Just Hire Me Already: Underemployment for Recent College Graduates

You are a recent graduate from an upstanding university and you’ve  got the student loans to prove it. Now what? You’re a barista at Starbucks. Nothing against the popular coffee chain; they’ve got some great lattes. However, in situation like this, the question raises itself as to whether the frequency of college grads in jobs like these represent a fault in our society? Or is it simply the way our society works now; college grads having to take jobs at Starbucks as they wait to take on the career they planned for after graduation? Whatever the reason this sort of job placement in this day and age, it’s leading to the frequent use of the term “underemployed,” a word that I’m not yet convinced society considers to be a phenomenon for us loan-ridden graduates.

 Investopedia defines underemployment as “those workers that are highly skilled but working in low paying jobs, workers that are highly skilled but work in low skill jobs and part-time workers that would prefer to be full-time. This is different from unemployment in that the individual is working but isn’t working at their full capability.”

There is a reason of highlighting the lovely Starbucks. Ashton Kutcher, or Chris Ashton Kutcher as he pointed out,  in his acceptance speech for the Teen Choice Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, argued the idea that underemployment shouldn’t actually be a thing. When asked about his speech in a later interview, he clarified his opinion, doubling down with the belief that no job should be beneath anyone, citing Starbucks jobs, specifically.

The “That ’70s Show” alum also derided his friends who refused to take jobs at Starbucks or anything they deemed to be “below them. I think that the only thing that could be below you is to not have a job,” he said, with the audience erupting in cheers.

Not to place Ashton Kutcher in any state of authority on the matter of “underemployment,” but let us think for a second about his statement. Is a job a job, in spite of how well you think it fits you standards? The fact is, while 80 percent of prospective college students say they go to college to better their job,  only half of all college graduates are in jobs today that require a college degree. 

US News recently posted a “top college majors” list in which all of the majors they listed were based in at least one of the STEM industries; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The majors included more complex fields from Robotics to Petroleum Engineering to the obvious fields like Public Health. This may come as no surprise to most as we live in a technologically driven society. And while yes, it is quite important to have a strong science and mathematical foundation, liberal arts and creative degrees should not be discounted. In a recent article by Forbes, contributor Vivek Ranadivé argued the importance of actively practicing creativity. 

The people who will succeed in more expensive labor markets like the U.S. will be those that can think creatively and generate IDEAS that will propel economic growth.

He emphasized that while understanding technology beyond a proficient level is necessary, it means nothing without strong right brain skills to compliment it. An Adecco survey revealed that many tech savvy, recent graduates of today lack the “soft skills” necessary to work in teams and function in corporate environments. These soft skills, including interpersonal communication, time management, and adaptability are all skills that get more focus in humanities as well as more creative majors.

survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

So, unless the major is job specific, like Petroleum Engineering or Robotics,  is not necessarily a student’s major that determines their job. With this knowledge it’s clear that companies are really just looking for well-rounded applicants that have the critical thinking skills to handle what tasks that may come their way, which actually seems to be the problem. The Times  emphasized the issue of finding well-rounded grads has led to a job shortage problem. 

The annual global Talent Shortage Survey from ManpowerGroup finds that nearly 1 in 5 employers worldwide can’t fill positions because they can’t find people with soft skills.

There’s a lot to be said about our faulty economy for Generation Y graduates.For example, with many greedy employers aware of the state of our economy, grads are facing the consequences by being paid far less than they should be in entry level positions.

“Employers are taking college grads over high-school grads, but paying them high-school grad wages,” Carl Van Horn, founding director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.  said.

But because of the shift in our economy students can’t just learn trades, but they must take advantage of their higher education to build all of their skills. It may be time for that 80% of college students that admitted they go to college to get better jobs to shift their focus to not just looking good on paper, but also learning and growing as much as they possibly can. Why not aim to heighten all your skills so that reluctant employers can’t help but stop and take notice?

 “College is what you make of it,” so the saying goes. It is arguably the best time in a young person’s life to better yourself- so why not take advantage of that? It’s tough to go into college without the nagging thought of your unknown future sneaking up on you and making you want to jump on that internship that would totally soup up your resume. definitely didn’t take advantage of my college years as much as I could. I skimmed through a lot of classes and remember a fraction of what I “learned,” as I’m sure many recent grads can attest to. But from my research I’m convinced to really win against this struggling economy, it takes more than just going through the motions.

