October wears a lot of hats

Note: This is not a food blogging entry.

This morning as I was reading about Poppy’s experience with veganism, I realized that October, also Vegetarian Awareness Month, wears a lot of hats. October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and holds Coming Out Day (Oct 11) and Week. National Hispanic Heritage Month also straddles into the month, running from Sept 15-Oct 15.

When I think about October’s hats, I think of my personal experience with the issues. And, I think of privilege, propaganda and capitalism.

Watching the Pats game on Sunday, my bf and I bore witness to the bright deep pink socks, towels and pins of the New England Patriots’ uniforms. I recalled the Ford Warriors in Pink ads and the “Buy this limited edition pink for Breast Cancer doohicky and we’ll donate a minute portion of our proceeds to a breast cancer charity you know little about” ads that line grocery store shelves, fill magazine ads, and take over the airwaves during this month. I care about cancer. I care about breast cancer. My cousin is a survivor. My aunt is a survivor. My best friend’s mom is battling breast cancer right now. And yet, I struggle with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the CDC, breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women of all races/ethnicities in America. But, lung cancer is the biggest killer of all women (except Hispanic women who are more likely to die from breast cancer than any other cancer). Colorectal cancer is the third most prevalent and the third most likely cancer to kill women. But we’re not talking about lungs and  bums. We’re talking about breasts… again. And I wonder, how much of our talk about breast cancer reinforces the “women as sexual body parts” paradigm that already makes companies millions of advertising and production dollars. Yet, I’m glad that young women are learning about breast cancer screening. I like to see people’s money going to forward public health causes. I appreciate the change work that can come through awareness.

But, while I’m glad that breast cancer has a month, I struggle that one of the other biggest health issues for women (and for men)- domestic violence- shares the month with breast cancer. Domestic violence isn’t sexy. {No, I’m not saying that cancer is- just that breasts are.} Domestic violence doesn’t get advertising time and, when it does, it’s the ubiquitous black-eyed, cowering woman or screaming male threatening physical violence montage that gets our attention. Those ads are still few and far between. Domestic Violence certainly isn’t lining our yogurt lids or coloring our shoelaces this month. Purple is not being worn during Sunday football games by tough-guys-who-care. There are no national domestic violence fundraising walks across states and counties. The everyday consumer’s money isn’t being funneled into national coalitions, researchers, or local domestic violence agencies this month. Yet, the last NISVS count indicates that 12 million women and men experience rape, physical violence or stalking by a current or former intimate partner each year- and that doesn’t touch emotional abuse numbers.

What is it about power and control that doesn’t warrant the limelight? What about domestic violence homicide isn’t worth national airwaves? Is it because we live in a society that systematically oppresses groups using intimidation, harassment, systemic sanctions, (threat of) violence, and so one person’s story isn’t important- even if there are 12 million individual stories each year? Is it that we’ve normalized jealousy and stalking, harassment and abuse as “normal” expressions of love? Are we collectively ashamed by our capacity to hurt each other and so silenced in our storytelling? I’m not sure which analysis points at truth. Yet, as a survivor of violence and a witness to other survivors of abuse, I’m concerned about the lack of attention that domestic violence awareness month receives.

And then there’s Hispanic Heritage Month for which I, a Caucasian person, didn’t have to know existed nevertheless celebrate. According to the last census, Hispanic Americans make up 17% of the of U.S. population and are the largest ethnic minority in the country. And yet, I only know about this month because a Columbian friend of mine made reference to the month on Facebook. Really. Yet again, the minority having to teach the majority about culture. I don’t “have” to know about Frida Kahlo, Celia Cruz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Sonia Sotomayor, or Cesar Chavez. I might know about Desi Arnaz because I surely do love Lucy. But I may not know that Rita Hayworth’s family was from Spain. I certainly didn’t know about how the month-long (originally a week began by Lyndon B. Johnson) commemoration began, nor did I know if I should care about it.

I’m still at odds with racial/ethnic commemorative months. Huff Post’s live segment, Black History Unchained, discusses the ongoing debate about how our methods for recognizing communities of color serve to continually define history by white, Caucasian achievements and experiences. And yet, months like Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month are the only time that we (Caucasian folks with white privilege) are “compelled” to talk about the experiences and contributions of communities of color. I don’t want to lose the conversation about communities of color and, yet, I do not appreciate that we do not do a better job of writing and teaching our collective histories equally all year round.

This Friday I will talk about Coming Out Day with my family and friends. I will post my thankfulness on Facebook; for parents and a brother who accepted me when I came out to them in the winter between 2001 and 2002. I will think about how my life has been changed by moving to Boston; a city in which I am less afraid for my safety and that of the people I date.  And, while I am thankful for Coming Out Day, I realize that only some of us are coming out. Those most vulnerable among us- transfolks, LGBTQ folks of color, LGBTQ youth, poor LGBTQ folks- don’t often have the safety to come out. Our LGBTQ community operates within the same paradigms of privilege and power that mainstream society sits. The more privilege we have- whether it be due to our gender, sex, race, class, religion, or politics- the more likely it is that we have the safety to come out. So, what does that mean? Do I think we should continue to come out? Yes. And do I think we need to do more than come out? Yes. We need to organize in support of all of our community so that at some point, none of us have to “come out” in order to find community and safety- from both within and without our community.

October wears a lots of hats. In my experience, all of them are inextricably related. As a professional, activist, daughter, girlfriend, ally, and perpetual student, I have to sit with all of those hats. I hope that I continue to think about them, question why they exist and how I relate to them- not just this month, but for all my Octobers to come.



One comment

  1. Very thought provoking article..

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