Monthly Archives: June 2010

At least one of y’all think I’m Most Inspiring

And Most Provocative. And a Blog You’ve Learned the Most From.

BlogLuxe Nominee Button

I have been nominated in all three categories over at BlogLuxe. While I normally am pretty dismissive of these sorts of award polls as nothing but popularity contests (and they are popularity contests, make no mistake), I’m actually feeling the love right now, with the feedback I’ve been getting on my last few posts1, so go, sling a vote2 or three my way. You can vote once a day, through July 12, and winners will be announced at their exclusive shindig at the BlogHer ’10 conference. Which I will be attending. (BlogHer, not the shindig, and there’s a post somewhere on my ambivalence about that.)

Speaking of my lastest post, I’m not sure I’ll be able to reply adequately to the stories and support shared there (and on On breastfeeding…) but I have read them all, and appreciate them all. I’ve never been more in love with blogging and with my readership than I have been the past couple days.

I said on Twitter yesterday that I’ve never heard a secret uttered that was not more bearable for having been spoken and shared, and so I’d like to remind you that I’m still offering RMB as a host to anonymous posts, as part of the Naked Pictures of Faceless People series. I cannot tell you how much speaking my truths — no matter how awkward or embarrassing or socially-unaccepted or guilt-inducing or supposedly-shameful — has helped me. If there’s something you’d like to get out but you don’t have a place for, I would be honored to host it for you, anonymously or not.

I’m still cynical enough most days to doubt that this blogging thing can change the world, but I know it’s changed my life — and right now, that’s enough.

  1. Including two posts informed by Nursing and Nuance: Sexing the breast at Spilt Milk, and Facts versus Feelings at Paisley and Pretties, both of which I highly recommend reading.
  2. Email validation required, and it seems like they’re pretty protective of your privacy, as far as I’ve been able to tell.

Nursing and nuance: breastfeeding isn’t creepy, except when it is

The Boychick weaned sometime between Christmas and his birthday. I’m pretty sure he was still nursing at Christmas, and I know he was done by his birthday, because part of me was sad we didn’t make it to three years.

But most of the rest of me? Was so, so relieved.

I loved nursing him. I loved being able to look at him for the first seven and a half months of his life and know that, aside from a few thyroid molecules, every atom of his being had come from me. He made himself, but he made himself from my body, and my milk. I loved snuggling him close, and I loved calming him, and I loved never having to worry about hydration or nutrition when he was sick, and I loved that I could help him sleep, and I loved the symbiosis of full breast, empty baby leading to happy me and happy him. I loved nursing him.

I also hated it.

Not all the time, but more and more as he got older, as my period returned, as my milk dwindled. I felt sexual sensations, which would have been fine, except I loathed it. There were times when nothing but my breast would do, and I was crying while nursing him, chanting “make it stop, make it stop, make it stop”. There were times when nothing but my breast would do, and I couldn’t do it, and he and I both cried. And in the end, that was what lead to his weaning. It was at his pace, but accelerated by my need for ever shorter, ever more infrequent nursing sessions.

So when Twitter and the lactivist blogosphere exploded over an op-ed from the UK that, among other things, said breastfeeding felt “creepy”, I cringed.1

Breastfeeding isn’t creepy — except for me, it is, a bit.

Breastfeeding isn’t sexual — except it is, for me and people like me, and for many people for whom those feelings aren’t a bad thing, and they’re not perverted or child molesters, they’re just normal women with a functioning sexual system.

Breasts are sexualized in our culture, exaggerated into caricatures of themselves, used to sell cars and movies and everything else, and that’s a problem. But, breasts are also sexual. Not just because our society says so, though that “helps”, and not just because all the body is sexual, though it is, but specifically, actually sexual; nipple stimulation releases the hormones of love, of sexuality, of life-giving. It contracts the uterus, floods the brain with prolactin and oxytocin, sends blood to the genitals. It can start or augment labor, it can stop postpartum bleeding, it can, all by itself in some women (not me, alas), bring about orgasm. Breasts. Are. Sexual.

Some breasts. Some of the time.

When I say breastfeeding is creepy, I’m not insulting those (including myself) who breastfeed. There is nothing wrong with breastfeeding, and I wish more women would do it, and for longer — we would all be a lot better off, as individuals, as a society. Even more, I wish that all women who wanted to (which is most women) had the support and the lack of “booby traps” to nurse for as long as she and her child(ren) wanted. I smile when I see women nursing in public, when I see pictures of a child in a lap, held close, both parties obviously content.

