Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I wasn't trying to imply that sexual trauma isn't valid if it isn't rape, I was just curious exactly what you've been through. Its the kind of voyeurism this medium panders to, not me trying to judge or belittle your experiences.

Like many survivors of sexual trauma, I'm a repeat survivor. This tends to happen if only because in the basic psychology of things (and with society's reinforcement), sexual assault survivors tend to blame themselves for what has happened to them and thus, they tend to be unaware of when another abusive cycle is beginning, justifying actions that may seem like red flags to everyone else around them. Domestic violence has a similar pattern. But I digress.


For three years of my childhood, I was molested by a family member (same family member who was also physically and emotionally abusive). I blamed myself for years after it happened, internalizing the thought that I was just crazy and what had happened was somehow normal. I justified a lot of the behaviors from this person as "normal" even though some of these behaviors involved beating me, starving me, and threatening suicide in front of me. Safe to say I did not grow up with a very healthy mindset nor a healthy self-esteem. I learned to justify behaviors in perpetrators.

When I entered my first semester of college, a guy friend of my best friend began sexually harassing and assaulting me. I blamed myself again, told myself I was making things up and exaggerating things and that I was crazy. The only thing that finally convinced me that it was legitimate was my best friend basically sitting me down and telling me I was being sexually assaulted: googling different perpetrator personality types and how they act around you to make you think this is acceptable (http://www.sexualharassmentsupport.org/TypesOfHarassers.html), and she pinpointed the behaviors he was using to do so with me. In my case, the perpetrator was a public harasser. He'd talk about me in lewd ways in front of everyone else, such as asking me to take my shirt off (followed up by asking me to be his girlfriend/hookup/date him), talking about my body, etc. despite my being visibly uncomfortable about it. I'd ask him to stop, other people sitting nearby me would ask him to stop, but he wouldn't. He'd also just randomly decide to start touching me wherever he felt because he felt like it - he'd sit down next to me and place his hand immediately so high up my thigh it was basically touching my crotch. If I moved it, he'd put his arm around my shoulder. Etc. Then he began following me around campus. I was a visible nervous wreck. It was horrible.

The last main situation I had to deal with was at a party I went to in Chicago about a week before I moved to Colorado where I was hooking up with a guy, and he immediately decided my making out with him was consent to do anything with my body that he pleased. He asked me for anal and before I even got a chance to respond, he turned me around, pulled down my pants and underwear, and slammed me against a pool table. He was about to enter me when there was a loud crash right outside the OPEN DOOR, and he freaked out. I ran, and had my friends leave the party with me ASAP. The most horrifying part was (and on some level, still is) having to come to terms with the fact that a bunch of people right outside the door saw what was going on, was talking about what was going on, and none of them were going to do anything about what he was doing to me. And nobody asked if I was okay at the end of it - a bunch of people just went "omg I can't believe you hooked up with him." Which was so incredibly the wrong thing to talk about at that time.

And those are my experiences. And the worst part is knowing those experiences don't even compare to some of the things my friends have experienced (in terms of sexual assault/harassment/rape and life in general).

Ask me anything

You talk about having experiences with sexual assault, were you raped?

No. But I'll be as blunt as I possibly can with your follow-up question so that I hopefully don't have to get asked about this/talk about this much more again. Sexual assault in the grand scheme of things > my experiences.

Ask me anything

Monday, December 6, 2010

what's the trauma you talk about having endured?

It comes at you before you know it, being shoved into boxes that feel too tight: you're choking before you're breathing. One calendar day flips into the next and you're fearing fists, you're wondering when you're going to eat next, you replay the words over and over again in your head: "stupid little bitch" because you are 10 and this is your father. You learn that love means fear. You're screaming, you're fighting: he has you pinned down, beaten. Watch him jerk the wheel with you in the front seat, he says: "I could die just like that. Jail is better than this. Death is better than this." He makes you hate yourself, hate your mom - regret every penny that went towards child support. You grow the mentality that your death is good, that it will benefit the world: less resources will be used upon you. You are worthless. A's are not A+s, normal is not perfect: fingers sliding into the grooves between the ribs of childhood. One bagel lasts a whole weekend. Leave the bed and blackout, fall to the floor. Your vision goes for gaps at a time. Stop visiting the other house, stop eating, work harder. Snap awake, ignore fatigue. Internalize. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Palms catch glass. Memories filter themselves, repress themselves for the sake of optimism in a cynical world where hope is necessary to live. Back into the corner as rage overcomes him (another him, always another him, him, him, the cycling): fists pound into your (my) head. Cross your arms across your chest. Fall asleep in the fetal position. Trust no one, not even yourself. Your heart beats to the rhythm of hyperventilation: everything floods. Life is a static rash of screaming that no one hears. Mold, smile, ignore bruises: perfect. Silence yourself. Live in the shadows of everything that nicked you, the angry voices that forced their way into your innocence. Feel every moment by the thick of what isn't being said. Hibernate in your own consciousness, inflict harm upon yourself when you're not already psychologically full of it.

The worst trauma I've ever gone through is the silence, derived from my childhood in its various different veins - I struggled with my brother, I got severely bullied all through elementary school and into high school, my father repeatedly abused and manipulated me, and many adults ignored everything that was going on despite how evident it was. I spent a lot of time struggling with myself and with others due to the effects of these occurrences, becoming severely depressed and garnishing an incredibly low self-esteem. It made me naive and susceptible - I ended up legally homeless at the end of high school due to an alcoholic stepmother. I struggled with drugs. I was stalked and sexually harassed/assaulted my first semester of college. Add in an emotionally abusive relationship, and another stint where I was legitimately seconds away from being date raped at a party (where there were legitimate bystanders who saw what was going on and did nothing). This is all to say: until we recognize the impacts of trauma within us, it is likely to perpetuate itself. It is also important in this conversation, and in any conversation discussing trauma, to recognize that trauma is everywhere and relative to the sensitivities of the person experiencing the occurrence: the violation or exposure to crisis. Trauma is fluid: it will not align to a set of diagnostic criteria. And I hope we all learn to grow and respect each other more, carrying each other’s stories considerately.

Ask me anything

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Can't Regret What I Did For Love

On love, fear, and other things
The right types of sacrifices

It takes awhile to realize how quiet you have to be, how delicate you ought to live – what words you say, what actions you make, who you align yourself with. How you must live in a manner simultaneously very loud, but also very, very quiet. You become aware, eventually, as I have – that politics, hierarchies, are everywhere. You watch the way people treat you – how a slight turn of phrase reveals your standing in this structure is lesser than theirs. You observe; I observe.

I observe friends wrap themselves into unnecessary problems just because they’re too afraid to do anything else than the pattern they’ve been living for years. I’ve been approached by co-workers who agree, “I’ve learned to be very quiet on this job,” another relief staff: “just keep your head down and your mouth shut.” Which is to say: I observe the patterns people deem acceptable, and why they deem them acceptable – how we are bound by love, fear, or ingrained societal belief. I screen every moment of life more than I live it, in an attempt to live more fruitfully in the long run.

I haven’t updated this blog in awhile just as I haven’t written nearly as often as I should be. I have only a few close friends in the area, a few more throughout the country, and then my mother; I learn to invest in myself. I see too many disasters – interpersonal conflicts. I attempt to remind myself everyday, “For Attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.” – Audrey Hepburn

Perhaps it should be worded: I am too aware, and I have lived through enough in life that I know what I don’t need to live through. Qualifiers.

I’ve begun approaching life on a very reserved love concept. It’s an approach that’s simultaneously hard and easy to execute, simultaneously quiet and loud. The approach demands I try to discover what I need from life, what I want from life, and what it will take me to obtain these things. This requires me to radically alter and screen my environment and the people in it so that all possible toxins are repeatedly fumigated. I mention to a friend that it makes me feel like an elitist, that I occasionally get lonely, because I can’t meet eye to eye with so many people. Because I demand that my environment be intelligent, compassionate, enlightening, aware (socially and politically), respectful, caring, genuine: I demand that my environment give me the same things I know I can give others. I want an environment that creates rather than destroys, that gives rather than survives.

I’ve met people recently, and immediately batted them out of my radar within minutes. I gauge tolerances and flexibilities, and remind myself of all the friends I have had in the past: the ones who will blame everyone else for personal problems they can’t deal with; ones who yell and curse; ones who shirk responsibility for their own life; ones who run towards drugs and bars to escape a life they can’t find a way to bear; ones who give up when life gets complicated; ones who believe everything can be solved by sex, drugs, or parties; ones who look towards you to always always ALWAYS pick them up after they fall. People whose lives gravitate around reacting out of fear rather than love, who do not take on full responsibility and emotional consciousness in regards to their actions and the corresponding responsive reactions of their environments. A lot of people are naturally like this – society breeds it. And to be honest, I have been that person before too. It’s easy in a society that likes to let you believe there is instant gratification possible for almost every problem, for a society that doesn’t like to admit it has problems.

