Intersectional Feminism or Bust: A guide to being a Nasty Woman in Trump’s America

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Driving back to New York from DC after the women’s march I wore my “Capitalist patriarchy is ruining the world and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” shirt. I was exhausted, exhilarated, and wondering what comes next, like so many others who attended. I personally found it, overall, to be an uplifting display of intersectional feminist organizing from the march committee themselves. It was clear that some of the groups around me, young people of color of many genders chanting “Black Lives Matter,” a group of Arab women wearing pussyhats headscarves carrying a sign that read “Teachers Against Trump,” and a band of radical queers, felt fully the march was for them.

Other marchers I’ve talked to have felt like the march was catering to suburban white women who felt accomplished and left a mess for women of color to clean up. There are many realities and interpretations of the march, but what we’ve seen from the new administration post-march demonstrates that, as we knew, the march was just the beginning. We need to stay critical, keep acting, and keep practicing intersectional feminism more than ever.  (If you are interested, I contributed to a great round up of march experiences for Weird Sister if you want to hear different perspectives.) 

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But where to next? I started writing this blog post in the late summer of 2016 at a coworkers request that I help her “be more feminist.” At the time I started to compile this list I was naive enough to believe that feminism was a unstoppable cultural force that was reshaping everything from our electoral politics, to the workplace, to popular culture, to reproductive rights, to yes, how we dress with cool t-shirts. None of that masked the deep misogyny, combined with racism and homophobia that runs throughout American culture, but I honestly thought that intersectional feminism as a practice was gaining mainstream traction throughout the country.

Now that misogyny, and all forms of hatred, have been given free reign from the highest office of the country, practicing an expansive, inclusive, intersectional feminism is not only necessary, but imperative. To continue to have a tangible impact, feminism must not be just an identity, but an active practice. It’s a philosophy that guides action.

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I am not a perfect feminist. I think the idea of not practicing feminism perfectly stops a lot of people from identifying and aligning themselves with feminism. The beauty of feminism is that it is evolving and my practice of it has evolved as well. For all wondering “where to next” or “How do I keep practicing feminism through these scary times” this list is meant to be an inspiration and a push from a kindred spirit, not a definitive prescription. It is full of ideas that I hope will inspire action both big and small in the days ahead.

Also, quick note here, I do use the term “women” and “woman” throughout this piece, but believe it applies to anyone who identifies as a woman. Feminism can and must be practiced by all genders!

