jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that

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Bi-onic Vision

I don’t date much. Never have. In the seven months since I came out as bisexual, I haven’t dated anyone of any gender. But I’ve discovered some interesting things about myself and society when it comes to dating. Things that went without thinking when I only pictured myself dating men are turned upside down when I consider dating women.

This became apparent during a recent discussion about my married name. I don’t like my last name, but when my marriage ended I kept it because of the kids. I thought, erroneously, that it would be important to the kids for us to have the same surname, and that it would help avoid rude speculation about their parentage. (If you’ve never been a single mother, just know that people suck, and they think they’re owed the details of your sex life. Oh hey, kind of like when you’re queer.) I also thought I would remarry. Why go to the trouble of changing it, only to change it again when I found my man?

That was twenty-one years ago. I never remarried. One of my children has changed his last name. I’m still stuck with mine. As I pondered this I realized that, if I ever do remarry, it will probably be to a woman. And if I married a woman, why would I take her last name?

No, really. Why? Why do we do this?

diceI could Google, but I suspect I’d find that the answer is ‘patriarchy.’ I suspect I’d find that the bride taking the groom’s surname is equivalent to a “Property of” label. And when the gender difference is removed from the relationship, so is the implicit ownership of one person by the other. Similarly, concerns about which of you is taller, which of you is older, which earns more money, etc.–these things no longer matter. They’re are all signifiers of power, and when the relationship is between two men or two women, there is no automatic expectation that the one is more powerful than the other.

I’m beginning to understand the discomfort straight white men feel about same-sex relationships. Heaven forbid people should see all those loving, equal partnerships and get the wrong idea.

But it’s not all rainbows and roses. The thought of dating women has revealed deep insecurities in myself that I did not know I had, or thought I had overcome. I’ve been surprised to find that the comfort and confidence I’ve worked so hard to develop in my own body is shattered in the face of my attraction to women with societally acceptable bodies.

I’ve had enough experience with men to know that the majority of them find me attractive. They may do so in secret, because they’re victims of this society as well, but I know that the average man would sleep with me if I offered. My theory is probably flawed, but I’ve always chalked this up to boobs. I have them. Men want them. But women…women have their own. They don’t need mine. And I know that it’s equally illogical, since I find a variety of women attractive, to think that other queer women are only interested in a narrow selection of body types, but that is still how I feel. Perhaps because I’ve been a woman for several decades, privy to women’s magazines and the constant striving of nearly every woman in existence for the perfect body? I don’t know. But whatever the cause, my insecurities abound, and I have yet to find a cure. *sigh*

♥Hey, did you know that today is International Transgender Day of Visibility? If you’re a cisgender person, I encourage you to pause and reflect on the simultaneous need for visibility and fear of being visible that trans* people experience. Spend some time reading and listening to their stories. Think about how you might create compassion within yourself and safety for the trans* people in your life. Thank you.


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On Marching, and Marching On

(This post is an edited version of something I posted on Facebook-first as a comment on someone else’s post, and then as my own-a year ago, as people were fussing about the Women’s March. I know my position is a controversial one, and I know that people on both sides of the issue feel that I cannot be both pro-life and feminist.  Ah, well, I never have fit into boxes.)

You would be hard-pressed to find someone more pro-life than I am. I was an unplanned, unwanted child myself, and I was also unmarried, pregnant, and barely 17 years old once upon a time, so I’m not speaking from a lack of understanding of what many women go through. But I do think it is different from almost every other issue folks disagree on, because I firmly believe that the fetus is a person, and so a woman’s choice to have an abortion is a choice to end a human life. However, I also recognize that this is not an issue that can be solved by outlawing abortion, and doing so only endangers additional lives.

