Uncategorized

You’re the Good news

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Yesterday I had the distinct privilege of talking with domestic violence advocates about a cross-cultural approach to research.  It turned into this incredible brainstorm session complete with tons of energy and passion and grit.  I was blown away in the best of ways!  And when the session starting winding down an advocate looked at me and said, “Uggghhh this is so hard.  There are so many hurting.  Please tell me there is good news”.  I sat there for a moment I looked her straight in the eyes and I said, “Yes indeed there is good news—that good news is you—all of you and these women and the communities being built despite limited resources and broken systems—The good news is you”.  And then I said, “here’s the context”:

A few weeks prior I met with a survivor to interview her for a study.  This woman shared the barriers she faced with unwavering integrity.  Her husband had stolen her children and taken them to another country.  He left her destitute—not knowing the language or the housing system—she was evicted in a few weeks’ time.  Every-single-aspect of life was stacked against her but she persevered.  She, with the help of friends and advocates, got her children back, learned English and secured a three-bedroom permanent housing apartment.  When I looked at her I said, “if you hadn’t met your advocate where would you be or what do you think would have happened”?  And without hesitation she said, “I’d be dead”.

 

“I’d be dead”.

 

So you see, this is the good news—the good news is women showing up to do the gritty work; to stand in the gap with one another; to build cities out of dust; to shout at the top of their lungs that anything less than human rights will not be accepted; to demand justice and fairness and equitable communities for all; to sweat and toil on hands and knees; to cry, to laugh, to dance and to weep in all that life serves; to be alive for and in all of it.  On International Day of Women we celebrate the literal blood, sweat and tears of women who have been doing this throughout history to ensure a better future for our daughters and our sons.

 

Uncategorized

What I wish I would have told the church (where I pastored for 10 years) to help other women

The life that I had known for all of my existence came to a screeching halt in the same year.  It was the year that I resigned from my position as a pastor at a local church, while simultaneously ending my marriage of fifteen years.  I didn’t tell anyone about my marriage (with the exception of a few close friends and my family).  I feared that sharing the demise of my marriage would just lead to more pain and scrutiny so I focused on what I could– the good that came out of serving the church.  But more pointedly, I chose not to share about my marriage because it was in keeping with what I had been shown and told while growing up in the church and then even more so while I was a minister—to keep the broken to myself.  There is a model of ‘keeping secrets’ that the church has become effective in teaching through strategies of shaming and an over reliance on church leadership.

I wish I’d had the courage and the vehicle to have told people about my marriage.  If I could go back I would— if for no other reason than for the sake of other women who hold their own shame & secrets of domestic violence to themselves.

In the second year of serving the church, the lead pastor learned of the circumstances of my marriage.  He sat us down for a talk to confront us on the matter.  I was choked with fear and then with shame.  I remember feeling the need to not only preserve my marriage but also to preserve my job at the church and so I swallowed my shame and I promised that my marriage would not come before my role at the church.

After that conversation, the relationship with the lead pastor never was the same.  We (my family) were never regarded in the same manner.  The relationship between myself and the lead pastor became more and more distant over time.  I learned from these cues to not bother him with my worries or concerns and maintained this status quo.

Shame became such a familiar cloud.  I learned how to be available for others while also hiding my own pain and my own face.  I became incredibly adept at this skill.  My availability was completely sincere, but my insides were melting.

One night things got out of hand at home.  I remember so little of the circumstances other than the fear and shock.  What I do remember is that I grabbed my two and half year-old daughter and with no shoes ran out of our apartment to a friend’s apartment.  My friend took my daughter and I to a hotel for the night.  The next day we returned to her studio apartment and I took refuge in her bed for a week while she helped look after my child.  When Sunday rolled around I emotionally, mentally, & physically dusted myself off—returned home to the huge hole in the wall and showed up to my pastoral duties at church that morning.

 

No one ever knew about that week with the exception of that one friend.

 

The roller coasters of instability would continue throughout my marriage and I would do what I learned to do keep it to myself, show up for others and never complain.  I was wracked not only with incredible waves of shame, but isolation.

My story is not really all that special or unique.  It is an unfortunate thing to realize that between 25-33% of women (in the U.S.) are dealing with domestic abuse in all forms of physical aggression, financial deprivation, emotional battering and psychological warfare.  Think about it church and church leaders—that means that every 3rd or 4th female and every 10th male is dealing with some form of domestic violence while showing up to church every Sunday and maybe never telling a soul of the pain that they are in.

There are certain aspects of pain that the church is willing to do deal with that involve: biological illness and disease or a loss of a loved one through death, but the more sticky areas of pain having to do with mental illness or domestic abuse are overlooked—never to be spoken of.  In part, I believe it’s because the church doesn’t know how to respond.  They get so mired in the awkwardness and discomfort that it becomes easier to distant oneself from it then learn about appropriate ways to respond to not only the survivor, but the entire family system.  And so whether they mean to or not their distance communicates to the survivor and the entire family that something is fundamentally wrong with them and that they are not worthy of engagement.

