Free to be Me: Growing Up Multiracial in America

“What are you exactly?”

Ahh. The all too familiar question I receive either from complete strangers or from friends who finally feel like they’ve known me long enough to ask. To answer that exact question, I’m just like everyone else. I’m human! But I’ve learned that when someone asks me this, I should assume they are asking about my ethnic background. And even though most don’t mean anything offensive by that poor choice of wording, it still makes me feel like I’m the other or that they’re trying to fit me in one box. To answer the intended question, my mom is part Mexican and part Spaniard while my dad is Khmer (Cambodian) and Chinese.

As if growing up wasn’t confusing enough, I was also constantly battling how I identified myself. There would be phases of my childhood when I was ashamed to be Hispanic and fully embraced my Asian side. Then there were times when I despised the Asian side of me and claimed only the Hispanic part. It’s alright feeling like you identify as one more than the other(s), but that wasn’t my problem. My problem was that I was always hating part of who I knew I already was.  As someone who moved to a small town in Minnesota with a predominantly white population from a diverse area of Houston, Texas, I faced different challenges depending on where I was.

When growing up in Houston, it was always the struggle of being enough of my ethnicities. I was either not a real Mexican because I wasn’t a full one or because I didn’t speak Spanish. I would go home and watch a lot of Mexican novelas on Univision just so I could fit in and prove I was Mexican to my classmates. And sometimes I was told I wasn’t Asian enough because I didn’t speak Khmer or get the top grade in math. No matter where I was or who I was with, I was an outsider.

When I moved with my mother and older sister to rural Minnesota, it was a different situation. This time instead of trying to be enough Hispanic or enough Asian, I was spending all my energy to abandon both identities and be white. In my mind, to be white in small town, Minnesota was to be accepted. It seemed to be working because I was getting invited to sleepovers, parties, and people were even coming to mybirthday parties. But it was still there. The racial remarks were still there. Although not directed at me, they could sometimes tell that it made me uncomfortable. They would then turn to me and say “Oh, but you’re not a fullAsian (or Hispanic), so it doesn’t apply to you!”

So I resorted to smiling and laughing along with them. I chose not to make a scene out of fear of rejection and I just took it. I felt the intense need to fit in. And it wasn’t long until being multiracial was used against me. When I got the top score in the grade for the state writing test, I was told that an Asian must have graded my paper. I was laughed at when I brought homemade salsa and fresh tamales to a potluck because my “Hispanic side was coming out.” No matter how hard I tried to be white, I was always reminded that I wasn’t. I was different. In a small school with the majority being white, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Soon enough, I started getting tired of hiding who I was. I realized that I was only fooling myself and I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin. I started taking pride in standing out. I am different and that is a good thing. Sure, I won’t always have the most pleasant experience when my race is brought up in conversations, but that’s not my problem. Other times people are just genuinely curious and want to learn more about something they’ve never known about before. Instead of trying to cover who I am or putting too much effort in being something instead of the other, I’ve learned to embrace who I am and share it with other people – regardless of how they choose to take it.

As I was discovering my inner feminist during junior year of high school, I was also finding joy in myself and the importance of intersectionality in feminism. The moment I chose to embrace every aspect of myself, I felt free. I’m not some quiet, submissive Asian you heard about on TV or lazy Hispanic. I’m not a pile of stereotypes. I’m unique.  I no longer felt the need to hide the fact that I am Asian or Hispanic. I finally felt free to watch anime without being ashamed, eat tamales every Christmas, talk Spanglish at random times, grab the chopsticks instead of a fork, listen to Marco Antonio Solis or RBD, get good grades, talk obnoxiously loud, not be ashamed whenever my mom is talking in Spanish in public (or dad talking in Khmer), and let my dark, thick, curly hair flow freely. I’m grateful because I am free to be me. I was always free to be me.

Photo: http://aas340olspring2013.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-identity-crisis-of-multiracial.html 

Mardon Ellen SoMardon Ellen So is a third year undergraduate student. She is majoring in Sociology and is on a Pre-Physical Therapy track. Mardon enjoys talking about social justice, intersectional feminism, health, running, and life itself. When she’s not studying or working Mardon can be found running, listening to music, singing confidently bad in the shower, reading articles and books, volunteering, or eating. She’s essentially a human being just being. 

But It Doesn’t Add Up

As I am sitting in my Social Work classes taking notes on what it means to be an advocate for social justice, I have to stifle an ironic laugh.

