Creating Safe Spaces in Dangerous Places

Photo by Morgan Martinez

Photo by Morgan Martinez

In 2016, I took a huge step and moved back home with my parents. For many, this might not be a huge deal -- perhaps meaning they gave up some level of pride, independence or direction in their life at worst. But for me, this meant I was moving back in with my abuser.

I had quit my job because I had been at crisis symptom level for two weeks; a few months after I had admitted to myself that I was bipolar, just like my dad. Overwhelmed with anxiety, anger and a strong urge to hurt myself and others, I arrived home in a pile of defenseless, tired vulnerability, prepared to start the process. I needed something to stop the voices in my head (both figurative and literal) so desperately that I didn't have time to assess the consequences of going back into the lion’s den.

Right before I started taking my first round of meds, my dad and I fought for the first time in years. I've avoided him tactfully all throughout my college career. It took exactly a week of me living at home for him to bring me to tears, browbeating and mocking me over a harmless opinion I had shared. This elevated into nasty emails from my dad, telling me how toxic, bitter, and overly sensitive I was. I read his words aloud to my mom through tears as she drove me to the train station to visit my partner over the weekend (I have my own car, but my mom was worried about me being behind the wheel with how suicidal I'd been). 

My mom cried too as I read the emails, her knuckles turning white as she gripped the wheel harder. “I'm so sorry, that is unacceptable,” she told me. “I'll take care of him, don't worry.” I love my mom, but that was just another empty promise.

On the train, I pondered how exactly I'd be able to survive living at home, especially when I was trying to recover from bipolar, PTSD and alcoholism. I felt like running. With the stress my dad puts me under, the way he refuses to treat his own bipolar,  He is one of the causes of my PTSD, how could I really achieve the mental health goals I need to living under that roof?

With the help of meds giving me so much peace I had never experienced before, and my loving partner, I figured it out. Living in my room had always felt difficult, as its usual arrangement always reminded me of a traumatized past. I had never been able to quite get motivated enough to change anything about it. But my partner came up to visit me for the weekend and helped me set everything into motion.

We worked tirelessly altering the entire layout of the room, picking up some cute organizational tools and decorations from Target to spruce it up. We threw out 12 bags of junk that were clogging my space. And by the end of the weekend, I felt like I could breathe again. Like the space I was in was actually mine, and filled with my own hopeful and warm energy. I had successfully exorcised my room of my dad.

Once I checked myself into an outpatient program, I took off into doing my own thing. Five days a week, I was surrounded by loving folks who understood my diagnosis and my gender.  They were ready to help me do my best every day. As soon as I'd get home, I'd go back up to my room, a place I now loved so much. Within those four walls, away from everything bad, I coached myself through anxiety attacks, wrote stories, did yoga and watched a wild amount of The Sopranos. Besides the stir-crazy feeling an unemployed person can sometimes get, I felt happy. But every time I'd walk downstairs and be greeted by my dad, I'd feel my safety be compromised all over again. Especially, since my dad wasn't supportive of me doing something he should've done decades ago.

So, I decided to make a rule: Dad couldn't talk to me no matter what the circumstances were. I had pretty obviously ignored him for months, but my dad has a hard time picking up on the hints I dropped. This became apparent after I started taking an antidepressant and appeared more cheerful and sociable than I normally would. Fearful of how he would react to me, I told mom to tell him about this new rule. We stopped talking completely.

Asserting myself and setting that rule hurt my dad, but that only made it better for me. Not only could I have the power to rid my space of my dad’s voice and energy; I had the power to hurt him at long last.

Creating safe spaces in dangerous places is tiring work. I was reminded of this when I woke up one morning to Donald Trump being our president-elect. For the first few weeks after hearing this news, I had collapsed. I felt terrified to be a newly out trans man in America, something I didn't anticipate needing to worry about further based on the election results.

I felt immensely depressed because my future seemed bleak, because my excitement about transitioning vanished into concerns about surviving. Google Docs circulated telling folks that they should change their gender marker now. I don't feel ready for that -- I felt so overwhelmed. How could I possibly be myself and be happy now?

I've written about my trans identity plenty of times, but I don't tend to talk about it much in the real world. So, I brought it up to my therapist, a lovely radical and trans-accepting feminist that I've been seeing since September. There, in that room filled with white furniture and sage-scented incense, she created a safe space for me where I could talk about being a man. She addressed my concerns with trans-positive words, making me aware of many of my options and helped me look forward to certain goals of my transition I set with her. I felt seen and loved -- like as long as she sees me, I could never disappear. We ended the session with a safe space meditation, a guided experience where she helped me visualize a place I can escape to when I feel that I need it. I visualized a cozy bed on a sea-green ocean floor.

The power of friendship, of belief in yourself, of online communities and constructed safe spaces -- real and imaginary, tangible and intangible -- is something I learned to hold on to. If we’re going to survive treatment, abusive people and hateful leaders, we have to create safety for ourselves and be resources to the safety of others. Though it can sometimes feel impossible when the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against us, this year I've learned we can always rely on the kindness of our community and the strength of our character to build us back up again. If I get tired, I can always escape to my ocean bed.

A Call To End Harrasment At Shows

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Kenneth Miller

Courtesy of Kenneth Miller

I hate going to shows. Not because I don't like seeing my favorite bands live. And not because I don't get totally high off that mid-show euphoria, when the music hits you just right and you feel like you're soaring over the crowd without any recollection of the pain you wear like a crown. It's not even because of the crowds, even though my smaller meek self doesn't always do well in them. It's because each and every time I attend a show, I'm reminded of my foolishness in feeling entitled to enjoy myself, to become vulnerable in the presence of the music that moves me so deeply. I'm reminded that even here I cannot feel safe. Especially here.

To my fellow femme-presenting people: Have you ever noticed the energy of the crowd fluctuate as you walk into a show? The ripple effect of what feels like rows upon rows of prying eyes on you from sinister men? Men who look earnest as you search for your friends in the crowd. Men that stand too close to you, following your eyes and breathing down your neck. They claw at you from behind, touch your body before you can say or do anything to stop it. All of our bodies are already so closely packed together, so they obviously reached up your skirt by accident. C’mon bitch, it was only an accident!

I hate how women and people who look like women are trained to avert their eyes when walking down the street. To stay as small as possible when passing men so as not to attract too much attention to themselves. Most importantly, they cannot smile. Smiling is a form of weakness. Smiling is an invitation to be touched. Never smile, always look down, walk a little faster.

The same rules apply in these crowds housed in sweaty basements or fresh cut lawns. You mustn't dare make eye contact with a single soul while navigating your way through the crowd or you're trapped. And God forbid if you lose yourself in the moment, rocking your head back and forth with closed eyes and a goofy smile, whoever your gaze lands on when you open your eyes is the person you're inviting to touch you. Inviting to talk to you. Inviting to assault you. There's hardly anywhere to move, and you feel your skin break into a hot itchy rash as you fight suffocation and endure the prying eyes and needy hands.

You could leave. You could push through the crowd and take a deep breath on the other side. But this is your favorite band, you fought forever to get to the front, hell you paid for this. So you stand your ground, elbow all your trolls and force yourself to enjoy the show. In the back of your mind, you wonder if the boy will hit back if you punched him in the face. Boy, would that feel good.  But would the crowd react? Probably. Would you get kicked out? Definitely.

You wish there were ways to secretly and subtly torment your abuser. But the weight of rape culture and femme oppression is just too heavy on your shoulders for you to even consider making a plan. It's exhausting. You just came here to see your favorite band play.

Genderfluid Superhero in Couture: Hooligan Talks With Model and Gender Activist Rain Dove

By Meg Zulch

By Lucy Brown

By Lucy Brown

I almost didn't become a fashion writer because I didn't think I was feminine enough. Writing about style and beauty for popular publications had always been a dream of mine, but I feared I didn't look the part. I was unsure of my gender identity, hated dresses and hardly ever shaved. Red and pink lipsticks were boring to me, and I hardly knew how to apply them “properly” anyway. In all of this confusion, emerging icons and genderqueer trailblazers in fashion, like Rain Dove, were formerly unbeknownst to me in my limited Facebook feed and neglected Twitter account.

So last year, when I became a fashion and beauty writer for a popular women’s interest site, it felt daring as hell. Terrifying even, thanks to vicious transphobic comments and Twitter trolls. I had always felt alone in my fight to degender fashion, to normalize genderqueer bodies like my own to the couture-loving masses. That is, until I discovered Rain Dove, one of the first gender-fluid models I’ve ever seen who actively capitalizes off of her androgyny while passionately raising awareness about gender inequality.

Before she was landing modeling jobs in New York and London, Rain Dove lived in a small town in Colorado, spending much of her time fighting fires and doing farm work. Her towering height (she stands at 6’2”) and sharp masculine features enabled her to pass as a man, and put her right at home in jobs centered around masculinity and manual labor. Understandably, the rustic environment Rain Dove was raised in didn't exactly inspire a love or respect for fashion within her.

Photo by Lucy Brown

Photo by Lucy Brown

“Growing up on a farm in a small town, I had only ever heard people make fun of the fashion industry,” she told me. “The clothing, pretentious people, unattainable beauty standards and judgements. So going into this world was really awkward at first because I felt I wouldn't be able to keep myself from laughing at anything that remotely reminded me of Zoolander.”

But after losing a bet during a football game, Rain Dove was literally obligated to go to a casting. Using her androgyny to her advantage once again, Rain was immediately given the job as a male model.

At first, she was hesitant about entering the modeling world as a genderfluid person who didn't exactly fall into step with what was considered feminine.

“Fashion had never seemed like a natural fit throughout my life,” Rain Dove told me. “I was told I was an ugly girl from when I was young-so the idea of trying to wear a dress and wait for my Prince Charming seemed ludicrous.”

