When We Are Silent We Are Still Afraid, We Speak Up to Survive: An Interview with Julie


In the second installment of the “Your Voice is Beautiful” series, Earth First! activist and writer Loki interviews fellow comrade Julie Henry about her abusive relationship with Rod Coronado, well-known animal rights activist and environmentalist of Wolf Patrol.  To learn more about this interview or Earth First!, click here.  Thank you Loki and Julie for letting me share this piece in The Possible World.  Your story will help so many people.

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By Loki of Earth First!

Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Backlash, Victim Blaming

2015 is the year that rape culture, a buzz word that has been rattling around in my brain for over a decade, took on a whole new meaning. I watched story after story about rape or abuse unfold. Steubenville. Jimmy Saville. Bill Cosby. Jian Ghomeshi. Julian Assange. Most of those names mean something to all of the women and femmes I know. Many of us shared news articles, used hashtags, got sucked into furious Facebook flame wars. For once, the mainstream media seemed to be as saturated with stories of sexual assault as my personal world often is. In the midst of all this, I heard that people were coming forward and sharing stories about Rod Coronado’s violent, unsafe behavior. It felt like a familiar tale; I (and many other women and trans folks) had come forward in the early 2000s with our own experiences of being sexually assaulted or abused by fellow environmental activists. Time and time again, the reputations of men are protected at the expense of safety for women, trans, and gender-nonconforming people. All of this is still very present and real inside our own Earth First! circles, as we try to figure out how best to show up for survivors and make our movements better equipped to challenge abusive behavior.

In 2014 a crew of folks tried to call out Rod Coronado, a well-known animal and earth liberation activist. They felt he had been violent and threatening towards his ex-wife Chrysta. They had also heard stories of predatory behavior towards younger women. A movement-wide call-out seemed necessary because they believed he was a risk to women in the environmental movement. The Earth First! activists they reached out to about this in the summer of 2014 didn’t share this information with the wider community. A renewed effort was made later that year, and an email warning people about Rod began circulating in early 2015. Around that time, Julie, a “new guard” EF! activist, came forward with an experience of being sexually assaulted by Rod in November 2014. A few months later, Julie shared her experiences in a statement that was circulated over email and social media. Being open about her experiences was an act of solidarity with all the other women out there who have survived sexual or physical violence. She has received a mixture of support and vitriol, as have others who helped call Rod out.

In the spring of 2015, Julie approached the EF!J Collective about sharing her statement on theNewswire, but they didn’t follow through on her request. I approached Julie because I wanted to help her share her story with a wider audience. We asked the Journal Collective to revisit their previous decision to not share Julie’s experiences on the Newswire. They agreed to do so after hearing input from other survivors and allies in the community. Her interview should serve as a wake-up call to all of us to renew our commitment to challenging cultures of abuse in our own networks and organizations.

Loki: What led you to get involved in Earth First!?

Julie: Before I was an activist, I was a researcher. My background is in biology and environmental science, and I have a degree in wildlife biology and field biological techniques. After I graduated from college, I got an opportunity to do research for a wildlife agency in Vermont. I would spend weeks at a time in the field conducting environmental impact studies. On occasion, I would write environmental impact statements. To make a long story short, I soon became disillusioned with what I was doing, and I came to the realization that Fish and Wildlife is nothing more than a government hunting club on the side of the exploiters. Meanwhile I’m watching as oil companies and corporations are literally eating the planet and destroying what I thought I would be protecting. Fast-forward a bit, I quit and became an activist. 2009 to 2010 I spent in Southeast Asia doing undercover work on the black market wildlife trade. I would love to write an article on that some day. Fast-forward more, I’m back in the States. A year later I’m part of the Tar Sands Actions civil disobedience arrests in DC, which led me to meet more activists, and a year later I’m involved with the Tar Sands Blockade and EF!. Those are the cliff notes.

Why did you join Wolf Patrol?

I first heard about Wolf Patrol in the summer of 2014, and it came at a time in my life when I was looking to get involved in something again. I had just had a split from a partner and lost my community at the same time. I was vulnerable. I had never met Rod before, but Wolf Patrol felt like another chance to protect wildlife where I had failed in the past. I was really looking for a campaign to throw myself into.

The following is an excerpt from the statement you put out last year: “My boundaries became less and less respected and his touching became more … for his own gratification. There were nights I would wake up to my body being touched and fondled. There was no more checking in, but it was all on me to push him off and tell him no. I could tell he was becoming increasingly more irritated with me. My anxiety didn’t go unnoticed by one of the other Wolf Patrol members. And when she asked me what was going on, I confided in her. It got so bad that finally I took him aside and told him it had to stop. I told him what it was doing to me emotionally. Shortly after, his entire demeanor towards me changed. I should have realized then what was going on. Then a few nights later, it happened. My most triggering boundary, where all my trauma surrounds, was violated.” How did Rod react when you talked with him about the experiences mentioned in this statement?