Here I am taking notes on how to advocate for social justice when I should be out there actually fighting for it.

Every day, I wake up and see another executive order passed and it makes it that much harder to drag myself out of bed for classes.

The world needs us, but we’re here taking notes on how we can create change.

What it means to advocate for social justice cannot be understood in the classroom.

Notes are not real life and the classroom is not how the real world works either.

So when you ask me to write about what social justice looks like in my notebook, I am dreaming of throwing this notebook out the fucking window.

Social justice doesn’t have anything to do with sitting in a classroom talking about what social justice could be.

Social justice is getting out into your community and working to create change there. It is starting person to person to eventually create a cultural shift.

Social justice is showing up when the fights are not just about you or showing up for people who don’t want you to.

Fighting for social justice looks like a thousand things, but it will never start while we’re trapped in classrooms.  Here we are stuck in classrooms talking about what we could be doing without doing anything at all.

So how does this add up?

How do we navigate our responsibilities as students, employees, etc. while still showing up and advocating for social justice?

Are there even enough hours in the damn day?

And am I the only one who is starting to feel burned out on both ends?

I wish that there were some answers I could find within a book or a sign from somewhere to guide me to the next step.

But there isn’t.

And time keeps turning and the executive orders keep coming and life isn’t slowing down for any of us.

So where does this leave us?

What can we do?

Although I don’t have all the answers that I’m looking for I do know what the stepping stones are for each and every one of us to begin to do our part to advocate for social justice,

  1. Keep showing up when support is needed. Show up for those who don’t have the privilege to.
  1. Be as present as possible as to what is going on in the world and what causes you can be a part of. If you can support it, do it.
  1. Become involved in your community: volunteer, get to know the people around you, and support those in your community. Creating change is a process and it starts person to person.
  1. Remember not to stretch yourself too thin. The world needs us to keep up the fight, but we cannot give all of ourselves if we are empty.
  1. Stay as informed as you can while staying sane. Know when you need to take a step back from the news for a day, but do not be so privileged as to fully step out of the fight because many cannot.

And lastly,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. “-Margaret Mead

 

 

 

grace-espinozas-blog-pictureGrace Espinoza is a junior undergraduate student at SCSU, majoring in Social Work. Grace works at the Women’s Center and the American Indian Center on campus. Grace is a straight, Mexican Portuguese/white woman with a passion for social justice, feminism, and poetry. She has been a published poet several times beginning in the seventh grade and is honored to contribute to Collective Feminism. 

Self-Care Over Spring Break

Spring Break is nearly here! While you’re using next week to catch up on schoolwork, add more cash to your paycheck, or play a new video game (or like me, a tasteful blend of all three!) self-care is extremely important as we move into the final half of the semester.

What is self-care? Broadly, self-care is anything that allows you to take a deep breath, to center (sometimes, re-center) yourself in your own life. Doing intersectional feminist work is just as exhausting as it is rewarding, and it is essential to make room for yourself. Self-care includes everything from hugging a cat to staying off Facebook for a week to going to the doctor. Try answering the question, “What do I need?”

This awesome article talks about self-care, especially its importance to black women, and aptly quotes Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” That is, making time for yourself is not selfish–it’s connected to survival, which for some marginalized groups is an act of defiance.

Find more self-care strategies here:

Self Care Resources for Days When the World is Terrible

Self Care Strategies to Reduce Stress

Even Non-Artists Use Art Journaling to Relieve Stress

How to Avoid Burnout and Still Help Others

Self-Care Tips for Activists–‘Cause Being Woke Shouldn’t Mean Your Spirit’s Broke

Enjoy break!

–Collective Feminism

Living More with Less-Part 2

I began to realize that my relationship with my mother was as toxic as my relationship with the three men who abused me. I have never told my mother about the abuse, even to this day; I always assumed that she would blame me. My therapist and I began to evaluate the reasons why this was the case, and what I found was two things.

First, that I always heard language from my mother that was blaming me for things.  Throughout my life I commonly heard the phrases, “He was always abusive,” and, “I only stayed with him because of you,” when she talked about her relationship with my biological father. These narratives gave me the belief that my mother suffered at his hands because of me. When she met my step-father, she was so happy.  How could I, once again, be to blame for her being miserable?  Second, my mother had a lot of control over my life. By not telling her about the abuse I was maintaining some sort of control over my own life.

As I was able to deconstruct each relationship I was able to pull together a list of the people that were a part of my support team.  That support team has become essential for my health and well-being.