I feel for you, recent-grad-Starbucks-barista. It’s hard out there. And you’re probably thinking your degree is useless.With so many grads earning minimum wages, the supposed benefit of attending college are so difficult to appreciate. However, truly, it still is.It just takes a little longer these days to reap the benefits. It is still the case that college grads earn more than 80 percent more than none college graduates over one life time. The beginning struggle to find a job is consistent with the state of our economy, but does not mean college is not worth it long term. Agreed, the state of our society when it comes to wretched student loans is ridiculous, but the long term benefits of scientifically proven better health to  upward mobility economically are all reasons to continue to give it a good ole’ college try.

 Check out this video and join the debate! Is underemployment really a thing? Or is a job-a job-a job? 

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Diana Nyad: Dreamer, Champion and Feminist Superstar

Besides an irregular check-in on my hometown basketball team, the I am not one to keep up with sports. I watch the olympics for the gymnast and tennis for the aggression through oddly sexual shouts but have never been much of a sports fanatic. As a self identified feminist though, I support strong female athletes and am often disappointed by the lack of attention they get from well, everyone. To be quite frank, I am a part of that lack of support. For years I have found most fanaticism towards sport to be rather silly and unnecessary. It just made no sense to me that someone can have a horrible day at work because the night before, their favorite football team lost a game. How does a football game affect our society as a whole?

Well, I’m no longer an anti-sport feminist. That’s right folks, I’ve been swayed by a fascinating warrior of a woman, Diana Nyad. Nyad makes sport and athleticism relevant to non-sports fans because she uses her athletic abilities to parallel what it means to be the best human you can be. Here, let me explain.

Monday, September 2, 2013 Diana Nyad,64,  completed a 53-hour swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida, making her the first person ever, in history, to make it without a protective cage. This was no overnight achievement. Not even years. No, this was a dream thirty five years in the makings.

Nyad first attempted the epic 110 mile swim at age 28, in the year 1978. Since 1978, she attempted the Cuba swim four more times, each time failing to complete the course due to various set backs from heart-stoping jellyfish stings to disastrous and unexpected weather or illness.In spite of failing four times in a row and being doubted from just about every media outlet of any importance, Nyad just knew she’d make it some day. Somehow, she “found a way.”

This time around Nyad came prepared with a skilled crew equipped with scientists to document her trip, her best friend and swim coach, jellyfish experts and even a team of kayakers to lead the way. She wore a suit that was well-tested to protect against jellyfish stings, a challenge she struggled with immensely in former attempts.She swam exactly one hundred and ten hours without sleep and only short breaks every 90 minutes to eat.And then she made it. Diana Nyad made it, at 64 years old, showing (among other things) that age really can be just a number.

Diana Nyad feat was so unbelievably amazing that many critiques quite literally did not believe it. After being challenged by a number of fellow long distance swimmers that couldn’t quite imagine anything close to her swim coming to fruition, Nyad defended all skepticism in a conference phone call with the Marathon Swimmers Forum, in which her crew’s navigator explained how the escapade was possible, in all it’s scientific detail.

Nyad sat with Oprah in a two-hour special where she spoke of her trails, her tribulations, and best of all, how she overcame and conquered. In the inspirational interview, Nyad spoke of her desire since childhood to be a star athlete. She spoke of her recognition, even at age ten, that life is short. That we come on this earth for a little time, so why not use that time to make a positive impact in whatever way that you can? She spoke of her resilience from past sexual abuse by her former swim coach and her new outlook on life after her mother passed. She spoke of way she feels so strong now in her mature age of 64, and touched on a number of topics except for the obvious; Nyad neither spoke directly about her gender being a factor, nor her sexual orientation as a drive for making an impact as a champion athlete. Instead, she had a very adamant and universal focus; determination, with the empowering mantra “ Find a way.”

”All of us suffer heartaches and difficulties in our lives. If you say to yourself, ‘find a way,’ you’ll make it through, ” Nyad told Oprah.

Diana Nyad is an inspiration for not just women, or people “over-the-hill”; she’s an inspiration for anyone who has ever has a dream, anytime, ever. “Find a way.” The fact that she is a woman and also a queer woman is only icing on the feminist cake. No one cares or even remembers it took her 35 years, and all that really matter now is that she made it. Without ever mentioning the word feminist, she oozes feminism to the core by simply being.

