Courage with a Pen: Fighting Rape Culture with Writing


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By Shermeeka Mason

 

As I write this, my eyes burn with fatigue.

My body is tired, but my spirit and mind are alert, yet bothered by both past and recent events.

It all started earlier this week when I hung out with a friend of mine.  While we were talking, I found out that a local radical we both dated moderated a discussion about misogyny in the Rochester radical community.

Needless to say, I was floored and somewhat sickened by this piece of information.  The guy in question not only uses a well-known community space and political events to cruise for find potential sex partners, but uses poly and labels such as Pansexual and Demisexual as an excuse to sleep with them. In fact, he is one of the reasons why I don’t attend that space.

I knew this because he and I dated for three weeks.  He approached me after an organization meeting and I thought he was genuinely interested in me. I found out over the course of time, however, that he was more comfortable being a “friend with benefits” than my long-term partner.  This was AFTER I shared with him my history with sexual trauma.

Around the same time, pictures, news articles, and think pieces about Brock Turner continuously showed up in my newsfeed. Turner is the former Stanford University swimmer who was arrested and sentenced to six months in county jail for raping an unconscious young woman last year. I went through a plethora of emotions as his blank expression and blood shot eyes stared back at me time and again, burning into a mind already fogged by medication-induced insomnia.  His father’s letter and the judge’s leniency on the Turner further perplexed and angered me due to the gross lack of accountability.

In addition to all of this, a friend of mine spoke up against their rapist, a prominent Black radical in their community.  Though this young man violated them, it was my friend who was banned from Facebook for forty-eight hours for just posting a picture of their perpetrator!  What bothered me was that they were one of many who were sexually assaulted by an activist and/or pillar of the community.

So between this fact, the constant coverage of the Stanford rape case, learning of the hypocritical behavior of the so-called radical I dated last month, and the lack of adequate sleep, I broke down crying.  This recent chain of events pushed me back to Saturday, February 7, 2015 when I traveled to Peekskill, New York to visit Alec and Sharon, a poly couple I met online a year prior.  What was was supposed to be our last romantic weekend together turned out to be one of the most traumatizing.  This couple not only joked about me being dead, but crossed boundaries that involved Alec hitting my body with a crop and threatening to hit me in the face with it.  To this day, I can’t talk about that night without having panic attacks and flashbacks.

Without feeling ashamed.

The shame was one of the reasons why I remained silent about the assault in Peekskill for the most part. In fact, this was the reason why I kept quiet about how I was treated by the local activist I dated.  And I thought that just keeping quiet and going about my life, would let forget what happened.  Forget about all of them.

But I can’t.  My own PTSD won’t allow me to.  The flashbacks, panic attacks, and wave of emotions won’t let them get away with it—won’t grant me the desire to distance myself from the fact that I allowed myself to succumb to my self-blame and their gaslighting.

So as exhausted as I am, I write this passage because I’m mentally and emotionally done with seeing victims of sexual assault not believed by the media and judicial system.  Done with hearing stories about perpetrators in radical clothing lingering around within the community to somehow seek sexual gratification and then have the nerve to occupy spaces not created for them.  Done with domineering sexual perpetrators using the polyamorous lifestyle to traumatize others.

In other words, I am done with rape culture.

And I’m done shielding myself from it.  That’s why I have my pen, my laptop, and my books at my disposal—so these tools can be utilized to at least talk about what rape culture is doing to people and to our society.  I cannot and will not allow my perpetrators and ex-partners to frighten me or continue to get away with how they treated me and possibly others.  Writing is my way of holding them accountable for what they have done.  And if someone reads this and relates to it somehow, then my experiences served a purpose.

 

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The Politics Behind #Icanbeboth


 

“Pride…If you haven’t got it, you can’t show it.  If you got, you can’t hide it.”

–Zora Neale Hurston, Author

 

Recently, I’ve been noticing the hashtag #icanbeboth popping up in my newfeed.

For those who don’t know, #icanbeboth refers to the fact that women of color can be sexual, sexy and fun loving one day and professional in every way, shape and form the next.  Those who participate in the online campaign post comparison photos: one of themselves in the club, at a party or wearing a cocktail dress with heels and the other of them in casual or professional attire while on the job.

Hence “I can be both.”

I’m going to tell y’all right now that I love every minute of this campaign, Dear Readers.  For one, women are coming together to celebrate everything about their individual personalities and interests without throwing shade.  This can’t make me any prouder because we know how much the media loves featuring Black women slapping the shit out of each other or feuding on Instagram.  Major networks and social media sites stay making us look outrageous in the negative fashion, so I stan for anything that show us celebrating our magic.

But I also immediately recognize the politics behind the hashtag and how it can encourage us to have a much needed conversation about why #Icanbeboth exists to begin with.  There’s so much I can touch on so much here, but I’m going to focus on three main issues that:  White supremacy, respectability politics, and Black male privilege.

