ESSAY: What, You Can't Hear Me?


In this essay, there is the use of the n-word, which the author spells out. The author wants to warn Black people who might experience discomfort in seeing the word.

by Keisa Reynolds

Berkeley, California, 2014. There is a Marine-turned-political-science-student facing me with a blank stare. Perhaps he is a republican. Moments ago I finished my rant about Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel. I stressed the evils of his policies and the damage he has caused communities of color across the city. Lance*, the potential republican, looks at our classmate, Jonathan, who nods and says, “You know, I’ve heard a lot about Rahm,” and shares his piece. Jonathan is a sweetheart for pretending I didn’t make an ass of myself by delivering an unwanted rant. I thought they wanted my opinion because I was a Chicago resident. Of course I have some level of expertise. I pay attention to these things, you know?

Lance didn’t want to know what I thought about Rahm Emanuel, he wanted to know what I thought about our quantitative methods professor’s dickish move of writing “Read the fucking manual” on the whiteboard. Oh, I guess that makes more sense. Let me file this moment under the neverending list of embarrassing responses I had to what I thought I heard but was in no way related to what was actually said. This is a moment that reminds me exactly who I am, and while I am not afraid to say it, it often gets awkward for everyone around: I am deaf.

What? If you are like me and didn’t hear, I am deaf. Yes, I am capable of speaking. I have a habit of doing that. My first language was sign language, then my parents decided they wanted me to be more normal. Don’t shame them; they are also deaf, and they, unlike me, don’t have the privilege to pass as anything but. My parents speak too. Deaf people know how to speak; sometimes with our mouths, sometimes with our hands, sometimes only one over the other. There isn’t only one way to be deaf.


My family knows a lot about passing. My dad and his siblings were called niggers by their cousin who didn’t realize they were related by blood. The cousin thought his father was fully white, certainly not half Afro-Indigenous. He ran off crying when my aunt, the youngest at the time, put her hand on her hip and said, “Well, if I am a nigger, what does that make you? We come from the same family!”

There was a look of pride on my aunt’s face when she recalled that moment when I interviewed her for a research paper during my junior year of high school. My English teacher, who is Black and Jewish, encouraged me explore what it meant to live in between cultures. We shared a mutual love for our Blackness and recognized the ways in which we came to fiercely identify as such. We are not people who happen to be Black; everything about looking and living as Black people shapes how we understand the world. However, I couldn’t focus solely on race for the project; I realized there was more to my own identity than my family’s multicultural background.

My aunt doesn’t pass for white and has no desire to do so, but she codes as anything other than Black or Afro-Indigenous. “I am Black,” she says without hesitation whenever someone asks, “Wait, what are you?” During our interview she said she chooses every day to affirm her identity regardless of how people think they understand her. Her love for her people is the only measurement of her Blackness.

“I am deaf,” I told a childhood friend shortly after I moved away for college. She responded with, “I know you had hearing aids growing up, but I didn’t realize you consider yourself deaf.” She wasn’t wrong. This was a recent revelation. I realized I was exhausted living between not quite hearing and not quite deaf.


An aspiring sign language interpreter blew my cover on a tour of the ASL department of my undergraduate institution. As the tour guide I delivered the usual spiel about the department and its accomplishments. The guest was a student of ASL and deaf culture for years at this point. She was passionate about her field and the people she served. She thought nothing about asking me if I was deaf in front of a handful of strangers. Visibly shaken, I answered yes. The prospective student smiled and said, “I knew it.”She was proud of herself for recognizing what most people mistake as a Valley Girl accent. It is the same voice an English professor, a fellow Black woman writer, thought was insincere and unprofessional. The professor urged me to practice changing my voice or no one would take me seriously. She warned my career would not go very far. I wanted to hide anywhere on the street where she accosted me. Instead I reminded her I spoke for a living, and I was fine as long as my paychecks cashed.

But the student didn’t have the same ill intent to shame me. She wanted to show she had the potential to be an expert of deaf people. The rest of the tour looked at each other as if I transformed right before their eyes. My voice no longer sounded like mine, but a deaf person’s.

Later my mother assured me I don’t sound deaf. In sign language, she told me that student didn’t know what she was talking about. I reminded my mother she cannot actually hear my voice. Others can. My ability to speak the way I do doesn’t mask my disability. And I wasn’t sure I wanted it to. The less people who know I am deaf, the more people I have to repeatedly remind that I am incapable of fully hearing them. Most people say, oh, I am sorry, and speak slightly louder, then promptly return to the same mumbling mess I heard. I am part of the circle, but often, I have no idea what is going on. And rarely will someone try their hardest to help me.


My mother insists I am hard of hearing or hearing impaired, not deaf. Deaf is a word  reserved for who the world considers the most helpless. She gets frustrated that I don’t know sign language as well as she feels I should. I can hold my own in conversation, even if my hands don’t go exactly where they belong, but it does not feel like the language I learned to speak first. My father blames her for not teaching me throughout my childhood. “What was I supposed to do? She was supposed to be normal.” Normal. Or Mainstream, the word used to categorize me as a student the disability office kept tabs on, but mostly left alone. I can read a lips, a survival tool well-meaning people assume is a party trick. Try me, can you read what I am saying?

I would prefer you tried to speak to me like a person, but yes, I can read you saying sometimes you masturbate with hot dogs.


“They are just jealous,” my mother assured me when I told her about the isolation I felt when I was mocked by my deaf classmates. Two of them, whom I knew for years, spoke in sign language while I sat directly across from them on the train. In school they saw me walk down the hall with my friends. They saw the smiles and laughter. They didn’t notice I often faked it. Like my mom, they saw me as normal. They questioned my presence: She isn’t deaf, what is she doing here?

As a mainstream student, I was invited to attend field trips that would keep me in the loop about Deaf culture. For my classmates, that was their culture, not mine. We went to the School for the Deaf, where we saw students perform entirely in sign language. The hearing people were the ones who needed interpreters. It was a switch that seemed to delight my classmates. Their eyes lit up when we sat in the cafeteria after the show. They were surrounded by people they considered their equals, peers who couldn’t make them feel less than.

I felt the same way. I knew they didn’t think so. They assumed I was anxious to return to the hearing world. The School for the Deaf was their safest place because once we returned to school, I was the one who could pass. It didn’t matter that I had to ask people to repeat themselves until they grew frustrated and said, “Never mind.” And you know, it really didn’t matter. My inconvenience was nothing compared to the teasing they faced and the assumptions our hearing classmates made about their intelligence. My inability to hear has hindered my life, but I was never discarded in the same way as most Deaf people are in our hearing society.

I recently got hearing aids for the first time in almost eight years. I know I can’t hear. Everyone around me knows I can’t hear. Yet most hearing people are more comfortable with me saying “Oh, I have a bad ear” with an apologetic giggle than me saying I am deaf and need them to try to accommodate my needs.

My new audiologist showed off the latest hearing aids and gushed about their invisibility. Part of me was relieved because I grappled with the fact that strangers will look at my hearing aids and try to practice their sign language on me. Those strangers were always as annoyed as my deaf classmates and parents that I wasn’t an expert. Part of me felt my option of visibility was removed by people who want deaf people to fit in.

There is no normal. There is no magical solution that will help me fit inside the narrow space I fear will suffocate me. There is the only choice I make every day: Hi, can you speak up? I am deaf.

INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Helena Deland

by Mackenzie Werner

Helena Deland is an electrifying chanteuse from Montreal who released 4 EPs this year as four chapters of a series "Altogether Unaccompanied". 

I first became aware of Helena's music when seeing her perform as a solo singer-songwriter in Calgary, Alberta in the summer of 2017. I was struck by her elliptical narratives and bright, clear voice and brought her debut EP "Drawing Room" (2016) into my heavy rotation. 

In the time since she has added a full band, lush, new sounds, and high concepts to her work. Hooligan was thrilled to sit down with her before a recent show, where Gia Margaret opened. Here is our conversation: 

Helena: I had an interview the other day that I had forgotten about, a call, a phoner, and the guy …. I was in the bath, and he just called me up, I wasn’t sure who it was at first and he kind of was more of the “let’s have a conversation” style, so it took the longest time before I realized what was going on. He was like “Hey! Helena! Helena Boxing! Like that Lynch’s daughter’s movie…

Mack: (laughing) and you were like, “Okay, we’re doing this!)”

I wanna start with a question about you calling your music “sincere pop”, I know that a lot of people ask you about that, but I was just wondering because I really like that name that you gave it and I feel like there’s been this cultural shift away from apathy, where people are really craving sincerity and earnestness, and I was wondering how that shift has felt for you and informed your music (if it has), and how that’s felt for you as a creator.

Helena: I’m really afraid of it being misinterpreted. It is something that I liked the sound of; I guess it implies that pop isn’t always sincere, which isn’t what I want to do.

M: Especially because there’s a stigma against pop a lot of the time, and women who make pop especially.

H: Exactly, and I did feel like kind of disdain towards pop growing up, just because I grew up in the early ‘90s, and my mom was kind of like “you shouldn’t support Britney Spears’ message” and I feel like I was really impressed by that, like it’s not feminist to support…. Pop legends are probably not feminists, and that was a huge thing for me growing up, and I only really recently started enjoying pop in my twenties  probably and it’s been such a revelation.

I feel like your question was more about the shift in resenting apathy…

M: Yeah, I feel like maybe five to ten years ago the main cultural idea was to be apathetic

H: Yeah, and ironic.

M: Yeah, ironic, and there’s been a big push back against that recently.

H: Well, I’m happy to hear you say that, because I haven’t really noticed that honestly. But yeah, I guess it’s true.  It’s such a part of how you want to present yourself as not wanting to take yourself too seriously, but yeah, it’s a tough thing to deal with. It was such a thing in all of culture, to have that distance, which I’ve never been able to really have with my music. I was so scared at first, I’ve been validated since, and I’ve changed my perspective on it, being sincere, but I was so scared at first of making myself vulnerable. Because it’s raw. But, you know, now [I know] that’s actually what I want to do -- the thing that will be the most true, and be as sincere as possible. [I want to] embrace that.

M: Well, good job doing that, because that’s hard to do.

H: Yeah, it’s easier at first, but then for it to become public, that’s the scary part.

M: Totally. With you being from Montreal, and being bilingual, French and English, I was wondering if your music being in English, and your life in Montreal being more in French, if that gives you some sort of distance between your personal life and your performer life.

H: It did at first, for sure, it felt like such a venue to express stuff. There are so many reasons why I write in English, but that was I think one of them, at least thinking about playing those first shows in front of like 30 friends, and being like, “oh these can’t be in French…. They know.” I mean, they know anyway. There is something about, saying some things that aren’t easy to say in conversation, or face-to-face, in a language that’s not the one you use when you’re together. But I also wonder, because French is a language I’m more comfortable with, that I navigate a little bit better than English, I wonder what if English were my first language, if it would be different. Hard to tell what it would change but, I wonder if it would be easier to write in it. But maybe it also gives me a distance that’s playful, or freer in a way.

M: When you’re writing do you ever think of your lyrics first in French and then…

H: No, but sometimes I’ll hear a song.  Like, I’ve been listening to Adrianne Lenker’s album (we both make sounds of warm recognition and laugh), and oh my god, it just feels like she has nothing stopping her from writing such beautiful lyrics. It came to mind, is it kind of a detour to be French first and then writing in English?

M: And talk about someone who’s raw and vulnerable in their lyrics…

H: And seems to have no problem with that! It’s so impressive how close to her her lyrics seem, and apparently she’s so prolific and just has so many songs.

M: Yeah, I think she produces more than her record label can keep up with.

H: It’s really exciting.

M: We’re all blessed.

H: Exactly.

M: You mention Adrianne, and I want to ask you what other releases have come out this year that you’ve been really excited about.

H: Mmm, okay, Tirzah! She’s got such an angle on music that’s so refreshing, I find. She was introduced to me by my booker, it’s his favorite album this year, and I was really excited.  It really moves me. I find it so alive that it grew really addictive. It’s a specific feeling that I can’t find, when I want to listen to Tirzah it’s just automatically, that’s the only thing that’s gonna do that. Apart from that … I found Yves Tumor’s album really interesting. They are this really multi-dimensional project that, this album, I’ve been enjoying getting really familiar with it. It doesn’t feel accessible to me, but it does feel magnetic in a way. I also liked Jenny Hval’s (we toss a few guesses at pronunciation back and forth and laugh) EP that she put out.

M: And she put out a novel this year too.

H: I know! I can’t wait, I’m very curious. Did you read it?

M: Not yet, but I can’t wait to. People that I know who’ve read it have devoured it.

