In the current landscape of my life people talk about the various -isms. Racism, sexism, ableism, etc all have problematic words. You are supposed to just not use those problematic words any more. I can’t sleep at night for wondering when someone is going to call me on my inappropriate words and tell me that I am bad for using them.
One of these days a sex worker is going to be angry with me for referring to myself as a whore because I have never actually been paid. Just wait, it will happen. I will make them feel marginalized. I will be co-opting their language of oppression. At least, this is what I sigh deeply and expect. A long time ago I decided that whereas sex work is a perfectly valid form of employment it would not be healthy for me. I already have issues internally with figuring out where my consent actually is.
When I try to picture in my head what it will be like to talk about the book in public, once I get up the nerve and all, I think of what I might say to scathing people who are upset that I use the expression, “white trash.” I expect to be called a racist at some point. It has happened repeatedly. These days I just start singing, “Everyone is a little bit racist sometimes” and I try to respond to any actual substance. Am I racist because I believe that my cultural background is white trash? I think it depends on who you ask. Given the brutality of my childhood most people I talk to cede that it deserves harsh labeling. I really and truly do not know a better way to describe it.
I am trying to not be white trash any more. I do associate it with racism. And sexism. And homophobia. And and and and. Part of needing that phrase is my overwhelming shame that I would not have gotten help at important times if I was not white. Part of needing to identify myself by that bit of race privilege is to acknowledge that no matter how bad I think it was for me… I still was given a pass in ways I don’t even understand. There are still brutalities that are not mine to endure. I don’t speak for the “trash” experience because people who are not white get an entirely different reception. I don’t know from personal experience what it looks like but I hear it is pretty bad.
Who the fuck am I to think I can speak for a neutered carefully non-racial experience of poverty? I think that would be a far graver sin than acknowledging that my poverty and brutality carried with it an air of people who didn’t believe they were at the bottom of the barrel even though in every measurable way they were?
My nephew used to work at a movie theater. I think he worked there for about two years. He quit because they wouldn’t promote him so he didn’t feel adequately “respected.” Then he went on to just not work for years. The hilarious thing is, he has a bunch of stories about breaking expensive equipment at the theater. He thinks these stories are great. He tells them with pride. Then he honestly can’t understand why they don’t promote him and he thinks it is more dignified for him to sit at home asking for money from his sister–the one who was working fast food while a high school student.
Oh man. There is such a warped perception of the world there. It’s not unique to being white, no. It’s not one story. It’s the whole fabric. My uncle believed he was superior. That was what I grew up hearing. It is subtle. I don’t feel like it is a stretch to say that their culture was actually bad. The funny thing is, not everyone in the family monolithically believes the ad-copy. Auntie is a rather dignified and respectful soul. She treats everyone decently regardless of any part of their “identity.” She just doesn’t care what someones race or sexuality or religion is. She’s doing her thing and she’ll smile at you and ask you about your day regardless of how you differ from her. She doesn’t see it as relevant. Why couldn’t she be the one to create my culture?
That’s the thing, she did. She created a household where she adamantly believed differently from the prevailing loud noise in the house and she kept her mouth shut. Silence is consent. The only reason I know she believes differently from the common speech I heard every is because I have quietly watched her actions for decades. When you are bringing up children that kind of dichotomy doesn’t work. I have her in my head as a contrast to all the hostility and hatred, yes. But I feel like she is also just a random piece of flotsom in the river of that family. She gets pushed back and forth between the currents and she goes along with whatever happens without raising a fuss. She doesn’t see it as her place. That means that when children are repeatedly victimized she isn’t willing to see it or deal with it. She wouldn’t even know how.
I know that my family being white trash is offensive on its face. I know how charged that phrase is. I use it because it is true. I don’t think that carefully avoiding it because it bothers people is the right approach. The right approach is talking about it and figuring out how to stop being that. Silence just enables the ongoing problems.
White trash believe that they are being unfairly persecuted by all the people of other races who want welfare or support even if they have been on the doll for generations. That is my experience of my family. That is why I include that in my personal definition. I was taught hostility with my Pepsi and Snickers. We didn’t do mothers milk.
If I am hopeful I say that I don’t think I am currently white trash. The problem is I don’t know who or what I am. I don’t know who I am becoming. I don’t know what I will be like. I feel like I am at a crossroads. I’m kind of hard to describe.
