Monday, October 31, 2016

Speakig Out: My Sexual Assault

(Hey, I also wrote an article about this for the Volante, so read that too.)

You guys remember how I went public about my depression about two years ago on here? I've decided to open up about something else, because I have lost too much sleep over this. A lot of people reading this won't believe me. Others will feel shame in me. I don't particularly care. Okay, maybe I do. I'd much prefer my family not disown me, but the pain is greater than the fear. It's a scar. You can take me or leave me.
Hello, my name is Jordan Smith and I am a survivor of female-on-male rape.
A few years ago I also wrote a post about under-represented male issues, and in there I brought up the frequent skepticism that men can be raped, so I won't talk about it too much. Suffice it to say I can count the number of people I've previously told on one hand.
Here's the hardest part of this, in spite of the mass proliferation of information and support with the internet, there really aren't many resources out there. Go ahead, do a Google (or Yahoo if you're weird) search for male rape support. You'll find a couple general purpose things, but the vast majority of results are for those who suffered from another man or just redirect you to general results for rape support, which would be fine, but it is heavily catered to women.
I'm not saying it isn't understandable. Most victims of rape are women, and most perpetrators are men. Numerically, it makes sense that there would be more information for those individuals, but it doesn't mean materials for people like me shouldn't be more widely available. But that doesn't excuse popular conception from questioning if it can even happen. Not just the usual victim blaming of people arguing whatever crap comes to mind, but a basic question if it is possible.
Remember when Shia LaBeouf was in the middle of a performance art piece and was violently raped and everyone was convinced it couldn't happen because they didn't think that could happen to a man who was unwilling? I do, and, quick note, that's not how biology works. Why was that even a question? Maybe because this stigma is so widespread that even the FBI defnition limits rape to a man forcing penetration? There's this insistence because of how awful traditional masculinity is men are universally seen as perpetrators and women are victims.
It is impossible to describe the loneliness that comes from this survival. Of course there's scarce a survivor of any gender who doesn't suffer from some form of trauma. Maybe I'm wrong.  I can't know what being anything but a heterosexual man feels like, so I apologize for any misunderstanding. But at least there is some amount of support structure available. There's certainly challenges for women to find people to believe them and a stigma attached with something that isn't your fault. Beyond the trauma, the societal reaction to women after assault is deplorable. Still, if nothing else everyone's first personal advisory, Google, will bring useful results without much digging. Regardless, I feel like it's different for men.
Many probably noticed earlier that I described masculinity as "toxic." I stand by that. Men are supposed to be unfailingly strong pillars, not allowed to, or even capable of being, vulnerable. We are supposed to want sex at any given moment with any woman whose pants we can wiggle into. To admit that you had sex against your infinite masculine willpower and in spite of your limitless sex drive is preposterous. To not have another conquest to add to your list would be preposterous. And how can a man be overcome by a woman? I'll tell you.
Rape doesn't necessitate physical force. It can also just be a threat or manipulation through other means. I was coerced and manipulated as if I wasn't human. I'm not going to share many details. Why? I don't have to. I'm not pressing charges, I'm just trying to heal myself and, if I'm lucky, help others. If you don't think I provide enough detail, sorry, I don't feel like hurting myself like that again. Do you know how hard that is? Or just the pain that comes from being a survivor too scared to say anything? If you do, I'm sorry, and please get in touch with me. Not just so I can help you, but I think that talking is the best way to recover. Everyone else, just understand that it is the most emotionally scaring thing you (or at least I) can imagine.
That's the worst part of rape, it's a crime against who you are as a human being. What makes us human? Most philosophers and religions would agree that it is our ability to act as rational beings capable of choosing our own path and ruling over our bodies and the world surrounding them.That's what separates us from beasts. Of course, just asking someone to do something isn't any remarkable evil, but I work hard to make sure I don't force anyone to do anything, no matter how small. I never want to violate another person's sovereignty.
We talk about the objectification of human beings through the media (particularly women, because the male gaze sucks). I see rape as the logical, perverted conclusion of objectification. It's not just bad because of the manipulation and pain, it's the blatant disregard for your humanity. You are literally a tool. Not a person. Just a means of satisfying an urge. That's the part that keeps me up at night. Not the memories of coercion and force but the demeaning nature of it all. The seizure of my control has haunted me ever since.
When you have trouble getting someone to even consider the possibility that you could be treated that way, it can feel like you're having your heart ripped right out of your chest. I remember sitting at my eighth grade lunch table, when I was still figuring out what sex was, and being surrounded by a conversation about how men couldn't be raped. I remember the abstinence oriented youth conference I attended in Chicago. I remember every time rape and sexual assault ever came up in the news or school and there was never a man who had suffered. I internalized that. All of it. It's what kept me quiet for so long.
Now I don't even know if I can trust what I think. You know that logic experiment from Descartes that concludes with "I think, therefor I am." I used to find a beauty in that simplicity, but it isn't that simple any more. If we are the sum of our experiences, then what happens from the traumas? We might want to move past those experiences, and return to our natural state, but how? How do we return to a portion of a natural state that we can't remember. I don't know how I would feel about sex and women without that experience in my past, so how can I know who I really am? Was I ever something special?
It's not all so bad. There is an evolving climate. As feminism continues to enter the mainstream it isn't just empowering women, it is also becoming more acceptable for men to be vulnerable. Furthermore, by making femininity not inherently associated with weakness, it is becoming okay for men to do female things, both positive and negative. I should also mention that my girlfriend knows, and she has been nothing but supportive of me. This blog wouldn't exist without her giving me the emotional support to write my pain out.
I'm rambling, but, once again, I don't really care. This is stream of consciousness. This is what's haunted me for too long. During my orientation at Mines, we had an absolutely incredible speaker, Angela Rose with PAVE who ran our Title IX training and I started counseling to get to the point where I was strong enough to open up. This is an act of courage on my part. This is terrifying. When I opened up about depression, I knew people would believe me, the worst that could happen was a stigma. I have no doubt at least one person will read this and laugh, thinking I'm making this up for attention. My pastor could see this and think I'm now bound for hell. If anyone finds out that I was hurt and stop loving me, maybe I'm better off. If anyone doesn't want me around because I was hurt, then I'd really rather not be around.
John Wayne, the picture of masculinity, once said, "Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway." Well, I'm sure scared. So, here we go. Riding right into the storm with the hope that it will be less painful for other people to follow. If courage is manly, then I now know that I am truly a man.. A man, and a survivor. To all my brothers, you don't need to say anything. More than anything, I just wanted to tell you that you aren't alone. For me, this is seizing back my humanity. She no longer controls my body, or my voice.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Facial Hair

