Tag Archives: empowerment

Post the Ninety-Fifth or The Root of Violence

As some of you may know, I’ve recently started working at the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It is an amazing organization that is open 24/7 and provides support for victims, as well as family and friends, of domestic violence. We do everything from connect callers to local resources to just providing a space to listen. I also really enjoy the work. It is nice to be in an empowering space that is committed to worker wellness. Advocacy work is very satisfying for me and it allows me to deepen my analysis around social justice and liberation. I’m learning so much here and I know that I also have a lot to give.

One thing that I’ve gotten some more nuanced understanding is around the topic of space. I’ve written several essays here, and in other places, about the necessity of space in order to thrive in any situation. We need living space, work space, social space, emotional space etc.

In cases of domestic violence, the survivor is often robbed of most, if not all, space. All of the tactics that the abuser uses to maintain power and control in a relationship center around stealing space. Whether is it keeping someone isolated from friends in family or not allowing them to get a job or sexually assaulting them, they are all a robbing of space and of agency. The survivor is not allowed the space to have meaningful, loving and supportive friendships. They are not allowed the space to work and be economically independent. They are not given the space to make their own, unconstrained sexual choices.

And I got to thinking about this. What if the root of all marginalization, of all violence, was the theft of space? I began to think about colonialism and the displacement of indigenous people. Was that not the theft of space, the robbing of land? Colonist comes in and steal the space that once belonged to others and with that theft also stole their agency. I thought about slavery and how that is probably the greatest theft of space. And of course, domestic violence is a theft of space.

Even the most recent shooting in Connecticut is about the theft of space. The lack of funding for mental health programs create a situation where there is no space for someone who has a mental disorder to get the help they need. The abundance of gun access creates a situation where people who are violent for any reason can restrict and control the space of others. And all of this is 400 hundred years in the making. The latest iteration of violence created by a system that controls and steals the space of certain kinds of people. The theft of space, and violence itself, is more than just individual acts. It is a systemic inevitability. The way our society is structured makes it so that violence cannot help but happen. The system is rigged for it.

One of the things that we learn here as advocates is that we aren’t here to fix the caller’s problem. We are not here to save them or rescue them. Rather, we are there to empower the caller to solve their own problems. Because in the end, saving them does nothing to address the root cause of the problem.  We connect them to the resources near them so that they can decide what the best course of action is for themselves. We use active listening and empathy to facilitate the creation of space. And if the root of violence is the theft of space, than facilitating the creation of space is counteracting that violence. The space that is created allows for movement. And with movement, comes change. The creation of space allows for empowerment and the beginning of unconstrained choices.

The key to fighting violence is the creation of space. If we are going to bring justice to this world, then we need to facilitate the creation of space for ourselves. We need to carve out our space. We need to engage in deeply listening to one another and become stewards of one another’s trauma. This also means that we need to take care of ourselves. This also means listening to ourselves, to our bodies. It means that we trust ourselves and build community with those around us.

In the end, we cannot save the world. But we can try to open up space so that it can save itself. We can open up space so that each individual can save themselves.

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Post the Ninety-Fourth or How to be a Douchebag

The room as dark

As your mind

The stage as bright

As my scrutiny

And you walk

Full of vacant

Masculine swagger

Your words

Devoid of meaning

Bullshit pouring

Out of your mouth

Splattering all over the stage

Confusing sexism

For philosophy

Your trite and hollow poetry

Masquerading as

Profundity

School is in

Session

So take a seat

And remember that

Reading

Is Fundamental

You say

We are equal

Say that there is no

Difference

In our experience

But just

Listen

To the millions of women

Who are victims

Of domestic violence

Just read

About the millions of women

Who are assaulted and raped

By men

Who think

We are equal

You say

“I should just be able to compliment

A beautiful woman”

But all I can think

About

Is what that man whispered

As he tore at my crotch

And violated the most intimate parts of myself

“You are just so beautiful”

“How could I resist”

You say

You feel objectified

But when

Was the last time

A stranger

Followed you down the street

Hurling compliments

At your unwilling ears

When was the last time

Some asshole commanded you

To smile

When was the last time

You felt unsafe

Because you thought someone would sexually assault you

When was the last time

Someone called you

A bitch

Hoe

Slut

Cunt

Dyke

Because you denied some strangers

Advances

The thing is

Dude

You can’t say

The same sexist shit

That society tells women

And be a feminist

You can’t be “for equality”

