Table Manners

TW: Racial violence

Growing up, my parents’ house rules for their daughter were: Don’t get married, don’t get pregnant, don’t drink & drive, and don’t call the Police. At the time, I understood these rules only insofar as they laid restrictions on my social life, not yet recognizing that, for each rule, there was a story to be told for its origin. For so many women in my family, our Ancestors’ mistakes serve as cautionary tales about what can happen to anyone with a uterus who puts their faith in the wrong officer, doctor or romantic partner. Although I would like to think that the stigma associated with a criminal record or having an abortion has faded, the tumultuous events of this year are a clear reminder that nobody is safe from their past.

Before ever learning about “the birds and the bees”, I was learning about the many ways in which it was possible for me to disrupt my career potential through an unplanned pregnancy or run-ins with the law. Although I don’t ever recall learning about the ins and outs of sexuality, I do remember countless conversations in which my parents encouraged me to reconsider my behavior or clothing choices in order to protect myself from the unwanted attention of men. Inherent to all these rules and expectations was the intergenerational fear of being found out. A fear which accompanies any mixed-race family in a conservative, South Texan culture where being native Mexicano is an invitation for harassment, violence and citizenship disputes. 

In so many subtle ways, my family pushed me to understand the world as one that was not made for me, but where I should make my own space. In their rules and platitudes, I was taught time and again that I needed to learn how to fold myself into shapes that highlighted my proximity to whiteness over our own cultural heritage. Even when my mother was a child, her parents and abuelos refused to pass on their Spanish language, always fearing that it would prevent she and her siblings from assimilating into white, American culture. In Texas, we walk a fine line between whiteness and Xicanismo, and are nearly always viewed as the former. 

I started Lizard Letter in March as a way to process my experience as part of a native Texan, Mexican family and as a queer human, never expecting the many ways it would affect my public identity and personal communities. As I’ve worked to process and move past old traumas, their manifestations in my work are an ever-present reminder that personal experiences of violence and trauma do not ever simply disappear, but rather take on new forms. My past experiences made me who I am and guide me in my future endeavors, just as my Ancestors do. Although I would like to think that I didn’t need an international pandemic nor the 2020 election to push me to the point of critical reflection, this year will forever mark a turning point in my personal politics. 

I am not unique in my experiences of intersectional grief and discrimination. These stories of intergenerational trauma are not unusual, and I find myself incredibly privileged on countless levels that I am able to speak so openly about my experiences. I have spent the last several months curating a space for myself where I can feel empowered and protected in my goal to spread awareness about Invisible Disabilities and the Indígena experience in South Texas, and I am honored to have such a platform.  This does not mean that I will always get it right, nor that my analysis of race and power in the American Southwest will reach all audiences, but rather that I am pushing myself to confront the many ways in which I have acted within the patriarchy and within institutionalized racism without an awareness of the greater impact I was having. 

I aim to reconnect with my grandparents’ legacy of Bexareños contributions to Texan history, and learn how to integrate my lived experience with the historical legacy of native Xicanismo in South Texas and beyond. The power of storytelling lies within all of our ability to open ourselves up to being changed by the stories and experiences of others, and in the familial bonds that can be made simply by opening up space for others to be heard. 

WHAT I’M THINKING ABOUT LATELY:

Glitch Feminism, by Legacy Russell

“How Do You Translate Non-Binary?”, a comic by Breena Nuñez

The Difference Between Being “Not Racist” and Antiracist, a TED Talk from Ibram X. Kendi

“Can We Remake a Broken Immigration System?”, by Mae Ngai

“The Little-Known Underground Railroad That Ran South to Mexico”, by Becky Little

“Native American tribes in Texas rally to increase voter turnout”, by Trinady Joslin

“Fighting Racism Is What Makes Us Universalists”, by Mame-Fatou Niang

“Aching for Abolition”, by Camonghne Felix

13 Pound Vendida

Reconstructing Outmoded Christian Ideologies in 2020

TW: Police Violence, Racism & Homophobia in the Christian Faith

My first memory of ever going to Mass was with my Godmother, when she insisted upon my attending Sunday School at Our Lady of Grace so that I could have my First Communion with our family priest (an old friend of my Nona, of course). Even at age 6, I was suspicious of the overly air-conditioned service and the lack of quality snacks — then and now, the communion wafer and sip of red wine don’t ease that assessment. My small Sunday School class was attended by other children from my First Grade class, and we usually spent the entire lesson stealing donuts from the Nuns and only half-listening to the Bible Teaching for that week. I was much too busy fixating on Harry Potter and The Legend of Zelda to be bothered with the teachings of John, Luke or Matthew

First Communion c. 2001

That summer, my parents and I made a deal that year that, as long as I finished my First Communion, I could make my own decisions when it came to faith and religion from then on. At the time, I had no understanding for the power and privilege I was being offered when my parents allowed me to control my own faith, especially in South Texas. Nor did I have any understanding for the judgement and ignorance that would be laid upon my reputation in my choice to distance myself from the church. However, as many “Reformed Catholics” like myself might tell you, the teachings of the Catholic Church do not disappear from your conscious just because you stop attending Mass or visiting with your Priest. Pursuit of Freedom of Religion and Freedom in Commerce founded the United States, and, as 2020 has shown us, these freedoms can also be our national undoing. 

As 2020 passes and my daily routine works to wrap itself around the New Normal, I cannot help but find myself craving the simplicity of Sunday School and my past childhood routines. At the time, there was nothing I wanted more than adventure and excitement, but now, after a year of personal loss and international upheaval, my daydreams have turned from Too Fast Too Furious to quiet Sunday afternoons spent slowly meandering through book shops, cooking with loved ones and catching up on laundry. I dream of a time when my friends and I could go about our daily routines without fear of verbal abuse (at best) or political assassination at the hands of our local Police Force

For two years during middle school, I attended a small Episcopal School in San Antonio, where (for the first time in my life) I was required to wear a uniform, study the Bible (un-ironically), and attend Chapel everyday. Although I had classmates who were Jewish and Muslim, we were all required to recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Texas Pledge, and the Pledge of Allegiance every morning during announcements. Despite years of student protest and parental intervention, these were all non-negotiables. All while this school presented itself as an inter-faith opportunity for cultural exchange and personal growth, it only ever served as a reminder of the many ways in which I did not fit into the Episcopal Debutante Mold. As hard as school administrators tried to manage the onslaught of bullying and harassment, the memories of physical harassment, racial slurs, body shaming and homophobic remarks from teachers, coaches and fellow students are burned into my consciousness alongside my favorite Chapel hymns. To this day, I can’t wear a pleated skirt without feeling an intense anxiety that one of my old classmates might sneak up behind me to pull it up over my head or call out the color of my underwear to passersby. 

