‘It is not what I do; it is who I am.’
Some self-motivational chap somewhere on the Internet whose quote – despite my skeptical dispositions – I cannot seem to shake off.
As most of you know, I have changed careers more than Kanye West said he loved himself. I think I can claim that I was always good enough at what I was doing and probably nobody would disagree with it. But I never felt I was at my best. As the founder of Another Garde and mom to 3 kids, I try every day to be that best of me. And boy, it’s a bitch.
I have said it time and time again – without becoming a mom I would have never been strong, centered and humble enough to hustle it out every day to sell a bag or a ring, let alone get out there to build the exposure I need for my business.
But I figured that once you’ve had 3 babies pulled out of your limbs in a bloodbath (thank you, emergency C-sections 1 and 2) and once you have spent years on your knees patting your kids’ bums half naked until the wee hours of the morning, well, you are probably ready for anything and surely ready to do anything.
So yeah, pride and fear have long gone since my stitched up tummy days. I have learnt patience and I am now learning – with a lot of difficulty – to appreciate little victories like having finally my three kids out of diapers or having my first client in Denmark.
However I got annoyed enough this week to ‘take the pen’ again. Not so long ago, I got frustrated by how I had been socially JEDI tricked into thinking that I would be able to walk smiling and having my shit together, 2 months post baby delivery while the reality was that I was suffocating inside spiritually and physically . That sense of betrayal created Redlipstickmama – that infuriating moment when I felt like a hot mess while I was supposed to only feel bliss.
Since then, I am more at peace with myself. But today, I felt the urge again to open my big mouth for another massive rant – just in time for Mother’s Day. Lucky DH.
It is a lame rant because ‘Duh, it is obvious girl…’ but I’ll say it anyway. The other day, I felt sickened by magazine spreads of (fashion) mom entrepreneurs living in oversized downtown apartments harboring Irving Penn’s prints on the walls, wearing designer frocks and looking with adoration at their long wavy haired only child sketching in corduroy covered notebooks (Note: details are totally BS but you get the idea).
I know that perfection is always staged because no one can have such a life or else KILL me now. But it still annoyed the hell out of me. What bothered me the most is that this type of shit used to inspire me, make me dream, live a fantasy for a few minutes but right now I just feel fucking pissed off and feel stolen of my hardship. Things are made so easy that you actually feel shit struggling. It is the post-C section ‘I am so happy’ pictures all over again. I wish there were reports of struggle and not just some ludicrous fantasy advertising ‘Get your ticket, you can be next.’ I wish there were pictures of red faced women trying to breathe in and out the stress of running a company while emptying the dishwasher.
I am very tortured about what I am writing now because I am the founder of a boutique selling quality and elegant design to inspire so shouldn’t I look and sound the part? But what is ‘that part’? Really.
Well, my truth is this one: mom entrepreneurship is ugly. For example:
– My kids wake me up because once they go to bed, I continue to work late and thus oversleep. I look like a rag and my daughter pushes me: ‘Mom, C’mon. I really don’t want to be late for school. Again. And how can you sleep with a W-E-D-G-I-E? Don’t you find it very uncomfortable?’
– I am refraining from going to Starbucks because 2 double tall skimmed cappuccinos can pay for an hour of my assistant’s time.
– My kids have started to talk to strangers on the subway – on their own initiative – to promote my company. They tell everyone their mom is ‘BOSS’. I thought of stopping them out of embarrassment but let them do it thinking ‘you never know, they may find me new clients’. Shameless.
– I don’t get free clothes. Ever. I pay for them. I only have endless temptations. Like a recovering alcoholic in Pegu bar. Meanwhile, the kids wear polo shirts with way too short sleeves because I lack the time and money for shopping.
– I have so many IOUs with my friends and family that I hope I am a true Buddhist who will go through various reincarnations to pay up my dues.
