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.

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To myself

[one time during therapy, I started thinking about all the things that I wished my mother would tell me, then said fuck it and wrote it to myself.]

I just wanted to let you know that you are a genuinely kind person. You are thoughtful and constantly striving to grow. You are brave and courageous, always taking the jump to figure out things and stepping into new and sometimes uncomfortable situations. You are open to new things, accepting people as they are. The way that you don’t judge things when you hear about them. How you give people the benefit of the doubt and hear people out. I think that’s one of the things that I admire the most about you.

I know that there have been mistakes in your past about how you have treated others, how you have held back and been afraid to open up, how you have been in codependent relationships, but I think it’s really telling that you are where you are now. That you have a much clearer sense of where you end and another person begins. How you have been able to build the kind of relationships that you have with your friends. And they aren’t the ones doing all the relationship work like you think. You are also being a good friend to them.

I know sometimes things get hard and all of these things get forgotten. There are so many things that feel like they are shifting underneath your feet. It’s so hard to see the pain ingrained on your mother’s face when you tell her that you aren’t going to live the way she wants, even in the face of her listing off all of the sacrifices that she made for you. I know what it feels like to have that constant buzz of internal dialogue inside of you, with all these people who still constantly haunt you. It feels like they have power over you and that you will be hurt, left, and unloved if you don’t do what they say, but know this: you are valuable regardless of what they say. Yes, truly. Even if you are not loved by your mother, even if C gets upset at you for not directly communicating with her, even if you don’t have the right queer aesthetics, even if you don’t know all the right things to say to support your friends, even if other people think acupuncture is bullshit, even if your father will be disappointed in you, even if S never told you why they pulled away the way they did, even if you don’t attend protests, even if you don’t do the most radical things all the time, even if you make mistakes, even if you are working from a place of trauma, even if you are not a good daughter, even if you don’t really know what you’re doing, even if you’re not fun or drinking or sleeping with people, even if you don’t dance bachata the way that M wants you to, even if you don’t want to sleep with anyone ever, even if you aren’t ever planning to come out to your relatives, even if you are living off of the support of your family, even if you are not the best at all things. you are still worth it.

Isn’t that the radical love that people preach? The idea that you don’t have to “do” or “be” anything to be loved. The idea that you can be loved, always. That you could be loved regardless, because, and even though. I wish you could be loved like that more.

you know that your resilience is something that I also admire? you have been in so many situations where you were rendered powerless and unable to speak up, but you still found the power to move away from them. I don’t care how long it took you, I don’t care how you did it. I don’t care that you didn’t write all the most radical analysis about it, or that it took a long time to recover afterwards. you ultimately did that. you left situations that were hurtful and sought out something better for yourself out there, even when you didn’t know that something like that could exist or when you didn’t know that you were allowed to have nice things. you always believed yourself out. If you look at that and don’t think it’s resilience, I don’t know what resilience would be.

Try to hold onto the memory of that resilience. Recall the place where your power comes from when things get hard. and remember: Do not hand over your power. Do not hand over your safety. Do not hand over your freedom, your worth, or your being. You are worth the fight. I want you to remember that.



“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 trying to heal/cope from my experiences in organizing and an emotionally abusive relationship with a close friend.

Safety in Unlikely Places

I was talking to a friend about how he felt like he couldn’t make a mistake in the Movement. He was always in a constant state of fear, wondering if he was doing the “right” thing. I had carried that anxiety once. Being frozen by the fear of not doing the “most radical” thing, of making mistakes, of hurting other people. How did you get out of it? he asked. I had nothing to tell him. It was (and still is) an all too convoluted of a process for me to come up with a clear answer.

1.
My first Spanish class assignment was to submit a short paragraph introducing myself. I didn’t know what to do with the gendered a/o endings, so I just stuck in ‘x’s for all the endings like I had seen my genderqueer Latinx friends use, and then sat there wondering what I should tell my professor. The formality of the situation and my status as her student almost made things easier. I wrote a short note in the comments, telling her that I chose to use ‘x’ endings for personal reasons around my gender and then cringed while I pressed submit. The next day, she wrote me a nice note with a smiley face, saying that she understood and supported the decision. And that was that. The simplicity of it all blew me away.

