An Anger-Hued Girlhood

Originally published on the LA Times

  Art by Tracey Emin, Barbara Pollack

Art by Tracey Emin, Barbara Pollack

There’s not enough time. There’s not enough time to talk about all the things wrong with the world, every single fracture in this disastrous, puddled, broken hodgepodge of humans and brutalities, not enough time to fix all the brokenness, to soothe and seal all the wounds. There’s not enough time to be everything for everyone, to face every injustice at once. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.

I’m writing about something here that makes me emotional. That word – emotional – is, in itself, a problem, according to the world I inhabit. To be an emotional teenage girl, to be emotional when discussing politics, is to lose logic, lose rationale, be blinded by personal experience and anger and feeling so big it represses our ability to be intelligent, fact-based, and pragmatic, which is all code for: like the men.

I’m writing about something that affects me everyday, that is a now fundamental layer of my identity, background noise to my existence, a hum of constant frustration but a familiar, now unremarkable tune. I’m going to write about sexual harassment. About sexual assault, about the Me Too movement and why no, it isn’t a witch hunt, it isn’t mass hysteria, it isn’t an antithesis to the sexual revolution. It’s about justice. It’s about recognizing the tumultuous, pervasive, poisonous wells of hurt that too many women, that too many people, experience again and again and again until there is no period to the suffering, no ending, only an indefinite existence of small sufferings here and there until we crack.

In class, I sit there with my nails dug into my palms and try to bite back the words festering under my tongue, afraid of my own anger, afraid to let it bleed out of me in the open in an academic space. I am told that this is not the place for emotions, for feeling all of this, for attaching my own baggage to the educational.

My experience, my everyday, is a theoretical conversation for most of the men in the room, and I am expected to adhere to this format of restraint, of intellectualizing and believing that there is any room to debate whether or not sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment, homophobia, even exists. This is not theoretical for me. It is not theoretical for a lot of us.

I am tired. I am tired of being known as the angry feminist at school. I am tired of feeling like the only person who will say something, feeling like I must be the endlessly eloquent, sharp-witted, impenetrable representative of feminism and women and queer people everywhere all the time.

I am tired of feeling so angry, so exhausted, so gut-wrenched by the people around me and the things they say and do. I am tired of explaining, of justifying, of having to rationalize and legitimize my personal experiences to boy after boy.

I am tired of feeling like a tiring thing to be around. I am tired of feeling every moment of injustice in every part of my being at once, at being unable to ignore it, to disregard it. I am tired of being a girl. I am tired of being everything all the time for everyone.

I’ve put this burden of being the bearer of justice on myself, undoubtedly, but I can’t help but think – what about all of the girls out there who have it so much unfathomably more difficult than I? I cannot stop being the angry feminist when there is so much to be angry about. When so many women cannot speak up for themselves. I examine this existence of mine and I cannot help my anger, cannot quiet or suppress anything. I look at the people around me and think, how aren’t you all as disturbed as I am?

The privilege I am so bathed in does not escape me. My half-whiteness. I’m cis. I’m physically able and I know where my next meal is coming from. Privilege is not to be denied, it is to be recognized, palpated, confronted.

I don’t believe, usually, that I have a right to feel this tired, this soul-drained, this achingly unmotivated to keep doing this whole activist, woman thing. I think that maybe, though, pushing and pushing is the worst thing we can do. Listening. Listening must be the priority now. If we shy away from the experiences of others, experiences and lives we cannot quite recognize, that we do not understand because we have never experienced, we perpetuate oppression, we ignore the hulking malignant tremors amongst us.

There is this thing I do. It is a thing most of the girls I know seem to do, something insidious, something small but brutal. I soothe male feelings whenever I speak about feminism. I try to be polite, to cater to the comfort of those who do not understand, who question whether sexism really exists, because even though millions of women, for centuries, have answered that question, that still isn’t enough for them.

I subdue the swellings inside of me, the bubbling bursting burning rage and the exhaustion and the desperation to scream until my voice goes raw, to make them understand me, make them listen to me, take me seriously. If I allow that messiness to bleed out, to slip for even a moment, any argument I have will be disqualified, invalidated by my unfortunate humanness.

I read a lot of feminist theory. In conversations about feminism, though, what I’ve come to recognize is that most men don’t. There is a deeply fractured mentality here: that it is on the oppressed to explain and legitimize their oppression. It’s not. It should not be a person of color’s responsibility to explain to a white person why reverse racism is not a thing.

I want men to do some introspection before they question things they don’t understand. I want it to be a norm to do your own research, to read some Angela Davis and This Bridge Called My Back and Audre Lorde and expose yourself to the material out there. It exists, and it is accessible.

There comes a point when merely existing becomes activism in itself in which getting out of bed is a miraculous, extraordinarily brave moment, a feat. The everyday thrums with self-possession, with the tenuous ferocity to keep on moving and living in this bruised universe, amongst so many aches, so many cuts, so many moments that have such a severe capacity to break us apart.

And if we do succumb, if we do collapse, we are not fighting hard enough, we are traitors to the cause, we are weaklings and should advocate for ourselves more. These are the truths we swallow even from our own peers.

Let me sit in a classroom and not have to speak up when someone complains about how we’re talking about sexual harassment too much. Let a boy do it, let him say, ‘this is important. When we have so many women who tell us it is important, so many people, it should be more than enough to justify talking about it.’