Finally and most importantly I wonder every day if my husband will end up divorcing me. Contrary to the popular belief, asking my husband to fully support my folly is not getting him to take nice shots of me wearing skinny leather pants for my Instagram feed (you should check out this video of Instagram husbands, hysterical). And it is more than being the sole income earner. The man behind the mom entrepreneur is a guy who believes so much in her that he is probably now the gayest straight man at work talking about fashion designers crafting beautiful prototypes on their kitchen tables with his female colleagues instead of commenting on the latest Yankees game. It is a guy who is accepting a tougher life to pay for the childcare and cleaning help she needs to be a full-time entrepreneur. A guy who puts his own dreams aside for hers, leaves work earlier to mind for their sick kids or has to take days off to help her set up pop ups in swanky hotels – taping japanese screens and putting IKEA furniture together when he barely knows how to use a screw driver.
It is a guy who does not think he is making her favors but rather knows that she HAS to do this.
And indeed, I have to do this now.
My ticket number to be the next best thing may never be called up. I am not going to lie about it. Who knows?
But what I know is this. With Mother’s day coming up, I do encourage everyone to celebrate their moms because they have shit days – sometimes very often. But this one mama does not need anything from her family. She has been short-changing them for a while now and is just grateful that they accept the Mom and Wife she can be and allow her to be the Woman she wants to be.
Below my journey as an entrepreneur in selfies but with clothes 🙂
Or the day when redlipstickmama became Soumountha
When I started this blog, I can say this now: I was not well. I was a little lonely not because I had no friends but it was a weird loneliness. I was lonely because I was freaking lost. Too many thoughts, very few outlets, no clairvoyance. The blog started like an extended Facebook like rant, turned into a full self-administered therapy and somewhat transformed into the release of something strange and beautiful: the courage to explore things I had no idea were buried deep inside of me.
Things like writing because I just have to do it, entrepreneurial cravings, the boldness to say things the way I just want to say them and the hope that I can somehow touch other women out there.
This would have not been possible without being inspired, supported and sometimes challenged (I dare you to do it) by some amazing women I met through blogging. It was just easier to come out with strangers first like it was always easier for me to be naked in front of strangers than my own sisters – note:I still don’t really do it very often #anotherreasonIDONOTgotothegym
Anyway, more than two years later, these women are still galvanizing me. I am beyond flattered to be interviewed by uber stylish and atta mom-creative-blogger Kate from Maison Bentley about the launch of Another Garde. Her questions were so insightful that it actually made me think hard about what I do and why I do it. You can read the full interview Another Garde by Maison Bentley. I also for the first time say it here: my name is Soumountha 🙂
I hope you will like it and do check out Kate’s blog on a regular basis. She has an amazing eye for elegant and relatable and yet ‘you have never seen it quite like this before’ pieces.
Love you Kate xoxo
#feelinghumbledthismorning #love #determination #womenbehindwomen
Photography by Kate Bentley
Most IQ tests would probably conclude that I am an idiot. And I am not even going to fight this.
When people ask me what I do, many expect one of these two straightforward answers: I am a stay at home mom or I am a working mom. I never really managed to choose which box was the most relevant to me, let alone describe it. I am often tempted to respond: ‘Life is not in black or white but in a various shades of grey…’ Which probably would make look like
A- a wanker or
B- a failed motivational speaker or
C- a mythomaniac or very possibly,
D- all the above
Instead, I either answer ‘I am in transition/in between things’ (which can be translated into ‘don’t ask more questions or I will cry right now, right there? Do you want you me to blow my nose with your top? I don’t think so…) OR I list, in no coherent order, everything I think I do:
– I take care of my 3 kids from 6-9am
– I am coordinating a grassroots group of families in the neighborhood who want to give a free French English bilingual education to their children
– I order diapers online
– I do the laundry on a weekly basis
– I try to cook every day
– I am freelancing as a business coach for social entrepreneurs like these awesome change makers, MarioWay, who designed an upright wheelchair which I think can really change the way we perceive disability.
– I rant about me, myself and I and procrastinate aka I have a mommy’s blog (to read absolutely by the way in order to decide whether or not you should create a new contact entry after I gave you my phone number)
– I add 10 items in my Gap online store basket every day, only to empty it because I am too broke
– I am venturing into Fashion entrepreneurship ranging from the unlikely (Accessories design) to the most likely (Fashion e-retail)
– I organize parties where adults get drunk and kids bump each other’s head in a bouncy castle.
