Nonbinary, No Problem

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership. Lucky you. And. Hello, and welcome back to big mood, a little mood. I’m your host, Daniel M. Lavery, and with me in the studio this week is Tori Bedford, a writer and journalist who lives in Boston with her two small dogs. Tori Welcome to the show.

S2: Thank you so much for having me on. What an honor.

S1: It’s so wonderful to have you on. You and I have shared so many things a bed in a Provincetown Airbnb. Pictures of my recent cyst removal, scalp procedure. Discussions about intestinal blockages that our dogs have. We’ve really lived a very full life together.

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S2: I think we have we’ve had some really beautiful memories, including our sexy sleepover, where we just ate candy and watched Adventure Time. And then, yeah, I am disappointed that you did not ask to take the system. Truly, I think I think that you too could have really had something special, but I’m I’m sorry that they didn’t let you. I assume you asked.

S1: No, no, no. Because the thought that I had was like, If I ask and they say no, the next time I come in, I’m going to steal it and they might be on the lookout for my stealing it. Whereas if I like that just helped clarify, like I left without it and I was like, That was the wrong move. So next time, I’m just going to take it next time.

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S2: OK, is this like a thing where it was dangerous for you to have a cyst in your head? Or was this like a thing where you have a really short haircut and you don’t want a lumpy head?

S1: Yeah, I just started getting them like once I turned about 30 and they’re not that big, but they drove me nuts. Like, they don’t hurt and there’s nothing wrong with them. But I hated them, and I was always like, Why is there a small bump on my scalp? I’m losing my mind.

S2: My 10 year old Chihuahua had the same procedure for a series of lumps all over his lumpy little body, and now he’s looking quite svelte. It’s beautiful, you know? Yeah, congratulations to you, both

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S1: your dog and I have very specific and similar cosmetic needs.

S2: It’s just like any time anyone says they’ve had a surgery. I can also be like, Yeah, my ten year old chihuahua also probably had that surgery.

S1: Surgery is such a strong word. I got a couple of lidocaine shots and then I heard somebody sawing at my scalp for a minute.

S2: OK, sign it. Your scalp is a surgery.

S1: I was awake. I mean, it was like one of those like, you know, like Brueghel, the elder paintings where they’re like removing the stone of madness and they’re just like sitting in a chair looking around. It was like that.

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S2: Yeah, you had the stone of madness removed and you didn’t even think to take it home.

S1: I did think Tori, I just really want to stress I thought about it a lot like this was a I think that I should have just taken it. You’re right, but like, I’m going to take the next one. I thought about it the whole time. There’s no part of me that didn’t give it thought like, I always want my own medical waste and I make no apology.

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S2: Probably sold it. It was probably sold on the black market. Honestly, your dog when I had it, probably does. They probably inserted that into his body in some other complicated surgery. I, when I had my wisdom teeth, I had one wisdom tooth removed and I did ask if I could have it and put it. They put it in a little like jewel case for me.

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S1: And oh, like when you when you lose a tooth at school as a kid? Yeah.

S2: Like, it’s just like a little velvet like box. And then it has like a plastic like see-through. Yeah, it looks like, I don’t know. It’s just like one of those. And now I have it, and it’s just like a thing that I own that I have to carry with me, you know, to different apartments that I moved to or whatever like. It’s just the thing. It’s like an object that I now have.

S1: This is pretty privilege. Yeah, is what this is. You get your own medical waste and you didn’t. Just as I’m calling it it,

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S2: they would have given you the list and a little jewel case. I’m telling you if you had asked, but you didn’t. And so that’s on you.

S1: All right. Fair enough. I will accept that. I will also read our first letter and let you read the seconds, the first one is TMI, TMI and I need to make sure that I have these terms right. I’m not as familiar with them as I could be. I’m fairly sure these are like Trans-Pacific terms. And one of the means, like trans misogyny, exclusive and the I want to say the other one is trans misogyny inclusive. I hear myself say that, and I think that can’t possibly be right.

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S2: I think that I’m I thought that it was just like a clever little like, it’s too much information.

S1: OK. No, no, no. Sorry, I I mean, they are in this letter, they’re using the TMI, as you say, as too much information. I was simply struggling to remember what the first one is.

S2: No, Danny. TMI means too much information, Danny. Sorry, trans

S1: misogyny exempt and trans misogyny affected. Those are the sort of like to OK.

S2: Yeah, no, you’re right. Those are, yes,

S1: they’re not terms that everybody uses. Some people use them. I’m just sorry for suggesting that it was trans misogyny inclusive and exclusive. Let’s just get into the letter. I’m a Non-Binary lesbian, and getting to this point after dabbling dissatisfied in trans masculinity has been a tremendous relief and a joy to share with my girlfriend, whom I started dating during lockdown. Before me, my girlfriend has only dated other trans women as we’ve started to integrate into each other’s social circles. Both of her friends and family have often assumed that I am also trans feminine. Her mother actually quote complimented my transition progress, which my girlfriend abashed. Woodley relayed to me with the implication that other family members have said similar things. A lot of it’s been more subtle. I was added to an all trans seven in group chat, which I politely left after correcting the assumption in the process and some comments from her friends assuming a shared experience of transition between us. I don’t want to engage from a false premise, and I’ve struggled to find seamless ways to add. Like, by the way, while we’re on the topic of how people react to visibly gender nonconforming presences in like a writing group we’ve both attended. I do not experience trans misogyny without awkward shoehorning. I feel great affinity with and love for trans feminine people. My girlfriend, my own close friends and in general. But I’m not a trans woman. What does a clever, conversational way to lead with as while being introduced to ensure that neither of us has to correct the record further down the road? Short of tattooing Timmy on my forehead, my girlfriend shot down this idea.

