Everything Wrong with My Blog Post on Ruth

Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with it. As I recall, it was a slightly tongue-in-cheek feminist takedown of a meme and the typical ways in which a particular Bible story is read divorced of historical context and through the lens of modern romance.

You know what is wrong, though? The fact that people keep commenting on a blog post that’s over four years old and acting 1) as if it’s brand new or 2) as if somebody else wrote it or 3) passive-agressively as if my read on Ruth is completely and incredibly wrong. I’m sick and tired of it. Y’all clearly are finding this post somehow, because even though it was written in APRIL 2014, it’s still getting more views than any of my other posts on a regular [daily] basis.

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Views on July 4, 2018 @ 3:46 pm

Should I begrudge the people who are only interested in Ruth? No. Glancing back through the comments that I approved in 2016 and 2017, several people said that they’d been encouraged in their faith or inspired to read Ruth in a new light through that post. That’s cool; that’s fine, and that’s honestly why I’ve left the post up and active for so long. But what you can’t see are the comments I’ve deleted over the years.

I seriously have to wonder who jumps onto a four-year-old blog post and proceeds to leave multi-paragraph long passive-aggressive comments that are so far off the mark from what the original post even says. Like, in addition to ignoring the tone and context of the book of Ruth, they’ve gone out of their way to ignore the tone and context of the post.

I did some digging last year about why people kept finding and commenting on this stupid post, and I found out that someone had reblogged it without permission and without crediting me as the writer. It turned out that most of the comments coming into my post and being screened by me were from people who weren’t coming to my blog at all, but a third-party site. You can see them on my blog as well, which is lucky for you all because when I went looking again just now it seems the site has gone down. But for a while there, I was fielding a sudden increase of hateful commentary because someone had essentially stolen my writing. The increase in page hits thanks to this has led to a permanent rise in the frequency with which people stumble across this 2014 post and decide to comment on it.

This comment came in today:

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Screenshot from my Gmail with the commenter’s name removed.

This person’s big issue is with the idea of a marriage of convenience, and okay sure, if you want to talk about that, it’s a valid critique. In my post from 2014 (did I mention it was from 2014 yet?), I allege that the union between Ruth and Boaz is a marriage of convenience for both parties in order to ensure economic stability for Ruth and Naomi. Historically speaking, this is accurate. And guess what — there is nothing wrong with that. The commenter seems to believe that God would never allow a marriage of convenience because God created everything and therefore…well, you can read it again, if you want to. On a theological level, as well as a historical and sociopolitical level, I disagree with this assertion. It’s rooted in the idea that romantic love and romance/marital heterosexual sex are the ultimate expressions of God’s love, and that this marriage between Ruth and Boaz is a direct allegory to the marriage of the Church and Christ, so of course God would have protected them both from something as awful as a marriage of convenience.

Don’t fool yourselves just because most marriages in the West are now formed with romantic love as the center (Mark Manson, The Observer) which brings two people together; marriage has always and will always be a socioeconomic contract for the purposes of legally binding assets and ensuring inheritance/succession/species repopulation (JR Thorpe, Bustle). Most marriages have been, historically (Peggy Fletcher Stack, Huffington Post), marriages of convenience on one level or another. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that fact, especially in the context of Ruth.

The commenter goes on to talk about how God is love, as if this alone proves that there was more going on between Ruth and Boaz than convenience. They write as if marriages of convenience are by necessity sexless, and since God “delights in every detail” (no reference, and I have no idea what the citation is, thanks commenter) of our lives, R&B were clearly banging. After all, God created that, too!

But that’s not my issue with the comment. My issue with the comment is the way it opens. They say “Saying it was a marriage of convenience makes it sound like you lack and [sic] understanding of God’s character. One of the most important reasons to study the Word is that we may understand God’s character.”

Here’s the thing about Ruth and God’s character: It’s not about Boaz. Boaz is set up as the kinsman-redeemer, which in a post-Christ world reads heavily as allegory for Christ on the cross, therefore Boaz equals love of God, etc….that’s the type of reading of Ruth that my original post was arguing against. Ruth is the center of her own narrative; Boaz doesn’t even appear until chapter two.

Do you want to talk about God’s character and how God is love and how God delights in the details of our lives and knows our desires and “gives us ‘all things richly to enjoy'” (again, no citation in the comment)? Then read the book of Ruth and for maybe fifteen minutes of your life, imagine that God is revealing God’s character through her and not through a man. Ruth suffers loss and pain in the death of her husband Mahlon. She chooses Naomi as her family and stays with her, supports her, carries her burdens. She sacrifices her home, her blood relatives, her culture, all to care for Naomi. She loves Naomi, and her actions are all done in order to achieve stability for Naomi (including marrying Boaz). God reveals the character of love through Ruth, not through Boaz. Boaz is insignificant to the understanding of God’s character. God works in Ruth and through Ruth for Ruth and Naomi and the future of humanity. God works in women and through women for people. God is love, and God loves women. THAT is the character of God at work in the book of Ruth. Not a weak, misread romance which places the importance of marriage at the center.

So, if you’re reading this in 2018 or 2028 or 2097, stop telling me that I lack understanding of the character of God just because I don’t value romantic love and marriage between men and women over the personhood and volition of women in non-romantic relationships with other women, just because I’m willing to see God revealed through more than just a worn-out allegory that makes no historical sense. Overvaluing romantic love and marriage as your way to interpret God and the Bible is toxic, because let’s face it:

Marriage isn’t love. God is.

