It’s Just NOT that Easy…

By Madison Filzer

Madison is a second year Master’s Candidate in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her research interests include Civil Rights activism in Cleveland, Ohio, and Black women’s activism in the United States.

When someone tells us they are experiencing domestic violence or any type of abuse for that matter, many people are quick to ask the question, “Well, why don’t you just leave?” and I think we need to talk about that.

Let’s talk about the vast range of reasons why an individual might not be able to just pack up and leave their abusers. In my opinion, if we start the conversation with this in mind, then we force those who ask these questions to think about why it might not be realistic to chuck the deuces and bounce. Also, with a comprehensive understanding of why individuals can’t just leave, we can brainstorm ways to counteract the institutions and structures that place this undue burden on the survivor. 

I spent the majority of my undergraduate career working with agencies that provided services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, among many other things. Working with survivors from all walks of life made me start thinking of the “what ifs” when it came to domestic violence. It seemed as if the more time I spent thinking about the “what ifs,” the more I realized that those what-if situations were a reality for many individuals seeking out services from the organizations I worked with. Most statistics state that it takes, on average, seven attempts to leave an abuser before actually being able to end the circle of violence. Since seven seems to be the magic number, I want to propose seven random scenarios off the top of my head for readers to think about in regards to asking, or telling, a survivor to “just leave.” 

  1. What if you live with a physical disability and are dependent upon your abuser for mobility. How can you get up and walk away from your abuse if you’re unable to walk? By default, you cannot leave the vicinity of violence if you’re physically unable to move.
  2. What if you live in a community that has been traumatized by police brutality. Would you call the police if you’re stuck in a catch-22 between police violence and violence at the hands of your abuser? In this situation, who could you look to for protection?
  3. What if English is not your native language, but the 9-1-1 operator doesn’t speak your language? Who do you call? 
  4. What if you are hearing impaired or nonverbal? How do you communicate to anyone, let alone authorities, that you are in a violent situation? 
  5. What if you are financially dependent upon your abuser? If you leave, how will you afford to put a roof over your head or food on the table? 
  6. What if you’re married to your abuser and are dependent upon them for health insurance? If you leave, how will you get access to healthcare? 
  7. What if you’re undocumented? Do you call the police and risk deportation, or do you endure the violence? 

Now, these examples might seem far-fetched for some, but every one of these situations resonates with me. I can put a name, a face, a family, and a story to those “what if” situations because I know that is the reality for some. So when we talk about domestic violence we need to start with an understanding that not all people can “just leave.” 

Lydia’s Diaries: Uncovering Women’s History in the Archives

By Rebecca Hopman

“Topsy’s Journal. Strictly private!

So begins Lydia Olsson’s diary. Olsson was an early female student at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, and the five diaries now held by Augustana Special Collections document her life on campus. I encountered Olsson’s diaries in the archives nearly a decade ago, and reading them changed my path in life.

Five notebooks with different cover designs arrayed on a black background

Lydia Olsson’s diaries. Courtesy of Augustana Special Collections.

In the summer of 2010, I was a rising senior at Augustana College. Built near the banks of the Mississippi River, Augustana is a typical liberal arts college. And I was a typical liberal arts student. Majoring in history, English, and German, I planned to become an archivist, and was preparing to apply to library science graduate programs that fall. In the meantime, I worked in Augustana Special Collections, processing archives and exploring the stacks.

Over the summer I worked longer hours, and during my lunch breaks I liked to browse the collections for something interesting, like a cache of love letters or a salacious diary (being an archivist means you are basically a professional snoop, reading all those private documents people left behind). Augustana Special Collections is full of such things, given that it holds many of the personal and professional papers of students, faculty, and staff from throughout the school’s 160 years of history.

One day I was looking through the finding aid for the Olof Olsson family papers and came across a listing for “Diaries, 1892-1896.” Olsson was the third president of Augustana College, and these diaries were written by Lydia, his third child. Intrigued, I pulled the appropriate box out of the stacks and opened the first book.

Topsy’s Journal. Strictly private!