It took me hours to work up the courage to confront him about it. I really had no idea how he would react. I was completely terrified, so when I finally did have my moment, all I could say was “Why? Why did you do that to me?” What’s strange is that he didn’t even act shocked that I had just accused him of raping me. He pretty much just dismissed it like it was funny to him. He told me that what I was telling him was “impossible.” As if I should have been honored. Then he told me that I was being too emotional and that he wasn’t going to talk to me until I calmed down. That I was being demanding of him by taking up his precious time to talk to him about this. Then he left. Left me alone with the only two other remaining team members to finish up the campaign in Montana, while he went home. Twelve hours later he called me to “discuss the matter,” which was really him telling me how I had wanted it, because he would never do anything that I didn’t want. And it was very clear from his tone that me talking about this anymore would not go well for me. Then he went on to tell me that he had decided that we didn’t have good chemistry. I was stunned. I don’t even remember how I responded, if I even responded at all. I wanted to say, “You think, you fucking asshole!?” But I didn’t. Then I felt the most acute loneliness and isolation in the acceptance that I wasn’t going to pursue this matter any more. I knew it would hurt more trying to seek accountability from someone who was so clearly telling me that he would never be accountable.

 

I can definitely understand why you felt silenced after Rod told you it would be best all around if you kept quiet. I know there’s also been some discussion about why you didn’t go to the police. Did pressing charges feel like an option for you?

Absolutely not. And I’m really glad you brought this up. What has really been hurtful and baffling is some of the responses I’ve gotten over how I reacted in the aftermath of this situation: “Rod is innocent until proven guilty in a court-of-law;” “If this really happened then why didn’t she go to the police?” Or, “You should really think twice about talking about such serious criminal actions without proof,” paraphrasing something from Rod himself. The baffling part is that the people who are criticizing me for not going to the police are people who have been in the movement actively fighting against police and state repression for decades. What would they be saying if I had gone to the police? So my question to them is this: Why do you throw survivors under the bus when movement insiders commit the horrific acts you claim to stand against? In a community where we as survivors are told not to go to the police, where we have a completely different version of “justice,” what do we have to do? What are you bringing to us as an alternative? I’m not supposed to go to the police, but there’s also no safe alternative that I have. I can’t even speak up without knowing I will be attacked. No, I absolutely did not consider going to the police. Of course the whole police/state repression issue was the last thing on my mind immediately after. I had an even greater fear. My team. What would they say? What would they do? I was in the wilderness, alone with these people. I didn’t trust the police, I didn’t trust the community of hunters who had been threatening us, and I didn’t trust my team. By not going to the police, I felt like I was protecting myself from a whole circus of shame. I wasn’t ready to lose control over my situation. By doing nothing I was at least still in control. No, going to the police was just not an option.

It makes a lot of sense that you’d want to remain in control of the situation at that point. It sounds like you might have been in a really vulnerable position. What happened after you confronted Rod? Were you able to talk to other people in the campaign about your experiences with him?

Even before that night, I had confided in one of the girls in the campaign that Rod had been making me uncomfortable. He’d been pressuring me more and more, and when I didn’t give in, he’d either ignore me or treat me like I wasn’t valued anymore. So after I had confronted Rod and had him react the way he did, I was completely devastated and probably in a state of shock. I couldn’t have hidden the fact that I was not OK, even if I was greatest actor in the world. So I confided to the rest of the crew. At first I believed that they were supportive and had my back, but over the next few days, that all changed. Towards the end, the bullying had escalated to a point that I felt so unsafe that I called Rod to get me out of that situation. It was the biggest mind fuck I’d experienced yet. I now depended on him for my safety and well being. That’s when I really think certain parts of me shut down completely. Rod rescued me from them and I was relieved to see him. I went back to his house and spent the next few days there before I left to stay with friends in Kalamazoo. I went back to his house. I stayed in his bed. Sometimes I still hate myself for that.

That sounds like such a tough spot to be in, to have to rely on Rod because you felt bullied by someone else. I wish people would realize how often women or trans people have to make those kinds of decisions when they’re struggling to keep themselves safe and come to terms with the traumatic nature of what happened to them. Were your friends in Kalamazoo more supportive?

I didn’t tell them. By the time I was in Kalamazoo, I had convinced myself that it was my fault, that I deserved it, that I was garbage. What kind of a victim goes back to their abuser anyway? I was traumatized by the bullying and it felt less complicated to talk about that than it did the assault. I still had a lot of shame about it and had now been conditioned to keep my mouth shut. Even for a long time afterwards, I still wanted to organize with Wolf Patrol and was crushed when I was told I wasn’t welcome back. It’s actually hard thinking back to that time in Kalamazoo because I was trying so hard to be OK. My friends there were wonderful but I know I was clearly depressed. Even for months afterwards, I found myself breaking down multiple times a day. I tried to keep it under control. I do remember one specific incident when we were all painting a banner and I just suddenly became overwhelmed. I declared to everyone that I was excusing myself so I could fill up the tub and have a cry bath. (Never underestimate the power of a good cry bath.)

