When Getting to School Is A Fight For Your Life

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from Rose B. Fischer. I am incredibly honored to have her posting here in such an open, honest essay about her experiences. Please be aware that this post contains frank discussion of physical abuse.

(Content Warning: Descriptions of physical abuse.)

The little yellow bus—commonly called “the retard bus” by my peers–was my only way to get to school. My mother took the car to work with her at 5:45, and the “regular” bus didn’t have a wheelchair lift.

The little yellow bus pulled up at precisely 7:30 every weekday morning. It would honk once, idle for five minutes, and if I wasn’t outside by then, the driver would leave.

This was the mid-80s, well before the ADA, so I was lucky to have the little yellow bus at all.

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#Sorrynotsorry

Among my social media, I’m beginning to see some whinging about the amount of political posts and some pleas that we “all get along” or “let it go and move on.”

You can do that. You can hide, at least for a while longer. (And make no mistake, it is hiding. It is turning your head from sorrow and suffering and anger.) So you can do that, but I will not.

Some people are *actively in danger.* The man who is our president has advocated sexual assault (grab her by the pussy) and mocked every group from veterans to people with disabilities to women. This opens up a window for all kinds of other violence and crude behavior. If the man who holds the highest elected office in our nation can get there after the public is aware that he’s been doing these things, then Joe Schmoe down in Mississippi doesn’t think he’s going to get in much trouble for grabbing the ass of the woman he works with. (Spoiler alert–he doesn’t.)

So not only do we have a president who creates an atmosphere in which violence–in particular sexual violence, but other kinds as well–is likely to thrive, we also have a president who is already actively working toward anti-intellectualism, ignoring systemic racism, erasing LGBTQ peoples, and removing healthcare protections from those who most need it.

This is not alarmist. We are already hearing the administration deal in “alternative facts.” Bills are already in the works to turn healthcare back over to the states, and we all know how poorly that goes for the poorest among us (hint: really fucking badly). The first pages that were removed and archived from the presidential website were LGBTQ and climate change. There were no replacement policies on the LGBTQ page–none–though the writers were sure to add in a plug for FLOTUS’s jewelry line on her bio page. As someone who is trained to read and teach rhetoric, I will say that we can learn a lot about what the administration values here. IT IS NOT US.

It’s only the beginning of day 3 of this administration. Re-read that.

There are real stakes for me here. I a woman. I need birth control every month to stay healthy, and the insurance that we pay exorbitant amounts to keep should have to cover it. I’ve lived on state assistance and used Medicaid in the past. I live with multiple mental illnesses. I have a child who was premature, who attends a public charter school now. I live in the deepest of the deep south, in a place where coastlines are rapidly disappearing, and my city is quite literally sinking, disappearing underneath me.

There are real stakes for my loved ones here. Many of them identify as LGBTQ and have only recently gained the right to legal marriages. Some of them have used state assistance in the past, and many of them are women. They work hard, these women. And they are tough, so tough, living in places that often try to tear them to pieces.

But even aside from all that–even aside from my own experiences and those close to me–I am a fucking human being, and I am empathetic. I know when something is wrong, and something is very wrong just now, my friends.

Yes, we marched this weekend. We protested. And I saw a fair amount of whinging about that, as well–complaints that what was happening was somehow unpatriotic or that we should just try and “move on.” I keep hearing that echoed–move on.

Listen up: the women’s march was amazing. Unprecedented. Seven continents and millions of women. I’m not sure that it would’ve been possible in an age without social media, truly. (Let me be clear–I also recognize that the march was not infallible, and we should not refrain from criticizing it and working to make our feminism better. We need to listen to those voices that traditional feminism has subdued. Women of color and trans women, for instance, are specifically saying they were marginalized further by some of what transpired. I both recognize the enormity of what happened this weekend and think we can do better. Feminism cannot continue ignoring bright, honest, and powerful voices.)

Now, we have to translate this protest energy into more action, more conversation, more doing. We cannot stop on day 3. So– #sorrynotsorry for clogging your newsfeeds. But don’t expect me to stop anytime soon.