With the inspiration to find the complete Emmy, I decided to keep looking deep within myself. I wanted to make sure that I implemented these new ideas I was introduced to. One of the things I realized was that when I was trapped in triggering moments, a common thing I did was buy things. I almost felt as though I should be able to walk into an addiction meeting and say the following soliloquy:

“Hello, my name is Emmy and I am a recovering shopper. I was never told that my addiction was bad for me. In fact, I was told time and again that my addiction was good. Good for the economy, good for my family, and good as an example of my personal achievements. I was given this advice by countless advertisements, television shows, movies, songs, and really in almost every aspect of my life in our society.”

Some people may laugh at this, thinking that I am joking or maybe that I am insane. I have certainly felt on occasion that I was running some marathon of insanity. For most of my life I felt as though having more material objects would make me happy. I was positive that having more things than my friends would make me the envy of those around me. I believed that my life would be better if I had a bigger house, or if I could wear a different outfit every day for a month.

That was definitely not the case. Having more things only created more problems in my life. If I didn’t have the newest video game for my children, on the day of its release, I felt like a bad mom. If I didn’t have a new dress for every event I attended, I felt as though every person in my life knew it and would think I had bad fashion sense. If my home didn’t have expensive things I thought that everyone around me would think I was poor. I should have listened to The Notorious B.I.G. when he said, “Mo money, Mo problems.”

And then there’s the “high.” Buying things created within me a feeling of euphoria. For instance, when I got a four hundred dollar purse for only $75 I felt like the queen of bargain hunting. It became a cycle, and a very vicious one at that. If I felt bad, I would go shopping, which would give me a small sense of fulfillment. I would bring home bags of things that I would never use, items that I would spend thousands of dollars on. I still have a dress hanging in my closet that I have never taken the tags off. It is a beautiful dress, but I have never found the time to wear it. That dress is eight years old.

In many ways, this same cycle is running through the lives of people in our society. Advertising has an intense hold on our lives that many people do not even begin to understand.  It affects our psyche in treacherous ways, and I believe, wholeheartedly, that it creates a cycle of addiction that people do not acknowledge. Meanwhile, companies are making billions of dollars on the addiction that has been created; hidden under the guise of “The American Dream.”

These things would fill up my house and life with complications, which would in turn make me unhappy. This was because there was one thing that those bags never held; happiness.

So, I set about on the decision to stop hiding my pain within the act of buying.

This addiction became a coping mechanism for me.  I used buying to get me through the times when I wanted to escape from the realities that were my life; the reality that I was a terrified woman living with the pain of years of abuse and concealing. The cruelty that I experienced threatened to creep out of my every pore some days, and those were the days when I would go to the mall and spend hundreds of dollars on things that I never needed.

The action of change was difficult. I certainly went through feelings that could be termed as withdrawals. I had to stop going to stores for no reason; forcing myself to make lists when I went to stores to pick up things. These lists would be scrutinized, making sure that each item on it was a need. Then it required me to go by those lists; I didn’t allow myself to be distracted or deviate from them. In some ways, this approach was just like giving up cigarettes or crack; most days I just wanted to go to the mall and buy anything!

After I felt good about my shopping habits I began making decisions that felt good! I had extra money (now that I wasn’t spending it all), extra time (now that I wasn’t at the mall every day), and I wanted to make more positive successes in my life. I started college, originally to achieve a two-year Associate in Arts degree, but it quickly turned into a double Bachelor’s, followed by the decision to achieve a Master’s and Doctorate degrees.

During my first semester, I attended an Analytical Writing course, and this one class ignited the passions that became my majors a year later. I created papers that I was proud and passionate about. I loved every minute. After that first semester, I was already saying to myself, “I can’t just be here for two years.  I need more.”

The more turned into the decision to quit my full-time job and become a tutor at the writing center of the college I attended; it became a double major in English Rhetoric and Women’s Studies; it became something that I have been proud of every single day. Of course, I have to think about the fact that I have exchanged one addiction for another. But addiction is not something that can just be pushed aside for most people. A smoker will turn to chewing gum when they try giving up cigarettes, because they need some sort of sensory feeling that reminds them of smoking. For myself, replacing the dangerous habit of spending money with the habit of education is something that I do happily. However, being aware of it means that I still find myself needing to realize when I am going too far.

