Beyond the Pixie Cut

A couple weeks ago, I went to watch Coco. I had been putting it off for ages but finally went to Hongdae, which was one of the few locations that was still screening the movie. I stopped by the women’s bathroom after the movie and was standing in line when two people came into the bathroom. One of them took a look at me and my friend (both of us short-haired, wearing black varsity jackets and jeans) then said out loud: “여기 여자 화장실인데 남자들이 줄 서있네 / This is the women’s restroom, but there are men standing in line.”

I’ll be honest that I was a bit unprepared. In my year and a half living in Korea, I have never had a 20-something-year old comment on my gender so publicly. Usually, it’s older women who jump at the sight of me entering the bathroom or come over to kindly let me know that it is the women’s restroom. I have my line prepared for those incidents. Yes, I know. I’m in the right place, or I’m not a man. Not all people who have short hair are men. Younger people usually don’t even give me a second glance, but I guess there’s a first time for everything.

I immediately whipped around when the person behind me commented on our gender. Their voice was still ringing in my ear, but I heard myself saying to them, “말 조심하세요. / Watch what you’re saying.” Then I faced forward and just silently waited in line. I beat myself up about being unable to come up with a better line, but later on the way out, the same person came over to apologize and wished me a happy lunar new year. It was such a weird experience.



Over the holidays, I was reading a collection of interviews published by a Korean non-binary group called 여행자 / Voyagers, where people talked about how gender is inscribed into different aspects of languages. For example, 1st person pronouns are gendered in Japanese (私 – watashi, used by women; 僕 – boku, used by men) whereas 3rd person pronouns are gendered in English (he/she/they). Korean is a bit different in that 1st and 3rd person pronouns can be gender neutral, meaning that I don’t usually have to think about my own gender or reveal my friends/partners’ genders in casual conversation. I usually say “the person / 그분” or “that friend / 그 친구,” which doesn’t sound unnatural. But in Korean, 2nd person pronouns are gendered, and the writers of the booklet talk about how the gendering of 2nd person pronouns feels the worst because it simultaneously genders themselves as well as the listener. For the writers, people using the wrong 3rd person pronouns feels less bothersome because the language to acknowledge the existence of non-binary people simply doesn’t exist in the Korean language, but calling someone “unnie / older sister of a woman” or “oppa / older brother of a woman” with their own mouths causes internal conflict and feels like an active erasure of self every time they speak (side note: I think this is completely subjective. As an English speaker, I think 3rd person pronouns being gendered is the most difficult because I have to speak up and actually correct people when they say it incorrectly).


I recently came across a web magazine launched by two queer Korean women called Tone for Two on a crowdfunding site that I frequent. Below is an introduction from their fundraising site:

TONE FOR TWO는 치마보단 바지, 블라우스보단 셔츠를 즐겨 입는 여성, 퀴어 그리고 당신을 위한 패션&라이프 스타일 매거진입니다. 2명의 퀴어 여성으로 구성된 톤포투 팀은 퀴어이자 여성으로 살아오며 느꼈던 불편함과 문제점을 아티클에 담아내고자 합니다. 이에 2018년 1월, 4개의 아티클로 구성된 첫 번째 톤을 발간하였고 돌아오는 3월, 두 번째 톤을 선보이기 위해 준비 중에 있습니다.

TONE FOR TWO is a fashion and lifestyle magazine for women who prefer pants over skirts or button downs over blouses, queer folks, and people like you. Started by two queer women, Tone for Two seeks to write about the discomfort and struggles of living as queer women. The first “tone” comprised of four articles was published in January 2018, and in March 2018, the second “tone” is in the works.

They have interviews with short-haired people and a list of hair salons that will not harass you for the haircut that you’re getting. But what caught my eye was a still of their fundraising video, a photo of a short-haired person taken from the back and the words, “착각하지 마세요. 여자 맞으니까. / Don’t mistake me [for a man]. Yes, I am a woman.”

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 1.09.14 PM

I really like the phrase that Tone for Two features in their video. It sounds the perfect mix of sassy and concise, not too rude but also biting–as if you should smirk and add a slight eye roll when you say it. I thought of using it myself but decided against it. I’m pretty flexible with pronouns and being referred to as someone’s “daughter” or “unnie, noona / older sister,” but it does feel different when I declare I am a woman out loud with my own mouth. I think I understand “daughter” or “unnie, noona / older sister” moreso as roles I play rather than a statement about my gender.

