Most of you know that — of all the spaces on the Internet — Scarleteen is among the dearest to my heart. The organization (with its forums and columns and live chats and direct services) provides compassionate, comprehensive sexual education and support to teens and twenty-somethings. They’ve been doing this, on a fraying shoestring of budget, for 15 years, for users who are not (and in many cases cannot be) getting these resources elsewhere. The space is queer-positive, trans-positive, body-positive, sex-positive…(that list just keeps going, you guys.) The “inclusive” qualifier in its header is actually an understatement. Scarleteen actively prioritizes the experiences and the needs of youth — specifically marginalized youth — and builds services that affirm and meet those needs.
I’m especially grateful to the folks at Scarleteen for the services they provide that I’ve never needed. I’m grateful for the live chats, referrals, and other direct support they offer to youth in crisis. Queer and questioning youth on their last leg. Youth recovering from assault or abuse, or currently embroiled in ‘relationships’ that meet those criteria. Youth who are alone and facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. I’m grateful these resources are available, somewhere, for the many, many individuals who need them. And I’m grateful for what the site has given me, personally, and to many other folks I know. For starters: a comprehensive, accurate education about sexuality. But even more importantly, a firm belief in the inalienable right to this body. The right to be here, to be bodily, to protect my physical autonomy, to experience pleasure, to act sexually or — in any given moment — to choose otherwise. Finding spaces — and Scarleteen is perhaps the epitome of them — that shout back at the constant social messaging about my body as damaged, inferior, dangerous, or about anyone else has been life-saving for me. It’s played a massive role in my recovery from an eating disorder and in the life I’ve built on that foundation. It’s paved the way for the fucking kickass relationship I currently share. It’s given me tools and support in the ongoing, messy, and vital process of self-care that includes (intrinsically) this body. This one. Here.
And if it does not receive some drastic financial support before May 1st, all of that will be in serious jeopardy.
With no radical change in giving and support immediately — and a change that is permanent, not just reactionary — Scarleteen as we know it, and as our users use it, may just be over.
Which is why we feel it may be time to strike. Come May Day – May 1st – unless something radically changes, Scarleteen will begin a strike.
The full details of why this is necessary (and what it would mean) are available at Heather’s post, which I seriously encourage you to read and consider. In the meantime, while you’re still here at my blog, I’d like to point out one of the many great things about the small-but-mighty Scarleteen crew: they understand (and expect) that the people they serve (namely youth — and marginalized youth, specifically) cannot pay for their services. Scarleteen has always been completely and utterly free. Their site structure, their annual donation ask, even this recent preparation to strike, has never focused on convincing users to pay for the “privilege” of accessing this space. They flat-out do not expect payment from their user base. But that leaves unsolved the problem of who will fund this work, for these users. Who will keep it from falling prey to the triply-underfunded intersection of sex education, youth, and the Internet?
The answer, I hope, is us.
I would love to be a substantial donor to Scarleteen, to give in a way that could make a difference as real and as lasting as the one their work has made in my life. It’s not something I can, personally, do — for reasons that are familiar to many of you and to most of the Scarleteen folks: I (too) work for a nonprofit, where I serve youth, as an educator. I’m unlikely to dive, Scrooge-McDuck-style, into a pool of money anytime soon. This is one of the reasons that, during Scarleteen’s recent annual ask — which netted zero dollars — I almost didn’t give, period. I assumed that others would and that I didn’t need to, that my nickels and dimes could not affect change of a more substantial sort. The tipping point for me was Heather’s announcement that, after nearly a week of asking, the site had received five donations. Five. At that moment, my “I can’t do much” made the slight but mighty transformation into “I can do a little.”
It was a similar moment, a couple of years ago, that led me to start giving — a very little bit — to Scarleteen each month. Like many of you, my financial history is short on money and long on insecurity, and it’s for those exact reasons that I give the way I do. I give a very little bit, very regularly. I give the amount I’d pay for a coffee or a cheap lunch, an amount I consistently have, and which I’ve learned, over the months, does not break me. An amount, frankly, that I don’t generally miss. I currently have the luxury of employment and of a joint income to put toward my bills. At times when I haven’t had those things, I haven’t always been able to give. Right now I can, so I do. I give $10, every month. I can count on that amount not to make a difference in my day-to-day life. And Scarleteen can count on that amount to be there, month after month, to help them make a difference in someone else’s.