Let a person of color not be coerced into speaking about something controversial by a teacher, as the token minority kid. Let the conversations be messy and complex and difficult but let them embrace the nuance that our politics is so lacking. Let yourself listen instead of speak over anyone who has had an experience, an existence, you cannot understand. Let yourself try to grapple with your privilege and know that it does not negate your own suffering, but rather, that it is something we all must reckon with in order to live our lives with compassion and that is not so damn difficult to do.

To be listened to does not seem too much to ask. To have your personal experiences, your traumas, your identity unquestioned as valid and legitimate does not seem too much to ask. To feel safe at school, in a classroom, does not seem too much to ask. To be treated with (mutual, reciprocal) respect for your existence, and with compassion, does not seem too much to ask. None of this is asking too much.

The point of my feminism is not to demonize anyone, but the fact that I’ve had to explain that so many times is disheartening. It disturbs me deeply that men seem to think that equality means I must want to strip them of their rights and lock them all up. The Not All Men hashtag felt like a punch in the stomach. We know not all men. We know not all white people. The point is, though, all men benefit – whether they recognize it or not – from the systemic patriarchy and male hegemony that govern our world. All white people benefit from white supremacy, even if we don’t want to. This should not make you feel guilty; it should make you angry, because you want to change it, do something about it.

I must clarify time and time again that no, I do not hate all men. What I do hate is a society that makes me so adamantly, necessarily, fear them. What I hate is the everyday, every minute, every moment, walls-closing-in feeling that is my girlhood, when it should be a celebratory and unthreatened part of my identity.

What I hate is forcing myself to ask uncomfortable questions on college tours about sexual assault, about fraternities and blue light systems, rape culture and drinking on campus because I’m terrified of what happens in the backlights of what is supposed to be the landscape of my learning, of my growth.

What I hate is hearing every girl and woman I know apologize for speaking, for getting upset, for feeling feelings unapologetically. What I hate is sidewalk stares and gruff whistles and the intangible understanding that my body is public space, is a burden, a thing to be put away and hidden, a weight. What I hate is being touched by men everywhere simply because they feel entitled to grab and grope as much as they like.

What I hate is hearing the 15-year-old boys behind me in the bleachers at a school basketball game yell “cunt” and “pussy” and “gay” out into the court, hurling those words like they’re funny at the opposing team because these are the words that comprise humor, I guess, that comprise weakness, and the worst thing you can be is female or gay, apparently.

What I hate is reading a graphic rape scene in class, always taught by a male teacher, without any forewarning, any acknowledgement of the reality here, of how many girls (and students) might feel sickened and uncomfortable in that room, that might be reliving their traumas, something that could’ve so easily been prepared for, but wasn’t, was thrown out at us without any thought on the matter.

What I hate is listening to boys I know, boys who I consider my friends, laugh about a Snapchat video of a drunk 14-year-old girl giving a blowjob, saying “what a stupid girl, stupid decision, what an idiot” instead of the words that ache and brim to my head: “sexual assault, sexual assault, sexual assault.”

What I hate is watching the news every day and watching men make decisions about things they’ll never experience, never know as intimately and deeply as I will, as women will, as people suffering will, about my body, about my health. What I hate is hearing the rap my brother blasts in his bedroom, catchy and lyrical but plagued with “bitch” and “fuck that bitch” and endless other creative renditions of that word, that one simmering word.

What I hate is listening to my eight-year-old sister describe how the boys make fun of her and her best friend for playing soccer, for playing on the field, for being girls daring to do something that makes them feel alive, for having fun so unapologetically.

What I hate is having a male substitute teacher tell me no, you cannot go to the bathroom despite the fact that I have an A in the class and that we are doing nothing and that I am bleeding, bleeding, bleeding, that my lower half is in carnage. “Is it an emergency? Even in the bloodbath, no, you cannot go to the bathroom. What I hate is saying the word period” and having my PE teacher say, okay okay that’s enough, no need to be so graphic!”

What I hate is feeling like I must hide and clothe away and bury and scratch apart every part of myself because the female body is not supposed to be this way, be so human and incessantly messy and difficult and painful, because my body is only to look at and to touch but not to understand, because my body is dirty, something to hide away and not talk about.

What I hate is being the only girl in a room full of men debating without hesitation, without any attention to fact or reason or evidence, saying what they think without thinking, and I wish I could do that, be that mediocre, be that abrasive and loud and not have to contemplate every word I say and get praised for it, get away with it.”

What I hate is this whole damn thing, feeling like I’m whining, I’m complaining endlessly, and feeling this insurmountable guilt rise up inside of me.

What I hate is being a girl.

If those words don’t unsettle you, they should. I love girlhood, I love my fellow women-identifying humans, I love feeling sisterly and connected and uniquely girl, but I cannot say that I really love being a girl in this country, in this world. The heaviness in my gut doesn’t just go away. It can’t.

To act like it isn’t there in order to console the people around me, the people who don’t get it, is a disservice to all of us. I am emotional, I am messy, I am complicated, I am a muddled dance of grey area, and we all are.

There comes a point when the personal cannot be separated from the political, and I don’t believe that it should be. Pieces of your fundamental self, your very identity, should not be up for political debate, but they are; your skin color, sexuality, gender, etc, all of it becomes not facets of who you are but the entirety. You become generalized and politicized and dehumanized.

My body should not be politicized; to have to fight to have control and ownership and autonomy over my own anatomy should not be a fight at all. Persecution of my sexuality should not something we discuss as a legitimate viewpoint, because it is not political, it is a part of me, of who I am. I wish my mere being wasn’t such a radical act.

If the experience isn’t yours, don’t claim it, but listen to it, absorb it, try to understand it, at least to validate it. Unity stems not from sugarcoating or forced reconciliation but from recognition of the past and present, of the darkest dark. We find our histories there and we should look them in the eye.