But she quickly discovered that fashion could expand beyond this “princess” image, and actually have the power to make a positive impact on the world. This was a crucial detail for someone who values social activism so highly.

“As I began to meet people in the industry, I began to fall in love with those that swatted away the stereotypes I had seen [on] TV,” she said. “I found fellow hearts seeking change through cloth and advertisements. Models who were seeking a doctorate, designers who wanted to start a revolution of self acceptance, and photographers who shot only honesty. When I found these people, I found my love for fashion because fashion became not just cloth and rude manners. It became art and sociopolitics.”

Photo by Lucy Brown

Photo by Lucy Brown

It became glaringly obvious to her how her very existence within the fashion community could move mountains, specifically for gender nonconforming people. After all, her androgynous appearance definitely helped her carve out a niche in the industry.

“When I got into the fashion world, everyone told me that I was a very ‘niche’ type of person, that I represent a very small demographic,” she told me. “But after sitting on this statement for a month, one day I set up a meeting with these people and I told them. ’If NICHE is a small demographic, then I'm not that. Because I’m not gender ambiguous. I represent gender [fluidity]. I represent the full spectrum. All genders. All things. There's nothing small about that.’"

In her career so far, she’s set out to do just that: represent and affirm people of all gender identities. And luckily, her androgynous looks continued to be helpful in landing her modeling jobs along the way, making a greater variety of opportunities available for her to queer the industry through her versatile look.

This ability to shapeshift between genders has afforded her a certain level of privilege in everyday life, sometimes allowing her to escape the harsh realities of gender oppression that being assigned female at birth brings.

“The thing is, as a ‘girl,’ many people tried to oppress me growing up,” she told me. “Calling me ugly or gangly or a 6 out of 10 in looks. But as a young male (white male especially), I don't have to answer to anybody. I don't have to care about my sex appeal to know if getting home safe is a thing. I don't have to worry about negotiating for the best pay on a job. I don't have to worry about people trusting what I have to say.”

She uses her platform that her passing-privilege has helped her attain in part to raise awareness about gender nonconforming identities through her presence in the fashion industry as well as her social media presence. Rain Dove dedicates her Instagram to sharing valuable messages about gender norms on the daily, debunking restrictive binary ideas while shedding light on topics such as shaving, street harassment, gendered double standards, and chest binding.

“I hope to reach all people, especially those that hate the idea of what I am,” she told me. “I want them to come to [my Instagram] and be educated. Ask questions. Get answers. The message is simple-there are bigger issues ahead for the human race than how we identify with our flesh and what we wear. Why waste our precious lives oppressing others on something so frivolous?? Food, shelter, water, and a healthy planet to foster it all are top priorities. Let's focus on that.”

But being an androgynous person in the fashion industry definitely has its drawbacks, despite her masculine looks and commanding voice giving her the upper hand in some respects. When presenting as a woman, Rain Dove still deals with pressures and unfair beauty standards surrounding what her body looks like. This is especially the case thanks to the existence of both masculine and feminine features on her body: specifically her muscular arms and large breasts (the latter which she has lovingly referred to on her Instagram account as the “largest pecs in the industry”).

“I love my muscle tone. [But] when I go to ‘women's’ go-sees, that's the one thing people hate,” she told me. “Big breasts and big muscles. It's like they feel ‘you can't have both, that's not fair’  or ‘women should be noodle-armed because it's sexier when they are defenseless.’ I hate it.”

Rain Dove has also had to deal with weird instances of transphobia, including one situation where a lazy designer wanted to cast her as “male” for their collection, with the condition that she identifies as something other than a gender-fluid human.

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In Defense of Carly Rae Jepsen and The Power of Feminine Pop

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Interscope Records

Courtesy of Interscope Records

It’s common knowledge that music made by pop musicians like Carly Rae Jepsen are often overlooked as being nothing more than a guilty pleasure. Critiques and music snobs alike are known to write pop off as being less culturally valuable, and even less artful than other genres of music. And Jepsen, who once was seen as the epitome of the thick-headed bubblegum pop princess courtesy of her hit song “Call Me Maybe,” can attest to that.

With Emotion, which dropped this past June, Jepsen proves that pop is the perfect platform for conveying that very emotion which labels the project, and the importance of agency for young feminine people.

I’ve been a fan of pop since the dawn of time (aka when I discovered “...Baby One More Time” when I was five years old), and in more recent years I’ve added “boy band luvr” to my repertoire (Directioner 4 Lyf). My love for all things pop was always undeniable, but that didn’t stop me from denying it with every music-related question asked of me. “Oh, I listen to indie stuff,” I would tell those who expressed curiosity about my music taste. But really, the “indie” portion of my music collection consisted of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” some Vampire Weekend songs, and a few Belle and Sebastian albums (hardly indie). My actual shit was blasting One Direction till my ears bled, stopping only to sample every pop musician the boys admire or have worked with. And understandably. Pop is a perfect escape and release for its listeners. And I could get on board with most of it pretty easily. Well, except Carly Rae Jepsen.

I still don’t quite understand where my initial hatred for her came from. It could have been my desperate need to retain some kind of “coolness” in an iTunes library filled with pop music. It could have been the hyperfeminine way she sounded and presented, a type of femininity I found obnoxious and a constant reminder of the fact that I didn’t fit that image. But once I let my guard down about the pop music thing (I’m pretty out and proud about my music taste now, clearly) and came to appreciate the freeing vulnerability and unapologetic femininity in some pop music as demonstrated by artists like Taylor Swift, I was ready to try Jepsen’s latest creation over the summer. And boy, was I impressed.

With Emotion, Jepsen created a beautifully constructed pop album that clearly draws inspiration from multiple members of American pop royalty, and music styles reminiscent of both 80s and 90s pop. But what’s most thrilling about the album is her unique portrayal of a human’s emotions, especially concerning love. Emotion seems to exist within the infinite realm of possibility, the moment between developing a feeling and acting on that feeling. And so Jepsen achieves writing an entire album of love songs that don’t involve a single romantic partner, with only a few exceptions, like the track “I Really Like You.” It’s empowering, hopeful, and full of promise (much like love) and a departure from other records like it.

The album begins with the rich wail of a saxophone in the opening track “Run Away With Me.” The sound alone threatens to practically sweep you off your feet, as you are completely engulfed by the song’s promise of the night ahead, as Jepsen exclaims, “Baby, take me to the feeling.” It feels incredibly romantic and full of potential, but not toward anyone in particular, making the listener wonder if it’s about a lover, the night, or herself.

What sometimes makes me hesitant about pop music is the incessant “I need a boyfriend” or “come fuck me” conversation going on in the lyrics. When I’m single or not particularly on the prowl for any sexual attention, certain pop music feels draining for me, leaving me with a peculiar feeling of emptiness. Jepsen’s album, however, fills in the empty spots with liberation and empowerment. Even though much of the songs are probably (or could be interpreted as being) about a boy, I noticed during my listening experience that it didn’t feel that way. It feels more like a series of love songs to yourself, to the night, to the future and what’s ahead. The music isn’t only more relatable that way, but also somehow gives the listener a sense of agency. Because the answer isn't a boy or a partner--it's in yourself. Now that’s the kind of pop music that I need in my life.

That doesn’t mean Jepsen shies away from sexuality either, even if she is talking more about a concept, dream or in-between moment than a full-fledged relationship or sexual encounter. In “Warm Blood,” her heartbeat and climbing blood pressure is palpable as she explains her animalistic infatuation, whispering “warm blood feels good, I can’t control it anymore.” Similarly, “I Didn’t Just Come Here To Dance” asserts Jepsen as an empowered sexual being who gets lusty cravings and confidently pursues them. However, what’s missing from her portrayal of this sexual agency is raw sexuality that can be controlled or objectified. She enjoys her sexuality without caring about or getting attached to men or societal ideals. She's just doing her. 

Emotion is one of the few pop albums that is completely about love and simultaneously having nothing to do with love, seemingly detached from the male gaze (as much as that is possible, at least). The album talks about the romance of potential, forever dangling in a dreamy space where getting enraptured by self-love and the hope of the future is more likely to happen than getting swept off your feet by some random dude. Which, hey, in a modern society and in a present-day feminist, this is definitely more positive! The album puts the focus entirely on Jepsen’s thought process, a space that is often more trustworthy than in the hands of others. And so those who are afraid of pursuing love and prefer the delicious dream of it, or the first moments of courtship, can truly revel in the validity of these moments through Emotion.

Jepsen is perfect. The album is perfect. And when I listen to it, I feel a never-ending well of light and love in myself that I sometimes forget I have. No, you don’t need a man. Yes, it’s okay if that date doesn’t work out or that person doesn’t text you back. Because, as Jepsen reminds you, it’s about your emotional journey and not necessarily the destination. 

 

Survivors of Assault Are The Superheroes in 2015

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of  Forbes

Courtesy of Forbes

With the obvious absence of feminine superheroes in Marvel and DC tales, it's about time that ladies were front in center, rather than posing as attractive sidekicks or heroes with a smaller role and lesser powers. This year, Supergirl and Jessica Jones came into existence, finally speaking to a broader spectrum of genders in their audience. The latter show was what everyone around me was raving about. Despite my natural aversion to all things superhero and Marvel, I settled into my bed and Netflix account with the will to give it a try. 20 minutes into the first episode, I realized my aversion to superhero flicks was entirely because of the lack of representation of feminine characters. Any character in Jessica Jones with real substance was female (including the sharky lawyer), and the men all posed themselves to be less capable complications on Jessica’s journey. The greatest complication of all was the show’s super villain Kilgrave, played by David Tennant (which my Doctor Who-related love for him quickly turned into hatred). I was delighted to discover that the villain, the man Jessica was using all of her (super) strength and resources to destroy, was her rapist. The real life villain lurking in the shadows of every survivor’s life.

