Loving My First Gray Hair Is Political

Yesterday I got my first gray hair. It’s beautiful and light, hugging the soft space to the side of my forehead. I love it.

I have been waiting for this day. I am 35. Gray hair was going to happen. Years ago I made a conscious decision to continue loving myself as I grow older. This is an act of self-preservation, and defiance.

This is about my feminism — hatred of women is intimately tied in with dangerous, racist, and unrealistic expectations of beauty that we are expected to internalize. We must reject that as much as we can (real talk: this can be a day-by-day thing, and feeling like crap about your looks doesn’t mean you don’t get to be a feminist).

This is personal — I almost died of anorexia. Gray hair is a victory! I am fortunate I made it to my 18th, 19th, and 20th birthdays. I am both grateful and proud I did, because damn that was a lot of work. My personal interest extends beyond having overcome nearly lethal negative self-talk related to my appearance; I’ve reached an age where too many peers have died for no good reason. I’m lucky to get old.

This is about parenting, too — my daughter deserves the example of a woman who dares to look like herself and love herself.

As a social justice activist and organizer, I struggle with the decision to write posts like this sometimes. Today yet another video has surfaced of a Black person losing their life to police violence; his name was Sam DuBose. Racism is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

And so, I ask myself:

Is it indulgent to be introspective about the first freaking gray hair on my head at a time when people are dying, when politicians fail to acknowledge that Black lives matter, when terrorists are targeting abortion providers because they dare to help women?

I struggle with this question, and yet this post speaks for itself: Here I am, writing. My firm belief is that self-love is radical. You cannot fight effectively for equality, dignity, or justice when you are unable to treat yourself with respect. You cannot find the courage to accept difference in others if you’re unwilling to accommodate difference for yourself. Loving yourself is not ego or dominance (those are rooted in insecurity, after all); loving yourself is about compassion. Best part? Inner compassion is compassion, and both are contagious.

So, when I embrace my gray hair, what I am also saying is that we should embrace ourselves and one another as we are. We must treat our fragile lives with respect and love, and break every convention necessary.

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Holding A Baby And An iPhone

I live-tweeted labor. The first night of my daughter’s life I realized I was going to be nursing for long stretches overnight; I began using my phone to stay awake. Every night I spent hours nursing her quietly, listening to her sweet little swallows, and surfing the Internet like it was the best Gidget movie in the world. I developed eye strain, and my carpal tunnel flared up again.

Eventually maternity leave was over. I held a different job then, one I loved, but I was also a rare part-time employee on a staff of full-timers. That meant checking in on email all the time anyway, so I wouldn’t fall behind.

Work-life balance is this elusive thing. It’s a psychic pair of skinny jeans, designed to punish. Work-life balance is not a gender-neutral phrase. Work-life balance may as well be Morse code for throwing women to the wolves. We are expected to take care of our families, make nice food that looks like it belongs on Instagram, and shatter glass ceilings through perseverance and sheer will. (Friendly reminder: There are no personal solutions to societal problems.)

Generally I suck at work/life balance, as do a good portion of the people I know, because we are expected to work all the time and we have the Internet with us almost everywhere we go.

And yet I’m not complaining: I’m fortunate that my line of work so happens to be my life passion. Still, if work/life balance means having two separate spheres of life that are both well-tended, nope, I don’t have that.

I’m the woman who is opening up Slack for conversations with a colleague while my daughter eats in a high chair next to me. You can catch me firing off work emails at the playground. And I’m ashamed by how often I look at Facebook when she is in my care.

My daughter has taught me a love of presence. We should listen to crickets and wonder what they are. An airplane overhead is worth pointing to and talking about. Silence is a lavish gift — seriously, take it when you can get it.

It is hard for me to reconcile my actual and/or perceived need to be always available online with being the attentive mother I want to be. And yet, I am terrifically proud to be a working mother, and I claim that title. I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to realize that the woman suffrage poster in her bedroom is not just wall art, and that her mom is a troublemaker.

Ultimately, I am doing both. Sometimes I hold my daughter and write emails. Sometimes I push the stroller and go on Twitter rants.  I am a parent and a working feminist at the same time.

Feminism Must Be Anti-Racist

Recently, an acquaintance on Facebook upset several mutual friends with a post that started with an admission that every time someone says the phrase ‘white privilege,’ she laughs out loud. She went on to detail how, while she was a white woman, she has experienced a number of specific oppressions in her life and felt it was unfair to conflate her with white male bankers. She identifies vociferously as a feminist.

