My family is non-traditional to say the least. I’ve never felt self-conscious about it, though I’ve rarely felt self-conscious about much of anything. That however is a story for another time.
This weekend I ended up seeing the YTP production of James and the Giant Peach which ended with a moral about how you can create your own family. That family may be a family of giant bugs and a child living in a peach pit, but as long as everyone is kind they can be family. It was a message I appreciated. My family is big and loud and fast and loose with labels.
People however find my family fascinating. No matter how great the interviewer often questions about my family come up. My dad joked after the Hogtown Talks interview that I had misidentified him as straight and it’s true. I also didn’t go into the trans* parent thing in that interview. I joke that it starts to sound as if my family is made up. Which I suppose it kind of is.
I have four parents three of whom are queer. Which means I have a biological brother and a child who is not really my sibling, but who is also very clearly family. He is my Stanley and I am his Morgan that is good enough for us. We often wish it were good enough for other people.
I am often identified as his mother on public transit which is always interesting since he doesn’t have a mother and I am nobody’s mother. I often have to explain my relationship to my extra parents to other people, something that gets old fast. I often have to explain that yes the six foot two black man in that picture is actually my uncle and yes he is my dads brother, and no he is not married into the family. People always have questions when they realize you have listed three sets of grandparents.
Holiday dinners are regularly close to twenty people. The turkey is carved by an old family friend who I have only ever called Scouter Ian. The table is a sea of adoptions, various stages of marriage, remarriage and separation. The word step is never ever used.
It means three sets of grandparents. It means though I had a grandmother die, when my grandfather remarried Janet became Granet*. It means family all over in terms of sexuality and race and marriage and blood relation.
We are loving and loud and more than a little nosy. We are most of a family.
I think that the normal you grow up with is always by default your normal. When I was little I asked j (one of my extra parents) what his real name was. Mum’s real name was Beth and Dad’s real name was Keith so what was j’s. I am also pretty sure I though everyone had a j.
These days I have two houses, like many kids of divorced parents, just without the divorce. I share my grades with both sets and my worries about university. I have lots of keys on my keychain.
The thing about non-traditional families is that as normal as you think your family might be, it’s probably only your normal. Many families have family friends who are now just family. Many families have adoptions and “step” parents or siblings. As they said in James and the Giant Peach above all else, family is kind.
But my non-traditional family is pretty boring. We lovingly argue over who will walk the dog or who will let the cat in depending on the house. No one likes to do dishes. Lightbulbs need replacing. Sometimes toilets and dishwashers break, usually when everyone but me is away. People get sick, and groceries need to get bought, meals need to get cooked. There is excitement when Bear comes back from a trip. Both houses play lots of “has the cheque come today?” On Fridays, there is Shabbos dinner at j and Bear’s and on holidays there is giant traditional made for TV movie style dinner’s at my Grandmama’s. I am very attached to traditions. I adore aging the china and silverware out.
My family loves me. That is what makes them my family. That is how you should define your own family.
Though I will say that if you are thinking about having four parents remember that means four people to ask about grades. Four people to quiz you about your love life.(Also four people to love you and help you solve problems but be aware of the aforementioned.)
There was universal curiosity about my family during the election, I felt the need to always be explaining as I have done my whole life. Someone said to me recently “maybe it’s none of their business” and you know what maybe it isn’t. Maybe I don’t always have to explain my family. Maybe I don’t need to dumb it down for the rest of the world.
The closest I get these days to feeling weird about my family is when there is a queer teen death, happens. I always wish I could gift even piece of my loving accepting family. I am a straight, cis, white girl living in a big city in a big queer activist and most of all loving family, That makes me incredibly privileged, and I know that I could have survived a much less loving and welcoming family and there are youth all of this world who cannot and do not. I strive to do my best to play interpreter to the straight cis world, to educate so queer people don’t have to, to share as much love and welcoming I can with young people I encounter. It isn’t enough, but right now almost nothing would be so we take it step by step. One day maybe family won’t be such a rigid concept and queer young people can find family that loves them no matter what.