She pulled me aside after class the day after and apologized to me, saying that she didn’t know that much about alternatives to o/a gendering in Spanish and that she would look into it in her other graduate classes and resources back home in Spain. Throughout the rest of the semester, she intentionally switched back and forth between ‘o’ & ‘a’ endings when referring to me. At the end of the semester, I received an email from her:

Last thing: I did not have the chance to tell you that I started a conversation with my department and other smaller departments about gender in the Spanish class, and about why it is important to develop an awareness that some students do not identify with either gender. I had never thought about this reality before (at least not very carefully), and I started doing research about it and got in touch with a couple of associations in Spain that work on this. I will visit them this summer when I am in Spain and I will go to a workshop in the Basque Country. Again, thank you for making me think about this.

I could not believe that it had been so simple.

2.
It was perhaps the ninth or tenth time attending her yoga class. We were all lying there on our backs,with our knees up and stably resting against each other, “like they could stay there forever,” she said. She walked through the aisles and stopped to ask me if I had been doing yoga outside of her class. No, not really. The only other thing I’ve been doing is physical therapy. She told me that she could still tell that my body was being honored. “It’s so great to see,” she added with a smile, and then turned to the class to give the next instructions. I laid there silently processing it all. It was just a passing-by moment, but also probably the first time that someone had recognized all the work that I was putting into my body. All those hours of acupuncture, physical therapy sessions, reading herbalist blogs, googling back pain strategies, and daily stretches. Looking back, this random White yoga instructor had been the only one to truly witness the change of my body and its movement in those last couple of months. And it was powerful to have that work be recognized by someone and to be so seen.

I wish I had told my friend to seek out generosity, forgiveness, and understanding in unlikely places. To find people who made him feel safe. To find spaces that loved him as hard as he loved the Movement. That those were the things that brought me to where I am now.



“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 trying to heal/cope from my experiences in organizing and an emotionally abusive relationship with a close friend.

The Fall

It’s almost autumn again, and I’m nearing the end of my sessions with my therapist. I remember the first time I went to her back in February, when the roads were still slick and the skin on my knuckles were cracking from the dry Midwest winter. At the end of that first session, I carefully asked her how many more sessions she thought I would need to be “better.” “Usually with other patients, we start with six sessions then see how it goes,” she replied, already penciling in our next appointment. My eyes widened in surprise. Six sessions? That’s such a long time. But it is only now — nearly 20 sessions after that initial estimate — that I feel like I’ve reached a place where I have temporarily outrun my demons.

I don’t know how I got that far down into that ditch, initially; there was never really a starting point for it all. It was probably somewhere between the guilt-inducing nature of the Movement, her yelling at me over the phone on that crisp San Francisco morning, and feeling like there was never “enough”/ enough time, energy, or space for each other in the Movement. By the time I realized that something needed to change, I had already crumbled underneath it all.

I remember how I used to have a panic attack every two weeks, like clockwork. I remember when I always immediately apologized for everything – to ease over her anger, even when I didn’t really think it was my fault. I remember how I broke down crying in front of 40-some tenants at a meeting that I was helping to run, how my mind went blank and I bawled on the street curb for nearly an hour, ignoring all the concerned stares from passerby. I remember how numb I felt when I noticed how respectful and kind she was to others, how it was so different from when she was alone with me, and how I always felt myself shrinking around her. I remember sitting in my grandmother’s place and wondering how someone could love me so much for the simple reason that I existed.

I remember when I would wake up in the middle of the night from a flashback nightmare and a pounding heart that would not believe me when I told it that it was not real. I remember when I realized that it had been quite a long time since I had felt safe and that I didn’t remember what that felt like anymore. I remember blinking back coldly when a friend claimed that they “couldn’t possibly imagine her doing something like that” and the moment when I had begun to doubt my own truth.

I remember the war that I waged with everything inside of me and everyone around me. I remember the surge of fear, shame, and violent denial I felt when the therapist told me that it had been emotional abuse. I remember when my response to everyone and everything was, “What’s the point?” I remember myself choking on the righteousness of radical people around me. I remember when I felt something snap inside me during an argument with my mother, and I screamed alone in my room and pounded my head against the wall until a blissful pain choked out all the other thoughts.

