A letter to the Muslim girl who found my blog by accident

My dear,

I don’t know you. I don’t think you know me either, because you found my blog by accident whilst Googling something that truly broke my heart:

search term: "i'm a bisexual muslim my mom took away my phone with messages between me and a girl what should i do"

a search term in my blog stats.

I cried when I saw this. I cried because it reminded me so strongly of a time in my life that was very painful and very bleak and during which I had nobody to talk to about the things that were hurting me. I don’t know if you stayed to read my blog or if you clicked the link and decided I didn’t have the answers you were looking for. I don’t know where you are now or what you’re doing or even if you’re safe. But I’m writing this anyway, because once upon a time I felt very lonely and very scared and I didn’t know what to do, and maybe you feel that way too and maybe you might see this and feel a little bit less alone.

I want to tell you a story.

I had my first boyfriend when I was nineteen. He was Christian. I met him in med school. My dad didn’t even let me have male friends, let alone a boyfriend, so I had to keep him a secret. We were engaged within two months (bad idea in hindsight, but I digress). I would talk to him on my mobile using credit the two of us bought with whatever spare cash we could scrounge up. When my dad wasn’t home, sometimes I’d dare to use our landline to call him. We would Skype whenever I was allowed to use the internet, which wasn’t often because my dad was very suspicious and thought I might be talking to boys online. (I guess he was right.)

Anyway, one night my dad found out, and he kicked me out.

It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever gone through in my life. I remember packing as many clothes as I could fit into canvas grocery bags. I remember that my brother tried taking my phone and laptop from me but I fought him until he left me alone (though he broke my glasses during the struggle). I remember thinking to myself, this can’t be happening. It was New Year’s Day, 2010. I was twenty years old. I had never lived away from home in my life. I remember my youngest sister accompanying me to the front gate and tearfully hugging me goodbye because neither of us knew what was going to happen next. I remember that my brother chased me down the pitch-black street in the middle of the night to demand that I give back my house keys so I couldn’t sneak back into my childhood home. I remember passing a family who were out celebrating because it was New Year’s Day and exchanging greetings and being glad it was dark because it meant they couldn’t see me crying. I remember thinking my life was over.

My mother’s house was two blocks away (she and my father divorced in 2008) so I walked there in the hope that even though she and I were somewhat estranged, she would take me in. She wasn’t home, but my grandmother was visiting, and after I tearfully beat at the door for five minutes, she woke up, saw it was me and let me in. I remember breaking down crying in my grandmother’s arms. I remember trying to explain to her what had happened to me. She was very confused because she didn’t speak much English and had trouble understanding me at the best of times, let alone when I was sobbing and incoherent and scared.

(Writing about this now, I feel a shadow of the paralysing terror I felt then, and my breath is catching in my throat. I was so young and scared and alone and I was sure it would never get better.)

My mother got home and I explained things to her and of course she let me stay, because she’s a good woman who loves her children more than she loves following rules. I slept on her couch for the next six months. My father sent me angry text messages, then got my younger siblings to call me and try to guilt me into breaking up with my boyfriend and coming home. Eventually, I wrote him a letter telling him to leave me alone. The phone calls and text messages stopped and that was the last I saw of many of my siblings for months. I remember having nightmares that they had all died and I hadn’t been able to say goodbye. I woke up crying over and over again and I couldn’t tell anyone or call anyone or do anything at all but wait for the terror to pass.

I’m telling you all of this because I know a little bit of what you’re feeling right now. When I came out to my mother as bisexual, she was initially not thrilled. We fought about it. She yelled at me. She cried. She asked if it was a phase. She outed me to people without asking my permission, which infuriated me. Those were a hard few months. I felt even more alone, like I was being rejected by both of my parents, not just the one who’d kicked me out. I wondered if my mother even wanted me, if she wasn’t secretly sick of having me in her house. Over time, we came to an understanding and now we’re very close, but those were hard times for both of us.

I don’t know how old you are or where you live or what your situation is like. Perhaps some of what I’ve written here is resonating with you or perhaps it isn’t. But I wanted you to know – if you’re still here, still reading – that you are not alone. You are not unloved. Being Muslim and bisexual can be so hard and you can feel like the world hates you and I want you to know that I understand that and I’ve been through it and you do not have to be ashamed if you feel scared or lost or like nobody wants you around. I know all of those feelings. But you need to hear this: none of that is true. The world doesn’t hate you. Not even all Muslims hate you. I love you. People like my mother who are loving and kind and accepting love you. People like my Twitter followers who asked me if there was a way we could reach out to you and support you love you.

You are so very loved, my dear. You are so very, very loved. And I know you feel like you’re alone, but you aren’t. We’re here for you – the other misfits, the other people who were told they didn’t belong. We’ve formed our own friendships and our own families and we are so, so ready to be here for you if you would like us to be.

It’s very likely that you will never read this. I don’t know where you are or what you’re doing or if when you found my blog, you decided to stay. But if you did, know that you are amongst friends here. You are amongst people who will not ask you to feel bad about yourself because of the way Allah made you. You are amongst people who will love you and support you and hold you while you cry just like my grandmother held me and who will be your friends when you need friends, just like my friends were there for me when I spent days on my mother’s couch staring at the wall wondering if my life would ever be the same again. (It was never the same, but you want to know a secret? It got better. Things get better, sometimes. Hold onto that. They might very well get better for you, too.)

If you’re still here, my dear, then know that we are here for you. You have people on your team if you want them. Your mother can take your phone – and, if she’s like my father, do all manner of other nasty things to you – but you are not alone and she cannot stop us from loving you and wanting to support you even if she chooses not to support you herself. If you need someone to talk to, if you need people to tell you that everything will be okay, if you need help finding a safe place to stay or a new phone or really anything at all: write to me. Leave a comment or email me from a computer at school (jaythenerdkid @ inbox dot com) or tweet me or send me an ask.fm question anonymously or whatever you like. I’m here. Lots of people are here.

We love you. You are loved. You are not alone. It will get better. I promise.

May Allah protect you and guide you, my dear. You are in my prayers.

With love,

Jay

No such thing as “normal”

Let me tell you something about normality.

Normal is a construct invented by the privileged to pathologise non-conformity. Normal is a reason to keep you out of a space because you’re too brown, too female, too queer, too trans, not binary enough, not able-bodied enough, not rich enough, not connected enough for the dominant class’ tastes. Normal is why women earn less, why non-whites are relegated to poorer neighbourhoods, why queer and trans people are targets of violent crime, why disabled people are stigmatised and looked down on and shunned, why sex workers aren’t allowed the agency to run their own lives.

Most of all, normal is a lie.

I am not normal. I am too brown and too female (and femme) and too mentally ill and too queer to be normal. Most of the people I know aren’t normal. And every time one of us tries – usually so that we might get that job we really want or a place on that guest speaker list or a piece of writing published or just acceptance into a new circle of friends – we find that the goalposts have shifted. Because the big secret about normal is that it’s whatever the people oppressing you want it to be. You can never meet the standard, because the standard will change with the specific goal of making you fall short yet again.

If you are brown, you will never be normal enough to be accepted unreservedly in white-dominated academia. If you are a woman, you will never be normal enough to be welcomed into the fold of mostly male businesspeople and entrepreneurs. If you are queer, your relationships will never be normal enough to gain mainstream acceptance; you will find yourself on the receiving end of disapproving stares from the parents of young children, awkward silences at family dinners, judgemental screeds from people who think they have a god(s)-given right to tell you that you’re immoral. If you are trans, you will never be normal enough to pass for your true gender, and if you do pass, that in itself will be a sign of your abnormality – you will be labelled a traitor, a deceiver, a liar. If you are disabled of body or mind, you will never be normal enough to escape the pity, scorn, condescension or disgust of people who will reduce the entirety of your being to a diagnosis. And so it goes.

Normal is a lie. It is a toxic lie, one that seeps beneath our skin and turns us against ourselves. Normal is why I grew up hating the colour of my skin and the way it marked me out as different from my classmates. Normal is why I wanted to be a boy growing up, because boys got to do all the things I wished I was allowed to do. Normal is why my ex used to silence me every time the topic of my queerness arose in conversation with friends – he was ashamed to be dating someone non-heterosexual, someone perverted. Normal is why many Muslims think I’m too “western” and westerners think it’s weird that I don’t drink alcohol or eat bacon. Normal is the little voice whispering in your ear that whatever you are, whoever you are, you are an outsider and a freak and you will never be good enough.

Normal drives people to hate themselves.

We are sold the idea that we will never be good enough for anyone unless we are willing to sacrifice our true selves on the altar of conformity to an ever-changing and unattainable ideal of normality. We must be taller, shorter, slimmer, curvier, lighter, darker, bolder, less assertive than we are. We must have more partners or fewer; we must be more willing to take risks or less outrageous; we must always be something else, anything else, other than ourselves. Our bodies, our souls, our minds are never normal enough. We are too clever or not clever enough or too spirited or not spirited enough or too bright or not bright enough for comfort. If we do not jump through impossible hoops, contort ourselves in impossible ways, we are hateful. We are worthless, unlovable, perverted, deformed. We are abnormal. We are pathologically different.

This is the toxic truth behind the lie that is normal – it serves only to push the oppressed and marginalised further down so that the privileged may be elevated. Normal protects the rights and freedoms of the dominant class at the expense of the people over whose backs they clamber in order to attain greater heights. It is a luxury enjoyed only by the privileged, and it is contingent on the erasure and stigmatisation of those who do not conform. To be normal is to never have to worry that one’s differences will mark one as undesirable. To be normal is to know that one’s self does not just meet the standard: it is the standard.

What a terrifyingly powerful thing that is.

I will never be anyone’s idea of normal. No sandstone institution will elevate my opinions to the status of truth. No industry will ever deem me their ideal: not of beauty, not of personality, not of anything. But I do not care about this, because I know that normal is a lie so I refuse to chase it. I refuse to change a single thing about myself in order to meet a standard that was never set with me in mind. I refuse to think or speak or act in a way that would make me more acceptable to the kinds of people society considers normal because I know what they do not: that the pedestal on which they are perched is a precarious one. Because the other thing about normal, you see, is that it is ever-changing, and the higher one climbs on the backs of the marginalised and dispossessed, the farther one has to fall when the goalposts shift.

Normal is a fiction, and to treat it as reality is to allow its toxicity to permeate our lives, to twist and contort us until we are unrecognisable even to ourselves. Do not strive to be normal; you will destroy the things that are true and valuable and lovable about yourself and you will still get nowhere. Strive instead to be yourself, and let the goalposts shift where they may.

Normal is a curious game, you see. The only winning move is not to play.

Stranger in a Familiar Land

I very much enjoyed writing this piece for Life of a Muslim Feminist. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it, too.

life of a muslim feminist

Aaminah Khan

Aaminah Khan (jaythenerdkid) is a writer, activist and refugee support worker living in North Queensland. She writes about intersectional feminism and her experiences as a queer Muslim on Twitter and at her blog. Her other interests include popular culture, football, fashion and video games. Her mother will probably never stop embarrassing her by bragging about her in front of all of her friends.

