Why It’s Not Okay to Say I Only Date Colored Girls

A few years ago, when I was young, naïve, and new to the dating scene, I met a man at a friend’s birthday party. He was attentive, refilling my drinks in flash, smiling, flirting. As many people have done before, he asked me what my ethnicity is. I don’t always have issues with this question (that is, unless it’s worded as “What are you?” but that’s another monster entirely), simply because I know it’s hard to tell.

I’m a mutt, a combined heritage of Thai, Chinese, English, Italian, French, German, and Scots-Irish. That being said, I’ve heard it all; people asking if I’m Korean, Japanese, Indonesian, South American, Native Alaskan, Spanish, Mongolian, Hawaiian. I’ve once heard Mexican, which I found odd. So, when someone asks flat out what my heritage is, I answer usually with, “I’m half Thai, half white.” When I answered this man’s question, I was not prepared for his answer and the way it made me feel.

“I’m half Thai, half white,” I said.

“God, yes, I love Asian girls. I only date girls of color.”

The way he looked at me made me uncomfortable. Suddenly, instead of seeing this good-looking, blonde American boy, I saw an old balding man at a brothel in China on a business trip, calling home to me, his wife, saying everything is fine while he was surrounded by naked Asian women.

I thought, that’s a bit dramatic.

But then, over the years, it continued to happen to me. A boy I was in a relationship with for a year confessed that he “only dates women of color.” And a year later when I saw that his new girlfriend looked frighteningly similar to me did I realize it was weird. I must be clear; this does not exclusively come from white males.

A man who told me he was half Indian, half Dominican said to me, “I love exotic colored women with curves, so you’re perfect.” And in a gay bar, a woman told me she only spoke to girls with color. The more I heard it, the more I realized how wrong it made me feel.

Let’s also discuss the implications of the word “colored.” In instances concerning myself, I assumed it meant “I only date girls that are not white.” In this, I felt alienated, am I not as much white as I am Asian? But in the eyes of these certain people, it seemed they only saw half of me.

On top of that, it made me feel not unique to this person showing an interest in me as though the next non-white girl walking through the door would divert their attention immediately (this has actually happened to me). It seems shallow, but so is their comment that my appearance is the top thing that made them turn their attention my way.

However, this issue goes beyond my own uncomfortable feelings. Historically, the term “colored” is regarded highly offensive, a racial slur recalled from a time when casual racism was a part of everyday life. The term was and still is used predominantly towards describing a black person.

Today in a wider focus, it’s used to describe anyone who is not white, which implies that white is the default, the normal skin tone. Recently, Benedict Cumberbatch used the term to refer to black actors. Not realizing the offense at the time, Cumberbatch had to come out and apologize for using the term.

During the era of the Jim Crow laws in America from the 1870s to 1960s, signs labeled “colored only” directed where a non-white person could or could not go. It drove segregation back then, and it continues to do the same today in 2017, even if people are unaware of its effect.

Essentially, saying a person is colored implies they are not normal. Likewise, saying someone is “mixed race” implies there exists pure race. And let’s be real, a pure race is as rare as finding gold in the mouth of a deep sea fish. Every skin color is a color; people believing that they are clarifying their physical preference of a partner are in reality sounding racially ignorant and slightly creepy.

Saying “I only date colored people” should really mean that you don’t date ghosts, and good for you. Though I think that’s implied in everyday life, unless you’re Lizzie from Gray’s Anatomy and you date your dead imaginary fiancé, in which case thank you for clearing that up.

Plus, saying “I only date colored girls” sounds like a fetish. When someone says they’re attracted to your smile or the shape of your eyes, it sounds more personalized. But then when someone says for example, they like feet, immediately you wonder what creepy, serial killer-esque plans they have for your toes.

Break down the wall of generalizations. Every human is different and beautiful in their own unique way. Using the general “colored girls only” line sounds like the person is a collector. Look at my repertoire, look at my mantle of “colored girls,” see, I only date these specific items. A closet full of marionette puppets. It’s gross, it’s offensive, and red flags should be sprouting from the ground.

Everybody has a “type;” a preference for a certain appearance that attracts them. This is not unknown. However, these “types” go beyond appearance and tap into personality, morals, religious ideas—the combination. There’s a better way to tell a woman or a man that they’re the perfect fit for you. It is not by further segregating them or making them feel like their appearance is their only drawing attribute.

