Marissa Explains it All #41 – “Why Didn’t You Just…”

TW: Sexual assault

I was sexually assaulted in the summer of 2014. Twice.

Once was by a guy who gave me a roofied drink. Once was by a woman who didn’t listen to me say the word “no” repeatedly.

Since that time, I have read countless stories, talked to countless people, and seen countless events unfold where people have been assaulted, threatened, abused, and worse. There’s one thing that they all seem to have in common, more or less: Someone saying “Why didn’t you just X?”

Maybe X is “Why didn’t you just leave if he was abusing you?” or “Why didn’t you just call the police if you were assaulted?” Regardless of what X is, it’s indicative of a first reaction that a good percentage of people seem to have when listening to someone else’s story. The instinct to find out what they could’ve done differently, or what they did wrong, or what they didn’t do in time, or how they didn’t handle it. “Why didn’t you just X” is the epitome of victim-blaming. At least as much as “we live in such a victim culture” is a kiss-off to those who have suffered assault or abuse.

The shift of blame making it to the person who violated consent or harmed another person is hard to traverse. Whether it’s the school not knowing what to do or a friend not knowing how to help, their actions are almost secondary in the eyes of many. “It couldn’t have been that bad if you stayed” or “maybe you said yes but just regretted it afterward.”

I don’t think it’s a lack of empathy. I think it’s symptomatic of a system that has been put in place to not deal with people getting away with shit. It protects those who are just being young or throwing a ball or not wanting their lives to be ruined forever by removing the consent from another person and taking something that isn’t theirs. Why these systems are in place, I’m not sure, but they’re there.

Any post you encounter on Facebook of someone talking about these things will not only be met with these victim-blaming questions, but will also have comparative questions of their agency. “They don’t live in the Middle East, so it can’t be that bad.” “They survived, so it can’t be that bad.” There’s always an excuse for why it happened. There’s always an excuse for why it could’ve been worse.

Meanwhile, a person is having a panic attack when they see their attacker every single day, and the campus police are too busy asking what they wore. There’s bureaucratic nightmares lying between the victim and justice of any kind. There are untested rape kits, hidden stories, avoiding of bad PR, and Gaslighting Central from abusers who either don’t know they’re abusers or want to keep getting away with it.

So many people want to blame the person who was assaulted. So many people want to blame the person who was abused.

I don’t know what to do about this. No matter how many speak out about their stories, there are shitty people looking to make it the fault of the person who received this treatment, rather than confront a culture that protects and welcomes these behaviors, or at least excuses them with anything from “that’s how it happens in romantic movies” to “boys just being boys.”

I didn’t go to the cops when I was raped for multiple reasons. I’m a trans person, so they’d likely think it was my fault for existing, that me being open and public was an invitation to such behavior, since some people link us being trans with some kind of sexual fetish or perversion. A woman did it, and enough people think that in and of itself is impossible. And, because I spent so much time, even to this day, asking the very questions that so many people throw on the abused and the victimized, still blaming myself on some level.

When people get abused or raped, because of how this society treats those who have been, it’s nearly impossible to not internalize these victim-blaming tendencies. “I could’ve done better.” “I should’ve seen it coming.” “I should’ve gotten out earlier.” “I should’ve trusted my instinct.” Because so many people are set against believing us or finding any way that it couldn’t have possibly been the perpetrator’s fault, at least entirely, we start to believe it ourselves.

When I was the recipient of repeated unwanted touching earlier this year, my first self-criticism wasn’t on how better to protect myself, but on how I didn’t say “no” assertively enough. On how I put myself in a position for that to happen. On how I should’ve known better.

In other words, victim-blaming is so common that I ended up doing it to myself.

If that isn’t indicative that we have a major problem when it comes to helping those who have suffered these situations, I don’t know what is. But I can tell you this: if someone comes to you and tells you that they’ve been abused, attacked, assaulted, or anything else…

Instead of asking what they were doing or how they could’ve stopped it or suggesting what they could’ve done differently, start by telling them that you believe them. Just knowing that someone in the world to whom they’ve trusted enough to admit these events believes you is a step that many people need in order to start coping with what happened in the first place.

One that happens all too seldom in the stories of many. I’ve even seen recently when women quote statistics of how many people are assaulted or have been abused, someone will inevitably respond “that seems a bit high.”

Yeah. It is. And the fact that your first reaction is disbelief does nothing but prove that further. Stop blaming people for what abusers, assaulters, rapists, and violators have done and start supporting those they’ve hurt rather than trying to find out what they could’ve done better to stop it in your eyes. If you’ve ever wondered why more people don’t speak up or step forward, your answer lies in those reactions.

Believe people when they tell you something’s happened to them. Start there, and then move forward with the rest.

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Marissa Explains It All #38 – Questioning

There was a bit of an altercation on a thread for one of my shows today, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around everything as best I can. Unfortunately, I’m left with more questions than answers, so I suppose this post will have me explaining my questions rather than divulging my usual way. Forgive the endless series of wonders that I’ll go through here, but I’m trying to reach for something tangible in all this.

