The Dangers of Storytelling: How the Industrial Complexes Target Black People with False Propaganda


 

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By Shermeeka Mason

 

 

 

 

 

On June 9, 2016, the day of the Shut This Shit Down: Black Lives Matter Rally organized by Building Leadership and Community Knowledge or B.L.A.C.K. went into effect.

The event was a response to the brutal murder of Alton Sterling, a Black man who was gunned down by a Baton Rouge police officer because he was suspected of pointing a gun at someone (Sterling was armed, but Louisiana is an Open Carry state, so his death was completely unwarranted).  The Shut This Shit Down event here in Rochester was one of the plethora of Black Lives Matter demonstrations taking place throughout the country and internationally.

I arrived at the rally a little after 4:00 p.m., joining the massive crowd of protesters at the Liberty Pole.  I instantly felt the positive vibe of those around me, straining to hear the slam poets and activists speaking into a weak microphone.

When the pep rally came to a close, we headed towards the street, our spirits high while chanting “Black Lives Matter” and some others to maintain the momentum.  As we turned the corner, however, I and a few others beside me immediately spotted a swarm of police cars settled near the curb, occupied by officers in full riot gear. We made comments about how unnecessary the riot gear was, considering that we were peacefully protesting, and moved on. We continued to march down our designated route, crowding the street during rush hour, hyping up the drivers that believed in the cause.  We then headed towards Monroe Avenue, the synergy increasing and evident…

Until we were met with a line of riot cops near the Strong Museum of Play.

They were silently waiting for us, batons in hand.  We approached them, determined yet peaceful while chanting for them to hold themselves accountable for working for a corrupt industrial complex founded to target the disenfranchised.  It wasn’t long before members of the SWAT Team began charging at us in a militarized formation.

I grabbed the arm of one of my friends and frantically informed him that we needed to leave the scene effective immediately.  Neither of us can afford to be arrested, as I have mental health issues and he is a trans man who had just had knee surgery not too long ago.  Plus, his son was graduating and he was not going to miss the opportunity to see his baby walk across the stage.  There were folks who stayed to continue to protest the heavy presence of law enforcement, but I didn’t know what happened to them until I eventually returned home, where I watched footage that was uploaded on Facebook by protesters.  Those who confronted the cops at the Strong Museum were shoved by the latter, even though the former did nothing physically to provoke violence.

There were also videos of protesters on East Avenue area doing a peaceful sit-in being physically assaulted by riot police.  I watched angrily as one cop lunged at one of the demonstrators (a friend of mine) and punched him in the face before one of his partners pulled him away.  Remember that the Black Lives Matter rally was nonviolent from beginning to end, yet the heavy cop presence resulted in seventy-four protesters being detained and taken into custody—many of them being friends of mine.

So when Mayor Lovely Warren and Rochester Police Chief Mike Cimerelli expressed support for the cops and declaring that protesters weren’t physically harmed (even though two people were hospitalized while some others suffered injuries), when East End business owners complemented law enforcements’ conduct towards those who did nothing, when both local and national media portrayed the Black Lives Matter rallies as violent and disruptive (while broadcasting heavily edited footage of protesters shouting at law enforcement), I was infuriated, frustrated, and completely through.

I knew what occurred because I was there.  I witnessed with my own eyes the police’s aggressive behavior toward us.  I watched the unofficial footage protesters posted on social media, which further discredited what was being reported.  So I shouted at the live news report reeling on my computer screen, updated Facebook statuses with my thoughts on the aftermath of the rally, and corresponded with friends and follow activists who knew what the fuck was up.  But what bothered (and triggered) me the most were the lies that compounded the issue at hand.

Of course, this is nothing new—we Black people have been battling for our liberation for over 600 years and counting, often dying unjustly due to the various industrial complexes propagating falsehood.  But in the 21st century, modern technology made it easier for the local, national, and even independent press to report misleading information about Black people (educated ones in particular) as 1) we become the majority in the United States and internationally and 2) we challenge White supremacy and how it affects everyone (White folks included) through our right to peacefully assemble. These facts and many others are the reasons why we are frequently targeted by oppressive industrial complexes (law enforcement being one) to the point to losing our lives.

Since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement, more the 1,134 Black men were murdered by cops in 2015 alone.  Over 500 Black men lost their lives in 2016 and the year is only halfway over.  And these numbers don’t even include the trans men and women who were killed while either in police custody or harassed by them.  I myself had had run ins with the police—one of those incidents involving my former housemate, Kelliegh.  She called 911 because she thought I attempted to physically assault her when I did not.  Her erroneous accusation literally placed me at risk of being killed by the two officers that responded to her call. And since law enforcement aren’t properly trained to handle those who’ve been previously mental health arrested, the risk of death would’ve increased had I not been medicated.

