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Last week, I went to see Pacific Rim.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s stupid. I know it’s not meant to be taken seriously. I know this. People in giant robot suits fight giant monsters in a futuristic battle for Earth. Not really thought-provoking stuff. But it did leave me with some questions nonetheless. Things like:

Why are there so few women left on planet Earth?
Are they hiding underground? Were they wiped out in a plague? Were they sent to colonize another planet? Did the kaiju eat them all? Actually – the movie does mention (spoiler) that the earlier waves of kaiju were intended to wipe out “the vermin” – us humans – to make way for the kaiju to inherit the earth. So maybe they ate the women to slow down population growth.

Seriously. We’re maybe a third of the way through the movie before they even introduce a female character. And she’s the only female character in the entire movie. Well, ok, unless you count the Russian Jaeger pilot who has two lines and (spoiler) gets eaten on the very first mission we see her go on. In the bustling army base, full of military personnel looking varying amounts of busy, I was able to count three extras that were female in appearance before I just gave up. This is in a scene where probably two dozen people appear on-screen. It was like a shitty game of Where’s Waldo.

Why is the girl such a wuss?
When we meet What’sherbucket (Mia? I got through the whole damn movie without learning anyone’s name), she’s your stereotypical acquiescent, quiet, cringing Japanese girl-lady archetype. She appears to be Colonel Badass’s assistant. Secretary maybe? Concubine. No, definitely not concubine. She wants nothing more than to pilot a Jaeger with Main Character, who she’s been studying obsessively for years because reasons. Colonel Badass is totally against it, because reasons. Main Character is sure she’s totally into him, because he’s a dude and why wouldn’t she be? And also reasons.

They spar. With sticks. He’s all “OMG we’re totally compatible!” (The giant robot suits require two pilots, and they have to be psychically linked so they can move the damn thing around and punch alien monsters in the face.) He tells Co. Badass that W.H.Bucket is his new copilot. Badass says no.

And Bucket? She looks hopeful. Then she looks sad. Then she disappears into her room. At no point does she tell Badass he’s wrong, that she can do it. She doesn’t stand up for herself at all, even though she’s clearly just demonstrated she is capable of administering an ass-kicking. She tells Main Character that she’s aced the simulations – she got a perfect score, which is apparently unheard-of – but she won’t stand up to Co. Badass. Out of “respect.” (How very Japanese of you, Bucket.)

Why? Well, as we find out during a flashback sequence… he’s her father. Basically. She was a little girl in Tokyo when it was attacked by a kaiju, and Badass was in the Jaeger that saved her life. So he, uh, adopted her or something. There’s also a shoe involved. Don’t ask, I don’t know.

Look, the point is: Bucket could have been a really interesting character. She could have been tough, and capable, and smart, and still have been sexy enough to draw the attention of MC. (More on that in a second.) But instead she’s just kind of this useless lump, and the only thing she’s really good for is making the guys in the movie look good. She isn’t even given the opportunity to stick up for herself when one of the other Jaeger pilots (a total douche by all accounts) calls her a bitch and tells MC to keep her on a leash. (Oh, yeah, that flashback sequence? That happens during a training exercise, where she powers up the Jaeger’s plasma cannon and comes within inches of vaporizing the whole army base from the inside out. Because it’s usually a good idea to put a total rookie through complex training maneuvers with live ammunition.) Instead of telling him off or beating his ass to a pulp for looking at her sideways, Bucket does…. well, nothing. She cringes in the background and looks pretty while MC wrestles Douchebag to the ground and tries to make him apologize. Total white knight style. Because it’s the man’s job to save the woman, apparently.

Does the movie even need a woman in it at this point?
Pacific Rim could have gotten by without casting any women at all, and it would barely have warranted an explanation. I think that’s the most off-putting part of the whole thing. Bucket brings nothing to the table by being a woman, except as an awkward and contrived way to convince MC to participate.

Yes, they fall in love. Why? It’s not like they spend all that much time interacting. There’s not anything to be gained by throwing them into a relationship together. It’s not like he’s suddenly motivated to fight to save her because OMG LURRRRVE. They don’t have sex (that we know of). They don’t even kiss on-screen. It’s enough to make me suspect that Bucket was originally a male character, too, and at the last minute someone went “Wait, there are no women in this script. We need at least one woman, for affirmative action purposes!” And then they had to go justify why there was a woman there. I honestly think this might have been a better movie (all things considered) if Bucket had been a male character. Then at least we wouldn’t have this stupid love story just kind of tacked on to our robot-fueled-alien-ass-kicking-fest.

