Women & their (in)visible power

It’s been a strange week.

A couple nights ago, my Vietnamese co-worker got smacked in the head by some random guy at a bus stop. A few days ago, an acquaintance of mine who is Taiwanese got punched in the face by her father, bruising her eye.

Women, and specifically women of color, are harmed every day — and not just by complete strangers, but by our own kind, and people we know and love. Am I paranoid because I am assuming the physical insult done to my co-worker was because of her race? Maybe I am. And is it sad that I’m not surprised my acquaintance got punched by her father? Maybe it is. But faced with these abuses, what did my friends do? Nothing. No call to the police, no reporting, no self-defense, nothing.

* * *

There is an almost complacent reaction when women of color endure such abuse, like it’s expected and there’s nothing we can do about it. Why?

Because we are used to it. We experience it every day.

Generations of physical, emotional, and mental trauma has — for whatever reason, whether it be displacement, sexual abuse, cultural expectations, family dynamics, life — sunken permanently into the soil. A woman, her mother, her mother’s mother, and so on, have experienced pain, and shoved it into the mouth of her daughter, to be a bitter taste in the back of her throat for as long as she will live. For the women who have passed on that pain, they know no better. They cannot fight patriarchy and break the cycle; tradition is too formidable a force. And in their frustration, they misplace their anger onto the next generation.

If I promise to myself I will never beat my daughter as I have been by my own mother, will I keep that promise? If I swear to myself I will never emotionally tear down my daughter as I had been, will I uphold it? Will the cycle stop with me? Or will my willpower slip because of my anger?

* * *

Women are taught, from birth to death, to have constant doubts about themselves. The media, the men in our lives, our workplaces, all teach us that it is normal, even desired to have all these qualms and anxieties: am I pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, good enough? In a Twitter post, Feminista Jones dares other women:

Not surprisingly, women began replying back with situations where they simply said thank you, accepting the compliment without further ado. The men who said them either retracted their compliments or just moved on to direct insults. As Feminista Jones says in an interview about that post:

It’s the idea that they [men] bestow the compliment on you, and you’re not supposed to be aware of it.

It’s almost as if recognizing our own beauty as women is unacceptable. We can be complimented, yes — but we have to act modest, as if we are undeserving of such affirmation. It’s almost as if low self-esteem is required for a woman to be desirable to a man. It’s almost like it is a sin for a woman to recognize her own power.

My friends being hurt; the subtle microaggressions I and countless women face every day, the resurrection of feminism in the 21st century, the intergenerational trauma that women of color are burdened by, and how that manifests — it is all palpable, especially in the States’ harrowing political climate. The macro feeds into the micro, and vice versa. The unrest can be felt.

It is time for a change. I ask you: When will it stop?

* * *

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Daily Post prompt: Qualm

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The work of surviving sexual abuse

I am surviving sexual abuse. And when I say “survive”, I don’t mean this triumphant fists-in-the-air, kiss-the-ground thing with Chariots of Fire playing in the background.

Surviving sexual abuse is doing the work.

It is slogging through the mud of your everyday anxieties and fighting through the deluge of thoughts that threaten to drag you down to the bottom of the river.

This work includes seeking out people you know will support you, and love you just as you are. Ironically, you end up resisting these people, because you feel you don’t deserve them. It’s a negative mantra that is often repeated:

I don’t ever deserve anything good.

It is a mantra that takes work to eradicate from your lexicon.

* * *

Surviving sexual abuse means constantly curating the people you allow to walk into the darkest, most vulnerable side of you. Individuals you let in will be dichotomously placed in two categories: those who have also experienced sexual abuse, and those who haven’t.

Those who have, you immediately feel a kinship with; a sisterhood formed in the crucible of heartbreak, self-doubt, and isolation. It is with these individuals that you share the traumas, the flashbacks, and other tiny pinpricks that become almost routine, when you are a survivor of sexual abuse. With them, you share little wisdoms derived from self-help books, song lyrics, articles, and all other sources of aid. With them, you learn more about what it is to be human. With them, you experience their beauty, like  a road trip… and feel their pain as your own.

Those who haven’t, you are moving constantly between caution, hesitancy, and even suspicion. With every misstep and communication breakdown, you lose trust in them little by little. You become saddened with the distance you have to traverse in order to reach them. And yet, sometimes you see a hopeful little light at the end of the tunnel, and try to give them second, third, umpteenth chances. With these individuals, you always stand the risk of getting hurt, taken advantage of, and/or manipulated. All you can hope for is that you have curated them carefully enough, and that you have judged well.

