UNFORTUNATELY, WE NEED AIR TO BREATHE
Support Lesbian Health,
Not the Chemical Industry
I want an end to patriarchy and all oppression. But sometimes, more than anything, I just want to smell clean air. Well, not really clean air, which is impossible, but air that doesn’t stink. That shouldn’t be too much to ask, should it?
It’s not even that I live in a neighborhood with factories. I grew up in one, so I know them well – toxic fumes pouring out day and night, a half block from our house. Sometimes the paint was blistered off cars in our neighborhood when the acid rain came down. At school, there was always another factory stench. Where I live now, it could be relatively clean-smelling, even in this city. Sometimes I can smell beautiful clean air from the ocean miles away, with trees and flowers on the wind, but the next moment will be a lungful of nauseating stink.
And why? Not for any reasonable reason at all. Simply because of the greed of industry and the stupidity of people agreeing to be conned into paying for poisonous, dirty laundry products to pollute our air.
It doesn’t help that I know what these toxins are and that I can’t avoid breathing. If I can smell them, I’ve already absorbed their molecules into my lungs. The neurotoxins are poisonous to all my organs, damaging my already chronically ill body, making it more likely I’ll never recover and more likely I’ll get cancer. I think of my friend who has already had cancer twice. It doesn’t help that the spewer of this filth is not unreachable, unchangeable corporate industries. It might be easier to accept if it was. No, this is regular people in this and every neighborhood, who choose to buy and release this poison into the air we are forced to breathe. But, again, why?
The irony is that I grew up in Cincinnati, being exposed every day to factory stink from Proctor and Gamble, one of the U.S.’s biggest polluters. (Don’t believe the “green” industry label they have.) It’s like a nightmare science fiction movie that I am now thousands of miles away and still am forced against my will to smell Proctor and Gamble’s toxic products –coming into my windows and in the nauseating fumes pouring off people’s clothes and bodies in every public place. Even walking alone in the woods, where I can smell most people from 100 feet away, Proctor and Gamble follows me.
Whenever I think I’ve discovered all the monstrous ways that men have made this beautiful planet into a nightmare, I find another man-made horror.
I’ve been disabled by chronic illness for thirty years now. I’ve called it “Myalgic Encephalomyelitis,” “Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome,” and “Fibromyalgia,” but I don’t really know what it is. Because of the constant exhaustion, joint pain, strange sudden pain, difficulty sleeping, headaches, fevers, I’m wondering if it’s Lyme disease.1
It wasn’t until I was sick for several years that I became chemically sensitive and started to identify as being “chemically injured” or having MCS – Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. What this means for me is that I have a sense of smell I consider normal for someone not living covered in toxic chemicals in patriarchy. People living more naturally have strong senses of smell. (I’ve read that people in Viet Nam could smell US soldiers a mile away because of their toothpaste.)
Chemical injury for many people can mean many symptoms, including cancer, asthma, liver and kidney damage, nausea, vomiting, migraines, seizures, hormone disruption, immune suppression, MS-like reactions, pulse and blood pressure changes, heart arrhythmia, dizziness, confusion, panic attacks, memory loss, impaired vision and concentration, insomnia, exhaustion, depression, irritability, aggression, loss of muscular coordination, convulsions, and coma.
At home, the laundry products’ fumes pour into our open windows and seep in even when the windows are closed. In public, there’s also no escape. Going to a store for food means being forced to breathe in a nauseating stench. Supermarkets with shelves of toxic air “fresheners,” laundry products, and pesticides are the worst, but most health food stores also reek. Any food you buy there also smells and tastes of perfumes and toxins.
Almost every human stinks of “personal care” products and detergent and fabric softeners. Being in public means being forced to breathe these poisons against our will. And the stench sticks to us, so we bring it home, where it affects those we live with. (After being at any public event, I can’t even wash my clothes because the stink will remain unless I hang my clothes outside for days. I also always have to wash my hair and body.)
The mania for “cleanliness” and selling new, unnecessary products has meant that chemists continue to develop new chemicals that off-gas in much more invasive and persistent ways than ever before, until now almost everyone and every place in the U.S. stinks. Yet it’s so easy to change to make our communities more accessible. It’s not like any of these products smell good, no matter how many ads (aimed at women) try to convince us. They’re disgusting. They also are neurotoxins, damaging nerves and mucous membranes so that people lose their sense of smell and therefore use more and more of the poisons. People also are spending more and more money buying cleaning products — the irony being that they dirty their homes and bodies in the process – sometimes permanently.