Slowly but surely, I outgrow these expectations for the Episcopal Church and its members. Slowly but surely, I learn to look past outdated ideologies to reconfigure how modern faith fits into my life as an adult. Slowly but surely, I create new expectations and routines that help me make sense of a world which houses both my greatest joys and my greatest oppressors. 

After countless lives taken too soon and futures destroyed, it is not so simple as to say which political party you support, nor to make claim to all the many ways you have given back in charity to your community. It is not so simple as having attended a Christian Mission Trip in a “3rd World Country” in order to pad your resume for a future Harvard or Princeton application. It is not so simple as holding up The Bible for all to witness, and making public affirmations about your relationship with God. Nor is it so simple as proclaiming yourself an Ally, especially without taking the time to consider how you as an individual have contributed to the harm of another. In our “New Normal”, you are only as good as your reputation and community at large. 

It is so very easy to label yourself a Leader, Friend, Partner or Lover, but not so easy to lay the identity into practice. This year, so different from any other, offers an opportunity for radical change and evolution — as long as enough of us are willing to pay attention to the signs. 

RESOURCES:

‘Trust, Consistency, and Accountability’ : Darnell Moore, David Johns, and Steven Pargett Discuss Black Liberation, Movement Work, and Love at The Root Institute

What Does The Bible Say About Homosexuality? from The Human Rights Campaign

Why ‘Cancel Culture’ Is a Distraction by Jonah Engel Bromwich

Global coronavirus cases exceed 25 million: Live news from Al Jazeera

How to talk someone out of bigotry by Brian Resnick

What Is Performative Allyship? Making Sure Anti-Racism Efforts Are Helpful by Monisha Rudhran

Donald Trump and Uses and Misuses of the Bible by Ian Frazier

Opinion: Mission trips essentially modern-day colonialism by Gabrielle Martinez

World Peace

Written in honor of Brad Dehart and Matthew Mondragon

ISA Dreamers, Rest In Power


REQUIRED READING: BYSTANDER INTERVENTION TRAINING

TW: Casual Ableism, Alcoholism, Drug Use & Disregard For Human Life

I saw a Documentary Film once called “Miss Congeniality”.

It was written about my Tía, but they had to call it ‘Chick Lit Fiction’ for “People Magazine”, the NRA Lobby, and the FCC.

In this Documentary, I learned about a woman who fought so hard for her friends she was even willing to take a bullet for them.  I learned about women who are so dedicated to standing together, that they’d even do Hard Time just to protect their Sisters’ Legal Names. 

In this Film, I also learned about White Fragility and Toxic Masculinity,  and the depths to which Yt Men will go just to make their Ex-Girlfriend look like the “crazy” one.  It reminded me of my first “boyfriend” — the one who slipped his (un-invited) hand down my pants at the Quarry movie theater when I was 13, and the same one who claimed to have “taken my virginity”, as if it was ever His to claim. That movie theater used to be a Safe Space.

Whenever I rewatch my favorite “old movies” of John Hughes, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Weinstein, Jim Henson, Michael Jordan, and Bill Cosby, I am reminded of the many men who broke my heart with the “harmless lies” they mixed into my drinks without my knowing, along with a “tiny bump of Speed” I would have never ordered for myself. I used to go out dancing at NYC Bars, but then I got a concussion in Chinatown at 3am on the Saturday after my 25th Birthday, and the person who picked up the phone the first time called me a Fake. Even worse, the person who picked me up off the ground called me a Drunk, and his “partner” (who used to be my Best Friend in BK) called me a “Rape Apologist & Liar”. 

But an Elephant never forgets…right?

I have too many stories like these — too many to count anymore. My Drinks have been spat in and thrown up onto the pavement so many times, I forget my own identity from time to time. On those days, I try to absorb what’s left of mis Abuelos — the ones I talk with in my lucid dreams, at least on the few Texan Stormy Nights when I’m able to sleep. 

I used to sleep like A Champ, but now my nights are tortured by the Grim Reaper: “The One Who Comes For Us Artists & Activists On The Verge Of 27”. He came for Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, Kurt Cobain, and so many more whose legacy is now tarnished by the clouds of heroin sizzle that were introduced to them by Good For Nothing Managers and Record Executives who didn’t understand the non-monetary value of Creative Genius. Why does everything need to be monetized nowadays? Some of us just want some Peace & Quiet while our wounds heal. 

“It’s Only 4 Years”, they said. “No Beer On Sundays”, they said. “Don’t Drive Drunk”, they said. “Don’t Mess With Texas”, they said. “Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists”, they said. “Tequila Makes Womens’ Clothes Fall Off”, they said. “Don’t Do Drugs, Or You’ll Get Pregnant And Die”, they said.

Well…look where all of those “Good Luck Charms” got all of us Black Feminist Thinkers Down In Texas.

A whole lot of pain & suffering, not to mention the countless COVID-19 fatalities that could have been easily avoided with Strong Woman Leadership in the White House. Instead, we got The Cheeto-Handed Grim Reaper himself. 


RESOURCES:

David’s Legacy Foundation

Monica Lewinsky & The All-American Legacy of Political Misogyny Towards BIPOC Staffers

Take Action to Protect Vote By Mail

Support the USPS

Queer Justice is Reproductive Justice

Maysles Documentary Center

I’ve Always Been a Desert Flower

It’s been almost 2 months now of national stillness (relatively), and I can’t help but feel like I’ve discovered something new about myself everyday. In the quiet of this moment in my life, I have found that I’m suddenly able to reach behind the veil of my conscious thoughts to look deeper into their origins. I left home almost exactly 7 years ago to go to college in Connecticut, seeking out new, different opportunities to grow and learn about myself. Like so many of us, I moved away from home as a way to find myself and understand more about who I am in this great, confusing world we’re living in. I was absolutely positive that I could never flourish so close to home, that Texas was much too small a pond for this big fish. Growing up in San Antonio, I grew up with the sense that, in order to find success, I needed to move to a larger (whiter) urban center. So, I set my sights on Wesleyan University, and, eventually, New York City. Although I didn’t recognize the shift at the time, the moment I moved away from Texas I was forever changed. 

I learned early on that the best way to survive socially was to learn to observe other people, take in their mannerisms and language, and then attempt to translate it into actionable concepts. When you’re always the weird one, it’s nearly impossible to have an internalized understanding of healthy, genuine behavior. I learned early on that my attempts to set boundaries with my family and friends were never going to be taken seriously, so I learned to accept it and move on. Looking back with this perspective, it becomes easier and easier to pick out “rules” I enforced on myself entirely based on unspoken social cues, never realizing the boundaries and restrictions I was placing on myself more generally in the process. Most importantly, it taught me to doubt my instincts and dismiss my own ideas before I even had the chance to explore the possibilities.