Browsing through new feminism sites like Tone for Two makes me think about these moments of hesitation that I face in the bathroom. What I’m supposed to say, why I have to tell them my gender in order to use this facility, and what my hair has to do with something so internal and tumultuous as my own gender. I support the online magazine and the conversations that they are starting because gender policing also exists for cisgender people, but also a part of me hopes that we will be able to move on from the common Korean feminist narrative of “liberated short-haired women” and delve into deeper, more complicated questions about gender that lies behind and beyond the pixie cut.


Link Roundup (3/1)

  • When Whisper Networks Let Us Down | The Verge
    The article talks about the “whisper networks” that exist around sexual assault survivors — a community of bystanders who know the truth and are bound to secrecy for the sake of protecting the survivors but also by extension, end up shielding the perpetrator. The article poses questions about what role bystanders should play beyond just supporting and believing the survivor.

    Like whisper networks, my reporting exists in and because of a vacuum of justice. And in the Morgan Marquis-Boire story, it’s hard to point the finger at any one community or one institution or even one country. If an institutional failure occurred, the institution was just people. It is hard to believe that my previous story could have achieved anything for the better when it could have only existed because of pervasive moral failure across multiple continents.

    If I have to offer one takeaway from all of this, it’s something close to apostasy in the era of #MeToo — namely, justice should not be defined by what victims want. The women in my story only wanted to be believed; justice is a world where they are allowed to want more.

  • 039f0df8ee164b10b5e10ab5ed9ce64b_8.jpgMuslims of South Korea | AlJazeera
    A photo essay featuring Muslims of South Korea–not only immigrants from the Middle East but also ethnic Koreans who have converted to Islam. There is a couple Muslim communities in Seoul and its outskirts, but this is the first article that I’ve seen that talks about the community in depth.

  • Freshwater | NPR
    NPR conducts a short interview with the author of Freshwater Akwaeke Emezi. Freshwater is their debut novel, a story of Ada, a young woman born in Nigeria who comes to America for college and struggles with the multiple selves that exist inside her. The book approaches mental health issues from the perspective of Igbo spirituality.

    I think everyone’s centered in their own reality, you know. I think part of the thing that’s a problem, really, in the world today is this inability to acknowledge multiple realities, and this insistence that there has to be one dominant reality, and everything that falls outside that reality is false and untrue. And that’s how colonialism worked in great part — people came in and enforced a reality and said, “Well, if you believe in anything else, if you believe in your indigenous deities, if you believe in these spiritual entities, then you’re ignorant and you’re backwards, and it’s only because you haven’t been educated by the West.” And you know, there’s this [thought that] everything that is outside the dominant reality becomes something that’s pathological. And with my work, I’m not really interested in trying to convince anyone to shift their center, I’m just refusing to shift mine.

  • The Trance of Unworthiness | Personal Blog
    The blog post itself is not very important, but I was more interested in the excerpt it has from Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach. A friend of mine recently recorded this meditation (with her own voice!) and sent me a recording. Having the questions be posed out directly, out loud makes them lose their hold over my life–and I feel like I am taking the necessary steps towards my own freedom.

  • Make Me Feel by Janelle Monáe
    No description necessary. My life goal is now to collect all the gifs from this entire video and figure out where I can purchase a pair of those see-through rose embroidered pants.


compilation: “relationships”

You searched for “relationships” in posts written in 2018

About 5 results:

1. I knew I was just overthinking everything about them. I knew that, but also there was a part of me—as there always is—that wanted to just keep this as an obsession, instead of allowing it to blossom into something more. I think that’s the problem with most of my “potential” relationships. I obsess it into oblivion and smother it before it has enough space to ignite. That way, I can keep it as a pile of ash in the back of my mind, turning it over and over again to imagine all the things that it could’ve been. In some ways, my mind enjoys the possibilities of my non-existent relationships more than the ones that I’ve actually had.