Why do women and Lesbians participate in this? Unless someone has asthma or has been chemically injured (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities) or has emphysema, they usually choose to stink. Very few don’t. They willingly pay money to apply men’s scents to their bodies, marking themselves as men’s property because they believe it makes them smell “good.” It doesn’t matter how terrible they really smell – the marketing propaganda convinces them otherwise. As one slogan I’ve seen says, “Perfume is as romantic as hazardous waste.”
The use of toxic perfumes and cleaners is a female and Feminist issue, because females are the most targeted by advertising to use these poisons, and women are the majority victims of chemical injury. I also believe that women feel contaminated from growing up in patriarchy and believing that they are “dirty” from sexual assault, and also from voluntary contact with men. Men also tell women we are dirty. So women are obsessed with trying to be clean. For some, that even means developing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Major corporations, like Proctor and Gamble, know this and direct their advertising accordingly.
Almost everyone trivializes themselves and others by considering this issue of health merely their own or others’ “personal problem,” calling our reaction to toxins “allergies.” Allergies have nothing to do with it any more than people who get sick from cigarette smoke or factory emissions are “allergic.” It is simply a poison. Ninety-five percent of the ingredients in scented products are synthesized from petrochemicals. This is far more than personal — it’s a political issue about accessibility and the right to have access to unpolluted air.
Most people seem shocked that the government allows scented chemicals to be sold without testing or regulation – yet they are usually aware that the government lies to us about many things, including invading other countries, the safety of our water and food supply, pesticides and herbicides, hormones and antibiotics in meat, GMO and irradiated food, nuclear reactors and nuclear waste, and big pharmaceutical companies’ toxic drugs, etc. Toxic scented products are made by many of the same industries, just as chemotherapy drugs are made by the industries that cause cancer. People who would never buy other products from well-known polluters happily give these corporations money when it comes to personal care and household products.
Peoples’ attachment to scented products shows in their trying to find “organic” scented products, but one study showed that EVERY scented product, including those labeled organic, contained toxic ingredients. Also, be aware that many products that claim to be scent-free are not. Most stores smell so bad that you can’t even tell until you are home for a while and your sense of smell clears that the product you just bought is scented.
Saying “No” to an Exclusionary Community
Lesbians are my people. I love Lesbians with all my heart. I want us to have the best Lesbian communities possible, which is why I’m focusing on Lesbians here.
Some say that it can be difficult to make Lesbian communities completely accessible, in terms of finding wheelchair accessible locations for events, but one thing that everyone easily CAN do is to stop buying and using toxic scented products. They would save money, help their own health, and stop smelling bad, but most won’t consider it – even when that means they’re making it impossible for many Lesbians to be part of our community.
I used to hate the cigarette smoke that was everywhere, but I understood it was an addiction. What I don’t understand is why Lesbians insist on using these horrible-smelling products. Even Lesbians who are conscientious about doing other things for the environment, and would never dream of not recycling, don’t consider that buying toxic products means supporting industries that pollute neighborhoods with factories, as well as their own air space. And when they using toxic laundry products, like Tide, Gain, and other terrible-smelling detergents, and fabric softeners like Downy, they are making neighborhoods everywhere smell like factories. The male manufacturers of these products are marking their territory in our air and water, and on our bodies – the ultimate in male marking. Many Lesbians object to other ways men mark territory, so why accept this?
Then there are Lesbians who slather on the most foul-smelling perfumes and colognes even though they know it makes others sick. Some of these products are so full of petrochemicals that they almost smell like kerosene or disinfectant. Most do have toluene, benzene, and formaldehyde, which, in other situations, is considered hazardous waste and dealt with accordingly.
“But what about people’s right to choose? We shouldn’t control what people want to do, should we?” Well, that used to be the prevailing attitude until laws had to be made to prevent people filling up every public place with toxic cigarette smoke. Even most ex-smokers are glad about that control now. So why are toxic products allowed to be sold that equally pollute every one’s air in public? At least cigarette smoke doesn’t travel as far as drier vents spewing Downy. With cancer rates constantly increasing, we can’t afford to play games about filling our lives and homes with carcinogenic products. It’s those who are trapped in these homes without a choice who I feel the worst about – helpless, vulnerable animals and kids. I remember when dogs didn’t get cancer. I remember when cancer was so rare that only one member in my huge extended family, which included many old people, got cancer. There is so much that we can’t control about carcinogens in our environment, but this is one source of cancer we can control, and we can save money at the same time.