On one of my podcasts, we spoke to a trans person who talked about having to go “undercover” as their assigned gender at birth while teaching in Zambia so as not to be put in jail for 14 years. A bad joke and a reference later, and I named the show after it, replacing part of a line from Toto’s “Africa” with our show catch phrase because… silly song, sarcastic reference, nothing bad intended.

On the thread for it this morning, it was called out for being racist, and I wanted to ask why. I wanted to understand how it was doing so. I’ve tried to do nothing but ask questions since, but I come up with more questions than answers, as I stated in the beginning.

Just as it’s not a cis person’s place to tell me when something is transphobic, it’s not my place to tell a POC whether something is or is not racist, which is why I asked if anything I did disparaged anyone. I was then explained the history of colonization and imperialism, about which I’m not familiar but again it’s not my place to question, and then the guest was reprimanded for “changing the topic” to LGBT oppression… on an LGBT show whose thread was an interview with someone who had to pretend they were someone they weren’t in order to help build schools in Zambia without going to jail.

I don’t understand how a reference to an admittedly problematic song reinforces racism, but I changed the name of the show because I don’t feel like I should tell someone it isn’t. But within the thread, it was stated more than once that all white people are racist, as they benefit from the systematic oppression of POC; the second part of which is of course demonstrably true.

I tried replacing some of the words to see if I could find something tangible to grab on to. As an Autistic person, sometimes I need to do that in order to process it, but I’m finding myself more lost the more I think about it. If we start with the idea that an entire group of people is automatically racist, where do we go from that? If we’re all grouped in with those who actively oppress, how do we work to improve that situation? I know we don’t rely on “I’m not racist, I do this,” but I always want to improve, be more educated, and try to be better than I was yesterday, and I don’t see a way to do that here.

I try to ask so that I can listen, because I don’t feel qualified to speak on these issues. You can be privileged in one area and not another, and that gives you a unique perspective on knowing when to speak and when not to. Where I don’t have cis or male privilege, I do have white privilege, and that’s important to recognize. When I’m asked about the murder rate of trans POC, I don’t feel qualified to speak on that topic because I don’t feel my voice is the one that needs to be platformed on that specific issue. I try to find others who speak from experience or better knowledge than I do.

I know the answer is to sometimes not speak at all, and I get that. When it comes to race issues, I don’t know that experience. I can definitely speak on trans issues though, and that’s what our show is specifically about. If the title was racist or evoked negativity in that way, I felt obligated to change it, whether or not I understood it. Again, not my place to decide.

But what do I do from here? I don’t want to be racist. I try my best not to do or say problematic things or support people who do, but where do I go from there. If we’re all automatically the same as the active oppressors, I don’t know where to go from that point, and I feel the need to distinguish between “I’m not racist, but…” and “I don’t want to be racist,” meaning if I am, I want to work toward not being so. I definitely want to be corrected, I definitely want to be educated, I definitely want to learn, but what do I do if there’s nothing to be done, or nothing I can do to escape it?

These are questions I don’t feel qualified to answer, and I hope I’m not being problematic in doing so. On one hand, I feel like if I said that all cis people benefit from cis privilege and are therefore transphobes, that would be very problematic, and I wouldn’t say that beyond the intentionally-joking manner of “hecking the cis.” I also acknowledge that those are not the same situations, but I’m trying to grasp them somehow so I can understand, learn, acknowledge, and grow.

And even in writing this, I’ve further confused myself. I actively admit this is beyond my understanding, and if I get told to stay in my lane, then I should. But I don’t know what to do while I’m there either, and that’s where I find the most confusion of all.

Marissa Explains It All #36 – Defaulting to Apathy

Written One Year Ago: July 25th, 2016.

Put your political allegiance and ideology aside for a few minutes here, before you read what I’m about to say. It’s easy to blame the media and government for what happens, but I want you to consider an alternate explanation for something that’s going on right now.

There are just a lot of people in this country who love to bitch. They love to bitch about what’s not happening, what’s not getting done, and what’s not going right. But they’re also the ones who bitch about anything that anyone does in order to help things go right, to fix an issue, to try to get something done. No matter what it is or who says it, they call everyone who thinks about it an idiot and criticize any idea proposed and anyone who tries to propose them.

The default position in this country is not right or left, it’s stagnation. It’s not liberal or conservative, it’s willful ignorance. It’s celebrating the lack of not having any attachment or taking a stand on anything, and thus equating the act of not participating to the right to bitch and complain about everything, somehow believing that is the hard position to take.

It’s not. Not taking a stand or commitment to any stance, any ideology, any event, any controversy, is the easy way out. It’s the way to not have to think about things. It’s the way to complain about things without having an alternate solution, or being called on for one, for that matter. We celebrate ignorance in this society, from an education perspective as well as an awareness one. You’re too political if you care about something going on, you’re shaming, ranting, sharing propaganda, influenced by the media, sheeple, a libtard, Republitard, or any other ableist name that makes people think they’re being clever and original, all the while using deflecting tactics to avoid having a thought.