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S2: I don’t know why. I think that’s a great idea. I think that’s probably the only practical solution is the tattoo.

S1: I can appreciate that part of what I think the letter writer is is trying to get at is this sense of it is not always possible to simply by looking at somebody figure out or parse together, either they’re like birth assignment or whatever experiences they might have had subsequently, or, you know, whether or not they’ve always been seen as like gender conforming or gender nonconforming. And I would say letter writer. My main thought here is just that you want language to serve people rather than the other way around, which is just mostly to say, I think you are doing great and I hope that you do not feel like it is incumbent upon you to assume that everybody is always going to make the same assumption about you and that it is your job to like, catch it the second it happened, like you’re not encouraging people to like labor under a misapprehension. You’re not suggesting that you had life experiences you haven’t like. I think a lot of this you can chalk up to. You know, not that I would hope, at least, that like some of the the beauty of like a trans inclusive worldview, is this understanding of like not everyone can tell what you are just by looking at you like, does that make sense?

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S2: Yeah, I agree. I think that you just have to say what you said in the very, very first sentence, which is I’m a Non-Binary lesbian and I think that people are misgendering you and that sucks. And that’s serious. And I’m sorry that that’s happening. But again, as you said, Danny, you really can’t, you know, people might make assumptions about you and then you know you, you can correct them if you feel comfortable to. And I think the question is like, how like, how do I bring it up? And I think you just literally say, I’m an Nonbinary lesbian, right? I think there’s an example in here in which the letter writer actually did correct the assumption by leaving a all explicitly all trans family group chat, which is how they put the description of this group chat, which is I was thinking about that and like, I have like femme spaces in my life.

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S1: Where in space?

S2: Love them space. You know, like maybe it’s a book club. Maybe it’s a group chat, whatever. And there can be people who are who do not identify as femme, like as long as everyone consents and like knows what’s up. That those people can be in that space. Like, I don’t know that leaving a group chat. I think that that actually is an example of you’re so frustrated at being this gendered that you’re like, I can’t be in here, like, I shouldn’t be in here because maybe the group chat is like we all talk about, you know, being, you know, victims of trans misogyny. And I don’t I don’t experience that right? But like although

S1: I don’t know that one of the things that this sort of like leaves open, the question is, like many people in this letter, writer’s life assume that they are a trans woman. And, you know, without saying that like that means they’re going to have identical experiences to their girlfriend. You know, you can also experience that in a negative way, and it doesn’t really work to shout out. Like, by the way, I’m trans misogyny exempt like it is. Yeah, constantly, yes. Trans misogyny is targeted towards trans women, and it also harms other people. It’s not like the most important side effect, but like there is splash back, there is, you know, additional fire. And so I think the reason letter writer that I’m sort of all over the place here is my read is not that the letter writer is especially like frustrated over being mis gendered. So much is really worried. Like, I don’t want anyone to think that I am encouraging people to think that I’m a trans woman. I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. I rightly like understand that we have not had the same experiences and I don’t want to, like, take away from anybody else’s needs or position in the community or what have you, which I think is good and laudable and everything you’ve done so far. Letter writer seems to me like a totally appropriate response. And the reason that I want to encourage you not to like, pursue this line of thought too far is, I think if you worry about this too much and you announce constantly, like, I’m not a trans woman, that that will in itself be a little like off-putting both for you and the people around you. And so I just I want you to feel like it is not always on you to handle what other people assume about you when they look at you or when they meet you.

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S2: Yeah, I would actually push back and say, I mean, obviously, you know, we don’t have all the information here, and I want to correct what I said earlier when I was like, You’re not exempt from misogyny because everyone experiences misogyny. Like, if that’s how you, I understand the purpose of that phrase. I understand saying like, I am not sort of the direct like it’s, you know, I’m not I’m not the sort of subject of this very specific thing. But as you mentioned, like, it does have splash back. And I think in leaving the group chat, you know, I’m just looking at that one example because, you know, perhaps it felt appropriate and saying, you know, I’m correcting this assumption, whatever. But was it explicitly said, you’re being added to this group chat because it’s an explicitly all transform group chat? You know, could that have been an opportunity to say, I’m actually, you know, gender nonconforming and I don’t know that it’s appropriate for me to be in here, but I love you all and I support you. And if you feel like you welcome me in here, like that’s fine, but I just want to be upfront with you about that. And so I think maybe that’s the attitude to have is not to because there’s also countering assumptions right there, assuming that everyone assumed that they’re trans femme or, like, you know, a trans woman. And then also assuming that those people wouldn’t want to have the letter writer in their group chat because they are non-binary. So there’s double assumptions happening, and there’s a lot of like jumping to conclusions. And so I think the communication that’s missing is just saying, Hey, just a heads up, you know, I don’t know, and I understand there’s this is not easy to do. This is not it be like, Oh, hey, by the way, you miss gendered me, and no one should read into that. And it’s not like, I know that’s not easy, but I’m just saying that like, you know, in those. Moments, if you give people the benefit of the doubt and it sounds like a lot of times they are making crazy assumptions, you know, but if you give people the benefit of the doubt and say, Hey, I know this wasn’t your intention, but just to clarify, I’m not a trans woman. So you know, if you feel like this space is intended for that, I believe otherwise. I can have like maybe a quieter role in here or whatever, like somebody who is part of a space but doesn’t have to be like the biggest voice in that space. If that makes sense, I think that’s why the group chat example sticks out to me the most.