For instance, I recently had a rather busy week.  It was Women’s History Month, and the Women’s Center had a great number of activities going on, most of which I have been involved with in some way. We also had thirteen visiting students from South Africa, and I was volunteering some time to spend with the ladies during their stay. There came a point when I knew that I wouldn’t be able to continue the frantic pace, and so I stepped back and allowed someone else to take my place.

I began listening to myself more too! The idea to quit my job was probably one of the hardest decisions I have made.  I was making a lot of money at my full-time job, and deciding to quit was definitely a decision that could not be made lightly.

One day I was having lunch with a key member of my support circle, Dawn.  At the time, I was working full-time and completing a 12-credit course load in my first semester of college.  We were talking about the fact that we were unable to spend a lot of time together.

Dawn said, “You know, I hate that I am unable to spend time with people that I love because of work.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I said, “I see the people at work a lot more than I see my friends and family. It’s such a pity.”

“And these aren’t even people that I would spend time with if I had the choice.” She said.

I laughed. “I know exactly what you mean.”

We commiserated for an hour over the various functions that we were required to attend for our workplaces: dinners, meetings, holiday parties, and even out of town conferences. We talked about the people that we worked with, and how we wouldn’t spend time with them at all, if given the choice.

I went home that night and really started thinking about it. By that time I was living in a different apartment which was much cheaper than the one I lived at in Monticello. Because I had drastically given up my shopping addiction, my bills equated to under four hundred dollars a month.  I made some pretty elaborate lists and charts of my finances, and I found that I could easily make enough money in a month to become a full-time student and still pay my bills.

The last thing that happened during this time was that after realizing that I could live alone happily, I came to the hard knowledge that my divorce, years before, really happened because I was scared that my relationship was good. The fear that was a part of my life had affected how I looked at my marriage. I divorced Gerard (my ex-husband) because I was too afraid to look inside of our relationship and find what was worth saving. There was a problem and I ran from it; simply because that is all that I knew how to do at the time.

Of course, shame and guilt came upon me next, but for the first time I looked at it head on and challenged it; I didn’t run and hide from it. I had to give myself a break.  No one ever taught me about how healthy relationships happen. There were no classes in school teaching us about healthy boundaries.

I started thinking about Gerard, a lot. Our divorce was never really about not loving him, as much as it was about not loving myself. Once I was no longer running from myself, I could give up the emotions that were my life. I could give up the control that I used to need so desperately.

But again, I was left with quite a dilemma. I left him, driving out of Minnesota years before, like a bat out of hell. How could I suddenly come back and say, “Oops, my bad.”? I called my big sister to ask for her advice.

“Melinda, I don’t know what to do.” I said.

“Okay, what’s the problem?”  My sister is very practical. I often say that I am like a balloon flying through the world wanting to be free, and my sister is the person holding me so that I do not fly too high and pop.

“I’ve been thinking about Gerard a lot lately.” It sounded pointless to even say the words.

“Thinking about him in what way?” I could hear something in her voice, but I really couldn’t tell what it was.

“Well,” I said, “in a romantic way.”

“Oh.” She replied, I don’t think she really expected it. “Where did this come from?”

I knew what she meant. “Remember when we sat talking about the divorce,” I started, “and I said that I knew I couldn’t be with him anymore. What I really meant was that I couldn’t be with myself.”

“Wow,” she said. “Really?”

“Yeah. But I don’t know what to do.” I answered.

“What do you want to do about it?” She asked.

“I want to call him, and I guess ask him out. Is that weird?” I asked back.

“No,” she responded, “I don’t think it’s weird.”

“I can’t do it though” I said.

“Why not?” She asked me.

“Because he obviously hates me” I answered. “Look at what I did to him! I left him; I abandoned our lives and our family.”

“Okay,” she said, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

I had to take a few minutes to think about that one. I said, “I guess the worst thing that could happen is that he’ll say no.”

“And will that destroy you?” she asked. “Will you not be able to go on if that happens?”

“No,” I said, “I suppose I’ll just move on again from it. It’ll hurt of course, but I am living by myself okay right now. I suppose I can keep doing that.”

“Then just ask.” She said.  My sister has this matter of fact way about her.  Even in matters of the heart, she is all business.

I couldn’t find the courage to call Gerard after that, but I did message him on Facebook asking if he would like to have dinner with me. Doubt tried worming into my thoughts while I looked in the mirror that night; I pushed it aside, even though I thought about cancelling almost a dozen times.

It wasn’t an easy thing, bringing our lives back together, but that was the night that started the conversation and work of becoming a couple once again. It would take an entire book to share how we came back together, but I will say that because we were honest with each other, we have been able to reach out and accept the love that we have for each other.