This is why I am extremely antagonistic towards both the so-called Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter campaigns.  Besides their utter ridiculousness, they are used by the press and uninformed people to spread more lies about Black people and Black Lives Matter in general.  Y’all, I can’t even tell you how many White and non-Black people of color I’ve dragged for filth because of them defending these campaigns.  For one, those entering law enforcement chose to participate in that industrial complex and wear the required uniform.  My skin, however, is not a uniform I can unbutton, step out of, and hang in my closet with the rest of my coats.  I am Black all day, every day and there is no reprieve from the negative stereotypes associated with being so.

In regards to All Lives Matter, it doesn’t ring true because it isn’t.  Let’s be honest here:  if all lives mattered, why aren’t these folks organizing or working alongside people of color?  Why aren’t they fighting for the liberation of prisoners, the safety of sex workers (most of them being transwomen of color), victims of sex abuse or untreated mental illness and so forth? They will swiftly accuse Black Lives Matter activists of “reverse racism,” homophobia, and divisiveness, not even acknowledging the members of the LGBTIQA+ community involved in BLM (regardless of ethnicity).  I also want to point that when a 16-year-old White boy was killed by a cop, it was Black Lives Matter who not only protested on this young man’s behalf, but launched a fundraiser for his family.  Meanwhile, the All Lives Matter people were completely silent as they ALWAYS are when injustice occurs.  And when they are speaking out, it’s always in the form of perpetuating dangerous misinformation rooted in the very racist ideologies designed to dehumanize and annihilate Black people.

So, long story short, the Rochester Black Lives Matter rally and the events following forced me to fully recognize the extent that oppressive industrial complexes will go to fabricate stories about the disenfranchised—even when the truth is documented on film.  It further demonstrated how many White and non-Black people of color blindly give credence to the false information the media broadcasts about a movement they choose not to research. But more importantly, I refuse to ignore the high level of trauma these industrial complexes inflict on Black people by not only internalizing the misinformation associated with us, but becoming increasing desensitized to our suffering by utilizing their resources (and our tax dollars) to commit acts of abuse that usually results in a senseless death.

 

Author Bio:  Shermeeka M.L. Mason is a self-published author, blogger, and volunteer radio show host.  She recently published the political science-fiction novel, The One Taken from the Sea of Stars under the pen name Octavia Davis.  She is also the creator of and contributor for two blogs, The Possible World and The Chuck Taylor Buddhist (both available on WordPress.com).  In addition to being an active author, Mason is currently one of the co-hosts of The Bonfire Talks on WAYO 104.3 FM.  In her spare time, she reads, performs with the Rochester Womens’ Community Chorus, binges on Facebook, and spends time with beloved cat-son, Tobias.

 

 

 

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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

Survival in Practice


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By Dr. Sekile Nzinga-Johnson

 

I’m typically a chatty Cathy…except for when I’m in pain.

When I was in labor with my children, I was sooooooo quiet. Labor was painful and somehow I intuitively turned inward to survive it. During my first labor and delivery, I remember my grandmother being very worried about me not using medical intervention. She and her bible sat in the corner. She was present and prayerful and I was grateful for her.

Cedric was right beside me and I recall when the pain got so intense I looked at him and said “I don’t think I can do it!!” He looked back at me and said, “Yes, you can”. I turned inward and I did.  I pushed out a 7 lb 15 oz baby boy. It was then that realized that I could survive what was quite surely one of the greatest physical pains that a body can tolerate. I set the terms, no pain killers, a Ghanian fertility doll as a focal point and loved ones present to help me get through. But ultimately, it was me who had to get that baby out of me and had to deal with the pain associated with childbirth.

It was no joke but I felt like a bad ass after.

During labor, it was my silence that was most necessary. I had learned the Lamaze breathing/panting (ineffective) technique, but I just wanted peace and quiet so I could listen to my body and survive the pain. With each childbirth, I refined my desire for intentional silence during labor. I learned Hypno birthing and incorporated affirmations that helped me believe that I could birth my baby. This practice is necessary only because we have been taught to fear our bodies and the child birthing process as well as deny our strength. The hypnotic state was really a deep relaxation and meditative process. It required inward reflection and visualizing a place of peace. Even the verbal prompts Cedric had practiced to help me go deeper into a hypnotic/relaxed state were distracting in the labor process because of my deep desire for silence and turning inward. I needed peace and quiet to survive that pain. No nurses coming in and out poking and prodding, no lights on, no massages. Just me getting through that shit.

Leave me alone.