Journal kept by Lydia Olsson of 18.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old time is still a-flying, And this same flower that smiles to-day. To-morrow may be dying.” [1]

“Keep true to the dreams of thy youth.” [2]

Black and white photograph of three young women and one young man

Lydia Olsson and her siblings, c. 1890s. Seated, left to right: Mia Olsson, Anna Olsson, Hannes Olsson. Standing: Lydia Olsson. Courtesy of Augustana Special Collections.

Topsy was Olsson’s nickname for herself, and, as I found by examining the rest of the diaries, she liked to begin each book with a couple of mottoes or quotes. Reading on, I was immersed in the daily life of a young woman attending Augustana College, just as I was doing 118 years later. She took a variety of courses, had a robust social life, and was close to her family. She joked about the young men on campus who were vying for the attention of their fairer classmates, thought seriously about the role of religion in her life, and contemplated her future.

Was at Sarah’s for supper and then we went to Chapel together. Mahnquist stared at us and smiled a long while, which made us nearly croak. I told Sarah I could see my picture in his greasy hair. Everybody has gone to bed and here I am sitting writing such nonsence. I am wicked! (January, 29, 1893) [3]

Mia and I were talking about marriages . . . Mia herself don’t want to marry, and I well, I truly havn’t made up my mind if I do or not. Some day when I get old and sensible I am going to think over every thing and see what conclusion I come to. The first question is: Do I? and will I ever regret it? The second: Who to? and do I love him with all my heart and soul, or is it a fancy. 3rd: Is this the one that Providence has picked out for me? 4: – Will we always love the same? (December 22, 1893)

The diaries resonated strongly with me, and I began to research what life was like for a young woman attending college in the 1890s. Looking deeper into the archives, I kept coming across letters and diaries written by the young women of Augustana. Their stories were a different kind of history, one that I hadn’t encountered in class. Forget kings and wars and important dates, these were ordinary people living ordinary lives. National and international events appeared on occasion, but they weren’t at the center of the narrative.

Mia was piling wood this morning, so Emil Lofgren went by and he helped her, so did I. Some went skating on the pond this morning. There don’t seem much to thank for now as Harrison didn’t become elected! (November 24, 1892) [4]

I consumed books and articles about life writing, learning that diaries, letters, and journals were often the only outlets for women’s writing. I checked out piles of published journals and correspondence written by women, from Virginia Woolf and Mary Boykin Chesnut to more obscure writers. Why hadn’t we read these sorts of sources in my history classes?

For the first time, I became interested in something I recognized as women’s history. It sounds odd to say that now, but at the time I didn’t know this was an area of study. Of course, I had learned about many fascinating women in class, but they were mostly queens or presidents’ wives or other notable women. And I encountered them in history textbooks, newspaper articles, political cartoons, and government documents. In rare cases I read a speech or a letter, but never anything that dwelled deeply on their private lives or how they experienced the world around them.

Black and white photograph of three women standing amongst bushes and trees

Lydia Olsson and her sisters, Mia and Anna Olsson. Courtesy of Augustana Special Collections.

Reading Lydia Olsson’s diaries changed my idea of what history could be, and of who I could learn about. While earning my master’s degree in library science and working as a librarian and archivist, I kept reading about women’s lives, becoming more committed to the idea of studying them in an academic program. It’s thanks to Olsson that I’m here at Sarah Lawrence College, fueling that spark her writing lit in me.

And hereby endeth this chapter. Hoping to sow better seed in the future I close and zeal my book. – Topsy­ – (January 16, 1893)

October is American Archives Month. Celebrate by exploring your local archives and special collections – you never know what you might find. Sarah Lawrence College students, faculty, and staff can learn more about the Sarah Lawrence College Archives on their website and Facebook page.


Resources


Notes

[1] The opening stanza of Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.”
[2] A quote from the German dramatist and poet Friedrich von Schiller.
[3] Olsson’s original spelling, grammar, and word choice are retained in these quotes.
[4] Olsson is referring to the 1892 United States presidential election between incumbent Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland.


Rebecca Hopman is a first-year student in the Women’s History graduate program at Sarah Lawrence College. She is the Project Archivist at the Sarah Lawrence College Archives and works as an editor for the Re/Visionist. Her research interests include the history of itinerant performers, gender dynamics in artistic communities, women’s life writing, and women’s collegiate experiences.

