Brown Hair, Who Cares

This Straight Pride Parade bullshit is really grinding my gears.  These whiny assholes in Boston have me Straight Embarrassed – do you really need to throw a shit fit because no one’s patting you on the back for being straight? I’m soooooo sorry that no one is celebrating your bravery for coming out as straight, we should all be acknowledging the struggles of the heterosexual commu- oh wait, that’s right, WE DON’T HAVE ANY FUCKING STRUGGLES.

Ok. Had to get that out of my system.

Being straight is fine – literally just fine.  I’m proud of being straight in the way that I’m proud of having brown hair, which is to say I’m not, particularly.  It’s a part of my identity, sure, but I was born with it and I did nothing to earn it (one could argue that I actually have earned my brown hair more than my heterosexuality, as I have to keep paying money to make it brown again when my gray roots come in). I’ve never used my brown hair as a weapon against someone who’s different than I am, so I guess I can be proud of that.

So if hair color, like sexuality, is just a part of us that we’re born with, why does any hair color need a Pride Parade?  To answer that, let’s look at all of the things that people have NOT done to me because my hair was brown:

  • Questioned my morality or my humanity
  • Told me I’m going to hell
  • Prohibited me from marrying the person I love or receiving marital benefits
  • Prevented me from practicing my religion
  • Legislated my sexual behavior (the recent abortion laws notwithstanding)
  • Questioned the validity of my relationships because they wouldn’t naturally result in children
  • Forced me to undergo conversion therapy to “correct” my hair color
  • Denied me employment or housing, or taken away my employment or housing
  • Disqualified me from serving in the armed forces
  • Mocked me
  • Threatened me with violence
  • Committed violence against me
  • Murdered me

Dropping the metaphor, let’s acknowledge the fact that LGBTQ+ people are literally dying out there.  To stand up and express your true self, knowing that it puts you at risk of any and all of the above, is in fact very brave and worthy of a parade (and some protective legislation – call your reps).  That’s why they get a parade and straight people don’t – because they fucking earned it.

If the parade itself is the issue, fear not – straight people are allowed to go to the Pride Parade!  We just have to be on our best behavior and not shout about how great being straight is all day.  If you can’t do that, then you do not have anything to be proud of and you should keep your bigoted ass at home.

I guess what it boils down to is this – would you rather have a parade or not be at risk of getting murdered for your sexuality?  Maybe be grateful for the latter and shut your goddamn mouth about the former.

Random Acts of Kindness

There’s a post on Buzzfeed right now where people are sharing stories of when strangers performed a random act of kindness. As I’m reading, I’m remembering more and more times in my life when I’ve benefited from the kindness of strangers, so I thought I would share a few. We could all use more nice stories these days, right?

Let’s talk about my first car accident.  It was a few months after I had gotten my license, and I was driving my friend and I to a tech rehearsal for Grease.  I missed a turn I was looking for, so I was going to pull into a development on the left and turn around.  While trying to change into the left lane (blinker on, btw), a van came speeding up behind me, and I slammed into the middle of the car, kind of ricocheting off of their sliding door.  We both stopped, and the woman driving the van got out of the car to see if we were ok (it bears mentioning that she was driving her daughter to the same rehearsal we were going to…THAT was awkward).  We were pretty shaken up, but no one had been injured.  We got both cars to the side of the road and called the police.  I had wrecked the front headlight of my DAD’S car, and I was still a little in shock from the impact, so naturally I cried quite a bit.  The cops arrived and took a report, and one of them pulled me aside and told me everything was going to be ok.  He pulled the wiper fluid bottle off of the hanging headlight and said, “see this? This is nothing, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you’re ok.”  It was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment; it was an honest mistake, and the cars could be fixed.  This was the first of several interactions I had with kind Voorhees cops – I used to have an unfortunate habit of locking my keys in my car.

The next one also involves a car, but this one was not my fault.  I was driving to school one day senior year in my 1996 Nissan Maxima (you know the one), when it stalled as I was waiting to make a left turn.  This turned out to be a pattern with that car, but it was the first time it happened, and I had no idea what to do.  I called my dad who came over to help me out, and he couldn’t figure it out either.  As we were dealing with this (and blocking traffic) a woman in a minivan (sensing a pattern here…) pulled up and, seeing my uniform, asked if I went to Bishop Eustace and wanted a ride there.  I looked at my dad like, “are we cool with this, or…”  She had her children in the car, so we figured she wasn’t a lunatic, and I hopped in.  She went out of her way to drop me off at school on her way to dropping her own kids off.  Also to confirm she was not a lunatic.