– I take care of L (for real) in the afternoons.
I also go through this list very quickly so that people get confused and focus instead on how cute they think my kids are.
It’s like when you have your first job interview after graduation and you transform your experience of helping your parents catering nems for Lao weddings into a full fledge ‘entrepreneurial experience’ or when you are using the same internship to cover 100 distinct sets of skills. Verbal diarrhea to fill gaps: it never fools anyone but you do it anyway.
The not earning money is getting really tough for me. I sometimes feel that in the world of today, a woman who pays someone to care for her children while not earning any revenue is seen as a freak. Someone told me few months ago: ‘Normal -as in not filthy rich- women these days either work or take care of their children. Paying child care is an oddity (real words said were ‘du Jamais vu’ , literal translation ‘you have never seen this’) if you don’t work’.
The economic logic of their statement seemed indeed flawless. I should probably have been angry; instead I was embarrassed and admitted: ‘Well I guess some of us can’t just do it. Maybe, I am not physically or emotionally equipped to care for my 3 kids. Maybe I am just limited’.
French women in particular are all expected to go back to work; many things help to ease back into the 9-6pm routine: free public school from age 3 (sometimes even earlier), decent maternity leave that gives you enough time with your Cherubs but not long enough to start have an postpartum existential crisis a la ‘Maybe I should make and sell hats. It seems pretty straightforward, NOT’. I am not at all saying that French women have it easy (far from it), I am just trying to put things into perspective; in the US or at least in the state of New York childcare is privately funded until kids are 5 (or 4 if you are lucky enough to get a public school pre-K spot). I calculated that the median full-time childcare for G,P and L in Manhattan would round up to about $70,000 a year. I should probably have given this person this figure but then again, it would be like trying to justify my choices and why should I do this?
In fact, the person I am truly angry at is myself. For not walking the talk. You see, in my previous life, I have advocated for making visible the contributions of women at home by translating them in economic outputs to inform public policies. I barked that society and governments should stop thinking that women (and men who take care of their home) are sources of unlimited free and altruistic labor who just pick up the shit when public spending is cut or when the cost of private child care or elder care spirals out of control. Yes, I used to say all this type of stuff before concluding that doing this would among other things at the very least improve women’s self-worth.
I realize now that it was all very easy to say when I was an educated childless income earner living the life in London. I do still hold this type of discourse during dinner conversations with friends (who after 5 minutes of my monologue must be wondering whether or not I have my periods) or when boosting another mama’s confidence when she feels fucking awful about not ‘contributing financially’.
But the truth is, the longer I am staying out of a paid job, the flakier my position is becoming. I laud stay-at-home moms but how cannot I be more proud of being one? I should. I really should. I don’t know. I feel like a two-faced b***h. Sometimes.
I don’t think ‘I am a stay-at-home mom’ are words that ever came out of my mouth while that is exactly what I was for a good 2 years and half. Maybe I should join a stay-at-home mom Anonymous group.
I am slowly getting OK about all this though. That’s why I can talk about it now. Guilt free. I made my peace, it’s OK for me to refuse to answer to ‘either or’ questions: ‘stay at home mom’, ‘working mom’, ‘part time mom’, ‘full-time bitch’. Whatever, we all have work to do, don’t we? I always sucked big time at Multiple Choice Testing anyway.
Sara Goldfarb: [about her pills] Purple in the morning, blue in the afternoon, orange in the evening.
There’s my three meals, Mr. Smartypants. And green at night. Just like that.
One, two, three, four.
Requiem for a dream (2000)
[Preliminary note: this post contains themes much heavier than my usual stuff such as drugs, alcohol, gambling shit]
We just got back from a 5-day trip to Vermont and yesterday at 8pm was the first time in the last week or so that I have found myself on my own, truly. Nothing frivolous, it was just me on my way to grocery shopping. But just as I was going to exit my building, I sat down in the cold lobby and felt …bummed out. I was feeling down and had been feeling this way for a couple of days. Because Philip Seymour Hoffman died.
