5. Connection/ Community

Intentions for the New Decade


  1. Less sarcasm, more validation 
  2. No platform for white supremacy
  3. Honor personal relationships as the core of our organizing
  4. Let life take twists and turns, as needed
  5. Love
  6. Heal, and get hurt, and heal, and get hurt
  7. Hope beyond hope, with eyes wide open
  8. Read more novels
  9. Dance
  10. Treat people as human
  11. Treat myself as human
  12. Help myself get sleep and rest
  13. Ask for help when I need it
  14. Explore my own vulnerability
  15. Explore my own strength
  16. Go to the ocean
  17. Learn to cook (just kidding)
  18. Always be antifascist

3. Queer Stuff, 5. Connection/ Community

Preaching for Pride Month

This piece is adapted from a sermon I wrote to preach at Sojourners UCC Church in Charlottesville on Sunday, June 9. I was invited to speak in honor of Pride Month about queer-inclusive faith communities. I began by reading the poem “WHAT THE QUEER COMMUNITY SHOULD HAVE TOLD US” by Kai Cheng Thom, a trans woman of color writer, performer, lasagna lover, and wicked witch.

I first read this poem years ago and thought yes, that’s what I need to hear. That’s what I need to hear over and over again.

Once when I was in college, we had a student and faculty queer mentoring event I barely remember except for Dr. Karen Singleton, a queer Black woman therapist, answering a question about what she wished she’d been told growing up about being gay.

She said: “I wish someone told me it was going to be fun. It’s really fun.”

20-year-old me breathed that thought into the depths of my body. I wanted that feeling. I wanted that fun.

I’d known I was queer for a long time before coming out. I didn’t know being queer would be so much fun. I didn’t know it would be so worth it. Worth everything. The pleasure of queer love, sex, romance. The indescribable feeling of feeling like myself.

And the other feeling layered on top of that, the feeling we call Pride. Not hubris, but pride as a good thing, pride as celebration. Telling my new coworkers about my wonderful girlfriend and her two wonderful daughters. Putting “queer femme” in my twitter bio. Visiting my favorite queer beaches and dyke bars.

The origin of Pride Month is the 1969 Stonewall uprising. Trans women of color fought back against police violence at the Stonewall Inn gay bar in New York and that’s the origin of what we honor each June.

So Pride isn’t just about coming out.

It’s about fighting back.

It’s about the acts of resistance that directly dismantle systems of oppression and liberate us and our loved ones.

Protest. Organizing. Activism.

It’s not just about who we are. It’s about what we need from the world in order to best be who we are, in order to love and thrive and have so much fun. And it’s about what we need to change in the world in order to best meet those needs for ourselves and all who come after us. Queer liberation challenges and changes the status quo.

So what does it mean to celebrate Pride as people of faith? What does it mean to celebrate Pride as a faith community?

My comments today primarily focus on this second question. I will weave a story in three parts, through three communities: the one in which I came of age before I came out; the one through which I re-entered my faith as I was coming out; and the one I yearn for now.

I am Jewish, so my experiences with personal faith and faith communities come from there.


1: Coming of Age

The community in which I came of age shows us the limits of liberal inclusion.

I grew up in a liberal community outside of Boston, Mass. I was a teenager in the middle of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell era at the turn of the 21st century. My large public high school had a Gay Straight Alliance and featured queer student speakers in our annual Diversity days. I had access to seeing, meeting, and learning from lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, and genderqueer people. I loved these opportunities and drank in thirstily every drop of queerness made available to me.

But no one ever told me it was fun to be gay. They told me gay teens were at risk for being targeted, bullied, rejected, depressed. They told me gay teens were often looked down on and had a hard time.

The desires surfacing in me made me nervous.

In the same sex ed class where I decided I wouldn’t have hetero-sex in high school because I didn’t want to risk getting pregnant, I also decided I would not come out in high school. I would not be a lesbian. I decided I was fine with being secretly bisexual and I would just focus on having crushes on guys and acting straight.

I didn’t want to be gay in high school. Not because I didn’t want to be gay ever or because I thought gay people were gross, but because I wanted to be a high achieving high school student and get into an elite college before going through what sounded like a very painful potentially volatile coming out process.

I did. I dated boys and didn’t come out and did get into an elite college.