It sounds like it was hard to feel comfortable sharing your experiences. I know a lot of survivors struggle with that, because they are afraid of not being believed or of being judged for how they responded to the abuse. A lot of the survivor advocates I’ve spoken with talk about why it’s important to support and validate survivors who do come forward. They feel that doing this will create a culture where people feel safe sharing their experiences of abuse. Why did you feel it was important to tell more people about what happened?

Not only is there so much fear about not being believed but there’s so much shame associated with it. To make the decision to speak up, you know that all your sins from the past will be thrown back in your face. I had absolutely no plans to come forward, especially not publicly, but it wasn’t until a while later someone approached me and very bluntly asked me if something had happened, if Rod had done something to me. And I broke down. I was tired of keeping it a secret. I feel like I need to say this: I don’t think I ever would have told anyone, had she not directly asked me. And it frightens me to think about that. She encouraged me to reach out to a few former Wolf Patrol teammates who had left the campaign due to issues with Rod. I think she may have told them because it felt like they already knew, which to be honest, made it easier for me.

It was during a conference call with them (former Wolf Patrol team) that they asked if they could talk to others about what happened. I was hesitant for at least a week, knowing that once it was out, whatever amount of control I had would be over. That itself was terrifying. I knew I was going to be attacked if it was public, and I needed time to consider all the ramifications.

That week I came across an article about a woman who’d been assaulted and she never said anything. Then later a woman in her town had committed suicide, and in her letter she implicated the [same] person who had been assaulting her. I called them immediately after and told them, “Yes, you can share my story.” Silence helps no one. Silence protects abuse. I was helping no one by staying silent.

It sounds like you were afraid of the negative repercussions of speaking out, but you wanted to warn other women about Rod so that they wouldn’t have the same experiences as you. That feels like real bravery to me! I know that there has been backlash against you and people supporting you. Do you have any examples of that?

Besides being called a liar, crazy, psycho, I’ve been labeled a snitch, an informant, accused of using COINTELPRO tactics, and at one point Rod even accused me of being an agent directly working for lawmakers “targeting my work.” That one was actually kinda cute. There’s now a rumor going around that I recanted the whole story. There’s also an attorney who’s been actively creating a climate of fear and threatening others who wanted to talk about it. Not only was I being labeled all these things, but so was anyone who supported me.

Are you aware of other people who have had similar experiences with Rod? And have you been able to connect with any of them?

Chrysta (Rod’s ex-wife) is the only one. So far. And it was probably the most validating experience, not that I needed someone else to validate what had happened to me, but just having her reach out to me and tell me that she believes me. She’s really been an angel to me.

Many survivors talk about having to leave their communities or organizations after they’ve been assaulted because of the backlash they experience. In activist communities, this means that we are losing a lot of really powerful, outspoken activists after they are assaulted. In this sense, the abuse itself, and the backlash that these survivors (the majority of whom are women and/ or trans people) and their allies get in the aftermath is a form of repression. It deters them from staying involved, just like state harassment or violence deters some people from getting involved with or staying involved in grassroots activism. Has what happened with Rod impacted your ability to continue to organize with Earth First!?

One of the first consequences was being kicked out of Wolf Patrol, a campaign I really wanted to be a part of, because Rod wields so much power. But I’ve been more afraid to organize anywhere, because Rod has so many friends and supporters. I live with that as a constant fear. Certain Wolf Patrol members have been virulently, actively trying to destroy my reputation and it’s scary. It’s really really frightening.

Have there been any attempts to hold Rod accountable or do any kind of accountability process with him?

All I have is secondhand information. I want to make something very clear, because there’s been a lot of different stories: When asked if I wanted to pursue an accountability process with Rod, I said no, because number one, he’s not going to be held accountable. I believe he will continue to deny it, and I’m not going to put anyone through the abuse. Nobody’s got time for that shit! So I made it clear that I wasn’t actively seeking a process, because his first response was to make me believe it was my fault. He’s also extremely manipulative.

Are there any final thoughts you wanted to share?

Yes. Sexual assault and harassment have been something I’ve dealt with most of my life. I’m sure this is something that many womyn can relate to. It became normalized. I handled it by trying to ignore it and move on. But this is not a single horrible event womyn suffer once in their lifetime. It’s an epidemic. Something I started to notice after speaking up about what Rod did to me is that men hate rape. Let me rephrase that: Men hate the word “rape.” It takes the onus off of survivors and points the finger directly at who is responsible. Men who commit rape. Rapists.