  1. Intersectional feminism is feminism. Notice, acknowledge, and think about the intersections of identities and power. Feminism is not just about gender, or women, but about how identities that hold different levels of power in this society impact you as an individual, different groups of people, and particular spaces. These identities include race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and religion.
  2. Put your money and time behind your beliefs and values. Volunteer for, donate, support, and spread the word about organizations that support social justice and the causes you believe in and provide necessary services for women and other marginalized groups. Think about organizations that work for reproductive rights (Planned Parenthood!), those that support immigrant women, survivors of domestic violence, and queer people. Support women owned businesses that reflect your values and avoid buying from companies that work against women’s rights.
  3. Act against hatred, bigotry, and violence in all of its forms. It is a feminist act to show up to a march that supports immigrant rights. Know that violence aimed at women, people of color, queer and trans people, and others that hold less power and privilege in society is connected. Support groups combatting hate and building power in these communities. Turn up to protests. Learn the history of violence against underprivileged groups in this country and work to understand how it contributes to the current political climate.
  4. (Especially for white feminists, but applicable to everyone) Feminism is not all about you. While your experience is important it is also one of many and tempered by your identity, power, and privilege. Also, remember that your path in life is not applicable to all women and just because you have succeeded doesn’t mean that sexism and discrimination no longer exists. Get out of your comfort zone and work to listen to, understand, support, and champion the work of feminist and social justice activists who do not have the same background as you.
  5. Listen to women. Believe women. Our culture, legal system, and media actively discounts the experiences of women (and other people in positions where they don’t hold societal power) and saying they are “lying,” “exaggerating,” or “making things up,” especially when they talk about their experience of discrimination or violence. This is also called “gaslighting” – when you deny someone’s experience by saying it is not true or that they are “crazy” until they question it and discount it themselves. The president-elect of the United States does this all the time. Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca became a minor celebrity after she wrote the piece “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America.”
  6. Reproductive rights are women’s rights are human rights. Abortion is healthcare. Women have the right to choose what they do with their bodies and whether and when they have a child. Full stop.
  7. Trust your gut. If you feel like discrimination “might be” happening to you or to people around you, take it seriously. What kinds of behaviors or language are making you feel that way? Talk to others in a similar situation, are they feeling it too? For example, I used to work at an immersive coding bootcamp where students learn by coding in pairs. Women students approached me asking how to tell if their pair was acting in a sexist manner, such as disregarding their requests or taking credit for their work . My response was always, “If you genuinely feel something it is probably true. Don’t discount it. Listen to, investigate, and potentially act on that feeling.” Learn to trust your own feelings about the things you want (or don’t want) to do and how you want to live your life. If you are not into something (a partner, a job, having a kid, getting married, moving somewhere, a situation) believe in yourself enough to address it and change it.
  8. Speak up. However you do it, do it! Do you witness a colleague getting shut down or talked over in a meeting? Point it out. Do you see or hear something messed up in the news, on social media, at the dinner table? Call it out. Injustice is everywhere right now and it can feel really overwhelming to say and do something about something so widespread when it feels like more terrible things pile on every day. However, speaking up can lead to greater awareness, which can lead to a course of action where you choose your causes based on your experiences and the needs in your community.
  9. Find and build your community, especially offline. This has never been more important. This world is exhausting, but relationships with other people who understand who we are and what we have been and are going through can sustain us. Invest time and understanding in people who will invest time and understanding in you. This isn’t just brunches, mimosas, and “You go girl!” tweets (though those can be great!), but showing up for your friends, talking about the hard stuff, talking about the great stuff, talking about the taboo stuff, and being there for them. It’s about organizing together and actively making the world a better place for each other.
  10. Reach out to women who inspire you. Take the time and risk to tell women you admire that you appreciate what you they do and that it resonates with you. Sometimes I’m intimidated by really badass women, but I try to swallow my fear and tell them what they mean to me. It goes a long way towards building relationships and making others feel like their struggle and work is worth it.
  11. Share your experience. When we share our stories it can validate another woman/person’s experience and help empower them to share their own. As a teenager reading personal zines by other young women (and some men and trans/gender queer identified people) where they boldly shared their stories, thoughts and perspectives I realized that I too, could find my voice as a young, queer, feminist in this world. When we can tell our own stories we realize we have the power to make them.
  12. Read and learn about women and feminist history. Understand the movement(s) that have made up feminism and the history of feminism, especially the Civil Rights movement, which inspired many modern liberation movements. Read bell hooks, Chandra Mohanty, Gloria Anzaldua, and Angela Davis, among many others.
  13. Resist perfectionism and comparing yourself to other women. There is no “perfect” feminist or feminist archetype. We are all learning and struggling. We will mess up and let ourselves and each other down. Learn to be kind to yourself while still being self-aware. Be willing to  forgive others while staying critical of the many ways sexism works its way into our lives.
  14. Be your own best advocate. Always ask and always negotiate. Always. Whether job responsibilities, your salary, a promotion, your book contract, your duties around the house with your partner, family, or roommate. Practice negotiating for what you want and need. Standing up for yourself is not creating a conflict, but opening a conversation and ensuring that you will be able to bring your best self to that situation because you are valued, not disgruntled.
  15. Say no. Set boundaries. Your body, your time, your space, and your emotional energy is yours to do with what you will. (And I don’t care what the #notmypresident of the US thinks about this one.) 
  16. Take care of yourself. Self-care can sound self-indulgent, but if you are exhausted, over-extended, sick, or ungrounded in yourself you will not be able to stand up for yourself or for anyone else. This past summer Jenna Wortham just wrote a piece in the New York Times about the havoc racist violence was wracking on her health and the health of black communities. The toxicity in this world can literally get under your skin. Take care of your health and take it seriously.
  17. Develop a healthy relationship to beauty, fitness and fashion. These industries all thrive off of women’s insecurities about their bodies and the idea that there’s a perfect standard of womanhood that we all have to be constantly reaching and competing with each other to obtain. I firmly believe that fashion and fitness can be sources sources of power when you use them to feel healthy and great about yourself, express who you are, and not to compete with other women for men or society’s attention or approval, but it’s hard to keep that in balance.
  18. Laugh at how stupid patriarchy is. Even though I make the mistake of taking myself way too seriously humor can be great way to help you through a frustrating situation and help illustrate a feminist point. You don’t need to practice stand up comedy to be funny. Patriarchy is so absurd it can be a great relief to point it out and laugh at it.
  19. Know that you determine how you live your life. You never have to get married, be in a relationship, love a certain type or person, get pregnant, or have a child ever. All of these things are absolutely up to you to choose to do or not.
  20. Believe in your own strength and power. You will express that power and act on it in many different ways. Your relationship to feminism and to yourself will change throughout your life and remember, you don’t “arrive” at being a feminist. Feminism grows and changes with you. It is a process you inhabit and in the action that you take.

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If you are looking for concrete ways to get involved, here’s a few places to start:

Planned Parenthood Action Network – sign up for their local action alerts and information

Showing Up For Racial Justice – A national network of white allies and individuals working to support racial justice in their communities

The ACLU is working on a broad range of civil liberties issues, including women and queer people’s rights, and in New York City organizes volunteer trainings specifically focused on fighting sexism

In Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander is spearheading a massive community organizing group called Get Organized BK – there’s a long list of sub-committees you can join to work on issues around social justice that you are the most passionate about

Remember, overall, keep loving, keep fighting, stay critical, practice self-awareness, try something new, reach out, and keep showing up. We need intersectional feminism, and intersectional feminists, now more than ever.

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Bystander intervention and de-escalation zine: stick together against hate!

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“So do you really choose to wear this thing? I mean does the Quran dictate that you must?” His insistent voice made its way through my headphones. I reluctantly I looked up from the book I was diligently reading on my late morning commute. A middle aged, white man, standing unsteadily, leaned close over two seated, young women wearing headscarves. The power dynamics were hard to ignore. I hit pause on my iPhone and took off my headphones. He kept on talking to the women, who looked at each other nervously, and kept trying to politely brush him off, saying, “It’s okay, we like it, it’s part of our  culture.”

Sitting up straighter I looked steadily across the train car at the two women and said, “Do you want to have a conversation with this man?” They looked at me and shrugged, “No, it’s okay, we’re fine.” I smiled and nodded and said, “Okay, just wanted to make sure.” He kept talking to them, gesturing wildly.