For many survivors, who already have frail and shattered identities, they take that message to mean this is the best that they are gonna get—so they take it.  Community is incredibly important to survivors—a sense of being connected—even if it is not authentic is important and meaningful and gives even the smallest sliver of hope.

But you know what?  This-is-not-okay.  It is not okay for the church to slough off the awkwardness of domestic pain—maybe with the hope that someone else (a social worker, family member or government program) will intervene.  It’s not acceptable for the church not to learn culturally sensitive ways to interact, support and engage survivors who are experiencing DV.  It is not okay for the church to think that there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach that will be adequate for how it supports partnerships and families.

And so church leaders, you have some work cut out for you and one place you can start is by telling people that you believe them and that the circumstances do not change how you love them, embrace them or continue connection with them.

And then go get some training on domestic violence as well as a multi-cultural/inclusive approach to family systems.

New Beginnings is offering community-wide trainings and something they call courageous conversations: http://www.newbegin.org/courageous

The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCDV) offers trainings and online courses: http://wscadv.org

Most importantly, Dear Survivor: you are not alone.  Your story, your experience… well it is real and valid and true.  You may question whether or not there is anyone that could understand or accept your experience.  You may even blame yourself.  You may be in a community or in a family where the norm is to keep secrets and you don’t think anyone would believe you if you came out and shared.  You may feel all kinds of love and confusion about the relationship and unsure of what the choices or options are.  You may be hearing all kinds of voices of judgement about why you stay or why you don’t leave or that it is immoral for you to end a marriage.  You may be feeling scared for your children and their futures.  You may be fearful about where you would live or how you could financially sustain.  You may be struggling with the belief that this is the norm in relationships.  You may be scared to your very core.  You are right there are no easy answers.  One blog entry and a few words are not going to be a balm for all you’re feeling and experiencing.  But I want you to know that I believe you.  I believe all of it and I know that there are others out there that do, too.  You are worth working through the hesitation to reach out.  Here are some safe places where you can do that:

New Beginnings: http://www.newbegin.org // 24-hour helpline 206.522.9472

DAWN: http://dawnrising.org // 24-hour helpline 425.656.7867

Lifewire: https://www.lifewire.org // 24-hour helpline 800.827.8840

 

 

 

justice, Uncategorized

To: white, straight women who did not vote for Trump and yet remain silent post-election

I know the outcome of this election is not what you expected.  During the campaign you expressed disbelief over the vile, hateful and misogynist comments made by Trump.  These among other reasons were guiding your conviction to vote for another candidate and now that the president-elect is Trump, I—we have yet, to hear from you.

Surely you’ve heard of the terror and fear that so many have been feeling since the election results.  Men and women from marginalized groups all over the United States know what a Trump presidency will mean for themselves and their families.  Immigrant children have been scared that they will have to move out of the country.  LGBTQ people have been beaten, bloodied and verbally harassed.  Black churches have been burned down and defiled.  Muslim Americans have been told by Trump supporters that now that the United States has a ‘real’ president they need to go back to where they belong.  All the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, hate-filled rhetoric by Trump has encouraged acts of hate and discrimination against brown people, black people, Muslim people, immigrants and LGBTQ people.

Yes, over the past two years it has been painful to endure rhetoric that has been filled with hate.  It’s been re-traumatizing as it has reopened old wounds and memories of verbal and physical abuse within our shared history.

Now those words have been followed by hate crimes and violence against disenfranchised communities—leaving us to worry about our daily safety when navigating public spaces or even when we sit in our places of worship.

As if that is not enough, we realize that our basic human and constitutional rights are threatened with a Trump administration.  What protection or legal right will we have if our marriages and relationships are deemed invalid; if we are forced out of our country because of what we believe or what we look like; if we as immigrants find no safe haven here in the U.S.; if we lose our jobs or our housing because of who we are; if we are assaulted or harassed sexually or physically in the workplace?

We have no assurances of safety, dignity or protection in the present or the future.  The outcome of this election stripped all of that away.  We are filled with unspeakable terror and pain.

You know this because we’ve had conversations regarding these realities and still you choose silence in the wake of incredible devastation, terror, grief and uncertainty.

It’s hard to make sense of your silence and I draw from past conversations and inaction and I am dissatisfied with the conclusions I come to in the wake of your silence and withdrawal.

I try to see it from your perspective— as a white woman there are also risks to your safety, which is overwhelming and troubling.

I know this patriarchal & misogynist society views your life void of value and seeks to silence you, too.

Yet, when I ask you about this reality you say, “it sucks and you hate it, but it’s just part of life”.  When you’re pressed about that you say:

I’m not very political or

My life is too busy to fight it or

I can’t deal with conflict—it’s just too stressful or

I have kids that keep me busy or

I have a job and too many responsibilities to be bothered with politics

As a brown, queer woman and mother of a trans child, I tell you I have all those things too… a job, kids, responsibilities—a busy, full life, but I do not have the privilege to disengage the results of this election or oppression because it’s my very life, family and community who face a future that is uncertain and there is no time for inaction.

