Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Never Give Up... anything

I remember the exact moment that my world changed forever... just like it was yesterday.
My mother was leaning over my bathroom sink when I suddenly saw her rock back onto her heels and let out a long sigh. Her eyes were closed, which made me even more nervous.
“How long do those things usually take?” I asked as I sat on my bed a few feet away.
“It says 3 minutes on the box...” she responded. Then I then let out my own sigh of relief before she finished, “...but it only took 30 seconds.”
“30 seconds... 30 seconds to, to what? 30 seconds to tell me I’m NOT pregnant? I don’t understand. What are you saying?”
She took two giants steps towards my bed as if she was trying to race the giant ball of realization that was headed straight for me. She got there just as it hit, obliterating everything I knew my life to be, and I collapsed into her arms sobbing.
I screamed.
I screamed so much.
I said horrible things that I wish I could take back now but I was just so angry... so angry at myself.
What had I done?
I, more than anyone, knew how hard this type of thing was on a child. I WAS THAT CHILD just seconds earlier. My mother was only 19 when she got pregnant with me, and that was still three years older than I was at the time.
Life was hard for me growing up. I mean, of course, I’m glad I’m here but it wasn’t easy. And now here I was, about to put another person through that exact same existence.
I didn’t know if I could. Abortion was never an option, but there were still so many other choices to be made in the coming months.
For the first 2 trimesters of my pregnancy, I considered adoption. I was only a sophomore in high school so it just seemed prudent. When I would tell my friends I was thinking about placing my baby into another family’s arms most of them would respond with something like, “You should, because are you really ready to give up the next 18-years of your life?”
Those words were continually rolling around in my head.
Back then, 18 years seemed like a lifetime... I mean, it quite literally was for me... and then some.
In the end, I decided against adoption, although birth mothers and fathers are my heroes to this day. The amount of love and strength it takes to make that decision is astonishing.
But I knew I had the means to raise my son, thanks to family support - something so many women don’t have. And while I wasn’t able to give him everything, I was able to give him enough.
Looking back now, I can definitively say I gained so much more than I ever gave up though.
He saved me.
He gave my life a purpose and my heart a mission.
Through him I gained an invaluable perspective of what it’s like to be a pregnant teenager, walking down the halls of my high school through thick clouds of gossip, feeling utterly invisible while also somehow the most visible person in that place.
I gained a bouncing baby boy, that showed me just how strong my body was as I brought him into this world.
I gained a toddler that raised me as I was raising him. We figured out so much of our lives together. I think all new moms feel this way, but by 18 I really was just learning how to live independently for the first time, and it was nice that I didn’t actually have to be independent at all, because my trusty sidekick was always there with me.
I gained the experience of being a single mother for a few years after that - just the two of us against the world - and then I gained an amazing husband and had more children.
I gained a sweet little boy who would retreat into his room whenever those siblings got too loud or out of control... and often times he would let me join him as we hid out together knowing we both needed respite from their rambunctiousness.
I gained a brilliant teenager who always had a mind for math and science but recently surprised us all with his amazing artistic abilities - he gets that from me, obviously.
I gained a young man who works hard, and if I’m lucky will even tell me all about the weirdest customers he‘s had on any given day.
And today, oh, today... so long in the making...
Today my son turns 18 and I’m gaining a full-grown man - a man of character who maybe, just maybe, I can actually start to become friends with now that the bulk of my “clean your room” era parenting is over.
...although, now that I think about it, yeah, he still needs to clean his room.
I have never before given up so little to gain so much in return.
This child, who is now a man, has brought so much joy into my life, and to all those who are lucky enough know him.
And I’m so glad people get to know him. I’m so glad he’s here. I’m so glad I chose life because my own has been so greatly enriched through raising him. In the beginning, it was messy and rough and I cried more tears than I ever knew I had. But those tears have turned to ones of joy now as I watch him grow into the amazing young man he is today.
So, happy birthday, Enoch. I’m incredibly proud to be your mother.
I didn’t give up anything. I gained you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

How My Sexual Assault Made Me "Sex Positive"... in all the wrong ways.