But when I see a beautiful, naked, close-up picture, when I think too hard about it, when I am reminded of the feelings in my body of the last months of nursing when I had little milk, of the early months of nursing when he suckled for hours, when I think about having a child suck on my breast — I get the creepy crawlies.

And I hate that. I wish I did not feel this way. But I do.

So when I hear someone say that they didn’t breastfeed because it “feels creepy”, I get angry. I get angry at a culture that says breastfeeding is perverted. I get angry at a culture that says my breasts are not my own but my lover’s, exclusively. I get angry that breasts are so sexualized and breastfeeding is so controversial that the only way one can admit in a major publication that the thought of suckling a child feels creepy is by saying that, therefore, she wouldn’t dream of doing it.

And I get angry at the lactivists who have declared that breasts are not sexual, that people who think so are the ones who are perverted, that my breasts are not my own but my baby’s, exclusively. I get angry that I hear her feelings, which are so like mine, dismissed as “disgusting”, and I wonder, what would they think if I told them I felt the same? Would I get a gold star for persevering anyway? What if I’d stopped at fourteen months, when my period returned, and it got a lot harder? What if I’d stopped at two weeks, when I handed him to his father to latch on because it was that or self-harm to the point of permanent injury? What if I, long-time breastfeeding supporter, never started at all? Would I be disgusting? Or would I be OK, because I was on “the right side”, even if I was “broken”?

I am not broken. I don’t know why I feel the way I do while breastfeeding, and while I suspect fewer people would feel the way I do if our culture normalized breastfeeding and decentralized breasts in sex, I might still feel the same. Or I might not. Maybe “wires are crossed” in my brain, maybe I trained myself into it with nearly a decade of using my breasts to help me achieve orgasm before having a child (yet was I supposed to be anorgasmic?), maybe I was just born this way. Frankly, I don’t care, and I don’t want to hear anyone who does not feel this way theorize about why, especially not in a way that pathologizes and Others me and ignores what I have to say about my experiences.

What I want is to be allowed to talk about it. I want to not be shoved into a corner, head patted and gold star decorated, and told to shut up because my feelings might make the job of “selling” breastfeeding to the masses harder, might give ammunition to anti-breastfeeders who will use anything to call us perverted, any excuse to avoid nursing. What I want is to never, ever hear someone called disgusting for not being able to — or not wanting to — reconcile a lifetime of having a lover at her breast with the thought of having a baby there. What I want is to be part of a movement that doesn’t debase itself to use any means to achieve its goal, no matter how worthy that goal is; what I want is to be part of a movement that honors women and our multitude of feelings, that works not to control our actions but to give us the freedom to do as we wish.

Until we can talk about all the experiences of breastfeeding, until we can recognize that a woman’s breasts are not for sex nor for feeding babies nor for decoration but for whatever the hell she wants to use them for, people will continue to think that breastfeeding is creepy, and thus won’t do it. Those of us who feel this way — a minority even of people who don’t breastfeed, perhaps, but how large or small we don’t know — will continue to get defensive and toss out any excuse to not try and attack and belittle those who do; to reach in tears for a bottle and for the socially-sanctioned fallacy of “I didn’t have enough milk”; to grit their teeth and not seek help and fall into darkest depression; to soldier through and hurt themselves so as not to hurt their babies; to question whether they really want another child if it means going through all that again, alone. We have to be able to talk about it — we, those few (but not so few as you might think) who feel this way — so we can get past it, and get to peace. Whether we choose to breastfeed for nearly three years, or some, or not at all, if we cannot talk, we will be alone, and we will not find resolution.

So make the space. When someone says she didn’t breastfeed because it was creepy, listen to her. When someone doesn’t want to tell you why she didn’t breastfeed, or gives you a reason you know to be false, realize you don’t know the whole story, and grant her her privacy. When someone says she didn’t love every damn minute of nursing, don’t assume she’s anti-breastfeeding.

Mostly, shut up and listen. There are worlds of nuance that are being missed in the all-or-nothing shouting match as it stands, and I can’t stand it anymore.

Just listen.

  1. PhD in Parenting’s post on the topic, linked to here, is excellent, and itself doesn’t contain any of the problems I address in this post.

A Day in Pictures, and a Call to Photographic Action

There’s a point to this post, I swear. But first, have some cuteness.

First order of business: shower. But since the Boychick was not in the mood, a diversion needed to be found. A purple, purple diversion:

I swear I didn't encourage the purple -- see the other colors there??