The problem with our culture is that people—men, and even some womyn—believe that rape is a very specific crime. Rape is only rape when a survivor is abducted against their will, by a stranger in the dark. It can’t be rape if they knew their rapist. It can’t be rape if the survivor had consensual sex any other time in her life. These lies are damaging, but they stem from misogyny and patriarchy that still leads our culture. These lies take someone who is already traumatized and dumps the shame and guilt on them when it belongs to the one who committed the crime. To everyone who has supported me (and there have been many): a huge thank you! I could not have ever done this without you! To those who would rather I not have spoken out publicly, I’ll make you a deal. Get off of your computer and do something to stop these crimes from happening to womyn. Call men out when you see sexist behavior. Call your friends out when they participate in it. Make it socially unacceptable for men to abuse and oppress us. If you do that for me, then I won’t have to. Until then, I won’t be silenced. To anyone who has ever been hurt by Rod or men like him, you have a voice. Abuse and oppression thrive on silence. People like Rod thrive on silence. Fuck them. Fuck him. Speak your truth.

Please visit youcaring.com/support-for-julie for more informationon how you can support Julie.

Loki is an artist-storyteller and PhD student currently residing in unceded Coast Salish Territories. They have a background in forest defense and feminist/queer community organizing. A central focus of their research and praxis is the history of anti-oppression and safer space organizing within forest defense in the early 2000s. Contact them via their website or twitter at lokiera.wordpress.com or twitter.com/kjandersons

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Your Voice is Beautiful: Open Statement to Survivors and Allies


*** Trigger Warning: This message contains descriptions of assault****

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By Julie Henry

“and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.”   

— Audre Lorde, A Litany for Survival

 

There has been a lot of specific conversation surrounding sexual assault within our community recently, and now I’m coming forward with my own voice to talk about my experience. This message is for survivors and those who want to support survivors. It is you I have in my heart as I write.

My name is Julie and I was sexually assaulted by Rod Coronado.

This assault didn’t happen in a dark alley. He didn’t grab me by the hair and shove me into a closet and put his hand over my mouth (that would be easier to comprehend, easier to forgive myself).  It happened within the campaign Wolf Patrol, while organizing in the field. Rod was my friend. I thought we had established a great working relationship. I thought he respected me as a comrade, that we got shit done together. He was my friend. That’s what makes this so incomprehensible.

He was my friend. 

Before Wolf Patrol, I had been in a nearly two-year relationship with someone I loved very much. I struggled so hard to be able to be intimate with him, even going to multiple counselors. My PTSD and trauma surrounding past sexual violence affected my relationship with someone I LOVED. Even with him, who was so encouraging, supportive, and did everything he could to let me know he wasn’t going to hurt me, that he cared about me, my trauma affected us everyday. Eventually it played a big role in our relationship coming to an end. That was the last time I remember what it was like to feel sexually safe.

So once Rod had made his intentions of wanting to pursue something with me known, I disclosed to him that I was a survivor. I’m not sure if I told him that I struggled with PTSD, but I told him the specifics of my triggers, what I needed to feel safe in an intimate relationship, and what my boundaries were. There’s no way to misunderstand “I’m triggered by sex”, “I have a lot of trauma around sex, so just don’t right now.”

But as the campaign continued, my boundaries became less and less respected and his touching became more….for his own gratification. There were nights I would wake up to my body being touched and fondled. There was no more checking in, but it was all on me to push him off and tell him no.  I could tell he was becoming increasingly more irritated with me. My anxiety didn’t go unnoticed by one of the other Wolf Patrol members. And when she asked me what was going on, I confided in her. It got so bad that finally I took him aside and told him it had to stop. I told him what it was doing to me emotionally. Shortly after, his entire demeanor towards me changed. I should have realized then what was going on.

Then a few nights later, it happened:  my most triggering boundary, where all my trauma surrounds, was violated.  I hid in the bathroom for almost two hours in utter disbelief. I was shocked and confused. The next morning, when I finally worked up the courage to confront him about it—to ask him why he did that to me—his reaction was silencing, dismissive, and gaslighting. He told me I was being irrational, emotional, and disrespectful, that what I was telling him was “impossible” and he wasn’t going to talk to me until I calmed down. But then twelve hours later, he came back to me with his own version. He told me that I had wanted it. That he would never do anything I didn’t want.

So that was it.  I had asked for it. His response was to tell me what I was feeling (because he said so) and that was that.

When I confided in two Wolf Patrol team members, the response I got from them wasn’t what I was looking for or needed. I began to wonder if maybe it really was my fault, that somehow I really did ask for it.  I was devastated. I was heartbroken. I was shut down.  So I kept quiet. In the environment I was in, my safety and well-being depended on me keeping my mouth shut.

And I stayed silent for months. I told myself I would never speak about what happened, that there was no point asking for accountability from someone who refused to even acknowledge what he did to me—even when I confronted him about it. I was ashamed I allowed it to happen.  The thought of disclosing what happened was too terrifying.  I didn’t want to be re-traumatized and I certainly didn’t feel like dealing with the scrutiny, victim-blaming, criticism.