 

There was nothing that gave me as much joy as her bravery to track him down, and the satisfaction she felt in wounding him when she finally got her hands on him. It made me think of my own attacker, but without any feelings of defeat or shame. Jessica is a ridiculously powerful superhero, but acknowledges her attack without any guilt or hesitation. She takes back control over her own agency as she hunts him down, choosing to address the damage he's caused, and discovers that Kilgrave has less control over her than she originally thought. The show has all the action, braun, and sexual prowess of an ordinary superhero flick, but with undertones of real vulnerability and relatability from her trauma.

I found myself being able to relate to this superhero, not only because she was non-male but because she was a survivor, not a victim. She got triggered, had flashbacks, and used methods recommended by a therapist to bring her back in the moment. She was sometimes emotional and disoriented after sex. Her abuser affected her in many ways, but she wasn't letting him take over her life, hunting Kilgrave down between her obligatory shots of whiskey. With most media, such as Law and Order: SVU, portraying assault survivors as one-dimensional broken victims, Jessica Jones is refreshing. It portrays all the realities of PTSD with all the badassery of a lady with superpowers.

Her commitment to bringing her abuser to justice, for the sake of liberating Hope Shlottman from jail and saving others from even worse fates at the mercy of Kilgrave’s mind control overshadows her personal experience, pointing to her larger concern of annihilating sexual abuse and emotional manipulation of women. Despite the number of times Jones denies this fact, she is the true hero as she sacrifices her own mental health and safety to defeat Kilgrave. It's reminiscent of the bravery of those who testify in court against their abusers, but without all the legal bullshit and misogyny that often gets in the way of a rape conviction.

Jessica Jones, like last year’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, portrays survivors as they are: living among us, still strongly plugging on and making the best out of their situation in the midst of their healing process. Some survivors, like Kimmy Schmidt, decide to keep looking forward with an unbelievable optimism. But there are those, like Jessica Jones, who feel that they must face their painful past head on for the good of the long term, for closure, and for personal growth. “Knowing it's real means you gotta make a decision,” she said in the show’s first episode. “One, keep denying it. Or two, do something about it.” For someone who is more at a crossroads about how to deal with their trauma, I appreciated the alternate reaction to trauma that Jessica Jones portrayed.

Speaking up about your abuse, reporting an assault, or confronting your attacker can all be incredibly terrifying experiences that many survivors like myself cannot even imagine doing. And with the way law enforcement dismissing many victims and questioning the validity of our stories, our fear in doing these things are justified. But Jessica Jones doesn't care how many odds are against her or how difficult the process may be- she does something about it. And it doesn't make me feel guilty that I didn't press charges, or ashamed of my own reactions to my trauma. Jessica Jones validates my experience to its core, and makes me feel like the superhero I am for simply getting up everyday, and fighting to be more whole and at peace with myself.

To the Coddled American Man

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of  @GaryDStratton  

Courtesy of @GaryDStratton 

The other day, among a slew of other troubling comments and mindless rants, I came across a “Louder With Crowder” video that someone had posted in my school’s Facebook group. In it, Steven Crowder discusses University of Michigan’s new inclusive language policy (which bans the use of sexist, racist, ableist, and transphobic language on campus grounds), and tries to make the ridiculous argument that policies like these violate our First Amendment right to free speech.

Once again, I struggled to understand why protecting cis white men’s right to use offensive slurs and harassing language seems to matter so much to certain humans. Would your life really be so empty without offending people and making certain populations feel unsafe? Is it actually restricting the freedom of others when the only thing the policy requires is being a decent human being? Why are you protecting your freedom to cause harm and spread hate?

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve nearly clawed my own eyes out with frustration over observing ridiculous commentary like this. Legions of MRA trolls, and IRL trolls lurking in the shadows of my campus, express these types of sentiments on a daily basis. They argue about the ways in which they feel oppressed when getting called out for saying something offensive, and point to what they find to be the bigger issue: our school and the student body’s commitment to being politically correct and inclusive becomes but a figment of our imagination as soon as we step off the confines of this campus. We all just need to grow thicker skins, basically.

With this very commentary as an example, this statement is impossible to agree with. What about our school is a bubble of inclusivity if there are horrible people who are constantly questioning the completely valid feelings of marginalized people? I don’t feel safe on this campus. Everywhere I go, I see my abuser. I see him in the dark woods when I walk home to my apartment at night. I see him with his friends at every party I attend. I see him in every bed on this goddamn campus. He assaulted me here two years ago while visiting friends of his that I never fail to run into. Thankfully, I do not know the certain kind of terror many others like me experience of seeing their attacker in the light of the day, without any tricks of the light or wild imaginations at play.

But I do know that being PC is valued outside of my friend group, outside of the queer population of SUNY Purchase. I’ve seen it at a panel in NYFW, where an unbelievably strong body positive blogger confronted a comedian for making fat shaming jokes that triggered her, leading to tearful apologies and hugs. I’ve seen it in the media, as people lose high profile jobs over using offensive language in emails or text messages. I’ve seen it in the way my editor tirelessly prioritizes PC in my work, and the way certain commenters point out problematic areas in my writing that I can improve upon. Being a decent, educated, and well balanced person in this day and age is completely necessary in conducting business and relationships. People suggesting otherwise are clearly too ignorant to thrive in these areas.

Then there’s the concern trolls, who brush over how this language affects them, and instead make the argument that these choices are actually damaging to us. In his article for The Atlantic, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff tried to prove that trigger warnings and political correctness coddle American students, who should supposedly be exposed to their triggers to help overcome their difficulties with anxiety. Clearly, the cries of critique from marginalized people are falling upon deaf ears of the coddled American man.

It is very, very easy to say things like this as a person quite separated from experiences of oppression. Men like Lukianoff don’t understand the need for trigger warnings because trigger warnings don’t directly benefit them. Many cannot fathom what it’s like to be misgendered, to have racist slurs used against them, to have an anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress affect their daily lives.

Personally, I get triggered by mentions of sexual assault, anxiety, and chronic pain due to my traumatizing experiences with all three. When I’m warned preemptively of the content of a post, especially when it concerns triggering material, I can breathe easy that the safe space of my bed is not going to be invaded. My tendency to have some kind of anxious reaction to triggering content, such as getting stuck in a shame cycle about my attack or losing momentum in overcoming an anxiety attack by reading someone else’s vividly detailed anxious thoughts, is not because I’m coddled or “too sensitive.” In our present-day media saturated world, everyone’s harmful thoughts (or opinions about you) is forwarded right to your phone with a simple push notification. And with transphobia, racism and rape culture being huge problems in our world today, doing everything we can to protect ourselves makes sense.

Trigger warnings and inclusive language are not “coddling” us. They’re teaching us to be more compassionate and mindful toward people with mental illness. And with the knowledge of what’s triggering or offensive to others, we can actively work to dismantle the institutions that create racism, transphobia, and other oppressions.

With certain traumas still fresh in my memory, I am healing in my own time and utilizing the resources available to me to help me continue to make improvements in my life. But on the way, I can do without the insensitive jokes and language. And if that is so difficult to do, if that is violating your “free speech,” then I suggest you reevaluate your idea of free speech as well as the limits of your humanity.

There aren’t any slurs out there for cis white men that hold weight like the “n” word or the “t” word. Accepting your responsibility by altering your language out of respect for those who have suffered more, even if you can’t necessarily relate, would be a huge jump forward in your journey toward adulthood and basic human decency. Treat others the way you want to be treated, and stop silencing the voices of the mentally ill and oppressed on the way. What have you got to lose?

 

Hibernation

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

I always whine relentlessly about how much I dread the approach of winter. The cold weather is treacherous, my skin gets flaky as hell, and every walk to class is like a balancing act between black ice and freshly fallen snow. There are certainly downfalls to these frosty months, as they cause Seasonal Affective Disorder from the sunless gray days, and intense cabin fever thanks to arctic temperatures. But secretly, I revel in all of this. My like-minded sister and I agree, it can feel great to have an excuse to just be your sad self. Winter calls my name.

Like the bears and the squirrels around this time, I too hibernate. I choose a comfort food of choice to buy in bulk whenever I can, a couple of shows I want to marathon on Netflix, and an album to depressedly indulge in as I cry under all my blankets. Every other time of the year, I do everything I can to resist my natural urge to be depressed. Winter, in all its greyness and frigidity, encourages me to finally embrace this sadness, and let it come in waves. And as someone who loves to hold things in, this is so relieving. Winter is my detox.

Albums like Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time, Mitski’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek, and EVERY SONG BY ADELE is on repeat during this season. In this warm and secluded space, I feel completely free to release the emotions from the past year (and the emotions these particular albums bring up for me) as I enthusiastically drench my pillows in tears. Winter is not a season for makeup.

I often don’t make time for self care, or allot time to veg out and do things for pleasure. The conditions of winter (as well as my resulting sadness) encourages me to treat myself and truly give myself the time that I need to zone out, laugh and relax. I spend hours at a time excitedly devouring new TV shows, like Master Of None and Jessica Jones. And I lose myself in the stories of familiar characters like Nancy Bowen from Weeds or Hannah Horvath in Girls. Winter is one long flickering glow of a laptop screen, dancing in my smiling eyes.

During my hibernation, I eat incredibly well and have long and lovely sleeps. Sometimes, I even take naps. I lay in my dark room for hours, drinking one cup of tea after another as I celebrate my solitude. I write and I write, the words just flow out of me. Winter is a long hug, toasty and safe.

When I awaken in the spring, as the ground thaws and the leaves return, I remove my sheets for cleaning, smiling as I inhale the lived-in smell in their fibers. I feel clear, awake, and new. After all those months of indulgence, it feels strange to re-emerge at first, my body still heavy with sadness and solitude. But I sigh with relief when I release these “burdens,” running free and light in the sun, as I so quickly forget how dearly I once held my sadness, my mind, myself, just moments before. Winter reminds me of everything I want to forget.