{CW: Sexual Assault}
Last year, Jessica Valenti, a well-known feminist author and activist, spoke at SMU in Dallas.
And even though we disagree on a few keys things (like whether or not NWF belonged in the Women’s March) she wrote a book called ‘Sex Object’ that I absolutely adored, so I went.
Not only does she talk about the sexual harassment she experienced as a young teen simply for being born female, but she describes in her book how often women will objectify themselves because, after all, if it’s going to happen anyway, we might as well at least control some facet of our own exploitation, right?
As I read her words I realized she was telling my story.
I can remember thinking if men were going to use my body for their pleasure no matter what, I might as well pretend I was calling some of the shots.
So I did.
By 18, I’d convinced myself that hook-up culture was empowering, and that I was only being “used” if I chose to view it that way. Maybe true equality meant *I* could become the user.
I’m not sure exactly what I thought I was using, as my sexual interactions were seldom good (something on par with what an overwhelming number of women seem to be saying these days about one night stands and *their* satisfaction levels). More often than not, it was merely performance art on my part as I acted out all the tricks I’d read and rehearsed in Cosmo magazine over the years. I was a liberated, sex positive woman. This is what we did, or were supposed to, right? So who cared if the pleasure was mostly one-sided?
Look, as long as I didn’t call the guy before he didn’t call me, we were equals in my book. I was just so empowered... or something.
But the more I unpacked my own experiences and what led me to this type of mentality, the more I realized it wasn’t the full story. There was a moment - a crucial moment - when everything changed for me.
I wasn’t always like this.
There was a time when I *did* view sex as a deep intimate connection between two people who loved and respected one another. It was precious. It had value. It was a gift, not a tool used to grab power or be weaponized for control.
When I was younger, I had only had two serious boyfriends, both of whom I loved deeply.
I broke the first one’s heart, and the second one broke mine... when at 16 I told him I was pregnant and he decided not to stick around.
My life was suddenly a mess, and I became easy prey.
I’d just started working a summer job, one I felt lucky to even get because I knew I would start showing soon and was afraid no one would hire me.
The only problem was, two weeks into this new job the manager pulled me aside and told me he’d made a huge mistake. He simply didn’t have the hours available in his budget to bring me on. And since the three older boys, whom I knew from high school, had all worked there the previously, they had seniority and I was gonna be let go.
Then, just as I was about to burst into tears, he told me how when he mentioned this to the guys, all three of them offered to give up ten of their own hours each week so he could keep me on.
I was beyond grateful. I owed them all big time.
Before leaving work that day one of the boys pulled me aside and as I thanked him for what they’d all done he told me they heard around school that I was pregnant. He promised he wouldn’t tell our boss, because he said they knew I needed the money for more important stuff than they did.
My secret was out, but I trusted them to keep it safe.
Of the three guys there was one that was just a little off. He was chaos and energy, all the time. He was the one I got along with the least.
But a week or two later, he followed me home from work one day, even though I told him not to. I let him inside and he asked me where my room was. I told him he really shouldn’t be there since my parents weren’t home, but he ignored me and walked up the stairs.
My mother, with her best intentions, had always told me not to “create an environment where someone could take advantage of me.”
But here I was. I had just created it, and he was going to.
He kissed me. I let him kiss me. I owed him. He took off my shirt. I let him take off my shirt. I owed him.
He took off my pants and I tried to slow him down. At this point I felt I’d already given him enough... but he disagreed.
Tears streamed down the sides of my face as he had sex with me. I didn’t fight him though. I said “no” clearly and loudly, but I didn’t yell. No one was there to hear me anyway.
I just froze and let him finish.
These are all the tiny little details I ran over and over again in my head the following days.
These are the things that didn’t make it a rape. He just “took advantage of the situation” I told myself. A “situation” I allowed to be created the moment I let him into my house when no one was there.
In my mind, I was to blame.
Two days later, I saw him at work. I didn’t make eye contact. I didn’t want to be anywhere near him, and for the most part he left me alone until almost the end of my shift.
That’s when a man came in and I guess he was being a little too friendly because this boy came up and took over, shuffling me off to clock out.
Was he trying to make amends for what he’d done? Was this supposed to be chivalrous? Did he suddenly realize just how easy it was for him to take advantage of me and now in some sick and twisted way he was trying protecting me from another man doing the same?