But looking back, I never had any hope of having my own agency inside the campaign.  I was there to fulfill a very specific role Rod had for me. No one deserves what happened to me. I know if I had never spoken out, it would happen to someone else. This didn’t start with me, and it certainly won’t end with me either. I know I will never heal from this by silently letting it happen to someone else.

And so here is my story. I am sharing this publicly thru my own voice for the first time to encourage others to speak up. Survivors—I want you to understand that you DID NOT ask for, or deserve what happened. DO NOT listen to criticism over how you handled the situation. You did what you had to survive the territory. You did what you had to do just to make it thru each day that followed. Do not listen to anyone who criticizes you for staying silent, or speaking out. Do not listen to anyone who feels compelled to judge how you should or should not have handled your situation. You are doing exactly what you need to do: survive. You are stronger than you think, and YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

And allies—I want to be careful to not speak on behalf of other survivors, but to make it clear I am speaking only from my own experience.  Breaking the silence can be, in many ways, just as scary as “those moments.” It can feel like handing over the narrative for your peers to tear apart and scrutinize as they see fit. You no longer have control over what happens or what is said about you. That’s why it’s easy to convince yourself to stay silent. There’s power and control in what is secret. Once you speak up, it’s out of your hands. Power is effectively gone……again. It’s even more scary if your abuser is a well-known character in the community. You are well-aware that backlash may be brutal and cruel. Your very integrity as a human being may be torn to shreds by supporters of the perpetrator who refuse to believe that their friend could possibly do such a thing.  Doors slam in your face, and opportunities that are associated with friends of your abuser are lost. The consequences of telling far exceed the benefits of keeping it to yourself.

For all these reasons, you don’t reach out. For your own safety you begin to operate under the assumption that most people won’t believe you. Silence from friends = they must be against you. Trust was what made you vulnerable to be assaulted. So again trust = bad. Isolation feels safer.

If you know and want to support someone who has opened up about being assaulted, here are some steps you can take: gently reach out and let them know you care, because we will probably be too afraid to reach out to you. Tell them you believe them because they may assume that most people do not.  Those words are more powerful than you can ever know. Ask them what they want, and let them know it’s totally ok if they don’t know yet. If there is some kind of process happening around the incident, let them know what’s going on. Don’t make them have to ask. Reestablishing trust is about opening up communication. If you can no longer be there for someone, be honest about it, but help them find someone else they can trust. Never leave them hanging after the world has already upended for them. I can tell you from experience, this WILL cause more damage than what’s already been done. Simply put, just communicate. The most important resource a survivor can have is friendship.

Some of the worst things you can say (not including the obvious victim-blaming) are “That’s between you and him” or “I have too much drama to deal with this,” “I’ve never seen him behave that way,” “I’m just hearing so many different stories,” “Weren’t you in a relationship?” etc. If this is how you feel, then I will put you in the non-support category. It is preferable to hear silence than these condescending and very non-beneficial statements.

We are a community that likes to talk about smashing patriarchy. Here’s a real opportunity to actually deal with our shit. This is a real situation, not hypothetical. It’s not acceptable that assault is this prevalent in our movement. And it’s not acceptable that we still don’t have real ways of dealing with it when it occurs. It’s time to change that now. How many more people have to be hurt? How many more people have to be hurt by one person?

It’s time to take a stand and stop allowing our movement to be a platform for perpetrators. There’s enough danger and trauma out in the world that we’re trying to fight against that we shouldn’t have to be afraid of each other here. Let’s either stop talking about smashing patriarchy and prioritizing keeping people safe, or actually do it.

So speak up everybody. Speak up. You do not have to live in fear and silence. You deserve to have your voice heard. And your voice is beautiful.

-Julie

Save The Prayers: What The LGBTQIA+ Community Needs From You


 

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By Susie Carmichael

 

“I’ll be praying for you” is so broadly used that folks don’t even really do it, most at least. As a former Christian, I often did generally pray. I asked for God to look over my family, my friends and even for folks who probably will never have an encounter with me. But I often witnessed this as empty sympathy and pseudo humanism from people in my church. The same folks that spread anti queer, transphobic, classist bullshit all of a sudden became the most empathetic person when catastrophes hit these communities.

Overtime, I asked these folks to not pray for me but for themselves. I’m not accepting any prayers from anyone that call themselves a follower of any religion that speaks of loving on the next human but uses the same principles to shame folks who are “the nastiest type of sinners.” Before you pray for anyone, think and reflect about how you can be better person to people before they experience events that are tragic. Think about how you “sending love and healing” is actually belittling them. In a time of need, pity doesn’t do much.

One of my chosen family members Takeallah once said: “I’ll pray for you” means “You’re  going to hell but I have sympathy for you”. Ain’t that some shit? The same folks who condemn my “lifestyle” pray for me when I lose a Trans chosen family members to suicide, when Trans women of Color are massacred or even missing because the foster care system don’t care about LGBTQIA+ youth. Wasn’t we faggots last week? Weren’t you the same person mocking someone with They/Them pronouns? Didn’t you try to say that Trans women are men in a cis sexist rant to defend your blatant hate rhetoric. Wasn’t you just praying my gay away last night at supper?