* * *

Healing is done at your own pace, no matter how much or how quickly these well-intentioned people in category two want you to recover.

I will take the liberty of giving out advice voluntarily, which I rarely do, because I hate telling people what think they should do. But I feel strongly about this when I say:

Telling a sexual abuse survivor to get better is like pushing a glacier faster down a hill — I know you want it to happen faster, but what you’re doing ain’t. gonna. do. nothin’. You will only drive them away the more you tell them to get better. The best things you can do are listen and reflect.

* * *

Healing is a patient force, but asks — quite unapologetically sometimes — that others around you be patient as well. It asks you to forever be mindful of your heart and mind, and to self-care liberally. If it asks you to take a walk, you better put on some comfy shoes. If it asks you to wake up at 3am and write, whip out that pen. If it asks you to cut off a person from your life, cry those tears and pull out those scissors.

Healing is demanding, with good reason. It cannot be hurried or arm-twisted out of you or counterfeited. When held up to the light, it has to show that you have done the work, in and around yourself.

If you’re wondering why I say I am surviving sexual abuse, like it’s present tense, that is the truth. It is ongoing and it is here to stay.


Daily Post prompt: Heal

Letter of apology to my skin & soul

Dear Skin & Soul,

I’m sorry for introducing so many changes to you at a time.

Skin, I’m sorry for getting excited when I get my paycheck and start spending it all on new skin products. I know that instead of blowing my money on such frivolous things, I really should take a preventative standpoint, and buy good and healthy things for my body to consume organic fruits and vegetables, that spirulina shit my chiropractor recommended to me once… and yes, I shudder as I say this, but… even brown rice. Now, you’ll know I’m getting old when I buy that instead of white, which I so dearly love.

But see, Skin, these products you don’t understand! Here I am, my obviously dispensable cash just dragging heavy in my pocket every two weeks, waiting to be spent on creams that could imbue my skin with the dewy quality you so often find on Korean YouTube bitches.

And to add to it, I lug these tubes and bottles home, and expect you to be able to take all of it simultaneously on comes the new soy cleanser, then the new rose petal toner, then the new royal jelly bee night cream. None of that incremental approach. Just a “FUCK YES” in front of my bathroom sink, and away we go. Then I stand there smiling like an idiot, layers of goop on my face, waiting expectantly for my skin to transform, right before my very eyes.

And really, I am doing myself a disservice applying all of it at the same time how the fuck am I supposed to know which product caused my Monday morning T-zone breakout? Gahhh, I’m in IT and I should know this how do I troubleshoot what went wrong if I don’t go about this methodically?

Soul, I know you’re getting impatient and rolling your eyes at me, and believe me, I know I’ve done you wrong. I’ve done you so wrong.

But see, Soul, I’ve always been like this. I constantly put my life (and effectively, you) in upheaval, setting things on fire in yearly cycles. Dumping my boyfriend? Hellll yeah! And while we’re at it, why don’t I:

  • move to a new apartment by myself,
  • and get a new boyfriend who just so happens to be my ex’s roommate,
  • and just multiply my social life by a thousand,
  • and finally tell my family about my history of sexual abuse?

Yeah… that will go over well, right? I’ll become a better, more well-rounded person before I can even blink!

I just get so impatient with myself. I don’t do this in the slow, deliberate pace needed to give you time to heal. I go all in. I put you through so much heartache and loss at a time, sacrificing your well-being for my short term sense of fulfillment. Now, because of what I have done, you think yourself a lost soul, almost comparable to those wretches you read about in Dickens books and the BBC world news section. I’ve put you through a war, sending you off with just a day’s training and a pitchfork as a weapon.

I have to apologize to you. Because of me, you feel like an attention-seeking creature spawned from betrayal, deception, duplicity, impulse, detachment… all sorts of ugly things. I’m really not trying to make an excuse, but Soul, in order to survive, I have had to detach us. I’ve had to keep guilt at an arms length,  so that when I hurt somebody, you are insulated. When I betray somebody, we’ll cry but only for a short amount of time… just enough to give you a healthy taste of that guilt and still walk away intact. What I’ve feared all this time, and what’s been confirmed recently, is that you are incomplete, missing chunks of your flesh like the soldier you are.

