Problematic Responses to #MeToo

I want to introduce four topics related to the #MeToo posts. These four topics rarely come up in online discussions. However, I think they give a more robust understanding why “how to stay safe” discussions, or in fact most discussions about stopping sexual assault and rape that focus on the victim/survivor’s actions, are of very little, if any, use.

Italics are actual search strings. My brief comments after each search string are only the most basic information because I want to encourage people to read multiple sources about each topic AND get the habit of exploring complex ideas on their own. I recommend using an incognito browser window to eliminate personal browsing history bias in your search results. For those looking for more rigorous sources, use Google Scholar.

  • Grooming for abuse: the process in which an abuser shapes their target’s behavior through positive and negative reinforcement, gains trust, and breaks down interpersonal barriers. While it’s often discussed in child abuse situations but it also happens between adults. Grooming often contributes to victims/survivors feeling complicit in their own abuse when in fact they are never responsible for the actions of their abuser.
  • Rape is power not sex: While sexual assault and rape can ALSO be about sex, they are ALWAYS about power. Telling women to cover up and not flirt will never be a good solution because sexual assault and rape are rooted in the abuse of power. Teaching men “don’t rape” instead of teaching women “don’t get raped” gets at the heart of this as does promoting consent culture.
  • Sexual assault by someone known to the victim: the things we do to avoid potentially violent or criminal strangers only protect us so much. Get the facts about who assaults whom before giving advice like “stay safe by not walking alone at night.” (please note: I’m not saying walking alone at night is safe, I’m saying it doesn’t protect us from the people most likely to assault or rape us)
  • Fight flight freeze submit: there are actually five adrenaline stress reactions. Submit is one that is rarely discussed and is just as valid as the rest. Understand what happens when someone under assault reflexively does NOT resist and why what happens after they “submit” still isn’t their fault.

For many reasons besides these four topics, the posts going around about “how to stay safe” are problematic. This article does a great job of breaking down how common suggestions that may seem helpful actually contribute to victim blaming and shaming.

National Coming Out Day 2017

I’m bisexual and polyamorous. I came out as bi in the fall of 1990 when I was 19. I dated as a polyam person since my mid teens, long before I had words to explain it. I’ve run multiple bi+groups and participated in local, regional, and national community organizing and activism. (Bi+ is used to acknowledge the many labels used by people attracted to more than one gender including bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer and others.)

I reclaim words like greedy, slut, and bitch as biphobic and/or misogynistic words. They are used to degrade and silence people who challenge power. I teach, lead workshops and discussions, and am someone you can talk to about your awkward questions about bisexuality or polyam. I put myself out there because I am one of the people only lightly touched by the mental and physical health disparities that are prevalent in the bi+ community. I am not untouched, I’m am merely able to stand in front of people and talk about the challenges faced by my community, I’m able to answer the ignorant questions with little trauma, and I have patience with people who are curious and willing to learn.

On this National Coming Out day I want to acknowledge how fortunate I am to be able to be open about my identities. Many factors make that true and I know how many people can’t be out and still be safe. The morning I woke up and found out Trump was President, I had a momentary thought “Should I go back in the closet?” Then I realized I had an article published in an academic journal about the future of bisexual activism and I was about to be a key note speaker at a statewide conference. I had attended a White House event discussing bisexuality and I was listed on websites as a board member for Bisexual Organizing Project. Most of my FaceBook posts are about activism and identity.

So I’m out: on social media, at work, standing in front of rooms full of people, in life. And yet, there are still things I don’t talk about much. The more work I do on behalf of the bi+ community, the harder it is for me to be in bi+ spaces. The more work I’ve do on my own mental health, the less patience I have for people still struggling with unacknowledged or unmanaged anxiety or depression. These and other challenges have shaped how my show up for my communities. However, I’m out and I always will be. Bisexuality and polyamory aren’t behaviors or lifestyles; they are part of who I am and they shape how I view the world. I am proud of who I am because some people would try to make me feel ashamed.

I work to center the voices of people who are different then I am (youth, people of color, people of different classes & backgrounds) because I’ve had my time in that space, and it’s time for new voices and visions. I continue to lead in some ways because I have the skills, the will, and the desire to leave things better than I found them. I write in hopes you will learn something or find something that resonates with you. Humans are social creatures and it is terribly dangerous to feel isolated or alone. Find your people, find your tribe, find your chosen family, even if your family embraces all of you. There is no substitute for being with people who get you, who want you to show up as your whole self, who want to stretch themselves to accept all of you.  

So, on this National Coming Out day, I challenge people to stretch themselves, to accept things that are uncomfortable, and to embrace people who need the support. You are not alone, you are enough, and you deserve to be seen as who you are.