I’d rather have a conversation with someone closed-minded who commits to an opinion than an open-minded person who takes a stance on nothing. For all the complaining we get about the oligarchy, political stagnation, the two-party system, crumbling infrastructure, or anything else that we use to blame government as if it’s a big fuck-all building with people in monocles twisting their mustache and guffawing. And the people who complain about their inefficiency are also convinced that they’re responsible for making every tragic event in this country a conspiracy cover-up, or saying that it’s distracting us from what’s really going on. They can’t do anything right, except orchestrate mass cover-ups and diversionary tactics that everyone but them believes. That makes sense.

On top of that, anyone who comes along who wants to do something about the system is derided, called a wasted vote, not taken seriously, and not given any chance to have a snowball’s chance in hell in the general, and anyone who opts for those who are trying to change the system are derided for equating the support of an independent, a Libertarian, a Green, a Whig, a Free Soil, a Know-Nothing, a Communist, a Socialist, a Pikachu, an Abnegation, a Hufflepuff, a Mystic, a Gamma, an Ajah, a Prole, a Blue Meanie, a Goonie, a Thuggee, a Greaser, a Na’Vi, a Fire Bender, a Morelock, a Rohirrim, a Hooman, a Brotherhood without Banners, a Democratic Republican, a Republican Democrat, a Crystal Gem, a Vox Populi, a Scav, or even Vermin Supreme who might just be insane enough to challenge President Whitmore on the next ticket because hello boys I’m back and all, are tossed aside before the election even begins, given no platform or opportunity, because a majority of people who claim to be dissatisfied with the system and hate everyone also are against anything that changes the status quo. After all, that’s easier, requires less effort, and has less uncertainty. Who knows what you might get from a Morelock, they’re crazy man, and without Team Red or Team Blue to choose, how would you identify yourself and save face at that thing where people congregate and discuss stuff?

So don’t tell those who are trying something different to shut up and go away, or to just vote for your person because you fear the other, as if only two people are running for President or should even be considered. Give them a voice, give them a chance, and put them in the debates and on the tickets so they’re not just a strange name no one’s ever heard when you reach the booth. And don’t write them and their supporters off the minute you hear about them because you fear the big fuck-all candidate, whoever that may be at the time. Voting out of fear seldom leads to anything good.

Remember, the person considered the best president in our country’s history was running from a party that had only been formed four years prior, against three candidates resulting from other split parties over a tremendous issue, and he won with 39 percent of the vote. I’d say Mr. Lincoln turned out all right for this country.

If all we do is complain, but keep electing the same people that have a 9-percent approval rating and do nothing of consequence to change the system everyone hates, then we need to stop pretending that not doing anything gives us full, criticism-free platforms from which to bitch and moan all the time. Just like a coach or an unpopular foreign group, government and media are consolidated into a big thing that we just like to yell about, and if that’s all we’re going to do, at least be honest about it. “I don’t like the way things are, but if I try to change it, I might have to find something new to bitch about, so I’ll pick the lesser of two evils, whomever that may be, because that’s better than actually thinking and taking action. And more fun.”

There’s so much bullshit and hyperbole in politics that selling it on a four-year cycle of elections gets ratings and media profits through the roof. They’re not the ones who created it, they’re the farmer filling the trough because it’s empty every day and it somehow remains a bottomless pit. If scaring the shit out of people and pitting them against each other was ever unprofitable, it wouldn’t dominate every second of media because that’s not how businesses work. If people truly didn’t get a smug satisfaction and sense of Schadenfreude out of it, it wouldn’t exist. It’s only a reflection of what the consumers want, and election rhetoric from the major political parties is a mirror of the times as well.

If you don’t like it, let’s start doing things to change the system and challenge people to step up. Or, at the very least, stop casting aside those who do. It doesn’t make you superior to not care or pretend that you’re above it all, so stop acting like it does, and stop giving credence to people who do nothing but complain no matter what happens. The Undecideds aren’t the noble among us, carefully weighing every single platform until the last second, because anyone who doesn’t commit to anything or can’t make up their mind doesn’t get the privilege of calling everyone else a sheeple. Sorry.

Marissa Explains it All #35 – Let People Feel

Whether it’s Chester Bennington, Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, or any other person in the mainstream awareness that passes away from these circumstances, the same responses are always so irritatingly prevalent.

“You didn’t know them, stop pretending like you did.”
“Suicide is the coward’s way out.”
“He abandoned his family.”
“Permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
“Fuck them, I didn’t like their work anyway.”

I’m curious why it is so many people seem determined to remove the agency of how people feel from the conversation. What is it about feelings, especially surrounding one of the most difficult situations a person can deal with, that causes others to speak up about how others shouldn’t feel a certain way?

As I described in the last blog, I recently went through the loss of a friend of 14 years, the 18th person I’ve known in my life to have left via suicide. This was shortly before Chester Bennington of Linkin Park resurrected the same conversation I hear as mentioned above, so my feelings are still sort of raw on the topic, and I’ve had to avoid a lot of threads based on that.

