Monday, November 24, 2014

So, I feel conflicted.

June 7th, 2014, I took to the streets of Seoul with joy in my heart. My home state just leagalised same-sex marriage; I strutted through Sincheon at my very first Gay pride parade. We listened to a woman sing, “Let it Go,” which has been rumoured to be a bit of a gay anthem of letting go of the restraints that we and society put on ourselves. I found myself in the company of thousands of like-minded people. We began to march the short 1.5 kilometer route filling our bellies with beer and laughter. Everyone anticipated the post-parade drinking, partying, and dancing.

We pulled up short—a temporary delay. Perhaps one of the floats had some issue with the tinsel or flags. After about 15 minutes, a friend and I walked towards the front of the parade to see a Christian group sitting in the middle of the street, prohibiting the legally sanctioned parade from moving forward.

This sit in went on for hours. I, as a Christian also queer woman, struggled between feeling ostracised from one group because I was a part of another. This is, of course, not a new feeling to anyone who claims both queer and Christian identities, but I felt an anger that reached a point I had not yet experienced. It scared me.

I responded with the only way I knew how; I talked to the people sitting down. I didn’t move when the police told me to simply because an older Korean wanted to sit down and protest in a space that I had claimed as my own. I told the police officer that I had the same right stand here as she does to sit, perhaps more because I was there for twenty minutes…waiting and watching. I stood peacefully countering their out of context Bible verses while I was pushed, shoved, sat upon, had water thrown on me, etc.

That was my response to dealing with it. One of the greatest women I have ever met had a very different response. She shouted (in Korean) about this injustice, about their ignorance, about the way the police protected the Christian protesters and bullied the LGBTA parade participants.

The next morning while she and I ate Thai food, we talked about how we felt about our personal responses and the other person’s responses. I told her that I envied her passion, and that I felt embarrassed that my response to anger is passivity and words. She countered with my ability to keep a level-head and wider picture in mind when I am angry. She was Malcom X; I was Martin Luther King Jr.—neither one more right than the other. We’re both fighting for the same goal.

I know my personal beliefs. I know that if I were in Ferguson, MO right now I would be peacefully protesting. I would be heeding President Obama and the Brown Family. With the information I know (from non-partisan US and Global news sources), I am infuriated with the outcome of the Ferguson trial. I do not know how the jury came to their decision, nor will we likely ever find out despite releasing the testimonies and evidence. But, in this aftermath, we have several options in how we respond. I plan to follow the “Let’s not just make noise; let’s make a difference” philosophy of Michael Brown’s family (Bennett and Burman, The Atlantic).

However, a man for whom I hold a lot of respect has posted about this, too. He brings up many valid points in that peaceful protests have become “cliché and commonplace,” with which I agree. I would also like to add  to his argument that some police officers respond to peaceful protests as threats to society (pepper spraying at UC Davis; tear gas anywhere). How can we stand by this passively? How can we allow this behaviour to happen while our hearts are still beating and our brains still functioning? Where is the breaking point? When is it enough?

Ergo, I am conflicted. Everything in my bones screams for justice. Yes, Mike Brown stole cigars. Perhaps, he punched Darren Wilson. I do not know what happened. But, I cannot shake this feeling that there had to be another way. There has to be another way. Since Michael Brown’s death, more and more articles have surfaced about needless or accidental killing of people by police forces. Yes, I understand this is a tactic to whip everyone up in a frenzy, yet I don’t necessarily think it is wrong. I don’t like demonizing our police force. There are so many men and women who proudly protect and serve. Yet, we, as a country, need to also address the corruption, racial, and social profiling that happens all the time. We, as a country, need to be heard. We’re not just prattling children for the police and government to deal with. We have valid concerns about how our police use their weapons. We have real issues with civilian gun violence. We’re living in a shoot first, figure it out later society by which I cannot abide. Treating violence with violence is not how we’ll succeed. But, sitting-in and passive movements may not be the answer, either. We need a “both, and” approach to this. We need to work injunction with one another to bring about necessary change.   We need Malcom X's passion and Martin Luther King Jr.'s peace. We need both.