And those days sitting at a red light on Zachary Avenue / holding my breath and pondering how I could disappear myself so completely from this earth — that it would be as if I had never even existed.


“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 trying to heal/cope from my experiences in organizing and an emotionally abusive relationship with a close friend.

[Image description: A close up of water droplets on glass. Some are ice droplets that are melting]

What Comes After

1.
I think a lot about the people we leave behind in the movement. During our senior year in college, we had a campus campaign against sexual assault. It was sparked by L speaking out about her sexual assault experience, a violent event that resulted in her taking medical leave and having to leave campus. We demanded a review of the university’s sexual assault policy, a bolstering of sexual assault prevention, and a prioritization of survivors’ safety on campus. We persevered even when a lot of these demands were forgotten in the midst of the White Feminist takeover, which sought to collect charitable donations for a sexual health fund and to build an academic Center of Gender and “study” the problem out of existence. The rest of us supported survivors through recurring trauma, kept the pressure on the administration, and scraped together resources to increase visibility of the campaign. L stayed out of the spotlight, but spoke with reporters and did a lot of the work behind the scenes. She inspired in us a lot of awe for her wisdom and perseverance.

The very next year, the campaign debuted with a new face.

As the new anti-sexual assault campaign solidarity photos filled my Facebook wall, I wondered if anyone had reached out to see how L was doing. If anyone thought of her in the midst of their campaign. How people could repeat “survivor-centered” day and night without taking action to support those who constantly reopened their wounds throughout a campaign. I wondered what the purpose of our campaign had been, how it could have disposed of its people so quickly. I wondered what we had been really fighting for.

2.
A close poet friend writes about their experiences with sexual assault and abuse. I went to one of their poetry shows, and after their performance, a crowd of friends gathered around per ritual to congratulate their performance. Person after person came up to tell them how much they loved the sexual assault poem and their war poem, and oh, the abuse poem, too. They also make sure to compliment the poet’s queer femme aesthetics. And as I stood in the back corner watching on, I wondered where we all had been for the moments they had needed us.

I don’t mean during the performance or the post-show laughter chitchats over finger food. I mean the nights alone after the incident, the days when their poems read like suicide notes, the nights when they face harassment alone on dark street corners, the times when they are unable to leave their house. Where are we during the pain leading up to the poetry / the pain that is the poetry? We as a community, what responsibility do we have to that pre-poetry pain / the pain not arranged in neat lines and steady rhythm / the pain before the blood is wrung out / the ugly and gruesome pain?

I wanted to believe that we would’ve all been there for them. I wanted to believe that we all saw the pain of the person behind the poetry. I wanted to believe that we did not feel a perverse enjoyment in the proximity to pain, without having to experience it ourselves. But I wasn’t certain. I couldn’t say for sure.

3.
I’ve been holding onto these big and small thoughts since then, and they occasionally resurface in the “aftermath” of things. When I see leaves scattered limp after the wind has blown through. When I see people grieving after a successful campaign.

I wonder: What happens after the “end”? After their names have trended as hashtags? After the curtains fall? Who does the movement look after and who does it leave behind? How do we truly work to honor the pain and healing of survivors? When does the journey of a survivor truly end, and how do we accompany them along the way?

I ask these questions not because I want to paralyze the movement. I ask because I think this is the only way to know — what can come after the pain.

To The Movement

When I first came to Korea, my grandmother looked at me and immediately took me to the Korean medicine doctor. He held my wrist and told me that my body felt empty and hollow — as if I didn’t have capacity to hold my own. He said if my body were a pot, it was as if there was only a shallow layer of water to cover the bottom surface. When the pot is shallow like that, it heats and cools quickly. You anger easily, become depressed quickly. But when the pot is filled with a lot of water, it’s slow to react to heat and also slower to cool. It’s less affected by outside factors and more able to hold a steady temperature against external changes. He called that water “기 / qi”, but I guess you can call it whatever you want. The real question is how to get more water back in the pot. And how to stop it from constantly disappearing.

