I complimented a black woman on her hair the other day, and my motivations were weird. I keep thinking about it, and keep being like “it’s a compliment, she was probably happy, I should just forget about it” but I can’t hide from myself. I know it was weird, and that’s why it keeps bugging me. See, I know I have the tendency to compliment natural black hairstyles – in America. (It’s worth noting that how I perceive black people in England is different from how I perceive black people in America, and I act differently accordingly.)

Oh god, I just figured out the root of my compliment, and it’s super embarrassing. So, I’m going to ease into it with an analogy.

Back in high school, I shaved off my hair, and some self-identified feminist high-school guy said to me “oh, I liked your haircut before” or something.

And, I said “I don’t care what you think,”

And he responded with “Good for you.”

Like, he was well meaning, but he still couldn’t drop the mindset that somehow his opinion *mattered*. Even after I told him I didn’t care what he thought, he felt the need to communicate his approval of me. The idea that he might be irrelevant to my decision making process was sort of incomprehensible to him.

Anyway, my compliment had a similar vibe to that. I feel the need to congratulate black people on their natural hairstyle choices because deep down, it is incomprehensible to me that they wouldn’t want my approval. This type of behavior is called a microaggression because, in a small way, I invalidated the autonomy of another human by implicitly assuming the increased validity of my own opinion. I’d actually use the word “micro-manipulation” to more accurately describe what I felt. I didn’t feel very aggressive, per se, but I did feel a bit manipulative. I mean, I guess manipulation is a form of aggression – but, if you think you ever may be on the aggro-side of this (and, most of us fall into at least one dominant “culture” of sorts – white, straight, cis, or male) I’d suggest feeling for where you’re acting a little manipulative. It probably won’t feel like anger or dislike (and, if it does, it may not be a “micro” aggression.)

I’ve been on the other side of this too, and it feels – confusing. When I started dating my now ex girlfriend, I found people would just ignore the fact that I was in a relationship. One instance was when a straight couple made up of two friends of mine suggested that one of their friends might be a good boyfriend for me, and I was like “hello, I already have a girlfriend!” Like, if I had to guess at what they were thinking, they were probably thinking “oh, wouldn’t it be fun if the four of us went out on a double date together!” But, the fact that I already had a gf was nowhere in their brains, because “woman-woman” relationships just didn’t register as a “real” relationship the same way a “man-woman” relationship would.

I don’t mean to judge them, since clearly I do this stuff too. But, in that moment I felt – lost, confused. Ignored, as if what I wanted wasn’t important. It was also really hard for me to call them out, since they are a very queer friendly couple in a lot of ways, and would have been mortified to see themselves doing this. (I did actually explain this to my friend eventually, and I think he got it.) But, it suckkkks to be the bearer of bad news. “I hate to inform you, but you act a little homophobic in sometimes.” Yeah, try telling that to your liberal friends and see how well it goes over.

Perhaps a useful guideline to start thinking about this stuff is “am I doing this to support what this person wants for themselves?” For instance, if I had a friend who recently changed her hairstyle and I was like “hey, you look great!” that’s seems fine, since I’m supporting her decision for how she wants to look. On the other hand, if I have a friend who every time her hair gets a bit longer I’m like “you look great!” right before she gets a haircut, then I’m sort of trying to manipulate her into a different hairstyle choice than the one she wants – one that makes *me* comfortable, not *her*. Not that this would all be considered a “microaggression” necessarily, but it’s a place to start looking. Also, on a larger scale, trying to support people to live the lives they want to live rather than the lives we want for them is a good step to work toward a generally less fucked up society.

Issues I Have With White People Talking about Racism

I am a white person who talks about racism. But, I have issues with *other* white people talking about racism. Not all other white people, just some of them.

There are two major issues a lot of white people have when talking about racism, and they tend to be either:

  • A refusal to seriously dive deeply into why “racist” white people behave the way they do
  • A refusal to seriously dive deeply into what it might be like to be a person of color*

To not become a hypocrite within the scope of one paragraph, I will theorize on why white people do this.

I think that today, it is socially desirable to be “not a racist.” Labeling someone as a “racist” is socially damning, which is a shame, because if we could kind of make it less shocking it may be easier to fix.

Hey bro, that was sort of a racist thing to say.

Oh, sorry! I’ll be more careful next time.

Usually, however, that exchange does not got that way. It goes more like,

Uhhh.. that’s kinda racist.


I mean, maybe we could keep “racist” as an extreme term, and replace it with “mildly prejudiced” or something. I suppose that’s what “check your privilege” is about, but I hate the term privilege so perhaps I’ve expunged it from my brain.