Just one month after her successful, record-breaking swim, Nyad took the plunge again, this time into a pool set-up in busy Herald Square in Manhattan, New York. But this time, Nyad was coming from a completely different angle. Her Herald Square pool swim ran 48-hours straight specifically to raise money and awareness for all those affected by last year’s devastating Superstorm Sandy.In pure Nyad fashion, Diana helped raise a total $103,001 to go to Sandy victims as she made her way out of the pool, having swam every last drop of the 48 hours. So in other words, Nyad continued to be an awesome human being.

Diana Nyad had no doubt that one day she would make it from Cuba to Florida, and somehow after 35 years, she did just as she planned; she found a way. She reminded us why sports are so important in our culture.Resilience, power, strength, hope, persistence, teamwork, humanism through sports advocacy. Simple human characteristics anyone can strive to achieve. Rather than an elaborate speech after her successful swim that sunny September day, Nyad just made three powerful points

  “I have three messages: One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you are never too old to chase your dream. And three is, it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team.”

Of course this advice is not specific to sports, but every good athlete in all of history follows these three simple rules. Athleticism done right is simply a reflection of what it means to be a good human being, and Nyad is all that. So really, shouldn’t we all aspire to have an athletic state of mind, whether we like sports or not? Diana Nyad, the champion, sure makes me think so.

Blue Charm by Jaz Joyner

      We’re barely moved in. Yet, my Barbie of a mother’s already decorated a sizable corner in our house to show off her gaudy pageant winnings from back in the day. She once told me her favorite award was a dark blue ribbon that read Most Poised in golden cursive stitching.

She’d say with a gratified grin,

“Even without a crown, royalty must have poise. Poise is the most important virtue  of any important person, you know.”

    Flash forward to now, as my mom scurries around like a little squirrel. Poise. Please.

“Get the boxes in the study first, Rainn! Bring them up to your room, immediately!”

      Mom pushes a big desk towards the hallway with all her might and I hear her squeal in despair. She could obviously use some help. I’m sitting on an uncomfortable step, doodling in the notepad she gave me for cursive practice as if I were writing something of importance. I’d help out but I can’t stand, my legs won’t let me; Possibly because I didn’t want them to. Ok, so I didn’t want them to. The stairs were hard wood and shiny like their second function was a convenient mirror for the ever- vain. I see why my parents picked this house.

     It’s nothing like the old house, and I’m not sure if I like it yet. She’s calling again, like a screeching alarm on a school day. What’s the point? I thought. Just because my bags are unpacked doesn’t magically make this place my home. I set down my notepad, full of doodles and four letter words. I’m 15 and a girl but I have this thing for vulgarity, in spite of that fact.   I’ve been told 15 year old girls should refrain from this sort of behavior. However, I pride myself in surprising my teachers with loud, spastic bleeps, Tourrets -esque if you will. My mom used to hate leaving her in-house work space to bail me out of the principal’s office.

She writes. My dad reads. For a living, I mean. I think that’s the only reason my mom got published, even though she swears her book was “worth every sparkling review.” It’s ironic how much positive reception she gets for writing about raising the perfect child.

I think they secretly wanted me to move from my old school. I had made such a name for myself; I don’t think they could bare it. Heaven forbid their flawless reputation be on the line. It’s a day’s drive to my old home. I guess I shouldn’t call it home anymore. I hate my dad for getting promoted.

I had a best friend. Dagan. Ok, only friend. He taught me everything I know about cursing and sneaking live rats into certain punk’s lockers. My parents hate Dagan. Or I should say hated, since they probably won’t see him for a while. I think that’s secretly a reason for our move, too.

     My new school reeked of plastic charm and good will. Uniformed robots would smirk and murmur as they passed me down the hall to the lunch room, with their neat little brown bags full of organic, jicama tossed-salads packed by their perfect littlerobot parents. I’d come home every day with my mom and she’d ask,

“Have a good day at school?”

I’d always give her some smartass remark like,

“Oh, mother, you know every day is a good day when you’re given the privilege to learn!”

She’d get annoyed with me then and stop talking. Sometimes she’d gather up the brass to critique my attire or my hair.

“Rainn, honey if only you would wear those dresses I bought you. They’re in the catalog! Just like those ridiculous slacks you chose to throw on instead. I’m sure the girls at school would be far more receptive to you.”