H: Yeah, that shift is so interesting, I find. And it’s interesting that it doesn’t happen more, that singer-songwriters don’t write more fiction or prose, but it’s something that I’m really interested in for sure.

M: Yeah, I just heard that Japanese Breakfast is writing a memoir, and just gave a lecture.

H: Wow! That’s crazy, that’s amazing.

M: I feel like those boundaries are being crossed more.

H: Maybe since Bob Dylan won (laughing) the Nobel Prize for literature

M: Yeah, and I think there’s less of an idea of boxing yourself in to one discipline.

H: Totally.

M: Besides music do make any other types of art?

H: Not really, I write a lot. I write pretty continuously, but I don’t have a project. I hope I will someday. That is something that I’m really drawn to, but it seems like such a tedious practice, and you really have to have a lot of time to do it. I read as much as I can, because that’s what I most love doing. I’ve noticed that in phases when I forget about reading I just feel like crap, it’s my favorite hobby.

M: Was there anything you were reading while you were writing the songs for Altogether Unaccompanied that really informed that process?

H: Yes, there were a couple, there’s this French word that means, “to take a shape and move it from one area to another.’ I don’t know what it would be in English, but there were some that made their way like that into the songs. There’s Carson McCullers’ poems, she wrote a song about, the way I interpreted it, the way I used it.  She has a line that’s, “no longer is a stone a stone”, which is one of my song titles. Also I read this novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, it’s so beautiful! It hadn’t happened for me in a while that I’ve transcribed so much, it’s an amazing way of seeing things.

M: That’s a magical feeling.

H: It really is, when you’re like “finally, this makes so much sense!” and the, I guess, just her characters feel really familiar, which is a nice feeling as well. The sentence “Altogether Unaccompanied” was taken from that. She describes this old man, the protagonist’s grandfather, how every spring he becomes a man of his own and will be outside all the time collecting small bones, and rocks, and plants, and it’s not a negative thing, but how he was unreachable during that period of time, how he was “altogether unaccompanied” (she scrunches up her face), oh, it’s just so sweet. I guess it’s about the idea of being scared of that, but trying to embrace it as well. You can hope for proximity, but it’s often impossible. In choosing partners and friends you’re choosing who you’re going to be …. No I was going to say “alone with”, but that’s too tacky. Somebody’s actual core is always kept secret, we’re all kind of “altogether unaccompanied” in these beautiful relationships. Does that make sense?

M: It does, and it reminds me of your line from “There Are A Thousand”, when you’re saying…

H: “There are a thousand of each of us here, how will we recognize each other dear?”

M: Yeah, exactly.

H: Totally, there’s this really nice Rilke idea that every person has their own secret garden, and that you have to accept the fact that you’re never going to walk in past a certain point to someone else’s way of seeing the world and existing. Basically, how you choose the people who surround you, who are able to stand guard from where things only step out dressed in fancy outfits. It’s a really beautiful idea.

M: Definitely. I was really curious, the way this release is broken up into four different chapters, or volumes, what the thought behind the way you paired different songs was.

H: It was mostly instinctive. I usually say color-based. Thematically or sonically how they seemed to pair well, but it was really easy to do. It felt way more natural to do it that way than to release them all together. I’m glad I did that too, because it feels like a debut album is such a big thing to me. I’m really happy that it’s going to be all songs that were all written around the same time, rather than bunched together.

M: I like that you did it half in spring and half in fall, because I don’t know if you do this but I think of media very seasonally. Like I’ll think “oh, I really want to read that but I’m going to wait until the winter.” Or, “I really love this song and it reminds me of summer.”

H: Totally.

M: Or like some things just feel warm, or feel cold. So, I really loved the way it was split into chapters and released so far apart. It was like returning to something familiar, but that felt more appropriate in the fall.

H: Totally, I wasn’t really thinking of it seasonally, but I agree that that’s totally a thing. But I was thinking times of day. The first two volumes for me were day and night, well they were midnight and noon. And volume three and four were dusk and dawn. You hear something and it’s like “this sounds like 4 p.m., or this sounds like April.”

M: It’s funny how those feelings can come through so distinctly.

H: It’s like slight synesthesia I guess.

M: With “Claudion” specifically, that song just sounded like October to me for some reason, I feel like it hit at the perfect moment.

H: I’m really happy to hear that!

M: Yeah, of course. I want to know if you have a particular song from this collection that you call your favorite, or one that particularly challenged you, that you’re proud of getting out there.

H: I guess the one that’s most mysterious to me in a way is “There Are a Thousand”, it’s one of the first songs I wrote, and it was so detached from any relationship I was going through.  It was much more about how I felt as a 21-year-old girl, at that time. I don’t know how to explain it, it feels like because it’s so vague, yet I find it does describe well what I was going through, I’m proud of it in a kind of puzzled way. I feel like it’s going to exist independently from me for a while somehow, because it’s just hard to describe how it happened, how I wrote it. It was a very impulsive song, it took no time which never happens to me. Songs always take much longer than that, but I sat down and by the time I stood up it was just done.

M: Do you write poetry as well?

H: No, I don’t really write poetry. I write more ideas and citations. When I write in a more continuous manner it’s more prose, diaries.

M: The last time I saw you it was just you and your guitar. You were playing more sparse, folk, singer-songwriter stuff, and now you’ve got a full band, you’re doing this lush, atmospheric, electronic stuff. I was wondering, in that transition, what were your expectations, or your hopes going into it? And now that you’ve done it, how have they been fulfilled? Or not fulfilled?

H: It’s a very, very exciting transition. I think the solo version of the project for me has always been a kind of compromise for financial, or time reasons. It’s been the easiest thing to bring forth, the solo project. It was easier to travel alone at that point, I was always aspiring to having a full band. I don’t see the solo act as less than the full band, I need to just see it as different. It’s still something that I want to do and explore, but I feel like our final form is full band.

M: Do you have full band arrangements for that first EP as well?

H: I do.

M: So you’ve brought those into this era.

H: Exactly.

M: I’ve got a couple of quick questions to end: If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

H: Oh god I don’t know, I don’t have an answer to this question, and it’s a question that used to drive me crazy.

M: It doesn’t have to be practical, just anything that you’d like to be doing.

H: Hmmmm, just something that would have me reading and writing. So practically I was thinking of translation, music is so good for this, but something that would allow me to travel as well. Touring is such an odd little context to travel in, but it quells that need.

M: Can I ask you what your sign is and if you read into astrology at all?

H: That’s a fun question, my sign is Sagittarius.

M: Happy Sag season!

H: Thank you! I do, but I consider it as fun. The more I get into it the less I associate with it, but I guess it has to do with all of your planets, your chart. I guess the thing about Sag that I relate with in a bit of a masochistic way, is how fast you move from one thing to another, and get sick of things. That’s something I try not to do but definitely recognize in myself. There are other signs that pop up on the instagram accounts I follow that seem to be more accurate, but… My grandfather was a Sagittarius and he was always a party person until he was 95 and I always thought that was so cool.

(we talk about our grandpas for a while)

M: My last question is just a fun one, what’s on your rider?

H: If we can get anything we want…. I like tequila. But I’m trying to not drink at shows. Alexandre has beef jerky, that’s like his thing. There are two vegetarians and two heavy-duty meat eaters in the band, so it’s a funny mix. Nothing fun, we thought about asking the staff to bring their dogs, but we can’t hang out with it that much so it seemed irrational. But, that’s pretty much it.

(I tell her a story about a venue dog barking during a Daughter show)

M: Venue dogs are a bad idea but a green room dog is brilliant

H: As long as they get to run around!

Listen to Claudion by Helena Deland on Spotify below

The World Doesn't Care but You Still Can

This year has taught me that the world is and will always be ruthless. This is something that I’ve known, but pretended to brush aside. I have known the ways humanity has suffered, known the ways my own people have suffered, been conscious of those suffering around me, but it wasn’t until I met my own suffering face to face, that I truly understood how much the world does not give a shit.

We all have different reasons to live, different desires and goals, various explanations for life’s inexplicable demands, but there is something that ties us all together. It is the wish to understand why we are here, why we were dropped on this planet and told that we had a purpose. I can use the same metaphors often used for life, I can talk about how it is a game and we are merely learning the rules. I can talk about how it plays itself out like The Sims and we are being watched by a higher power. I can talk about how we all desperately want to make sense of this, but if 2016 has taught me anything, it is to stop trying to find a solution or an answer to everything.

If Western existentialism has any significance at all, it lies in the idea that while the world remains meaningless, our only purpose is to find meaning in our suffering. As a collective, a unit bundled up of social media profiles across all platforms, we have decided that 2016 has been an agonizing year that has quite literally annihilated all hope (RIP Princess Leia). Obviously, when speaking of those that passed this year, we are aware that 2016 didn’t actually kill them (even though some think pieces are trying very hard to prove this notion), we still witnessed lots of death via the web. These deaths weren’t just notable figures like Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Debbie Reynolds, and so forth, but they were also individuals grouped as political identities across the world.

We watched people die through Facebook articles and trending topics. We watched young people record themselves while expecting death in Syria via Twitter. We watched videos of Black children violently killed by cops. We became desensitized. We became expectant of this content.

In one short year, we watched America switch from a silly and kind of scary joke to a very serious topic of conversation. We watched fear grow in each other’s posts, we watched each other have public breakdowns, we watched everything crash while our cities remained silent and the outskirts cheered.

People talk about 2016 like it was a blur of a year, one that feels like the hardest episode to watch of an HBO original series. It feels gruesome, yet it also feels sort of like a miracle to have made it out alive. We talk about this year because all of us have experienced it together, we watched the fire start and we watched everything burn through our computer screens. We sat together at home on our couches, in our beds, eating dinner, drinking beer, experiencing what feels like the downfall of humanity.

Yet, it’s not the downfall. It is quite the opposite, actually. It is the beginning of an awakening. Social media has allowed for a chaotic, somewhat traumatic, and eye-opening glimpse of the world. We have finally gotten a taste for the insides of each other’s experiences through Live videos, and stories on Snapchat and Instagram, through keeping each other updated every minute of every day. One could argue that this has made us all out of our minds. Yes, probably, but on the other hand, can’t you feel a revolution brewing?

Maybe it won’t be a traditional revolution, but it’s one that will be built by the generation that was born learning the language that we’ve slowly been creating since the start of our social media journey. They are already more weary, more careful, and more willing to have discussions on identity and how the world works. We are still navigating and practicing the semiotics we’ve created and applied while existing in this “new” world that allows for “real life” to be everywhere, including Facebook support groups, but this generation following us will already be well-versed in the lingo. What will that mean? Who knows, but it is happening and there’s no way of stopping it.

So while 2016 has felt like one big car crash, we have to remember that all of the things that make us weak simultaneously act as catalysts for what makes us strong. We have seen and felt the worst of things this year, but it’s not the worst it’ll ever be, and it’s certainly not the best. There is so much ahead of us and while 2016 chewed us up and spit us out, I believe that we are all coming out of this geared up and prepared for battle. What we haven’t yet fought, we will, and it won’t ever make sense, but it won’t ever have to.

We might as well find a reason to keep moving while we’re still here.

Creating Safe Spaces in Dangerous Places

Photo by Morgan Martinez

Photo by Morgan Martinez

In 2016, I took a huge step and moved back home with my parents. For many, this might not be a huge deal -- perhaps meaning they gave up some level of pride, independence or direction in their life at worst. But for me, this meant I was moving back in with my abuser.

I had quit my job because I had been at crisis symptom level for two weeks; a few months after I had admitted to myself that I was bipolar, just like my dad. Overwhelmed with anxiety, anger and a strong urge to hurt myself and others, I arrived home in a pile of defenseless, tired vulnerability, prepared to start the process. I needed something to stop the voices in my head (both figurative and literal) so desperately that I didn't have time to assess the consequences of going back into the lion’s den.

Right before I started taking my first round of meds, my dad and I fought for the first time in years. I've avoided him tactfully all throughout my college career. It took exactly a week of me living at home for him to bring me to tears, browbeating and mocking me over a harmless opinion I had shared. This elevated into nasty emails from my dad, telling me how toxic, bitter, and overly sensitive I was. I read his words aloud to my mom through tears as she drove me to the train station to visit my partner over the weekend (I have my own car, but my mom was worried about me being behind the wheel with how suicidal I'd been). 

My mom cried too as I read the emails, her knuckles turning white as she gripped the wheel harder. “I'm so sorry, that is unacceptable,” she told me. “I'll take care of him, don't worry.” I love my mom, but that was just another empty promise.

On the train, I pondered how exactly I'd be able to survive living at home, especially when I was trying to recover from bipolar, PTSD and alcoholism. I felt like running. With the stress my dad puts me under, the way he refuses to treat his own bipolar,  He is one of the causes of my PTSD, how could I really achieve the mental health goals I need to living under that roof?