What Having a Disability Taught Me About Bodily Autonomy

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from Rose B. Fischer that kicks off our Feminist Friday postings here at Part-Time Monster. The weekly posts will aim to generate conversation about feminist issues, paying particular attention to intersectional issues. I am incredibly honored to have her posting here about such a deep and personal topic.

I was born with cerebral palsy.  I have limited use of my legs and my lower leg muscles are basically nonexistent.  When I was three, neuromotor specialists began recommending a daily routine of physical therapy to help maintain my level of mobility.

The exercises I’m supposed to do feel like someone is trying to rip my legs apart on a medieval torture device.  As a toddler and young child, I was never given an option to refuse this treatment.  I have no memory of anyone explaining the benefits of this therapy.

I was told I had to do my exercises.

That’s it.

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Monday Re-Run: Body Image, Body Compassion, and Choosing Myself

 

In the hospital after surgery. It's probably not an accident that I can't find any pictures in the swimming cap---they're all locked away at my parents' house.

In the hospital after surgery.

At 5, I had surgery on my left eardrum to repair a hole. The surgery left my eardrum permanently weakened. I had to wear ear plugs and a rubber swimming cap to protect my ears when I went swimming.

And in the South, especially when there’s a pool nearby, we spend a lot of time swimming. There was a pool in our backyard. I looked a little weird in my cap, but I didn’t think much of it until one kid called me “rubberhead” during swimming lessons. Then it became all I could think about.

*****

At 10, I had huge glasses, braces, and hair that was long and frizzy, because my mom had no idea what to do with curly hair. Sometimes the boy I sat next to at lunch would call me Medusa. I had scrawny legs and was just discovering that I was, in fact, awkward.

I didn’t have any curve to my body, and though a few of my friends had started developing (or at least said they had started developing) breasts, mine were nowhere to be found. I became bothered that I had hair on my legs and that most women didn’t, and I asked my mom if I could start shaving.

She was taken aback, of course. I was 10. She expected me to be younger for longer, I think. Bless her, she asked a close family member what to do, and the answer was “if she’s old enough to be self conscious about it, she’s old enough to shave.”

It was a relief to do something grown up, to have some control over my out-of-control, developing body.

*****

At 13, I had no braces and no glasses. I’d grown curves and gone through puberty. I learned to work with, rather than against, the texture of my hair, and for the first time in years I didn’t have hair that made me feel embarrassed.

Instead, I had the kind of hair I could hide inside of. It was long, just past my shoulders, with a deep part on the right so that my hair swung in front of my eyes.

My hair was large and wild.

Hiding inside it turned out to be a good tactic as boys (and men) started to notice my body. Hiding inside that veil of hair allowed me to look coy and flirtatious while hiding my embarrassment at the attention.

That same year, one of my teachers found a note I’d written a classmate in which I’d divulged suicidal thoughts. They called me to the principal’s office to meet with my parents, who took me home. I entered counseling for the first time.

*****

At 17, sitting on my parents' front porch.

At 17, sitting on my parents’ front porch.

At 17, I was tiny and insecure. I was so small, but I felt so large.

I’d been told to watch out for getting fat. In my teenage years, that translated to “you are already fat, so don’t get any fatter.” Looking back, I should’ve seen the absurdity. I was a size 8.

But I felt like I took up so much space sometimes.

People often thought I was older than I was. I carried myself with an assuredness that I didn’t feel. I retreated behind my mane of hair, into my books, and with a close group of friends who understood me.

*****

Just after returning to college from working at camps all summer long.

Just after returning to college.

At 19, I was a college sophomore, in love for the first time. I was engaged, though of course it didn’t last long. I’d let go of the strong religious leanings that I had in high school, and I liked to party. I was beautiful, and young, and free to

do whatever I wanted as long as I could make it to an 8:00 class the next day.

I was a ropes course instructor and a lifeguard, so I swam often. I was very, very pretty, which got me into more than a little trouble, some of my own making and some of others’. I gained friends and quickly lost them, moving from group to group and party to party.

I still hid behind my hair—it got larger over the years. I got my first tattoo, a symbol of peace and happiness.

I went into counseling again for depression and anxiety, and for the first time I was put on medication. It eased many of my symptoms, but I had a significant weight gain from the medicine. And of course, it worked erratically because I wasn’t careful about drinking while I was on the medication.