      She goes on but I tune out by then. I’d stare out the unblemished window of my mom’s vintage Beemer into an abyss of chic boutiques and five star restaurants; the kind you need reservations months in advance to get in .Mom loved those.

     I’m standing now, on those hard steps, contemplating my next move like my life depends on it. Mom still shouts as if I hadn’t heard her the first thirty times. I always wished for siblings. Not because I want automatic friends for life (not that I can’t use that). No, I want siblings so they can help carry the load of my parents.  How do they manage? My parents, I mean. All of the time and dedication it takes for them to put on such a show every day. It seems impossible, if you don’t have a backstage pass, like me.

I see all of those faulty ropes and curtains separating them from reality, and I wasn’t fooled. Honestly, I didn’t get how other people didn’t see it. I mean they weren’t’ the best actors in town, that’s for damn sure. But somehow, some way, people did fall for it. And I was stuck, by default, playing their perfect little princess. That was my role, even if I didn’t want it. And trust me, I didn’t want it.

Sometimes they’d even try to fool me, like I was some idiot sitting in for the day in place of their daughter. They’d do this thing where they shared what could be a perfectly normal, spousal love-peck on the lips. It would be that, if of course they actually loved each other. But instead they looked like what I’d imagine the adult form of my robot classmates would look like if they had a mission to save their planet and the only way they could is by touching together on the lips in an odd, yet simulated-romance kind of way. Why did they feel the need to perform for me? Once, I caught my mom fishing for a compliment from dad.

She asked, “ Oh, I feel old honey, I think I need botox. Should I make an appointment?”

    He didn’t say what he should have. He told her to get the botox. Ouch. If anything I think my mom wishes she was still that pageant girl. So she could at least present some sort of beauty to the world, even if she didn’t feel it. I think that’s when their relationship started dying. She tries so hard to be like her trophies, it’s ridiculous. Botox  day is when I acquired this X-ray vision on fakeness I’m so glad to have now. I go out of my way to be the opposite of how one would expect the only daughter of Harold and Blair Swenton to behave. You could call it a rebellion. I call it survival.

       I went down the steps, slowly but surely. I spotted those auburn curls as my mom marched grumpily to the front of the stairwell and plopped a box twice her size at her feet. She just missed them. I think to myself how funny it would be if she did.

“Rainn, this is unacceptable! I’m tired of you mopping around like the world is against you. You sit around like some miserable homeless child. You are far to privileged to be so ungrateful! Now get down her and gather these boxes with me!”

   I never understood what she meant by that. You sit around like some homeless child. She acted like just because she and dad had some cash, I should be floating around like some graceful Disney princess that just found out her father is secretly the king of  Happyville. I’m supposed to be happy now? Really?

I say, “I think I’d rather be homeless than living in this lie of a family!”

     My mom’s really pissed now; like she truly values our mother, daughter relationship; or the lack thereof. I laugh in her face, but regret it immediately.  A laugh, not in an amused way, but in a sarcastic, mocking sort of fashion that makes parents want to slap their children. Only, parents usually don’t go that far. You know, wanting to but not actually doing it. But at this point, I’m in perfect slapping distance, and she smacks me one good. It should hurt. I feel nothing.

     I don’t even want to hit her back. She doesn’t deserve my energy. In a weird way I feel like she didn’t mean to do it. I think she’s mad, but not at me. She’s mad because I’m right. At least I want to think that. I walk away. She shouts back to me but all I hear is       “Wawwawawwa.” like from Charlie Brown, except worse. Dad’s home. Mom runs to him like she’s the child. I see them from where I stand, in a corner full of tiaras, like I’m giving myself a time out.

      I hear her talking about me. Like she was the teacher’s favorite little tattle tale. I don’t care what she said. I don’t care what he said. I don’t care. He calls me. No use hiding anymore, I think. He nags and nags and calls himself punishing me.

“No TV, no computer games, no art class, this week, or next week, or the week after that!”

    He goes on and on through a list of things he thinks interest me. I wish I could say he’s wrong, but he not. I’ll miss those things for sure. Way to make your kid hate you more. I don’t even tell him about Mom. It won’t make a difference anyway. They’re a team, and I’m the outsider. I don’t want to play their game and they punished me for it.