I birthed an 8 lb 7 oz baby boy that day with very little pushing thanks to a very self-determined little one.  By the time the 3rd labor came along, I was skilled at childbirth and also at knowing which conditions were ideal for me. Silence and solitude during labor! I wanted my support system there, which now included Cedric and the boys. I had the boys with a family friend while I was in labor but they were the 1st ones to hold and see their little sister after she was born. Unfortunately, my midwife did not get the memo about my need for peace and quiet and got on my damned nerves the whole time. She could not accept that I was in charge of my birthing process and kept trying to offer suggestions. Irritated the fuck out of me.

What I have realized is that when I am in pain, deep pain, I hurt too much to explain myself to others. Cedric was my advocate but we could not regain control of the labor and delivery process. I felt disempowered. I recall that process as my worse birthing experience simply because I felt imposed upon and I was not allowed to just lie there and meditate til that baby was ready to come out. She wanted me to shift positions and just kept talking. I needed to just survive the ugly beauty of my pain in peace. Thankfully, a 8 lb 6 oz baby girl blessed me with another quick labor and put me out of my noise induced misery.

I find myself in pain a lot lately. My current pain is not physical–it is psychic, emotional, psychological and spiritual. It still hurts and it’s hard to explain its fullness to others. I tend to retreat into myself during these times. It’s simply too tiring and painful to try to help others get why and how a happily married, mother of 3 beautiful children with a bunch of sister-friends who owns a home, smiles a lot, and is a professor is dealing with anxiety and life long depression. My support team is ready to help—friends call, family members pray, Cedric does the heavy lifting at home and is the affirming spouse that I need in my life. I am grateful.

But I have learned that sometimes I still have to–need to– turn inward to survive my life. Especially when I feel my survival and joy are at risk or are being threatened. It is how I have survived before when there was seemingly no one at my side (go ahead, insert your “but God” here). Turning inward is how I am still here. I need to time to think, to name my pain, and at times go numb to survive it. Turning inward feels safe in this moment. Being in silent solitude through pain also allows me to spiritually ground myself and to store my reserves so I can tackle life as it is dealt. Living in solitude means not having to explain why I stopped listening to someone in the middle of their sentence, or why I am not feeling happy at “happy” moments or why I am not interested in things that typically bring me joy like socializing and exercising and eases some of the pressure. It means not having to cry in public or navigate answering the dreaded question “how are you doing?”

Prayer, meditation, silence, and out of body robot mode—have helped me survive before, in beautiful times like during childbirth and in horrific times, like during child sexual abuse.  I won’t stay forever but this is where I am in this moment.

This is survival.

 

“Survival in Practice”  was reposted in The Possible World with Dr. Nzinga-Johnson’s permission.  Readers can find this piece and others on her Blogger.com blog, I usta be monique.

 

What Separates Me from Normal: Surviving PTSD


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By Delaney McLemore

 

A four letter label is what separates me from normal: PTSD—Post-traumatic stress Disorder.

But it’s a misnomer if it’s anything – let’s break it down. Post – the past, something that has already happened. Traumatic – something that has caused trauma, significant damage, pain (be it mental or physical or both). Stress – that force in our lives that constantly makes us feel like what we have and are is not enough, not befitting of our believed possible life. Disorder – the state of being that is outside what is normal, what is accepted, what is right.

So I’m past something that hurt me that shouldn’t have happened and rearranged my life.

But that pesky past…

This week, every possible media outlet is sharing the aftermath of a rape case in southern California. The survivor’s letter that was read to the attacker has been an incessant feature of the news cycle. I have shared it. My friends are sharing it. We’re reading her story with a lump in our throats and our own attacker’s breath on our ears.

The first day I read the letter was the one-year anniversary of when I was last raped by a professor at Oregon State University. On June 4th, 2015, at four o’clock in the morning, I was forced awake by someone I trusted, whose couch I was trying to sleep on, by his hands taking mine in his own and placing them on his body. That part. In my mind, it is foggy, amorphous, blacked out by some force of my defense mechanisms. I wasn’t drunk or high, like the times it had happened before, but my mind isn’t able to clearly see him.

I see me.

And when I read about women like the woman in California, or like Terry Mitchell in Utah, or Larkin Grimm in New York (and on and on; there are hundreds of incredible, vocal survivors), I see myself. Again. Crouched in pain against his entry. Standing in his bathroom as his sperm slipped to the floor. Staring at the gun closet as he told me, “You have to, it’s never been this big.” I see my nurse between my legs, near tears as she measures the bruises on my back, thighs, pubic bone.

I can’t stop seeing this day.

