“my gender feels like”

This piece was created for the last show of Season 19 of Tuesday Night Cafe, as part of a set called “they/them femmes & friends,” featuring Kyla, Mya, Navor, Opulence, and me!

Our show bio: “they/them femmes & friends is a collaboration of trans+intersex artists of color who use they/them pronouns. Though we share pronouns, our genders are as diverse as our spirits, and we’re excited to share a glimpse with you tonight. This set also features a slideshow* of gender affirming phots, art, and selfies by people who use they/them pronouns.”

* I didn’t get permission to share the photo slideshow beyond the Tuesday Night Cafe space, but will ask for it at some undetermined point in the future. Seeing the beautiful joy of comrades projected into a community space that feels like home to me felt like the spiritual healing that comes with truly being seen.

Thank you to Navor for allowing me to share this (cropped) image below. Please contact Navor for the full-size image and do not use or share without permission.

Navor_Lotus flows above

“Lotus Flows Above, Let Us Float Above” [Image description: Three lotuses sit on lily pads as they float on reflections of worlds that carry them with leaves surrounding their existence and two brown hands stretching towards the direction of prayers and calls for peace. Gradient colors of pink, purple, orange, green, black and white are present in this healing formed by hands.]

Mya
My gender feels like an uncomfortable silence.

Audrey
my gender feels like
something too visible and unseen all at once

Opulence
my gender feels like a cloud before the storm

Navor
my gender feels like
a brown nonbinary babe wearing a velvet dress and their mothers top

Kyla
my gender feels like queer futurity

Mya
My gender feels like an uncomfortable silence.

In Japanese animation there are frequently pauses,
without dialogue or music,
that make American audiences…uncomfortable.

Studio Ghibli movies,
when dubbed,
have their silences erased, replaced by sound effects
or conversation
or explanation

They say,
silence makes us uncomfortable …

Audrey
my gender feels like
something too visible and unseen all at once

wading through an ocean of she
sir, sir, this is the women’s room

what can I get for you ladies
brothers and sisters
ladies and gentlemen
i am in the liminal nowhere in between

feels like target in the bathroom
feels like holding it in
deciding not to drink water
— even though I love drinking water

Opulence
my gender feels like a cloud before the storm;
an acorn collected, carried, buried, and forgotten.

An emerald held in the earth; a bird in a storm.

My gender feels like a clump of hair,
a satisfying sneeze.

My gender is a grain of mucus covered sand on its way to becoming a pearl
my gender is a ruby, a yellow hued sapphire, a mistake in a chemical composition

Navor
my gender feels like
a brown nonbinary babe wearing a velvet dress and their mothers top
reminiscent of baro’t saya

they, them, theirs sit so gracefully on a wooden stool asking themselves if their moms looked like this, if their fathers approved of this, if past lovers who hovered wanted this, if strangers were ever asked to change their name to sound more like them [1] – to be read more like them [1] – if i’ve become more like them [1] // because they want to survive like their indigenous-native and ilokano-pangasinan ancestors but not adopt the ways that have erased a type of healing nor assimilate into a settler-colonial practice. // as they end their gaze, they blink with promise to always ever resist because….. i have always wanted this.  Footnotes: [1] them (T͟Hem,T͟Həm/) – Spaniards & Amerikkkans, cis-white-hetero-ablebodied-men

Kyla
my gender feels like queer futurity,
a term coined by José Esteban Muñoz.
in his words and theory,
“we may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality”
in my own words that means
my gender feels like holding a future within me
that doesn’t yet exist
my gender feels like a work in progress
hands with chipped pink nail polish
shaping earth,
planting seeds
for a future
where my gender
can flourish.

Audrey
like I have only ever been trying on things that don’t fit
no, I don’t want to be a boy
and I have never been your daughter
though I have always been your daughter

and it still moves me to call myself,
in a secret, quiet voice,
a queer woman of color

it still moves me to think of
the women ancestors
who could hardly imagine me, girlchild, living with so much freedom

Mya
When they ask me, what is your gender?
I say that I’m
transgender,
nonbinary,
& agender (that means without gender)

that we each make our own definition of the word,
that I never understood that internal sense of gender so many of us are supposed to have
that I grew up…
uncomfortable

Opulence
my gender feels like hot lava regurgitated by the earth; held down and pressed into something beautiful

Audrey
feels like getting to a comrade’s home after a long day
and taking off my chest binder
nipples out, still they

Kyla
feels like a childhood spent yearning for the gentle flame of a candle
my gender feels like a chrysalis ready to burst free

Opulence
my gender is uncontainable, hot and fluid. my gender is a whisper and a scream
the tattoo I don’t remember getting.

Kyla
my gender feels like warmth–warm hugs, warm sweaters, warm faces

my gender feels like floating in a tide of clear water, not knowing where it will take me next

Navor
my gender feels like abolition not reform
feels like more than one LGBTQIA+ themed night during the year

Audrey
feels like fuck an “LGBTQ” org
that can’t bother to use my pronouns correctly

Opulence
my gender is a gift to my ancestors, a silent thank you I see from the other side of the closet door
my gender holds space, opens hearts makes room.

Audrey
feels like no more questions about
whether being trans is a choice
which bathroom
which danger

Navor
feels like recognition that mental health deserves more than one day
how suicide prevention is not out of the darkness
but out of the whiteness
because lightness has done nothing for brown and black femmes

Opulence
my gender feels expansive, a field of wheat; an endless flame
my gender feels abundant; clearing; like  dr. bronner’s peppermint soap; eucalyptus chapstick

Audrey
my gender feels like affirmations given freely
like a rib cage around my tenderness
just enough holes for love to pour through

Opulence
my gender feels like femme fire, like Durga’s hungry smile, weapons raised
my gender is unrelenting; like the birds feasting on prometheus’ liver.
my gender feels like me 🙂

Mya
What I wish I could say is
“my gender is absent”
And let silence speak for the rest.