Not only does the general comment “I only date colored girls” strike an offensive tone, but also implies disloyalty in a further relationship. If a person approaches you and says you’re just their type in those exact words, what’s to stop them from seeing the next girl or boy that is “just their type” even when they’re with you? Here’s the solution, when dating someone, avoid the whole “I like colored girls” comment all together. There is nothing good about it, and personally, I don’t want to know that I am amongst the many girls who look just like me in your long line of dating history.

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There Is a Race Problem in the Gay Community and Nobody Wants to Talk About It

[sg_popup id=”1″ event=”onload”][/sg_popup]“Are you Latino?” I am disturbed mid-conversation by an African-American gentleman in a pub in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

“Are you a gay Asian?” I am disturbed mid-conversation by a white guy at a roof top bar in Brooklyn.

“You don’t look Asian at all.” I am disturbed by my Latino friend in Central Park when I discuss such anecdotes.

Recently I’ve been getting a lot of subtle “suggestions” about my ethnicity ranging from the usual “you just look white to me” to “you shouldn’t lie on your Grindr profile about your race. You’re not mixed, you’re obviously Filipino.” Followed by a gentle “Bye Asian” when I tried to educate the gay race expert on his mistake. As a Dutch-Moluccan gay man, I realized pretty quickly that my background wasn’t common or understood in America when I read a play my first year here in which two White American characters were discussing pretending to be from a country that no one has ever heard of “like Indonesia.”

Because I am mostly white European I usually slip under the radar of such micro aggressions. My “white passing,” “ethnically ambiguous” privilege allows me to move in white spaces without much suspicion while simultaneously seeming non-threatening to people of color. Something very interesting occurs to me when I try to date other men, however.

gay dating apps

Dating has always been hard as a foreigner in America. American queer and social cultures are substantially different from their Dutch cousins. The thing that has been most difficult to deal with is the rigid boxes and unwritten rules that gay men impose on themselves.

White American gay men like to date (or have sex with) someone  “they could be brothers” with, and in order to find their brothers they divide themselves up in tribes like “twinks” or “jocks” to filter out all the men that “they’re just not into.”

Or of course, you get the reverse: Gay men who just really want their exotic spice and eat it too. Fun fetishist behavior made easy by gay dating apps.

Where does this leave gay men of color in relation to one another though? A black friend of mine once explained to me his experience that black gay men don’t tend to be very nice to one another as they feel threatened in their tokenism within their group of gay friends. When he mentioned it I realized that I knew very little, if any at all, queer men of color who dated within their own race or even dated another man of color.

You might have noticed how before when I mentioned different kinds of micro aggressions I’ve experienced that both white men and men of color are the culprits. Now, it should be common knowledge that we live in a racist society and no one (including myself) is safe from discriminatory thoughts, but the problem of “racism in the queer community” always seems a bit difficult and more vulnerable to me.

Consider that most gay men haven’t just simply been beaten down for their own sexual identity, but also have been played out against each other. Growing up, most gay men are forced to hide their queerness in one way or another, and even when we come out of the closet, often we still go through long phases of rejecting other gay men because “I might be gay but I’m not that kind of gay.”

Liberal heteronormative society–like the one I’ve experienced in the Netherlands–dictates that we can be gay, but not too gay. As we say in Dutch: “Just act normal, that’s crazy enough.”

Living in this society, however, causes severe trauma to gay men. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage on April 1st, 2001. And still, Dutch queer men are substantially more likely than their straight counterparts to inflict self-harm and experience depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental illnesses (Officially 1 in 5 Dutch gay men suffer from these issues).

Gay

These statistics haven’t changed since 1996 regardless of the legalization of more queer-friendly laws. Because of such statistics, it is extremely important for any queer community to create spaces where we treat each other the way heteronormative society won’t. Despite this we tend to see the exact opposite; we don’t just internalize our homophobia, we internalize our entire hate.

Racism, after all, is a mental disease–a mutation of a dated survival instincts or reflexes within our brains that enable not only negative heuristic thinking in response to ethnic feno- and stereotypes, but also systematic violence and oppression.

We as gay men, unfortunately, are sometimes more vulnerable to problematic thought processes as a result of our trauma. This might be a harsh thing to say, but it’s essential to realize that surviving shouldn’t only make us stronger but also wearier.