You say that you love me and that you want to be a safe place for my venting, but you refuse to show up for me/for us—to use your civil liberties and constitutionally protected freedoms to demand those same rights for all people in the United States.

I can’t help but feel unloved.

You are secure in your civil liberties and constitutional rights and are comfortable with this status quo—even if it is a false sense of safety.

I can’t help but feel envious of your privilege to prioritize yourself in such a way because you have little fear that your life or your family will be threatened or be forced to change significantly.

You are the norm.

I tell you how this is bound to affect my gender non-conforming son’s existence and you say:

That’s too bad, but I don’t believe in that.  I believe in my right as a woman to consent and to make decisions about my body, but I don’t believe that this applies to others’ rights to express or identify who he or she is outside of our social gender structure and traditions.

I ask you to reconsider because we need all people and all voices to stand up for our rights and you say you need to pray about it or go to church and get the green light from your pastor or your priest.

I can’t help but feel tired, frustrated and neglected because I know that when you came to me and told me that you were raped by an acquaintance:

I was the one who told you that I believed you when no one else would and we went together to the hospital.  I stayed with you through the rape kit and the criminal report. When you were questioned about your clothing and your choices I was the one who stood up for you to those who would shame and blame you.

When you told me that your family friend had molested you as a child and you were filled with shame:

I told you that what happened to you was wrong and horrific and that you were beautiful and beloved and wronged in the most ugly way.

When you told me that you’d been beaten by your partner:

I told you that in no way did you bear any fault and that I’d help you find safety.  I went to the court with you to file a no-contact order and stayed with you throughout the process.

I have used my voice, my resources, my passion and my energies to stand in the gap for your rights… to call for justice when you were violated and abused.  I have zero regret about this—I would do this time and time again, but what I want to know is will you show up for me?  Will you show up for us—those that do not look like you, act like you, relate to you?

When it comes to oppression, discrimination and violence showing up has been a one sided experience.  You seem to overlook the sense of urgency and fear that I feel—even though I show up for you, for your kids, for your troubles… your fears… your concerns without question or hesitation.

I’m learning that real, authentic relationships are reciprocal and are paved on paths that go both ways.  It is times like these we all have to put ourselves on the line.

I am not going to lie to you… I am angry that you choose to not hear me.  I am angry that you choose the convenience of silence.  I am hurt that you feel no urgency when you see this pain.

As a brown woman I appeal to you:

Please do not exploit our generosity and our burning conviction in human rights for all people.  Do not use our necessity to speak and to assemble to support yourself and your interests at your convenience and then when it doesn’t directly impact you disappear.  Please do not call yourself ally or friend in private, but when called upon in public circles and public policies look the other way.  Please do not try to comfort me by saying, “I don’t judge you”, because even if you were outwardly bigoted toward us your judgement holds no power and we don’t need your moral pardon.  Please recognize that being a ‘safe person’ and indicating so with your safety pins may require you to actually stand up to bullies on the bus or at the movie theater or at church or at the mall.  Thus far, being a safe person has not count the cost when hearing a friend or family member brag about their candidate winning and how they finally have their country back.  For years, you’ve claimed that you believe that racism and sexism are inexcusable, but remain silent when you’ve heard your family member or friend use a homophobic joke or racial slur.  But enough is enough—we can’t afford your silence—it is causing additional pain.  Your silence is creating barriers and broken bridges and we do not have the energy to mend them.  Please consider the radical nature of love… love is never inaction… love is not based on convenience… love is not negotiated… love is not just spoken in private—no, rather, radical, transformational love is lived out in public.  So if you say that you love me—love us—consider coming out from the shadows and stand with us—speak.

Uncategorized

The complex connections between mothers and daughters

mom-haw-3-2Today is my mom’s 64th birthday.  She died this past January and the year has invited me into many reflections on our relationship.  While she was alive we spent quite a bit of time trying to get the other one to see the legitimacy of our existence.  Now that she’s not here and it’s quiet and there is no more proving and haranguing her to see I just have my reflections and they have taken an unexpected turn.  I imagine that it is the quiet I needed to be able to see things differently—to see things and to see her with more compassion and grace and pure longing without strings and expectations.

Psychologists and counselors always talk about attachment between mother and infant when looking at how adjusted an adult is in the world.  Let’s just say that my attachment to my mother was incredibly complicated.  I didn’t feel attached.  I felt on my own from as little as I can remember, but then I see these pictures of her and I and I wonder if my memory of my attachment to her is just fuzzy.  She was young, but she looked happy and we looked at peace when we were together.  However, my memories bring me to many occasions on my own.  My parents were unhappy and there was civil unrest in our home and I remember plotting and planning my escape if things should completely come undone.  I felt like a kite that was attached loosely to human hands and in the event that I should slip away or be let go I should have a strategy for how I should land.