Abortions took place before Roe vs Wade, and they would continue to take place even if it were made illegal again. The only reasonable way to approach this issue is to remove those things which lead a woman to believe that her best (or only) choice is to abort her child. This would include negative attitudes towards ‘illegitimate’ children, the acceptance of rape and rape culture in our society, refusal to provide reasonable medical care (birth control!), negative attitudes towards women who use food stamps or other public assistance, the assumption that people on welfare are drug addicts, the push to work for minimum wage rather than use public assistance while in training for a decent career (not to mention the push for minimum wage to remain below livable), the blaming of single parents for society’s downfall and every little bad thing their kid does, the blaming of poor people for being poor, etc., etc., etc. And the truth is that these are not things most conservative folks are willing to do. I think this is why we saw, during the Obama administration, abortion falling to its lowest rate in decades. There was hope and help for those who were in tough times, and hope and help can make the difference between an abortion and having the baby.

The Farm, which is a commune that is known primarily for its amazing midwifery practices and maternal/infant outcomes, had a policy of allowing women to come live there, give birth, and leave their baby with the community for as long as they felt was necessary (perhaps forever). They instituted this policy so that women would not feel that they had no choice (and I believe that’s how most women who have an abortion feel, and I have certainly known many women who did not feel they had any other option). They saved many lives doing this. But these days it seems people just want to tell the women that they have no choice, and then walk away from the situation, congratulating themselves for being righteous, and firmly believing that the pregnant woman has made her bed and now has to lie in it.

Abortion is no better for women than it is for the babies whose lives are taken, and more than half of those babies are girls. Although many feminists would disagree with my claim to be both feminist and pro-life, I can only think that making life better for women will translate into making life better-and possible-for their children, too. And that is why I will stand-and march!-with my pro-choice sisters, for we have far, far more in common than not, and I want the best for them and their children, and the society that we share.

Since writing the above, of course, the situation has become even more dire. The Trump administration seems to be fighting to create those circumstances most likely to force women into having no options. It grows more critical every day that we who have the means to fight, fight for the disadvantaged among us.

wonder women

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I went to church with my parents (dad & stepmom) last Sunday, as I’ve been doing off and on through Advent and the new year. I was early, reading a book (Vines’ God and the Gay Christian) while I waited. Near the front was a group of young people chatting, and I was struck by how much one young woman looked like a girl I’d gone to school with-tall, strong, with long, curly red hair. She exuded energy. As I watched, she laughed a loud, boisterous laugh. A voice somewhere in the back of mind chided, “too loud” and “not ladylike!”

I know that voice. I’ve heard it many a time.

It’s the voice that tells me not to dress too brightly because it will draw attention to me, to my size. It tells me not to talk too much. Not to sound too smart or sure of myself. It reminds me of the men who called me ‘intimidating.’ It recently told me that no matter how much I love the giant rainbow umbrella my kid gave me for Christmas, didn’t it make me look out of place on the college campus, among all the dreary ones?

A few weeks ago I went to my parents’ church without them. Here and there during the singing, I would catch someone turning to look at me. My grandmother hasn’t remembered my name or relationship to her for years, but if she’d been standing beside me in church, she’d have elbowed me and said, “Don’t be a show-off!” It’s okay, Grandma, the voice did it for you. Even as I type this story it cries, “Pride, pride!”

The voice is the combined weight of centuries of expectations, handed solemnly down from one generation of women to the next. It keeps us in our place, ensuring we are not Too Much for the men to handle.

I have decided that the appropriate response is to summon my inner Carrie Fisher, complete with middle finger extended.

So, Dear Girl with the Fiery Hair and Powerful Presence:

Be bold. Be cheerful. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are too much, or that you are not enough. Don’t worry about frightening people away; everyone needs a challenge now and then.

Do not try to fit in their boxes, for you cannot be contained.

Much Love,


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I Believe Every One

It’s begun. The protests from people I know that so many accusations of sexual harassment can’t be true, that women are too sensitive, that it’s all witch hunt, that good men will suffer.

But me? I believe every woman who has come forward.