When I was in elementary and middle school, I struggled for year after year with math — the systems that my teachers were using to teach geometry, algebra, and even basic counting simply didn’t make sense to me at the time. However, instead of searching out different ways to introduce basic math and algebra skills, my teachers simply gave me bad grades. I have such a clear memory of bringing one of my first failed tests to my parents, desperate to understand why I was so stupid that I couldn’t understand basic math. Both my mom and my dad were so supportive in their responses, my Dad even took it upon himself to tutor me himself. After just a couple hours of talking through it, we figured out a method that made more sense. However, after the following exam, I still returned with poor marks — my teacher’s notes covering the papers in red, with a note in the corner reading, “Incorrect Methods”. I was stunned. I had put in all this work to try to find a way that worked better for my brain and way of thinking, and again it was thrown in my face. Although I definitely didn’t fully realize it at the time, that’s when I started to learn how to play the game in order to get better grades, setting aside my previous interests in learning for the sake of it. From then on, productivity was directed towards an outcome of better grades and increased earning potential, rather than any sort of internal motivation system. 

Reflecting back upon the person I thought myself to be in high school, I am infinitely grateful for the opportunities I’ve been offered since then, and even more so for the resources that I was able to draw upon in order to make that lifestyle work for me. I’m a very different person than I was then — the person I was in high school had stronger opinions about the facts of life, knew so much more than I do now. My entire childhood, I always felt like such an outsider; always attempting to shoehorn myself into the black and white learning models I was offered throughout my primary education in Texas. Although I didn’t quite know how to articulate that discomfort at the time, I see now how limiting it was for me to be forced into an education that simply was never going to fit me. 

Since joining the professional workforce 3 years ago, I have felt constantly at odds with the standards and realities of the modern career life. From Wesleyan’s liberal bubble, I moved straight into a tiny Bed Stuy apartment with 5 roommates and started work at an international tech consulting company as Executive Assistant to the CEO — a role I was wildly under-qualified and underpaid for.  Although I knew I was never going to be pursuing a career in technology nor the private sector, I stuck it out for almost 2 years because it offered professional development and a reliable salary. I was never really interested in the job, but knew that I needed to prioritize financial independence over short-term happiness. That’s the thing about New York: I bought into the idea that, as long as I had the strength and intelligence to grin and bear it, I would eventually find financial security. 3 years later, it never once got any easier — it was always a game of prioritizing financial security above all else, and, after realizing what the rules are, I knew I needed to leave. 

I studied the sociology of labor throughout my entire 4 years of Wesleyan; we spent months upon months talking through Marx’s Das Kapital and Thomas Piketty’s Capital, and I never once really grasped what all that heady theory meant. However, plop me down in a cubicle for a month and you’ve got yourself an instant working class consciousness. I had worked in service and childcare for so much of my formative years, but this was the first time where I finally saw how my economic background would play into my future career. As a student of sociology, I understand social capital intellectually, but, once I was thrown out into the real world, all that heady theory I’d never quite understood immediately started to crystalize. After 3 years of pushing myself towards an ever-receding horizon of success in New York, I realized that my end goal has never honestly included a home in a city where my every life decision revolves around managing my debt and resulting mental instability. 

In hindsight, it’s no wonder that I was so drawn to Sociology as an academic focus, I had spent my entire life observing and trying to understand other people, finally I could use that interest for academic success. Throughout this quarantine, I’ve finally had the opportunity to look closer at what I was looking for when I decided to return to Texas, and, more interestingly, what I wanted to escape in New York City. My time living and working in New York City was largely spent trying to reconcile my intense unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the romance of my life in New York City and my coworkers and peers’ dedication to New York’s fast-paced work environments. After 7 years of being surrounded by non-Texans, I have finally realized that the thing I was really missing the most was the wide open spaces and supportive familial community that I grew up and flourished in as a child. 

Since being back, I can’t help but notice how much more confident and happy I am with myself. With two months of distance from the glamour and romance of spending my wild 20’s in the Big Apple, I realized that it’s New York City that is the real small pond. The thing about the romance of New York City is that it attracts the biggest fishes from all over the world, and the overpopulation is stifling to individual joy and expression. Now, living in San Antonio, I have the space (literally and mentally) to stretch and grow into the community leader and advocate for social change who I envision myself to become. I can finally see that, although I love New York City dearly and loved my life there in so many ways, the productivity and success I’m seeking are incompatible with that life. 

Just as I had tried to shoehorn myself into the mainstream (read: cis white male) ideals of academic success throughout my time as a student, the last 3 years of my life were spent trying to fold myself into all sorts of different shapes, each time hoping that I’d found the final form that would be successful and satisfied at work as well as fit in with my work colleagues. Now that I’ve had the time to recover from the Quarantine Blues, I’m finally, blissfully realizing that I was never going to find a comfortable place in New York City because I am, and always have been, a Texan at heart. There’s a reason there are so few cacti in Brooklyn, we just need the desert climate to find our roots. 

INSPIRATION

May Day People’s Strike! Target, Amazon, Instacart Workers Demand Safe Conditions & Pandemic Relief

On Recognizing Self-Sabotage by Samia Kemal

How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation by Ann Helen Peterson

How 50 Years of Feminism in the Texas Legislature Shaped the Fights We See Today by Kate Groetzinger

Fight for Civil Rights in Texas: The Emma Tenayuca Story

My Word Is My Only Evidence

TW: Sexual assault

Dearest friends,

I first wrote this piece on February 24th, 2020, upon the receipt of a WSJ news notification that Harvey Weinstein had been convicted. Although I considered sharing it at the time, I wasn’t sure that I had anything new to contribute to the discussion; why would sharing my own story make any difference? However, as the days and weeks passed, and as stay at home orders shut down our country, another story emerged that calls into question another incredibly powerful man’s actions from his past. 

I’ve considered sharing my story many times over the years since their original occurrences, however I knew that really my only evidence is my word. And, as has become painfully obvious, when all women have is their personal memories to arm their claims, our society’s preferred response is to presume dishonesty rather than take the time to confront larger, painful truths about the people we share our lives with.

As we as a society move ahead with the coronavirus and with Tara Reade’s accusation of our presumptive Democratic nominee, it is imperative that we as a society learn to believe others especially when the only evidence they have is their word. We need to learn to believe the everyday people who deliver our food, care for our loved ones as they breathe in their last couple moments, serve as assistants to powerful men, and all the others who aren’t heroes, but who are simply alive and screaming to share their real, lived experiences of pain. 

I’m sharing my story after 6 years of hiding simple because I didn’t have any evidence besides my own memory. I’m sharing my story because I know that there are countless other women out there who, like me, deserve to be believed and trusted at our honest word. 