Me Too.

If you’re sick of hearing about #MeToo, you’re part of the problem.

We are sick of having to tell these stories at all. We are sick of feeling like we are “attention-seeking” or “self-victimizing” when we speak out about these experiences perpetrated by other people, experiences that often define your life. We are sick of moments of (primarily male) entitlement and aggression that are just moments for the perpetrators, but are memories that stain our lives. We are sick of knitting ourselves together, like everything is A-okay, with smiles on our lips as we pretend that we feel safe with the men in the room, can take a joke, yes, we know, it’s a compliment. We are sick of “compliments.” We are sick of daylight sidewalks that feel like hell because we dared to step outside as women, whistles and hollering and entertained laughter from the hands of men we fear might kill us, because it happens all the time.

We do not have the privilege of knowing that your harassment was not predatory, that it was just a joke. We do not know how to distinguish the bad men from the good ones, not because we hate men but because we want to live, and there are a lot of men who hate us for existing at all.

I am seventeen years old and I am accustomed to sexual harassment. In cities. In suburbia. On the metro. Walking to school. In a supermarket. In public. At night. In the daytime. I’m wearing shorts, and the wolves attack. I’m wearing a parka, and the wolves attack. They don’t discriminate. I am seventeen years old and I have been groped, flashed, screamed at, whistled at, laughed at, and made a small thing by random men. By strangers. This started happening when I was eleven. It hasn’t stopped. Not at all.

The #MeToo campaign is not meant to pressure victims into speaking out. It is meant to empower all victims to understand that they are not alone, that their experiences are valid, shared. That what happened was not okay, but that we are all here and we all are ready to fight back. This isn’t about politics. This is about treating human beings like human beings worthy of dignity and respect. This is about not terrifying a pre-teenage girl into never trusting men again because you decided impulsively to holler at her, for fun.

This happens to every gender. Women sexually assault and harass as well, but the majority of assaults are committed overwhelmingly by men. This isn’t our responsibility to solve. It’s yours. I speak to the men out there who have maybe never harassed anyone, but whose friends have. To the teenage boys I know: joking about rape? It’s not funny. Diminishing the experiences we have, trivializing them, excusing them? It’s not okay.

It is an unnerving, sickening thing, to recognize that even if you’re not one those men, you are still a man, and quite an immensity of people of your gender treat women, and other people, like this. I understand the urge to be defensive, to deflect or derail, to whip out the “not all men” card, but please listen to me: we know not all men. But we don’t have the privilege of knowing which men. And as a man, you need to call these behaviors out. You need to stop condoning it, being complicit or quiet. You need to be adamant.

I am seventeen and sexual harassment and assault is everywhere in this world. Us teenage girls know it all too well, but to talk about it feels impossible sometimes. We fear being belittled, or told to “toughen up.” I’d prefer if men who sexually harass would be held accountable for their actions. We dismiss this insidious behavior, let it slip, try to ignore it, but we need to stop holding our tongues. When women are afraid to speak up, constantly living in fear of a boss or a coworker who has the power to ruin their careers, gender equity is not reachable. We need to create an environment in which we feel safe to speak up, validated and understood - not blamed nor shushed.

The seemingly inconsequential moments - older men staring at your chest in the supermarket like you're something to eat, carnivorous glances on the sidewalk, the “hey sweetheart” to the “suck my dick” - all of it hurts. All of it is etched into our memories, perhaps forgotten but not erased. These moments add up. To say “hey there sweetie” to a woman on the street may seem innocuous but if that women has experienced sexual assault, it can feel like a puncture to the heart. It all is imprinted, embedded in our psyches. We learn how to ignore it, train our brains to be unflinching, to pretend it away, but the small traumas of the female everyday should not be our responsibility. They should not be so commonplace, so unsurprising, so tolerable. They should be unacceptable.

I almost never respond. I'm walking alone, usually, sometimes late, and as cathartic as shouting something back would be, the fear of what could happen, what men can do to resistant women, tells me not to risk it. So I swallow my anger and let it simmer underneath my skin. It's become like breathing.

But. I am terrified. I am terrified of my little sister having to grow up in this world, grow up being belittled, demeaned, dismissed, to start fearing the world before she’s even a teenager. I am terrified of the complicity. What I fear most is how surprised so many men were at the #MeToo campaign, utterly shocked that harassment is such a commonplace occurrence. To me, there’s no surprise left. I don’t think that a lot of them realize how bad it is, and I understand that, but at the same time, we all need to be aware of these behaviors. We cannot rely on women to fix primarily male problems.

#MeToo is meant to speak up for those who cannot, who do not have access to be able to do so. #MeToo did not begin with any one entitled man, but ten years ago, because of all the entitled men that have always existed and will continue to if we don’t collectively say, enough is enough.

And men shouldn’t care because they have sisters, mothers, wives, girlfriends, and daughters. This trope implies that women only matter if they’re in some way connected to men. Men should care because women are human beings, just like them. I do not think that is too much to ask.

Molly Ringwald published a personal, harrowing essay this week about the harassment she’s faced in Hollywood, and what sums the problem for me is this one line: “Stories like these have never been taken seriously. Women are shamed, told they are uptight, nasty, bitter, can’t take a joke, are too sensitive. And the men? Well, if they’re lucky, they might get elected President.”

We elected one of these men already. Let’s try to not let that happen again.

Nevertheless, We Persist: How We Organize

I originally published this on the LA Times.