As the days and weeks wore on, I gave up. I honestly never thought about reporting it because in my mind it wasn’t a rape. It just couldn’t be. My victim sash was already too full. The single teen mom badge was taking up so much space, there was no room for a rape survivor patch as well.
Over the following months my belly grew, and the awkwardness around my coworker began to fade. My mind started trying to figure out how to set all of this right; how to change the narrative, even if only retroactively.
I began to think that maybe just maybe I’d be able to kill two bird with one stone if I could somehow learn to love him, or at the very least like him. Then it wouldn’t have been rape, and I’d still only have had sex with people I cared for deeply. My record and reputation would be renewed.
So I tried. I did.
We “dated” even though he had a girlfriend the entire time. He took my to a school dance and talked to the child growing inside my womb.
We became friends.
I was never able to love him the way I’d loved my previous boyfriends, but we did form a bizarre connection.
And just like that, I wasn’t assaulted anymore. He just “took advantage of the situation” that one time, but amends had been made and we could all move on now.
Years later he was completely out of my life, and I truly felt as though I’d beat the system. I somehow managed to reverse my own victimhood.
My son was born, I graduated, and before I knew it I fell into hook-up culture hard, even though at this point, I, more than anyone, should’ve known better.
This life would never serve me well. I was too broken.
I don’t know how I didn’t end up with any diseases or subsequent pregnancies as my life became totally wheels off. But I do know that the pain I felt from that one moment broke something inside of me, and it never went away as hard as I tried to convince myself it had - it simply reverberated throughly the years in smaller destructive waves.
As a 35-year-old woman, I look back now and my heart breaks for the younger me. I was doing exactly what Valenti talked about in her book. I was hurting myself before anyone else could hurt me again - telling myself I wasn’t a victim while victimizing myself over and over, relentlessly.
It ruined sex for me for many many years because that act became nothing more than a tool. It was how I could control men, heal them, hurt them. And I used it accordingly. It was power over another person which felt better than the powerlessness I’d become so accustomed to, but it had nothing to do with their human dignity or mine.
After years of reflection, and being loved the right way I like to think those wounds have begun to heal. There’s still a scar there for sure, but they’re on the mend.
I know what good healthy sex looks like, which is why I scoff at most of the things labeled “sex positive” these days.
They are anything but.
They are exploitive and destructive. We deride men for their “toxic masculinity” and their unwillingness to connect to others and show emotion while simultaneously praising toxic femininity - this idea that women should be able to bounce from person to person, feeling nothing. Feelings, when it comes to sex, are a weakness to be avoided at all costs. There needy and desperate. We strive to be as callous and closed off as the worst men, and we call that progress.
This wasn’t meant to be a #whyididntreport story, or at least it didn’t start off as one.
My purpose for writing about what happened to me was to hopefully help other women understand just how knotted up experiences like this can be, and still are, in the heads and hearts of so many of us.
Sexual assault is hardly ever cut and dry.
It impacts us for years and years from deep within our psyche.
I’ve only recently begun to come to terms with what happened that day 19 years ago and gain any true insight. For me it took sitting on a couch, a decade after my assault, telling a friend over a glass of wine about how this boy “took advantage of the situation” and her looking me square in the face and telling me I was raped.
I was raped?
Wow... maybe I was raped.
I said it out loud and it’s like the sutures came flying off of this unhealed wound.
If we can’t admit it to ourselves, then how can we tell another person, let alone report it to anyone beyond that?
And how many of us simply try to undo it, because that’s what women do? We are problem solvers. We are fixers. We are creative and strong as hell. But sometimes our perseverance backfires and only serves to cover up that festering wound indefinitely. But until it’s opened up, and given oxygen, and cleaned out, it will continue to make us sick and eat away at our minds, bodies, and souls.
In order for us to heal we have to purge this hurt from deep within our beings. In order for us to love others and see their pain we have to be able to love ourselves. In order for us inoculate our daughters and sons against this same sickness, we have to become whole and uninfected ourselves, so that we can help them avoid these hurts... otherwise this cycle will only continue for generations and these lies will be mislabeled as “liberation”.... keeping us all sick.

