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UK Stands With #BlackLivesMatter

13 Jul

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The hardest letter I’ve ever written [tw: sexual abuse]

3 Jun

I wrote this letter to my aunt  and sent it by email in January of last year. I think her husband deleted it because she never replied. I may one day try sending it again but right now I am not ready. So, with the aim of continuing my healing process, I am posting it here and sharing it with you, my beloved readers. Thank you for holding space for me. – dia 

My dearest aunt,

I never imagined I would be writing you this letter. It has taken me years to simply acknowledge and accept that what I am going to tell you is true. It scares me to tell you, but in this case I must face my fears because I believe wholeheartedly that this is the right thing to do.

There is no way to put this that will make it easier to take, so I will say it as clearly as I can. Your husband sexually molested me each summer I was in the Philippines since I was 13. When I was 13, when you and he and I would fall asleep on the couch, I would wake up because he was touching my body and putting his tongue in my ear. I would run upstairs to get away from him. When I came back at age 17, he encouraged me to drink alcohol and when I was drunk he took advantage of me. After that, he would try to touch or kiss me every time we were alone, which was a lot because he was expected to look after me while everyone was at work. His behavior continued until I was 21 and I never told anyone. I blocked out these memories for a long time but they have come back to me now and I think it is important to tell you, because you deserve to know.

The thing that scares me most about telling you is that you, he, or other family members might blame me for what happened. But I know what happened to me was not my fault. I did not ask for, invite, or court his attention. I was young and vulnerable; I thought he was my friend. He was in a trusted position as a caretaker and he took advantage of that position. He was the adult in the situation and he violated the trust that all of us placed in him, yours, mine, and our whole family’s.

I told my mom a few years ago and she decided, without asking me, to tell her sisters. Although this was not my choice and I am not responsible for this, I want to apologise on their behalf that they have kept this information from you for so long. I do not think this is right but I know they thought it best not to say anything, in order to keep the peace.

Today, I am not interested in keeping the peace. I would rather tell the truth. And so here it is, for you to do with it what you will. Your husband groomed and molested me when I was a teenage girl, and he has gotten away with it for a long time. But not anymore.

I am willing and open to talking to you more about this if you would like. I would also be open to talking to your daughter – now, if you want her to know, or in the future if you would prefer that I wait till she is older. However, I do not want to talk to anyone else about it as I think it is important to work things out between just us for now.

If you want to talk, I am here. You can write me by email, or I can call you on the phone. If you don’t want to talk, and just take some time to process this hard and sad news, that is ok with me too. Let me know what you prefer.

I want to add – although I personally do not want to talk to anyone else besides you, I hope that you would feel free to talk to, and get support from, whomever you choose. This information is yours now, it is not a secret, and you can do with it what you think and feel it is right to do.

With all my love

Your adoring niece.

Surviving Heteronormativity 

17 Aug

As a queer feminist cis woman in a relationship with a straight man, I find myself struggling every day against heteronormative patriarchy. It is a toxic cloud that I am holding at bay purely by the strength of my wit and my will. Some days are harder than others. Some oppressive interactions are more subtle while some are more overt. It leaves me feeling like I am teetering upon a tightrope, wondering what will be the element that will cause me to lose my balance, and with it, the independent identity I have worked so hard to cultivate. But through it all, I am learning some important lessons about how to resist and challenge the slow erosion of my independence and suppression of my spirit that is characteristic of what happens to women in heteronormative sexist relationships, and it is these that I wish to share with you today.

Lesson 1. You are in control of yourself.

One of the founding principles of heteronormative capitalist patriarchy is its ability to make women believe that they have no other option than to remain in relationships that leave them feeling unsatisfied at best, and victimised at worst. Once linked to men’s traditional role as financial provider, women are taught that to catch and to keep a man, and eventually, to bear his children, is the epitome of womanhood and the highest expression of femininity. The result of this schooling, even in an era where many women are now the breadwinners of the family, is that we stay with men who are not right for us and put up with behaviour that is selfish, disrespectful and often abusive. The fact that so many men act in these ways, that it is tolerated, normalised, and even becomes an object for comedy, is a sure sign of the sickness that pathologises our society. 

So what can be done to challenge this? We need to learn that at any point, no matter how embedded we are in a bad relationship or an unfair partnership, how long we have been with them, how many kids we have together or what other people will think, we possess within us the ability to resist, say no and to walk away from situations that oppress us. Although it may be difficult to see an alternative or a way out, this is something we can strive for and work towards. We can speak to our partner about our needs and get out if our requests go unheard. We can ask for help in this process if we need it. We do not deserve to be treated badly and we were not meant to suffer in silence, unloved and unappreciated. We must remember that we have choices and that even though we cannot control the actions of others, we can control how we respond to them. And if that response is to remove yourself from a situation, then so be it.

Lesson 2. Retain your independent thought. 

Another holdover from centuries of unbridled capitalist patriarchy is the notion that after marriage, or in the contemporary era, coupledom, man and woman are united and they become one entity. However, what we often fail to discuss is that in a union of people who, in the eyes of society, are not equals to begin with, the thoughts, opinions and beliefs of the person who is higher on the social ladder will undoubtedly win out over those of the person who is lower. We see this manifest in many ways, such as how men often get the final word in decision making (“Let me just check with my husband/I want to do X or Y but my guy doesn’t approve”) or disciplining (“Ask your father/Wait till your father gets home”). It is also apparent in how many women act as mouthpieces for their husband or boyfriend’s opinions. 

