How to wear a pussy hat to the Women’s March without being a complete jerk

A person wearing a black pussy hat with a trans pride flag.
I think my black pussy hat is awesomesauce.

We are on the eve of the 2018 Women’s March and we’re having an impassioned argument about pussy hats.

The pussy hat – if you recall – was originally a clever response to Donald Trump’s horrific “grab ’em by the pussy” remark. Its DIY nature removed a consumerist agenda from the equation, a feat rare in our late-stage capitalist society. Also, they’re cute. It’s understandable why so many people are attached to them.

But advocates for trans and gender nonconforming people point out that not all women and femmes have pussies. Advocates for women of color point out not all pussies are pink. They are asking people not to wear their pussy hats. These concerns and requests are valid; but they’re mostly not about the hats, they’re about the priorities of the people wearing them.

If you really want to resist the political and humanitarian disaster of Trump’s so-called presidency, commit to the resistance movement that has been going on for centuries. I am speaking of course of the movement to end the systemic abuse of black, brown, trans, queer, disabled, and poor people. Unless it fully embraces, centers, and uplifts the goals of the original resistance, the white resistance will fail.

If you’re mostly concerned with wanting to wear your pussy hat and not with listening to the people who are telling you it’s problematic, you’re playing into Trump’s hands. If you take off the hat to avoid criticism, but aren’t willing to do the work of learning about and speaking up for the original resistance, you’re playing into Trump’s hands.

Pussy hats are a symbol, and symbols can be adapted. Some months ago, I asked my stepmother to knit me a black pussy hat. I was getting ready to attend a Black Lives Matter protest and the organizer had asked attendees to wear black hats. I thought that a black pussy hat would be a good way to acknowledge the specific violence that our systems inflict on black women. It prompted some great conversations.

So, if you want to wear a pussy hat on Saturday and not be a jerk about it, deck it out with symbols that represent your commitment to intersectionality. Find some blue, pink, and white ribbons and stitch them onto your pussy hat in the shape of a trans pride flag. Put a Black Lives Matter pin or sticker on one of the ears. Get creative. Show us your DIY intersectional pussy hat magic.

But then don’t be a hypocrite when you take off the hat and go back to the rest of your life. Use whatever power this society affords you to stand up for the humanity of the people who don’t have that power. Without making that effort, whether or not you wear the hat is completely meaningless.


Emotional Labor

Writing songs, speeches, and essays, researching and synthesizing information, and organizing and performing at protests are all emotional labor. Please consider making a contribution to my work.

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Unbearable whiteness: the trap of perfectionism in anti-racist work

I was fortunate enough to snag a ticket to see Sara Porkalob’s brilliant production of Young Jean Lee’s  “Straight White Men” at Washington Ensemble Theatre last night. (It was just extended but it keeps selling out, so consider yourself lucky if you can get tickets.)

The show is a living room drama that centers Ed (David S. Klein) and his three grown sons, Matt (Frank Boyd), Jake (Andy Buffalen), and Drew (Sam Turner); all straight white men. The narrative is curated by two “people in charge,” both visibly queer people of color, played by Nina Williams-Teramachi and Nicholas Japaul Bernard.

After his mother’s death, Matt – who has a B.A. from Harvard and a graduate degree from Stanford and has done a decade of work at a broad variety of NGOs – comes home to cook and clean for his father and work an entry level clerical job at a local nonprofit.

His father and “alpha male” brothers are confused about his sudden loss of ambition. Drew is convinced he’s in need of therapy. Jake believes he’s being noble by stepping back from leadership to allow people with less privilege a chance to be at the center. Ed assumes he’s simply come home to pay off his student loans, and is intent on handing him a check so he can go out and fulfill his destiny as a great man.

As it turns out, Matt’s reason for not fully leveraging his education and experience is that he doesn’t feel like he was ever truly useful in any of the work he was doing. It felt like all he was doing was making things worse because didn’t have the answers.

Everything about this situation sets us up to like and respect Matt. His choice comes across as the product of laudable self-awareness and humility, and Frank Boyd does such a great job of discovering and revealing Matt’s humanity that he invites our empathy.

But there’s something really wrong with bowing out of using the considerable investment that’s been placed in your education because you’ve discovered you don’t have all the answers and you’ve messed some things up.