On the days when the storms would roll in I would expect the house to come off its foundation, but it never did and my parents would stay together and we’d have some reprieve for a few days to a week until the grey took over…

When I got older and I was a tween to teenager the rumblings pulled me into the heart of the storm where I played some role of referee, peace maker or sponge for all the spill over between my parents.  My mom was loud and made her thoughts and feelings heard; my father would retreat in depression and silence and so it was easy for me to blame her—I didn’t see that both styles were forms of violence and manipulation.  I just saw her aggression because it so often came at me or my brother that I despised her and we had no attachment to protect us or harbor us for the storms.

When I wasn’t playing mediator for the tensions between my parents I was a parenting my younger brothers.  My parent’s preoccupation with their conflicts and poor self-esteem and mom’s illness required me to parent and this produced a weird mixture of resentment and fierce loyalty to my brothers.

At 13 and 14 and 15 and 16 and 17 I was really trying my best to do good and to secure love, but the combination I had in my hands seemed to fail me and my family and my mother resented my involvements and so it was in these times I wished Claire Huxtable was my mother.  Claire Huxtable was that perfect mixture of beauty, sense of humor and grace.  She was a rock for her family—working as a lawyer, yet always ready to engage her children and all the mischief they’d find themselves in.  She wasn’t vindictive or resentful… She loved being a mother and a wife and she did it all so seamlessly and I wanted her to be my mother. I loved the way that she talked—with wisdom and grandness and grit.  She was the one I wanted.  I loved how her smile would spread across her face at the end of a conflict with her children and how she would pull them close in for hugs and kisses.  She didn’t let her kids get away with shit and her love was never questioned.   I wanted all of that and I thought only Claire could provide it so I wanted her.

As a teenager I couldn’t really see my mom.  I could only see what I thought I needed.  It would take years of therapy and heart searching to realize that my mom, in all her toiling and struggling and pushing and pulling, she was trying to use the combination she’d been given, too.

Before she died we talked about these things.  I mean for years we talked about these dynamics—we acknowledged their existence and we managed to do so and come out alive.  Even still, I wondered if my mom loved me and if I there was the slightest chance I had made her proud.

The last several years of her life were difficult.  For obvious reasons, the mystery of her illness and the ways in which her body was slowing closing up shop one organ at a time made it incredibly difficult.  Relationally it was hard because we didn’t always agree on the course that should be taken, but we muddled through it together.  Her rock solid willfulness and unyielding stubbornness drove me completely mad.  We would come up with a plan of action and on her own she’d decide to do something different—like the time that she was told her heart and kidneys were failing and she decided that she was going to quit all medical interventions to try an herbal remedy and diet instead.  I had to learn to accept that she had the right to make her own, adult decisions—even though I kept thinking, “Why won’t you fight to stay here—for me and for your grandkids”?

Over time I realized that my mom was also looking for a mother’s love.  Her mom had left her when she was about 10 or 11 years old and my mom being the oldest daughter raised her younger siblings (all 6 of them).  In order to graduate high school, she would take her two- year old sister to class with her.  Her father left before she was born and she always questioned her lovability.  I started to wonder what it would be like to have a child at 22 after you’d already raised a family…  I wondered how that felt.  Raising two kids of my own, I imagined it was exhausting and disillusioning.  There was never time for my mom to be a kid and so by the time I came along I think my mom was ‘mothered’ out.  I could never fault her for that and despite the rough edges she did mother me.

My mom taught me things that I couldn’t learn from Claire Huxtable.  My mom taught me how to be yourself.  Whether you liked her or not…with my mom—she was who she was and she inhabited her skin unapologetically.  I didn’t always understand her background and pride in her Filipino/Hawaiian cultural upbringing, but despite all the ways people tried to twist her to be more adaptable to white culture… She never did.  She loved her kimchee, rice, soy sauce and green mangos and peas and pork and she did not care if you thought less of her for what she ate, did or said.

My mom did what felt natural to her.  She’d answer the door in hot pink sweat pants and her hair all wild and pinned in random places with bobby pins and I-would-be-mortified.  I didn’t know how important that would be for me to witness her in this way.  She didn’t get all ‘cuted’ up for anyone—she did what she wanted because it felt good to her.

My mom said what was on her mind.  She didn’t mince words and she was horrible at filtering.  When people would make a mistake at the grocery store I’d pray under my breath that my mom would not see it or overlook it, because if she didn’t then I knew the person would get to hear what my mom thought about that and I’d want to slink away and melt into a puddle.

My mom did what she wanted and didn’t let status quo norms say she couldn’t.  She had always wanted to dance hula, but wasn’t able to when she was a child.  When she was in her late 40’s-early 50’s she started taking hula classes.  Within a few years she was teaching classes… people commissioned her for all kinds of events.  She danced for parades, anniversary celebrations, birthday parties, carnivals, etc.  She was such a beautifully exquisite dancer.  She excelled in her dance group and people were in awe of her talent.  She-gave-two-shits-about what people said she could do or not do.

I always thought my mom had one volume: loud.  As a young woman struggling to be a ‘good’ woman I thought how impolite and brash of her, but now I know that my mom laughed not in her throat but from the bottom of her gut because when you have to laugh then for God’s sake let it rip.  She had an infectious laugh that reminded you why it is good to live.

