I’m in Barcelona writing this. Soaking up new sounds and sights while looking over the previous year. Another year… another birthday and I am called to reflection. I keep building my life from scratch and this year was no different. It’s always a process of becoming.
2017 has been a year of courage. We’ve all needed courage in ways we did not anticipate. I see it all around… brave voices rising. And I’ve seen it in myself this year.
This year I left spaces, relationships and dynamics that were oppressive and toxic. I keep doing this— refining what is healthy and nourishing and getting a clearer vision of me. I discovered a community where my values and commitments are held and honored. I’ve replaced the toxic with loving, respectful community that desires to see me grow.
And though I’ve made these strides, this year has also been one with crippling anxiety and fear. I’m learning that the only thing that can conquer fear is love.
Richard Rohr reminds us that in order to be one in Love we must let go of our false selves. This year was one for shedding and grieving of many false selves. False selves are those aspects in my life that are attached to accomplishments, material goods, the put-together-face I show in public, the preservation of my frail ego. I don’t blame myself for having such things… security and safety are ultimately what I long for but to prioritize such things also barricade me from vulnerability, intimacy and growth.
Politically and personally, I haven’t felt more exposed and vulnerable than what I have felt this year. Since the trump administration took office it has been a series of bad news that impact my mind and my heart. I look to places where I can exert control to secure my life and my children’s futures. A lesson this year has been learning to love— even in the absence of security. It has been a painful lesson and also a freeing one. It is a lesson I have not mastered and not one I expect to master any time soon, but I’m going to let it be a compass for the next chapter.
What loving has taught me is that in love there are all kinds of risks: rejection, misunderstanding and judgement. This is precisely why love is brave.
bell hooks reminds us that our ultimate task is to love and that to truly love one must release oneself from the constraints and burdens of security. When I was younger my father used to quote the verse to me about how perfect love casts out fear and I always thought I know no perfect love but this year showed me a refining love that moves towards acceptance and embrace in the face of fear. This must be part of what was meant in that verse.
As I look forward, I have a feeling that this next year is going to require more brave love. So I’m gearing up— getting ready for more bumps and bruises, because that’s what happens when you expand your heart.
I’ve been in the habit of surrounding myself with people who have this drive– this knack for defying systems and norms that have placed restrictions and limitations on their being. I find these folks both in my personal and professional circles and I can’t think of a better habit to get caught up in.
The lessons I learn and the courage I experience from these revolutionary folks who face odds that are stacked to topple them astound and inspire me.
In my research, I meet domestic violence survivors daily who refuse to settle for the standard of worth that their abusers and society place on them.
In therapy, gender non-binary people who defy the system by being visible despite a world that seeks and attempts to erase them.
In my personal relationships, women who push back on beauty norms that claim that to be lovable you must be this; look like that; attain a heteronormative kind of love.
Brothers and sisters of color digging in and fighting a system that denies them basic human rights of equality and dignity.
This is a bold kind of living. To boldly live one must have an imagination that reaches beyond the bounds that are placed on one’s existence. Some of us have others show us the way of boldness and some of us have to carve out a bold space for ourselves and sometimes it’s a combination of both. This is all grounded in an imagination of possibilities and opportunities– even when met with closed doors.
I’ve been reading Trevor Noah’s book and the following segment resonated with me. In one of the most brutal systems in the world, apartheid, Noah describes living beyond the limitations of the system– living beyond the limitations people placed on him… living beyond how people saw him– living beyond what they said he could do and who he could be…
“My mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do. When I look back I realize she raised me like a white kid– not white culturally, but in the sense of believing that the world was my oyster, that I should speak up for myself, that my ideas and thoughts and decisions mattered. We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited… Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that my mother started her little project, me, at a time when she could not have known that apartheid would end. There was no reason to think it would end; it had seen generations come and go.. People thought my mom was crazy… So many black people internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own… Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom, “Why do all this? Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?” “Because, ” she would say, “even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough”.
Bold living is not just having an expansive imagination, but it is the courage to allow oneself to live with an imagination.
And to live boldly with an imagination– an imagination that reaches beyond and defies cultural and systemic limitations and oppression is hard ass work. It is a deconstructive to reconstructive kind of all encompassing work that can leave us exhausted, disoriented, confused and lonely.
And because this an all encompassing kind of work it usually requires us to remember some things regarding the process and our self-care.