Domestic Violence Is Not Straight Violence

By Sidney Wegener

Sidney is a first year Master’s Candidate studying Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College. Their academic interests include lesbianism and lesbian history in American from the 1920’s to the 1930’s. They are currently pursuing many different avenues for research in U.S. history pertaining to women’s and queer studies and looking forward to working on a thesis related to the linguistic and social evolution of female sexuality.


Content warning: This article consists of narrative, rhetoric, and statistics that may be triggering for some readers as it discusses the queer experiences of domestic/sexual violence.


I sat and quietly listened, my heart pounding, while one of my close friends in high school told me about the fight she and her girlfriend had gotten into the night beforehand. I was doing my best not to stare at her bruised and swollen left eye. This was my first relatively close encounter with domestic violence. I remember, when I was younger, hearing about how sometimes “bad boyfriends or husbands beat their women.” However, all of the rhetoric I had ever heard, or read, about abusive partnerships consisted of a single story: men abusing women. I am writing this article for the purpose of displacing this narrative because domestic violence is not limited to cisgendered, heterosexual relationships.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides the following statistics on queer/trans relationship abuse:

  • 43.8% of lesbian women and 61.1% of bisexual women have expereinced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner
  • 26% of gay men and 37.3% of bisexual men have expereinced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner
  • Transgender victims are more likely to expereince intimate partner violence in public
  • LGBTQ Black/African American victims are more likely to experience physical violence, compared to those who do not identify as Black/African American
  • LGBTQ victims on public assistance are more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to those who are not on public assistance (public assistance refers to state/government forms of support for individuals in need and/or disabled)

These are only a few statistics which counter the widespread presumption that domestic abuse occurs only among cisgendered/straight partnerships. While these statistics primarily address monogamous relationship dynamics, it is crucial to take into account the array of different genders, races, classes, and sexual orientations which experience domestic abuse and/or sexual violence. Domestic and sexual violence can occur on seperate grounds as well as overlap with eachother. Domestic violence can also come in many different forms, not all of which are readily recognizable in queer relationships. For example, if one partner threatens to “out” their significant other as non-cisgendered or non-heterosexual, the act constitutes as one of abuse between intimate partners. In addition to this, misuse of pronouns in intimate partnerships also operates as a form of emotional/verbal abuse. Parallel to the assumption that domestic violence transpires only between couples consisting of a man and a woman, gender plays a critical role in how abuse (sexual, verbal, physical, financial, or otherwise) is defined, perceived, and treated by the victim’s loved ones and the public. 

LGBTQIA+ people who find themselves experiencing domestic or sexual violence face many more obstacles in finding support and protection from the party responsible for the abuse. Often, sexual violence or abuse that takes place between same-sex and/or transgender couples is taken even less seriously than that which occurs betweeen cisgender/heterosexual couples. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “In 2012, fewer than 5% of LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence sought orders of protection”.  This statistic reflects that there are numerous reasons why queer/transgender victims do not report their experiences, often pertaining to anti-queer/trans legislature or lack of support. 

Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month as well as LGBTQIA+ History Month, I found that this article is a particularly important one to write. In a world where systemic violence is inflicted upon LGBTQIA+ bodies daily, I would like to call attention to intimate partner violence which persists within our own community. Beyond that, it is crucial to disrupt the ongoing narrative that domestic abuse/sexual violence is a strictly cisgender/straight phenomenon. By bringing statistics on the realities of queer/trans relationship abuse and violence to light, I hope that cisgendered and straight allies can be more aware of and compassionate toward their queer/trans loved one’s expereinces. In addition to this, I would like to emphasize the importance of validating the violence experienced among members of the LGBTQIA+ community in all forms.

If you are located in a state that is anti-trans and/or anti-homosexual, lacking support from your community, or if you are unsure of whether or not you have experienced sexual and/or domestic violence; seeking help as an abuse victim, and member of the LGBTQIA+ community, involves facing many different obstacles. However, reporting the person responsible for the abuse and/or violence is a critical way in which victims can be validated and protected by community and law. Below are some resources for those who have experienced, are expereincing, or know someone who is a victim of queer domestic and/or sexual violence. Reach out, report, and support because Domestic Violence Awareness Month means standing up against intimate partner violence in all forms and for all people.