Anyway, the flip side of this, is white people can gain social capital by projecting how NOT RACIST they are to the world. Check out this Ellen DeGeneres clip:


Within the first 30 seconds, she claims “not to see color, [she’s] like a cocker spaniel in that way.” Despite her inability to see color, this celebrity stalker website sure makes it looks like most of her girlfriends have been white.

Not that there’s anything wrong with dating white people, but it raises the question – why does someone who only dates white women feel the need to project the incorrect assertion that they are “color blind” to the world?

Thing is, I think Ellen – and many white people – care more about looking not-racist than they do about being not racist. They’re more concerned with their own social status, then they are with the lived in experiences of people of color. A lot this “color blindness” is really narcissistic posturing on behalf of white people. (See the first section of Mia McKenzie’s article on this here.) And like, I get it. We live in a narcissistic facebook “sizzle not the steak” kind of society.

But, this type of posturing doesn’t help people of color. It helps white people look good. Discourse on racism has been co-opted by people of privilege. Engaging in this is actually perpetuating the system of racism, which uhhh, is a problem if you’re actually anti-racism.

Anyway, white people won’t get past this until they learn to see people of color as people, and they can’t learn to see people of color as people until they can see themselves as people and stop self-objectifying. But, that’s a whole other article for a whole other day.

* Apparently it’s a thing, some people prefer the term “racialized” to people of color. I’ve decided to stick with the term for now, after reading/watching these articles/videos with the understanding that “people of color” is something people choose as a self-identity, not something I label them as if they don’t want to be labeled that.




I just found out a girl who lived in my dorm in school committed suicide. I didn’t know her very well, but honestly, what I did know I didn’t like very much. One of my few memories of her was from when my suite stole the stove from her suite. She sent an angry email to the dorm, demanding to know what had happened with the stove.

I responded, saying we should meet with the house mediators and discuss stove distribution because I was not entirely convinced their need for one stove was greater than our need for two. She responded back with a furious email, clearly unaware that I was trolling her. I laughed with my friends about it.

Now, however, I realize she was probably an unhappy person even then. We found her inability to take a joke funny at the time, but it haunts me now. In addition to having no sense of humor, she was also a conventionally attractive girl with a countercultural style. Apparently, she was also extremely good at math, taking on an immense workload while working to pay her way through college. I had no real sense of the person she was, or the type of stress she may have been under, that led her to reacting the way she did to our juvenile behavior.

When I was first told about her suicide, I remember feeling a deep blankness inside me. I didn’t know her well, or have much affection for her, but I just wanted her out in the world, doing her thing. She was supposed to be *there* working hard and responding humorlessly to emails. What does it mean that she isn’t? What does it mean that she’s gone?

When I ask myself these questions, there I just feel the nothing that is her future. I remember watching her as she worked at the front desk doing her work, and thinking unkind thoughts about her. What if I could go back in time, and whisper in my younger ears “she will die when she’s 31.” How would that have changed anything? Would I have walked up to her one of the many times I walked past her and said hello?

Yes Means Yes Bill

A new law in California is expected to pass that would require affirmative consent on college campuses receiving public funds – see here. Notably, it doesn’t criminalize sex without affirmative consent, it simply requires disciplinary action at the academic level (which could include expulsion.)

I like the sound of the law, but it is definitely not the mindset I grew up with.

I remember reading this Dan Savage letter answer a while back that totally blew my mind.  It’s a letter from a man who tried to have a sexual encounter with his girlfriend and another couple.

The man describes the situation in his letter as such:

The minute the date started, it was clear she was having problems. It was nothing the other couple would have noticed, but I could tell she was not having fun. I must have asked her 20 times over the course of the evening, “Are you OK? Do you want to go home?” Each time she gave a monotone, “I’m fine.” When it came time to decide whether to go to their house, the same thing happened. I gave her as many opportunities to gracefully exit as possible, and she said no at each one. So, as you can probably guess, when it came time to actually taking off the clothes and getting down, she froze up, wouldn’t do anything, and we had to go upstairs.

I feel that, by not taking any of my opportunities to bow out, and then freezing up at the crucial moment, she completely destroyed the fantasy of mine. I think that what she did was enormously unfair to me and the other couple, and she should apologize. She only talks about how dirty and wrong it felt to her. I think that is fine that she felt that way, but then why the hell didn’t she bow out before agreeing to go over to their house?

And, Dan responds with:

I definitely could’ve guessed that your girlfriend would freeze up. I could’ve guessed that and I wasn’t there and I don’t know your girlfriend.