When you are exhausted:
Yup– you’re going to get exhausted, weary, worn-down and tired. It is not because you are flawed or incapable or weak. You get exhausted because 1) this is hard work. It takes a great deal of emotional, mental and physical energy to navigate the world while essentially liberating yourself from stereotypes and norms that are in place to force you to conform. And 2) you are a human with a finite amount of energy and capacity. Everyone eventually drains that well… It’s part of our human cycle and as we grow in self-awareness and insight we can do more to preserve that well or reserve before it runs bare.
But we have to be aware… we have to be listening to our bodies and our hearts and respond to our exhaustion with kindness, grace and compassion.
I think we all can do a better job of establishing a foundation of self-care. What’s your eating look like? Are you feeling nourished? How are you sleeping? Do you have a sleep routine that supports what you’ll need from one day to the next? What’s play look like for you? What activities energize you? Who are your people? I’m talking about the people where you find mutuality, equality, respect and reciprocity.
When you hit that point where you may be depleted it is okay to unplug. It’s okay to sleep. It’s okay to turn the off or pause button on and take a retreat for yourself.
When you are confused/disoriented:
When you defy norms, you essentially are acknowledging your authentic self while also building yourself from scratch outside of the system. The thing is there are no blueprints to follow and show how one should go about the building process. There may be some folks, some ancestors that have modeled this kind of work that have gone before us… I think of people like Rosa Parks or James Baldwin or bell hooks or Ellen DeGeneres or George Takaki. These folks, among others, provide a picture of resistence and reclamation, which we can draw from. Even still, a blueprint is not provided and so in the process one may feel confused, lose sight of the big picture and feel lost.
Usually when we are confused we try to equilibrize– we try to get balance and typically while trying to gain balance we look outside ourselves to calibrate. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. What becomes problematic is when we compare ourselves to others, because typically we are not able to objectively compare and contrast our situation to someone else in this state.
When one is confused it is important to ground oneself. Grounding can mean incorporating objective voices in our experience. It can also mean quieting onself and taking a break from all the noise. For some, this can mean meditation or taking a walk in nature or turning off one’s phone and internet accessibility or listening to music. It looks different for all of us. Ultimately, grounding allows us to get back in touch with ourselves– helps us to see ourselves and our path again.
When you experience loneliness:
This can be lonely work. There are moments, days and weeks that feel isolating and lonely. Our stories and situations are unique and diverse from others. Sometimes we feel misunderstood or alone in our unique process– left to wonder does anyone understand? I just want to say this experience is legit. Be incredibly tender with yourself in these moments. These moments pass. Sometimes we are completely surprised by how someone does show understanding or compassion to our circumstance. We also surprise ourselves in these moments because we can see our own personal strength and the incredible ways we are able to show up for ourselves. This is resiliency and it’s a beautiful and wonderful thing.
Additionally, find the humor in it all. Wherever you find a space to laugh– take it! Today I met with my 83 year old mentor who has seen it all and who has carved her own path despite being raised in a time when women were programmed to live in a particularly restrictive way… She could not emphasize enough how we need to be able to laugh; to laugh at ourselves; to laugh at our humanity– ya know the places where we stumble about and yet, we are trying so hard– these can be kind and endearing moments to chuckle over and it can lighten our load– if only for a moment may we have lightness.
Life seems to be serving up the same lessons that I seem to either forget or think I will eventually master. In this week’s servings there was nothing over the top out of the ordinary, but none-the-less the challenges of parenting and adulting and relationshiping drudged up old responses that I thought I had out grew. Just like an old, familiar space my responses were filled with anxiety and worry and a nagging voice that I-am-just-not-doing-enough and that I-will-never-be-enough.
These are the ghosts of my past who somehow fill my present and urge me to problem solve a future that still has yet to become.
And so I do the old patterns that I’ve learned do not serve me well and this is that I try to control for the circumstances in which I have no control. Usually how this looks is I try to out do myself– be better– be perfect– be a perfect mom– present a competent, well-put-together adult self for co-workers, be the best listener to my friends, have the patience of a saint for my children, stave off exhaustion or weariness, appear brave, commit to being a giver and resist being a receiver…
I know this is usually a fruitless, soul draining endeavor for me. I know that the more I live in my head to be perfect and to present perfection the less I live authentically. Authentic for me is to be in the moment– open to whatever life offers so that I can learn and grow. Authentic also means that I am where I am… I’m giving what I have… I’m receiving what I can hold and I’m listening in the here and now.
And I’ve learned in the four decades of my life that the efforts to control exhaust me and wear me thin yet, I found myself doing this by default– just easing into this old pattern without giving it a second thought. In my 20’s and 30’s this likely would go on for a long time, but thanks-be to the development of skills like mindfulness and self-awareness I was able to eventually notice that this pattern had snuck back up. I was able to evaluate myself and make some different decisions regarding the anxiety and stress I was bearing and the response I wanted to extend to myself.