My time is now spent doing the things that mean the most to me.

I spend time with the people that I love the most: my partner, our children, and friends and family.

Gerard and I have found a passion in traveling together; filling our lives with amazing places and experiences that we never thought we would have.

I don’t work as hard, trying to find ways to buy things that don’t matter to my life.

I’m living more, with less.

 

 

Emmy Phillips is a senior at SCSU in the English Rhetoric program. She was sexually abused for twelve years of her childhood, starting at the age of five. It has taken a lot of work to be where she is today, and she is proud to say that she is a survivor. Some days are really easy, but some are really hard. Her dedication to helping survivors has culminated in the completion of sexual assault advocacy training, and is now ready to volunteer to help others through painful times. Wherever you are in your journey; never be ashamed of your story, because it will inspire others.

Calling All Writers!

Hey friends!  We are currently sending out a call for regular contributors for Collective Feminism for this semester, Spring 2017. If you haven’t already heard about our stipend, this post is dedicated to give you everything you need to know about it.

If you do have additional questions or concerns, shoot us an email at collectivefeminism@stcloudstate.edu (you might even consider it practice for submitting future posts).

stipend-poster

If you’ve submitted posts to us already, you probably already know that we accept intersectional submissions of all shapes and sizes. From commentaries on political goings-on (which we have no shortage of), feminist reviews of movies and video games, to poems, stories, and even visual art. There’s a lot to talk about–and this is your space!

We understand that writing blog posts during the semester can be tough, especially considering homework, student organizations, and work. We’d like to offer this opportunity to help you out: if you submit three (publishable!) blog posts, you’ll be paid $60, and your work will be published on this blog.

So what’s the catch? First, all three have to be submitted and deemed publishable before you receive the stipend. We also have a contract for you to sign that details dates throughout the semester we’d like your post submitted by. (We give you ample time, and we’re willing to work with your schedule, so don’t stress out about it!)

Let us know you’re interested by shooting us an email at collectivefeminism@stcloudstate.edu.

Living More with Less-Part 1

The coffee maker bequeathed its little “ding,” letting me know that the pot was ready for consuming. I never let myself drink the coffee before the entire pot is ready; it always tastes different if you do, less full bodied. I poured myself a cup, adding cream and sugar, just the way I liked it.  I went outside to my apartment balcony and sat in the teal high-backed lawn chair that I bought for that singular purpose. I found it relaxing to sit outside enjoying the sounds of the morning while sipping my first cup of the day. Today, though, I couldn’t enjoy the birds singing in the spring air. To be honest, I didn’t even hear them.

There are times in life when we are thrust into positions we never imagined for ourselves.  I kept staring inside at the apartment; looking at furniture, pictures on the wall, and the possessions of two people. But I was the only person left in the apartment.

The feelings that welled up inside me over the next few weeks were like old friends; fear, shame, guilt. The fear that I would be alone, once again, without someone to call my love; patriarchal gender norms at their finest! The shame of giving up on yet another relationship; this wasn’t the first time I ran away from a partner. There was also the guilt of wondering what I did wrong.

I met Bertin in the spring of 2011.  In 2010, I went through a rather irregular divorce, after which I moved to California.  We decided to do what was best for our two children, which included trying to make the divorce as easy as possible. Bertin was pretty much the exact opposite of my ex-husband: unpredictable, irresponsible, and unstoppable.  He was everything that I wanted to be; everything that I pretended I could be.

Our fights were like two storms coming together. I was the tornado, tearing through life, creating a path of destruction and pain.  Bertin was a volcano, quiet until suddenly he burst through with the power to demolish anything in his path.  Needless to say, we were not a good combination.  We met in a whirlwind. A swirl of time in which it all seemed to stand still. And each day we were together the storms tried to tear each other apart, but those storms were us! We moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, then from Los Angeles to Minnesota. We broke up and came back together three times during the two years we were together. He went on a trip to see his family in San Diego.

I remember dropping him off at the airport. I drove my green two-door Mitsubishi. I picked the car out of the lot, not for gas mileage or durability. I picked it because it had a sunroof, and I always wanted one. Bertin and I ate breakfast at our favorite diner. It was a tiny family owned restaurant that was only open for breakfast and lunch in Monticello. I always got their pancakes, amazingly large and fluffy, with hash browns and bacon; Bertin got the corned beef hash with eggs, which was his favorite from our first visit. We drove to the airport holding hands the entire time. His smooth fingers rubbed in the space between my thumb and forefinger. We chatted as though it was any other day. He never lived away from his family, which was something I could easily understand. I kissed him goodbye; thinking that I would be seeing him in just one week.  But a month later, he was still making excuses as to why he wasn’t coming back home.