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reminders on pacing

This was a Facebook post from November 15, 2016, that I shared again yesterday. I was grateful to reread my writing, as a reminder to myself.

November 15, 2017 addition: Ooh, thanks past me for this reminder about pacing ourselves and taking care of our bodies. (Also see your own brilliant responses noticing how you were doing and take it as an invitation to check in with yourself again now, one year later.)

I also appreciate the framing from Mariame Kaba: “Reminder: A lot is happening in our lives and in the world. Don’t expect to focus on everything. Focus on one or two.”

Friends, it’s been one week. What are you doing to pace yourself? How are you reminding yourself and your comrades that we’re in this for the long haul, and that organizing and building take time?

I appreciate the urgency to respond, and I am heartened by all of the people I see taking action, organizing trainings, setting up safety plans, sharing resources, and getting shit done before January comes. I see you, I value you, I urge you to also make time to rest & stay grounded & spend time with the people who remind you why we continue to show up.

This is an invitation to make space to ground ourselves in why we’re organizing. Make time for reflection. Give yourself space to feel all of your feelings. Remember the skills you have, the resources in your community, the faces of your comrades who hold you down and keep you going. Strategize. Figure out where you want to direct your energy, how you’re planning to sustain yourself, and who is helping you stay accountable to your values.

How are we calling each other in as we respond so rapidly to shifting context? How are we making space for survivors, for our trauma, for the impacts of fear and violent rhetoric and secondhand trauma on our bodies and mental/emotional/physical/spiritual health?

How do we practice our values and build communities grounded in hope, interdependence, and liberation?

what we did not cover in the street medic training

[content note: health care, abuse, surgery, cancer, death]

the little things like:
there is only so much
the human body can take
(which i know)

the degree a wrist
— or a mind —
can bend before breaking
(which i do not know)

and whether the bruises
on the inside of that wrist
means the white coats will send her away

or, if not them,
when she is treated, released
men in other uniforms will send her further away

after college a friend posted a photo of her medical bills
“without insurance, i would be dead”
two years later, she was, anyway

“cancer is possible, come back in six months”
I swallowed the fear, stopped going instead
for more that two years, i stayed away

cells may have been dividing
secretly growing, plotting, slow burn
(but i did not want to know)

if you hold on to something too long
the release loses its joy,
which I learned, when i finally did go

we call ourselves survivors
— it’s what we (most of us) do, survive —
struggling to breathe, to last
to just … stay alive

in three months four friends
went under the blade
cut into, not cut short

women carrying cysts, fibroids
their pre-existing trauma made
cut away, then cut more

there is always more coming
so much more and still,
still more i do not know

oh crap it’s today: a resource list

I haven’t been making enough time for writing lately, and I am still technically halfway through a series of posts on self-care and community care. But in the interim, here’s a list of links that might be helpful as we prepare for what comes next, interspersed with some commentary from personal experience and actions & trainings I’ve attended over the past few years and the intense “omg train everyone on everything now” last few months.

This list isn’t comprehensive and skews toward resources for queer and trans API people, since I’m pulling from my work and personal Facebook posting. I also haven’t done the best job of tracking all of what I’ve shared, so I may update later with more links and will note the edits/added content with a note at the bottom of the post.

ETA (as I’m compiling) — trying to make this list as not-overwhelming as possible. If you do one thing, start with locking down your digital security and making sure your address isn’t available online. I have also tried to move most of my commentary to sub-bullets and bolded the action steps, so you can tl;dr your way on down the list.

protect

Image description: Bright orange capital letters are attached to a mesh net strung between lightweight metal poles, creating a banner that reads “PROTECT THOSE YOU LOVE.”

Legal advice:

  • NQAPIA put together a list of precautions to take before inauguration. (It’s OK, you can still do the things.) These tips include:
    • legal protections for transgender individuals (e.g. updating your passport with the expedited process based on President Obama’s executive order, since executive orders can be reversed at any time);
    • immigration advice for undocumented folks and those seeking asylum based on an LGBTQ identity; summaries of potential legal changes;
    • and steps you can take to protect queer families (second-parent adoption, do you need to get married now, wills, etc.) 
  • Informed Immigrant has “a list of over 600 immigrant rights/immigrant-serving organizations and donation links; legal information FAQs in English & Spanish (compiled by legal experts at NILC, CCC, SEIU, and others based on questions received by organizations in the states); a legal resource pdf with known and regularly used legal services look up tools; and NILC’s know your rights document.”

Community safety: 

  • Talk to your neighbors. Get to know the people around you, and build with these folks. Remember that calling the police over noise complaints or misunderstandings can be fatal to your neighbors, or for you.
  • So don’t call the police (links pulled from an email to myself in July; drafting emails is one of my many forms of non-successful blogging):
  • Check out the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective’s pod mapping worksheet and guide: “Your pod is made up of the people that you would call on if violence, harm or abuse happened to you; or the people that you would call on if you wanted support in taking accountability for violence, harm or abuse that you’ve done; or if you witnessed violence or if someone you care about was being violent or being abused.”
    • The most important takeaway I got from Mia Mingus’ TJ 101 training was “building analysis was much easier than building the relationship and trust required for one’s pod,” that is, relationships are built on trust, and we can build on these foundations to share political analysis, and we are less likely to approach strangers who share our politics when we cause or experience harm.
  • I have several lending copies of The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities. Queer and transgender writers, many of whom are people of color, address harm and abuse, community accountability, and building safety without involving the state.
    • As we enter into a period of heightened (but, let’s be real, pre-existing) surveillance and threats to our safety, it is so so important that we are vigilant about addressing harm within our interpersonal relationships. Let’s not let urgency and scarcity and fear get in the way of being accountable to each other. Interdependency includes checking in with newly coupled folks, making sure they stay in community, normalizing conversations about consent, boundaries, harm, abuse, codependency. Moving past shame & guilt & judgment so that folks can have hard conversations instead of isolating themselves when they’re experiencing things in interpersonal relationships that don’t feel great.
    • Borrow a copy from me here. (Also, borrow Trauma Stewardship from me here.)
    • Buy a copy from AK Press here. (I also have a book club discount for AK Press, if you know me irl, we can talk.)
    • Also, check out these PDFs from the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) to spark conversations with your people about their relationships. They are fun and illustrated like comic books!
  • “The Directory of Domestic and Gender Violence Programs Serving Asians and Pacific Islanders, 2016 lists 160 agencies providing advocacy services designed to meet the ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity of survivors from Asian and Pacific Islander communities.” Download the directory.