When I got down to it I realized that the anxiety I was holding was about an uncertain future that I have very little to no control over. I mean to get really honest with myself I had to realize that I cannot predict or control what is to come and that scares the shit out of me.
I can pour every ounce of parenting energy and wisdom into my children, but what they do with that… how they actualize is not in my control.
I can love with every ounce of love my heart and body can muster and I can’t control the outcome and the return of love or of loss or of illness or of death. (Loving my mother meant taking care of her body and her health toward the fruit of her returning to complete health– I could not control for how her illness was going to compromise her and ultimately take her)
I can make all the ‘smart’, future forward career investment decisions to ensure a future of bright opportunities and financial security, but I can’t guarantee that these opportunities will be extended toward me.
And this lesson presented to me what it always presents to me– that what I have is right now. I have today.
A few years ago, I did some crazy stuff. I left everything behind: a marriage, a career, a community, a belief system– on the notion that leaving the toxic aspects of my life would lead to more health and growth. I had a certain kind of optimism or hope about that decision.
In terms of my mental and emotional health I can say that I’ve seen the fruits of that decision produce the capacity for me to think and to breathe and to live in peace. It’s in part, why I can presently be more mindful, but in terms of what the future holds I have no certainties and I think that some days I’m still waiting and watching with bated breath– I’m peering into the future, anxieties rising, lungs full– wanting, longing to control the outcomes. And then life (sometimes in gentle ways and sometimes in not so gentle ways) brings me right back to where I am and says stay.right.here. Don’t get ahead of yourself. You have today. You have this moment. Stay right here and listen– don’t lose this moment. Don’t let it slip away. Bask in it. Let the sun shine on your face and breathe, because this is what you have and this is what you can be certain of– this- right- here.
Remember that the primary strategy of domestic violence is to control; to establish control; to maintain control; to exert control over another human being, in this case a partner. This is the fundamental premise of domestic abuse: to control a domestic partner in order to preserve and perpetuate one’s identity, agenda & existence.
Theorists debate the reasons for domestic violence. Why do people domestically abuse? Feminists believe that it is due to the overarching patriarchal constructs in society that value the male experience over that of female experience. In patriarchal societies male dominance, which lead to abuse is viewed as acceptable aspects of masculinity. Family system therapists have questioned if it is an issue of learned behavior. Do abusers learn to abuse by what is modeled in their home? Ecological psychologists consider environmental systems. Are those who are exposed to the stressors of poverty more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors under the pressure of extreme stress?
I get it– in identifying root causes perhaps we can predict and prevent (this is especially important for legislative and policy making purposes). What we’re finding in the domestic violence literature is these root causes are complex and there can be overlapping contributing factors to abusive behaviors. From an individual perspective, we can’t always identify someone as an abuser based on these variables alone. In fact, sometimes reviewing these variables alone can be problematic, as some will utilize justifications for someone’s abusive behaviors when they can’t simply place the person or his/her abusive behaviors into a categorical box.
Whatever the cause/reason for domestic abuse the outcome remain: a domestically violent individual uses abusive behaviors and strategies to produce fear, submission and oppression of their partner in order to control.
Let’s talk behaviors. For the majority of us physical aggression and violence in a relationship is recognized as domestic abuse. Although, you will find people creating justifications for physical abuse, especially when they are having difficulty believing that a family member or friend could act abusively. Research shows that only half of those who are exposed to domestic violence report it. Statistically speaking between 25-34% of women are domestically abused (1 in 3 or 4 women; 1 in 7 men) and only half of these survivors will report. The reasons for this include: 1) they fear retaliation from their abuser, 2) they believe they will not be able to access help (i.e. police won’t help, will not be able to access resources needed like housing, financial assistance, etc.), 3) they have had family and friends tell them that the partner’s behaviors are not abuse and that perhaps they are making a big deal out of nothing. This is why advocacy and education is tremendously important because those that justify are complicit to the harm that domestic violence produces for the survivor.
Now imagine– if it is easy to justify or ignore an individual’s experience with physical violence– when there are physical representations of domestic abuse on the individual’s person– how easy is it deny a person’s disclosure and experience with psychological and emotional abuse?