I had lunch with a friend. She said that she feels like she spends a lot of time with her kids. My eyes kind of went wide–she has a job! She is away from her kids for at least forty hours a week! How is it possible to spend a lot of time with your kids if you have such a commitment! I have been thinking since about why it is so important to me to be not-separate from my kids right now. (It’s not for any moral superiority.) In having two daughters I got to once again experience that feeling of one-ness that exists between mothers and children. I did not get to have the standard slow separation from my mother. The more I read about attachment disorders the more I cry. The idea of being away from Shanna and Calli for consistently more than about twenty hours a week makes me want to cry. I hurt inside thinking about not seeing them for that much time.
I stay with them and I spend my whole life with them right now because this is the only time I will have to repair the damage I have from my mother not being with me. I have one twenty year period to fix these holes in myself. Out of the whole of my eighty-something + year life that means I had twenty years to fuck it up then I get twenty years to fix it before I enter into the next stage of actually being an independent adult. I need every minute I can get now because the wounds are so deep and they are festering and they need a lot of care. I need the feeling of one day at a time separating. I will need that long to be ready for it.
My daughters are not mine. They are on loan for a brief time. It is so complicated to think about the fact that I do not own them. I can’t control them. Once they are adults I have no guarantee of ever seeing them again. I have this time and that is all I am promised. If I miss even one minute of it I will hate myself for losing the most precious time I will have this lifetime. This is the only time when I will be able to keep them safe and build them up to be as strong as I can. It’s hard for me to do. I’m having to figure out how to do it for myself at the same time. I’m not starting from a place of feeling strong and capable and worthy.
My children will not be white trash. It’s not about the poverty. It’s not about the violence. My children will not grow up in an environment of bitterness because they feel the world owes them for some undisclosed worth they just have. For me acknowledging that I am white trash is partially about feeling the overwhelming shame that comes from knowing that as bad as things were it was mitigated by so much racial privilege. It is all tied together.
Calling myself a whore is a similar kind of acknowledgment for me. I was diminished to the point where I was convinced that I should never accept money for sex–I just gave it away for free. I couldn’t even see any value in what I was doing. I was not good enough. I was not pretty enough. I was not stable enough. But I still would go out and have compulsive sex with large numbers of people. I have had six month periods where I slept with nearly fifty people. But I wasn’t ever paid. It’s a false feeling of security. Do I actually know what it is like to sell my body for coin? No. So why do I feel like I get to use the word whore? When you are taught by your family of origin that you are a whore and that your eventual livelihood will come from being used for sex… Maybe I am co-opting. Maybe I don’t deserve to sully the word for actual prostitutes. They aren’t necessarily compulsive sexually. I shouldn’t conflate my psychological issues with a real-world profession. But I do and I always have. Since I was a young child I have believed that it is an accurate word to describe me. Slut just isn’t the same.
Sluts have sex because they want to. Whores have sex because they have to. Sometimes because they need the money. Sometimes because, well, they just have to. Not all whores are adequately paid for their work. Pimps are a common problem. This is not a well run free market economy.
I try really hard to imagine what kind of mother I want to be. I want to show my kids an awesome example of parenting. It’s the most important thing in the world to me. I don’t care about a job or vocation or hobby very much. I care about the people in my life. I care about what kind of person I am going to teach them to be.
I don’t want to present my culture of origin as de facto. I don’t want to teach them compulsive behavior about sexuality. What does it mean to be actively not racist? Does it mean giving up the phrase white trash? But it has so much utility. It has so much purpose. It is so effective at provoking conversations and anger about the layers of filth involved. How can that be used in a productive way rather than just being one more way that another white woman is an asshole?
I don’t know. I know that every time I talk to someone in person about why it is important to me they agree that it is “ok” for me to use it as a self-label. I do talk to people who are not white. I don’t like this feeling of seeking approval from “Representatives From the People of Color” in order to talk about my experience of race. I cringe when I bring up this topic. I feel like the only way for me to talk about race is to sit back and shut up. My experience isn’t important. Only it is to me. How in the world can I create a different experience for my kids if I don’t figure this out? I know that if I try to just not talk or not think about these things that I will never have the ability to really change my behavior. I won’t know what behavior is important to change or why. If I stop using the phrase in writing or in speech I won’t take it out of my head. I will just be censoring myself for select audiences. Silence is consent. I don’t think I can agree with the idea that I shouldn’t talk about my experiences.
I wish I understood more about what knowledge I am really searching for right now. I’m not even sure. There is a conversation I long to have. I am not so good with the almost-there-but-not-quite things I know of. It’s time to run off.