I turned to him, “Excuse me sir, not everyone wants to talk to strangers on the subway. I like to be alone on my ride, which is why I am wearing headphones. I think these women would just like to continue their conversation with each other.”

He looked at me, as if he was surprised I noticed. I kept my gaze towards him steady. He moved away down the car and exited the at the next station.

After he left the women turned to me and said, “Thank you so much.”

I smiled, “Not a problem, I’m sorry that he was bothering you.”

When they got off at Jay Street Metrotech they waved and smiled and I waved back.

Ever since that day I’ve been so glad that I spoke up.

The above is an example of bystander intervention and verbal de-escalation that I engaged in last year. Since the election I have been horrified at the uptick of racist, homophobic, misogynist, and transphobic harassments and incidents that have transpired the around the country and right here in New York City. It’s angering and it’s maddening, but we have a power to stop these incidents when we see them by standing up and speaking out. Specifically, we can task ourselves with learning techniques and strategies to intervene safely while staying calm and centered as best we can.

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I recently attended two trainings on bystander intervention and verbal de-escalation hosted by NYC Bluestockings books and the Arab American Association of New York. They were led social worker Rachel Levy, who has undertaken a huge task post-election to train people on how to go from being bystanders to “upstanders” – people equipped to stand up when they witness hate, violence, or bigotry, and use verbal techniques to de-escalate a situation. I got the idea for this zine before I attended the training, but my experience with these trainings reinforced why practicing these techniques is so vital to standing up against hate and creating the kind of inclusive, peaceful communities we want to live in.

If there is a training near you I highly recommend you go – it’s so important to be with other people post-election and realize that there are many of us who want to continue to stand up for justice and against hate and fear.

To reinforce what I learned in the training and to make a quick reference guide for others who want to equip themselves with the knowledge they need to intervene and de-escalate situations I made this one-page mini zine. In it you will find:

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The four D’s of Bystander intervention:

  • Direct – intervene directly.
  • Distract – distract attention away from the perpetrator, survivor, or the situation. You might make yourself look silly, but you are making the situation safer.
  • Delegate – scan the situation, stay calm, and delegate tasks as needed.
  • Delay – check in with the survivor and make them feel valued. Education yourself about oppression. Organize for safer communities. Avoid victim blaming.

I also rounded up some verbal de-escalation strategies such as:

  • Saying No – you always have the right to say no.
  • Broken record – repeat the same statement like, “Stop talking to her, stop talking to her, stop talking to her…” until the perpetrator stops the behavior or leaves.
  • Name the behavior – address the specific behavior of the perpetrator that is offensive. Such as, “You are yelling.” Avoid assumptions about their behavior or using sarcasm to address it. This gives the perpetrator an opportunity to correct their behavior.
  • Use “I” statements – these enable you to state your feelings without judgment such as “I feel uncomfortable hearing that term.”
  • Get to “we” or “forced teaming” – foster a sense of unity with the perpetrator, which helps avoid their anger getting directed towards you such as “We don’t talk to women that way.”
  • Interrupt the situation or the perpetrator.
  • Step it down – match the perpetrator’s intensity at first and then gradually lower your voice.
  • Assertively ignore – chose to not engage as you assess the situation.

The techniques above are some of those practiced and taught by the Center for Anti-Violence Education, which also runs a website called Safe and Proud for LGBTQ youth. For more strategies and tactics I also recommend Creative Interventions. Showing Up for Racial Justice also has good resources, especially for other justice-oriented white people.

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Overall, bystander intervention is about keeping yourself and others safe and supporting those who have been targeted by violence, hatred, or bigotry. It is not about “winning,” being a “hero,” or a “savior,” but doing the best you can in a tense situation to diffuse it. Anyone, regardless of their identity, can be a bystander or an upstander. However, the privileges you do and do not occupy will also impact how you are able to move through space and how you are perceived when you do and or do not intervene, and whether you are or are not targeted. Think about the intersection of identities you hold while thinking about how you can help work to make your community safe from hate and bigotry.

Please note that I am not an expert on bystander intervention and this is barely scratching the surface of very complex issues around power and violence. I am also writing it from my perspective of a white, middle-class woman living in a diverse, large city. However, I believe we all have a responsibility to support those who might be in more vulnerable positions than us post-election and to strive for a world free of bigotry, misogyny, and violence. Speaking up and taking day-to-day action can help.

Please feel free to download, copy on one piece of paper double sided, fold it up into a one-page book, and share this zine!

Not sure how to construct the zine once you’ve printed it on one, double-sided sheet of paper? This YouTube video demonstrates:

Hope is Action: Getting Started Fighting Post-Trump Depression with Activism

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“Hope is action,” wrote Rebecca Solnit in her fantastic book “Hope in the Dark.” This post is about taking action to find hope.

The other evening I got together with a group of friends I trust and admire. I made two lasagnas: vegetarian and vegan, lit candles, and tried to make my space as cozy and comforting as possible so we could talk about some hard topics. I asked them about what they have been thinking, feeling, and working on since last month’s election. We brainstormed about how we could get further involved, discussed anything that was holding us back from doing so, and shared ideas about how we could support each other.