Digital security:

  • How To Make Sure Your Honest to God Actual Home Address Isn’t Easily Available Online” (Autostraddle) This article also includes a really great list of other digital security tips. Like the suggestion to search for yourself on Reddit, which I anxiously did for the first time yesterday, and … nothing. Phew.
    • Note: OK, so I didn’t do this until after I published this post. I printed a PDF of the results, which includes “possible relatives” and “possible associates,” both of which are full of my actual family members, and I will also be opting them out.
  • Crash Override Network “is a crisis helpline, advocacy group and resource center for people who are experiencing online abuse.”
  • Use strong passwords. From several digital security trainings, folks suggested using password managers, and I can’t remember which was the most secure, so I will update.
  • Text through Signal. You will need to download the app, plus link to a phone number (a Google voice number works on a tablet version of the app if you don’t have a cell phone). Signal uses end-to-end encryption and only tracks metadata about when the app is opened.
    • Notes: You can set messages to delete after they’re read. You can use Signal to text folks who don’t have the app, but your messages will not be encrypted. Consider using Signal as your default chat app and encouraging others to do so, too, to normalize security culture. Also, think about what you’re signaling* if you and all of your closest friends mysteriously choose to communicate through Signal on the same day. (* attempt at pun intended)
    • Keep in mind: People can still screencap your conversations, so it also matters who you’re inviting in to your messaging groups.
    • (P.S. According to a cursory Google search, WhatsApp doesn’t have a backdoor, but folks I trust have still recommended Signal over other encrypted messaging services, including over Telegram and Fireside.)
  • If you are meeting about sensitive matters, put away everything that has a microphone. These can be turned on remotely to transmit your conversations. Reportedly, this works even if an iPhone is turned off, and airplane mode is safer. Even safer is collecting all the cell phones and laptops and putting them in a separate room. Someone I know also turned on music on one of the phones while they were in a jar in a separate room, so that all of the phones got to have a little dance party and not hear anything else. ‾\_(ツ)_/‾ why not?

Protest/personal safety: 

  • Surveillance Self Defense‘s Attending Protests has a step-by-step guide to walk through to prepare yourself, including locking down your phone, documenting actions, and what to do if you’re arrested. It’s largely centered on how to protect your phone, but the links and other information are also great general protest tips, and the writing and analysis are a good example of how to get yourself in a security culture mindset.
  • Understand the risks you’re taking when you attend a direct action or protest, or even rallies that are coordinated with the police, as situations with large groups of people can change very quickly, and there are plenty of groups who have used tactics that put others at risk.
    • For example, I’ve heard that CHP doesn’t think they need to give a dispersal order before they start making arrests for highway shutdowns.
    • A dispersal order is given by police informing folks that they must leave an area or face arrest. If you do not leave, you can be arrested. Note: LAPD (and police elsewhere) have arrested folks while they left. (For example, in LA in November 2014, LAPD gave a dispersal order at a BLM protest, and then RevCom misdirected protesters into police lines.
    • Laws and ordinances vary by city and state, and prosecutorial discretion also plays a role in charges.
    • Getting arrested, in and of itself, is not a tactic or a strategy.
  • Pay attention to / watch out for infiltrators and abusers.
    • If someone’s behavior seems off to you, follow your instincts and intuition. Remember that women and femmes are socialized to be polite to men and masculinity and to comply rather than make a scene. Predators know this, too.
    • Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear has a great breakdown of how predators use specific behaviors to test boundaries and groom their targets. (Content note: I read this book quite a few years ago, and a friend I was talking to recently pointed out that there’s quite a bit of survivor blame.)
    • Read Courtney Desiree Morris‘ piece “Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements.” tl;dr (but you should read it): whether they are paid to or not, misogynists who push women & femmes out of organizing spaces with their abusive behavior do the work of the state to destabilize our movements.
    • Be wary of protest hook-ups. Be careful about sharing your personal information with folks you just met.
  • This (annotated) list that was going around on Facebook for “new protestors” immediately after the election:
    • Water makes pepper spray worse. Use milk or liquid antacid and water. Don’t wear contacts.
      • Note: Water makes pepper spray feel worse. If it’s all you have, it’s best to flush your eyes as quickly as possible. Tilt the affected person’s head back or lay back and pour so that the pepper spray flows off of their face.
      • Don’t use liquid antacids with food coloring in them.
      • Be careful about using squeeze bottles with pointy tips, because eyeballs. Street medics suggest using cheap squeeze-top water bottles, or puncture a hole in the top of a water bottle cap and use.
      • If you are still in the middle of a chaotic scene, pull that person to the side / away from the crowd first. Narrate to them what you’re doing and get consent, because their vision is probably going to be compromised. (e.g. Is it OK if we lead you over here so we can treat you?
    • If you get tear gassed, when you get home, put the contaminated clothes in a plastic bag for later decontamination and shower with cold water to avoid opening your pores.
    • Come with friends and don’t get separated. Avoid leaving the crowd and watch out for police snatch squads.
    • Beware undercovers, but beware snitchjacketing and collaborator ‘peace police’ even more.
    • The far right is very good at combing through pictures and doxxing people. Mask up.
    • Write any necessary phone numbers you may need directly on your skin in sharpie.
    • Have an offsite plan for emergencies if you have not been heard from by X time coordinated with someone offsite.
    • Make sure all mobile devices are charged!!
    • If you plan on going to jail, plan it: bail, lawyer, time off from work, witnesses i.e.: a cadre. Don’t just go to jail without training.
    • Beware folks inciting violence. Most of them are police/ feds. Watch out for hook ups for the same reason. Get to know the crowd. They will set you up.
  • Know Your Rights: ACLU has a list of resources here, including printable wallet cards, and the SoCal chapter is offering many free trainings. A huge caveat: Knowing your rights and following these steps gives you legal recourse if your rights are violated. We have seen what happens when Black and brown folks choose not to give in to police officers’ demands. So yes, know your rights. Also take time to think through how you would like to react in situations involving police, and how you plan to stay calm enough to react in the ways that are safest for you and/or most in line with your values/integrity/liberation/desire to survive. These things may all be in conflict, and you should take the time, now, to think about what is most important to you.