Cite your fucking sources.

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Two Years In, Still Going, Staying…

It’s crazy to think that this time two years ago, I was still living in PA and waiting to find out whether or not I would be able to begin the PhD program here at UMass Dartmouth. The past two years have been challenging, to say the least, but also time and again, I feel confident that I made the right decision in pursuing a Ph.D. in Portuguese. So much has changed, though. It took me until the middle of the summer last year to finally start piecing together what I want with this degree, and I couldn’t fully vocalize it until partway through the fall semester. And guess what–what I want is still probably a bad idea! BUT that doesn’t mean I’m not going to go for it.

I don’t want to look back on the past two years and just think about my future plans, though. I want to also acknowledge the roller coaster of highs and lows that they’ve been for what they are: difficult. This semester was the first semester since starting my Ph.D. where I decided to truly dedicate myself to getting my mental health in balance again, and that came at a cost in regard to my schoolwork. Halfway through the semester, I began taking Lexapro, and while it’s done wonders for my daily anxiety and I’ve had fewer and typically less severe panic attacks, I also had a rough adjustment phase. I slept so much those first few weeks, and when I was up, I was barely cognizant of what I was doing. I’ve also been having a major skin problem since March, and at this point I’ve seen four medical professionals in different settings, taken steroids and antibiotics, been prescribed ointments and creams; I even have a skin test coming up soon… I know that my work suffered, my in-class participation suffered, and even my term papers the past few days suffered because of prioritizing my health. But it was necessary, because let me tell you…you don’t want to know.

When I wrote that post last March (2017), I said: “I hate that my mental illness is officially getting out of control, that I need help but can’t afford it, that I feel so alone when my key contact people live in DC and PA. But more than anything, I hate that my mental illness impacts my academic life. I love academia, love taking classes and writing papers and learning new things. I love challenges and puzzles and critical theory. I love reading novels and watching films and then dissecting them with a critical lens. And while I don’t love teaching, I do appreciate the fact that I am in a position to maybe intrigue someone younger than me in an academic way and share with them what I know. I love academics and I love studying, and my illness makes these things that I love become miserable and detestable and nearly impossible to do.”

In order for me to begin enjoying the things that I love about academia again, I had to place it second in my life. I had to find a way to get my mental health in check, because I was dying without support. I was dying, and I don’t say that lightly.

I don’t know when I started having suicidal thoughts the first time, but if I had to guess, it was my freshman year of undergrad. Growing up, one of my closest friends attempted suicide more than once, so I’ve always known the weight and impact of those thoughts on loved ones, and more often than not, this alone has helped me break out of them. I’ve written before about the immense feelings of guilt I carried after being abducted, and it was really my freshman year of college when my PTSD symptoms became a bigger problem than just depression. After my tumultuous first serious relationship in undergrad with a person who just did not respect me and manipulated me and took advantage of my triggers, I reached a very low point. I felt like dying, and I knew that what you do when you feel like you might hurt yourself is to get rid of the things that you have access to that you might use to hurt yourself, so I did. I boxed up every single bottle of pain killer, sleep aid, migraine pills, everything I had, and handed it to my RA’s roommate. Unsurprisingly, I was coerced into counseling against my will…it was the right decision on their part. That same year, I remember going home for spring break and having such bad anxiety about going back to Nyack and such strong thoughts of self-harm that I told my mother that I thought I should check into a psych ward for a week instead. It always seemed to help my friend, even if just for a little while. Anyway, I worked through it, slowly, over the rest of that semester and the following year. The thoughts became passing, fleeting, as if they’d never existed in the first place, for a long time.

I’m not sure when I reached that point again, but it was sometime in the spring semester last year. I’d walk to the class that I taught and wish I could throw myself over the banister and fall from the third to the ground floor. I’d get so overwhelmed by the noise in the hallways that I’d get dizzy, and once I had a panic attack so strong on a day I had to teach that I threw up twice before class, had a pulse of over 200 and couldn’t hear or see clearly (I still went to class and taught). I’d cross streets late at night in dark clothing, terrified and convinced that I’d be run over by a speeding truck, wishing it would happen soon. I’d picture myself falling off of an overpass into speeding traffic, into a shallow river, into an ocean. I’d wonder how it feels to drown. I knew I needed help, but I couldn’t afford it, and I hadn’t hit low enough yet to convince myself that it was worth the cost.

I hit that low in October, and the only thing that kept me alive that weekend was the fact that I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t be able to afford the copays for the ambulance ride or the emergency room or the inevitable hospital stay, and who would take care of my cat? I started calling hospitals, therapist offices, searching online and making random guesses as to who might be a good fit. It took me two weeks to set an appointment with a doctor, which wouldn’t be until December. From there, her referral order for a psychiatrist got lost, and it wasn’t until February that I finally got in to see a psychiatric NP and a therapist.

I try to be open about my mental health, even when it’s in shambles. I try to be as honest and as real as possible, because I know that without this kind of conversation happening regularly, other people who feel like I do sometimes may never know that they are not alone. At this point in my life (and in my generation), most of my friends are struggling with some level of mental health problem, be it low-level social anxiety or panic disorder with agoraphobia, or bipolar disorder, or anything in between. Talking about my mental health helps me, helps my friends, and helps people I may never meet. I’ve almost never talked about my suicidal ideation, though. I talk about panic attacks and dissociating and PTSD relapses that cause flashbacks and other fun things, but this one thing (which, honestly, just comes with the territory of everything else that goes on in my mind) is something that I’ve kept under wraps.