A huge thank-you to all the activists and participants that came to the march. Particularly, a thank you to Sade Famuwiya, Peter Stern, and Liz Stewart for empowering Project Femme to represent young people at this march.

We tell ourselves stories in order to live, says Joan Didion. I’d have to agree. These stories are dreamt, diluted, often even dormant, but they are what keep us alive, nevertheless. My stories, or the seeming pipe dreams I so adamantly believe in, all seem to include one universal belief: that humans are good, intrinsically, and that people can move each other to do extraordinary things.

Nevertheless, we persist. I think that this line is the rare sentence that can accurately sum up the strangeness of the human condition. Earlier this year, I tried to reckon with this belief. I wanted to understand how to keep being a functioning person in a country that drained my heart. I don’t think that persistence always comes out of any self-congratulatory, courageous refusal to submit to weakness. I think that persistence is often not a choice we consciously make. We live and live and live, and most people can’t really tell you why they get up out of bed every morning and keep going about their lives. I don’t even know the answer to that. That isn’t existential dread. It’s optimistic nihilism.

So– the story I tell myself is the core language of my entire selfhood. It is the dialogue of my passions and my realism. I love activism because of that story. I am so adamant about my feminism because of that story. If I didn’t believe in the integral decency of humanity, I wouldn’t be an activist. I couldn’t be, because why try if nothing would ever change? If people were all irreparably unable to change, to do better, activism would be something I’d laugh at sympathetically. Nothing will change, no matter how hard you try. Why ruin yourself trying?

I know people who think like this. They are entitled to that. I, however, for all my sardonic bitterness, pessimism, and deep adoration for The Stranger, still harbor an inkling of faith in my fellow homo sapiens. It is not easily reached. I lose sight of that inkling a lot. And I know that in order to make that inkling grow, the work will be difficult.

A few months ago, Gabrielle Faulkner, a friend and an ambassador for my organization, Project Femme, was considering hosting a march. We discussed it and we decided to organize one together in honor of National Equality Day on Aug. 26. We’d never done anything so ambitious before. We didn’t expect what happened. Thousands of people RSVP’d on the Facebook page. Within a month, maybe, the DIY, haphazard little event we were trying desperately to organize became a real, legitimate march with thousands of people counting on us to make something extraordinary happen.

This march, this entire experience, did not arise from a clear-cut vision of an answer to this whole mess, but rather, as a question that gnawed away at the tired corners of my mind. Over and over, cyclical. Nevertheless, we persist, yes, but why? I’m not naive enough to think that my neurotic 17-year-old self is the first being to ever have this existential crisis; why humans keep on voluntarily living despite the entire futility of our existence, despite the mad world we live in, is the subject that every philosopher has ever attempted to comprehend.

On the same day as our march, which we’d named Nevertheless, We Persist, another march was scheduled, hosted by the LA Indivisible Suffragists. So we joined up and merged our marches into one hub of energized, passionate activists all trying our best to make it work. The Indivisible team altered everything. They made things happen that I had never considered I needed to make happen. They legitimized our march. They strengthened it to an unbelievable level of womanpower.

  Congresswoman Judy Chu speaking at our event.

Congresswoman Judy Chu speaking at our event.

Brooke Teal Robbins, the head and founder of the group, refuted all the cynicism I had attached to political organizing. She led in a way I did not know how to appreciate until working with her. People like that– who are luminescent in their passion, in their insatiable optimism met with action-– I got to know them through community organizing. I am not one of them, but it doesn’t matter. They are the people we need to lead us through eras of discontent.

In organizing this march, I felt that familiar tug on my heartstrings: hope tinged with realism, or the general understanding that passion is hard to live with when you feel like you’re alone in that passion. We wanted the march to embody persistence. Persistence, in our thought processes, was not exactly the fight againstsomething, but really, most vitally, the fight for something. It is hard to live today and not be infected with outrage, but I also believe that such anger can coexist with compassion. Out of our anger must come compassion– not for those who have marginalized and maligned and torn apart communities and individuals– but for the marginalized voices themselves.

As an ally, you are not here to protect them as much as you are to help make their voices loud and clear. We can be angry and still unyielding in our demand for simple human decency, because really, what we’re fighting for here is more than a political ideology– we are fighting for every person to be considered and treated as just that– a person, with all of the rights that come with personhood.

Respect for others’ opinions is essential. But respect for opinions that demean human beings to something less than human, to second-class citizens, is ludicrous. People can and will say whatever they want. We saw that in Charlottesville, Va. But it went beyond that. Heather Heyer knew the extent of just how far those “opinions” went, because they are what drove James Alex Fields Jr. to take her life from her, with aggressive glee.

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Unabashedly. Publicly. If your opinion involves degrading someone else’s existence, simply for some intrinsic part of their identity, you should not be lauded and defended by the President of the United States. You should not be given a pass, a nod that lets you know, you have a point, maybe. Because. There are no valuable points to bigotry. There are no sides.

This march was about positivity. It originally was meant to celebrate and honor the passing of the 19th Amendment, to know where we were and we are now.

But what it became was different. A young woman died because she believed that humans were humans, all of them, equal. I’ve discussed the issue of marches and rallies with many people, and I’ve heard the discontent many have with the events. What exactly do marches do, besides being a reactionary but impermanent, brief moment of solidarity and outrage?

I myself was frustrated by the Women’s March, which I attended, because of the clear fact that many of those who had marched had no intent of maintaining that spirit of activism. It cannot begin and end with one march. But. As I’ve organized, I’ve come to realize what these events are actually about: visibility. A demand to be seen, to be heard, to be known. And without that visibility, we can’t get anywhere.