I gained about 50 pounds. I was lethargic and stopped swimming, so the partying and the new medicine added up quickly. I went to monthly check-ups, but of course I wasn’t quite honest with my doctors about the partying I did.

*****

At my baby shower, which turned out to be just weeks before delivery. My hands and face are obviously swollen already.

At my baby shower just weeks before delivery.

At 24, I was a master’s student with an on-and-off-again fiancee.  My body wasn’t as good as it had been in my early years of college, when I was a ropes course instructor and a lifeguard, but it was still a young, healthy, beautiful body.

I got a second tattoo, this time a phoenix rising, flanked by the words “carpe diem.” I spent a lot of time reading and writing, and the rest of my time partying. Life was challenging but relatively carefree.

And then it wasn’t.

I wasn’t sure, at first, how I felt about the pregnancy. I knew it would change everything about my life, and I hadn’t planned for that to happen quite so quickly. I knew I wouldn’t be so carefree anymore. I knew my body would change. I went to doctor’s appointments, read books on pregnancy and parenting, changed my eating habits, and researched whether I could screw up my baby by coloring my hair and paining my toenails.

But around 26 weeks of the pregnancy, I had to research new topics. I was diagnosed with Intrauterine Growth Restriction, and I had to find out more about it.

When I next returned to my OB, she determined that I was actually preeclamptic. At 32 weeks, I went directly to the hospital from her office. I’d just been at work the day before, and aside from extremely swollen feet and ankles, I felt just fine. But I wasn’t.

I couldn’t wait any longer than a day to be hooked up to a magnesium drip and two days, mostly to be given vital steroid shots to help my baby’s lungs develop, before his delivery via C-section.

I barely remember seeing my child’s face for the first time. I vaguely remember his first cry. I remember thinking that somehow I’d made my baby sick, that maybe because I wasn’t sure if I wanted him at first, we were being punished.

My brother wheeled me down to see my baby for the first time, and I could only stay for a few moments. At 2 pounds, 14 ounces and 15 1/4 inches long, he was the tiniest baby I’d ever seen. I felt paralyzed by his smallness and crippled by

Holding Little Jedi for the first time ever.

Holding Little Jedi for the first time ever.

his fragility.

I felt like it was my fault that he’d come into the world already fighting. My body couldn’t nourish him properly or give him the place he needed to grow until birth.

For a long time, I beat myself up for that. Why couldn’t my body do what it was designed to do? Could I have done something differently? Why didn’t I get to have a have a healthy baby?

****

At 30, I had moved to New Orleans with my son, The Little Jedi, and my then-fiancee-now-husband, Sam.

I fell down the basement stairs on Halloween and sprained my ankle terribly. I was immobile for almost a week and on crutches for another week, and my ankle still isn’t quite the same. The walks I’d been taking with our terrier could no longer be taken—he is really energetic and needs to move quickly.

I gained quite a bit of weight again during the recovery, and I was bothered by

At 30, getting married in Vegas.

At 30, getting married in Vegas.

how long my body took to heal. A few months later, I would fall again and sprain my other ankle. And a year after that, I tore the meniscus in my right

knee.

Changes were around every corner—my own adjustment to living in New Orleans; Little Jedi adjusting to not living with my parents anymore, living with Sam for the first time, going to daycare/school for the first time, and living in a city like New Orleans after small town Mississippi; leaving school for a new career path; my husband changing jobs; a marriage.

*****

At 31, my body is scarred. I’m heavier than I’ve been probably ever in my life. My ankles and knee swell after high-impact exercise, and though I’ve stopped smoking, I’m still out of shape enough to be breathless after exercising in small bouts.

But I’ve come to see the value in what my body has been able to do, and I can forgive it for its shortcomings.

I’m choosing not just body acceptance, but body compassion and body love.

For me, this means holding myself accountable for what I put into my body now but not punishing myself for my past. It means that when I make a mistake (or 5 days of mistakes, like when Mardi Gras happens and then my birthday happens), I don’t beat myself up over it.

I have to re-choose body compassion every day.

