What Would You Do If You Were Not Afraid?

I listen to NPR every chance I get, even if I only have a spare minute or two. You never know what fascinating topics will be discussed. So it was the other day, when I tuned in to hear a man say that he makes a point of asking people, “What would you do if you were not afraid?”

What an intriguing question. I instantly regretted that I wouldn’t be able to continue listening, because I was just about home. Sadly, I don’t know which program it was or who was speaking. (Possibly Speaker’s Forum. I’m not sure.) I only heard him say that several people had replied that they probably wouldn’t be trapped in their miserable jobs if they weren’t so afraid. That made me sad.

The question stuck with me. I’ve been ruminating over it for several days now. It’s made me realize how often people are ruled by fear.

People remain in toxic relationships out of fear. Fear that leaving might result in abuse, or fear of being alone.

Others don’t take risks or challenge themselves in any way, for fear of failure. Because of that, they never realize their full potential.

Women often remain silent for fear of not being taken seriously.

Men often do not show their emotions for fear of being considered weak.

We don’t reach out to others for fear of being rejected.

Many people fear strangers because they’ve been taught to hate, or have never taken the time to get to know someone who is different from themselves.

Most of us fear being pushed out of our comfort zones, and so we are hesitant to test our own boundaries.

Many of us don’t experience life because we’re too busy being afraid of death.

It’s very easy to be ruled by fear, but it means you’ll have to settle for being enslaved by it. And the funny thing is, on those occasions when we manage to push past our fears, we often wind up wondering what we were so afraid of in the first place.

The scariest thing I’ve ever done was to move 3100 miles away from home, to a place I’d never been, where I knew no one. But it also turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done.

So, dear reader, what would you do if you were not afraid?

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The View is Different from Venus to Mars

Gender roles and gender differences have always fascinated me. I’ve written about these subjects several times. Most recently, I wrote a post entitled What Do You Do? about the many steps women take to avoid sexual assault. Men rarely have to think about these things.

If you search my blog for posts about gender, or click on my feminism heading, dozens will come up. Some of these include: Sworn Virgins in Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo; Secure in My Manhood; Buying in to Gender Violence Phraseology; and Gender-Specific Jobs? Pffft.

Recently I had the opportunity to have a very interesting conversation with someone who has a unique insight into gender roles. To protect his privacy, we’ll call him Mr. Anonymous. As you will soon see, he has had the opportunity to contemplate this topic even more than the majority of us have. I learned a great deal from this conversation, and so I asked him if he’d be willing to be a guest author for today’s post. He was kind enough to agree. So without further ado, here’s Mr. Anonymous.

_____________________

Today I was in the grocery store looking for this herbal tea that I usually find in health-food stores. As often happens, a woman approached, needing something on a nearby shelf. I was far enough away for her to easily pass me, but she still felt the need to apologize and grab her item quickly. I assured her that she was not in the way. She replied, “That’s good.”

She said it like it was a relief. Here I was, needing a haircut, and I hadn’t shaved in several days, so I looked kind of rough. I felt rough in that store today. Yet this woman, who was about my age, saw a man looking at the items from afar and apologized for getting in my way when she had no reason to.

Not everyone is like that. There are rude types of people in all walks of life. But there is also an obvious pattern of male privilege that I experience every day. I was not born with this privilege, since I am trans person from female to male.

I have gotten some odd vibes from dudes working in hardware stores. As a man, I’m expected to know about tools and such, and I’m not really up to par on these things. So I have learned to do a little online research before I venture outward. Men don’t expect to have to explain things to another man. On the other hand, it’s assumed that a woman would need help. Women are almost treated like children. I find it insulting. I was often insulted before I started passing as a man.

I have seen butch hardcore lesbians more mechanically inclined than I am. Sadly, in the Deep South, there is a great deal of pressure to maintain the stereotypes of men and women. Because of this, I see transmen put on acts to be like the guys. (In other words, work on cars and be an ass.) Well, I think, “Ask Sally, that butch woman. She will help ya out with that transmission.”

I dress masculine and never had an impulse to carry a purse. I remember things I used to do without realizing that they were “what men do”. I was told that I walked like a man when all I was doing, as far as I was concerned, was walking. My sisters wore makeup. I tried against my will to do the female thing, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard with me. Just give me a big loose flannel shirt and some jeans and I am ready to walk out the door.

One of the most alarming things about being on the other side of the rainbow is the fear I create in women just by walking down the sidewalk. If a woman is walking alone in front of me, she picks up her pace. I can feel her fear. I slow down, take detours, or sit down if there are steps or a bench until I feel she is far enough away from me so that she can relax.