Fucking up is a natural part of being human, but Matt has decided that he’s going to pack up his toys and go home because he can’t be a perfect hero. This is the ultimate trap of whiteness; to be able to withdraw from the struggle for justice because you can’t tolerate the shame and ickiness you feel when faced with moral ambiguity and your own flaws.

If you are a person with privilege and you engage in the necessary work of dismantling it, you will have to be vulnerable and it will sometimes suck. You’re going to be self-conscious and unsure of where to put your hands. You’re going to feel profoundly ashamed when you discover new things about your privilege.

At some point, you’re going to say something ignorant and be called on it. People are going to be angry at you. You will lose privileged friends because you called them on their privilege. You will lose marginalized friends because you did or said something they cannot forgive.

We’ve already established that narcissism is the desire to remain perfectly invulnerable, and that narcissism is one of the prerequisites for a fascist society. What might appear to be Matt’s self-awareness is really the kind of inexcusable self-absorption that leads to being a passive bystander in a world that needs more participants.

The real mind fuck of the show for me was how attracted I found myself to Matt. I’ve historically had a penchant for finding the birds with the broken wings and trying to make them whole again, and I caught myself positively longing to be his manic pixie dream girl. And here is yet another product of constantly centering straight white men in our narratives for hundreds of years: the brooding protagonist is always supposed to get the girl.


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Writing songs, speeches, and essays, researching and synthesizing information, and organizing and performing at protests are all emotional labor. Please consider making a contribution to my work.

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Why narcissists go fascist: how Trump helped me connect the dots between attachment theory and authoritarianism

Photograph of Donald Trump at the age of three.
Tiny Tyrant: was Donald Trump born to be bad or was he made that way?

The nature vs. nurture question is as old as time; and it is more germane to our political conversation than ever before. Was Donald Trump always destined to be a terrible human being, or did a traumatic childhood pervert his tiny soul?

I’m not a psychiatric expert, merely a developmental trauma survivor with an insecure attachment style who has done a lot of reading and thinking about attachment theory and narcissism. But here’s what I see…

Attachment theory and shame

One of the things that makes humans different from other mammals is that our young are defenseless for years after they are born. Even as full-grown adults, we don’t have fangs or claws to protect ourselves from predators. Our survival adaptations are primarily relational. We rely on each other. The relational survival mechanisms that keep us safe and connected to our parents when we are very small are what academics call “attachment style.”

Primary attachment is based in attunement between parent and child. Parents who can successfully attune teach their children that their needs are worthy of being met. Children who grow up this way are securely attached and go on to have healthy adult relationships. Children whose needs are not met in this way develop adaptations that allow them to get their needs met, but those adaptations are very difficult to change and they may not be as adaptive in adulthood.

Shame researcher turned self help mega-guru Brené Brown came up with another way of explaining all this, which she outlined in her blockbuster 2010 TED talk.

In the course of her research on shame, Brown found that there was a group that were especially resilient to shame. When they messed up an assignment or lost their temper with a loved one, they were able to own their mistake and make changes over time. When they got their hearts broken, they were able to grieve without feeling bad about feeling bad.

What these folks had in common was a deep knowledge that they were worthy of love and belonging even when they were messy, needy, or otherwise inconvenient. To them, vulnerability wasn’t excruciating, it was just necessary. Brown called these people the “wholehearted.”

I think wholeheartedness is another way of describing secure attachment. When these folks were little, their attentive-enough caregivers gave them the consistent message that their vulnerability, mistakes, and human foibles would not get them abandoned. As a result, they can be vulnerable without falling into intolerable self-loathing.

Insecure attachment and narcissism

If secure attachment is what teaches people to deal with vulnerability without getting bogged down in shame, then what happens to people with insecure styles? How do they cope with their own mortality? How do they deal with the vulnerability of their partners? Their children? Refugees? The homeless?

There’s a whole spectrum of healthy and unhealthy mechanisms for dealing with vulnerability, and at the far end of that spectrum are people who are are sometimes labeled as having “personality disorders” by the psychiatric community.