And really, if you wanted to drop a woman into the story to keep the protesters quiet, there are way better ways to have done it. What would have changed if either of the neurotic scientists had been women? Nothing. What about Co. Badass? Nothing. What if Douchebag was a woman? No change. The fact that all these characters were male really points to societal views about what a woman can and can’t do, what she should and shouldn’t be.

Did I hate the movie? No, of course not. It was giant robots fighting giant deep-sea aliens. I never expected it to be Great Feminist Discourse. But it is an excellent example of the kinds of sexism we don’t even think about.


So I’m not sure how far this has spread, but apparently yesterday this little gem of a book got funded on Kickstarter. It’s called Above The Game: A Guide To Getting Awesome With Women. (You can find it on Seddit, the Seduction section of Reddit. Or with the simplest of Googlefu. The thought of linking to it here makes me feel icky.)

It’s exactly as problematic as it sounds. There’s already been several voices raised around the blogosphere, pointing out that the chapter “Physical Escalation & Sex” endorses assault and rape. So much so, in fact, that the author has already posted a response, which I feel a little better about linking to.

While others have covered the problems with the original project in great detail, and better than I probably could here, there’s something disturbing to me about the author’s “apology.” He says:

People took advice from a section on “Physical Escalation & Sex” and posted them online. Devoid of context, they appeared to be promoting sexually assaulting women when that wasn’t the case at all.

The gist of the controversial advice is “Don’t wait for signs before you make your move. Let her be the one who rejects your advances. If she says no, stop immediately and tell her you don’t want to do anything that would make her uncomfortable. Try again at a later time if appropriate or cease entirely if she is absolutely not interested.”

The thing that the commenters on social media are leaving out is that the advice was taken from a section in the guide offering advice on what to do AFTER a man has met a cute girl, gotten her phone number, gone on dates, spent time getting to know her, and now are alone behind closed doors fooling around. If “Don’t wait for signs, make the first move” promotes sexual assault, then “Kiss the Girl” from The Little Mermaid was a song about rape.

Um, well. I guess I never liked Prince Eric anyway. (Wait – was Ariel really not giving him any indication that she wanted to be kissed? Oh jeez, is kissing sex, you guys? I’m going to have to re-watch me some Disney movies.)

Look, here’s the thing: there’s one glaringly obvious piece of advice missing from this chapter that would, honestly, make the rest of this advice tolerable….

ASK HER WHAT SHE WANTS. WITH WORDS. OR MAYBE PICTURES IF YOU’RE MUTE.

Holy shit, you guys, I should write a book and shill it on Kickstarter. Problem is, it’d be really fucking short. You just read the whole thing.

It’s not rocket surgery, is it? But this guy – and the 732 people who were willing to pay him for his advice – seem to forget that women are individual people, with individual likes and dislikes, who can and will tell you what those likes and dislikes are if they’re given the opportunity. I’m not sure what mysterious signals these folks have been waiting on – like, are you waiting for the Bat signal, only with a vagina or something instead? – but in my experience, it’s not super hard to tell if a person wants to do things with you. There’s no need for forcefully coming on strong until she has to stop you. You’ve spent time getting to know her, right? So spend some time getting to know what she likes and dislikes in the bedroom. Spend some time getting to know what turns her on. Spend some time getting to know whether or not she’d like to jump your bones. My turn-ons include talking about what my turn-ons are.

This whole argument also neatly and completely erases the possibility of rape, abuse, and assault within a relationship. It assumes that once a woman is in a relationship with a man, she will of course submit to his every sexual desire, every time. So really what Mr. Hoisky is saying here is that once you’re dating a girl, it’s totally okay to be physically aggressive with her until she either gives in or is forced to say no. (Note: That’s exactly what the two worst boyfriends I ever had did. Both of them sexually assaulted me.) There’s absolutely no mention of communication or negotiation. There’s no mention at all of giving the woman in this relationship agency and a voice. In fact, it specifically instructs men not to:

Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.

Right. Ick. This isn’t a matter of taking things out of context; even in the context of an established relationship, this shit is Officially Not Okay unless you’ve already confirmed with the particular girl whose hand you’re placing on your dick has TOLD YOU it’s ok. Within the context of a pre-negotiated scene, sure, this would be perfectly okay. Probably pretty hot for everyone involved. If she’s already told you that she likes it when guys do that, then game on. Get freaky. If she thinks this is just a make-out session and suddenly you force her to touch your junk, you’ve officially just become a creep. Communication makes all the difference.