I feel stupid and crazy just saying it out loud. And if I am being perfectly honest, it is just not that he died that makes me sad. It is not just because I will no longer have the joy of watching his immense talent. It is just not because, in a completely silly way, I felt connected to him, having seen him many times with his young son by his side cheering ‘in unison with me’ the ups and downs of our team, the Knicks. Every time his debonair face was shown by the Madison Square Garden production crew, I would squeal like a mad fan. I was also always surprised by how the Garden’s crowd, who usually cheered comedians like Chris Rock and simply ignored non-TV peeps, would actually give a very warm welcome to this character actor. I guess it is what real talent does: it breaks barriers. So, as I was saying, I was not only sad because he died but also because of how he died: an alleged overdose. His death is yet another proof that addiction often wins out.
Addiction pisses me off, uneases me and pains me. It pisses me off when DH stops listening to me while playing Angry Freaking Bird or Candy crush snubs me. It uneases me when some of my loved ones take prescription drugs unsupervised to ‘take the edge off’. And it pains me because deep inside I am terrified that I was born to be an addict.
I always felt blessed that I never touched hard drugs when I was presented with it. I mean, I am still dabbling with a smoking addiction for Heaven’s sake. Indeed, in the last 14 years I relapsed twice for a couple of years each time. People are bewildered by the fact that I can go through 7 or 8 years without one fag, just to fuck it up one evening after a little too much alcohol and a little too much fun. It’s always the same story: a flickering lighter, a few inhalations and the self conviction that ‘it’s no big deal, I have kicked this one before’. The sad truth is that I have never kicked out the dependency but rather let it sleep…every now and then.
In College, I saw cocaine, ecstasy, acid, a lot of shit passing through. I always refused to try any of it, claiming that my anal retentive persona could never let myself go entirely anyway so what was the point? But truth to be told, a part of me was scared shitless about what addiction to this crap could do to me. I could not even handle booze. I once woke up in an unknown apartment, age 20, covered in my own puke after 1 year of what I now know was college binge drinking but was back then called ‘having fun’. I woke up, I stole a T-shirt, and threw my top in a street trash can and walked home, my brain about to explode, and bawling my eyes out. I almost fucking killed myself in my own puke. What the fuck? Unbelievable. And for what? NEVER again. As I watched people walking to work and looking suspiciously at my disheveled self, I remember thinking: ‘I should really know better’.
Indeed, I have seen my mom, a reformed pathological gambler, feeling invincible while being possessed by the thrill of losing or gaining it all. And it looked very ugly. I have seen an intelligent woman incapable of making any (let alone the right) decision for herself or her family. Her feverish eyes and mad giggling when touching a stack of cards have scarred me to life. And I was (and probably still am) convinced that addiction, that feverish look and mad giggling, was/is in my DNA, in waiting to be unleashed. It is paranoia probably but maybe not.
Casinos for example freak the hell out of me. When people hear laughter, the clinking of cocktail glasses, the whispers and sighs after the roulette stops, I hear my parents screaming at each other about the mortgage not being paid, the chatter of women cooking non stop in our kitchen to feed the gamblers, drunks dancing on music from a badly tuned sound system and the muffled cheesy ballads from the headphones my sis was always wearing to cover the noise. However, despite all this, the few times I have been dealt some cards or given some coins for slot machines I become absolutely frantic. I can feel the surge in my veins. I just want more of everything.
That is why I try to stay the hell away from temptations. Full stop. And I feel I am OK, I am on top of this. But when stories about some guy who died relapsing after decades of being clean emerge, it fucks me up big time. And I get scared about addiction in general. And I am also so angry. Especially when that dude was one of the greatest. In his Time obituary Aaron Sorkin, a recovering drug addict, wrote about PSH: ‘I told him I felt lucky because I’m squeamish and can’t handle needles. He told me to stay squeamish. And he said this: “If one of us dies of an overdose, probably 10 people who were about to won’t.” He meant that our deaths would make news and maybe scare someone clean’.
I hope so.
R.I.P Philip Seymour Hoffman – Photo Credit: Victoria Will/Invision/AP.