2. Your relationship resolutions: Don’t put up with scarcity. Call in total abundance in your erotic and romantic life. Embrace adventures. Be open to relationships you might not have considered. Trust that you’ve learned what you need to know…

3. 헤일러 talked about the role of romantic and sexual attraction in how non-binary people develop relationships with other queer communities. Even within the non-binary community, people associated themselves with other binary LGBTQ groups based on who they are attracted to. For example, people who were attracted/attractive to cisgender gay men usually hung out with them and often got caught in situations where they would be lumped together as a cisgender gay man. The question that remained for 헤일러 was where do aromantic, asexual people like themselves go? I think it’s an interesting observation…

4. Another part of me tells me that she and I are different people, seeking different things from relationships. In some ways, she has these colorful, intense, and beautiful relationships while I strive for something more smooth, natural, and easy. I would often tell myself that I needed to open up myself more, to become more like her, to become more vulnerable. But now, I think that I am already a vulnerable person. I reveal and share, as well as listen in a way that opens up space for the other person. I want to stop always comparing myself to her and instead, allow myself to be the way that I am. To honor my own forms of vulnerability, intensity, and desire…

5. I wonder if it’s “wrong” to be interested in people that have red flags. I wonder if I have red flags. I wonder if our red flags could ever just cancel each out. I wonder if happy people do not have red flags, or we all just meet people who make us slowly lower our flags and surrender to the relationship

  1. Searches related to relationships:
    co-dependent relationships                      relationship anarchy
    queer women friendships                          healthy relationship models
    how to feel secure in a relationship       emotional vulnerability

Osaka & Kyoto, Japan

Some photos from my solo trip to Osaka & Kyoto. I wandered the alleyways, observing the ways that nature intermingled with human & city here. Seoul is probably more like Tokyo in that way; skyscrapers blocking out the skies and constant rumbling of nighttime construction, tearing down history to build cookie-cutter studio apartments. I miss seeing bits of green throughout my day — and the reminder that something lies behind and beneath this concrete city.

Island of Green, a patch of oxygen in a concrete city


A quiet walk along the fall-stained trees, a mixture of flowery textiles and a deep red-orange


In Kyoto. A small store donning a green, grassy roof
A small lush garden surrounding an empty shrine. No one was here and I don’t know the name of the garden, but I still remember the feeling of the wind against my cheek.
Never let go: The ivy that had intermingled itself with the metal frame of the hostel’s bicycle
Sharp pointy edges of the man-made stepping stones / and the soft edges of the sun’s shadows
smoothed out / straight edges / carefully edged characters & the wild yellow blossoms
The end: When we are all gone, Nature will take back its earth


I come home some nights and find my grandmother in the living room. She has a copy of my house keys and invites herself in. Her feet are swollen from standing all day at the pharmacy, and as soon as I enter, she greets me with a problem. The inter-phone is buzzing, she says (I really don’t hear it). The door doesn’t lock right. Maybe it’s because my key is a copy. The light doesn’t turn on when I walk in. Someone keeps leaving the public bathroom door open downstairs. It’s too cold here, she repeats for the hundredth time. Something about those small comments, which greets me at the doorstep every single evening that I find her here, eats away at me like some termite crumbling the inner pillars I have worked so hard to built up. It makes me freeze. It makes me sigh. It makes me roll my eyes and retreat into my room, wanting to disconnect. I’m not sure at what point I started to get annoyed. Somewhere between her blank gaze when I asked her what she would like to do about it and her casually turning on the news as I told her that there are solutions. I remember that at one point, I had tried. Those first couple of months, where I would smile and utter encouraging words, offer options, ask her about her opinion, and let her talk. But ultimately, I hit a wall. Something about her habits of just continuously complaining feel too close to home — like generations of women in me are wailing as she speaks.

Sometimes I wonder if the receiver cannot actually reject things that are handed down. If I cannot withdraw my hands from the heavy sighs, helpless gaze, and the mindless nightly routines that she has offered me. That which grows out its limbs to suppress my breath down to a shallow yet steady gasp — until I can’t figure out if I’m breathing or suffocating, merely continuing. I wonder where she got hers from, where she has put it. And most of all, if she even realizes what she is doing to me through all these actions that she calls “love.”