Oh, shit, I apologize. He does actually advocate communication. Here it is:

Ask her what her favorite positions are.

That’s, uh, that’s it. That’s all of it. That’s in the second-to-last paragraph of the second-to-last section of the chapter on sex… which is chapter 7.

Your problem, Mr. Hoisky, is not that you’re being taken out of context. Your problem is that you’re giving advice on how to manipulate and assault women. And we are calling you on your bullshit.

Quick update: As of this morning, Kickstarter has issued an apology and updated their guidelines to prevent seduction guides like this from being funded on their site. They will also be donating $25,000 to RAINN, a non-profit dedicated to preventing rape and abuse. 


So right now I work the customer service line for an online retailer. I like my job most of the time. Most of the customers I talk to are pretty nice. But the other day I took what was probably the worst call I’ve ever had.

This woman called in wanting to return some clothes that didn’t fit. They were too small because she’d gained weight, you see. And that would have been fine, returns are a thing we do, no problem. Except…

This poor woman was in tears. She was brokenhearted that the outfit was too small. She was convinced that it was because she had gained weight, and not that (as I pointed out) that designer likely runs small. She kept saying things like, “I’m so disgusting, I’m such a monster, I’m so fat, I’m so ugly…”

I’m not going to say “She wasn’t even that big.” Only because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what size she was. It would be the same story whether she was a 2 or a 2X. This woman was in tears over clothing that didn’t fit because she’d bought so completely into the belief that there is a right size to be, and she wasn’t it. I could hear her sobbing as she hung up the phone, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to help her.

This shouldn’t be normal. No one should ever feel like a monster because her clothes don’t fit. No one should ever feel so bad about their size that a too-tight shirt makes them feel worthless.

So Penny’s request for the day, guys? Value yourself as you are. Even if it’s just for a day. Spend a day shutting down the voice that lists your flaws, that tells you you’re ugly and worthless, that makes you feel gross and ashamed. Spend just one day focusing on the amazing parts of yourself. Remind yourself that you are, indeed, amazing.

Maybe we can’t always fight this horrible culture that tries to devalue us and force us to confirm to unrealistic ideals. Maybe those damaging messages about what a woman “should” look like aren’t going to go away, now or possibly ever.

But we don’t have to listen. Please, just spend a day not listening.


My brilliant friend Caitlyn posted this on her blog last week. It essentially posits the question, “Would more people be open to feminism if we simply called it something else?”

And I think… maybe? But is that really a good thing? Or more to the point, does that really mean we should call it something else?

Maybe this is a tinfoil-hat moment for me, but I think the hesitance to identify with feminism as a movement is an indicator of oppression. Think about it. Much in the way that a Muslim fears to identify as such in our society, for fear of being lumped in with terrorists and extremists by the average ignorant ass, so too do women fear identifying as feminists to avoid being lumped in with “a bunch of angry, unshaven man-haters.”  I can almost hear the patriarchy going, “But you’re cool, right? You’re not one of those angry women, right? You’re not, like, one of those feminists who has a stick up her ass about rape jokes, are you?”

Why is it a bad thing for a woman to be angry? For that matter, why is it a bad thing for a woman to be unshaven? Or to have a stick up her ass, provided it’s her stick and she wants it there? Feminism, among many other things, is about a person’s right to not conform to stereotypes and expectations. And yet that nonconformity is used against us somehow, as proof of the invalidity of our stance. An angry, unshaven woman simply cannot be taken seriously.

So women who want to be taken seriously distance themselves from that image. And if the word “feminist” conjures up that image, then she’s not a feminist. Oh, no. That would wreck her credibility.

This is bullshit. Not because there are “I’m not a feminist – but” women out there; they are entitled to their choices, and frankly I can fully understand why they wouldn’t want to identify as a feminist if, for instance, it means she won’t be taken seriously in a professional setting or that she’ll catch hell from her male friends. The bullshit part is that there’s even a possibility she won’t be taken seriously, or that she’ll catch hell from her friends.

I mean, really. A majority of the population believes that there is an all-powerful man in the sky who personally created the universe and can’t wait to invite us to his really awesome party once we die; but it’s the folks who believe women and men should be treated equally that get the side-eye. Seriously?