‘Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
‘Cause it’s OK to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading
But secretly you’d love to know what it’s like
What it feels like for a girl’
Since I started redlipstickmama, there is something I managed to do rather well: not censuring myself. And this for many reasons:
– freedom of thought helps my writing. I spent the last 10 years of my career getting my words edited with a red pencil, or with CAPS or worst with shrewd cutting out of entire paragraphs. And although it was very often deserved (tendency to ramble is second nature to me), it always crippled me a little.
– commitment to authenticity is key to my own sanity and to the enjoyment (I hope) of my 300 or so readers (note: I look like I am bragging but considering 2/3 are friends and family…)
Anyway, there is one subject that I have started to write about and kept deleting over and over again: my own daughter. It all started innocently enough. I was looking at my Facebook page insights and noticed how my blog posts about my boy G. are usually quite popular. I then realized with sheer horror that I to date have written at least 2 blog posts about him and 0 about my daughter, P.
DH and I are obsessed about fairness when it comes to raising our kids. DH, because it is one of the things his folks did very well -always giving equivalent time, money, gifts etc. to him and his sisters – and Me, because it is one of the things my folks fucked up big time. It is popular knowledge in my family that one out of us 5 got more financial support, or more praise, or more demands, more criticisms from my mom and my dad. Thank god, it was not always the same kid who got it all. It’s a miracle the 5 of us actually love each other 🙂
Indeed, when I started my blog, one of my goals was to document our family life. I hoped that my kids one day will read all my entries when the time for them comes to forgive me for the obnoxious way I proclaim that ‘I know them better than they know themselves’ or when they start criticizing my style and maybe understand that back then I had no time nor the inclination to comb my hair or wear anything but sweat pants. And we all know that old habits die hard, right? I especially hope that they will read the blog when it is time to decide which retirement home they will put us in when we loose our brain and can no longer make any decisions and read this: RESORT, GOLF, DANCE CLUB, FLO-RI-DA.
I felt horribly bad about not having written about P so I was adamant to amend this immediately. But then, I started to do the unthinkable: censoring myself. I kept deleting words wondering: ‘what is she going to feel when she reads this? Will she think I prefer her brothers?’
The truth is that I have very complex emotions when it comes to P. It started way before she was even born. It started way before I was told I was pregnant with twin boy and girl. As far as I can remember I have always been nervous about raising a daughter perhaps because:
- I have my own up and down and ‘come to a full circle’ relationship with my mom.
- I often had intense passive aggressive friendships with girls; so much that for a very long time half my family thought I had lesbian affairs
- I was raised to be competitive with my almost twin sister. I mean, our very own grandparents used to bet on whom would win a Mano a Mano wrestling fight. I was 4. Who does this? I swear Lao people are mental.
- I felt I already had a daughter in the shape of my 14 year younger sister to whom I already taught what I think every girl should know: not to cry over boys, love other girls, how to pluck their eyebrows and how one should always avoid, unless your name is Rihanna, combining micro skirts and high heels.
Thus since P was born, I cannot for the life of myself understand why I am tougher on her than on her brothers. I cringe when she flirts her way through things, when she bawls her eyes out when G & L barely push her, when she is obsessing about lip balms or constantly demands to wear dresses. She is so precocious that she thinks my girlfriends are her girlfriends. She protests about anything and everything. Maybe I cannot handle how ‘girly’ she is. Or maybe I cannot handle how she basically trashed a whole life conviction that gender neutral upbringing would help girls not to fall into the ‘traps’ societies build for them such as the expectations to be cute, sweet and pretty or to love nursing their baby doll. But here I am with my twin boy and girl doing exactly the same thing to no avail; she is all about sparkles and making adults fall in love with her.
I grew up thinking that I had to be one of the boys to make it. And for now, she makes it clear that the last thing she wants to do is ‘act like a boy’. The world she is growing into is different, I guess, and hopefully offers more narratives about what a strong woman truly is. I don’t know. While Beyoncé sings ‘girls rule the world’ and Sheryl Sandberg has been officially decreed a billionaire, institutional, social and political deficiencies continue to stymie the potential of girls and women. I am talking about glass ceiling, oversexualization of girls and women bodies, governments’ inability to articulate the value of childcare into sound long-term economic policies, reproductive rights that continuously need to be defended (Spain, I am talking to you and Shame on you!), or how parental leave actually still means ‘maternal leave’.