My therapist told me the other day that as people get older, their brains become physically less malleable. It’s some scientifically proven shit, apparently. but I kind of don’t want to believe it. I don’t want to believe that my mother and my grandmothers are stuck and permanently unable to ever find a way out of their own cage. But perhaps it is less so about our brains, and more about the fears that grow within us. I wondered if they’ve just convinced themselves that the inside of their cages are far safer than whatever maybe outside. I wondered if they are actually trying to find a way out, or if they are just set on fortifying their walls for the rest of their lives. And if they are not able to break down those cages before they leave, I wondered who would take their place.

No, that’s a lie. That’s not what I thought. I just wondered if I would be able to hold up in the cages that they were preparing for me. or if I would simply: break.

November Thoughts

I rarely write anymore. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t need writing, or because I feel like writing doesn’t need me. What it does mean is that there are way more things — little sparks and beginning strands of long untangled thought yarnballs — that are rolling around in my mind. I usually dump them on instagram, but lately I’ve been feeling more withdrawn from social media and the people on the other side. Often times I question why I feel the need to share into a void, when there is no one to build ideas and share conversations with. But here I am again, sharing into a bigger, more scarier void.

Are You On Middle Class Time?

I still think back on my time in college and wonder how I fit everything into my life back then. Too many clubs, too many classes, too many 15-min meetings with friends while walking and having a meeting at the same time. When I left college, I tried to fill my time up again with a gazillion things. Work felt slow and monotonous, there were so many things could change and improve, and people were so hesitant and unwilling to shift their spots. Even though I could push myself to move at an unhealthy speed, I soon realized that most people didn’t and never wanted to. So I pushed myself even harder to fill that gap. There are still random moments of college and post-grad life that pop up and drown me in nostalgia — a longing for that feeling of invincibility, of flying through life, and sheer the intensity of it all, but I never miss the pain and fatigue that went along with it.

While reading this article, I thought about all the ways that me getting into my university was simply because I was a good capitalist child. I was good at being a passive learner, unquestioning authority, and ignoring personal boundaries of disengagement, boredom, or fatigue. Especially the last one. I only recently started to unlearn these patterns, and I now realize how long a single task actually takes me. I still schedule too much into a day, and I still greatly underestimate how much time it will take me to stop by the coffee shop or even just walk to the subway. I leave an hour before something, and I always get there just in time. It baffles me how time works.

Sometimes I think that habits I had in college of being late and flaky were because I ran my body like a machine. I always thought I could do more than I actually could. I always thought the buses would come exactly when I got to the bus station or that I could fly down Thayer to the other side of campus. I think back on those moments when I think of my younger brother who gets scolded for forgetting important things, or my friend who regularly texts me a list of the things that they did that day. I wonder if it’s because they are pushing themselves too hard. Because some things like capitalism are so ingrained in our lives, I wonder if we don’t recognize it as being an outside force shaping and shifting our bodies/minds. I think about capitalism a lot these days. How it stifles my relationship with myself and others, and how much it hurts so many people I love.

. Last month, I went to Dongdaemun Market to get new glasses. I went by myself to a store I had found online and got a new frame with lenses. When I came back home, I realized that the prescription was off and called the store, but they refused to address the problem. Ultimately, my father recommended me a place that he goes to and set things up so that I could exchange my lens there at a lower cost. It also turned out that he had paid for the lens costs beforehand. I just kind of crumbled that day. I splayed out on the cold living room floor when I came home and stared up at the ceiling for awhile. I told my father that felt like an incompetent adult. “I can’t even buy new glasses without getting half-scammed. Why can’t I seem to do anything on my own?” My dad asked why I had to do things on my own. why I thought he hadn’t made mistakes like that before. and why I thought he wouldn’t have made the same mistakes I did, as if being a “competent” adult is some achievable state of being. It brought a lot of things into question: my false (perhaps capitalist) sense of what independence should look like, my obsession with control and doing things on my own, the “all-knowing male provider” box I had placed my father into that didn’t give him room to make mistakes (past, present, or future), the assumption I had made that older people are not capable of change.

Saw an old tweet about white privilege while prepping for class. I was thinking about doing a class on white privilege. Seeing the photos made me realize how I still carry so many racist norms.

넷. 오늘은 여기까지. Music for  you.

