I Woke Up Like This #027
Discrimination runs high in this country.
Most of us are born into the bodies we want to be in.
We are sexually attracted to the opposite sex.
We only love one person at a time.
If we're women, we are femme.
Men, we are masculine.
But the minute you break any of these cardinal rules...you're now sentenced to discrimination and judgement by society.
You can no longer walk down that mountain town road with your partner, because the men walking on the opposite side of the road are spitting hateful slurs because you're partner is the same sex. You have to live in fear that someday, someone might not just run their mouth but instead after you.
See, it's not always extreme either. It can be everyday things, like your parents refusing to acknowledge the right pronouns you prefer as a trans-woman. Sometimes you spend days just desperately wondering why you are the way you are. You wonder why, while it hurts nobody, your sexuality is so important to others.
And not only that but the legal discrimination.
No, you cannot get married.
No, you cannot adopt a child without jumping through hoops
--even after seventeen years together.
No, you won't get this job.
You pay taxes, you donate your money to charity, you go to church, you've never stolen a dime, never had a parking ticket, never touched drugs or committed a crime...yet you're treated like a criminal because you love someone that's "unconventional" to the rest of the world.
These things, these horrible things, are endured everyday by the LGBT community. For as long as I can remember, I've fought for their rights and to end discrimination. It pained me to hear this woman's story. The fear she felt, simply by holding her partners hand in public, shook me to the core.
Can you imagine feeling that way?
Knowing that simply holding someones hand could not only get you dirty looks but threaten your life?
To know that hatred that strong exists, it breaks my heart.
This set is for every LGBT reader out there who is struggling right now.
No matter what you identify as, you have every right to exist and be happy on this planet.
You are beautiful, handsome, fierce, passionate, and strong.
Be Kind to Yourself,
// PRE-SHOOT QUESTIONS //
How would you rate your self esteem from 1-10?
I would say an eight. But that's not always the case, especially not two weeks ago.
What happened two weeks ago?
I had a little freakout about doing this. I tried on some bathing suites in those horrible horrible lights. I had a meltdown. But I already told my daughter I was doing this. And she doesn't know about my struggles with self-esteem because I'm really careful about what I say about myself around her. So she has great self-esteem because she should since she's amazing, but I think it's because you dragged myself down or took myself apart in front of her lie my Mother did.
It's amazing how much the way your mother treats herself, effects the way your children treat themselves. It formed a lot of my choices as a parent.
How nervous are you at this moment?
Pretty nervous but trying not to give too much space to it.
What is your biggest fear in doing this project?
If I had to be totally honest it would be that something that I don't like about myself would get highlighted, thus confirming how I worry about my looks. Like, "Op, yepp. I was right. There it is."
// AFTER SHOOT QUESTIONS //
How is your self esteem now?
Really good! I would have to say a ten! I didn't expect that...
How has it changed?
I guess I just don't feel like the stuff I was worrying about matters. I didn't think about it while we were shooting.
What typically goes into your self-esteem?
I've had to cultivate it. That's an intentional uphill battle. Either I cultivate an eight, or slide down to a zero. There is no middle ground. It's a conscious decision.
When you went through that breakdown, what things were saying to yourself about your body?
I looked dumpy and terrible and my stomach looked awful. If I looked as as bad as I think then I'm also a worthless person. I'm a feminist, so I don't believe that mine or anyone else's appearance is tied to their worth but it's hard to completely edit that message out of your head.
Tell me about your sexuality.
I am queer. I identify as a lesbian but I like queer better because its more expansive. I'm attracted to trans-women and trans-men and gender queer people and cis-women. And occasionally cis-men.
So you just love?
Yes! Some people would say I'm pansexual but my love for cis-men is so minimal that it's just a much smaller proportion in relation to my attraction to women and gender queer people.
How has your sexuality affected your self-esteem?
Once I came out as gay, I went through a lot of the transitions that most people go through with my gender identity and had an idea of what lesbians are supposed to like and wear. It took a years before I identified as fem for my gender expression. It took a long time to identify my fem-identity.
My fem-identity is really important to me personally and to my sexual orientation.
What was middle school like for you?
Wretched. My Mom left when I was twelve, right before I turned thirteen. She said she was going for a walk and she didn't come back. She did eventually, but she just kind of dropped everything and left. Not surprisingly, I'm the oldest of four, that had a big effect on my mental health. Depression, ability to focus in school. It wasn't a fun time, I really thought it had a direct correlation to how ugly I felt I was at the time.
How did you feel about your body in middle school?
Um...I was experiencing sexual abuse at the same time. So my ideas around what constituted sex in the first place was pretty messed up. What constituted desirability. I didn't understand women as people who acted on their sexuality, I saw them as being acted upon. And I thought that was normal, I didn't think that was wrong.