However you choose to respond to the Ferguson outcome, please do so with education and purpose. Ignorance and recklessness cannot, will not win this war. I’m not sure what will.

Monday, November 17, 2014

So, I am a super graceful human being

One: Back Story

My sister is one of my best friends. We had some rough patches growing up, but we always sorted it out. I think one of the few times my sister got legitimately angry for more than a day was when our dad said that I was more graceful than she was (he meant in a specific context, but that part was unclear at the time). And, she had every right to be upset. The only time I was ever graceful in my youth was when I was mid-air after jumping from a diving board. For those few seconds twisting and flipping, I was a gosh darn swan-gazelle: a swazelle. Any other second of the day, I tripped, slipped, slid, toppled, and was generally a hot mess.

I would like to say that growing into my limbs and becoming an adult has helped with my balance and body awareness. But, that really just isn’t the case. Just today, I literally hit three different kids in the face because I didn’t know where my body ended and theirs began. It was just soft taps, but alarming contact nonetheless.

Two: Real Story

So, for the past several months, my roommate and I have had a lovely houseguest. I have really enjoyed spending time with him and having that brother-like relationship I always wanted. However, with having more people living in the house and Rufio seeking more attention, I hadn’t been alone in ages. So, when I went to Seoul to visit my cousin, I decided to go up a day early, spend some time in a JimJilBahng (spa/sauna/JJB for the rest of this writing), and soak in silence and mineral enriched mountain water.

I got to Seoul, walked all over Kingdom Come to find this specific JJB about which I’d heard great reviews. After about forty minutes of walking, I found that it is about three blocks directly behind Seoul Station and the googlemaps app sucks.

I checked into the spa and changed out of my travel wear and went downstairs to frolick in the tubs before they closed for the night.

I effing love baths.

After a quick bath with a bunch of strangers, I changed into my pyjamas, went to the sleeping rooms, and found a cozy nook in which I snuggled with my book.

In the morning, I woke up late and had to hurry to meet my cousin. I had to shower because when I go to sleep with wet hair, I wake up looking like a glorious lioness, which is fine for some occasions, but not for cousin meeting.

So, I showered quickly, and left the rooms with all the baths.

(Sidenote for anyone not in Korea: When you are in the showers/baths you are nakey-no pants and the towels you’re meant to use are the size of a postage stamp.)

I walked to the drying area and toweled my hair like you would a puppy. I vigorously dried my arms, and bent one leg to rest on the other. As I patted down my knee cap, I felt my notoriously awful balance quiver. Oh no, I thought. This will be problematic. 

And, there was no stopping it.  

I tumbled ass over tea-kettle, naked, in public…onto another human being.

One more time:
Ass. Tea-kettle. Naked. Stranger.

I profusely apologized while extricating our limbs, repeating, “Oh, my god. I am so sorry. Oh, my god. Mian habnida. Oh, my god. I am so, so sorry.”

The only thing this tiny woman said throughout this whole encounter with giant eyes about two inches from my own, “I’m fine. Thank you. And, you?”

I helped her up, then ran away as fast as I possibly could. I mean, how else do you respond to that? I had no idea. No pretext. Nothing. I just left. There is no recovering from that. I just couldn’t even.

So, my hope is that someday I will learn how to not be a bumbling Magoo. But, lesbihonest, that future for me looks pretty bleak.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

So, I guess pirate socks are for boys.

a.k.a. Why I am an unapologetic feminist.

Last spring, I soap boxed about language opening dialogues that work towards change. Guess what, reader type humans? There was incredible discussion, support, dissent, and debate throughout the comments section on my facebook post and messages. This is exactly what I wanted. It was great!

Yesterday, I sported my blue, striped, pirate socks, much to the confusion of some students. One little girl looked at me and said, “Kathryn Teacher, you’re wearing boy socks.”
I looked down and asked, “Why are these boy socks? Am I a boy?”
“No?” she replied, a little shy. “But, they have pirate with knife, and that’s boy socks.”