Often the process of mind control takes place through a gradual chipping away at a woman’s independent thought. We enter relationships as individuals with our own ideas and opinions, but over time we may allow those opinions to be set aside in favour of those of the man we love, because we wish to please him. This in itself may be seen as honourable, but only in the context discussed above where your main aim is to keep your man, no matter how pushy or selfish or ungrateful he may be. In reality, it is dangerous and leads to an unhealthy self-denial, the practice of self-silencing and the disappearance of our individuality. Do not let this happen to you. 

Lesson 3. Make space for yourself.

Something that can really help us retain our independent thought, listen to our intuition, articulate and act upon what we need is maintaining our personal space. This is space in both the physical and mental sense. Find some time each day to be alone with yourself, even if it is just a few minutes in the bathroom or a short trip to the store, and be intentional with this time. Bring a small notebook and write down your thoughts, or clear your mind of everyone and everything and just focus on your breath. Repeat a positive affirmation to yourself and remember that in this moment, you are enough. 

Humans are social creatures. Loneliness is one of our greatest fears. But if you learn to be as committed to yourself as you are to your partner, then you will find it enjoyable to spend time working on yourself, developing your interests, pursuing your passions, and doing the things that make you happy.  You can share these things with others if it is appropriate, and you should make and maintain friendships outside of your relationship, both to quell co-dependency and to experience the fulfilment that comes from being yourself and doing the things you want to do, whether or not your partner does them with you. This is key to lasting intimacy and also to maintaining monogamy, if that is the intention for your relationship. The sex and relationship expert Esther Perel has said: “We need multiple connections, multiple attachments. If you start to feel that you have given up too many parts of yourself to be with your partner, then one day you will end up looking for another person in order to reconnect with those lost parts.”

Make space for yourself to think your own thoughts and to see the world from your own point of view. This doesn’t mean shutting down debate or never compromising in a fair way, but really listening to your own feelings, making up your mind for yourself and not putting up with having those thoughts and feelings dismissed or ignored. But in order to make that happen, you have to set the example by not dismissing or ignoring them yourself. You have nothing to fear from being alone. You are complete unto yourself. You were fine before they came into your life, and if one day you break up, you will be fine after they are gone. Anyone who truly loves you will learn to see and respect that, and if they do not, then you’re better off without them. 

Intersectionality is Not a Trend

1 Apr

One might hope that the widespread introduction of a concept that is meant to put your experiences and those of others like you at the centre of conversations about social justice and equality might have the positive side effect of actually including you in the conversation. But unfortunately, that has not been the case with intersectionality. 

Over and over again, I have been in nearly all-white spaces where the term I have come to rely upon to help me articulate the experiences of women marginalised by mainstream white feminism has been utilised liberally by said white feminists. They then go on to further marginalise and other those who critique them with such commentary as, “We have received the criticism that our spaces are too white and middle-class. We don’t know what to do about that. So if you want it to change, you do something about it.”

It seems that it is simply too difficult for most white feminists to organise an event with any true awareness of intersectionality. A space where they and their perspectives are sometimes, not even for the whole time, not placed at the forefront and where other women, whose lives and experiences do not resemble theirs, are explicitly invited to sit at the table. To give a keynote speech. To lead a workshop. To sit on a panel as more than a token person of colour. ‘Positive discrimination’ is fine for the organisers if it benefits them personally in terms of hiring or promotion. But when it comes to intentionally changing the demographic of their cis white straight middle-class and able-bodied feminist space, they think it is just one step too far. 

But although it is clear that all these privileges tend to blind our fairweather feminist friends to a homogeneity that is a source of frustration, at best, and pain and trauma, at worst, to intersectional and postcolonial feminists with an analysis rooted in social justice and liberation movements, the salt in the wound is when they co-opt our language (but not our ideas, as they don’t understand those) and use it shamelessly, with no intentions of applying it or putting it into practice. When they pepper their conversation with “intersectionality this” and “gender, race and class that” and continue to centre issues that are important to them, such as how they are represented in the business media, or the continuity of the (white) gender pay gap, while completely ignoring the rallying cries from the lips of true intersectional feminists speaking out about disproportionate numbers of Black and Latina women in low-paid jobs, the thousands of Black women who go missing every year and the ceaseless violence against trans women of colour. When their examples of sexism faced by women in business include the recommendation to “not have curly hair” and they remain silent on the experiences of girls whose Afro-textured hair gets them suspended or expelled from school. When they are invited to speak on intersectionality and they do not pass on the invitation to someone whose life is lived at the intersections, whose expertise and theoretical knowledge is informed by a practice she cannot escape.

Intersectionality is not a trend. Neither is it a tool that can be equally wielded by all. Reading a few articles or listening to a couple of talks doesn’t mean you “get it.” In fact, the more you get it, the more you realise you have left to learn. This is because it is actually more like a frame, a window into a world of experiences different from your own. In order to see through it, you have to step off of the beaten path and peer closely through panes of glass your privilege cannot help but cloud. If you can acknowledge this, then respect those of us who live on the other side of the window, and stop taking up so much room announcing “I get it! I see what you see!” Instead, step back, give us some air, and make space for us to speak. 

Video

Body Love – Mary Lambert

31 Jan

“The time for us has to reclaim our bodies.”

We love you, Mary Lambert. Thank you.