As the article points out, we are “bending to the societal pressure that feminism is gauche.” Why? Why is feminism gauche? Why does it make so many people so uncomfortable? Is it because the word “feminist” conjures up images of angry, unshaven women, waving picket signs and shouting slogans? Is it because a feminist woman, by definition, will almost certainly not conform to your expectations of her? Is it maybe because a feminist woman breaks the rules, and we’ve been told that’s bad?

All this doesn’t even take into account the problems with being a feminist man. Is it really any wonder that society sees a feminist man as weak, effeminate, somehow lesser than his fellow man? Take a good look at the systematic way patriarchal society oppresses women, and tell me it’s a coincidence that those who speak out for the rights of women also get oppressed, laughed at, degraded, dismissed, made fun of. It’s all part of a system designed to keep the oppressed under the heel of the oppressor.

Right now, I am reading what I’ve just written and thinking to myself, “I sound like a loony conspiracy theorist nutbag.” And I think that’s part of the problem.

It’s like gaslighting, on a widespread societal scale. We’ve been conditioned not to trust ourselves; conditioned to question our anger, to mistrust our emotions. We abuse ourselves to save our abusers the trouble. We tiptoe around those in power, afraid to upset the status quo; afraid of the backlash bound to come our way if we stand up for ourselves. And when others point out how fucked up the situation is, we defend it. Oh, it’s not that bad, we say. Society’s just having a bad day.

Or year.

Or century, maybe.

No, I don’t think we need to change the label. I think it’s more important than ever that we stick with feminism. I think it’s more important than ever that we stand up, have our say, make our voices heard – in the name of feminism. The more we fear to be connected with it, the more power we give to those who wish this whole feminism thing would just blow over. The more we hesitate to join ranks, the more power we give to those who believe women should “know their place.” Maybe they won’t take us seriously now… but if we don’t fight for equality, they won’t take us seriously ever.


(In response to You Should Date An Illiterate Girl)

It’s not so easy being a well-read woman, either, Charles.

You are right about women who read. We want dialogue; we want plot. We want a life that follows a well-charted path, a life full of rich characters and poignant moments, a story that leaves an impact on its audience. We want climax, yes, in every sense. We want a denouement, too – a happy ending that neatly ties the threads of our lives together in a way that leaves us satisfied in our golden years. We understand syntax, and rhythm; word choice, too, and we know how to read between the lines and guess where this story arc will take us.

A well-read woman cannot be swept aside in a minor plot and easily forgotten. We are not content with mediocrity. We are not content to be filler: part of the faceless crowd, part of the setting, suppliers of background noise. We know that we are responsible for our fate – that if our story is dull and uninteresting, it is because we are not playing our part as the central character of our lives.

The modern world is cruel to a literate woman. Her heart aches for a hero, and for adventure. Ask any literate woman if she sometimes wishes someone – anyone – would slay dragons for her. No matter what her lips reply, you will hear her heart whisper a broken, unfulfilled yes. It is a secret wish every literate woman carries deep within herself; one this world has no intention of granting.

There are no battles to fight that would win a woman’s heart. Instead, men fight wars; bloody, impersonal, and cold, fought for greed or power. A woman’s beauty does not move a man to risk his life, not anymore. Our modern world has cheapened everything – romance boiled down to sex, battle simplified into killing, adventure stripped down until it is merely a vacation. Queens and kings are politicians.  Knights are now soldiers. No one sings of the valiant deeds of heroes; poetry is written by angsty, pimple-faced teenagers with a rudimentary grasp of imagery and no concept of the term cliché. Chivalry has been mortally wounded and left for dead.

Is it any wonder, then, that a literate woman dreams of something better? Can you really fault her for wanting more than you’re willing to give? A well-read woman does not want a safe man, a man who will do the dishes and the laundry when asked, a man whose greatest battle consists of putting on his tie every morning and facing another soulless day at the office to put bread on the table for his family. That man deserves all the love his wife can give him, yes; but if she is a literate woman, she will spend her life yearning for danger and adventure. Her heart will waste away within her, wishing she had been born in a different time and place, wanting the kind of love found only in books and fairy tales, dying to be the heroine of her tale. A literate woman not only wants to make something of her life, but she longs for someone to share it with; someone who would guard with his very life the beauty and power she yearns to find within herself.

