Things That Go Boom in the Night

August 20, 2013

Last night we heard what sounded like an explosion. I still can’t find any news reports about it–plenty of emergency vehicles materialized in the neighborhood, but no one seemed to be able to find the source of the noise. One neighbor, a combat veteran, said he’d seen some kids run into the bushes and assumed someone had been shot. Another guy claimed to have seen a flash and was sure a transformer had blown.

The last time I called 911 was five years ago, when a man was shot and killed several doors down from the apartment where I lived. In the aftermath it felt like everyone in the neighborhood was standing around on our porches and balconies, watching police and EMS come and go, some of us answering questions from a Herald reporter walking up and down the block. We’d heard gunshots? Were we sure? The answer is that once you’ve heard gunshots in person, you don’t really mistake them for anything else.

When I was growing up, the most sinister noises I could hear at night were probably just the odd possum or raccoon trying to root through our trash. I was afraid of wildfires and coyotes. I still instinctively flinch when I see a dog off leash. One dog on his own might run at your livestock, but two together could make a sport of it.

Then I moved to Boston.

In my freshman year of college, my dorm sat directly atop the subway route. Mass Ave ran just past my window. I could feel the whole building shake when the train slowly rumbled below and I couldn’t seem to block out the red and blue when flashing lights passed on the street at night. Our proctor assured us that we’d get used to the sounds of the city and I didn’t believe her until a few weeks later I realized I’d been reading in bed all night and hadn’t even noticed all those sights and sounds.

I’ve never really felt unsafe in this city. Just the other night I walked home–nearly a mile–well after midnight. I was maybe a little spooked when the lights at two intersections suddenly went dead, but I didn’t feel unsafe. I’m privileged enough to know that if I call the cops they’ll probably come pretty quickly (particularly since there’s a good chance plenty of my neighbors will call them, too) and that they’ll believe my answers if they ask me questions. But for the past couple of years I’ve found myself compulsively (irrationally) checking behind the shower curtain when I get home, just to make sure no one’s lurking there. I check my apartment door once, twice, three times before I go to bed.

There is no point to this post. I heard a loud noise last night and I still don’t know what it was. I don’t like that feeling.


And Behind Door #1…

August 1, 2013

I know I’ve written about this before, but I have a thing about public bathrooms. It’s not a phobia, it’s not an irrational fear, it’s a reasonable (I think) reaction to years of problems in public bathrooms. I’ve spent my entire adult life knowing that every time I step into a multiple occupancy women’s restroom, I run the risk of any number of outcomes that have happened to me time and time again: a woman enters, sees me, exits, and re-enters sheepishly. Someone tells me, “This is the ladies room.” A woman does a double-take. A woman laughs at me. Someone calls security on me. A woman stares me down like I’m wearing a t-shirt that says I’m here to molest your daughters.

I’ve had trans* women tell me I have more problems in bathrooms than they ever have.

A place that should be so simple, so basic, so available to me whether I just need to pee or check my hair or change my tampon has turned into a place I loathe. I will go out of my way to patronize bars and restaurants with gender-neutral (or just single-occupancy) bathrooms, but there are a lot of other things I do hoping to avoid all my favorite worst case scenarios. So, in no particular order,

Things I Do in Public Bathrooms (That You Probably Don’t Even Notice)

1. Send in an advance scout.
When I’m in a new bar or restaurant, I’ll often wait until another woman in my party visits the little girls room so that I can get a little recon. Is it multiple stall? Single stall? Gender-neutral? (Be still, my heart!) One of my favorite new bathroom configurations is at Publican in Chicago. Stalls are labeled M or W but they’re all single stalls and everyone uses the same big fountain sink, so nobody’s weirded out by washing their hands next to someone they think is a dude.

2. Bring an escort.
Especially in big, multi-stall situations (think airport or movie theater) I’m prone to going in with reinforcements. I’ve never really bought into the omg we have to go to the bathroom togetherrrrr! mentality, but I feel a lot safer walking into a bathroom, casually chatting with someone who is quite obviously a woman (or at least more obviously a woman than I am). I figure other women are going to know that a lady isn’t just going to waltz into a bathroom with her dude friend, so I must be safe.

3. Emphasize the goods.
I’m not the breastiest (and I know that apparently women use other cues, like haircut and wardrobe, when they’re deciding who does and doesn’t belong in a public bathroom) but I do have a pair of boobs, and I tend to try to accentuate them when I’m walking into a restroom. My whole posture changes, I’ll pretend to adjust my bra strap, or I’ll reposition the strap(s) of a bag to accentuate the boobs.

4. Accessorize.
Aside from wearing things to draw attention to certain parts of my anatomy, I’ll also momentarily ditch my baseball cap or throw a canvas bag on my shoulder. I’ve also been known to gesticulate with a tampon.

5. Get outta dodge.
The point at which I’m most likely to have a bad run-in is when I’m washing my hands. Most public bathrooms are laid out so that you walk in and immediately see the sink(s), or else come upon them from around a corner. Surprise! So I have a tendency to rush the whole hand-washing procedure–sometimes ditching it completely if I think it’ll get me out of a bathroom without running into another woman. Sadly, the very things that mark most women as la di da, just a lady here, like checking your hair or your outfit in the mirror, are the things that take too much time–I just don’t risk it.

Here’s the thing I don’t get. I’ve spent over a decade getting called out by strangers (some women, some not) for being in the “wrong” bathroom, but I have never–not once–found myself in a bathroom with someone whose appearance was so objectionable that I felt the need to say something. I’ve never felt unsafe in a public bathroom because I thought there was a dude in there with me–just tormented by other women.