This might be a break up letter with “The Movement.” That thought has been floating around my mind for awhile now, since I was in the Bay. Since I started realizing that there are so many hurt people in The Movement hurting other people / since I realized that very few movement people are looking for the same kinds of things I am / since I’ve had to confront the ghost of a person I’ve become / since I took a non-profit job with no boundaries, lost a friend, and since the movement pulled me away from my family / since I ran out of pages in my journal and learned that the movement couldn’t give me what I was asked to leave behind / since I booked a flight and left the U.S. without any notice.

I still believe in the revolution, I still believe in radical political change, I still believe in social justice and organizing. I just don’t think that I can continue to insert the movement into my life like this; I want to be living the movement. The type of life that academics critically analyze, the type of person organizers bring onto the stage to share their stories. The people that are actually living the values of the movement and enacting changes daily. I don’t think we need any more organizers. And we don’t need to be one to be in the movement. I believe that the movement occurs everyday. It occurs in our minds, in our actions, in the way we love one another, in the way we hold others, in the ways we feed others. Alongside writers, teachers, clothing designers, factory workers, grandmas, childcare providers — everyone who permeate the political in their lives. I’m looking for something else. A way that doesn’t involve mass dictating political thought. A type of expansiveness and wisdom that is quiet and rumbling. A type of energy that can root itself and build up anywhere. A way that guides our bodies to remember how to listen, forgiveness, & embrace. Maybe I’m just too soft for The Movement.

I thank the Movement for what it’s given me and allowed me to do. It gave me so many years of unbelievable hope & potential, hours of laughter on other activists’ couches, the fearless courage to start all the random projects I wanted to, the voice to confront that White asshole friend, a broader spectrum of emotions, occasional lovers & all the friends, yellow rage over food / affirmations over food / crying over food / so much food, the ability to articulate my feelings, the push to reflect and realize the wrongs that I’ve done, the opportunity to learn so so much. But most importantly, it gave me the lens through which to look at the world — and the accompanying agency to be able to make decisions for myself.

It’s just that I’m just looking for something else.

Here, I don’t have to remind myself to breathe / relax / stop thinking about too many things / feel like I’m enough. It happens here so naturally, amidst the familiar alleys, hearty food, and the TV’s soft chatter. I wonder if this is what my friends feel when they go home — wherever and with whomever it may be. A sense of comfort and familiarity so strong that you forget the pains from before. A sense of being so grounded that it feels like I don’t ever have to pick up another faux Buddhist book about meditation / a feeling so intense that it so cleanly mends past wounds.

I feel more myself here. And as time passes, a fear in me grows bit by bit — the fear of going back and losing myself again.

Gender Wage Gap

It’s very simple. Men getting paid more for their work than other genders at the job is patriarchal.

In these past couple of months, I’ve come to know three different men who have both (a) known about a wage gap between themselves and employee of another gender at their workplace and (b) done absolutely nothing about it. All three identify as having “progressive” to “radical” politics and have been involved in various gender-based violence, intimate partner violence, and gender centers during their time in college. All have stated to hold feminist values and maintain strong friendships with radical women of color in their lives.

But when it comes to taking action, there was nothing.

Scenario 1: Same Job, Different Pay
K had been working at a non-profit, where another one of his friends works: a queer woman of color, C. K knew from the beginning that his pay was more than C’s; they have the exact same position. In fact, C does much more tedious, administrative work as part of the position than K. K acknowledged all of this, and yet when I pushed him about the unfairness, he justified that he had been the first choice candidate during the round he had been hired, and that C had been a second choice during the round she had been selected. The implication was that the wage gap was based on some pseudo-merit. I didn’t say anything, because they both left their jobs recently. It’s just as if he forgot that the self-confidence he had during the interview, the ability to negotiate his fair share, and not being subjected to scrutiny of his clothing, speech, and appearance were all due his own merits — not benefits of patriarchy. It’s so easy to think that way when you come out on top.

