Courage with a Pen: Fighting Rape Culture with Writing


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By Shermeeka Mason

 

As I write this, my eyes burn with fatigue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without feeling ashamed.

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

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

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

In other words, I am done with rape culture.

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

 

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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?

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Danger of House Bill 2


“I’ve been sexually assaulted, physically attacked, felt unsafe in my own house, and nearly killed myself because I’m transgender. Now I’m not saying that its the same struggle as racism. But what I will say is that if people are intentionally ignorant you can’t fight them with words. Sometims you have to fight back. Or scream. And you know what. That’s life. Despite the lies you may have been told no one won their rights by asking for them nicely. People fought for them. So ya I’m sorry if what I said may “offend” a few white people, but I’m going to fuking say it anyways.”

Adam Snowflake, Transgender author

 

On Wednesday, March 23, the State of North Carolina’s General Assembly meet in Raleigh for a special session.  That “special session” turns out to be one that greatly affects members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersexed, queer, and agender community. One involving Republican Governor Pat McCrory signing into law the most pro-discriminatory bill within 30 minutes.

The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, known as House Bill 2, completely overturns Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ban that includes those protecting the GLBTIQA community—especially those identifying as transgender.  Under this oppressive law, transfolks are now prohibited to use restrooms based on the gender with which they identify.  They instead are forced to enter the restrooms based on the gender printed on their birth certificate.  K-12 schools are no longer obligated to offer or even add gender neutral bathrooms.

For obvious reasons, there is so much wrong with this bill and the process it took to pass it. The special session cost taxpayers $42,000 just so the House could hastily push it through.  Every Republican backed the bill, stating that the Charlotte’s updated ordinance violated religious freedom and the safety of straight woman who have to share bathroom with transpeople (so apparently only straight women are in danger when using the bathrooms). Even after the ordinances are updated back in February in Charlotte, the GOP are very vocal about shutting down the laws before April 1.

But it doesn’t take much thought (or at least it shouldn’t) to recognize that House Bill 2 is targeting the transgender community.  From day one, there has been the issue among all the Republican and some Democrats about transpeople using bathrooms that corresponds with the gender they identify with.  For whatever reason, that topic has been the main focus of this bill and prompts members of both parties to undermine the state’s law.  But House Bill 2 goes beyond bathroom politics pertaining to transpeople.  It indeed causes more harm by doing the following:

 

1) It propagates misinformation regarding transpeople and sexual violence.

There are no reports or empirical data supporting even a shred of evidence linking sexual predatory behavior to being trans or of trans individuals victimizing children or women.  On the contrary, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known by the child victim that isn’t a family member (i.e. babysitter, coach, neighbor).  Furthermore, thirty percent (30%) of perpetrators are family members while 10% are completely unknown to the child.

In regards to women, they are more likely to be victimized by their intimate partner. Young girls are often raped or molested by someone they either know or have developed a relationship with.  There are no reports from them indicating that transpeople are out here searching for female victims.  Even if the girl or woman have been victimized by a trans individual, there would more likely be an established relationship between the parties involved.

Speaking of gender identity and sexual orientation, the typical perpetrator, the majority of them not only identify as heterosexual, but have dating relationships with women.  In other words, a child is more likely to be molested or sexual assaulted by a straight male they are already have a relationship with and there is no empirical data or research stating otherwise.

2)   House Bill 2 perpetuates mental illness and poverty.

Because HB 2 bans the anti-discrimination laws that have been scheduled to go into effect on April 1, transpeople are now at the mercy of employers who can either terminate their trans employees or deny them employment. This may ultimately lead to poverty and/or homelessness. Since there aren’t many homeless shelters exclusively for transpeople (if no family support is available), they will more likely have to live in a shelter, where they will endure transphobia.

Transphobia and poverty are known to cause depression, anxiety, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and other mental illnesses due to no longer having the means to maintain their most basic needs such as housing and food. Many transpeople turn to sex work in order to pay for their medical needs, risking their safety and their very lives.  Studies show that transgender individuals are more likely to become victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and/or homicide—especially if they are homeless and/or doing sex work.

In is also reported that those living in poverty have a high onset of physical health issues as well.  Many transpeople not only have difficulty obtaining adequate health insurance but report facing discrimination from medical professionals.  This could one of the reasons why HIV has increased among transwomen who engage in sex work.  With HB 2 in effect, transpeople could be denied employment and housing and perhaps mental and medical health services as well.

3) House Bill 2 perpetuates the idea of Otherness through the politics of passing.

Going back to the bathroom topic, this idea of forcing transpeople to utilize facilities based on the gender on their birth certificate also plays into the politics of otherness.  If a transperson can “pass,” then they can use bathrooms and locker rooms coinciding with the gender they identify with—regardless of whether they change the information on their birth certificate of not.  However, if a transperson is unable to pass (or choose not to) for whatever reason, then they are forced to enter an environment in which they are not comfortable because they are deemed a threat to cis heterosexual social norms.  And by being labeled a threat, the transperson is now an Other when they only want to be their authentic selves.