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S1: Yeah, I think especially because it seemed like a sort of open question to what extent the letter writer might potentially have been interested in remaining if, like the letter writer and the other members of the group, could have made sure they were all like on the same page because like I float, a writer has described like I have like found my way to a Non-Binary identity and a sense of myself as a lesbian. And like, I have really figured out that like, I’m not trans masculine, I’m not on that spectrum. That’s not the vibe for me. And one of the like things that has not necessarily sprung about as a result of that, but one of the things that is also true in the letter is like, I have a lot in common with a lot of trans women and trans feminine people. It’s not the same thing as being, you know, part of the same group or having the same identity, but there’s lots of overlap and affinity. And so if you know, I think especially that group chat is slightly different from maybe some of the like slightly cringy like but well-meaning statements from relatives or like relatives of your girlfriend like you look so great, which again, like, yeah, those are no one has a good response to any of those things because they’re both sweet and also, like, wildly incomplete.

S2: I actually I’m not trans and, you know, I have trans family members. And when another family member miss genders them in a conversation with me, I feel like it’s actually less awkward. Like, those things happen when the letter writer wasn’t there. And so it sounds like the letter writers has talked about this and how much it’s bothering them to their girlfriend. Because like that, you know, the judge shooting down the tattoo idea or whatever. So the girlfriend plays a role as well, which is just to say like, Hey, actually, you know, they’re Non-Binary, they’re not a trans woman and just correct that over and over as many times as it takes because she, like the girlfriend, is the one who’s having the conversations with the family, and she has the opportunity to correct that and, you know, not continue this. What seems to be this like building examples of misgendering? Yeah.

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S1: And I can appreciate that too, because I wonder if some of the like uncertainty on the letter writers girlfriends part is like, you know, I both don’t necessarily want to like, contribute to someone’s mistaken assumption. And I also don’t want to rush to announce someone’s like sex assignment at birth. Like that’s not part of the like liberatory project that I’ve invested in. That’s not how I want to handle somebody like reading the wrong thing or making the wrong assumption. And so I can also appreciate that kind of tension there, which is like I neither want to like, you know, say, like, Yeah, I love my girlfriend, who’s also a trans woman when the girlfriend in question isn’t, but I can also really understand why, you know, letter writer what your girlfriend might not be like. Hey, let me just tell everyone your birth assignment that will make me feel great. So I get that those are sort of two slightly difficult things to hold in tension. But yeah, mostly with like that group chat thing I would say, like if you all want me here because you know, you have an understanding of like my particular relationship to a Non-Binary identity that has nothing in common with yours. That’s great. But if you all just thought that I was also a trans woman, you know, I need to let you know that I’m not. And I think it would be the best response there.

S2: And that doesn’t mean necessarily leaving. I mean, unless you know, the letter writer, it sounds like they were uncomfortable to be in that space. And so maybe that was the best decision for them. But I’m saying that in these moments, you know, there can be a gentle and compassionate conversation between the friends, who I think it sounds like they have a lot of lived experience. They’re all trans women like they all like they’re not like, we talked about the family members. Those are very different experiences, but I think they would have a lot of compassion and understanding. I would hope, but we don’t know that until the conversation has had in that communication takes place. And then also, I do think I understand you’re saying about the tension like, you know, maybe the girlfriend does want to get into it or whatever. But if this letter writer, that’s a conversation also that needs to happen between the girlfriend and the letter writer. If the letter writer feels like I want your family to stop misgendering me, then I do think that the girlfriend has a big role to play. And I don’t know. I think that whatever discomfort you might have with having those conversations with your family, if you can end the discomfort that your partner feels when they are mis gendered repeatedly, that seems worth it. To me, that seems like a no brainer.