Everything in my life seemed to be a tumultuous affair; my relationship with Bertin, my family life growing up, my twelve-year marriage to Gerard, and my friendships. They all seemed to be situated around common factors; fear, shame, and guilt. But, I didn’t realize how they fit together, until the day I stood in that apartment surrounded by Bertin’s things.

When I look back now, I realize that these emotions were in control of me during most of my life.  During that time, though, they just seemed normal.  I hardly knew anything else.  And so, I sat there in my empty apartment, all alone, and I finally decided that I had to do something drastic.  I had to make myself whole. I needed to find a way to live more.

I sat down for the first time in my life and tried to really figure it out. I turned to some of the things that have always been a part of my life, books. I love to read. There have been times in my life when books were a substantial escape for me. Sometimes I would read up to five books in a single week. I began reading Elizabeth Gilbert and Alexandra Stoddard. Both authors wrote about taking deep looks within yourself. Sometimes you might not like what you see, and that’s okay, but you have to look. I didn’t see someone strong inside myself, although that’s the kind of woman I have always thought myself to be. I found someone who spent the last thirty-some years running.

I was sexually abused for twelve years of my childhood.  It started when I was five years old, and continued until I was seventeen.  There were three men who abused me during the most vulnerable years of my life. Sometimes, even now, I look at a sentence like that and have a hard time believing it.

Those years of abuse were tremendously hidden, in a number of ways.  First, no one within my family knew about the abuse. Second, I hid the abuse deep within me during most of my life. Once a year, I would have a remarkable breakdown; the only time that I would let out the pain.  Usually this would result in sobbing for a couple of days, with no one to console me. After a few days I would pack it all away, within its neat little box where I believed the effects of my abuse needed to live.  I lived nineteen years with constant emotional roller coasters. During that time, I tried numerous depression medications to try to solve the adversity that was my life. But medications for depression are for changing the neurotransmitters in our brain that affect our emotions. My own depression wasn’t just in my brain; it thrummed through my blood and hid in the deepest reaches of my soul.

I finally began to understand that my abuse was harming me in ways that I couldn’t even begin to fathom. I could no longer push aside these emotions and memories. I knew that I had to confront them if I ever wanted to be happy.

Health insurance is woefully lacking in assistance for those that need any sort of counseling services. I was stuck in an expensive lease that I was paying for by myself. I definitely did not have the money for the eighty-five dollars an hour that some of the clinics were charging.

I used to work with a woman, Samantha, who I knew was a licensed counselor. I was hoping that she would have some ideas for low cost assistance. She knew that the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center had advocates and counselors on hand, and that they provided free services within our area. I snuck out to my parent’s garage one particularly hard day, when I was feeling the creeping emotions pulling me deep into their embrace, and I dialed the phone number that Samantha had given me.

“Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center, how can I help you?” The woman on the other side of the telephone asked.

“I’m not really sure,” I said, “I think that I need to talk to someone.”

“What would you like to talk to someone about,” she asked.  “I need to know a little information so that I can get you to the right person who can help you.”

Here it was, truth time. Whatever I said here would mean that more than a small handful of people would become people that knew about my shame. I took a deep breath, but my voice came out in the tiniest of whispers.

“I was sexually abused as a child, and I am having a really hard time right now. I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to say.” The tears were already falling down my face, and I could feel myself sliding into the all too common frame of mind that hit me once a year.

“Thank you for sharing with me” she said, “I am going to get you on the line with one of our advocates.”

A few moments later I was talking with someone who helped me find a little bit of calm that day. She also told me some other options for future help. I could call the advocate hotline any time I wanted, and I set up a meeting to meet one of the centers counselors at a church nearby my apartment.

I will always remember the first time I met with Julie. I was terrified; shaking the entire time. It was so rare for me to say the words out loud.  What would she think of me?  One of the men who abused me was my dad.  In some ways I hate him, but in other ways I love him.  He has always been a part of my life; my family’s lives; my children’s lives!  How fucked up would she think I was?  However, Julie put me completely at ease. We didn’t have to talk about it right away, if even ever. She was there to listen to me. Whatever I wanted to say.

