The Filling, the Overflowing, and the Emptiness

On November 23rd of this year, I had the honor of being appointed to the Young Women’s Initiative Cabinet of Minnesota.

The Young Women’s Initiative Cabinet brings together nonprofits, businesses, and government to improve equity in outcomes for young women in Minnesota who experience the greatest disparities.

This cabinet has been a work in progress for years, but nowhere would approve it until Minnesota. It wasn’t approved until Minnesota because no government officials were on board until Governor Dayton. As soon as the idea was pitched to him, he was on board!

If our action plan works, this cabinet will be starting in many other states as well and for those of us in the cabinet, we will be a part of history.

There are about twenty five women on this cabinet, ranging from ages of 16 to 24 who are working with me to create an action plan to strengthen services and areas that are already working for women in Minnesota.

It is seldom I feel proud of myself but being appointed to this cabinet is one of those moments. My voice didn’t seem important until now.

But getting appointed to this cabinet a few short weeks after the election was conflicting for me in many ways.

Being a part of this cabinet was the hope that I needed in humanity and in the world I live in.

There’s a phrase that says ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup’ and the election had me feeling as if my cup had run permanently dry.

After a few weeks of feeling absolutely empty post-election and then getting to be a part of this cabinet, it felt like the cup I pour from was overflowing.

But how does one keep faith in the work they’re doing when the world at large is actively working against them?

I have always believed in people and that they hold the power.

To maintain my full cup, I needed to be a part of this cabinet working to create change in a world that so desperately needs it.

At the first cabinet meeting, we each spoke about what made us decide to apply for a position on the cabinet. As each woman went around the room sharing what brought them to this cabinet, I had hope in the people around me and faith in the fact that people still care.

Each woman that spoke has known various forms of struggles and disparities. Each of the women has the desire to create a better world for all the people in it. Their passions ranged from healthcare disparities to racial profiling and beyond. Even though we all had different issues that brought us to this cabinet, we were a room full of people who cared. The amount of empathy and passion in that room was enough to empower anyone.

It was everything I needed to hear. Being in a room so filled with passion, I felt my cup overflow.

And I recommend becoming a part of something to everyone who is feeling their cup has run dry.

Be engaged.

Surround yourself with people who care and have passion to create change like you do because you are not alone. You are not the only one who feels empathy for others or has a desire to change the way that our world is going. And there is nothing more than to fill your cup up with hope.

Hope in the people around you.

There are more of us out here fighting for good than you think.

So my advice is to do whatever you can to find people like this because they do exist.

And people have the power.

We just forget that.

 

 

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.

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.

 

The Invisible Queer

Someone I know recently looked at me in surprise when I mentioned that I have decided to start using the word queer to describe my identity.  “But you aren’t a lesbian,” she said, “why would you want to identify as one?”  I can certainly understand her confusion.  After all, my partner is a man, and my pronouns are she/her; to the world I look like a cis-gender, straight, white, 42-year-old.  I am an invisible queer person.

I was 20 years old when I acknowledged that I was attracted to women, and I came out as bisexual.  Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a person who isn’t afraid to share her beliefs in loud and boisterous ways; some people even call me (gasp) confrontational.  I immediately came out to my friends and family, without really thinking about any of the consequences that could come with this revelation.  Surprisingly, (at the time) most people ignored it.  I thought I was being accepted for my bisexuality.  It took me a long time to realize that it was something completely different.

Bi-erasure has been a part of my life for the last twenty-two years.  And it isn’t just from straight people, even those in the LGBT community have looked at me and told me that I can’t be bisexual.  This is super confusing to me, since the B stands for BI-SEXUAL!  For some reason, the idea that I am attracted to people on any part of the spectrum seems to be scary to just about everyone.

In twenty-two years, I have heard every stereotypical response to bisexuality, and they always make me feel angry and hurt.  When I discovered the LGBT community in Minneapolis, I thought that I was finding the community that I belonged to, and instead there were many times when I didn’t feel as though I belonged in any community.  I’m in no way saying that every experience I’ve had with LGBT folks has yielded this pain, but there have been enough of them that it’s made an impression on me.

In 2014, even the LGBT Task Force made a mistake when the leadership program director wrote about saying “bye-bye to the word bisexuality.”   And, she made the statement on Bisexual Awareness Day.  The organization later apologized, but that statement shows that there is a real problem when it comes to the idea of bisexuality within the context of the LGBT community.

what-contributes-to-bi-erasure-bham

It’s as though, because I can “appear” to be straight I really don’t exist as a queer person.  But my queerness shouldn’t be tied to outward appearance.  I read a great blog once that talked about Queer Theory which said queerness is freedom from norms.  It used to be that “normal” was described as heterosexual.  Through the years homonormativity has become a way for the LGBT community to move into some of the laws that have given rights to an entire community, and I am definitely thankful for that.  But it doesn’t mean that it isn’t problematic and we shouldn’t look at it.