Throughout high school, I was active in Conservative Jewish youth group, a branch of Judaism with a history of condemning same-sex sexual behavior that at the time of my adolescence allowed neither gay rabbis nor same-sex marriages. There was a lot of hetero dating going on in youth group, and examples of homophobic teasing targeting boys and girls that I’ve decided not to detail here. I don’t remember any conversations with adults about sexual orientation, until one weekend my senior year when they brought in Scott Fried, a  gay Jewish HIV-positive writer/educator who arrived full of affirmations and assurance. He told us over and over again: “You are sacred and more than enough.”

You are sacred and more than enough.

The antidote to shame is not tolerance or inclusion. The antidote to shame is enthusiastic affirmation.

You are sacred and more than enough.

I am sacred and more than enough.

It wasn’t everything, but it was a start.


2: Coming back and coming out

The community in which I re-entered my faith as I was coming out shows us the benefits and limitations of affirmation.

I got to college, and eventually, I took space from my faith.

Although the Jewish Conservative movement had adjusted some towards LGBT-inclusion, such incremental steps did not appeal to me. I wanted queerness. I yearned for queerness. I’d heard by this point, you may remember, that queerness could be super fun. And I believed it. To join a faith community again, I needed a space vibrant with queerness.

I was invited to a weekend retreat called Jews in the Woods. Before Friday night worship began, we went around in a circle to share our names and pronouns. We had workshops on consent, and many informal conversations about gender and sexuality. Through these retreats I met people based in Boston who would bring me into the Kavod Jewish social justice community when I moved home after college. This pluralistic community was rich with queer people and queer culture and queer faith and even queer sexuality.

It was with the Kavod community in Boston that I discovered the Sexual Orientation Spiderweb. Without the time — and the props — to walk you through it here, I’ll just say I found it on an online discussion board for people who are asexual, or don’t experience any sexual attractions. The sexual orientation spiderweb is a way to diagram a person’s different degrees of intensity for different kinds of desires, like desires for touch, sex, love, romance, and emotional intimacy, desires that may be oriented towards different kinds of people, like men, women, genderqueer people, butch dykes, femme queers, you name it. Literally, you label the spiderweb yourself.

The sexual orientation spiderweb was so much fun. It was fun to discover, fun to use, fun to teach. And it was really, really fun that those same people discovering it with me were also by my side as we observed Shabbat and holidays together within our faith community.

What we found in the sexual orientation spiderweb was a tool to help us identify, name, and express our own sexuality. It helped us gain clarity about what sexual connections we did or did not want to pursue in our lives — it also helped us feel Pride.

But let’s return that conception of Pride I explained earlier…

Pride is about what we need from the world in order to best be who we are, in order to love and thrive and have so much fun. And Pride is about what we need to change in the world in order to best meet those needs for ourselves and for all who come after us.

The Sexual Orientation Spiderweb and the other community-building education work I did with Kavod met some needs of visibility and recognition. It showed this community was diverging from Jewish institutional histories of active and passive homophobia. It met the need to build a faith community committed to the explicit sacredness of queer people and queer love.

But there were so many tangible needs we weren’t meeting, and weren’t prepared to meet. We were not changing the material conditions of our lives, and we certainly weren’t changing conditions for people outside our own beloved community.


3: Yearning

The community I yearn for now is both pro-queer and anti-fascist. It is taking action to make changes not just amongst ourselves but in the world at large.

Content note: In this next section, I talk generally about fascism, and specifically about the white supremacist attacks on Charlottesville in 2017.

During and after Charlottesville’s 2017 Summer of Hate, people who knew me in the Northeast before I moved here kept asking, why had I changed my focus? Why, when I used to be focused on sex ed and supporting queer youth, was I now talking mostly about fighting white supremacy? Why the apparent pivot?

I want to take artistic license here to say it was not a pivot at all but rather a clear extension of my sexuality work, but that is not the full story, is it? The summer of 2017 was actually much more than a pivot for so many of us. It was — devastating. Traumatic. Life-threatening and life-changing and life-defining and horrible and terrifying and wrong. It was a fight against an active genocidal agenda that’s been brewing for centuries and decades and years and escalating right under our feet in a way I personally hadn’t fully faced until I stood literally face to face with those fascists, and witnessed their racist rhetoric and sexist slurs and homophobic taunts.