Some clinicians hold that these folks never learned to tolerate shame, which would explain why they are unable to be vulnerable. They do everything they can to avoid feeling exposed. In their fear of getting their hearts broken, they manipulate and control their partners. They cannot stand the vulnerability of their children and rage at them over minor mistakes. They create chaos in professional situations and then deflect blame onto others. The more successful they are at burying their shame, the harder time they will have in seeking help.

Donald Trump is an extreme manifestation of this kind of insecure attachment. He cannot ever be vulnerable or admit fault. He will lie or allow others to take the fall for his errors and misdeeds and then go out of his way to get praise and admiration. He has absolutely no ability to generate a feeling of worthiness from within himself and therefore no capacity to examine his own shame and make changes to his behavior. This is narcissism.

What does all of this have to do with fascism?

Fascism is the fear of vulnerability writ large. In a fascist society, the dear leader is always right. Accepted reality is constantly in flux depending on what the leader needs to have be true in that moment to justify what they choose to do next. The leader never has to be vulnerable, and so they never have to experience the intolerable self-loathing that they never figured out how to rescue themselves from.

Indeed, the 14 warning signs of fascism can all be thought of through the lens of defense mechanisms against vulnerability:

Warning signHow it protects from vulnerability.
Powerful and continuing nationalismThe state is an extension of the dear leader, who can do no wrong and is all-powerful.
Disdain for human rightsRecognizing the humanity and rights of the vulnerable is to recognize that anyone can be made vulnerable at any time.
Identification of enemies as a unifying causeThere is someone "out there" to blame for all our problems. We will deflect any shame we may feel about our problems onto others.
Supremacy of the militaryIf we pump enough resources into our fighting forces, we will always be the strongest and nothing will ever be able to hurt us.
Rampant sexismThe desire women engender makes men weak. Nobody should need the sustenance and nurturance that mothers provide. To accept the divine, feminine, creative force is to accept the circle of life and the vulnerability and mortality that comes with it.
Controlled mass mediaControlling the flow of information means that the leader does not ever need to be wrong.
Obsession with national securityThe leader/state is obsessed with self-protection from all who would challenge them within and without.
Religion and government intertwinedAll forms of power must be centralized in one place. Nobody may practice their own form of worship. All worship is directed to the infallible leader by the infallible leader.
Corporate power protectedPower is consolidated in the hands of corporate leaders who will prop up the top abuser to protect their own advantages; protecting themselves from vulnerability as well.
Labor power suppressedTo acknowledge that the "lower class" labor force is human is to acknowledge that any human being can fall on hard times and need to do less prestigious work.
Disdain for intellectuals and the artsAsking questions, challenging accepted dogma with new ideas, and creative self-expression are all forms of vulnerability that also challenge the inerrancy of the leader and, by extension, the state.
Obsession with crime and punishmentShame and blame can be deflected onto a few "criminals" and other bad guys who can then be discarded, sacrificed, or abused.
Rampant cronyism and corruptionEconomic power is consolidated with the state, which decreases the vulnerability of the powerful.
Fraudulent electionsThe voices of everyday people (the vulnerable) are not respected because to see them as human with a right to select their own leaders would be to acknowledge that the leader might be fallible.

To be continued…

I’ll be writing more on this topic because I’m constantly thinking, reading, and refining these ideas and looking for solutions. I’m curious to hear what everyone reading thinks and what your questions are about this line of thinking. Does it make sense to you? What pieces need more explaining? What could be explained more simply?


Influences

Many other folks aside from Brené Brown have influenced this thinking. Following the work of psychiatrist and political commentator Propane Jane on Twitter over the past year has been particularly crucial.

As has the work of therapist and speaker Rokelle Lerner.

And the writings of attachment researcher and clinician Dr. Sue Johnson and anarchofeminist writer Starkhawk.

Continue reading “Why narcissists go fascist: how Trump helped me connect the dots between attachment theory and authoritarianism”

Everyone is talking about bringing down Trump with a massive protest, but how do we actually do it?

Millions of gathered in Washington and around the world on January 21, 2017 to protest Donald Trump’s inauguration. How do we use that energy to bring Trump down?

Last year, I got involved with a group called Refuse Fascism that was planning massive demonstrations on November 4 with the goal of bringing down the Trump/Pence regime. I agreed with them on two main points:

  1. Trump and Pence were installed by an authoritarian foreign government in order to further the interests of authoritarians and oligarchs here and abroad.
  2. Massive, regular protest is required in order to protect what is left of our democracy.