As soon as I saw the Wall Street Journal headline, I started sobbing. All day I had spent feeling confident that the jury would convict, not yet having realized how deeply I was yearning to see it in print nor the weight that would be lifted from my consciousness in knowing that there is now a legal precedent making it explicitly clear that nobody — regardless of their wealth or social status — is entitled to violate the bodily autonomy of another individual. 

I find myself incredibly relieved that the trial is over, and thinking towards what’s next for the #MeToo movement. This is just the beginning of a larger reckoning. Let Tarana Burke’s name be written across the sky and emblazoned on the $20 bill. Scream her name and the names of every single person who laid themselves bare and sacrificed their personal peace and private lives to the greater fight against rape culture and misogyny. I can only begin to imagine the emotional and physical toll of the years of fear and shame, let alone the most recent several years of public commentary and inquiry; and I am endlessly inspired and grateful for their extraordinary strength and courage. 

As I process the jury’s verdict, I can’t help but think about all the pain and anger that was channeled into this man’s conviction. I also can’t help but think about all the people who will never be able to experience the (presumed) bittersweet relief of having their rapist convicted. For so many of us, it’s an experience that we will only ever be able to experience vicariously, through newspaper headlines and celebrity tell-all memoirs. 

I am incredibly, painfully envious of the women who came together to build the case against Weinstein, and then had the pleasure of watching him squirm as the announcement of his sentencing decision was released. This is an incredibly uncomfortable thing to admit to myself — to acknowledge the muddy gray moral ethical area in which I reside, advocating for a criminal justice system centered around restorative justice and forgiveness, while also wanting dearly for Weinstein to spend the rest of his life, miserable, in prison. I’m okay being a Bad Feminist if it means that women around the world can hold up this legal precedent as a beacon of hope. 

Making peace with the reality that I’ll never be able to see my rapists convicted or even just take responsibility for their actions continues to be the hardest part. I will never have the relief and validation of hearing “I’m sorry for what I did. I take responsibility for the harm I have caused, and I commit to being better in the future.” Instead, like so many women, I am left to navigate the path to restoring my trust for men (and human goodness, in general) largely solo. 

I wonder if there will always be a voice in the back of my head saying, 

but if you never said “no” out loud, were you really raped? 

What makes you think anyone would believe you?

Everyone knows you had quite the reputation on campus; isn’t that what you wanted? 

You were stoned and had been drinking — you got yourself into this mess, and now have to take responsibility for your actions. 

What were you wearing that night again? Weren’t you dressed up as a Slutty Possum for Halloween?

You were the one that asked for a condom. Just because he took it off without asking you doesn’t mean you didn’t ask for it. 

My internal dialogue goes through this back and forth often, my past and future selves angrily yelling from either end of the brain hemispheres in which they reside. These are all types questions that most survivors of sexual assault are familiar with — questions that we all know people ask, some of which we’ve even received personally. One benefit of this internal dialogue is that I’ve gone over this argument so many times in my head that, at least, I know how I’ll respond next time someone asks me what I was wearing or how I didn’t even know it was rape until several years later. 

I’ll say that after years of shaming myself over what happened, I’m done idly standing by while the stories of survivors continue to be picked apart, every decision and memory being picked over by men who fear that one day they too will be outed for their abuses of trust with women. I’ll say that I am outraged that the wellbeing of survivors comes secondary to that of the person who caused us this pain in the first place. We are human beings — living, breathing and thriving — who now have to carry the unbearable knowledge of the depths to which some men will go in order to feel that they have power over another person’s body. I’ll tell them that I have never once in my life met another women who doesn’t have their own memories of being publicly humiliated by men in their life, even if they’ve grimly accepted that “boys will be boys”. I’ll say that for my only evidence is my memory; memories that will haunt me til the day I die. 

These memories which fill me with absolute all-consuming rage that I have been told to keep to myself. An outraged woman is nearly always a woman unhinged; the door was knocked off my hinges long ago by men who convinced me that the door was never supposed to be there in the first place. 

I am enraged that all my life I was told that I am too loud, and that I ask and expect too much of others. That I take things too seriously and should be careful because I was going to get myself in trouble one day. Time after time I heard story after story of friends and peers who had lost their academic progress, social standing and even a couple friends after submitting themselves to the long, painful process that is required of anyone reporting sexual misconduct on a University campus. I watched, horrified, as people I trusted and considered close friends stood up to defend my rapists because they preferred to “keep the peace” rather than face the uncomfortable reality that their friends are equally capable of kindness and friendship as they are of taking advantage of a situation, and my body. 

So, when I was raped, I didn’t speak up. I didn’t want to make a fuss nor did I even consider reporting my rapists. I couldn’t bear the thought of explaining what had happened to the Police. I knew they wouldn’t understand; I knew they wouldn’t call it rape, but they would call me crazy. 

If my memories tell me I was raped, but a Police officer says that I wasn’t because they deem my memories not memorable enough, was I still raped? If a women is assaulted and nobody sees it, did it really happen? Do I still need to pay for my wildly expensive weekly therapy appointments that my insurance still doesn’t cover because mental health isn’t a priority for private insurers? Can I not have traumatic flashbacks every time someone tries to hold my hand on a first date? If I really wasn’t raped, and I have a son someday, can you tell me that I’m not going to be kept awake at night with the fear that someday my son might become the kind of man that has sex with women when they’re passed out on the floor? Will he find her friends and bring her some water, or will he feel entitled to take a quick peek beneath her panties first? Because if not being raped were as simple as a Police Officer deeming it so, my life and the lives of people all over the world and throughout history would have been a lot easier. 

I truly, deeply, dearly hope that the Weinstein conviction leads to more guilty verdicts for perpetrators of sexual assault. I also dearly hope that the continued dialogue around #MeToo can help more people understand the importance of standing with survivors. For many, myself including, this means reflecting critically on the times where you, too, may have caused others pain, regardless of good intention. 

The unfortunate reality is that good intentions are worthless without a recognition of their real impact. What separates the good from the bad is the ability to look past your ego and recognize each of our roles in the larger war against institutionalized misogyny. If it wasn’t already crystal clear, it’s all of our responsibility to support and care for one another as co-inhabitants of a diverse & complicated international community. 

This isn’t about you, this is about all of us. 


RESOURCES & READINGS

TARA READE & JOE BIDEN

“It Shattered My Life”: Former Joe Biden Staffer Tara Reade Says He Sexually Assaulted Her in 1993

Tara Reade’s Allegations Deserve More Care

Lucy Flores isn’t alone. Joe Biden has a long history of touching women inappropriately.

HOW WE CAN MOVE AHEAD TO SUPPORT SURVIVORS

Most harassment apologies are just damage control. Dan Harmon’s was a self-reckoning.

‘You Believe He’s Lying?’ The latest debate captured Americans’ exhausting tendency to mistrust women.