My mother is a devout Muslim, and I believe she embodies many of the noblest qualities of a mumin – she is kind, loving, compassionate, forgiving, gracious, and loves Allah with all her heart. She supports me and the rest of her children in all of our endeavours, and although she’s never been particularly thrilled about my bisexuality, she’s never loved me any less because of it. She covers her hair with a hijab and wears only long-sleeved shirts and refuses to make plans…

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Scenes from the life of a Muslim feminist

“Aaminah, tell me you’re not wearing that out,” my mother says, consternation writ large on her face.

I am going to a party with friends, or to a late night coffee outing with the girls, or to an indie film night at the local community theatre, or just to the library to read. We have had this conversation so many times, my mother and I – she with her hair covered, in her long-sleeved shirts that are never too fitted and her trousers that are never too skinny; me with my lips painted bright red, towering over my mother in my high-heeled boots. We will have this conversation many times more.

“What’s wrong with it?” I ask, deliberately feigning ignorance. “Don’t I look nice?”

I know what she means. She knows I know what she means. She sighs. “Of course you look nice,” she says. “But do your skirts have to be, you know…” she gestures at the hem of my skirt, far above mid-thigh – exactly where I like it.

“I love this skirt,” I say. I said it the last time I wore it, and the time before that. “What’s wrong with this skirt?”

“It’s not a skirt, it’s a belt,” my mother quips, but by this point, both of us are smiling a little. She knows I won’t change and I know she won’t stop trying to convince me to change. It’s all right. This is a part of our relationship – me with my miniskirts and heels and shirts that make my mother blush, my mother with her scarves and sensible clothing that is always elegant without showing very much of anything.

We do not have to be alike in order to love each other. We have always been different, my mother and I. She is warm, genuine, loving and has a smile and a kind word for everyone. I am cold and aloof and like to pretend that I don’t care about people nearly as much as I secretly do. Perhaps the reason we get along so well is that we balance each other out.

My mother’s sleeve has rolled up slightly, caught in her wristwatch. I feign shock and indignation. “You’re one to talk, Mummy!” I gasp, pointing at her exposed wrist. I hiss, “there are men about, Mummy! Cover yourself! Have a little shame, for heaven’s sakes!”

She laughs, and then I laugh, and then we hug each other tightly. I have to bend a little, as I am already taller than my mother on flat feet, let alone in the heels I insist on wearing so often. I rest my head against her shoulder and smile. I love my mother so very much, and her repeated scolding about my clothing and resigned sighs about my hem length are just reminders that she loves me too. I am her first baby – first to grow up, first to leave the nest. I’ll be married soon, almost ready to start a family of my own, but I know I’ll still be her first baby when I have grandchildren of my own and am clicking my tongue disapprovingly at the way they dress.

“Have fun,” my mother says, gently slipping out of my arms and stepping back. She cannot resist tugging down the hem of my skirt a little. I glare at her and she laughs again. It’s the warmest, happiest sound I have ever heard in my life. “Say hello to your friends for me.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to come?” I ask her this every time I go anywhere. My friends all adore my mother. Everyone adores my mother. She’s the kind of person it’s impossible not to love at first sight. “You know the others won’t mind.” I lower my voice conspiratorially. “I’m pretty sure they like you more than they like me anyway, Mummy,” I confide in her. (This, too, I have said many, many times. We have had this conversation so many times before.)

She rolls her eyes at me. “Stop sucking up,” she says, but she cannot help but smile as she says it. “Go! I’m going to go and pray and then go to bed.”

I hug her one last time. We were separated for so long after my parents’ divorce that I sometimes feel like I’m making up for every hug we missed while we were apart. “I love you, Mummy,” I say, surreptitiously hiking my skirt back up. (She notices. She’s my mother. Of course she notices.)

“I love you too, my love,” she says, and I know she really means it. I know she will always mean it, no matter how often we quibble about my clothes or my feminism or that one time I got a little tipsy at a party. She has meant it since the day I was born. She meant it when I was an awkward, aloof teenager who didn’t know how to say it back. She meant it during the years after she divorced my father – meant it every time she said it to me and I refused to say it back because I was hurting too much. (She knows I wanted to say it but couldn’t. She understands. She’s my mother. Of course she understands.) She means it now.

We are not very much alike, my mother and I – she with her resigned sighs when I show up to visit her at work with fishnets under my plaid Hot Topic skirts; me with my rolled eyes every time she adjusts the necklines of my t-shirts because she judges them indecent. But this does not stop us from loving each other very much. It does not stop me from respecting her faith, or her from respecting mine. We know that deep down, we believe in the same Creator, even if we express that belief to the world in different ways. We know that we do not have to agree on everything in order to agree on that.

“Good night, Mummy,” I say as my phone buzzes to let me know my ride has arrived.

“Don’t bend over in that skirt,” she replies, and I want to roll my eyes at her but I end up smiling instead, because it’s such a very Mummy thing for her to say.

I have a fantastic night. My friends tell me they love my skirt. I think of my mother and smile.


Dedicated to my Mummy, who taught me almost everything I know both about what it is to be a Muslim and about what it is to be a feminist.

Muslim, queer, feminist: it’s as complicated as it sounds.

blog post cover photo

me: muslim no matter how I dress.

NOTE: I am closing comments on this post as of 13/03/2014 due to an influx of very bigoted conservatives telling me I’m a bad Muslim who’s going to hell (way to miss the point of the post!). If you’d like to contact me about this blog post, you can email me (jaythenerdkid @ inbox dot com) or tweet me.

There are three aspects of my identity that really can’t be untangled from each other:

I am a queer woman.

I am a feminist.

And I believe that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger.

Yeah, it’s the third one that usually gets the record-scratch reaction.

I was raised Muslim, but in my teens, I became severely disillusioned with the faith. Having finished reading the Qur’an in English for the first time, I started to fully appreciate just how easy it was for people to twist and re-interpret the book to serve their own needs. I realised my father had been doing that to me for years, with his rules that he swore came “from God” and his restrictions on my behaviour that were all part of me being a good Muslim girl. Cover yourself so men don’t stare at you; do not draw attention to yourself; avoid the company of men, for being around them will always be a temptation to the both of you. Obey your elders in all matters, even when you know they’re wrong. Abstain not only from sex, but from any kind of intimacy outside of marriage. Be chaste. Be a credit to your family. Be the version of good the people running your life expect you to be.

It all seemed so convenient, the way every time my dad wanted me to do something, he could find a religious reason for it, but when I pointed out things in the Qur’an that seemed to contradict him, he had a way of twisting the words so that he was in the right. It was frustrating, infuriating. It was around this time that I stopped trusting my father all together.

But that’s another story.

I think I was sixteen when I made the choice to give Islam another try – on my own terms, this time. By this time, I’d made gay friends; nurtured quiet, unrequited crushes on both boys and girls; sung in choirs and acted on stages without my father’s knowledge; cultivated friendships with boys and even flirted a little, though all in secret. I’d taken to studying my developing form – coltish and awkward, but with a hint of a promise of what it would eventually become – in the bathroom mirror late at night when everyone was asleep, wondering about how it might feel to have someone else see it, even desire it. And I thought about reading the Qur’an as a child and how it had made me feel like I was connecting with something bigger than myself, something that had space for a square peg like me. I wondered if I could find that connection again, if maybe there was more to Islam than authoritarian men telling me what to do. Maybe there was a message for me in there, and I could find it.

So I looked. I read the Qur’an in Arabic, then in English again – more critically, this time, my mind free of the expectation that I would find things that would confirm what I’d been told as a child. I read about Islamic history and the development and stagnation of Sharia law. And while I did all of that, I looked inward. I prayed. I meditated on who I was and what I wanted and where I was going and where my path might lead. I did as Allah instructed me: I questioned everything. I did as my Prophet instructed me: I sought knowledge. I sought it everywhere – in the Qur’an, in religious commentaries, in the Hadithes, in the sacred texts of other faiths, in discussions with friends who thought the concept of a creator was as ludicrous as the idea that the world was flat. I drank all of it in, filtered it through the lens of my own reality, searched for the things that I felt were meant just for me.

It was a long process. I haven’t finished yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish. I’ve spent many, many hours buried in books or deep in prayer or engaged in long conversations with my partner about the nature of good and evil and the meaning of life and what God’s purpose for us is, or if there’s a purpose at all. I think I’ve found some of the answers, and I think there are some I’ll never find, not that it’ll stop me from looking. But here is what I’ve found out so far:

It’s possible to be queer and Muslim. This was actually the easiest thing. Restrictions about pre-marital sex and sex with people of the same gender made plenty of sense in a society without contraception or antibiotics, where there were no paternity tests or laws guaranteeing child support (though Islam does have provisions for spousal support in the event of a divorce). I have access to condoms, dental dams, the oral contraceptive pill, penicillin, STD testing. I can terminate unwanted pregnancies safely if need be. Islam, Allah says, is a religion for all people in all times. I do not believe the Creator meant for us to live forever as though scientific progress never happened. And more importantly, I believe that my god is a god of love, and that expressions of love between people of any and all genders are one of the holiest acts that we as human beings can perform. The love between two men or two women or a couple of varying non-binary genders, or even that of a group of consenting adults of various genders, is a holy and sacred thing. The love a gay couple has for an adopted or surrogate child is a holy thing. The love a parent has for a gay or trans child is a holy thing. I do not believe that my God, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, would ever begrudge human beings any acts of love. I believe, in fact, that it is through love that we express the part of ourselves that is closest to Allah in both substance and likeness. We were meant to love. We were meant to express that love and share it with others.

It’s possible to be feminist and Muslim. It’s possible to be sex-positive, to support the rights of sex workers, to support the rights of women to work or stay at home (both protected in the Qur’an), to support the rights of women to demand sexual satisfaction (also guaranteed in the Qur’an), whilst being Muslim. It’s possible to support both the right of a woman to wear a burqa or niqab or dupatta and the right of a woman to wear a miniskirt and high heels. I believe the concept of hijab is about more than modesty – I think it’s about comfort, boundaries and deciding for ourselves what we will and won’t let other people see. Not all Muslim women cover their hair – not even all Muslim women who are pious, devout, practising mumineen cover their hair. I believe, for the same reasons I outlined above, that a woman can enjoy intimate relations with a partner outside of marriage, provided she does so safely. I believe women have the right to live their lives without fear of harassment from men, another right enshrined in the Qur’an. Islam is, Allah tells us, a permissive religion. It is meant to make our lives easier, happier and more peaceful. Feminism is also meant to make our lives easier, happier and more peaceful. Islam is also a religion of justice (the Most Just is one of Allah’s ninety-nine names), and feminism is a movement for justice. Islam, I believe, is – or can be – an inherently feminist faith.