The insistence on freedom to do what we want is also behind large industries’ pollution of lakes, rivers, and ocean, as well as their spewing of factory filth into the air. Without regulations and laws, the rich do what they want, and the poor suffer and die.
Most of this is really about people being conned into wasting more money on products that they are told will make them acceptable or more desirable. I’ve seen so many Lesbians get excited about perfume and just refuse to believe it can hurt anyone. One friend who already knew that perfume is toxic came to an event, proudly saying she was only “wearing a light scent.” (It was horrible, and a Lesbian with asthma reacted immediately.)
This isn’t a trivial issue. If people with asthma react badly enough and can’t breathe, they can die. Even if they “just” have trouble breathing and their lungs become more permanently damaged and they’re forced to use steroids and amphetamines in inhalants that damage their hearts, isn’t that bad enough? Some people react by having grand mal epileptic seizures and injure themselves when they fall. Why is this all being ignored simply for vanity? And I really don’t get the fuss about products that just stink. It reminds me of the fuss and addictive quality of plastic surgery. The selfish narcissism of all this is astounding. Our patriarchal culture, that so regulates and punishes any female who steps out of line in regards to following male-defined rules of femininity, encourages “freedom” as long as it means staying feminine and spending money.
It also doesn’t seem to stop personal polluters when Lesbian singers tell their audience that being exposed to perfumes and colognes hurts their voices. So many Lesbians know that the crap they are wearing is making the entire room smell bad, and yet they will coyly announce you shouldn’t hug them if it’s a problem for you. They understand that “no smoking” sections next to smokers are meaningless, so this shouldn’t be too difficult to grasp. Why does any Lesbian continue to hurt others and herself? Once she realizes how she’s been conned, why doesn’t she stop? I know Lesbians who say they want to give up their car to help the environment, but they won’t give up Tide. What is going on here?
We shouldn’t have to choose between being in our Lesbian communities and protecting our health. Lesbians who react the most severely to scented toxins should not be forced to be homebound. It is the right of every living being to be able to smell clean air and be able to breathe.
For those of you who aren’t aware of the ever-present stink and who haven’t yet realized how your health is being damaged, (toxic exposure to scented products cause depression, irritability, exhaustion, headaches, joint pain, rashes, seizures, brain fog, etc., besides cancer), can you consider what it’s like for those who are homebound to know they can’t even have a friend bring them a library book? Because most houses have scented toxins like “air fresheners,” scented candles and scented soaps, etc., library books smell terrible from absorbing the stink. If cigarette smoke bothers you, can you imagine never escaping it? Almost no homes are safe to visit. But you’re likely to get hostility if you explain to friends why visiting them is difficult. They do understand on some level, because they wouldn’t want to spend several hours closed up in a room with a chain smoker, but somehow they take offense if you say their candle scented with oily volatile toxic ingredients is unbearable.
Trying to have friends visit creates another problem. Ninety-nine percent of those who say they are unscented actually reek from various products. Some of these products, like Tide, NEVER go away. (A friend gave me a shirt from a Lesbian conference that she had washed in Tide. We hung it outside in the sun and rain. After a full year, it still stunk horribly.) The bad smell also transfers to other surfaces (which is why I now always sit on an insulite pad in public – which I have to leave outside after I go home since it then stinks for days from being on public chairs). Before my housemate and I stopped being too afraid to make our home safe, a visitor sat on our couch for 2 hours – and our couch stank of Tide for over 6 months. We’ve also put down a plastic tarp on a chair for a visitor who was scented only with Gain, but the smell soaked right through the tarp and the chair stank so much afterwards that we couldn’t keep it in the house. Being in the same room with someone scented also means that you, your hair, clothes, and every bit of fabric in the room absorb the stink. Some people seem surprised at this, yet they understand and object when cigarette smoke does the same thing.