You–reading this, right now, thinking I don’t really mean you–have that same power. You have the power to become a sustaining donor to Scarleteen: a person who gives, in any amount, to the site on a regular basis. I’m asking you to use that power. Before May 1st (the kickoff date for the potential strike), I’d like to join with friends, family, readers and other rad people, to find an additional $200 for Scarleteen each month. I want to turn my personal $10 into our collective $200.
The main gift here is not the cash itself, but its consistency, the dependability that comes with a recurring gift. There’s a thoroughly mind-boggling and yet somehow accurate statistic that came out last year, that Scarleteen serves one person for every penny donated. Literally every penny. For every $10 then, more than 1000 people benefit. For our collective $200, Scarleteen can serve twenty-thousand youth. Over the course of a year? Nearly half-a-million people served, in ways they flat-out cannot be (or are not being) helped elsewhere. That is some serious bang for one’s buck.
$200 of sustaining funding is 20 friends stepping up and donating $10 a month, to a cause that’s far more valuable. It’s 10 friends donating $20. If we pull that off, we’re $200 closer to the $3000 increase in funding that Scarleteen needs, each month, to function as it does. To give the resources it’s given to me to someone else. To give the resources I’ve never needed to someone they will benefit greatly.
I know you all, reading this, and I feel really lucky that I do. I feel incredibly lucky to have friends, family, and readers who truly value my call, when I say that a cause is worthwhile. More importantly, I feel lucky to have friends, family, and readers who value so many of the same things I do — education, sexual education, resources for queer and trans youth, resources for survivors of (and those currently embroiled in) abuse, better access to healthcare — and the countless other services that Scarleteen has provided for the past 15 years. Services we need to ensure they can keep providing. I hope, with the full power of the word, that you will join me in this.
If you can give — pleasepleaseplease set up a recurring donation. And (if you’re willing to suffer my overpowering gratitude), let me know you have, so I can count it toward this success. And please- spread the word about the need.
If you can’t – consider making a one-time donation. I completely understand what it’s like for life to be too unpredictable to make a predictable gift, and I have nothing but respect for you taking care of your own needs (financial and otherwise), as best you can. Think about whether you can throw a few bucks toward Scarleteen, just this month, and (again) help to spread word about what they do and why we must save them. (Then see the above, regarding my gratitude.)
And if you can’t donate, period – pleasepleaseplease share about Scarleteen and the site’s current straits. Share widely and relentlessly, through your own networks. (I would love to post guest content here about what Scarleteen, specifically — or services like it — have meant for others. If you aren’t able to donate but would like to write a piece about why this work really, really matters, please contact me).
$200, between us. It’s not an impossible goal. It’s a lofty one.Which leaves the question:
What is our reach?
Trigger warning: this post contains references (some brief, some not) to growing up gay in a homophobic world, living with mental illness, self-harm, and sexual assault. Readers are encouraged to put themselves before reading.
So the next time I tell you how easily I come out of my skin
don’t try to put me back in.
Just say, “Here we are” together at the window
aching for it to all get better
but knowing there is a chance
our hearts may have only just skinned their knees,
knowing there is a chance the worst day might still be coming
let me say right now for the record,
I’m still gonna be here
asking this world to dance,
even if it keeps stepping on my holy feet.
You, you stay here with me, okay?
You stay here with me.
Illinois, 1999. I can’t breathe unless I stay in bed and keep my eyes closed (please don’t make me), but they say it’s not that bad. At school, they show us pictures of car wrecks and I sway in my chair, dizzy and nauseous. And the man at the front of the auditorium — who speaks too loudly — says, “the kid comes running toward me, both wrists broken, looking like a fa– sorry — like someone sexually challenged” and he laughs when he says it because he’s not really sorry. Afterward we crowd around the teacher’s desk, my friends and me, outraged, (this cannot be ok). We crowd around her desk and she says, “you’ll have to learn to deal with people like him; you’ll deal with people like that all your life.” I can’t answer; I can’t talk unless it’s typing (please don’t make me); I can’t go to school (aren’t you feeling better?); I feel like I’m on fire from the inside out. And they tell me, these are the best years of your life, you’re fine, you’ll be just fine, it will get better.