White supremacy is the idea that people of European descent are superior to people of color—Black people especially.  It’s the reason why all the negative “isms” exist: racism, sexism, ableism, lookism, ageism and so forth. It is also created the male privilege and systematic oppression that Black women endure in the labor force, the education system, the religious community and other environments that shape the individualism of Black women.  Furthermore, White supremacy perpetuates their ideologies pertaining to European standards of beauty and social etiquette.  So while White women are deemed beautiful and pure (even to this day), Black women are seen as ugly, classless, uneducated and promiscuous.

Now keep that in mind as we move on to respectability politics. There’s this notion that Black people are to present themselves a certain way in order to be accepted by mainstream society.  In many cases, it is the Black woman who is spoon fed this message by both the media and her community.  Unlike our White female counterparts, Black women are not given the liberty to disclose their entire self without the risk of criticism or losing a necessary resource such as employment.

But the main focus is often the sexuality and sexual expression of the Black woman. Even in 2016, women are placed in the position to explain themselves when they promote and profit from their sexuality or sex positivity in general.  Celebrities like Amber Rose is a prime example.  Though she’s known for her Instagram presence and relationship with rapper Kanye West, Amber Rose is known for her sex politics (In 2015, she has organized Slut Walk LA and campaigns for sexual consent).  But she begins to pique my attention when bluntly explains consent to entertainers Rev Run and Tyrese Gibson on their show It’s Not You, It’s Men.  Yes, ladies and gentlecats.  Amber Rose has to explain to these two grown ass men that not only is it ok for us to be sexually provocative, but that we have the right to say “No.”  This is the same woman who is criticized by both the media and members of the Black community for being comfortable in her own body.   And like many Black women, I notice that our biggest detractors are Black men.  Case in point: Louis Farrakhan.

Which brings me to my last point about the politics of #icanbeboth:  the hashtag and the women who take part are pushing back against Black male patriarchy—and rightfully so.  Most Black men tend to erroneously assume that Black women should somehow fit into some vision of what we should be—whatever that may be.  And when we don’t meet their standard of whatever the hell, then they claim that that’s the MAIN reason why they started dating White women (no shade towards interracial relationships, but there are so many Black men who have only date outside their race because they’ve internalized the negative Black woman stereotypes). But what these men don’t realize is that this type of nonsense feeds into the very negativity that #icanbeboth is rallying against.

Why am I writing about this, Readers?  Because as a Black Pansexual woman, I am growing very tired of women of color having their intelligence, integrity and very existence questioned and their whole entire selves compartmentalized just so someone else can be comfortable. It’s this type of pigeon holing that contributes to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.  It can furthermore play into the Impostor Syndrome, the belief that they don’t belong in an academic and/or professional setting.

But most of all, it’s a full-on attack on the human spirit.  When society and members of the very community that supposedly promotes unity and safety criticizes the Black woman’s individuality, it is she who feels every word piercing through her.  And when we can’t find refuge within our own environment or negatively affected by the people in it, it can lead to issues such PTSD or Complex PTSD as well as this sense of disappointment.  And due to the current political climate, feeling displaced due to simply celebrating every part of ourselves is the last issue we need.

So, yes!  I’m extremely stoked about the very existence of #icandbeboth because 1) it brings together a tribe of women who embrace (or wish to embrace) their individuality and 2) it challenges and claps back at respectability politics and patriarchy by showing that women of all ethnicities and ages can be both ratchet and classy.  At the same time, I do hope that the hashtag generates a discussion about White supremacy and how it’s being used against women of color in the forms of respectability politics and Black male privilege and how we can all work together to cut the monster off at the head.

 

 

Blessing in Disguise: What I Learned While Living in Survival Mode


“When you are as a human being in survival mode, order disappears”
― Harry Kim, actor and director

Ladies and gentlecats,

I am glad the semester is over.

Extremely glad.

Of all the semesters I experienced thus far, this Fall semester was the most difficult. It is not because of the workload (in fact, the material was not mind-shattering hard).  However, it was the content of the material in each class and what that that content was doing to me.

Let me explain.

All three of my classes focused on trauma and trauma-informed care, which stems from the mindset that everyone suffers from some form of trauma.  This also means that we focused on the extreme forms of trauma such as various forms of abuse and maltreatment. Even in my human rights course, the material focused more on trauma and what it does to a person’s psyche.

Now folks, you know my history, but I have to admit that I have only recently sought treatment to combat and overcome my past.  So with stories of sexual abuse (or any type of abuse) slapping me in the face, I found myself not even enjoying the learning process.  If anything, I just tried to do everything to hide my discomfort–all to no avail.

Over the course of the semester, I found myself becoming more hypersensitive to my surroundings by watching almost everyone who walked into a room.  If there were too many people, I left because I am no longer able to observe everyone.  I would become overwhelmed, start crying but then would wipe my tears and tell myself to “pull it together.” If I didn’t become easily agitated about something that happened at school or otherwise, I would shut down and not say anything at all.  Because of the research course debacle over the summer, I no longer trust the administration at the college to have my best interest in mind. That distrust only increased when one of my professors allowed a student to come into her office while she and I were having a private conversation.