   I wonder if Mom’s right. That I should be happy, because I go to one of the best private schools in the country, and I live in a house that’s ever ready for a Better Homes photo shoot, and my parent’s wealth and prestige automatically make me a shoe-in for the best prep SAT courses in town. Not to mention in spite of my defiance I’ll maintain all As just to piss off the teachers that hate me. This would lead me into a fine, prestigious university where I’ll double major in something like Classical Civilizations and Anthropology. My fake parents would be so fake proud of me. I’d be considered an accomplished young woman. My successful parents could brag about their little girl.

“She’s gonna’ be a success, just like her old man.” He’d say with a boisterous laugh to his country club buddies.

“I always knew she’d grow out of that awkward phase!” She would say with a tint of blue charm her fellow, wealthy housewives so admired.

   That would be my initiation onto their team. I’d be blue like the ribbon my mother won for Most Poised and anyone that wasn’t would envy me. And I could look down at the jealous ones on my charming, blue pedestal. One could assume I’d be happy there. If only they don’t see behind that charming, blue curtain.

Master the Art of Playing it Cool

Master the art of Playing it Cool with these 6 simple steps!

1. Get that grin off your face. No self-respecting cool person smiles that much.

2. Reveal very little about yourself. Mystery is sexy and obviously always cool. Even when you’re getting to know someone and they tell you their life story, be super duper vague about your own life. Say things like “I don’t know, I’m just…” and ” Yeah, I mean, I like, you know…” and don’t finish your sentences. Everyone loves an enigma.

3. You just met someone that makes your heart palpitate like an African drum. You go on a date that feels magical and you can’t quite remember if it was a dream when you wake up the next day. You haven’t connected with someone like this in so long, or ever, really. So of course ignore them, naturally.

4. Show nothing is too cool for you by speaking less. Say you just watched a fantastic film you found so empowering that it made you reconsider you life choices up to this point. As you exit the theater, your friend excitedly asks,   ” How’d you like it? You coolly respond, ” It was good.”

5. A.H.P.- Always have pockets. Your pockets are your superpower for cool in all social situations. While you watch your super-powerless friends stand uncomfortably with their arms folded or hanging awkwardly at their sides, you exude the air of confidence with one or two of your coool hands placed in your pockets, speaking all smoothly to your peers like the cool kid you are. But don’t you remove that hand there, buddy, or you will find free hand motion as a certain form of kryptonite. Your voice will crack, your legs will wobble, and you will become a Cinderella pumpkin of the awesomeness that was once hands-in-pocket-you.

6. Always,always, always care what every person thinks of you. This way, your guard will be up no matter what, so no one will catch you off guard and reveal the Oz that is your inner nerd.

 

Disclaimer: Resident queerdo, Jas Joyner, is in no way qualified to tell anyone what is actually cool as Jas is indeed a perpetual dork. All things listed above should not be practiced in one’s real life. 

 

Why We’re Awesome: Girls Who Code

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” — Maya Angelou

Why We’re Awesome- A series spotlighting wonderful organizations that empower women and girls all over the world.

Science. Blerg. Many young girls will tell you it is their least favorite subject. But not these girls! Girls Who Code is a New York City based organization with the goal to close the gender gap in science based careers by training young girls interested in learning computer specialist techniques.  Hence the name: Girls Who Code.

Girls Who Code aims to provide computer science education and exposure to 1 million young women by 2020.

This is an organization that the U.S. education system has been needing for a long, long while. After all, to say girls don’t like science and math is simply a myth created from the way our education system is structured. Don’t agree? Check out the facts below.

In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.3% of high school girls select computer science.

Women today represent 12% of all computer science graduates. In 1984, they represented 37%.

Thank you, Girls Who Code, for helping young girls find their love for science, again. Programs like this are making  the U.S. just a little more like the progressive place we all hope to see one day, and that’s why Girls Who Code is awesome.

Girls Who Code began in NYC, but is currently working to launch programs in San Francisco, Detroit and San Jose in the year 2013.

Sharing Time!

First of all, I have such a huge aversion to telling people about things I’m doing. This may be a silly aversion, or in fact totally validated- I just know when I go on my blog to yap about things I’m doing I can’t help but feel like an obnoxious little beetle. So instead of making this a shameless promotion-fest, I’d love for us all to get involved! Below, I’ll share with you some things I’ve done recently,and in the comments I’d LOVE for you to tell me what YOU’RE doing, so I can check it out. And seriously, I really will check it out. 

