Thoughts on Activism and Being in Three Movements

In this post, Let’s dig a little bit deeper into my thoughts on activism and being in three movements to address the social and emotional sides in general, and, in my case, with adoption from Korea in particular and how it all relates to individuals who are perhaps a little different from the average person and have to deal with “transphobia”. Read on to learn what my activism is all about.

First: Crescendo. Marcato.
The Recipe

Step 1: Combine equal parts Doodle scheduler, conference call, shared Google Document, pronoun self-determination check-in question, transformative justice rhetoric, non-hierarchical consensus process.
Step 2: Add anger. Add outrage. Add fierceness. Add passion.
Step 3: Paint signs. Paint more signs. Paint a banner. Paint the town … red.
Step 4: Create a Facebook event. Invite everyone you know. That “Share” button is technology’s new wheat paste, so go big or go home. Adhere it to your Wall between a billet-doux to organic kale and a rant on OKCupid’s lack of gender & sexuality options. Gotta be down for the struggle and the snuggle, right?
Step 5: Get up. Get out there. The revolution is not a “House of Cards” Netflix binge. Boots on the pavement. Chants in the megaphone. KYR in the pocket. Fire in the heart.

Let’s do more. Let’s sleep less. Let’s shout louder. Let’s “put our bodies on the line.” Let’s show them. Let’s show them we really care. Let’s show them we really want it. Let’s fight harder. Let’s fight longer. Let’s never re-evaluate our goals. Let’s never question “why?” Let’s keep going. Let’s assume we’re all here for the same reason. Let’s not bother to save each other. Let’s not bother to save ourselves.

Let’s. Not. Stop. Until. We. Die.
Let’s. Not. Stop. Until. We. Win.

Second: Forte. Con Brio.
Feminism, I Wish I Knew How to Quit You. Or That You Knew How to Quit Yourself.

I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. It seems I can’t get you off of my mind. I keep going back and forth about you, and I think you know why. ‘Cause just like all your friends out there, sometimes you’ll be looking GOOD and then other times you are just DOWNRIGHT PROBLEMATIC.

See, I’ve been into you since high school, back when I would doodle your name on my notebooks and dream about our future together, hearts and stars and all that. It’s not like I could keep us under wraps either, what with that Lilith Fair t-shirt and Kat Stratford attitude I wore everywhere. I even joined the Model UN Women’s Issues Committee to try and get next to you! We were gonna end female infanticide together. Well, along with some overeager boys in khakis from the school district three towns over, but what did they know ‘bout us? True story, though, it was tough being so into you where I grew up out there in my cornfield farm town, where I didn’t know anyone else who was like us (except maybe on AOL and the TV), and the first time I came out about anything, it was about loving you.

So since we go way back, I thought we could have some real.talk.about what the FUCK has been going on with you lately. I know you’ve got lots of other loves, and I’m definitely down for whatever kind of non-monogamous, polyamorous arrangement you need. But White Feminism has been your primary partner for way too long now, and I just can’t sit by and say nothing.

I mean, are you serious right now?!

You’re letting Amanda Marcotte defend the arrests of sexual assault survivors to compel them to testify in court?! You’re trying to have a convo about how your white cis-ters get cyberbullied without calling out when they’re bullying too?! You’re okay with grown women peddling their transphobia and bullying high school students all in your name?! You’re allowing white adoptive parents to be the spokespeople on transracial adoption?! You’re spending your time trying to ban “bossy” but are silent for this noise?! And don’t you even get me started on One Billion Rising. #facepalm #headdesk #sideeye

It’s like I don’t even recognize you anymore! Or maybe I’ve changed too much, learned too much, gotten radicalized too much. Actually, no. I’m not letting you off the hook that easy. I can’t just walk away after all we’ve been through. I know you’ve got it in you because I know who you met before you came into my life — Grace Lee Boggs, Audre Lorde, Helen Zia, Angela Davis, bell hooks, the list goes on.

As for me, you know what I’m about. I’ve got the spirit of a colonized people that fought/keeps fighting for freedom and the resilience of sexual slavery survivors whose blood also runs through my veins. I became part of someone’s savior-martyr game plan after their guns and bombs and soldiers destroyed everything, and then I was told to shut up and be grateful because I wasn’t a child prostitute on the streets of Seoul. I am who I am today because of you! So, like hell if I’m gonna watch you get mixed up with all those other people who want to use you to make the military stronger, to legitimize prison systems, to tell trans* folks their identities aren’t real. I KNOW THAT’S NOT WHO YOU WERE MEANT TO BE.

Let’s stop pretending that if you keep Criminal Legal System around that people are ever gonna get to know the real you. Let’s get real that if you stay tight with War On Women and her girls-only talk that Queer & Trans Inclusive Reproductive Justice are never gonna want to hang, and they’ve got the best damn analysis and the best damn dance parties. And seriously, unless you start calling Carceral Feminism on some shit, then I just know the entire Women of Color, Immigrant, and Prison Abolitionist crew is gonna walk and then who will you be left with — Eve Ensler and whoever wrote those RAINN recommendations to the White House?

So I think you know what you’ve got to do. I’m here for you and I’ve BEEN here for you, even before I fully knew you or myself. Let’s try and reconnect, okay? Let’s try and get it the fuck together ‘cause I’m not ready to walk away from you just yet.