Scenario 2: Same Job, Different Qualifications
F recently got a job at the same organization as G, thanks to her referral. G is a woman of color. Initially, G had been hired at a entry level position with lower pay when she had started with the organization, then after working almost a year at the organization, she had been promoted to a higher pay position. G, who was applying straight out of college, got the same promoted position as G. From what I know, F also has less relevant experience. I never directly talked to F about the wage gap. Instead, I heard about it through G. When I asked her if F knew about the wage gap, she said that he knew that he was being hired at the same promoted position as G. People should be able to put the two and two together. F has done nothing about it, nor talked directly to G about the situation.

Scenario 3: Same Job, Counteroffer Pay
K recently graduated college and took an entry level job. He talked about a woman that was joining the team soon, but that she was hired at a salary that was $5,000 less than his. I asked him why the pay gap existed, and he said that it was because he had another offer and had asked the firm to match his other offer. The other woman had not negotiated or pushed the firm to get a higher pay. I told him that it was still unfair because they were going to be working the same job. He agreed that $5,000 was a lot and that the woman was going to ask for a raise to match his pay. “You should say something. It’s hard to say something when you’re the one being paid less,” I said. He seemed to consider it, but then talked about how the pay was going to all be equalized anyways once some employment law changed. “We’ll all be getting paid $xx,xxx because the organization doesn’t want to be paying us overtime. And that’s the minimum they have to pay exempt workers.” That does not mean that his responsibility to challenge patriarchal practices at his job disappeared, but of course, it is always easier to have equality “happen” rather than to have to push for it.

***

It’s always “subtle.” They’re not going to sit a man next to employees of other genders and say, “You’re going to get an extra $10,000 because you’re a man.” That’s not how patriarchy works in our current world. It’s the questions of professionalism and competence that rise in the minds of interviewers when they see a Black woman with natural hair; it’s the negotiating ability and entitlement that this patriarchal world has naturally equipped men with; it’s about that complacency you settle into after justifying the wage gap with your “merit-based” qualifications like your technical skills, confidence, and counteroffers, not realizing that everything was also shaped by you being a man in a patriarchal society.

It’s very simple. If you’re a man doing the same work as other gender folks at your job and you are getting paid more — that’s a gender wage gap. Say something to your supervisor. Don’t pretend to do this as a savior for the other person who’s getting paid less than you. No one is going to give you an ally cookie. Provide space and emotional support for the person who is getting paid less than you because of their gender. Push for more transparency around employee’s pay. Examine if your workplace has non-discriminatory hiring practices towards trans individuals. Ask them to re-examine their hiring practices.

Where are all the feminist men when it comes down to challenging patriarchal capitalist practices? My heart sinks just a little bit, every time I see someone not acting on their stated values, as soon as it seems to “disadvantage” or “hurt” them. The inaction is just so frustrating and heartbreaking.

The Fiction Writer Kind

I shut the book, having finished the last bits of it out of obligation. Octavia’s Brood. Sitting at the dining room table, I thought about the multitude of people that wrote this book and wondered if the book existed more for the writer or the reader. Bringing in social justice activists (many with no science fiction writing experience) probably allowed them to explore not only breaking down, but also creating and imagining — but with some pieces, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer bluntness of the writing. This is the future, they would tell me. End of conversation. The un-subtlety of certain pieces made me slink away from the writing, and made me feel like the book lost its potential, its magic, and its revolutionary spirit.

I understand the purpose of inviting social justice activists to write speculative fiction, even if they have not yet written before. I also strongly believe in the power of speculative fiction. It’s just that I believe that power & magic lies in the reading in-between the lines, the liminal space, the multiplicity of interpretations, the silent cues and the hints, and the potential for the new and mysterious. And I believe that this quality of fiction can be, and must be brought into movement spaces more broadly. For example, in social justice circles, when there is conflict or oppressive behavior, the affected person is always asked to voice their needs. “What do you need?” And the rest of us sit there quietly blinking, waiting for the answer that will get us out of that situation. We just need to do what they tell us to do, right? We follow this tell-and-do model.