Literate women have need of steel-hearted heroes. There is no room in our story for a man who would tuck tail and run at the first sign of danger, nor is there room for a man who prefers the gray monotony of mediocre drudgery because it means avoiding the terrible risk of failure. If there is nothing to be lost, then what do you stand to gain? A literate woman needs someone courageous; someone who can gaze unflinching into the gaping rawness of a woman’s unfulfilled and broken heart, and stand resolved to heal it, no matter what the cost.

If this seems too difficult for you, Charles, then do us a favor and date the illiterate girls. This world has spawned an abundance of them. Live your meager, average life, and die your unremarkable death. But do not hate the well-read woman and blame her for your fate. It is not her fault you failed to be the hero.


What fresh hell is this? Some feminists are upset at First Lady Obama for not, uh, feministing enough?

The article itself is pretty well-balanced and raises some good points. I have no beef with the overall tone of it. I guess I’m just annoyed that there even needs to be an article like this. Once again, folks are looking around on the front lines and going “Well, I’m way more feminist than that woman over there.”

Seriously. Stop it.

So First Lady Obama likes gardening. And being a mother. So freaking what? I highly doubt the solution to the struggle that women face – really to any of the struggles that anyone faces – is to point to someone and say “She’s letting down the team!” “She’s not a REAL feminist!” “She should be feministier!”

When are we going to get it through our heads that what works for us might not work for everyone? That looking down our noses and pooh-pooh-ing the work of others is part of what reinforces the kyriarchy that holds us all back from living full and engaging lives? Accepting that everyone has a right to live life on their own terms means accepting that some people like to garden, that some people like being mothers, that some of us actually enjoy makeup and clothes and fashion magazines. That doesn’t make those people any less feminist.

Hell, the days I do wear makeup, I consider it a radical act of feminism. That’s because I’m wearing it for no one’s gratification but my own. I don’t wear it to please the men around me; the only ones I care about couldn’t give two shits about my makeup or lack thereof. And I certainly don’t wear it to please the feminists who would call me out as a traitor for doing so. That leaves… just me. I do it because I like it. I figure, if I’m ever late to work or an event because I simply couldn’t leave the house without a full face on, then I’m no longer doing it for me. Till then, the “must reject feminine things to be a feminist” camp can bite me. I’m not here to please them, any more than they’re here to please the men in their lives.

“Are fashion and body-toning tips all we can expect from one of the most highly educated First Ladies in history?” asked author Leslie Morgan Steiner in an online column last January.

Well, yeah, if we have a highly educated First Lady who’s passionate about fashion and fitness. What’s the problem there? Or, sorry – did you want to try and force her into a preconcieved model of what your ideal woman should be, regardless of her individual talents, passions, or circumstances? Hmm, that sounds familiar somehow…

Of course, the same writer then generously throws the First Lady a bone.

“I’m sure there is immense pressure — from political advisors, the black community, her husband, the watching world — to play her role as First Black Lady on the safe side.”

Ah, yes. She can’t show interest in something because she’s interested in it; it all has to be engineered by The Man. She’s only conforming because she’s being pressured to conform. Poor soul. If Michelle Obama could really be herself, of course she’d drop her interest in her children and her garden and run off to… I don’t know, become a radical butch dyke polyamorous oil rigger? Or something? She can’t like that stuff just because she likes it, right? She must be bending to pressure somewhere. Nobody actually likes raising children and gardening and getting schoolchildren to eat healthier.

Look, it’s easy to fall into the trap. The system we live under now has us believing that in order to get to the top of the dogpile, we have to throw someone else father down. It’s easy to forget that the only way we win is by walking away from the dogpile altogether. That’s what equality is, right? Equal footing, level playing field?

Let’s stop sneering down our noses at each other, okay? Let’s stop trying to pretend like our way of life is the only one that works. We talk big about acceptance; let’s start by nurturing that seed of acceptance within ourselves. No one will take our demands for acceptance seriously if we’re just as prejudiced as the folks we want to accept us.

I don’t care what the First Lady likes to do with her time. She has every right to do it without being criticized as “un-feminist” for it. It’s her life.


So, another person calling herself a feminist has posted another public rant, filled with hate and abusive language, targeting a minority group (of women, no less!) lower on the totem pole than herself. I found pieces of it – along with a well-written and delightfully snarky retort – on Consider The Tea Cosy . (As of yesterday or so, the original article was taken down and an apology posted – though I believe one of the Tea Cosy commentariat posted a link hosted elsewhere, if you really feel like slogging through the schoolyard name-calling vitriol.)

It got me thinking: What is the goal of feminism, exactly?

