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Posts Tagged ‘women’s health’


I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a while. Even as I sit here now beginning to type, I can feel my stomach tying up in knots. I’ve written at length about my sexual assault on this blog, but most of it has been in relation to some political rant or another. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in “the personal is political,” but this is a different type of post here.

I’ve decided to write this post today because the 1-year anniversary of my sexual assault is approaching. And so much has happened and changed in the past year. The truth is, though, it’s all been for the better. If you had told that to myself in October, 2010, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was at the lowest low in my life. The fact of the matter is, when a sexual assault happens to you, it’s like a domino effect of your entire world being shattered. It’s not just the assault–it’s the way others treat you because of it (no wonder so many choose to stay silent). My assailant was my best friend and a collaborator. I lost all of our mutual friends. I broke up with my boyfriend despite him being my biggest support system, because I couldn’t fathom the idea of being romantic with anyone ever again. I barely had the strength to go to school and complete my homework, despite my being just a few credits away from graduation. Literally, my entire world had been shattered.

And the assault couldn’t have come at a stranger time in my life, either. I had just gotten back from New York City a few hours before, where I’d seen my all-time favorite band, Pavement, perform the last leg of their reunion tour from the front row in Central Park (which, at that time, was probably #1 on my list of coolest experiences). I was set to perform in The Encyclopedia Show, one of the world’s (let’s be honest, probably the only) fastest-spreading literary variety shows, in the coming days, and I’d just finished writing the perfect poem on my topic: somewhat ironically given the events to come, “Bare Naked.” The same night I got back, I jet-laggedly rushed to meet up with my musician to show him the piece and finish writing the song–after all, the performance was just in a few days. When he offered me an adderall, I accepted, even though I’d never tried it before and had no idea what to anticipate, because I wanted to stay up all night to perfect the piece. How could I have known his intention would be to wait until I passed out, drugged out of my mind, and take advantage of me?

It was a Friday night. The show was on Tuesday. I won’t focus on the event of the assault here, because that’s not what’s important. What is important to me, today, is that I decided to do go through with the performance. Despite the fact that I had spent all weekend in a hospital room getting a rape kit done and talking to various authorities about the event, despite the fact that for at least an entire month after the event I was so depressed I literally did not get out of bed, I had to make a decision about what was important to me. And that decision was whether or not I would let my assailant take away an important opportunity in my life, or be strong, and find a way to perform my piece without the way I had practiced and prepared it with the man who had taken advantage of me. I asked my sister, a musician, to help me, and we came up with something the night before the show.

It’s strange for me to watch this video. The trembling in my hands and legs, the sadness in my eyes, seems all so obvious to me, although there were only a few people in the room who knew what had happened. I remember the moments while reciting that poem when my mind would wander back to what had happened to me just a few nights before–and I remember pushing those thoughts away to stay focused on my performance. There were several moments when I almost started crying, and didn’t. And in the end, when I crack a smile and look back at my sister, who smiles back at me–I can see the shared moment of trust and triumph. Needless to say, I feel very blessed to have this video as a relic of this small victory.

What’s more, this performance was a very important moment in my life for another reason–not that I knew it at the time. Like I previously mentioned, I lost all of my close friends in the wake of my assault. But today, I have something even more valuable–my sister, the people in the room, the poets who performed and came out to support me, would come to be my lifeline in the coming months, although they would be almost completely oblivious to it. Who would have thought that something like a sexual assault and the loss of all my close friendships would come to be the event that propelled me forward in my passion? Who would have thought that the utter despair and loneliness I experienced would send me somewhere completely unexpected, into a poetic community, that would welcome me with open arms and a type of love and understanding that I would never have to question or doubt?

There was another moment that came a little later that was very important in my recovery as well. Like I said, I spent literally months so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. Then, one day, instead of choosing to do nothing about my emotions, I decided to write a poem. I’ve often said that I write a poem when I feel so much of a certain way that I can’t do anything else–this was precisely the moment when that first happened. I wrote a poem that contained all of my sadness and struggle from the past year. I made all of my emotions small enough to be contained in letters on a page. And then, a few months later, I performed again, in the Louder Than A Bomb College Indy Slam.

