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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. 

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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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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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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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Twilight People

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This past Friday I was invited by a dear friend to the Rock Shabbat service at synagogue.  It was an especially important shabbat service, as the Rabbi said he couldn’t imagine not having a service to celebrate the victories of equality this week and as Seattle celebrated PRIDE.

I hadn’t been to a Shabbat service before.  Yet, I’ve been wanting to go for years.  In graduate school throughout my theology courses I became interested in Shabbat and worship.

This service was such a meaningful one, as I watched couples embrace and cry and rejoice over the small steps toward equality.  It was a tender service.  As each of us were reminded of the hardships and oppressions so many couples faced over the years and the struggle many were dedicated to.  It was a fight to bring a better way of life for everyone– a more just, equal way.  It was humbling and remarkable to witness.

One friend remarked that to be a lesbian (when she was coming out in the late 60’s) meant that CPS could come out and take your children away from you.  She had an escape plan in the event that should happen to her family.

This was a reading from the service.  I had to share it.  It is such a compassionate way to look at humanity.  We are the twilight people– in between many places and spaces in the world.  What a beautiful way to see ourselves.  We are not fixed– we are always being transformed and renewed.  It’s not about sexuality (although that can be part of it)– it’s about being human.  This is what it means to be human.

Twilight People 

As the sun sinks and the colors of the day
turn, we offer a blessing for the twilight, for twilight is neither day nor
night, but in-between.  We are all
twilight people.  We can never be fully
labeled or defined.  We are many
identities and loves, many genders and none.
We are in between roles, at the intersection of histories, or between
place and place.
We are crisscrossed paths of memory and
destination, streaks of light swirled together.
We are neither day nor night.  We
are both, neither, and all.

May the sacred in-between of this evening suspend our
certainties, soften our judgements, and widen our vision.  May this
in-between light illuminate our way
to God who transcends all categories and definitions.  May the in-between
people who have come to pray
be lifted up into this twilight.  We
cannot always define; we can always say a blessing.  Blessed are You, God
of all, who brings on
the twilight.

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Spinning into Butter: a dialogue on race & identity

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This past week I was invited to join the panel at Quiet‘s production of Spinning Into Butter.  The topic of the evening was on race, identity and institution.  For those of you who haven’t seen the theater production or movie you can check out the short synopsis that wikipedia put together.  Obviously, ethnicity and race is not just about skin color.  It is very much about identity formation.  How one sees her/himself?  And to whom he/she identifies?  It is a big conversation– one wrought with complexity, nuance & personal experience.  It is never meant to be one dimensional.

Anyway, about Saturday– 6 hours before I was to be at the panel I found out that I needed to tend to some things for my kids that made it impossible for me to physically be at the panel, which bummed me because I think these conversations are SO important and they are meant to be dialogues.  However, because I was unable to physically be there and I had spent a great deal of time prepping for it I asked if I could send along some of my thoughts to be used/read (if helpful) at the panel discussion.  

I’ve decided to share those thoughts here.  I’m not sure if they are helpful or if they will give us a platform to continue to discuss this important topic, but I thought what the heck I’ll give it a try.  Feel free to chime in.  This conversation is nothing without safe places to dialogue.  Also take note that there is reference to the production in what I’ve written.  I’ll put those references in italics.  For those of you who haven’t seen it I hope it’s not a distraction or creates confusion.  I think there will be points made where everyone can find a place to identify.  That’s my hope.  Also, this is not a complete, comprehensive conversation– it’s a piece– albeit, a very small piece.

For what it’s worth here it is:

***

Acknowledge that this is painful.  After seeing the film I felt immediately flooded with all kinds of thoughts, feelings, desires to act upon and so on…  I realized that I needed to stop a moment to acknowledge what was below this motivating energy and I realized it is sadness.

Pain.  This is painful data to absorb.  It is painful because it is the opposite of data– it is real and it is truth and the reason we know that is because on some level– no matter where we are on the spectrum we have experienced it.  It has been a part of our story, our experiences, our psyche, our society and how we interact with the world.

Experience to Justification.  No matter what are experiences have been– no matter where we fall on the spectrum one of the ways that we know the truth of racialization– its polarizing effects on our life– the sadness and painful reality that the construct of race has done is it’s created a chasm in the flow and open path to know another human being.  We feel the weight of that barrier often– daily, perhaps.

It only really takes 1 or 2 negative experiences to create a system based on justification.  It can be 1 or 2 negative experiences– (experiences where we feel humiliated, put down, anxious, uncomfortable, in danger, awkward, etc.) that awakens something inside of us that says, “I will never let that happen again”.  Or we see something happen to someone else that makes us feel uncomfortable and we say to ourselves, “I will never let that happen to me”.  This statement leads us to a place of justification.  We justify the necessity to create a system or structure that keeps us from being in any of those vulnerable situations with other.  Sarah (in the play) created her system based on justification.  She felt uncomfortable at Langley.  She wasn’t heard.  She felt intimidated and scared and perhaps even at times in danger.  She felt threatened at Langley and the justification to keep herself protected and not at risk was to say, “See, these are dangerous people.  These are lazy people.  It’s not me.  It’s them.  They’re making me uncomfortable and unsafe and I can’t let that happen”.  So she creates a system– a system which she sees clearly on her travels on the bus.  Every day looking for a white woman to sit with first and then a white man and then a black woman and if there were no seats by folks of those characteristics then she’d stand, but never would she sit by a black man.  This became her system and the system was embedded and maintained because it was based on a justification that rose out of a negative experience.  