Suicide and support hotlines (please share and repost!):

  • Trans Lifeline (All hotline operators are transgender. Note that this is not a 24-hour hotline. Shifts are listed here http://hotline.translifeline.org/): 1-877-565-8860
  • Trevor Lifeline (24 hours): 1-866-488-7386
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). They offer services in more than 150 languages.
  • The Asian LifeNet Hotline, 1-877-990-8585, works in Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, and Fujianese.
  • Desi LGBTQ Helpline For South Asians, online responses and (somewhat limited) helpline hours listed here: http://www.deqh.org/

Other tips/thoughts (aka the things left on my brainstorm phone note list that I will maybe write more about later:

  • listen
  • understand how you take up space
  • have a safety plan
  • DV, SA, codependency
  • keep each other safe, go in groups
  • informed consent — if you put people at risk without their knowledge, you’re not a revolutionary, you’re manipulating people
  • make decisions about what you’re willing to do; define your terms

Ok, I love you, drink water and eat something with protein and put on comfortable shoes. Also maybe print out this PDF (Sinope’s “Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay: questions to ask before giving up”) and keep it by your bed.

[Edited on Jan. 20, 2017 at 4:09 p.m. to include the Surveillance Self-Defense link.]

#EmotionalLaborDay

DCIM101GOPRO

Image shows a genderqueer Asian sitting in a light blue inflatable kayak in the middle of a lake surrounded by trees. They are grinning and holding a black paddle.

Today I’m celebrating what I’m calling #EmotionalLaborDay, uplifting and honoring the often-invisibilized emotional work that goes into our communities and movements.

Holding space; processing trauma; building relationships; offering care; setting, navigating, and respecting boundaries; holding ourselves and others accountable — all of these acts are beautiful and necessary, and they are also work. I am grateful to the femmes, women of color, and QTPOC who are my possibility models and inspire me to grow, to do and be better. I see you, I see your labor, and I appreciate you.

I am also celebrating my own work, my difficult / rewarding / beautiful journey toward healing, the ways I have learned to become accountable to myself by stepping into my values. I am uplifting my recognition that organizing is not just #clipboardface, it is building and growing and love and hope and visioning and manifesting the universe we want to thrive in.

I am celebrating and honoring rest. At the beginning of June, I drafted a note on my phone asking for support in taking a temporary step back from organizing to focus on self-care. Instead of posting that note, I took on new projects and coordinating roles and kept pushing beyond my capacity. All of this work has felt necessary and rewarding and beautiful, and it has strengthened many of my relationships with comrades and friends I’ve been organizing with, who have offered care and support and wisdom and creativity and laughter over the past few months. AND ALSO I know that I am tired and right on the edge of burnout (or, to be honest, probably three months past my edge of burnout), and that constantly burning through all of my spoons is affecting my physical, emotional, and mental health. Being constantly tired and emotionally drained also makes it harder for me to live in my values. (All of the values, because it is hard to be cranky and tender at the same time, but particularly values around agency and self-determination; when I take on labor that is beyond my capacity, I do not honor myself or the fact that we are interconnected, not alone, in our work. I do not allow others to move in to take on what they can.)

Last December, I started a series of posts about self-care, and then I started a new job and haven’t finished the posts I planned about community care and interdependence. Over the last few months, I have seen beautiful care support teams flourish around loved ones who have gone through surgery and in the ways allies have rallied around the #DecolonizeLACityHall encampment led by the LA chapter of Black Lives Matter. In addition to wrangling supplies, offering rides, coordinating schedules, and gathering resources, I have seen folks show up hard (physically, digitally, and emotionally), and I am grateful to have participated in and witnessed this labor.

At the last full moon, I set an intention for stillness and art, and ⅔ of a lunar cycle later, I hope to spend the next few weeks focusing on both of these things. My motto for September is going to be “work hard, introvert hard.” I am committing to not taking on any new tasks, projects, or coordinating roles for the rest of the month, to re-learning how to say no, and to making time for reflection and creating for myself.

I just searched through my coaching notes to look for something my coach told me about rest, and I found this from a mid-July session:

what are the gifts of stillness?
opening up possibilities, being able to see past the present moment and also be in the present moment
opening up space and time in a way that isn’t constantly moving
what’s important about opening up that space and time?
it feels like the opposite of trauma
allows folks to just be
cultivating the opposite of trauma, when you say that, recognize that, what do you notice?
the first thing is that I haven’t been making that for myself
so there’s something about feeling like I can’t rest, recognizing that I have been contributing to that, not just the things around me
what stops you from being still, Audrey?
feeling like there’s too much in the world, if stop, won’t ever be able to start again

My original plan was to close with a quote about the importance of rest, but instead I offer you this glimpse of the things that feel most terrifying and most hopeful. Rereading my own words, I remember how grounded I felt when I named stillness as “the opposite of trauma.” I wish this feeling & truth for myself, and I wish it for you.

[Edited to add accountability tips I posted on FB, feel free to borrow, edit, and use for yourself!]