Miley Cyrus: The Tone Deaf Politique Of Our Generation

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of  @ELLEMagazine / Twitter

Courtesy of @ELLEMagazine/ Twitter

The Miley Cyrus of yesteryear, fresh out of Disney Channel, wanted nothing more than to revoke her responsibility of keeping a squeaky clean pre-pubescent image that she couldn't identify with. Which is understandable since her experience on Hannah Montana, as well as the image she had to uphold during those years, seemed damaging in many ways. She told Marie Claire that the pressures of being on the show gave her body image issues and even an anxiety disorder.

So it's understandable that she wants to shy away from the image of the thin bleach blonde perfect role model for the legions of manufactured young women that only existed in the minds of Disney and Hollywood, and replace it with an incessant wagging tongue and middle finger. However, she carried this attitude well into her 20s, forfeiting any ounce of responsibility and rebelling against everyone and everything. But the reality is, as long as you're in the public eye, and creating art to be consumed by the public, you have a definitive responsibility of some kind to uphold certain morals, especially as an inherently political person.

Many people in my life and on the Internet have argued (to my despair) that art doesn't have to be political. And when one analyzes or critiques it, it's important to see the art for its aesthetic qualities and components, and not for any political undertone that is subjectively perceived, with or without the intention of the artist. Additionally, getting upset over offensive aspects of the art, like with the themes of rape in Eminem's work for example, is irrational and besides the point.

However, I tend to believe the opposite. All art is inherently tied up with politics and has been for ages. Because, as humans, we all have opinions and experiences, all of which are reflected one way or another by the art we make. So taking art at “face value” is impossible and counterproductive. As a person assigned female at birth, a genderqueer person, and a survivor of sexual assault, I simply do not have the privilege to "choose" not to be affected my offensive or triggering art. Politics in art is important to me, and Cyrus seems to feel similarly (to an extent).

She has aligned herself with multiple political causes for years now. She's decidedly pro-weed, her passion for the environment is made apparent by her veganism and volunteer choices, and her passion for the LGBTQIA+ community is reflected in multiple projects including her very own Happy Hippie Foundation (a charity she founded to benefit homeless queer youth). She consistently makes shocking statements through her appearance and music, preaching body positivity, sex positivity and self love.

And recently, she focused her support on trans youth specifically. She told New York Times Magazine, “I feel very gender-fluid. For a long time I didn’t understand my own sexuality. I would get really frustrated and think I’d never understand what I am, because I can’t even figure out if I’m feeling more like a girl or boy. It took me talking to enough trans people to realize that I didn’t ever have to decide on one.” And that was exciting for any gender non-conforming person to read.

She includes trans people in her performances, supports other trans artists, and demonstrates androgyny to an enormous mainstream pop-loving crowd. I lovingly watched her cover The Replacements’ “Androgyny” and Against Me’s “Trans Soul Rebel” alongside trans musician Laura Jane Grace over and over again on her YouTube channel, starry eyed by her colorful queer aesthetics. The New York Times even called her “a natural avatar for a post-gender generation.”

Cyrus is now embarking on her latest tour (to promote Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz), which is clearly making multiple political statements based on the shows’ shocking and provocative outfit lineup (like her provocative "porni-corn" outfit). But as soon as she's met with criticism, Cyrus abandons her political persona and replaces it with an “I'm just doing me” attitude, which acts as a perfect scapegoat for certain indiscretions, leaving fans and critics alike to wonder if these identities can exist simultaneously. Personally, I'm not sure that they can.

As a white artist myself, art and artists that include all marginalized people are still my top priority. Intersectionality within art is crucial, and though I take comfort in art tailored to my identity, I'm also not afraid to criticize it openly. And that's the problem with Cyrus--intersectionalism and being politically correct doesn't seem to be a concept she's interested in.

She's no stranger to cultural appropriation and certainly doesn't shy away from rocking dreadlocks or grills, despite being heavily criticized for it. Her “I’m just being me” attitude loses its value when it feeds into racist rhetoric. She defends her choices because controlling her narrative is more important to her than being aware of the very oppression that she feeds into everyday. So this summer, I could no longer overlook my gender hero’s racist microaggressions after the ridiculous comments she made about Nicki Minaj, de-elevating her from any hero status I may have misguidedly assigned her.

In an interview with The New York Times, things took a turn for the worst when she started tone policing Minaj’s Twitter reaction to the underrepresentation of women of color in the 2015 VMA nominations (basically suggesting Minaj should have embraced yogic love instead of getting mad about racism). The reporter interviewing her seemed to try to interject for the greater good, and offer more information about the Twitter feud between Minaj and Taylor Swift, which Cyrus admitted to not have actually been following. Interrupting the reporter, the defensive pop star stated, “I know you can make it seem like, Oh I just don’t understand because I’m a white pop star. I know the statistics. I know what’s going on in the world.”

But does she? If she actually knew to the extent which women of color are overlooked or misrepresented in the media, would she have downplayed Minaj’s completely rational anger? And if she actually did have an understanding of racism, microaggressions and our country’s history of silencing people of color (and other oppressed groups), would she be policing the tone in which Minaj used to express this frustration? No, she'd rather twirl her bleach blond locks adorned with a rainbow assortment of beads as she lays down another terrible rap-filled track for her new album. Clearly, this political persona she's embraced as of late is not always convenient when it's catering to someone besides herself.

Cyrus is obviously an inherently political person, and it bleeds forth through her art. But to make up for the areas she's sorely lacking in, like understanding the experiences of people besides white sex-positive queers, she tries to downplay her political persona as much as possible. She goes on and on about political beliefs, but then shuts down when faced with the topic of racism, and even renouncing her politics as a whole. She told NYT, ending a long article about her politically-motivated art with, “This music was not meant to be a rebellion. It was meant to be a gift.”

Her brand is characterized by a complete lack of shame and self consciousness. However, when you're a white person in the public eye running around with dreadlocks and claiming being heard is only determined by the love in your heart, her ignorance seems to suggest a greater issue: that white artists in the public eye who are of this generation and/or politically inspired often revoke their responsibility to do the right thing in what they say, do and represent.

White artists, like myself, have the unique and completely necessary responsibility to get it right, which is hardly a burden compared to the daily oppression that other marginalized groups go through. And we’re absolutely going to mess up at certain points, but if you believe in your art and the greater good, you're going to hold yourself accountable and learn from your mistakes.

Cyrus refuses accountability, and therefore will never be the artist she wants to be. Her art makes a political statement for sure, but it's disjointed from the rest of her, as well as the rest of the world. As I stated earlier, art is inherently political, and what you say in your art or through your persona is a permanent testament to your beliefs, frozen in time with a song or outfit. Picking and choosing what statements are political and what aren't destroys any transparency Cyrus once had, and therefore her credibility as an artist.

Her art (and “politics”) are completely self-absorbed, disgustingly excessive, and involves only reveling in her own edgy nude photos and her drugged out hippie persona she's spent years building. One of her band members and close friends, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, said in an interview with The New York Times, “Her life, to her, is art,” he said. “If she wants to look this way and say these things, she does it.”

This comment certainly speaks volumes of Cyrus, who intentionally revels in her own world of privilege and art while ignoring anyone outside that bubble. She’s a bullshit artist that immaturely swings between political and apolitical depending on whether or not someone called her out on her racist tendencies that day. Cyrus is clearly more concerned with where to get her next tattoo and what creative way she can slip a nip next, rather than the millions of people who actually suffer from oppression and violence everyday. And perhaps, always will be.

What I See In My Mother

by Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

The beauty of my mother’s body is a secret, even to herself

hidden deep within the confines of her generous chest

close enough to reach but invisible to her own eyes

I see it glowing deep within her heart, radiating to all parts of her body

In her stretch marks, her crow’s feet, her surgical scars

there is beauty erupting like starbursts

in a dark and dusty night

but only for the enjoyment of others.

 

She buried all knowledge of her beauty years ago,

and forgets to pay her respects to her beautiful wide thighs

her stomach and pelvis that was swollen two different times

with a growing life inside of her

cut from her own cloth

beating heart and fighting arms, like their lionhearted mother,

her jiggly middle serves as a reminder of the miracles her body is capable of

the way she changed the world with her sacrifice and womanhood

 

she tends to hide from her body

hiding it from the world

because she doesn’t believe in it like we do

poisoned by the ideas of makeup ads and fashion models

forgetting her own worth, long history, and infinite grace

swallowing toxic media messages

a diet we’re all subject to

 

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

I see the beauty in her

in the body that I came from

the eyes that worried about me

the arms that held me

the heart that believed in me

and the voice that defended me

that attempted to break the spell we were both under

 

she's dismissed the beauty of her feminine body, calling it “fat,” or “out of shape”

she's disregarded her years of life experience and wisdom, calling it “aging” and lamenting over wrinkles

she's denied her extraordinary abilities, and takes shame in the limitations of her body,

the scars which serve as reminders of her struggles

teaching her loved ones to be fierce and unafraid like she is

 

she knows how her body has betrayed her,

but I don't know if she remembers all the ways it has served her

with love and strength

for almost 50 years

and that her fierce and independent attitude,

her life accomplishments,

have more than earned her the right

to appreciate the spoils of her hard work

the body that brought her through an impoverished childhood

a career as a police officer

two childbirths

and multiple surgeries

the body that grieved

longed

suffered

laughed

thrived

persevered.

 

she buries her beauty deep, where she can’t see it

but I can still see it

glowing in the dark

dancing in her eyes

ringing in her laugh

the vulnerability in her insecurity

as beautiful as the body she was born with-

born to make noise with and move mountains with,

shaking entire towns with her presence-

like mother, like daughter.