What I can’t understand is how some people seem determined to not let anyone feel or grieve, whether it’s because they didn’t care about the person’s work, or because they’re unwilling to acknowledge the impact artists can have on our lives.

I had this conversation a lot when Robin Williams passed, and the graphics and memes were passed around where people were mourning. Whether it was because of the Genie, Good Will Hunting, his standup, or any of his other endeavors, he touched a lot of lives. And there was, as mentioned, the usual offputting responses of “He took the easy way out,” “You didn’t know him, why do you care?” etc.

I think you have to wrap yourself in a layer of ignorance to not think that artists can impact our daily lives. You’ve seen pictures of my library. You’ve heard my interviews with podcasters and activists. Some I consider friends at this point, but they all started out as people who influenced me, or whose voices were prevalent in my life. Losing one of them would be devastating, because their voice or words were a part of me, even if it wasn’t an interpersonal connection.

For many of us who grew up in the late 90s, Linkin Park’s “Hybrid Theory” managed to capture an essence of rebellious youth, of suffering, of being angry and not necessarily knowing why. It was my entire freshman year, especially being in and out of the hospital. Granted, I moved on from it rather quickly, especially when an album of remixes came out. It didn’t catch me anymore, but for that brief moment in time, that screaming and raw emotion captured my inner conflict of the time.

That level of angst was so real for many of us, especially post-9/11 when those of us who were social outcasts were singled out and pushed away. I didn’t last an entire school year after that happened, partially because I wasn’t interested in conforming to my elitist school’s image of what a student should be. Many of us were pushed out the same way. That’s part of what “Voice in the Dark” (available now at rismccool.com and free to patrons at patreon.com/RisMC or patreon.com/incitingincidentpodcast) was really trying to recapture; a time in my life where it seemed like the management was more interested in pushing us away for not wanting to fit a certain model of a student or citizen.

But sometimes, someone who speaks up about those things the most ends up losing their battle with mental illness. Then people call them a coward or someone who abandoned their family or a quitter or a piece of shit for leaving people behind, and you stand there and wonder… “Gee, I can’t imagine why people don’t speak up about these feelings when they have them.” When you stigmatize mental illness, or refer to anyone on anti-depressants as weak, crazy, or say that they just need to go outside, the world can feel empty and alone. People don’t want to reach out for help because they don’t want to be belittled, insulted, or condescended to. Or even worse, proselytized.

I sat through the funeral for a friend recently, and I saw little to no reflection of who my friend was. Instead I heard about Jesus and heaven and the same stories we’ve always heard, but I went there to remember my friend. I cannot emphasize that enough. I kept my mouth shut, even though I know when I’m being stared at (it was a Catholic service), but this was like Aiden’s grandmother’s service. Thirty seconds on his grandmother, 29 minutes and 30 seconds on Jesus and the rapture and going to heaven and salvation.

Maybe it’s because I was raised in a family where you talked about and celebrated the person when they passed, but this seems so foreign to me. I didn’t get that experience of remembering the person until a bunch of us who were friends back in the day sat around a table at the diner and reminisced, laughed, and even teased. To me, that’s always been how to remember someone, and I wish more of that was incorporated into remembrances such as that. I’d rather remember my friend who was an amazing musician than what Jesus said about X. I’d rather acknowledge that he thought he was way better at martial arts than he was, which led to him getting dumped on his ass a few times, than hear about how God called him home because X. It seems so fake, and more to convince people that they shouldn’t be sad because they lost someone because better tomorrow or something.

I mean no disrespect to anyone for whom that is a comfort, but distracting from what’s going on, in my experience, has never been a healthy method of coping. Remembering who the person was and what they meant to you? That’s how you learn to accept what has happened, and remember them fondly.

But yet, we don’t allow people to feel this way when it comes to the death of an artist or celebrity, because you didn’t meet them or know them, so that means you’re not allowed to feel. Feelings are constantly invalidated by those others who are uncomfortable with them, because god forbid things are being discussed that don’t involve you, or are about someone you didn’t personally admire.
Whether it’s about the death of a celebrity, our experience as LGBT people, or anything else that anyone has to deal with, there’s always someone out to tell us what is more important that we’re not focusing on, what is more important than whatever it is being discussed. “Why do you care about X when Y is happening and nobody’s talking about it?”

And usually, whichever Y is, they don’t do anything about it. They only want to stop the conversation, pat themselves on the back for pretending to care about an issue, and then move on like nothing happened because conversation about feelings outside of their box made them uncomfortable, and we can’t be having that shit going on.

Feel what you feel. If an artist meant something to you, celebrate their presence in your life. If a writer captures your imagination, you’re under no obligation to pretend that meant nothing to you when they pass. And for the love of everything, don’t invalidate how someone feels upon their passing just because it isn’t how you feel. We have to deal with that enough without adding grief to something that can’t be expressed without being explained to why it’s wrong and being constantly invalidated.