Because while my work and much of Charlottesville anti-fascist organizing has appropriately focused on how white supremacist anti-Black racism underlies American fascism, neither white supremacy nor fascism is one-dimensional. Racism, misogyny, anti-semitism, islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and more are intricately linked together in the web of lies that forms the foundation of fascist justification for a genocidal authoritarian hetero-patriarchal White ethno-state.

I pivoted because I learned. I learned that my own survival as a queer person and Jewish person depends on more than affirmation and education. I learned that a community that affirms queerness is better than a merely tolerant one, but is still not enough. Affirmation is not enough. Loving queer people requires defending queer people, which requires action against people who want us dead.

This past week, 50 years after the Stonewall uprising, the New York City police department apologized for raiding that sacred queer space. But this apology from the NYPD, from an institution responsible for so much lethal and life-destroying violence against queer and trans people in the past 50 years, is not enough. We are still in danger.

In the same week as this NYPD apology for homophobic violence half a century ago, news broke that my own home city of Boston, Mass. received a permit application for a so-called Straight Pride Parade planned for this August.

As written at ThinkProgress: “The organizers behind Boston’s Straight Pride Parade should concern you: Some of the organizers are close to neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.” And here is more background on their “ties to violence and hate”.

This Straight Pride Parade seems yet another attempt to gain a platform for fascism.

Do we allow fascists to use our communities — and our identities — to push for genocide?

Do we allow fascists to normalize themselves as identitarian activists?

Do we allow fascists to parade unopposed?

No, my beloved community, we do not.

I have a lot more I want to say about this so-called Straight Pride Parade. Feel free to ask me about it, and keep an eye out for future writing too. For now I will say again: This “straight pride parade” seems yet another attempt to gain a platform for fascism.

Pride month celebrates the history of riot, resistance, protest, activism. The history of community action for survival. The history of community defense of spaces in which we gather to express ourselves, to connect and to love.

Let’s celebrate Pride by fighting fascism.

I yearn for faith communities that define being pro-queer as being anti-fascist.

I yearn for faith communities that fight together, faith communities that organize together, that build each other up to keep fighting, that organize to support others who are fighting.

As faith communities, we know how to organize: a committee, an event, a meal, a carpool. We know how to greet each other and meet each other and teach each other. We know how to sing. We know how to study, learn, practice, apologize, repent, and regroup. And because the fight itself isn’t always fun, when it’s stressful and murky and dangerous, we know how to nourish our souls and find joy together so that we can hold onto hope and do what is needed. Because there is so much that is needed.

I yearn for faith communities actively challenging and changing both internal community dynamics and the material conditions of the outside world.

And if what I’m saying feels vague and you want more specifics, I’m happy to talk and connect you with others. Because there are so many options and we need a little back-and-forth to come to something that’s right for you.

Because Pride is a commitment to fight for our survival, and our survival is under attack.

Because, in the words of Kai Cheng-Thom:

You are worth saving

& you are worth holding

& you are worth teaching

& you are worth more than political theory

& you are not disposable

& you will not be thrown away

Thank you for everything you have done, and everything you will do, in your personal lives, and together as a community, to smash fascism and dismantle white supremacy and defend our sacredness and build a world where the people currently most targeted have what they most need.

Thank you.