I believe every one, because I’ve seen it happen.
I believe every one, because as a child when I ran, scared, to the nearest neighbor to report creepy behavior I was scolded for saying bad things about someone she knew, and I learned that no matter what the movies they showed me in school said, no one will believe you.
I believe every one, because I’ve heard my friends talk about their experiences.
I believe every one, because once I didn’t and I was wrong.
I believe every one, because the least sexist man I know is blind to the rampant sexism and harassment around him simply because he’s lived his 59 years in this aggressively patriarchal society.
I believe every one, because every woman who speaks up is trashed left and right.
I believe every one, because when a co-worker wouldn’t take no for an answer, I felt I couldn’t take action because I’d said yes to the first date.
I believe every one, because women are still asked what they were wearing.
I believe every one, because my brilliant friend worried her career might be harmed for speaking up.
I believe every one, because too many people are still more worried about a man’s reputation than a woman’s safety.

I believe every one.


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Believe You Me

In my files is a folder of school papers spanning my years between kindergarten and when I dropped out of high school.  Two or three of these papers are warning letters to my parents about all the sick days I’d taken.  I suspect these letters are, in part, why I was often made to feel I must be faking my illness.  Did you ever tell your parents you didn’t feel well, and get the impression that they thought you were faking it?  Remember what that felt like?  Okay, hold onto that feeling while we chat a bit.

Once, I nearly died from meningitis.  The doctor covering for my own took one look at my record, saw ‘Medicaid’ in my file and decided that my complaints of a horrendous headache were good examples of drug-seeking behavior. He denied me care, over and over, and even when my grandmother rushed me to the ER, he came to the hospital and told me to check myself out, that he knew I just wanted drugs.

Sometimes, when I mention this story, I worry that I’m just being dramatic or looking for attention, and I have to remind myself that no, I was truly sick, I was so sick I couldn’t care for my own kids, I was so sick that even after I got out of the hospital I spent a week flat on my back in a friend’s spare room, bored out of my skull but unable to sit up without extreme pain and dizziness. I was so sick that it was six weeks before I could walk around without an invisible foot-tall stack of books on my head (pro tip: don’t get meningitis).

I lived that experience. It’s mine, and it’s okay to talk about it.

Society, and here I will remind you and myself that society is made up of us, is really good at stealing experiences.  Most especially, when that experience makes society uncomfortable.  And a lot of us, especially when we belong to marginalized groups, are really good at internalizing that attitude.  That’s why, when I’m not feeling well on a work day, I never get by without at least a moment of wondering if I’m faking it.

Recently, a friend from church mentioned that she’d hoped I would recant my coming out.  Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?  I mean, it should…but I’ve had that thought myself.  I’ve heard the voice of doubt in my head asking if I’m sure I’m really bisexual.  Life would be so much easier if I could just shout, “False alarm! Turns out I was just confused or something. Carry on as before!”

So many problems would be solved if I could just erase that part of who I am and let those around me snuggle back into their cocoons of complacency and comfort.

But that would not be okay.  Actually, that would be the opposite of okay.  That’s what we call marginalization. It’s oppression. It’s stealing my experience. And it is not okay.

Still remembering that feeling?  Sucks, doesn’t it?  The not being believed, the implication that your understanding of your own experience must be wrong.  That others know best about your own self.

I’d like to propose a guideline. It goes something like this:

If you’re a man, and I’m a woman, and I’m talking about my experiences as a woman, shut up and listen.

If I’m fat, and you’re not, and I’m talking about my experiences as a fat person? Shut up and listen.

If I’m queer, and you’re not, and I’m talking about my experiences as a queer person, shut up and listen.

If I’m black or brown, and you’re not, and I’m talking about my experiences as a black or brown person? Shut up and listen.

This rule can be applied to all kinds of marginalized groups. And sure, it might make you uncomfortable, at least at first.  But that awful feeling of not being believed? You won’t be doing that to someone else.  And you just might learn something in the process.

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Word Games

I just swiped right on someone because his profile included the statement, “will never send a phallic image.”