Recently, I wrote a term paper for one of my classes on how suicide impacts the legacies of different authors, and how gender is a determiner in that post-suicide legacy. When my new therapist asked me what my papers were about on Tuesday and I began explaining this one, her response was to ask me if I was feeling suicidal. I wasn’t, and I said no, and then she said something like, “and you’ve never felt that way?” I knew it was a question, but the way it was phrased made me feel guilty for having the thoughts, for having come close twice before. This was only our second or third meeting, so we’re still feeling each other out, and I tried to be honest. I mean, I never even talked about this with Sharon, and Sharon was my therapist for years in Huntingdon. But I have this taboo about this one aspect of my mental illness that makes it so difficult to bring up. I told her, I’ve come close twice, that I have thoughts that I would never act on, but that I definitely am not planning on acting on them.

I’m not planning on acting on them.

This whole post has been a disjointed mess, but what I think I’m trying to say is that, when I look back over the past two years in my Ph.D. program, I know I’ve changed for the better. This time last year, this time eight months ago, I did not want to be alive.

Today, I do.

Anxiety High, Sexuality Bi

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For some reason, people don’t often say a lot of biphobic stuff to me (at least not to my face). I don’t really talk about my bisexuality with people who I think would say biphobic stuff, because I don’t think it’s worth my time or energy. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania; any topic regarding sexuality (including heterosexuality) was considered taboo to the point of danger. My public high school promoted abstinence-only sex education. My home church endorsed purity culture to the extreme. Sex-education, as I recall it, was half-filled with theological mandates to be fruitful and multiply within the sanctity of marriage and half-filled with graphic depictions of sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy, with the clear knowledge that abstinence and abstinence alone was the only valid method to preventing both. I can still visualize the chart of different contraceptive measures, with their percent efficacy listed alongside them. Abstinence was at the top, the font twice as large as every other item on the list with a giant 100% in boldface. At the time, this never bothered me because until I was in my early twenties, I was effectively asexual, having never once had a remotely sexual desire (I’ll get back to that soon).

Does the fact of my bisexuality cause me anxiety? I don’t think so. Do the opinions of others regarding my bisexuality cause me anxiety? Yes. It would be a lie to say otherwise, because yes. Just because it’s not the root cause, or even a major contributor to my experience with mental illness, my sexuality is a factor.

It’s not just the theologically questionable and morally repressed culture of right-wing conservativism that causes me anxiety surrounding my bisexuality. In fact, I think it’s the lesser of two evils, because at least this one is an evil I know. I was bred in conservative culture, raised in it and steeped in it. I remember, distinctly, telling a friend of mine who was clearly gay but not yet out that Jesus wasn’t okay with homosexuality. That was me in high school, and I said that horribly heinous thing to a friend because I had been raised by my greater culture to believe that the only way for me to show that kid my love as a friend was to “show him the light” (Scott, if you’re reading this, I am so sorry). As wrong as it is to be homophobic and biphobic, I understand it acutely.

The evil I don’t understand, is biphobia within the queer community.

Bi men are assumed to be gay and only using the bisexual label to ease into queerness. Bi women are accused of performative bisexuality for the sole purpose of titillating straight men. Bi people, especially women, are assumed to be experimenting and thus not serious about their sexuality, or they are assumed to be incapable of monogamous commitment and thus always open to threesomes or inevitable cheaters. Lesbians refuse to date bi women, specifying on their dating apps that we need not apply. We are told that because we are interested in what appear to be heterosexual relationships that we have “straight passing privilege,” which is ultimately an insidious term for “we are in the closet.”

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About a week and a half ago, I was asked to write about what a queer utopia would look like to me. I’ve had the question simmering in the back of my mind since then, and I’ve come to two conclusions. First, in my queer utoptia, biphobia wouldn’t exist, and second, I would not be suffering from anxiety.

I am often more comfortable in straight spaces than in queer spaces because I don’t know how to deal with biphobia from the queer community. I expect it from the straight community, especially the religious community that I grew up in and studied in undergrad. I went to Nyack College and was required to minor in Bible/Theology, along with everyone who went to Nyack College, and I loved it. I love theology. I also built my own unofficial minor in Women’s Studies at Nyack, and I loved it. I love it. The two intersected in two courses, both taught by the beautiful Amy F. Davis (who would surely disapprove of my bisexuality): Women in Christian Tradition and Male and Female in Biblical Perspective. It was in that second course (which I actually took first) that I learned the theological basis for the highly-patriarchal approach to gender relations endorsed by most right-wing evangelicalism, as well as the theological basis for the egalitarian approach to gender, a softly-feminist system of Biblical interpretation that affirms women in leadership roles. I know how to exist in religious spaces, not that I do it well anymore. I know how to exist in straight spaces.

When one is an asexual teen in purity culture, one is merely a devout follower. When one, at fifteen, declares that their first kiss will be on their wedding day, purity culture endorses this decision. The term “asexual” was used in biology class to refer to plants, not in sex ed to refer to approximately one percent of the population who are on the asexual spectrum. To be an asexual teen in purity culture is to be, essentially, straight. The only occasional passing thoughts I ever had about kissing other people involved my female friends, and even those thoughts were with the clinical detachment of a science experiment (experimentation in its truest sense) and were along the same lines of my passing thoughts of punching people in the face. It wasn’t I want to kiss this person because I am attracted to them. It was I wonder what the social fallout would be if I just kissed this person because I can? No lust or love behind it, just the curiosity of how it would affect the group dynamics. I never thought about dating anyone, male or female, ever. Even the couple of people I came close to properly dating in high school, I felt no genuine attraction to them sexually. I liked their personalities. Nothing ever lasted beyond handholding, which was not stimulating for me.