I haven’t protected you the way I should have, Soul. Maybe I should  take those preventative measures I mentioned with Skin. After all, aren’t you more important than she is? (Sorry Skin, it’s true, and you gotta make peace with that. Looks aren’t everything.)

But I don’t know, Soul. I can be as disciplined as possible to protect you, but life isn’t supposed to be calculated like that, and as the Shins say in “Girl Sailor”:

You are not some saint who’s above
Giving someone a stroll through the flowers,
You’ve got so much more to dream of
Oh girl, sail her, don’t sink her
This time

Sometimes, change happens quickly and overwhelmingly. That’s how you and I grow stronger. We make mistakes in this accelerated pace. But I think you and I deserve a chance to pursue happiness, don’t you think?

And really, you’re being a drama queen, really you are you’re not as bad off as you think. Your human made a mistake. Other Souls’ humans make mistakes all the time. Aaaallll the time. Sometimes, we make them as a nation, as this year’s election results have certainly proved.

Anyway, I digress. All I can do now is make amends to you, and get you up and hobbling, and work on these ugly things that you seem to think you arebetrayal, deception, etc. and make you realize you are not those things. You’ve definitely gone through them, because your human decided to act that way… but I take ownership of that. You shouldn’t need to.

So Soul, please just focus on recovering, accept my long overdue apology, know that I love you, and know that you’re strong.*

* * *

*Just a disclaimer though, you will be less insulated from now on, because I will try my best not to detach myself from other people’s pain, especially when I’m the cause of it. I know you’re ready for that, and that you’re strong enough now. We both are.

I, a powerful & glorious mess

People are fragile. We all sit in display in dusty, long-forgotten rooms, like pieces of china ready to shatter at the bang of a door. We are put on pedestals and expected to stay up there — these are unsafe expectations for denizens made of glass.

We are so fragile that even occurrences from years and years past still leave marks. Sometimes, we are so unaware of our own fragility, that it takes years and years to realize that we have been experiencing the fallout of our own personal disasters for a long time.

* * *

I was sexually molested as a little girl. What he did, what he made me do — they are as misty as morning fog. I can still remember, but sometimes it seems so far away, like a dream.

The molestation itself is not what haunts me. It is the ripple effects that still leave me unsteady, and prevent me from gathering myself up again — like the fact that my sexual life did not start appropriately, or that I had a very unhealthy view of sex for a long time. My self-destructiveness rendered my body into trash, to be disposed of to anyone who paid attention to me, anyone who would bother to notice me, pick me up, use me, then throw me away.

I equated my self-worth with how effectively I could seduce someone.

“Love” was lust and being used. Jealousy was my go-to reaction when that attention I desperately craved was taken away.

My self-destructiveness eventually evolved into people-pleasing. I would bend over backwards, turn myself inside out, etc. for individuals whose approval I wanted — i.e. everybody. I would always allow the other party to wield more power, because I felt like I did not have the right to put my own needs first. I had the perception that I was helpless to change my circumstances. I always had an excuse for keeping quiet or for giving in:

“I’m not an expert on this,”

 “I don’t want to be an inconvenience,”

“I should just be content with what I have.”

After several heartbreaks and a couple regrets, I finally grew the instinct for self-preservation.

had  to protect myself — I was the only one who could.

I finally realized that my mind and soul, though deeply damaged, are worth saving. Through a few well-chosen friends, I finally realized that my mind and soul, though rather twisted, are worth celebrating. I am worth it.

* * *

As fragile folk, we need to recognize that the damage done to us does not lessen our worth. We are all imperfect and flawed, and we all absolutely need to be celebrated. There is no one like us—there is no one else like you—and we are all worthy of healthy, healing love. Sometimes, the hardest part is loving yourself, you with all your chips and cracks and stains and fractures.

People are fragile, and when the bang of a door knocks us off our precarious pedestals, we shatter and leave a glorious mess on the floor. But I am slowly learning to smile to myself, as it takes courage to leave my broken shards out on the floor, to better inspect them, and know that I can recover, all the wiser for it.

I am still working on being more gentle with myself, and to become accustomed to the idea that I was not—am not—the one to blame for the traumatic periods of my life.

You have power, I am learning to whisper to myself with love.

 It is my mantra every time I see the sunrise.


Daily Post daily prompt: Fragile