Thus cracking open a giant can of gender stereotypes and behavior worms. As a pretty left-leaning social liberal with a fairly conservative moral compass, I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this conversation. In this much belated installment of gender discussion, I would like to articulate how boxing our children into gender binaries so young is harmful and why we need feminism to break these social constructs.

It bothers me that children cut themselves out of opportunities because they don’t want to cross the lines that separate genders. And, it bothers me that adults not only allow this mentality, but feed into it. This hurts all of the boys and girls and girls who are boys and boys who are girls and everyone in between.

When discussing gender stereotypes, it is important to address the children’s behavior, because most young children make gendered choices subconsciously. Yet, those who break away from the binary are often readily accepted by their peers but shunned by the adults. We, as adults, must take a step back from what we were taught. As a child of the 90s, I was in this malleable period where progressive folks used green and yellow (or…maybe just Green Bay Packer fans?) to outfit their children’s bedrooms as opposed to the iconic pink and blue. However, I was also raised in a time where activities and even classes were pretty rigidly divided along gender lines. As adults, we must recognize our upbringing and decide if we want to perpetuate it or if we want to change it. There are many organizations that call all the genders to work alongside one another to create equality.

Gendered activities surround us. In the book I use in my after hours tutoring, we learned about hobbies, which featured model airplane building, collecting cards, beading, and painting. The photos used to help teach showed pictures boys building and collecting and girls beading and painting. When I asked about what my students like to do, my girl student said, “Well, I like to build, but that’s boy. So, maybe I like beading?” I collected my jaw from the floor and talked to both of my students about how they can choose any hobby regardless of if they are a boy or a girl. I explained that there is no such thing as a boy activities and girl activities. There are only activities that you like and activities that you don’t.

Right now, Korean schools often funnel boys into sports and science club classes and girls into dance, drawing, or English classes. However, I see hope in the eyes of one of my students H—A—. She refused to run in the girl’s relay race for Sports Day. She knew she was faster than the boys, and she wanted to race them to help quicken her time. The school, surprisingly, allowed it. On the day of the race, she was stretching with her friends (girls), but when it came time to run, she lined up with the boys. In the end, she didn’t win, but she also didn’t lose. She challenged herself, and she was so much prouder of a 5th place (out of 20) finish than she would have been with an unchallenged 1st place finish.

It is imperative that we praise and encourage our students to diverge from the gender norm. By raising our children to question, research, and disregard gender stereotypes, we raise a generation to look for discrepancy and work to fix it. It is also important for us to support our children’s activity choices even if/when they fall on the traditionally girl or boy spectrum. I hope that H—A—and other young girls continue to push boundaries as they grow up. It would be such an amazing uprising if all of the young women in this country and all countries found, explored, and utilized their voices to dismantle the patriarchal society in which they’d been raised.

Progress forward is a long and arduous process. However, more women and men are stepping forward and proudly claiming feminism, dismantling the idea that we’re all a bunch of bra-burning, men hating, bull-dyke lady lovers. There are, of course, those types of feminists, but they are by far not a majority. But, really, the focus of feminism is the raising up of women, not the bringing down of men. Ms. Emma Watson, the United Nation’s Women's Goodwill Ambassador, made a fantastic speech calling men to work with women in a program called #HeForShe.

For feminism to work as a movement and an ideology, we, as men and women, must change our behavior, our thoughts, our ingrained ideas of masculinity and femininity and impart that change onto our children. We must end slut-shaming and victim blaming. We must teach all of our children that beauty lies in both strength and sensitivity. We must teach them that “like a girl” does not equate to “less than a boy.”

When my niece Q’Jawsie Kathryn Marie Botsford Phelps is born, I’m going to send her all of the truck, dinosaur, monkey, ballet slipper crazy onesies that Korea has to offer. I want to teach her how to use her voice—how to giggle and cry, shout and laugh, burp the ABCs and sing like a gosh darn angel. I want her to grow up in a society that shows her that she has value as a girl but more importantly as a human.

This is Katie, signing out.       

PS My niece’s name will not actually be Q’Jawsie. Although, I might call her QJ regardless of what her name will actually be.