How did I go from being an asexual teen to being a bisexual young adult? I discovered sexual feelings through a sexually abusive relationship. I’ve written about it before; you can go back through my blog and find it, so I won’t go into detail on it again. After that relationship (thankfully) ended, I spent a month or so in a type of suspended shock, and then I realized, even when things had been consensual, I had never quite enjoyed them. I never once orgasmed with that abusive boyfriend, for all the hell he put me through. I didn’t understand. What was it about genital stimulation that people liked? I decided to find out, because I didn’t feel like I owned my body. I didn’t own my body, and I felt like finding a way to engage in sexuality would return that ownership to me. I dated another man, explored what I believed was my only option (heterosexuality) with him, and things ended in a blasé, stereotypical way.

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I went from asexual to sexually interested to coupled up with a decent dude so quickly that I hadn’t had time to explore all of my interests, so when it ended, I began internally wrestling with not only my newfound sex drive that wasn’t being fulfilled, but also my interest in the female body. It took another year and a half to two years to talk about these “sinful” feelings with a friend, and her response will always stay with me. She said, “Sometimes I think I could date a woman, if I found the right one.” That was the moment that we both realized that we were both struggling with the same repressed attraction to multiple genders, the same internalized homo/biphobia. Today, we both proudly identify as bisexual. My parents, being the amazing people they are, don’t care at all. Hers have told her they regret having loved her.

Would my queer utopia also be a place free of abuse? Damn straight.

Because of my particularly rural, particularly odd arrival at bisexuality, I don’t usually feel comfortable in queer spaces. Queer spaces are all too often tailored to gay men–urban gay men. When it comes to queer culture, I receive a message, whether intentionally or not, that queer spaces are not for me. I am a highly anxious semi-shut-in with no interest in leaving my house after dark and no interest in crowded, public spaces. I grew up in a town with a town curfew, for crying out loud. It’s not in me to go out and be sociable late at night. Yet, when I am presented with queer culture, it’s almost inevitably tied up with two things: gay bars and Pride Parades.

Putting aside how the severity of my anxiety and also lack of interest prohibits me from the bar/nightclub scene, let’s talk about Pride and bisexuality. When we talk about Pride and bisexuality, we are inevitably talking about bisexual erasure within the queer community. LGBTQ Nation tells it better in their feature on biphobia at Pride events, and who can forget that earlier this year, London Pride didn’t have any bisexual groups marching in their parade.

The question of a queer utopia is difficult for me, because when I am faced with the biphobia of the gay and lesbian communities, I don’t feel queer. I feel like a fake queer, because by being bisexual, I am not queer enough. If I remain single or date a man, I’m assumed to be straight, an ally and not queer, not closeted but passing-privileged.

Earlier, I mentioned two essentials for a queer utopia. The first was the end of biphobia, and the second was the end to my anxiety. What do these have in common? I’ve already said that, while my anxiety about everything is high, it’s relatively low in regards to my sexuality.

But it’s still there, and statistically, it’s there for a lot of bi people.

Statistically, bi women are more likely to experience two things: mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and sexual harassment/assault. There are lots of reasons for this, I’m sure, and independent of sexuality, people in my age range also have increasingly higher rates of anxiety and depression. Anxiety is, in my opinion, a public health crisis that is being treated like a national joke. My anxiety (more Generalized than Social, but with touches of both) is severe, and I know other people with severe anxiety. I know gay men, straight men, bi men, trans men with severe anxiety, and the same can be said of women and genderqueer people. I also know people with moderate and mild anxiety.

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I want to know, in actual research and not think pieces, why anxiety is such an epidemic in my generation, and I want to know (again, in actual research) why anxiety is such a plague for bisexual women specifically. My anxiety is almost completely unrelated to my sexuality, but the two still both exist as parts of me, and I am not alone in this. I have a little more than a passing knowledge of mental illness. I don’t study psychology formally, but I have been doing research on mental illness to support my fiction for years. In between all of the readings I’ve done and all of the papers I’ve written psychoanalyzing fictional characters (last semester I did depression in Niketche for a paper), I still can’t find a properly-researched answer as to why anxiety is on the rise the way it is.

But it is on the rise, and it is killing both me and many of my friends.

I don’t say “killing” lightly, either. Anxiety has a very high rate of confluence with other mental illnesses, especially other mood disorders like depression and bipolar, which most people already mentally associate with suicide, but anxiety disorders themselves are independently associated with suicide. The study I just linked to shows that 70% of people who have attempted suicide have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, especially but not limited to panic disorder and PTSD. According to the ADAA, 53% of adults are unaware that people with anxiety disorders are at risk of suicide. Add into this the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death in people aged 10-24, and that LGBTQ+ youth are five times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide (info from The Trevor Project), we can hopefully understand why bi women like myself are at increased risk.

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We aren’t being protected by the majority culture because we aren’t straight enough, and we aren’t being protected by queer spaces because we aren’t gay enough. We are at risk.

How can I imagine a queer utopia that is anything other than a place where anxiety does not exist? Even if what I am anxious about is more often than not unrelated to my sexuality, they are statistically relevant to each other, and that scares me. It scares me that, in addition to the mounting flood that is my anxiety, my anxiety is not unique to me. I am not alone in this, and that is honestly more horrifying to me than if I was.