Ways you can support/hold me accountable:
– Please feel free to reach out and/or check in, but be aware that I may be slow to respond or not respond.
– Tell me how you take care of yourself! Comment below, send a message / email / text, etc.
– Keep inviting me to things, so I know what’s going on in the world & can also practice saying no.
– Send affirmations / gifs / memes about self-care as community care, taking breaks, rebirth, growing, and/or healing.
– Model rest and self-care and healthy boundaries for yourself. The more we practice these skills individually, the better we all will be at holding space for each other.

love poems for dysphoria 

[content notes: dysphoria, sex mention, dissociation]


I came like a panic attack:
quickly, silent at first,
body surrendering

that flood of chemicals
rushing through bloodstream
leaving me breathless, gasping

so dizzy
with the thrill of it
that I
could not stay
in this body,
not yet

oh god, please
sensations ebb
at last

to faint tingles
and
a promise
of more to come


haiku: depression

not speaking his name
didn’t stop Voldy, either
i speak, & i fight


pull on your favorite tank top
strap on the hand-me-down watch
ticking from a comrade’s wrist to yours
paint eyeliner over swollen lids
anything can be armor if it keeps you safe

ask your lover to remind you
of the ways your body is beautiful
tell them exactly the words you need to hear
swim into the space they pull open
repeating your truths back to you

fill your pockets with stones
reread every affirmation
drink deep from the jar of moon water
sitting cherished on your altar
watch that gif on a loop until flux turns it orange

honor the ways your trauma has made you softer
you flowing salt water back to shore
the depth of your sadness
the wholeness of your breaking

remember that even stars
were once clouds of dust
collapsing inward

self-care: cultivate your bubble

content note: white supremacy, examples of

At the beginning of this year, I started working with a coach through Black Girl Dangerous’ “Get Free: Healing For the Revolution” program. I saw this part of the program description, and my immediate reaction, was “Yes, I want that.” (Also, are you still looking for places to make your end-of-year donations?)

Our program provides personalized support so that you can:

  • Let go of things you’re holding onto from the past that don’t serve you.
  • Identify, and do something about, areas where you feel stuck in your personal healing and growth.
  • Be accountable for areas where you’re not taking responsibility for your life.
  • Speak and live truth.
  • Do activist work in a way that nurtures and makes you come alive.
  • Cultivate healthy and supportive relationships.

I wasn’t really sure how to set goals; the biggest thing I could think of was “build resilience.” I felt like the microaggressions I experienced in Portland were affecting me more than usual, like I wasn’t bouncing back as quickly, if at all. Looking back now, it’s obvious to me that the change wasn’t just internal. I moved away from a support network and community of organizers that I had spent 10 years cultivating in LA, and I was surrounded by post-racial white liberals — like Board members who talked about the importance of equity (Oregon funders’ buzzword for diversity initiatives) and then also said that they “don’t get white privilege, because their (rich, white) kids were raised not to see skin color”; and poets writing spoken word pieces about how Ferguson, Ohio (sic) taught them, as white women, to fear the police; and people who called me a racist for asking them not to invite me to culturally appropriative events.

I felt stuck and sad and isolated, even though I was lucky to be in community with a handful of wonderful QTPOC organizers. Without going into all of the detail in this post, through coaching, I realized that one way to be accountable to myself for my happiness  was move back to Los Angeles.

“You’re living in a bubble”: Yes I am, and also you’re not invited any more (but I also believe in transformative justice, so here’s some reading and a snack, I hope we’ll be able to share bubble space later)

(Note: In the interest of the “open-source mind” aspect of this blog, the part below is the kernel that this chunk started from. It’s mostly, like, “oppressive people are poop, poop bad, cut out the toxic poop” but thanks to Tk’s wisdom, I’ve spaced out the posts and I get to add nuance. Yes, limit the toxic poop in your life as you are able to given the context of your safety and finances, but also, curate the bubble you do want to live in!)

So how do we minimize the need for emergency self-care?

In different conversations with my mother about community, she’s asked me variations of “Why don’t you hang out with straight people?” and “Do you have any white friends?” First of all, I have plenty of exposure to white cishets in pop culture, politics, positions of leadership, and work — and some of my best friends are straight white people [citation needed]. Second, the subtext here is also that I’m not “living in the real world,” but as people I love and respect have pointed out, constantly surrounding yourself with trauma and sadness is just as much a bubble. And if I have to choose between a bubble of grounded joy and QTPOC magic and a bubble of poop, guess which one I’m going to pick?

I deal with enough poop all day; when I have a choice, I am not going to intentionally curate more poop. A hugely important part of my self-care journey has been finding ways to center people who move me toward healing and growth, folks who embody a commitment to building and personal accountability, folks who I want to laugh and cook and celebrate and create and mourn and heal and process and share love with.

The argument about “living in the real world” comes up all the time, and it is toxic — and false — because it assumes that the real world is a fixed, oppressive nightmare that is impervious to change. When people criticize students organizing on college campuses by saying they “lack resilience” or won’t be able to survive outside of the bubble of college campuses, they are not just being ageist (and often ageist, ableist, classist, racist, and anti-feminist); they are upholding the status quo and cynically accepting it as the only possible reality there is.

In short: Cut the toxic folks out of your life. Refuse to accept that being an adult means accepting that the world is and will always be a bleak disastrous hellscape of loneliness. There are many practical and emotional and financial considerations here, that make this less of an actual choice or possibility in many situations, but where you can: Cut out the toxic poop. Cherish the unicorns around you.

Find your unicorns: Curate the people who are not-poop and pour your intention into these relationships.

When I say I hate capitalism, the toxic poop is why. It forces us to navigate shitty situations, be in community with folks who harm us but have economic control over our lives, and sacrifice our wellness in order to be able to put food into our bodies and pay for shelter. (More on this in the last post.)

With that context in mind, I think it’s absolutely necessary that we cultivate relationships that help us move toward healing and wholeness. (And even when I say “cut out the toxic poop,” I recognize that in my own life, I don’t want to give up on folks who are invested in learning, and I also believe that part of how we will win is moving folks toward embracing justice and working toward our collective liberation. However, I do think it’s important to recognize that this work is draining, and for me, a huge part of self-care is knowing when to disengage.)