It is possible to be me and be Muslim. I wear miniskirts. I flirt with cute girls in bars. I drive my mother to distraction with my scoop-neck t-shirts and exposed legs. I have male friends. I have loved women and men and people who are neither or both or a complex mixture. Islam is not my father telling me that I can’t join the choir because good Muslim girls don’t sing in public. Islam is not a man telling me I need to cover myself or feel ashamed. Allah does not ask me to be ashamed of myself. Allah asks me to love, to feel compassion, to be empathetic, to give my life in service to the creator and to creation. These are things I can happily and willingly do.

The word “Islam” means “peaceful submission to Allah”. The word “Muslim” means “one who has submitted”. I have opened my heart to the love of Allah and it has enabled me to be a more loving person. I have submitted peacefully to the idea that I must live in service of the creator and creation, and it gives me joy and peace to do so. I have a path and a purpose. I understand some of why I am here and what I must do. I do not know everything. In fact, I do not even know if what I do know is correct. But I know that whatever decisions I make, however I let Allah into my life, it will be on my terms – as a feminist, as a queer woman. As a Muslim, devoted to Allah, carrying the message of love and hope and compassion and peace of the Qur’an in her heart always and forever. As a servant of creation: a speck living on a speck orbiting a speck in a cluster of specks surrounded by other specks, a whole so large that only one outside it could see all of it.

I do not speak for Islam. I do not speak for Muslims. I speak for one Muslim: myself. There are as many interpretations of the Qur’an as there are readers of the text. This is mine: a queer, feminist interpretation for my queer, feminist life. It is my path to peace. It is freedom from the shackles of uncertainty. It is my greatest and purest love.

And it is mine. Not my father’s or my mother’s or anyone else’s. Mine alone. My Islam. My way of life.

It’s Not About You, and other adventures in privilege

The other day, as I was contributing a few choice witticisms to the hashtag #whitefeministsbelike, I heard the dreaded wailing in the background.

Someone had sounded the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON.

For the next twenty-odd minutes, my mentions were inundated with the thoughts, feelings and opinions of a self-proclaimed “white feminist” who desperately needed me to know how badly I’d hurt her feelings by implying that she was racist. I had not mentioned her name. I didn’t even know who she was. My tweets did not read “#allwhitefeministsbelike” or “#everysinglewhitepersoneverbelike”. The hashtag was clearly about whiteness-as-power-structure, not whiteness-as-her-personal-life-experience-that-she-needed-to-share-like-RIGHT-NOW.

But here I was, being tearfully reprimanded by a complete stranger, because my critique of a power structure that oppresses me had hurt her feelings.

I am not, despite my frequent jesting, anti-white. I do not hate white people or white culture. Actually, I quite enjoy Shakespeare and Mad Men and the odd visit to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger with that cheese that I’m fairly sure has never had even a passing relationship with the stuff that comes out of cows. But whiteness-as-power-structure? Whiteness-as-supremacist-ideology? Whiteness-as-oppressive-ideal? Those things, I do not like so much. Those things are responsible for taunts and bullying and my mother being yelled at by strangers on the street and my sisters being harassed and, on a memorable occasion that I’m sure will haunt me until the day I die, my father once threatening to beat the shit out of a couple of boys at a Hungry Jack’s who were making fun of my niqab. (He had removed his belt and was preparing to tan their hides with the buckled end before management intervened and made the young men in question leave, but I’m sure those seats still smell like adolescent male fear-sweat to this day. My father is a very imposing man.)

Whiteness, in short, is something I am very much committed to critiquing, de-centring, and even tearing apart a little. Whiteness is the reason there are very few role models for black and brown children in mainstream entertainment media. Whiteness is the reason that when I see a Muslim character on television, they’re more likely to be a terrorist than a love interest. Whiteness is incredibly problematic and we can and should question it and the ways in which it affects and harms people of colour. Because that’s what it’s about, see – not making white people feel bad, not white guilt or white-shaming or reverse racism. It’s about tearing off the shackles that bind us.

It is, in other words, Not About You.

To the white girl who felt the need to tell me I’d hurt her feelings, I have to ask – what were you trying to achieve? Did you really need the reassurance of a random brown stranger that you aren’t a bad person because of the colour of your skin? Did you need to be preened and petted so much that you had to interrupt a brown person’s narrative – the narrative of a person who is interrupted, silenced and shoved aside by white people constantly –  so that everyone in the metaphorical room could attend to your needs and desires for a little while? What did you stand to gain by pointing out huffily that you, individually, were not racist? Did you want a medal for basic human decency, perhaps? A ticker-tape parade with a float staffed by non-white people showering you in confetti and holding up a big sign saying “This White Person is Not Like the Others”? A lovingly-baked cookie containing the blood, sweat, tears and gratitude of a brown person, delivered to you in a little box with a card reading, “thanks for achieving the minimum standard required for being a tolerable human being”?

Because that’s the message you send when you derail conversations about whiteness-as-power-structure to point out that you, an individual white person, are not racist. You are saying: my feelings as a white person who is complicit in and bolstered by white privilege are more important than your right to talk about the power structures that oppress you. You are saying: I cannot abide a conversation that does not centre me, my feelings and my worldview. You are saying: me. Me me me me me me me me me me me. Also, me.

And let me tell you, that gets kind of intolerable after a while.

Yes, individual white people, I get it. You’re better than the others because you have black and brown friends, because you donate to charities that benefit non-white people in need, because you told a black woman her hair was neat and resisted the urge to touch it. And now, having achieved the standard of good behaviour we might expect of a house-trained puppy, you feel the need to tell every. single. non-white. person. ever. You are so desperate to differentiate and distinguish yourself from Those White People, the nasty racist ones who oppress blacks and aren’t as enlightened and caring and compassionate as you, that you need to make every conversation not about our continuing plights, but about how You Are Better Than Them and we need to acknowledge all the hard work you’ve put in.

How many times do you need to be told this? Being an ally or standing in solidarity with a group of oppressed people is not about you: it’s about the people you are trying to help. And that means that when those oppressed people are talking about the ways in which power structures marginalised and silence them, contributing to that silencing by talking loudly over us and ignoring our objections makes you part of the problem, not the solution. A white person who really does make an effort not to be complicit in white supremacy does not need to trumpet that fact. In fact, they don’t have time to do so, because they’re busy rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty with the rest of us. Ask yourself, well-meaning but self-absorbed white woman whose name I don’t even remember any more because this happens to me literally every single time I write about whiteness, why most of the people criticising you and asking you to pipe down were also white. Was it because they had something to prove? Was it because they wanted brownie points and a pat on the back?

Or maybe, just maybe, was it because they were seeing something you weren’t?

If you really are Not Like the Others, prove it to me not with your words but with your actions. Be an amplifier and supporter of non-white people. Give us space to speak. Listen to and internalise our stories when we share them (because believe it or not, hearing those stories is a privilege, not a right, and should be treated accordingly). Share our stories with your white friends. Stop your fellow white people from perpetrating the dozens of microaggressions that perpetuate and reinforce white supremacy every single day. Lobby for fairer representation of non-white people on television, in politics, in the corporate world, in academia. Fight anti-blackness. Ask before partaking of our culture so that you can be sure you’re not taking something that’s not yours to take. For the love of whatever you deem holy, DO NOT touch our hair or our niqabs without our permission. See us as people, not as curiosities. And stop equating your hurt feelings at being forced to confront the reality of white supremacy with the real hurts non-white people experience because of the insidious influence of white supremacy in their everyday lives.

Solidarity and intersectionality are not labels. They are things you practice. They are ways of living and being. If you truly want them to apply to you, stop making everything All About You and start listening a bit to all of us.

We all have opinions. Here’s why I don’t care about yours.

I spent four years in medical school. My professors were experts in their fields – accomplished physicians, prolific researchers, sometimes even pioneers in their areas of interest. From them, I learned the foundations of biomedical science – anatomy, physiology, histology, biochemistry – as well as the details of the various specialities of medicine.  There was no question at any point that these people who had spent their lives and careers becoming experts, amassing lifetimes of experience between them, knew more about their areas of interest than I did. This is why I was the student and they were my teachers. Generally, this is how education works.

I was born non-white. I grew up non-white. Non-whiteness has been a central fixture in my life for every single day of my existence, from the day I was born and my mother’s doctor remarked that I looked “like a little monkey” to the first time someone called me a terrorist for wearing the niqab to the numerous times I’ve been told my looks are “exotic”. One could say that I’m something of an expert in the field of non-whiteness and how it shapes a person’s life and experiences. This is my life, after all. Who could possibly know more about it than me?

According to the internet, the answer to this question is, “anyone with an internet connection and the means to communicate their thoughts to me.”

I cannot tell you how many times in the last week alone I’ve been interrupted whilst talking about my own lived experiences by white people who “just want to share their opinions”. Everyone, it seems, has opinions to share about my life and whether or not I’ve truly experienced it the way I say I have. From the well-meaning but misguided “I would never do that to you!” to the dismissive and trivialising “but I’ve never seen that happen!”, white people seem to be possessed of the need to tell me how they feel about my life and about my apparently audacious decision to talk about it in public.

The thing is…hmmm, how do I put this as bluntly as possible? White people, I could not care less about your thoughts on my lived experience if I tried.

You know what I never did during pharmacology lectures? Interrupt my prof mid-slide to let her know I had “thoughts” on the pharmacodynamics of anti-epileptic medication. Do you know what I never said to my consultant during ward rounds? That I had “thoughts” on his catheterisation technique or his provisional diagnoses of complicated patients. Do you know what I never said to the lab techs who taught me histology? That I had “thoughts” on microscopy that I really, really desperately needed to interrupt them to share. That would have been foolish. That would have been ridiculous. They had years of experience, knowledge and expertise that I did not. How could I possibly contribute positively to the discussion by sharing my uneducated, uninformed “thoughts”?

White people, let me lay this out for you. You do not know more about my life or my history than I do. You have not lived in this body for twenty-four years. You do not experience the multiple microaggressions I do every day. There is nothing in your life that you have experienced due to having white skin that is even slightly similar to what I have experienced due to having brown skin or what others have experienced due to having black skin. Nope, nothing. Not a single thing.

You may have “thoughts” about racism. You may have ideas about what we coloured folks need to do in order to better ourselves or improve our situation. Let me stress this again: your opinions could not be any more worthless. Until you have lived as a non-white person, until you have carried on your shoulders the burden of non-whiteness, until you know all of our stories and history and have borne our scars, your “thoughts” on non-whiteness are not only irrelevant, but completely worthless. I mean that in the bluntest, most direct way possible. I do not care what you have to say about non-whiteness. Nobody does. You talking about what it’s like to be non-white would be like me asking my pharmacology professor to take a seat while I talk about antibiotics.