Ota-Pros-and-Cons

So I don’t normally write reviews of conventions, because I normally have a really good time at conventions. But Otakon 2017 was such a mixed bag of a con, that I don’t really know how to process it right now. Thus, Pros and Cons

Pros

  1. Location– Otakon used to be held in Baltimore, but by last year, they had outgrown their space, and so this year they moved into DC to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. This is a great location for an anime convention, since it’s only a couple blocks away from Chinatown. Weebs really like ramen, so this was a great thing.
  2. Panels– I like panels in general, but sometimes the panels at cons are terrible. The three panels that I went to were all wonderful. Two of them were by the same people (Gay Breakfast; check them out), and I am a noted fan of these people, so there’s that to be considered when I think about panels, but the other panel I went to on using anime in the classroom was pretty cool, too, and my best friend the public school teacher really enjoyed it. So the panels I went to were a win.
  3. Staff organization– Every corner and intersection of the massively sprawling convention center was staffed by information desks or bag checks, and the people who worked at each of these stations were all incredibly friendly and helpful. It would be very easy to get lost in a place like that, but every time we did feel lost, someone was right there with maps to give us detailed directions on how to get to where we wanted to go.

Cons

  1. Dealer room– The dealer room at Otakon was overwhelmingly large. It was easily three times as large as the dealer room at Zenkaikon, and almost twice that of Anime Boston (at the very least, the space felt that way). I got lost and turned around and confused every time I was in the dealer room, and it was crowded enough to create an overwhelming atmosphere, but not crowded enough to feel justified, which left me wondering if it was just me overreacting or if it really was too much. On top of that, the merch available was really generic. The booths were overwhelmingly selling one of three types of merch, all of which is available on Amazon: manga, wall scrolls and vinyl figs, and plushies and pillows. I’m certain there were booths with unique merchandise, but the dealer room was so large and so overwhelming, that they were impossible to find.
  2. Artist Alley– The artist alley was smaller than the dealer room, but still very large. It also suffered from too many booths and not enough variety, making it difficult to want to engage in a purchase. I went into artist alley on a mission — Find Gay Breakfast. I own four of their prints already, and I was more than willing to buy another one. But I couldn’t find them. And I couldn’t find them. And I couldn’t find them. After their second panel last night, I literally followed them back to artist alley (not in a creepy way; they invited us), only to arrive and find out that they were clearing the room because of a leak in the ceiling caused by the thunderstorm outside. I didn’t get to make my purchase then, and after a lot of deliberation, we’ve decided to not go back into the con today, so I won’t get to. Because of the overwhelming layout of the room and the ceiling leak, those beautiful ladies are missing 15 dollars of revenue that they would have had, and I have to wait until the next con I see them at, which might not be until Zenkaikon 2018, to get that Korrasami in the flowers print.
  3. Panels– I know I put panels on the Pro list as well, but that was just the panels that I went to. I’m adding them to the Con list because of location and offerings. There were so many different panels being offered at a time (I think there were eight different panel rooms), but there honestly weren’t many panels being offered that I was interested in. And the panel rooms were located in two different locations that were pretty far apart, so getting from panel 8 in the Marriott to panel 1 in the convention center with only a 15 minute gap and the crowds to push through was pretty difficult. Like the dealer room and artist alley, the panel situation was too much of not enough.
  4. Location– Otakon just moved from Baltimore to DC, and with that, it’s moved into the cavernous Walter E. Washington Convention Center, and it is not big enough for this space yet. My guess is that Otakon will continue to grow, and in the next few years it will fill out the new space well enough, but for right now, it is weirdly situated in a box that’s too big. It’s like if a person gained weight and immediately went from wearing a size 8 to a size 14. That person might get to size 14 in time if they keep gaining weight, but they really only need a size 10 to be comfortable. I found the size of Otakon to be intimidating, but this was partially due to the flock-together nature of humans. Some places would be jam-packed and others would be nearly vacant, and there was no in-between.
  5. General Attendee Atmosphere– One of my friends (you can follow her on Twitter!) was cosplaying as Kanbaru from the Monogatari franchise on Friday. So this guy stops us and they get into a conversation about body positivity and fitness, which seems like a great conversation until he literally grabs her ass. I know a lot of people deal with harassment at cons, but I have been lucky enough that I’ve never really dealt with it. I’ve never witnessed anything like this happen to me or my friends before, and I have been to a lot of cons. I have been going to cons since what, 2011? This was my first Otakon, and also the first con where someone I know was physically violated. There were digital screens up everywhere throughout the con reminding people that cosplay is not consent and to not touch people without permission, but this obviously didn’t stop Ass-Grab-Dude.
  6. Money– Otakon is overpriced. There is nothing to distinguish this con from Anime Boston, Colossalcon, or even Zenkaikon which is smaller, but it is significantly more expensive. The con itself was $95 for first-time attendees who preregistered online; it was $100 at the door. To compare, I think Anime Boston 2017 was $70 at the door, and that was the most expensive con I’d been to until now. Colossalcon East, which will be September 8th thru 10th, is $50 for the whole weekend, and I believe that gives you access to the Kalahari’s waterpark as well. Zenkaikon 2018 has their rates up, and if you register before the 15th of August this year (two days from now), you can do the entire con for $40. At the door rate will be $60. In addition to that, hotel rates in downtown DC are ridiculous compared to any of the other locations of those other cons. If my teacher friend didn’t live in Alexandria, there’s no way we could have afforded to go to this con.