The Shop

from June 15, 2017.

There is this cafe I sometimes stop by on my way to the subway — called The Shop. It’s a cute coffee shop, cozy but also modern, that serves good lattes but also old-school 미숫가루 drinks. Every time I’m there, I see a different group of people from the neighborhood. Young students on their way to 학원 / hakwon, middle aged women talking about their children’s latest accomplishments. Today, there was a young guy on his bike who was about the cross the street, but then turned back to grab a cup of coffee.


I remember the one time  I went to the big coffee shop across the street, the one that’s a huge franchise and found on every other street corner in the city. I was sitting there in a nearly empty cafe, when an elderly woman came in. I didn’t really think twice about it, until the manager came to make her leave. 계속 이러시면 안돼요. 그냥 앉아있는 곳이 아니에요. She nodded and smiled, saying that she was sorry. She said that she had come into get away from the summer heat. Her face was flushed from the piercing sun and humid Seoul air. The manager didn’t budge and kicked her out of an empty store. There was no one sitting at any of the other 10 tables. I was sitting in the corner and just watching this happen, unsure what I should do. I watched the woman walk away into the blistering summer heat, and with that layer of glass between us, everything felt so far away and distant. I felt so grossly hygenic, sitting in that air-conditioned glass tank. I told the manager why I was leaving and walked out into the sticky summer air, filled with loud burst of laughter and sounds of fierce haggling from the street market. I have kept my promise and never stepped back into that cafe.

I went to The Shop today. That’s just what the place is called. “The Shop, A Coffee House,” where the barista remembers my order; I’m not an adventurous coffee drinker. Just a regular latte is all I order. Today, she pointed at the space underneath her counter and showed me a soft fuzzy golden striped kitten, sleeping with its head buried in a small pink blanket. “Are you raising a cat?” I asked her, and she told me that she had heard the crying outside for days, in the alleyway behind the cafe. “There’s a lot of cars there. I didn’t want the cat to get hurt.” She had taken the cat to the hospital. They said it was 2 months old. “What are you going to do?” I asked. She didn’t know. But I could already see from the small makeshift bed that she had made her that it would be only time before she named the cat. It just made me think about the cafe across the street, that wouldn’t even offer a sitting place for its neighbors, and this woman, who had taken in a stray cat and shared the news so excitedly with her customers. It felt different, walking out of that cafe, knowing that it was a home to someone — that small kitten — and that it was a place that took care of its people.

Salvaging the Sewol

I digressed.

The English lesson I drafted on that day — with my bowl of overripe strawberries — was about the Sewol ferry incident. The Sewol passenger ferry sank off the coast of Jindo Island back in 2014, and along with it, 295 passengers who never made it out of the ocean. 9 are still missing. Many of those who died were high school students who were on a school trip. When the ship began sinking, the captain told passengers to remain in their own rooms for their own safety, while he and other crew members save their own life. By the time folks realized how serious the situation was, the water had filled the inside of the ship, and it was too late to exit. It was a mass killing. To this day, no one really knows why the ship sank or why it made such a steep turn. No one knows what the ex-President and her team were doing for a chunk of 7 hours that day, instead of responding to the crisis. No one knows the clear reason why the rescue team did not immediately enter to save the passengers, and instead idled outside the ship as passengers took their last breaths.

The incident threw the nation into a state of mourning and confusion. Families gathered at the port and the Jindo sports stadium, near the site of the sinking to wait for the passengers to be rescued. Hours passed, and one by one, the names of victims were called as bodies were carted in to be identified by their families. “It was sad. Terrible. Horrible,” said one of the students I teach. We had just learned about emotion words, and he pulled out all the words he could remember. He had actually been there on the first few days of the incident, as a volunteer to provide technical support to families of the victims and the press. He works at a telecommunications company and had just moved down south for work, leaving his own family behind in Seoul. The Sewol ferry crashed within his first year there. “It made me think of my own children. It is terrible to see your own child pass away.”