I know you hate hearing this. If my mentions are any indication, you find the idea that nobody cares about what you have to say offensive. I am here to tell you that nobody cares about your hurt feelings, either. Not me, not my other non-white friends whose discussions you insist on hijacking and derailing. These are our lives we’re talking about. Our lives. The racism we experience is a direct result of white supremacy. What could a white person possibly have to say that could be of value to us, other than, “I’m sorry – what can I do to help?” (And even then, do you have to interrupt us to say it? Can’t you wait until we open the floor to questions?)

White people are used to their opinions carrying weight by virtue of the speaker being white. Maybe this is why they insist on barging into every conversation as though it’s their God-given right to take centre stage. Let me be the one to thoroughly disabuse you of this notion. White people, we do not care about you. We do not care about your opinions. We do not care about what you think being non-white is like. We do not care that you have “thoughts”. And most of all – and it is my great, great pleasure to tell you this – we do not care that this hurts your feelings. Your feelings are irrelevant in discussions of racism and white supremacy.

Here is what white people are welcome to do when non-whites are discussing racism and white supremacy: sit down. Shut up. Take out a notebook. Start taking notes. Ask questions when invited to and not before. Be humble. Be quiet. Remember that while you may be the centre of your own universe, you are not the centre of mine or ours. This is my story. These are our stories. If you aren’t prepared to listen to a lecture or two without keeping your worthless thoughts to yourself, please exit the auditorium before class begins. People are trying to learn here, you know.

A white woman walks into a bar. She claims it.

Once upon a time, a white woman came into my life and proceeded to cast me as a background character in her life story.

It’s a perplexing feeling, being relegated to second fiddle in the course of living your own life. It feels strange to watch, almost from the outside, as you are repositioned far from the centre of your own tale so that you can be part of the scenery in someone else’s. It doesn’t stop feeling strange the second time, or the third time, or the tenth, or the hundredth. It never stops feeling strange, actually. It always feels the same – like you have been uprooted, shoved out of the way so that something bigger and more important than you can proceed without interruption.

To white people, that’s what I am – an interruption.

Intersectionality as a concept has been around since the nineteenth century, but it was given a name and definition by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 (the year of my birth!) in her paper, Mapping the Margins. Since then, it’s been adapted in theory and practice not just by women of colour, but by queer women, disabled women, trans women, non-binary people, sex workers, poor and uneducated women, women in the developing world and many others. Intersectionality gives us a framework within which we can discuss and try to understand the tangled webs of oppression and privilege that we’re forced to navigate throughout the course of our everyday lives.

No intersectionalist believes that oppression is some kind of competition. There’s no prize to be won for being “most oppressed”. What I love about intersectionality, in fact, is how open and permissive it is, how it creates a space for all of us to share our lived experiences and learn from each other. I share this space with native women who share my experiences of coming from a colonised culture; with trans women who share my experiences of feeling pressure to pass as a member of the dominant group in order to survive; with sex workers who share my experiences of navigating sexuality and agency whilst beset on all sides by people trying to rob them of both. Our experiences are not the same, but there is a thread of commonality that links us – we experience oppression and privilege in varying ways, and we understand on a very profound level what it means to eke out a life, as it were, on the margins, leveraging our privileges against our oppressions so that we might stake whatever claims we may on this territory people call “humanity”. We have found, by battling through our differences and disputes, an ideal many claim to aspire to but few ever achieve. We have found that thing called solidarity, and while it doesn’t mean we never step on each others’ toes, it means that at least we’re getting better at apologising for it.

Alas, to the last bastions of privileged cisgender white feminism, this rich and complex tapestry of human experiences we have woven is nothing but a backdrop, a mere insignificant detail adding a little colour to the scenery as they play out the stories of their lives on a stage that should belong to all of us.

I do not hate white women. I would go so far as to say I don’t hate anyone. This stage is truly big enough for all of us. There is space for every voice, a place for every story, and they are all important and valuable and worth telling and hearing. I do not believe a rich white woman’s experiences with sexism are trivial or that they should be dismissed. What I believe is that anyone who is willing to make other people into scenery so that they can become the stars of everyone else’s stories is not just dangerous, but malicious. On a stage with room enough for everyone, it takes a very specific kind of person – someone blinkered by greed and egocentrism and vanity – to demand that everyone else surrender all available space to them. It takes a mindset that is nothing short of toxic to expect that all concerns must always be and will always be secondary to one’s own.

No intersectionalist believes this, but many white feminists do.

I am not a supporting character in anyone’s story. I have eked out this space for myself on the stage, a space where I can tell my story, but also a vantage point from where I can listen to others. I am not particularly territorial about my space. I’m happy to share it, exchange it, hand the mic over to someone else with a story to tell, carve out sections for others who don’t have spaces of their own. I lose nothing by sharing my space. But I lose everything by having it taken from me. I lose everything by having myself relegated to supporting cast in what is meant to be an ensemble production. I lose everything by being denied my right to play out my own story because someone else has decided I’m in the way of them playing out theirs.

A white feminist walks onto the stage and demands the spotlight – and once she has it (and she will have it, or there will be hell to pay) – she insists it must be hers forever. No sharing, no exchange, no back and forth, no taking turns. The white feminist colonises the stage as she colonises the bodies of women of colour, the gender identities of trans women, the agency of sex workers. The white feminist takes our tapestry and rolls it up and bundles it off in a corner because it’s taking up space she wants for herself. And when we dare to protest – after all, this is everyone’s stage – she calls us bullies, bitches, beasts. She pushes us further outwards into the margins. She is not content until the spotlight does not shine on us at all.

This is the toxic and insidious work of modern-day white feminism. There is no solidarity in it. There is no sharing, no back and forth, no time or space for other people to live their lives and be acknowledged. There is just a white woman in the spotlight, demanding that everything be about her. And the sad thing is, had she just asked, we’d have happily shared our space with her. We are not greedy or selfish or grasping, at least not more so than any other human being – intersectionality is beautiful in that it is about the intersections between every kind of privilege and oppression we experience. There is no need for this false dichotomy of white neo-colonial feminism and intersectional feminism. It exists because white women created it, and all in a last-ditch effort to take over the entire stage for themselves.

It saddens me to see that so many white feminists refuse to embrace intersectionality. It saddens me and hurts me and makes me angry. It makes me wonder how insecure they must be in their power, if even the thought of sharing a stage with other people makes them blanch so. Mostly, it just makes me tired – tired of fighting, tired of being cast as a bully, tired of being pushed into the background mid-sentence so that someone who already has a platform a hundred times the size of mine can speak over me. One’s back can only be used as a stepping-stone on the way to a pedestal before it breaks, and mine, I fear, is close to breaking. I am very tired of being a rung on a white woman’s ladder to greater heights.

I find my strength where I always have – in the women here on the margins with me, staking their claim to whatever space they can find, sharing their stories and living their lives and banding together. We have no need to cast each other as background characters or use each other as props. Our strength comes from encouraging each other, amplifying each other, celebrating our successes together, commiserating together when we feel grief, helping each other up when one of us falls. This is that ideal they call solidarity – not unthinking devotion to one cause over another, not unresisting compliance, but a space within which we are free to raise our voices in harmony, not in unison. We are different in so many, many ways, but we have in common the only things that matter – humanity, love, compassion, a desire to create a better world for each other and for those who will come after us. We don’t always agree and we don’t always get along, but we always support each other and we are always there for each other in times of need. Solidarity doesn’t mean a lack of dissent – it means working together to overcome our differences and move forward. It means nobody left behind. It means humanity.

A white woman walks onto the stage and claims it. The rest of us shrug and find another stage, because whatever white feminists may think of those of us in the background, we play second fiddle to nobody. We are not bit parts. We are not props or pieces of scenery. We have our own stories and we will tell them whether white women want to listen or not.

I dedicate this to everyone with whom I stand in solidarity, and everyone who has ever stood in solidarity with me. Our stories are ongoing. In time, we will find a space to tell them all.

Dear white people: STOP TALKING. (Just for a second. Please?)

Take a seat, white people. Take a stadium full of seats, actually, because we have a lot to discuss.

Let’s take a quick look at what white feminists have been doing on Twitter so far in 2014:

  • Trying to “reclaim” intersectionality from the women of colour who created it because they feel like intersectional feminism is simultaneously “too intellectual” and “not academic enough” (and also, when did white people ever see a thing created by black people that they didn’t want to steal and make their own?)
  • Claiming that they can absolve themselves of the responsibility to own their privilege by claiming to be green instead of white (yes, REALLY)
  • Storming into hashtags like @Auragasmic’s #WhiteWomanPrivilege to sound the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON

Damn. We’re only halfway through January. What’s the rest of the year going to be like?

I thought white feminists had hit critical mass in 2013 with the whole “Miley Cyrus is feminist, stop slut-shaming her! (but really, is Beyonce feminist tho?)” thing, but it seems like they were only getting started. Women of colour are, depending on who you talk to, either too intellectual or not intellectual enough, too outspoken or not outspoken enough, too aloof or too crass, or, y’know, just big ol’ scary bullies. White women have built us up into some kind of collective bogeyman (bogeywoman? bogeyperson?) – a looming monolith of coloured folks who won’t stop whining when they misstep, who won’t sit down and shut up when they start making white folks uncomfortable, who’ve made feminism hostile to women who want to feel like they own it.

Sorry, whiteys. This movement belongs to all of us. Accept that you don’t get to call all the shots or get left behind. I don’t really care which, to be honest – at this point, I could take or leave most of you without shedding a tear. But if you’re going to stay (and really, I’d like for you to stay even though I can’t stand you, since I do support all women), we are going to need to talk about how this is going to work moving forward.

Here are some things you need to stop saying if you want to be a useful part of the feminist movement in 2014 and beyond.

1. “NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE”

Every now and then, a woman of colour will be talking about her experiences when she begins to hear that all-too-familiar wailing sound. That sound is…

…the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, white folks, but we know full well that not every single white person on the planet has done the thing we’re talking about. You do not need to interrupt us as we share our lived experiences to tell us that you would never act that way, or that none of the women you know would do those things. Maybe that’s the case and maybe it isn’t, but how does that affect the veracity of our stories? Unless you personally know every single white person in the world and can vouch for the fact that not a single one of them has ever done [x], you need to sit the hell down and let us finish talking. We’ll take questions at the end if we feel like it, not before.

Discrediting a WoC’s lived experiences by sounding the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON isn’t just rude and demeaning – it’s downright racist. It derails conversations and re-centres them around white people and their perceptions and experiences. You hate it when men do that to you, so why would you do it to other women?

2. “But what about ME?”

A WoC is sharing her experiences and you just have to jump in and point out that, hey, that happens to white women too, why isn’t she talking about that? Is she…reverse racist?

No, she’s just trying to have a discussion about WoC, and you’re derailing it. Again.