When you fail to see the disparities

That keep us unequal

Matter of fact

You wouldn’t know what

Feminism was

If it fucked you

Matter of fact

You are not entitled

To a woman’s

Affection or attention

Just because you are

a Nice Guy™

You do not get a cookie

For meeting the standards

Of being a decent person

But please

Keep crying those salty motherfucking tears

About how hard it

Must be to be

A man

In a world dominated by men

But by all means

Continue to regale me

With all those stories

Of how you

Are such a misunderstood

Nice Guy™

But hold up

Before you do that

Do us a

Kindness

And fuck off


Post the Sixty-Second or On Real Social Change

As many of you know, or are soon to find out, I am living in Boston right now to finish my degree. I cannot tell you how very excited I am to graduate and be back in Austin, but for now I’m here in Boston. And here in Boston our public transportation system is called the T. It includes busses, trains, light-rail trollies, commuter rails for those coming into and out of Boston, and ferries. The T, like public transportation elsewhere, is primarily used by people of color, young people and people who live in poor neighborhoods. They can’t afford to buy a car, so they have to take the T. It is literally the only way to get around the city if you don’t have a car because bikes cannot access some parts of the city.

Despite this, or perhaps because of this, the T is consistently underfunded and in debt. This is because all of the debt that the Big Dig (an expensive feat of unsurpassed magnitude in the field of tunnel engineering) accrued, which benefits mostly white middle and upper class car owners, is dumped on the back of the T and, by extension, the riders of the T. Young people, people of color and poor people end up paying for Big Dig debt. So how do the managers of the T propose to close that debt gap? Well, increase fares and cut services of course!

In the face of all this, T riders and those invested in making life livable for POC, poor people and young people (three groups which overlap immensely!) are doing massive organizing to push back against the hikes and cuts. Everyone from the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, to the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project (a youth-led organization), to the T Riders Union to the T workers themselves have held protests, rallies and teach-ins. They call for a sustainable way to deal with the debt that doesn’t involve vital service cuts or hikes that make it inaccessible to those that need it most. They call for a reasonable, just and supportable way to handle the debt. They are asking for solutions that involve long-term sustainability and not band-aid fixes. They are asking that the state make the T a priority.

Basically, what they are asking for is that the government prioritize the needs of people of color and poor people. They are asking for economic justice.

But the government won’t do that.

Not because it’s not sensible or feasible. Not because they lack the resources. Not because it is too difficult logistically. No, the reason they won’t do it is because they have no reason to do it. They, the politicians and government, are in the pocket of corporations and Big Money. There is no reason for them to invest in the empowerment of oppressed peoples. Why would they invest in that when they can just continue to remain in power? There is no incentive for them to invest in the T because in doing so, they cut their profits and empower those people who are oppressed.

I know this sounds really pessimistic of me but think about it. In the past couple years, we have seen a consistant cuts against those safety nets that keep us afloat; from food stamps, to grants for higher education, to affordable housing and access to healthcare, just to name a few. And this during a time when companies are reporting record profits! Prices go up but we aren’t making any more money. Trickle down economics doesn’t work because we need more than just a trickle, we need a goddamn river! But the government will continue to ignore our needs because of all the money and lobbyists that those big corporations pour into the State House.

Real social change isn’t going to come from the State House nor from those who we elect. We have tried reforming the system and it hasn’t worked. Real social change will only come when we completely revolutionize and radicalize the way our society work so that power is truly accountable to those who are the most oppressed. Where power and resources are equitably shared.

It’s time we rise up and take matters into our own hands.


Post the Fifty-Eighth or My Body is NOT Public Property

Before my transition, when I was presenting as male, I could walk down the street or take the train late at night relatively free of fear. No one turned their heads as I walked pass or undressed me with their eyes. No one made unwanted or unreciprocated advances. No one followed me home. Unless they were homophobic and read me as gay, I usually walked through the world free of the fear of harassment.

Now, 3+ years years into my transition, I am almost always read as a woman. I have a lot of passing privilege and a lot of pretty girl privilege. And I’m certainly not complaining about that. I love the way I look, the way I present myself today and I know that it is only because of my relative class privilege that I was able to transition early and have access to the health insurance necessary to transition safely and effectively. Not to mention the fact that my family didn’t disown me or kick me out of my home, which is a HUGE blessing. I don’t know where I would be today if that weren’t the case. I have been very, very, lucky.

What I am complaining about, and what frustrates me to no end, is the fact that now that I am read as a woman, I’m getting harassed nearly everyday! I can’t tell you how many times someone has assaulted me with their eyes or made unwanted advances all with the unspoken assumption that I MUST reciprocate, validate and want that attention. I cannot enumerate for you all the occasions in which some cis, straight, man (both white and brown) has harassed me in public. Obviously, some are worse then others (I’ve only been followed home once but being stared down happens almost everyday) but they all contribute my general sense of dis-ease and wariness when I’m out and about. What, then, is the under lying cause of this?