Fast forward to college: junior year, I spent the fall semester in London, which was a great idea, but I had a little trouble getting there.  My connecting flight from Frankfurt was delayed, so I missed the bus that everyone else on the program took.  Instead I was supposed to call one of the admins to have her pick me up when I arrived at Heathrow.  Seems simple enough, but this was my first trip outside the US and no one had explained to me how country codes work.  I’m trying and trying to dial this woman’s number as it’s written, with the +44 at the beginning, and predictably getting nowhere.  Finally an operator picks up and essentially asks me what the hell I’m doing (albeit in a very nice and British way).  I explain the issue and he asks me to read the number to him.  He understood what was happening and connected me to the admin…and then connected me again 30 minutes later when I had the same problem.  A small kindness, admittedly, but I would not have made it home without him.

Another travel tale: I was visiting a friend in New Orleans after college, and my flight was delayed 6 hours.  Since I was going to miss my connecting flight, I went up to the desk to see if anything could be done to get me there.  They were slammed with similar requests, obviously, but one of the gate attendants took pity on me and somehow got me on a flight with another airline.  The gate was clear across Philadelphia International Airport and about to leave, so I hustled my way over there.  The gate attendant had called ahead, so they had my boarding pass ready and held the door for me to board.  Teamwork makes the dream work.  (obviously there was nothing to be done about my checked bag – lesson learned.)

UPDATE: Thought of another one!  Long story short, Ginny and I had a shit time in Italy and decided to go back to London early.  After a harrowing cab ride and a tearful phone call to our parents to pay to change our flights, we finally made it to our gate at the airport.  It was 2pm, and we had been up since about 6am.  I realized I had forgotten to eat all day because Ginny was sick, so I went over to one of the counters and just…stared at the menu.  It was in Italian, and my brain had stopped working, so I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  After a minute, the gentleman behind the counter looked at me and said, in English, “you want a sandwich? Ham and cheese?”  And I looked at him through tears of gratitude and said, “yes I do!”  It doesn’t sound like much, but in that moment, I really needed someone to offer me a ham and cheese sandwich, and this nice Italian man delivered.  It was a good sandwich, too.


Those are just a few.  I’ve had the privilege of encountering many kind individuals in my life, and I hope that I’ve been a source of kindness for others.  The world can be a real dumpster fire sometimes, so we should all be trying to spread kindness where we can.

Share your stories below!

Still Want to Be Here

“There but for the grace of God go I” is a phrase I’ve always liked. Maybe liked isn’t the right word: it actually kind of scares me a little, particularly when you think about just how many situations it could be used in. Sometimes there’s so little that separates us from unimaginable suffering.

I consider myself tremendously lucky that I’ve never had suicidal thoughts. My mental health has not always been perfect, but I’ve never had the notion that things would be better if I weren’t around, or even worse, that that would be the only way to make things better. The older I get, the more I recognize this as a privilege, one that I did nothing to earn but am extremely grateful for. Had I been born with brain chemistry that was slightly different…who knows?

Writer’s note: there’s a mariachi band on my train as I’m writing this. Sometimes you just have to laugh to keep from crying.

I used to not understand suicide at all. When I was a teenager (a terribly naive teenager), there were a handful of suicides in my town, and I was so perplexed each time. Firstly, you’re a teenager – isn’t that a little young to decide that things are NEVER going to get better? Secondly, how selfish must you be to do this to your family? You’re gone, so you’re not suffering any consequences, while your family is completely devastated.

Obviously I was looking at it as an outsider and didn’t really have any idea what it was like for them. It wasn’t until I was in college and was in a play called Smoke Jumping that I started to understand. At the end of the play, my character calmly closed her laptop and walked off stage and shot herself in the head. The other characters spent the rest of the play trying to rescue another girl in crisis, after she reached out for help. Help was there for my character, but sometimes it’s just too hard to ask for it, and who knows if that would be enough. All she could see was the walls around her, all she could hear was that she wasn’t good enough. And finally she couldn’t take it anymore. That was very difficult for me to reckon with, and it scared me.