Jas’s article on Black women, Queers and Sex Ed was just featured on Bitch Magazine. (See the original here)

Story Time! Jas’s short story, “Next Joke” is now a The-Toast.net thing

And finally, finally, finally- Check out the new JasSoandSo Facebook page. Jas will buy you a house filled with kisses if you like it. Figuratively, of course.

This has been a shameless promotion brought to you by Jas Joyner. Murp.

Thank you all so much for reading! Now, post you’re cool things below because I can’t wait to read about them!

Gender and the In Between- A Gender Queer’s Journey

Featured on Afropunk.com and SheWired.com!

As a child, I spoke as few words as possible. The sound of my feminine voice disgusted me. I hated to be called a girl, while loving the color pink. I was a budding genderqueer.

Boys are different from girls, they said.  Fundamentally different, they’d persist. Boys don’t have long hair. Boys don’t like pink. Boys don’t cry and boys are tough. Girls like playing with dolls. Girls do poorly at math and enjoy frilly things.

Boys.  I studied them. I developed obsessions with male classmates with the utter desire to someday become all that they were. I would play make believe with my siblings in which I’d only be satisfied if I took on a male role.  I connected with boys in a way I never could with girls, and never quite understood why. I would wear suspenders as a tween and feel like a boss because they would make it look like I had no chest. When I started to develop, I would wrap myself in a bandage, not realizing that was a trope practiced all too often in the trans community. I would do this until my gender identity was challenged.

“You are so flat,” my very influential peers would say, prompting me to ask my mother to buy me my first training bra.

And then I discovered the internet. I learned about the term transgender. I looked at hundreds upon hundreds of befores and afters, FtMs. Top surgeries, bottom surgeries, hormones. I would read and read until my eyes would blur from my families’ bright Dell desktop screen, and I’d sink in my chair, feeling the emptiness grow inside of me. It was as if the more I searched for myself, the more lost I got. Because I couldn’t avoid my feelings; I didn’t feel fully male.

I didn’t know any trans people in my anti-queer, southern town, and definitely wasn’t going to be the first. So what did I do? I conformed. Like the scared child that I was, I began to present myself as outrageously feminine, so no one would suspect anything strange. It was as if I thought people could see through me, and wanted to give them no reason to use thier x-ray vision to spot my insecurities…or my weirdness.

I fell into a bout of shame, hating my natural femininity because I’d used a false, hyper-femininity as a wall to hide behind for so long. Oh, what a person will do to fit in.

I wanted no more shame, so I turned to the bottomless internet once again, searching for a reason to love myself. I studied femininity and the power of it all. I learned that being feminine does not equate weakness. There is strength in the power of women. In femininity, there is beauty; not the skin deep kind but the unconditional kind.  Through countless articles and books, and studying empowered feminist women like Betty Dobson and bell hooks, I learned to love my female body, and now I don’t want to lose it.

So here I am, yin and yang. Masculine and feminine. I wear my hair long but learned to walk from male role models growing up. The color pink still makes me smile, but I feel like a lie when wearing a dress. I still bind and wear clothes from the men or boys section, and prefer to hide my curves (the little bit that I have anyway). Not because I want to look male, but because it is how I feel most comfortable.

I call myself a boi, a budding term used in the lesbian and queer community, and truly believe if energies were gendered, I would be just that. I have little to no desire to have surgery or take hormones, though I like it when you call me “he.” I don’t mind “she” or “they” because I am that, too. All of the above, please. Sometimes I feel completely male, and wish on those days I had an attractive male body to wear. But most days I feel like both. I know it is confusing. I even confuse myself sometimes, but that’s simply how I feel. I don’t feel masculine enough to be male, nor am I feminine enough to be female. I love and accept my female body, though I ask you to not suspect that makes me a “woman.”

Through my journey, I find that in terms of gender identity, you are what you say you are. A man that wears makeup and has double D’s is still a man if he tells you so. It takes no more criteria than that. What it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman are social constructs, and though the masses follow these standards, you don’t have to. I don’t have to. I prefer to say I am in between genders, masculine of center, and as I feel, I am.

I spoke recently to a dear friend that had a challenging question for me;

“Why don’t you just ignore gender? Why don’t you just be who you are and not worry about what that makes you, be it male, female or otherwise?”