Statistics Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence,  https://ncadv.org/blog/posts/domestic-violence-and-the-lgbtq-community

The Anti-Violence Project: serves people who are LGBTQ; Hotline 1-212-714-1141, Bilingual 24/7

FORGE: serves transgender and gender nonconforming survivors of domestic and sexual violence; provides referrals to local counselors, 1-414-559-2123

Northwest Network– serves LGBT survivors of abuse; can provide local referrals: 1-206-568-7777

Here is the Tell

By Kris Malone Grossman

Kris received their BA in English from UC Berkeley and an MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Women’s Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where she is co-researching prismatic narrative standpoint and women’s embodied art practice.


Content warning: This piece discusses alcoholism, abuse, and violence.


In recent years some members and friends of A.A. have asked if it would be wise to update the language, idioms, and historical references in the book to present a more contemporary image for the Fellowship. However, because the book has helped so many alcoholics find recovery, there exists strong sentiment within the Fellowship against any change to it.

                                                —From the Introduction to Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

Its a miracle Im here to tell you this:

all those years I tried to be dead.

It hurts to say all this.

I need you. Talk to me.

How does my life remind you of your own?

                                                                        —Joan Larkin, from “A Qualification: Pat H.”

Shame: the unspoken, taking root. Uprooting, tap-rooting, tapping the soul, rooting in the bones. Perfidious tangled roots sinking down, primed to exhaust one’s stores. The unspoken, unspeaking—re-unspeaking, pushing the shame down, down, down, where, having no outlet, it serpentines through the body, lodging in cells, with its tendriling fingers that refuse to be stilled, an unchecked, shapeshifting entity casting itself about, thrashing against one’s heart: a silent cacophony. A cacophony: the voices of women in my family, “The day you were born was the worst day of my life—you ripped me to pieces, I almost died,” my great-grandmother to my grandmother, an oft-repeated, shaming refrain; my great-grandmother, forced, while pregnant, to sequester in her prairie town, lest someone spot her and be reminded: something shameful had occurred, was occurring, her womanbody an emblem of shame, invidious reminder of companion shame: townsmen practicing manifest destiny on women’s bodies as they had the land, “You ripped me to pieces” the foreboding leitmotif informing my grandmother’s girlhood, at nine, forced to bind her breasts, lest she and her girlbody shamefully arouse any men. Such manifest solicitousness, a nine-year-old’s solicitousness, a girl’s, a child’s, solicitousness, she, whose father, complicit in his silence, just like my mother’s father, the man my grandmother, who ripped apart her mother, would marry, because that’s what girls do, because that’s what you do: rip apart your mothers and marry silent men and keep equally silent in a perfectly silent, perpetual re-silencing. He’s a real quiet man, they say of the men in my family. Shame, silence, how, when the two wed, their union begets ever more shame. How shame lodged in my mother’s bones, carried down: generations, embodied memory. How shame coursed through her veins that, pre-Rowe and losing blood, hemorrhaged, Scarlet lettered, covert, ashamed, you ripped me to pieces, I almost died, she marries my father, a drinker, a Real Quiet Man,who was it who said, Silence is deafening?, a silence that suffused the house I grew up in, the street I grew up on, the street where a house alight with shameful ghosts will later collapse in on itself, a two-story house, a many-storied house, front corner room upstairs where boys took girls down, housecats traipsing nonchalantly past, past the stacks of smut rags dirty socks wet towels musky T-shirts lumped in the hall, the silence of addiction and shame and Real Quiet Men and Real Quiet Boys and Even Really And Ever So Much Quieter Girls; alcoholism, they say, is a family disease, one big unhappy family disease in its variegated unhappy ways. Silence, addiction, shame, you ripped me to pieces the day you were born. Infants, before they feed, often become so agitated by the scent of the breast they cannot suckle. Fists clenched, bodies taut, tensed, thrashing, the infant seeking, red-faced, screaming, for the breast. The milk lets down to the sound of her cries, the milk sprays, the milk wets her cheek, whetting her appetite. Milk surging so swiftly it gags the infant when she latches on. She screams again, outraged, repeats the pattern again and again. Insanity, some genius claimed, is doing the same thing over and over again expecting—expecting what? Sometimes you win. Sometimes, the infant wins. When she does, her fists slowly uncurl. Her body relaxes. The breast. The milk. What she’s been waiting for. Not for shaming not for binding: for nourishing. The infant suckles, the fists slowly uncurl. She suckles, soothed in her suckling. That with swagger my girlfriends and I boasted loudly, we sucked it up, outing the truth in bluster designed to silencetruth: another line, push it down; another fuck, push it down; another denial, push it down; what was happening to us, push it down; who was doing it, push it down. What was happening? We could only guess: guess from what we knew: what was happening to us, to each other, our mothers, our grandmothers: Real Quiet Men. Real Quiet Boys. Who kept each other’s company. A quiet sort of company. This is a family affair. This is family business. This is—Oh, come now! Boys will be boys. He was high, he was drunk, he was not in control, he was not in his right mind, he was needing an outlet, he was suffering, he was misunderstood, he was laid off, he was turned on, he was scared, he was having fun, he was, he was, he was. He was what? He needed what? He was not in control of what?