So yeah, maybe I am tougher because I worry more (that, plus the fact that she will eventually steal all my designer shoes collection). But does me being harder on her is actually telling her that I expect her to fail by being herself? Am I tough because I am sometimes disappointed by the woman I am? It is not fair and P, I make you this promise: I will try harder to be the woman I wish you would grow into. Also you are already very awesome because you just cracked me up two days ago when you strutted towards me in my UGG boots applying some balm on your lips and firmly demanded: ‘Mom, I want a wrench and a fast car. Can you buy me that?’
You made me remember this kick ass quote from Sarah Silverman: ‘Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake. Not because they can’t, but because it would never have occurred to them that they couldn’t.’
‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’
Martin Luther King Jr.
Something that has been happening with G in the last few weeks got me thinking about self-identification and got me to revisit my own past struggle with my diverse identities. Basically (not) G thinks he is a black boy. And not in the cheesy Vanilla ice ice baby but as a boy with ebony skin and curly hair…My Manga faced boy sees himself as the 6th member of the Jacksons Five. Indeed, in all the books, IPad games, etc. if there is an illustration of a black boy, G points at the little boy and assertively claims: ‘it’s me, it’s G!!!‘ Every single time!
My initial reaction was: ‘Oh fuck, he is really really color blind’ (Note: he is struggling to identify primary colors). But as I started to study his big smile while proclaiming his ‘blackness’, I realized that his odd thinking was more complex and actually more beautiful than simple color blindness. The kid may flunk his public school ‘Gifted and Talented’ program entry test but he made me proud – a lot – in the last few weeks.
He reminded me that for a long time, I could never identify myself as Asian because I grew in a predominantly white neighborhood and thought I was just the same as my then fair skinned best friend Mariel. I remember studying for hours my face in the mirror of my parents’ old wardrobe and would not ‘see’ that my eyes were slanted, my hair was blacker and thicker than anyone else in my class (bar my sister), that I did not have any nose bridge (despite pulling my nose for an hour every night in bed and if you want details: yes it hurt and yes I felt stupid doing it…crazy girl) and that there were many reasons why my name could not be Stephanie or Adele. I would not ‘see’ but I knew I was different.
He reminded me that it took me almost 2 decades to reconcile my various cultural and ethnic identities and a lot of resilience to overcome the abuse from French kids calling me ‘Chinetoque’ (French racist slur for Chinese people) and from the Lao people calling me out for being a ‘banana‘ (no comment).
Because of all this, I wanted my kids to grow up in a place like Harlem so they can see and understand things such as:
– people of different colors besides your parents can fall in love and have kids together
– or white women are not necessarily the adoptive mothers of dark skinned children but can be the nannies paid by dark skinned parents
It became a kind of obsession to promote diversity in our family life; obsession obviously rooted in my own childhood insecurities.
But my kids seem to have taken their very own journey about their understanding and experience of race and class. G showed me something really new to me. He showed me that a boy with a caucasian dad and an Asian mom sees himself as a proud and happy black boy. And I will blast anyone who try to correct him and force him into boxes. I will blast them – Manga style.
What do you see when you look yourself in the mirror?
PS: meanwhile my daughter P is adamant she lives in the ‘Park’, I am at loss about what she means by this…I shall investigate and report to you soon 🙂
‘ My body may be a work-in-progress, but there is nothing wrong with my soul.’
