side to side, like chasing rodents from the grain. When the children’s laughter stops, the soldiers’ begins.

I’m half-awake and dreaming this, vaguely aware of my husband’s hand moving to smooth my hair, hearing his voice from far away, but unable to wake up. It’s been like this since Paris happened. I wonder if Paris is going to become one of those ominous things we say, the meaning changed forever, like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor: no further explanation necessary.

Normally I use Facebook as kind of an escape, a place to share photos with friends and family, to share in their lives from a distance, to grumble about waking up early or the wheels falling off of my quirky old Beetle. I get angry and political sometimes, and when I see things that make me roll my eyes or groan in disgust, I remind myself why I don’t scroll through my newsfeed much. But after Paris, I had to stop checking in at all. Every time I logged in, there was more and more ugliness. I tried to counter it at first, tried sharing my own thoughts there and was met with the usual words of agreement from the people who usually agree with me, but this wasn’t one of those times I needed to just vent and get it out of my system. This was a kind of ugliness that I hadn’t seen before in such massive force. There were people everywhere, everywhere, directing their words of hate and violence toward people who were lost and suffering, not toward terrorists or soldiers but toward families, men and women who were trying to keep their children safe. They were throwing hate and promises of harm at children running away in fear. Children, like mine and yours and the ones next door and across the globe who didn’t have the geographical misfortune to be born inside a war zone. Children whose brown faces are streaked with tears and whose parents call their Abrahamic god by a different name than those who make the threats.

I think about the times that me and mine have been given refuge. I think about the times that people who didn’t have to help did, not because of shared religion or ethnicity but because of shared humanity. I think about the people who could look at a child, any child, anywhere, and see anything but promise. And then I just can’t think anymore. I can’t think, I can’t write, I can’t answer the phone, I get through the day one autopilot step at a time, only really coming to life when I’m teaching or with my children. Guilt for all the things I screwed up with my own kids has come back with a vengeance, and I turn those things over and over in my head with the images of the refugees, the smallest ones. I don’t understand how a parent can think about any child and want to turn them away. I don’t understand how a parent could want to teach their own children that that’s the right thing to do, at all.

I wrote this next bit a couple months ago, but it sums up how I feel now pretty well. Haven’t we all sought refuge from something, sometime?

This has been a trying week, with a lot of scary things happening close to home and around the world. I’ve been simultaneously trying to wrap my head around it all and to pretend that I don’t see the ugliness, and I keep coming back to this one thing that I simply cannot understand. With all the things that you can teach a child:

To paint a picture
To hula hoop
To identify birds by their songs
To play an instrument
To speak another language
To write in cursive
To grow tomatoes
To tie their shoes
To write their name
To play hopscotch
-or Go Fish
-or Parcheesi
-or Mario Kart
To bake a cake
To care for a pet
To wash their hands
To dance
To tell a joke
To practice gratitude
To love

Why would anyone want to teach them how to hate?

little ones

Refuge.

Published November 19, 2015 by April Fox

They are laughing in the sand,

their high-pitched voices crossing over and under each other and up

into the sky

into the clouds

dirty hands reaching for each other,

circling around

singing songs whose words we cannot recognize

but the tune is universal;

nursery rhymes are all the same.

They are smaller than the dogs who bark behind them

they are larger than the biggest men who wake up in the morning

ready for the hunt

they are oblivious to war

because war is all they know.

In the dark, their voices quiet

they are every child alive

they are sewer rats, princesses

trailer trash and debutantes

reaching for the shore

they are holding hands and dancing,

singing in the light

while the righteous and the holy scream in outrage:

Kill the children.

The Innkeepers

Published November 16, 2015 by April Fox

The innkeepers are waiting

their flags are on display:

sharp-edged stars and

stripes like blood and bone;

they are waiting for the visitors

to come.

Hand to brow, megaphones

in hand, they stare

across the ocean

they are waiting

for the visitors

to come.