Hey Helen, what’s with all the suicide talk? Isn’t that a little heavy for a Friday morning?

It is, dear reader, but it’s been weighing on my mind for the past couple days. The lead singer of my favorite band, Frightened Rabbit, went missing Tuesday night and was just found dead, of a suspected suicide. He has been very open about his mental health journey, and references to death are ubiquitous in his songs (I’m listening to one right now called “Dead Now”: “can’t you hear the relief/as life’s belligerent symphonies finally cease”). If you listened to his hauntingly beautiful music, the writing was on the wall. Still, this is not how I hoped his story would end. To hear him talk about his music, it seemed like it was a vehicle for him to expel some of those demons. I guess it wasn’t enough.

All this is to say that depression is a real bitch. For some people, nothing will ever be enough, because this insidious disease strips people of hope. It can poison anything good in a person’s life; it would be easy for me to think that I’m safe because I have nothing to get depressed about (I get stressed like anyone else but let’s be real, the slings and arrows have been relatively few), but depression doesn’t give a shit how good your life is. There are people with way better lives than me that have to fight every day to stay alive.

It’s common for people to completely misunderstand depression if they’re not in it, which I am definitely guilty of, although I’m trying to learn. On some level, I’ll never understand what makes a person choose suicide, or what allows another person to walk away from it. Perhaps the first step is to understand that, once they reach a certain point, it doesn’t feel like a choice anymore.

Now seems like a good time for me to shut up. I’m happy to listen, if anyone has thoughts they want to share. I’ll also leave you with some advice from Scott, one of the last things he shared with us and something I will try to embrace:

“Be so good to everyone you love.”


I have many of them right now.  This is by no means an exhaustive list of all of those feelings, but I need them to stop swirling around my head so I’m writing them down.  If you’re expecting a coherent piece of writing, I recommend looking elsewhere.

Firstly, I am angry.

I am angry because many people in this country made a bad decision, and now I have to live with the consequences for the next four years.  I am angry because some of those people are people that I love and trust, and I and the rest of the country deserved better from them.  I am angry because a woman who was perhaps the most qualified candidate in the past 240 years was deemed untrustworthy and a poor fit in comparison to a white man with literally no qualifications who has actual trial dates coming up for his criminal behaviors.

I am angry in particular because this man does not believe I should have agency over my own body, and that a large portion of the country agrees with him.  For the past couple of days, I have wanted to apologize to all of the people of color I’ve seen on the street, because whether there are significant policy changes or not, the prevailing attitude in this election all but guarantees that their lives are going to get harder (this goes for the LGBTQ+ and Muslim communities as well).  Then I remember that someone owes me an apology, too.  The results of this election have reinforced the idea that women are second-class citizens who cannot be trusted to make their own healthcare decisions and are not deserving of equal consideration in their careers.  I have had the good fortune in my life never to have been the victim of a severe sexual assault (note that I had to qualify this), but now that men have been given permission to do whatever they want to women, how much longer will my body remain my own?

Secondly, I am confused.

How did this happen?  I completely understand that people had very real and legitimate concerns during this election, and that Secretary Clinton may not have addressed them all to their satisfaction.  What I cannot understand is the idea that Donald Trump is somehow a better choice, regardless of what your primary concern is.  How many times does he have to prove that he is unfit before people will believe it?  He has told us in no uncertain terms that he is a racist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynist con man.  Why didn’t people listen?

Thirdly, I am lost.

I woke up on Wednesday feeling like I didn’t belong in this country anymore.  I was laying awake at 5:30am thinking about what my life would be like if I moved to Toronto…and then I cried.  The victory of Donald Trump in this election has spread the message to the country and to the world that it’s ok to be racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynist.  That it’s ok to sexually assault women.  That it’s ok to dodge your taxes.  That it’s ok to accept goods and services from hardworking people and not pay them.  That it’s ok to pretend science isn’t real and ignore our obligation to protect this planet.  That it’s ok not to care about anyone but yourself.  In fact, if you do any or all of these morally repugnant things, you will be rewarded for it.  The violence has already started – apparently there are a lot of Americans with presidential ambitions.