It is because brown women’s bodies are considered public property.

The reason for this is because we exist in a racist, sexist and cissexist society that places ownership on, and strips agency from, anything that is not white, male, cisgender, straight, able-bodied etc. From the exotification of Black and Brown women in the media (you know, the Foxy Brown Lady who constantly oozes sex and wants to sleep with EVERY white guy) to the majority of sex workers being Black and Brown, it’s clear that our bodies are free-game to whomever wants a grab.

If you are a brown transwoman, then you are doubly fetishized not only as “exotic” but also as “freaky” or “strange” or that you are not truly a woman, so that the man that you have to sleep with will get “best of both worlds”. On top of that, if a white person is dating a brown woman then  he has “jungle fever” and will eventually leave her for a civilized, marriable white woman.

And we must never forget the long, brutal, history of white slaveowners raping their black slaves. The long brutal history of white conquistadors abducting and raping Native women. All of them thinking that this was the right and proper order in “God’s” world because brown people are inferior and white people must manifest destiny.

This is not a thing of the past, either. This system that is alive and well today strips us of our agency and appropriates our sexuality as it’s own. In the minds of most white men, especially in a subconscious level if they haven’t interrogated their own privilege, our sexual agency and freedom of choice is in their hands and they call the shots. And to deny them results in retaliation and physical/sexual assault. This all might have gone underground but it still manifests in subtle, insidious ways.

And while the sex-positivity movement and the sex worker rights movement has done a lot to challenge this and articulate the need for consent, most of these primarily white movements have failed to incorporate the effect of white supremacy into their power analysis. Many women of color can’t find power in the world slut, for example, because of what racism as wrought on their bodies. Claiming the identity of slut will put us in greater danger because we are sluts by default and our sexualities are not our own. Much of the sex worker activism is done by white, hotel- or home-based sex workers who are, in many ways, free of harassment and are able to take only the clients that they want. Little is done to reach out to poor, street-based sex workers of color, both transgender and cisgender, or to represent and advocate for their needs and concerns.

How, then, do we interrupt, interrogate, and begin to dismantle this system of power? The first thing is to shed light on to this unspoken problem. We start by talking about it, with each other. We share our stories with one another for solidarity and healing. We share our stories so that we know that we are not alone and we can begin to organize. And by organizing, we can start to manifest a world in which EVERYONE can walk through this world free from harassment.

I would invite all of my brown sisters of any gender to share their stories in the comments, if they so choose. I would also encourage everyone to watch the video below and visit Meet Us On The Street to find out how to get involved in International Anti-Street Harassment Week.


Post the Thirty Ninth or On the Importance of Labels

Labels are the way that we communicate with other people about ourselves. They save us time and processing power when we are telling others of our experience. Its much easier to say that I’m queer then it is to explain all of the things that are involved in that word. Labels are the maps that we can show others so that they can see where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. But, like a map, the label does not fully convey the essence of the person. It gives a general outline but if one is going to truly see and know what is there, one needs to be on the ground exploring. And I feel that folks forget that labels are just tools or maps to be wielded and that our actions don’t need to always “reflect” those labels. The terrain doesn’t need to match the map exactly and in fact such a project is impossible. Not only do labels act as maps but they also act as boundary markers. When I assert that I’m queer, I am making space for my experience and narrative. I am rejecting the normative narrative of heterosexism and say that I am not that. I am defining myself in relationship with what I am not.

Moreover, labels are empowering. This is because by owning that part of your self, you come to a greater understanding of who you are as a person and you are able to love yourself on a much deeper level. By seeing that part of yourself for what it is, and embracing it, you are rejecting the normative and oppressive ways of being that need your complicit thoughtlessness to continue. By being thoughtful, you are better able to reclaim your power and take action against those systems of oppression.

The other interesting aspect about labels is that many of them aren’t chosen by us. They are placed on us by how society perceives us. For example, the fact that I have brown skin makes it so that people perceive me as a person of color. Regardless if I identify with that label or not, that is still a label placed on me and that is apparent by the way that people and society treat me. Another example is being trans*. Nine times out of ten, I can pass as a cis woman. It is only when I out myself as trans* that folks treat me in a different way because of the way that they perceive me.