This has happened to me several times in the last two weeks alone. I try to talk about sexual violence against WoC and someone HAS to point out that white women experience sexual violence as well. YES, I KNOW. But I’m talking about the hyper-sexualisation of WoC in particular and why that leads white men to target them disproportionately, not about sexual violence in general (I talk about that all the time, why not join in on those discussions rather than trying to make this one All About You?). Or I’ll bring up the perpetuation of racist stereotypes in the NFL and someone will have to point out that the NFL mistreats white athletes as well. Yes, it does! I’m a huge fan and I’m aware of this! But what does that have to do with the fact that DC’s NFL team has a racist name and mascot and the NFL commissioner refuses to do anything about it and has even supported anti-reform sentiment?

White people, I know this hurts to hear, but NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT YOU. We have discussions about white people’s problems all the goddamn time. We will have more discussions about them tomorrow. We will have even more discussions about them the day after that. For now, I’m trying to talk about something that disproportionately affects PoC and WoC in particular. You’ll get your turn in the spotlight. Why must you begrudge us ours?

3. “Why does it have to be a race thing?”

Short answer: because it is a race thing.

Long answer: because it is a race thing, and questions like this are why it’s become a race thing in the first place.

The other day, I tried to have a discussion about the exotification and fetishisation of non-white women, particularly their skin and hair. We’re often described in ways that specifically otherise and exoticise us, and this is both uncomfortable and dehumanising. It took about ten minutes for a white woman I have never so much as spoken a word to in my life to chime in with, “but all women are exoticised, why is this about race?”

Really? I mean, REALLY?

Yes, all women are objectified and subject to the male gaze. Women of colour are objectified in a particular way – by being treated as exotic objects, like museum exhibits you can fuck (before you go settle down with a white girl, because everyone knows we brown and black girls are just too wild and untameable, right?). That was the discussion I was having. Again, I talk about how women in general are objectified all the time. Why not join in on those conversations? Why do you feel the need to make this one about you?

(Bonus lulz points: when called on this, the woman in question claimed she’d been “branded a racist” and that we “all wanted her to die”. Well, no, but if you’re offering…)

The reason we “make things about race” is that they’re about race. It really is that simple. Maybe you don’t see that because it’s not something that affects you personally, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And when you challenge us on that – when you claim we’re “playing the race card” or “reading into it too much”, you’re invalidating our lived experiences and silencing us. End of.

4. “Why do you have to be so mean?”

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

This is just playing into cheap racial stereotypes. Angry Black Woman. Scary Brown Lady. Neurotic Asian. Sassy Latina. Backwards Muslim. By our powers combined, we’re the Intersectional Bully Squad!

This is one of the most down-low and dirty ways white women try to silence us, and it has to stop.

A woman of colour calling you on your shit is not being mean. She’s calling you out, the same way you call men out for slut-shaming or street harassment or rape jokes. We are trying to help you. We want feminism to be all-inclusive and welcoming and we’re doing our best to get you to play ball because the truth is, we know we work better together than we do when we’re at odds. But just because we understand the value of solidarity doesn’t mean we’re going to let you walk all over us. If you’re going to silence any criticism by calling it bullying, don’t expect to be respectfully engaged and coddled in return. We get enough people trying to silence us. We don’t need to deal with your shit too.

5. “You’re being so divisive.”

Let me take a few deep breaths before I tackle this one. Bear with me. Give me a moment…

…And I’m back. Still mad, but coherent. (I hope.) Let’s do this.

When a white woman talks about her experiences, that’s feminism. When a black woman talks about her differing experiences, that’s divisive. What’s wrong with this picture?

This continues to be white feminism’s go-to silencing technique when nothing else works. Tried calling them bullies? Tried making the conversation all about yourself? Tried sounding the klaxon? When all else fails, accuse them of being divisive and paint yourself as someone trying to save the movement from falling in on itself. That’ll do it.

Thing is, we’re not trying to divide. We’re trying to unite. We’re trying to make feminism bigger, better, broader and more open. We’re trying to make it about ALL women, not just the ones who can afford fancy suits for their TED talks and TV appearances and book signings. That solidarity y’all love talking about? We are trying to make that happen. We are bringing in women who are too poor for academia, too brash to be palatable to those upholding the status quo, too far away from support, too different to be noticed. We are taking the platforms we have – platforms we’ve fought for, by the way, because we sure as hell didn’t get given this space without having to fight tooth and nail for it – and sharing the mic with women who wouldn’t get a chance to say their piece otherwise. We are doing what feminism is meant to be doing. We are using our voices and helping other women use theirs.

That isn’t division. Look the damn word up in the dictionary. What we’re doing? That’s solidarity, the real thing. No lip-service, just putting our money where our mouths are.

What are you so scared of, white feminists? Are you honestly so addicted to power and control that it scares you when a woman who isn’t just like you has something to say and says it? Do you want us to have to beg your permission before speaking? Because that sure as hell ain’t going to happen, not any more. We do not need your permission. We have our own voices, our own platforms, and you’re damn right we’re going to use them, because this is as much our movement as it is yours, and we will keep reminding you of that until you finally take it to heart.

I do not want a feminism without white women. I want a feminism that has space for every woman, regardless of skin colour, sexuality, gender, profession, wealth, education or health status. I want a feminism where black women and native women and disabled women and trans women and sex workers and non-binary people and queer women and poor women are sharing centre stage with white, rich, cis, able-bodied, straight, educated women, because they all deserve a slice of the pie. I want a feminism where we all get our time in the spotlight. If you don’t want that, that’s divisive. Being inclusive and welcoming isn’t.

I am one brown girl with several mental illnesses and a hot temper. I don’t want this mic to myself. All I’m asking for – all any intersectional feminist is asking for – is the chance to share the mic around. Not just with us – with all women, no matter who or where they are, no matter what they do for a living, no matter whether or not they know the “right” words to express the way they feel. That’s all we want.

If you think that’s too much to ask, I have to ask you – what the fuck is the point of your feminism, anyway?

These are the best people in the world.

I am good at making friends, but I’m not very good at keeping them. There’s something about me that is intensely frightened of intimate contact, some combination of trust issues and introversion that leads me to be suspicious of anyone who gets too close. When people get close to me, I get scared. I try to make them run. I try to make them abandon me so that I can tell myself what I’ve always told myself – that I am not good enough or deserving enough to have friends.

Some people refuse to run. I don’t know why they refuse. I don’t know why they want to stay around me. But I know I’m very grateful, because even though I’m scared of people getting close to me, I think I’d be more afraid to be alone.

This is a blog post about the people who stayed and why I love them.

PJ

I first met PJ Harlow in October of 2010. I had just decided to defer a semester due to my health. I spent a lot of time caged up at home, unwilling or unable to get out of bed and barely able to interact with people when I did. I was in a failing relationship (though I didn’t realise that at the time). I don’t remember much about that period of my life except a kind of blank numbness. Nothing and nobody could get through to me. It wasn’t self-pity or angst – I had just forgotten how my ability to relate to people worked.

PJ waltzed into my life as though none of that was true and helped break me out of the prison I’d built myself.

We were very alike – always the cleverest person in the room (in our own opinions), dry, sardonic, inquisitive, emotionally stunted. We came from similar backgrounds. We’d had people hurt us and leave us. Talking to PJ was like talking to a version of myself. Finally, someone understood what it was like to be me – and once he understood, he didn’t turn away in revulsion the way most people did. We became very close friends. We developed feelings for each other and pretended we hadn’t. Talking to PJ became the one thing I looked forward to every day. I would stay up until three in the morning watching movies with him; he would stay up until three in the morning just because I needed someone to talk to. He liked to pretend he was only friends with me because I was a puzzle he wanted to solve. I liked to pretend I was only friends with him because he was a good flirt. We both knew better, we just didn’t want to admit it.

Eventually, circumstances forced our hands – my relationship failed as it had been destined to do, and he was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to catch me. We realised what all of our friends already knew about us – that we’d been growing closer for months, that we were always going to end up together, that it was just a matter of time. He asked me to be his girlfriend on the 7th of June, 2011. We’ve been together ever since. PJ has been there for me through countless breakdowns, through my decision to leave medical school, through several roller coaster rides (both metaphorical and literal) and not once has he faltered or decided I was too much to handle. He is clever and compassionate and loving and witty and funny and kind. He makes me a better person. He makes me want to be a better person. He makes me want to be my best self – not just for his sake, but for mine. He is both my partner and my best friend and I love him more than anyone else alive.

Mummy

I’ve always called my mother “Mummy”. I’m twenty-four years old now and I still do it, much to the amusement of some of my friends. Growing up, she was the most loving and attentive mother one could ask for. She read to me every day. She made origami jumping frogs with me. She learned all the songs from Sesame Street and Play School and sang them with me. She stayed up late at night working on projects with me. She encouraged me to write and to make music. She was at every public speech I ever gave, smiling encouragingly at me every time I caught her eye. Through the fog of voices – some of them my own – telling me I wasn’t good enough, she was the one person who always told me that I was.

Things have not always been perfect between us. We’ve hurt each other a lot. But we’ve always come back to each other, and over the past four years, our relationship has grown stronger and stronger. I trust Mummy implicitly. I come to her for advice when I don’t know who else to turn to. She makes my favourite comfort foods when I’m sick and drops everything for me when I need her. She still treats me like her baby girl, even though I’m a grown adult who never listens to her advice the first time around and makes all kinds of embarrassing mistakes because of it. She’s never stopped looking out for me and probably never will. She’s funny and much cleverer than she thinks she is and impossible not to love (the only person I’ve ever met who dislikes her is my father, and I consider his dislike a very good reason to like someone on its own). She never stops having time or energy for me even when she doesn’t have time or energy for myself. Other people have great mothers. I have my Mummy. She’s the greatest and kindest and most beautiful woman in the world.

Ethan

Ethan is a rugby player who’s built like a brick wall, nearly breaks my ribs each time he hugs me and just happens to be gloriously, flamboyantly bisexual. I’ve known Ethan since he was in high school, though we couldn’t stand each other all that much back then. I don’t know if I changed or if he did or we both did, but at some point – I’m not sure when – he went from being a friend of my brother’s to the guy sitting on my bedroom floor watching Scrubs with me, pretending we weren’t getting teary-eyed during the really feels-inducing bits. Ethan is my favourite shopping partner, my number one gossip buddy and my brother in everything but blood. He’s lifted me out of some of the darkest holes I’ve ever fallen into and let me lean on him when I’ve felt like I couldn’t stand on my own.

I’ve never met someone who cares as whole-heartedly and deeply about people as Ethan. He will fight to the death for what’s right no matter what happens to be on the line. He likes to hide it behind a façade of gruff jokes and pop culture references, but he cares about the rights of people he’s never met and never will meet just because they’re human and deserve love and compassion and dignity and justice. There’s nobody I’d rather have by my side during any kind of fight, be it against internet trolls or the zombie apocalypse. He’s not just my rock – he’s everyone’s, no matter what it costs him. (Oh, and Cathy Brennan hates him, which I feel is a fairly glowing recommendation by itself.)