 

These days, she prefers hiding her beauty

concealing the abilities of her body to the world

in the deep well of her sensitive stomach,

worried that she’s moving the wrong way

wearing it the wrong way

standing in it the wrong way

 

but she’s my mother, my beautiful mother

every inch of her body is worth seeing

loving

celebrating

deep down she knows this, she always has, we always have

and I hope one day to see her unearth this treasure,

the knowledge of her beauty,

so she can worship the hourglass palace,

its reflective light dancing in her eyes. 

Exploiting Victims of Trauma and Trigger Warnings In Horror

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of FX

Courtesy of FX

This month, I was completely overcome with excitement about the premiere of the new season of American Horror Story. AHS is one of my favorite shows of all time, and I had been anticipating the “Hotel” season for months, and over the course of numerous teaser trailers. What better way is there to get yourself in that Halloween mood, and (for a limited time only) to get your Gaga fix? The idea of Mother Monster herself playing the spooky character she seemed born to play while serving up look after look every Wednesday night alone was enough to sell me on it, even if I had never seen the show before. However, when I excitedly settled into my couch that night, tuning in to FX at the appropriate time, I was sorely disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, the show delivered all the spooks and scares it promises every season. The first episode was terrifying, but not in a way that I or any survivor of sexual assault could appreciate.

By now, many people have been made aware of the graphic rape scene that occurred in the episode between Sarah Paulson’s minion and a heroin addict she randomly targets (played by Max Greenfield). The scene was detailed, loud, and long, leaving me so triggered that I couldn’t bear to finish the episode, let alone watch more of it in the following weeks. Sure, the unbelievably sexy scene of Lady Gaga and her fellow vampire partner having sex and fatally sucking the blood from another couple was super enjoyable to watch. But not at the expense of my mental health. I’m watching American Horror Story (and any spooky show or film) for fun, not to be put back into my trauma body or trauma memories. With such triggering content, the disclaimer at the beginning of every show, stating there will be violence and sexual content in the episode, is not sufficient enough. Sexual assault in TV and movies does not fall under the umbrella of “sexual content,” and absolutely needs a trigger warning.

Of course, this isn’t the first time horror (or even AHS) has exploited victims of trauma. Traditionally, horror movies like The Evil Dead and Rosemary’s Baby have portrayed sexual violence against women so often that it almost feels commonplace. And normalizing women being taken advantage of in film perpetuates rape culture in art and society. Rape and trauma are not fun little scary movie ploys, like masked serial killers or sexy vampires. They are intensely serious topics of discussion that affect a huge range of people. And throwing in sensitive scenes like these in movie after movie is not only terribly triggering, but also disrespectful to the actual survivors of abuse.

Watching the premiere episode of this season of AHS created even more bad blood between my former favorite pop star and I. A lady all about shock value and theatrics, I’ve respected and admired much of Lady Gaga’s work for years. But when I saw her music video for her latest single, “‘Til It Happens To You,” a song she wrote to raise awareness about sexual assault and to be featured in a documentary about rape on college campuses (called The Hunting Ground), I was disappointed. The video was terribly triggering and included scene after scene of different feminine people being sexually assaulted by multiple male aggressors. No trigger warning or anything. And now that she’s a part of AHS, a project that also seems to think exploiting trauma is a good idea and that trigger warnings are unnecessary, I cannot manage to muster up any more respect for her or the show.  When the trauma of thousands of people is used for shock value without even a warning to viewers of such triggering content, it becomes clear that media and filmmaking companies do not have the best interests at heart for victims of abuse.

Watching horror movies with my friends and family are one of my favorite past times. But in recent years, since having been assaulted when I was 19, being able to enjoy my favorite genre has been extremely difficult. And it’s messed up that much of the genre (or at least its mainstream counterpart) can’t end without a feminine character being sexually harassed, cornered, and/or violently raped, making it impossible to fully enjoy.

I’d love to check out a new scary flick without fear of getting triggered, at least once. I don’t want to sit there, enduring the tough scenes full of anxiety, in an attempt not to out myself to those around me as a survivor of abuse. I’m sometimes afraid to dampen the mood, or be “overdramatic,” especially if I see my friends enjoying the film and having a good time. Even if a friend does criticize the triggering scene, I often struggle with speaking up at this point, not able to force even a simple “Yeah you’re right, let’s change this.”

But lately, I’ve been trying to be more mindful of this. Because watching scary movies with my friends should feel just as fun for me, regardless of my experience with trauma. This annual group ritual should be full of uncontrollable screams, giggles, and candy-eating, not traumatizing flashbacks.

This Halloween, don’t be afraid to walk out of the room during a triggering scene, don’t feel embarrassed to ask if the film you are about to see has triggering material, and don’t be afraid to flat out say, “I’m not into this movie.” It can be hard, but it’s worth working toward getting to a place where you’re comfortable to speak up without having to disclose any of your personal history or reasoning. Taking part in the scary movie ritual with friends is not worth traumatizing yourself. So on this night try to take care of yourself, and speak up if you find the entertainment ya’ll are consuming (between the fistfuls of M&Ms you’re consuming) to be problematic. Because rape being utilized as a spooky ploy in the plots of horror movies is not okay, and odds are your friends will agree.

Angst of a Genderqueer Journalist

By Meg Zulch

Over the summer, I came out to many people in my life as genderqueer. As a writer and a journalist, it has been my mission to bring visibility to topics and identities that are marginalized and/or something I could identify with through my work. I’ve argued with professors and editors about acknowledging people’s preferred pronouns, and experienced the disappointment and shame whenever subjects I’d cover would have stories about them published including the wrong pronouns. I’ve written articles that many have been shocked by and considered radical, as one by one they tore me down in the comments section.

I’ve built my career so far around topics such as body positivity, queer visibility, anxiety and sexual assault. I am intentionally brutally honest about my identity and the tough experiences I’ve dealt with in my life in the hopes that sharing these stories will help others like me, as well as speed up my own healing processes.

So when I came out to many people in my life as genderqueer this past summer, I knew I wanted to be able to give visibility to genderqueer identities in the same way that I had done with other important topics. So I decided to be true to my brand (and most importantly, myself) by coming out to my editors, colleagues, and collaborators, requesting my they/them pronouns not without a bit of fear and hesitation.

As a result, the publications I am apart of, as well as those I’ve recently applied to, have become more interested in my voice. My genderqueer perspective is unique to many mainstream feminist-minded publications like Bustle and HelloGiggles, and therefore seems to hold extra value. Not only do I write about these topics, but I've put myself out there and allowed cisgender people to make me the "gender expert" or the "genderqueer token" in multiple creative projects, public speaking panels, and other situations such as the Planned Parenthood activist group on campus that I'm secretary of.

All of the work that I do to bring visibility to genderqueer identities is incredibly rewarding, for myself and because I think it's a worthwhile cause to be apart of. I feel incredibly lucky to be making a living by discussing topics that are so near and dear to my heart. But at the same time, this work can be incredibly frustrating, and make certain interactions (which are already tricky in everyday life for genderqueer people) feel especially obnoxious based on mood or mental state. Lately, I've been in one of those moods, and so I've been pretty angsty about being a genderqueer person in web media.

A lot of what I do is in part to help me feel more visible in my own community as a non binary person. But sometimes, in doing that very work, I can be made to feel uncomfortable about my identity or even erased entirely. I’ve dealt with a lot of people’s confusion about my identity, confusion that could be easily mended by a simple Google search. I’ve dealt with hurtful comments (that were made with good intentions) and ignorant questions that leave my body feeling at edge and my mind far from being at ease. I am told I will be respected, but instead I am put on a pedestal in an empty room. They appreciate and value me, but they don’t actually see me. I’m their token, their “diversity,” I give them edge. And I play that role well.

I've experienced this a lot in spaces that call themselves feminist, which has led me to become skeptical of and move away from that term altogether (which is why I write about everything from a queer perspective now instead of a feminist perspective). Spaces that invited me to share my unique perspective would be too confused about or couldn’t be bothered with understanding my identity.

And so I’m often made to feel like some sort of unicorn. A thing people marvel at and can only imagine in their wildest dreams, but have no idea how to define or interact with. I feel a certain gratefulness and humbleness when publications and humans of certain creative endeavors value me so highly. But at the end of the day, we are not the same people. And many clearly do not want to put the time in that it takes to make a space truly inclusive to all gender identities and voices.

Being a genderqueer person, even in certain feminist spaces, is hard. Constantly negotiating what my own identity means to me, while continuously asserting my pronouns and identity when cis people step on my toes, is hard work. It’s hard work for anyone, but an especially unique experience for someone in the public eye. Someone who gets paid to treat their stories like diary entries, except they’re to be shared with thousands of readers who mostly don’t understand where they're coming from.

And honestly, this is exactly what I love doing. I love sharing myself with others, I love writing stories and personal pieces, and I love the reward of being published and praised by editors. This is the beginning of my career, covering topics personal topics that I would love to spend my life turning into real and reported works of journalism (until I get my book deal). But some days, days where your self esteem takes a hit, days that you feel invisible yourself, the struggles of being non binary and an online freelancer can feel especially difficult.

I'm tired of coming out again at least once a week. I'm tired of explaining to people what my gender identity means, and being expected to educate and comfort others about their cis privilege. I'm tired of arguing constantly with people and places over using gender-exclusive language. I'm tired of being misgendered everyday. I'm tired of explaining to people why I can be non binary and still love skirts and makeup. I'm tired of people buzzing with discomfort and confusion when I ask others for their pronouns.

I'm tired of everyone turning to me for the answer when a question about gender arises, as if I'm an expert on the subject. I’m tired of pretending not to notice when employers misgender me, even they know I know “they mean well.” I'm tired of publications sometimes making me feel like my identity is an inconvenience or an anomaly. I'm tired of being recruited as the end-all voice to the genderqueer experience.