Yes, domestic violence occurs in many different forms. One form of domestic violence that researchers are documenting have to do with abusers using a partner’s credit and ruining their credit to make it difficult for the survivor to leave or to obtain housing on their own. Some abusers use contraception as a form of control by poking holes in their condoms to increase the chances of the survivor getting pregnant. The belief for the abuser is if she gets pregnant then 1) they will be linked permanently and 2) having a child makes it more difficult to leave and to live independently. These are strategies of control and more often than not there are multiple strategies that are being used to control another person. In times of domestic violence where the abuse is more subtle or difficult to quantify survivors are less understood or believed.
Psychological and emotional forms of domestic violence occur. At times, these forms are difficult to identify for the survivor and that is why it’s important we talk about it. These forms of abuse are often ignored by family and friends, which further isolates and makes confusing the process of identifying emotional abuse for the survivor. We all need more education around this so that we can support survivors’ agency and human right to do what is in her best overall health and interest.
Survivors need this information to alleviate the isolation one feels when being emotionally abused. Survivors need to hear that you are not alone and that you are not crazy. The abuse is meant to make you feel crazy and to make you doubt your own inner voice, but you are not crazy. Survivors need to hear that the pain you feel is legitimate and real and although you don’t carry visible physical signs of your wounds the pain is excruciating and can lead to many complex feelings of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Character Assassination: When an abuser picks apart the character or personality of their partner by stating that their character/personality differences are wrong or weird or unacceptable. We all are different. We all have different ways of navigating the world. We all think and process things differently. An abuser who uses this tactic views the difference of their partner as less than. The abuser will see their way of being or character as superior to the other person and will make comments or emotionally sabotage the other person by planting seeds of doubt about what the other person does or thinks. Abusers who sabotage their partner’s character do this in private, as well as by demeaning them in public or putting them down in front of family or friends.
Name Call: Emotional abusers verbally put down their partner. They may yell at them and call them names and make them feel less valued or dumb or insignificant in the world.
Emotional Manipulation: Abusers typically know triggers and areas that are sensitive to their partners. They know what kind of emotional dynamic or language to use to get a certain kind of outcome from their partner. The survivor may have even said, “no” or “I’m not comfortable with this or that” and the abuser may use previous information or knowledge about the survivor to derive guilt or shame in order to get the outcome that they wanted in the situation.
Gaslight: Emotional gas lighting is a recent term that refers to the absolute denial and displacement of emotional abuse/manipulation by the abuser. In other words, the survivor at some point may call out these behaviors and how it creates feelings of hurt and pain and the abuser will deny the behavior. Additionally, they will use this opportunity to question the survivor’s emotional stability and acuity. “Are you okay”? “Why don’t you see that I just love you”? “You know you’ve always had trust issues”. “Why can’t you assume the best of me”?
Insistence that they are the Experts in your life/experience: Psychological abusers believe that they know the survivor’s experience better than the survivor. They believe that they know what the survivor needs and what they need to be doing. A survivor may try to explain that this or that doesn’t work the same in their experience and the abuser is convinced that they know the situation better. They undermine the survivor’s experience by saying things like, “you know you have this habit of…” They will insist that the survivor submit to their perspective and opinion on the situation.
Emotionally Withholding and Angry: When the survivor is unable or unwilling to go along with (fill in the blank) the abuser will be emotionally withholding, cold, distant and pout. The cold stance may shift to anger over time and will manifest in putting pressure on the survivor to do what it is the abuser wants.
What happens to the Survivor?
The emotional and psychological consequences of this sort of abuse is extensive. Survivors describe everything from depression to anxiety to feelings of inadequacy. Survivors talk about how they have difficulty trusting their judgement. They struggle to identify their own needs or desires because they hear the voice of their abuser overriding their own. I’ve had survivors describe to me a sort of brain fog where they had difficulty thinking or focusing on anything. When they did feel that they had an idea or opinion on a matter they weren’t sure if they could trust the new information. Survivors describe feelings of doubt and self-blame about their situation. I’ve heard women describe a somatic pressure on their chest or abdomen that are associated with exposure to emotional oppression and suppression. For some the pain is indescribable– it is difficult to find language to describe the invisible pain. Still others describe feeling completely isolated– left to navigate this emotional landscape on their own while in incredible pain and confusion.
I think one thing this blog can provide is a place to affirm that this suffering is real.
The suffering is real and survivors must not endure this suffering alone. As one sojourner, I know the benefits of community and advocacy support. There are no easy or quick solutions but I can’t leave this entry without giving some information to those who may need to reach out for assistance. You can find that information below and know that I believe you and I hope for you– safety & relief from this pain.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence: https://wscadv.org
LifeWire: http://www.lifewire.org // 800-827-8840
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.
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
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.
Today 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.
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.