With the help of meds giving me so much peace I had never experienced before, and my loving partner, I figured it out. Living in my room had always felt difficult, as its usual arrangement always reminded me of a traumatized past. I had never been able to quite get motivated enough to change anything about it. But my partner came up to visit me for the weekend and helped me set everything into motion.

We worked tirelessly altering the entire layout of the room, picking up some cute organizational tools and decorations from Target to spruce it up. We threw out 12 bags of junk that were clogging my space. And by the end of the weekend, I felt like I could breathe again. Like the space I was in was actually mine, and filled with my own hopeful and warm energy. I had successfully exorcised my room of my dad.

Once I checked myself into an outpatient program, I took off into doing my own thing. Five days a week, I was surrounded by loving folks who understood my diagnosis and my gender.  They were ready to help me do my best every day. As soon as I'd get home, I'd go back up to my room, a place I now loved so much. Within those four walls, away from everything bad, I coached myself through anxiety attacks, wrote stories, did yoga and watched a wild amount of The Sopranos. Besides the stir-crazy feeling an unemployed person can sometimes get, I felt happy. But every time I'd walk downstairs and be greeted by my dad, I'd feel my safety be compromised all over again. Especially, since my dad wasn't supportive of me doing something he should've done decades ago.

So, I decided to make a rule: Dad couldn't talk to me no matter what the circumstances were. I had pretty obviously ignored him for months, but my dad has a hard time picking up on the hints I dropped. This became apparent after I started taking an antidepressant and appeared more cheerful and sociable than I normally would. Fearful of how he would react to me, I told mom to tell him about this new rule. We stopped talking completely.

Asserting myself and setting that rule hurt my dad, but that only made it better for me. Not only could I have the power to rid my space of my dad’s voice and energy; I had the power to hurt him at long last.

Creating safe spaces in dangerous places is tiring work. I was reminded of this when I woke up one morning to Donald Trump being our president-elect. For the first few weeks after hearing this news, I had collapsed. I felt terrified to be a newly out trans man in America, something I didn't anticipate needing to worry about further based on the election results.

I felt immensely depressed because my future seemed bleak, because my excitement about transitioning vanished into concerns about surviving. Google Docs circulated telling folks that they should change their gender marker now. I don't feel ready for that -- I felt so overwhelmed. How could I possibly be myself and be happy now?

I've written about my trans identity plenty of times, but I don't tend to talk about it much in the real world. So, I brought it up to my therapist, a lovely radical and trans-accepting feminist that I've been seeing since September. There, in that room filled with white furniture and sage-scented incense, she created a safe space for me where I could talk about being a man. She addressed my concerns with trans-positive words, making me aware of many of my options and helped me look forward to certain goals of my transition I set with her. I felt seen and loved -- like as long as she sees me, I could never disappear. We ended the session with a safe space meditation, a guided experience where she helped me visualize a place I can escape to when I feel that I need it. I visualized a cozy bed on a sea-green ocean floor.

The power of friendship, of belief in yourself, of online communities and constructed safe spaces -- real and imaginary, tangible and intangible -- is something I learned to hold on to. If we’re going to survive treatment, abusive people and hateful leaders, we have to create safety for ourselves and be resources to the safety of others. Though it can sometimes feel impossible when the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against us, this year I've learned we can always rely on the kindness of our community and the strength of our character to build us back up again. If I get tired, I can always escape to my ocean bed.

He Said You Were a Writer

by Morgan Martinez

by Morgan Martinez

In the back row of a theater, I feel shapeless, that my body is secondary, that I’m leaving this world behind me, and I won’t be back, at least not for a while. This is what they call a real surrender.

The lights are dimming now, and I am transported back.

Two years ago, I am hunched in the corner of a hospital room; the floor is slipping out from underneath me. My father, having just turned sixty-nine years old two weeks ago, is lying in a hospital bed, hooked to a ventilator, fighting for his life. His eyes are closed, but even when they are open, they do not look. He sees, but he does not know. He does not know what we are about to do, what choice we are about to make; we cannot undo this. What is about to happen will change the rest of our lives.

We are “pulling the plug.”

What a fucking awful term, as if they thought of us as machinery. The white suits, they come in and appear concerned. They look at me, as if I am an animal being led to slaughter. I’m not here against my will. I chose to be here. I wanted to see him die. The room is so small, it can barely contain the two of us, but it will be big enough for me soon.

I don’t remember what day it is. The ventilator is a muzzle; it keeps him from speaking. He is too weak to write. Bodies come in and smile and say something nice and then they leave. They don’t acknowledge me. I’m still of the living. I have the rest of my life to be ignored. When someone is dying, they steal the gravity from underneath you. Will they, won’t they, will he, won’t he.

I am wearing two sweaters. He is cold, but not dead yet. My siblings and I come in and out for days. Seventeen days. Each day feels like a year. I must be forty-one by now. The hospital room is the worst form of theater; everyone has a part to play. Look, there’s the nurse. There’s the doctor. All their dialogue is scripted, like they’ve seen this so many times before; the stock phrases, the false apologies, the worried faces may as well be masks. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s on fucking repeat with these people. It’s not their fault. I get it. I want to understand. I want to be okay with this, I want to let it go, but I can’t and I won’t and this is when time stands still.

I wondered what it’s like inside of his brain. Wondered if he knew what was happening to him; are you really aware of death, or does it sneak up on you? The religious aunts and uncles come in and they say, perhaps it’s time, God will take him when he wants to. I am furious, I’m so fucking mad I could lose it. I am not sad. I cannot cry. I am upset that I can’t cry about this, can’t cry about losing my father. I am not human.

I had dreams about it. I was sleeping on a couch in a friend’s apartment for several months, trying to figure out how I should be spending my time. I’d taken up a job as a sales associate at Gamestop, as a way to make some money; as a way to pass the hours. I was getting lost in my head, in my writing, in the words about nothing. Where is your perspective, what the fuck do you care about? On a constant loop inside of my head. So of course, I took up a mindless job, to remind me of the realities of adulthood: keep your mouth shut, take your paycheck, drink your cheap coffee and eat alone in cafes because you’re too lazy to cook and you don’t have any friends.

I woke up one morning to a phone call from my sister. The prognosis is not good, she said. You should come, she said. Even if you are still mad at us, you should come, she said. I don’t remember what else. She could have been speaking a different language. Grief makes us speak in tongues; we are incomprehensible.

I had left home months earlier and I remember the words that came out of my mouth: “You don’t care about me.” I hurled these words at my father, who was sitting in a wheelchair in the living room at the time, and he said nothing in return. He didn’t see me leave. There was no final exchange; just my juvenile monologue met with silence. Maybe he was tired. Look, even adults don’t know what to say sometimes. I know what he would have said. I can’t write those words, though, because it feels wrong. I don’t want to put words in his mouth. There is no mouth to say them.

“We have to make a decision,” a white suit said. No, I have to make a decision. You get to see me make it, you asshole. For those few days, all of the thoughts in my head were so obscene, it made me question my sanity. Why are you so fucking angry all the time? I would ask. Why are you so upset? Did you think this would end differently? That you were going to be the exception? There was one-half of me that wanted it to be over. The other-half wanted me to feel this way forever, as if I deserved this.

Death should be more swift than this. Seventeen days is a very long time to watch somebody die, but I’d also been watching him die for a few years now. First, there was the cane, then the wheelchair, then he would lie in bed for hours, then days, and now he was here, unable to speak or make sense. My siblings brought him cake for his sixty-ninth birthday. I was not present, because, like I said, I had “run away from home” and had committed to being angry. What bullshit. Such Yale bullshit. I have to be consistent, or they’ll never learn their lesson, I had thought. What lessons did my father have left to learn? He couldn’t eat the birthday cake. The sugar, my mom said, the sugar, that’s what did him in. Diabetes. Coronary bypass. Liver failure. Kidney failure. Heart failure. I’m a fucking failure.

After my freshman year, I took two photos of my dad: one in which he is on the couch, looking forward into the future (did he know what would happen then?) and one where he is looking straight at me. This is my father as I remember him; in my living room in Chicago, on our couch, turning his head to look at me as I take this photograph. Looking at me, looking through me, as if to say, you are what will be left of me when I am gone.

I held up the whiteboard, with these words: “We are taking you off your ventilator.”

I have written about this before, about this moment where I write these words, about when I hold up this whiteboard at the foot of his hospital bed, hoping that he can make sense of them, of our decision, of what is about to happen to him and to the rest of our lives. I could write about this moment a thousand times, and it would be different every time, but the whiteboard and the words are always the same.

It only takes a few minutes after they “pull the plug.” His breathing is quiet. My breathing is loud. My heart is racing. His is failing. What is the fucking point of this world if we eventually lose everyone we love? I want to say I’m sorry, but it’s too late, he’s already slipping. Maybe he understood what I meant when I said, “You don’t care about me.” You care too damn much, I really wanted to say, but I am too young to say what I mean. I just say the words that hurt hardest. Because I am a fool.

The religious people enter and they pray. They say, if we pray, maybe he will recover, he will come back. Are they really that stupid? Prayer means shit now. Somewhere, my dad is laughing; he was a scientist, after all. When people look at me now, they see him; I lose my temper, I talk too loud, I am (sometimes) too smart for my own good, I am demanding and ambitious and depressed. I don’t want them to see him when they look at me, but they do. Somewhere, my dad turns his head to look at me, in the living room of our home in Chicago, as if to laugh, as if to say: fuck them.

Hey, he said you were a writer or something, a long-lost, distant relative told me. I didn’t hear them say it the first time. What? Your dad said you were a writer. No, I’m not a writer. I just feel things, and it’s too hard to hold them in. That’s not being a writer. That’s just being a fucking human.

The following summer, somebody asks me: does it get better? No, it doesn’t. It never gets better, you just get better at coping, at learning to live with a loss you didn’t choose. It doesn’t matter if it was two years ago or five or ten. I will never get over it, I am committed to this loss. I will carry it with me until I am dead.

The summer was so hot, everyone lost their minds in our cramped house, with all of his things lying around as if we were waiting for him to come home. Whenever the doorbell rang, I ran to answer it. I am still making sense of this nonsense, of the lost time; it was as if I’d lost consciousness for the days I’d spent in the hospital, and when I woke up, I no longer had a father.

The lights come back up in this theater. I’m leaving this behind. I don’t want to write about this anymore. I just want to feel human.

On Being Dumped for Being "Physically Unattractive"

By Anabel Kane

After getting out of a relationship that took everything out of me, being filled with love and then having it stolen from me in one quick breath, I learned that my worth should have never been justified by a man's approval of my physical appearance. Knowing that it was a man that I had once loved and admired was heartbreaking, it was verging on traumatic, but when I took a step back and recognized the weight of his words throughout our relationship, I realize how flawed his love was. He was replicating abusive tactics I had read about, but never thought I'd encounter myself. His words may have knocked me down, but my epiphany saved me. He had no love for himself, how could he ever give me the love I deserved? The love that I hold so deeply in myself?

It all ended with a phone call. I was finishing up a banana milkshake when I answered the phone and it was *Clay. I knew it must have been important, because that was the first call I’ve gotten from him in two days. I could tell by the tone of his voice that it was coming, but I never would have expected for it to go down in the manner that it did.  The first thing I asked when I picked up the phone was, “is everything okay?” Clay sighed and said, “no, Anabel, it’s not.” I immediately respond, “Are you breaking up with me?” To which he answered, “yes I am.” Taken aback I asked why? And the answer he gave was something no one should ever hear.

Clay explained, “Anabel I just got out of church and the pastor was telling us about Jesus and how he was an honest man, and I haven’t been honest with you.” I was completely confused and asked, “What do you mean?” He responded by saying, “the reason I have been a bad boyfriend for the past six months is because I find you physically unattractive. And I can’t be with anyone that is physically unattractive to me.”

My jaw dropped.

I could not believe what I was hearing. It was surreal. The guy I have spent the past year and a half dating, the one who has seen me with no makeup on, my hair in its natural wild form, in sweatpants and in swimsuits just told me that the reason he is breaking up with me is because I am physically unattractive.

I went through all the stages: denial, depression, shock, anger, and finally all that was left was realization. They always say that hindsight is 20/20 and I should have been able to see this coming from miles away. I did not recognize the malevolence we shared, for our love seemed to be solid gold, but as I reflect back on this tumulus time, it is simply gilded.

I recall several incidences where Clay made comments about my appearance and would try to make me feel guilty whenever I ate food that he deemed unhealthy. He would go from one day telling me how cute I was, to completely tearing me down the next.