Being active is a choice, and a necessary one. One of the things we talked about was feeling the weight of necessity to be constantly doing something to resist the incoming regime right now and knowing that it will be a long struggle ahead we need to pace ourselves and ensure we don’t burn out too quickly. We also talked about there are many different ways to get involved and that activism doesn’t always mean leading the protest with a megaphone, but also stepping back and supporting with your time, ideas, energy, presence, and voice.

There’s a lot of great lists of action items, ideas, and reading lists circulating since the election, but I wanted to share some of the big ideas we shared together in the hopes that it can remind us all that staying active in big and small ways can fight the immobilization and depression that comes with despair. The next few years are going to be tough. We need each other.

Stand up and speak out

Small acts of speaking out can make a big difference to people who are being target by bigoted and hateful speech or actions. After a woman wearing a headscarf was attacked by three white men chanting “Trump!” on the 23rd street subway platform and no one intervened, New Yorkers expressed outrage and horror. Thankfully, self-defense, bystander intervention and de-escalation trainings are taking place around the city.

Speaking up and sharing ideas online is important too, but with Trump and the trolls out there it’s also important to keep yourself and your identity safe. Check out this Feminist guide to cyber security put together by my friend Noah, a developer and activist out of Boston, full of great tips to keep yourself safe online!

Make your voice heard to your representatives

Make a habit of calling your representatives and telling them you oppose specific nominations and legislation that is taking place and to support initiatives you believe in. I looked up my federal, state, and local representatives and saved their numbers in my phone. Who represents you? House and senate. NY state house. NY state senate. NYC city council.

I get it… calling people sucks. I found this guide helpful: How to call your representatives when you have social anxiety

Find out what your local council members are organizing. For example, my council member Carlos Menchaca is organizing gatherings in local homes for immigrant families to talk about resources available to them. He declared New York City a “Sanctuary City” and delivered a statement at Trump Tower stating such. I love him.

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Get involved locally

One thing that the election has fired me up about is getting more involved locally in organizations that support people who will become even more vulnerable under the incoming administration. There’s also a solidarity and action group forming in my neighborhood – find out what’s happening in yours.

Here’s some NYC organizations I am hoping to help out – find the equivalent in your town!
Clinic escorting in Jamaica, Queens (also info about how to get involved in New Jersey)
Atlas DIY – youth-run organization in Sunset Park providing legal, professional development, creative and social services to immigrant youth
Ali Forney Center – shelter and education center for LGBTQ youth
SAGE – services and advocacy for LGBTQ elders
New American’s Welcome Center run by the Y around New York City – some of them run conversation groups with new immigrants learning English

Also, if you are in NYC on December 18, join me at the March for Immigrant NY!

Creative resistance

From street art, sticker campaigns, public education, and media intervention, creative people have a lot of skills that will be useful (and undervalued by the mainstream) in the current years. I’m planning to create stickers to carry around to place over offensive graffiti or to create a positive, pro-women, pro-LGBTQ, pro-immigrant public message, as well as make a zine that includes bystander intervention tips. While creative resistance can feel insignificant in the face of a political shitstorm, taking steps to keep yourself engaged creatively and sharing alternative ideas is essential for our survival.

Organize with other artists! Union Docs hosted a “Next Steps Now” gathering for film and media makers and plans to host more. A group of artists is hosting “Artists in Action: organizing against the normalization of hate” in Long Island City, Queens on December 13.

In NYC Art After Trump is taking place at Housing Works on December 15 and will be a gathering and marathon-style reading of responses by and for artists and arts organizers.

Kind Aesthetic is creating an action guide for creatives – it’s a little sparse right now, but maybe you have some ideas for them!

My friend Aurora put together the Pussyhat Project, encouraging folks to knit and share pink pussyhats and wear them to the women’s march on Washington in DC on January 21 to build community and start conversation.

And yes… donate! 

Instead of buying more crap this holiday season I’ve been focused on putting my dollars (however small) where my values are and supporting civil rights, access to abortion and reproductive health care, LGBTQ and immigrant youth, refugees, and independent media.

The ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Ali Forney Center, Azule (artist, community, and activist center in North Carolina), Fund for Legal Name/Gender changesAtlas DIY, International Rescue Committee, Independent Publishing Resource Center, and Wikipedia have all been on my giving list this year.

Again, giving what you can may seem small, but it’s an important gesture towards making your voice (by way of your dollars) count for what you believe in. And if you are looking for businesses NOT to support, download the “Boycott Trump” app.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless (I struggle with this every day), but I sincerely believe the actions we take everyday, however large or small, add up to who we are and what we stand for.

Clarity and action in Trump’s shadow

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I woke up on the ninth of November to a living nightmare. US voters demonstrated how scared they are of powerful women, as well as the values I hold dear: difference, change, diversity, multiplicity, and inclusion.

I spent the first 48 hours after the election with the feeling of heavy grief, like a loved one had died. I could distract myself for awhile, but then the pain and the fear crept in. The reminder that the curtain had closed on an opportunity, a certain future will not be possible, and that many communities faced imminent violence crept in hit me in the gut again and again. Not just a threat: I traveled to UPenn to speak at a conference of black collegians for work on Friday the tenth, only to arrive an find that black freshmen had been the target of a cyber attack that threatened death by lynching. I learned that the dorm room of three Jewish women students at the New School, my alma mater, had been vandalized with nazi symbols. The nightmare was real.