We need moments like this, raging against the “dying of the light” together, all as one, voices straining together, sweaty lips and sunburnt cheeks. We need rainbow flag highways and all shapes and sizes of people walking together, hand in hand, trying to tell the world that they exist. If we stop organizing moments like these, we are at risk of losing our collective passion. Let the world know that we are not done fighting, that we have forgotten about all the things the Trump administration and its many friends have done, what our own citizens have done, to hurt people. Let the world know that complacency isn’t something we’re going to allow ourselves to fall into.

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The thing is, the 19th Amendment is beautiful, but it only applied to white women. This is the diseased part of our legacy of feminism: its exclusivity disregarded the reality that women led vastly different lives. Womanhood does not intrinsically connect us. A recognition that everyone’s womanhood looks different, that our liberation does not necessarily reflect anyone else’s, but that they should nevertheless be able to decide themselves, is what connects us.

After months of impromptu conference calls, furious emailing, and a deep, unrealized respect for activists who did this kind of thing as their job, I got tired. I got upset. When Charlottesville happened, my palms ached, my teeth itched, even. What’s the point of doing all this when these things will still happen, no matter what we do?Our tireless organizing didn’t save Heather. It didn’t save the people out in the streets fighting valiantly and exhaustedly for justice.

Look: organizing is damn rough. It’s hard. It’s not work that gives any sort of immediate gratification– you forget why you’re doing this, why these phone calls and Skype meetings and frenzied plans are worth committing your time to. It is not the kind of work that makes you feel like you’re doing something important all the time. In fact, a lot of it feels really, painfully bureaucratic and mundane. You can’t get out of the permits and paperwork and fundraising. I think of community organizing and I want to collapse into my bed. I always thought I would want to be a community organizer when I grew up, inspired by the effortlessly effective, extraordinarily empathetic man who did it so easily, with such endless passion– Barack Obama.

If I could ask him what that work was like, I now know he probably wouldn’t say, “energizing.” It is slow, tedious, aggravatingly gradualistic work. So why do it? Why did we keep on organizing, keep working with Indivisible to make this thing happen?

The answer is this:

–The symphony of offbeat, sore-throat cheers and chants and screams that felt like they could break the pavement.

–Women with belly-deep laughter, rainbow pins and hand-drawn signs clutched to their waists– all ages, little girls and elderly women, talking and singing and smiling like the world wasn’t an incurable mess.

–The clusters of young people with linked elbows damp from the afternoon sunshine, clicking their cameras rapidly and furiously, eyes emboldened by the microcosm of America right in front of them to reach out and touch.

–My hands shaking around a microphone, but then, the roar of solidarity loud and clear and heart-swelling from the crowd around me.

–Our chapped lips aching from smiling so much.

–Listening. Listening to people speak, sing, feel what they felt. Hearing stories that cut through me, knowing that this wasn’t about me, wasn’t about any one person. It was about all of us. All of us were tired from fighting, but then there were those who had to fight especially hard. They were exhausted and fierce.

When you march, you do, undoubtedly, do it for yourself, in some way. You feel like the anger is going to swallow you whole if you don’t do something. You march to stop the ground caving in, the walls suffocating you. But you also march for other people. You march for those who this country has diminished, disenfranchised, killed, and oppressed. You know that you are one small voice in a sea of other inimitable voices. And that’s the best part about it.

I am an introvert, but activism is never solitary for even me. My activism lives in my writing, in my thoughts transcribed into public thoughts, but even that– even art– inadvertently affects other people. Activism is never just about one person. It stems out of one thing that happened to you, maybe, or to someone you know, but those individual stories are so insidious because they represent systems and structures that make those stories commonplace.

I don’t ever want to be a spokesperson for queer teenage girls, because we’re all unique individuals and there is no “universal” experience we all share. What we do share, however, is the way the world perceives our girlhood and our queerness. Even these things we experience in vastly different ways. That is the whole premise of intersectionality. When I speak up for me, though, it’s never just about me. It’s not that I want every other girl to make the choices I do; it’s that I want every girl to be able to choose at all.

We need more young people getting out and organizing. I dislike when people tell me that young people are the future leaders. We’re leaders now. We’re worthy of validation and consideration now. If we need to organize to get people to understand that, we will.

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This Girl I Am

Originally posted on November 11, 2016 on my old blog.

  Thanks to Sophie, my friend, for this photo of my pink-hair stage. 

Thanks to Sophie, my friend, for this photo of my pink-hair stage. 

Writing about my sexuality is weird. It does not feel uncomfortable, rather, it feels unexpected. I’ve never felt the need- a deep urgency- to define my sexuality or to categorize it neatly, into an easily readable, concrete box. I just am, and my heart will be what it is; I will love whoever it is that I love. My sexuality exists not in a vacuum isolated from my whole identity, certainly, but it also is not exactly a defining attribute of mine. It says nothing about my brain or my ambitions or anything, it just says, this is who I am, this is who I’ll love, and nothing about this makes me feel strange or inhuman.

There is no closet door I have been attempting to shove open. I talk about my sexuality with anyone who brings it up in conversation. I’ve written a multitude of personal essays and pieces for school which include my sexuality somewhere in there. I do not feel any desire to stand up and “come out”- to, with a shaky fist, hold a cooking pan up to the limitless, vast world and say, “I ain’t straight!” Although that would be a lot of fun, I can’t say I’ve really considered it.