Literally, this is the level of standards the men of the world have driven me to: won’t send a dick pic? Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Lest you think I’m just being dramatic, just this very morning I received a game request on Words With Friends. My opponent got quickly to the point:


Because how can we possibly play Scrabble without pictures, amiright?  And, if you think today’s dudebro is an aberration, witness this particularly persistent specimen:

luis 1

Bro, do you even spell?  Because this is a word game. (I worried that those ‘every man should talk to his woman like Derek talks to Penelope’ memes might have this effect.)

luis 2

And here he blatantly ignores my statement, and throws in a kiss. Because, you know, that makes it okay for him to force his tripe on me.

luis 3

So, I’m not sure here if he’s comparing me to a restaurant in which Gordon Ramsay takes out three lifetimes of frustration on innocent cooks, or a rapidly gentrifying Manhattan neighborhood. Is he saying I’m hot property? Hard to tell. Definitely not the best compliment I’ve ever received, even when I was looking to receive one.

luis 4

Ah, I see, it’s not his fault. I must be lying when I say I don’t want his crap. He can tell I want it. Because reasons. (and I was kicking his ass because he passed nearly every move, and played three letter words the rest of the time)

luis 5

Well yes, if you call this hitting on me, yes I do.  And after apologizing, you turn right around and keep on keeping on.  I’m guessing someone told you persistence was the way to a woman’s heart?  Hint: They were wrong.

I nearly responded to this apology, because we’re trained to do that. I’m kind of glad I bade my time, though, because it turned out he didn’t mean it. There was an additional “come on, luscious temptation” sent late that evening, as well.

I feel like this kind of crud is the digital equivalent of catcalling women on the street. Not an inkling of respect or in any way treating us as human; just foisting sexualization upon us for their own amusement. Ick. Guys, if we’re walking down the street, it’s because we’re trying to get someplace. And if we’re playing WWF, it’s because we like Scrabble. That’s all.



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In Which I Hate on Pants

I’ve failed utterly at practicing peace this year. I worry a lot.

One of the many things weighing on me at the moment is pants. Yes, pants. You see, I don’t wear pants. I don’t own pants. I don’t like pants. The best pants? No pants. Okay, okay, so I have the paint-spattered pair that I use when I’m building dollhouses and sheds. And I have the pair that I keep at work to wear when I’m needed in the lab or the field. But now I have to wear pants every Friday for the next 10 weeks. And at least one day per week for the remainder of the school year. And in the far-off future, when I’m done with school (by the way, I went back to school…again), I will likely have to wear pants every day. Because safety.

And I hate pants.

And even more than pants, I hate the weight carried by women’s clothing. The weight of expectations and implications, the demands of stereotypes and society.

A woman’s clothing is always wrong. It’s too revealing or covers too much, too short or too long, too feminine or too masculine. It’s too cheap or too expensive or too new or too old, too attention-getting or too boring.

The game is rigged.

And apparently, the rules are changing on me. I’m new to this publicly-known-as-bisexual thing, but so far, this is what I have gathered:

  • Society has super rigid boxes labeled Male and Female.
  • Society gets super confused about same-sex couples because the Male and Female boxes are so rigidly enforced, and the Male box so central to the structure of society (as they see it), that they aren’t sure what box anyone fits into anymore.
  • I find women attractive, and so I must be trying to fit myself in the Male box.
  • I present as very feminine, so I can’t fit in the Male box, because the Male box must never be sullied by such things as ruffles.
  • Commence Society pulling its hair out over the conundrum of which box to put me in.

I like to picture Society as Vizzini, trying to decide which goblet has the iocane powder in it.

blue shoes

These are my favorite shoes. They’re blue. Isn’t blue a boy’s color? Oops.

There’s probably more to it but I’ve kind of been busy living the same life I was living before I came out, except with this giant red “B” pinned to my chest, and haven’t had time to figure it all out. And I don’t think it’s my job to squish myself into the tiny boxes in others’ tiny minds. I mean, I guess I could go buy a Subaru and a flannel shirt, but that would leave me no time to shop for pants.