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S1: Yeah, yeah. And I think my sort of last thought here. And you know, there’s there’s. Obviously, so many different directions that this sort of set of conversations can go. But I would say if somebody like genuinely says something like incorrect and you want to just say, Oh, I’m actually not a trans woman, feel free to do that. But I also don’t want you to feel so like worried about, like stolen valor that if somebody says anything about you that you don’t feel like immediately able to ground that you have to like, rush in and say, you know, here’s my birth assignment or like, here’s exactly my situation. It is also not incumbent upon you to make sure that everyone you ever interact with, like has every single detail about your relationship to, you know, whatever form of social or other types of transition you may have pursued in the past, whatever your relationship to gender conformity or nonconformity has been like. I also really don’t want you to feel like you have to take ownership of the way that other people read you, because that way lies. Yes. You know, cis madness. Yes, cis

S2: madness. And also, if somebody was genders you, that’s on them, because that doesn’t automatically mean that you are encouraging them to mix gender. You just because you don’t immediately correct them. It doesn’t mean that you’re taking up space that you shouldn’t be taking up. It doesn’t mean that you’re out here pretending to be someone you’re not. They made an assumption, and that’s all it has. It does not reflect on you. You are not

S1: applying to scholarships. You’re not qualified for. Right? Trying to get on boards anywhere by like, you’re not eating Rachel Dolezal.

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S2: This, like you are funny.

S1: That was the one phrase I didn’t want to bring up. I get it. It was. No, I know. I know.

S2: It’s you’re not Rachel Dolezal in this family. OK? You’re good. You know, I’m sorry. You need to cut that, Danny. No, that’s not an idea.

S1: It’s one of those things where, like, sometimes it’s better to just like, get it over with. We’re both. We were both thinking it. I’m just going to say it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But yeah, I think we sort of like reached the limit of the sort of like, how do you like both? Make sure that you’re not like taking advantage of a misunderstanding or a misapprehension that could potentially like make other trans women feel like hurt or mislead without, like falling into the like classic Seinfeld? Not that there’s anything wrong with that kind of response, which is like if you’re always announcing I’m not a trans woman, not that there’s anything wrong with that, then that also creates its own kind of like series of like brittleness or like unnecessarily uncomfortable moments that, like, do not make a lot of room for like, you know, creativity, freedom, liberation ET. I’m going to take us into our second letter, which I’m going to let you read at your leisure.

S2: OK, subject stole my thunder. I have been in the most amazing relationship for the past two years. My boyfriend, Antonio and I took in his 15 year old niece Luna and are in the process of adopting her. The problem is that my soon to be mother in law, Maria, is overbearing, manipulative and makes petty comments about me whenever Antonio is out of earshot. Recently, Luna confided that Maria keeps asking questions to dig up dirt about me and says she doesn’t like me because I’m untrustworthy and not Latina. Luna feels uncomfortable that her grandma keeps asking if she’s sure about involving me in the adoption if Luna hadn’t sworn to secrecy. I would have told Antonio immediately and had a direct conversation with Maria. This weekend, my boyfriend proposed. I was so surprised and happy that I didn’t even mind Maria’s comments about how the pictures would look so much better if I’d worn makeup. Later, I started receiving texts and calls congratulating me on our engagement from people we hadn’t told. Maria posted on Facebook without permission. Gushing about how happy she is for us. I was beyond hurt when my boyfriend confronted Maria. She said she’d asked me first when he didn’t buy that lie. She cried, saying, If we don’t want her involved in our lives, she’ll just walk away forever. A threat she’s made before. Despite knowing Maria’s true feelings, I fully intend to marry my new fiancee and adopt Luna. However, I don’t know what more I can do to create better boundaries, keep the peace and protect our niece. Help. Oh, man. Yeah. I feel like. There’s a couple things here that give me some information, but my first thought is if you were going to adopt Luna, she is 15, so you know, she’s almost an adult. And she obviously has her own agency. And it sounds like, you know, this letter writer really respects her as her own person and doesn’t see her as just like a kid or whatever. And I don’t know. That’s what I’m making. I’m going to make some assumptions here. But also, that’s your kid now you’re adopting that kid. And so you have to set boundaries. You have to set boundaries where you’re not going to let your kid, you know, have secrets that you keep for her that were told to her completely inappropriately by her grandmother. Yeah. And then keep those from your partner. That was the same thing that came

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S1: up for me. Teo was just like, Yeah, I get that. You just wanted to make her feel better in that situation because another adult is already sort of like taking advantage of her relative like youth and powerlessness. But you have to go back and say, Luna, I shouldn’t have promised you that I would keep this a secret. I do need to talk about this with my partner and, you know, be prepared for her to potentially get upset. But just like on that and to say, like, I actually can’t keep this a secret and I should not have promised you that I would, I’m not going to go like screaming at your grandma. But this is something we’re going to have to address. Yeah.

S2: Or you could tell Antonio, and I don’t know. I mean, yeah, I guess you’re right. You would want to be upfront with Luna about it. But I think that the main thing that I’m kind of focused on is also in the last part. The letter writer mentions that Antonio he confronted Maria about posting the thing on Facebook, and he didn’t believe her lie. So it’s not like one of those situations that you hear about where you know you’re getting married to someone and they’re like, you know, a mama’s boy. Yeah, and they’re like, Oh, I believe everything my mom says, and she has to be a part of her life. It sounds like Antonio is like he gets it, and he’s very much allied with the letter writer. And so I think keeping him, you know, having communication with him when you are on equal footing and then setting boundaries with your adopted daughter is really, really important. The other aspect is like, Maria has no boundaries. She’s telling a 15 year old to dig up dirt about you completely inappropriate. And if she’s crying and saying, you know, if you don’t want me involved, Baba, I’ll just walk away forever. Like fine, like you can be involved at the level that we choose to have you involved for the safety of our adopted child. Mm-Hmm. And if that is not, if you’re not comfortable with that level of involvement, you can walk away forever.