Also this week, I was pulled over for speeding (oopsie!) and waited in frustration as the officer spent seemingly forever in his car with my registration and license. When he came back, he gave me a warning and let me go. I’ll admit; I was a little frazzled. Earlier that day my daughter had fallen and hurt herself at school, and waiting in my car for the police officer meant I was getting more and more late to pick her up. I told him so, and he left me with a genuine expression of concern. His last words were, “have a better day.”

This, when women like Sandra Bland wind up dead in jail after a routine traffic stop. When some white people continue to defend the Confederate flag after the terrorist murders in Charleston. When people I know sully the ‘feminist’ movement with open hostility toward intersectionality and a self-aggrandizing desire to shout over the lived experiences of others.

I cried as I drove away.

White privilege is an institution that is scary for whites to acknowledge. Hardly anyone wants to be called racist, and just about everyone, white people included, can cook up some stories of how they overcame hardships and got where they are by dint of hard work. The institution of white privilege does not mean that every white person is inherently bad, nor that every white person lives a dandy oppression-free life, but it does mean that every white person doesn’t have to deal with the race-based economic, political, and social inequality people of color have to deal with every day. It also means that white people have a responsibility to listen, learn, and advocate for change.

To deny that at this moment of crisis — when we keep seeing new videos and learning new names of Black people who die in police custody, when activists from the Black Lives Matter movement are tugging the strings of the nation’s conscience and doing the hard work to redistribute power where it belongs — to deny that automatically lands you on a continuum somewhere between ignorant and asshole.

Many of the best feminist activists, organizers, theorists, thinkers, and writers I know are women of color. For that matter, many of the best feminists I know who have told me they most struggle with the term “feminist” are women of color.

Because there is this baggage of white feminists who declare all women are the same, when we are most clearly not. Or things like Patricia Arquette’s exclusionary speech for ‘women’s rights’ at the Oscars.

What we don’t need is ‘unity,’ a phrase that is often deployed as a way for women with more power to get their way.

What we frankly need is to educate these women, or else.

I know many feminists who will rise up to defend why you need to support abortion rights in order to identify as a feminist. The same thing needs to happen with racial justice — if you are not willing to listen to others with different experiences and identities without putting yourself first, if you are not willing to look racism in the face, you really need to get the fuck out of the tent.

Coming Soon: Reproaction

Awesomesauce announcement time! In the near future, I’ll be launching a new group called Reproaction with my inestimable co-conspirator, co-founder, and co-director, Pamela Merritt. We’re going to use direct action to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice.

What’s up ahead will not be more of the same. The depth of the human and civil rights crisis wrought by barriers to reproductive healthcare is neither widely known nor appreciated, and we intend to stand up for the right thing – all of it, all the time, and no matter who is in the wrong. If you want change, you must stand up for change. You must be willing to be unpopular. You must be committed to breaking convention. And, we are.

Please read a little more about us at Reproaction.org, and sign up for alerts to receive notification when we do launch.

See you in the streets.

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We Can Change Attitudes

A few months ago, I so happened to be at Georgetown University during a protest hosted by the Westboro Baptist Church. They had their hateful signs in tow, targeting LGBT people, Muslims, and anyone who does not subscribe to their hate club masquerading as a religion.

What was remarkable to me was not the haters, but rather the student response. There were several counter-demonstrations. Some students were playing songs like “Let It Go,” and “Born This Way,” loudly to drown out the hateful chants and bullhorns. Others wore rainbow leis and stood out with their homemade signs bearing messages of tolerance and hope. Still others held hands silently with their backs to the demonstration, and there was an official unity rally with students speaking up for LGBT rights and more.

Some students chalked inclusion messages on the bricks, surrounded by hearts.

We Are All Hoyas

I graduated from Georgetown in 2002. While there were people who were out, and there were people who supported LGBT rights, I know this counter-response would not have happened in my time.

Three cheers to younger people leading the way with love and positivity today, and also to those (sometimes) deeply hated outcasts who came before them and demanded recognition when others were inclined to sneer, or look away if they were being charitable.

All of it matters. We all can do something.

We must never forget that we can change attitudes, and even dramatically.