Few of the men in my family have beards, but they can all at least get substantial stubble. That's something I can only aspire to. A lot of my physical aspects are prototypical male. I'm tall, broad shouldered, and I have square features. The only thing I can't do is grow a beard. Or a goatee. Or a mustache. Or more facial fair than the average middle school boy.
As someone who largely rejects traditional masculinity with pride, I don't know if I would even want to have a beard. As people continually remind me, I'm lucky that I don't need to shave every day. That may be true, but I really, really don't care. It would be nice to at least have the option to move to Portland without being chased out by people on fixed-gear bicycles.
When I was 13, my dad handed me down his old electric shaver thinking that I'd need it soon. He was wrong. I used it a grand total of twice in middle school. Just wait to high school, right? Sure, I was physically mature for my age, but most guys don't start really growing facial hair until their late teens. In early high school, I shaved maybe every three months, by the end of high school I was up to once a month, but that was mostly for my self esteem. Seriously, I could easily have gone longer, I just felt better about myself when I'd occasionally shave more.
I'm sure some people reading this think I'm exaggerating, let me give you an example of how incapable I am. Everyone is familiar with the tradition of No-Shave November, a means of showing support for prostate cancer. My great-grandfather is a survivor of multiple rounds of prostate cancer, and it was always a thing in my group of friends. Here's the thing: every year, someone thinks I quit halfway through, but I never have. People just assume that there's no way a young man my age could have grown so little facial hair over the course of a month. Turns out, they can, and I'm proof.
On top of the slow pace at which my hair grows, it is also a very light color. It's the kind of blonde that you can only see in certain lighting at remarkably close distances. Most of my hair is on the light side, but not that light.
I guess what really bothers me is that it doesn't match up with the rest of my body. I'm a man, I should be able to grow something resembling a beard. And if that fails, what I get really should be visible. That isn't the end of my frustrations.
One of my oldest and closest friends is a transgender man. Whenever I say something about being unable to grow facial hair, he expresses genuine sympathy. I appreciate it, but he at least has an excuse, namely being born without a Y gene, the portion of DNA responsible for growing a mustache on men. He has a genetic disadvantage, I just can't.
Is this actually a big deal? No, not at all. I just want to have the option that I really should have by this point in my life. If nothing else, I really want all the guys around me to stop complaining about the need to shave.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Major Mediocrity