But... I’m not a babysitter. I’m not a pulpit. I’m not a reflection hub. I will not encourage and regurgitate those types of behaviors: the ones that encourage self-ignorance. And so I learn how to love myself first, how to alter my definition of love.

When I experienced an emotionally challenging dating situation the past year, I found myself hunkering down and reading “All about love” by bell hooks and “The Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm. I was aware I had a lot to work on in myself, and I wanted to understand why my relationships kept failing when I put all of myself into them; I wanted to understand what I was attracting and bringing into my life, and what love really was – how I could obtain it.

While the cliché persists that we must love ourselves first before anyone else will love us, I’ve found that tidbit to be a bit trite – while it may be true, it loses its true meaning when our ideas of love are so skewed. “Love yourself” has been infused with a pop culture definition just as bad as “love” has, wherein “love yourself” becomes spend money on yourself and go out all the time!, treat yourself to comfort items and vacation days! and “love” becomes I will suffer all abuses including bruised limbs and emotional blackmailing because that is true love because true love endures all, even abuse.

It’s a society we live in that glorifies extremes – one that provides hypocritical advice. If you love yourself, wouldn’t you be averse to getting into an abusive relationship – but wait, according to society, true love means ignoring the abuse… Wait… Hold on a second…

Fuck, it’s too complicated – let’s just go to the bars, right?

In my past: I’ve been abused physically, emotionally, and sexually. In my past, I’ve also likely been very emotionally abusive. In my past, I’ve had drug problems; I’ve had escapism problems. I’d go shopping to put things behind me, compensating stress with the societal form of LOVE YOURSELF! I approached life yelling, kicking, and screaming: fighting. I’d run off on one road trip after the next. Everything was a struggle that felt too overwhelming. "She was a lover, baby, and a fighter" and it got to the point I couldn’t really discern what was what anymore. I loved the things I hated and vice versa. It was hard to argue with myself when everyone else was solving their problems the way I was, when society glorified my own decay.

I got tired of it though. I got tired of myself, and I got tired for everyone else who had to deal with me.

So I shut off the flood gates. Learned to be responsible.

I found myself reminding myself and everyone else that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” You’re complaining about your job? Your job may suck, but you are the one working there and you can choose another job. Sucky love life? While the other person may be difficult, you did choose them – so perhaps you should learn to rehabilitate your selection patterns and discover yourself before you pick a person to be in a relationship with. Not feeling like you’re living a fulfilling life? Life is hard and the economy is awful, but you do make your own life at the end of the day and no one is stopping you from changing it.

Many people don’t like these sort of rhetorical responses from me – they frequently involve more effort than people feel comfortable putting in (comfort being quite possibly the most accurate word here).

But I suppose this is a very verbose way to say: I’m learning to carve myself out again. I’ve made myself a canvas once more, and I pick my paints very carefully. I pick the directions I’m taking my paintbrush deliberately. I make myself think, “will this foster the good parts of who I am or bring out the bad parts? Can I love this? Why don’t I love this? Can I handle this? What are my limits? How can I give myself the most natural form of freedom?”

Through mindfulness, I am giving myself more in the long run.

Does this person seem like they’d foster who I am as a person, and expand me? No? Goodbye.

Does this job seem like it’d fit my career goals? No? Adjust it.

Does this situation, this organization, this life path feel right to me? No? Why not?

And if I find myself doing something repeatedly that keeps getting me more stressed and feeling crappy, I sit myself down and then ask myself, Okay, why do I keep doing this thing that ends up making me feel emotionally drained?, so that I can yank that power cord and energy flow from my brain, and create a more sustainable organic alternative.

I have been very quiet lately: honing in, hollowing out. I’ve been very loud lately: attending meditation centers, attempting to let personal time infiltrate into my schedule in any possible way, talking with people that will help make my career goals possible, being around people who seek a creative, mutually beneficial exchange. I learn to love myself. To make every action I commit to one of self-love, love of art, love of relationship: peaceful, creative, fostering love.

And thus, I try to commit myself to a life of love.

I’ve found that most of our society glorifies love as this concept limited to romantic relationship or family relationships. I lack both of those (aside from the relationship with my mother). But I don’t find myself nearly as short-changed as the times I was involved with my chaotic, harmful family and abusive and emotionally immature friends: what society tells me love is or should suffer through.

Love is knowing what mature love isn’t and isn’t, and that if one were in a loving relationship, there would never be a trace of abuse. “When we understand love as the will to nurture our own and another's spiritual growth, it becomes clear that we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive. Love and abuse cannot coexist. Abuse and neglect, are by definition, the opposites of nurturance and care.” – bell hooks

I tread loudly and quietly, constructing my world so that it feeds rather than malnourishes me. I hurt people occasionally, and I have lived a less than admirable past – but I grow compassionate with myself and my errors, I grow responsive and responsible for my own needs and recognize that I must not and cannot regret what I do for the sake of love. And I remain truly sorry to all those I have harmed, and get embarrassed or guilty about my actions occasionally with having ex-communicated some and hung onto others who didn’t want me, grazing a hurtful line of intimate connection. I can recognize the desperation I suffered in trying to come to terms with who I was and what I needed to do.

And I take it all in, and I grow hyperaware of how I have been, who I am now, and who I desire to be. I gain the approach of love, and I move on, thinking:

I can’t regret what I did for love.

For love, true love in the purest sense, is worth all the time and effort you can put into it. And, being aware of bell hooks and Isaac Newtown and trivial shows like Glee that help refresh my mind on the broadness of the word of love (season 2 episode 1), I know that love (in any form) is a very conscious choice that begins with the self and then expands to all others we surround ourselves with. And it’s up to us for it to be fulfilling and wholesome.

Kiss today goodbye
The sweetness and the sorrow
Wish me luck, the same to you
But I can't regret
What I did for love, what I did for love

Look my eyes are dry
The gift was ours to borrow
It's as if we always knew,
And I won't forget what I did for love,
What I did for love

Friday, October 1, 2010

Advocating for Yourself: On Abuse/Disability/Mental Health and THEN SOME!

I believe this is quite possibly the most important subject I will ever write about - and therefore, I will not do it adequate justice in this moment, as it is something I will continually deepen and expand my knowledge upon. Advocating for yourself is a fickle subject - it involves self-love, self-knowledge, and self-respect. It could possibly be confused with selfishness or laziness or pride. But it's none of these.

Someone had once asked me a question on my formspring, which seems to have, by some magical force of technology, gotten mysteriously deleted. The person asked: "What is the best advice you have ever received?" And while that question seemed incredibly overwhelming at first, the answer I came up with seemed incredibly simple: "Take care of yourself."

It probably doesn't seem so astounding - so, I'll provide explanation. I am the type of girl who has gone on stage with fevers; who has walked to class with a box of tissues in hand (to only be thrown out due to looking so miserable); who has gone a whole day so busy she's forgotten to eat; who has taken 44 credits in one year in a determination to graduate a year early - swine flu, insomnia hospitalization, severe weight loss, chronic migraines and body pains be damned! I will crawl to the finish line if I have to! And no one will stop me with their silly little logic that is actually quite logical!

It's actually quite amusing to recap all the times I thought I'd save myself grief by walking around, about to combust or implode, one step away from being covered in caution tape. And then - oh the shock! I always got so shocked when the disaster became even more of a disaster. And my various doctors eyed me with pity and said "What are we going to do with you, Victoria?" Well. Some people are hands-on learners, others are visual, others: auditory, some are written. Me? I'm a "get so blown over by a situation that I'm forced to crawl my way out of it" learner. Throwing myself into the extremes has perhaps been the best (if not most chaotic) way I've ever learned.

How does this relate? My very chaotic path towards self-care began in the midst of my 24 credit semester wherein I worked several jobs and trained to be a hotline advocate (amongst other trainings) for Sexual Assault Services Organization (SASO!). Are you sensing a pattern? Most people would be over-stimulated as is taking my credit load and my work load, but only I could look at both of those things and go "BUT I WANT TO EMOTIONALLY CHALLENGE MYSELF TOO. Let's dig those skeletons out of the closet!" Do it all! Well. Within the first few days of training, I had already emotionally collapsed - I took the obligatory 15 minute break everyone else took... but magically extended it into an hour long break as I began sobbing hysterically in the hallway to only have the therapist (who had been there to present) try to talk me down from the game of Chutes and Ladders: Trauma Version! This sort of thing repeated itself several times more, creating a reaction from the trainers each time: "You don't have to do this now, Victoria - you can finish the training later." But no, I would finish it then - "now is the time to finish it," I had decided. It's how I learn.