Finally, I’m embarrassed.

We had a chance to show the world that we were good, kind, inclusive, responsible, intelligent.  Instead we showed them that these attributes don’t matter to us.  Donald Trump has been the butt of a joke for this entire election, and in electing him, we have made our country a punchline.  We should not be so easily manipulated by hateful rhetoric and fear-mongering, but apparently we are.

I don’t know what to do now.  I feel physically repulsed whenever I think about that man sitting in the Oval Office, but that’s what he’s going to do in January.  I’m not quite ready to be hopeful – I’ve always been a very logical person, and the overwhelming evidence suggests that we’re totally fucked.  I see my friends getting fired up and preparing to take on the challenges ahead, but I’m feeling very small compared to the power of the presidency.  It’s entirely possible that part of me is still in denial.  Should I move to a swing state, where my next vote will have more of an impact?  I’m sure I could find gainful employment at Harry Potter World.  I’m only kind of joking.

Look at that, I joked.  Maybe I’m going to be ok.

The (Ongoing) Battle of the Bulge

My friend Ginny said something interesting to me this afternoon.  She just joined the Y near her home (which sounds lovely), and she mentioned that it was the first time she’s had a gym membership.  I graciously welcomed her to the world of gym membership, and I started thinking about the various memberships I’ve had over the years.  I’ve had some kind of gym membership or class pass for most of my adult life (by adult life I mean after college, let’s be real), including my current gym, which I joined in September.  I’ve done barre, spinning, Insanity, zumba, personal training, a *bit* of running – you name it.  Every time I hear about a new fitness trend, I jump on the bandwagon for about five minutes, despite one crucial fact: I fucking hate exercise.

Hate it.  It is my least favorite thing.  It’s hard, and it makes me sweaty, and my muscles are all sore afterward, and it’s expensive, and I’ve never experienced this “runner’s high” people keep talking about, I think it’s a scam.  Eventually my hatred and/or laziness usually wins out and I take what we’ll call a hiatus from exercise.

Whenever I start up again, my motivation is always the same: losing weight.  It’s why I tried Weight Watchers and the South Beach diet when I was younger, and why I’m currently not eating cheese.  I can’t remember a time when I haven’t wanted to lose weight.  That occurred to me today during my conversation with Ginny, and it made me really sad.  Have I really never been happy with my body?

I want to be clear about one thing: I know I’m not fat.  Sometimes I’ll hyperbolize a bit, and I think everyone has moments when they just feel…lumpy.  But I know in the grand scheme of things, I am not what you’d call fat.  I’m lucky to be able to find clothes that fit at most retailers, and I can sit comfortably in airplanes and theater seats which, as my sister pointed out the other day, are not super forgiving.  Being a certain size does give you a certain amount of privilege in this society, and I acknowledge that I have benefited from some of that privilege.  So thank you in advance, you’re too kind, really, but I swear I’m not fishing for compliments here.

I’m also extremely aware that I’m not skinny.  And I never will be, because that’s just not how I’m shaped.  And that’s fine.  No really, I have absolutely come to terms with the fact that I’ll never have a thigh gap.  My thighs love each other and I wouldn’t dare get in the way of that.

But there’s always been a little…extra me.  There’s always been a little more on my frame than I would like, and I think as I’ve settled into a comfortable lifestyle in New York – now that I’m used to walking and can afford Seamless – and aged into my late-20s (thanks for NOTHING, metabolism), that extra has just gotten a little extra.  If we want to get all technical about it, I am the heaviest I’ve ever been, which is a burdensome idea in and of itself, despite also being factually true.  I don’t even own a scale, I just want my shape to be less…shapes.

So here we are in a New Year, and once again, I’ve decided to take steps to lose weight.  I’m signing up for CrossFit classes, a fitness trend that freaked me out at first, but I’ve actually come to appreciate.  I took 3 whole classes in the fall, and I didn’t die once.  I also did some kick-ass meal prep last night so I wouldn’t be Seamless-ing myself through the week.  There’s nothing stopping me this time – but there was really nothing stopping me any other time either.  I don’t want this year’s efforts to turn out like the others, but I don’t know how to do it differently.