For some, it seems, feminism is about raising the status of women in the world. For some it is about taking power back from men, away from men. For some, it is about the expression of sexuality, gender identity, conformity or non-conformity to societal norms. For the writer of the article in question (a self-described “militant feminist”), it seems to be about pointing out all the ways men have more freedom than women – even people described as men at birth who would prefer to live their lives as women, who have a need and a desire to live as women – and how unfairrrrr that is. As tempted as I am to go into that more, I think Ms. O’Riordan has already covered it wonderfully. Instead, I will say this:

I think feminism is about freedom. And here’s the thing: if we can’t all be free, then none of us are free.

Feminism is about basic human rights. The right to be oneself. The right to live free of hatred. The right to live free of violence. The right to live free of shame. Feminism is more than just a women’s issue. And if I accept that feminism is a human rights issue, then I accept that feminism is about supporting the rights of those around me.

Feminism means supporting the rights people of color have to be seen always as equals, as peers, as who they are and not their racial history. It means supporting their right to be free of hatred, shame, persecution, prejudice, bias, violence. It means supporting their right to have a voice. I lend that support gladly.

Feminism means supporting the rights the LBGTQ community has to live life in the open, to seek and find and celebrate relationships as freely as the straight community does. It means supporting their right to be free of violence, hatred, shame, persecution, prejudice, bias. It means supporting their right to have a voice. I lend that support gladly.

Feminism means supporting the rights that trans people of all genders have, to be called not by the gender they were assigned at birth but by the gender they have always known themselves to be, to live life openly, at home in their own body. It means supporting their right to be free of bias, violence, hatred, shame, persecution, prejudice. It means supporting their right to have a voice. I lend that support gladly.

Feminism means supporting the rights that women have, to be treated as human beings and not decorations or toys or children. It means supporting their right to be free of prejudice, bias, violence, hatred, shame, persecution. It means supporting their right to have a voice. I lend that support gladly.

Feminism means supporting the rights that men have, to be treated as human beings and not cavemen or animals or simpletons. It means supporting their right to be free of persecution, prejudice, bias, violence, hatred, shame. Yes, it means supporting their right to have a voice. Yes, I lend that support gladly.

And I hope I can rely on that same support in return.

Feminism is about educating oneself. It means not just pointing out the privilege of others, but examining one’s own privilege and realizing the ways in which we, too, are flawed and prejudiced. It means re-structuring our beliefs to be more inclusive. Feminism is not about taking away rights; it is about extending them. It is about recognizing the humanity in every living soul; it is about respecting that humanity. It is not enough to support the rights of those like us or those that agree with us. Believing in equal rights means believing even in the rights of our oppressors. That does not mean supporting their presumed “right” to oppress us; but it means recognizing the humanity even in those we consider the enemy. It means understanding that the system, the kyriarchy, The Man, screws us all up; it implants false belief systems and skewed world views in all of us. It means realizing our jailors also live in a cell.

Regardless of who we are or how we live our lives, we are all in this together. Screaming angry slurs across lines drawn in the sand will not get us anywhere. It doesn’t matter which side of the line we’re on. We are all human. We are all in this together.

Until all of us are free, none of us are free.


I’ve felt for a long time that the name I was assigned at birth (let’s say it was… Jenny) doesn’t fit me. Jenny wasn’t a word that described me; it was just a label tacked on so people would know what to call me. It was a name that carried with it all the associations of my childhood, all the expectations of parents and relatives long before I came into this world.

Jenny is the name attached to the person my parents want me to be.

Almost exactly a month ago, I posted this brilliant post by Cliff Pervocracy to my Facebook feed along with a comment that simply said “Hey, internet, I think I wanna be called Penny* now. Is that cool?” The three folks who responded (none related to me by blood) all said that yes, that was in fact cool. Since then, my husband and the friends I see in person have been doing their best to call me by my chosen name. I’ve been doing my best to introduce myself under my chosen name. (Not making the change legal, however, makes for some awkwardness around the employment area. Still working on that.)

A couple days ago, in accordance with the New Year and fresh beginnings and all that, I changed my Facebook name. (It also forced me to put in my full last name, instead of just the initial I had in there when I started the damn account.) By the time I got up the next morning, I already had a message from my mother asking “Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?”

I replied that I was still here, thank you, just making some changes. The response to that was, “Don’t change too much, we like you the way you are.”