So check the shade of your pain before you come for someone else. Be conscious of the fact that you can date whomever you want but don’t need to emphasize on what you don’t want to set yourself apart in queer spaces. And the next time you want to start a philosophical discussion about that part Asian guy’s penis size at the club, maybe reconsider.

Opinion | Will the Religious Right Wake Up on the Right Side of the Bed?

I want to address the cross-toting elephant in the room. This is a call to repentance.

I am incensed and grieved by how “politically correct” you are, how tolerant you are, how you allow temperamental snowflakes to dictate your ways. You are sexually permissive and give out entitlements to those who haven’t earned them. You drink the fake news Kool-Aid, and you adore the Washington swamp. Yes, I know whom I am addressing. I am calling for a repentance from right wing Christianity.

Call yourself Christian. Call yourself patriotic. Call yourself conservative, right wing, moral majority, Republican, evangelical, fundamental, religious. But you have strayed from your first love. For too long you have hijacked the news of our Redeemer, and distorted the teachings of the risen servant King.

After years of hearing that liberals were too tolerant, I came to find that you are the most tolerant of all. Tolerant of hatred, bigotry, entitlement, ignorance, militarism, big government, and conspiracy theories. You plague the ears of the elderly like a televangelist with a private jet. You misinform the uneducated like a sleazy used car salesman. You accuse and bang and blame like a Puritan England magistrate.

We’re not here to talk about what the liberals have done. You know their hypocrisy well. It’s time to address the plank in your own eye. Out of love for your well being, I beg you to turn inward and confront your soul.

I sat by for eight years watching you treat a man in the most anti-Christian manner, struggling to invest enough hope in you to believe it was for any reason other than his dark skin. You accused the elected President of the United States of being a Communist, a secret Muslim, a Kenyan-born illegitimate citizen, a witch doctor, and even the anti-Christ.

I decided to be as skeptical of your outrageous rumors as I was of Obama’s lofty promises. I looked into the death panels rumor. No death panels. I looked into his faith. Turns out he believes in the resurrected Jesus. I saw his birth certificate. I looked for a video of him telling illegal immigrants to vote, and never found it. I looked for a piece of legislation floating around that would take our guns. I never saw it.

I saw how you acted under a world leader you didn’t like. Now I see you under a world leader you do like. He ingratiates himself with every step, and you follow along. It sickens me. It brings me to tears.

I get it, why you feared the Clinton crisis. Liberals chose a grossly negligent politician backed by Wall Street who puts career before service and surveillance before freedom. I don’t even know why liberals liked her. At first, I thought, Trump was merely your plan to stop Hillary. Why else would you choose a lewd, greedy, narcissistic reality star with absolutely no experience as a statesman?

I wish I could say that this has just gotten out of hand, and even you are repentant of what you unleashed. But this is a product of your toleration, your advocacy. Within the Oval Office alone you tolerate bigotry, demeaning attitudes toward women, the suggestion of killing families of terrorists, mocking the disabled, endorsing torture, shaming prisoners of war for getting captured, and flat-out lying on a regular basis.

Or maybe none of that is true. Because you also taught me that every wrong thing your favorite president does is actually a fabrication of the fake liberal media. Even if it’s one of his own tweets, it’s a fabrication of the fake liberal media.

It doesn’t matter to you that your chosen leader never “seasons his words with salt” or “turns away wrath with a soft answer,” but instead boasts, brags, lies, threatens, gossips, bullies and demeans. It doesn’t seem to matter to enough of you that he stated that he doesn’t believe he has to ask God for forgiveness. What kind of role model is that for our children?

Now I see you for what you are, more interested in privilege and national security than in character and peace. Look at your denominations and sects. You obsess over your national identity more than you do your spiritual identity. You desire a physical wall between nations and neglect tending the divide between households of faith.

Twenty years ago you lambasted a president for an extramarital affair. Now you praise a president who has boasted of sexual assault, promoted a pornographic film, and is now in his third marriage. In recent years you chided one president for playing too much golf. Now you look the other way when the current president plays even more golf.

You curse Washington D.C. for hosting the rich, and so you should. But who will drain the swamp for you? A casino owner who inherited millions from his father, markets a fraudulent university, and hires only the wealthiest people to work for him, including many former lobbyists? You decry Goldman Sachs for controlling elections, but only when your enemies are running.