Tell me about the sexual abuse.
There was a boy who was a little older than me at church, my dad was a pastor at the time. His father too. There was a kid at my school who was expelled at my school, I think of him with sadness and I have to wonder what was happening with him to make him act that way. He spent a lot of time in class saying I was ugly under his breath towards me, and he had a lot of violent fantasies that were sexual and based on my undesirability. How ugly and gross I was to him. I asked the teacher to be moved but nothing happened until he actually jumped up and grabbed my crotch in the middle of class. That's what it took for her to actually do something because before then she wasn't listening.
It's so weird how teachers won't listen to kids when they have these claims.
It's really infuriating because there is no way I'd come up with something like that out of nowhere. That was my experience with every incident that happened during my school years. That was fourth grade to be clear. That's what I mean when I say he was a child.
How does this affect your self-esteem to this day?
There are two parts of it. One, obviously those experience directly informed my perception of self. And that's a struggle that hasn't ever gone away. I'm pretty logical a lot of the time, but there is only so much logic.
Theres only so much logic you can apply before your head takes over.
Yeah. So that struggle is what it is. The other part...some of the things that have happened have been so dark and so gruesome and lonely that if I can emerge out of that and have my daughter and raise her without those things in her life. Then theres not a whole lot that can touch me anymore. Instead of it making me fearful of loving people, I think it's made me value the people I love even more because of all the good people and things in my life now.
Let's talk about feminism.
Are your a feminist, if so why?
Yes. There is nothing else that could make sense for me. There is a lot of talk about what the word means and you know I think at its most basic it's equality of the sexes and equality of the genders. Acknowledges that people don't exist in a binary is important. Specifically, I'm a full spectrum doula. So I co-founded a doula collective that works to support people through any choice. Parenting, adoption, abortion. And so just supporting women, not just cis-woman, but women in particular, self-identified women are really important to me.
What is a doula?
Usually when they say they are a doula, it's an emotional and physical support primarily for women who are giving birth. Sometimes afterword just helping them out and being there after the baby is born. Full spectrum are relatively new. From my group, it's just radical acceptance of all the choices that a person can bring into the choice whether or not to have a baby. We are developing a prison doula program to support incarcerated pregnant people when they give birth and after when they have to relinquish their child. And also, abortion doula's. We also have a program for women when they are getting their abortion done to have a doula there.
It's hand holding, explaining the procedure and having someone who is just attentive to them. They are popping up all over the country. Abortion doulas, full spectrum doulas, and it's really exciting to see.
How has your age affected your self-esteem?
I just turned forty and I've heard people say how great it is when you get older. I thought it was a wonderful sentiment but I didn't really buy it. But it really is true. The only thing that I would turn the clock back for is to maybe not chose a few boyfriends and have more time but other than that i wouldn't change for anything. I feel more like my whole self and I feel like I understand more of what I offer to my relationship and my work and my child. I have a much more complete sense of self.
The way your body has changed, you mentioned making a point to show your stretch marks during our session? How else do you celebrate and feel about your body?
My femme identity and my choices in clothing and makeup are very rooted in my queerness. And then being multiracial. I dress in ways that emphasize the things I like about myself. I don't dress like a forty year old mother with a teenager should dress and I don't give a shit. And I wanna say, because it's important, it's NOT about looking younger than I am. It's about dressing in a way that feels good and cultivating a style that feels happy and sexual and authentic.
What is the worst instance of discrimination you have ever encountered?"
I went to visit my partner while she was doing campaign work in a mountain town. We were just walking around normally, holding hands. People were furious at the sight of us. They were glaring with a kind of anger that I've never seen people behave with before. They were actively putting their arms around their children and walking them away. We weren't denied service but our change was slammed on the counter at us. People were angry AT us when we went to buy a tea.
A group of men after dinner, really big men, just the look on their faces when they saw us walking down the street was just pure fury. And because of how prevalent that response was in that town, it was one of the first moments I was fearful for my safety as a gay person. I've been plenty fearful as a a woman, but I realized that probably no one would help us. And that was really scary. We went back to our car and spent the rest of the time in the hotel room.
People don't realize how much that affects someone. Person after person just disgusted with the sight of you...it was terrible. When I left her and went back home I just cried knowing I had to leave her in a place like that.
People seem to underestimate the amount of discrimination in this world.
There are still places where we can't feel safe. We were just holding hands. It was just because we were lesbians.
Any last message for your readers?
Especially for people who are younger, the things about yourself that you think are so bad, or that you don't like, you're going to look back and think, "Why was I worried about that?Why did I waste time in my head worrying that?" I think that a lot of women take themselves apart in ways they would never to do other people.
We shouldn't do that to ourselves.