A month or so ago, I put up a support request on Facebook to talk through an incident I was grappling with. As I typed the names of friends into the filtered post box, I felt gratitude toward each person, recognizing that I trusted each of them enough to talk through something I couldn’t process on my own and that was bringing up a lot of uncomfortable realizations I wasn’t ready to confront.

Looking back later, I thought about how writing that post and choosing who to share it with gave me a moment to process who feels safe and why, what it meant that the list was relatively short (people who I trusted, who would understand the context, and who I could trust to listen without judgment), and also whether I behave in ways that would make folks feel safe reaching out to me to process their shit.

So here is a random list of thoughts on how to cultivate and curate a bubble:

  • Think about who feels safe and doesn’t, and why. I like to keep in mind that no space will ever be absolutely safe, but seeing how folks hold themselves accountable and react when they commit harm is a very good indicator.
    • I’ve linked to Ngọc Loan Trần‘s article “Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable” before, and I value the way they don’t pit calling out/in as a binary, and also the way they point out that it’s important to think about what makes a relationship with another person important: “Is it that we’ve done work together before? Is it that I know their politics? Is it that I trust their politics? Are they a family member? Oh shit, my mom? Is it that I’ve heard them talk about patience or accountability or justice before? Where is our common ground? And is our common ground strong enough to carry us through how we have enacted violence on each other?”
    • Thinking through why a growth conversation matters helps to maintain perspective throughout navigating harm; and when I don’t want to call someone in or address their mistake, it also helps me to understand the limits of my relationship with them. Maybe I don’t trust them enough to be able to carry out this conversation; maybe I do think they have the capacity to grow in this way, but in this moment, I can’t be the one to navigate harm with them. And that’s OK.
  • What kinds of time and spaces makes me feel more free? A lot of my healing and self-care comes from time spent with cherished folks. I also spend a lot of time in community space that is nourishing to me in other ways, because it feels important or necessary, or we’re having conversations that need to happen, or it’s a party and it’s fun. But I need to check in with myself and see “was being in that space part of my self-care? was that healing? do I need to be alone to recharge?” (keeping in mind, of course, that none of these are binary answers, and that healing work can also be draining).
    • Internal indicators that work for me:
      • Did I feel like my guard was up? Do I need to mentally and emotionally gird myself in preparation for being in that space/with those people?
      • How did my body feel before, during, and after the event/hangout? Am I relaxed or tense? Do I feel energized or tired?
      • Also, here’s a list of “15 Ways to Catch Up With Friends That Aren’t Grabbing Coffee or a Cocktail” (There is also a better list of ways to show up for and spend time with SDQs, and I am looking for it in my thousands of bookmarks … will update when I find it.)
  • Emotional labor: Do you have people in your life who share the emotional labor in your relationships? How do you talk about and navigate boundaries? Are you able to successfully communicate when you need space?
      • This piece by Mahfam Malek is about dating, but the questions are good to consider (and to answer for yourself).
  • Who do you want in your corner? Think about moments that have brought you deep joy, that have made you feel grounded, that have moved you toward your own liberation. Who was there with you? Who do you wish had shared that moment with you? What about the last time you were deeply sad? Who did you turn to? Who did you wish you had reached out to?
  • Who do you have in your life who will tell you when you’re being an asshole? Who will tell you if your behavior is out of line with your values?

You may have some people who fill all or some of these needs, and you also definitely have needs that are different from mine, because we are different people. For me, it helps to remember that each relationship is unique and nourishes me in a different way, and that growing intentionally requires communication, trust, and care — and not just with others; if I want to get free, I need to trust myself enough to listen to my intuition, be honest about my needs, and cultivate the community that moves me toward wholeness.

self-care: context matters

The numbered points below were my outline notes to myself while fixing this draft; I figured I could just leave it as a tl; dr. (The 3rd point will actually be addressed more in the next post.)

  1. people are tired
  2. we’re tired because we’re oppressed
  3. so don’t bring that shit into your personal life

In my intro post to this ~self-care series~, I mentioned that this year has been challenging but amazing, and also tiring. For me, personally, it’s been a year of healing and growth, along with processing a lot of learning that came out of living in Portland for a year and being miserable for a lot of it. (More on that in the post about curating and living in a bubble, but here’s a preview.)

I have also felt tiredness from people around me, and I think a huge factor in feeling that from the community has come from intentionally focusing my energy and time on building community with QTPOC and centering these folks in my life. When I think about the daily trauma we experience on the intersections of multiple axes of oppression, I am often amazed that we’re not more tired.

I also believe that there are different kinds of tired.

There’s the kind that comes from dealing with all the bullshit around us, the tired of having to explain for the 47th time (today) that “reverse racism” is not a real thing, the tired of being constantly misgendered and having a piece of your identity forcibly and repeatedly erased, the tired of feeling invisible and hypervisible, the tired that comes from having to expend a huge chunk of your energy to pass as neurotypical for a full work day (while also remembering all the different edits to yourself you have to make to fit in to the norms of professional workplace behavior), and then also the many things I’m privileged not to have to experience, including navigating institutional ableism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and classism, and all the ways these tired-making things intersect.

And then there is a different kind of tired that comes from holding hope and believing that a different world is possible, and dreaming alternative realities and bridging gaps between people to bring those worlds into existence, and making beauty out of the terrible.

That second kind of tired, for me at least, comes from a place of wholeheartedness, and it feels much easier to bounce back from. That kind of tired feels like next-day-sore muscles after a good workout, or the slight buzz of finishing a Sunday crossword.

It’s important to think about “self-care” in context because 1) We should understand that our need for self-care is directly related to the harm we experience and 2) For me, and it seems like for many of the folks I consider my people, it’s hard to make time for self-care when we feel like there’s so much work to do.

On that second point, I genuinely want to move toward a place of self-care because we need it, but that truth seems to be constantly drowned out by the nagging voice saying “maybe we all need to try a little bit harder.” It has helped to try to consider these two voices not as a dichotomy, but as two things that are true to me.