You’ve spent half a century using democracy to fight abortion at all costs because you say you care about the lives of the innocent, yet you endorse leaders who are willing to bomb innocent women and children, even use nuclear warfare in order to commit abortion against another country’s children. Much like your liberal counterparts, you support foreign policies that are not pro-life. You prop up a Commander in Chief whose policies are against The New Testament, The Constitution, The Geneva Convention, and The Pentagon War Manual.

Do you really think you can put God first when you’re trying to put America first? How do you put an empire before a servant king, and live with yourself? Where in the Bible does it say a strong military will save you? Does it not argue the opposite? Have you learned nothing from the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness? Do you think it wise to barter for an alliance with worldly power in order to garner enough support to protect you from that same world? How did that work out for King Hezekiah?

I beg you to be like Hezekiah in the end of his days. I beg you to kneel before God and give up these unholy alliances. I beg that he will extend your life long enough for your repentance.

I am ashamed of you for thinking you are immune to false information, to personal bias, to bigotry, to selfishness. You have become so skeptical of your enemies, you have forgotten to turn that glass on yourself. You are so easily misled by propaganda you can’t even recognize when your strategies match those of the white supremacists.

You associate yourself politically and religiously with people who claim that the Sandy Hook shooting was fake, who dismiss the welcoming words of the Statue of Liberty, who justify rape, who continually court white supremacists, who encourage violence, and who display willing ignorance of the very departments they are in charge of.

Day after day your efforts undercut the very teachings of your spiritual King. I am embarrassed to be associated with you.

I wish I could say that the Charlottesville horror—those coddled little Nazi’s with tiki torches shouting “white lives matter” at a statue until someone was killed by a terrorist—was completely isolated from our culture, that this is not America. But it is America, because you’ve tolerated it for far too long. You’ve allowed the lunatic fringe, the alt-right, the conspiracy peddlers, and the petty rumor mill to influence you, hijack your religion, seduce your otherwise outstanding zeal.

You helped create this. Will you repent of it?

On Saturday, your president said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides ― on many sides.” He couldn’t look the evil of white nationalism in the face because white nationalism helped him get elected. He was hesitant to decry so many of his own supporters.

And yet, despite everything, I’m optimistic about your upcoming repentance.

Last weekend, as I looked around, I hardly saw anyone who defended Trump’s reckless comments, made excuses about the left, blamed Obama or Black Lives Matter. Rather, I was overwhelmed by the shared outrage from the left and the right at the despicable display of terror that occurred. Rather than take sides and deflect, you stood up against a most obvious evil. You finally and unequivocally distanced yourself from the alt right enough to “tell it like it is” and give shameless idolatry no excuse. Most of you, anyway.

Maybe Charlottesville was your wakeup call. Maybe it took marching Nazis and a woman killed by a terrorist for you to come to terms with the consequences of your tolerance and silence. Maybe your own outcries are what made the president amend his words, if only for a moment, before returning to his ways. I hope that was because of you, conservatives, finally standing up to bigotry, that President Trump finally named names, calling the KKK repugnant, calling Neo-Nazis repugnant, calling white supremacists repugnant. But as we saw mere days later, one moment is not enough to change him. If you turn back to Christ, you have the power to change that wicked man’s heart for good.

What now? Will you persist? Will you distance yourself from evil, or let it slide?

What will you sacrifice to show your repentance?

Give up your Pat Robertson and your Jerry Falwell, your Alex Jones and your Steve Bannon. Say goodbye to Tomi Lahren and Jeff Sessions. Forget Rush Limbaugh and forget Sean Hannity. Kiss Bill O’Reilly and Joe Arpaio goodbye.

Stop circulating political gossip and poisoning the ears of the elderly, the poor, the uneducated, and the fearful. Remain consistent with your reaction to Charlottesville. Confront the reality of America: A divided nation that doesn’t need bigger bombs, higher walls, more gun purchases, or richer wealthy people, but needs genuine faith lived out by followers of Jesus.

Stop praying for Trump to succeed. Pray for him to kneel.

Stop distorting the Good News. Stop making excuses for evil. Stop hijacking the faith of my fathers for political gain. Repent putting empire first and Kingdom second. Otherwise, call yourself conservative all you want, but don’t call yourself Christian.

I beg you, for my sake and yours, repent of this love affair with lesser-evil-ism. Make Christianity Great Again.

Hate at Home: the Day Charlottesville Became the Epicenter

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA — Startled by blazing white light just behind my eyelids I sat up, heart pounding; it was 2 am. I’m not sure what I thought the light could have been, but almost reflexively reached for my phone and opened my news folder. Something else must have happened; more horror. More marching. More fighting.