In conclusion, Otakon 2017 was an underwhelming convention and an overwhelming experience that was overpriced for what was offered. I was disappointed enough to write this post, and I wouldn’t go to this convention again.

Victor Nikiforov, Chechnya, and Protecting This World

Stop what you’re doing, because we need to talk about this man:

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Who is that beautiful, blushing, winking platinum-haired specimen of an animated man? That, my friends, is Victor Nikiforov (aka Viktor Nikiforov aka Victor Niliforv aka Vitya aka Ice Daddy). Victor Nikiforov is a Figure Skating Legend™, Extra as Fuck, Probably Depressed and Hella Gay. These are the foundational aspects of his character in the groundbreaking (heartbreaking) 2016 anime series Yuri!!! On Ice. Feast your eyes:

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S.1 Ep.2 Yuri’s Crush vs. Vitya’s Crush

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S.1 Ep.5 Actual Quote: “Seduce me with all you have.”

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S.1 Ep. 7, First on-screen kiss

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S.1 Ep.10, Proposal

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Victor Nikiforov is one half of one of the most important gay couples to ever grace my laptop screen, and probably yours too. You’re welcome. Ever since I saw the first episode of Yuri!!! On Ice, I immediately related to Victor’s other half, Katsuki Yuri. I have a lot more to say about Yuri, if I’m being honest. But I don’t want to talk about Yuri right now, I want to talk about Victor.

Those of us in the Yuri!!! On Ice fandom absolutely need to be talking about Victor.

Those of us who want to see equal protection and rights under the law for sexually/gendered non-normative people need to be talking about Victor.

We need to be talking about Victor Nikiforov, not because he is fly as fuck and could out-jump Patrick Chan, not because he is the kind of Extra where he would literally drop $50 on lip balm or $3,000 on a pair of shades just because he could, not because he is definitely shit at dealing with other peoples’ anxiety like most people without anxiety but tries anyway because he’s fucking in love. We need to talk about Victor Nikiforov because he is gay and he is Russian.

And right now, in Chechnya (which is part of Russia), that is a death sentence.

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Mitsuro Kubo and Sayo Yamamoto, the two beautiful geniuses behind Yuri!!! On Ice, made a conscientious decision to create a world in which homophobia doesn’t exist. Because of this, in this world, Victor is allowed to follow his crush halfway across the world, flirt with him so outlandishly that you will probably cry QUEERBAIT if you’ve never been spoiled on the series for the first half of season one, listen to his crush declare his love for him on live national television, kiss his crush-turned-boyfriend on live international television, get engaged at a cathedral in Barcelona with a choir singing in the background, and perform a similar pair ice dance with his fiancé in the exhibition skate at the Grand Prix Final.

The story of Yuri!!! On Ice would not, could not, exist in a world with homophobia. I read fanfiction sometimes (aka I read a lot of fanfiction for this series), and some of the best stories I’ve come across have been subtle retellings of the plot of Yuri!!! On Ice, only plus haters. When I started reading these stories back in December/January, I appreciated them and was thankful that YOI is how it is: joyous and full of life and love. These stories, where our characters that we know and love, who only want to be together and canonically can’t live without each other, ground the characters into our world, making the contrast between the two worlds even sharper.

Then the news about Chechnya broke, and the fandom has been almost silent.

It hasn’t been completely silent. I saw one story posted on AO3 that made reference to Chechnya. I saw one person share a link on a fan group to how to donate money to support gay men in Russia. But as the news gets worse and worse, the fandom is filling up with more and more fluff, more and more goofiness, more and more fanart and doujins and fics reveling in the physical intimacy of Victor and Yuri. I don’t have a problem with what’s there, but it’s what’s not there that speaks volumes.

If you love Yuri!!! On Ice like I do, you have got to be aware of what is going on in Chechnya, and you have got to be firmly against it. You have got to be a voice, however small it may seem, against the cruelty and violence being perpetrated against gay men in Chechnya all for the sake of being gay. If you’re a queer person who loves YOI for its representation, you need to be aware. If you’re a straight person who loves YOI for its plot and character development, you need to be aware. If you’re a mentally ill person who loves YOI for its accurate depiction of anxiety and depression (it me tho), you need to be aware. If you’re a straight-up fujoshi or fudanshi and you are only there for the ships and the doujins, you especially need to be aware, because you can’t consume gay media without supporting gay rights.

At least once a day, Adam’s captors attached metal clamps to his fingers and toes. One of the men then cranked a handle on a machine to which the clamps were linked with wires, and sent powerful electric shocks through his body. If he managed not to scream, others would join in, beating him with wooden sticks or metal rods.

As they tortured him, the men shouted verbal abuse at him for being gay, and demanded to know the names of other gay men he knew in Chechnya. “Sometimes they were trying to get information from me; other times they were just amusing themselves,” he said, speaking about the ordeal he underwent just a month ago with some difficulty.

(Link Here)

But you can’t just be aware, though that’s where we all need to start. Once you get aware, you have to act. You have to do something, anything, against this. Share this post, share the news articles linked throughout, and if you’re financially able to, consider donating to the Russian LGBT Network. Yesterday was the international day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and gay men are being tortured and killed right now in Russia, the home of your (and my) favorite gay anime characters.