We did end up talking about my abuse that day and once a week thereafter. But what she taught me about myself was so much more. She helped me find confidence; the confidence to believe myself and to trust myself. She helped me find the dedication to follow through with confronting the things that were to become known as my triggering events.  Instead of hiding them, trying to pack them away in those neat little boxes, I could let them out. Visit the memories, and find a way out of them. She reminded me that five-year-old Emmy was still a part of me and she was scared!

One of the things that has helped me the most is a picture of myself in my phone. I was five years old, and the picture was from when I was in Kindergarten. I am wearing a blue button up shirt with little red flowers on it. I remember the shirt was cotton; it was always crisp but smelled of Downey fabric softener. I had three colors of yarn in my pigtails: red, white, and blue. I always loved it when my mom did my hair; these were some of the last happy years of my life. When I am triggering, it’s important to remind myself that that small child is safe. I will look at the picture and remind her, “You are safe. You are loved.”

Julie and I also talked about ways to develop and maintain healthy relationships. I found great importance in the idea of having healthy relationships with everyone in my life.  I learned to find boundaries within my relationships.

From those counseling sessions emerged someone I never thought I would see; a person who was happy and adjusted.  Someone who realized when she needed to slow down and look at situations with deeper analysis.  I found myself.

There are a number of relationships in my life that I have had to re-evaluate.  Each person that has crossed into my path has had to be scrutinized; a decision to be made. I think that too often we do not want to take a hard look at the people in their lives. We see everyone as a blessing; someone who loves us needs to be cherished.

But, sometimes, a person is not good for us.  It isn’t that there is something wrong with us, or them. When we deconstruct something we are able to look at it with a different lens and dig deep into the meanings behind them.

In this instance, I was deconstructing the relationships that comprised my life. I had to look at them from another lens, and not just the lens of social acceptance that I was raised to accept as normal.  That was the lens that allowed five year old me to not say anything about being touched sexually for twelve years.  By looking at this new lens I was able to see the complexities in my life that had me thinking these events as almost normal. And as I looked back, I realized that I did think of those things as normal. There was a time in my life when I assumed that this is what daddies did with their daughters.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 in Emmy's Story, coming next Tuesday!

Emmy Phillips is a senior at SCSU in the English Rhetoric program. She was sexually abused for twelve years of her childhood, starting at the age of five. It has taken a lot of work to be where she is today, and she is proud to say that she is a survivor. Some days are really easy, but some are really hard. Her dedication to helping survivors has culminated in the completion of sexual assault advocacy training, and is now ready to volunteer to help others through painful times. Wherever you are in your journey; never be ashamed of your story, because it will inspire others.

 

Hand in Hand

If she holds his hand

She’s an itch, a bitch

Independent, she can’t

Not without a man

And if she is, she’s considered a lesbian

A goddess for one to gawk

With a head for one to mock

Not of worth

Unless naked

Or adorning a short, short skirt

Can’t she dress the ways she desires

With more than man that she aspires

Too much does her body inspire

The wrong things—what the man wants—the liar

If he holds his hand

Is he still a man?

Has he lost what makes him a brother

If he gives into the arms of another?

A being that must be strong

For anything but strong is wrong

He must not cry, he must not sob

He must not wear the woman’s garb

Beaten for being like her

Being awarded for beating her

Forced to live with tightened bounds

But his cries for help lack resound

Can he not live free from the whip that cracks?

From the voices that praise and despise his sex?

If they hold their hand

They are feared, abandoned

The letter overlooked

In the alphabetic set of oppressed crooks

A confusion to pick apart

A problem—an issue not for the faint of heart

For those who have lived with the chains of bi

That punished anyone that dared to try

Those that believed we could be more

More than what we and they have built at the core

Can they not choose what to feel?

Must we comply to the chains; must we kneel?

If we hold each other’s hands

And forget about if one is darker or lighter than

Perhaps then we will realize

That we are living short, piteous lives

Must we be unsatisfied

If we cannot lower one or hate before we die?

There comes a time when we must perceive

That we are not alone on this land or across the sea

Unified we can be better—together

Not in agreement, but with respect, with understanding, for one another

 

 

 

chuaya-loChuaya Lo transferred to St. Cloud as a third year undergraduate. She greatly appreciates the diversity and emphasis on heading towards the goal of a better world of equal treatment and respect. In her free time, Chuaya enjoys writing fiction, watching anime, TV shows, playing video games, and drawing/writing graphic novels. She’s majoring in linguistics with a TESL minor, with the goal of teaching English in Japan.