I think part of the problem is that I’ve put a lot of emotional energy into the idea that losing weight would solve all (or at least a lot) of my problems.  I don’t know what I would do if I lost the weight and my problems stayed the same – it would probably break my brain somehow.  But that’s an issue for thin Helen to deal with.

So what is someone who hates exercise, loves food, and fears plastic surgery to do?  Writing this blog post has been helpful, but it’s not going to stop me from wanting to be thinner.  I will say that I had a great personal training session last night (the last of 3 that I signed up for – that shit is stupid expensive).  I was really dreading it, particularly after eating my way through the holidays, but my trainer pushed me through all of the exercises, and I was shocked at some of the weights I was capable of lifting.  I even did a thing with a barbell like one of those fancy gym people.  Maybe the secret is to just do things that help my body be the best it can be, and let go of the idea of weight altogether.

Sure.  That’ll happen.

Nail Polish: The First Line of Defense?

Getting a little bit political here.  I’m by no means an authority on the subject, and feel free to disagree, but if you’re going to comment be respectful.  
By now most of us have heard about the nail polish that detects date rape drugs.  If not, read all about it.  
I’ve been thinking about this a lot.  I thought it was genius when I first heard about it, but a lot of people have been arguing that it’s another form of victim shaming, and we should be teaching people not to rape rather than teaching women how to not be raped.  And I wholeheartedly agree with the second part of that statement.  Women should be able to dress how they want, go where they want, drink what they want, live their lives without fear of being sexually assaulted.  Men should not think of sexual assault as an option when a woman does not explicitly give her consent.  Rape should not be an option for anyone, regardless of gender.  But there’s something specific about this situation that distinguishes it from others, namely the presence of drugs.

I want to be extremely clear in saying that there is no justification for anyone who chooses to sexually assault another person, but when someone uses date rape drugs as a means to that end, it’s not rape culture or a lack of education that’s the problem.  This added step of administering a drug is a significant one, because there’s no way it’s not malicious, and the right/wrong in this situation is a lot more black and white.*  People who use date rape drugs know that they’re committing a crime, and they’re actively choosing to harm another human being.  They’re not misreading signals.  They know that their victims are not “asking for it,” and they’re fully aware that no means no.  They’re putting their victims in situations where they CAN’T say no.

There’s something wrong with people who think drugging a person is acceptable behavior, let alone a good idea, and I want to be able to protect myself from those people.  My words should be enough to avoid situations I don’t want to be in, but the people using these drugs would forcibly take them away from me, and I don’t want to have to find out what’s left when they’re gone.
Obviously, this is not going to be a miracle solution to prevent all sexual assaults.  There are plenty of people who are just as insidious who don’t use drugs.  There are ways to take away a victim’s power without date rape drugs, and people will find them.  But apart from assuming every guy is a potential rapist, if I have a concrete way to identify some of them, I’m going to use it.
*Here’s where that culture of rape comes into play.  I wish that the right/wrong of all sexual assaults and harassment was black and white (read: it’s always wrong), but I have to assume that it’s not, because I read the news.  We’ll get there.  In the meantime, though, there is very little confusion about whether or not it’s right to drug someone.  Unless you’re a sociopath.  Which is kind of my point.


The Thin, the Fat, and the Unhappy

I’ve been thinking a lot about body image recently.  I’ve been encountering a lot of discussions about it, some that have been very enlightened and collaborative, some less so.  Warning: this is long.  I seem to have a lot of thoughts on this subject.

A friend recently posted a criticism of the song “All About That Bass,” saying that it was shaming skinny girls (a very reductive version of his argument, admittedly), and my first thought was, “why have we been shaming fat girls for years, and suddenly everyone’s rushing to skinny girls’ defense as soon as someone says a single word against them?”  I allowed my rational sensibilities to prevail, however, and put some more thought into this before joining the discussion.  The real problem here is that anyone is getting shamed for their body type.  I’m all about heavier people celebrating themselves, because for so long they’ve been told not to, but it’s not necessary to do it by putting someone else down. “Skinny bitches” have their struggles too – you’re supposed to have a little fat, as long as it’s in the right places.  Also, once I put some more thought into it, I realized there’s no way this is the first time skinny girls have been hated on.  