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S1: By Yeah. And I think, you know, the only reason that I want to encourage this letter writer to be direct with Luna is not because I necessarily think the only option the letter writer and her fiancé have is like maximum conflict yelling at Maria. We know what you said to Luna. It’s just because I think it seems like Luna has been getting a lot of like friendly fire in terms of like overhearing digs or pointed questions or being encouraged to, like keep secrets. And I think this is actually just a good opportunity for Luna to see an adult handle something that is difficult and like, admit that they didn’t do something right the first time and then just be like, And here’s what’s going to happen. I trust you enough. Like, I respect you enough to be honest with you, even when I don’t think you’re going to like what I have to say. So I really think that’s a gift you can give Luna, even if she’s like, you know, I’m pissed off, and I wouldn’t have told you if I didn’t think you would keep a secret. But yeah, generally speaking, a good policy. If someone says, can you keep the secrets to say something like? I will use my judgment, and if I think I can, I will, and if I think I can’t, I won’t. And you can decide whether or not you want to tell me as a result of hearing that. But yeah,

S2: or like, I might have to tell Antonio, you know, if something about me that affects him and affects his mother, like, I don’t know, like, it’s it’s just sucks that Luna is in the middle of this. It’s so inappropriate for her grandmother to be going her with the to her. With this, it’s inappropriate for the letter writer, frankly, to be keeping her secrets or to be like, I’m like, There’s a little bit of like, this is about me. And that’s just not true when kids come into the picture, if there’s any kind of toxicity in your life. And I think it’s actually a good way to set your own boundaries in sort of a roundabout way because the kid is kind of a straw man. It’s like, if I wouldn’t let my kid tolerate this, then why should I be tolerating it for myself? And I do think that a lot of times people continue to tolerate stuff that they shouldn’t tolerate. And then when kids come into the picture, the kids also end up having to tolerate that. And I just think that somebody needs to have Luna’s back and to be protecting Luna from Maria, who is being very toxic if Maria doesn’t have the ability to to post things online before everyone else knows about it, because she found out later, or if she doesn’t have the ability to, you know, if you were able to have a conversation with Luna to say, if you don’t want her to put you in the middle of this, like, here’s what you can say so that you can set a boundary with her. Obviously, you know you’re 15. If this is making you uncomfortable, I think here’s some things you can say to your grandmother if she want her to stop, but that’s your call. But yeah, it’s just it’s got to stop. She’s got she’s two. She’s in too deep. Her claws are really deep into everybody. And you know, they can have a relationship with her, sure. But it’s got to be pushed back a bit. She’s just she’s turned herself into the planet that everyone else is orbiting around and that’s not healthy.

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S1: Yeah. And I think, you know, it will be good for you and Antonio to both talk to Luna and say, like, how often is this happening? How hard is this on you? Like, are things otherwise like mostly good and you’re just kind of frustrated? Do you find being around your grandmother really difficult? Like, is there something that we can do to be helpful to you? I think that’s part of why I want you to have that conversation with her because you want to get a sense of like how she do it. It sounds like whatever is going on in her life, there’s already a lot given that you are in the process of adopting her. That suggests some kind of like previous upheaval in her life, and it will just be good to like and ask those questions to the best of your ability. You know, like an open minded way and not like, you know, leading like now we find Maria really difficult. Please tell us how difficult you find her to, and then we’ll all be on the same team. But to genuinely figure out, like, how is she doing? What can you to do as her like guardians and soon to be parents to make things a little bit easier for her? And then, yeah, you know, you need to tell Antonio about the rest of this, and you need to figure out like, what are the limits that we need to set? How seriously did they involve? Like, I’m a little inclined to let the Facebook stuff go because it’s just like you’ve got such bigger fish to fry. You know, it’s it’s frustrating, but it’s not really the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue lies elsewhere. So, you know, I’m sorry that that’s how she handled it. And I’m sorry you didn’t get to tell those people right away. But I would also just like I would encourage you not to be too attached to like, Oh, this like really took the wind out of our sales for the engagement. Now it’s not as fun. Like, find the fun. It’s it’s it’s OK that you didn’t get the call everybody like for the very first time. You will still get to experience other people’s excitement and joy for you. That’s not gone. You know, don’t give her that level of like power just because I think that’s like a a dead end. But then, yeah, you know, beyond that, you you should probably mute her on Facebook, at the least. You might want to unfriend her pages, delete Facebook. There’s a lot of Facebook.