Taking a Look at Trump’s Anti-Woman Cabinet

Anyone breathing knows that the current administration has already and is poised to continue to work against the safety, well-being, and interests of many marginalized groups, including women.

Today we would like to highlight a small number of examples when the members of this cabinet have acted against women in the past as a way to anticipate their actions during the next four years, in this article. Here is a small quote:

The Violence Against Women Act, which protects women from domestic and sexual violence, passed with bipartisan support in 1994 and was reauthorized with bipartisan support several times since. Yet four Trump nominees who served in Congress when it was reauthorized in 2013 voted against it. Several of these men are slated to lead agencies charged with helping enforce or implement this essential law.

This conversation covers topics central to many women’s lives including the Affordable Care Act (ACA), reproductive rights, workplace fairness, and sexual violence. It is by no means a complete analysis of the many issues touched by these lawmaker’s and enforcer’s decisions, nor an in-depth conversation about these four issues themselves.

It is, however, a great place to begin a conversation about what is at stake. We must have these conversations together and learn the many ways we are each affected by the actions of this administration.

Have anything to say? Comment below!

How to be Trans

It always comes as a surprise to me when I hear of discrimination within the LGBTQIA+ community. I assumed that a group of marginalized and discriminated people would stick together, having experienced social exile and not wanting to again. But then I hear someone say, “They’re too masculine/feminine to be Trans”/”They must be faking it”/”How can they say they’re Trans if they’re not…” and I’m floored at the close-minded words of a seemingly progressive concept.

What is the correct way to be Trans?

There isn’t one right way to be Trans just like there isn’t one right way to be any other letter in the acronym. Saying that someone can’t be a Trans-man because he performs femininely is like saying that a woman can’t be a lesbian because she isn’t butch and loves makeup or that a man can’t be gay because his voice is too deep.

The way that someone chooses to perform does not validate or invalidate the way they wish to identify.

The LGBTQIA+ community is filled with people who don’t fit into the Cis-normative/heteronormative boxes that society has constructed. Society said that marriage is between a man and a woman, a heteronormative belief. Lesbian and Gay individuals subvert this. Society says that men have penises and XY chromosomes while women have vaginas and two X chromosomes. The existence of transgender and non-binary individuals subvert that. It shows that there isn’t one way to be a certain gender. You can be a man with curves, with fat on your chest, and with a higher pitched voice. You can be a woman with facial hair; you can be neither on the simple basis that it’s comfortable for you. Gender and the way that it is received in society was created to restrict and label in a way that created hierarchies in our society (i.e. women as the weaker sex to keep them in the home). So why is there a correct way to be Trans? Why put someone in a category that the LGBTQIA+ community was created to resist?

If a Trans-woman says she’s a woman, she’s a woman. You have no right to tell her what she is and isn’t, just as she has no right to do the same to you.

The LGBTQIA+ community was created as a place where an individual could be themselves un-apologetically, a place where they’d be embraced for their differences and spectrum of identity. Invalidating an identity because it doesn’t fit what society says it should be is doing nothing more than participating in the oppressive system that created the need for the community in the first place.

 

 

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Mariam Bagadion is a second year student at SCSU double majoring in Women’s Studies and English. She has a passion for writing and social justice and thinks the coolest thing in the world is when the two can be combined. In her free time, she writes fiction, watches Netflix, and plays one of the three songs she knows on the ukulele.

(Feminist) Thoughts on the March

Just after the Women’s March on Washington, Carly Puch (one of our own!) wrote on her own blog about her experience participating in the march.

She brings together a thoughtful perspective on the empowering heart of the march, critiques of its unmistakable whiteness, and what both of those things mean for the kind of work we have, as feminists, ahead of us.

Here’s an excerpt…

There are improvements to be made, and particularly we white feminists can do better but what these marches symbolized was that recognition. More women are mobilized because for many it is the first time their rights are truly being threatened, whether that be attributed to their race, their class, their age or any other factor that has allowed them to turn a blind eye to injustice. Human rights campaigns in this country have been built on the backs of people of color, do not silence them, but listen and learn to those who have been fighting before you.

Continue reading here!

The kind of work we have ahead of us must not be forgotten or ignored: it must be thoughtful. We must strive to love each other, build bridges between those of us with vastly different experiances, and act beyond our fear to achieve things which may seem impossible.

What do you think?  Let us know here on the blog or write us at collectivefeminism@stcloudstate.edu