June 19, 2013

Four years ago, I’m pretty sure I would have balked at the idea of seeing a therapist regularly. I certainly would have balked at the idea of taking medication, and probably would have tried to get off of it as quickly as possible (maybe even against medical advice, which is how I took myself off anti-depressants when I was 19).

Four years ago my resume listed more law library experience than school or youth work.

Four years ago I had never lived alone.

I had never had a credit card, a car, or paid for utilities in my own name.

What a difference four years can make!

It’s actually just under four years, because I started seeing Jane* in July of 2009, and last week we ended therapy.  Read the rest of this entry »

We Gotta Get Out of This Place

May 9, 2013

As I sat in traffic, still stuck behind a turning green line train, still hearing the honking and verbal abuse I received for–what, exactly? Waiting for traffic to move like everyone else? Refusing to cut off the turn lane for oncoming traffic because our side of the road wasn’t going anywhere and theirs was? Anyway, as I sat there, all I could think was I have to get out of here.

Lately The Fiancee and I have had some hard conversations about where and how we live. They’re necessary discussions, but they’re hard to have because change and the unknown are scary, and inertia is powerful. And, I guess, because I’m stubborn and lazy, but maybe that falls under change is scary.

Here’s the thing: I love Boston. I love Red Sox games (as long as I’m not trying to drive anywhere). I love leaning to see boats on the Charles out the window of the red line. I love a dirty Southie accent. I love being able to disdain my alma mater frequently and in person when I show off the campus to out of town guests. I love restaurants and bars and towering home runs.

But is that enough?
Read the rest of this entry »

This Is Health Care Reform?

January 31, 2012

So Massachusetts passed a law giving cities and towns an enormous amount of power to change the health care plans for municipal employees, essentially bypassing the collective bargaining process. (Individual collective bargaining agreements will still be honored as far as splits are concerned, but unions are pretty much given thirty days to argue their case, and then if the parties can’t agree a panel will look at the plans/changes strictly by the numbers. Hooray!) The AFT has a good summary here, or you can try to wade through the actual text of the law here (fun fact: Worcester County is exempt for some reason).

There’s been a general simmering discontent since the law passed, because none of us knew which cities and towns would go for it, or what it would ultimately mean when they did. Despite allocating $30,000 to study employee and retiree benefits in general, the Selectmen of the town I work for recently decided (before the $30,000 study was complete, I should add) to just go ahead and exercise their new powers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Things That Are Different

December 22, 2011

I kept meaning to write some kind of anniversary post last month, since mid-November was the time I came home from the hospital a year ago, but for whatever reason I never got around to it. In some ways last year seems ages ago, but there are other times when it feels like last week. I think part of my problem was that I was trying a little too hard to make a post like that Feel Significant. Instead, here are a few things that are different in my life since being hospitalized.

Read the rest of this entry »

Armchair Quarterbacks

December 4, 2010

A recent Feministe thread on education has me irked, yet again, by the way education debates usually seem to go. Why is it that we defer to experts on so many other topics, and yet so many Americans seem to think their opinion on education trumps all merely by virtue of having once been educated themselves? Hey, I fly on lots of airplanes–how come Boeing hasn’t hired me as a consultant yet?

I understand that we all want to use our personal experience to make sense of the world. And I realize that I’m not yet a parent, so I don’t have a parental point of view on what it’s like to send a kid through school. But I’m tired of the opinions of educators–those of us who are actually in schools and communities, fighting for better resources for children and young adults–constantly being shouted down by amateur education reform scholars.

Education is underfunded. If you look at the amount we’re shelling out for national security and defense versus education, our priorities are severely out of whack. The US ranks second in GDP purchasing power parity in the world, but it currently ranks 46th in education spending as a portion of total GDP–behind some of the usual characters, like the UK and the Netherlands, but also behind such nations as Cuba and Lesotho.

Educational funding is also seriously inequitable. The same neighborhoods and communities who find themselves shorted on municipal services, police and fire support, and social services are often the very same ones fighting to keep their schools open and adequately funded. Look at the proposed school closures and mergers for an urban district like Boston Public Schools, then try overlaying with crime data (PDF) from those same areas. Hint: Dorchester is District C, just as one starting point.

But beyond that, education is undervalued and maligned as a profession. Whenever individual school unions make unpopular choices, all educational unions–often all teachers–are demonized. When individual public schools and districts fail to meet benchmarks, the successes of other schools–yes, even inner-city public schools–are dismissed. The perceived power of some metropolitan teachers’ unions lead outsiders to paint teachers (and organized labor) with broad strokes. We’re in it for the money. We don’t care about students. We’re making outrageous demands.

All of this demonization also ignores the very real struggles teachers face in the classroom (and wherever educators may work). Although the profession is still perceived as female-dominated, the narrative of female teachers and male administrators is still sadly alive and well–including in many of our graduate programs. Male teachers, meanwhile, particularly at the lower levels, still face social stigma thanks to the sensationalized threat of sexual predators in classrooms. All of us who work with so-called “troubled” youth have to wade through self-perpetuating narratives of underperformance, not to mention ignorance among parents, colleagues and community members about issues like learning disabilities and mental illness.

Those of you who don’t work in education might have the luxury of throwing up your hands and declaring the system broken. But those of us who are educators can’t, and don’t, do that. We go to work every day, and we bring our jobs home with us every afternoon (or night). Not because we’re getting glory, or money, or power, or fame–because we love what we do, and because we believe in a better world for our students. We are building it with our hearts and minds and hands every day.