Am I saying that people who aren’t doing the work aren’t worthy of care? No. But a part of me still has a lot of feelings that come up around this. That is, I’m not writing a bunch of posts about self-care for the people who are jetting off for the weekend to do yoga on a mountain so that they can feel fit and recharged the following Monday when they go back to work for their multinational corporation.

However, I do think for organizers (and everyone) that the need to disentangle our worth (and that we are worthy of care) from the work is an important part of moving toward wholeness. I am looking for ways to think of worthiness and self-care as things that are inherent to everyone, including myself, regardless of what they or I contribute to the movement.

I was lucky to get a ticket to see Laverne Cox speak at USC last week (thank you, Queer and Ally Student Assembly!), and in addition to talking about her life and tying her own journey as a Black trans woman to Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?”, she also took questions from the audience. The last question was “How can organizers doing social justice work sustain themselves (emotionally, etc.) in the movement long-term?”* Laverne’s response centered on recognizing that “the list of injustices is really, really long,” and that for her, it’s important to detach from the work and not become “codependent” with it. That it’s possible to separate her own self-worth from the work, without losing her will to fight the fight:

I have so many moments of ‘Laverne, you could be doing more, you should be doing more,’ and I’m doing the best that I can. And I have to be able to just give that to myself. And I think that it’s important to give that to ourselves; to know that we’re doing the best that we can, and when we know better, we’ll do better. […]

So many of the challenges I’ve had throughout my life, my worthiness has been on the line. I have been hustling for my worthiness, trying to be enough.

And those moments when I can take my worthiness off the table, when I can understand that worthiness is a birthright, those are the moments that are deeply healing for me — when I understand that because I am a child of god, I am worthy — those are the moments when I can stand in my truth, and stand in various spaces, and feel like I am enough, I have enough, and I do enough.

I recognize that this is still a process and that I easily fall into the habit of leveraging judgments on myself and others, that I carry guilt around feeling like my own care is selfish or solipsistic. (And I do think that there is room for necessary critiques of how folks with privilege can mobilize “self-care” as a concept to reinforce their privilege.)

But if for no other reason than that getting stuck in guilt does nothing to serve the movement, I am repeating, until I internalize it fully, “I am worthwhile. I matter because I exist.”

Readings and resources:

  • Original title: “Context matters: Maybe we should be thinking about why we need so much self-care (OR the world we live in is often a deeply fucked up place and instead of feeling guilty about not being more grounded, maybe we can shift the blame outside of ourselves)”
  • Autostraddle: 36 Reasons Why QPOC-Only Spaces Are Very Necessary by Gabrielle Rivera (please do not read the comments)
  • Kama La Mackerel’s piece “What’s love got to do with our politics?,” particularly the part where Kama addresses the question “How did you learn to love yourself?”
  • Social Justice League’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Polite: The Issue of Nice versus Good” — I link to this post all the time, usually as a starting point for folks who don’t understand why tone-policing is oppressive, but I think it also has a great breakdown of kyriarchy and how folks demanding “niceness” from oppressed people are part of the problem. (This piece is a good reminder of how structural inequality functions in insidious ways, and how this loops in to microaggressions, gaslighting, and silencing of oppressed folks, as well.) Note: Piece includes the (transmisogynistic) t-slur, as an example of how that slur is not equivalent to being called a racist.

* She answered my question! BASICALLY WE HAD A CONVERSATION IRL.

thoughts on self-care: I have a lot of them

This is an intro post to a multi-part series (of an indeterminate number of parts) on self-care and community care that started as one post, and then it was too many words, so now it is more than one post.

This year has been … a lot of things. A huge part of me wants to curl up into a ball (maybe surrounded by puppies and kittens, also curled up, resting their fuzzy little faces onto their tiny fuzzy paws) and take a break from everything. I am tired, and it feels like people in my communities are also tired.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about self-care and trauma, with links to resources, for at least the last 6 months. I’m recognizing in finally writing this post that I have been thinking “I need to write that self-care post,” while my heart and life have been traveling down a different path of “What does community care look like?”

selfcare.jpg

By the way, this is my favorite hobby/self-care practice (working on my photo book “Hey, can I hold that?”)

Thankfully, this hard and tiring year has also been amazing and rewarding in many, many ways, in large part because I have met and deepened relationships with so many rad, radical QTPOC organizers. I have learned so much from reading their status updates and blog posts, from talking through trauma and #organizerproblems over meals, from observing how folks hold space.

I’ve learned about what I want care and access support and communities to look like, how I want to show up for folks, how to ask for support and articulate needs and boundaries. These are all things that I recognize are ongoing practices, things I hope I will strive to be better at for the rest of my life.

So. I am accepting that I don’t have all of the answers, which is like, probably important to growth? And part of my self-care process and accepting imperfections? I guess?

My original post had paragraphy subheads to help break up the text, so I will leave them here as a preview of what I think follow-up posts will be, with links added in once other posts go live:

  • Context matters: Maybe we should be thinking about why we need so much self-care. (OR the world we live in is often a deeply fucked up place and instead of feeling guilty about not being more grounded, maybe we can shift the blame outside of ourselves)
  • “Self-care for sustainability” is part of the problem. If we’re only doing self-care so we can work more, how can we disentangle our self-worth from the work? Hint: I don’t think we can. (Also, this is capitalistic and ableist.)
  • “You’re living in a bubble”: Yes I am, and also you’re not invited any more. (But I also believe in transformative justice, so here’s some reading and a snack, I hope we’ll be able to share bubble space later.)
  • What does the opposite of a bleak disastrous hellscape of loneliness actually look like?* Moving from self-care to community care.
  • [Something about trauma, secondary trauma and therapy, which I had already decided to break out into a separate post.]
  • Here is an oddly curated list of resources.**

* This is particularly odd without the context of the section that comes before it, which might not make it through edits.
** I may break up the resources a bit to go with each post, and then create a final post with all of the links, along with any additional suggestions I gather from the comments or Facebook. Please comment with resources you’ve found helpful!