Jordan

I went to med school with Jordan’s older brother, Curtis – nice guy, glorious beard, likes rugby and drinking and video games, now an amazing doctor. Jordan and I meeting was initially a side-effect of that acquaintance, but over time, each of us figured out that we needed the other, and we became friends. Jordan and I don’t talk enough, which is my fault for being a bad friend, but every moment I get to spend with her is a precious one. She is brilliant and neurotic and about to be a doctor, and I can’t think of very many people with whom I’d more willingly trust my life. She is quick to laugh, quicker to love and is the kind of person who has a little room in her heart for everyone. I’m very glad she’s found room in there even for a misfit like me.

Jordan is also very patient, which is a useful quality in anyone who wants to stick around me, because I tend to try people’s patience a lot. She’s suffered through endless meltdowns and tantrums from me with nothing but grace and love and kindness and has always been waiting for me on the other end with a hug and a reminder that she loves me. (I don’t know why, but I’m grateful that she does.) Not only is she going to be a fantastic doctor – she’s one of the greatest friends a girl could ask for.

Amy

The first reason I like Amy is that she reminds me of a way cooler version of me, which is terribly egotistical on my part but true nonetheless. Amy is clever and charming and the life of the party, and unlike in my case, none of those things are fake or put on – they’re just who she is. I first met Amy in high school, though we didn’t become friends until later. She loves wigs and eccentric fashion and colourful patterned tights and movies with Robert Downey Jr and cult films and dancing and art. She is generous and always fun to be around and knows how to bring out the brightness in people even when they can’t do it themselves.

The second reason I like Amy is that no matter what, she never stops being positive. In the entire time I’ve known her, she has never stopped being a bright light not just in my own life, but in the lives of everyone lucky enough to know her and call her a friend. She’s one of the people I’ll miss the most when I leave to move to America, not just because of all the coffee dates and shopping trips and movies and gossip sessions, but because very few people can make me feel happy to be in the moment like Amy does. Sometimes, all that matters is enjoying the company of the people you’re with. I’m very grateful to her for having taught me that.

Carly

For some reason, Carly has never stopped having faith in my ability to be a good person. You will have to ask her why this is the case, because I personally have no clue. Whenever I feel like I have nothing to give the world, Carly reminds me that I do. She’s endlessly optimistic about humanity’s potential, a cheerleader in ripped tights and bright green hair and quirky necklaces she put together herself, standing by the sidelines when I’m down by six with five minutes left in the final quarter and reminding me that it’s not over until it’s over and that I still have time to make the play.

I don’t think Carly realises how inspiring a person she is. I wish she would, because she’s one of the reasons I’m still here today. She’s quiet and quirky and a very talented artist and doesn’t draw much attention to herself even though she deserves every bit she gets and then some. She’s eccentric in the most absolutely delightful way. She never tries to tell me things are all right when they aren’t but she never gives up on helping me remember that they’ll be all right again. I am incredibly envious of her travelling hoodie and wish I had even a fraction of her talent with a paintbrush. Most of all, I’m very glad to have met her and gladder still that she seems to be happy to have met me too.

Sasha

I don’t know how to describe Sasha, except as one of the people who made me realise who I am. When I met hir, zie had bright blue hair and a dry, wicked sense of humour. Sadly, the blue hair is lost to history, but the sense of humour remains. Very few people can make me laugh out loud like Sasha can. It’s equally true that very few people can make me question myself like Sasha can. I first realised I was queer thanks to hir (not sure if I’ve ever told hir that – if not, hey, probably should have told you this personally, sorry you had to find out along with everyone else!). Zie has broadened my horizons in so many, many ways – by introducing me to hir faith and teaching me new ways of engaging with the universe, by introducing me to queerness and trans identities and helping me to discover my own, by sending me mixtapes of ELO and No Doubt and daring me to write some of the most bizarre fan fiction of my life to date.

Sasha is also one of the most compassionate and loving people I know. Zie is not only an amazing listener, but the kind of person who helps one realise things they never knew about themselves. Perhaps the best word for hir is “wise”, which is not something one says about everyone who plays Pokemon games for hours on end and writes AU crackfic about political personalities. But in this case, it most certainly applies.

Lila

I have an older half-sister, but I’ve never met her. Growing up, I always felt a bit short-changed in that respect. I wanted someone who would be to me what I tried to be to my baby sisters – a source of advice, someone to cry and giggle to about crushes, someone who would tell me things I needed to hear but didn’t want to listen to, someone older and wiser than me who’d seen more of the world than I had and would help steer me clear of the potholes. As it turned out, I met Lila some time in 2008, and she’s been all of those things and more to me ever since.

Despite all of the things she’s been through – and there have been a lot – Lila continues to live life with a zeal and vigour that truly inspires me. When my parents were first divorced and I felt like I had nobody to care for me, she stepped in and made sure I had someone to catch me when I fell. She’s forty-mumble years old, looks thirty-five at the most and seems to have the perpetual energy and zest for all of life’s joys of a woman half her age. She’s been at various times a surrogate mother, a big sister, someone to giggle over crushes with (I’ll never forget our time at the Sylvester McCoy Appreciation Society!), a shoulder to cry on and pretty much everything else I could have ever asked for in a friend. We haven’t met yet, but I can’t wait for the day we do. Is there a Guinness World Record for greatest hug ever? I think we’ll probably break it.

Deb

I met Deb during a LiveJournal friendathon in 2008. From the outset, she was witty, warm and kind – the sort of person you want to spend time with just because she makes the world seem brighter. Along with Lila (the two are old friends), she took me under her wing when my parents were first divorced, and without the two of them guiding me and helping raise me, I’m not sure I’d still be here today. Deb is the kind of person you can talk to for hours. She loves travel, thrill rides, sports, Top Gear and movies starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. She has faced adversity that would make many people buckle under the pressure and not only survived, but done so with a vengeance. I met her once for dinner in Orlando in 2011, and it was one of the very best nights of my entire life. I could have stayed at that restaurant until dawn just talking about everything and nothing and not even noticed the time go by. (As it was, the management very politely showed us the door after letting us stay a fair amount past closing time.)

The thing I admire about Deb the most is her courage. She doesn’t pretend that she’s always okay when she’s not, but she never stops fighting. I don’t know how she does it, but her example has inspired me to try to do the same. She is incredibly brave and fierce and loving and sends Christmas cards that make me cry my eyes out every single year. I love her like a sister and I’m so incredibly grateful to have had her in my life. One of the things I’m looking forward to the most about my impending move overseas is the chance to see her again, to experience that light in my life at least one more time.

These are the people who have never run. They are not the only friends I’ve ever had, nor are theirs the only friendships for which I’m grateful. But of all the people in my life, they’re the ones who’ve stayed, even through the really bad things (and there have been some really bad things), the ones who’ve reminded me that maybe my existence isn’t a lost cause. I don’t know why they love me so much and I certainly don’t deserve them in the slightest, but I am so, so grateful for them nonetheless. I’m not great at expressing my emotions (you know, mental illness and emotional underdevelopment and all that), but I hope that they’ll read this and understand at least a little bit of how much they mean to me. But in case I haven’t been clear enough, I’ll try to sum it up concisely: they mean the world to me, and then some. They are my reasons to keep going when I don’t have any others. They’re the bright lights on a road that is very dark and very, very scary sometimes. I love them all to bits and I always will.

Slivers of Mirrors

I’m going to level with you here – I’m crying as I write this.

I first became a Doctor Who fan in 2007 – just in time to fall in love with Martha Jones and watch as the writers systematically tore her to shreds to make Rose Tyler look like the incredibly classist ode to white sainthood they wanted her to be. (Sorry, that sounded bitter. Another conversation for another time.) Martha was like me – she was a woman of colour, she was a med student, she had a snappy retort for every occasion and she had the kind of adventurous spirit that led her to get into a battered and very anachronistic box for a chance to see the universe. I think a lot of the reason I’m so bitter about the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who is how he treated one of the very first women on TV with whom I really identified.

The next time one of those came up on Who was several years later. Here she is:

The Doctor:

Rita:

I hear you, sister.

Damn it. I still can’t watch that without crying.

Maybe that doesn’t make sense to you. For context, here’s a little background about me:

September 11th, 2001 changed my life. I remember coming to school that day to see the faces of people who’d known me since I was in preschool suddenly darkened with fear and suspicion. Damn it, I was eleven years old. I didn’t fly a plane into a building and I certainly didn’t want to kill anyone. I was as scared and angry and hurt as anyone else. The difference was that everyone else formed a big group called Us and started treating people like me – the little group called Them – like we were going to take them down next.

I put up with being Them for years. Hell, I still have to put up with it. It’s easier now that I don’t cover my hair any more and I wear short skirts and high heels and a lot of makeup, easier now that I can pass for an “exotic” pretty girl with a nice tan, but it still comes up every now and then. I’m one of Them.

I have spent so, so long laughing nervously and telling people not to be frightened.

I never thought I’d see that on the telly.

I’ve read a lot of very clever, very thorough critiques of the character of Rita. They have lots of good points. Maybe the line was a throwaway joke that could have been taken in a lot of negative ways. Maybe Rita was unfairly stereotyped. Maybe she was just another woman of colour who got to die so the Doctor could save white people.

I’m sorry, but I don’t care. I don’t care because I have spent more than a decade now asking people not to be frightened of me, and I never, never, not once in a million years, thought I would get to see someone who looked a little like me and talked a little like me say it.

I never thought I’d get to see someone like me on Doctor Who. Not ever.

That little throwaway line, that’s my life. Every time some fanatic bombs a building, I have to ask people not to be frightened. Every time there’s violence in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Palestine or Syria, I have to ask people not to be frightened. Every time some madman in a shalwar kameez gets interviewed by a reporter and they get a soundbyte of him that can be twisted into “Muslims want everyone in the West to follow Sharia”, I have to ask – carefully, nervously, like it’s all just a joke – for people not to be frightened.

I’ve never killed anyone or even wished death on anyone because their beliefs were different from mine, but people are frightened of me. I have said those words or some variation of those words – don’t be frightened – hundreds and hundreds of times since I was an eleven-year-old sitting in a classroom full of people who looked at me like they didn’t even know me any more. I have said them to teachers and friends and people I don’t even know. I have apologised for crimes I haven’t committed, for blood that isn’t on my hands, so. many. times. that my reaction now is exactly like Rita’s.

Smile. Little eye-roll. Nervous laugh. Don’t be frightened.

That is life for thousands upon thousands of young, fairly Westernised, probably moderately progressive Muslim women living in predominantly white countries around the world, and it has been for more than a decade now.

And they showed us on TV. For once – just once – we got to tune in and see ourselves.