Graphics via Rev. Susan Minasian & Sojourner’s

5. Connection/ Community

More Poems, 2/8/2019


Sometimes i feel like a sack of nothingness

Like i am too tired and heartbroken to know who i am as a person

Or maybe that is who i am as a person

And i just don’t want to know


Last week i thought, maybe i’m dead already

And this is Hell

I found that thought very comforting

Or maybe it just let me detach

From the hardness

For a moment


I’m not writing this poem to comfort you

So i’ll end here

And just say


I hurt


There’s a place inside me that hurts a lot

There has been

Since i was ten, i guess

That’s the first i can remember

Of this

Overwhelming misery


The mirage

Of cheer


That girl

She wanted something

And then that something was


But supposed to be


So she thought she was wrong

Always wrong

To be so unhappy

Instead of being wrongly unhappy

She tried to be happy instead





What was really successful



She got really good

At seeming happy

And joyful

And caring and loving and giving

And all these wonderful things

Things she really wanted to be




She was in pain

A part of her in misery

And shame


Not to brag, but

Even then she knew

Part of that misery


Sexism and capitalism

Maybe she didn’t have those words but

She knew but

She could not escape but

She wanted to fight and

That’s good

Still miserable

But better




The thing is

This girl

This miserable girl

She’s not so nice, tbh

She’s mean

People tell her she’s mean

People get their feelings hurt

If she’s honest

If she’s sad

If she’s cranky

If she’s trying to get attention

Get seen

People don’t like her

She does it wrong

And then she doesn’t get seen

Doesn’t get taken care of

And then she’s sad again

Even more

She just







So she goes away again.

She figures

She is the problem

So she hides


The cheer

The kindness, the generosity, the warmth

The things that work better

To get attention

To get validation

To get comfort.


She doesn’t want to get in the way of that

That comfort

That’s a good thing

She wants to reach for it

She wants to ask for it


How, that’s her question



5. Connection/ Community, Charlottesville

To the fierce freedom fighters of Charlottesville: Thank you, I love you, and please take care of each other

The Rivanna River in Charlottesville

Here are some words I shared at a beautifully generous birthday/goodbye gathering that my dear friend G hosted during my last week in Cville. Thank you again to the people who were able to come to that gathering, and also to everyone who wasn’t there, I hope you know that these words are for you, too.

I never expected to fall in love with Charlottesville, and then I did.

I came to Charlottesville two years ago from Boston via New York City, very excited about my new goal of having no more than five friends. I wanted no more than five friends so I could actually see my friends multiple times a week. I couldn’t imagine a world in which I could have loads of friends and STILL actually see many of them multiple times a week.

I also came to Charlottesville with the plan to stay out of local organizing because I’d be here  for just a year or two. It was the inauguration scared me into action. Several times in January I almost packed a backpack to get on a bus back to New York City. Living alone in a small Southern city where I knew a few of my coworkers and no one else — I didn’t feel safe and I definitely didn’t feel effective in keeping anyone else safe. I thought, if something happens, or as things continue to escalate, I need to know people. I need to know the people who are ready to respond.

And then, of course, I found you. I’m deeply grateful to have found you, to have been with you as things happened and kept happening and kept escalating, and to get to know you and be a friend to you to the best of my ability.

N, thank you for bringing me here. D, D, L, G, B, L, J, A, and so many others – thank you for getting me through. Jalane, I love you, thank you for bringing your full self into my life. M and I, thank you for hanging out with me, and please remember that you have a team of people near and far ready to rally for whatever you need, and I am one of those people.

And, to all of you, thank you:

  • Thank you for being my friends.
  • Thank you for caring about me.
  • Thank you for letting me care about you.
  • Thank you for letting me fight with you.
  • Thank you for your labor and your leadership.

Now, I’m also going to ask you for some favors. Five requests, if you will.

  1. Please take care of each other: Check in on each other. Thank each other. Feed, nourish, and affirm each other. Hug each other, when you have consent.
  2. Please talk to each other: About your feelings, your needs, your plans, and your story.
  3. Please tell your story: Find agency in the process of framing what’s happening here in your own way. Tell the world as much as you can. Get trained to interview with reporters, or send your thoughts to the Solidarity Cville blog (just, you know, as two examples).
  4. Please ask for help when you need it: Even if that’s multiple times a day. Ask as specifically as you can. Ask as many people as you can. Ask someone to help you ask for help. Individually and collectively. For your personal life or for your community or something else. Please ask. It’s so important and it can be so hard.
  5. Please tell the people you love that you love them. I wish I’d done more of that here.

On that note, I have moved cities before, and I know how it can go. We grow apart as we are in touch less and less. I won’t get to see you every week, but I will still hold you in my heart as my friends. Please remember:

  • I love you and I believe in you.
  • I want to hear from you.
  • I want to know what’s going on, anything you want to tell me.
  • I want to be helpful to you — I want to hear your requests for help even if you don’t have the bandwidth to catch up, so please text me or ask for a phone call. I want to know what resources I can leverage from afar to be actually helpful to you, and I want to make time to talk to you.

As I wrap up, I am going to offer an apology. Or at least the beginning of it.