After those days the fog of grief lifted and I found an oddly calm sense of clarity. I felt something inside me click into place. The feeling was familiar, like muscle memory from the Bush years. There is no ambiguity to the politics of the moment. Grieve, analyze, question, research, organize, share, protest, donate, speak out, actively practice solidarity, create radical art, and build and participate in communities that reflect a vision of a more inclusive, diverse, and peaceful future.

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I’ve had a fire inside all week. I know how to do this. I make my living by bringing people together and helping to create inclusive spaces to connect with and learn from others. I’ve had years of experience by this point organizing, buckling down, planning, and executing on ideas and I realized that these “soft skills” are often undervalued in our tech and data driven society are exactly the ones i need to use to survive and resist over the next years (and throughout my life). I’ve based my life and my career around building communities that are oriented towards diversity, inclusivity, learning, connecting, and social justice. Now it’s time to use those skills more directly.

The amazing Grace Lee Boggs, who passed away in 2015, said, “We need to do what I call visionary organizing. Recognize hat in every crises people do not respond like a school of fish. Some people become immobilized… and some people begin to find solutions. And visionary organizers look at those people, recognize them and encourage them, and they become the leaders of the future.” This quote is from an interview with her in the newest issue of Got a Girl Crush (which is great post-election reading, by the way). She spent the majority of her 100 year life working for social justice, from the Civil Rights and Black Power movements onward. Reading this interview reminded me of the many ways there are to resist, political protest and organizing being a part, but that we need to have vision and support each other in expansive, innovative, and visionary fashion over the next four years.

I set up recurring donations to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. I organized transportation for me and a few friends to the January 21 “Million Woman March” in Washington DC. I applied to volunteer at local organizations that support immigrant families, to do clinic escorting, to commute with neighbors who don’t feel safe doing so, to help out at a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. I called my representatives and plan to do so weekly. I invited friends over night of reflection and action planning.

Then I realized, these are all things I should have been doing all along. My rage and burnout from the Bush years, combined with fears about my own economic security during the recession, and the sense that “things were getting better” throughout the Obama administration, let complacency wash over me like a warm bath. This was also a numbing tub of privilege, because things have not been “getting better” for millions of people – the refugee crises in the Middle East and Europe and the continued killing of unarmed Black people by law enforcement here in the states being just two prominent examples. Of course I empathized and felt solidarity with these situations and the movements to address them, but my daily life was not heavily impacted.

I’ve been rereading Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark and she reminded me, “When I think back to why I was apolitical into my mid-twenties I see that being politically engaged means having a sense of your own power–that what you do matters–and a sense of belonging, things that came to me only later and that not come to all… despair is more a kind of fatigue, a loss of faith, that can be overcome, or even an indulgence if you look at the power of being political as a privilege not granted to everyone.”

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I work on Wall Street, two doors down from the Trump building, with gold letters glinting out that hateful name at me every time I walk by. I work in the shadow of racism and white supremacy, misogyny, and capitalism run rampant. But these specters are always there, have always been operating, whether in the shadows or out in the open. It’s always been there, it’s just that  it was just that some of us like myself had the privilege to see it, and keep walking, keep living our lives as if it wasn’t staring us in the face, thinking the small acts of solidarity we did take time to create were enough. They were not.

Solnit also reminds me that the impact of activism and the arc of history are not linear. “Progress” waxes and wanes, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t keep fighting for social justice, for the environment, for a world that is understanding of difference, but that the future is full of possibility for change. She writes, “The government and media routinely discount the effect of activists, but there’s no reason we should believe them… To be effective, activists have to make strong, simple, urgent demands, at least some of the time–the kind of demands that fit on stickers and placards, the kind that can be shouted in the street by a thousand people. And they have to recognize that their victories may come as subtle, complex, slow changes instead, and count them anyway. A gift for embracing paradox is not the least of the equipment an activist should have.”

Let’s hope that, no let’s ensure, that this is the last stand of white supremacy. That the republicans are dragging out all these old trolls of republican thought past because they are scared. That their vision of an ultra-capitalism, ultra-nationalist, ultra-white, ultra-macho US narrow, limited, and on the wrong side of history. I know that the future belongs to those of us who believe in equity, social justice, inclusivity, and environmental health. That expansive vision is so much larger and so much more beautiful.

I hope that you will join me to agitate, educate, and organize to bring it to life. And if you are on that path too, I hope I can join you.

Finding hope in the dark, the mountains, and art

Hope in the dark

I’ve been writing and deleting, setting aside and picking up this post over the past few months, choking on rage as I did so. Every time I tried to return to it to make a coherent point about the political state of things there was more violence to account for, more things to make sense of. Tragedy after tragedy, hurt after hurt has been piling on. I spent most of my days feeling reactionary, emotionally frayed and deeply sad. I started to pick fights about things that did not matter.

I tried to craft a deeply angry but intellectually developed piece in response to the sexual violence women face as part of their daily lives after the Brock Turner case. Then in response to the brutal attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. And then after police have took the lives of more Black people (again). And then after ongoing violent attacks by religious extremists all over the world.

Some of my friends on my social media feeds tried to stay positive, saying “Now is the time we can heal, now is the time we can address these injustices,” or, “At least all this ugliness is out in the open and taken more seriously as injustice.” And as communities who care about social justice we march, we cry, we grieve, we raise our voices, we nurture our communities, but the sheer helplessness I felt when seeing these acts of violence occur over and over rubbed like raw heartbreak.