The November 4 effort fizzled for a number of reasons that I won’t belabor here. Chief among them was the assumption that millions of people would be willing to forsake their careers and families to spend weeks and months camped out in the streets in the dead of winter. That’s just not America.

What we need is a massive, ongoing protest that doesn’t require people to completely upend their lives.

About a month ago, I wrote a blog post proposing a protest of this nature that would disrupt consumer banking. In the intervening time, I have discussed the idea with many people whose opinions I respect and trust, including Kati Wilkins of Seattle Indivisible, my fellow organizer and dear friend Lara Lavi, and my dad.

They all convinced me that creating a disruption to the intermediaries that handle much of the day-to-day financial infrastructure for most Americans would not only be ineffective at influencing the powerful and well-connected, it would disrupt the well-being and livelihood of many Americans. Their arguments make sense to me.

What I liked about the original idea was:

  1. The protest was coordinated, repeated at regular intervals, and was designed to escalate virally.
  2. The protest did not require people to walk away from their daily lives, jobs, and families to spend an unknowable amount of time in the streets.

The trick now is figuring out what kind of protest will satisfy those two requirements while:

  1. Actually hitting the oligarchs here and abroad.
  2. Not creating a ton of collateral damage for the most vulnerable Americans.

I don’t have the answer to that yet, but I’m going to keep thinking on it. I encourage anyone with ideas to please reach out.


Emotional Labor

Writing songs, speeches, and essays, researching and synthesizing information, and organizing and performing at protests are all emotional labor. Please consider making a contribution to my work.

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How to understand intersectionality, even if you’re a nice white lady

Image of Kimberlé Crenshaw with explanation of intersectionality as a framework for understanding the ways that identities compound to create unique experiences.Intersectionality is a way of looking at history and modern society that acknowledges that:

  • each person has a unique combination of identities,
  • these identities result in structural and interpersonal advantages and hardships, and
  • these advantages and hardships impact both our access to opportunity and our ability to take advantage of it.

These identities can include things like:

  • Race (and perceived race)
  • Gender (and perceived gender)
  • Economic background
  • Disability (visible and invisible)
  • Education
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Nationality

It’s all a mix

Another important point is that everyone has a mix of advantages and disadvantages. An upper middle-class black woman with a PhD. from Harvard is going to have better job prospects than a working class white guy who has a GED, but she’s still got to deal with rape culture and is 2.8x more likely to get killed by police than he is.

In her own words…

Kimberlé Crenshaw first coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989. Here is her TED talk on the subject from 2016.

What do we do with this?

The point of all this is simple: we are all one species and no human life is worth more than any other.

This means we have to stop thinking of ourselves as being on different teams and start standing up for one another; but that starts with awareness.

Try asking yourself these questions:

  • Who listens to me and takes my opinion and needs into consideration? Who doesn’t? Why? Who do they listen to?
  • Who has more power than I do? Who has less? How can I use the power society gives me to make life better for people who have less of that kind of power?
  • When was the last time I really listened to someone who has less power than I do? What did I learn?
  • What parts of this make me uncomfortable? Why?

The goal is to get to a world where everyone gets the same basic social support from their fellow human beings. No human being should ever have to live without:

  • Breathable air
  • Drinkable water
  • A safe place to live
  • Food that is culturally and nutritionally appropriate
  • Clothing that is culturally and environmentally appropriate
  • Medical care, including mental health and reproductive health
  • An education that fits their individual needs as a learner

It should not be a politically controversial statement to say that all human beings are worthy of care. We can disagree about how we get to this world; but the time has come for us to come together around advocating for this basic standard of living for everyone.


Emotional Labor

Writing songs, speeches, and essays, researching and synthesizing information, and organizing and performing at protests are all emotional labor. Please consider making a contribution to my work.

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This is awkward, but…I’m selling stuff

I’ve never made it a secret that the following things are true:

  • I come from intergenerational wealth.
  • My husband works for Amazon.
  • We live a comfortable upper middle-class lifestyle.

I don’t really need much more money in my life. I’m not looking to get rich off of my work as an artist or an activist. I am also extremely uneasy about capitalism in general.