Steven Moffat has done a lot of problematic things. He has said a lot of problematic things. He has written a lot of problematic characters. But he gave me something I never thought I’d get. He gave me someone like me on the telly. I know a lot of you can identify with that feeling – the feeling that just once, just once, someone stopped treating you like you were invisible and made you feel like you were a part of the world, someone who could show up on a cheesy, clever, ridiculous science fantasy TV show about a madman in a box who goes on adventures. We ache for that, don’t we? We ache for that moment when we’ll turn on the telly or look in a magazine or up at a billboard and see someone who looks and acts and speaks just a little bit more like us.

Rita was my moment. And yeah, I’m still crying. I cry every time I think about it. I cry because just once, there was a girl a bit like me on TV and instead of being a terrorist or a mad person or an illiterate savage in need of help, she was clever and witty and funny and valued and brave and full of compassion and vim and vigour and life. The Doctor didn’t treat her badly or like she was less-than just because of her faith. (Didn’t he even seem a little happy? Didn’t he even seem like he thought she was pretty cool?) It was almost like she was worth something.

Almost like people like me might be worth something.

Almost like people like me might matter enough to get our stories told alongside everyone else’s.

I may never stop crying about this.

Steven Moffat is a cishet white man with a lot of issues about women who does a lot of things the wrong way. I’m not going to say he shouldn’t be criticised for the things he does badly, because he should. I’m not going to say he shouldn’t have to do better, because he should.

But he gave me my moment. That’s something. That’s a start. Journey of a thousand miles, you know.

This was my first step.

 

Related Reading: a post about this on Tumblr that says everything I just said more quickly and with a lot less crying.

Apparently, in Philadelphia Gay Journalism, ‘Award-Winning’ Means ‘No Longer Willing or Able to Believe that Truth is a Defense’

Apparently, in Philadelphia Gay Journalism, ‘Award-Winning’ Means ‘No Longer Willing or Able to Believe that Truth is a Defense’.

This is a nice, short article showing up supposed trans “ally” Victoria Brownworth as the liar and fraud she (ALLEGEDLY) really is.

An open letter to my favourite humour website in the world

Dear Cracked,

I was going to start this with a bad joke about how your website’s name is well chosen because you are as addictive as a certain kind of drug that shares your name, but let’s be honest – I am no internet humourist, which is why my dreams of writing for you some day will probably never be realised. Seriously, though, I just got done with a several-hour-long binge-read of your articles. I had even read some of them before! I just couldn’t help myself. You are that great.

There are loads of things I love about you. Obviously, the dick jokes rank near the top, along with all the titties. But I also love that you manage to deploy humour the way it’s meant to be used: pointing upwards. You don’t take cheap shots at people of colour, you don’t mock the disabled, and you’re actually pretty damn feminist for a website run mostly by dudes. I have found better feminism in some of your timeless list-based humour than I have on websites run by actual self-proclaimed feminists. That’s pretty freaking impressive. You really get it, you know? You get that jokes are funnier, cleverer and about ten thousand times less douche-y when they challenge the status quo. If we could lock Daniel Tosh in a room with all of you and not let him come out for a month, I think he might actually emerge as a half-decent comedian.

(I’m joking. Nothing could make Daniel Tosh a decent comedian. But I digress.)

I only have a couple of really tiny nitpicks. You know how sometimes you love your best friend to death, but they have one or two habits that make you want to punch them in the face? Well, I’m not saying I want to punch you in the face (nor am I saying you’re my best friends – though, call me!), but there are just one or two things you could do to achieve the near-impossible and become even more awesome. Here’s what they are – in list format, because I get that that’s kind of your deal:

1. Please stop it with the “hooker” jokes.

Most of the time, your attitude towards sex work is actually pretty okay (again – surprisingly feminist for a dude-run humour site!), but there are a couple of things you could be doing better. Can you please stop calling the ladies “prostitutes”, “hookers” and “whores”? Pretty please? That’s a form of whorephobia, and it’s led to the kinds of gruesome murders you could probably feature in some of your Hallowe’en urban legend articles. Societal discrimination against a class of working women, often leading to violence and murder being perpetrated against them, just isn’t all that funny. It’s always a little jarring when I’m reading a great article and out of nowhere, a derogatory term for sex workers has been slipped in for no real reason.

Fixing this is really easy! Just refer to them as sex workers and to what they do as sex work. It’s not so much your attitude that needs to change – just the terminology you use. Words like the ones I listed above are hurtful and damaging slurs, and as you’ve proven time and time again, you can be hilarious without resorting to cheap shots like that.

2. Find another word for “unintelligent” that isn’t “retarded”.

This makes me wince every time I see it. I know a lot of the people you talk about are absolutely ludicrously dickbrained. What they aren’t is suffering from intellectual impairment, which is a real series of conditions for which “retarded” is a very nasty term. Ditto for “lame” – you’re inadvertently hurting a lot of disabled people by using this to describe stuff that sucks.

You’re great at coming up with creative new insults, and there are already plenty there for you to use that aren’t ableist slurs – fucksticks, dickwads, fucknuggets, shitlords, the list goes on. Maybe consider using some of those instead? As someone who knows and loves a lot of people with both physical disabilities and intellectual impairments, it always makes me a little sad to see you throwing around the r-word like it’s meaningless. It’s not that hard to erase it from your vocabulary with a little effort and a lot of creative cursing, and it would make your site a lot more inviting to people who are disabled or know and love folks who are.

That’s pretty much it, y’all. You run a great site that produces high-quality content, and I’ll probably still be reading you twenty years from now because as you wrote in an article one time, our tastes kinda get fixed when we’re young, and many of my formative years were spent reading hilarious dick jokes and staring at boobies on Cracked. (Related: it may have been Cracked that helped me realise I was also into ladies…but again, I digress.) There is roughly a 0% chance that anyone who writes for Cracked will ever read this, but hey – I can hope, right? And if you do, by some miracle, happen to stumble across this blog post, I know that being the decent, smart, startlingly attractive folks you are, you’ll at least think about what I’ve said here.

I look forward to many more years of sexy, sexy all-American humour delivered straight to my inbox/news feed/one-day-ubiquitous Google Glass device – hopefully with a little less of the nasty stuff thrown into the mix.

Thanks for the laughs (and, again, for possibly helping me come out to myself – you were right, titties are amazing!).

Sincerely,

Jay.

Ten ways to be a better male feminist

Who says I’m always negative? Leaving aside the substantial evidence in the form of blog posts, angry Twitter rants and the rages that overtake me when my football team isn’t winning, I assure you I’m capable of being reasonable, constructive and even – make sure you’re sitting down for this – pleasant.

You may be under the impression that I hate men. This is not the case. Men are fine! (Some men are really fine, if you get what I’m saying, which I’m sure you do, because that had all the subtlety of a large-scale trainwreck.) What makes me mad is misogyny. What makes me madder is the appropriation of the feminist movement by men who either don’t know what they’re doing or are deliberately trying to profit from it.

Let’s say you’re the first kind – well-meaning, but just not that well-educated about what being a feminist entails. You’ve come to the right place! I’m going to stop yelling for long enough to tell you ten things you can do in order to be a better feminist, a better ally and – let’s face it – a better person.

1. Leave your baggage at the door.

I know you have a bunch of preconceptions about what feminism is and what your place in the grand scheme of things might be. That’s perfectly natural – all of us have preconceived notions about the world based on our prior experiences. But I’m gonna need you to drop all of that when you walk into feminist spaces.

Feminism is a movement that is largely based on female lived experiences. If you’re not a woman, you can empathise, but you simply can’t say you know what we’ve been through. And that’s fine! There are plenty of causes I support even though I’m not directly linked to them or affected by them. Nobody’s saying you can’t be a feminist. What we’re saying is that you need to follow our lead on this one, because this movement is about the way power structures affect our lives in ways that you may not even be able to perceive from where you’re standing.

Come in with an open mind and be ready to learn, and you’ll find yourself not only having your eyes opened to a whole new world, but being much more capable of understanding and processing what you’ll see and hear.

2. Be prepared to do a lot of listening.

You probably have a lot of insights that you want to share. You want to tell us why men act the way they do and how you think we can change that behaviour. And there’s room for that in feminism…to an extent. But for the most part, what we need men to do is just to listen.

I want you to think about all the women who are denied a chance to speak by men around the world – women who are barred from obtaining an education, women who are subjected to genital mutilation, women who aren’t allowed to work, women who are survivors of sexual abuse, women of colour, trans and queer women, sex workers. Don’t they deserve a chance to be heard? Wouldn’t you like to be the person to give them that chance?

It seems simple, but it’s so, so important. A huge part of being an ally is being prepared to listen to our stories – and there are a lot of them. A lot. You might want to get out a notepad and start taking notes. There may or may not be a test later.

We have been silenced for so long. Let us speak. Please.

3. Don’t expect an automatic welcome.

You’re a stand-up guy, right? Here you are, ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty fighting the good fight. If only more guys were like you!

The thing is – and don’t take this personally – we’ve seen a lot of guys who looked just like you, talked just like you, were just as enthusiastic as you…who proceeded to talk over us, silence us, demean us or use our movement to profit off us. Can you blame us for being a little wary? Can you blame us for being suspicious when men try to enter our spaces, no matter how seemingly good their intentions?

Under the guise of “feminism”, men have sexually harassed and raped women whose trust they’d gained, used their positions of influence to bully and silence women (Hugo Schwyzer, anyone?) and even gotten away with murder. No, you probably won’t do any of those things – but we can’t be sure of that. So be prepared for a little hostility. We’ve had to learn the hard way to be suspicious of strangers bearing gifts. If you work hard and do right by us, we’ll accept you in time.

4. Don’t expect special treatment.

This is something a lot of men struggle with, and with good reason – they’ve come from a position of total privilege, where their ideas and opinions are automatically given weight by virtue of their gender. You might not even realise this, but your maleness gives you huge advantages out there in the big, wide world.

If you want to be a feminist, you have to be prepared to give that up.

It’s hard. I know how hard it is, because there are times when I’ve had to do it myself. Sometimes you’ll find yourself feeling offended or affronted. You’ll find yourself wondering why you even bother if people aren’t going to acknowledge your efforts. That’s your privilege talking, and you need to learn to set all of that aside if you want to do this right.

Welcome to the new world, friend. Enjoy equality!

5. Don’t talk over us.

A lot of men take offence to this, but you need to learn to bite your tongue.

This is our movement. We’re glad that you’re along for the ride, but you have to learn that you don’t get to take centre stage. That space is reserved for women with real lived experiences to share. If you find yourself with the urge to talk over a woman who’s sharing her story, just…don’t. There is no easier way of riling up a feminist than by trying to tell her story for her, or assuming you know it better than she does. I promise you, no matter what the situation is, you don’t. You haven’t lived her life, you haven’t seen what she’s seen or felt what she’s felt, and there is no way that you, a man, can possibly understand 100% of what it’s like to be a woman.

I’m not saying you’re not allowed to speak. I’m saying you have to wait your turn. In feminist spaces, a woman’s lived experience takes precedence over your insights as a man. We’re kind of natural experts in this field, you know? Just let us talk.