It took some time, but I realized that being told I was physically unattractive by the person I loved was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It taught me that I can’t seek validation from another person, and in turn, taught me how to completely love myself. It has taught me that I will never put up with being treated less than I deserve. That I will make sure the next person I’ll be with won’t be afraid to let me know how beautiful I am inside and out.

Most importantly, it taught me how to look for early signs of abuse. If someone you are with makes negative comments about your appearance, gives you an ultimatum or makes comments on your eating habits, that is abusive behavior.  Your happiness should never be dependent on someone else. Thank you Clay for helping me realize that I am more than just a number on a scale, and that there are people out there who can see beyond that. That is not my defining characteristic – it is only one of many.

I got out of an unhealthy relationship to understand how important it is to cherish my entire being. I got slapped with a sentence that no one should hear, that could destroy someone forever, but I don't want to be ruined by someone who doesn't deserve a place in my life. I am stronger, more full of love, and capable of unpacking abuse earlier, now. I didn't ask for this, but I learned from it, and that's all you can do when your trust is broken and neatly packaged in a phone call.

*names were changed for the sake of privacy

A Cage With Hooks: My Week In a Mental Health Care Facility

By Kat Freydl

They put him in a cage with hooks and brought him to the king of Babylon; they brought him in hunting nets so that his voice would be heard no more on the mountains of Israel.
— Ezekiel 19:9

I was 15 when I almost died, and that isn't the cheeky hyperbole I wish it was. My eyeliner was still jagged and uneven, my lipstick stoplight red and feathered around the edges. I had never kissed or gone on a date; I hadn't graduated, applied to college, or taken drivers’ ed. I was still claiming to be a Bible-believing Christian and, perhaps most laughably now, heterosexual. I was 15 and ready to die, because I had already seen enough of the world to know that existing as a mentally ill person is a radical act, and I didn't have the energy to be a radical anymore.

America has a health care problem, and that is not a shocking statement. Mental health care, however, suffers from societal stigma, which in turn means that the availability of mental health care facilities is limited and knowledge of where to acquire resources is even more so. It is not private information that prisons, homeless shelters, and emergency rooms--all places responsible for the care of a large number of individuals--struggle with providing mentally ill people with proper or even adequate care, partially due to the fact that this kind of care has notoriously low reimbursements. In facilities that struggle with providing for physical needs, mental health is seldom made a priority, and many people fall through the cracks until some widespread tragedy; a mass shooting or a public display of violence, thrusts mental illness into the limelight again. When this happens, mentally ill individuals are often portrayed  as volatile, menaces to society or charity cases. This is simply not the truth.

I wish I could write this with the luxury of objectivity.  Unfortunately, I digress: it was a chilly night in April when I almost died. I wasn’t trying to die, which no one seemed to understand. I just wanted to sleep. So I took my fluoxetine and my bupropion and mixed them in the same pill bottle so that they would be easier to stomach, and then I tossed the whole business back with a few gulps of Diet Coke. I pulled the sleeves of my sweater over my trembling fists and then got into bed, craning my neck so that I could still see the stars, thinking, pretentiously, that it was about time that I joined them.

I reached out to touch the cool glass,  then rolled over and went to sleep. The portrait of a man with three hands that I got at a vintage store some time before looked on in disappointment.    

I don’t really remember waking up in the hospital, just being there, maybe like how the first animal felt when it crawled out of a puddle of evolutionary slop, a rotating battalion of nurses at my bedside at all times. I was in a hospital gown, the kind that is inexplicably assless, and they put me in fuzzy grey hospital socks. I wasn’t wearing anything underneath the gown. Someone undressed me.

I felt shame.

There was a tube in my nose. It sort of burned when I moved my head. Every once in awhile, a woman with cat-eye glasses and scrubs with smiley faces on them poured a clear liquid down the tube, and whatever it was left my stomach in knots. I couldn’t taste it, which I suppose was a small blessing, but it still felt like I needed to swallow. They told me that it was called Go Lightly, and the hope was that at some point I would excrete clear liquid. That it would make me pure, purge the mood stabilizers from my system.

I swallowed down the Go Lightly like I was supposed to, but I kept my guts firmly inside through willpower alone. This, at least, I could control. I didn’t want to be “pure.” Not that way.

Simon and Lydia, two good friends from school, came to visit, their faces a mixture of pity and fascination. The bespectacled nurse took the tube out of my nose—it hurt when she did, like sandpaper scraping up my throat—but I still had the IVs and the heart monitors and the fuzzy grey socks, hospital sheet stretched tightly across me, like if it wasn’t I’d twist it into a noose. I was sure my hair was matted down and disgusting, and my eyes burned so I knew that they were red and puffy and unimpressive. Lydia immediately leaned forward to hug me, smelling like home, and her hair tickled my face. She gave me a small blue book and a card with smudged orange flowers on it.

“I’m sorry for the lame card,” she said with her lilting Brazilian accent. “I’ve been saving the Renoir one for someone special, though. Take consolation in that.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d been hospitalized, or the first time I’d been suicidal. An abrupt move from North Carolina with my mother to Michigan with my father had left me blissfully free of the religion that had been forced on me for a while, but also free of any sort of parental guidance. My father allowed me to run wild, which for me, a mousy sophomore, meant staying up until all hours watching documentaries online.  In January, my father got a call from the school counselor. Some friends of mine had seen scars on my arms and gotten concerned.

My father, a practical man, decided that the reasonable solution was to take me to a friend of his, a woman who had previously been the PA of a pediatric psychiatrist. After five minutes of speaking to me, she diagnosed me as bipolar and prescribed Wellbutrin and Prozac, each at 150 milligrams. The issue with SSRIs is that they can increase suicidal ideation. This is one of many reasons that they aren’t generally prescribed to adolescents, especially after a mere five minutes of conference with an unlicensed psychiatrist. I, at 15, knew these things, or the gist of them—I was taking AP Psych, after all. I knew what I was doing.

In late February, a friend called 911 and police were dispatched to my home. I was expressing suicidal urges, and she was (rightfully) concerned. I still recall the vaguely panicked look on my father’s face as he grabbed my medicine bottles and counted the pills to make sure I hadn’t taken any yet (I hadn’t). The police officers, rotund men in ill-fitting uniforms, relegated me to the stairs, giving me cursory glances and muttering things into their walkie-talkies. An ambulance had pulled up outside. Later, I would find out that Simon was driving up and down the street to make sure I was being taken care of; Mary, the friend who had called in my suicidal ideation, had gotten my address from our other friend, AJ, who had in turn contacted Simon. Where my father was absent, my friends were omnipresent. I owe much to that.

“So what’s the story?” One of the officers asked. I remember his sneering, unshaven face and the way he was smacking his gum. “Did your boyfriend break up with you?”       

I think that was the moment that any hope I had of receiving help from authorities curled up at the bottom of my pill jars to never again see the light of day. I didn’t respond, instead giving him a hard look, the sentiment damaged by my involuntary sniveling.

“She didn’t take any,” my father finally reported.       

That week, I was committed to a day hospital. I went back to school the following Monday.

I digress: the state of Michigan mandated a lengthier sentence for this more brazen attempt on my own life, a bona fide overdose.  My father bought me Panera when it was time to go. I was able to take a shower before I left, put on jeans and a hoodie, but they told me I would have to take them off when I got to the institution, where things like buttons and shoestrings were prohibited. For now, I spooned up broccoli cheese soup in between text messages, making jokes about a jacket that tied in the back because it’s what I was supposed to do.        

My last meal would have been spaghetti. My last words to my father would have been good, but I can’t stand the taste of lamb. Thinking of that, I looked down at my sandwich and it turned my stomach.           

I was expecting the place to look like a castle, maybe a dusty manor, but it just looked like a prison, an ugly grey building with few windows and no flowers in the flowerbed. I left my cell phone in the cup holder and kept my folded pile of clothing close to my chest. On the top were several pairs of socks, because no shoes were allowed.

           “Tell…tell Simon and Lydia they can’t visit me here.” I swallowed hard. “And tell…”

           “Everyone knows,” my father said.

           See, I was afraid.

I learned the rules pretty quickly. The entire setup was disturbingly like prison, or what I’d heard of prisons. There were the regular rules, the ones made by psychiatrists and the state, but then there were rules made by the patients. For instance, once you claimed a chair, it was yours for the rest of the time you were there. New kids got the armchair with the spring that stuck out of the seat until they wised up and dashed to group before everyone else to claim something better. You made your own bed and you stripped it every morning, but if you were smart you didn’t bother with sheets because they were all disgusting anyway. The shower was bitterly cold in the morning, and you were better off washing your hair in the sink and applying deodorant generously. You were never to eat the eggs that they served, because they paid little attention to expiration dates here. When your parents came on visiting day, you should ask them to buy you snacks from the vending machine and store them in your pants pockets for later. If you got your sharps privileges taken away, pencils made surprisingly okay combs, so it was best to hide them in your fists and sleep with them under your pillow. Aim to get the slot of phone time that comes right after Fedora, because Fedora talked to her boyfriend for 20 minutes and the orderlies resigned themselves to it and it was easier to get away with extra phone time when you were following up an act like that.

Most of all, it was like this: the orderlies were not there to be our friends. They were there to line us up in the hallways for meal times and morning roll call. They were there to make sure that only lactose intolerant kids got soy milk. The psychiatrists had 20, maybe 30 patients at a time. We were there for quickly-perscibed medication, observation, and isolation. There were no windows. I’ve seen movies about 20th-century asylums with better lighting. Group therapy was not for talking. Group therapy was for quiet reading and coloring. Suicidal or homicidal, drug-addicted or otherwise “troubled.” We were all lumped together. Across the corridor, we would catch glimpses of the adult ward in the morning. The only separations made were gender-based. I’m not sure at what point I realized that none of this was designed to help.

They gave me new medicine. It made me tired, and I slept through the night without dreaming. When I glanced in the mirror now and then, my skin was grey and I looked like a ghost. Perhaps melodramatically, I thought that that’s just what being there did to you. I was never superstitious before, but now, I carry the ghosts of that place with me. Maybe that’s the point of places like that one. Maybe they’re supposed to remind you that you’re not as badly off as you could be.

America has a mental health care problem--perhaps that problem doesn’t care about borders. Maybe the world has a mental health care problem. All I know is that a week in a mental health facility gave me nothing but a tranquilizer and nightmares that I will carry with me forever.

It’s been years, and I can look back with the luxury of hindsight and appreciate the people who were kind to me throughout that horrible time in my life. More vividly, however, I remember people like that police officer--people who downplay mental illness or characterize it as something it isn’t.

We aren’t statistics. We aren’t horror movie figures or misguided martyrs. We are people doing the best we can within a system designed to push us through and nothing more.

Redefining Illness

Art by  Bec Hac

Art by Bec Hac

Six months ago, I was officially diagnosed with Candidiasis, which can be considered many different things – an illness, a disease, an infection. It is essentially anything that makes one chronically unwell. Candidiasis affects over 40 million Americans of all ages, yet not everyone knows about it. People can go their whole lives suffering and accepting it, simply because doctors have a hard time wrapping their heads around illnesses that are difficult to grasp.

Candidiasis disrupts one's entire body, creating parasitic-like yeast overgrowth in the gut, spreading in the blood, and reaching everything from the brain to one's feet. The problem with Candida itself, is that it’s in everyone, but not everyone experiences its explosion, the moment that turns everything into more bad than good, creating unrest for its sufferers. So when I learned that this had been floating in my body longer than I would’ve ever guessed, the rapid weight gain, chronic fatigue, more headaches/migraines than normal, and an increase in depression and anxiety started to make sense.

The journey to decrease Candidiasis begins with understanding that there is no finish line, that the entirety of one's life is fighting to stay healthy, because unfortunately, we’re destined to destroy ourselves. Human lives are infinitely more fragile than we presume them to be, our immune systems require work, our bodies require constant attention.

In order to begin getting rid of Candidiasis, one must starve the candida of what it wants, rejecting its pleads,  and not feeding it yeast, sugar, and carbs. It was terrifying at first because I had a very specific idea of what a college student living in her own apartment’s life should look like. It didn’t involve illness, and it was much freer and less restrictive. I had to change my frozen pizza, Arnold Palmer, and candy from Walgreens diet to something that was beyond me, something that made no sense, something that needed way more energy and money than I had.

At first, it was a lot of researching and trying to understand what the fuck was going on in my body. It was creating my own diet, and following the Internet’s instructions, unsure if whether what I was doing was working and whether I was doing it right. I had seen multiple doctors at that point, and nothing was getting better. Eventually, my mom finally had me see a nutritionist. After seeing the nutritionist, I was given six different vitamins to help kill off the Candida and help strengthen my immune system, and then I was put on an extremely strict diet that was supposed to help clear my Candida in 2-3 months.