Luckily, this behavior thinned out - and as I took future trainings with SASO, the knee-jerk crying abated. However, it manifested into these awful levels of guilt. Even though I was receiving all the trainings, I felt only very passively involved - I wasn't answering hotline calls, I wasn't going to elementary schools and high schools to teach about sexual assault... I didn't feel as if I was doing much of anything, other than being a really awesomely informed bystander. So, I did what felt like were the more menial things - help write the newsletters, speak with some professors on campus, put up flyers, help organize events. No matter how many times a close friend of mine kept trying to remind me that the office work was and is just as important as the groundwork, I still couldn't help but feel like a sell-out.

But there were times, small glimmers that revealed themselves to me in their soft warnings. No matter how many times I heard my supervisors chant their mantra: "Take care of yourself first," it never really hit me until I began to run into other advocates who had been working for SASO for years, listening to them softly say that no, they needed the time off from the hotline. Life, man. Life. And it made it slightly more acceptable for me to be kinder to myself when I saw others be so gentle with themselves. The combination of my body falling apart (a la swine flu, insomnia hospitalization, etc.) and watching others trying so cautiously to preserve their hurt from impacting the services they gave others - it changed something, ever so slightly. But significantly.

I couldn't really tell you how I responded to these incidents immediately, fluidly - I can only remember the past year as a blur of yelling and repeatedly falling and getting back up again. I can, however, tell you what it's like to begin to crawl out of that vast hole. For, when you set yourself up for that intense of a year, you are bound to walk out with something.

The knowledge I have, in general, is something I tend to take for granted. And it becomes increasingly apparent to me everyday. That I have been through so much, and put myself through so much, that I am, in fact, a very good person to have if you need to crawl out of a hole. It's given me a striking amount of confidence - "You see that strife? I can endure that strife. I can crawl my way out of that strife like nobody's business! In fact, I know so much about that strife that I can see the signs and avoid it all together!" I began to live life a bit more courageously, more self-defined, and hyper-aware of other people's motives for my life, and how much they were or were not contributing to my creative energies. Some things will begin to happen and you will realize: "Ah, I see - you want me to be in that hole because you have been in that hole and are still stuck in that hole and you don't like the fact I'm no longer in a hole. Well, I'm not really the type of a person you want to put into a hole."

So, as I've been going through this past year, learning things about myself and my wants and needs and interests, who I genuinely am - I began to shave off the past. I cut loose some bad relationships, and I meditated and read and analyzed and wrote about the experiences I couldn't understand. In my head, I took care of myself the best way I possibly could - I saw my trauma as the biggest barricade I needed to push through in order to get healthy, and so I paraded on into the thickets of war with myself, my relationships with men, my understanding of love, the various definitions of sexual trauma - and in determination to have thought process mirror reality, I tore down everything that lay in my path. I let my anger sound out, my depression slam down, my euphorias tear off the roof. I was painfully honest with everyone (especially my professors who looked perpetually concerned about me) and I wrote repeated letters to people who probably cared less about me. But I was determined to exorcise myself. I crawled to the finish line.

This perhaps sounds like a manifesta for "put yourself through grief! you'll grow stronger!" but it's more along the lines of "realize what you need to do for yourself." Because, shortly after that year of hell, I collapsed into months of not doing anything - I went to work, came home and watched netflix, tried to motivate myself to work out that whole "moving across the country" thing, but generally enjoyed the sound of lack of chaos. I crawled into different truths - putting myself through such a rigorous test made me adamantly recognize what I needed and who I needed and where I needed to be going (something that is always evolving while simultaneously made stable) - and it was after all of that that I began to really see others without projecting my own grief upon them or deluding myself that they would change when they were living a life they wouldn't own up to.

I never answered one hotline call, I began to throw grades to the wind, I stopped reading, I stopped writing, I tried frequently to support myself with positive materials that asserted my own extremities were smart and sound and that I would have a future significantly better than my past if I just followed my passions and intuitions. While I wasn't a very active activist in the field, I became a Knowledge Advocate - learning all the intricacies of myself and how it fits into society, thinking and learning becoming a radical thing in itself. How simple a thing it is to learn your rights and what sort of treatment you deserve - but how powerful the impact.

I have known other types of advocates and activists that strive to take care of themselves though - The Somatics Advocate: seeking foods healthy for their bodies and activities good for the whole of their mind-body connection; The Talk Advocate: the hotline advocates, the emergency call numbers, the weekly therapist visit; The Exercise Advocate: let those positive hormones flow as you go to the gym and work out your stress; The Yoga and Meditation Advocate: let's explore our inner emotions with as much silence of the mind as possible, with movements meant to enhance our strength; The Medication Advocate: you deserve all the help you get, and the medication is out there; The Activist Advocate: get really involved in the causes that impact your life, and seek to change the world through fighting your own dilemmas side by side with like minds.... and etc. I wouldn't limit the list of possible ways to be an advocate to this list, as I'm sure there are many more forms of self-care and advocating for self.

Me? I'm a Knowledge Advocate: let's study the things that trouble us so that we learn to stop the cycling of that problem, so we can inform others on how to stop it. Let's use facts to explore our emotions, philosophy to broaden our minds, psychology to deepen the extent of our self, and sociology to give it all a place. Let's use language to dictate the terms of our freedom, let's use the most powerful creative force out there: learning.

But perhaps it was the combination of a handful of these different types of advocating that really made me. In learning the things that greatly troubled me, in befriending those who struggled similarly, and in actively engaging in my community, I learned how to take care of myself - and by extension, others. It comes in handy to take care of yourself.

In engaging in the trainings SASO had to offer, I not only aided in my own recovery - but I was able to aid in other's. It gave me the foundation on how to prep a friend who needed a restraining order for an abusive ex. It gave me the insight and emotional depth to help provide a handful of people I know with the comfort of my knowledge - how trauma comes in scale, how rape and sexual assault are a range of definitions rather than a sole definitive, how recovery can begin to form despite the jerking of emotions. A close friend approached me, knowing my trainings and where my honed focus lies (sexual assault), and together we acknowledge her rape and what materials to read and how all of these things impact her relationship. Things, she says, she can only talk to me about.

In studying materials about love, I began to redefine my relationships and the relationships others around me held - how so many people filtered their abusive relationships as part of the trials and tribulations of love, claiming that love "Bears All Things, Believes All Things, Hopes All Things, Endures All Things... Love Never Fails." When really, it's as bell hooks states: "When we understand love as the will to nurture our own and another's spiritual growth, it becomes clear that we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive. Love and abuse cannot coexist. Abuse and neglect, are by definition, the opposites of nurturance and care." And you recognize how very few people understand this, trying to justify the repeated hurts they receive from their partners. (And I'll post a few quotes about love in the comments section).

And lastly, by involving myself with the First Annual Four Corners Pride Festival out of desire to learn more about non-profit outreach engagement and organization, by seeking to embed myself into other layers of feminist concern... I began to liberate myself just a bit more. While I already had friends who actively sought to campaign for gender fluidity and the danger of gender norms, I became more immersed in the statistics and the stories of the LGBTQ community. In fact, I became very engaged with an unfortunately fairly common scenario - where the daughter or son reveals the true extent of their sexuality to their family members, and end up being tossed out and disowned. And it hit the tenderness of my own trauma - feeling cast out by throwing the spotlight on the troubles of my family, which inevitably hit upon my own abuses. How small I felt while struggling to exist as a self-actualized person that was not accepted.

And it triggered something in me - What gives someone the right to disown another person, decide that they are lesser than them, cast them away for who they inherently are, their truths? What gives a parent, a family, the jurisdiction to hurt someone they were supposed to love so dearly? Why do they get the power? And oh - in that moment, I realigned the tiers of power in my head. I laughed out load, I felt the weight of struggling for years with my trauma begin to life off of me - What if I decide to disown them? What if I cast them as the disappointment? What if I stand up with a Fuck You, you're the one with the problems! I ran miles with that thought, deciding that I would change my name when I had the money, noting how much energy is put into a name.

By helping others, I had helped myself, and vice versa.

When you have created this positive environment of self-care and advocacy, it inadvertently recognizes the truths of who you are and begins to give back to you.

And now, the last part of all of this, the final story.

You may notice the title of this post and go "where is the discussion of disability?" Well, I did not plan the chronology of this post, but it fortunately ties into the last story and point I was making. There was one day, fairly recently, that it had come up in discussion that my brother had Aspberger's, a mild form of autism. Noting this, a woman had come up to me afterwards, mentioning that she knew someone recently diagnosed with Aspberger's - but his father refused to accept the diagnosis, despite his training in psychology. She mentioned the person was really struggling in school (college) and they were all trying to figure out what to do. And I realized they did not know his rights - I said to her, "You realize every college is mandated to have some sort of a disability accommodations office? You realize he has a right to demand academic accommodations that suit his disability, and teachers are obliged to recognize this?" She was floored. She had no idea that this amazing resource exists.