Growing Efforts Are Looking At How — Or If — #MeToo Offenders Can Be Reformed

#MeToo Doesn’t Always Have to Mean Prison

On #MeToo Anniversary, Tarana Burke Talks About the Modern Movement’s Impact, Restorative Justice, and Aziz Ansari

Can #MeToo Offenders Initiate Restoration?

The Night I Followed The Dog

When I was growing up, my absolute favorite book was “The Night I Followed the Dog” by Nina Laden. In the children’s book, a young boy notices that his trusted dog had been sneaking out every evening, always returning just as the sun came up. After spending night after night witnessing his dog’s inscrutable patterns, he finally works up the courage to follow his dog out on the town one night. However, after tailing his dog for the evening, he realizes that his dog has been sneaking off to a nightclub every night. After he sees his dog hastily ushered into the dark club by a pair of intimidating bulldog bouncers, the young boy rushes over to protect him. The bulldogs quickly turn around to growl at the boy, but the dog calls them off — “Let him go boys, he’s with me.” Turns out, the boy’s family dog was a bit of a dog mob boss in their neighborhood. 

I still think about this book often, especially in the last year since I adopted my dog, Otis. Although I had many family dogs growing up in Texas, Otis is the first dog that has been my responsibility alone to care for. I had a vague sense that the experience would be different somehow, that our relationship would be stronger for spending so much time one on one, and I’d have a better understanding of Otis, as a fellow being. I just had no idea how, in addition to the beautiful relationship that Otis and I have developed over the last year, he would also support me in my own personal battles in life. Regardless of how the world whips by, the morning ritual of our walk around the block brings me back to solid footing. Even on days when I can’t muster the will to care for myself, I know I must get up and at least care for his several times daily — I have to put on clothes, feed him (maybe grab a snack for myself in the process if I remember), and spend at least 15 minutes outside a couple times a day — lest I risk him acting out. Don’t let the charming glint in his eye and toothy grin fool you, he’s an absolute drama queen when he hasn’t gotten a good walk in. 

When I went through a rough breakup last year, Otis got me up and out the door, day after day, like nobody else could. It would have been so easy to feel so completely alone and isolated in my Brooklyn apartment as I put myself back together, but the multiple walks outside throughout the day always forced me to recognize the human experiences I could still share with my neighbors and strangers at the park, always brightening my day just enough to carry on to the next. Even just the routine of walks created the structure in my life I needed as a foundation for rituals of self-care, reminding my to feed and water myself just as I did for him. 

A couple months ago when I was still living in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, I decided to visit a neighborhood friend while out on my evening walk with Otis. As is common for many apartments in the area, it had a makeshift patio area on top of the garage of the unit below. Although the patios look purposefully built in many ways, you can always tell they were a secondary addition because you often have to crawl out of a bedroom window in order to access them. 

That evening we decided to go sit outside on the patio and enjoy one of the last pleasant evenings before winter struck, and we’d be forced to wistfully watch nature from the insides of our cramped apartments. Knowing Otis’ anxious tendencies, I gently put him out of the window ahead of me, gently cooing and trying to get him to relax out on the patio as I turned to try to scramble out of the window after him, trying to avoid having him run off before I had the chance to check on him. Before my friend could even utter the words “how does he do on patioo—OH MY GOD”, Otis had leaped over the low patio wall, falling a story and a half down into the backyards below. I scrambled in panic out the window and over to the patio’s edge to peer over and see Otis, motionless on the ground below. In that moment, our brief relationship flashed before my eyes. My stomach and I both sank to the ground, panicking at the realization of how deeply entrenched the 20lb gremlin had become in my heart. 

I called down to him desperately, and, in that moment, my world came to a halt and I witnessed a miracle — Otis gave a quick shake back to consciousness, having knocked himself completely out on the pebbly ground (or, more likely, my Nona blessed us both that night from up in heaven). I bid my friend a hasty goodbye and ran downstairs to the bodega below, yelling across the counter at the teenaged deli cashier to please let me into their backyards so that I could retrieve my miracle dog. After getting past the presumed joke of it all, I was allowed to run out back to find Otis running around, thrilled at the opportunity to run around without my oversight, as if he hadn’t just come back from the dead. I swooped him up into my arms and ran out past the bodega full of onlookers waiting to see if my dog was still alive, and threw both of us into the back of a Lyft home. Even though we were just a couple blocks from my apartment, I couldn’t bear to spend even one moment longer out in the cold world. Like the comfort of falling asleep in the back of your childhood car as your parents drive you home, I felt a calm sweep over me in the refuge of the backseat as I often had after a hard day out in Manhattan. Although I was always half-heartedly attempting to keep a budget, there were some nights that I just could not bear to brave another moment out in the harsh realities of big city life, and a car ride home felt like the easiest, most delicious gift I could possibly give myself in the moment.

Ever since that wild night, I have come to understand and appreciate Otis’ resilient, sweet nature all the more. Although he was pretty much unscathed after falling off the patio, he did seem to have hit his chin pretty hard; his grin is even more scraggly than before, with several of his little teeths having gotten knocked out in the fall. That night, and many after, Otis and I took care of each other, and kept each other company as we braved the rough NYC grind — together.

When I decided to leave New York, I focused all of my anxieties about the upcoming, life changing move on Otis’ wellbeing. I dove into careful preparation for Otis’ voyage from the Brooklyn apartment he’d only just recently gotten fully comfortable in, to my childhood home in San Antonio. I had myself convinced that Otis was going to be absolutely traumatized by the plane ride; I threw myself into travel arrangements and vet visits, anxiously packing up all of my things ahead of time so that I could focus, distraction-free, on Otis during moving day. It never occurred to me that moving could possibly so easy if one starts 4 weeks early, rather than just one day.  When I landed back in San Antonio, it wasn’t even a week before I went into COVID-19 quarantine; in a flash, my life had gone from being surrounded by throngs of people constantly and spending weekends out dancing with my close network of friends I’d come to depend on after 3 years in the city (like a damn fool), to co-quarantining with my mother and our collective herd of critters.

Although I know myself to be wildly lucky in finding myself at my mother’s house in our spacious, green neighborhood, the shock of sudden isolation sent me into a deep depression, leaving me powerless over my fear of what my beloved Brooklyn hideaways would look like the next time the city would be safe enough for my return. Although I feel comforted in knowing that my loved ones and I are strong enough in health to very very likely (knock on wood) make it through to the other side of this quarantine, I feel a deep haunting sense of foreboding in considering how life will be different when the US quarantine is fully lifted. When will it be safe enough to go out dancing again?  I still feel the warmth and sweat of the throbbing crowds of Friends and Lovers on Funk nights, so deeply intoxicating and exquisite. I feel so incredibly lucky to have been young, wild and free in Brooklyn once. 