Feeling comfortable in my skin all the time is virtually impossible. I understand that I will have bad days, days where I feel like giving up, days where I wish I could just be a cisgender woman and call it a day. But I hold higher standards for places I work at and write for because, among other reasons, I feel alienated at school. I’m in my senior year of college, and with years of memories (and bad relationships that still exist) surrounding me on a daily basis, I find great comfort in the hours I spend writing for publications. That way I can actually do the thing I love, feel appreciated and important (since I’m incredibly misunderstood and undervalued by my peers and professors), and have hope in what my future will hold as soon as I can get out of here.

It’s also very exciting as a feminist and a queer person to be apart of feminist publications which are seeking to change media conversations that have been contaminated by misogyny, racism and the like. That is exactly my goal as a working journalist and a human! But it’s especially disappointing when the very spaces who preach inclusion are unsure of how to actually practice it themselves.

To be honest, I’m fed up with “feminist publications,” and think they can all do a bit better. With the exception of my fashion editor at Bustle, who is one of my favorite people in the entire world, every human I know in this industry can really use a crash course in intersectional feminism, a lesson I’m not always willing to demonstrate through lengthy emails or my very existence. But until I have the time and resources to build my own feminist publication, or until I have the credentials to run away to spend my days editing at Rookie Mag, I resolve to keep plugging away and writing for the magazines that, at the end of the day, truly have good intentions.

 

Kanye West Should (Not) Be Humble: The Tale Of An Outsider and His Art

By Meg Zulch

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

At this past New York Fashion Week, Kanye West premiered his Yeezy Season 2 Collection, a continuation of his ongoing collaboration with Adidas. The show was highly organized, and included performance artist Vanessa Beecroft, all-star models meticulously arranged by skin tone, and the first unveiling of his new song "Fade." The clothes could only be described as post-apocalyptic streetwear, with an obvious consciousness about race relations in America. However, critics tore the show, the clothes, and the man behind it to pieces, calling the whole thing amusing and even deceptive. And so goes the media-shaped tale of Kanye, the court jester of pop culture, and a caricature of his own art.

The validity of Kanye's art has come into question for most of his career. As a proud black man, he has been written off by a good portion of society as being too cocky, too offensive and too ridiculous. This is of course referring to some particular media "incidents," like when he interrupted a Hurricane Katrina telethon in 2004 to say that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." And his most recent public sin, when he drunkenly interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for Video of the Year at the 2008 VMAs (which he then was temporarily banned from).

Kanye West is passionate and can be impulsive at times, but he's not crazy. Putting things into context helps (shockingly). Interrupting the live broadcast of the Katrina telethon was his attempt to publicly call out the government's slow response to the desperate and predominantly black community that was badly affected by the hurricane. He also pointed out the unfair media representation of black families looking for food, saying that news outlets called these people "looters" while white families in the same situation were "just looking for food." Similarly, Kanye interrupted Taylor's speech to express his frustration over award shows' refusal to acknowledge female artists of color in all categories.

But, classic of White America, it's not okay for Kanye to express any anger, even when it's concerning valid points about racism. It's not okay for Kanye to go dabbling in an art form other than hip hop or other pursuits that are stereotypically prescribed to people of color. And he's certainly not allowed to be proud of any of his achievements.

This year, designers first had beef with Kanye when he announced the date for his show, September 16, only days beforehand. Of course, this is inconsiderate to other designers like Anne Bowen and Naeem Khan, who had shows scheduled at the same time on that Wednesday. But who in the fashion community is completely considerate of others' time? If Anna Wintour decided last minute that she wanted to rent out the space Bowen's show was to be held in at the exact time of her show to host an impromptu orgy, no one would bat a false eyelash. I'm not saying that this behavior is right, but the conversation surrounding this when regarding white people in fashion would be very different. But Kanye, a man of color, is expected to remain acting as a humble and unworthy child, who is grateful to just be breathing the same air as all the white shiny fashion designers regardless of his talent or earned merit.

Bowen expressed her anger about his last minute announcement in an interview with Women's Wear Daily. "We have been prepping for a year for this at considerable financial, labor- and commitment-cost to our company,"she said. "Our show date has been scheduled for months and has been on the Fashion Calendar for weeks. We went through all the proper channels to make this a reality. And just yesterday we learned that Kanye West is having a show at the same time on the same date as ours."

This language she used, like "we've been prepping for this for a year," and "we went through all the proper channels to make this a reality" includes a lot of racially-charged subtext. Her words imply that Kanye has not been putting just as much work into his own line, and that he somehow didn't earn his place in NYFW, an imposter riding off the backs of others who actually know what they're doing.

Kanye has earned his spot. He's always been a trendsetter, from the "Stronger" era shutter glasses to his leather skirt he rocked at the Hurricane Sandy Relief concert. Coming from a musical background where he wrote, produced, rapped and created award winning video concepts, he crossed over into his first love (aka fashion) around 2008 when he came out with his first streetwear line Pastelle. Since then, he's pursued fashion study (and even bought a studio) in Paris, has designed/scrapped/perfected multiple lines of his own, landed a design contract with Louis Vuitton, designed sneakers for Nike, and featured in NYFW as well as Paris Fashion Week. His feverish obsession with constantly improving, his love for trying out new styles, and his intense devotion and respect for designers like Vuitton and Givenchy makes it crystal clear that Kanye is not just simply "dabbling" in fashion. He lives and breathes it.

Kanye is an outsider to the fashion world not because he isn't talented, not because he's not a real designer, not because he doesn't take the industry incredibly seriously. It's because he's a black man who produces hip hop music, a black man who didn't get the memo about his "place" and respect politics, a black man who refuses to be silenced and is made out to be a clown and a thug because of it.

Cathy Horyn, a fashion critic for New York Magazine, reviewed his show, saying: "Yeezy Season 2 was kind of amusing." She also said, among every other garbage word she managed to churn out (seething with condescension), that his line of "broken-down basis proved he can't be taken seriously as a designer."

The line's aforementioned basics were highly wearable, while the rest of the clothes presented in NYFW aren't realistically wearable on the street. The collection features mostly nudes, basics that could be easily layered and captured a very Mad Max: Fury Road aesthetic (as well as the health goth vibe fashion lovers have been embracing as of late). By capturing this feeling, Kanye summed up oppression in the United States, as well as a feeling of apocalyptic chaos born out of the institutional racism that has been characterizing national conversation over the past few years (thanks to a rise in police brutality against people of color). The militaristic style of the show captured his (and other people of color's) intense experience of feeling like a slave to capitalism, a slave to racist rhetoric, and a slave to his own demons. But the consensus? "Amusing."

Downplaying and even laughing at the oppression of others is unacceptable. But when these tastemakers, designers, and critics who are racist and find the struggle of marginalized identities "amusing," this drastically affects who is and isn't erased from history. If white people and gatekeepers of fashion history don't think his work is valid, then he may never be remembered as a designer, but rather the fashion industry's personal court fool (if he makes fashion history at all).

So if Kanye is a little disrespectful when regarding the time and money of a room full of white people, the same people that are telling him his art is amusing and that he's a fake, please excuse him. He's forgotten he needs to be a humble, self deprecating human, riding the coattails of Anna Wintour to get white people and their industry to like him in order to be successful. Instead, he continues to bravely present his art to the world everyday, angry and refusing to be discouraged.

Music Takes Me Home: A Love Letter To My Best Friend

By Meg Zulch

Everyone has it: that song or movie or photo that just magically transports you to the past. Its powers are so strong and so escapist in nature that you intentionally consume certain media (especially in times of need) to be reminded of more carefree times, and people that make it all better. For me, that song is Lorde's "Ribs," and that person is my best friend Kenny.

Media tends to make us nostalgic because, in this millennial day and age, music and culture shape our relationships and even our personalities (seemingly "reduced" to a long list of likes and dislikes). Young people communicate and bond through media references, much to their older counterparts' chagrin. How important are your musical tastes, and music in general, when concerning your ideas, character, and ways of relating to the world anyway? Many of us would answer: quite important.

Even if you think media as a center of conversation is shallow, you can't argue against its surface value and that talking about a band you mutually love can be the greatest of ice breakers. For Kenny and I, that band was One Direction.

I met him at our school's LGBTQU club, but was too nervous to form a conversation beyond "I like your hair." However, when we were walking back to our dorms after the meeting, I caught a glimpse of a Harry Styles poster in his room and swooned. So when I ran into him in the library the next week, as he was scrolling through photos of One Direction through his Tumblr dashboard, I formerly introduced myself and confessed that I too love that British boy band. And so ensued about an hour of conversation about Harry Styles' body, followed by two years of friendship. The first year of college is nerve wracking for everyone, but some my own stress was alleviated by simply finding somebody who shared in my greatest passions.

Since that day in the library, we've exchanged (and even created) so much art. He burned me Haim's Days Are Gone on a CD and played me hours of spoken word that had me lost in a sea of my feelings in his bed. I've written him poems and introduced him to the melancholic wonders of Sky Ferreira's music. We've written a screenplay, made a zine, started a radio show--using all projects as outlets to express our queer identities, and consequently further understand what it means to be young and queer Kenny and Meg. We've shared in moments of total spiritual surrender and reawakening at Bleachers shows, screaming along to "I Wanna Get Better," as we try to trick our anxiety-ridden minds into being more cooperative. We've shaken off the memory and hurt of boys who've done us wrong, wildly gyrating along to our favorite pop tunes on dimly lit dance floors. Today, we smoked in a field together, listening to Mitski as we discussed pursuing therapy. Both of us have been through a lot in our lives and in our first year in college, and whatever complicated feelings we fail to find words for at the time are worked out through the music we listen to.