"I've used it," I said.
She laughed, "For what?"
"For my PTSD," I replied, to give the most simple response (but it was also very handy for my mood disorder). Both of these things catastrophically affected my academic career, and the relief of having my accommodations and knowing a whole office on campus was going to go to bat for me, was incredibly relieving. Thus, for clarification, the term disabilities here... and by federal law, covers mental, emotional, and physical disability - the whole spectrum.

To give her examples, I explained that my accommodations involved leniency with absences, extended due dates for assignments, and taking tests in a different room should I so choose. But furthermore, these accommodations are something that is decided between the disabilities coordinator and the student - so that the needs are fully recognized and adequately accommodated. And if anyone wants to get a basic run-down of this sort of thing, more can be read here: Q&A on Disability Discrimination in Education Under Federal Law.

And so I conclude.

Knowing is important. It gets you places. It aids in self-care. It liberates. By taking steps to learn about your own truths and needs, you inevitably help the lives of others. It all comes in full circle.

Prepare to love yourself, so that you can love others.

A Mental Health Creedo: Just Breathe

Note: This post was written over a week ago, and I neglected to post it - partially because it was so vividly emotional that I needed to drop it and distance myself from it. The only reason I'm posting this now is for the entry that I'm writing that will come after.

My anger traps me. My impatience stunts me. I frequently forget to breathe. I hold myself up to standards higher than I would give most other people, higher than most other people would hold for themselves. I want to do everything now all at once. I want to understand everything now, be more patient now, be more peaceful and happy now, everything troubling me to go away NOW. Do you see where I get myself into trouble? I can't breathe - I keep myself cluttered. The odd part is in saying that I've actually gotten better. Maybe because at least I'm aware of the ridiculousness of it now. A lot of my behavior can be chalked up to the sociological phenomena known as the Alpha Female - perfectionism. Combine it with a guilt complex, and over-stimulated attention span, and the trait in me that never lets go of everything. I've always argued that while I hold others up to high standards, I hold myself up to them too. I never forget about the people I anger or upset, the things I've said and the actions I've done - I frequently fail to forgive myself for momentary lapses in judgment, for not keeping my cool, for being afraid and lashing out at others because of it, for falling apart and taking it out on everyone else. I never forget. It makes life very hard for me. There's very little room for movement.

I spend most days in some stasis paralysis - torn between wanting to get an honest break I feel I deserve (which, due to my current economic situation, is highly unlikely I'll actually get) and lambasting myself for not working hard enough, for not living up to my own ambitions and doing as much with my potential as I know I could be doing. I see others my age do it, others only a few years older than me - living this highly successful life where they can keep pushing through everything, don't stop.

But I splinter. Can't breathe. Need to remember to breathe.

All of my old arguments wear thin. The only person that's pinning me to these standards is myself. I feel like it aligns closely with a quote I read that essentially states that in order to have great disappointment in something/someone, one must love it deeply. And to quote Paramore, in self-assessment, "For a pessimist, I'm pretty optimistic." In joking with my friend Amelia, I mentioned that I thought one of the things that made me stand out from so many other people was my reflex of "But think of the possibilities!"

I'm an idealist - that's not a shocker with my track record of high-achieving. But I'm also a realist. I've grown too aware of how to approach things. And it's a struggle managing the two. But, more importantly, having been on both sides of things, you begin to see how easy it is for other people to shut out the idealist.

And maybe that's where a lot of my frustration stems from lately - life is full of possibilities! genuinely! .... if you're straight, if you have money, if you're studying something the world places importance on (like business), if you have the right connections, if you grew up around the right influences, if you can fake it.

And I know I can't fake it. And I know many people don't have the resources to change their situations to get the right sort of environment where they can fully access all the possibilities. Or don't know the options they actually have. And I know a lot of people grow disillusioned with life, just as I have, just living and breathing to pay bills and jump through one hoop after the next, to only have the government or insurance companies or academic standards raise the bar once more. To fall flat. And you begin to wonder how much possibility there really is when DADT isn't repealed and oversexualization of younger girls is rampant, and even though "the recession is over" the economy is so awful that everyone would rather stay in school accumulating debt rather than get a job. When all of who you are, your potential, your possibilities, have to take the back burner until further notice - until after you pay the bills, until after the government passes an agenda, until you're done struggling with just keeping your daily rights intact (looking at you CO 62).

And that's when I find this a dangerous time to be living in - when everything is pieced off into what you can afford to do. When you can't afford basic things that you intrinsically need to function as a human being - time off, work breaks, health care, personal interests, academic aid, government assistance - it all of a sudden just seems... dismal. I know there have been several times these past few months that I've stepped back and gone "What am I doing this for? When will I have time to relax and actually breathe?"

You begin to see life as just a series of unfortunate hurdles you have to thrust yourself over to get the next series of unfortunate hurdles. There is no room for water breaks or not-hurdling. Pretending to integrate the core yourself into a system that seems to care very little for you begins to feel like a lie - how does this truly function as an extension of you when really it is just dealing with what you're forced to deal with?

Where's the possibility in that?

I told Amelia recently that I slowly stopped following politics more and more after Obama was elected - how lack of action and doubling back on promises began to disappoint me. Disappointment, rooted in love. There was so much possibility.

While I have been known to be a pessimist, and have been known to struggle with depression, I can't help but think now that it is perhaps because I love life too much, I view it with such wonder, so preciously... that when I find out other people don't want to help each other live as freely, with as much enthusiasm and interest possible, I get crushed. That, rather than fostering an environment that encourages a life worth living, we now live an environment that fosters all the life and possibilities we cannot live or have. Life has become exclusionary.

And I get angry. And impatient. I frequently forget to breathe.

I try to remember to breathe. I think to myself, "Imagine how many people you'd overwhelm by just living fully to the capability of your life force, untamed, fully realized."

Try to mantra:

I think that I'm bigger than the sound.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lit Rehab: Learning after Education

You could say that my senior year of college was my first real experience with hitting walls that confronted and disarmed my reality, made me into someone I was not. It was a test of integrity between societal conformity and self-preservation, trying to find that crevice wherein I could link my passion with what I was forced to do, to dispel monotony and complete a task I normally hated in a way that I could bear it. Ah, academics. It was in these months that I would lose the thick of myself, the core of my passions tossed aside for the sake of a finishing line. Rather than enjoying reading, it became “how many more pages do I have until I finish this?” Rather than write freely, I tensely stared at the new open Microsoft Word document that glared me down like an executioner.

I realized my dilemma with reading and writing became an intricate series of cause and effects, about how dangerous and simultaneously safe the academic world is. While I love learning, and would certainly consider myself a scholar – I’ve always loathed school and many people can’t understand that distinction. But it was in that distinction I lost myself, to be redundant: I was trained in my Alpha Female fashion, in the way Pavlov would know best – every book became a bell hitting an internal alarm, every phrase sought an answer to an essay question. I’d propel myself towards projects, wanting to read numerous books when I only had time for one. As time churned away, my migraines increased and my patience decreased – and I sabotaged the things I loved for a grade, to keep honors status, to graduate early.

Did the ends justify the means?

It is months later, and my head is still reeling in tension, searching for a deadline that was once there yet no longer visible – a self-inflicted worry. Every book is latched to a judgment, a due date, worrying for my future every time I pick up a book. To turn the things I love into a verifiable career, master’s thesis, time is ticking – you’re 21 and you haven’t accomplished enough yet.

I remember how I sought books for their imaginative refuge - to make me whole, to fulfill the honest yet unheard parts of myself I felt were threatened that needed some sort of knowledge hearth to supplement the insecurity. I sought liberation. And I think of people I know in prison right now, famous people I’ve known of that have been imprisoned in the past, and even the fictional manifestations of this situation – real: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, fictional: V for Vendetta. How literature serves as a tool for imaginative escapism at first, but eventually transforms into a mode for realistic escape – an empowerment, a tool for enrichment. It was in watching V for Vendetta that the irony struck me – how I became a prisoner in a different way, perhaps the way society would want me. Manageable.

For, besides reading troubles, the academic system had also managed to destroy my creative writing by destroying the source: my emotions became completely unsafe. By attempting to follow the system and get things done as quickly as possible, my emotions imploded upon themselves within my last year of undergraduate studies, and then slowly burned out more and more. I had realized that in order for me to get through the rest of college, I needed to stop caring.