I recognize that asking the person what they need is an important practice of consent & empowerment of the speaker. In some situations, it’s important for the affected person to have space to voice their needs. Often, they are silenced and ignored, instead “supported” in ways that feel easiest & best to those who inflicted pain. Then they wash their hands clean of the situation. However, it’s also important to recognize that with that question (“What do you need?”), people may be assuming that everyone currently knows exactly what they need. What if what I actually need is not something that I’ve felt before? What if what I need is not something I can articulate? What if I ask for things that are unknowingly self-harming because I only know ‘care’ within an abusive context? What if what I need has no words in the English language? What if I have no idea what it is that I need — just not this?

We need space. Not an empty space, but a charged electrical one where we sit with the electrifying potential. I believe that new non-oppressive modes of care and love are created in those liminal spaces. Like fiction, this is the space between the present & the future, the reality & the dream — and the hurting & healing. Before we bluntly ask what it is that someone needs, we need to sit in this in-between space. We need to watch and observe more, connect with our bodies and feelings more, trust that you innately know how to apology, loving, and kindness more.

Maybe that’s the type of organizer I want to be. The fiction writer kind — the one that doesn’t imagine for you or create for you, but rather someone whose own thought processes leave enough room for others to insert themselves into the story line. The “read between the lines” kind. The “open to multiple interpretations” kind. The kind that sparks heated conversations. The empty pages and silent words kind. Someone who compels another to take up the pen in the middle of the night to draw out their dreams. Someone capable of creating a world with multiple worlds inside. The person that rubs the present up against the fabric of the future, causing the friction erupting into bolts of revolutionary potential.

No More Gender Workshops

I have decided today that I will no longer be participating in gender 101 workshops.

Today, I sat through a gender workshop constructed entirely around centering straight and/or cis people, where queer and trans people were being forced to throw down their emotional and intellectual labor. Any questions around gender were up for grabs, as long as people could get over their ego and fears to ask them. Our straight supervisor simply declared it so. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions that might not seen politically correct,” she told everyone at the beginning. I knew there were confusion and lack of understanding around basic gender issues. I swallowed my worries and braced myself for the questions, but none came. During the workshop, the facilitator posed questions: Do people know what gender expression is? What parts of our bodies are gendered by society? Silence blinked back. I felt my stomach dropping and queasiness bubbling up my throat. Eventually one of the queer people would end up explaining, then silence would follow. No questions. Another prompt, queer person’s answer, then silence. It continued for another hour.

In response to a list of words to describe gender expression, I watched B describe to the group about how they conceptualize their gender expression as not masculine or feminine, but sometimes “cute” and “sad” and “awkward.” I looked away, knowing that in this group, it would be met with blank stares and a scattered set of snaps — some affirming, some understanding, most obligatory. It is always trendy to support queer aesthetics, fluid and “cool” gender expressions, and trans femme folks in movement spaces — but no one sticks around to make sure folks are safe walking home at night or to support them through the daily violence they endure for that “queer look.” I hate the hypocrisy and silence behind all those snaps. How people snap in moments like this, then turn around to ignore or directly inflict violence on trans & gender non-conforming people. How trans people get more respect as post-death hashtags than an alive human being. How everyone wants the undercut hair, septum piercings, and plaid clothes, but not the mental health problems, family disowning, or gender dysphoria.

Then at one point, someone mentioned the presence of queer & trans people in our home countries even prior to the colonization. And I felt everyone scrambling to cling onto this bit of fact, tightly. All of a sudden, people began to speak at length. Perhaps it was because it meant that their ancestors — and by extension, perhaps themselves — were not responsible for all these gender oppressions we were talking about. That they may not be responsible for gender binary, cissexism, or trans people dying. It is so easy to wash our hands clean, because it was the White man’s tool after all — even if we later took it, sharpened it, and used it against our own people.

I saw how people repeatedly fled to these types of easier, safer topics (i.e. intellectualization of queerness), but remained unwilling to engage in vulnerable dialogue with the queer person sitting right in front of them. And that is probably when I dissociated.

In the end, we all threw ourselves raw & bloody against their wall of clean logic, quiet skepticism, and tolerance in an effort to be heard. To be more than a practicing ground for interesting grammatical combinations. To be part of this supposed community. To be truly seen — for our unapologetic queer being & all the intimate crevices of ourselves that we do not yet know.

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