Since she died I have been thinking about all these qualities of her and realizing that I couldn’t have survived these forty years without what she has taught me.  More importantly, I wouldn’t want to be taught any differently because for the bulk of my life I have tried to make people happy and what I realized is that when I was doing that I wasn’t living at all.  The challenges that life has presented me with has needed me to have the same kind of authentic, gritty, scrappy, You-can’t-have-me mentality that my mom taught me.  Her survival has become my own.

Today I realize that she was exactly the right mother for me.  Claire Huxtable is great, but not who I needed.  I needed what my mom taught me—I needed to observe her and learn from her.  I needed to grow and without the ingredients my mom gave me I don’t think it would have been as possible.  She was the right mom for me.

Uncategorized

Heart with Orlando


You know I really don’t have important or profound things to say… Just a heavy heart and my reflections. 

There is so much wrong with the shootings. The targeting of the LGBTQ community… The fact that gun violence has become so commonplace in our society… The conversation on guns and violence in the US… The problem with religious rhetoric that spews hate… The intersections of racism, homophobia and islamaphobia… 

I think of the victims in the club and what they may have been feeling and experiencing… Terror, fear, isolation and now in the aftermath the loss of a safe space. Safe space in the LGBTQIA community is something that is built and established because society isn’t safe, church isn’t always safe and family can be dangerous.  As some others have said these safe spaces are sacred places because they give the LGBTQ community a place of belonging, acceptance and family. 

The shooting victims are the primary focus of compassion and love AND for those of us in the queer community we feel this hits close to home even if we were not at the club in Orlando, because it is a message of hate that targets our rights to exist, live and love. 

I came out later in life. I think in many ways I pass for straight because I’m queer bisexual and I am older. I don’t go out at night. My last relationship was with a woman and I’ve since dated men and women. I understand that I have some privilege with the level of passing I’m afforded. But I decided not to pass today because I do stand in solidarity with those in Orlando, as a member of this community. Although I haven’t been targeted with extreme acts of violence due to passing I have experienced hate and fear for what I represent and who I am. 

I’ve had religion used as a tool to shame and guilt and remind me I’m unacceptable. I’ve had some family outright say hurtful and rejecting things. I’ve lost a lot of friend and family relationships. But I feel so fortunate because I had a safe space of women who understood, accepted and loved me in some very dark times. We created a haven of safety for queer women.  

Orlando is a reminder that the world holds so much hate and fear simply because of who we are. 

Orlando is also a reminder that the queer community is one huge family that stands alongside each other and will not be held down by hate because we are marked by love.

Last night, vigils were held all over the U.S. to stand with our family in Orlando. I wasn’t able to go, because like I said I’m old and have kids at home, but my spirit was with them, my heart was with all of them here in Seattle and in Orlando. 

Uncategorized

Our bodies are our own

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Recently, I was writing a paper on violence against women and Women’s Rights and again was hit with the staggering statistics on violence against women worldwide.  In all of the world, 35% or approximately 1 in 4 women are brutally beaten, psychologically demeaned, sexually assaulted or verbally abused by an intimate partner.  In some parts of the world these statistics rise to a heart-wrenching 70% of women.  Over 120 million girls are raped, sexually violated and molested.  Get this, 200 million girls have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) (UN Women, 2016).  FGM has significant long-term consequences on a woman’s health.  FGM makes it difficult to have intercourse, to bear and birth children and to urinate without excruciating physical pain.  The psychological pain in all of these instances of violence is immeasurable.  Studies are scant and have yet to gather the psychological consequences, but one can imagine that the emotional suffering one bears runs incredibly deep.

Here’s why: violence against women in any form (physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and psychological) has perpetuated the ideological view that a woman’s body, personhood and mind are not her own.  The terms have been determined and set for her.  Her personhood can be violated and used at any point because her body is not her own— she is property of someone else (i.e. family, culture, community, husband, boyfriend, father).  And because she psychologically and physically belongs to someone else she can be bought, sold, rejected, suppressed and oppressed and it is all justified under this socially accepted ideology (that exists in nearly all parts of the world).

I talk about all of these issues a decent amount and it always surprises me when people say, “oh no that doesn’t happen…” or “well maybe that happens but only in developing parts of the world” blah blah blah.

I implore you to explore what the denial is about, because this ideology exists in nearly all parts of the world.  This ideology is thriving here in the U.S.  Sure, the U.S. doesn’t practice FGM, but we have our own forms of female subjugation practices that promote the ideology of external ownership of a woman’s body and mind.

In the United States 1 in 4 or between 25% to 33% of women are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.  

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In the 21st century with 30+ years of the women’s movement researching and educating society on the harm of rape culture we still have more than a quarter of our female population sexually violated and dismissed.  (Rape culture- is the cultural norms and behaviors that reinforce the notion that it is okay for a male to rape a woman because she must have done something to bring it on herself.  Male’s violent or sexual aggressive behavior is viewed as a normative aspect of being male.  These behaviors are not viewed as criminal or even wrong because the behavior is to be expected among men.  As is demonstrated in the old adage: “boys will be boys”).