My emotional schema has changed dramatically from the impact. I’ve become more aloof, solid, and motionless. Angry – direct and focused instead of bottled in and unruly. It cuts at the source of everything, but runs deep in every single capillary. I seek to micromanage my emotions, a simultaneously soft and jagged form of sorrow. I touch my emotions enough to know they’re there, but not firmly enough to unleash them. I’m not comfortable enough to share. I splinter off and carry the thought that my own dilemmas are my own and are useless for talking about unless others share the grief currently, unless it can be used constructively, for good and healing. I’ve retreated to a world that is as hollow as a clock, listening to the mechanisms churn while the surroundings change correspondingly. I live so quietly now. I do not seek to argue my life to others as I find it hard to justify my own notions – not because they aren’t valid, but because I know they are things no one wants to hear, and that they will bat it out of their heads because it makes them uncomfortable.

I let others live their lives as I live my own. I exist in a self-imposed solitude. Writing exposes vulnerability, seeks empathy – I keep a safe distance from both of those things now, and maybe that’s the dilemma, the incapability of wanting to describe the slow, dissolving crush of reality upon a tiny human, one speck in the universe, trying to make a positive difference upon our very humanity. And so I only argue the facts, the struggles worth fighting for more than the justification of my only life – I stand firm behind on feminism, and advocate for sexual assault survivors – these issues are bigger than me, and I will not let them be denied voices. Does this imply I’ve let myself be silence and denied? I’m not really sure.

John Gatto, author of “Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling”, would likely find this hilarious and perilous – a well-meaning girl who loves books and challenging authority can no longer read without getting stressed, and thus does not read. How I was regimented out of feeling and writing. How true education became dismantled, wherein learning became trite rather than rebellious, and facts fell into the background as I did not learn them. The standardization and regimentation became the perfect weapon towards dissolving me as it does other potential activists and radicals. In his book "Weapons of Mass Instruction," he argues the point that the current educational system is in fact designed to dumb us down. And arguably, many newspapers have recently reported the decline of creativity. It is not hard to imagine why: I can report firsthand that it’s hard to attempt the psychological unraveling of core anxiety responses. To now turn towards my bookshelves full of unread books and think: “How can I make you safe again?” It makes me nervous that they’ve been able to take away my books from me psychologically, make them inaccessible. So what is left?

“Lit Rehab,” I joke to a friend – a slow progression back towards the literary and creative extensions of my root passions and motivations. It begins slowly: I can now write personal blog entries… which is a step up from being stuck in the groove of academic papers (although very far from actual journal entries and creative writing), I can now read 6 pages of a book/a long article in a newspaper/other blog entries – which is substantially better than panicking and not even touching a book, right? I make minimalistic attempts, I remind myself to breathe. I dance, I sing, I try to imagine taking the world by storm, I tell myself: imagine their reactions if I was full of breath, if I was truly living through passions. How easy the rebellion in educating yourself is: the power I could bring to the world by educating myself on the things that matter to me most. I try to overcome the fear slowly – write a little bit everyday until the emotions kept inside unwind upon the page, pick up a book of quotes to read – small bites of inspiring witticisms to consume. It is trying to learn, once again, for learning’s sake.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

you have eye contact, but there's no emotion in your eyes. the question is though, why modeling?

I can't tell if this is the same person who initially commented on my modeling or not, but regardless, I'm both disconcerted by your comment/question and compelled to thank you for bringing it up. It forces me to deal with something uncomfortable in several ways. I thought about what my answer to this question was before I even went to type it out. My initial thought response felt a bit jarring to me.

1. "Because emotion doesn't have a place in modeling." 2. "Because then I'd be vulnerable."

I'll address number 2 first.

I think why I've always preferred writing is how emotion can remain so recklessly contained. I could control it while simultaneously feeling untamed. For years I hated myself for my intense emotions, until a person stepped into my life and really made me realize the value of them. Until then, I found that I always felt the need to wrangle them back in. And I have no trouble expressing them in personal relationships, as I once did. I suppose, though, it doesn't however remove the sentiment that I have trouble expressing emotions physically, confessing them in a way that could be captured and viewed or heard (singing). It triggers something deeper. Because I know I'm a landmine. And if I were to show my emotions lately, it'd be more hurt and anger more than anything else - the emotion lining the double-edged sword of my delusional amount of hope for myself and this world.

Within the past year, I grew more distanced from my emotions due to the fact that as I became more engrossed in academia, as I tried to fight for what I believed in - the more I held myself out there hopefully, the more the world sought to shoot me down. For every "delusional" burst of hope I provided, backed even with statistical facts, people sought to tell me all the reasons I'd fail. While trying to repeatedly tell myself that those who have failed at their dreams will attempt to make me fail at mine (because misery loves company and there are too many jealous people who don't want to see others succeed when they can't), I began tucking the most intimate parts of myself deep inside myself. I stopped reading for months and months, I stopped writing creatively, I became afraid to sing - I kept waiting, apprehensively, for people to continue to take away from me what I loved. I've learned time and time again how making your emotions open lends you to vulnerability and manipulation. So, I've been hibernating and growing stronger and am slowly emotionally unraveling, now setting all the building blocks to take the world by storm.

So, you're right, perhaps I should find some more photographers to explore a range of emotions with. Especially because that's how I ended up getting into modeling to begin with.

"Why modeling?"

You could call it an exercise in physical therapy honestly. I began Rolfing sessions (structural integration) the same summer in order to due with the strong disconnect I had with my body due to prior trauma. My dissociation was beginning to infest all the areas of my life - I couldn't make it to classes some morning because my knee would randomly give out, or my shoulder would allocate so much pain from taut muscles I thought I'd dislocated it, or I'd get triggered and curl into the fetal position; my love life would splinter as I'd splinter out of my body from one intimate touch from a guy; and it was brought to my attention I was routinely starving and dehydrating myself without realizing it. I began to realize how frequently and severely I was tuning my body out, how I was treating it as just a means to an end, a vessel. I used modeling as an excuse and an exercise to pay more attention to my body and take care of it further.

However, this brings me to the other disturbing thought - thought number 1. I didn't realize I'd gotten so wayward in the year of modeling I've done that I didn't even realize my thoughts were morphing. While my thought certainly does not apply to all forms of modeling, it applies to one of the types I'd gotten sucked into - fashion modeling. An intriguing jump from the "nude in nature" modeling which I started out with. I could go on a rant about typical fashion modeling in society, but I'll save it - because it's all very obvious and has been said before. But if you really want to get into my thoughts on modeling - personal versus societal, I suppose you could always ask me.

Ask me anything

Saturday, September 4, 2010

"That's So Gay" is NOT okay

So. I just happened to be looking up season 1 of Glee on Amazon.com because I'm mildly obsessed with it lately, and would really like to purchase the whole season. For some reason, I perused the reviews - maybe because I say 50+ reviews for a product that hasn't even technically been released yet... and I found a review that caught my eye:

"Ok its time to get something off my chest.
WHAT is wrong with people these days???????????
If you like this show your:

A. a teenage girl
B. have horrible taste in telivision (not that theres anything worth watching anyway)
C. a high school muical fan

This show is sooooooo stupid, no lie. Who likes this? How ?
Yesss to those who say I haven't seen the show with my own two eyes, I have. Unfortunatly I wish I had the 30 mins of my life back. Braking out into a sing a long every other second over nothing hmmmmm is this a Disney movie ................. I think not at least those are entertaining. The characters are not likeable at all, its just so built for this sad young generation its not even funny. This generation has the worst taste in just about everything :


And Iam 24 its not like Iam to far behind this generation but its just so pathetic.
Horrible show I would not watch another episode if I was paid to.
ANYONE with half a brain will steer clear of this shamockry of a show!!!"

Aside from the ridiculous amount of grammar and spelling errors, the implication that this show was horrible and ergo could only be liked by certain demographics such as "GAY," made me livid. Because it implied that every demographic listed was horrible or not worthy of value, ergo worth putting down - ergo turning "Gay," yet again, into an insult. When it shouldn't be. Ever. In a sense, listing "teenage girl" in the same insulting matter is just as bad. But "Gay" hit a trigger in me. I have a huge handful of friends that are gay, and they are perfectly wonderful people - more wonderful than most people, I would say, if only because they have to learn to confront hostility with kindness and are frequently forced to justify their sexual preference, which should not ever have to be justified to begin with. Love is love, and placing restrictive gender norms on it is foolish. Hating a person for a part of him/herself that he/she is intrinsically born with, just because it may be different from the norm, is ridiculous. To put it lightly. And then to use that difference to describe other things you can't deal with/don't like is even worse. It's sheer ignorance.