And why did I need a shower right then? To go get a pedicure with a dear friend, of course! Guess what color I chose…

Since I posted about the fabulous shirt/dress my mom bought me, certain people1 have been bothering me for photos of it. And I figure, if I’m going to go to all the trouble of posting one picture…

It's ok, I'm wearing bike shorts underneath

And then the poor Boychick was getting sick, and after his dad went to sleep he got back up and came out to me, asking to be carried because he was scared2. And so on he went, in one of our terribly neglected wraps. (Evidence suggests babywearing is like riding a bicycle; I’ll be 90, and not remember anything of the past 50 years, and I’ll still know how to keep a small person happy and secure on my body.)

Told you there were bike shorts

And now, the point:

I have a hard time looking at photos of me, still. Not because I think I’m not beautiful — I know I am — but because I find it very hard to keep feeling that way when I see most pictures of me. There are a dozen pics of me that I’m not about to show you for each of the ones you can see here. I have no problems, with my pale hairy legs and my large arms and my fucking gorgeous fat ass, getting a pedicure or wearing a sleeveless dress, or going running in those shorts — but ask me to look at pictures of myself doing it, and I cringe. I hide. I decline, whenever possible.

But that day I thought, damnit, I’m going to put my skin where my mouth is. I pulled out my camera(phone). And I took a ton of pictures.

And, like most pictures (especially by a non-photographer, taken on an iPhone), most of them sucked. Most of them failed to capture my attractiveness. But I kept taking them. And then I picked the best3, and I shared it on Twitter.

Here’s something I learned from that sharing, and why I feel fully comfortable posting the barely-dressed babywearing one: if your self-esteem is low — making you not want to share pictures of you because all you can see is your “faults” and your “ugliness” and all the things “wrong” with you — show pictures of you to people who care about you.

Now, don’t show them to douchebags, because you’ll only get douchebaggery back. Don’t show them to people who routinely bitch and moan about how they look, or who tear down strangers they see, or who think fashion magazines’ “Hot or Not” features are anything but laughable or horrifying. But if you show them to people who have even a passing familiarity with size acceptance, who know that beauty comes in infinite diversity, who have somehow escaped total brainwashing by kyriarchy — I tell you, you will be floating afterward. I was.

Try this, if you are able. If you haven’t yet, if you — like me — have some positive sense of self-esteem only until the shutter clicks, try it. Take 10 pictures of yourself. Take 100. Take 1000. Pose. Try all different angles, different lights, different expressions. Most of them will suck, and you might start hearing some self-criticism again — but keep going. You know what part of you you maybe-secretly love — that curve of hip, that flash of smile, that puff of hair — so try to capture it, and keep trying until you have the proof, incontrovertible, in front of you, of this truth: you are worthy of being seen.

And then show it off. Show it to your lover. Show it to your parents. Show it to your friends — not the drama-mongers, the real ones. Show it to Twitter. Show it to me, and I promise I will tell you a truth you will not regret hearing.

We are trained to believe that only some ways of being are acceptable. We are trained to expect bodies to be falsely perfect, airbrushed beyond blemish, photoshopped beyond recognition. If we are lucky, we can still see the everyday beauty all around us. If we are very lucky, we can see it in ourselves, but I think it takes practice. Put down the fashion mags, turn off the commercials, train your eye to turn away from the billboards, train your ear to tune out the ads, and look at the people around you. Look in the mirror. Look in the camera, and smile.

Hello, beautiful.

  1. You know who you are.
  2. I don’t think he actually was, as such, or at least he didn’t act scared. But I wasn’t about to say no to wearing him again, that being so rare these days.
  3. OK, I had The Man pick the best, once there were a few I didn’t completely hate.

Sex Ed Is Every Day

Sex ed is not something we do once. It’s not something we talk about “when they’re old enough“. It’s really not something to leave exclusively to schools, or chance, or experiential learning.

Sex ed is every day.

Sex ed is teaching children, of any age, that their bodies are their own; it is making sure they know what bodily autonomy is (whether or not they know the word), and that they have it, and everyone else has it too.

Sex ed is answering their questions about pubic hair, and armpit hair, and facial hair, and breasts, and penises, and vulvas. (Sex ed is making sure they know words like breast and penis and vulva because they’re a part of your every day vocabulary.)

Sex ed is telling kids that most women have vulvas but some don’t, that most men have penises but some don’t. (Sex ed is telling them that penises and vulvas and men and women aren’t the only ways to be.)

Sex ed is telling them that pads and sponges and tampons and cups are for catching menstrual fluid; sex ed is telling them what menstrual fluid is.

Sex ed is knowing that when a kid is cranky and you need a moment’s respite, YouTube has abundant birth videos as well as cartoons.