I sat there, stumped and silent, too caught off guard to admit my annoyance. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but this anger boiled inside me. I slowly felt the tingle as my senses returned and I blurted out,

“Because nobody wants to be an outsider!”

I certainly didn’t think before I spoke, but couldn’t ignore the truth behind my words. Nobody wants to be an outsider. No one wants to feel like they belong nowhere. So many queer and trans people walk through their lives never feeling fully human, as if there is something alien about us that no one will ever understand. That is why we search for acceptance. That is why we challenge the gender binary and tell you to call us Zir. We’re fighting for our visibility, because we don’t like feeling invisible. We are not transsexual, we are sometimes not even transgender, but we’re definitely all over the gender spectrum, as a gender “binary”  is all but an illusion.

I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while now, but due to the fear of officially coming out as a genderfuck, I’ve avoided it. But as you see with this whole rant, I don’t care who knows anymore. I am tired of hiding in the binary and this is my way of connecting with all you gender queer and trans folk out there that are not interested in going all the way, on either side of the gender binary. We are the in betweeners, and we’re proud. Finally. 

Smartest Queer Black Women Series (Twitter Included)

Fast Company recently released their 2013 “Smartest Women on Twitter” list in which you will find no, I repeat, no black women. At all. So, in honor of  black-queer greatness, here’s a new series to present to you amazing, intelligent  black, queer women that are smart enough to be on anyone’s “Smartest” list. These women have greatly impacted the fight towards black LGBT visibility,social justice, and all around wonderfulness- and as a nice touch, all will have Twitter accounts.

Stacyann Chin- Poet, Writer, Activist- Twitter/stacyannchin

Staceyann Chin, a native Jamaican,  has written a number of  thought-provoking poems and even had a one-woman show at New York City’s  Nuyorican Poets Cafe.  She was co-writer and original performer in Russel Simmon’s Poetry Def Jam on Broadway. She wrote a memoir entitled “The Other Side of Paradise,” and was featured on “The Oprah Show” where she expressed the difficulties coming out as a lesbian in Jamaica.  She has spoken openly about her pregnancy through In vitro fertilization, and proudly represents as a single, lesbian mom.

Don’t Speak: On Black Women, Queers and Sex Ed

 A version of this article was featured Bitch Magazine. Check it Out!

 

Black Queer Couple

Being the queerio I am, I have this pass time of regularly Googling queer sex related topics in the news for fun. Hey, who knows, maybe there’s some new sex toy I need to learn about #possibleTMI. Well this time, I was met with less than awesome news; Black women are less likely to get HPV Vaccines. According to a recent Health article,a  only 18 percent of black women from 18 to 24  as opposed to one third of white women ( across all income lines), have started taking the vaccine.

“Given that cervical cancer is more common and associated with higher mortality in African-American and Hispanic women than in white women, it is especially important to understand the barriers to HPV vaccination for these populations.”

Black women, as I’ll further explain, have a history of doing less when it comes to sex protection. So in the words of the ever-dope Salt-n-Pepa,  “let’s talk about sex”, people. No not that sex. The boring sex; sex education.

HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus, and it is the most common sexually transmitted infection of them all. To clarify, the HPV vaccine only protects against two out of the 40 different kinds of HPV. However, these two types, 16 and 18,  are the most likely to cause cervical cancers down the road.  I must be honest, for the longest time I thought it was far more difficult for one to contract HPV in lesbian sex than in heterosexual sex. Sadly though, it turns out we can catch it just as easily, and in similar ways, as can a straight person. According to the Cancer Network, we can catch cervical cancer through genital on genital contact, touching partner’s genitals then our own, or sharing uncleaned toys. Bisexual women and even some self-identified lesbians have also had sex with men, which increases the risk of HPV even more so.

As a black person from the conservative south, I understand that it’s not really a big thing in black culture to discuss sex. I notice more of a “mums the word” approach. In high school, I remember discussing with a few female friends, all black, the ever-awkward “talk” parents give. You know, “the talk.” I was stunned to find my mother was the only one out of all my friends to have given me some version of the talk when I turned ten. Though my mother’s awkward ramble was totally hetero-centric (as I was not out and proud at the mere age of ten), I’m so thankful today that she even went there for me, as I learned not a lot of parents do. I’ve noticed as I grow older that no matter how liberal sexually a black woman is, it is more respectable and acceptable to keep it to ourselves than to vocalize. In a poignant article from Bitch Magazine, Tamara Winfrey Harris further discussed the active silence black women practice when it comes to the subject of sex.