It really frustrates me, then, to hear folks say things like “I hate labels. I’m just me.” More often then not, these people are white, straight, upper-middle class, cisgender etc. They usually hold many privileged identities and labels. And they reason they can just “be themselves” is because the labels and identities that they hold are the societal norm. They have never had to think about their identites and labels because they don’t need to define themselves against the norm. There is no need to delineate that space because society has already given them that space. Moreover, it is very invalidating to people with oppressed identities because it says to them, “I can just be me. Why can’t you just be you?” And the fact of the matter is, I can’t just be “me” because of the history of oppression that surrounds and defines my existence as a human being. The me that I am is informed and created out of that oppression.

Not only that but saying that “I’m just me” reinforces the false idea of individualism. Put in another way, it says that we all exist in alone in a vacuum and that we don’t effect one another. It insists that there are no greater systems of power at work in our lives. It says that we are the sole mover in our lives and that our success or failure relies only on how hard we work. It also downplays the individual’s role in upholding and perpetrating systems of power and oppression. But that isn’t the case, is it? The fact of the matter is, there are systems of power and oppression at work that make being successful easier or more difficult depending on the kind of body that you possess. The world is much more complicated then just individuals moving through the world. Society takes and forms us and we have more agency in this world if we are white, rich, male, straight, cisgender etc. Individualism, and by extension the denials of labels, fails to see that.

Saying that you “Just want to be me” is one of the biggest sign of privilege and lack of awareness as to how the world works. It speaks to an absence of recognition of one’s relation to the world. And it’s just plain ignorant.


Post the Fifteenth or Why Youth Empowerment is Important

Empowerment is defined as “increasing the spiritual, political, social, or economic strength of individuals and communities”. Youth Empowerment, than, would specifically be the act of increasing the spiritual, political, social, and economic strength of young people. This can take a myriad different forms. From informal conversations on agism and adultism to formal workshops on how young people (and older people) are subject to subtle forms of oppression. It can take the form of skill sharing and providing free counseling services to engaging young people to become leaders in their community.

Another aspect of youth empowerment that is important to address is the intersectionality of identity and that empowering young people also means empowering the different parts of their identity. It is critical that we empower not only young people but also queer young people and young people of color. It is vital that we understand that empowering young people of color will look different then empowering white young people because of the history of oppression that surrounds people of color. We need to be aware that young people are not a monolith and that every young person needs something different in order to succeed.

Finally, its important to recognize that young people are the experts are their own experience. Its important to recognize that they are fully capable, intelligent people who need to be met at their level. Youth empowerment doesn’t work with the attitude of “I want to give them what I didn’t have.” This attitude doesn’t work because it just reinforces the paternalistic and adultist assumption that young people don’t know what they want or what is good for them. If we are to successfully empower young people we need enter with the attitude of ignorance and ask what they need and how we can help them. We need to admit that we don’t know what they need and ask.

In a lot of ways, educators and teachers are one of the principle providers of youth empowerment. Speaking from experience, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for several teachers that I met in high school and college. I wouldn’t have the skills and be as self-possessed as I am today were it not for the months and years I spent outside of class learning from my teachers, specifically my ninth grade biology teacher Robyn Moore. Her story and the story we share is for another post but suffice to say that I owe much of what I am to her.

Which is why I was appalled when I read this Color Lines article. The article details, in case you don’t want to read it, that a white first grade teacher (who teaches in a school of mostly Black and Latino/a students) posted on Facebook that she was “not a teacher – i’m a warden for future criminals”. This is reprehensible for so many reasons. Not the least of which that it criminalizes not only being a person of color but also being a young person. By automatically assuming that young people of color are going to grow up to be criminals you are condemning them to the cycle that keeps everyone oppressed. Young people of color need to be trusted and inspired to break beyond that cycle. Telling them, overtly or covertly, that they will only grow up to be criminals does not help.

This type of behavior speaks to the pandemic and endemic nature of the school-to-prison pipeline. It is spread by schools with limited resources to educate and inspire students which in turn creates apathy and listlessness among the students which in turn discourages the educators and makes them jaded and bitter. That in turn feeds the cycle of violence and students act out and are punished unfairly for it. Young people are imprisoned and killed because of this cycle. Of course there are educators here and there that fight against that, like Ms. Moore, but it is clearly not enough.

This is why places like Out Youth are so important. Not only because it gives young people a safe place to be but also because it empowers young people to be themselves and break out of the cycle of violence. Obviously Out Youth has a lot of work to do in that regard but the very fact that it exists is much better then not. It shows them that they don’t have to wait until adulthood to achieve their dreams.

In conclusion,Youth empowerment is important because it saves lives.

And if we are going to change this world for the better we need to let young people know that they not the future, they are the present. They are the change that they want to see today.