Maybe I’m snatching an insult out of the jaws of a compliment, here. I’m willing to admit that’s possible. But if I don’t like me the way I am, shouldn’t I be allowed to change as much as I deem appropriate? I don’t even want to ask how much is too much, because that implies that I care if I change “too much” for my parents’ tastes. Truth is, I don’t. They’re going to love me or not love me however much and in whatever way they decide. It’s taken me decades to realize that I don’t have control over whether or not they love and understand me. It’s not my responsibility.

I have a problem with “we like you the way you are.” The way I am is not the way I am – it’s the way they think I am. And that is a lie; that is a trap. The way they think I am is a prison cell, and I have been confined my whole life. It wasn’t until I moved away that I first breathed free air.

It’s for reasons like this that I sometimes resent our technological age. A hundred years ago, I could have conceivably cut all ties when I moved away. I could have run off to join the circus, literally or figuratively. I could make all the changes I want and never worry about whether or not certain people find out. But in this day and age, everyone leaves a trail. Everything leaves a string attached. There are no more ways to simply disappear – not without severely disadvantaging yourself. There will always be the expectations of others, hovering like a cloud around my head.

If I am choosing a life free of the expectations of others, then I must enable myself to choose a name that is free of those expectations, too. And simply the act of choosing is an act of power, an act of agency.

As Cliff puts it:

I like the idea of a chosen name.  In my despotic utopian fantasies, everyone would have to change their name (or consciously and explicitly choose to keep their birth name) upon reaching adulthood.  (Or better yet, every ten years.  This would result in a lot of middle-schoolers named Rocketship Dinosaur McExplosion and that’s awesome.)  It’s such a big and important part of your identity, it seems odd to just go with whatever you were handed.

I have a theory that everyone deserves more choices. Imagine being that middle schooler, being given the opportunity to choose your own name for the first time ever. For some kids, it may be the first choice they’re ever given concerning their identity. This is actually brilliant, because in this despotic utopian fantasy, a person’s right to choose is recognized and celebrated. In this dreamworld, every ten-year-old child has their personhood and right to self-identify affirmed and uplifted. What a powerful feeling that would be – to make a choice about your identity and have it respected. How many more of us would have chased how many more dreams, if only we’d known our choice to follow those dreams would have been respected?

This touches on another point, also eloquently stated by Cliff:

Honoring our own desires is not something we’re taught to do.  It’s assumed that kids are balls of cheerfully self-indulgent id already, that all you have to be taught is how not to eat everything and hump everything and name yourself Rocketship.  The lesson on “actually, indulging yourself in safe and considerate ways is not just okay but necessary” never really comes.

I’m changing because I want to change. Part of that desired change is my name. Part of it is how I honor my sexuality. Part of it is how I treat my body. Part of it is how I adorn my body. Part of it is the type of work I do, part of it is how much or how little I share of myself, part of it is the boundaries I set and the ways I deal with the things that have happened in the past.

All of it is about being allowed to want. All of it is about letting go of the shame I feel at wanting things. All of it is about gaining the confidence to be really, truly, 100% myself.

And that starts with a new name.

*Penny is not actually my new chosen name. It is, however, my Superwoman-esqe alter ago. And I will answer to it just as happily, because I chose it, too.


Ok. I’ve got a problem with the friend zone.

I’ve seen this applied in memes more than I’ve heard it in real life, but it seems like it’s friggin’ everywhere. And I know what it means: something along the lines of “Duude, that chick is totally hot but you’re being all nice to her and she’s just USING you for it! You are so not getting laid right now, brah.”

Right. Because every guy wants to, immediately and without exception, fuck every woman he spends more than two minutes around. And holy shit, if you ever actually DO anything for her, she’d better be willing to put out, man. Especially if you spend money.

Friend zone as a concept bugs me mainly because it gets held up as this example of utter failure on the guy’s part, and by some weird inference paints the girl in question as some heartless bitch. So let me tell you about a guy I “friend-zoned,” and you can tell me if a) it was really that bad, and b) I’m getting the term right.

I’ll call him Ty.

I think we met over a game of New World of Darkness; he is, to this day, one of the best damn GMs I’ve ever had the pleasure of roleplaying with. (And one of the most infuriating; it took about five years after the game ended for me to get him to tell me the story arc he had planned for my character – a policewoman who came home to find her husband brutally and ritualistically murdered, and her son missing. As a player, I didn’t know who committed the murders, but my character was laser-focused on finding the bastards. The game eventually disintegrated when I realized the group I was working with wasn’t interested in finding out who killed my husband and took my son. Then he refused to tell me what the answer really was. FOR. FIVE. YEARS. Like, I seriously only found out a few months ago.)