Sometimes, I make it worse for myself, clicking on the articles about attackers willy-nilly, this one in Texas, this one Oklahoma, this one Oregon. The detective in my case suggests books about surviving and I focus on the parts where people tell their stories. They sound so much like mine.

I have an illness that keeps my mind in a place it hates to be, in the past where I cannot avoid the hurt that has been inflicted upon me over and over and over again. I cannot say how many men have raped me. That is a hideous truth. But every time I see something, anything, about sexual violence or rape culture or surviving, I am put back in that space, every time it happened to me. I remember my friend’s brother, pulling out his gun from his waistband. I see the ex-boyfriends who thought they were owed my form. I hear the closest people to me saying, “It’s not your fault.”

And it wasn’t. Just like the woman in the Stanford case. There is no part of this that falls on us. As much as the deluge of stories, think pieces, reports about her experience hurts me, puts me in the worst part of my illness, I know how powerful it is. I’m willing to be triggered for her, to help her. I’m willing to compromise the safety of my habits in order to share what has happened.

I’m mentally ill. It’s completely terrifying a huge part of the time. When I lose control to the dark of my memory, I feel like I am no longer myself, that something has fallen away. I fight the people I love, scream about justice, scream at God for what he failed to provide. And I don’t have the power to say when these moments will come and go, as I can’t control the world around me. I’ve tried. It’s not possible.

I will probably be fighting that dark for several years. There are small acts of self-preservation that I’ve learned how to do – leaving parties, drinking less, taking care of my apartment. I use the tapping method in order to calm panic attacks. I learn something about this illness every day.

What I learned through processing the Stanford case is that there are no limits to the depths of my rage. Anger is a power that I didn’t realize I had. I’ve spent so long ignoring how I felt or wallowing in the sadness that anger never had room to grow, only coming out in lashes towards those who still loved me. I couldn’t see how anger could help me survive.

The woman in Stanford has given me that anger back. And it’s not just to the men who raped me or Brock Turner, the man who raped her. I am furious with the way we have let this become our society. I am furious with the capitulations we have made to toxic masculinity. I am furious with the way that men are still able to rule our lives, to be more powerful and worth more than we are.

Brock Turner is made to be. My rapist was made to be. So was the first that attacked me.

This cannot be the way we go forward.

I think back to the definition of my illness, a point past a bad thing where life cannot be ever what it was. It’s simplified, of course, but it demonstrates so well the way that life after violence is lived. I can’t go back to who I was before these men hurt me.

But I can go forward.

And I will fight.

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.

 

 

 

 

The Brave New World: Chapter One


Ring out the old
Ring in the new
Ring out the old
Ring in the new

Ring out the false
Ring in the true
Ring out the old
Ring in the new

–“Ding Dong, Ding Dong” by George Harrison

It’s been a while since we’ve talked and I have so much to tell you.

I have so much to share that I don’t even know where to begin.  For the most part, there is no devastating news to type into this post, but I have news nonetheless.

For one, this happened:

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Left to right: Gaby, me and Colleen

On May 11 at 9:00 a.m., I graduated from the University at Buffalo with a Masters in Social Work.  After 2 years of writing papers, having panic attacks over my lap top and trudging through rain, sleet and snow to get to class, I finally earned the damn thing.  Even though this past Fall and Spring semester was the most difficult for me, I finally tamed that wild horse and I’m ready to move on.

When I walked across the stage, I thought I’d be calm and collected.  I imagined myself shaking hands with professors before flashing the Vulcan salute to the audience. Of course that didn’t happen because I was trembling and pretty much ran off the stage because too many people were staring at me. But once I walked off the stage, I was surrounded by supports (Spirit, my spirit guides, Gaby, Colleen, Sara and Joe, the other Joe) and I was able to finally realize that this happened.  This finally happened.  Even after a week, I seriously can’t believe it.

I will not lie to you, Readers.  I told myself many times that I wouldn’t make it. That I was too much or not enough of *fill in the blank.*  I was too immature or not professional enough.  Or I didn’t win any awards, so no employer would pay attention to me.  I was also dealing with triggering subject matters: sexual abuse, child abuse and neglect.  Those who’ve read old blog entries know where I’ve come from and there were times when I didn’t even want to sit through another lecture reminding me of what happened.

At the same time, I learned that I could use my past to help others somehow, that it didn’t have to be a curse but a beacon of hope for people.  The main reason why I became a social work major was to do something to make life better for someone.  I know I can’t help everyone, but if I can do something, then I’ve served my purpose.  And I had to prove to myself that success was possible and that, just because I’m not wired like everyone else, doesn’t make me different.

With that being said, a new chapter has started in my life and I wonder what’s going to happen next.