by Lora Mathis
Philadelphia writer and activist Lara Witt uses her voice as a powerful tool to tear down oppressive systems. Witt’s writing has appeared in Teen Vogue, Elle, and Newsworks and often explores healing, sexual violence, race, and self-care, all through an intersectional Feminist lens. Her recent activist work includes moderating a panel on being an ally in activism for the Electric Lady Series and helping set up anti-street harassment installations across the city. With unapology coursing through all that she does, Witt’s work is an example of survivorship that refuses to be silent.
What initially drew you to writing?
Fortunately, I have always been a great communicator (shout out to other Geminis!) I enjoy putting my thoughts together in effective sentences so that someone else might connect to how I feel and who I am. Writing is my way of helping amplify the voices of those who have been made to feel smaller or quieter. Writing is powerful and healing- to me it is a part of who I am.
You have a weekly self-care column in which you interview women & gender non-conforming people of color. What role does self-care play in your own life?
I grew up feeling guilty about taking care of myself, I also had the idea that self-care was something you could only do if you could afford manicures or spa dates. Shifting into my 20s and reading works by black queer feminists like Audre Lorde taught me just how wrong I was.
Self-care is open to subjective interpretation, but at its core it is deeply powerful for women of color to love themselves when they have a whole world telling them not to. So, self-care to me is essential as a queer woman of color who struggles with depression and anxiety.
Taking care of myself is as basic as drinking water, making sure I eat regularly and practice mindfulness. I try to carve out time once every week to do whatever I feel like doing. I’ll cancel plans, stay at home and eat food in bed while watching a movie. I’ll take a long bath with epsom salts and lavender oil and a homemade face-mask. Self-care is a reminder that the deepest, most loving relationship I can have is with myself, and that makes me happy after years of self-hate.
Thank you for your openness about trauma and healing - especially as it relates to sexual assault. What do you think is the importance of being vocal?
Being vocal helps me regain control, which is vital because the loss of control, the feeling of powerlessness, and isolation is devastating. Healing isn’t linear, nor does healing look the same for everyone. So, writing about sexaul assualt is not only for me, but it is also for others who can’t be vocal about it for their own personal and justified reasons.
Silence is quite literally what abusers want, it is also what the system which protects abusers wants. Disrupting the culture of shame and silence which hangs over victims of assault is necessary in order for us to get any form of justice and if there isn’t any judicial result, then at least survivors will know that they are not alone.
Tell us about Pussy Division's roots. What is the message the group seeks to get across?
Pussy Division is a small, local, Philly group which uses guerrilla activism and street art to raise awareness around various forms of oppression. I joined them last year to help with any media-related tasks so that we could amplify our work without breaking the anonymity of our members.
We center our work around confronting misogyny, racism, transphobia & general anti-queer hate, but we also have created work which offers solidarity to marginalized communities. Post-election we had a series called “Dear Friend” with different messages tailored to those of us most affected by this current administration.
For anti-street harassment week we put up installations which mimicked ‘warning’ tape but actually had anti-catcalling statements: “Do not comment on my body” and “Do not cross catcall crime scene’.
I'm curious about the name "pussy"? Have you considered changing the name of the group to something more trans-inclusive?
When the group was originally established in 2013, the goal was to reclaim the word “pussy,” which has been used to demonize femininity and attribute weakness as a feminine trait meant to be squashed out by hyper-masculine, toxic cis het men.
But recently, cis women, cis white women in particular, have been basing a lot of their “activism” in centering cis white women and their reproductive organs with pink pussy hats and bullshit slogans like, “pussy grabs back.” So, they’ve somewhat tainted our original goal, we are indeed in the process of finding a new name because we sure as fuck aren’t TERFs.
Your articles are always so powerful and unapologetic. How has Feminism informed your voice?
Thank you! My parents always used to tell me that my lack of a filter would get me in trouble with forms of authority and that I would never be able to hold down a stable job if I kept going on the way I did. But, I refused to make myself smaller or quieter for the benefit of any source of authority or the benefit of the white supremacist heteropatriarchy.
I have strong feminist morals, and intersectionality is just my lived reality, even before learning about feminism from an academic perspective. Feminism is about being empathetic, not just towards the people you are close to or the people who look like you or have similar experiences.
Everything I write is for marginalized people, especially for black and brown queer women and femmes. So the way I write has to be deliberate, it has to be forceful and unapologetic. We don’t have the time to sugar coat shit just to make our realities more for palatable for others.
Has your relationship with healing changed for you over the years?
I used to ignore it. I used to just absorb, internalize, and compartmentalize everything which was terrible. I just felt as if I didn’t have the time or energy to work through trauma because everything was hitting the fan at the same time. So, I just wanted to pretend everything was okay because I thought that was easier.
Eventually, I realized how toxic that was for me. I started to suffer from extreme waves of depression and anxiety without seeking any therapy, which I still haven’t done.
My life has gotten significantly better since my partner and have been together. He has given me a reason to be present and loving with myself. His help at home means that I have the time to come home after work and take care of myself and if I happen to be so despondent that I can’t do the basics. He cooks for me, makes sure I have water and gives me massages when my back is in knots.
Right now, healing looks like me doing what I love, which is writing so that others can heal. I don’t think healing will ever be complete for me, but I know that I am loved, that my work is meaningful, and that my relationships with myself, my friends, family and my beloved are nurturing.
Keep up with Lara Witt on Twitter and Instagram at @FemmeFeministe.
See the whole spread here in Issue #18 here.