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S2: We will have to deal with that. Um, yeah. I also think I mentioned, you know, having a conversation, I want to be really explicit about that. I mentioned having a conversation with Luna about, you know, sometimes when I was 15, I don’t think I knew I didn’t have the tools to set boundaries with people like that. And I’m just saying it would have been maybe useful. But another option is just like, if you know, maybe he’s interested in therapy and then a therapist could help her with setting boundaries because and this is where I really, really want to be explicit about this. Be very careful that you are not doing what Maria is doing and putting her in the middle of this conflict. So, you know, if she asks you about Maria, you just kind of there’s a part in here about keeping the peace like you just say, you know, she’s if she probably loves her grandmother and wants to have a relationship with her and she’s probably too young to think about. I don’t know if she’s too young to think about cutting her out of her life, but they have a relationship. And if that is valuable to Luna, then that has to be protected and preserved. And, you know, you just have to. Be patient. You sort of have to just just be respectful of that and be respectful and don’t say anything bad about Maria in front of her. Don’t express your frustration about the situation to her because that’s inappropriate. She shouldn’t be forced to be in the middle. She shouldn’t have to feel like she’s got to fix everything or everyone. You know, it’s not even something she has to worry about. Just turn whenever that feels like if she asks about how it’s going, I think, you know, because it seems like she’s the kind of kid that if she told the letter writer about this stuff, it sounds like she’s like, Oh, this is the right thing to do. I have a responsibility to do this in those situations. I guess you could just be like, Well, you know, I am going to tell Antonio, and I appreciate you telling me this, but you shouldn’t feel like you have to be in the middle and like, How are you doing in all of this? You know, is there any way that we can help you? And how are you doing? Yeah, like you said, like, how are you doing generally? Like, do you need any other support and weave and give the sense that like we as adults have got this under control, we are going to handle this? And you don’t have to worry about it and everything’s OK and there’s no bad blood. So like whatever’s happening with your grandmother and us, that’s not something you need to worry about. You will continue to have a relationship with her if that is what you choose. And just go to school and be a normal kid.

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S1: That’s a really, really good point. It would feel really tempting, I think, for many people in this situation to want to vent a little bit. And you’re right. You know, when it comes to Maria, it is possible that she is a super shitty mother in law to be. And mostly a pretty loving grandma who is occasionally petty. And so, yeah, I think to really think about I might need to limit a lot of my contact with Maria and or Antonio might as well. That might also like make things more challenging or tense on a familial level. But we also want to really strive to make it clear that none of that is Luna’s responsibility to handle and that if she wants to spend time alone with her grandmother, that we would really encourage that and facilitate it regardless of how our relationship with her was at any given point. I think that is an excellent, excellent thing to kind of keep at the forefront of their minds. I think the only thing that I would say beyond that is, yeah, you know, letter writer, it’s great that you still plan on marrying Antonio. I think you should. You don’t know what more you can do. I think that’s really a conversation for you and Antonio to have together and just kind of figure out like, you know, this is maybe just like Maria’s thing, if she’s, you know, pretty dramatic, how much time and energy do we want to spend contending with it? If she says things like, maybe I should just walk away forever. Do we want to just ignore that? Do we want to say, you need to stop saying that? And if you don’t stop saying that, like, we’ll take you up on it, you know? I don’t know. I think there’s a multiple there’s multiple possible sane responses to that that you might choose to pursue. And it’s really just a question of like. You know, how much do you want to keep? How much time do these like moments take up? Are there ever times when she’s capable of behaving neutrally towards you? Or is it just constant at which point you might need to say, like, there doesn’t really seem to be a way to have a positive relationship with Maria? It’s just a question of like how much grief we’re willing to overlook. But again, you know, just have that conversation with your partner, with all the information shared between the two of you don’t say anything to her, like what she has been saying to you, even if you are incredibly tempted to, like, give a little of your own back, like at most, you can say, you know, the way that you treat me is not OK. You know, I don’t want to see you rather than like. And here’s the kind of person I think that you are and I want to hurt. You’re feeling like I get that. It’s so tempting. But like, just take that slightly higher road.

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S2: You and Antonio have to be a unit and you have to be the adults in this situation. And you, I worry also, I mean, I would say you could cut Maria out of your life, but I would worry about the repercussions. If Luna then gets an earful from Maria about how you guys won’t talk to her anymore or whatever. I think it’s got to be sort of like, you know, if you had a a divorce and it was civil and then, you know, for the sake of the kids, you have a civil relationship that demonstrates a mutual respect. I think that can be a very healthy example for kids, and I think that’s kind of how you have to look at this relationship with your future mother in law.

S1: Yeah. And to take threats like that, neither is like an opportunity to like, tease someone, nor is an emergency you have to respond to. Like if somebody says when you tell me not to make announcements about your engagement on Facebook, what I hear is you’re saying, don’t be involved in our lives or leave. And you know, you can both say to that. That’s not what we said. That is an unreasonable response. You know, take the Lucille Bluth approach like, I don’t understand this threat and I’m not going to respond to it. Just like we’re not going to have this conversation. That’s not a reasonable thing to say. If you would like to have another conversation, we’re prepared to have it, but we’re not going to respond to this one. This is a plate or platter moment. If someone says, when you tell me not to post on Facebook, you’re saying you don’t want me in your life. And you just get to say, that’s absolutely not what just happened. Come back when you’re ready to try again. And you know, again, I say that on the other side of like a pretty significant family estrangement. And so I don’t see any of that lately. Like, it’s a shame when it comes to that. But if that’s the level someone’s coming to you with them, you might need to take them up on it. Off of the subject of family for a little while and off of the subject of scalp procedures and little dogs, Tori, you are a journalist, you journal.