My friendship with Kenny has taught me a lot about who I am. He's always been really supportive of my feelings, pushes me to get better, and always shares art with me that I collect and surround myself with when I'm the most sad. Art that hits closest to home for me, art that is comforting, and in a way that only he and I can fully grasp. Of everyone in my life, I think Kenny understands me the most. We feel a lot of the same things, and both struggle with anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. So oftentimes music and art speak to us in very similar ways. When he sends me a new artist or song to check out, it usually is directly applicable to my musical wants and emotional needs, and speaks to me on a higher level than works I encounter in other ways. And these songs help me put my words together, to begin expressing the muddled up mess of emotion inside. And a lot of the ways we've come to express these new realizations is through writing.

We have always pushed each other to write and improve our work, being our most authentically realized selves as well as successful in what we do. Nowadays, we each write for multiple publications, creating content that is first and foremost therapeutic for and gives agency to our sad queer beings in the hopes of reaching out to more people like us. Because of all that he has helped me find in myself and in art, I consider Kenny a safe haven, a home for my heart. And in all of the songs he shares with me, I see his goofy grin or his feel his heart beating as I cry into his chest for the umpteenth time. I feel his presence and remember our friendship, my growth, myself, and I feel okay again.

There are plenty of songs that we claim as "ours," like Hop Along's "Tibetan Pop Stars" or Sky Ferreira's "Sad Dream." But none of our songs affect me quite as much as Lorde's "Ribs" does. In Kenny's freshmen year, we listened to so much Lorde, which quickly led us to feel sentimental about certain tracks of hers.

The words in "400 Lux" related a lot to our love of driving around in my car at night, singing along to Grimes (our night driving music); and the line "you buy me orange juice, we're getting good at this," reminded us of my constant dependence on him to buy me my precious OJ from the campus convenience store.

However, "Ribs," has always been most powerful to me, as one of the verses sums up the way I feel about my friendship with Kenny: "you're the only friend I need/ sharing beds like little kids/ we laugh until our ribs get tired/ but that will never be enough." It captures the carefree, childish, and nonjudgmental nature of our relationship, conjuring memories of all the hours we've spent giggling in his bed into the early hours of the morning.

Anytime I found myself lost (whether it be in my small town grocery store, out to dinner with my parents, or even on campus) and "Ribs" plays, I close my eyes and wait for the verse. As it approaches, I can breathe deeply again, and goosebumps appear on my arms as a smile spreads across my face. Music, our music, always brings me back to the place I want to be: feeling safe, happy and understood by my concert buddy, my soulmate and my best friend.

You Deserve Better Than Adam Sackler

By Meg Zulch

 

Every cultural narrative about dating in recent years seems to go the same way. Girl meets boy. Girl has drunk sex with boy. Sometimes, girl has more casual and sometimes non consensual encounters with boy. Girl feels sad and maybe even violated. Rinse and repeat. And then, girl finally meets the guy/girl/person of their dreams. This is "normal," and apparently all part of being a young feminine person in our society.

Besides these narratives being whitewashed, heteronormative, and cisnormative, they perpetuate the idea that sexual discomfort and assault is just one of the many facts of life, and feminine people might as well embrace it. And if you stick with a toxic relationship long enough, hey, it might only get better!

Lena Dunham's Girls, one of my most problematic faves, perfectly exemplifies this in Hannah Horvath's relationship with Adam Sackler. In the show's first season, their relationship involved lots of sex that didn't always seem consensual or respectful of Hannah's body and needs. She barely ever climaxes when having sex with Adam, endures dirty talk that makes her uncomfortable, and contorts in any position that Adam wants. Her character is clearly terribly unsatisfied, and finally confronts him about this in episode four before quickly succumbing once again to Adam's "charm." What's worse is that Hannah keeps pushing on until things get serious, and gradually things do get better. In fact, their relationship becomes one of my favorite in TV history. And that's just fucked up.

Other shows like Skins or even The Secret Life Of the American Teenager also helped in shoving this down the throat of every young feminine adult: men will treat you like shit (especially when you're a virgin) and that's okay. Things will get better.

The idea that sexual assault or general discomfort is just apart of hookup culture, and the idea that you can somehow transform a toxic relationship (or person) into a healthy one if you work hard enough can be framed as simply a plot point of a show like Girls. But these relationship patterns being played out before our very eyes week after week can send damaging messages that are internalized and applied to real life. I speak from experience.

A year after Dunham's show aired, I transferred from my community college to a state university and experienced my first taste of freedom complete with sexual escapades worthy of national screen time. I had never been in a relationship, and so the only knowledge I had of them came from various forms of popular media. In the spirit of other fictional ladies before me (of course, not just blaming Girls for this), I quite literally dove head first into the wonderful world of hookup culture.

I met Mike during the first week of school, and we quickly became lovers. It was the first time I'd ever experienced sexual intimacy with a boy. I embraced my own intense self loathing and over indulged in my cinematic desperation for a man's approval. My powerlessness resulted in a two or three month entanglement of confusion, mistreatment, and total discomfort and lack of respect concerning myself in the bedroom, as well as heartbreak.

Like Hannah did with Adam, I stuck around, convinced this dynamic would change if I could "fix" him. I told myself it's natural to feel shitty and depressed and insecure and even a little loathing of my situation. So I stayed with him: long after he acted inappropriately while drunk, long after he hurt me during sex, long after he rejected me when I tried to make us "official."

But unlike Hannah, I have nothing to show for it. He was cruel to me, and I was involved in something that was sucking the life out of me, so I quit. But not for very long. I quickly began moving from person to person and repeating my mistakes, until I was sexually assaulted by a boy I had been in a similarly damaging relationship with. And until recently, I thought that was okay; all apart of the "young millennial girl in the dating world" narrative.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with having complete agency over your sexual body, and exploring it through hooking up with other empowered and consenting adults. But unfortunately, the idea that this process is supposed to be painful and weird, at least in the beginning, is where the problem lies. Self-respect isn't something you earn from the abuse of others, nor is it something you need to earn the right to have. We are all entitled to respect (from ourselves and our partners), regardless of our experience level and identities. When we are taught that being disrespected sexually is commonplace for our age group, we become less likely to take our own assaults seriously and allow others to control our narratives.

I revisited season one of Girls the other day. My loving partner of ten months has recently gotten hooked on the show, and so we've been marathoning it on nights when our schedules align. I was shocked to see how unsettling this season is to me, as I can't help but see Mike in almost every scene involving Adam and Hannah. It's been horrifying to see their relationship with fresh eyes, and to realize that I used to view this toxic dynamic as "just a part of life." A "fact" I went on to reenact in my own life less than a year later. I was convinced that enduring bad relationships and abuse was necessary for self discovery, and to develop a healthy self image was totally unnecessary concerning dating. I now know these "facts" to be untrue, that abuse is abuse, and that absence of self respect can lead you to downplay your own traumas. Exactly how society and the media we consume teaches feminine people to react.

Yes, I did meet a wonderful person, the human I'm currently partnered with. But they haven't previously treated me like shit (or currently), and my traumatic experiences have impacted our relationship. Only recently have I come to terms with my assault, and have stopped writing it off as "normal," "no big deal," or "all my fault." Because even if you're inexperienced or marginalized, you don't ever deserve disrespect in any form.

Women being disrespected and abused, as well as searching for ways to develop self respect in the wrong places, is certainly a reality to many. But perhaps if TV shows, YA novels and movies wouldn't replay this narrative over and over, girls will finally start growing up knowing that they don't need to waste their time with an Adam.

Photo courtesy of HBO

Theatre and The Beauty Of Impermanence

By Meg Zulch

I've always been very staunch about my distaste for theatre. With the exception of the film adaptation of Rent, which is arguably one of my favorite movies of all time, I spent most of my life trying to steer clear of drama club kids and theatre productions.

Among other things, plays were less than desirable for me because of (and I'm aware this is childish) boredom. My total attention deficit has limited my visual entertainment to TV shows, with movies being too long to sit through without finding myself  feeling a certain measure of mental exhaustion by the the midway point. And plays were an entirely different story. Whenever I found myself having to sit through one, usually a Broadway play my school or parents had dragged me too, I had to resist the urge of checking the time on my phone or bolting out of the theatre. And even though my mind would often go entirely numb through most of these performances, I would still silently praise myself the entire time, convincing myself that I was becoming "cultured." Clearly, based on my use of the phrases "sit through" and "dragged," I was clearly not absorbing any culture as long as I wasn't a willing participant.

I used to have a million reasons why I don't like plays that didn't really make much sense. Like, for example, uncomfortable seating and unfamiliar faces on stage. Now, I chalk it up to the painfully stubborn way in which I decide I hate things without using much logic to back it up. The same way I used to "hate" cauliflower and Carly Rae Jepsen. I'd say I hated these things, but really they were just a couple of items on my long list of things I decided was worth dismissing before having given them a chance. Like theatre, I never gave either of these things the time of day long enough to make an argument either way. Until recently...

After I transferred to a college dedicated to the arts, I began making a lot of actor friends. And then I started dating one. Skylar, a theatre and production major, was a tall devastatingly beautiful goofball and I fell completely in love with them pretty quickly. Their quirky yet smart manner of dressing and their exaggerated clumsy tendencies reminded me of a young Dick Van Dyke. And so did their acting.

 

After running through lines with them once, in my attempt to help them prepare for the play they were in, I became obsessed with watching them rehearse. Seeing Skylar take on a new voice and set of physical quirks as their eyes danced with passion and excitement was magical. It filled me with such excitement and respect for what they do, and filled me with a greater understanding of the world of theatre.

Besides Skylar's exceptional acting talent, what drew me in the most about their craft was its ability to transport them away from the darker parts of their brain. Or perhaps even help them express their darkness in a space and in a way they feel safe to do so: on stage and through character.