When the boats approach the shore,

tired arms reaching out

battered, broken, devastation

written on their hearts

the innkeepers retreat,

turn out the lights and bolt the doors

hang the signs:

No Vacancy

there is no shelter here

for the weary and the lost

there is no solace here

for the visitors

who’ve come.

Asheville’s Helpmate Hosts a Vigil to Help End Domestic Violence

Published September 28, 2015 by April Fox

A portion of the royalties from my latest book, Spine, will be used to benefit Helpmate, a local non-profit organization that helps women and their children who are in, escaping, and recovering from domestic violence situations. 
There’s a popular myth that women stay because they love their abusers and think they’ll change. That is certainly true in some cases, but in many, the things that keep women there are far less romantic: fear, threats, financial limitations, a belief that there are no other options. Helpmate works to educate women and the general public about ways to escape dangerous situations, and provides direct links to resources that help ensure the physical and emotional safety of people affected by domestic violence. 
I’m asking my friends and family to please help spread awareness about Helpmate’s annual domestic violence vigil, this Thursday October 1, in downtown Asheville. Please feel free to copy and paste this message along with your post. 
Thank you, loves. 
  

The Always “Like A Girl” Commercial Tackles Gender Stereotypes

Published June 30, 2014 by April Fox

Feminine hygiene products aren’t usually known for being empowering. They serve a purpose, sure, and those of us of the womanly persuasion are certainly grateful that they exist in their modern form, but they’re not exactly thought provoking, beyond “Hmmm, is today going to be a Super day or an Ultra day?” This commercial from Always, though, is a little different. It does make you think. And it might just give a little bit of power back to young women who’ve forgotten what it really means to be a girl.

This video doesn’t really have much to do with tampons or pads. Rather, it shows us a kind of sociological exercise: actors are told to perform certain actions “like a girl,” and the results are a little disheartening. Many of the actors perform the actions in exaggerated, stereotypical ways: weakly flinging a hand when asked to throw like a girl, jogging in place with arms and legs flailing haphazardly when asked to run like a girl. Even the young women actors behaved this way in the first segment. Although they are girls themselves, they acted out these normal everyday activities in ways that made them look like caricatures, exaggerated for comic effect.

The younger actors, who appear to be pre-teens, interpreted the instructions differently. One young girl appears as only a flash of color across the screen as she shows what it is to run like a girl. Another, asked to kick like a girl, jabs her leg fiercely and confidently into the air. They are doing things “like a girl,” the way they do them every day.

Somewhere along the way, it looks like doing things “like a girl” comes to mean doing them weakly and ineffectively. This isn’t going to be the case with all girls, of course. My older daughter, a former soccer star, is a petite young lady who likes wearing pretty sundresses and painting her nails. I’m fairly certain that if you asked her to kick like a girl, you’d be in danger of having your head knocked off your shoulders by a well-placed size seven sandal.

Still, I worry about this with Baby Girl– not so much that she’ll see the way she does things as wrong because she’s a girl, but that she’ll change the way she does them in order to appear more “like a girl.” It goes both ways, sometimes. Right now she’s proud of her strong, muscular legs. She’s a dancer, and it shows. When she plays sports with her brothers, she plays hard. But she’s almost 13, and I worry that she’ll start falling prey to the idea that in order to be more “like a girl” she’ll have to downplay her physical strength, start to dislike her athletic build, create a version of herself that fits the popular idea of woman as the weaker sex. I don’t want her to forget that she is beautiful with her strong legs and mind and shoulders, and then create a new, flimsier version of herself. She is absolutely gorgeous, and her strength and skill are part of what makes her beautiful. Her confidence in her ability radiates. I don’t want her to ever lose that.