I definitely have some privilege that I have to take a hard look at because of this invisibility.  I don’t have to currently worry that someone is going to be negative towards me if I hold hands with, or kiss, my partner in public.  I don’t try to be, but I can be someone who can walk around with all of the privilege of heterosexual people.  But on the other hand, I have experienced all of the negative effects of heterosexism in my life.  That is the reason that I chose to identify as queer; I felt the need to step away from both heterosexuality and even homosexuality. After all, I am neither of those things, and I’m both of them.

 

Photos:

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/bi-erasure-hurts/   

http://www.glaad.org/blog/dear-prudence-telling-bi-people-stay-closet-bad-advice 

 

 

melissa-anne-frankMelissa Anne Frank is majoring in both Women’s Studies and English Rhetoric at St Cloud State University.  She plans on continuing her education with a Master’s degree and then a Doctorate.  Melissa is a white, cisgender, pansexual who is proud to be part of the Social Media team at the St. Cloud State Women’s Center.  Melissa also writes a personal blog called Musing with Melly on WordPress. Melissa loves reading, writing, video games, spending time with her partner and two children, and crushing the patriarchy! 

Loving Yourself in a World That Wants You to Hate Yourself 

I used to think that even though racism still exists we really had made great strides as people away from racism. That was until this year’s election. Prior to this year people were still racist, but it was kept behind closed doors. Being racist was shameful, not something to be proud of; you wouldn’t shout your bigotry from the rooftops, until now.

A few weeks ago, I was sadly reminded of the reality of racism on multiple occasions and just how loud and proud people are really getting about it.

The first incident was when I was enjoying a nice dinner that my friends had made for a group of us. We were laughing, catching up, and listening to music loud enough that you could realistically only hear the person next to you. I had picked to sit near a friend and her mom who was asking me about my family.

I of course started off with my dad’s side of the family, partially because my mom doesn’t have any family that is alive anymore and also because I am proud of my Mexican heritage. I managed to get out about six words which were “Well my dad’s side of the family is Mexican…” before my friend’s mother abruptly cut me off.

She looked me deeply in the eyes before saying, “I am so sorry for any of your Mexican relatives; I hate all Mexicans,” the same way you may tell someone that it’s raining out or today is a Thursday.

I am and have always been an outspoken woman, but this is the first time in my life I found myself stunned into silence. I could feel my cheeks flame up with a combination of blotchy anger and shame. But I couldn’t find any words to defend not only my family but my entire existence.

Due to the music, the only one who heard was my friend whose mother had just apologized for my entire race. I was hopeful that in this moment where I couldn’t find the words to stand up for myself, someone else would, but I was sadly let down again. My friend’s only response was, “Oh she didn’t mean it like that. She married a Mexican man and it didn’t end well.” That was it. That was the closest I got to an apology. A half assed excuse.

I decided I would brush it off to the best of my ability because I’ve learned it’s futile to try and change the mind of a middle aged racist. I figured that was hopefully the worst of my week or maybe even the worst of my month. But yet again, I was mistaken.

The second incident was in my natural hazards class, which happened to be just two days later. We were doing an online poll survey where people can input their responses and it shows up on the screen to, “What could you put along the rivers banks to mitigate risks from flooding?”

At first, a flood of answers you’d expect appeared on the screen slowly: a dam, a levee, and rocks. Then appeared an answer I literally couldn’t even fathom. In bright red letters was the response, “MEXICANS.” Someone in my class honestly thought a humorous suggestion to prevent flooding was to put Mexican people in the way.

I can feel the words, “What the fuck” slide off my tongue as if it were just a reflex. I reread it just to make sure I was seeing what I think I was along with the rest of the class. The girl next to me actually laughs. In my classroom taught by three different professors not a one seem to even consider commenting on the giant red “MEXICANS” for an answer on the screen; they ignore it.

Perhaps maybe they thought it wasn’t a big deal. Or even worse, maybe they thought it was a “joke.” I made a list of excuses for them as to why they chose to not shut down that comment just as fast as it appeared on the screen, but I needed them to step up.

 I am so tired. Tired of being the angry Mexican girl who is just “a little too sensitive.” So I said nothing and everyone pretended like it wasn’t happening.

But I cannot pretend I didn’t see it. I cannot ignore it or choose to overlook it because I carry it with me everywhere. I feel that shame in my bones (that feels similar to concrete).

I have been forced to take a thousand steps back in my journey to self-love that I have been working so hard on.

But fuck that, honestly.

How dare people make me feel so small and ashamed of something I have felt proud of my whole life.

I refuse to allow that because I am honored to have brown sugar skin and all the wonderful values and world views that come along with it. I will continue to find ways to love myself in a world that thrives off my self-hate because I owe that to myself.