As poverty and unemployment would, otherness also places transpeople at a disadvantage by increasing their risk of being sexual, emotionally, physically, and spiritually violated—especially if they have not fully transitioned (or choose not to).  This is all because of a law passed on the erroneous propaganda that transpeople are sexual predators when all they wish to do enter, use, and exit the bathroom with impunity.

 

Despite House Bill 2 being passed so quickly, this move may have been a huge detriment finanically.  The bill is deemed unconstitutional and major businesses are already boycotting the state’s oppressive law.  Corporations have been put on pause because the bill now jeopardizes employment and economic growth in the state of North Carolina–unless they withdraw HB 2.

Regardless of the decisions these businesses and corporations come to, the pressing issue is the fact that the lives of transpeople in North Carolina are in mortal danger.  With that being said, we must stand in solidarity with our trans siblings not only in North Carolina but those struggling around the globe.  We must be ready to fight alongside them by any means necessary.  And we must let members of the two party system realize that this type of discrimination is completely unacceptable because, if you’re paying attention, you know it is.

 

 

What Dreams Speak


Last night, I have a strange dream.

For one, I am not even my friend’s home where I live now, but in a house for the mentally ill.  I am in my room during the morning period talking to a man named Travis, who is one of the orderlies working the morning.  I can’t hear his voice, yet I can hear mine.  For some reason, I have this feeling that I’m something invisible is watching me and have been for a while.  I’m telling the orderly this and I tell that I’m not being believed—that whatever I’m saying to Travis is going into one ear and out the other.

Nevertheless, my tone is calm and I feel extremely comfortable in the house—in my room—wearing my pajamas.  When he leaves, I try to close my door, but I find that am unable to. Soon after, I hear a low rumbling demonic voice as the gap in my door becomes wider.  I attempt to push back with all the strength I have, but the invisible force prevents me from closing my bedroom door.

Suddenly, I feel my feet lift off the floor and my legs are floating in the air.  I’m calling for help—especially from a man named Travis. Next, I’m floating out of my room, levitating in front of three men—Travis included.

The Lone Gunmen
The Lone Gunmen–none of them are named Travis.

That is when I wake up.

I haven’t had a nightmare (if you can deem it that) in three months and before that for about a few years.  I will admit that my depression and anxiety has grown worse since the beginning of 2016, but even that doesn’t explain why I feel like an X-File episode waiting to happen.

Then I put two and two together.

Hours before, I have been envisioning my entire future, wondering what my next move should be.  For the past two weeks, I have been going through mixtures of danger, fear, and a sense of being overwhelmed after because I feel as if I have my back against the wall.  To make matters worse, I’m now exposed to the profiles of the couple who sexually assaulted me a year ago (I have blocked them in the past but because I have created a new Facebook page, they of course can easily find me unless I block them again). So I visit the male’s profile and become embittered because not only does he not care about the pain he inflicted, but will get away with it as well as his girlfriend.

I worry about my businesses—or whatever I’m trying to do—will have an impact on anyone one of these days.  Then I feel guilty for having such a selfish thought—for being ungrateful when I shouldn’t be.  I myself have no answers and I feel as if I am shutting down mentally, emotionally and even physically.  And, though I have choices, my brain is so befogged with untreated ADD and depression that every solution that pops into my mind is either unhealthy, illegal or just plain triflin.’

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Jesus…bail money doesn’t come outta thin air, Meeka.

Meanwhile, my cat son Tobias is lying at my feet paying attention to none of this.  So I pet him just to calm myself down.

As I write this post, I’m thinking about what every part of my dream represents.  Travis is my skeptic—the medical and mental health professionals who believe that I’m over exaggerating when all I want is help.  The invisible force is my Dark Passenger attempting to possess me and my entire life.  The levitation is the overwhelming feeling I experience when my depression takes over.  And the three men standing at the stairs watching everything represent the professionals seeing my truth for themselves.

The truth of the matter is that nightmares (or any sort of dream) is our brain’s why of expressing the unspoken. I personally feel as if I am not receiving the treatment I need in order to get better.  The PROS Program is amazing, but without the proper medication needed to help me manage my ADD, depression and emotion regulation, I will not be able to become the real me.

Which is the reason why I have to continue to talk to my therapist, chant, and do everything I can to reach out to people who struggle the way I do.  Because, if not, the dreams will only become worse.  And I can’t have that.

Banding Together: Knowing You’re Not Alone


Earlier this week, I have been struggling with depressive episodes.

In fact, I haven’t been in the best of moods for a while. Between my money problems and feelings of failure, my attitude consists of me not wanting to be bothered.  I often feel that no matter what I do, there is often some sort of reminder (in my mind at least) that something is bound to go horribly awry.

When I get this way, I tend not to express how I’m feeling verbally.  I keep my feelings to myself for the most part because 1) I’m introverted, 2) I don’t wish to worry anyone and 3) I don’t wish to be seen as an emotional burden to anyone.  So when people ask me what this matter is, I say “I’m good.” That’s my automatic response, despite the fact that not many may not believe me.