I kept asking myself, “What will really make power budge? What will effect impactful change?” It’s the same question I’ve been asking myself, and my friends, and my teachers, and all those who are smarter and have lived fuller lives than me, for over twenty years.

In my teens and early twenties I had enough of an ego to think that by sheer force of will I could help change the world. I desperately wanted to see a world free of racism, sexism and homophobia, that had shaken off the vestiges of colonialism and imperialism. I still do. Of course I didn’t understand how long change takes, that it’s incremental and part of thousands of small steps. I also didn’t understand how reactionary and fearful those in power (even after I read all those post-colonial studies texts in college) can be and how they will hold on to what little power they have for as long as they can.

Twilight at azule

I was weighed down by my own hopelessness and found that I was practicing hopelessness as a defense against more heartbreak and disappointment. I thought that being hopeless would protect me, not realizing I had the luxury to be hopeless because it gave me a reason to hide behind my privilege as a white, upper middle class person.

And then I read this line, “Activism isn’t reliable. It isn’t fast. It isn’t direct either, most of the time, even though the term direct action is used for that confrontation in the streets, those encounters involving law breaking and civil disobedience.” Oh. Right.

Mountain view

These words were in “Hope in the Dark,” Rebecca Solnit’s book from 2005 (re-released this year). She goes on to make the case for hope as a more radical act than despair to read while I was on a solo trip in the California desert this winter. I didn’t get to it then. I finally started to read in August during a week-long artist’s residency held deep in the mountains of North Carolina. On the suggestion of my friend Elisa I signed up for the CAMP residency, a week long collaborative art and community-oriented project designed for artists who need time, space and to be around those of different disciplines and ideas to create their work.

Azule

This year CAMP was held at Azule, an incredible house designed by a visionary artist named Camille who imagined it as a healing, creative space, with a strong under current of social justice. It was exactly what I needed. After so much heaviness and stress having the time to re-find my own creative focus felt liberating. I spent the week writing, debating, thinking, dying cotton indigo and casting my fingers in plaster, hiking a section of the Appalachian trail, and scrambling barefoot down a steep muddy bank to a swimming hole, eating together meals prepared with local ingredients and a lot of panache and love. And reading.

Indigo dye

I usually read nonfiction with a pencil so I can underline the really good passages, but I failed to keep a pencil with me as I wandered around Azul picking corners on the deck or sagging arm chairs in the living room to flop down and read, so I just dogeared pages with passages that stood out to me.

But I actually set down my book and went in search of a pencil to underline this one, “Writing is lonely, it’s an intimate talk with the dead, with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with the readers who may never come to be and who even if they read you will do so weeks, years, decades later. An essay, a book, is one statement in a long conversation you could call culture or history; you are answering something or questioning something that may have fallen silent long ago, and the response to your words may come long after you’re gone and never reach your ears, if anyone hears you in the first place.”

Swimmin hole

Solnit illustrates, though her heady mix of history, personal story, and political analysis, that to have hope is a radical act. To keep to a far-sighted vision for change and have the audacity to believe it can happen can take decades or centuries. Or it can take a month, but when when change arrives, radical struggles to achieve it are mostly erased and those in power act like it has always been such. “Thought becomes action becomes the order of things, but no straight road takes you there.”

Trails

As I read I thought about how much the world has changed in the decade since she originally wrote this book (Obama had barely started his Presidential campaign, gay marriage was not legal just being two huge examples) and I started to think about activism and my role in social justice differently. I started to despair less. However, change does feel incremental and slow when injustices like police violence against communities of color and constant sexual violence against women and queer people are right there and so blatant.

I started to realize the power of being around art and artists, those who are critical and make work to disrupt the status quo, the power of being in a place explicitly created to foster discussion, possibility, community and change – in short, hope. I spent so much of my twenties proclaiming “Art is activism!” and trying to use art as a lens for transformation that I lost my own personal connection to it. It getting closer to art, in delving into my own practice and others, I started to connect with the idea of hope, and activism, again.

Eating dinner together

Having hope does not mean that injustice does not make me angry and reconnecting to my activist flame (as opposed to the very critical but very cynical attitude I have carried around lately) does not erase my privilege. In my rage I ask, how do we not give into exhaustion and despair and instead support each other knowing the struggle for justice is long, knowing that we will be discredited by mainstream power, but knowing that is is worth it for a more equitable world? How do we think productively about power and privilege and how we occupy them and act as allies to each other? These questions are rhetorical -we make our lives and a better world by the connections we build with each other while we explore them. We make our lives in trying out different answers. We make our lives knowing we have to be in this together and it’s up to us to figure out how things can be different.

Walking path

Solnit as a writer is always there to guide and remind me. In her words, “Resistance is usually portrayed as duty, but it can be a pleasure, an education, a revelation.”

Finding myself in Aurora Lady’s punk feminist world

Aurora Lady's shirt in Queens

When I first met LA-based artist, illustrator, writer, stylist, schemer and dreamer Aurora Lady I knew we would be friends for a long time. I loved her artistic vision, her bold illustrations, her passion for truth telling, and her penchant for feminist community building. When she told me she was coming out with a line of t-shirts I was thrilled, why would I want to wear anything else?