In another class, two students told me that they worked for a shipping company and had heard about the news when they were at work. “At first, the news told us that all of the people had been saved.” “It was false news,” the other added. “The news had lied. Almost all of them died.” When I asked them about why they thought the ship sank, they talked about the ship itself. “We work with cargo ships. They are much bigger than the Sewol. The Sewol is a passenger ferry, very little, and it had too much cargo. Material for the U.S. navy base in Jeju. I heard it was not fixed correctly, and no one checked the gross weight.” They said that regulations were too lax. That rules exist, but were never enforced properly.

It took 1072 days for the ship to be pulled out of the ocean for investigation. The actual salvaging of this ship took a mere day, and they are now in the process of pulling the ship to the Mokpo port. The families of victims have been calling for a proper investigation since its sinking back on April 16, 2014. “Why do you think the salvaging was continuously delayed?” I asked. “Because she was still the President,” replied a student, not missing a beat. The ship was decided to be pulled out two weeks after ex-President Park was impeached.

The day of the salvaging, one of the top searches on the Korean portal sites was “cost of salvaging the Sewol.” “I saw that,” a student piped in. She is usually quiet and hesitant to speak in class, but she spoke clearly with a lot of intention. I remember leaning over to listen. “That is why we pay taxes. For the government to do things like this. We have to salvage the ship to find the truth. And to restore trust in our nation. We have to know that the country takes care of our own people.”

Something about this lesson felt different than others I had taught. I was able to see the ways that their thoughts and experiences came together, in ways that usual English lessons do not allow. To see the ways that all these different students, from completely separate parts of the city and leading their own lives came together to weave a common narrative — it was powerful to me. The stories they shared built upon each other, collide with others’ ideas, and opened up space for more emotional stories. And it made me realize that whatever I do in the future, I need to keep teaching and learning.

ESL lesson plan: Salvaging of the Sewol
Intermediate / Advanced

Strawberry Season

After another one of my long days, I sat at my dining table with a bowl of overripe strawberries to draft out a new lesson for this week’s classes. Strawberries seem to be in season right now, the ones grown in greenhouses down south. All the street vendors have stacks of them piled up, with a cardboard picket behind it that say “a pack for 2,000 won” or “golden strawberries for 4,000.” It’s getting a bit warmer now, so the strawberries are probably going to be replaced with something else real soon.

The weather is always mild here, compared to Minnesota. The sky is always gray from the smog, and people have pruned the trees on the streets down so much that I think some of them died. Sometimes I can only tell what season it is based on the fruit that vendors are selling on the streets.

For awhile when I first got here, it was all persimmons. No one had anything else but persimmons. Hard ones and soft ones, round and oval, the ones that were pointed at the ends and kind of melt when you hold them in your hands too long. Then one day, everyone switched over to strawberries, and now it’s the season of greenhouse-grown strawberries. There are of course large groceries stores that sell a variety of fruit all year round, mostly imported from the U.S. or Latin America, but I prefer to buy fruit from local vendors. It’s a different feeling than grabbing overpriced prepackaged fruit from a neatly arranged shelf. These fruits come straight from farms down south, where vendors go to pick them up at the peak of dawn. It reminds me of stories that my mother told me about how she would wake up at 4am to hold my grandmother’s place in line so she could receive the day’s worth of vegetables from the farm middleman. And sometimes the women crouched on the streets with their floral pants remind me of my grandmother, how hard and calloused her hands are and how at home she feels in the local markets in her neighborhood.

At first, it was also a way of integrating myself into the community here — letting folks know that I live along this road, that I prefer soft persimmons over the crunchy ones, getting long sermon-like advice on how to eat whatever I bought that day. I once asked for a single persimmon, and the vendor told me that she only sells it in batches of 6. They weren’t prepackaged, just piled on top of one another in a red plastic bowl. But she still wouldn’t sell one to me. Instead, she told me to go give it to my neighbors or family. That persimmons are not supposed to me eaten like that. It’s things like this that make me think.

Walking down that road each morning makes me more aware of the seasons, the passage of time, and the ebbs and flows of nature — even in a city like this, with its concrete grounds and depthless skies.

The Hurt & the Hurting

cw: mention of physical violence

A lot of numbers and dates are overlapping these days, and today I wrote that it was October 2015. It’s not. Thank god it’s not.