But no. The headlines remained as they’d been at 11 pm when I shut everything down and went to bed: white nationalists, counter-protestors, car crashes into crowd, Nazis, the KKK, Antifa, helicopter down, death. Death in Charlottesville.

August 12, 2017, will undoubtedly go down as a dark day in American history. The invasion really began the night before with the torchlit parade of Nazis taking the hallowed ground of the University of Virginia as its stage to remind Americans and the world of its presence and intent. Of the dark desire for a white world. But it was on August 12th that three people died. That our state government perched snipers on the roofs of Charlottesville buildings, including a stately brick funeral home, in a failed attempt to maintain order. It was on August 12th that Donald Trump refused to name our country’s oldest demon: white supremacy.

It was August 12th that beautiful Charlottesville re-entered the history American historians will, or at least should, teach our children.

Charlottesville

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

I’ve lived in the South most of my adult life—Virginia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and back to Virginia, following a two-year sojourn out west. When I arrived in Charlottesville to complete graduate school at the storied University of Virginia my work was inwardly focused. What did it mean to be a Jew? What was ethnicity, really? What helped really make sense of the structures of race in the American South?

Reveling in the pleasures of being surrounded by minds so capacious, I studied and wrote and soaked in every minute. Grad school was the gift of studying all the big questions with wonderful mentors. My first two were, themselves, newcomers here in the US, one West Indian and one Indian and British. It’s embarrassing to say that I never thought about how much that mattered until years down the road.

I read and wrote about Jewishness (complicated, ask my non-Jewish husband), about ethnic conflict, and finally about hate and genocides—in the Balkans, in Germany, in Turkey. It all felt important but far away as I read books with titles like The Fires of Hatred. I wrote as a sociologist, but condemned these historical atrocities as a human. These historic tragedies compelled my work, but my own position in society allowed me to keep distance, even from my studies of neo-Nazism in Germany. The neo-Nazis here in the US were pariahs who lived on compounds in Idaho, right?

It was later that my gaze turned back home in a new way, to working to understand what it meant to be American. Five years I spent studying American national identity. Five years I read and re-read the stories we’ve been told over the course of the 20th century about what it means to be American. But even then I saw the US as a case to help us better understand nationalism the world over.

“I know I am revealing my privilege and naïveté as a white woman. I know progress on these forms of social inequality has been bumpy and uneven and there have been setbacks and inequality remains. But when I was ten, my daughter’s age, Nazis and the KKK were indisputably the bad guys. Period.”

The story we saw play out on August 12th is hardly new. In the 1910s, American nativists were writing about race-mixing and race-suicide, and calling for eugenics and a halt to immigration to save the Anglo-Saxon/Nordic race. That rhetoric returned at the turn of the 21st century as the new demographic reality of a non-white US looked more and more like destiny. We’ve all seen the anti-immigrant movement grow as white fear and discontent grow. The confederate flag’s cultural cache has expanded and grabbed our attention, its carriers as bold as its bars.

Confederate Charlottesville

And still I didn’t expect it; what happened in Charlottesville. I’m a Gen-Xer, born in 1972. In my lifetime—at least the part from consciousness on—our trajectory here in the US has been toward expansion and inclusion in terms of race, religion, sex, gender, sexuality, and more. Yes, it’s always been clear to me that there were still bad-guy racists.

Yes, I absolutely know about the devastating effects of institutional racism. Yes, I’ve seen anti-Semitism, occasionally up-close-and-personal; and its rise on college campuses today has been painful. I know I am revealing my privilege and naïveté as a white woman. I know progress on these forms of social inequality has been bumpy and uneven and there have been setbacks and inequality remains. But when I was ten, my daughter’s age, Nazis and the KKK were indisputably the bad guys. Period.

They still are.

Seeing that march of torchbearers Friday night, August 11th, I knew this weekend was going to be bad. The intention was to incite violence as an emotional response to hate. I’d already seen images on Twitter of David Duke and Richard Spencer at the Boar’s Head Inn, a lovely country club just outside of Charlottesville, and knew the confrontation was coming. But that fiery parade was new in my lifetime. And to encircle and perpetrate violence on those who stood to protect a statue of Thomas Jefferson, Charlottesville’s own far-from-perfect but brilliant hero and paterfamilias, was new and horrifying. I sat on my bed in tears with my husband and kids coming in and out of the room.