And I hold my breath, stay home again. I write poems. I turn the music up.
It’s 2013 and I’m in a dark bar/ cafe, twenty-five feet from the stage. Mary Lambert’s sitting at a piano; I’m wedged between the bar and someone’s booth. A crowd of lesbians and queers surrounds me. Us. Mary Lambert says, “I’ve spent the past year traveling the country telling everyone how gay I am. And instead of getting murdered, we went double platinum.”
Everyone laughs and cheers. My girlfriend and I included.
I wonder, Does this mean it’s gotten better?
My girlfriend, Melissa, and I lean together, surrounded by the standing-room only crowd, listening. Mary Lambert sits at the piano. Her red hair and piano spark easy memories of Tori Amos, the constant companion of my adolescence. Like Tori, she sings about heartbreak and abuse and not knowing how to survive your own crazy brain. I hear my own teen years in between the chords, and I wonder — what would it have been like to have music like this at thirteen, fifteen, nineteen?
Maybe I did.
I remember Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, the raw dark ballads that I held like ski poles as I slalomed through my own development. How different would it have been, to have songs like these? Maybe not that different. Maybe I already had them.
Mary Lambert sings about being gay, talks about being gay, writes about it. She uses female pronouns when she sings love songs. I listen and remember the first time t.A.T.u. came on our car radio, in Southern Illinois in 2002. I remember freezing in the passenger seat of my dad’s Saturn, remember how my breath caught in my throat, remember thinking, I can’t be hearing this right. I remember how my ears perked, even though I wasn’t out yet, wasn’t even questioning.
Not then. Later. Later I would question and later I would joke, tell people, my music collection knew I was gay before I did. And it’d be a stretch, maybe, but only a slight one. Unlike “this music is one reason I survived” which would be, if anything, an understatement.
I listen to Mary and remember the way my breath caught, listening to t.A.T.u., before those girls were the props of a straight porn director, when they were still — as far as I could tell — just like Mary at her piano: two girls singing love songs about girls.
I listen and feel the folks around me, and I remember my first concert — my first real concert — years ago: Ani DiFranco. (Of course). The concert just before I dyed my hair blue, before I’d (quite) come out. I remember the venue — the Pageant in St. Louis — and how in an hour, every lesbian in the city seemed to pour inside of it. An impossible number of us, present and accounted for. Spread across the city, we diluted; that night, concentrated that way, we were a massive force. That night, my parents sat five feet behind me, and I stood in the dancing crowd and let the music use me, like a metronome, to hold the beat.
The next day I went home and did what half-crazy introspective teen queers do: I wrote a slam poem to remember it. That night. That night I didn’t just see Ani DiFranco, I became her. There was some sort of cord between us, invisible but solid. When she looked into the crowd, her eyes rested on me, impossible but true, and yes, those were my callused fingers flying against the guitar strings; those were my vocal cords, vibrating in that throat.
Years later, I would say music gave me a language when I didn’t know how to speak for myself. There’s a Dar Williams lyric, I would say, she gave me the language that keeps me alive. There’s a Winter Machine lyric, I’d say, learn to use the voice that gets you through this life the best. When I had no words of my own, I had lyrics. I would try to explain. How that became mine, somehow. How the poetry of Tori Amos was the best translation I had for the fog in my own head.
Years later, I would see Ani again, in Santa Cruz. She’d be older, singing new songs about marriage and motherhood. I’d stand again in the thick of the crowd, and all around me, couples – lesbian couples – would dance, twirl their kids around, stack them on their shoulders for a better view. We’d revisit “Shameless” with another generation, the music of our youth transforming into music we passed onto them. I’d look at those families and, for the first time, imagine a future for myself that included this. Crowded kitchens, dinner tables. Family.
I once touched a tree with charred limbs
The stump was still breathing
But the tops were just ashy remains
I wonder what it’s like to come back from that
Sometimes I feel a forest fire erupting from my wrists
And the smoke signals sent out are the most beautiful things
I’ve ever seen
Love your body the way your mother loved your baby feet
And brother, arm wrapping shoulders, and remember
This is important
You are worth more
The night I see Mary Lambert, I’ve been out nearly 10 years. She’s opening for a queer singer-songwriter I’ve never heard of, who walks on-stage, all sweet butch babydyke. Nicole Reynolds. I see her and I think how, lately, I haven’t found any new queer artists to love. I’m still playing the same Melissa Ferrick albums I was in 2003; I could use some new material. I flash on that cord between me and Ani DiFranco, at that performance years ago. I catch my breath and wait for Nicole to blow me away.