Even my personal life began to fall apart.  I don’t have any income at the moment, so I am not able to pay bills and rent (though I will be working in January).  So I feel very overwhelmed with that and I noticed that my sex addiction is kicking up and have sometimes acted out on my impulses.  I felt like a complete failure at life, thinking that I never can be much of anything, let alone an effective social worker.  I, once again, compared myself to the “rock stars” of the social work program and found myself lacking.

I even didn’t want to be around people or tell anyone what was going on inside of me. I told myself that no one wanted to hear my sob story and I had to suck it up and function.  No time for tears.  It’s time to do that paper…about sexually abused African American children.

It’s no wonder I wrote that paper at the last minute.

The straw broke it when my friend committed suicide, only to find out about it a month after it happened.  I’m talking about my friend’s death in therapy, with tears coming down from my eyes and wiping them away quickly.  That was when she brought up the fact that I’m not allowing myself to grieve.  And she’s right.  Because I’m in survival mode and it’s catching up with me.  Even before the semester ended, I locked myself into my room and did not come out unless I had to use the bathroom or eat.  If I did leave, it was to hide my discomfort around the fact that I isolated to that extent.

And so is my emotional and mental state.  When I was talking to my friend Colleen on the phone one day about what was going on with me, she said something I couldn’t deny anymore:

“You may have PTSD.”

I have often suspected that something was going on with me, but did not know what it was.  I studied PTSD and Complex PTSD in my psychopathology course, but thought nothing of it. But as time has gone by, I wonder if I have Complex PTSD.  For those who do not know the difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD is that the former is triggered by one traumatic event whereas Complex PTSD is triggered by prolonged exposure to trauma in general.  The symptoms include (but not limited to) identity disturbances, avoidance, blaming and fear of abandonment.  There is also emotional irregulation and the tendency to isolate from others.  I am not the one to diagnose myself, but this information and my behaviors throughout the years prompted me to schedule a PTSD screening.  I set up an appointment with my therapist, who told me I was getting a screening soon.

I am telling you all of this, Reader, because if you suspect that you have PTSD, Complex PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder or any other type of anxiety disorder, speak up.  Talk to a healthcare professional and have him or her to refer you to a specialist in your area.  Don’t hide what is going on out of fear of being labeled “weak.”  Hiding pain and emotional/mental distress not a sign of strength, but a meltdown waiting to happen.  I’m telling now, I was this a couple of weeks ago:

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And this:

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But I now know I don’t have to live in isolation any longer.  I’m beginning to realize I have friends and I can lean on them when I am about to have an episode.  I have Spirit with me always and I feel that best part of this semester is seeing that I can reach out and get help.  I don’t have to keep it together anymore and it’s not my job to do so.  I don’t have to live in survival mode and you don’t have to live that way either.

Ever.

References

Think Exist (2012).  “Harry Kim Quotes.”  Retrieved from http://thinkexist.com/quotation/when-you-are-as-a-human-being-in-a-survival-mode/648487.html

Overcoming Our Deepest Fears


“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson, a spiritual activist, author, lecturer and founder of The Peace Alliance

I was doing my 4th Step this past weekend for the first time in over a month.  I can use the excuse that heavy textbooks and Star Trek: the Classic Series got in the way, but we all know that doesn’t stick for too long.  So this past Saturday was the time to do it.   I sat on my bed, picked up my pen, created the appropriate columns and began writing who or what I resented, the cause, what part of me has been affected and my part in the issues I focused on.

After about 15 minutes (or perhaps a bit longer), I had to shut my journal and push aside my 4th Step because I became so overcome by my own emotions that I couldn’t go on.  I knew that tears were going to emerge, but not to the point where I didn’t want to leave my room.  So I ended up calling my sponsor and telling her who I was upset with and why.

Though I have been burned by more than my share of people (and vise versa), the main reason why I cried in my room, Reader,  is because I still reside in a constant state of fear.  Though I am not paralyzed by it as I used to be, I still have this feeling that someone or something is after me and mine or that I am somehow going to fail at something.  Fear shows up in every part of my life–school, my jobs, my activism and even in my personal life.  I don’t even date very often–if at all–because trust is something I don’t give out too easily anymore.  I try to run away from fear itself, but The Dark Passenger and I have been together for as long as I can remember.  We were pretty much like this:

But, as I do my 4th Step, my life is becoming like this:

Readers, I do not want to live this way.  People think I am quiet and reserved when the fact is I would be a complete extrovert if I did not fear judgment.  I hate this existence and there is so much of my world I would love to share with people, which is why I am working on my life so fuckin’ hard right now.  The reason why I am telling you this is because many people who have lived through trauma live (or have lived) in this constant state of fear.  Instead of living up to our full potential, we sabotage ourselves and everything that pertains to us.  We trap ourselves when we don’t have to simply because we fear the responsibility that comes with success.  What is even worse is that we mistake fear and insecurity for humility.  I am beginning to realize and understand that Spirit did not place me on this Earth to shrink in fear.

I know it will take time to overcome this.  But at least I am making the changes necessary to not fear to the point of not recognizing my own light.

       Work Cited

Wikiquote (2012).  Marianne Williamson.  Retrieved from http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Marianne_Williamson