I’m probably the least athletic person on the planet. I can’t catch a ball, I’m totally uncoordinated, and when I run, I’m sure I look like the sloppy, disjointed characters portrayed in this video. But that doesn’t mean that I do those things like a girl, it means I do them like a person with absolutely no coordination. It means my strength is somewhere else–just where, I’m still trying to figure out. We need to make sure our girls know that it’s okay to be physically strong, and reassure our boys that not being athletically inclined doesn’t mean that they’re “girly.” We have to make sure that we acknowledge our children’s strengths and weakness without defining them in terms of gender.

With all of the body-shaming that goes on these days–from both sides, skinny and fat–and social media having a greater influence in young women’s lives, we need more messages like this one. It’s okay to be a girl, and to do things “like a girl.” And what that means is just to be the best you can be, no matter what you’re doing.

Legal Medical Research Facility Raided by SWAT Team

Published March 4, 2014 by April Fox

I wrote this article last night for Liberal America.  Imagine that you acquired your drivers license and bought a car that you registered, titled, got tags for, had inspected per state regulations, paid the taxes on. And one day as you’re driving down the road, you’re surrounded by police cars with their sirens flashing, voices yelling at you to pull over immediately. Policemen point guns at your children and order them out of the car. You’re arrested for driving without a license, with no tags or registration. Your car is impounded and you’re facing jail time. That kind of injustice is what this case is about. Todd Stimson is facing prison time for running a business that he had been given permission, by the state, to run. It doesn’t matter what your opinion is about marijuana, medical or otherwise. What matters is that the state is attempting to imprison someone for doing something they said he could do.

The link to the full story for Liberal America is below, along with a link to a brief video of Todd Stimson talking about his family’s ordeal.

http://www.liberalamerica.org/2014/03/03/north-carolina-businessman-faces-prison-after-raid-on-legal-medical-cannabis-research-business/

Autistic Child’s Family Targeted by Vicious Anonymous Letter

Published August 19, 2013 by April Fox

By now, you may have heard about or read the disgusting letter sent to the parents of an autistic child in Newcastle, Ontario.

My first thought, despite generally being a pacifist and too small to do much damage to anyone, was that I’d like five minutes alone with a piece of rebar and the pathetic piece of shit that wrote the letter. My next thought was that I really want to hug the hell out of those parents, because God, what a horrible thing to have to read. I felt physically ill reading it. I can’t imagine reading those things directed at my own child. I can’t imagine the kind of cruel and damaged mind that would make someone say those things, either.

My next thought was that this idiot could use some writing lessons from my autistic kid, not that I’d let him within a hundred yards of such a caustic person.

I have a friend who is raising two beautiful, bright little boys with autism (and one equally beautiful and bright boy without, just to keep things interesting). She posted about this on Facebook earlier, and made an excellent point: “I don’t think raising a child with disabilities is horrific by any means, but raising a child who would pick on one would be.”

YES. Exactly that. Our kids have autism. They have a challenge that makes different parts of their lives more difficult. Socializing, communicating, being heard, simply finding comfort in their environment: these are challenges our kids face every day. Our kids also have a million different gifts, both in spite of and because of their autism. They are quirky, they are insightful, they are charming and wise in ways that the writer of this letter could never in a thousand years hope to be.

Children with autism are human, above all else. The person who wrote this filthy letter is worth no more than the sack of garbage I just took out to the curb. Old orange peels, coffee grounds, wadded up tissues full of snot and other things you don’t want to touch: none are as vile as the kind of person who could say these things about a child.

This blog is not anonymous, unlike the cowardly letter this cretin wrote. I have no problem at all putting my name and face to this statement: those parents, and that child, are worth a million of you, hiding behind your excessive exclamation points and gaudy pink paper. I hate knowing that you’ve reproduced, because it sickens me to think that you will be raising other humans to be just as ignorant, cruel and disgusting as you are. We are not ashamed of our children, but if you had one ounce of self-respect, you’d be incredibly ashamed of yourself right now. You’re pathetic.

*Edit: I just posted a follow-up to this, addressing some of the problems this letter-writer has, and offering some solutions. You can read it here.

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