To break this pattern, I attend the Personalized Recovery Oriented Services (PROS) classes three days a week.  For those who know about it, PROS is an out-patient program that allows people with mental illness to attend workshops based on their individual needs.  My psychiatrist has recommended it after my first meeting with him, so I decide to give it a shot.

I have only been there for a week and I like it so far.  I’m actually comfortable enough to speak up in class when I need to.  But as comfortable as I am, I’m still unable to talk about my emotional responses to life’s struggles unless it becomes unbearable.

For instance, my depression makes itself known in one of my classes.  The night before, I find out the night before that my unemployment benefits have been suspended due to uncompleted paperwork. Then five minutes before my Depression and Anxiety class starts, I find out that my Care Management Specialist has not handed in my application for subsidized housing because she has mistaken my staying with friends as a permanent situation.   So by the time I take my seat in class, I’m depressed, anxious and pissed.

I eventually end up sharing briefly my struggles with the entire group because I couldn’t even concentrate.  I tell them about my housing situation, lack of funds and my overall feelings of failure because I am 34 years old, yet struggling to function like a whole human being.  Instead of being annoyed, however, each group member tells me about their struggles.  One man shares that he has been in a shelter while a woman speaks up about her trials. When I tell the class about my Masters in Social Work, even the instructor states that clients would rather work with someone who has been through similar struggles than with someone who hasn’t.

“Just know that you are not alone,” one of my classmates reminds me.  “You have support here.  We’re here for you.  Just keep coming to PROS cuz it really does help.”

When he says this, I can tell that he isn’t just giving me lip service.  His words—and that of the others—are sincere.  I walk out of the class reenergized and feeling like myself to a certain extent.

When I log on to Facebook later on that day, I see that one of my friends posts a status about him isolating when he’s experiences an episode.  I respond by stating that, by forcing myself to act, I find that reaching out before the situation becomes dire and stress that if we come together to socialize instead of isolating, we would be helping each other.

I can’t tell you how true this is.  When I isolate, I stay in my room (especially during the winter period) and watch Netflix, neither not wanting to be bothered by anyone nor wanting to bother anyone with my negativity. When my depression is bad enough, my Dark Passenger comes through and tells me that no one cares and that loneliness or death are the most logical options.

For many people with depression, isolation is dangerous at the very least.  It is when we tend to think the worst of ourselves, our lives and possibly wondering what purpose we have if one even exists.  But I also feel strongly that folks struggling with mental illness must band together.  We must rely on one another in order to remain level headed enough to avoid going too deep into the Dark Side.

In order words:  We are not alone.

Life As Is: Three Years Later


Hey ladies and gentlecats,

 

It’s been a couple of years (maybe three) since I’ve posted and I thought the last entry would be the last time I’d ever post in The Possible World.

I have told myself that I no longer want to focus on my shortcomings and be “more positive,” therefore discontinuing the blog in order to move on from speaking about trauma.  However, so much has happened over time and I realize that I am keeping the worst of it to myself or posting it on Facebook instead of writing it down. In fact, it has taken me being terminated from two jobs in 2015, an emotional break and missed opportunities to see the truth:  that I have been avoiding the inevitable in order to deem myself a “good social worker,” “good volunteer,” “woke activist,” and so on. That I feared accepting the good, the bad, and the absolutely horrendous as is.

The truth is that I’m falling apart.  My mental health has grown steadily worse over the years. This is what happens when you avoid your trauma head-on by engaging in all things unhealthy, be it relationships, friendships, excess food, compulsive sex, hair pulling or whatever your vice may be. Due to pursuing my education and engaging in radical politics, I could keep my Dark Passenger at bay.  I am able to get work done to some degree and act like a functioning human being, but by the end of the day, I have known that I have been playing a role and have lost myself.

After graduating with a Masters in Social Work, I fall into a deep depression because I cannot find a job in my field.  With the combination of unemployment and the inability to concentrate on anything, the first action I think of involves taking my own life.  If it were not for my Nichiren Buddhist practice, I would be dead.

In other words, the armor that has protected me for all these years have begun to rust and slowly fall to pieces.

Not all my experiences are abysmal:  in January, I have published my very first novella, The One Taken from the Sea of Stars under my pen name, Octavia Davis.  On Wednesdays, I host my own local radio show, The Bonfire Talks (which can also be found on MixCloud).  I’m opening my own online business called Bennie Hats & Company, and I’m the proud mother of a cat named Tobias McCoy Mason.

Despite the handful of positivity present in my life, the anxiety still churns in the pit of my stomach, followed by this feeling that someone or something is after me.  That some strand of darkness is reaching out to entrap me to strangle the life out of me.  I’ll explain in other entries, but I’m going to be real here:  my mental illness does not want me to live and I know that.  It’s almost to the point where the Dark Passenger—the negativity brought on by my mental health issues are on the verge of killing me.

On the flipside, I know that sooner or later, I am ready to truly face reality—MY reality for what it is.  My reality as I know it is imploding and there’s really nothing I can do but accept it.  And I figure that writing about it and chanting for my own sanity will help—and even encourage me to believe that there’s an eventual end in sight.

I hope you read and understand.