My greatest physical fear is needles, as my recent flu shot reminded me. It's nothing to do with the pain, that's a prick at worst; rather,, there is some primal part of my mind that views the simple presence  of a syringe as a major threat to my existence.
Getting blood drawn triggers my fight or flight instinct, and unfortunately, for my nurses, it tends to be fight. I don't like my vaccinations, but I get them because they protect me from something I don't want. Because I fear the very unpleasant experience of getting the flu, I endure a phobia. I wish I could say that was the worst of it, but there is one thing I can't be vaccinated from, one thing I fear more than needles: mediocrity.
A good way of summing up my outlook on life is expressed by Aristotle, "Anything less than the best is a felony." Okay, unfortunately that was actually written by Vanilla Ice, but the sentiment does reflect my feelings toward my own motivation. I don't want to be okay or good, I want to be exceptional. More than anything, I don't want to be mediocre.
I think this fixation comes from being the oldest child of so many. Of course most parents, and especially parents as wonderful as mine, love all their children, but I always felt the need to compete. I needed to do something to distinguish myself as wonderful or else I couldn't ensure the love of my parents. Beyond that, I was the oldest, I was expected to set a good example for those following me or they'd end up robbing banks or something. Stupid, but that's the best I can come up with. Mediocrity meant to be forgotten by the most important people in my life.
The word mediocre sounds more harsh than it really is. It sounds like a negative word, but it isn't. It means to be good, but just barely. Determining that I am not a bad person isn't that hard. I fulfill my duties, I organize my life (relatively) well, and I try to help people when I can. It is verifiable that, if nothing else, I am not a detriment to society. But humans are not binary being, we have an infinite numbers of states between perfect and imperfect. Not being bad doesn't make me good.
I'm a reasonably intelligent person, and that would normally allow me to excel in the area of intelligence. Unfortunately for me, my generation is incredibly competitive in academics. That's probably my greatest asset, and it hasn't even made me a stand out. From the time we were small, millennials were told by everyone from authority figures to cartoons that if we didn't work hard we wouldn't get into an Ivy League school, and if we couldn't even manage Brown, then we wouldn't be able to lead a successful (and therefor happy) life. Sure I've always gotten good grades, but that isn't all that uncommon.
I can recognize that these seeds are wrong, and even poisonous if not restrained, but their roots are too deep for me to just pull out. I don't know any way of being but desperately competitive to win a competition I never signed up for and no one else is entered.
Where do I go from here? I've got a few years left of schooling, but then my academics are done. Now I need to position myself to have an outstanding career in the real world. If I don't then I'll be mediocre, and mediocre people never get noticed, and if I can be noticed then I can't be sure that I will have people in my life to love me.
So now I'm leveraging my deep ambitions to push myself toward a high level job in a competitive field. That's why I'm learning Russian instead of growing my Spanish. No one wants to take Russian because it's a lot of work, but that's what makes it valuable. I can't settle with myself being okay. It's not who I am.
I need to be more. Every bone in my body aches when I think of the idea of being a forgotten middle class worker in a suburb with 2.5 kids and a dog named Spot (actually, the dog part is just fine). The American Dream is my nightmare. I don't want my family to think that I look down on them or think I want to dissociate. I just can't be happy living as we have for so many generations. The same drives that brought us to America are pushing me to move around the Republic.
So my work ethic is strong. What's the problem with that? I can not convince myself that I'm not mediocre. To me, everything I do just seems average. Adequate. Expected. Normal. Nothing worth remembering, and certainly not admiring. I don't know where this will take me, but I'm going to keep going until I can escape this feeling. We'll see if I can find a way to fly. I'm either Iron Man or Icarus, I guess we'll see which.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Far From the Tree