The US is in a chaotic stretch politically right now, and a lot of that is related to Russia. Vladimir Putin is actively denying the gay pogrom in Chechnya, and the US is denying visas to gay Russians seeking to escape persecution. These men are fleeing for their lives, and they can’t come here. They can’t come to a country where a popular mall chain has literally a dozen tee shirts depicting a gay Russian man. Gay men are being killed in Chechnya right now.

People are being killed.

And I hate to remind you of the uncomfortable truth, but if our beloved Victor Nikiforov, King of Extra, were alive in our world instead of his, he would be in danger, too. Mitsuro Kubo has already sworn to us that she will protect Victor’s world. If we love Victor, and we all do, let’s be honest, we need to be the ones to protect this one. We need to protect gay men in Russia. We need to protect gay men in the United States. We need to protect queer people of all genders and all sexualities in both of these places and everywhere else.

We need to be Kubo-sensei for this world, because Kubo-sensei is only one woman in Japan with a pen and some paper, drawing out storyboards of a better, safer place than where we are now. We need to make her vision our reality.

And we need to remember that until we do, the longer it takes, people are being killed.

All the Things I’m Fucking Terrified Of (2014 Edition)

May 2017: I wanted to post something new on my blog, but I didn’t like what I was writing, so I deleted it from the drafts folder in WordPress. I realized that I had 16 posts in my drafts folder, dating back through the years. Some of them were only three lines long, while others were over a thousand words. This post, which I believe I wrote during my first year in my MFA at University of Tampa, was never published, and I honestly don’t know why, unless I decided it was too rambling back then? So here it is, a post from my drafts folder that never saw the light of day. Should be noted that I feel about 85% the exact same. The major difference is that I have undergone a desensitization process regarding buses and bus stations and can now function on city transit without major panic attacks. Sometimes I still deal with anxiety surrounding the bus system, and if men of a certain age/hair color approach me on a bus or at a bus stop, it’s a very quick ticket to PTSD hell, but overall this situation has improved a lot and improved my quality of life. I mentioned in this text below that I didn’t know whether I would end up pursuing a PhD, but I’m wrapping up my first year at UMass Dartmouth as a PhD student in the Portuguese department (where, *gasp* I taught Portuguese), so hopefully I will be able to continue on toward that degree and make it all the more attainable each year .

 

I am afraid of things that I think are weird to be afraid of, and I’m desperate to tell someone about these absolutely absurd fears.

I’m afraid of cancer.  It’s one of my biggest fears.  I don’t understand it, I can’t control it, and I can’t change it.  I’m afraid of developing some weird form of cancer and losing my hair to chemo and then dying.  I don’t have a family history of cancer, and the only person I’ve known who has died of cancer is my dog, so I shouldn’t, theoretically, be so afraid of cancer.  But I am.

I’m afraid of disappearing.  Kidnapping doesn’t happen like it does in the movie.  There’s no such thing as a ransom call.  I was extremely lucky that when I was abducted in 2008, I was able to escape.  But I didn’t escape completely unscathed; I’ve had to deal with extreme PTSD ever since.  And I mean I had three panic attacks two weeks ago because of triggers related to my abduction.

I’m afraid of ending up trapped in an abusive relationship.  I was in an abusive relationship before, and it was terrifying and exhilarating but mostly terrifying.  Mostly terrifying.  My second boyfriend was a beautiful human being for most of our relationship, but now that we’re not together, I am honestly terrified of ending up in another relationship like my first one.  I know so much more now about consent and control and the signs of an abuser, so chances are it wouldn’t happen like that, but I also know that it could.  And I’m afraid of dating anyone or seeking out a new boyfriend because I don’t trust any man to not sexually abuse me if given the chance except for people related to me and my second boyfriend.  If you’re a man and I know you, this probably extends to you, even if it’s just a pinch.

I’m afraid of bus stations.  Two of my three panic attacks mentioned above were directly the result of bus stations.  I mean, it’s fair:  I was kidnapped at a bus station.

I’m afraid of uncomfortable/awkward situations, like when the brother in Mrs. Doubtfire finds out that Mrs. Doubtfire is a man, and the awkwardness that immediately ensues, or the scene where Dobby uses a bunch of magic in the Dursley’s house and gets Harry in an incredible amount of trouble (dropping the cake, what?).  I can’t handle them.  I leave the room if one of these types of scenes comes up on TV.  I get embarrassed easily, and on behalf of other people, and I guess I’m afraid of things not being clearly explained, because it’s always just a miscommunication that’s the problem.  I think the root of this is that I’m afraid of miscommunication.

I’m afraid of never being published or never succeeding as a writer.  I don’t need to be a Pulitzer Prize winner or anything.  I’ve just come to the realization since I started grad school that this might be my only graduate degree, that I might not be after that elusive PhD after all.  Simultaneously, getting a teaching cert (a substitute teaching cert, but a teaching cert nonetheless) has made me realize that I do not want to be a teacher.  I love working with students.  I love teaching the middle school girls’ Sunday school at my church.  But I don’t love the idea of being a substitute teacher or a full time teacher or a college professor.  At all.  I don’t love it at all.  I don’t want it.  I don’t want to do anything but write.  I want to burrow away into a wood furnished office room with a bunch of windows and total privacy and write write write write write until there are no words left in my soul and I can die in peace.  I have absolutely no desire for any type of regularly paying job.  Thinking about getting one literally makes me feel queasy and sick.  There is nothing I would rather do than write novels and stories and the occasional poem or essay.  And so I’m afraid of never being published, because I literally cannot imaging having to do anything else for the rest of my life.  I will hate my life if I have to get a “real job” ever.  I will be miserable and I will hate it.