Third: Adagio. Coda.
What Does It Mean to Win If We Lose Each Other in the Process?

I haven’t left my apartment in three days. I’ve barely left my bed.

Two nights ago, she pulled a bottle of pills out of my hand as I pleaded that I was just so tired — emotionally, psychologically, physically, spiritually. Then she held me while I sobbed myself toward sleep, the first I’d gotten all week because the flashbacks to that night in June 2003, to that night in 2018 came every time I closed my eyes.

Today, I’ll go for a walk. There is a boardwalk on the beach at the end of my street. We’ll sit at the edge of it and stare out at the gray-blue waters of Lake Michigan. He buys a new disposable camera each season, so we will aim it somewhere in the direction of our faces and take silly off-center selfies. I’ll tell him and myself that if I can make it through the next 41 days, I’ll see another birthday. I’ll be around when all the pictures he’s taken are finally developed. This is a promise I’ll keep.

Tomorrow, I’ll remind myself that the processes of unexperiencing trauma and unfeeling shame are not linear, are not quick, and may not be absolute. I’ll remind myself that I’m not to blame for this, that experiencing anxiety isn’t a sign of weakness, that I can’t force my therapy sessions to calm my triggers and to erase my PTSD. I’ll remind myself that I’m healing and it’ll take time. I’ll breathe deeply. I’ll sit quietly. I’ll simplify my life. I’ll not try to accomplish everything anymore.

Eventually, I’ll share this part of myself with the people I love. Eventually, I’ll fall apart again and it’ll be in front of them and it’ll be messy. I’ll need them to be strong for me without pity or a desire to fix me. I won’t try and claim invincibility. I won’t hide my true emotions behind my anger at all the world’s injustices. I won’t perpetuate the notion that strength means always having your shit together. I won’t pretend that surviving isn’t sometimes hard and fucked up. Eventually, I’ll share this part of myself with the world.

My non-work email inbox overflows with unread messages. I silently resent their senders for not asking me how I am, but only why I haven’t responded. Yet I don’t let on that I’m in pain either. I have so internalized this narrative of the “fierce public organizer” that not only do I believe that the pace and nature of my activism aren’t harming me, but I’ve convinced myself that I just need to pour more of my soul into it. Mapping out how to “build community” will make it better. Discussing the importance of “self-care” will make it better. Remembering that we’re all surviving something will make it better.

As organizers, what do we hide from ourselves and from others? What private vulnerabilities and deep hurts do we tuck away under our cloaks of public outrage? What personal traumas do we relive every time we unearth the facts and figures and blog posts and news items of the most-in-need that help us “make our case” to funders, to legislators, to each other? How do I forge ahead when the simple acts of staying informed and reading the news leave me triggered and depressed? As a person of color, a bi and queer woman, an immigrant, an adoptee, a survivor of sexual violence, does my activism always have to achieve something tangible or can simply existing be enough of a political statement right now?

The idea of infusing our movement work with love and care isn’t a new one, but too often the movement — even at its most progressive, even at its most liberatory — doesn’t and can’t love us back. We’re expected to educate anyone who asks about our identities and lives when Google can often achieve this goal with similar outcomes. We’re asked to use our personal pain to serve our advocacy goals, but are not asked afterward how we can use our stories to heal ourselves.

I think back to all of the times I got too little sleep, delayed a meal, scheduled over my “me” time, and fit in yet another meeting because there was a deadline or a deliverable, because there was a policy change to fight for, because if I didn’t show up then the [insert identity or political belief here] wouldn’t be represented “at the table.” I have sat through conversations that critique both the “capitalist nature of our society” and a fellow organizer’s “lack of productivity” in the same breath without getting called out for hypocrisy.

How did we let ourselves and our movements get to this place? There are at least one hundred likely answers to this question that I don’t have and maybe only a few that I do. Rethinking the ways that we envision and demand change in this world is long overdue and goes beyond the debate of whether to end self-care or better infuse it into our daily lives. We need to stop glorifying “tirelessness” as a key trait of committed activists. We need to stop shaming — intentionally and unintentionally — people who step back from work that undermines health and wellness. We need to stop telling marginalized folks that they are responsible for changing organizations that recreate the violent systems they are trying to dismantle, and then blaming a lack of change on the fact that they’re no longer present. I’ve been complicit in all of this, and I need to stop too.

I’m thinking back to the first time I read Fugitive Visions in 2011. It was cathartic, the ways I connected with Jane Jeong Trenka’s memories of her adoptive parents’ remarks, with her struggle for self, with her search for community and justice. I’m remembering the pieces of me that I’ve discovered and rediscovered in my evolution toward authentic Asian American self-love. I’m finding feminism again, only this time I’m not a teenager and this time it’s better. I’m remembering the story of the friend who couldn’t go on. I’m thinking about the friends I’ve lost along the way. I’m thinking about how I almost lost myself. I believe in change, and I believe in the future; I wouldn’t still consider myself an activist, an organizer, an educator if I didn’t. But I dream of a future where we fight for each other as much as we fight for our collective survival.

Let’s. Not. Stop. Until. We. Win?
Let’s. Stop. Now. Before. This. Destroys. Us. All.