They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but what about tech giant Apple? While control of the company shifted through the years, there is little denying that Steve Jobs was the father of the computer trailblazer. Since Jobs passed in 2011, a lot of people have expressed concerns with the viability of the corporation. I think Cupertino has proven their ability to continue, but I have no desire to use their products.
Before anyone tries to tell me about all the advancements that iOS has made to get some of Android's nicer features in the last few years, I know, I've had an iPhone 6 Plus for a year now. It drives me insane. Everything works fine, that I can admit. Besides the sale of major security flaws in iOS to foreign powers (which were patched, in all fairness) and iPhone 6's bricking themselves in the course of one week, there hasn't been any major issues. Both of those problems only affected small crowds, and most iOS users had no concern. iOS is stable and... boring.
Android does occasionally have its own minor issues that need fixing, i.e. the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 catching fire, but the problems are infrequent and the ecosystem is so much more exciting. I don't understand the argument some people aim at Android that it is hard to use. All of the core functionalities are the same between each other, hell, even the same as iPhones/ Beyond that, there's a whole world of greater possibilities because of the open source nature Android is built on.
I confess that I'm not a computer scientist, or even a coder, myself, but having attended a STEM school and lived with two Computer Science majors I've learned that the near-universal opinion is that Android is easier to program for.
Not only does every manufacturer make their version of Android a little bit different, there are icon packs available from Google Play to change the look easily, and the easy ability to flash different ROMs onto your phone to do a total overhaul of how everything looks and functions. If you even want to make it look like iOS for a lot cheaper, it isn't that hard.
Whatever you want, Android has it. Want a phone that does the basics and connects to Facebook? You can have that for less than $50. Want a unique device that no one has seen before? There are literal hundreds. Want a top of the line experience? Look at Motorola, Samsung, LG, ASUS HTC, Sony, OnePlus, ZTE, or even Google's new Pixel phones. I just got the OnePlus 3 which has a top tier chipset and 6 gigabytes of RAM to the iPhone 7's 3. My phone is $400 brand new.
There are a great deal of options within Android phones to distinguish their relative quality based on what matters to you. Want the best camera? Look at Samsung. Performance for a price? Look to China. Neat features? LG has module phones. Design? That's a matter of taste and there are a lot of options, I'd personally point to Motorola. The only significant factor to distinguish between the current iPhone and the previous model has typically been an aesthtic change, and usually a reasonable one. The iPhone 7 can't even claim that.
Beyond the omission of a headphone port (I still call crap on that), it looks almost identical to the 6S. I'll give credit where credit is due: Apple makes aesthetically immaculate products. I'm a sucker for aluminum bodies in electronics, and Apple definitely popularized the idea with their iOS and Mac lines. But anyone's iPhone looks exactly like every other iPhone in the same generation. There's no personality there.
Our smartphones are the most intimate devices in our lives, and I think they should also be an expression of who we are. That's why I really like Google's marketing line "be together, not the same." The Android community is held together in a way that benefits everyone, but allows for uniqueness of both software and hardware. I could talk about how Android always has features that Apple hasn't stolen, sorry, innovated yet. That's almost worth its own post.
Let me be clear: I want Apple to thrive, and even have the Mac market grow, even though I can hardly stand to use them. The reason for that is competition will drive my preferred operating systems (Windows and Android) to incorporate new features and better performance. Multiple large competitors benefits consumers and drive innovation as a whole. I don't think Apple is doing enough to compete right now.
They continue to make mediocre phones that they sell for a premium price, and I can't invest in that. I also won't tell off anyone who does. I couldn't imagine spending near a thousand dollars for something as low spec as a MacBook or an iPhone, but it makes sense for some people. If you want one ecosystem to do literally everything you need, Apple isn't a bad place to look. Be ready to pay. Nothing is user expandable or modifiable so you need to be prepared to pay for memory, RAM and ROM alike. Be okay with your device being indistinguishable from your friends. None of those are things I can live with. I won't pay more for a product that does less. If you want to, feel free.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I Hate My Job