Before her first song she tells a story. Says she saw a mother beating her kid in Walgreens that morning and she told the mom her kid’s will grow up to hate her. She says she does this now, when she sees kids with psycho parents, because she had a psycho parent and no one ever said a thing. Then she tells a story about abuse. It’s not the first story of abuse that’s told on stage that night. It’s not the last. I think how common this is, at events tied – by any thread – to the spoken-word world. How rare in general. The vulnerability is shocking, simultaneously impressive and uncomfortable. Nicole begins to sing.
Nicole Reynolds speaks like a child and writes like a crone. Her lyrics are layered, intricate, and heartbreaking. I think how much I would have loved this set as a teenager. How desperately I needed music just like this.
As a teenager. Which is to say … what, exactly? What is it I need now?
I listen and, gradually, I realize that I feel older than this woman. Protective. Her songs sound like my memories. They have no sense of current journals. She’s at the microphone and I’m in the crowd and her voice is vital but it’s not my voice.
And I wonder if that means it’s gotten better.
believe what you feel and question what they say
everyone’s really just guessing anyway
i thought that you should know this
[...] i love who i love who i love like the ocean
The finale: Andrea Gibson, slam poet laureate of the queers, takes the stage to thunderous applause. She has the hair of Tegan or Sara, the weathered look of Melissa Ferrick, the style of Joan Jett. She refers to the past few months as the ‘fuck shame’ tour and she performs accordingly, spinning lyrics about white privilege and queer love, heartbreak and hate crimes, murder and survival.
I think about the first time I saw spoken-word. I was a middle-schooler, watching PBS in our basement. Arthur had given way to the News Hour and I hadn’t changed the channel. Likely, I was multitasking – doing homework during the commercials. The segment was short – fifteen minutes in my imagination, three — maybe — in reality. It was a report on the national slam championships, featuring a few excerpts from winning poems, including one by a 10-year-old boy. I listened to the roar of that kid’s voice, buzzing like its own applause, and the electricity powered me onto my feet; I flew up the stairs. This, I told my mom. This is what I want to do.
I started writing spoken-word immediately afterward, and I never attended a slam without that same feeling buzzing through me, the quickening heartbeat, the sense that I had to write, had to, now, now, go. Now, Andrea Gibson is performing, and the words are flying out of her mouth faster than I can run up stairs. And before she finishes, she performs the poem that has (I suddenly remember) become something more, some sort of mini-movement. I think, not for the first time, of the friend who first shared it with me, still so young and raw, still fighting so hard to survive on so little. And this poem, this last poem sounds like a love letter to her, to all of us in our worst moments. A promise to somehow live through what is unlivable, and a plea to do the same: you, you – stay here with me. Chills curl across me. A gratitude stretches deep as the pit in my stomach. I listen. I remember. I think these words are beautiful, and I think, what a thing, to have more than this, to survive on.
Not for the first time, I think that it getting better is a matter of us getting away. That there’s a direct correlation between our autonomy and our survival. It gets better if and when we’re able to get the fuck out of dodge, to find these bars and cafes where girls with asymmetrical haircuts make out with girls in suspenders. It gets better every time we have the means to drive three hours across rural highways — fiending for street lights, wincing at Cuccinelli bumper stickers — to find that café tucked into a strip mall, where voices like this are heard. It gets better when and only when, we have places like this, where people like us can listen to artists like us speak and sing about living with the crazy, with the body, with the bullshit, and the desire.
In 2013, I stand in the Jammin’ Java in Northern Virginia, listening. My girlfriend kisses me, repeatedly, in public, and I wrap my arm around her waist. I rest my head on her chest, and don’t pull away. Don’t pull away. Don’t worry who will follow us to the car.
Mary Lambert sits at a piano and sings a cover of a Wheatus song that was popular when I was a teenager. She says, “When this came out, I thought it was a lesbian love song.” I think of “All The Things She Said.” She says, “Turns out it was just a guy with a really high voice.” But — nested in her breath — it becomes what she knew it as, originally. A lesbian love song. Haunting.