I'm essentially incoherently angry right now, so this blog entry isn't a very educated or well-thought attempt and perhaps I should leave it for Wanda Sykes to explain, because I feel she does it quite well:

And just to further my point and be increasingly obnoxious to the reviewer who will likely never see this blog post, I will conclude with a clip from Glee that is very appropriate to this situation:

Haters gonna hate.

Friday, August 27, 2010

what does a young feminist look like? do they need to have a look?

No, I don't think they need to have a look or that there is "a look," but rather, many looks. I'm not sure there are any specific requirements to being a feminist (in my mind) other than trying to be sensitive to gender norms, striving towards gender equality in all forms (language, politics, economy, etc.), and simply being aware that you will always have more to learn. While the last bit can be said about anything in life, I've found that it is extremely important in feminism - particularly because of all the intricacies involved in feminism. It's a movement that really attempts to include more than exclude, and in order to do that we have to continually hone our sensitivities and be aware of our biases as well as be open to criticism. We have to be willing to continually transform ourselves so that we can create more safe places with equal playing fields. I know, for myself, I have a lot more to learn about feminism and women's history - but I could also say that about a lot of other feminists, not because they aren't well read, but because there are so many variants to be considered and voices to be heard, that it'd be naive to pretend that there is ONE look to feminism. And I think that's perhaps what feminism is - being aware of how many oppressed voices there are that need to be heard, and trying to be sensitive to all of them so that they may be heard. It reminds me of a quote that I (of course) cannot fully remember nor find on google, that basically says: do not help me just to help me or because it makes you feel better about yourself, I do not want that kind of help; but if you are here to help me because your liberation is linked with mine, then come stand beside me and we will fight together. And I think that is something that should always be remembered.

Ask me anything

Missconceptions of Feminism

I used to make fun of feminists. I don't know why I did, but I did. I think maybe it was because I didn't know what a feminist was exactly, and that the extent of my knowledge of feminism was the copy of The Feminine Mystique my close friend Diana was reading (which I still haven't yet read). And something about it seemed trite and passe, unwelcoming - I had visions in my head, like many other people do, of angry women with unshaved armpits, burning bras, and waving spatulas very angrily trying to get every woman out of the kitchen. Regardless, as a high school student, I got the feeling it wasn't safe nor was it cool to be one.

I only knew two people who could be recognized as feminists then - and only one of them self-identified as a "feminist," and despite how popular she was, people gave her a lot of shit for it. So I never learned feminism, didn't even touch it with a fifty-foot pole.

I grew up in a suburban town right outside of Queens, NY that's full of Irish and Italian Catholics, bars, and a very small minority population. To the outsider, my hometown may seem like a pleasant non-threatening place - a great place to raise the kids. Today when I try to explain my hometown, it's hard to explain the almost sinister undertones of conservative politics that bled through even to children. Among the most popular boys in our high school was a frequent joke (a serious joke) that a woman's only place of belonging was the kitchen, as if they knew best for women: a typical hypocritical form of dominance when I know for a fact that at least one of them couldn't even tell the difference between a tampon and a pad.

And there will be one scene that always haunts me when I think of gender norms at my high school, and how typical they all were. Right outside the cafeteria window, a male is yelling at a girl - he grabs her by the hair and whips her around, dragging her out of sight still by her hair, until we hear a car door slam. Nobody flinches to even help that girl, a younger guy sitting near us says "that's fucked up." I frown. Nobody moves.

When I train to become an advocate for sexual assault victims years later, I will learn this to be a prime example of the Bystander Phenomena. And I don't know if I should liken it to the Kitty Genovese case where every neighbor had assumed the other person was going to do something about it, or if I should liken it to pure apathy or pure fear. My roommate I have now couldn't understand this. As I try to explain to her bystander phenomena, and explain that we breed a society that works against sexual assault and rape victims, she doesn't get it.

But why wouldn't they believe them [the sexual assault victims]?

I shrug, "the society we live in. It all comes down to a Virgin/Vamp dichotomy. There's this really great book that talks about it, Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes, that I used for my Feminist Sociolinguistics paper that talks all about how there are 8 factors that tilt a woman towards a "vamp" and less believed."

"If she knows her assailant; if no weapon is used; if she is of the same race, class, or ethnic group as the assailant; if she is young; if she is considered pretty; and if she is in any way deviates from the traditional housewife-mother role."

"Listen," I say to her, "I had a friend who was raped her first semester at college, and when she came home to tell her parents, they blamed her - and this is on top of the fact that she didn't even realize what had happened to her was rape, somebody else had to tell her. And this happens all the time."

Girls don't realize they're raped, and then the girls that are raped are too afraid to speak out - because the police are intimidating and hinder rather than help, because the rape kits are invasive and evidently will just sit around and not be used for evidence. And it's scary considering nationally 1 in 4 women will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes and 1 in 7 men will deal with the same, and the statistics could be even higher because it's been noted that at least 60 percent of women don't report their rape. I'm not good with math, but I don't like the implications of those numbers.

And it all links together, and it shows in our government, in our language, and even our day to day actions.

The first time I really began to delve into feminism is when I landed in my third college, at the end of my first (of two) years there. When I found, rather than 1-2 girls, a steady handful of women who proclaimed themselves as feminists and openly fought for women's rights. It was safe for me to be a feminist in this environment, and so I explored it. I ended up being the Featured Poet and lead organizer of the open mic night at Take Back the Night that year, an actress in the Vagina Monologues, took every training offered by the local Sexual Assault Services Organization, ended up being one of the lead members of the college's Feminist Voice, helped with the Clothesline project, became a lead organizer of Take Back the Night again, helped with the first ever Four Corners Pride festival, and so on and so forth. Even the current President of Feminist Voice thought I was a Gender/Women's Study major, and within that one year I had left at that college, I became best friends with even the prior Feminist Voice president. To everyone around me, it seemed as if there was never a point in my life when I was not a feminist.

At one point in January I updated my facebook with a link to a bunch of articles pertaining to feminism, I joked in the comments section of the last one "Don't mind me, just clogging up your news feed with feminist news," and one of my friends made some comment like Same old, aren't you always updating with feminist news? To put this transformation in perspective, I graduated high school in 2007, which means in three years I went from being a person who made fun of feminism to being in a situation where I'd be the first name to come to mind of many people when they were asked about feminists on campus.

As I switched gears in this rapid transition, I found myself confronting my old view points and some discriminatory view points I had never even considered. The feminist as man-hater viewpoint (one I used to believe) certainly came into focus for me as I began discussing Take Back the Night in my Evolutionary Psychology class, trying to get people to come, and one guy turns towards me with a decent amount of trepidation in his voice, "So, can I come?"

"Of course you can, men are certainly welcome to join us in Take Back the Night..."

"I mean... you guys aren't going to beat me up or? I mean... I'm not going to be yelled at?"

"You'll be fine, I promise."

That guy never showed at our march into town for Take Back the Night, however there was another guy who did show up and as he carried the sign with me, he noticed I was wearing heels and felt the need to ask (in a flirty voice), "So, I noticed you're wearing heels. Do you consider them to be a sign of oppression?"

"... No. I like wearing heels."

Exasperation, I've learned, alongside with anger, almost becomes a common state for me when discussing feminism with many people who aren't feminists. Not only because of when you endure situations like these, but also because of when you endure ones like my friend Amelia does. Like when she happened to get incredibly drunk one night and reveal to a whole bar that she was gay. An innocent enough event until the boyfriend of the friend that brought her home notices Amelia's collection of feminist books on her bookshelf and comments, "Oh of course she's a lesbian, there's no way a straight woman would have this many books on feminism on her bookshelf." Oh of course not, because who in their right mind would support feminism?

And this situation is almost matched in ridiculousness to another time she experienced very recently where she was road tripping with a friend. Because when she stayed with her friend's family in Texas one of them had commented something like, Well you're a woman, so what does your opinion matter anyway. Suitably enough, Amelia had a mental breakdown that night, internally combusted, and flew home the next morning towards safer territories.

And these are the times you have to take into consideration that it's not that there aren't young feminists, but perhaps they might just be in hiding. In discussing feminism with a professor, he mentioned, You know, there are a lot of people who are feminists and just don't realize it. I've done this exercise with classes before where I ask them: do you believe women should get equal pay? And they all agree yes. Do you think women should have the same political rights as men? And they all say yes. Do you consider yourselves feminists? And then all of a sudden, there are a lot less yesses. They get uncomfortable. Yet, they just stated that they believe women should have all the same rights as men - but they won't call themselves feminists.

Now, however, unlike this group of college students, I can safely and firmly say I'm a feminist. And I hope that people everywhere, too afraid and uncomfortable to before, will be able to say the same thing about themselves one day too.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Women's Equality Day

Hello everyone! Happy Women's Equality Day!