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S2: I do journal.

S1: You, I think, also have a lot of work that takes you in the direction of, you know, the conflicts and the sufferings of others. How is that going?

S2: Well, it’s funny that you mention journaling because sometime like recently, my work has been so heart-wrenching that I feel like I don’t even have the bandwidth to journal. Usually I do write in a journal, but I have bought a a sketchbook and some charcoal pencils, and every night I try to do my best like sketch of my dog’s ears. And they’re really bad. But everyone’s like, Oh, self-care, like take a bath or like, I don’t know, like, go exercise, even though you’re exhausted. Like, there’s not really. There’s only so much. There’s only so many baths you can take. So I just have found this to be like a dumb little way for me to sort of turn my brain off, which feels really nice because the work that I’m doing has been. It’s been a little overwhelming, and I’m, you know, I if I feel that way, I think it needs to be said that the people who are the subjects of the work, I can’t even imagine what they’re going through. But in Boston, there has been this clearing of a homeless encampment in the city center. And you know, this has been it’s been kind of growing over the years. And now there’s a few hundred. There were a few hundred people living there in tents. And it was this area known as mass and Cass because it’s in Roxbury, like near the South End, Melania Cass Boulevard and massive. And this neighborhood has such an interesting history. In the 1970s, it was like on the cusp, if not already a prosperous, business oriented, predominantly black neighborhood that was like really on the up and up. And then there all the zoning laws that happen that put new highways in and kind of just ruined that whole. You know, that whole trajectory. There was also an island in the Baltic, one of the Boston Harbor Islands called Long Island, and the history of that island is that we would send, I think, Deer Island, which is nearby. There’s a history of of the Massachusetts settlers sending indigenous people there to starve and freeze over the winter. In the early 1800s, we had a home for unwed mothers and male poppers like poor boys, and there is a there were mental hospitals and sort of I think the phrase that was used in the 1920s was like indigent populations to be sent over this bridge or over boats and be sort of put out of sight out of mind. And that shelter was closed down in 2014. So all the folks that had been living at that shelter were now just in the city and there became this concentration of people because there were a lot of medical facilities and methadone treatment centers. And recently, the mayor, the acting mayor of Boston, Kim Janey, announced an executive order that she was going to clear everybody out because tents are not livable. And so they started these clear outs of the tents. And I think there’s just been this disconnect because, you know, they said nobody will be forced to remove their tent unless there’s shelter available. And there were at the time, at the beginning, many shelter beds available, but a lot of people don’t want to be in shelter. And that, I think, was not really explored and investigated as to why I was

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S1: really glad that you brought that up. I know that you’ve been doing a lot of reporting about this particular encampment, and I would love it if you could talk a little bit more about that. I think sometimes the general public has this sense of, oh, a shelter, it’s the good place with beds. Of course, you would want to go there. And there’s not necessarily a lot of like public facing discussion about like what kinds of organizations run shelters, what the requirements are, why a person might not consider that to be a better option than their encampment or wherever else they’ve put their stuff for the night.