Because not only is this a horror on a societal level, but it is a deeply personal tragedy. This place of beauty and history and the pursuit of something better. This place where I shared a home with my new husband and our babies when they were babies. This place where I literally wrote a book that I foolishly thought wasn’t even really about the US, but about quelling nationalist movements the world over. This place is Charlottesville and it is now where Heather Heyer was murdered by an American terrorist from Ohio. Where Lt H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates fell from the sky in the line of duty as they monitored a day of white hate.

It is also personal because as a person others would label a liberal or a progressive or leftist, I’ve sometimes allowed “the right” to claim the symbols of the US for themselves. In everyday life it has been conservatives who have, for example, owned the flag—on their cars, on their clothing, on their homes. Who have most loudly “supported our troops.” The (incorrect) implication has been that liberals don’t love this country or don’t support those who have fought for our rights. We can love the US and know that the very dream of America is the reason we must keep working for her to be better.

The values I saw this weekend were not the values Americans have fought for over the last three centuries. Our experiment is ongoing and still requires work, but that does not mean we should cede it to those who would say we need to go backward to be great. There is no going back, only forward. We desperately need a leader who can help us envision a positive, inclusive future. Democracy, as a friend said to me yesterday, is hard, but worth the work. We do not have that leader, we have a coward who knows not of what he speaks.

Charlottesville’s tragedy lays at the feet of this coward, our president.

The Audacity of Hope: Surviving Blackness in America

[sg_popup id=”1″ event=”onload”][/sg_popup]I can tell you that I stand at the crossroads of queerness, motherhood biases, the expectations of my gender, Black hatred, religious intolerance, and public and mental health crises. I can tell you fifteen ways in which this America isn’t meant for me. However, what I fear most is standing as a mother of a Black child who still has the audacity to hope.

In 2004, then Senator Barack Obama delivered a speech at the DNC Convention that would end up propelling him into the White House. The title of the speech was “The Audacity of Hope.” That day, now some 13 years ago, Obama weaved Black church and jazz into a message that was needed at the time and is still needed today:

Obama America

“There’s not a black America, and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”

This optimistic sentiment is in itself audacious. At the heart of his message, Obama was asking us to reclaim the ideals of American inclusivity.

Today, however, those ideals are cracked, if not entirely broken. America is more divided than ever.

“To this day he never knows what doors his accent might close off. My father’s America is fundamentally different than the one politicians speak about.”

I fear that the division is a gift passed on by the forefathers of this nation. It is in our laws and in our way of thinking. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. And the pudding is orange and uses five or six superlatives in one sentence.

I have never known what a unified America looks like except within my children. They hold entire worlds within their bodies. As Black boys, they must fight and cling to the fragility of their childhoods. What does hope look like in an America where a boy’s kindness is sometimes seen as forward, as rude, or as another symptom of his blackness?

Before coming to America, my father sold water bottles in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire to save enough money for the journey west. When he finally came to this country, he worked for years as a cab driver while going to school. He eventually became a Peace Corp Volunteer, got his Master’s in Public Health, then took a job in Liberia. My father is an example of the “American Dream.”

Along the way to achieving this dream, he dealt with severe racism. To this day he never knows what doors his accent might close off. My father’s America is fundamentally different than the one politicians speak about.

The bottles my father sold was his entry fee, his penance for dreaming so large. After he and my mother divorced, I still had to collect bottles for change in order to eat at night. That was the luck of my birth. My inheritance. When I look at my son, I wonder about all the ways that he will have to buy into this America. I wonder if the hope itself will only bring about pain.

“I have to tell my son not to stand too close to anything. To not be too seen. That is my America.”

Why is so much of the American Dream suffering?

Many people tell me that my nine-year-old son is endearing. Not too long ago, a man he had just meet called him cariñoso–being full of affection, he gave the man a hug goodbye. My son likes to read books everywhere and all the time. He is a Minecraft scholar. He has developed a love for language and writes the most charming essays.

I reckon with the fact that he is in a country so rich of culture and opportunity that he is able to have access to all of these parts of himself while far too many people do not see him as a child. I once watched a woman in her 50’s talk to my son as if he were an adult, holding him to those same expectations that he should understand the complexity of her feelings and be responsible for them as well.