In 2013, it gets better and worse and better and worse, and for some more than others, and for some at others’ expense. I stand in a café and bar listening to queer lyrics, again, again, now, and I wonder, is this how it felt at Stonewall? I don’t think it’s gotten better; I think, this – here — has always been. There has always been this space, carved out, secret, after dark. Heavy with all we bring into it and light with all we let down.
There has always been this space. Here. Here, where it never had to get better. Which – sometimes, when we’re lucky – allows us to survive the rest of it.
(I don’t usually write satire, but – in rare cases like this one – I feel compelled. The first paragraph is honest-to-blog factual, but after that, you take me seriously at your own risk. Kthxbai.)
Late last week, Jenny Craig announced that they’re dropping human celebrities from their ads in favor of new, animated models. The move follows a recent Ace Metrix report, which suggests that ads without celebrities do better than ads with celebrities. Jenny Craig is determined to take the concept one step further and see how their ads do without humans, period.
“We’re all very excited about this shift,” says marketing director and company spokesperson, Annie Bodde. “Really, it’s been the logical direction for our company to take for some time, and we expect others will follow suit. The old ‘before-and-after’ advertising [involving humans] had such built-in limitations. So many times, we were restricted to a single day of filming, and so we were literally trying to turn a really beautiful body into an ugly ‘before’ shot just with lighting and all that. Even when we’d get a chance to use a model — someone we’d shelled out a significant chunk of change to see lose some weight — there’d be that dreaded ‘after-the-after’ period, when 95% of our human models would regain what they’d lost. So, basically, we were expending a lot of energy transforming that after-the-after period into a new-before. And ultimately the whole process just created a lot of preposition-based confusion, and you know, none of us signed on to be English majors.”
Asked about potential models for the new campaign, Bodde was coy. “There’s a lot still in the works, but I can give you a couple of leads. We’re still in talks with some heavy-hitters. Think Marvel, you know? Think Mattel.”
Although many of these “heavy hitters” have yet to be signed, some initial celebrities are coming forward. Princess Ariel, who gained fame following her leading role in biopic The Little Mermaid, has signed on as one of the first pixelated-models for the new campaign. The Princess, who has – in recent decades – largely shifted her focus from film to merchandising, considers partnering with Jenny Craig a logical next step in her career.
“I’ve been tied to many products in the past – beginning with action figures and moving increasingly toward cosmetics and my line of bath accessories. What’s exciting about this partnership for me is that I no longer have to sell a product; I can be the product. I mean, my ‘body’ type can. And that’s such a relief, from a production standpoint, because there’s literally nothing I have to do to maintain that.”
Asked about the controversy surrounding the company’s choice, The Princess does not mince words. She terms the detractors “guppies” and adds, “I can’t believe [companies like Jenny Craig] haven’t approached digital models in the past. I may have needed Ursula’s help to lose those pesky gills and tails, (laughs), but I have had no trouble maintaining this waistline. I have had no trouble keeping up a ‘body’ like this, which – let’s face it – would be impossible for most [non-digital] children.”
Fellow Jenny Craig model, Gaston, agrees.
“It will be much, much easier for us,” says the body-builder, who declines comment on both his criminal past and the rumors of his untimely death. “Let’s stick to what matters,” he says. “In the past, I was downing a good 5 dozen eggs a day. I was roughly the size of a barge, granted, but the upkeep. Finally, my boy Lefou says to me, ‘You don’t have to do this. You’re animated.’ And it was like a light bulb- y’know- lit. You have to keep in mind, animated food has zero calories. Those eggs had zero protein – ZILCH. So all these things you hear about – eating well, exercising – they have even less to do with our ‘body’ types than they do for human models. We’re at a clear advantage, on account of our not being people.”
With that perspective in mind, Jenny Craig is set to pull existing ads and roll out new, animated spots in the next few weeks. The company and its new models remain optimistic about their success.
“This move, it’s just a no-brainer,” says Princess Ariel. “These products simply work much, much better for those of us who don’t have bodies.”
(Despite my deep-seated desire to make Ariel my BFF, I have no rights to said princess, nor to that sassy cad, Gaston. In keeping with my desire to distance myself from all things diet-culture, I also have no rights to or affiliations with the Jenny Craig company. Aight? Aight.)