So feel okay with your family no matter how it came to be. If they love you and are kind to you they are your family. Don’t worry about labels or what you are to each other. It is what it is, and what it is, is family. If anyone asks you can always say that they are yours and leave it at that. And make sure you channel Ester Grace and tell them you love them, no matter how weird you feel about saying those words out loud.
* A combination of Grandma and Janet. I also have a Grandmama and Grandma and have a deceased GrandD, Nana, Nan and Grandmama (I told you it was complicated)
Some of you may remember though it was ages ago in internet years, that Scott Gilmore wrote an article which single-handedly solved the problem of women in politics or the lack thereof. Well, not quite. He was willing to circulate our responses for free, so I hope he makes sure this makes the rounds. I had said that I didn’t work for free and so would only post something if Macleans or another publication payed me. However, my original rebuttal, which is below, just got me into university so I am feeling generous. Thanks for that Scott! I really appreciate it!
So Scott, assuming I used all your helpful* tips and used this to step up to the plate what’s next? I have my wonderful network, my buckets of donations, my oodles of time, and of course my boundless confidence. I have pried open all the doors nailed shut for women. Here I am running for office. Let’s talk about what it is like to be that woman running for office.
Should we start with the sexual harassment? The online stuff is only the beginning. There are the hands you remove at parties the volunteers you keep at a distance or turn down. There are the men who recognise you in public that you have to manage to put off politely.
How about the interactions you are always second guessing. Is he standing too close or am I imagining it? Is he buying me a drink to be kind or because he wants something? Is he offering to volunteer because he believes in me or because he wants to get in my pants? Is the donation just a donation or does it come with strings?
How about how every time you get dressed you have to think through every possible reaction? Do I look too young? Too matronly? Is this neckline too old? Is my eye makeup too dark? Will I look too different with my hair down? Is this lipstick too bright? Are these heels too high? If I don’t wear heels will I look too short next to the men?
How about being hyper aware of how you speak? and walk? and sit? and stand? Am I coming off to masculine? Too aggressive? Too feminine? Is my voice too high? (having a feminine voice can make people think you are less capable) Am I holding myself assertively? Am I walking too fast? Am I standing tall enough?
All of these are real questions I asked myself during the campaign, and I am sure if I thought hard enough about it I would have more. I am a woman who stepped up to the plate. I did so with no party behind me, without any political experience or a built in team. I put in a lot of hours, and honestly do not know how I could have done it without parents who were willing for me to use their credit card and feed, house and clothe me during the campaign. As well as friends and family who put in an incredible amount of hours or a media buzz that was bigger than what I would have gotten had I not been 18/19.
I don’t know how much of my own money I spend on campaign-related things that I felt I couldn’t count as campaign expenses. I know I spent about $4000 as a campaign budget. I know I had more donations than a campaign my size could have reasonably expected. I know I had a great dollars to votes ratio. I know I got more votes than an 18/19 year old with her laptop and parents credit card should have gotten. I know 8th place in a city like Toronto is actually great.
I also know I was busier than any of peers. That my relationships friends, family, romantic suffered. I know that my grades dropped about five percent. Lots of things really really sucked about the campaign. I ended it exhausted and frustrated and honestly with my optimistic heart a lot emptier. Politics is not easy. It is not easy as a man. It is less easy as a woman. Less easy as a personal of colour. Less easy as someone without lots of money. Less easy as young person. Less easy without a party. If you tick multiples of those boxes you have your work cut out for you.
Was my campaign good for Toronto and Canada as a whole? I believe so. Was it good for me professionally? Almost certainly? Was it good for me personally? Only time will tell. But I do know that while lots of people felt inspired by my campaign, lot of young women also felt like they couldn’t do what I was watching.
So the next time you give advice think it through. Assuming your advice is any good, which I address below, what happens next? Is it any good for the person who follows the advice? Because, unfortunately while women running for office is good for the greater good, it is kind of shit for women right now. Call me when your advice is worth following.
*helpful being a subjective term
Below is my unedited university admissions essay. Thanks for getting me into university Scott!