S2: I think a huge part of it is just agency as a human being feeling like, you know, you don’t want to be in a carceral setting, and a lot of it feels like it’s institutionalized. You feel like you’re being heavily supervised. But then often when there’s a lack of supervision, it can feel unsafe for people. They don’t really have any way to defend themselves. People, I think, feel like, you know, there’s a lot of people who use drugs and there are a lot of shelter spaces where there’s a zero tolerance policy for drug use and people are just not ready. You know, becoming sober and stopping drug use is a very, very personal thing. It’s a personal journey and a personal decision. And there have been a lot of studies that show that involuntary commitment and involuntary treatment is far less likely to actually work and result in long term sobriety, but more likely to result in overdose deaths. There was a study from the Massachusetts Department of Health, I think in 2016 that showed that people who were involuntarily committed into treatment facilities were 2.2 times as likely to die of an overdose once they were released. Because you’re in there, you know you’re detoxing. A lot of times there’s no methadone Suboxone. There’s no there’s no kind of assistance treatment there. You’re just like cold turkey detoxing, which is someone just incredibly vulnerable. Yes. I mean, just very often like this same right that your bones hurt and you’re just ready, he said. If I could flip a switch and turn it off like. Like my life, I would. And so you go through that and then you are let out back into the world, and I think in that context, when you haven’t been given the agency and you haven’t decided that this is the path that you’re going to go on. The only thing that’s going to heal that hurt is using substances. So, you know, a lot of people have brought it. There were a group of doctors and scientists who came down to the area and they warned that, you know, they talked about that study. They talked about how we’ve tried this before in other areas, and it doesn’t work. There was in 2019, a Operation Clean Sweep from the previous mayor, which was like just going in and clearing everything out and performing and conducting arrests. And, you know, everybody just came back. So they were saying, like, this doesn’t work. So the ACLU chapter in Massachusetts has sued the city for this. That’s moving forward in the past few days. There’s also been these ongoing jail courts. It’s called a community response session and it’s being held in the Suffolk County Jail, which is right next door to this location. And what’s happening is that three or four people, usually three, are brought in in the morning. They’re held in the jail and then they have these hearings in the jail before this judge who brings them in on previous criminal warrants. So the idea that the house was, you know, described by the state and the city was that folks who were preying on the community would be brought in and heard on previous warrants. And because there are a lot of assaults and there’s sexual assault and violence and drug trafficking and people talk about human trafficking. But in the past at least two weeks. The majority of the charges that people have been brought in for are mostly low-level drug offenses, and multiple people have been brought in while waiting in line for methadone. So people have been taken out of their methadone treatment. They’re waiting in line, you know, right in front of the clinic. They’ve been taken in. They’re experiencing withdrawals. You know, this process that was, you know, supposed to be about giving people treatment or bringing in people with horrific criminal offenses, you know, these previous outstanding warrants. A lot of it has just been used to bring people in off the street and there is no end date for these. So they’re they continue to clear the tents. They set these different deadlines. The city pushed back when I described them as deadlines, but they are notices on tents that say You need to have your property cleared by 8:00 a.m. on this day, or the city will throw away your property like they’ll throw away your stuff. And so to me, that’s a deadline. Like, not even in a legal sense. That’s just like, that’s you gave a specific time and date for a thing to happen, and if it doesn’t happen, there will be a consequence. And they also wrote in the executive order that it could result in arrests. So this has been kind of ongoing, just been down there from the beginning of it, been a lot of these hearings at this jail court. I’ve been talking to a lot of advocates been talking to, you know, I think I also found out that there’s been a few COVID outbreaks in in some of these jails where people have defendants have been sent to spend the night. One in Bristol County and there is another one at the Worcester County Jail, where there were 33 prisoners who were had tested positive for COVID and then to correctional officers. So it’s been this process that people have been crying out about how, you know, we’ve we’ve tried things like this before and they haven’t previously worked in the past. And then there’s also this other perspective, which is people that live in the neighborhood and the business associations that are like, Well, this is so unsafe, right? And people who live there as well, who lived en masse in Cass were saying it was unsafe because a lot of people told me that though it was a very heavily policed area, most of the time, there were often chunks of time where there just was no police presence. And so people would get attacked, people would get robbed. You know, all kinds of horrific things were happening is not a safe environment for people. And then also people created a community there. So it’s not a safe environment. There’s a lot of bad stuff happening, but there’s also a lot of bad stuff happening for anyone who is experiencing homelessness. If you’re living out on the street, it’s a very traumatizing experience. But if you have a community of people and some of them are your friends who you trust, which is, I mean, it’s very tricky in that area. A lot of people were also saying that, you know, they would say, I’ve experienced an overdose, that person’s having an overdose. I’m going to help them or that person just got attacked. I’m going to help them. A lot of people were, you know, helping each other rebuild their tents after a storm. They had this concentration of folks that were down there. And I think in some ways, some people had each other’s backs. And so now if there’s this disbursement of people throughout the city, what I’m trying to do now is. I’m trying to follow up with people, you know, after the tents are cleared after these hearings, and I want to know where people end up and if you know what happens after they go through the system or if they were just they didn’t want to go into a shelter and they just went back out into the city. And I’m trying to, you know, figure out where people went after this was dispersed.

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S1: Tori, you are wonderful and a gem, thank you so much.

S2: You are wonderful, thank you so much for having me on. I love this podcast and I love you.

S1: I love you too. Goodbye for now. I. Thank you for joining us on big mood, a little mood with me. Danny Lavery, our producer, is Phil Surkis, who also composed our theme music. Don’t miss an episode of the show. Head to Slate.com slash mood to sign up to subscribe or hit the Subscribe button on whatever platform you’re using right now. Thanks. Also, if you can, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. We’d love to know what you think. If you want more big mood, little mood, you should join Slate Plus Slate’s membership program members get an extra episode of Big Mood A Little Mood every Friday, and you’ll get to hear more advice and conversations with the guest. And as a Slate Plus member, you’ll also be supporting the show. Go to Slate.com Forward Slash Mood Plus to sign up. It’s just $1 for your first month. If you’d like me to read your letter on the show, maybe need a little advice. Maybe some big advice. Head to Slate.com slash mood to find our big mood, a little mood listener question form or find a link in the description on the platform you’re using right now. Thanks for listening! And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday. I don’t think there’s a good way through life by saying, don’t worry, the thing you’re scared of won’t happen. It’s not going to come for you. You’re going to like, escape it. And so I do. I swear I want to get to that. But letter writer, I just want to encourage you spend a little time with that fear. What else would you do? How would you mourn that grief? How would you take care of the tender, vulnerable, loving parts of yourself that have a lot of love to give? How would you cultivate meaningful relationships with other people? What else could you do to listen to the rest of that conversation? Join Slate Plus now at Slate.com forward slash mood.