My instinct is to get discouraged when I don’t meet the goals I set for myself, especially as concerns diet and exercise. But body compassion sets me up to say “oh well” and move along after a screw up. In some ways that’s more difficult for me.

But I choose body compassion.

I choose it because I need to be compassionate with my body before I can truly love my body. I choose it because I have to remember the life that my body has been through before that I can get to the life I want.

I choose body compassion. I choose me.

(This post was part of the first 1,000 Voices Speak for Compassion Link-up.)

Review: The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge

There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly at table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too.

Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree might just be the best new book I’ve read this year…And I’ve read a lot of books, many of them Very Good Books. But Hardinge’s novel had me from the moment I read about its premise, and a few days after finishing, it still hasn’t let me go.

At the start of Hardinge’s novel, we find ourselves following fourteen-year-old Faith Sunderly and her family as they leave their home and travel to the small island of Vane, where her father and her Uncle Miles are set to join an excavation dig. The year is 1864. We–and Faith–quickly begin to discover that All is Not Well–there may be one or many ulterior motives to the family’s sudden departure from home and arrival on vane, including rumors that some of her father’s greatest finds may have been forgeries. Faith has an insatiable hunger for knowledge–knowledge that is forbidden to her because of her youth and her sex. It is this desire that leads her to her father’s journals and then to the Mendacity Tree, a strange plant that grows when it is fed lies, bearing fruits that uncover truths.

If it sounds wondrous and bizarre, that’s because it is. The premise alone excited me…And then I started reading. Faith Sunderly is maybe one of my favorite girl characters in young adult fiction, and she’s got some rather stiff competition. Faith is everything a girl is not supposed to be in 1864…Clever, curious, passionate, headstrong, and impatient. Time and again, what she wants comes into conflict with what is expected of her, and watching her learn to navigate those waters is fascinating.

Hardinge is really adept at depicting Faith’s interiority despite the 3rd person narration, and the 3rd person narration allows the narrator to make a lot of observations about femininity. Faith’s mother is a flirt and a beauty, using her looks and class to get what she wants. She stands in stark contrast not just to Faith’s father, whose reason and intellect are what drive him, but also to many of the other women in the novel. Watching Faith learn to navigate those separations is the real joy of the novel.

The book does take a while to get going properly, but in its defense, the set-up is rather complex. There are quite a few characters, many of them eventually becoming Pertinent to the Plot, and because the beginning of the novel is fleshed out in this way, the characters are mostly round rather than flat, and the increasingly complex truths that are revealed bear more significance than they might otherwise.

I’m honestly afraid to say too much more for fear of giving away things that are best discovered in the novel itself, but expect me to pop up with more to say about Faith eventually. I’ll just leave you with one of my favorite moments from the book, a realization that Faith has about her mother and about womanhood:

She is just a perfectly sensible snake, protecting her eggs and making her way in the world as best she can.

Monday Re-Run: On American Girls and Being a Molly

When I was a child, I was an ugly duckling. I was terribly thin; I had big glasses, and my Mollymom just didn’t know what to do with my uber-curly hair, so she always tried to just blow dry it straight, and I ended up with a fuzzy hairdo. I loved to read, Coke-bottle glasses sliding down my nose as I buried it in a book. I liked to play with my dolls, making up stories None of my dolls looked like me–until I got American Girl doll Molly.

Molly had glasses. Her mousy brown hair was always braided to keep it out of her face. And she had stories. Those stories were historical, yes. I got to learn about WW II in an immersive way. But I felt a connection to this doll after reading how badly she wanted a dog (then, as now, I loved dogs), how fiercely she could love a friend and still be angry with her (I had a friend who stayed with us often because her mother was very ill, and we loved one another but fought when we’d been around one another too much–like Molly and her English friend Emily when Emily is staying to be out of danger), how Molly went to camp and had such fun despite hating bugs and getting poison ivy (I loved camp and the outdoors but hated bugs), and how badly Molly wanted to be the beautiful star of the show (wearing pin curls and removing glasses for the recital bore much resemblance to how badly I wanted to look like the other girls).