So, I’m pansexual. Contrary to the belief of so many, I am not sexually attracted to pans. Pansexuality is simply just falling in love with whomever one falls in love with, regardless of gender. Additionally, since gender is, to me, a more arbitrary label we have decided to create in this globe of ours, and since we now have to deal with that, pansexuality allows me to reject the ideas of the binary and concrete. I don’t feel binary or concrete- so this label works for me. It is a fluid label for me, because I am complicated and utterly confused by it daily, yet I also know that I feel it best describes how I feel about the world and my place in relationships.

Rowan Blanchard, an activist hero of mine, inspired me to write this piece. She wrote a startlingly resonant piece for Rookie nearly boiling over with unadorned, teenage honesty. I have read that piece again and again, and my heart has ached with the swellings of connection to her feelings. I feel so quieted and disconnected from the person I present myself to be. This brick wall constrains my effusions and deter my truth, and I no longer wish for it to stand up like a hulking fence around my identity.

I, like Rowan, find myself apologizing for my existence. I engage in an endless conflict with myself, one that never seems to truly dissipate, no matter my persistence. I feel as if I have to earn my place in this world. I feel that I am not entitled to existence. That I must earn my right to exist. And if I feel that I am not living up to these high, self-constructed “standards” of living, I must apologize for it.

Since childhood, one learns the ways in which they are supposed to behave and, since we are, at such a young age, so unwillingly susceptible to these ideals, we thus instill them into ourselves. We feel as if we are somehow innately wrong if we don’t. This is not okay. I want to live in a world where a child is born and they grow up however the hell they want to. A world where a human is a human, not subjected immediately to the inflexible, binary social constructs of gender. Gender is so, so, incredibly complicated and we have tried to simplify it down by splitting it into two, when, in fact, it is a different story for every single person. By splitting things into twos, we drown out so many valuable voices. So many of us go unheard and unasked.

Personally, I’ve always been perplexed by sexuality. It’s seemed an aspect of identity so personal, so complicated, and yet in ways so unconnected to who you are as a human being. The many harmful stereotypes surrounding different well-known sexualities have always seemed ridiculous to me. Just as identifying as a certain gender does not, in any way, mean you have certain intrinsic qualities, being of a certain sexuality also does not, to me, determine any of your innate characteristics. I’ve always been hesitant to assimilate myself with the label “straight”. I do not wish to be defined by a word any longer. In middle school, I’d uncomfortably, but also, obliviously, contort my definition of my sexuality to something easy, societally acceptable, and what I considered “the norm”. This was poor judgment, and quite ridiculous, I feel now. But I felt the intense, underlying homophobia, or rather, phobia of any sexuality other than strictly heterosexual, pervade through even the most mundane of occasions. And even through the most seemingly “progressive” of places. My school is one that prides itself for its tolerance, diversity, and progressive, highly liberal nature. I am privileged to have the capability and means to attend such a school, and this, I am acutely aware of, however, I also recognize that we are certainly, by no means, 100% accepting.

There is still the common desire to fit ourselves into the easy labels. So many of us are too confused and too nervous of judgment and fear to identify as something other than straight or gay. Yet now we see a world that is starting to reject and dismantle outdated paradigms of sexuality and gender. The invalidation is dissipating a bit- it is still there, and it hurts- but it is slowly spreading apart, and we can see the holes in its finite body.

Here is the thing that I need to say, and, thanks to Rowan, I feel that I truly am freed to express the words that have been trapped inside of me for so long: sexuality is not always the black and white. It is not always an immediate, innate knowing, or something that is defined from birth. I’ve questioned what I identify as more times than I can count, but I have always felt strange about it, always invalidated the many discordant feelings I’d had. I’d always been attracted to boys- I couldn’t really be questioning thatit’s probably just a phase, it has to be, right?

I understand why many find the idea of sexual fluidity uncomfortable. It can most definitely be used as a means of discrediting anyone who comes out as LGBTQ+, can be used as an excuse for someone’s sexuality, as in, a parent saying, it’s just a phase, you’re just experimenting, etc. I also understand how important labels have been, historically, to the LGBTQ+ movement as something that immediately connects and supports people of sexualities other than heterosexual. I understand and wholeheartedly support this. The LGBTQ+ community is a powerful and, of course, highly oppressed group of humans, and I am unbelievably grateful that there exists such strength stemming from this acronym. But I also wish not to forget about, or marginalize, those of us who feel we fit more into the + side of things. After all, LGBTQ+ is meant to encompass not solely the LGBTQ, but rather to provide an inclusive umbrella term meant to create a community for those who identify as any sexuality, on the vast, complex spectrum, other than rigidly heterosexual.

I know that, as definite and as innate sexuality can feel to many, it is also something vastly, confusing. As a sixteen year old girl, I can easily attest to the immense pressure blatant in society to label yourself immediately; to define your sexuality instantly, as if, by becoming a teenager, you somehow magically, instantaneously, know exactly and precisely Who You Are. This is not to say that those who know their sexuality are any less right or valid in their self-knowledge. I am trying to express is that we are all valid in however we identify, and that our identities can and often do change. That does not make them any less valid.

I am pansexual, but I use it interchangeably with the word “queer”; meaning my sexuality is simply that I love whomever I love, and that gender is irrelevant to that love.