We were what. We were what was happening to us: our own quiet addictions, taking root alongside shame, twisting together like strands of DNA, an (un)coping mechanism. What was (re)happening to us: Real Quiet Boyfriends who, like the brothers and fathers and uncles and mothers’ boyfriends we knew, in keeping with our families of origin, in keeping with the tenet that alcoholism is a family disease, that alcoholism is a community disease, that addiction is our disease, we would be likely to partner with addicts, in our cases lovers who also knew that boys will be boys. Boyfriends, girlfriends, who, too, had been schooled in the cult of silence, who understood that we were astutely trained in its tacit curriculum: boys will be boys will be men will be boys.In the borrowed pickup. In the carpeted bedroom. In the wet grassy lawn at Fair Oaks Park. In the cemetery orange groves. In the swelter of a Sacramento Valley summer night. In the manure-smelling horse pastures. In the Safeway parking lot. In the knock-down, ho-hum everyday dirt road: pull out, pull down, peel out, pull off. Remaking the map, the map of California, the map of our bods. Shares that are violent or sexual in nature are better left for discussion outside the group. Admitted to God? To Him? Admitted what? The nature of our wrongs? Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of what? How despite this, we begin to tell. How the memories tell themselves, fold in on themselves, unfurl again. A single subdivision block. A cast of girls casting about, cast on the heap, giving over to go-fast and gone down. Carrying us, sweeping us, down. Lost at sea. Adrift on some sea. How not to tell. This is the tell. Here is the tell. Boyfriend, father, brother, lover: Where does one end and the other begin?

Bibliography

Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, last accessed September 1, 2019, https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/twelve-steps-and-twelve-traditions

Larkin, Joan. A Long Sound. Penobscot, ME: Granite Press, 1986.

Hispanic Heritage and Making America Great

By Madison Filzer

Madison is a second year Master’s Candidate in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her research interests include Civil Rights activism in Cleveland, Ohio and Black women’s activism in the United States.

Let me take you back to 1942, only a few years after the Great Depression, in the midst of World War II. In many ways, the United States was struggling on the homefront. With no one to work the jobs that were too low paying to sustain the American dream, there was no way to meet the demands of consumers. In a quick fix to the lack of able-bodied laborers here in the states, millions of migrant workers from Mexico were welcomed with open arms to ensure that our agriculture industry continued despite feeling the effects of war. At that moment, the Bracero Program was born. Bracero in this context, which literally translates to “laborer” in Spanish, meant one who works with their hands.

On August 4, 1942, the United States entered into the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement in order to sustain the large farm industry in the United States. Over the course of twenty-two years, it’s estimated that over two million Mexican immigrants signed contracts to work on American farms and railroads on a temporary basis for wages lower than Americans not fighting in the war were willing to work for. This program was later enacted into law as an amendment to the Migrant Labor Agreement of 1951. The extension of this agreement repeatedly brought Mexican workers back to the states to work in return for housing, low wages, and “humane treatment.” 