6. Don’t stay silent when you see sexism in action.

Your buddies all tell rape jokes. They make you feel awkward, but you don’t say anything because you don’t want to be That Guy – the one who kills the buzz, the one who’s the PC Police all the time. You smile awkwardly when your bestie tells women to make him a sandwich even though you think it’s not really that funny, and you let yourself be drawn into discussions that degrade women even though that’s not your intent.

Yeah, that needs to stop.

If you want to do something concrete – and I’m guessing you do – this is the best place to start. Call out sexism when you see it. Tell your buddies those rape jokes aren’t cool. Roll your eyes at your friend’s sandwich jokes and tell him he’s being an ass. When you witness street harassment, step up and say something. Be the guy who doesn’t let other guys talk shit about women behind their backs. Be the guy who never lets “she was asking for it” stand.

I can’t stress enough how important this is. Your intent means nothing if you don’t back it up. Help us out here, dude. Use your voice for good.

7. Never, ever mansplain to us.

You’re talking to a sex worker who’s sharing her story of what working life is like for her where she lives. You feel like she’s getting some of the details wrong – maybe you’ve understood a certain law differently from her, or you find it hard to believe the police are so unsupportive. You tell her you don’t think that’s the way things are and proceed to explain reality the way you’ve experienced it.

That’s mansplaining, and you shouldn’t be surprised if that sex worker gets more than a little testy when you do it.

I know some of you do this unintentionally, but you need to catch yourself doing it and stop. Mansplaining derails discussions, trivialises the lived experiences of women and is just outright rude. Do you honestly think you know more about the reality of sex work than the girl who was talking to you about it? She lives it. You’ve just seen a documentary on TV. She doesn’t need you to explain to her what her life is really like.

8. Don’t tell us to calm down.

I think I’ve kept my tone fairly light thus far, but most of the time, if I’m talking about social justice, I’m pretty goddamn angry. This is a natural response to being discriminated against for being a woman for my entire life. I know that anger can be very confronting and a little off-putting, but there are reasons for that, those reasons being that a) the reality of existence as a female in our society is pretty confronting, and b) being faced with brutal, unpleasant truths is naturally very off-putting.

You might be tempted to say something about catching more flies with honey. The thing is, we’re not trying to catch flies. We’re trying to change the world, and you don’t change the world with niceness (believe me, even Gandhi was a manipulative old bastard – no activist is ever as serene as they may seem). As my dad was fond of saying: the reasonable man adapts himself to the world, whereas the unreasonable man adapts the world to himself; therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

We’re the unreasonable women, and we’re adapting the world to ourselves, because that’s how you get things done. Telling us to calm down is tone policing, and if you’d like an explanation of why that’s a terrible thing to do, click that link above and prepare to feel like you’ve just been slapped in the face repeatedly by several angry women all at once.

Or you could take my word for it and just let us be mad when we need to be. Trust me, it works better this way.

9. Amplify and empathise.

If you find a great blog post about sex worker rights in India, share it with your friends. If someone you know is sharing their experiences as a trans woman going through the medical system, retweet the hell out of her and encourage people to follow her. If, say, a fiery young Muslim woman you know writes a great blog post that you find really useful, spread it around to everyone else you think might find it useful too. Allies are great amplifiers – they help spread our message so that it reaches audiences it might not have reached otherwise. That’s a valuable thing.

And while you might not understand what we’ve gone through or what it’s like to be us, when we share our experiences, listen empathetically. It means a lot to know that even though you might not know how we feel, you care that we’ve felt pain and it pains you, too. Be there for us. March with us. Listen to us vent. Come along to our seminars and tell all your friends to come too. Be a part of the creation of safe spaces for us because you genuinely care about our safety and well-being. Be the great person I’m sure you’re capable of being. This is what allies do.

10. Don’t give up when it gets hard.

Not if – when. Because it will get hard, I promise. You will be forced to re-evaluate almost everything you’ve ever known about women and feminism. You will learn about experiences that are totally alien to you. You will probably be taken down a peg or two when you mess up. (Don’t worry, we all mess up, and we all eat crow afterwards. It’s fine, the internet has a pretty short memory.) And once you start doing this, you can’t just stop, because even if you want to, you won’t be able to shut your eyes to reality once you’ve had them opened.

This is a war so many of us wish we didn’t have to wage. I can’t tell you how tiring it is to spend day after day after day having to fight for my fundamental human rights. It’s draining and exhausting and, to be quite honest, pretty damn demoralising sometimes. You won’t experience all of that, but you’ll experience enough to make you wonder why you got into this in the first place.

Here’s why: because equality matters. This stuff isn’t some kind of abstract academic debate. This is about the way fifty percent of the world is forced to live because of a system that regards them as second-class citizens. Isn’t that wrong? Isn’t that hateful? Shouldn’t it change?

And wouldn’t you rather be one of the people helping to change it?

Feminism is vital work. It’s hard, it’s messy, and it’s often thankless, but it’s also very, very necessary. It’s necessary for all the reasons I’ve stated and re-stated on this blog dozens of times. It’s necessary because when we don’t do this work, people don’t just suffer – they die because of our inaction. And it’s not just women who are affected – it’s every man ever criticised for choosing to stay at home with his kids, every man who likes crafts more than sports, every man who’s ever cried in public, every man who isn’t arrogant and self-assured enough to bluff his way through life as though he owns everything he sees. You might even be one of those men. If you are, this isn’t just about us, this is about you. This is about a world in which we can all be free to express our genders however we like without facing judgement or discrimination for simply being who we are.

I want to live to see that world. I’m sure you do, too. So welcome aboard, friend. I’m glad you’ve decided to join us. Let’s save the world together.

We need to talk about tone.

So here’s why I’m not “nice”.

Do you know what “nice” gets you? Nice gets you harassed on the street by guys who refuse to acknowledge that you are clearly uncomfortable with them hitting on you as you wait for the bus. Nice gets you passed over for promotions because you were the weakling who didn’t put herself forward. Nice means that when you’re raped, people will say it was your fault because you didn’t say “no” loudly enough, often enough or quickly enough to your rapist (who wouldn’t have listened anyway, but who cares about that?). Nice gets you not taken seriously. Nice is the inch you give that leads to a mile being taken.

Nice gets you a whole lot of nothing.

You may take issue with my anger. I’m here to tell you that I could not give less of a damn about your hurt feelings if I tried. I’m angry for a reason. I’m angry because nice has gotten me and other women like me and other women who aren’t like me at all absolutely nowhere, no matter how many times we’ve tried it. I’m angry because that is the only way people will sit up and take notice.

I’m angry because I have a right to be, and if you want to come into my spaces and try to police that anger, try to make me act nice because it’ll make my message more palatable for you, then I kindly invite you to take a rusty farm implement and fuck yourself with it, because you have colossally missed a point that I am getting very, very tired of explaining.

There is nothing militant or radical about anger. Anger is an entirely logical and reasonable response to decades upon decades of oppression, marginalisation, silencing and dehumanisation at the hands of the privileged.  Anger is what keeps us going in the face of man after man after man telling us that we do not deserve the fundamental human rights we are being denied. Anger is confronting, yes. It’s meant to be. You know why? Because the facts we’re dealing with here are pretty confronting things, and sugar-coating them so that you’ll find them easier to swallow is counter-productive.

It is a fact that women are raped and sexually assaulted in horrifyingly high numbers across the globe. It is a fact that women are being denied access to healthcare by men who think they are the best arbiters of what a woman should be allowed to do with her body. It is a fact that trans women, sex workers and women of colour are disproportionate targets of violence and other hate crimes. It is a fact that the system, such as it is, is so firmly rigged against women that compared to us, Sisyphus had it easy. It is a fact that women are paid seventy-five cents on the dollar to what men are paid in comparable positions. It is a fact that rape culture exists. It is a fact that women of colour are hyper-sexualised and fetishised, their bodies reduced to props on a white woman’s stage. It is a fact that female genital mutilation leads to morbidity and mortality of thousands upon thousands of women across the globe, even in the so-called developed world. These are confronting facts. They’re worth getting angry about.

You want to tell women to tone it down, to be less emotional, but the fact is that this is not a matter for abstract academic debate. These are our lived experiences. This is the metric fuckton of bullshit that we are forced to wade through every day in an effort to live our lives the same way the other fifty percent of the population are allowed to without impediment. What function would be served by being nice? Do you honestly think that if we piped down, stopped yelling, stopped marching and protesting and refusing to back down, that men would suddenly realise that we had a point and we needed to be listened to? Is that how you think the way the world works? If so, that’s a spectacularly huge rock you’re living under, because you are so out of touch that I have to question whether or not you’ve ever come into contact with any semblance of reality at all.

Nice gets us nothing. Nice gets us ignored, pushed aside, relegated to abstract academic arguments that can be debated by people in ivory towers who do not have to live what we live, who have never had to experience what we experience, who have never had their identities and humanity denied by a society that considers them second-best. Nice gets us no further to breaking the glass ceiling, no closer to liberation. Nice gets us crumbs from a man’s table and a pat on the head. Nice is useless.

Anger gets us heard. Anger is confrontational and in-your-face and impossible to ignore, and because of that, anger makes men uncomfortable. It makes them want to turn away because having the truth pushed repeatedly and persistently in your face by someone who won’t just shut up when you tell them to is not how men are used to experiencing the world. Anger got women the right to vote, the right to work, the right to have sex with who we choose, when we choose. Anger makes you listen, and just because you don’t like what you’re hearing, that doesn’t make the anger less valid or less justified or less necessary, because without that anger, you’d never have listened in the first place.

There is no room for nice in feminism. There is no room for nice in any movement for equality, because all nice does is uphold the status quo. It’s anger that gets us places. The fact that so many men feel the need to police it, to silence it however they can, is testament to its effectiveness. Anger works. And you’re damn right, it’s unpleasant and uncomfortable. That’s because “unpleasant and uncomfortable” is the reality of female existence in this society. It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable to hear the truth because the truth is nasty and violent and shameful. It’s a truth you helped build and maintain. Don’t be so surprised that you’re finally being made to face it.

I could have written this non-confrontationally, and it would have made no difference, because when people say, “you need to be nicer,” what they actually mean is, “you need to stop talking about these things I don’t want to hear.” And that’s not going to happen. This is the truth of the world that we live in and I am not going to stop shouting and marching and protesting just because you don’t want to face the facts. This anger is the result of every catcall, every man who thought my sexuality existed for him and turned nasty when he was proven wrong, every friend I know who was raped and never saw their rapist brought to justice, every trans woman who has contemplated or carried out self-harm or suicide, every sex worker who has been dehumanised and degraded and treated like trash, every woman of colour who has seen her sexuality turned into a sick parody of itself for the entertainment of white people. This anger is because of you.

You can’t stop it. You can’t silence it. I’m damn well not going to let you police it. So you might as well listen, because I’m not going to stop being angry until you do.