The next time you want to pray for members of a marginalized, oppressed group, also participate in asking these folks what do they need. How about you tell the ignorant folks in your congregation to stop making fun of that one gay kid who loves God just as much as you? Y’all want folks like me to be dance choreographers and music directors for the church but pick on the child that wears his bow ties and switches his hips when they come into the sanctuary. Have more QT folks active in temple and educate folks on how to love them. Let Bi Muslim women be free enough to speak their truth. Hold workshops in your worship space about how you can truly be the best neighbor to someone that doesn’t look like you. Attend Pride and other events to show you want to build community. Make clothing drives for poor and/or homeless Trans folks. Counter protest anyone religious group that targets us. Stop leaders in your religious/spiritual groups that can possibly feed into the extremists fantasies about hurting marginalized people. That kind of power and platform comes with so much responsibility. It doesn’t take extremists much to commit acts of terrorism. We can’t depend on prayers alone. Use your principles to combat hate.

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.

 

Love Has Everything to Do with It


I just want to say to women, ‘Be yourself – it’s the inner beauty that counts. You are your own best friend, the key to your own happiness, and as soon as you understand that – and it takes a few heartbreaks – you can be happy.’

–Cherie Lunghi, actress

 

I’ve been trying to find love for as long as I can remember.

In fact, I’ve been searching since the first grade.  I recall a boy in my class named Jeremy blowing kisses at me and giving me pet names like “baby” while I giggle innocently.  The excitement and honor of being someone’s beloved is exhilarating for a seven-year-old kid, given the fact that my parents don’t know about my boyfriend.

Fast forward to my adulthood.  That giddy feeling associated with having a love interest has never gone away.  I still get swept up in the electric intensity that comes with new relationship energy.  When I’m with that person, I think about them, their feel of their hand against my skin, the exhilaration that rushes through my body when their lips touch mine as they smear my lipstick.  The way we exchange glances as if we’re the only two people in the room.

romance_0

I love every moment of these encounters, yet hate them at the same time.  As much as I enjoy the chemistry I experience when me and the potential partner are near each other, I know that it will dissipate as quickly as it has started.  Because once the brain settles and the dopamine decreases, reality sets in and I realize that the person I’ve fallen for is a mass illusion.  And I tend to keep it going by becoming some sort of chameleon, molding myself into anything my crush is into at the time—or try to anyway.  Regardless of my discomfort, I would just follow their lead in hopes of getting companionship.

An example of this is me trying my hands at “being poly.”  I would date poly people—usually someone with a primary partner—and pose as a complacent, open-minded secondary.  I’d tell my potentials that I’m willing to work around their time schedule and that of their partner’s.  That I’m ok with seeing them once or twice a week and that it’s perfectly fine with them having partners outside of the relationship even though we’re dating.

The truth, though, is that I don’t even have the patience or mindset to be a secondary partner.  If I’m going to be honest with myself, I am a very much a monogamous woman. By the end of the day, I don’t even see myself with multiple people (when in a romantic relationship with a poly person, they are the ONLY one I’m intimate with).  Despite knowing this fact, I would continue to play this role in hopes that I would get a relationship out of it.  Friends worry about me, telling me that it may not be the best idea to date poly men, but I brush it off and assure them that I’m perfectly ok with participating in this soon-to-be dysfunctional arrangement.

Alas, the typical result is my continuously falling for and chasing after the emotionally unattached poly nerdy guy who would rather dip their entire selves into the pool of poly fuckery than establish an actual relationship with me.  What’s worse is that I’ve become attached to them within moments of them telling me that I shouldn’t have expectations.  Because the feelings are intense on my end still, I do and say whatever I need to in order make them stay. When I don’t get my way, I personalize it, thinking I’ve done something wrong.  Or become envious of the person who has the same type of relationship I desire to have.  Or depressed to the point of having suicide ideations.

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Depression.  Art by Paul Vice Juhlin

This has happened a few times and the situation begins the same: I develop an instant crush on someone who spend their time with me, tell me what I want to hear, imagine myself being with them even if they’re poly. The raw intensity quickly fades on their end when I express that I will ultimately want more, but continues for me.  My stomach is tied in knots as I cry about them not wanting me until a friend acts as a voice of reason, making me snap out of it.

Repeat.

I don’t even know how any of this nonsense started.  I DO acknowledge that this behavior is one of the many reasons why I’ve been single all these years.  I would drag myself to death hanging on to failing partnerships in attempts to make it work. And it hurts because I feel that I’m a loving and very honorable human being—the type who would give my partner the world—and I don’t understand why the poly men have never wanted to take me up on my offer.

At least that’s the story I’ve told myself.