Sex ed is setting boundaries around your body: “Yes, you may kiss my face, but please don’t lick my mouth; yes, you may pat my breasts but don’t brush my nipple; yes, you may watch me pee, but don’t touch my genitals.”

Sex ed is setting boundaries around behavior: “It’s fine to touch your penis/vulva/clitoris/testicles, but not while nursing/on the plane/in public/in front of your Grandparents.”

Sex ed is exposing children to the multitude ways of building a family: sex, and IVF, and adoption, and blending, and donors. It’s exposing children to the multitude variations of what family means: two parents of different genders or same, one parent, more parents, grandparents, others; families without children, families without blood relation, families without legal protection.

Sex ed is kissing: the way we kiss our kids, the way we kiss our partners, the way we kiss our parents; it’s the kissing they see in movies and the kissing they see on the streets and the kissing the see when we leave the door open, or they hear and wonder about in the dark. Sex ed is what we tell them about all the ways of kissing.

Sex ed is the other things they hear in the dark, and in the day time; sex ed is in where and how much and when we enact our sex lives, or not. Sex ed is the bed-side drawer we keep off limits (or don’t), and it’s the answers we give to what’s in there.

Sex ed is demonstrating that our bodies can give us pleasure; it’s hugs and back rubs and gentle touches. Sex ed is never teaching them to accept unwanted pain.

Sex ed is honoring their nos; sex ed is teaching them how to say yes.

Children are always learning; they are learning from what we say, and from what we don’t. If we say nothing, they are not learning nothing, they are learning that some things are unspeakable. Sex ed is not a one time course (though those can be great); sex ed is not a conversation to schedule, or put off, or plan out: sex ed is every day.

Do it well.

*****

Sex and sexuality education resources. Learn, so you can teach your kids:

Scarleteen (highly recommended)

Go Ask Alice

girl2girl

Quick Hit on Hair: Not-White Is Not Other

Black folk and hair — and more so, white folk and Black folk’s hair — is a touchy (ha. ha.) damn subject. Because of the white supremacist culture I live in1, I barely have any vocabulary for talking about Black hair, especially in its natural state. What vocabulary I do have that is appropriate and non-offensive I owe to writers like Tami Harris; what vocabulary I have that is incomplete or inappropriate, I owe to kyriarchy, white ignorance, and my own failure to do the work before me.

But here’s one thing I do know: Black hair is not other-than. It is not different-from2. It is definitely not less-than.

Everything in the culture I am raising the Boychick in says otherwise. When Black men and women are to be taken seriously, their hair must look, as much as possible, like White hair. When it is natural, it is reviled or exoticized. My job therefore, in part, is to counter those messages: to normalize it, to center it.

Thus this exchange with the Boychick today, driving past the community college in the less disturbingly monochromatic part of town3:

Slowing to let a pedestrian cross, I spy a light-skinned young apparently-Black man with a 4″ rather floppy afro, comb riding in the back. The Boychick says: “That’s bad hair.”

“Which? The guy with the tall hair?”

“Yeah. That’s bad hair.”

“Why do you think it’s bad hair?”

“Because it’s bad.” (What can I say, he’s three.)

“That style of hair is called a fro, or an afro. See, people have different kinds of hair. Some people’s hair, mostly Black people’s, is sort of kinky, or really curly, and soft and light, and if they grow it long, they can sometimes get it to poof out like that. My hair can’t do that. My hair just hangs down. I think his hair was kind of cool.”

“…Oh. Yeah, it’s cool.” (Three is a very suggestible age, when they’re not practicing obstinacy.)

A few minutes later, I look back, and he’s playing with his hair.

“My hair falls in my face. That’s silly!”

Three.

***

Maybe I contributed to exotification. Maybe I used words that will offend should he repeat them. I am terrified — always, when talking of race — of saying a wrong thing.4

Terrified, yes, but not petrified, because the only thing worse than saying something wrong is saying nothing at all, and letting kyriarchy’s messages colonize him unexamined, unprotested, undisputed. And so I try.

  1. By white supremacist I do not mean KKK-ruled, I mean simply that whiteness is supreme in the hierarchy of color we have created.
  2. Different from what white folk are used to, yes. But think about who it centers to call it “different”. Why is my hair not called different, because it is mostly straight, and thick? Because I am white, and my hair is the cultural default.
  3. Portland, Oregon is listed as among the whitest cities in the USA. The last quote I saw put us 4th whitest.
  4. I’m terrified of posting this, from fear that I have, and because the story of Black hair is not mine to tell.