On the play's opening night, I got to see everything they'd been talking about, everything they'd been preparing for, come alive right before my eyes. And in that moment I felt I finally understood. I found myself being fully immersed in every scene without ever having to check my phone or resisting the urge to stretch my restless legs. I surrendered myself to the beauty of theatre, and to characters and themes that get you invested the way TV or movies do, and I didn't regret one second.

What struck me the most about theatre is the fact that stage productions are such huge and meticulously tailored works of masterpiece that will disappear forever after the few days that the show is open. This is what still gets to me to this day, the impermanence of Skylar's work. As a writer, my work always lives for those to see, whether it's on a website or saved in my Google Docs. But my partner's work is so different. They spend weeks of their time laboring over something that their audience can only experience for a short while. They are essentially creating a moment in time for the enjoyment of others, until the show closes days later. And in my opinion, it takes a certain kind of hero to take part in such a noble and selfless act. With Skylar being a lovely and selfless human being and all, their taste for theatre is certainly not out of character.

After seeing them in a stage production for the first time, it no longer felt right, or even possible, to snobbishly write off an entire art form the way I had formerly done.  An art that was incredibly magical and enjoyable, as well as the labor and passion of my life partner. I understood, and from there I could never go back. In fact, I've been to Broadway three times since we started seeing each other, and finally got to enjoy it each time. Observing Skylar's art, and art through their eyes, caused me to see all of the beauty I was missing out on and transport me to yet another world that I was safe to lose myself in. A world as scary as our own in all of its beauty and impermanence.

 

Boy Bands and Breakups: A Subjective History

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By Meg Zulch

Our favorite boy bands breaking up are just as inevitable as our favorite pet's death. You know it's coming in this great circle of life, but you'd rather not think of it. In the meantime, we live our lives as completely devoted fan girls, convinced that we'll be in this for the long haul. In the boy band department, shit tends to hit the fan as soon as one particularly ambitious or dissatisfied member decides to go solo. Or they get tired of touring. Or someone breaks down from the stress. *Cue the collective sound of teen hearts breaking all over the nation.*

I am a self-described and unashamed fangirl, and worshipped One Direction since their conception in 2010. And so when Zayn Malik quit the band back in March (my second favorite member, ugh <3) it felt very much like my heart was torn from my chest, pulsating to the beat of "Best Song Ever" on the cold hard  ground. After I had a good cry and finished ranting about it on Twitter, I realized mournfully that my years of loving boy bands before them prepared me for this. Because as we all know from history, boy bands tend to have a very short shelf life.

The first boy band I ever loved, NSync, went on a "hiatus" in 2002 after JT came out with his first solo album, Justified. In hindsight, this hiatus was indeed a breakup, since they haven't recorded or toured as a band since. The Jonas Brothers were off and on until they officially broke up in 2013, as Nick Jonas moved on to pursue his solo career (which has been arguably way less successful than JB, but ya know. I'm not bitter or anything). Currently, The Wanted are on a hiatus, with multiple members of the band pursuing solo projects. And now, my beloved One Direction is on the chopping block as they announced their hiatus to begin in the next couple of months. Okay, so clearly "hiatus" is a dirty word. Let's ban it from our vocabulary immediately. 

British boy band (and love of my life) One Direction promised to be different from the boy bands I had previously loved. And of course, those heartthrobs kept their promise. They never once attempted synchronized dancing and dressing, they were charmingly informal in interviews, and they tried to make music that they believed in. They tried to keep it as real as possible, but it obviously couldn't ring true to each and every member in the same way, resulting in Zayn Malik's departure. 

At the end of the day, the "boy band" is still a highly manufactured exploitive business, made apparent by 1D's expert utilization of social media promotion and merchandising, and not a model that is meant to satisfy every individual in the group. They were optimistic, but nobody can escape the fate of breaking up and ultimate irrelevance (aka the boy band graveyard). So basically, if and when you care about your mental health and your creative freedom, it's pretty natural to want to break away from such unforgiving beginnings as soon as possible. If you are one of the lucky few who made it big in a boy band, get the exposure, make the money, then peace out.

Before announcing a record deal with RCA, Zayn's reasons for leaving were varied and unclear. There were multiple instances during 1D's last tour that he had to take breaks and trips back home to manage a sensory overload of stress (perhaps anxiety). There have been concerns from people close to him and reports here and there that Zayn might have been abusing drugs and alcohol. Unsurprisingly, mental health issues and substance abuse also have affected other boy bands, like the Backstreet Boys and New Kids On The Block in the past. 

Whatever the mixed reasons were for Zayn's departure, it seemed like the wisest decision for him. He had clearly been dissatisfied, and even a little isolated, in One Direction for awhile. And, being apart of such a successful international band, it must have been very hard to make the decision to leave. But in spite of my broken fangirl heart, I am proud of his bravery in deciding this and, for the first time in years, giving himself agency over his own career and life.

Going solo is not always the smartest business move for a member of any boy band, as the magic formula of their specific ensemble disappears. Only time will tell if Zayn's decision to leave will make or break his public success. But even though conventional success isn't guaranteed, and we hate to see him go, we know it's what's best. We learn from the boys who walk out on our favorite bands the importance of prioritizing our own needs, and that nothing is more important than following your own path. Even if that path seems lonely at times. Sometimes we have to go solo to discover who we are, what we want to do, and where we belong. Whether that be concerning romantic relationships, friendships, careers, or creative endeavors.

So R.I.P. One Direction Zayn, and congrats to the new Zayn (whatever Zayn that might be) for being the ultimate role model of "I'm doing me," and "fuck the haters."

 

I Hate Your Brand of Feminism, But I Guess We Can Still Be Friends (?)

By Meg Zulch

So I have some beef with Taylor Swift. I don't know her personally, of course. She hasn't set a curse on my house or stabbed me in the back or "stole my boyfriend" (as ridiculous as that concept is). But for as long as I can remember, I've disliked her. I'm not saying I'm immune to her super catchy songs, or am so bold to say that she isn't a good artist. I acknowledge that she's a hugely talented songwriter that sometimes offers something valuable to the cultural conversation and to girls all over the country. Girls making music about guys who treat them badly definitely has its empowering aspects. She's arguably responsible for giving agency to the teen girl population, a group that is so often trivialized and written off. And that's no small accomplishment.

But of course, as an out of touch "white girl feminist," her indiscretions are not few and far between. She has repeatedly plotted revenge against and bashed girls for stealing boyfriends in her songs ("Better Than Revenge" is probably one of her most disturbing songs ever), as well as pitted girls directly against each other (see: "Bad Blood" music video).

Additionally, the issue of racism completely goes over her head as she calls out Kanye West and, most recently, Nicki Minaj when they try to take a stand against the under and misrepresentation of black people in the media. And her "girl squad" seems to be limited to thin, white, and cisgender bodies (see: her IRL "girl squad" via Instagram, and the Bad Blood video, again). Even after all of this clearly problematic behavior, the most troubling aspect of it all to me is this: my hatred for her. Why do I, a self described feminist on their high horse of superior morals, put so much energy into hating Taylor Swift, a fellow feminine person and feminist?

There is nothing that makes me madder in this world than girl hate. No matter how much a feminine or female-identifying person gets under my skin, I refuse to talk badly of them. And if I catch myself or others participating in conversation this way, I'm quick to scold. As a feminist and concerned human, I'm aware that feminine people internalize some damaging things our lovely patriarchal society teaches us. Like skinny is beautiful and fat is ugly. Or being sexually active is slutty and being celibate is prudish. There are a million different ways that society and the media attack our identities and self esteem. And so the first place to start in eradicating this all-consuming monster of self loathing and societal pressure is by removing the things from our vocabulary and behavior which perpetuate the bad stuff within our own feminine community in the first place.

My "girl hate" for T-Swift stems from my need to critique cultural icons, and make sure to set the record straight on what is helpful for a better world of intersectionality, and what isn't (especially for her younger, more impressionable fans). It sometimes scares me to think that young women (like my little sister) could revere her as a feminist icon, when she has done little to nothing for the cause itself. Since she came out as a feminist, changing her mind about her former denouncing of the concept, she's not done much beyond whining about her former friendship with Katy Perry and "girl squad" photos on Instagram. For this reason, it's important to call her out on her transgressions, and be critical about her lack of understanding or care for intersectional feminism. But you don't have to hate her.

It's as easy to call Taylor Swift a "bad feminist" as it is to call yourself out on your own transgressions. I'll let you in on a little secret: I'm not politically correct all the time. Shocker, I know! I listen to Childish Gambino, excusing him for his often misogynistic lyrics. I've  often underrepresented people of different races in photos I use for articles, blaming my lack of choices (really, I'm just lazy). I have described gay men as being "sassy," applying a silly stereotype to a person I've just met. I'm aware of and sometimes pretty embarrassed about these things, as I should be. But I'm working on it in the best way that I can, trying not to be angry with myself in the process.

I probably "hate" Taylor Swift because she reminds me of how problematic my own voice can and could be within the feminist community. Watching her brand of feminism be respected, and blocking out of the voices of queer people, fat people, women of color etc. is frustrating to say the least. But it's the world we live in. White lives and voices are valued over black and brown lives. Cisgender lives are valued over queer and Trans lives. Straight-bodies are valued over fat bodies. Taylor Swift, and all white feminists, live in a broken system in which we benefit more from than other more marginalized identities. But instead of hating each other individually and calling out one another on our "fake feminisms," we can simply critique one another's problematic ideologies instead. We can offer support when a fellow feminist is in need of education or just someone who's willing to listen.

Taylor Swift is not a horrible person (see? I've come so far since the beginning of this article!). She is just a person who experiences certain oppressions as a woman, and is in need of our support, recognition, and constructive critique when she's problematic.

Going forward, let's resolve to hear out the "bad feminists" in our lives, and be willing to forgive ourselves for our own less-than-perfect ideologies. In the end, that is the only way we can grow, learn and thrive as a successful change-making community.