But it’s ultimately not about them but about how I view myself.  I don’t feel…I just want to be seen as a person of worth in the eyes of whomever I’m spending my time with.  Time.  That’s what this whole mess is about honestly: someone’s time and competing for it.  As a child, I would compete with my father’s partners or his need to leave or my mother’s God or her partners. I’d fight as hard as I could, but I’d ALWAYS lose and wonder what else I had to do to make my parents see me. This is no different from me getting involved with emotionally unavailable poly people and swingers.  I have often felt that I was competing for time and affection with the other sexual partners, but walking away depressed after losing yet another battle that reaffirms the false belief that I’m not worth the time, effort, and trust needed to build a successful long term relationship.  These other people are lovable and trustworthly, but I’m not.

I want to shake this feeling of not being good enough as much as I can and as quickly as possible.  Not only do I want to enter a romantic relationship without having unrealistic expectations, but because I’m so tired of this internal struggle to gain self-esteem and conformations from those who aren’t trying to establish a life with me.

Please note, Readers, that I’ve nothing against the poly lifestyle itself, as I’m just speaking from my angle.  I know poly couples personally and it works for them because they are wired to live that way.  I, on the other hand, have never felt authentic every time I’ve attempted it and find that my experiences with poly have been completely shitty because I’ve settled for less than what I deserved in order to feel loved.  But the lifestyle is not the issue, but what it represents for me:  the decade long competition to be deemed worthy.

One that I have to walk away and heal from in order to become truly happy.

walking_away_911
Walking Away.  Art by  Vampire-Zombie

 

What I’ve Learned from Having An Emotional Rescue Squad


you’re on your own now
we won’t save you
your rescue-squad 
is too exhausted

“Army of Me” by Bjork

 

For folks who know me, I’m on Facebook ALL the time.  If I’m not posting on someone else’s page, then I’m sharing content on my own while commenting on a video or posting a random status.  I also pay attention to many of my friend’s statuses as it’s sometimes my only way to check up on them.

Facebook addict

I notice that many of these same friends tend to post something about their emotional state on their page as it pertains to something that has happened to them or someone they know.  If the status is serious or positive enough, they will get numerous responses from folks showing genuine support (which is awesome—especially if the person is struggling).

I myself do the same as a way to communicate about my struggles with mental illness and ADD.  But I notice something:  I don’t get as many responses at 34-years-old compared to my younger friends (not that I’m looking for it either).  So this makes me wonder:  are there certain expectations associated with age?

Let me explain.

In my early to mid 20s, I have had what I call my Emotional Rescue Squad—groups of people who have entered my life and supported me in some way. They have been more prevalent during the time of my life in which I’m pursuing my Bachelors in Social Work and winning in the life of sobriety.  My brothers, sisters and people in spirit have been willing to listen and even offer a helping hand when I make a mistake or struggle to get on my feet. When I think the worse of myself, they are there to pep talk me out of my misery.  When I need money, they gave me that and then some.  Even people I haven’t met before make sure I have enough to eat—literally and spiritually, with the assumption that I’m working towards a bright future that only a bright person like myself deserves.

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Ok.  So this is my version of a Rescue Squad, alright? (Art by JPRart)  

But as time goes on, it becomes evident that the future I imagine for myself is slipping away from me.  Unlike the creative 20-year-old with energy and no filter, the 30 something is struggling to keep up with a hectic grad school schedule and the ability to remain focused—all the while attempting to ignore the negative gossip among my professors around me.  The bravado I once use to coast by is no longer working as my mental health issues become more prevalent.

I would post my battles on Facebook, writing entire essays about how I am being treated unfairly and wishing to use my English degree.  By this time, I now have an online ERS, showing their sympathies and regard and telling me that I’m going to graduate.  And I’m not only lifted up by their words, but the idea that my Higher Spirits are going to protect me—regardless of the fact that I almost fail out of grad school. I need them to help me—to lift me up and tell them how bright I am and that I’ve not made a mistake.  I need them to support me in the manner I’m used to.

By the time I graduate, I’m burned out and wish for someone to hold me up.  But guess what?  And though I receive emotional support and then some, the ERS is now few and far between.  Even as I fast forward to the age of 34, I have asked myself what the hell happened.  Where is my ERS?  Why are they unfriending me on Facebook or shooting me looks of disapproval when I see them in person?

670px-Walk-Away-from-a-Fight-Step-4

Because there’s now the expectation to hold myself accountable, considering that I now know better.  Unlike the 20 something aspiring social worker, the 30 something broke writer has no excuse as to why she is cannot look out for herself—regardless of the struggles she has.  The intense emotional responses that I am used to getting away with will no longer work.  The angry-five-year that is trapped inside this adult body is expected to be tamed by therapy and medication and not the people in my support system.  In other words, I’m expected to grow up and handle shit differently.

A part of me thinks that my ERS is tapped out and have simply decided to move on because they waiting for me to act on my own behalf.  But another part of me realizes that I have been searching for parents who are willing to care for me.  I unfortunately will never have that parental care I long for and I have to be ok with that.