For 2 months, I had nightmares about eating sweets and bread almost every night, feeling nothing but guilt if I slipped up (which I rarely ever did purposefully). I let Candida take over my life. I was losing it, and I was in a state of constant unrest. I later learned that putting a time stamp on it would only increase my anxiety because I tirelessly counted each minute and each day until I’d come to the end and recognize that not much has changed.

I went to get my blood test redone, and had the nutritionist analyze my blood work. I had improved drastically in the parts in my body that needed help, I lost about 20 lbs, but the Candida was still there, and I still didn’t feel fine, even though I've never really understood what exactly fine means.

As the months passed and I began learning more about my condition and tried my best to stop pitying myself, working towards getting better, but falling hard on my bad days, I discovered that a relative of mine experienced Candidiasis years ago. We were sitting side by side at my grandpa’s birthday, and she told me that one of the major influences of Candidiasis is emotional. It’s about rerouting the brain to stop thinking that there is any normal way to live in our bodies. It’s about understanding your relationship with your body and how to communicate with it, how to learn about what works and what doesn’t. No doctor can tell you that. No one can explain to you how you feel more than you can.

I met up with the same relative a few weeks later and she gave me text on everything related to Candidiasis. She muscle tested me, and spoke about how much energy has to do with how we connect with our bodies. She taught me the importance of unlearning guilt and shame and how to stop equating my Candidiasis with my own personal failure. Then, she handed me a print-out on Candidiasis that changed everything completely. 

The first line said, “Candidiasis is a state of inner imbalance, not a disease.”

This is when I began to start viewing my condition as an imbalance, everything from the growth of yeast in my body to the chemicals in my brain. These are just disparities, things I have to live with, but things I can work on coping with and on.

The pain doesn’t stop. Every day is a brand new experience, anxious as to when I’ll get a headache or a migraine, preparing to be too tired to go out, pushing people away because I can’t be intimate, and feeling self-conscious and fearful that I’m a burden. I am emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted, but there isn’t much room to pity myself anymore. There isn’t time, nor is there a reason.

I have learned that it is okay to feel bad. It is okay to feel bad and to keep living, that there was never an eternal promise of happiness (and good health) when one enters existence. My imbalance shouldn’t prevent me from living to the best of my abilities.

At the end of the day, I am doing everything I can to fight what’s inside of me. I was raised to know how much strength resides within me, regardless of how much pain I endure and how much it tries to weaken me. I know that I am capable of fighting this, that all it requires is believing in myself to get through it, and recognizing everyone is battling something, and that I am not alone.

Learning to let go of the word illness and not allowing it to become a heavy weight that slings over my shoulders while dragging me through the mud isn’t easy. I want to, so badly, get through life without feeling like it’s eating me alive. At the same time, I don’t think there’s a single soul that gets that lucky. Our conditions are all specific to us and none of us experience life the same, so categorizing illness as debilitating for everyone, is wrong and harmful. We must redefine what it means to be well, and drop notions of good and bad.

Most of us are just merely getting by, but sometimes that’s enough. 

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, and Then ...

By Genevieve Kane

Still from Cameron Crowe's 1989 film  Say Anything

Still from Cameron Crowe's 1989 film Say Anything

Four wise men by the names of Paul, John, Ringo, and George once said that "love is all you need." That is a pretty presumptuous statement if you think about it; but then again, who can really question the authority of The Walrus?

Love is all you need. What does that really mean? For generations, young people have been flooded with all sorts of romantic propaganda, packaging and selling this idealized concept of love. I shall now turn to Cher, who touched us all with arguably one of the most annoying songs of the ‘90s (“Groove is in the Heart” coming in close second), Do You Believe in Life After Love.  
Let's take a second to think about that. Do you believe in life after love? A simple question really. Yes, or no? Do you, or do you not, believe in life after love?
As a young woman, I feel particularly affected by the notion that there could possibly be no chance of having a life after love. Love is all consuming. It's one of the emotional extremities that defines us as humans. However, for young girls, I feel that love has become much more than that. The media portrays finding love as the be-all-end-all. It fabricates this unhealthy idea that you are a missing piece of a discombobulated puzzle just waiting to find the perfect jigsaw to fit ever so nicely together with all of your complex curves and edges.

Romantic, yes. Realistic? Maybe. Damaging? Very.

Telling a young woman that she is not complete until she finds love, or her soulmate, is harmful. Women are taught to equate finding love and getting married with success. I am constantly told that a woman is not successful, or complete, until she finds someone to complete her. She can not exist independently. She can not reach her full potential until she finds someone to unlock it for her.

This has been reinforced by many television shows, movies, and magazines. There have been countless films where the female protagonist’s main objective is to find a husband before she blows out the candles on her 30th birthday. There's an entire genre of film that perpetuates that. Women are rarely main characters with meaningful roles in movies, but in rom-coms, they're the stars. 

I am tired of seeing a woman’s shtick on television be that she is single and ready to tie the knot. Also, how many different ways can the same article about finding your future husband be rebranded and resold? I feel as though my surroundings have been grooming me to actively seek out love, with marriage as the end goal in mind.

Though, nice as it may be, I do not need John Cusack standing outside my window with a boom box blaring Peter Gabriel to feel content with myself.

It is 2016. It should be no surprise that women and men are both fully developed and complicated people. Regardless of gender, no person should be told that they only have half of an identity. This breeds unhealthy relationships where couples becomes overly dependent on their partners, and can only find value in themselves by seeking validation from another.

I am taking my sweet time in figuring out who I am before I get involved with another person. I am making sure I take care of myself right now. I am my own top priority.   

Stop Disrupting Black Joy With Your Fear

By Keisa Reynolds

Often we hear how important it is to learn how to spend time alone, Ive heard people say that you dont really know yourself until you have really spent time alone.

I agree with the sentiment so much. This piece was meant to be an essay about how great it feels to spend time alone and learning how to enjoy it. Then the murder of Alton Sterling happened, Philando Castile the next day. Then, I discovered we never learned to say the names of Stephanie Hicks and Essence Bowman, and we still struggle to uplift Mya Halls.

I experience joy when I spend time by myself. Sometimes it feels impossible when black joy gets snatched on a daily basis. It’s not easy learning to spend time alone when you are told your body is perfect for harassment and violence. Spending time alone, no matter how many of us have to do it, doesnt feel radical, especially when youre learning how to survive in the face of violence.

Spending time alone is a luxury for many people. There is always potential danger no matter who you are, however, the higher social status (real or perceived), the less danger you face, and the danger you do face looks very different than most. Its easy to not think about it, because no one should have to. Living life is a luxury for many people. Theres a kind of personal freedom in taking advantage of living life, doing what you want, what you can.  

I imagine the sense of personal freedom Sandra Bland felt as she drove to Texas to start a new job. I imagine the sense of personal freedom Alton Sterling felt when he figured out how to make money outside of the system that denied him professional prospects. I imagine the sense of personal freedom that Rekia Boyd felt as she enjoyed being out with her friends like the average 22-year-old before she was shot in the head by a Chicago police officer.

Many of my friends who are, and are accepted as, white heterosexual cis men walk home at all hours of the night without a second thought. Walking with my ex, a white man, in the South Loop at 10pm on a Saturday did not make me feel any safer; it reaffirmed how easy it is to navigate day-to-day life as a man, specifically as a white man. I would have taken a cab or requested an Uber instead of walking around. While safer than walking alone, requesting a ride still isnt the safest option for women, femmes, and gender nonconforming people. If there is another black person with me, the idea of safety in numbers goes away; the more of us, the greater the possibility of danger.

Black people face being perceived as a threat or receiving threats, sometimes both. Even our laughter can be seen as disruptive and threatening. Being a queer black feminine person is not a risk, nothing about my identity is a risk. The violence black people experience, including the violence we face at the hands of law enforcement and vigilantes, does not happen because we bring it upon ourselves.

It is summertime here. I would like to do the following: go camping, take a road trip with friends, hold the hand of a lover as we stroll through the park, sit on a restaurants patio while sipping mimosas, wear sundresses, wear a smile. I can and will do those things, and I will experience joy when I do. I will also experience sadness because the countless lives weve lost that wont be able to.

Experiencing joy and personal freedom is a right reserved for all, not a few. Black joy, whether or not it is accepted, is a gift to the world. 

The Importance of Saying Something

By Anna Brüner

"I do not know your name — but I know that a lot of people failed you that terrible January night and in the months that followed."

- Vice President Joe Biden

You’ve heard it before in middle school anti­-bullying assemblies. You’ve read it in public ads on the subway. Maybe your Sunday school teacher even uttered the words in a watered down lecture on stranger danger. “If you see something, say something.” It is part passive plea, part ingrained civic duty. It is thrown around with other do­-gooder mantras like “just say no” and “don’t be a litter bug.” It dapples the landscape of pre-recorded messages that drone over airport speakers, “Don’t be a bystander. Report suspicious activity. If you see something, say something.”

There’s a post that was floating around my Facebook newsfeed for a few weeks. Three women were out to dinner when one of them witnessed a young man a few tables over slip something into a girl’s drink while the girl stepped away. When the young man got up to go to the bathroom, the three women approached the girl and told her what they saw. “But he’s one of my closest friends,” the girl told them, later adding that her car was parked at the man’s house and that she had come here with him. The women proceeded to inform members of the waitstaff who informed the restaurant’s manager, who was able to catch the man slipping something into the girl’s wine on the security cameras and immediately called the police. An attempted rape successfully prevented. The internet rejoiced.

“I haven’t seen you since the office party! Can I introduce you to my boyfriend?” a friend of mine said at a house party to a woman they have never met before who was being harassed by an aggressive, sober man. She went along with the act, grateful and relieved, and my friend called her a cab while they went outside to meet the imaginary boyfriend. On Master Of None, Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Denise (Lena Waithe) film a man masturbating on a crowded subway car before calling him out on the act, inciting other passengers to speak up and tell the conductor before calling the police, moments after having a conversation about how people see these kinds of acts all the time and usually do nothing. In real life, two students on bicycles stopped Brock Turner when they saw him attempting to rape a fellow Stanford student.

In his open letter to the Stanford survivor, Vice President Joe Biden wrote of “a culture that promotes passivity. That encourages young men and women on campuses to simply turn a blind eye.”

But it isn’t just college campuses. It’s high school dances and tree lined side streets in good neighborhoods. It’s public parking lots not long after dark. It’s your favorite bar or your best friend’s Christmas party or the church you’ve attended since you were three. It’s beaches and parks and bike trails. It’s alleyways that serve as the quickest way home.

A couple of weeks ago, a woman was stabbed and had her throat slit on the Chicago red line after saying “no” to a man who asked her to have his babies. Nobody did anything. Some people even took photos of her as she bled out on the floor. It happened on a train I take every day, at a stop not far from where I once walked alone to my partner’s apartment when we first started dating. But it could have happened anywhere. On another train, in another neighborhood, in another city.

“To see an assault about to take place and do nothing to intervene,” wrote Vice President Biden in his letter, “makes you part of the problem.”

I was in an abusive relationship for nearly two years. Several months in, we went on a double date with a good friend of mine and his girlfriend. We never went out with anybody. It lasted only an hour, just a quick dinner. The next day I woke up to a series of texts from my friend.

“You need to leave him.”

“You need to get out of there.”

“This is not okay.”

I didn’t leave then. I should’ve, but I also “should’ve” left long before that moment. But even though I didn’t listen to my friend in that moment, I did start to notice just how dangerous my relationship was. I stopped making excuses for my partner and started to see the framework of my abuse. I wasn’t able to do that the first time he made me feel bad about myself as a person. I wasn’t able to do that the first time he hit me, or the first time he raped me. But I was able to begin to do it the moment a friend brought attention to it. It wasn’t all just “in my head” anymore, I wasn’t being “crazy” or “manipulative” or “overreacting,” as my partner had brainwashed me to believe. This was real, and it was real because someone else, someone I trusted dearly ­­saw something and said something. It would take a few more of my friends seeing and saying something to finally push me to leave for good, but God knows how long I would’ve stayed had no one spoke up about what they saw being done to me.

There are dozens of reasons why people choose to do nothing. They don’t know the whole situation. They want to avoid conflict. They don’t want to make others feel uncomfortable. It isn’t their problem. It’s safer to do nothing. Whatever the reason, it’s always easier to do nothing. To say nothing. To pretend you don’t see it.

It would have been easy for two boys on bicycles to just keep going, to not stop, to pretend they didn’t see Brock Turner in the bushes holding a struggling girl to the ground. Maybe she would’ve still pressed charges. Maybe evidence would’ve still been brought against him in court. But maybe not. Maybe none of us would have ever known Brock Turner’s name. Joe Biden would have never written his letter.