Marissa Explains It All #32 – Gratitude

Sometimes I feel like I don’t express the gratitude that I feel others deserve enough. Overcompensation ends up becoming a big, and probably annoying, part of my personality, because I never want anyone to think that I’m taking them for granted.

The work that I do has afforded me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. From traveling to Flint and standing with indigenous folk from Standing Rock to being given a platform on which to speak, and even better, for others to listen… The transformation was so quick that it still amazes me when I’m reminded that someone actually knows who I am. My brain hasn’t quite reconciled this yet.

Nearly every day, whether through Facebook, email, or other means, I receive messages and letters from people who ascribe such meaningful platitudes to things I’ve done or said, and I feel incredulous. I’ve looked into the eyes of people to whom I’m speaking and seen tears form because I know I’m reaching them.

I’ve also seen the hate in the eyes of people who consider me subhuman. I’ve seen the ire that the mere mention of the word “transgender” draws, across the spectrum from “kill them all” to “you’re not really women.” It’s easier to take some days than others. When I was speaking in Flint, I was interrupted by a guy who yelled at all of us about insulting the military, when none of our presentation had even mentioned it, and yet I stood calm and trying to understand him where I could’ve yelled and been righteous and nobody would’ve blamed me.

The point is, unless someone directly gets aggressive with me, I want to be open, calm, and understanding. I want to learn from others. I want to hear their stories. I want to see the passion opening up in their eyes as they talk about something they love. What I do has given me the chance to see that with so many people that I wouldn’t know if I didn’t travel to see them. The community farmer outside of Flint whose daughter dressed in pink My Little Pony tights with purple socks and a giant hat. The Standing Rock cast-offs who for some reason wanted to hear what I had to say. The trans kid in the closet who is only out to me. The parent of a queer kid who wants to learn but doesn’t quite understand it.

I don’t know why people listen to me. Many times, I don’t know why I’m speaking in these places. I feel like I should be the one listening to the stories from Flint, or from Atlanta, or from wherever it is I’ve gone. So many people feel unheard, uncared about, unworthy of love that it breaks my heart. People thank me for what I do, but I want them to know that how they feel matters, and their lives are not without value. What they care about and love matters. What makes them happy matters. Their passion, whether it’s growing vegetables or watching Doctor Who, it matters! I can have no clue what you’re talking about, but seeing the passion in your face and body language makes any subject worth it! Unless it’s white supremacy, why Jesus commands you to kill the gays, or something like that, but I think that goes without saying.

The point is, the last few months especially have had me traveling to every corner of this country, and I’m still not used to it. I’m not used to being recognized while walking around a city. I’m not used to strangers asking to take me to lunch or have a picture with me. I’m not used to someone I didn’t already know reading or listening to my bullshit. Even though in some capacity I’ve had that since 2011, The PC Lie, no doubt, brought a lot of eyes to my work that weren’t there before, and I can’t express enough gratitude for anyone who doesn’t have the previous bias of knowing me.

On July 14th, my fourth book since coming out will be published. Noah Lugeons, who contributed an essay to it, read his work on Patreon for his subscribers, and interviewed me for this week’s Scathing Atheist. On that same day, I talked to my cohost Molly about the validation of fears and anxiety, and was on Gaytheist Manifesto talking about self-harm, and hearing the other guest’s voice fall into silence for periods of time that were haunting. What have I done that makes me worthy of being in all these places with such immensely talented people? What have I done that when I travel to Flint, Michigan, which still doesn’t have clean drinking water, that they give me time to speak to them instead of the other way around? I don’t deserve it, and I feel ashamed. They shared two water bottles with me. I’m still having trouble reconciling all of these things, but I also know I need to keep working.

For all the people who aren’t being heard, I try to remind them that even though I’ve been given time to speak, I hear them. Every single email that isn’t filled with slurs and shittiness, it matters to me. I constantly get surprised reactions when I respond to them, and that breaks my heart that so many people out there are being reached out to, and can’t respond. I know how that feels, and I do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen. So many voices are crying out in what they feel is the darkness, an unheard void not being regarded by the rest of the world, but to me, the most powerful tool I can use is my attention. People often ask me how to be a better ally, and I try to take the same advice I always give: Listen.

Sometimes people just need to know that they’re being heard, if not even understood. To see the response of someone nodding or saying that they are valid, it’s so valuable. Even in the world of instant communication and social media, so many feel alone. Try not to take it for granted that someone in your life knows you love them. It’s better to remind them too often than not enough.

I love all of you. I hope none of you ever feel like you’re completely alone. If you’re reading these words, you’re not.

Marissa Explains it All #31 – Screamed At For Existing

For those of you who don’t already know, I am pansexual and polyamorous. I have a husband and two girlfriends, and one of my girlfriends is trans like me. As I’d already been invited to Utah Pride by another podcast, and seeing as she’s from there, I invited her to come spend the time with me before we move in together with my family in St. Paul.

When you live in the East, you often hear combinations of cliches about flyover states, but Utah in particular is associated with the Mormons; people who have a reputation for being overly friendly, but also holding some incredibly bigoted and backward views. I’ve had to live-read the book with Molly Un-Mormon, I’ve read this shit!