Bree Osbourne (Felicity Huffman), Transamerica
Last week, DH sent me an email about a vigil in Harlem for Islan Nettles. I had no idea about who this hot African American woman was. I searched about her death and my heart stopped for like a second. A couple of weeks ago, 20 blocks away from my home, she and her friends were the victims of homophobic insults. A ‘scuffle’ apparently ensued and she was beaten bad, real bad. On Thursday 22 August, she was declared brain dead. She died because she was a beautiful and happy woman who once was a little boy. A mother had to bury her daughter because some people hated that Islan was proud to be a woman. 20 blocks away from my home she, with her high cheekbones, endless eyelashes and plump lips, by just being herself caused a hateful man to repeatedly hit her until she could not get up anymore…
I don’t know anyone who is transitioning or has transitioned to another gender. And if I am really honest with myself, not so long ago I was still feeling uncomfortable in the presence of transgender people. I would freeze for tenth of a second when someone with manly hands would firmly hold some train doors for me but all I could focus on was the red polish of their nails. I remember feeling pity looking at an old 65 year old pre op woman wearing a slutty skirt and riding her bike down Northcote road in London some years ago because while her long red hair was blowing in the wind, her male junk was crushed against the bicycle seat. I think what unsettled me was their absolute confidence about being who they were regardless of snide comments or bemused looks. Understandably it was, I am sure, the result of a very long and painful search and struggle. I more recently realized that I was in fact half admirative and half intimidated by such boldness and ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude. In the end, you could say that transgender women are the type of women I always wanted to be: unapologetic.
Islan’s death shook me deeply. It is a hate crime that happened in a place I have so proudly called home. Her death may seem like a tragic but isolated incident for New York—one of the birthplaces of the modern LGBT-rights movement. But ‘bias crimes’ have nearly doubled since this time last year here in New York City and people of color have been particularly affected…And this creeps the hell out of me.
I am not sure when transgender community will be finally accepted and respected in our society but a conversation I had with my 2 year old daughter over Labor day week end taught me something: we are never too young to learn respect and acceptance. She was teasing my (very woman like) girlfriend in a mean way by telling her: ‘ You are not a girl!’
My friend replied: ‘Yes, I am.’
P insisted: ‘No, you are not.’ (Note: these days, P thinks the worst insult she can give someone is to tell them they are boys…)
So the two of them went back and forth: ‘Yes, I am a girl’, ‘No, you’re not’ etc. I would normally find this whole banter cute but I started to get really annoyed and snapped: ‘It does not matter what you say, think or see, Miss P. If someone tells you they are a girl, or a boy as a matter of fact, you have to respect this and accept what they say, and move on, full stop.‘ She looked at me totally confused but I did not care because I knew I had found my own simple way to talk about tolerance and I was going to repeat this again and again until my kids get it. Islan and other transgender women deserved this… at the very least.
I lost my voice over the weekend. Literally. It was probably a rather nice break for DH and the kids. This quiet life is an interesting experience. I have been knocking once on the wall to say ‘Yes’ and twice to say ‘No’. I have yet to find a quicker way than the morse code to ‘say’: LEAVE ME ALONE! Without words, I seem to be able to keep my emotions more in check. Usually irate things are actually kind of OK when you can’t talk. For example, kids punching each other would normally start a screaming fit on my part. Well, not at the moment. Instead, I gently take their hands and get them to do something less barbaric such as play with a puzzle or less painful such as punching the baby doll instead (I do realize that the latter tactic will probably come back and bite me in the arse). Inside I also feel more at peace too, strangely. A silent me seems to be a better mom. Strange. Disturbing even.
However, the minus side is that I had to go berserk silently when a friend posted this video Teach men not to rape in which Zerlina Maxwell and TV host, Hannity are debating arming women for self-defense Vs teaching men not to commit violence on women and rape. It infuriates me to no end this bullshit about arming up the whole country to feel safer and fight crime. It drives me nuts when the pro gun faction says ‘it is not the guns the problem, it is the people’ to fight gun bans but then denigrate long-term violence prevention measures that seriously focus on people and, let’s face, more specifically men. And I am not talking about men with mental health issues, still a small proportion of the entire population and probably an even smaller proportion of the violent population. Indeed, it pisses me off when people like Hannity put yet again the onus on women. Enough of this ‘gender equality’ meaning a focus on women as victims, perpetrators, the people who have less and thus have to be helped to change. I have found an excellent article on the masculinity excesses in crime and violence by Cynthia Cockburn and Ann Oakley published in openDemocracy. Here’s a powerful extract:
‘Year after year, we fail to connect the huge burden of masculine anti-social behaviour with the social and economic system of which it is part. Where is the search for reasons and remedies? Instead of joining the dots, and drawing a conclusion, we treat every piece of breaking news as a shocking new scandal, a special case. Jimmy Savile is exposed, along with other male celebrity paedophiles. The policy response, ready and waiting, is ‘we need better child protection’. Nobody thinks to ask, ‘what is it with men and power?’ A school massacre grabs the headlines. It is taken for granted the perpetrator will be a male. But the policy response is ‘tighten gun control’. Not, ‘what is it with men and guns?’ Almost always in such accounts of violent crime the man as male, the man as masculine, remains a shadowy figure behind the text. He is never brought into the spotlight. We do not hear him questioned. We do not hear him answer.’