(Originally posted on the New Wave Feminists FB page)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ripples of War

“Orphanage robberies." What did that even mean? The words weren't quite sinking in. Who would rob an orphanage? That hardly sounds like a lucrative racket. What's there to steal?

Then I realized what it meant. The horror of that thought washed over me, the full weight resting on my lungs causing me to exhale slowly: they steal the children.

For many of us, when we think of war, we only weigh the loss of military life. Don’t misunderstand, I have nothing but respect for our men and women in uniform. Their bravery and daily sacrifices are absolutely worthy of our support. I know and love a number of service members which is one of the reasons I hate war so much to begin with. Having a strong military that we never have to use is the best way to protect their lives too. 

But we must also be aware of the ripples of war; the subsequent effects; the displaced, scared, and vulnerable people caught in the crossfire. They are just like us. Their lives and stories are equally as complex and real as our own. And the love they have for their children, compounded by the pain they experience when they are in harm's way, runs just as deep in their hearts as it would our own. 

When communities are flipped upside down, children become easy targets for those looking to exploit them. Young girls are snatched from their mother’s arms when their villages are taken over; orphanages are "robbed" for their most precious assets; girls are stolen in the dead of night from refugee camps targeted by terrorists. Many are then divvied up among ISIL fighters, while others are exploited for profit, being forced to see upwards of 40 men a night. You begin to wonder how anyone could endure a life of such violent abuse, but that's when I learned that in some parts of the world the average girl will only survive 7 years of trafficking before injury and disease ultimately take her life. 
Thankfully there are a number of organizations working to rescue these children. I saw a photograph of a girl who was only 12 when she taken. My oldest daughter is about to turn 12. The hardest thing she has to deal with is finding time to practice her violin before she heads off to her swim meets. I couldn’t fathom knowing my child was experiencing such wicked and vile abuse. These mothers must feel so powerless.

I looked at their children and saw my children.  

And rescuing these girls is only half the battle. After that, teams of highly trained counselors must care for them. Sadly they've seen many victims return to their capturer's if they do not receive proper treatment. The trauma they’ve experienced is so great that many don’t know how to re-assimilate back into their communities, and even sadder still, some families will not accept them back. However, there are also some beautiful stories of truly astonishing strength that have come out of this darkness.

One was of a girl who was only 14. After her rescue, she was being cared for in a makeshift facility on the outskirts of town. She learned that the team who had recovered her was going back for more children the following day and she asked if she could go along. She wanted to be there to comfort the other girls as they were pulled out so they wouldn't be so scared. I cannot even imagine the amount of inner strength it must've taken her to do that. She quite literally used her own freedom and liberation to save others. 

At the end of the day, I truly believe that's what all of us want. Our aim is to help those who are suffering and protect the vulnerable. But it cannot be done merely with missiles. If we are gone once the rubble clears, then it is nothing more than virtue signaling to the rest of the world, and the oppressed are still no better off. We must be there to truly help them heal.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Pro-Life Feminism

Today I was asked how I can be both prolife and a feminist (for the millionth time). This was my answer...

Given that women were treated as property for most of history, it is absolutely abhorrent for us to turn around and do the exact same thing to any other member of the human family. 

We talk about smashing patriarchal constructs because they are the epitome of ‘might makes right.’ When only men held all of the power and status, those that wanted to, were able to control our bodies and use aggressive violence against us whenever they saw fit. In many parts of the world this is still a reality for too many women. This type of mentality MUST be smashed, not imitated.

Yet here we are, doing that exact same thing to our status-less, voiceless, non-consenting unborn children simply because we are bigger and stronger and they are the weak and powerless ones this time.

Abortion takes our newfound liberation and uses it not to protect the weak and vulnerable but instead to perpetuate the very violence we were once oppressed by ourselves.

That is why feminists who want to stand up for the most marginalized and vulnerable should absolutely be fighting against any form of aggression that treats another human being’s body as property. It’s just that simple. It’s the same reason we are against rape, murder, human trafficking, domestic violence, the list goes on.

We must stop passing down oppression in the name of liberation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Destiny Does Dublin

I told my husband he couldn’t come to any of my talks while we were in Ireland. Nothing against him, I just hate when people I know see me do anything like that.
As a child I used to beg my mom not to come to my volleyball games, it was just too much pressure. Failing in front of strangers is one thing... but possibly failing in front people I know and love? Yeah, no thanks.
But then, on our last night in Dublin, I had to speak at Maynooth University which was a whole train ride away. It felt wrong to just leave my husband at the hotel all alone, so I told him he could tag along if he wanted. He asked if I was sure and I said yes.
He sat off to the side and even earned me some extra laughs when I joked about wanting to smash the patriarchy but still loving men... specifically, that one over there. Having him there actually made me feel sorta empowered, like, even if I did fail at least there would be one friendly face in the audience that loved me anyway.
My talk went really really well. Actually, it might’ve been one of my best yet.
Afterwards, he kept going on and on about how great he thought I did. “Are they all like that?” he asked, “Yeah, totally... all of them... every single one.” 😂
We stopped for some take-out on the way back to the hotel and as we walked along the old cobblestone streets of Dublin we talked about how amazing it would be to do this all the time. Just travel the world spreading the message of prolife feminism. Together. As a team.
When women are empowered, men are empowered. Families are stronger and our communities flourish. As we talk about on here so often, support makes all the difference in the world for so many women. Myself included, turns out.
I am far from perfect. I fail at being a wife constantly, and sometimes majorly. And I have to ask for forgiveness often. But at the end of the day, my husband Abrahm will never be uninvited from one of my talks again. Because as I found out, I’m better when he’s by my side.
I’m so excited to see what the future has in store for the two of us, our family, and New Wave Feminists. I think some big things are happening, y’all.