I am begging you to not be a part of the problem. I am begging you to not be the one at the party who suspected something was wrong, the person they interview the morning or the week after. I am begging you to not play into a culture of passive, silent witnesses. There is too much violence, too much harassment and assault. There are too many lives who have been affected, permanently changed, and lost because of people who did nothing. Most have us have never hurt someone. Most of us have never raped someone. But most of us have turned a blind eye away from the uncomfortable moments where we could have acted.

I know it’s not easy. I know it will be scary. I assure you, however, the worst possible thing that could happen is not that you embarrass yourself, or embarrass another person, or make a scene. The worst possible thing that could happen is that you do nothing, you allow it to play out, and it happens again and again, behind closed doors in private places where people can't see anything. 

My Legacy is Female

By Jaclyn Jermyn

When I was growing up, my favorite family story was about my Great Grandmother, Christine. She came to America alone when she was in her teens. My only mental image of the small Italian town she left is from a postcard with my Nana’s handwriting across the bottom, noting the significance of the place. It shows a long dusty cobblestone street and a Shell gas station sign.

Christine arrived at Ellis Island with the promise of a man who would sponsor her and marry her. He didn’t show up, leaving her stranded for days—or weeks, I was never quite sure on the details—until my Great Grandfather Mauro showed up.

In my mind, Christine was a firecracker of a woman. She was small and stature and stubborn. She was the first woman in her Italian immigrant community in Lynn, Massachusetts to get her driver’s license, much to the awe and annoyance of her neighbors. She raised five children during the great depression. She would bury four of them in her lifetime.

In her later years, and I mean much later years, she fought off a knife-wielding intruder and pinned her attacker down in her front hallway until a friend could call the police.

When my father started bringing my mother to Wednesday-night family dinners, Christine welcomed this skinny, Irish girl in the signature Italian grandmother fashion: by feeding her copious amounts of pasta.

My mother is one of three girls born into an Irish working-class family straight out of Boston. My grandparents worked constantly to support themselves. My mother and my aunts found their way in the world largely on their own because of this. At 21, my mother got on a plane for the first time to go train as a Pan-Am stewardess. She wore a leather skirt to her interview and told the panel she looked really good in navy blue—the color of the uniforms at the time.

I am the eldest grandchild on both sides of my family. On my mother’s side, I am the only girl. On my father’s side, I am one of two. If this were anything about family legacy, maybe that would mean more. I have no family names. I am not named after anyone. I have spent much of my life thinking of our family as average because their accomplishments seemingly fit the bill of what immigrant families did.

Most people that I knew growing up were 4th or 3rd generation immigrant families. If you follow the pattern of fathers, everyone worked hard and provided for their families. They farmed and built houses, fought in wars, and drank when their shifts were over. They did good things and they did not so good things but lived their lives as best as they could.

If you follow the line of mothers, generation after generations, you see sheer willpower to do something different—to go one step further than their mothers did. To strike out on their own or marry outside of their ethnic group or wear leather skirts to important interviews. That’s legacy in itself. That’s a tradition I wouldn’t mind following for the sake of tradition. 

My Roots Say “Fuck the American Dream”

My roots are an immigrant’s struggle, specifically that of my parents. My roots grow from bloody hands, from sweat-drenched clothing, aching muscles, pinched nerves, sunburnt skin, and relentless hearts. The following words are deeply rooted in mi papa and mi mama. All of my knowledge, I owe to them


My dad pulls the bill of his cap down over his eyes, leans his head back on the edge of the couch, and tells me, “no es justo mija” (it is not fair, my daughter).

I know he’s on the verge of crying; his voice is shaking and he won’t make eye contact. It’s a Sunday evening and he can’t enjoy his only day off. The word “debt’ is too heavy, too scary, too debilitating.

My aunt and I are sitting on the couch with him trying to reassure him that it’ll be okay. But he’s $10,000 dollars in debt. I tell him that it’s not so bad, that there are people who owe way more, and for stupid reasons. He tells me that it’s not about the amount, that it’s about the injustice. And I understand, or I think I do.

My dad hates America, and I do too. He’s always been able to put it into words, way long before I started getting into social justice. He would tell me “in this country, the poor and uneducated have to work like mules for the rich and privileged. I’m sick of it, I’m a human, I’m not a farm animal.”

He came to the US when he was a young teenage boy; he labored in California’s farmland for about ten years, living in Chicago briefly, and returning to Mexico a few times a year to visit us. He was gone for the first few years of my life, until my mom demanded that he take my older brothers and I back to the United States with him.

His 15 hour shifts picking artichoke, strawberries, broccoli, spinach, etc. paid for the rent of our home - a tiny blue trailer home a few miles from Salinas - and kept our stomachs full. Coming from our previous home in rural Mexico, where we wouldn’t have much to eat if we couldn’t sell a cow, pig, chicken, etc. for money, our first few months in the US were a dramatic improvement.

We stayed in California for about half a year, until I was six. But then my older brother Ezequiel started hanging out with gang members in Castroville. My parents feared he would become a criminal and end up in jail, so we moved to rural Illinois. My father traded in his connection to the land to work in a meat-packing factory, where he would insert rectal cleansers inside of dead pigs. My mother, who had previously not worked, had to join him in order to make ends meet. She worked third shift, dipping her gloved hands into the hot blood gathered inside of pig skulls in order to scoop out every pig brain that passed by her on the assembly line. They worked like this for 10 years, succumbing to long hours, strict rules, strong punishments and discrimination at Farmland Foods.

Looking back, I’m not sure what kept my parents going. I can’t imagine what would drive 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week, inside of such an awful workplace. Perhaps it was putting my brothers and I through school that kept them going. Ultimately, I think it was all part of the American Dream; the false belief that if you work yourself almost to death, you will one day be economically stable and happy. I think they worked for a day in the future where they wouldn’t have to use credit cards or borrowed money to pay for all of our food, our health expenses, our books for school, our clothing, our basic needs.

When the opportunity to break free from Farmland came, it was because my dad got fired for taking a dollar bill that he found sticking out of a vending machine, even though he had planned to turn it in. Luckily, my brother Ezequiel had moved to Houston where he worked as a logistics agent at an international logistics company and managed to get my dad a job there.

Houston was supposed to be a breakthrough for my parents; life in the suburbs, a new job where my cousin’s husband was the manager, where the workers were treated well, given monthly lunches, no pig carcasses in sight, just some boxes and forklifts.

But we are here, four years later.

After talking to my aunt and I for a while, I can tell my dad can’t keep the tears in any longer. He has to be up at 4am the next morning so he says goodnight and goes into his bedroom. As I sit on the couch listening to the sniffles coming from his bedroom, I think about our conversation, about my family’s constant struggle to just make ends meet, to be “successful”, to live the “American Dream”, and I am suddenly overwhelmed by the fact that shame is what is making my father so sad. He feels defeated by the system, and he feels like he’s failed his family.  

I sit and wonder what he’s thinking; I’m sure his past is on his mind, or rather, his proximity to the past he’s tried to leave so long ago. His intelligence and awareness of injustices are far greater than mine, because he’s lived them his entire life. Though he might not have the social justice language for it, he is falling asleep in tears because he feels the weight and pain and abuse of living in a racist, sexist, capitalist society that tells men that if they can’t provide for their families, they’re worthless.

All of this rushes through me as my dad’s sniffles get louder, so I go into his bedroom and hug him, I tell him that I love him. He tells me, “I’m not a bad person. I’m going to pay. I just need time. But they (debt collectors/third party groups/the legal system) won’t give me time.” I tell him that we’re in this as a family, and that I understand. I understand that they don’t care. Bank of America doesn’t give a shit about me or my family, or anyone’s family, they just plaster children’s faces on their advertisements to appeal to good ol’ Americans who are wealthy and privileged enough to believe in corporations, or in this country really.

As I hug my dad, I realize that more than anything, he is starting to understand that no matter how many steps you take in the right direction, no matter how much you play by the rules, you are most likely going to end up losing. I think that he is, or maybe I am, or perhaps both of us are simultaneously understanding that you can go to jail for trying to live the American dream. You can run away from bad decisions, have good morals, a family, but you still run the risk of being criminalized, for being poor and racking up too much debt to keep your family well fed and well educated; for being Mexican immigrants who are doing everything in their power to get ahead given their limited circumstances. No matter what, it is not enough for American banks, for the law, for corporations. No matter what good my family has done, it still falls short in the eyes of this corrupt system.

Native Girl, White Skin

When I was a little girl, I told people that there was a war going on inside me.

My father is full-blooded Native American. His skin is dark. A dreamcatcher is tattooed on his arm. He’s tall, stoic, and his voice is deep. He speaks in a rhythm that I’ve only ever heard on the reservation. He calls me every time he sees an eagle.

My mother is Scottish, Argentine, the kind of Spanish with pale, pale skin. She grew up in Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born. If you asked her, she’d ignore everything else and tell you that she’s British. She’s not wrong. Her accent is strong and musical, even after 25+ years in America. She has a Union Jack flag on her car and her friends send her copies of British tabloids.

As a child, I knew that in the war that made America, my mom would have fought for the redcoats, and my dad would have fought with the revolutionaries. The colonists. The Americans. The fighting was inside me now, deep in my heart or somewhere in my DNA. I didn’t think it was a sad thing, back then. I thought it was cool.

In kindergarten, I played the role of the Friendly Indian in our Thanksgiving skit. I wore a brown fabric “buckskin” dress, a feathered headdress made of construction paper, and smeared two red lines of warpaint under my eyes. I was so very proud, but my skin was still white, and I didn’t really look anything like Pocahontas or Sacagawea. The pride floated around above me, nebulous, conceptual in the way that five-year-old me had no way to explain, even to myself.

My roots are in my father’s experiences. My roots are in my mother’s experiences. My roots extend beyond the place I was born, beyond the mountains my tribe is from, beyond the Spanish mountains my mother is from. My roots are stretched and twisted and extended beyond what I can keep track of, or understand. You ask me, where am I from. Who am I. You ask me, what does my cultural identity mean to me.

I have no answer for you. I’m removed from my Spanish roots, my Scottish roots. They mean something to me, but I don’t know what yet.

Because I grew up near my tribe, I have more lived experiences as a Native than as anything else. But even then, it’s not really the Native experience. I’m mixed. My skin is white. I have no answer, really, when you ask me what my cultural identity means to me. I can’t explain these things.

But I can try to show you.

The casino. The slot machines ding and trill in the background while I show you the Culture Corridor, a tiny hallway with museum-esque displays of beadwork, baskets, and photographs of my tribe’s history. We get stopped once or twice by someone with a nose like mine who tells me that they know my dad, or they knew my grandfather, and that I should say hello to my dad, and have fun at school. The people with noses like mine are usually wearing the maroon shirt of a casino employee.

The next place I would bring you to is Friday night bingo. The bingo hall is a one story building positioned right next to the casino, with the aesthetic of a cafeteria, all metal chairs and folding tables and white-speckled-with-gray linoleum tile. You can smoke at some of the tables, but we sit far away from that. A woman with a pleasant, monotonous voice calls off numbers from the front of the room, pausing while they flash on the screens set up near the ceiling. “B-9,” the bingo caller says. “O-57.” “I-22.” We daub our numbered sheets.

You see even more noses that look like mine. You don’t win anything, and I don’t either. In the bingo hall, there’s a tiny place called Frybread Heaven. It looks like the place the middle school lunch ladies put the hot food--hot pans with a sneeze guard, a metal shelf to slide your plastic tray down once you pile it with food.

I buy frybread, and I ask them to put cinnamon sugar and butter on it. Most of the time, frybread is eaten as an “Indian taco,” which is just a taco on our culture’s particular flour creation instead of another’s. But I don’t eat meat, so my frybread is more like a funnel cake from the fair. My dad always says that “vegetarian” is the Indian word for “bad hunter.” I tell you that this is the only traditional Native cuisine I can show you, because nothing else remains. Frybread is a staple of our culture because it is cheap and filling. It is not an age old recipe passed down from the days before the white invaders. It’s something that we made up out of necessity. For survival.

And here is a truth I have only learned very recently, and I’ve been living it all my life. When your people die, your culture dies too. The valiant attempts made to preserve our life and our ways have only been able to preserve slivers--bits and pieces. What we have saved, as rich and beautiful as it is, is just a fraction of what we’ve lost.

The genocide of the past, the genocide of America’s beginning, has not ended. Native women were forcibly sterilized well into the 70s. Alcoholism plagues us. Our children are dying in droves. Native children are three times more likely to commit suicide than any other ethnic group. In certain tribes, they’re ten times as likely.