I’m sorry for the messed up things I did while here, and I’m sorry for embedding myself in this community and then walking away. I may not owe you this apology but in my corner of the Jewish world we have a valued practice of giving proactive apologies and I know I harmed people here with my words or actions or silence or inaction, and I’m sorry.

If you want a more specific apology from me at any point, please tell me. I’m here to listen to what you want me to know, and I’m here to acknowledge my errors and be accountable in ways that I can. I care about my impact on you and on this community. I care about you.

I leave you with gratitude for the blessings of friendship you’ve given me. May your friendships with each other and the ways in which you take care of each other become ever stronger.

Thank you, fierce freedom fighters of Charlottesville. I love you, and I am forever indebted to you.


5. Connection/ Community

Hopes and Dreams for 2018

  1. Cry in public, as needed.
  2. Write blog posts: about what’s happening in my life, and what’s happening in my community.
  3. Befriend my own anger.
  4. Turn more to sadness instead of anger in relation to a person I love who loves me.
  5. Turn more to anger instead of civility in relation to person who intends harm.
  6. Spend time each day cultivating awareness of my own healing processes.
  7. Learn to feel loved while saying no and setting boundaries.
  8. Learn to feel loved while saying yes and accepting help.
  9. Struggle. Fight. Love. Care. Connect. Defend our communities and build the much much much better world we all deserve to live in.
  10. Set goals, navigate priorities, and select strategies.
  11. Keep my apartment clean enough that I invite friends over for tea.
  12. Accept that the stakes are high and morale is low and this Year will continue to ask more from us than we maybe knew we had in us and that means we need to nurture vulnerability and honesty and care and attention and belonging in ways that many of us, myself included, never knew we had in us either.
Here I am. I am alive and loved and still in the struggle. Thank you for being it with me.
5. Connection/ Community

building power

Regret is only
for having more power now
than i did before

so hey, Regret, i see you
and i won’t get stuck
in the swamp of the Past
i will unstick my own power
and write
breathe sigh feel say act

I will use my power now
because if anything
i can only move forward
we can only
ask forgiveness
and act now

5. Connection/ Community, Charlottesville

The Risk of Not-Knowing

I’m at that point again where I’m exhausted, and I feel like I’m screaming for help but I’m probably not. And there are people I love who I am so much more worried about than I am about myself, and there are communities in peril and there is so much pressure to continue with business as usual and I can’t seem to continue with business as usual and I also can’t seem to fully figure out how to not. How to just not. I don’t know.

Today is the third anniversary of #concussion2014, and I marked it in my calendar to remind myself of this random, out-of-nowhere injury. What’s striking for me as I reflect this year is that I wasn’t even choosing to take a risk.

I spend a lot of my time talking about risk, the importance of choosing risk, and the ways in which we can negotiate risk. In sexual activity, in friendships, in activism. We have many opportunities to step into risk and to manage risks for ourselves and each other.

But I wasn’t taking any particular risks that day. I was simply pursuing pleasure – I was taking risks only insofar as daily life is risky. Or, in the way that daily life used to be risky. Until this year, as my life in 2017 laughs at my life in 2014. As I sit inside my apartment in Charlottesville still wondering about the risks of walking alone to the grocery store, still wondering about being recognized by white supremacists or confronted or followed home. But then, why hold myself back from the simple pleasures of life now, just because I am aware of the presence of risk right now, when even back in 2014 I incurred severe consequences for everyday activity without being prepared for risk at all?

I was just swimming in a pond. Not swimming alone. Not swimming at night. Not swimming under the influence. Just swimming. Then an unleashed dog jumped off the dock and landed on my head. Boom. Concussion. Two months medical leave.

Most of the other traumas I had incurred up to that point were in the context of something I already knew to be risky: being alone in a room with a heterosexual boy/man. I had made those choices. I was not to blame for what happened in those rooms, but I knew there were risks, just as I now know there are risks in walking alone in Charlottesville. Even if I feel strongly that neither risk is just – it is not just to live in a world in which I fear being alone in a room with a man who claims to love me, and it is not just to live in a world in which I fear being alone on the streets of a city who claims to care. But I know the injustice, and I know the risk, and I get to make choices within those contexts.