That said, recording and promoting music costs money and my wonderful Noah deserves to not be the sole breadwinner in our household because that’s a lot of pressure to put on one human being. So… I now have a store where you can buy things.

While I’m still building the financial model for the rest of my business – and things may vary at times – my general practices will be as follows:

  • 25% of Tae Phoenix Entertainment’s share of profits will be donated to grassroots organizations that are run by and for marginalized people. I’m still evaluating that list, and I would love suggestions. I will be posting receipts for this on a quarterly basis.
  • All I want is to make a living wage. I will cap my take-home pay at $15/hour, or $40,000 in today’s dollars, whichever comes first. Should my cost of living change substantially, I’ll be transparent about any adjustments to this.
  • Wherever possible, I will sell products that are made in the US.
  • I will call out my profit margin on all physical goods I sell.

So, now that we’ve had this little talk, perhaps I can interest you in some fine merchandise?

“We Outnumber Him! Resist!” Fitted Pink Short Sleeve T-Shirt

More things for sale here

Women’s March 2018 Proposal: #BreaktheBanks Rolling Bank Strike

A woman holds a sign that reads "Find a way to get in the way - Rep John Lewis" at the St. Louis Women's March.

The United States is in a radically terrible place right now. Avowed white supremacists and rapists are openly working in government. The free press, the independence of the judiciary, and the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are all under open attack by the White House and Congress. All people outside of the 1% are suffering attacks on our economic livelihoods.

A radically terrible government calls for a radical response. That’s why I’m proposing a coordinated, rolling bank strike to coincide with the 2018 Women’s March. Women (and our male supporters, and non-binary folks) control the majority of the purchasing power in this country and we are sick of the pussy grabbing and rampant white supremacy. It’s time to act boldly.

The big idea

Every 21st day of the month, members of the resistance will pull their money out of corporate banks and put it into credit unions, then publicly challenge three friends to do the same. This would mean that every month, the corporate financial system experiences a predictable (and hopefully escalating) shock as funds are withdrawn. This gets the attention of wealthy power brokers and changes their calculus about where their best interests lie. We would launch the effort on January 21, 2018 to co-incide with the one year anniversary of the Women’s March.

The goal

The strike continues to escalate until all of the demands are met. The demands fall into three categories. Here are some ideas to get us started.
  1.  Protect human rights:
    • Congress opens a sex crimes investigation of Trump and any other lawmakers accused of harassment or assault.
    • A Clean DREAM Act is passed and signed into law.
    • The ICE deportation force stands down.
    • The Muslim ban is rescinded.
    • White extremist groups go back on the terror monitoring list.
    • DOJ reverses course on its support of police militarization and continues Obama-era work to curtail unnecessary use of force.
    • The tax scam is killed.
    • An emergency fund for opioid abuse treatment is made available to the states with the highest rates of opioid addiction.
  2. Protect global stability:
    • Congress revokes Presidential authority to order a nuclear first strike without Congressional approval.
    • The US State Department is staffed and made operational to Obama-era standards.
  3. Protect democracy:
    • No further judicial appointments are approved until Mueller’s Russia investigation concludes.
    • Congress passes a law that would automatically re-instate Mueller in the event that Trump fires him.
    • Each member of Congress publicly commits to call for the impeachment and removal of anyone in the Presidential line of succession indicted for criminal conspiracy with Russia, up to and including Trump himself.
    • Reinstate the Voting Rights Act in its entirety.
    • All states go to voter-verified paper ballots.

Potential obstacles:

  • Switching banks is a pain. We’d need to provide a portal that would make it easy for participants to scan their bank statements for recurring payments and auto-deposits that need to be switched over. That technology exists in the form of Mint.com already and could probably be licensed from Intuit. If they won’t license it to us, we’d need to reinvent the wheel somewhat, but I know some of the people who built the initial code and they could probably do it again.
  •  We’d also need to help people find the right community bank or credit union. There are public databases that we could work with on that front.
  • Obviously, the powers that be aren’t going to like this very much. Too bad for them.

So, what do you think?

Please let me know if you’re into it and consider tweeting and sharing this under the hashtag #BreakTheBanks.

Emotional Labor

Writing songs, speeches, and essays, researching and synthesizing information, and organizing and performing at protests are all emotional labor. Please consider making a contribution to my work.

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