What I really love about Aurora’s work, whether it’s a t-shirt, a painting or photo shoot, is that she creates a whole alternate reality full of realized girl crushes, and powerful, glamorous, gnarly ladies. I was excited to talk to Aurora more about her t-shirt line and the inspiration behind it, so I interviewed her for the awesome blog Weird Sister .

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I just got one of her newest shirts, which proclaims “I nearly lost myself.” I loved the simple design and elegant handwriting. I had a tough winter, but managed to find myself again as spring arrived. I’m happy to say I feel more grounded, hopeful and powerful than ever. It’s also a testament that this is the first time EVER I have dared to wear a crop top (no, I did not even wear them the first time around in the 1990s).

Unisphere feminism

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When I placed my order for the shirt I wrote a note to Aurora that read like a confessional: I was afraid to wear the shirt, even though I loved the look. I felt self-conscious because I’m a curvy lady, and usually I pick clothes to hide, not showoff, my midriff. Aurora reassured me and told me that she too, felt like that, but the shirt enabled her to claim her power and feel more comfortable with herself.

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So I took a cue from her book and wore my shirt with a high-waisted pencil skirt and my favorite Stan Smith Adidas, a perfect outfit for exploring the post-industrial wilds of Brooklyn and celebrating the punk rock history of Queens at the Ramones exhibit at the Queens Museum (up through July 31, 2016).

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Embracing yourself, expressing who you are, not giving a damn about who might judge you. That’s the punk rock spirit.

The spinsters are coming! And they’re feminists!

spinster tattoo

Nicole Georges’ knuckle tattoo. Photo by Shayla Hason.

I was raised with the imperative that I build a life for myself. What was a life? I could decide, but my family made it clear to me that my education and establishing a career the were the bedrock of anything I wanted to achieve. When I was in my teens and twenties my mother encouraged me not to focus on marriage or prioritize romance over understanding myself and creating a foundation for my life. “It’s the time for you to explore,” she said. And explore I did.

I finished college, traveled to France, launched a career as a museum educator, went to grad school for public administration, shifted my career to focus on creative business, shifted my career again to focus on tech, played in bands, spoke at SxSW several times, became fluent in French, wrote a book, moved in with a boyfriend and then a few years later broke up with him and started living alone, went to a lot of therapy, built a freelance writing portfolio, and overall became more grounded in myself and understood who I was as my mother instructed. And in my late 20s and early 30s I went to weddings. A lot of them. When I was 31 I attended eight weddings in one year, so many that I adopted a wedding uniform and started to treat traveling to weddings like going on a business trip.

So here I am solidly in my mid-30s wondering “Why ‘it’ hasn’t happened to me,” like it did for all those friends who got married. By “it” of course I mean finding that big love for my big life.

Some days I feel a sense of echoing, lonely isolation that verges on physical pain.

Kate Bolick captures exactly what I feel in her excellent book Spinster when she describes a meltdown she had at the McDowell Colony , “This, I thought, is what it means to be alone. You are solid, intact, and then, without warning, a hinge unlatches, the chimney flue swings open, the infinite freezing black night rushes in, and there is nothing to do but grope in the cold to get things right again.”

I know the right person in my life won’t make the reality of that freezing night go away, but my heart so hopes to find that someone with whom I can face it together, who will give me an extra push of encouragement and warmth, and who will help be an insulation against the subzero windchill of life.

Recent articles I have read all seem to have one thing in common: they are about single women in their 30s and 40s. Given the frequency in which these articles come out lately I start to feel like single women in their 30s and 40s in the United States are part of some kind of pandemic.

However, glancing at the titles and focuses of these articles tells their readers something important: single women (even in their 30s and 40s) are anything but monolithic. Just a sample from my own very biased selection: Where’s My Wife Already; The High Price of Being Single in America; Wealthy Women Can Afford to Reject Marriage, Poor Women Can’t; All the Single Ladies (Kate Bolick’s 2011 piece that inspired her book contract for Spinster); the Dear Sugar podcast series about looking for the one…

Of course I gathered a lot of these articles from personal interest and the fact that many people (across the spectrum of gender and sexual orientation) in my social networks who are sharing them are also single people in their 30s and 40s (and hence the Internet information echo chamber). Really though, nothing makes me feel like my personal angst is insignificant than realizing I am part of a larger demographic trend.

Overall, what I’ve gleaned from all the more self-reflexive toned articles is this: to feel lonely is to be human, so don’t beat yourself up about it; finding love is about luck not work; and focus on creating a “big life” for yourself and to be “that [person] you want to marry” (to paraphrase Glory Steinem and make the phrase gender non-specific). Well enough.

What I don’t hear these podcasts and articles take on is how to truly navigate the profound sense of isolation, exhaustion, anxiety and self-doubt that comes with being single. It’s a huge emotional, and physical effort, to pull myself through the world. Some days I kick myself for ever expecting, or hoping, I would have a fellow traveler along the way to make things a little easier.

Sara Eckel’s excellent book It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You Are Still Single has helped me be kinder to myself and to push away well-meaning but ultimately damaging advice about how “He didn’t deserve you,” “You need to focus on grounding yourself and the right one will come ,” “You need to envision what you want,” “Have you tried online dating?” “You need to meditate/go to yoga” and all the versions of these ad nauseam. Her writing has been a source of strength for me when things get dark.