This socialized reality and the consistent threat in the air send a message to women that their bodies can be taken and violated at any point and that her voice does not matter- not before, not during and certainly, not after.

Social media has been blowing up (as it should) about the Stanford swimmer who was given a 6-month jail sentence for raping a woman while she was unconscious.  There is so much wrong about this.  The man was found guilty for THREE counts of sexual assault.  His punishment was to be up to  14 years in prison, but the judge felt that this was too harsh and would be too damaging to him… So he was given 6 months in county jail.

Where is the justice for the damage that was done to her?  Where is the concern about her damage?

The thing is I can’t stop hearing the pain in her voice when she shares the suffering with her perpetrator’s complete disregard for her.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she describes how her lack of consent was scrutinized and called into question.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she talks about the year of life lost.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she shares how she was the one put on trial.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she says:

Never mentioned me voicing consent, never mentioned us even speaking, a back rub. One more time, in public news, I learned that my ass and vagina were completely exposed outside, my breasts had been groped, fingers had been jabbed inside me along with pine needles and debris, my bare skin and head had been rubbing against the ground behind a dumpster, while an erect freshman was humping my half naked, unconscious body. But I don’t remember, so how do I prove I didn’t like it.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she describes:

I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me. It is the saddest type of confusion to be told I was assaulted and nearly raped, blatantly out in the open, but we don’t know if it counts as assault yet. I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she shares how someone outside her, her perpetrator, places meaning and value of the events that happened to her:

To sit under oath and inform all of us, that yes I wanted it, yes I permitted it, and that you are the true victim attacked by Swedes for reasons unknown to you is appalling, is demented, is selfish, is damaging. It is enough to be suffering. It is another thing to have someone ruthlessly working to diminish the gravity of validity of this suffering.

Her entire letter is here.

The outcome of this hearing is a loss for all us women.  It is an invalidation of our worth.  It reinforces what women have been saying for so long that economically, socially, legally and intellectually we are less than in this system.

Our society has a form of sexism that systematically vilifies, diminishes and deconstructs the female experience.  This brand of sexism is reinforced in every institution of society.  We can’t even rest assured that criminal acts against our bodies will be dealt with justly.  We can’t be confident in knowing that our voices will be heard and believed.

The battle is for our bodies.  Society wants to hold our bodies for it’s own.  Society wants the commodity of our bodies to use for their benefit and gain.

The battle is for our bodies.

The survivor in this case took back the narrative… She changed the societal narrative that her body was not her own– when she courageously spoke to just how wrong and despicable it is for her perpetrator to invalidate her experience.  She spoke to the seriously wrong actions of him defiling her body and then diminishing his sins against her.

And it is unfair that she bears the burden of having to take back the narrative… It is unfair and she is a courageous example of what it looks like to take back the narrative.

I stand with her.

Changing the narrative:

When I was a small girl I was sexually abused by someone I trusted.  When I finally was able to tell my family, they didn’t know what to believe so it was business as usual.  My abuser continued to be invited to family events and get togethers.

I began to think maybe I couldn’t trust myself… I couldn’t trust my memory or the way my body felt when the memory would invade my thoughts.  If no one else believed me and it was expected to continue as though nothing had happened maybe there was something wrong with me.

Then five years after I had shared my experience my abuser came forward and confessed what he had done.  This didn’t change the situation much with the exception of: 1) my brain was finally validated and now I knew that what I remembered was true and 2) there was pressure to “forgive” my abuser.

The narrative I internalized was:

  1. My body is not my own. (In exchange for just the slightest bit of attention my body was his to control, touch and explore.  My body was for his pleasure and so my body must not be my own)
  2. My body betrayed me.  (As an 8 year old I couldn’t physically defend or protect myself.  Furthermore, I didn’t understand what was taking place– so maybe it was my body’s fault)
  3. My voice is not my own. (People outside of me created a narrative that fit what they could handle and be comfortable with)
  4. The terms and boundaries were not my own. (The pressure to forgive seemed more important than my need to protect myself and process my feelings.  I didn’t even get to choose the path of reconciliation.  To not forgive was to be unkind and unChristian.  My abuser could and would corner me at family events to explain his actions… to try to get me to understand his situation… This seemed normal to everyone around me.  I wasn’t even afforded the right to dictate when and if I wanted to speak with him)

After embarking on a great deal of healing work I was able to take back the narrative.  In a way every day is an exercise of taking back the narrative that my body is not my own.

Taking back the narrative invited me to recognize that I inhabit a body of dignity.  Even when I’m not feeling great in my body or particularly self-loving toward my body I believe that I, just as everyone else, is born free and equal with dignity and rights (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948).

My dignity affords me the freedom to:

  • Choose who I am with
  • Set the terms and conditions for how I need and want to be treated
  • To be unapologetic in my voice– to speak my truth

I’m not sure when a change will happen in society.  It needs to happen in our society. I am tired of the battle, but I am committed to it, too.  I am committed to using my voice for myself, my daughter and my sisters from all over the world.  I am committed because I believe that we all inhabit glorious bodies of dignity.