Scholars have begun talking about intergenerational, historical trauma, or the idea that Natives born today are born cursed with the fear, pain, and trauma of their ancestors. It’s weaved into our DNA. Every dead native child is a direct result of colonization, colonization that continues to this day.

This is what we all have in common, I suppose, besides our wide noses. That trauma. That pain. That is what my roots are firmly dug into.

I can walk freely in the casino, in the bingo hall, around the Pow-Wow and the tribal council meetings, because my ID says that my blood qualifies me as a Native. But my skin doesn’t. I am free to enjoy the rest of the world because of what my mother gave me--white skin. Colonization, the very reason for my intergenerational trauma, is also the reason that my skin affords me so many opportunities and freedoms. Maybe most importantly, it’s what gives me a measure of safety in the world.

How do I reconcile these things? How do I live as a contradiction, a human being pulled in all these different directions, rooted in so many places?

I don’t know. That’s all I can say.

On Experiencing ‘Tough Love’ as an Asian-American Immigrant

By Saru Bhaksar 

Parental love in South /East Asian cultures is often portrayed as cold and distant. The parent-figures are typically emotionless authoritarian types that reply “But why didn’t you get a 100%?” when their child tells them they got a 95% on an exam. It is a cliché and stereotype but one I experienced first-hand.  My experience is one based on a fundamentally different set of cultural beliefs than the majority of people around me. For the intents and purposes of this piece, I will refer to this style of parenting as the tough-love mindset. As millennials, we are mocked and referred to as the coddled generation.  I don’t want to be coddled; I want to be respected.

Webster’s dictionary definition of tough love is “a disciplinary technique, as for a young person or loved one, in which a seemingly harsh or unfeeling course of action is chosen deliberately over one demonstrating tenderness or forbearance instinctively felt.”  Bill Milliken, a Christian minister who worked with at-risk youth in NYC, coined the phrase “tough love” in the ‘60s with his book of the same title.  Since then, he has acknowledged that the term is often used to justify harsh and abusive disciplinary programs. Tough love is a symptom of hyper-individualism and bootstraps mentality, which are strong Western ideals. Tough love enforces the idea that people can be whipped into shape, which may be true — but that doesn’t mean that it is healthy or the most effective.

Supposedly, tough love is difficult to do for parents (hence the name). The underlying philosophy behind tough love is that pain produces growth. However, there are many other ways to foster growth and success, and tough love should be used as a last-resort only in extreme situations — not as an everyday way of parenting. Beating people down so they will rise to the occasion may produce results, but it will also cause long-lasting resentment and anger. In this sense, the tough love myth is similar to the tortured-artist myth. It sounds poetic and effective but only leaves us feeling empty and alone.

I remember having to formally ask my dad not to call me “stupid.” I was nineteen and at my parents’ home, visiting from college. He had called me that name many times before that day—sometimes joking, sometimes serious. On that day he didn’t say it in a joking manner. It was full of anger and stung me harder than the other times he had said it. I waited until we were alone outside later in the day and confronted him —“Dad, it makes me feel really bad when you call me stupid –- or any other insulting word, even if you mean it as a joke. It rings in my head days after you say it so please choose your words more carefully.” He laughed it off and agreed to cool it. It wasn’t even the worst thing he has called me. It didn’t really stop for good, and I continue asking for tenderness because it’s all I can do.

Of course, I still try and rationalize how and why my parents used the tough love approach in raising me. Western society places heavy emphasis on the individual while the Eastern mindset is more concerned with the family unit. So perhaps the tough love approach comes from wanting to control and better the family unit as a whole. Maybe my parents see me as direct extensions of themselves, meaning they can speak and treat me however they choose (which to an extent may be true, but like autonomy). Maybe tough love is the only way they knew because it is how they (and everyone around them) were raised. Additionally, the dense population in India and China makes for a hyper-competitive atmosphere. Striving for perfection is directly related to this. The stakes are high when there are a billion other people who could do whatever job you’re doing so it is important to be the best. A 95% on an exam won’t do when there are many others getting 100%.

I am still learning to love and forgive my parents for their imperfections — just as I am learning to love and forgive my own imperfections. I know they are not hateful people at their core. They want me to flourish and live the life that they dreamt of when we immigrated here. They don’t use the tough love approach all the time, either. Sometimes they are genuine and soft — especially now that I’m an adult and ask consciously for what I need. As I navigate post-grad life and the anxiety of finding full time (and meaningful) work, I need my parents to be cheerleaders more than ever. I quite literally tell my parents in words that I need them to be nicer or gentler with whatever message they are trying to convey. I directly ask them for empathy.  I don’t need tough love — the world is tough enough.

I Don’t Want To Be A Mom (Sorry, Mom)

By Anna Brüner

When I tell people I don’t want to be a mom, they assume I don’t like children. True, I am the first person to mutter obscenities under my breath when your spawn starts crying on the airplane. I roll my eyes at Facebook friends’ pictures of the horrid “little diva” and “Iittle player” ensembles they force upon their unwilling 8 months olds. I think people who bring their kids to a bar (I don’t care how good the fried ravioli is, Donna) are shitty. I was the only person in my 10th grade health class to leave during the birthing videos, where I didn’t even make it to the bathroom down the hall before puking in a janitor’s garbage can. Being in the same room as a pregnant woman makes me obscenely uncomfortable. I hate feeling sticky.

But I’m also the person who plays peek-a-boo with toddlers on public transportation. I’m the one who humors your child while you argue with customer service. At family functions I disregard all of my closest relations and opt for playing restaurant with my cousin’s four year old daughter. I make goofy ass faces in public just trying to get your squishy newborn to smile. I also worked as a full time nanny, and it was the most rewarding job of my life. I like kids. I love kids. I think kids are infinitely better than their adult counterparts, full of love and wonder and uncorrupted by the world.

But I don’t want to be a mom. 

When I tell people I don’t want to be a mom, they tell me things like “oh, you will someday” and always raise their eyebrows in the same way that eludes to them envisioning the filthy act of my procreating. It’s fucking creepy. I get told things like how I would be a great mom, how I’m so good with kids, how any kid would be lucky to have me as a mom, etc, etc, etc. Great compliments, believe me, but I don’t need them. I don’t need to be told what kind of mother I would be. I don’t need to be reminded in monologues about the glory of pregnancy and the beauty of childbirth. I don’t need to be lectured as if I am failing somehow, as if not having a child is the same thing as dropping out of college and developing a heroin addiction. I don’t have to bombarded with unwanted encouragement, when I’m sure my partner has never been asked from the age of thirteen why he might not want kids, or have his uncertainty about wanting kids deliberated upon by anyone who strikes up a conversation with him.

I’m sure I would make a great parent, in other ways. I don’t think I’m selfish for never wanting to become pregnant. I don’t think refusing to go off of my bipolar medication for nine months, refusing to give up my lifestyle and possibly my career, for a human being who got no say in being created. If I became pregnant, I would cease to be my best self. I would become unmedicated, mentally unstable, possibly dangerous to myself, and would put both myself and an unborn child at risk every single day. That, to me, would be selfish.

My own mental health aside, even if I were perfectly “well-functioning” and stable and healthy and the kind of person who could actually eat kale and not live off of sushi and martinis, even if I offered no danger to the parasitic little person hanging out amongst my organs, I still would not feel right about bringing a child into this world. I am terrified of the future. I am terrified of war, illness, hate, violence, and all the other atrocities people commit against each other every single day. I don’t foresee it getting any better, or at least better enough to the point that I would want to bring one more person into the garbled, chaotic mess. I could never justify bringing a new, pure human life onto a dying planet. I won’t. I refuse. I don’t want to be a mom.

But, as I said earlier, I could be a parent. I could offer my home and my love to a child who is already here. I could try to give them the best life that I can. I would try my best to make sure i help them become the best person they could be. I would teach them not to hate, not the judge, not to be afraid, not to engage in violence, not to turn a blind eye away from those in need. I would teach them to respect and protect life, to reach out to others who need help, to be an example. Maybe, if I am very very lucky, I could raise a person who would find a way to make the world better. Who would solve problems. Who would mend hearts. Who, if they wanted to have children of their own, would feel confident enough in mankind to do so. That, I would try my very hardest to do, and maybe, in that sense, I would be a good mom. 

On TV Shows and Trigger Warnings

Courtesy of Netflix

Courtesy of Netflix

Warning: Contains spoilers

I'm in line at Midway Airport, waiting to go through security. It's already a less-than-ideal situation - I'm late, my bag is heavy, I'm hungry. The woman next to me is talking loudly. It's impossible for me not to hear her say, "It's annoying! He's just so OCD sometimes!" I bristle. I think, "OCD is not an adjective." I think, "I'm lucky that I haven't had to deal with mine in a long time."

That woman might have cursed me, because I spent the New Year ringing in a fresh set of intrusive images, a major component of the OCD experience that is excluded from the average person's understanding of the disorder. My mind gets stuck sometimes, cycling the same thoughts over and over. I lie in bed forcing myself to push images out of my mind, fighting what feels like myself but is just my diagnosis. On December 30, 2015, I started season 3 of House of Cards. The Netflix Original series follows  Frank Underwood, an incredibly corrupt House majority whip who connives and manipulates his way to becoming President of the United States. Perhaps he eventually becomes king of the planet later in the series. I don't know, because I couldn't make it past the first episode of season 3.

Douglas Stamper is Frank's right hand man. He does the dirty work that leads to Frank's success — bribing Congressmen, killing prostitutes who know too much, and more. In the first episode of season 3, he wakes up in a coma. The cinematography is excellent, but harrowing. He can't move. He's scared. All he wants to do is go back to work for Frank, who is directly responsible for the terrible injuries he's been hospitalized for. When he recovers, Frank doesn't want him, that’s when  my empathy kicked in. He had thrown his life away for this man, and without him to work under he has nothing to live for. He relapses on alcohol, after abstaining from drinking for 14 years.

For four days, I saw Douglas Stamper's bruised face in my head sporadically every hour of the day. Dancing at a club on New Years, working, laying in bed to go to sleep. I stopped watching TV before bed because I couldn't handle it. The minor keys in the Mad Men theme scared me. Bob's Burgers scared me. I was afraid, and it felt like I was afraid of myself.

I believe in trigger warnings, but I had never expected them to become so widespread. My first experience with the word "trigger" being used in that context was in a mental health treatment center in Wisconsin when I was sixteen. Thinking I was very, incredibly punk, I wore my favorite shirt — black, with an image of a cat with a machine implanted into its’ brain. It said, “CONFLICT: THE UNGOVERNABLE FORCE” and below the image, “TO A NATION OF ANIMAL LOVERS.”  I didn't know that one of the patients on my ward's OCD was oriented around the death of her kitten growing up. When she asked me to not wear the shirt around her, I listened. We were all very sad in there, each with unique but similar struggles, and I wanted the other patients to feel safe. I wanted them to have the best chances of recovery, so I wanted them to be comfortable. We all helped each other. If someone turned Law and Order SVU on the TV, I could say it triggered me and the channel would be changed without argument. When another patient who had an intense fear of germs and bodily fluids needed to do exposure therapy, an element of treatment that involved exposing yourself to your fears in a safe environment, her behavior specialist asked me to take a TB test so she could watch. I held her hand after when she shuddered.

Trigger warnings meant recovery, they meant compassion and safety and community. I never expected to encounter them in a place outside the hospital. When they suddenly appeared in popular culture outside of a hospital context, I was surprised, but excited. It made me feel like the world was becoming a more compassionate place. Maybe it was naive, but I never expected people to dislike them. But then again, I had never been neurotypical.

A trigger warning could never have prepared me for the way that House of Cards scared me, but there are many instances where  a trigger warning has helped me in the past. When I left the hospital, regular life took a lot of getting used to. I got nervous going to the mall because there were so many people around me. All I wanted was for the world to be more like Rogers Memorial. When trigger warnings started showing up on social media years later, I had adjusted to real life and didn't feel that I needed them. At the end of the day, trigger warnings are focused on cultivating empathy. — you can never know what someone else is experiencing. There is nothing wrong with being kind and considerate. No one should fault another for taking the time to warn someone, to say, "Hey, I don't know your experience, but if it includes this specific thing, you might not want to read/watch/listen to this."

On The Strength of Seeking Help

By Gretchen Sterba

I’m sitting on a chair, covered in brown scratchy wool. I’m wearing a flannel in the 85°F summer weather because one of the directors of the program thinks everyone in the program should “cover up.” The walls are an eggplant white, an offbeat color for a treatment center. I was at least expecting a melancholy shade of either yellow or blue. A girl who has short hair that’s blue, the kind of color you would see coming out of a paintball gun, is sitting across from me in the circle of chairs knitting, her foot tapping rapidly in a state of anxiety. I look closer and stare at the multiple scars of self-inflicted cuts on her chest.