Your girlfriend wasn’t okay that night, CIC, and you knew it.

She was telling you what you wanted to hear, CIC, and you knew it.

You should’ve called the whole thing off, CIC, and you know it.”

When I read this, the idea that our sexual partners should be actively trying to act so that *we are ok* and not simply trying to get “whatever they can” out of us was totally mind-blowing.  I remember once, one of my ex boyfriends with whom the sex was routinely painful, said to me with frustration, “I can always tell when you’re about to ask me to stop having sex.” What he was essentially saying was, “I can tell when you are in pain, but I keep having sex with you anyway, hoping you won’t say anything this time so I can finish.”

I felt ashamed of myself for needing to ask to stop, so I would usually try to endure it as long as I could. However, his priorities seemed natural to me – that his pleasure should trump my pain.

Another ex of mine said “if you’re not willing to finish, don’t start being sexual with me” This had the effect of essentially ending our sex life, since I was always afraid to start something I may not want to finish. However, it also had the effect of revoking my ability to withdraw my consent if things took a wrong turn (another part of Dan’s letter which blew my mind: “Each of us has an absolute right to bail—to withdraw our consent—at any time.”) The few times we did start making out, I would continue with sex even if I didn’t want it because I felt like we had a “bargain” where my time to reject sex had already passed. One thing this ex never said was, “Why is it that you often don’t want to continue having sex with me? Are you not enjoying our sex life?” or “What can we do so you enjoy sex more?”

And, I don’t think we can really address these issues with a bill, but I think so many objections to it are based on a similar mindset that me and my boyfriends had. In an earlier version of it that was implemented on Antioch College, one of the young men said “If I have to ask those questions I won’t get what I want.” And, how do we move on from that?

I guess I’ve now taken the mindset that it would be better to be single and celibate than to be with someone who doesn’t care about your experience, which is a peaceful place to be. But, if decide to start doing things again, I think I’d ask for radical consent. One of my friends hooked up with a girl who asked for radical consent – before every sexual act, they had to ask the other one “can I do this?” say “can I kiss you?” or “can I touch your breast?” etc.

However, I think I’d change my question to be “do you want?” as in “do you want me to kiss you?” or “do you want me put my hand down your pants?” I don’t remember any time in my sex life where I was able to give enthusiastic consent, without worrying about what it would lead to. I might like it.


I Talk About Myself A Lot

An old friend of mine, let’s call him “Sam” was visiting town and one of my local friends, let’s call him “Butthead,” was letting him stay at his place. Butthead told Sam, “I’ll bet the first thing Emma does when she sees you is talk about herself, before she asks how you are doing.”

I then proceeded to do just that. Butthead later repeated the story to me, saying that he believed part of the reason I was so unhappy was that I talked about myself too much, I was not able to focus on other people. (For the record, I am not unhappy.)

I did this same thing on my first date with my girlfriend. We met on OKCupid, and as soon as we had our first real world encounter, I went off on a long monologue about whatever various things were in my head. Months later, my girlfriend told me that the first thought she had was “oh good, she talks.” You see, my girlfriend is a little bit shy. Sometimes, when she goes on dates with other people who are a little bit shy, they sit there with a lot of silence going on and it’s uncomfortable.

I never have this problem. In fact, out of about 20+ OK Cupid dates I’ve had, I’ve only ever once encountered a person who didn’t want to go on a second date with me. Sure, these budding relationships frequently fall apart after my terrible personality becomes more apparent, but I am *killer* at first dates. I never get nervous about talking to people one on one. Often, I get nervous at parties where I’ll have to break into a group conversation, but once I get into a one on one conversation, I’m golden. I’m good at job interviews, and I am *great* with shy people. The reason is, I talk about myself.

I used to be very shy, painfully shy, when I was in grade school. Once, on the schoolbus, I was watching this girl who was more popular than me who was able to talk to everyone and I thought to myself “how does she always have something to talk about?” Then, I noticed – she talked about herself, and no one seemed to mind. If anything, they seemed to enjoy it.

Thing is, many people are shy, and for many shy people the #1 concern they have is in conversation is “is the other person judging me?” In fact, I’d guess most people – shy or not – secretly wonder this. And sure, I may be self centered, and this popular girl may have been self centered, but we’re always having fun in our conversations and we’re generally not judging the other person. By taking the focus off the other person, at least initially, this gives someone – especially a shy someone – space to be comfortable, space to be themselves.