As one could imagine, the housing was poor, the job came with risks, and the workers were not treated humanely. But that isn’t why I wrote this piece … I want to talk about the immigration rhetoric we currently hear from the most recent occupant of the White House. The fact of the matter is that at one point, we were welcoming Latinx immigrants to the United States because we were in need of help. Now, only four decades later, there are people advocating for a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico. By ignoring this history, we allow a false narrative of the “bad hombre” to be perpetuated. 

Yes, this was a bilateral deal that was beneficial to both parties in some way, but the logic that follows this history is the notion that there are jobs in America that Americans simply won’t do. We outsourced laborers to fill our needs and we still do. Imagine if every immigrant worker left right now … do we have enough people left to sustain the economy? I don’t know but I don’t think we want to find out. 

In case you didn’t know, September 15th through October 15th is National Hispanic Heritage Month, and I feel compelled to write this in honor of LatinX immigrant history. When I first heard of the Bracero Program a quick Google search returned few results. I feel like if more people knew about the program,  they would have the same questions about immigration that I have. How can we turn our backs on people in search of opportunity when that’s what brought European immigrants here? How would we sustain life as we know it in the United States without people willing to do the hard labor that others shy away from? I might not have the answers to any of the above questions, but as an aspiring historian who has ample access to historical resources, I felt obligated to share information that I believe has the power to change the way people look at immigration. 

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

By Hannah McCandless

Hannah is a second year graduate student in the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College. Hannah is writing her thesis on Matilda Hamilton Fee and women in higher education administration in the south during the 19th century. 

When first introduced to Women’s Studies in college, I initially gravitated toward studying the educational discrepancies I noticed in my high school regarding sex education. Growing up in a relatively small town in the Bible Belt south, I can assure you, there were several. I look back at the startled young woman, realizing for the first time, that her Physical Education and Health classes were nothing more than half facts and shame tactics, and I’m thankful that my college professors were encouraging that I explore that missing part of my education more. In this post, I’ll be looking at state sex education laws, the heteronormativity of the curriculum, and some long term effects of skewed facts and questions left unanswered. 

In my freshmen year college dorm room, I found myself talking with my peers about our experiences with sex education. Students from northern states quickly realized that their experiences were vastly different from those of southern states. Those of us from Kentucky thought we might have similar experiences if we went to public schools, but we found that was not the case. According to federal law, states are allowed to determine their sex education curriculum. Broadly, states’ choices range from one of three mandate options: “sex education,” “HIV education,” and “sex education and HIV education.” Within that’s collection of options, states are allowed to push abstinence only education.  Looking at the map below, you can see which states ascribe to which educational theory. Notice a pattern? 

https://infographic.statista.com/normal/chartoftheday_18825_state_laws_sex_ed_in_the_us_n.jpg

Yep, that’s right, a lot of southern states coming in strong on that abstinence only curriculum. Digging even deeper, we find that several states, Kentucky included, allow for each county or school district to decide the sex education curriculum. In some states, the Superintendent of a school district can decide what the curriculum will include. In others, site based councils (which often include parent membership) decide what is taught. That kind of power in the hands of few, with varying agendas, leads to inconsistencies in educational outcomes. 

As you may have noticed earlier, when I listed the main types of routes for sex education curriculum, they are all based to some degree in the assumption that sex happens between a cisgender male and cisgender female. The phrasing of abstinence only and other aspects of sex education are extremely heteronormative. That is to say that, in most teacher’s curriculum, straight and monogamous relationships are set as the norm. With that comes strong and harmful gender norms that pigeonhole young people. One study even found that the curriculum taught in several schools, because it plugs heteronormative relationships so strongly, promoted homophobia. 