I felt nauseous for days because this is what might kill him. I didn’t know how to explain all the ways she posed a threat to my child. Not when she thought he was the danger. In a society that rapidly matures their Black children, my son’s intelligence and kindness can be seen as presumptuous.

If I seem paranoid, it’s because I have reason to be. I’ve watched store owners jump over crates to stand by my son just to make sure he didn’t pocket a bag of chips when all he was doing was telling me his opinion on the colors of the bag. How could he be more American? I have to tell my son not to stand too close to anything. To not be too seen. That is my America. An America full of constant fears.

As I listen to Obama’s speech, I think of its beauty and its holes. I think of how little there is to say about politicians and their words today. While I’m not sure if they are speaking to me, I’m certain they are talking about me.

The 2016 elections showed that there is a different America for everyone. I already knew my America was different when I tell my children, against my better judgment, that they have to work twice or three times as hard to maybe get on equal footing. This sentiment only robs them of their childhoods. We are asked to hope in the face of unrealistic expectations.

blackness in america

Why is so much of the American dream suffering? I remember Obama’s speech today because the hope I have is indeed audacious. After so many televised Black deaths, after the rise in recorded hate crimes, after seeing the school-to-prison pipeline at work, after understanding that no real change can come unless there is a change in our laws–I still ask my son to be a child.

13 years later, in all his sincerity and faults, the political rhetoric is that President Obama is still to blame for our troubles. His kindness was and is questioned. He became suspect the moment he went up on that stage. He stood in for all those minute ways America hates Blackness.

What Obama taught me with that speech was not to hope in America and its politicians or laws, as he may have wanted, but in my children and all the ways they are human.

Black boys, like that Black man: It is audacious, it is bold, and it is American to remain good in a society that vilifies you.

Transgender Servicemembers, the Military’s Esprit de Corps

Battling for Both Teams

The individuals who raised their right hand and swore an oath to protect and defend the US Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, are some of the bravest individuals I’ve met in my 41 years. It also takes a special kind of bravery to be a transgender servicemember, regardless of whether the person is “out” or not.

I am a retired US Marine Corps officer serving our Nation for 20 years in the enlisted infantry ranks as a commanding officer of a logistics company. I also served as an attorney across the globe in places like Okinawa, Japan; Brazzaville, Congo; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Tunis, Tunisia; Fallujah, Iraq; and JTF Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, among others. When I enlisted in 1994, the policy commonly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was just under a year old. I have a distinct memory of my recruiter in College Station, Texas taking a black marker and redacting the question about homosexual conduct and then saying, “We don’t have to worry about that question because you’re not a faggot…  right?” As an 18 year old queer kid who was desperately trying to prove my masculinity, I answered something like, “um yeah, furthest thing from it.”

Little did the recruiter know but I was both queer and transgender. I kept my secrets closely guarded trusting only a few with the fact that I “batted for both teams.” Despite not having the vocabulary to describe my identity at that point, I didn’t let anyone know that I felt like there was a mismatch between what I saw in the mirror and what my brain was telling me what my body should look like. My need to “man-up” was driven not by my actual gender, but by strong societal pressures from growing up in Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas, as well as the conservative religious background of my family.

Knowing that I was different than my fellow grunts, my gender mismatch was a secret much too personal to tell anyone at that point in my life. As the next four years of my initial enlistment flew by, I created lifelong friends. My eyes opened to so many new experiences, and I knew in my heart that the saying “once a Marine, always a Marine” was the absolute truth. Next, I headed to undergrad at Texas A&M University and law school at Texas Tech University.

My last billet as enlisted infantry was as the platoon sergeant of Scout Platoon, 4th Tank Battalion. In between my first and second years of law school, we were activated and attached to Regimental Combat Team 1 based out of Camp Fallujah, Iraq. We fought street-to-street and house-to-house in Operation PHANTOM FURY, commonly known as the Second Battle of Fallujah. Seven weeks after coming home, I reported to Officer Candidate School. Upon my completion, I was commissioned and served as an active duty attorney before retiring at the rank of Captain in May 2014.

Two years after I retired, I came out as a transgender woman, just days after Pres. Obama’s repeal of the ban on open service by transgender servicemembers. The vast majority of my peers, junior Marines, and senior officers with whom I served on active duty were incredibly supportive. I received hundreds of phone calls, emails and Facebook comments, each telling me that I was the same Shinn they’d always known and they had my back.

