Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Year 2020

Love from me, hanging with the sea turtles on Jekyll Island, Georgia

December 31, 2019
updated January 5, 2020

I told everyone I was leaving Portland to spend the winter in Mexico.  That’s mostly true, but what I failed to say is that first, I am spending 2 weeks on Jekyll Island, Georgia.

I guess I didn’t disclose that part because 1) I love the quiet here and I don’t want everyone in the world to come here and ruin it for me; and 2) West coast people are blissfully unaware of the South, it seems.  The few times I mentioned it, people looked at me blankly, as if I were talking about Soviet Georgia.  No, Georgia, USA, you know?   Jekyll Island, formerly the haunt of the rich, is now thankfully accessible to us ordinary people, and much much more down to earth than say, Hilton Head.  And home to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center which provides medical care and rehabilitation for sea turtles whom they name and display their story of catastrophe and salvation on each of their individual rehabilitation pools.  Who can resist donating or just loving them up?*

I have new turtle earrings, a turtle necklace and a greeting card of turtles from around the world.  I guess turtles are my thing, come to think of it.  I had a tragedy early in life involving a turtle, which I won’t go into here.  Maybe they are my totem; I did see a quite large turtle on the side of the road last June in Wyoming while I was on my way from Custer, SD to Devils Tower National Monument.  What in the world was he doing there?  Although there weren’t many cars on that particular stretch of highway, I worried that he just wouldn’t make it across, if that was where he was headed.  (Later, someone said I should have picked him up and escorted him across the road.  Really?)  Actually, I would have liked to have taken him home, but I don’t really have the means to care for him properly.  But he blessed my life, for sure, and I pray that he is all right.

So, 2019.  My god, what a year!  I guess every year is momentous in its way; but this year was sheer grace and miracle.  It started in 2018 when a Man at Church asked me to house a Speaker he had invited to our church.  Sure, I said.  I have space.  Happy to help out.  A week before the event, Man at Church said, “I hope you’ll be all right, Connie,” alluding to the Speaker being in my house overnight.  Massive PTSD ensued for me; what was he implying?  That I would be raped and murdered in my own bed, and by a highly educated white man and national figure in the progressive camp, someone YOU asked me to house?  What the, what the f---?  

I found out that I do have a lock on my bedroom door, and I used it that night.  Of course the Speaker turned out to be a delightful, benign guy whom I am sure would be horrified to know that he was ever implicated in this kind of ugly terrorist attack on me.  Because that is the way I took it; that men hate me so much that I am never safe from their deep-seated desire to do me harm.  And if they can’t harm me directly, they can implicate someone else in my demise.

And yet I could not address this with Man at Church for some months, while I spun down the rabbit hole of trauma, rape and threatened murder.  Will it never end, even at my age, I thought.  Even as a minister, activist, leader, preacher, teacher and so on, I am above all else a woman, possessing a body that can be raped and murdered, and men just don’t want to let me forget it.

I hung in there at church for a few more months, attending the monthly social justice group meeting Man at Church ran.  At the January meeting I said, “I want to invite Author to come to Portland.”  Enthusiasm all around.  “But I don’t know how to get in touch with him.  Maybe David (who wasn’t at the meeting) knows.”  Man at Church said, “I will get with David and we will contact Author.”

At the March meeting of the social justice group, Man at Church announces that no one in the group is doing labor.  “No one,” meaning me, of course, said that not only had I been doing farm workers all these years, but I was also supporting workers who were trying to unionize through my work with Jobs with Justice.  No mention was made of Author.  In the meeting, another Man at Church taunted me in a way that made my skin crawl.

I am out of there.  I contact David myself and get Author’s email.  David and I work on all the arrangements and I invite Author to stay in my house, which he does the night before his presentation at church.  I don’t need any intermediaries here; if I am raped and murdered in my own bed then so be it; at least I am the one who brought it onto myself, not some asshole who hates me while pretending otherwise.

Of course, Author was another delightful, benign guy whom I am sure would be horrified to know of the context in which he stayed in my house.  I wasn’t ever really worried about him, though I did lock the bedroom door just in case. He turned out to be much more than benign.  He actually seemed to listen and even care about me.  He was kind and gracious.  We had surprising things in common, like being an entrepreneur, hating grant writing, and being unwilling to sell our souls to assholes.  He said that late in life, he starting writing books.  I thought, “I hope it happens to me.”  

Suddenly I think that maybe I don’t hate men, after all, at least not as a generalization and not as I was accused of in the early days of feminism, when standing up for women automatically got me accused of being a man-hater.  That I do hate some men is true, and they have earned it.  That some of them - many, it seems - hate me: no, I haven’t earned that.  I don’t know what to do with all of this.  I tell Sister Laura that if I am not a man-hater, I don’t know who I am anymore.  She assures me this is a Both/And situation, not an Either/Or.  I can hate what men do, but still like or even love them in their humanity.  I remember the pattern of old men in my life, men who show up to support me:  the two Jerry’s in Seattle, Andy in Portsmouth, Tom in San Diego, Victor in Los Angeles, Kaku in Eugene, Warren in Salem, Dad after he died, still faithful to me after 25 years.  I realize that what is wrong is that no old man has found me in Portland, although I was surprised that the elderly men’s group at church asked me to facilitate their annual retreat at the beach.  Surely I need to write about this to figure it out.