I am committed because there is just too much at stake.

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Straddling two worlds: Biracial Identity

 This is my family in happier times. It’s clear from this photo that I was a child of the 80’s. My parents met in Hawaii when they were 20. When my mom became pregnant with me they married at 21. They were two young kids who were clueless about what to do and how to do it, but they wanted to do the right things and their religious backgrounds both told them that it needed to start with nuptials.

They were unprepared for the years of struggle that they would face as a couple and parents to three mixed brown babies. 

My dad is from Seattle. He’s the fourth child to a Norweigen American family who moved Northwest from Minnesota in pursuit of building ventures.

My mom is Filippina American. Her father came to Hawaaii after stealing someone’s passport in order to pursue a better life in the states. My mother’s mother was 1st generation to immigrant parents.

My parents cultural, situational and life experiences couldn’t be farther from the other.

Upon getting married they decided to move to Minnesota to be closer to my father’s family and my mom left her sisters, brothers, mom, dad and familiarities behind.  She’d never been off the island until they moved.

The interactions with my father’s family were distant and they viewed her as an outsider. She would never really be good enough for their son. When troubles would arise in the marriage it was judged that my mom was the issue and there was incredible pressure for my mom to let go of her ways of doing things and adopt their ways of being and doing things.

This was the beginning of a process of assimilation and it was a battle…  a full on knock your teeth out, pull you by the hair battle.

I was often stuck in the middle of the battle. 

My mom’s ways were viewed as inadequate and dirty and backward and a spectacle. Hawaii was seen as a backward place filled with brown “oriental” people who ate food that was not fit for human consumption and enjoyed activities that were meaningless and beneath.  These feelings were subtly expressed and always present. 

My mom has only spoken to the hardships of negotiation and struggle in brief. I know she felt it, but she struggled to find the language and words to speak to it. There are a handful of times that we spoke to it and it was clearly troubling, painful and isolating for her.

This set the stage for my experience and identity formation. This stratified existence created a reality with two different parts of me that had very little, meaningful and equally beneficial interaction. These were two separate parts and the times they mixed felt forced. It was a binary existence. My brown self; my white self. 

My brown self was what was seen. I could never be blonde and milky skin toned so I identified with my mom’s side because it was easy to do so– we looked the same. But I also rejected this side of my heritage. 

The white in me was the socialized parts. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate this cultural side of my family. It was just that it was emphasized to be the bigger part of me and the most important part. I think I was easily accepted in this side of my family because I was a really sweet, cute kid. People liked me cause I made them feel good.  I was palatable and moldable and flexible. 

I occupied white space for the majority of my time.  White space has been upwards of 90% of what I’ve been exposed to. 

When I expressed aspects of myself that were not representative of my white heritage it and I were rejected. 

Stratified is a good word here.

The Free Dictionary defines stratify as the process:

  1. To form, arrange, or deposit in layers.
  2. To arrange or separate into castes, classes or social levels.  To separate in a sequence of graded status levels.
  3. To develop different levels of caste, privilege, class, or status.

Why is this important?

Because identity matters. We rarely speak to it but many mixed race people describe literally feeling dissected into two different parts or we feel that one part of ourselves takes over this other part of ourselves. People recognize us for what they see. Meanwhile, those stratified pieces internally are battling it out for presence, power and control. It’s an exhausting process to sort out. 

In the U.S. we talk about race in binary terms and the bulk of those conversations are about the external processes and systems, but we fail to talk about the internalization. This doesn’t work sometimes for biracial people because those stratified systems are not just external– they are also internal. 

Sometimes I feel sandwiched between all these power dynamics because they are outside and also within.  Straddling these for me has meant needing to manage power contructs from with- in and with- out. 

 

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Why Write?

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I’ve always questioned this blogging thing.  Living in Seattle there is a quite a bit of competitive energy to start blogging or podcasting or writing books or doing something that is going to put you on the map.  As a pastor I thought I needed to start a blog to write profound theological-y stuff to change the world.  Then I left pastoring and focused on being a therapist and thought well people really need a blog from me to hear about all this psychologizing stuff.

I’ve struggled to find the real purpose of this thing and what I realized is that I don’t know that I have anything that important to say.  In Seattle culture, everyone thinks they have so many important things to say… And what’s more they believe that people need them and want them to say all of these things…  It’s an unending rat race of trying to outdo oneself.  

I’ve grown weary of all the noise and chatter and competition.  It is in every aspect of my life: parenting, academia, therapy, business, feminizing, grocery shopping: Safeway versus PCC…

I write for myself.  I write because it’s an important practice for me.  I love writing and I love sharing my life.  I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on life through writing and that’s why I write.  I doubt my writing is useful to anyone else, but it’s important to me– for me and if there are connections made to other stories and human experience then I count that a bonus.

For a long time because I thought I was supposed to produce something that would be meaningful to others I spent a lot of time filtering myself and I’m tired, folks.  I really do not have the energy to filter myself so I’m not going to.  So here’s to being me and to writing whatev-a and of course, you’re invited to do with any of this what is useful and meaningful to you.