It can take 1 or 2 negative experiences or it can take being told by someone you trust or who is in authority to you that the ‘other’ is not safe– not good– not right, etc.  When I was in 3rd grade my very best friend Marcie and I were playing in her room.  We were listening to the song Gloria and dancing on her bed.  It was a great afternoon when out of nowhere Marcie said, “My dad told me I was better then you”.  I said, “really, why”?  And she said, “because you are brown and I am white”.  I’m not sure Marcie knew what that really meant.  I sure as heck didn’t know what that meant.  It was at that very moment that I remember needing to second guess or question myself because for the most part up until that point I thought I felt very proud of my delicious brownness that was year round.

For Marcie she wasn’t a bad kid.  She wasn’t a heartless person.  She was a kid who trusted and believed her father who was the ultimate authority figure in her life.

That experience rolled in motion a justification that then motivated a system that would forever change the way that I interacted or didn’t interact with other people.  I haven’t known Marcie into adulthood but I’m certain that experience shaped her too.

Compassion, Compassion, Compassion  I have been in a ton of these conversations.  I’ve helped establish classes and workshops on the subject…  I’ve taught on this topic.  I’ve processed my own story– it feels very much a part of my conscious and the things I’m passionate about to this day.  In that passion and also through the cathartic process of knowing my own story I’ve been a fierce proponent of justice.  Perhaps part of that justice has meant making “wrongs- right”– perhaps it’s meant advocating and getting others to see– perhaps it’s not sitting down and sitting back to take any more of this– to state that this is wrong and inappropriate– something must be done.  Yes, it has been probably a combination of all these things.

It’s good but it’s missing something.  Justice without compassion is a steamboat blowing steam but unable to exert the kind of energy that will get it from point A to point B.  I suggest us apply a little compassion to the dynamic.  And the compassion has to start with self, because the thing is…  we all have systems of prejudice and discrimination.  Some of us would say well by golly I do and I have every right to– I don’t know that person or this person.  We discriminate daily about who we will spend our time with based on what we believe to be very straight and right and moral values– spending time with the other may not factor into ‘what we believe’ or ‘what we value to be right, good, moral’. 

Others spend a great deal of time in shame.  We are shameful that yes, we had that mom or that dad that regularly shared racist jokes.  We’re shameful because we are the recipients of white privilege.  We’re shame filled because some of us have been able to assimilate and ‘pass’ more effectively then others.  We feel shame and then to admit and say that we too have some kind of system of prejudice or discrimination at play feels like too much.  The thing is– the truth is– it’s painful to face– but we-all-have-systems.  We can continue to deny it or push it aside or deflect it onto something or someone else but it doesn’t make it go away…  It doesn’t change anything much less ourselves.

Remember Sarah.  She was trying to forget, trying to deny…  maybe even using her justification to say it was okay to hold on to her system of prejudice.  

Remember when her and Ross begin to write out everything that they believe about folks that are black and those that are white– all the stereotypes and negative images and painful names were brought to light.  

That was the ‘a ha’ moment.

The other day I was walking along three men of color were walking in my direction.  I wasn’t thinking very clearly at the time but we were probably about 3-4 yards from each other when I decided to cross the street.  While I was crossing one guy yelled to me, “I wasn’t going to hurt you or anything”.  I can’t tell you how horrible I felt at that moment.  I wanted to yell back, “Hey, yah I didn’t think you would– I teach workshops on this subject– I know about this stuff”.  My defensive posture made me ask what was going on inside of me.  Why did I feel the necessity to defend myself to a complete stranger– I realized I didn’t want to be thought of as racist or scared or discriminatory not because I believe I am but because of the appearance of it.  Which made me ask a more honest question of myself: is there something I’m putting out there that I am not aware of because I am fearful?

Yes, this happens to me, too.  A woman of color who thinks I’ve got a handle on this conversation– on my story– on the plight of the ‘other’.

Folks, we have to have compassion because we have to move past the walls of denial and justification so that we can accept ourselves and then from that place evaluate and dream about what change can look like.  This gives more space for authentic change to occur.

Building Bridges of Safety: I think once we’ve moved through or are aware of the first few steps in this process then we can begin dreaming about how to construct a bridge of safety that leads me to you and you to me.

The construct of identity is such a sacred and personal one.  It is a journey that can’t be named or determined outside the individual but it happens within the beautiful and wonderful soul-searching and knowing of the individual.  We see that with Patrick at the beginning of the play/movie when he talks about how he identifies as Nuyericon.  Yet, he feels the pressure, the dehumanizing system of categorization from the ‘powers that be’ to be identified, as opposed to revealing/sharing who he is.  In our society it seems so simple– check a box.  Check a box?  That box doesn’t reflect story, soul, experience, her/history.  It is disempowering and dehumanizing.

In Soledad Obrien’s piece that she did for CNN entitled, “Who is Black in America?”  She uncovers the feelings and experiences of those who feel that they have no choice to say who it is they are– AND not only do they not have the choice but they don’t typically find the support to figure that out on their own.

Danzy Senna in her book: Where did you sleep last night?  She takes us on her journey of discovering her identity when she uncovers the herstory on both sides of her family.  She is bi-racial– her mother white and her father black– finding that the dichotomy does not just exist externally but it also is within, as she tries to figure out how to hold both.

If we want to create a bridge to safety then we have to allow each other to come as we are.  We have to let each other identify as we are– bringing with us all facets and dignity of our humanity AND getting to choose which ones we would like to share and which ones we would like to keep for ourselves.