And so I find myself on Jekyll Island, away from the activist and ministerial demands, blissfully reading and writing and walking the beach.  I am alone here, possibly the only person alone on this island during this holiday time.  No matter.  I am doing exactly what I want to do, what I need to do.  CNN just a little, movies on cable.  

Everything is coming together for me now; these words pour out of me onto the page, tears flow.  I sing and pray and talk to myself and all the shopkeepers on the Island.  I tell part of my story to one of the shopkeepers, a 75 year old man with a wife he is totally devoted to and “hundreds of girlfriends” and we laugh and laugh.  I’m going to make it after all.  

I stumbled upon a book in DC in early December which led me to Lacy Johnson’s The Other Side, her powerful story of being kidnapped and raped by a former lover.  From there I read her book, The Reckonings: Essays on Justice for the Twenty-first Century, which has empowered me to speak my truth, to claim the injustice of the violence that has been inflicted on me in the name of love, to know that the memory is in my body, where, as she writes, “ might reemerge, perfectly preserved, at any time.”  

To not be silent anymore.  No one gets a pass from me for this.  No one gets to claim, as Man at Church did when I finally confronted him, that he was just worried about me.  No, you don’t get to terrorize me and then pretend to be Mr. Nice Guy, or worse, My Savior.  You are my Tormentor, and you have harmed me.

God Goddess Spirit of Life Holy One Old Men Turtles and all the Ancestors, we are in this together now.  I finally have the strength to own my own experience of rape and abuse, come what may.  Lacy Johnson writes that

“It seems impossible to speak about rape precisely because this threat of violent retribution is real, whether explicit or implicit, but also because of the widespread belief in our culture that rape is an aberration: a violence so unthinkable, so unfathomable, so taboo as to render it unspeakable.  It is unspeakable, we are told, because respect for the sanctity and integrity of a woman’s body is the norm.  This is, of course, not the way most women have experienced their own bodies throughout history.  For most women, rape has been the norm and respect the exception.”
Oh, preach it girl.  Let us preach it with one strong voice.  

Let us turn our attention from the victim, to the perpetrator.  What makes so many ordinary men rape?  What makes a college student sexually assault an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster?  What makes his father defend him and insist that he should get probation, because jail time would be “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”  What makes the victim completely irrelevant, before, during and after the attack, those mere 20 minutes of “action” guaranteed to leave her with life-long debilitating consequences?[1]

In my 2017 end of year reflection, I noted, “Who knew at the beginning of the year that sexual abuse would finally come out of the closet?  It gives me the courage, finally, to say, #MeToo.”  Two years later, we learn of more rapes and assaults by ordinary men and famous men and highly educated white men and Presidents and Judges, with more people defending the perpetrators on the basis that “boys will be boys.”  

In Men Are More Afraid Than Ever: Why Kavanaugh advocates would rather defend malfeasance than deny it[2], Lili Loofbourow explains why people are rushing to defend these perps:  “This trend isn’t really that mysterious, of course. The reason for this panicked defense of assault—even as Kavanaugh continues to firmly deny it—is fear.  Not fear that the system will punish men wrongly, but that it will punish them rightly.”

My prayer is that as I, ordinary woman, have found my voice concerning my own experience of violence, rape, assault, torment and threatened murder at the hands of ordinary men – friends, relatives, husbands, co-workers, dates - only once did a threat come from a total stranger – more ordinary women will also find their voice and tell the truth.  Likely it will be a total surprise to their closest intimates.  But maybe then men can truly understand the reality of their wives and daughters and sisters lives and seek to protect them from it.  Right this horrible wrong.  Maybe then men can take an honest inventory of their own thoughts, feelings and actions when it comes to women, all women.

Lili Loofbourow goes on to say

“It was clear that men and women were universally comfortable with the [#metoo] movement as long as its targets were unregenerate monsters like Harvey Weinstein, and it was just as clear that the tides would shift once attention expanded to the scope of what women routinely put up with.  Eventually, as I wrote then, there would be an attempt to “naturalize sexual harassment.  If there are this many men doing these things, then surely this is just how men are!”
Men, I demand that you do better.  I pray that you do better.  No cheap grace here; forgiveness may be in the offing, but not until there is a true reckoning with the harm you have done.

I am going to make it, after all, and more than that, I will thrive.  Now I am sure that the assholes will not win no matter how much they threaten and torment me.  I am free and stunningly grateful for this beautiful life I have: freedom and love, and love and love and love.

Best wishes for a wonderful New Year, and New Life. 
All my love, Connie

My adopted daughter, Glitter Mittens, "coota" in Gullah language
*January 5 update:  I fell in love with and “adopted” a Green Turtle named Glitter Mittens.  She came to the Center on June 30, 2019 after she was found floating near Morning Star Marina in Savannah, GA after being hit by a boat. The injury caused a severe head fracture and displacement of her left eye out of the socket.

When Glitter Mittens first arrived, she was in critical condition and placed on a waterbed. Once Glitter Mittens became more stable, her left eye was removed and the skull fracture was stabilized. Glitter Mittens got her name from the “mittens” the Center staff devised for her to keep her from accidentally disconnecting the oxygen tubing she needed in the first critical days.

Glitter Mittens is recovering well and is scheduled to be released in the Spring 2020.  As her adopted mother I will be receiving emails and pics from her, and, I hope, an invitation to her release party if they make it a public event.  The staff say that sea turtles, even without an eye and/or a flipper, do quite well back in the wild.  I love you Glitter Mittens!  Mommie 

Copyright 2019 Constance B. Yost. All rights reserved.