I don’t know. It just sucks. I think I’m writing about it now because I am trying to get myself to leave my apartment to go get groceries. Or I’m writing about it now because trauma triggers trauma, and my head hurts. Or because when I’m on edge and angry and ready to yell at people, I find myself wanting to yell at people who are in public places with their dogs off leash. Yelling at those people is quite socially unacceptable, particularly in Charlottesville. Even when directed at entitled white men. I really want to, though.

I don’t know. It just sucks. Maybe some things just suck.

5. Connection/ Community, Charlottesville


This feels like dying
and being born
in the same moment.

This feels like everything
I’ve been preparing for
and nothing I’ve ever imagined.

This feels like love
deeper than I knew I was capable of
and hate stronger than anyone should ever have to bear.

This feels like an urgent crisis
that’s been stirring for centuries,
and a whisper of truth
defined by lies.

This feels like it’s not my contradiction to name
though I cannot remain silent,
and like I’m filled with doubt
while my conviction carries on.

This feels like pain,
deep pain,
screaming in anguish,
with the promise
of building
deep love with which to thrive.

This feels like something I need you to know,
but it is dangerous to explain.
This feels like something you could help with,
but you have other things to do.

This feels like the most crucial thing
and a major distraction.
This feels like an intentional choice
and a sharp left turn.

This feels like everything is on the line,
and maybe that’s the point.
This feels like it could work,
and I can help, so I do.

This feels like leveraging privilege
and losing so much,
like I can’t turn back now
– I won’t up and leave.

This feels far beyond me
and completely personal.
This feels real,
and I’m here,
and I’m in it,
and I’ll stay.

5. Connection/ Community, 9. Racial Justice (Smash White Supremacy)

What If There Is No Esther?

This piece was written in collaboration with the fabulous Marc Dones, and posted on March 3, 2017 on JewishBoston.com.

We have this narrative. This narrative brings through many aspects of Jewish history, not just Purim. This is the narrative: They tried to kill us; we survived; let’s eat.

First of all, not all of us survived. We survived as a people—there remained such a thing as “Jews”—but not all our people made it through. In the Purim story, we had to fight back, and there was a battle.

Now, people are already not making it through. Many are claiming, “We will survive the Trump administration,” and that’s just not necessarily true…not for all of us.

Let’s examine this hope of survival. When we celebrate Purim, we spin the narrative that we survived because Esther revealed herself. Because there was someone on the inside, someone well positioned to directly influence the people in power, who was one of us, and took the risk of coming out and speaking up.

We survived because Esther revealed herself.

But what if there is no Esther?

We’re told to talk to our relatives who voted for Trump. We don’t have any relatives who voted for Trump. Do you? Are you talking to your relatives?

Are you Esther?

But Esther would talk directly to Trump.

Who is talking to Trump?

Bannon. Bannon is talking to Trump. So there’s certainly a Haman in the White House.

What if there is no Esther?

What is the false comfort we draw from the Purim narrative? That there is always someone in the inner circle who will risk their life to stop evil. That there is someone on the inside who is actually on our side.

Have you had that fantasy? That they will all retire, strike, come out…stop this?

Maybe you were looking to Clinton or Obama or Sanders or Warren or McCain or Romney to stop it cold, to not let him take power. Maybe you were looking to the Electoral College. Maybe you got excited about the rogue NASA Twitter account and the rogue White House staff account and thought maybe, maybe they will throw a wrench in it and undermine the whole operation.

They won’t.

There is no one on the inside who is magically going to get us out of this.

We are the ones. And if not now, when?

This is not a simple switch in mindset. This means action. This means we actually have to do something. And taking action is going to take a lot of intention and effort.

  1. First, it will take divesting from the Esther fantasy and investing in the leadership of women of color and queer and trans people of color who have been need financial and other resources to rock it even harder.
  2. Second, it will take divesting from the Esther fantasy and investing in our own capacity to take risks. The risk to speak, the risk to fight, the risk to feel. Community organizing, mass mobilizing, protest. These risks will be different and look different for white Jews and for Jews of color. Talk to people you love about what your line is, and what you’re going to do when it gets crossed. Also, it’s probably been crossed already.
  3. Third, it will take divesting from the Esther fantasy and not waiting for permission to fight. Know what you’re fighting for, though. Remember that when we say, “We survived,” we mean that there is still a Jewish community in existence, but “we” did not all survive. And even beyond that, when we say, “Never again,” do we mean only to Jews? It is happening…again…or still…right now…and not everyone is surviving.