Existing as an adolescent often sucks. The extraordinary amount of suckiness in adolescence does not need to be augmented by condescending adults correcting our identities and demanding that they need us to place labels upon ourselves in order to understand us. We certainly do not need said adults to criticize how we choose to grow up. An enormous, and strange, aspect of growing up, to me, is accepting how many versions of yourself there are. To accept that you are not a definite, rigid thing, and that you can allow yourself to be something fluid– it is a simultaneously terrifying and liberating thing. You are allowed to be many different things, and many different people. You are allowed to become something unexpected. You are allowed to be yourself, but Yourself is not always going to be what it once was. I forget this, a lot. I forget of fluidity, of the utmost, undeniable but so harshly repressed truth of being a human being: you are free. Inherently. Your mind is a free thing and it is so, so unique, and I do not say this lightly. I do not say that you are unique in order to follow any outdated cliches. I say this to truly express the absolute isolation of humanhood. It is a disconcerting thing, to become aware of how truly singular  you are, how you are and always will be the only you that will ever exist.

I want to defend those who feel as if they’ve had to doubt the validity of their sexuality- whatever that may be- because they cannot wholeheartedly fit into one concrete label. And, of course, I would also like to defend those who do fit into one concrete label yet feel as if they must still apologize and justify their sexuality. I do not believe that sexuality requires justification. Neither does gender. My life is teeming with a reluctance to validate what is considered unacceptable or inconvenient. I listen to people in my school talk about gender identities as punchlines, as mere superfluous, absurd things people make up to “get attention.” I hear these words echoing a deep lack of empathy and an underlying fear of complexity. To solely validate what is easy for you is to disregard that you are not the sole human in existence.

I paint myself with soft-spoken protests when I am told I am too much. I hear people make fun of feminism and even of sexual assault statistics; boys explaining to me that rape culture does not exist, how my body works, as if I am not a woman existing in the world with a body and mind. I hear all of these crackling, headache noises, and I wish I could turn it off sometimes. I’ve felt it so much lately that I felt the need to write this piece. I felt a need to remember that I am a person who is no less than any other simply because my identity is a little less mainstream or well-understood. To believe in self-reliance, in self-fulfillment, is key. To deny yourself the entitlement of existence will only burn your brain with fear and doubt.

So I am trying to feel comfortable being an undefinable thing, floating about this strange mass of matter and space and people and chemicals and things. I live in fluidity and undefinability. This hurts sometimes. It alienates me a lot. It is me, though. And that is enough.

Flowers: a Lyric Essay

Originally posted in early 2016.

“I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.”

If thoughts could be collected and pressed, preserved, like flowers; if memories faded to soft sepia over the years; if the self could be constructed like a collage. If I could be the girl I wished to be. If I could be the girl I believe I am. If my feminism did not deter those who misunderstood my passion for pointed spite. If the walls of adolescence did not pertain to me, those four, cracked, spineless walls, housing thousands of unread novels and dogeared poetry anthologies, if I could escape the walls into limitless brilliance. If things could stop. If time could stop, for even the slightest moment. If I could stop watching my reflection change and instead savor it remaining the same.

I’ve made things difficult for myself, unnecessarily. I’ve unnerved those around me and lost those who I never meant to lose. My idea of self no longer feels safe or stable or even tangible. In being sixteen, I’ve seemed to forget that I’m allowed to be a feeling, hurting human being with an erratic heartbeat. Something different has happened in the past few months. The cage cracked open. The pencil split in half. Everything, subtly, quietly, and almost unnoticeably at first, changed.

II.

“Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.”

I collect daisies in translucent containers and, with the stagnant throbbing of airless time,watch white fade to pale cream, watch yellow turn to the color of daffodils. Life continues on.

A world full of conformists, of zombies, of exhausted, unyielding hopelessness, of tired eyes and red lines dotting warm cellulite thighs. Each body different but each heartache perpetual. There is no way out of this. The world will not end on our account. We will not be okay, we will not be leaders, we will not change the world, because we are too tired and too worn out to get through the day, to get out of our empty beds, to feel our feet graze the carpet.

Each day is the same. Each body limply forcing itself out of the quiet haven of thin sheets and curled up blankets. The sky silent and dark, 6:30 AM, each brain disintegrating day by day into the peripheral abyss, the one that hangs outside of our routines, outside of our forcing ourselves to get through the days. It feels like nothing anymore.

This, I wrote halfway through sophomore year, at the time when blunt-force self-contempt and longing shoved me into a closet, into a wall, into relentless introspection. There exists a point in adolescent existence that this wall closes in, the city you have spent your entire life in becomes a prison, and suddenly, you perceive yourself as a detriment to happiness.

But. As Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal, “Your room isn’t the prison. You are.” Los Angeles harbors traffic, materialism, idle belief in “colorblindedness”, copious conformists, and it is hell. Los Angeles is also home to Joan Didion, to Charles Bukowski, to me. Los Angeles is not what is holding me hostage, I am.

Consciousness is not definable, nor should it ever be. There exists little coherence in the concept, and being a teenage human, with validity issues and self-doubt and endless fluidity, the only fight to wage is one against solipsistic, trembling loneliness. In this world, in this universe, the striving and the struggling are synonymous. And life hurts, bends, contorts all reason and authenticity.

If your body is female, it belongs to a set of unconscious white, disillusioned men, your uterus a public playground of scrutiny. If you do not identify as a rigidly binary person, in sexuality, in gender, in etc, etc, life shoves itself down your throat and choking is considered part of the deal. Race, a social construct, dictates worth of human life. Loss after loss. Bruise after bruise. If you are really you, you owe the world something. It is not fair. It is not right, but it is the way it is. If you are you, life also blooms extraordinary colors and grows to unimaginable lengths, while you grow into a girl, a person, a beautiful, collage of facets and ideas and thoughts. Flowers grow, people change, shift, die, evolve, blossom.