Another problem has been when I’ve given rides to friends who were previously unscented, and then suddenly they’re using a new, terrible product. This actually happens a lot, but the worst time was when a friend arrived and we’d arranged I would drive us several hours to a Lesbian music event. Being in a car accentuates any scent because of the closed space, but I could smell her as soon as she arrived. She’d put on a new lotion. She was mildly apologetic, but it never occurred to her that I should have said no to being trapped in the car with her all those hours. I didn’t, and felt nauseated the entire time. I also know that when something like this happens it’s likely to have a long-term affect on damaging my health. She’d understood the situation, so why was the new lotion so important? She wouldn’t have dreamt of lighting up a cigarette and saying she needed to smoke. I still don’t know how to deal with this kind of thing, so basically I drive alone, unless I’m with a trusted friend.
Everyone is affected by scented toxins that we’re forced to breathe, but most don’t know it. They attribute their symptoms to many other things or just think this is how we are meant to feel as we get older. Some end up taking psychiatric or other drugs to deal with how they feel, which adds to their worsening health. Those of us who know about the effects have additional stress on us when we go to public events, knowing we are damaging our health further and perhaps permanently. Some of us have to do a lot of things to make it possible to go out, such as using caffeine and pain-killers, so we can be part of the community. We always have to weigh whether the risk and the effects are worth it.
There is so much in patriarchy that damages our health that we have no control over, so shouldn’t we at least support ourselves and each other in trying to protect our health? Lesbians’ lives are already so hard. Why not try to make our lives easier and also save money? Most toxic products on which people in the U.S. spend billions of dollars are completely unnecessary and only add to air and water pollution. For those who still feel immune, please realize that this issue affects everyone. Several Lesbians I knew who adamantly refused to stop subjecting others to toxic products are now so chemically injured that they can’t leave their homes.
This is one of the few things that we can do that’s in our control to make our communities safe and welcoming. And nothing smells better than natural Lesbian scent!
An excellent leaflet (“Fragrance: A Growing Health and Environmental Hazard) with a lot more information and links can be ordered through: Redemske Design, 344 Gardiner Road, Jefferson, ME 04348. Their phone number is 207-549-3531 and 207-549-5358.
1 Lyme disease didn’t use to exist. It was created at the biological weapons lab at Plum Island near Old Lyme, Connecticut, where the first cases appeared. Ticks were injected with Borellia Burgdorferi, a spirochete that is very similar to the syphilis spirochete in terms of its stages and remissions, and how it attacks the joints and brain. After talking with many people about it, I believe Lyme is incurable. I’ve known people who started antibiotics immediately and took over $1000 worth a month for years and are still sick. Lyme is also very difficult to diagnose because the government created a commission of doctors who eliminated the two main diagnostic markers so that people who have Lyme show up negative on the tests. This saves insurance companies a lot of money. And of course if the government accepted responsibility for inventing this illness, there would be millions of lawsuits.
My ex-lover got the classic expanding bull’s-eye rash which grew until it was enormous, and then disappeared in a few days. If it had been on her back, she would never have known it was there. Nothing else causes that rash, yet the doctor declared that she didn’t have Lyme because the test was negative – even though I’d told her that the medical literature says it doesn’t show up in tests for at least 6 weeks. This idiot doctor also told us that the Western Fence Lizard transmits the bacteria, when, in reality, the lizard has a mechanism in her blood to completely kill it, leaving ticks on her free of Lyme. (Don’t expect to get correct answers from doctors – most are arrogant and incompetent, which is a dangerous combination. They killed my mother. Most people I tell the story to have a similar one where doctors killed a loved one of theirs. There are so many myths about Lyme. A friend insists it’s always existed because it’s also in Europe. Well, it wasn’t there when I was living in England and Ireland in 1997 and 1998, but it’s killing people there now, though it has a different species of tick as its vector. (My guess is that Borrelia Burgdorferi was brought to Europe in an infected person, and transferred to European tick species. Some people believe that it is also transmitted through mosquitoes and sexual contact.)
The Environmental Illness Resource:
Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by a spirochete (spiral shaped bacterium) known as Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb). Lyme disease is most often spread by ticks, but can also be transmitted by fleas, mosquitoes, and mites. Evidence has suggested that these insects don’t actually need to bite you for you to become infected. Worryingly, there is also evidence that Lyme disease can be spread by a number of other non-insect methods including from person to person through sex, or from mother to baby in the womb. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have found dairy cattle and other animals can acquire the disease and pass it on to humans through the food chain. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, believe that Borrelia burgdorferi can even survive the blood purification processes that donated blood is subjected to, and the disease can thus be acquired through receiving a blood transfusion.