A part of me wants to tell her that I know how she feels. I was born female. I know that fear. I was someone who was looked at and hit on by strangers. I felt degraded by people asking to pay me for sexual favors. That was disgusting.

I remember, in my early twenties, riding the bus home from work every day. It wasn’t the best neighborhood. I’d be standing at a bus stop waiting for the bus and several times men stopped, thinking I was a street walker. They would try to get me to go with them. Even after telling them I was only waiting for the bus to go home, they still persisted until the bus showed up.

I remember men asking me if my husband is home when I had no husband. I would reply yes. I would paint the imaginary husband as some rough around the edges redneck that didn’t take any BS. That was my life in Louisiana in my younger years.

I was not brought up and treated as male because I was born female. It’s most heartbreaking to me that women are often raised to be so passive and molded into being the shadow of men. They shouldn’t feel the need to apologize and get out of my way.

On the other hand, when I was seen as a woman, women would treat me quite rudely. I guess it has something to do with the pecking order or something. I don’t know. I never understood it. But wow, those same types of women became passive and apologetic once that they saw me as a man.

People make different assumptions about men and women. As a woman, if I told people I had bought a power-tool, I was always asked why. As a man, I can say the same thing and I get an OK.

As a man, I can add my input to conversations without being contradicted. Women get contradicted no matter how right they are. Many men do not want to be intimidated by the intelligence of women.

I am not a very social person, but I observe and feel compassionate about the issue of gender roles that are forced upon people. How many female geniuses in history, prodigies even, have been passed up and never given the chance? Women are half of humanity, lest we forget.

Evolution seems to be in the favor of men more than women because men are physically stronger. Men use that strength to their advantage. The bad ones belittle women because those women do not have the strength to physically defend themselves. (Although in fairness, some women will rip a dude a new ass. Even after years of my being on hormones, these same strong women could whoop my ass easily.)

Generally speaking, though, that feeling of power can bring out the worst in a man. Because of this, women are conditioned to be less, be passive, obey, and act like perfect good girls.

Sometimes I wonder if I am the shadow or if I am casting the shadow. It can be confusing. I might go to a bar and have a drink or go home and sip on hot tea. Either way, I’d like to be respected as a human first. But if I realize I am making someone feel like a shadow, I will move out of the way so they can feel the sun. That applies to all the women who have apologized to me when they had no reason to.

Everyone should be entitled to simply be respected as a person. It should be that easy. But it’s not.

Venus Mars

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Space Invaders

I wanted to write a creepy post for Halloween, and I asked several friends for suggestions. Every single one of them, without exception, said I should write about Trump. That, in itself, is pretty darned scary. But I think we are so used to being scared by him that it’s hard to feel the fear anymore. So I decided to write the below, instead.)

In the house I bought, there are dozens of large dents on both steel exterior doors, and on one wooden bedroom door as well. The only thing the previous owner would tell me was that there was “an incident” involving a tenant and her boyfriend. The fact that he would not go into detail leaves my imagination to run wild.

Given that these are sturdy storm doors, whatever blunt object was used to do this damage must have been heavy, and the sound must have been loud and terrifying. No person in his right mind does a thing like that. And if the damage to the bedroom door happened at the same time, then the perpetrator gained entry. The thought of that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all walk around in this bubble of security, and when it is popped, it’s beyond frightening. It challenges your sense of reality. It makes you feel as if there’s nowhere to hide. The reason most of us reside in this bubble is that knowing that it’s all an illusion would make it impossible to cope.

I used to work the graveyard shift on this tiny little bridge with an office the size of a closet. I was surrounded by windows for increased visibility when I had to do a bridge opening, but that basically meant that I was in a goldfish bowl, and anyone who wanted to mess with me could easily do so. Needless to say, I kept the blinds closed whenever possible. But that also meant I couldn’t see what was going on out on the street.

It was a very isolated job, which normally suits me just fine. Even though I was in a metropolitan area, at 3 a.m. it often felt as if I were the only person on the planet. And when the fog rolled in, that tiny room seemed like a coffin. (People with claustrophobia didn’t last in that job for very long.)

Late one night, I was on duty, and two teenage boys started pounding on the door. (Isn’t it always teenage boys? They should be sent to roam in packs on some remote Pacific island from the age of 14 to 25. I truly believe our crime rate would plummet.)

I nearly soiled myself. I peeked out the blinds and said, “What the #### do you want?”

The ringleader says, “Let us in. We want to see you do a bridge opening.”

My reply, of course, was, “F*** off, before I call the cops.”