Respectability politics work to counter negative views of blackness by aggressively adopting the manners and morality that the dominant culture deems “respectable.”

Acting overly prudish whether we (black women) actually are or not,  is meant to work as a neutralizer for us when compared to non-black women, as we are already attached to so many other negative stereotypes. But I must ask, is it really beneficial to express virginity if you know that’s not what’s up? I think not, because it hurts us as black women on a fundamental health level, as you can see from these statistics, courtesy of WomensHealth.gov –

  • Chlamydia rates that are more than seven times higher
  • Gonorrhea  rates that are about 16 times higher
  • Syphilis rates that are 21 times higher

However, the avoidance of sex ed talk doesn’t just go for black folks.  Queers in general seem to have this air about us that implies some sort of magical-STIs- shield, more so than straight folks. I say this from a completely personal perspective, as my experience in relationships and conversations with close friends have illustrated this idea to me. It is as if we feel since we are not having hetero sex, we’re safe. That is why it’s important to broaden our understandings of what sex actually is, so that we stay protected in all sexual situations. Especially when facts like these exist; lesbians (of all colors) are far more likely to develop cervical cancers than are heterosexual women.

Full disclosure, I hate all doctor’s visits, let alone doctors that have total V.I.P  access to my who-ha. Nothing sexy about it. I especially don’t like having to wonder whether my doctor is LGBTQ friendly, because if they’re not, the whole experience can be quite traumatizing. Who wants discrimination while simply trying to be healthy? Well, I come to you with great news. Queer allies have got our backs when it comes to pre-sexy-time woes.  The Human Rights Campaign has created an annual Healthcare Equality Index in which hundreds of gay-friendly hospitals and clinics make themselves known. Also, many LGBT centers all over the country offer or support companies that offer free and low-cost HIV testing specifically for our community on a regular basi

Consider all those times you had sex and protection didn’t once cross your mind. Mhmm. It happens. But the fact is, it should. I agree, depending on what you’re into, it can be harder to protect against STIs as a vagatarian; Yep, I went there. But in the long run, caution is really the best way to go. I’m not saying we all need to run out and get that HPV vaccine like, now, as there are precautions and arguments against it, let alone the many qualms some people have with vaccines in general. The real concern this Health News article raised was the overarching need for women and queers of color to do so much more when it comes to sex education and protection. As much as I like to think of us queerios as some sort of superhuman species within ourselves, we must accept the fact that no one is invincible. We’re all subject to contracting a sexually transmitted infection. The great thing is, if we’re careful and responsible, there’s a lot we can do to avoid them.

 

MORE by Jaz Joyner

More by Jaz Joyner

“I’m not emotionally available. “

 “Are you… physically available?”

  I knew I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help myself. Here is this beautiful girl standing in front of me, once interested in me. Once wanting me. If the only thing holding her back was emotions, why the hell do we need those? She looked at me, angry and frustrated, her brows furrowed and her skin a burnt orange under the frying sun. She rolled her eyes and prepped her feet to stand and I stared at her. I watched her go before she’d left as if I could see the future. I felt myself wanting her the way I thought she’d wanted me, and I couldn’t take it. I grabbed her arm and squeezed like a child to its blanket. She was my security and without her I was naked. I felt vulnerable. Not in the way people feel when they’ve been exposed in a way that makes them uncomfortable. More like a part of me had been kidnapped and I had no leads on how to find it. I didn’t know how to change her mind or make her want me the way I thought she did before.

   “Kate.”

  I said, like speaking out her name unlocked some feeling in her she didn’t know she had. I was kidding myself. She ripped her arm from my grasp and stood over me. I felt like a piece of dust, just waiting for her to blow me away. I stood, towering over her, giving me this false sense of power I wish I had.

   “I’m sorry.”

    I would have rather she said nothing at all. Her words were poison. I didn’t want to stand anymore. She was moving away from me and I had no more ideas. I watched as her back turned to me and she slinked down the sunny sidewalk in her clunky red heels. I just knew she would look back at me. I knew she’d have second thoughts and come back to me, but she didn’t. She walked all the way down the block and I stood there like a zombie, wishing for more. More of anything really. I wasn’t picky.