He is a generous and funny guy. His sense of humor is wretchedly offensive but unmistakably hilarious; and he is offensive toward everyone pretty much equally, which somehow makes it ok. I do remember early on I had to ask him a couple of times to lay off the rape and dead baby jokes; they are particularly triggery for me. Once he understood where I was coming from, though, he was good at remembering that Those Topics = Not Funny for me. He is also the type that will do absolutely anything for a friend in need – and I have been a rather needy friend over the years.

Here are some of the things he and I have done together:

Had dinner many times. Complete with drinks. He paid.
Had lunch many times. Both with drinks and without. He paid.
Had breakfast together. Crepe cakes are amazing. So is breakfast pot pie.
Been blindingly, vomiting-so-hard-I-peed-my-pants drunk. He brought me a fresh pair of (his) pants to wear. I spent the night on his futon.
Played Fallout: New Vegas. Apparently I’m a better shot than I thought.
Went to opening night of Iron Man.
Gone furniture shopping. He needed a better couch that wasn’t bachelor furniture.
Talked about going clothes shopping. For him.
Vegged on the couch and watched TV together. Lots of Top Gear and Mythbusters.
Played more board games than are probably healthy for any living being.
Taught me to play Magic: The Gathering. He gave me an embarrassing amount of Magic cards as a birthday gift when he saw how much I enjoyed it.
Got thrashed as a team at a Magic tournament (Two-Headed Giant format). Had fun anyway.
Fixed my computer when I got a virus on it & couldn’t afford to pay Geek Squad.
Talked an hour or more on the phone to keep him from getting so bored he drove off the road on his way home.
Talked on the phone to keep me from getting bored at all.
Tried sushi with steak in it (it was delicious). Yeah, he paid then, too.
Talked about sex, cross dressing, the female orgasm, the male orgasm, why my breasts are actually not too small at all, why people say and do stupid things, why work sucks, just how much of an asshole his boss is, just how much of an asshole his clients can be, just how much of a bag of dicks my various employers and customers can suck, computers, cell phones, government conspiracies, cake, how many parts he’s had surgically replaced and for what reasons, why one nut is just as good as two, why high school sucked particularly hard for me, and just about anything else under the sun.
Got two different kinds of cake for my birthday because apparently “Chocolate or carrot cake sounds good” is not actually making up my mind.
Got coffee together. He paid (except for that one time when I totally ninja’d the bill).
Rushed me to urgent care when I suddenly turned white(r than usual) and couldn’t stand up because I was in so much pain. Pushed me around in a wheelchair till they could get me in. (Ovarian cysts suuuuck.)
Packed, moved, and unpacked all his stuff once.
Packed, moved, and unpacked all my stuff multiple times.

I’m looking at this list right now, and even in my head I’m going “Jeez, when is this chick going to put out? Why hasn’t he made a move yet?”

But here’s the thing. I happen to be married to the guy who introduced me to Ty. In our six or so years of friendship, there has never been a time where I wasn’t dating, engaged to, or married to this dude that Ty calls friend. And I guarantee you this: you will see a unicorn jump out of a pile of leprechaun shit and play Calvinball with Jesus and Santa Claus* before you’d ever see Ty break up a friend’s relationship. Plus, he’s had a girlfriend for a significant portion of that list.

He never did these things to get laid, and certainly not by me. He did these things because that’s what friends do. He did these things because he gave a shit about me, saw me as a real person with needs and desires and not a hell of a lot of expendable income, and wanted to spend time enjoying my company. And that of my husband. If we tried to pay him back, simply for the meals and events he’s covered in order to have us along, we’d go bankrupt tomorrow. If we tried to pay him back for the support and friendship he’s offered in addition to that… well, we’d never be able to. I’d like to think that the friendship and camaraderie we enjoyed was enough; Ty always certainly seems to think so.

He has been a loyal and steadfast friend, the kind that you can depend on for absolutely anything. He has been there for some of my worst moments; and for some of my best. And there has never been anything that was too weird, too ugly, too nerdy, too girly, or too anything-else for him to accept. He’s never asked for anything in return.

Yeah, I have a friend zone. It’s where my friends are.

 

*Unicorns lack the necessary fine motor skills for Calvinball. 



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