Of course, my friend Butthead is not shy and he no longer worries about if I’m judging him, so he finds my self centered talk annoying (because, I’m talking about *me* and not *him*.) Yet, the fact that I like to talk about myself doesn’t mean I can’t listen to other people. In fact, it’s relevant to point out that he made this complaint over a dinner where we’d gotten together *specifically* to talk about his relationship issues. Despite my self centered ways, I have historically been the #1 person he has come to with all of his problems. Many of my friends come to me with their problems, actually, and every single person I’ve had a long term relationship with since I’ve turned 20 has told me they’ve found me to be very easy to open up to.

I am genuinely interested in people, and love to hear them talk about themselves too. I find talking about myself easy, and I find listening to other people easy. I asked my girlfriend if she’d felt comfortable talking about herself on our first date, and she said yes – more so than she’d felt on most of her other dates. She also made the comment “you remember things about me I don’t even remember telling you.”

I remember a lot about my first date with my girlfriend. I remember the clothes she was wearing, the expression on her face the first time I saw her (I thought it was bored, but later realized it was nervous,) how we sat down on a bench but we were both shivering, how she stiffened when I asked her if she was American, how emotionless she was when I told her I was bisexual (although, I realized she must know it because we met on OKC), how she laughed so openly at dinner and I could tell she liked me, how we had both bet on the super bowl (which was going on at the time) but just because of work,  how she wanted to take me to the Lex afterward with her friends but I declined, how she walked me home with a cocky implication that I may be more threatened by the people on the street because I was femme, how she insisted on having me use her gloves, and how happy she looked after we kissed goodnight. She just couldn’t stop smiling.

Thing is, these things go together. I’m interested in people! I’m interested in me! I’m interested in others! These things are not mutually exclusive. It reminds me, actually, of how selfish lovers are better in bed. Because, here’s the thing – most people are selfish on some level. When you’re with me, you don’t have to hide your selfish side. I’m certainly not hiding mine. We can just get real about who we are, and if you’re my friend, I’m probably genuinely interested in *who you are*, not this idealized person you pretend to be.

But, don’t complain to me that I talk about myself. If you’re not also interested in who I am, go get yourself a new friend.

The People who Read my Blog

Originally, I started this blog with the intention of keeping it secret. “It’s going to be about spirituality,” I told one of my friends, “and that’s just way to embarrassing to let be public.”

“But you could tell me!” she said, “I won’t comment on it, or anything!”

Well, OK I decided. I’d tell her, cuz she’s out town anyway. So, I told my one friend.

Then, I wrote an article on my experience with sexism which was a little bit embarrassing, but I sort of wanted people to read that one (especially some of my old coworkers, *cough*) so I shared it on Facebook. And I got like, 100 views, and I was super excited (I’m so fancy! With my 100 views! OH YEAH!) And, I figured some of them would see the embarrassing hippie stuff I write (I mean, the title of this blog is Love and Void) but would overlook and never bring it up, and so it would be fine.

Anyway, today it looked like my traffic had totally flatlined except in the last hour, so I figured ok, cool – back to my embarrassing hippie blog that no one reads and I can be totally open about my thoughts on enlightenment (I’m scared!) and it will be great. Except, it hadn’t flatlined, someone had linked to me, and I’d gotten 2 thousand views in the past hour totally dwarfing all my previous views. That may not be a lot in the “how many views important blogs get” sense, but was a lot in the “more views I’ve ever gotten on any post I’ve written ever” sense.

And it’s sort of funny, because like, 2 years ago, I would have been so psyched. I think I put some of my stuff up on Reddit, I tried to get people to read what I wrote. To no avail! No one cared about my writing when I was like “Please, please, pleeeeeze notice me notice meeee!!!!” And no one did.

I’ve played the “watching traffic” game so many times – at the companies I work at, for my own blogs, for my own web pages. And, it’s such a painful game, because usually you don’t get any. But, when you do, it’s this total flurry of overexcitement “oh my god, how can we *capitalize* on this?”, “how can we USE this,” “wait, what? It’s over? Where is everyone going?”

And, I can sort of feel this in my heard right now. “Ah, yessss – everyone sees how special I am and will be awed by my awesome writing and I can write a book, and everyone will read it, and the world will be healed!” But, I have enough experience to know that this won’t happen. The traffic will leave, and I’ll be here with my blog and this sort of empty sense of “remember that one day I got a whole lot of traffic? That was the day!”

Except! I also got an email today, from one of my brother’s friends who had read Goodbye. She thanked me for writing the post, and said she thought it might help her in the future with her own goodbyes. I think to truly listen to someone is to give them a great gift, and to learn from someone is one of the greatest respects you can pay them.

So now, I’ll have “Remember that day I got a lot of traffic? That was the day Laurie let me know she was really hearing me, what a great day!”