In case you're too lazy to click the link or simply like consolidation,

What is Women’s Equality Day?

At the behest of Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), in 1971 the U.S. Congress designated August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.”

The date was selected to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. This was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York.

The observance of Women’s Equality Day not only commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, but also calls attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality. Workplaces, libraries, organizations, and public facilities now participate with Women’s Equality Day programs, displays, video showings, or other activities.

Bueno! Considering my knowledge on feminist history is very limited in comparison to many I know, this blog entry is going to be a little bit more whimsical than some of my other entries. But perhaps it's good to embrace the fun side of it since today is a happy day (even though we do have a long way to go)! So, two fun videos I came across and some fun facts about my relation to feminism (and I hope you'll share yours too in the comment section):

Now, fun facts about me (because I know you're so enthralled):


1. When I was a child, I apparently loveeeedddd Wonder Woman. Although, for some reason or another, I had problems with similar sounding words. I'd run around the house yelling, "WHEN I GROW UP I WANNA BE WOMAN WOMAN." My babysitter evidently tried to correct me that it was Wonder Woman and not Woman Woman but my parents thought it was too cute to correct.

2. I think my favorite quote by a feminist, because it carries so much weight, is "Your silence will not protect you." - Audre Lorde. I love it for trauma-related reasons but it also carries a great deal of political significance to it too, don't you think?

3. Upon buying an incredibly awesome bumper sticker that says "EVE WAS FRAMED," I had decided to strategically place it under the bitten apple logo on my mac laptop. A lot of people caught onto it and appreciated it, and I remain to be fairly amused by the placement. My fellow feminist friend, Amelia, now owns this laptop and carries it around with pride. I bought another EVE WAS FRAMED bumper sticker and it proudly sticks to my bookcase (an equally good place to put it I think).

4. I have a "Haters Gonna Hate" shirt if only because Jessica Valenti has that little guy struttin' away on her formpsring account, and because really, feminists have to deal with so many Haters.

5. When I was a child, Annie Oakley was my heroine. I begged my 5th grade teacher to let me write a report on her. I still think she is one incredibly badass woman.

6. The reason I got into feminism, ironically, was through a English class I took in Spring 09 entitled Rise of Raunch where we studied the impacts of porn upon American society. And, being an English major at the time, I decided to use that class to study how the words "slut," "cunt," "bitch," and "whore," could be used as sexually empowering words for women rather than derogatory words. I became so intrigued by this one final research study that I turned it into a SOC 499 Independent Study course entitled "Feminist Sociolinguistics," and wrote a 47 page paper on it. One day, I will hopefully write a book about this.

7. I model in my spare time - and while this can be seen as somewhat... hypocritical, I find it to be empowering. I use modeling as an attempt to truly focus on my body and its feelings, per se, so that I grow more connected to it. As a trauma survivor, it becomes easy for me to dissociate from and ignore my body. Modeling forces me to focus on my body and notice its strengths and weaknesses, and reinforces that its okay for my emotions and body to link. Naturally, I will and have run into photographers who do not have good intentions and have not treated me the way I should've been treated - and I never work with them again. And I would caution and advise other girls who want to get into this sort of thing to approach it the same way. Always always remember how valuable you are.

8. My dream, as many people know, is to work with sexual assault survivors and provide writing therapy for them - and hopefully, through this, increase awareness of sexual assault and change the language dynamics of how we approach a woman's sexuality. Essentially, the mission of this blog, my grad school studies, and my career.

Hope you enjoyed the random media and life facts! I would love to hear any of your stories, favorite quotes, favorite feminists facts, or quirky feminist tidbits! Happy Women's Equality Day!

Stream of Consciousness: Word, Body, and Politics


Not only is it Women's Equality Day (which I will post on later), but I have also been accepted into Goddard College as a candidate for a M.A. in Individualized Studies w/ a concentration in Transformative Language Arts!!! Things are IN MOTION and it feels awesome.

In that vein, this blog post is going to have a little bit more to do with my ambitions and my writing side. A little while ago, my friend Jess mentioned she was looking for people to write guest posts at her blog, Mal-diction: the literary bitching and moaning of an English graduate student, and so, I offered myself up since I used to be an English - Writing option major at my undergraduate college and still have strong ties to literature. However, I did it with a twist - while it's easy, with my background, to still snipe about grammar, syntax, and imagery - I wanted to share my newfound love of the intricacies and impact words have upon our lives with an audience who might appreciate them but not be aware of them. In short, I chose to write about what I used to call: "Creative Writing and Social Change," and what Goddard eloquently rewords as "Transformative Language Arts."

The post, entitled "Stream of Consciousness: Word, Body, and Politics" can be seen here at Mal-diction, but here's a teaser:

"While I was always aware of the importance of the subject I would eventually declare my major, it only came into my consciousness slowly. Step one: being a English-writing option major with a long, devoted history to creative writing. Step two: being immersed in grays. Step three: taking "ENGL 267 PERSUASIVE WRITING" and choosing to research and argue "A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey as a valid work of creative non-fiction that should not be disregarded due to fact changing. Beginning to study the impacts of trauma upon memory recall, and thus, memoir writing. Step four: declaring a psychology minor. Step five: working on my final research project for my "ENGL 417 RISE OF RAUNCH" class wherein I studied sexually-charged words attributed to and reflective of female behavior such as "bitch," "slut," cunt," "whore," etc. and how women could use them as a positive empowering source. Discovering how the word "cunt," for example, used to be used as a title of respect for women in Ancient Egypt - and how one girl took her experience being gang-raped and called a "slut" to liberate herself sexually.

Step underlying all of this: beginning to validate the sexual, emotional, and physical abuse I had endured as a child. And analyzing the way it impacted by body, my language use, and my perceptions of all of these.

I hope you head on over there to read it!

In the meantime, some other fun English-related tidbits:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I found out I evidently write like David Foster Wallace (by entering in my guest blog post from Mal-Diction), who according to Wikipedia, has been heralded as "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years." This clearly means when I get around to publishing a book, I'm going to revolutionize the world as we know it. :P Or at least for a little while.

I've also, this morning, adopted a word at SavetheWords.org, a website designed by the people behind the Oxford English Dictionaries who are eager to keep older words in circulation so that they don't die out.

In case you are curious I have adopted (and am thus attempting to bring back into circulation):

1. tortiloquy: (n.) dishonest or immoral speech
2. essomenic: (adj.) showing things as they will be in the future
3. omniregency: (n.) state of complete authority
4. resarciate: (v.) to make amends

Words are so fabulous. I hope you join in on the mission.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The "Trauma Feminist": Addendum on "What is a Feminist?"

Excuses and Explanations Regarding My Absence and Lack of Feminist Posts
This section is bolded in case you want to skip over my excuse-making and get right to the meat of the post...

Ever since I've written my initial What is a Feminist?: A Discussion on Discourse entry, I've felt a little guilty. For multiple reasons.

Let me state that I never mean to offend anyone due to my own ignorance on a matter (although, of course, ignorance is prone to offending). And that this blog is not only reflective of my viewpoints on feminism and what I've studied, but what I'm currently studying and trying to understand. I've only, honestly, been acquainted with feminist studies for a little over a year now - and in that time, I've not taken one gender/women's studies class. Which makes me feel like more a feminist-hobbyist-dabbler-late-bloomer sort of deal. A handful of women I worked with at Feminist Voice (club on my old campus) were genuinely surprised I was not a Gender/Women's Studies major with the amount of time I tried to devote to these issues in my spare time (an interesting concept when you note my schedule this past year), and by the end of the year, I was surprised too. However, I was determined upon graduating, and figured I could make it a plan to study in the future. And I certainly do plan upon it (hi grad school, please accept me) and am trying to do so in my spare time now. In the meantime, I'm sure I unintentionally offended a few. Which brings me to my second point.

The second reason I feel incredibly guilty is that I actually did follow through with the criticism on the entry. I may be stubborn and defensive, but I try to be open-minded. And when I talked about things further with a few individuals, things began to click into place for me more. And then I never updated about it. And I entered what Hyperbole and a Half would call a guilt-spiral. While what initially held me back from updating about it was sheer busyness/preparation for moving across the country became something bigger when I finally began to settle in. I kept thinking to myself: "Isn't it a bit late to be updating with discussions you had a month ago?" My mother (and a handful of other people who know me closely) have noted I have this amazing capability to be extremely critical of myself in a way that no one else would ever expect of me, and I feel like it was one of those situations. I was very disappointed in myself for not keeping up with this blog, and so, just winced about it internally every time I thought about going back to the blog.

I've also done the stupid thing of "once I get a job/once I'm done catching up with all the job applications I should be sending out, I'll totally update my blog again." When you are unemployed for awhile, you learn that applying for jobs becomes a full-time job and so I have no idea why I set myself under this delusion that the work of applying for jobs would end. Which is why I reshifted my priorities yesterday and why you will see a lot more blog entries.