A few months after my transition began in earnest, I had an administrative hearing aboard Marine Corps Combat Development Command located in Quantico, Virginia nicknamed The Crossroads of the Corps. My faith in the Marine Corps and our stellar Marines was redoubled when – to a person – each Marine used the correct pronouns, called me “ma’am” when saluting, and they were even opening doors for me. It was a surreal experience that truly made me wish I had the opportunity to serve openly. It also highlighted the resilience of and compassion for our fellow troops which are hallmarks of our esprit de corps.

Trump’s Allegations Are False

As I was getting ready for work on the morning of July 26th, 2017, I saw the now-infamous series of tweets by Pres. Trump. My initial reaction was anger and disgust at what seemed to be a callous disregard and betrayal of our proud servicemembers. This initial tsunami of emotion morphed into a feeling that action was vital to combat the blatant falsehoods I was seeing on the news and online.

Despite the misrepresentations contained in Pres. Trump’s tweets and some of the far-right Republicans’ vociferous attestations otherwise, it has been proven over the past year transgender medical costs are “relatively low.” Through the lived experiences of openly-serving transgender servicemembers, along with in-depth studies such as the 2016 RAND Corporation study, 2014 study from Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, 2014 Palm Center study, and a September 2015 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine conducted before repeal, transgender servicemembers are not the “disruption” that Pres. Trump alleges. In truth, the total cost per year of medical care for transgender troops is “relatively low,” per the RAND study. Not only does this match my own experience, but the American Psychological Association came to the same conclusions as RAND, yet went even further:

“The American Psychological Association questions the reasoning behind President Trump’s call to bar transgender people from the military. We’ve seen no scientific evidence that allowing transgender people to serve in the armed forces has had an adverse impact on our military readiness or unit cohesion. Therefore, we ask that transgender individuals continue to be allowed to serve their country,” said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD.

The American Medical Association issued a statement and its president, Dr. David O. Barbe, M.D., said “[t]here is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from military service. Transgender individuals are serving their country with honor, and they should be allowed to continue doing so.”

The Department of Defense-commissioned RAND study calculated an estimated 0.04 – 0.13% increase in active-component health care expenditures at a maximum estimate at $8.4 million per year. It’s a stark contrast to other DoD expenses. For example, the annual cost of the military’s treatment of erectile dysfunction is $84.24 million, $41.6 million on Viagra alone. That’s an order of magnitude greater than the maximum annual estimate cost for transgender health care. The DoD annual health care budget is $49.3 billion – that’s billion with a “b” – with $6.27 billion for health care provided to only active duty servicemembers with the portion of the transgender health care only amounting to approximately 0.017% of the total DoD health care budget.

When one looks at other governmental spending, the President has flown to his Mar-a-Lago resort seven times so far since his inauguration six months ago. While there are not published costs for these trips (yet), one can use past presidents’ travel costs to construct an estimate, which comes out to roughly $25 million spent. If President Trump keeps up this travel schedule, his annual Mar-a-Lago travel alone would equal almost six years of health care for transgender servicemembers.

While I did not have the opportunity to serve openly as a transgender person on active duty, there are many who have. The experiences of amazing warriors Air Force Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland (featured in the NY Times documentary “Transgender: At War and In Love”), Army Staff Sergeant Patricia King (the first infantrywoman in the Army); Navy Lieutenant Commander Blake Dremann; Army Drill Sergeant Ken Ochoa, and the several thousands of actively-serving troops are the proof that open service is not the “disruption” Pres. Trump alleges. In fact, open service strengthens our military’s readiness by allowing all servicemembers to live authentically and wholly within their unit.

Perhaps even more surprising is the chorus of bipartisan support for open transgender service. These people include Congressional Republicans such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate armed services committee; Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL); and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) a retired Air Force colonel and military lawyer. Looking to our NATO sister nations’ experience, 18 countries have successfully implemented open trans service in their militaries, all with zero appreciable impact on readiness, lethality, unit cohesion, and mission accomplishment. This proves that integration of transgender servicemembers is no “social experiment.”

After evaluation of both the science surrounding this important issue alongside the lives of our brave transgender servicemembers across the world, it is clear to see that Pres. Trump and others that share his views are blind to the actual realities, needs, and rich diversity of our military. America’s real greatness is built on the backs of men and women like LCDR Dremann, SSgt King, SSgt Ireland, and Sgt Ochoa. I humbly ask you to support all of our troops. Semper Fidelis!