SamanthaI don’t remember which of the dolls I got next, but over the years, my parents bought Kirsten, Felicity, and Samantha for me. They always bought the doll and the books; I rarely got any of the additional things that the company sold for the dolls. And honestly, that was fine with me. What I wanted was to play with the dolls and tell their stories. I didn’t need a lot of accouterments for that. I read, and I fixed their hair, and I pretended conversations between them should they ever meet one another. I admired Felicity’s red hair, which I wished I had, and I rejoiced when she got her horse, Penny (much like with dogs, I have always had a soft spot for horses). I was entranced with the way Samantha stood with her friend, Nellie, as she was orphaned and sent to work in a factory. I wept with Kirsten when her friend died on the way to America.

Later, I would question some of these narratives. I would recognize the privilege that is hidden in the packaging. Sure, it looks great to have dolls that are historically placed, who come into contact with the issues of the day and are active rather than passive. And they do some amazing things. My dolls were all white, though. It wasn’t until 1993, seven years and several dolls after the company began (and a little past my collecting days), that Addy, a black girl living during the Civil War, introduced any sense of diversity into the line. And the historical “Looking Back” pieces at the end of the books rarely concentrated on women’s and girls’ history, instead giving a broad-brush approach to the time period. That would’ve worked for an introduction; but for a conclusion to books that had focused so much on the girl, it left her out of history once again. It was disheartening.

And those dolls were—-are—-expensive. They can cost hundreds of dollars with accessories, and even without accessories, just doll and books, they’re generally $100 or so. The company has been purchased by Mattel, and the original dolls have been mostly archived in a “Historical Line” in favor of promoting dolls that are more contemporary. Unsurprisingly, these dolls are mostly white, privileged, and don’t do too much boat-rocking. They’re not tomboys like Felicity, child labor activists like Samantha (or suffragettes like her aunt Cordelia), or escaping, like Addy, from an oppressive system (slavery, just in case that wasn’t clear) to find their family.

I wouldn’t have found anything to identify with in most of the new dolls. I wasn’t blonde, artsy, or all that worried about keeping up with my classmates. I went to a large school in a small town–if you didn’t go to the local private school, you went to the public school, and that was that. I was awkward. I got picked on for my weird hair and big glasses and for being ok with touching mice and hamsters and earthworms and all those things I wasn’t supposed to want to touch. Now there’s nothing wrong with being an Isabelle–with being a blonde at an art school worried about keeping up with your classmates. That just wasn’t me, and it isn’t many other girls. I was a Molly, though I wanted desperately to be a Samantha. I’m still a Molly.

And I can’t help but think of how many American Girls are not represented in that collection–even fewer now than previously, even less emphasis on empowering them, encouraging them to part of large social movements. Where’s our Civil Rights Era doll, or a gay rights advocate? Where are our Native American girls after extended European contact (the one Native American doll, Kaya, has a story that takes in 1764)?  It’s time we see those American girls.

Historical American Girls

(This post originally appeared as part of the A to Z Challenge 2014. In the 2 years since then, the American Girls company has introduced several new dolls, including several non-white characters, expanding their contemporary line. I still wish they were making more historical dolls, especially more historical dolls of color.)

Monday Re-Run: Don’t Touch My Hair

At 17, sitting on my parents' front porch.

At 17, sitting on my parents’ front porch.

Don’t touch my hair. My hair is ground zero in a cultural war that insists on perfect bodies, perfect hair, a culture war that privileges the straight and the white and the undamaged. The docile. The normal.

But my hair is not docile or straight.

My hair falls in wild, big curls. Not the kind you see on TV commercials. No, my friend. Those are generally curls that someone spent hours perfecting–glossy, symmetrical, and fake. My curls are natural, which means frizz and flyaways and wishing the rest of my hair would look like that one perfect curl in front.

When I was young, my mother tried to tame my curls, to straighten them with a round brush and a hair dryer and sheer will power. She’d pull half (or all) of it back and pin it up with a hair-bow bigger than my head, likely one made by my grandmother. My hair was never entirely smooth though, and if it was humid outside—-which is basically always in lower-Mississippi where I grew up—-my hair turned into a great big frizz ball. “Medusa,” a boy in my elementary class called me.