I find myself going through a sort of grieving process for a lifestyle I never felt I fully experienced to its fullest potential. That’s the thing about living in New York City, the lively heartbeat of the city calls to me, reminding me that there are more adventures to experience amongst its streets. Although I’m sure I’ll see it again, I grieve the loss of my sense of young freedom, one where I didn’t worry about sharing a sip of my friend’s corona with lime, or think all that much of the beautiful, strange woman who pushed through the dark, dancing crowd to compliment my tinted glasses and gently kiss my cheek before slipping back into the throng, like a sweet drunken mirage. 

As I’m sure so many of us isolated peoples are experiencing, I am bidding adieu to the olden ways, routines and ideas imagined prior to this viral pandemic quarantine, “the new normal”. I am sad to know I’ll never really know whatever happened to my cute Brooklyn neighbor who I used to run into every Saturday at the Prospect Heights Farmers Market, always convincing myself that I’d actually go ahead and take the leap and ask him out for coffee or something, just next time. As I so often told myself, “there’s always next time.”

Although nearly everything in my life has changed over the last year — I lost several close friends, lost my boyfriend along with them, changed jobs, changed managers (3 times), left my new “adult” home to move back to my childhood one, and given up the close friends I’d spent years desperately trying to connect with amidst the chaos of New York City life — Otis is still here to remind me, everyday, three times a day, that things also stay the same. 

YEAH, OKAY

Okay has to be one of the most used and useless words in the English language. When someone asks me if I’m “okay,” what are they asking, exactly? They definitely don’t actually want to know how I’m doing, which, for many years, I really thought was the whole point. Whenever I respond honestly and say that “I’m doing okay, getting by”, I am almost always met with a look of disturbed panic as they realize that they’re going to have to come up with another thing to say lest they be labeled “RUDE” by Polite Society (not a club I’m a member of).  Turns out, what “How are you today?” is really asking is “Will you please smile and nod to acknowledge my presence?” and there is only one polite response, apparently

Broad City, Season 2 Episode 8

Another example: “You’re going to be okay.” What, is that supposed to be comforting? Sure, this works for a scraped knee or a black eye, but what about RAW, EMOTIONAL pain, like when your boyfriend unexpectedly breaks up with you, leaving you in the dust, wondering what went wrong? (Asking for a friend). Sure, I’ll be physically okay, probably, but the emotional scars take much longer to heal over and that’s just not okay. Surviving physically does not make a fulfilling life — emotional experience and interpersonal connection live in the mind, where thriving is far more complicated that survival alone.

During the summer between 7th and 8th grade, I made the ill-fated decision to dye my hair a slightly darker shade of brown than my natural hue. I remember showing off the new and improved shade to my friends at the movie theater that summer, so proud of my daring experiment, probably on our way to see the newest Twilight movie. Weeks later, when classes started back up at my small Episcopalian middle school, the dye had faded but my “bad girl” image remained (totally unbeknownst to me), with every mom at the school side-eyeing me as I climbed into my dad’s car each day. The day before winter break let out for Christmas holidays, my two best friends revealed to me that they had, in fact, been faking being my friend all semester because their mothers felt I had become a bad influence. For a brief moment, I sat in stunned silence as I looked up to watch my best friends morph into catty terror tweens before I broke into sobs and sprinted into the nearby girl’s bathroom to hide. I remember so clearly how my math teacher burst into the bathroom after me, and how relieved I felt that someone cared enough to come check on me. That is, until she asked me “Are you okay? Physically, I mean?”. I let out a feeble affirming whimper, and she left immediately, breathing out a sigh of relief that she wouldn’t have to inquire further.

Yes, I physically survived. But why aren’t you asking the two brats why they decided to dedicate their after school time to carefully planning a long con on the school Weird Girl? Why didn’t their parents get called? There was never so much of a public acknowledgement of what had happened by my teachers, only finger pointing and whispers behind my 14-year old back. Sure, I was never physically harmed, but, 10 years later, I still feel a weary uneasiness around my closest friends, wondering when (not if) they’re going to leave me in the dust, too.  

Fast forward 10+ years to last summer, when I went through a terrible, awful no-good break up when my kind, loving boyfriend morphed into my stubborn, non-communicative ex. No matter how you slice it, we both behaved badly and weren’t nearly as supportive to one another as we should have been. After things ended between us, I never heard from my ex ever again, nor had the chance to have a real, honest discussion about where things went wrong. Although my therapist, mother, brother, friends, and several strangers on the subway have assured me that I’ll get through it okay alone even without that closure, I can’t help but feel that the “everything will be okay” mantra lacks a fuller encapsulation of the emotional burden of open-ended grief. 

Sure, I am physically okay. I can still function well enough to hold onto my job and maintain strong friendships — by all accounts, I’m doing A-Okay. Yet, still, I also had a full-on anxiety attack during the last date I went on, which I ended abruptly and stormed out in hysterical tears following my date’s attempt to explain his decision to vote 3rd party in the 2016 Presidential Elections. Every night since our relationship ended last July I have been greeted by visions of running into him and his friends, and finally being able to talk and find closure. Dreams which quickly twist into terrors as he and his friends put me on mute so that they can say nasty things about me without disruption. 

I would hope that if we did ever run into each other in person that it would be a much calmer interaction, but I guess I’ll never know for sure. So, in the meantime, I’m left with nightly reenactments of conversations and arguments I’ll never be able to have. Yes, I’m physically okay, but it’s been 8 months so far, with no end in sight. 

A couple days ago, after waking up from a particularly angry dream in which I tackled my ex’s best friend to the ground in an attempt to wrestle out an apology, I realized that being physically okay after having your trust smashed to bits is simply insufficient. What is more, it allows ex partners and friends to avoid confronting the uncomfortable reality that they made a mistake and should find a way to make amends — why bother to apologize? They’ll get over it and be okay.

Why bother? Bother because it shows your loved ones past and present that you have respect for them even if you know that your relationship is not going to last. Bother because everyday that you wait to take responsibility and open a conversation with the person you hurt, you give them 24 more hours of anxious spiraling wondering what they did wrong. Bother because the knowledge of hurting another person should be a prompt to self reflect and communicate even harder, rather than an Irish Goodbye. 

It took me a long time to really understand the importance of reconciliation and humility in my everyday life. I mean, why isn’t saying your sorry enough? Maybe if I avoid it, they’ll just forget. I know I’ve been guilty of this logic many a time: If I say out loud that what I did was wrong then it’ll just become a bigger deal, so, instead, I’ll ignore it and hope that nobody else noticed. My pride is my biggest obstacle when it comes to apologies; I spend so much of my time concerned about how I’m viewed by others, that when I do mess up, my good intentions can cloud over the reality of their unforeseen consequences. One of the hardest facts of life to really internalize is that good intentions do not ensure positive outcomes, which, if you think about it: duh! Of course we can’t control the ripple effects of our actions, but we can control how we approach the aftershock.   