But they continued to pound on the door and rattle the knob. (Years later, I can’t get the image of that rattling doorknob out of my head.) It occurred to me that there was just a thin film of bullet-resistant glass between me and these nut jobs, and the stuff was feeling pretty darned flimsy at that moment. And out there on my bridge, no one would hear me scream. Also, by the time the cops got there, well, it would be bad. (And by the way, the cops never showed up. As per usual.)

Eventually they left without getting in, or getting me. But then I got to spend the rest of the shift worrying that they might have vandalized my car. (They hadn’t. Not that time. They just threw the heavy duty trash can at the foot of the bridge into the river. )

Oh, and did I mention that in order to use the bathroom on that bridge you had to go across the street to the other building? Wonderful.

My point is, the reason the thought of the boogeyman in your closet or the thing under the bed or the clown in the storm drain is so unsettling for most of us is that these things violate your bubble of security. Clearly, they are up to no good. They rattle your doorknob. They shake your foundations.

And that’s completely understandable. Because sometimes you’re not being paranoid. Sometimes they really are out to get you.

Happy Halloween.

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What I Thought America Meant

When I was little, I was taught that I lived in the greatest country in the entire world. I thought we set the best example, and that based on that example, other countries would aspire to be better, and someday the whole world would be just as wonderful as we were.

Everyone would be free. There would be no war. Every individual would have equal opportunities. The world would be one big safe, happy, teddy bear of a place. I was so proud. I felt so lucky to be an American.

To me, America meant generosity, compassion, justice, safety, equality, freedom, dedication, love, and integrity.

If you had told me back then that I’d become increasingly ashamed over time, I’d have been pretty darned disappointed. Disgusted is the word, actually. And even horrified every once in a while. (Simply because I can’t work up the energy to maintain horror for long periods.)

How must the rest of the planet view us when we say things like domestic and gang violence are no longer valid reasons for asylum? What happened to “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”?

And when did we become okay with children being yanked away from their parents? Do we think those traumatized children will grow up admiring us for that? Do we think those children deserve punishment? Guilt by association?

We were supposed to be the poster child for human rights. Are we? When our president shakes hands with Kim Jong-Un, the worst human rights abuser currently alive, and says he’ll “probably have a very good relationship” with him, it doesn’t do much for that image.

I also thought we’d be the saviors of the world. But we are one of its worst polluters, biggest consumers, and we live in a culture of selfishness and waste. We can’t even hold on to our national parks, which is an embarrassment, because we were the first country to even conceive of them. The planet cries out for us to take climate change seriously, even as some of them are sinking into the sea, and instead of setting an example, we back out of the Paris Accord.

Apparently we value the profits of gun manufacturers more than the lives of our children. We allow the very worst of our law enforcement officers to become murderers without any real consequences. We step over our homeless veterans in the streets. And we don’t seem to think anyone has a right to health care.

We elected a man who brags about grabbing pussies, thinks that white supremacy is acceptable, and uses Twitter to lie without remorse. We take great strides to make it difficult to vote, but that’s probably a waste of energy when no one can seem to be bothered to do so anyway. We spend more time keeping up with the Kardashians than we do with the real current events that actually impact our day to day lives.

We have become fat and bloated by our laziness and greed. We flaunt our hate. We exaggerate our fear. We demonize education and journalism. We are not who we said we would be.

I once told a cousin that America is an experiment. You’d think I had peed in his Post Toasties. How dare I say that?

Well, Cuz, do you still think we are solid as a rock, unchanging, and will last forever? Do you really think that this thing we have become has staying power, above all other regimes that have come and gone throughout history? Are we a shining example of the best of humanity? Have we reached some bright pinnacle? Should everyone want to be just like us?

I wish I could be that little girl again, with the star spangled banner eyes. I wish I was full of optimism and hope for this country’s future. I wish I still thought I was one of the good guys.

But I have to ask: Are we becoming our best selves? Because if we can’t do better than this, if we don’t want to do better than this, then there’s really no hope. And that scares me.

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I Scared Someone

Imagine this: You are a woman, alone, jogging so early in the morning that the sun isn’t even awake yet. Heck, most of Seattle isn’t awake yet. It’s Saturday. You start to jog across a drawbridge when a car pulls into the bike lane behind you, a place where it has no business being. You look over your shoulder, feeling worried. The car slowly follows you.

Well, in this case, the jogger was in luck, because the driver was me. Driving slowly down the bike lane is the only way for me to get to my designated parking space when I work on this particular drawbridge. Of course, I couldn’t explain this to the jogger. By the time I got out of my car, she was long gone, as well she should have been. I’m sure I scared her half to death, and I feel terrible about that.