I was also here around the time last year. Probably sleeping on my aunt’s old bed at my grandmother’s house, with the lock bolted shut at night and a wooden chair leaned up against the door for good measure, even when the heat kept building up in that tiny room  — because my grandmother was afraid of him bursting through the door and choking her at night. She didn’t feel safe without hearing that sharp click of the door each night. When we got up, I spent my mornings trekking out to the local library, mostly to get out of that stifling house. Sometimes, I would browse on Facebook, and Always, I would find bits of a person from my past jutting into my life, even though I had finally made it thousands of miles away from her. A new photo with a mutual friend, people replying with heart emojis at her latest angry activist post, a message from a friend asking me if I knew how she’s doing. It seemed like I could never really get away from her — her updates, her thoughts, her profound realizations, her trademark glaring look that would come shake me awake in the middle of the night. There was never a physical barrier I could put up to prevent her from intruding in my life. But I suppose that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. I would’ve always known what lay on the other side of that door and that wouldn’t have given me any peace of mind. It never did for my grandma, anyways.

I suppose things have changed a bit since then. My grandmother sleeps with her door open now, and the chair that used to guard her door has found its way back to its original place at the dining table. I know all the privacy settings possible on every social media app, and I don’t see a lot of her news anymore. Things still find their way to me, and she still acts as if nothing is wrong, but I don’t feel her presence hovering over me anymore. I guess this is somewhere close to the end?

But a part of me feels like it’s a little weird to call it that, because nothing about why it happened has been resolved. I don’t know if she actually ever worked on things around queerness, if she ever worked through her trauma and triggers so she doesn’t lash out at people like she did with me, or if the Movement culture shifted at all to hold people accountable — even those that hurt others from a place of hurt /and/ people with cool queer aesthetics and other forms of social capital. I wonder if her friends ever talk about things like this with her. Or if everyone with social capital in the Movement is exempt from hard conversations like that. I wish I could break down that binary between people who hurt others /and/ people who are hurt. Why we always think that we are one but never the other.

I know the places inside of me that have been hurt, and I know that I must simultaneously work to get to know the parts of me that have cut / lashed out / hurt others. And I feel responsible for holding those parts of myself, too. I have laughed at people who have shown me sincerity. I have ignored people when they told me that they were hurting because of me. I have acted from a place of insecurity and pushed others down. I don’t think I should ever brush those things aside or ignore them to move forward. It would be such a dishonor to the people whose pains led me to so much growth and change. I want to bring all of my experiences into each conversation / the good, the bad, and the hurting / and that’s really all I want from her, I suppose, as accountability. But it seems like the world that she exists in (and the world that the Movement envisions) asks us to leave the abuser in us behind — as if it didn’t happen, as if it didn’t exist, as if it could never happen in the future by people like us. And I think that’s a dangerous place to strive towards. A state of denial and silence.

P.S. A friend of mine posted about their experience of hurting others — and asked some thought-provoking questions. I have some responses rolling around beneath my tongue, and perhaps I will share them some time, but for now here are the questions. I had never seen anyone pose questions like this before. I hope it gets people thinking as much as it did for me.

From my friend C (posted with their permission):

I can analyze all I want or offer whatever amends exist, at the end of the day, I lost people because of the painful impact I had on them. It’s only fair, and their decision for themselves is not a signifier for lack of love on their parts. In fact I think it’s a testament to their care for themselves and that I will always applaud.

Shoutout to all the people who have caused harm: where do you summon the energy to exist when you are spiraling? Are there any practices that have been helpful for you, so that you can build different dynamics in the future? (Other than just “don’t do what you did again,” maybe?) How have you communicated your experience of enacting abuse with the people already in your life and those who are new to it? Do you feel shame? Do you want to hug? How do you trust yourself when you are forming new connections? Let’s talk…

What’s your relationship like with the idea/act of “forgiving yourself”? Is it possible? Is it meaningful? Do you let yourself ask for compassion? What does hope feel like for you? What are the things you’ve learned from enacting harm that you’ve never told anyone else/that no one asks about? How has your relationship with music and art changed since it all started? What do you fill your time with when you are desperate for growth?

“From the Other Side” is a series of posts dealing with burn-out, healing, trauma, and a critique of current movement practices. It stems from my past year trying to heal/cope from my experiences in organizing (nonprofit and volunteer-based) and an emotionally abusive relationship with a close friend.