There seems to be a think piece every other day about why female representation politics is so low. That female representation is at 25% in politics is widely accepted as a problem, but why it exist and what we should do to solve it are where the arguments begin.
Scott Gilmore suggests in Macleans that the issue is not sexism, but women. That women are not stepping up to the plate and unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices. Assuming this is true, the question is why?
Scott Gilmore suggests in Macleans: “No network? Build it. … No money? Raise it. … Lack confidence? Find it. … No time? Make it.”
Women have networks, just not political ones. Political networks are almost exclusively men, building a network within a boys club is hard. Many men are okay or even happy with the status quo. Few are looking to support women outside the system, which is where most women are. Can women do it? Yes, but it is harder. Since fundraising is directly tied to your network, raising money is that much harder for women as well.
Scott suggests that looking at the men you will be running against will bolster your confidence. Looking at a list of powerful men and probably a male incumbent is unlikely to bolster confidence. In fact, I would say it’s likely to dash it, male incumbents are notoriously hard to beat.
Let’s use a Harvard study on their professors to talk about time. Among tenure-track professors, women are spending more than double the time their male counterparts are on housework. Men report an average of 20 hours a week and women an average of 40 hours a week. The gap is smaller for professors, not on the tenure track but still significant. Women literally have less time. The data here shows that, at least at Harvard, women are not having a step up to the plate problem, men are.
One of the researchers, Claudia Goldin said about the study: “The data shows not just that women feel the most stress, but probably that they are the ones responding to the crises with their children and their parents.” Study after study shows that in heteronormative families, the buck stops at women.
What example are women’s campaigns setting? During women’s campaigns, we see media commenting on looks and family. We see harassment, propositions, rape and death threats, and worse. When a female candidate speaks out against this, she faces further harassment and criticism, she is making something of nothing or taking away from her campaign. Not to mention racism, the feeling that women should wait their turn, stick to women’s issues or the expectation that for women to succeed in politics they must be more masculine.
Mike Moffat said it best, “[women are not running] Because it’s not in their self-interest.” Perhaps women are not stepping up to the plate, but women have valid reasons for not doing so. If you want women to run for the office make it not, taking one for the team, make it a rewarding career choice not just for her but those around her.
Gilmore, Scott. “Why Women Must Run for Office.” Macleans.ca. Maclean’s, 28 Nov. 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/women-need-to-step-up/>.
DeLuzuriaga, Tania. “Survey Finds Faculty Satisfaction Rate at 81 Percent.” Harvard Gazette. Harvard University, 21 May 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2014. <http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2014/05/survey-finds-faculty-satisfaction-rate-at-81-percent/>.
Moffatt, Mike (MikePMoffatt). “@Scott_Gilmore Because it’s not in their self-interest.”. 29 Nov 2014, 17:05 UTC. Tweet
Don’t get me wrong lots of the last eight months have been amazing. The last few months contain some of the most amazing moments of my life. But there were lots of things I didn’t talk about. Lots of things I never said. Lots of days that were not good.
I didn’t talk about how I felt like a failure. How I cried. How often I felt like crying. I didn’t talk about the days I felt so nauseous for fear of disappointing people. I didn’t talk about when I fucked up. I didn’t talk about the days where all I wanted was for this to be over. And now it is. So here we are talking about it. It’s okay to not be okay.
No one showed up to my first canvassing meeting. Which isn’t strictly true but it felt that way. From then on that was the last thing I wanted to do. It made me feel like a failure. I didn’t talk about how behind the scenes so many things did not go the way I wanted them to. How for the most part my team was me.
I have made my peace with the last few months. They are what they are and I am determined to be proud of what I have accomplished.
But, and there is a but, I have poured my body and soul into this and that isn’t healthy. I have lost weight, and not in a good way. Too many days I forgot to eat. Too many days I ate foods that I had no idea where they had come from. There were days when I barely drank any water at all. I took up boxing to deal with stress, but haven’t been in weeks due to lack of time and drive. My body is mad at me. My skin is a mess, my jeans hang off me, my hair has completely changed, my knees and back hurt. And mentally I am not doing a whole lot better. I am tired.