But at the same time, I thought, “Good on her for being hypervigilant.” In this crazy world, you need to err on the side of caution. Too much can go wrong.

I used to be offended, as a teenager, when security guards followed me in stores. I wasn’t a shoplifter, but how would they know that? Yeah, I was being profiled. But stores take a major financial hit because of shoplifters, so where does one draw the line?

Now I don’t take such things personally. I am actually grateful when someone puts me through an extra level of security, for their sake or for mine. Prevention is a good thing.

So, thank you, little old lady, for clutching your purse a little tighter when I walk past.

Thank you, cashier, for asking to see my I.D. when I want to pay by credit card.

Thank you, website, for making me answer security questions.

Thank you, neighbor, for using deadbolts on your doors.

Thank you, driver, for clicking your door locks when you see any human approaching your car.

Thank you, everyone, for taking safety seriously. If we do the little tiny things mentioned above, we’ll prevent crime. The less crime we have, the safer we will all feel.

It’s the propaganda put out by the NRA that we’re in a hyper-violent, Mad Max world that makes politicians find excuses to remove bans on silencers and semi-automatic weapons, and allows mentally ill people to stockpile an armory. It’s those fools who are getting us killed, not those of us who ask for I.D.

So in a strange way, being ever-so-slightly paranoid about your safety increases our safety in general, and reduces the insane belief that military-level weapons are a good idea for the general populous. Our world will never be 100 percent safe. If we own that and take minor precautions, we won’t have to take Mad Max-like ones in the future. Weird how that works.

So please keep clutching those purses! It’s not meant as an insult. I would argue that it’s actually a civic duty.

Stalked

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Flying for the First Time

I love birds. I love the attitude of crows, the energy of hummingbirds, the ostentatiousness of roosters, the menacing glare of raptors. I love that some have names like “Blue-Footed Booby” or “Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker”. That just makes me smile.

It fascinates me that different species build their homes in unique ways. Some nest in the hollows of trees, others weave their own. Some use mud. Still others burrow underground. Some even surround their nests with shiny objects. They have as many varieties of homes as humans do.

It’s also very cool that they have so many types of song. The morning birdsong here on the West Coast sounds nothing at all like the birdsong that I used to wake up to back East. I particularly like those birds that mimic other sounds. I think that shows an interesting sense of humor and/or an amazing ability to obfuscate.

My favorite bird is the Kookaburra, pictured below. They have intelligent eyes. Their beaks look too big for their heads. They have plump little bodies, like me. They are native to Australia, a country I’ve always wanted to visit. And I just like the name. Kookaburra. (I got to see one in a zoo once. I think we had a moment.)

I’ve known more than one person who is afraid of birds. I find that sad. Usually, if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. And while I have been momentarily freaked out when having to usher one out of my house, and Hitchcock’s The Birds is a scary movie, I guess my fascination with them is stronger than any anxiety.

I once wrote a post entitled Rete Mirabile, which describes how birds can stand on a snowy branch without freezing their little feet off. That’s impressive. It’s also amazing to watch a bird dive straight into the water from a great height without killing itself. And what’s not to love about something that’s related to dinosaurs? Don’t even get me started on the miracle of flight.

That leads me to the most spectacular thing about birds of all. Consider this: Every single bird (except the flightless ones, of course), has had to take a leap of faith once in their lives. What must it be like to fly for the first time? That moment when you’re at the top of a tree and you just have to jump and trust that your wings are strong enough to support you. That’s inspiring.

Every bird has gained his independence by taking a chance. I wish more people would. They’d be all the better for it.

Kookaburra

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Donkey Basketball

Don’t ask me why, but for some reason just the other day I thought of Donkey Basketball for the first time in decades. For the uninitiated, this is, basically, regular basketball, only the players are riding donkeys. These games are usually fundraisers held at local schools.

As a kid, I thought these events where hysterical and fun. As a member of the urban poor, it was my only opportunity to see donkeys, up close and personal. Even then, though, I wondered what their hooves were doing to the basketball courts. It couldn’t be good. Yeah, that’s how my mind worked.

What I should have been thinking of is what this game was doing to the donkeys. Imagine, being thrust into an unnatural environment, surrounded by a screaming pack of humans, and most likely being ridden, shouted at and kicked by someone who is not only way too heavy, but also has most likely never ridden a donkey in his or her life.

That sounds like it should have its very own circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno. How totally and utterly terrifying. It must feel like being suddenly thrust into a ring with a Roman gladiator.

As much as I enjoyed those games as a child, I think we as a society should have reached a higher level of sophistication by now. There are a lot of ways to raise money without torturing animals in the process. For more information, check out this article written by PETA.

donkey basketball

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