Maris Kreizman puts a finer, more irreverent point on the terrible advice given to single women in her recent “Unlove Me: I Found Love Because I Got Lucky, Not Because I Changed Myself.” I hope reading this will refute any inclination to tell me, or any other single person, cliche and tepid pieces of advice and chase away the notion that coupled people somehow have it “figured out.” My favorite bit, about the advice to “date like it’s your job,” “Do you have a job that inspires you and brings you joy? Then delight in how wonderful your career is and enjoy it. Do you find your job to be tedious or dead-end or soul-crushing? Then why would you want to take on a whole other job that feels exactly as miserable? One terrible job is more than enough.”

Kate Bolick’s Spinster, an excellent part-memoir, part-literary history, in which she reclaims great “spinsters” and independent women throughout history has also served as a touch point for me as a navigate the road ahead. I enjoyed how she adopted women like activist and author Charlotte Perkins Gilman, New Yorker essayist Maeve Brennan, and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay as her personal guides to help her build a full life as a single woman in her now 40s. Of course reclaiming the idea of “Spinster” has long been a central idea among my group of friends. My friend Nicole got it tattooed across her knuckles in her early 20s. My best friend (and roommate for 7 years) LJ and I made plans to live together again when we were “old spinsters” at the end of our lives.

Many of these articles focus on heterosexual, white, middle-class, educated women, which more-or-less pegs me too. I am one of those who never wanted to have my own children (I’m open to raising children with someone, maybe, but that’s another issue), so the tenure of moral panic around single motherhood and the biological clock frankly bores me. In addition, I’ve noticed the rah rah empowering articles about having and raising kids on one’s own by choice are targeted at wealthy, mostly white, women. There’s a whole other problematic moral panic around children of color raised by single mothers, as is well documented and outside the scope of this particular blog piece.

Speaking of privilege, in so many ways I feel ridiculous writing about this – from the outside I have the definition of that “big life” all these authors encourage as a way to counter feelings of isolation and loneliness. I hold a meaningful job that pays me fairly; a “room of my own” in an apartment of my own to write and build a life the way I envision it; a strong group of friends that I’ve cultivated over the years with whom I take trips, spend holidays, take about all the things large and small; time and desire to travel; the curiosity to meet new people and seek new experiences; and a creative practice I imperfectly nurture despite the stress of city and work life. I also have feminist thought and practice to keep me humble, reflective, and clear eyed.

I feel lucky. And grateful. On good days I feel grounded. But I can’t cover up the fact that I am fucking sad.

“But!” my darling friends and family say listing off my qualities, “You are smart, educated, motivated, positive [hah! Have they talked to me for more than five minutes?], friendly, healthy (except you do eat a lot of pizza), generous, a great conversationalist, an interesting person, with your own apartment…”

Sometimes I think this is perhaps exactly it: I have focused on building solid life of my own because I had to and because I wanted to. I didn’t want to obsess over marriage or finding a partner, but believed that the right partner and I would find each other if I followed my own path. Reflecting on all of this, and the outpouring of thought around single, adult women, I begin to more deeply understand sexism’s subtle perniciousness.

I think that still, in 2016, smart, well grounded women, outspoken with their own lives and careers are still intimidating to heterosexual men. Sexism (and so many other isms) still dictate our most intimate and supposedly personal choices. Especially when our culture, economy, and government policies rewards couple hood at every turn. I would like to see a cultural and policy shift around couples: stop rewarding coupling with lower tax rates, health care, and cultural attitudes that they are somehow more “evolved” and the social bedrock of our society would be a nice first step, but I didn’t set out to write a policy white paper here.

I’ve been in a few terrible relationships, made questionable choices, and learned from them. I have pushed myself to recognize my and my partners’ mistakes and shortcomings and extract myself from toxic situations, which has made me stronger and more decisive. I know when something isn’t working and when a relationship is damaging to me. I am thankful every day I live the life of my choosing instead of having to deal with the chaos, loneliness and darkness that a bad relationship brings. I’ve also dated some wonderful people who have become amazing friends. I’m oddly reverent of the calm clarity that has come with heartbreak.

However, I’m a person who wants to give and share and always imagined I’d find a partner to share with. I’ve staked my life on building community, through punk shows and zine conferences, feminist art and DIY business, tech and creative entrepreneurship. I’ve spend my waking and working hours facilitating and laying the groundwork for people to make meaningful connections that will enrich their business, creative and personal lives. And here I am, a cliche of a single career woman.

I knew that being a feminist and an outspoken woman wouldn’t endear me to many men, but those weren’t the kind of men I wanted to be with anyway. I don’t regret my choices and I certainly can’t and won’t change who I am. There’s no quick solution to the daily grind of loneliness, which sometimes feels so sharp it catches and pricks my lungs like inhaling icy air on a cold January day.

Once when spilling out these woes to my friend A., also an accomplished single lady in her 30s, she pointed out, “Nothing I can say right now and nothing you can do will make you have a boyfriend.” She’s right.

And here’s the thing: I’m not asking you to do anything.

I’m a doer and when it come to matters of the heart there is nothing to do. At the end of the day, after I’ve read all the memoirs, digested all the statistics, listened to all the advice podcasts, reflected on my privilege, identified my feminist icons, pushed myself to build my career, spent time with the friends who sustain me, gotten out there to meet new people and try new things, traveled to rad paces, made time to tell my family I love them, and focused on my own self-care I just can’t help but feel it doesn’t add up to enough to fill what is in my heart.