To all my Chicanx people:

With the next month unfolding and the presidential election closing in, I urge you to not lose sight of yourself. Do not let go of your pride or your resiliency. Keep people close to you who remind you of everything there is to love about yourself. People who will not make excuses on racist’s behalf but will breathe fire down their necks for their ignorance. On the days where the weight of shame is too much to bear: cry about it, scream, or rant to your best friends for hours. Don’t ever begin to feel like you bring it up too much or that you’re oversensitive because you are not. Your feelings are valid. You are valid. Never forget.

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

Five Reasons Masturbating is an Orgasmic Idea

What better way could there be to “Learn to Love Ourselves” than by learning about masturbation? We have some great subthemes for this month’s topic, but there wasn’t one that called to me as much as this one. I feel like healthy sexuality is something that we miss out on in our society. After all, schools are woefully lacking in the idea of promoting sexuality education that teaches students anything about healthiness. I understand that sex is a complicated topic, but youth are actually left at risk when we look at our current sex education system. The only things I ever learned about sexuality (outside of romance books, but that’s a whole different problem for another day) was that sex was bad, I shouldn’t do it, and I would either end up pregnant or with an STD. Had I known more about my own sexuality, not just the “sins” of sex, it’s quite possible I wouldn’t have taken so long in life to accept myself. There are certainly more factors at play, but if we accept our sexuality better, we will accept ourselves with a little more love and compassion.

So drop your stigmas and celebrate your sexuality!

  1. Masturbation, because of orgasms, has some great health benefits. Stress relief and being able to fall asleep better are just two of the health benefits that an orgasm can give you. Whether you are masturbating alone, or with a partner, just remember that it’s for your health!
  2. Practicing a little self-love can make you feel happier. It’s really the orgasm that is giving you happy feelings with the release of dopamine and oxytocin in the body. These two hormones are well known as happiness creators in the human body.
  3. Masturbating can help relieve menstrual cramps. While this isn’t 100% proven, some people are saying that when you climax, blood flow to the uterus increases, which can help relieve cramps. Did you also know that it’s possible to prevent vaginal infections by masturbating?
  4. Women who masturbate tend to be more confident. Sound crazy? Well, according to Dr. Kat Van Kirk, “research suggests that women and men who learn to masturbate early have higher self-esteem, and higher satisfaction when it comes to their sex lives later on.”
  5. Lastly, masturbation is a great way to know what turns you on. Because each of us are completely different, it makes perfect sense that each of us is turned on in completely different ways. If you know what turns you on, you can also help out your sexual partner(s) by telling them!

It’s sad to think that so many women are missing out on the amazing benefits that masturbation can provide us. Studies show that while most women over 18 have masturbated, very few of them practice it on a regular basis, especially compared to the number of men that do.

So sit back, grab your favorite toy, and learn to love yourself, literally.

 

Photo credit: Huffington Post

 

melissa-anne-frankMelissa Anne Frank is majoring in both Women’s Studies and English Rhetoric at St Cloud State University.  She plans on continuing her education with a Master’s degree and then a Doctorate.  Melissa is a white, cisgender, pansexual who is proud to be part of the Social Media team at the St. Cloud State Women’s Center Melissa also writes a personal blog called Musing with Melly on WordPress. Melissa loves reading, writing, video games, spending time with her partner and two children, and crushing the patriarchy. 

Starved for Skin

In flickering eyes

Is the glow of a smoldering fire
They are sizing us up

My body transforms, a whirlwind
A temple for worship
To a stage for performance

All eyes are on me
Shadows flickering on the walls
Whispers scattering
Hurried footsteps down the hall

Their lips glisten in the dark
A shred of light
Despite the darkness trapped inside

Grumbling stomachs
Resonating like heart beats
Growling for me

They are starved
For my skin
Ravenous

For to them
I am nothing more
Than meat

 

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.

 

Welcome (Back) to the Blog!

We are excited to begin Collective Feminism’s second year of publication in order to continue exploring intersectional feminist thinking and foster action across campus! We are eager for another successful year of public intellectualism, inclusive reflection, and benefiting dialogue for all students, faculty, and staff on campus.

Here are a few thoughts we have about year two:

  • We will be doing monthly themes this year. This month’s theme is Learning How to Love Ourselves and October’s theme is LGBTQ+ Celebration Month. Of course, you are free to write on any topics in the realm of feminism, but we feel the monthly themes will give you a nice idea of important and “hot” topics right now!
  • We have a blog team of four members: Melissa Frank (Publisher), Mara Martinson (Managing Lead Editor), Andy Menne (Outreach Coordinator), and Jo Benson (Content and Community Development Coordinator).

It is our hope that you join us (if you haven’t already) by not only reading the blog but also writing and submitting content to collectivefeminism@stcloudstate.edu. We’re looking forward to diverse content and contributions from you! Your submission(s) will continue to make Collective Feminism a platform where all voices can be heard.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the blog so you can receive emails notifying you when we make new posts!

Enjoy your school year; we look forward to being a part of it!

Best,

The Blog Team