The average human brain has around 86bn neurons. Each neuron is able to carry a memory. If you divided the brain into its four lobes, frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital, and attempted to map out the particular functions specific to each lobe, still, you’d be left with questions and a heaping quagmire of confuddled answers.

One question neuroscientists have yet to answer about the brain is this: is this all we are? Four parts of a whole and a web of billions of cells; grey matter and white, the amygdala and hippocampus, the corpus callosum connecting everything to one another? The brain weighs just three pounds and is more mysterious than the entire universe. It controlsall functions of the human body necessary to live. This piece of matter holds everything we are and ever will be, inside of it.

After I am dead and my organs, burnt or donated, turn to unfamiliar, rotted pieces of matter; impersonal, inhuman, unimportant and unliving, what will happen to my brain? If I could ask the universe any one thing, I would inquire of the future whereabouts of the colors, of the sensory displacements, of the experiences and dreams and thoughts and the tiresome, beautiful, dissonant construction of myself.

But there is no answer, nor will there ever be, and this is what I am learning to be okay with. I am okay with not understanding why flowers die, and I can press their perforated petals, but I will not piece what is gone back together.

A seaside rambling

This was originally published on July 17, 2016 on my old blog.

  from our house’s view in suburban portland, maine

from our house’s view in suburban portland, maine

I found this stashed along an erratic array of writings from my summer; bits and pieces scattered, thoughts and jumbled feelings. I didn’t really finish a lot this summer. I wrote. I wrote everyday, yet the words often passionately quickened at the outset, only to trail into weak fragments of feelings and misshapen, underdeveloped stories thick with angsty cliches. I decided to stop forcibly slugging out word after word and instead immersed myself in literature, in others’ words to appease my impatience with my own.

I know that the universal adage of the classic writers is that one should write everyday, even if it aches, even if it hurts an unspeakable, messy, terrible amount, yet I somewhat disagree. I think there is something to be said about immersion, in books, in novels and nonfiction. It means something to lose your own identity, not only as a writer but as a person, and to recreate the universe in stories that do not belong to you, so that you can better recreate your own if it is a tired one.

I read many books and watched many films and listened to so much music; I absorbed and absorbed without ceasing to be indulgent in my over-consumption. I spent days in my bedroom simply swallowing words and sounds whole. Here is one such fragment of my incessant ramblings. It is one of many buried and burrowed into notebooks scattered like breadcrumbs around my bedroom, and half-completed Google Docs in my Writing folder. I spent a bit of time in Maine this summer, and this is a result of the things I noticed there:

There is a lot the ocean can say, and a lot it cannot.

Monday afternoon, to Peaks Island just seventeen minutes or so off of Portland, Maine, the sunlight white and glaringly forceful, watching the tendrils of waves curl up and roar underneath the tired motor of the beat ferry, sitting in a cracked, plastic firetruck-red seat. Barely grown thirteen year olds, gangly and pale-eyed, caress their iPhones with an intimacy so expressively theirs I feel as if I should look away. I hear them chattering about the new Pidgeys and Pikachus they found, and look away from a boy with curly strands of auburn hair piled around his freckled flesh, his eyes tearing into me with the sort of relentless, unblemished scrutiny only thirteen year olds have the simultaneous confidence and insecurity to pull off. I don’t bother looking back.

The island is small and unremarkably beautiful. It looks like every other New England island, speckled with ever-flowing greenery, pale and quiet, with antique concrete shops and offroad wilderness; the world green and thick with fogginess. It is isolated. I like that about it, its isolation. An island like this appears as its own soft-spoken, underwhelming planet, yet a closer look touches into unseen beauty, and delicate wild things all over the place. The water and the wind and the humid cold. It speaks like a quiet child afraid of itself.

Biting roughly into the rubbery chew of fried clams, my head about to explode. Too many sounds colliding into one another ecstatically back and forth back and forth until the world implodes inside of my head. I cannot handle so much at once. It is my overly-sensitive nature, as psychologists often describe this inability to handle chaos. The taste of undercarbonated coke against my throat does little to soothe grine of anxiety building slowly in my belly. Look at this girl, with her fumbling hands trying to hold onto a slippery thing.

I do not like to look like I am asleep all the time, but I do, because I am. I am fast asleep while the world thrums and continues on around me.

Seaside, I can think. I am clear and awake, underneath halfhearted copper eye shadow and a scruffy Cape Cod cap, with dirty hair unbrushed and enmeshed with saltwater, while the sun settles into the horizon. I can think while I sit upon the rocks overlooking the shallows, where the water is dark and murky and the seashells clump in heaping constellations of the ocean’s bones. An energetic, if concealed, ecosystem quietly taking its part in the universe below my dipped toes. I like to look at the small crabs and sea snails and imagine myself as small as the creatures crawling among the sand, cohabiting this watery wild. I can’t really imagine it, but I try.

This ocean is different from my ocean- the Pacific. There, in Los Angeles, tourists flock longingly to uninspiring beaches peppered with cheap thrills and litter and I hate it. I loathe the glare of brazen sun on the waves while I stand uncomfortably in the dusty, grey water bleeding with human contamination.

I do not like the beach. But I like Maine. I like the way the water tells me things in a way no other aspect of nature can. I like the sheer, unobstructed shaft of isolation, of greens and blues and colors rather than noise and lights. I like gripping onto a sticky steering wheel on Peaks Island, the golf cart squeaking with age, and pretending to be free. Nature does not ask you questions nor, more importantly, does it ask the universe questions. It just is, and it does not comprehend why, but it does not have any desire to comprehend such things. Such knowledge will not uncover happiness.

Such knowledge is not found anywhere.