When we look at the sex education system in the US, there are several long term effects. Mentioned above, one ends up being a complete intolerance for people in relationships that are non heteronormative. Another is a higher rate of teen pregnancy and STIs in states that lack more comprehensive and medically accurate sex education. Another is a friend from college not knowing that the urethra and vagina are two different holes. The system is flawed and it leads to unhealthy relationships with others and our own bodies. If you get nothing else from this piece, look at this website to see what your state says about sex education. If you can reach out to your local school board and ask what the curriculum is and find out if it is medically accurate. Work with parents and site boards to create more inclusive and comprehensive sex education. 

Sources: 

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1363460713497216?journalCode=sexa

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.statista.com/chart/amp/18825/state-laws-sex-ed-in-the-us/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.statista.com/chart/amp/18825/state-laws-sex-ed-in-the-us/

https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/SIECUS-SP-FY17-State-Law-and-Policy-Chart.pdf

Being Gay for Halloween

By Sidney Wegener

Sidney is a first year MA candidate studying Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College. Their academic interests include lesbianism and lesbian history in American from the 1920’s to the 1930’s. They are currently pursuing many different avenues for research in U.S. history pertaining to women’s and queer studies and looking forward to working on a thesis related to the linguistic and social evolution of female sexuality.

Halloween, 2014, I was a senior in high school. At this point in time, I was already out of the closet; not necessarily by choice, but rather because some kid named Alex stole my phone in AP Environmental Science at the end of my sophomore year and read my text messages with my girlfriend at the time. He spread the news to just about everyone and by the end of the day the entireschool knew: I was a lesbian. My first high school did not find this amusing; my teachers found it intolerable, my coaches found it unathletic, and my “friends” found it shameful. Thankfully, I was able to transfer to a different high school a few towns over, and at this one, it seemed okay to be gay. I brought my girlfriend to homecoming, prom, and one of my basketball teammates, Sarah, was also a lesbian. I was no longer trapped in a nightmare of an institution, populated by a tiny town known for generation after generation settling back down in the same community. Everybody’s grandparents knew everybody’s grandparents, and everybody’s business was everybody’s entertainment. So by the time I was a senior at my second high school, I remember thinking to myself, “wow, this is what it’s like to be free, to be myself”. Looking back now, I laugh at how I felt so freely lesbian that I made myself into a costume. 

In 2014, Halloween was the Friday of Homecoming week. So, naturally, the students, teachers, and administration all wore their costumes for the last spirit day. Sarah and I coordinated our costumes. We both wore lab coats with large name tags reading: “Scientist for Straight Girls Wanting to Experiment”. Walking around campus, I remember thinking to myself how many of my female identified classmates were sporting costumes which seemed, to me at least, pretty sexy for walking from class to class. My second high school was a lot more lenient on the rules, and it showed during spirit week. However, that did not stop an administrative member from intervening in my stroll to chemistry. Despite my lab coat attire being quite fitting for a science class in which we wore protective eye gear, my name tag was inappropriate. When I met up with Sarah before basketball practice, she had also changed her costume and by the end of the day we were both just regular scientists. 

Now, I contemplate what it means to wear a “costume” and where the boundaries lie in terms of what is “appropriate.” I mean, how is it that Kaylee got to walk around in a see through Tinkerbell costume, and my pun on my own sexuality was “distracting”? If it was not a school spirit day designated for wearing a costume I wouldn’t have even been breaking the dress code. In a holiday themed effort to express myself, part of me realized that being gay was not something I could wear, unless it went without being said. Apparently, I was “promoting” homosexuality. Kaylee’s costume didn’t have a label on it reading “sexy, hyper-feminized Disney character”, whereas my costume’s meaning rested solely on a nametag, categorizing what kind of “scientist” I intended to be perceived as. Furthermore, Kaylee was not a Tinkerbell-identified human, while I was (and still am) a raging lesbian. So what is the difference for a high school, that allows everyone to wear costumes, between my “Scientist for Straight Girls Wanting to Experiment” lab coat and Kaylee’s “sexy seventeen year old girl take on Tinkerbell” costume? From where I stand today, it seems that dressing in a sexy costume as a seventeen year old girl in high school is okay, so long as it silently complies to a straight, male gaze. A lab coat, jeans, and a t-shirt are also fine-  until you label the outfit as a costume. Well, a lesbian costume.