I look at the white board behind her and read in my head the list in purple Expo marker.

9:30 a.m.: “Name, Rate (1-100), Emotions, Current struggles, Skills Used/Achievements.”

Two years ago when I was here—a treatment center for people facing problems in depression, anxiety, substance use, eating disorders, etc.—I was a senior in high school. I had just had my heart broken for the first time, got diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, started gaining back all the weight I lost after months on Weight Watchers, starting my senior year of high school. I was lost in the world at eighteen. After finishing attending group therapy sessions and learning type of skills to manage our mental illnesses during my time there, I thought I was golden. I was in there for less than a month, missing school all day at this outpatient program (partial-hospitalization, to be exact) and I was about to return to high school, my beloved dance team and company, ready to finish this year off because college was on the horizon.

When high school ended, I enrolled in a Big Ten school that I ended up hating, and applied to my current college about a week into my freshman year. Over the course of two years, a lot has changed. While you’re in high school, you’re told change is upon you with adulting and such, but you never really think about it ever— the idea that your actions will always have consequences, how you treat people actually affects the shit out of them, and your mom isn’t always going to be there to make your doctor appointments or do your laundry.

I guess when I was discharged out of the treatment center senior year, I left everything I learned there. I physically felt better, more upbeat and happy that people shared the same feelings I felt, but I can’t remember myself utilizing the positive ways I was taught to cope in depressing, dark situations. Thus, it led me back to their young adult program in the summer of upcoming junior year of high school.

Then I became an advocate for myself. I was the one who decided to get myself help. This year, especially, has been one of the most difficult years of my life. I worked a job that I loved, but I was also stressed out  because of the intense hours and high pressure atmosphere, which led me to shedding weight. This was all in addition to school, and having a crazy roommate who made me feel incompetent in my own apartment.

I started to cope in negative ways, false attempts to try and nurture me temporarily. I wanted to become numb to my problems because I didn’t believe in my own ability to face them. I had no faith in myself, because I was unable to love myself. I started to live like it was Groundhog Day; going to class, work, class, then work again, finally isolating myself in my room until I fell asleep.

I began realizing that all the adults and teachers who said that change was upon us when I was eighteen were actually right. I started reading more, formulating opinions on culture, feminism, politics,  and I grew up a little. I also started losing friends one by one, like leaves dropping off autumn trees. I grasped the fact that everything and everyone is temporary. The people who I put so much love and trust in ended up leaving me, and I wallowed in my pity and found no positive, healthy ways to get out. I was stuck in that cycle for months, it felt like a lifetime of pure sadness, there was no hope of being happy.

Finally, at the end of my sophomore year of college—after blowing large sums of money on these short-term coping mechanisms and mindless activities, deciding to stop taking my anti-anxiety medication because I thought it wasn’t helping, having to excuse myself from class to go puke in the bathroom because I was so anxious, only being able to eat one small meal a day because I never had an appetite—I vouched for help. This was not me. Where the fuck was Gretchen?

I came to my mom, shaking and in tears, telling her I needed help. I was sick of being aggressive and irritable, unproductive, secluded and wallowing in my depression. I told her I needed to go to a place, not just once-a-week therapy, but a place where I would be able to get real, consistent, stable help.

On my first day of PHP, when I sat on the uncomfortable chairs and observed the girl with the blue hair, I felt instantly relieved to be among people who were here, struggling with their various issues, not wanting to get out of the bed in the morning, like me.

One guy told our group that he was anxious and had panic attacks before family functions. Check. Another girl said she was struggling with problems of self-hatred and self-hate. Check. She shocked me, because she came in with her grande Starbucks, sporting a Dutch braid on her gorgeous blonde head and a slim, naturally tanned body. I felt a bit guilty that she had shocked me, because we are all taught that all people have problems and battles we’re not aware of at face value. She was a prime example.

When it was my turn, I expressed my concerns openly and honestly, because I was in a safe space. Now that I’m about to have the third week of being a patient/client there under my belt, I really have learned so much. By learning skills, which I thought were totally elementary and lame at first, I already feel in control of myself. When I feel anxious, I do a skill called “grounding” where you use one or all five senses to keep you distracted from your toxic thoughts and focus on the present. I talk to both sexes in group and at breaks and almost always seem to find a type of relief because I know they really know what it is like to feel depressed and anxious every day. Just knowing someone is there and that you’re not the only person in the world who feels lonely, friendless, and fucked up, is empowering and reassuring in itself.

Being vulnerable is not always easy.

One of the hardest parts is admitting you have a problem and getting professional help. So whoever is reading this (probably my family members on Facebook), I hope you decide to act on your strength if you feel like you’re losing yourself or going through trauma, because the strength is there. It always has been. 

Standing In Solidarity via Social Media

By Jac Morrison

*TW assault*

This may be the hardest thing I've ever had to write. Because of that, I'm incapable of flowering it. I can't dust it over with adjectives, can't meander through with metaphors or similes or anything further than the cut and dry. Please forgive me for that.

By now we have all heard the story of Brock Allen Turner, the rapist who was caught violating an intoxicated, unconscious woman behind a dumpster. We have heard about his athletic career, his “generosity,” and how his future is now being dimmed because of, as his father so eloquently put it, “twenty minutes of action”. We have heard his choice to sexually assault a woman incapable of consent be blamed on binge drinking. We’ve been fed the same bullshit we are given every time a white man is accused of rape. He is loved, he is valuable, his future is worth more than that of his victims.

Many of us have become so personally invested in this case that we cannot contain the emotion it invokes.

This is because Brock Allen Turner is not unique.

We have all met him. In bars, at parties, in spaces where we felt safe. We have seen him with his arms around the drunkest girl in the room, waiting for her eyelids begin to droop so he can carry her off and convince himself that she wants him.

Many of us knew that girl.

Many of us were that girl.

I am no exception.

Three years ago I was at a birthday party in a house full of my closest friends. I did not eat dinner. I drank too much whisky. I'd never been so fucked up in my life. I became trapped in the bathroom after getting violently ill; I couldn't get myself up off the floor, I couldn't cry out for help. A friend broke into the bathroom after realizing what had happened. He carried me to the guest bedroom. He tucked me in. He brought me water. He kissed my forehead. He said I'd be alright.

An unknown amount of time later, he came into the room where I was sleeping and raped my immobile body. I will spare you those details.

I woke up with him still next to me, his pants around his ankles. The sun blared through the basement window, lighting up his silhouette and digging into my irises. I felt empty— nothing but a hollow longing for the girl I had fallen asleep as. I felt like a stranger in my own skin.

Friends refused to listen to me. They insisted they'd rather not get involved, that it wasn't their business; as if the violent non-consensual taking of my autonomy was nothing more than a lovers quarrel. I should have known then that they weren't my friends at all. But I didn't. I couldn't. If I didn't have them, I had no one.

I internalized it. Let it gnaw away at my insides. Watched it fester in the pit of my stomach, run through my veins and transform me into someone I didn't recognize. Someone consumed with resentment -- towards myself, towards the friends that betrayed me, towards the man who ruined me. I did things I shouldn't have. I burned bridges. I succumbed to the darkest part of myself.

Fast forward. It is June 2016. I have rebuilt myself. Left behind the friends who refused to stand by me in a hometown I vowed never to return to.

Sometimes, when I've had too much to drink I have fits of unexplainable anxiety. Sometimes I have nightmares of men I trust chasing me through the hallways of my friends houses. Sometimes I become consumed with fear in rooms with people I trust the most. I still cannot go to parties without someone anchored to my side. I still feel broken when I think of what was done to me.

But mostly I have healed.

A powerful statement from Turner’s victim was released shortly after his laughably short sentence was announced, and shortly after I also came out publicly against my rapist. It went viral on social media. CNN had it read on live television. It seemed to be all anyone was talking about for days.

Her honesty was inspiring, but beyond that, her story was painfully relatable. From the violent act itself to the aftermath, so many of us know it too well. Reading her statement and watching the empathy pour out from so many was a pivotal moment for survivors of sexual assault everywhere. Finally our voices were being heard through the vulnerable strength of another survivor.

It took all of my strength to finally admit what had been done to me. I was terrified, rightfully so, and I was crucified by many for speaking up. But beyond the cruelty of those who chose to stay comfortably ignorant, I felt relief.

For everyone who still carries their burden with them wherever they go, for those who want so badly to speak but feel as though they've had their voices stifled, for those who are still gathering the strength to stand up again -- I want you to know your vulnerability is not shameful. Your pain is not your fault.  You do not have to carry it with you.

"And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you."

Who Benefits From Being Woke?

By Keisa Reynolds

Over the years, online dating websites and apps have been a way to meet new friends and lovers who share your interests and want to talk about them, and maybe make out. These days, dating platforms are useful for finding people who share similar social and political views—a criterion that has become increasingly important to people seeking new dating prospects and friends.

OkCupid recently added a fill-in-the-black question for users to answer: ____ lives matter. The options are Black, All, and I’m not familiar with these movements / no opinion. If someone has been paying attention, they'll pick black lives matter as their answer. They might pick it because they want to get laid. Ideally, they will pick it because it reflects their beliefs.

After seeing the new OkCupid match question, I searched Black Lives Matter on the site and saw mostly white and non-black people of color in the results. During my usual search for potential dates, I often somehow land on the profiles of white people who say they have no tolerance for racism, and they only won't speak with you unless you believe black lives matter. I see #blacklivesmatter on Tinder profiles of white and non-black people of color. White queer people also write in their OkCupid and Tinder profiles that they are intersectional feminists. I don’t feel more or less inclined to swipe right or send them a message. Most of time I wonder, is their feminism truly intersectional? Does black lives matter belong on a dating profile of a non-black person? When did this become a thing?

People deserve the opportunity to weed out potential matches, their political and social beliefs are one way to start. For people living in smaller cities and towns, being able to weed out the purposefully ignorant jerks is necessary for their self-preservation. Same for those with marginalized identities, namely queer, trans, and gender nonconforming people who don't have enough spaces in person to cruise or seek partnerships. That aside, it feels like social consciousness is being romanticized and used for social currency. And as usual, it benefits the people who are not directly impacted by specific issues of social injustice.

I go to men's profiles and see a disclaimer: only interested in feminists. What does it mean for a man to declare a preference for feminists? Men should be engaged in feminism, but not through romanization or sexualization of feminists. White men write that they support for Black Lives Matter and care about issues that impact black people and other people of color. I don’t see as many black men or other men of color state the same, presumably because it is likely obvious through the other information on their profile. Hetero men of color are also likely to mention they are mostly interested in women who are feminists.

In a recent interview with TimeOut, Feminist author Roxane Gay said, “I think woke men are great, but sometimes they’re not really woke, they’re performing wokeness. What’s even worse is they want cookies, they want to be congratulated for being aware of their privilege and the benefit they have as they move through the world, and I’m not going to play that game with them.” “Performing wokeness” is an excellent way to describe it. People, not just men who identify as feminists, who align themselves with struggles and movements tend to spend too much time making sure everyone knows how woke they are.

One of my favorite sweatshirts is from AfroPunk, says NO RACISM, NO SEXISM, and continues a list of oppressions. I have pictures of me wearing it, I look cute and conscious—does that make me more dateable? Being open about my intolerance of social injustice has me perceived as an angry black woman, not a caring, socially conscious person. Being woke online is for white people, particularly heterosexual cis men. And many of us are guilty of praising white male mediocrity when it comes to them understanding the importance of social issues.   

It is innocent enough to mention black lives matter or intersectional feminism on your dating profiles, but it is as annoying as it is a relief there’s a small possibility you are not a terrible person. I can’t tell if they are speaking to me as someone with a marginalized identity, or people who share their privilege and also want to feel good about their wokeness.

To be a queer black feminine person in online dating is already a hard enough feat; having to make sure my profile shows a certain level of political engagement makes me feel like I am appealing to non-black people. Funny enough, I may scare them away. It doesn't help that online dating is already difficult for marginalized people, especially black women, heterosexual or LGBTQ-identified. For many of us, our interest in social justice is not about gaining popularity, it is about survival, it’s for the sake of liberation. This isn’t to say white people can’t also feel this way, however, it is fair to say for those trying to prove their wokeness, it’s not coming out of necessity.

My blackness is political enough in a space where black women and femmes are still seen as least desirable and non-binary people are viewed as confused. My feminism can't be described in a single word, and it won't appease men. A white or non-black person believing black lives matter doesn’t mean they also have to date me or any other black person (besides, we know dating or sleeping with a black person doesn’t absolve people of their anti-black racism). But there is something to be said about romanticizing people’s commitment to social justice and giving too much credit to mediocrity.