According to Oxford, the word “apology” refers to an acknowledgement of an offense or failure. By definition, a true apology requires not only an admission, but an acknowledgement of offense – a public declaration of why what you did broke trust that. Although much easier said than done, I am have found that every time that I am able to muster the will to admit my mistakes and acknowledge why my behavior was disrespectful, I develop a fuller understanding of how taking responsibility for one’s human nature can make me happier and a kinder, more understanding friend, colleague, and romantic partner. 

I can’t go back in time to change how I’ve participated in relationship turmoil in the past, but I can move forward, and continue to remind myself to set aside my pride more often in order to better understand how two people can meet each other where they are to find common ground and community. My ex and I will never go back to being okay, but why would we want that anyways? I’d rather be better. 

QUEER IDOLS

When I first learned what a bisexual was, it was an insult. It meant a lesbian who couldn’t make up their mind — a stop-over on the way to Gay Town. In hindsight, Gay Town sounds like a dreamland.

I was always raised to be an accepting person. I had two, liberal parents who taught me to respect people for who they are — not their census identity-categorization. In high school we were taught about social justice issues, and I accepted it all without question. I felt good knowing surely that I was neither a homophobe nor racist nor sexist — a great way for a middle-class white woman to be. Although I did feel a nagging sense that there had to be more to racism and homophobia than simply learned-hatred, I didn’t call people slurs or self-segregate, so I was aaallll good. 

When I got to college, I randomly got a slot in a Sociology 101 class that came with a healthy reality check. Although I had been introduced to gender-neutral pronouns and micro-aggressions during orientation, I didn’t really have an understanding of how it all fit together nor how it affected me. In the class, I was introduced to a more in-depth understanding of Social Justice, Racism, Sexism, Ableism, and so many of the other -isms that make up inequity in US society. More than that, I learned about myself in the process. I learned how I personally internalized these -isms my entire life, and continued to enact harm on myself and others in my everyday routines and interactions. One thing is for sure — there was no turning back to “ignorance is bliss” after starting to study Sociology (I went even went on to get a degree in it). But, in learning, I also found self-empowerment. 

I will never forget learning about the Gender and Sexuality spectrum for the first time — my mind was blown. What bored most of my New Englander classmates who had learned about these concepts many years before, flipped my world upside down. Much to my growing delight, I learned about all the many diverse ways in which a person can happily live; all of which were in stark contrast to the cookie-cutter nuclear family ideas I’d come to learn in Texas. Which is especially interesting considering that I had an exceptionally strong educational background for a Texan public school applicant. I went to private school through middle school, after which I transferred to a public charter high school — a high school with a strong track record of Ivy-League graduates. However, one of the many gaps in that exceptional education was in LGBTQ+ History. 

So, in college, when I started to realize that I was attracted to women, I ignored it. I was completely fine with other people being gay, but I was positive that I was straight. Because I’d always been straight.  I’d considered homosexuality in the past, though I never saw myself as a lesbian. I mean, I didn’t identify with Ellen Degeneres, or David Bowie, or any of the queer characters on Orange is the New Black, so I didn’t think I was gay. In my mind, queer people were different than me, a separate, distinct category.

I wasn’t like really interested in dating women, I just had a crush on like one. Okay, 5. 

But I’ve never even been with a woman, how could I possibly know that I’m gay?

Also! I enjoy sex with men — men with dicks. So I couldn’t be gay.

Real gay people realize that they’re gay when they’re a child, I would surely know by now.

I have long hair, so I don’t really think I’m, like, “queer”.

AND I use she/her pronouns. I can’t use the word queer for myself.

All the queer people I know are so cool, I would never fit in. 

I don’t think I’d enjoy sex with a woman, seems gross. (It’s not, and I did, a lot). 

I don’t remember exactly when I started having these arguments with myself, but, eventually, after I drunkenly re-added women on Tinder for the 3rd weekend in a row I knew I needed to give myself space to explore this new part of my identity.

Intellectually I knew that exploring one’s sexuality is a completely normal, healthy thing to do, but I couldn’t get past the thick social anxiety persuading me that I would be shunned by my friends. I remember the first time I mentioned chatting with a woman on Tinder, very casually of course, and waited anxiously for my friends to mock me. AHAHA LIZ YOU’RE IN YOUR “EXPERIMENTING” PHASE HOW CUTE! YOURE NOT, LIKE, REALLY QUEER THOUGH.

Blessedly, the mocking did not, and has not, arrived. I am incredibly grateful that my “coming out” to my parents was a casual mention that was met with supportive love, rather than the social blacklisting that I had feared. It was, nevertheless, one of the scariest moments of my entire life. 

Although I am much more comfortable with saying aloud that I’m queer than I was a month ago, and evolutions away from where I was in high school, the process of writing this essay is still sending me into a bit of a panic. I’m still working up to being comfortable saying that I’m gay — what is it about labels that makes us feel so confined? 

I’ve been writing this essay for months, but have only recently felt safe enough to claim queerness publicly. There’s still an argument in my head, volleying violently back and forth, in which Self Preservation is pleading with me to keep this one unpublished, reminding me of the times I’ve been burned in the past. However, in learning to love queerness and unlearning my internalized homophobia, I have found that the more I share of myself the more I am able to connect with others. And, in learning about others, I learn new ways to be kinder to myself and my community — to be undefinable. I am my own queer idol. 


More Queer Idols

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DIGNITIES

I found a nest in the woods today. I almost walked right by it, but the careful woodwork and tender shelter caught my eye. I couldn’t help but be delighted (thrilled!) by my discovery. What a strange and beautiful labor of love to have stumbled upon on a Saturday morning walk. My imagination filled with the image of Baba Yaga, carefully building the structure for her nightly rest. 

BY LIZARD LETTER 2020

I peeked into the structure, and couldn’t help but notice both the careful shelter created here and the stunning lack of human footprint. I’m still a bit awestruck by its construction. I wondered about the person who had clearly taken much careful time and effort to build the structure: I noted the skilled architecture, the sturdy frame and the smaller branches and leaves used to soften the edges of the temporary home. There wasn’t so much as a shoe print left behind. Even in the short time that this person(s) spent here, there is clearly so much human resilience built into its design. I wish I could meet the home’s past inhabitants, thank them for building this beautiful structure and see if perhaps their next home was able to offer even more shelter and protection from the outside world. 

One thing that really struck me about it was the dignity and love with which it was constructed, as well as that was offered to its inhabitants, present and future. I’d seen other temporary “shelters” in the vicinity — tarps on the ground, scattered water bottles and children’s shoes. However, none so beautiful and caring as this one. The people who built this short-term home made the most out of what limited resources were available to them, as we often see in times of crisis. What I struggle to really grapple with is the system that created the circumstances in the first place. Yes, it is a beautiful nest, but in such a distressing context.