But there’s always the promise that in a metropolitan city that hosts a huge Pride festival, it won’t be as bad as, say, having it in a rural area with a bad reputation. The cities are always safer for people like us, right?

The crassness, arrogance, ugliness, and deliberateness of the people in this area surprised me, and I’ve spent the last four years in Philadelphia, the city known to respond to its reputation for being assholes with “At least we’re not as bad as New York!” This was a different beast though.

We weren’t sure where the festival was being held, and we ended up taking an unintentional several mile hike around the city. As people who love each other tend to do when they’re doing something together, we held hands… something you can only find gross or inappropriate if you hold queer people to a different standard than you would anyone else. Apparently, this was the latter.

Slurs were shouted at us from car windows. People passing by made remarks. From all types, from all directions, we were shouted at endlessly for having the nerve to walk on a sidewalk while being trans. And of course we were holding hands, which is like third base in Mormon, so there was also that.

In Philly, someone might shout something at you, but it won’t be an epithet. They’ll tell you to go fuck yourself, but it’ll be for taking a parking space, not for existing. They’ll punch you in the face, but it’ll be for wearing a Cowboys jersey, not for being a minority. That’s the difference I’ve noticed in all my traveling: People are assholes everywhere, but it’s why they choose to be assholes that marks the difference for me.

Even when I was in Lexington, Kentucky, the South, people stared and made remarks under their breath. But to be this verbose and deliberate about it was something different for me, and I held up a little better than she did by returning it with my signature snark, but I can only hold up for so long. We’re human, after all.

It takes a lot of energy to wear armor. It takes the emotional battery to try to shield others from hatred, and no matter how strong you are, sometimes you have to put the shield on the charger and close your eyes and cry. After that, being called “sir” after four times of saying “I’m not a sir,” after being treated like shit in the Staples, and after some of the worst hotel service I’ve ever experienced, I felt drained, apathetic, and just needed to be held in my girlfriend’s arms. The world got too loud.

But as I calmed down, I had to reflect on some other things. Our time that we spent together here was magical, whether it was alone or with friends. Daily messages of admiration and appreciation for what it is that I do keep me going, and I’ll take one of those for every hundred bigots that call me a slur. The memory of those will remain long after the pain from being catcalled has faded.

To spend a night with friends who are genuinely curious about your story and share theirs with you… To learn from new friends, meet their families, and divulge experiences that we may have explained a thousand times, but ears and faces are willing to receive them, that was magical. And even though I had to leave the room several times because the noise got to be too much, the love and support from the friends far outweighs the multitudes of assholes.

Plus I got to meet Misty K. Snow, the first transperson to run for Senate. Or, as Felicia put it, “she wants to meet you.” I still haven’t reached that level of dissonance where I understand that, especially when it’s someone who has done far more in this world than I could ever hope to. I feel like a phony, a fraud, when I stand next to someone like that and people regard us in the same sentence. But they do. I don’t get it, but they do.

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Then, as I awoke this morning, I recalled the Wells Fargo teller who responded to me correcting her use of my name with a compliment. I remembered the affirmative messages that a dozen people sent this weekend. And I saw the look in my girlfriend’s eyes as she woke up next to me and we were still here, still strong, still together, and still ready to fight, even as much as it hurts. I wrote a poem about that moment that I’ll put at the bottom of the page. It was a transcendental moment, no pun intended, and even with all that’s happened, I’m truly grateful for this experience.

I may not have spent a second at Pride, but I still have reasons to celebrate. Sunday, I’ll have my first event as a featured speaker in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and I just got booked at another in Flint, Michigan. I repeat that I don’t know why people want to hear what I have to say, but the best I can do is try not to let them down, especially in these times.

I got a tattoo of the Against Me! lyric/motto/attitude: “True Trans Soul Rebel.” It means that even in the worst of times, when everyone wants us gone or dead, we defy them by continuing to live our lives outside of the closet. We will be loud, we will be defiant, we will express our love without apology, and we will continue to fight against this ugliness and bigotry so that others don’t have to. People like Misty, who ran as a transperson in freaking Utah, help me remember that. If we can take heat off those who are coming out now or in a few years, it’s all worth it.

And this has all been worth it.

I’ll leave you with the aforementioned poem I wrote this morning. Hope to see some of you in Allentown, Flint, and at my live show in July. Thank you.

SMALL MOMENTS BLUES
By Marissa Alexa McCool

The sun peers in from the bay window. The curtains gently unfold ever so slightly, allowing the light of a new day to envelop the darkness. Short breaths, signs of the unseen and subconscious haunting reality slowly dissipate among the new morning rising.

The stacks of books make way for trains of thought, chugging through the heavy slog of the weight of minor sorrows. To compare the slurs and hatred against the affirmations and encouragement, it brings us all to an examination of the balance.

The hatefulness pricks harder, but the love remains long after the sharp stings of ignorance penetrate our armor. Your hand, my hand, united and defiant against what we’re supposed to be, committing revolution by knowing what we’ll face from the public, and choosing to be visible anyway.