Anyway, here’s Wonderwall a partial list of things that help me maintain perspective:

  • my hobbies: baking bread and picking up animals and taking pictures with them
  • journaling, even if it’s only for 10 minutes at a time (if 10 seems daunting, start with 5; if it helps, try promising yourself that you won’t go back and read what you wrote for a month, or 6 months, or ever, and find a good hiding spot for your journal)
  • QTPOC workouts: being able to move in a space that is affirming and inclusive, that welcomes all bodies, openly encourages modifications, and where folks are actively respectful of pronouns and thoughtful about how they are communicating feels almost unrealistically magical but it’s real
  • Chani Nicholas’ weekly horoscopes
  • Lucille Clifton’s short, powerful poem “won’t you celebrate with me” (full text, video, skip to 30 seconds in)

And some additional things I’d like to share:

getting to the other side 

A year ago, I channeled rage and grief into a blog post called “discussing white supremacy at the dinner table,” which is basically a bunch of links to articles breaking down white privilege, anti-Black racism, and tactics for navigating conversations about race and how to get by some common derailing tactics.

Writing that post and trying to put it into action over the past year has been part of a constant process of unlearning and relearning. As a non-Black person raised in a country founded on white supremacy, I know I have so much more unpacking and unlearning to do. I say this as someone who for decades wanted to run for office, as someone who believed in American exceptionalism and meritocracy and equality of opportunity, as someone who has benefitted from the model minority myth (to the extent that East Asians are most privileged from the ways our diasporas are consolidated into one monolith) and by extension, from my complicity in anti-Blackness.

My identities as a queer and genderqueer non-Black person of color and child of immigrants don’t exempt me from my class privilege or relative race privilege or from benefitting from anti-Blackness.

Saturday Night Live recently created a digital short called “A Thanksgiving Miracle” that is being hailed as a perfect solution to racist and/or otherwise problematic dinner conversation — play Adele’s “Hello,” and magically shut down the conversation as everyone starts singing. (Full disclosure, I think this song is very overrated and kind of boring, sorry.)

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 5.10.27 PM

(This is a screencap, not an embedded video. Image shows a group of mostly white people sitting around a table full of Thanksgiving food. A white woman seated next to a young white child points an accusing finger at a Black man, the only person of color present.)

(This article recaps the video.) On the surface, I get why this is supposed to be funny. It worked well when they did a similar sketch with everyone crying to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” but as a card-carrying SJW I am duty-bound to tell you your fave is problematic. Even setting aside my many other critiques about this skit for a moment,* this video annoys me because a bunch of cisgender white people ignoring oppressive statements with karaoke does nothing to fix anything.

Ok, so maybe Thanksgiving dinner is not the time when you’re going to your racist Aunt Sally/Zhang Ahyi. And often, Thanksgiving is already a traumatic experience. As I said last year, Thanksgiving is a hard time for a lot of reasons — how do indigenous folks commemorate a holiday that literally celebrates the attempted genocide of their people? For queer and trans folks who have been cut off from their families, what table do we sit down around? For folks who don’t have access to class privilege or the ability to support themselves financially or other systems of support, being cut off from family is dangerous and violent.

That may be the case for you, and I am not here to make judgment statements on what your activism should look like or how you approach social justice, but my point is that letting these comments go unchecked is a choice, and when you are not a member of the oppressed group being targeted, being able to turn away from these conversations is a privilege.

It’s hard enough to go into these dinners, but it helps to think through these conversations ahead of time. Some guiding questions:

  • What are my stakes in this conversation? What comments am I not going to let go by unchecked?
  • What are the consequences of letting those comments slide? (Are there youth present who will hear and internalize these comments, without seeing anyone offer a counter narrative? Will you regret not having said anything to defend your friends, loved ones, chosen family, whether or not they were present?)
  • What topics are likely to come up, and is it possible to plant a seed of noting your discomfort, so that you can have a follow-up conversation later?

And let’s face it. Fighting for our liberation is not just about saying the right things — reductionist critiques of political correctness focus on this idea that SJWs are saying some words are bad and can never be used. It’s not just the words — finding different words to say the same harmful things and uphold the same systems of oppression is nothing new. (See, for example, the use of “thug.”)

This work is about changing people’s perspectives and shifting things for long-term change. For folks who are giving themselves an ally label, do the work at home. We can’t just dismiss people because they’re old or they’ve always been that way; things “always being that way” is what has brought us to the present day.

hello from the other siiiiide

I must have tried a thousand times
to tell you that’s racist, everything that you’ve said
but when I comment you never seem to take accountability for your facebook posts

Think about what it means to turn away. We are not on the other side of this. As Shaun King laid out, “more unarmed Black folk have been killed by police THIS YEAR than were lynched in any year since 1923.” Armed white supremacists in bulletproof vests fired upon peaceful protestors in Minneapolis, and then walked away from a crowd full of police. The KKK has been openly recruiting in Portland and surrounding cities, where police also put up a billboard saying “Having enough police matters,” directly across from a church that has been displaying a #BlackLivesMatter banner. Shooting an unarmed Black person doesn’t lead to jail time, but protesting these murders by police does. Police have literally been targetting and arresting Black organizers who are leading protests and direct actions. 

Across the country (and in other nations), Black organizers are drawing attention to the open war on Black folks in this country.

Having “a conversation about race” is not enough, by far. But right now, we as non-Black folks, need to take on the labor of these conversations in our own communities, with our own families.

* Specifically, this is a perfect example of casual racism and transphobia, in that “progressive” cisgender (mostly) white folks get to make racist and transphobic statements (which the video also reifies by drawing on drag tropes which are often if not always transmisogynistic) for laughs. See where the laughs come in, and see also Dave Chappelle’s comments on taking a break from “Chappelle Show” after hearing a white person’s laughter at “the wrong moment.” (I have many thoughts about comedy and the limits of its usefulness.)