All people are deserving of respect and dignity, regardless of circumstance, background, or identity. In our everyday lives, watching the news, interacting with strangers, I know it can feel difficult, tiring even, to consistently keep this in perspective. I was always taught that if you break a law, then you are deserving of punishment. That’s the way our system works; as if, because it’s The System, it is not expected to evolve with the people subjected to said system.  

What always bothered me about our understanding of crime & punishment, is that it contributes to the idea that when people face hardships (lose their job, can’t make rent, can’t afford to launder their clothes as frequently as perhaps I can) there is a bit of a habit to assume that they are deserving of the outcomes, whatever they are. Constant unlearning, questioning, relearning ideas that are foundational to our understanding of life is exhausting difficult work to do; but I see no other alternative.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned of late is to stop for a moment and question these assumptions that I might have otherwise just moved past previously. How does that assumption really play out, especially in the life of someone who is housing-insecure? Especially amidst the calls for quarantine and social distancing, there are a lot of people in the United States for whom that simply is not an option. When we’re all inside, it’s hard to know and see all the people out there who are still just looking for a place to ride out the storm, or who might not have the time or means to get to the one grocery store on the other side town that still has toilet paper in stock. 

At least, it is for me. I know when I’m anxious, my mind is filled with concerns of myself; how others are judging me, how productive I’m being during this time, feeling guilty that I’m not doing more to help combat COVID-19, and wondering when I’m going to be able to hang out with my friends again. When anxious, I crave immediate control of my circumstance. However, what I often have to remind myself is that, in the grand scheme of things, these concerns will pass. After the quarantine is lifted, my life will largely return back as it was prior, and my anxieties will eventually pass (at least for the time being). 

As I walked away from the nest in the woods, I thought about the people who had found shelter there. In the end, it doesn’t matter so much who they were, or how they came to build their temporary home here, but why they felt they had nowhere else to go. It’s so easy to get caught up in the larger political arguments, that I often fail to remember that there are communities within my direct neighborhood I have the resources to support

Neighborhood justice begets city-wide justice begets statewide, national, international change. It’s hard to recognize our larger impact, but, something that COVID-19 has really drawn into focus for many of us is our impact on others. We are social distancing because we as a whole society have such a hard time fully understanding our impact on others. We are all so much more powerful that we give ourselves credit for. Give yourself some credit, too. 


OUTRUNNING COVID-19

About 2 months ago I made the decision to leave my dream job at a global health nonprofit in New York City and move back home to San Antonio, TX. Although I dreaded leaving my supportive coworkers and my community of friends I’d built up over the last 7 years living away from home, I knew that I needed to give myself a break from the crowds and breakneck pace of New York City. Leaving Brooklyn felt hauntingly similar to the heartache of a breakup from a tormented relationship; it’s not me, it’s the MTA.

I feel stronger for having found a place for myself amidst the chaos of Manhattan, though, after months (perhaps years) of anxiety and denial, I have found great peace in finally accepting that I simply am not the type of person who is willing to prioritize the New York lifestyle and career over my financial and mental wellbeing. While living in Brooklyn, I kept finding myself seeking out larger spaces, with closer access to parks and fewer crowds; so much so that I was willing to live paycheck to paycheck and build up a substantial credit card bill just to enjoy those privileges. At some point, I had to just accept that living in the photogenic Brooklyn apartment would require giving up financial security and access to wide-open spaces. I could either live in Brooklyn and dedicate my personal and professional time to surviving New York City, or I could move home, slow down, and dive into the great unknown; as a consummate impulsive Leo, I chose the latter. 

Since I moved back home, the serendipities of my timing continue to give me hope in these strange and uncertain times. My flight from JFK back to San Antonio was on March 3rd, and only just missed the full arrival of Coronavirus to New York City. I found out weeks later that my roommate back in Brooklyn caught the virus just one day after I left. In so many ways, I feel like I’ve been just a moment ahead of its influence for the last several weeks now. While working in global health development and communications, the tumultuous timeline of the pandemic has disrupted all corners of my life — and I’m one of the incredibly lucky ones. We have yet to fully reckon with the full consequences of coronavirus, but one thing I know for sure is that it’s only the beginning. 

I’ve been running away from the reality of this pandemic, and I think I’m not the only one. I have been denying to myself that it’s affecting my mental and physical wellbeing — I am one of the lucky ones, after all. When I decided to commit to working in community justice I never realized that the energy and enthusiasm required for managing the personal emotional toll of aid work would require just as much attention and care (often more) than what’s needed to effectively support my fundraising team in my professional life.

Since the news broke I’ve felt eerily calm, knowing that the full recognition of the scale of this pandemic yet to come. As I think is common for many political junkies like myself, I am often disturbed by my desensitization towards horrifying events in United States’ everyday politics and international presence. On the one hand, if I actively tried to process every single news story these days I would no doubt never recover from the resulting cynicism and outrage towards our world’s injustices. However, I also know that my discomfort is a small price to pay in order to advocate for stronger community justice where I can. It’s a delicate balance; I have accepted that I’m going to be making mistakes often. Since joining the nonprofit world, my peers and coworkers continue inspire me in their ability to create change and inspire hope wherever they go, and at whatever level they’re able. Being an activist and social justice advocate means committing yourself to a lifetime of humility and learning; of learning to use your mistakes to energize the motivate you forward, trusting that it’ll all come together eventually. 

As an introvert, this quarantine offered a welcome opportunity (initially) to embrace my love of social distancing “for fun”. However, one can only be anti-social for so long before they forget what a normal volume of speaking sounds like. The giddy rush of freedom akin to an unexpected snowday or playing hooky has passed, and now I am left to search out new avenues for human connection and serotonin. 

I simply am not handling this quarantine as I hoped I would. I’ve always had the hope for myself that, in case of crisis, I would be able to find the courage to stand up for my beliefs, courageously and without fear. Though nobody would ever wish a tornado or pandemic on their hometown, I’d like to think that if they ever did threaten me and my family that I’d be able to set aside my fear and do what’s needed. In reality, I am only human — a woman trying her best. 

COVID-19 finally caught up with me, thought not in the way I had feared. I’m using this time as an opportunity to hone in on combatting the Corona Rut by forcing myself out of my comfort zones. I am focusing on the critical moment of right now where the health equity movement has an opening the make great strides in spite of our government leaders’ efforts to legislate profits over human rights justice. 

One of the greatest lessons I will carry with me from working with Global Health Corps is the immense power of the collective will of a dedicated community inspired by thoughtful diverse leaders. Artists, mechanics, professors, lawyers, nurses, sanitation workers — all of our skill sets have power and a role to play. Contribute whatever and wherever you can. Make your activism work for you, but, most importantly, make it count in your community.