And if there is no Esther, if there is no singular primary shero, we need all of us to be in it together as deeply and broadly as possible. We need to be fighting a heck of a lot harder than we are right now.

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 5. Connection/ Community

5 Strategies for Surviving Psychological Abuse on a National Scale

This piece was originally posted on February 8, 2017 on the Society for Research on Adolescence Emerging Scholars blog.

Alternating between mocking and manipulative platitudes.

Outright lying.

These are all aspects of intimate partner abuse. Or, to speak in terms of adolescents, tactics of teen dating violence. This is what I study and teach about – what I work to prevent, understand, and address. This is something I’ve lived through, too.

I never thought it would be so politically relevant.

There is so much that is not normal that is coming out of the White House right now. The discriminatory posturing from the campaign trail is turning into actual discriminatory policies. What I’m talking about is not just those specific policies but the comprehensive pattern of behavior towards entire segments of the population (including scientists and academics). Repeatedly, survivors of domestic abuse and other abusive relationships have spoken up about the ways in which they are triggered and traumatized by Trump’s bullying, lying, victim-blaming, and other forms of psychological manipulation and devastation.

So from educators, organizers, researchers, and people who themselves have lived through these experiences – here are five ways we can use knowledge about surviving abusive relationships to guide our collective resilience in 2017.

1. Don’t blame – Recognize abuse of power for what it is.

When harm occurs, the people responsible for that harm are the ones who chose to use their power to exert undue control. This harm can include grief, fear, loss of resources, loss of security, injury, and death. Don’t blame the victims. No one deserves to be hurt. Keep the focus on the ones causing harm – and don’t let them off the hook.

2. Don’t gaslight – Believe people’s reports of their own experiences.

Gaslighting is an abusive tactic that denies a person’s experience of reality until that person can no longer trust their own truth. When people are getting hurt, or when people are scared of getting hurt, we must believe them. Even if we can’t see it, and we can’t imagine their fear or anger or distress being warranted in this moment. The psychological effects of abuse and trauma may seem like overreactions to people who aren’t living within that experience, but they are not overreactions. To best take care of each other, we need to first believe each other, and bear witness to the painful nuances of what is happening.

3. Don’t numb out – Name your feelings, and engage in active coping.

I’m asking you to stick with the hard stuff. We live in a world where fear, anger, abuse, and trauma are real every day, and we’re going to need ways to feel as much of it as possible. Naming difficult emotions helps us accept and move through them. Journaling, taking physical care of ourselves, and finding others to give and receive care with, can help us build our capacity to hold and live with these difficult feelings. Emotions carry important information about how we are doing and how other people are doing. We can’t ignore these signals – we must feel, and respond.

4. Don’t isolate – Reach out and connect with family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.

Isolation makes us even more vulnerable to psychological control and emotional despair. Avoiding blame and avoiding gaslighting are all about making space to actually listen. Paying attention to our emotions lets us share our emotions with each other. Talk to people about your truth and your feelings. Name what you see. Hear their feelings. Hear what they see. Be willing to hear more from people around you and notice more about other people’s experiences than you have before. Refuse to normalize – and insist on caring about all of it.

5. Don’t bargain – Hold firm boundaries around what is okay and what is not okay.

It’s insidious. Abuse is so unreasonable, and it’s so hard to believe that doing reasonable things will not lead to reasonable outcomes. “If I could only…” or “if I did it right next time then…” will not work. There is nothing we can do to change the behavior of an abusive person. We will want to think we have figured it out, but we haven’t. Holding boundaries is the primary thing that will get us out. We cannot end the abuse – we can only resist control.

One more thing that helped me, and that has helped many young people, is understanding how abusive relationships are produced through oppressive social systems. Patriarchy, racism, and imperialism are all systems of abuse in which power is used to exert undue control over others. We can work together to address abuse – from preventing teen dating violence to curbing this spiral of political violence – by ending these systems of oppression. And we can only get to ending these systems of oppression if we know how to survive the psychological abuse perpetrated through them.