When you see someone on national TV like Hannity being dumbfounded by the suggestion that men, masculinity and violence are correlated as if it was the first time he heard about such concept, you realize that there is a long way to go to address the roots of violence in our societies.
Here’s a copy of the email I sent to Boy Scouts of America.
Dear Boy Scouts of America
I never write directly to organizations to lobby for stuff. I am more than happy to give a monthly small gift to good causes or sign online petitions but writing? Nope. Never done it.
I decided to stay awake tonight while my 3 babies are sound asleep in the room next door , which is sheer madness considering they will probably crawl into my bed to play at 4am. I decided to give up much needed sleep to write to you, Boy Scouts of America because I am very upset. I am upset that you are still debating whether or not to allow gay scouts and leaders in your organization.
See, my husband and I are overwhelmed parents of three babies. Our families are far and if it was not for the dedication, love and support of our gay friends our children, I am ashamed to say, would not be so happy. These friends are our life support and they offer so much to my kids: safe arms to snuggle into, patient ears to talk to, singing voices to listen to, energy to play with etc. It pains me to think amazing people like them could not be mentors and friends to your members because of whom they love. Concerned families might be afraid that their influence would ‘turn’ their children into gay people. I will avoid the nature Vs nurture debate to tell you this: many gay people I know are petrified that some children they care for turn out to be gay because they know how it still sucks to be gay. So, no it is very unlikely that gay scout leaders would be on a mission to ‘Gay-icize’ members. Concerned families might be afraid that gay leaders would hurt their children. Let’s stop being hypocrites here and address this: gay does not equal pedophilia.
Finally, I saw that a key component of your mission is character building and development. I think kids desperately need such support to blossom in an increasingly complex world where bullying culture is overlooked or worse celebrated sometimes. Your organization is therefore exceptionally well placed to build a tolerant and positive America for future generations. Please lift the ban. It is your duty.
a (straight) mother of three in Harlem, New York
DH works for a big ‘let’s make money’ corporation but it is amazing how many good causes he has been involved in. The guy is a walking nonprofit and not just because his entire pay check is spent on feeding his wife and kids. He has mentored a kid from the Bronx, recruited members for the LGBT Allies Network, advised social entrepreneurs, trained Columbia students and is now organizing a seminar for the Parents and Families Network. He basically did more volunteering than I did in my whole life and I worked for the non profit industry. Yes, he is annoying like that.
He decided to put together a seminar to help parents deal with their children being gay or having gender identities questioning. I guess it will also probably mention how to talk about gay people to your children whether they are gay or not. I wondered when the kids would ask about Thor and Archibald’s sexuality. Being gay is so a non issue in our house that I never prepared myself for explaining what, for me, should not need any explanation whatsoever. I probably should though.
I should because the rest of world is not New York City. I should because being gay does not mean accepting being gay. Indeed, my child saying ‘Mom, I am gay’ is easy for me to deal with but I would not know what to say if one day, they confessed ‘Mom, I am gay but I don’t want to be’. Yes, in a few years gay marriage may be legal but it does not mean people won’t hate gays anymore. Every day hate and prejudice will likely prevail beyond. The little sniggerring or not that funny fag jokes. They are the slow killers.
The trap not to fall into for ‘liberals’ (as we are being called here) like me is to think that we should not care for what gay haters or even gay neutral peeps – people who don’t hate gays but really, really don’t understand why we need to make such a fuss about equality because nobody really cares if you are gay or not…yeah, right – say. I think my kids will care. They will care that once they leave their home, they might face disgust and incomprehension and I should be thus prepared. Definitely asking DH for the PowerPoint handouts.