Uncategorized

Who I say I am: Living with Imagination

trevornoah_bookcover.jpg

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”.  

Damn.

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.

 

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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.