Not all life needs to be a fight, this is true. But in finding happiness in simplicity, peacefulness in serenity, we defy the wishes of those who would harm us by smiling to ourselves and each other.

You can call us dykes. You can call us trannies. You can call us queers. You can fight to eliminate us from public life. But every time that we smile at each other and kiss despite you, we’re winning the war.

Marissa Explains it All – #30 – Reflections on Family and Memorial Day

I have trouble with Memorial Day.

Truthfully, I have trouble with all holidays, but this one has an extra few levels of confusion. I’ve never been able to process feeling a certain way just because society or tradition says I’m supposed to. I don’t have that association with tradition; I feel how I feel because that’s how I feel, not because it’s a day and that’s when I’m supposed to feel that way.

Every year, Memorial Day trots out what I like to call the “guilt-trip meme.” It will show soldiers saluting a coffin with a flag draped over it, or a small child being handed a flag, and the caption will say some variation of “just in case you thought it was National BBQ Day.”

That seems rather insulting to our intelligence, especially in a country that puts the military on an untouchable pedestal and no matter how much of the budget is put in defense, one side of the aisle will constantly say that they’re underfunded and underappreciated. Nevermind that they turn around and slash the VA, slash benefits for citizens that include veterans, do nothing to help the homeless and only reference homeless veterans when trying to force a case of moral superiority about taking in refugees… The military itself seems to be regarded as a single entity, through which no member can be criticized, and doing so is somehow the equivalent of treason or supporting the enemy. I was a teenager when the Iraq War started; I remember the rhetoric that surrounded it. Never mind things like “Facts”, if you didn’t have a yellow ribbon on your car, that meant that you supported 9/11 and were un-American.

I’ve always seen things like yellow ribbons as purely symbolic. They have their purpose and I don’t mind that, but when their purpose is “look how much better of a person I am than you,” it loses that original intent, doesn’t it? Saying “support the troops” and carrying that yellow ribbon doesn’t mean a thing if that’s the extent to which you supposedly support the troops. And it’s so often used as a blanket phrase that those who participate in it are dehumanized the basis of arguments of morality and self-righteousness.

You can’t exist in America for five minutes without knowing that Memorial Day is about the military. Nobody in the world thinks that it’s National BBQ Day. We know that we’re supposed to remember the fallen veterans on this day, but some of the freedoms for which they fought, that we’re supposed to remember them for, include having BBQs on an off-work day. Are we instead to stay somber the entire time? Then people will say “no, don’t be sad, celebrate the freedoms that those who fell protected for you.” Then we begin the whole vicious circle again. Can I have a BBQ but only if I’m sad? How long do I have to be sad? Is it just a BBQ that is disrespectful to what the day means, or do pig roasts get included too? I’m just trying to understand this as someone who wants to show the proper appreciation that, as I said in the beginning, I will never understand how to portray just because I’m supposed to.

I respect anyone who could give up years of their life in service to their country, and sacrifice their youth, family, and private lives in order to represent their country, believing in honor, service, respect, and dedication. I get that. I nearly enlisted myself, and I didn’t stop until just before the swearing-in ceremony, mostly because I was told to lie and I couldn’t live with that, and because it also hit me at that moment that: holy shit, this is the kind of social grouping that will destroy me inside. I don’t respond well to being yelled at, I’m not able to do things just because someone asked/demanded me to. It’s not for me, and by that I mean no disrespect to anyone for whom it works. That’s just not the way my brain processes things.

There’s a long line of military history in my family. My mother’s side is descended directly from the Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry of the Flagship Niagara, for whom there is a Perry named in every generation, my son included. My grandfather and his brother both served, and I learned a lot about the service, history of that era, and nuclear science because of him. I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to see some of the things I did, but I was ten and who I was I going to tell? His brother served in early Vietnam. We were told never to ask about it.

I have a fan who served on the USS Paul Hamilton and wrote me letters about my column keeping him connected to home while he was away at sea. I’ve received letters from military wives who thank me for distracting them from that empty spot in the bed, some of which will never be filled again. I see the WWE, who back up what they say, and go there and perform for the troops in person, bringing a little bit of home to them as they’re separated by worlds, cultures, and duty. I’ve been sent tokens and items from those in the military who felt that what I wrote somehow mattered to them in that time, and I have no idea how some bullshit I put on the internet can do that, but it means the world all the same. I’m not speaking on these issues as someone completely disconnected from this reality.

One of my best friends is a veteran who is bisexual, and often has to deal with people from veteran groups sexually harassing her or denying her right to be recognized for who she is. I know several trans people online who struggle every day with their right to exist, despite having served their country, which is supposed to be something that the people criticizing them see as the ultimate good deed. Out of the other side of the same mouths, they still hear the same shitty arguments that are used against transpeople everywhere in order to remind them of their place in society.