I was in the sixth grade when my brother decided to get married. I was to be a junior bridesmaid, and my mom took me to a local hairstylist. She cut my hair and coaxed the big natural curls out into the open. I looked at myself in a mirror, and I didn’t think that was my hair. It couldn’t be my hair, that long and wild and beautiful mess. It was, though.

In the seventh grade, during what can only be construed as a moment of temporary insanity, I cut my hair. I don’t mean a little bit cut—I mean that my hair, which had been past my shoulders, was suddenly so short that it just grazed the tops of my ears.

I punched the only boy I’ve ever punched that year. It was the day of try-outs for our junior high dance team, and I was very nervous. I’d never tried out for anything before, and all my friends were trying out, too. I’d fixed my short hair so that it was pulled away from my face, as per tryout instructions. In science class, the boy behind me whispered “who’d you let mess up your hair.” I turned around and punched him in the stomach, surprising everyone in class, including myself.

In high school, one of the basketball coaches was my health teachers. He was young and handsome, but there was something I didn’t like about him. One day, he asked me if I “had a little sister” in me, if that was why my hair was so curly. It was the first time, but not the last, that people would ask about my race, assuming that my curls were something that fit into categorical boxes of White and Other. Even now, when it happens it surprises me as I think through the invasive nature of the question and all of its implications.

I dyed my hair for the first time when I was 17, choosing bright highlights. As a college student, I colored my hair most every natural color, and several unnatural ones, too. I learned for the first time how to

embracing

At 31, Mardi Gras 2014

straighten my hair without the frizziness. Straightening irons, I discovered, were the key. Good ones. And my straight hair got attention, turned heads that were accustomed to large curls framing my face. Reactions tended (and still do) to vacillate between “oh, why did you straighten it” from the self-professed curl admirerers, those who would like to have curls themselves, to “you should always wear it like this.” But at least no one touched it. When my hair is curly, people can’t resist touching it. Close friends, mere acquaintances, and even strangers have, at various points in my life, just reached over, pulled one my curls so that it stretches to its full, straightened length, and then let it go, all for the pleasure of watching it spring back into a curl.

As I’ve gotten older, moving out of college and into graduate school and now a married woman in her 30s, fewer people have reached out for those strands. A 30 year old woman commands more respect than a 10 year old girl. She has more control over her body, at least the parts of it that aren’t being legislated.

And she can say, loudly “Don’t touch my hair.”

**This post originally appeared in September 2015 at parttimemonster.com

Ladies, We Need to Talk

Ladies, we need to talk.

And I don’t mean that in the sense of “come here, I’m going to tell you something.” Not the way it’s usually meant, when someone says “we need to talk” and then proceeds to berate you for something that you’ve done, or sits down and tells you horrible news.

I mean that in a whole other sense, with emphasis on the “we” and the “talk” part. Emphasis on the communication. Emphasis on our voices, and our ears, and our minds.

We need to talk. We need to talk to each other, to ourselves, to our children and our partners and the world. Despite that old commonplace about how much women talk, our voices are being lost and our words are being twisted and we are growing up ashamed and ignorant and wounded, so many of us. Our bodies are cultural battlegrounds, and we know so little about them.

I tried to make a list, earlier, of all the things no one told me about my body until they thought I needed to know. Things about menstruation that I didn’t learn until after I’d started having a period; things about pregnancy and childbirth that I didn’t learn until I bought a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting during my 2nd trimester; things about being a girl, being a woman, having a body. I was overwhelmed by how many, how very many things, I didn’t know.

  • I didn’t know that it might not hurt, and I might not bleed, when I lost my virginity.
  • I didn’t know that more than 7 days of bleeding during a period was outside the norm.
  • I didn’t know that my extreme mood swings were more than PMS.
  • I didn’t know that I had more options than Tampons and pads.
  • I didn’t know how birth control worked.
  • I didn’t know that periods weren’t actually gross.
  • I didn’t know I would bleed for 6 weeks after childbirth.
  • I didn’t know anything about breastfeeding beyond that breasts supply milk and babies drink it.
  • On and on, so many things I didn’t know.

Talking about the messier parts of our bodies and our lives isn’t something that we like to do. And if talking about it is difficult, than conversing about it is virtually impossible.

But we need to talk, and we need to talk loudly.