For all I know, the Dark Passenger could be using my troubles against me.  I have been depressed for the past three days for reasons unknown to me.  Even if my assumptions have any merit, I hope people see that I’m trying. I’m trying everything I can to make my life better so I can look in the mirror and not see a person with problems, but someone that even I will be proud of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going on Hiatus: What I’m Learning Through Celibacy


“I tend to agree that celibacy for a time is worth considering, for sex is dirty if all it means is winning a man, conquering a woman, beating someone out of something, abusing each other’s dignity in order to prove that I am a man, I am a woman.”

Toni Cade Bambara, author

 

Today I’m scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook when something one of my friend’s posted catches my attention.

It’s a clip from My Mad Fat Diary, a British television series about a young girl named Rae who is released from a psychiatric ward.  I haven’t watched it recently, but I do consider it one of the best teen shows I’ve ever been introduced to.  It touches upon everything from Rae’s going through: self-harming, body issues, fitting into a society and a time period that doesn’t discuss certain issues openly (the show is set in the 90s—the year of Brownstreet and Oasis).

And then there’s her relationship with her boyfriend, Finn Nelson.

Well, speaking of him, he’s lying on Rae’s bed in the clip.  While Rae herself is mentally agonizing over whether Finn is even able to pleasure her sexually, he seems to do by massaging her clitoris with this thumb.  Not only is Rae’s surprised by the fact that he could pleasure her, but she describes the moment with a comedic, yet genuine innocence as dubs Finn a Sex Wizard.

After watching the clip, I think about it the majority of the day.  If anything, I think about Rae’s reaction to her boyfriend’s touch, her words, the look on her face as she imagines the universe as she enjoys as describes their experience with the act.  Correction:  her experience.  I witness her genuine connection with Finn—one that is proves to be important to her regardless of the nature of their interactions.

It’s also something that I wish I’ve been granted when I was her age.

At the age of five, my aunt Joyce introduces me to porn she somehow steals from my uncle Tony.  As she closes the door, I’d plop down on her bed and follow her every move when she slides the tape into the VCR.  Soon we would both watch these adults, these complete strangers do things to one another my young mind cannot comprehend.  I remember feeling the thrill of doing something secretive, forbidden despite the fear of being caught.  But we never are; by age eight, I begin watching Joyce and my cousin Chuckie having sex after I ask if I could.  By the age of ten, she would have sex with me because I too wish to do what those strangers in the videos have done.

I don’t know what I’m doing, to be honest.  I just know that it feels good and it’s the first time I am not beaten, ridiculed or yelled at for little to no reason.  It’s shameful, but it’s quiet.  And I feel something else: beautiful.  I’ve been called and perceived as ugly throughout my entire childhood and into my adult years.  So whenever I have sex, I feel that I can finally consider myself physically attractive enough to catch someone’s attention.

I chase that feeling for many years, engaging in unhealthy sexual relationships—sometimes using little to no protection.  I would meet complete strangers online or bring them back to my apartment to have sex. I’d travel long distances just to be with partners who would emotionally harm me in the long run.  I’d use sex in order to maintain “intimate” relationships with people I wish to actually be with and would become next to suicidal when things fall apart.  I’m not completely innocent in any of this.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve harassed, cursed out and even verbally assaulted someone I’ve been with—especially if they moved on to someone else.

The worst of my behavior has occurred in my early 20s.

Fast forward to 2016. I decide to become celibate after growing tired of the emotional and mental stress that comes with being sexual for all the wrong reasons.  I’ve tried it before in my 20s, but my fear of never having sex again prevents me from going longer than a month.  But after not seeing my sexual partner for about a month and constantly feeling as if I’m trying to mold him into the monogamist he could never be, I tell him that I don’t want to be with him—or anyone else—until further notice.

Since becoming celibate two months ago, I notice a trend:  the mere thought of having sex with another person causes me anxiety and depression. Even cuddling with someone is very much out of the question and the most I can do these days is a hug.  When I had been sexually active, I would use sex as a means to connect, feel disconnected from my body.  In my mind, it has never belonged to me, but to the person (or people) I am “with.”  But because I’m becoming more protective of my body, I find that I don’t trust my intentions or that of the other person when it comes to touching. When people hug me for long periods, I wonder if they are doing so to sexualize me or take possession of my body…of me.

At the same time, I feel and recognize the power of having a choice.  And my choice is to find out who I am without this need to connect through sexual contact.  It is only when I watch the clip featuring Rae and Finn that I’m further reminded that all I wish to do is experience love making with someone I love and on my own terms once I’ve healed from the sexual trauma.

I’m sharing all the gory details, Readers, not only for therapeutic reasons but because you too deserve and have the right to experience sex your way and at your own volition.  You have every right to not give someone access to your body, mind and your very core unless you feel comfortable—regardless of your gender and that of those who wish to have your time.