I think one of the major problems with the “ideal” body image is that it doesn’t really account for how much genetics influences our appearance, for better or for worse.  People think of being fat or being thin as a choice (and it’s definitely marketed that way), rather than the way your body naturally develops.  I think it’s easier for people to blame others, or themselves, for being fat because there are certain behaviors that contribute to that.  We open ourselves up to criticism if we (read: people who are not thin) engage in any of these behaviors, even if we are generally healthy.  But if you see a very thin girl walking down the street, it’s just as easy to assume she has an eating disorder as it is to assume fat people are chronic overeaters.  I know I’m guilty of seeing girls like that and thinking, “she needs to eat a sandwich.”  Maybe she just ate one, it’s really none of my goddamn business. There’s only so much you can change about your physicality without extreme measures such as surgery.  The people whose images we see all the time are those who won the genetic lottery (thank you Elizabeth Banks for owning up to that).

There’s an obsession in our culture with working toward the perfect body type, when for most people that will NEVER be a possibility.  Every new diet or fitness craze promises that this will work where other tricks failed to give you the body you dream of.  We see celebrities as shining beacons of hope, because even they fall off the beauty wagon sometimes (even though most of them have the benefit of having been born on the wagon).  The difference is, of course, that when they fall off the wagon, they have access to resources that we don’t – trainers, nutritionists, supplements, surgeries, even just the time to devote to strict regimens.  Whenever a celebrity gives birth, we chart their progress back to their “pre-baby body”, which is FUCKING INSANE because unless they have a time machine, their body will never be pre-baby.  Women who give birth are fucking champions who deserve to have their post-baby body and its achievements celebrated, not shamed, in whatever form it takes.  But I digress.

It almost feels a little hypocritical to be taking such an impassioned stance against body shaming, because I do it to myself all the time.  Overall, I’m really not that happy with how I look.  I’m not fat per se, but I carry a lot of extra weight, and not in those right places (thanks for NOTHING, boobs).  There are certain things I want in life, and I have this idea in my head that if I can lose some weight, they’ll be much more attainable.  In all likelihood, this is not even remotely true, but it’s hard to talk myself out of that idea, as irrational as it is.  Yes, I can be irrational too, sometimes.

I’ve also become increasingly aware of the effect of genetics on my body recently.  My weight used to stay fairly consistent without much effort, although I was always a little overweight.  When I moved to New York, my weight dropped a little, because I was walking so much more…and also because I was broke and not eating out.  Then when I turned 26, there was a dramatic shift in the relationship between my lifestyle and my body, and suddenly I was putting on weight consistently.  I wasn’t doing anything differently, but my clothes and I seemed to disagree more and more.  It seems like it’s all I can do to stop gaining and stay at a consistent weight, without making some drastic changes.  I don’t want to make drastic changes.  I like my life, I just don’t particularly like my body.

I feel compelled to mention that I’m not treating my body poorly.  I started the Insanity work-out earlier in the summer and have been doing it consistently (albeit less consistently than I was in June while I was unemployed).  I have a fairly balanced diet.  I eat crap occasionally, but then I always crave vegetables.  I genuinely want to eat both brown foods (which I define as fried or carb-y, often potato-based foods) and green foods (crunchy, fresh, and colorful, although not always green, but my brain calls them green because they’re vegetables…we’ll save my brain’s colorization process for another post).  I don’t do drugs.  I don’t drink THAT much.

I think we all just need to leave each other (and ourselves) alone.  As this discussion points out, our relationships to food, exercise, and our own bodies are deeply personal things, and it’s just stupid to think that we know what’s best for anyone else.  Unless we are medical professionals, that is.  If we feel good and we’re not hurting ourselves, then most of us are doing just fine, and we shouldn’t have to justify our appearance or our behavior to anyone else…like I did in that last paragraph.  I might eat some pie at a friend’s birthday party later today, even though I’m well aware that that won’t help me achieve any weight loss goals.  But who wants to live in a world without pie?

Note: this was not a request for advice.  Please feel free to share any thoughts you have, I am all for an ongoing discussion.  My body and I have been having this power struggle for a while, however, and though I’m sure any advice would be well-intentioned, it probably won’t affect that.  Just wanted to organize my own thoughts on the subject, and share in case anyone is having a similar experience.