Okay, it's not my job yet, but I'm writing this as I watch the final presidential debate of 2016, and it kind of hurts to remember that I am a Political Science student right now. I also voted today, for Hillary, and I feel good about that. I've been campaigning for her in Iowa because I believe in Clinton and the Democratic Party Platform, so I wanted to help save democracy. But this is a reminder that I am going into a nasty business.
Any Trump supporters reading this won't believe anything I talk about why he is a ignorant, prejudiced, incompetent, hate monger, so I won't discuss it. What I will say is that this election has brought out the worst in people.
There's the rise of the Alt-Right of course, especially with Trump insisting the election is rigged without evidence, but there's also a lot of P.C. culture spreading on my side of the aisle that I think comes from a well-meaning place, but is bad for my favorite amendment, the First. I'm a proud progressive, but even my own party seems at least somewhat alien.
Within the next decade, probably in Clinton's presidency, I'll be entering my career in the government, hopefully the State Department. This is a reminder that even with a continued control of the Executive Branch, which the polls and I agree is all but certain. What about the Legislature? What about the Judiciary? The Senate Republicans just promised not to confirm anyone Hillary proposes. I've known about our ideological for years, but it's only now becoming real that I am willingly going into this. I don't want to, but I need to.
First, I'm not great at many things in life, but policy I can do. Beyond that, I really do feel a calling to public service. Now, of course I have a great deal of respect for those who choose to join the armed forces, but in the same way I'm not made to be an engineer, I'm not made to be in the military. So I'll serve you all in another way. I'm going to be a diplomat, and nothing will stop me. My only promise is that I won't be a politician myself.
I feel literal pain from this. I mean that. I knew there was going to be some rough times, but this has made me really sad. Previously, I was open to working somewhere in the country. And maybe I still will. I really, really don't want to. Now, I am absolutely determined to be a Foreign Service Officer.

Friday, October 14, 2016

I Love Kanye

I like to think I'm a fairly smart person. That said, I often make some very stupid decisions. When I bought two tickets to Kanye West's Saint Pablo tour in St. Paul the day before I had a Russian test an noon, I was assuming I was making a very poor choice. I am glad to say that I was very wrong. In just under two hours, Yeezus did more for my outlook on then I could have expected.
While Yeezy is obviously one of the most acclaimed recording artists of the generation, that isn't why I wanted to see him. I paid to see a show. Prior to Ye' the most recent shows I had seen were Flo Rida and Elton John. I wanted to go see someone in between, an incredible artist with a lot of personality. With respect to both, West blew them out of the water.
I know it sounds like hyperbole, but the sheer spectacle of a man with Kanye's exuberance of performing combined with a stage like none other was awesome (in the literal sense). Watching the stage float over the floor like a magic carpet with a moving light system above set to fall toward the ground at certain times inspired awe in me, and I wasn't even in a particularly good seat.
The thing that Yeezus catches the most flack for is his self confidence, often referred to as narcissism. Is he self absorbed? Absolutely. But that's part of his art. Seeing the man who has refereed to himself as a god who is going to run for president in 2020 (real talk, Trump getting this far makes me think it's possible) flying with power and confidence made a lot of his lyrics really click for me. I found bravery in his bravado.
My fight with depression has been getting steadily easier, but that confidence in a man talking about saying what he wants and still climbing to the top really struck a nerve. In The Life of Pablo, there is a prayer for anyone who thinks they're not worth enough. That's me guys. Of course I've heard the words and I knew what it meant, but the live experience made it so, so much stronger. Say what you will about Kanye in his personal life, I truly believe he deserves everyone's respect.
The challenge I face now is an overwhelming desire to see more converts in the hopes of further shows in the hopes of another such revelation. Sure I'm going to see MC Lars, my favorite indie artist of all time, in November, but I don't know if that will be the same. I'll almost certainly meet him there, but I doubt he'll have that imagery because he's an indie hip hop artist who makes songs about Edgar Allen Poe and Pokemon GO. There is no way he, even with MC Chris and Mega Ran will have a budget like that. Maybe it will be a different kind of experience.
I'm going to meet an artist I've been listening to since I was 13 and tweeting at since I got on Twitter. That'll be great, and who knows, maybe that will change me too. I don't just love Kanye for his music, or his persona, or even his unparalleled showmanship. I love Kanye for opening my mind to the power of live music's transformative powers.