We should all be doing the things that help us to ground and thrive and if it is beneficial to others– celebrate that.  We approach our lives backward– from the approach of trying to fit our lives into a box that is pre-prescribed for us.  We live and work for others and hope that some how– one day it’ll benefit us.  And when it doesn’t we get depressed and resentful.  I found it is time for me to do the stuff that I love for me and to stop looking for that magic connection outside of myself that will make it all fall into place, cause reality check, folks– it doesn’t exist, but our desires and our passions and the things we love– well those things do exist and they are important.

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Mother’s Day & Father’s Day Grief

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Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be tough holidays for people.  It is tough for a variety of reasons: the death of a parent or the loss of a child… These losses make a day like Mother’s day incredibly difficult with complex emotions and reactions.  This mother’s day was particularly hard for me because my mom just died.  And it makes sense why Mother’s day would be hard for how it serves as a reminder of loss we’ve experienced.  Society hasn’t gotten a very good grasp on allowing space for grief, but loss because of death is something that is more widely understood and accepted.

With loss in mind, Mother’s & Father’s Days also can be hard for losses that take a different shape.

  • For some, this day is confusing because the relationship that one had with their mother or father or both does not fit the picture or the hallmark card that society has so conveniently packaged for us.
  • For some, it’s the memory of abuse and neglect that make the holiday hard.  Emotionally neglectful mother or a verbally abusive father… How does one celebrate when there is still so much trauma from the past?
  • For others, it’s emotionally and verbally abusive parents in the present.  People in these situations feel the obligation to send a card or flowers or go out to brunch, but don’t know how to reconcile that with their personal need to heal apart from the controlling or dismissive parent.
  • For others, Mother’s and Father’s day is fraught with anxiety and shame due to the rejection they’ve received from their parents because of their identity, life choices or personal decisions.  Folks talk about how they desire to honor their parents, but don’t know how given the demands their parents put on their lives to change to fit the parent’s ideals and values.  The relationship with the parent feels the farthest thing from loving.

The thing is we never talk about these realities.  We rarely get to acknowledge the fact that our relationships with our parents can be deeply confusing and painful.  Societally we don’t allow for an honest discourse around these family dynamics and on top of it we have this one day out of the year that we are sort of expected to pretend that everything is perfect.

I’ve heard people say, “It’s your duty to honor your parents.  The Bible says to honor your mother and father” in response to friends or siblings sharing about their painful relationships in the family.  Other responses include.

  • What happened to you happened so long ago… Why can’t you just let go of it?
  • You’ll regret not making the effort if something happens to your dad.
  • Ahhhh you know your mom didn’t mean it.

It’s so easy to dismiss these hurts and pile on obligation and shame on the individual hurting in these circumstances.  We don’t recognize the harm that is done in these comments.

How  one must navigate these hurts is complicated and varies AND the first step is to acknowledge that this hurt is real and to recognize that all loss goes through a process of grief.  Every grieving cycle is different, but the complex emotions that come in grief takes place with all kinds of losses.

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Sisters, go ahead embrace your too muchness

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I recently saw this blog post that a friend shared on FaceBook called: I am A “Too Much” Woman .  It is a fantastic follow up to the blog post I posted the other day Hard Ball for Women.  Ev’Yan Whitney elevates the conversation of embracing the feminine voice, standing firm in our womanly expressions and being confident in our sensuality  to a whole other level.  Complete liberation in our voice requires women to do the self-exploratory work on a holistic level– spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally and sexually.  Whitney gives a model for the process of embracing ourselves as whole and beloved people on her blog Sex Love Liberation.   Check it out.  For now here are a few thoughts:

Too Much Women are Women who

 “A hedonist, feminist, pleasure seeker, empath. I want a lot—justice, sincerity, spaciousness, ease, intimacy, actualization, respect, to be seen, to be understood, your undivided attention, and all of your promises to be kept”. By Ev’Yan Whitney

1. We need not fear people’s judgments of our too muchness.

The way we take space emotionally, intellectually, physically, sexually and relationally is not a threat to other people’s right to take their space.  Taking space is a natural extension of living in an unapologetic, authentic way.  We just do what we do and we celebrate others freedom to spread out and take their own space.

2. Remember that the shaming responses to you embracing your gifts are not based on truth, but rather insecurity and the desire to control.

When you live authentically know that when you receive messages like, “You’re too loud”, “You’re too intense”, “You’re too difficult”, “You’re too wild”, “You’re too needy”, “You’re too sensitive”— these are shaming messages.  Shame that is imposed on an individual by outside observers are meant to diminish, encourage you to shrink back and essentially control you so that you remain someone that is palatable and conforming to cultural rules.

3. All the parts of your identity are good and enough.

The one thing that is wonderful about getting to a place of embracing our whole selves is that it takes so much pressure off of us to work for outside approval and validation.  We know what we bring and we know we’re not perfect, but that doesn’t scare us.  It doesn’t scare us because we are dedicated to being life learners.  The freedom from this bondage of fear liberates us to put energy in people/places that are important to us.

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