My grandfather is the one who told me more about his experience than anyone else. And even still, he managed to remain distant and vague about certain things, which were his rights to do so. I’m owed no one’s experience or stories, but I’m grateful when I do. We lost him in 2015, and I gave the eulogy at his military service funeral where he was interred. The majesty, specificity, and ceremony were something I’ve never experienced anywhere else, and to see my grandfather honored in such a way is still awe-inspiring. I have his military picture and dog tags placed appropriately in a mini-shrine in my collection of special moments and autographs, complete with the obituary and a picture of us from the 1995 World Series. I loved my grandfather, and I remember him every day, not just today because that’s when I’m supposed to. I understand that holidays hold that significance of reminders and duty, but it doesn’t process for me. I hold it against no one for observing in that way, it’s just not for me.

“Support the troops” though, something always bothered me about that. Much in the same way that “thoughts and prayers” are a vague platitude that sometimes represent a substitute for any actual effort, supporting them in the ways they’re used in guilt-trip and moral superiority arguments is really just that: “I’m a better person than you because I do this more selflessly or actively think well of X conflict and you don’t.”

I want to support the troops by making sure they have access to the medical care they deserve, and that is not exclusive from the rights of anyone else to have healthcare. We’ve somehow gotten to a point in this country where healthcare is seen as a privilege, and if we are going to thump our chests about how much we love the military, can we at least also make an effort not to forget about them the second they get home? Can we do more than say “thank you for your service” and actually show gratitude? How about we not get into more stupid conflicts where they get killed? False pretenses, assets, whatever other bullshit reason politicians decide to use the military rather than do anything themselves, can we do all we can to not have to put them in that danger? I often think those in the 40’s get the title “greatest generation” because they answered the call and were conscripted during a time of international war, and it’s amazing how much gets left out of that story so that we can feel proud about how awesome we are. The shirt I’ve seen that shows an American flag with the title : Back-to-Back World War Champions just reeks of a willful, ethnocentric misunderstanding of a global conflict, where the Russians were the ones who got to Berlin, we only got involved when it was us attacked, before which we were chummy with Hitler and turned away Jewish refugees, and World War I barely involved us at all, but we get to take carte blanche credit and brag about our country’s untouchable superiority? And anyone who doesn’t say that is somehow taking the side of the enemy?

Much the same way as gender, sexuality, identity, neurodivergence, politics, and many other aspects of life are not as binaried as the “leave it be” status quo would like it, it is not traitorous to acknowledge that we aren’t the only people in the world. It’s not traitorous or disrespectful to the military to not want to see them go into yet another war where they have to die when they shouldn’t have to.

On the back of some Jeeps, I often see an American flag on the spare tire with the caption: There’s only one. Only one what? Flag? America? Country? Jeep with that cover? Just because it has an American flag doesn’t automatically make it universally understood. And a lot of the same people who regard that flag is the ultimate untouchable symbol that’s been desecrated by queer interlopers and liberals, they also fly the Confederate flag as a symbol of “American heritage,” “state’s rights,” or whatever other bullshit reason they choose to fly a flag that represents white supremacy, the continuation and spread of slavery, and literally committing treason against America. Yet that’s the most patriotic place in the country, and flying a flag that was about separating from it is American heritage? Yeah, okay, and the swastika was just the representation of the German commitment to fair labor practices. For anyone, especially in the North, who flies that flag, especially when it’s ABOVE the American flag, yet lectures me about how much the flag is awesome and should mean X, Y, and Z to me, I will never be able to comprehend the mind pretzel into which you must twist yourself to believe that revisionist, Lost-Cause influenced bullshit. But the Confederates were traitors and fighting for their states’ rights to keep owning slaves, even spreading it into South and Central America. They wanted a white supremacy empire founded completely on the notion of white superiority and slavery as a national institution. To say it had nothing to do with slavery is ignorant, incorrect, and just another bullshit apologetic you’ve used as to not be an asshole.

I know that Memorial Day is about the military. Same for Veteran’s Day. Add in the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Flag Day, Armed Services Day, Opening Day, and many others that are militarized, one would have to be willfully ignorant to think otherwise. I just want to know what the appropriate way to regard it is so that I don’t have to read those memes anymore, because I don’t think having a BBQ on Memorial Day is the same thing as “thinking that’s what it’s about entirely.” We know better than that, or at least we should.

I miss you, Grandpa Jack. I miss everything you taught me about the military and history, and there is a part of my life I’ll never get back because you told stories in a way that seeing them in a book just can’t match. I haven’t seen you since I unexpectedly walked into a room where you had just passed, and every single day, I regret not traveling more to see you, or calling you to hear more stories, or appreciating the time I had with you more than I did. You probably wouldn’t understand me right now, and we’d have crossed that bridge when we came to it, but there’s nothing in my life that will ever replace the spot you had in it. I’m lucky to have had so many years of my life without losing a grandparent, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Thank you to anyone who made that choice to serve, regardless of the circumstances, and I hope none of you feel disrespected by any of these sentiments. If I have, please tell me how I can correct my behavior, as long as it’s not the exact empty platitudes and symbols I’ve already explained. Thank you.