I am afraid of both never having children and of having children.  To clarify, I’ve realized over the past year that I adore small children and tweens.  But given my inherent fear/hatred of menfolk and paying jobs, having babies might never happen for me.  Simultaneously, the idea of having small children to take care of constantly (because parenthood) scares the shit out of me because all I want to do with my time is write, dammit!!!  And if I’m in some kind of committed relationship where I have the ability to be jobless so I can write, my significant other would need to be the one having a “real job” and making money and such and then TRADITIONAL GENDER ROLES AH FUCKIT.  I cannot win.  I literally cannot win unless I stay in my parents’ attic for the rest of my life and never leave the house ever again.

“You Don’t Want to Know”

Someone asked me today why I’m so behind and what is going on in my life that I’m failing so much, but they weren’t genuinely looking for the truth. That’s okay; I’m not close with this person, they aren’t really a friend so much as an acquaintance. The slightly biting, sarcastic edge to their tone also made it clear that a deep answer wasn’t necessary. But I don’t lie easily, and there’s only a deep answer here. So I answered as truthfully as I could that they didn’t want to know. Because how can you tell an acquaintance that you’re ill, that you’re struggling, that you can’t afford the treatment that you need, and it’s affecting every aspect of your life. You don’t. You blog about it instead, then leave it on the internet where it is incredibly google-able and open.

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Me, probably…

Because here’s the thing: I’m ill. I have severe anxiety, moderate depression and post-traumatic stress. I know this, and although I have years of therapy that have gotten me through the worst of my panic attacks and my inability deal with physical contact and social interactions, it’s not like the symptoms ever go away. Self-talk doesn’t solve everything, and while it can delay or prevent an anxiety attack sometimes, other times I’m standing outside my classroom door surrounded by the pulsing throng of students moving from one classroom to the next and my vision goes blurry and my breath becomes shallow and I still have to go in there and teach. I still have to go in there and pretend to be an expert when my mind is telling me all the while that you barely even speak Portuguese how dare you pretend how dare you have the audacity to want to study this literature how dare you think you deserve to be in grad school at all when you’re clearly not stable enough for it, when the only reason you survived your MFA was because it was low-residency and you could spend a solid month without leaving your house if you had to. How dare you pretend to be a scholarly person when you’re so clearly less than and unprepared. One day I may wake up and learn that the department has finally seen the light, and they will unceremoniously kick me to the curb and give the fellowships to people who deserve them more. I wouldn’t blame them at all.

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Yuri is nervous because he has an untreated anxiety disorder, duh.

I’m working on an essay right now called “I Left My Therapist in Pennsylvania,” and I promised myself that I would pursue proper publication this time instead of just ranting on my blog. I’m still working on it, but here’s the highlight: I worked with the same therapist for years in Huntingdon, I miss her terribly, and I still need therapy despite all the work we did. I’m not in a place where I can afford long-term counseling financially, and while there is a student counseling center at UMass Dartmouth, their website specifically says they are there for short-term needs. I’ve also had very mixed experiences with student counseling centers, and am naturally wary of them. The last thing I need is for the act of seeking treatment to make me worse.

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Me, all the time. I even have the same phone case.

It’s crushing and humbling to admit that I am not doing well on my own, but let’s be clear here: I’m not doing well on my own. I have spent days upon days too depressed to move, or too anxious to breathe, and I constantly feel as if my lungs are in a box at the bottom of the ocean. I can’t focus on anything for longer than about ten minutes at a time. I oversleep, I undersleep, I completely forget to eat meals. I wake up in the middle of the night with my heart beating in my temples, or I step out of class and check my pulse and count it at 140-170 bpm. I shiver. I forget. I get distracted. It’s not like I’m completely alone here in New Bedford; I have a roommate and classmates and students. But with maybe one exception, I don’t have anyone in my immediate vicinity with whom I am comfortable enough to genuinely talk about what’s going on in my life. I try. I’ve always been an open book whenever I can. I like to imagine that maybe my frankness about my mental illness and history of sexual violence could be helpful (dare I say inspiring) to someone else who might not be at a place where they’re able to talk about it yet. That’s why I put it all on my blog, where it’s easily viewed by anyone. So I do talk about my problems with a few different people here, but I never feel comfortable. It’s like I’m wearing a skin that’s not my own, but looks like me, and it’s made of a material that itches at the mind.

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Me, lying awake until four in the morning and then still waking up for no reason at seven.

I hate that my mental illness is officially getting out of control, that I need help but can’t afford it, that I feel so alone when my key contact people live in DC and PA. But more than anything, I hate that my mental illness impacts my academic life. I love academia, love taking classes and writing papers and learning new things. I love challenges and puzzles and critical theory. I love reading novels and watching films and then dissecting them with a critical lens. And while I don’t love teaching, I do appreciate the fact that I am in a position to maybe intrigue someone younger than me in an academic way and share with them what I know. I love academics and I love studying, and my illness makes these things that I love become miserable and detestable and nearly impossible to do.

Why am I so behind in life, so overwhelmed and so stressed and failing at my job, my classes, everything? While there are some external factors (a friend’s suicide attempt last year, a friend’s abusive boyfriend, the recent death of a loved relative), the main truth is that I am ill, and I can’t afford treatment. But that’s not something you want to know.