And so, I would like to take the time to thank whomever anonymously asked me that question about my blog via Formspring. You've pushed me past my internal little wince-hump, and hopefully things will go more fluidly from now on.

The "Trauma Feminist": An Addendum

As mentioned briefly amongst my litany of excuses up there, I did do some follow-up on my initial entry that did seem to spark some polar reactions. I know several women I'd talked to after writing the entry turned to me as if I feel this way too! I'm glad someone else said it! And then there were other women who came to me and said, "It's a fine line, Victoria. I know you don't mean to sound offensive, but you're bordering the line of sounding like one of those white feminists who just doesn't want to deal with race at all - and I know that's not you. Can we meet up in person and talk about it?" And then some women completely ignored making a comment out in the open, but instead had slight reactions towards me elsewhere to display they were displeased.

So, acknowledging all these factors, I pondered the dynamics of what to do next now that I both a) had a chip on my shoulder and felt very much like a lost, confused deer and b) felt mildly justified since I clearly wasn't the only one feeling this way since a handful of women had come up to me going "I feel this way too." So, I decided to take up my friend, Dawn Haney, who said to me, ""It's a fine line, Victoria. I know you don't mean to sound offensive, but you're bordering the line of sounding like one of those white feminists who just doesn't want to deal with race at all - and I know that's not you. Can we meet up in person and talk about it?"

And so, a few days before I left Colorado completely, we did. It's funny, because in retrospect I'm not sure she actually said anything completely different to me than she did in the comments. And yet, I walked away feeling like I had a much more sound grip on how to approach it than I felt I did before. Which perhaps fuels into Dawn's hypothesis that something about how the internet and blogging lends itself to dissidence, unchecked opinion, and some sort of general rage. I'm really really poorly rewording what Dawn had said to me quite eloquently in person. Regardless, it seemed having someone to react off of and repartee with in person was a lot more effective for me than typing a long rebuttal comment and waiting, trying to understand and trying to not be offensive and trying to make my own points.

What she essentially said to me in person is pretty much what she said to me here:

"I do want to say something about my understandings of women of color's frustrations with feminism, particularly within the sexual assault and domestic violence movements. Let's look at your statement above: "Come on, we're all women fighting for women's rights, can't we all just get along? As if the patriarchy doesn't tear us apart enough, we seek to tear each other apart?" The problem for women of color is that they are hearing the exact same thing from the men in their lives: "Come on, we're all people of color fighting for our rights, can't we all just get along? As if racism doesn't tear us apart enough, we seek to tear each other apart?" Women of color get pushed to "choose" between allying with other women or allying with other people of color. It's an impossible choice. One of the things that I've learned from women of color is that this impossible choice is *traumatic*. When I start to see the multiple oppressions faced by people as trauma, and their reactions to these oppressions as trauma reactions - it makes more sense. I know about anger, and that when I finally find the words to express my rage it comes out like a volcano. I know how healing it is to have someone validate my rage as real. On the flip side, I know how pissed I get when a man says, "You should tone down your rage" or "I've been hurt too, why do you have to make it a man/woman thing?" In my experience, it's *especially* as a trauma feminist that we have to listen carefully to the infinite kinds of traumas experienced by people. When I do that, I find some of my fiercest allies among women of color who just want to be validated. Just like you and me."

But perhaps there was one word she used with me in person that she didn't write in that comment that made all the difference for me: safe.

She told me that when women of color are expressing their anger about these situations to me it's because they feel safe to express it to me, around me, in my company. If they didn't feel safe around me, they wouldn't be expressing this rage - they express this rage to me because it is one of the safe places [feminism] they can. They are looking for me to understand so that I can help make more safe places for them.

Explained in these terms, with the word "safe," it all made sense to me. I reflected upon the struggles I've had personally with my own PTSD, and how much safety has made a difference. Around my mother and girl friends who know me closely, I've had no problem venting and yelling and unintentionally taking things out on them when really I'm just frustrated with my own set of emotional problems and want them to understand because I feel safe around them.

In contrast: zoom in on me trying to get my own student-constructed major passed in front of an Older White Christian Male, and he starts demanding, But why is Creative Writing and Social Change so useful that it could be its own major? Couldn't you just do the same thing with an English program? A Journalism program? and as he goes on with his battalion of questions, stern and defensive, encouraged by the school administration to not let many of these SCMs get passed... I shrink into my chair, the words clustering behind my tongue. I can't say anything. While I could normally roll off a whole list of reasons why Creative Writing and Social Change deserved its own sector of studying, my mind went blank. Something in me got triggered and threatened. I felt small and instead of being the strong, opinionated Victoria I am and try to be, I began to cry. I left that meeting feeling wholly defeated, embarrassed, ashamed of myself... and angry at the bottom of it all for the man who just made me feel like this.

I didn't feel safe there. And I couldn't be at a place to emotionally feel safe there where the other person had the same demographic setup of another person who had repeatedly traumatized and threatened me in the past, and similarly, this person didn't try to understand me either. He just yelled at me about how he couldn't understand.

An uncanny resemblance?

Fortunately, in that scenario, I had a small handful of teachers willing to go to bat for me - partially believing that yes, creative writing and social change should be its own area of study... and partially afraid that if this didn't get passed, I would follow through with my promise of dropping out of college entirely. Similarly, Dawn saw what I was doing and tried to be the medium to help me understand the validity of another branch of feminism, and why it has metaphorically "dropped out" to have its own viewpoint heard.

I'm aware that that metaphor is on the border between "awful" and "awesome." Just roll with it? Please? Haha.

Point is: I appreciate when my friends keep me in check like this. And I've now gained a different perspective on how to approach feminism and feminist discussions. While I may not be overtly aware of how all of my biases may manifest, I will now ask myself, as a Trauma Feminist, does everyone feel safe in this discussion? is someone shying away from the conversation or getting angry with the conversation because they do not feel safe? and most importantly, what can I do to make this a safe environment for everyone to speak and be heard?

All in all, actually, this tends to remind me of a quote from a book that I've never read, but that which one of my closest friends tends to love dearly: Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie.

"In second grade there were classroom rules hanging from the ceiling. The only one I can remember now seems like it would be a good rule for life. 'Everyone must feel safe.' Safe to be themselves, physically safe, safe to say what they think, just safe. That's the best rule I can think of." (13)
- Rachel Corrie

why are your blog and formspring one in the same? Are you still planning on focusing on issues of gender equality? Do you feel as if you have drifted from that aim at all?

My blog and formspring aren't one and the same. I don't link all my answers from my formspring to my blog, just ones that are relevant to my overall mission. I do still plan on focusing on issues of gender equality, but I also stated in my blog that I would be addressing mental health/emotional issues, non-profit issues, and language issues. I.E. Anything I feel helps me on the path towards my main goal of one day establishing a non-profit based on providing writing therapy for sexual assault survivors.

Right now, I've notably been addressing more mental health issues. The only reason there's been more formspring updates and less content is because of the stress I've been under with my move (settling in, trying to find a job, etc.) which isn't very conducive to writing or reading. I've been bookmarking a lot of stories from women's media sources and definitely have a handful of blog entries lined up that I plan on getting to within the next few days. Especially because of that blog carnival tomorrow ;)

I will actually be writing an addendum post tonight on my "What is a Feminist" post. And then will begin my draft for the wonderful "THIS IS WHAT A YOUNG FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE" blog carnival tomorrow. I certainly appreciate that you're reading along, though, and am glad you brought this up. Hopefully, as this blog matures, the intertwining of these issues will be done more flawlessly and cohesively, so you can see where I'm coming from.

Thank you for the question!

Ask me anything

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

what is passion?

I think I love this question if only because no one's asked it of me before and it's so intrinsic to my nature. Brilliant. Let's hope I do a good job of explaining it, rather than feeling speechless in approaching it because it's such second nature.

Passion is being beyond boundaries, it is effortless and freeing. It is the natural you. It is indulging yourself in what really motivates you, excites you, engages you, makes you happy. It is irresistible. It is the part of you that will never tire, always aching for more. It is hunger seeking satisfaction, always. Is is steady in its searching, although perhaps intense. It never surrenders. It wants, it loves, and it never abandons you even in your darkest times. It wants you to succeed, for passion will liberate you and give you meaning, place you truly within your own life force. And it wants you to feel its presence and use it with all your best intentions (as your passion will always have this in mind). It is electrifying, stimulating, and symbiotic. It aims to connect everything in you that remains loose, unconnected, frazzled, and beaten down - it aims to make you healthy and whole, satisfied.

Ask me anything