There were days in the last eight months where I cried myself to sleep. Days where I just stared at my inbox and ignored everything because how many things other people needed from em was too overwhelming to even consider. Days when people assumptions about my honesty, my drive, my personality, my campaign felt like too much. When people assumed that my calendar was full when it wasn’t. Or when people told me my campaign wasn’t good enough only a week from the election. It went both ways. Both were intensely overwhelming and made me feel the same way. Not good enough.
I have become introverted around the people I can let my guard down with because I am just always on with everyone else. I couldn’t go to a party or out for dinner without feeling I needed to be ready to answer questions and campaign, that is what a campaign is. Spending your life at 110% is however, exhausting. It has been practically the only thing I have talked about for months. I am excited to be able to not talk about politics, and to not always be responding to questions, maybe in the next few months I can ask some. People are curious and that is awesome, people want to talk about politics and I love it. But it is also hard being the curiosity.
The worst was not being able to talk about it. I tweeted that I wanted to hide in bed for the last few days of the campaign and many people had the reaction “never hide Toronto needs you” I understand where they were coming from. That they were trying to be supportive and kind and I appreciate that kindness. Toronto may need me, but I need me first. However much Toronto may need me the last eight months I have poured as much as I could give into all of this, and it wasn’t enough. That is okay, but I can’t do that forever. I cannot give indefinitely. My drive, essence, love whatever you want to calls hat keeps me doing this is not limitless. It is a renewable resource. If I take care of it, I will not run out, if I don’t I will.
I can tell you that I am not beginning a traditional political career today. I am not about to start paying my dues. I am not interested in waiting my turn. It will never come. I am not interested in a narrative you have created for me, or a box you want to put me in. I may not do the thing you think I should be doing. I am not interested in your plan for my future. That is ok. I can promise to keep trying to make this world and this city a better place. I can promise to run for things I feel passionate and excited about. To run for things I feel I can do. I can promise not to run for things for the sake of it, or just because you wanted me to.
I do not regret in any way the last few months, they have been some of the best of my life. They have provided me with opportunities I never dreamed of. I don’t want you to feel bad, I made my choices and I am making another now. None of this is your fault, so if you are feeling guilty I am asking you not to. I have shared many of the great moments of the last few months with you and now I am sharing some of the hard ones.
I understand if you feel this city needs me, or if you are screaming noooo in your head as you read this. But I have news, this city does not need me. It needs us. All of us. I can’t do anything alone Yes I started something and yes there is more I can give and more I want to give, more I want to do. But if you want me to do this, I need to do it too. I am not asking you to run, and the time has passed for awhile anyway, but I do need you to give a little. This city needs you, it needs your kindness, your determination, your hardwork, your voice and most of all your love. I can’t do any of this alone, and neither can you.
This is not to say I am leaving, especially not forever. I hope to be able to continue this work. I hope to be part of a new generation of activists and/or politicians.I will probably continue to do many things. I will for sure continue to say things on twitter, things may get a little sassier and little more personal though. I want to start to share the harder moments, moments I feel that I couldn’t share while I was campaigning.
I have some things I have agreed to do and am looking forward to doing in the next month or so, and after that I don’t know. I will at some point need to get a job so if you are looking hit me up. #hireMorgan
I am hoping I can start to refill my reserves, and that will probably mean taking a bit of a break from being “Morgan public figure/politician”. I don’t know what exactly that will mean, probably some rest and some acting like the rest of the nineteen year olds I know. I hope you are okay with that, though I must admit I don’t really care if you aren’t. I hope you don’t judge me for it, though again I don’t really care if you do.
I hope to be able to always be real with you, in the moment or later. I hope that honesty will not hurt my career and if it does it is not the one I want.
So if I don’t respond to your tweet or text or email or FB message or whatever just give me some time. Because what I plan to do next is take a break.
Thank you, all of you,
P.S. If you are someone getting into politics or who wants to, please don’t let this scare you off. There are also amazing parts, but you should be prepared for some not o great parts too.