To be honest, I didn’t score that well in the slam (well, in my opinion–my goal was to win the whole thing of course). I was more interested in getting involved in LTAB for the opportunities to work with high school poets than to compete. I’ll be the first to admit that my competitive side isn’t pretty, and I’m a pretty sore loser. I cried a lot after the competition. But getting on stage and sharing a poem I’d worked so hard on, both in terms of literariness and performance, was incredibly important to me. As Robbie Q. Telfer, the co-founder of the aforementioned Encyclopedia Show and director of LTAB, says frequently: “The point is not the points, the point in the poetry.” And although I didn’t know it at the time, and certainly wouldn’t try to perform that poem again, opening up about my experience to a room full of strangers, unafraid of their judgment, was a profoundly empowering experience, and one that’s propelled me forward in the aftermath.

I’ll get to the point, here. A year ago, I was a senior in college, the president of a student poetry organization, oblivious to the fact that school was going to be over soon and I’d have to figure out how to make this whole “being a career poet” thing work. My priorities lied in getting drunk with my friends and having a boyfriend at all times. Of course poetry was important to me–it always has been–but it wasn’t my life. And for most people, it probably shouldn’t be their life. After all, everything I’m trying to say is that it took a life-changing, post traumatic stress-inducing event for me to get to that point.

But that’s not it, exactly. Yes, I threw myself into my poetry as a way to get my mind off of what had happened. But I did something else, too–I threw myself into the community here in Chicago as well. I surrounded myself with people who were poets, a couple of whom were my age and had merely been friends through association, who now are my very best friends in the entire world and have my back in a way no friend has ever had before. What’s more is that the poetry community in Chicago is a very special place where things like sexism, ableism, homophobia, and the rest won’t fly or get politely golf-clapped off stage when performed (unlike in New York where I watched a guy perform a poem about how “all women are whores” and “gay marriage isn’t in the Bible” get wild applause at the Nuyorican Cafe). I’ve become more than just a poet, but an organizer–someone who has given back to the community a hundred fold what it’s given to me–because I wanted to surround myself with intelligent people who had the strength to share their pain the way I did, but also the strength to just keep trying to be better. I think about the people who have become important in my life in the past year and scoff at what was important to me a year ago–people who held me back and distracted me from my dreams.

It’s weird how, a year later, I can look back at something like my own sexual assault and subsequent depression and see it as such a valuable and life-changing experience. I can’t say I wouldn’t have found my way to the 24/7 poetry lifestyle if it weren’t for my assault, but I do know that my life would be profoundly different. I wouldn’t have the good, supportive friends I do if I didn’t have a good reason to forget about the old ones. I wouldn’t have had the balls to compete in a slam if I didn’t write a poem that I thought was good enough for it. My life and work as an artist has taken a dramatically different turn–from organizing SlutWalk Chicago to having the opportunity to work with some of my most idolized poets–if I hadn’t had the hard life experience to propel me in that direction. And I certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to speak out about my own experience and help others who are going through similar situations if I hadn’t lived it.

So, here’s a final video: me, today, performing a new poem that addresses my beliefs as a feminist in a different way than the videos above. I wouldn’t have had the strength to do this, either, if I hadn’t let go of the pain that haunted me for so long.

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On September 25, 2010, I was raped.

There. I said it. So what? Well, I really haven’t spoken much about the experience since it happened. Because I’m knowledgeable about issues of violence against women, I knew exactly what to do in this instance. I called a crisis hotline to calm me down and give me advice. Then I went to the emergency room and did a rape kit. I spoke to an advocate at the hospital who further helped to calm me. I was required to file a police report; a week later, after much deliberation on my part, I decided to go ahead and press charges against my perpetrator. I sought out free counseling at my school, and when that wasn’t enough, I started seeing a counselor at Rape Victim Advocates. I told those who were closest to me about what had happened. But still, despite the existence of this blog and the fact that there is very little about my personal life that’s off-limits in terms of discussion, it’s been excruciatingly difficult for me to speak about the experience. The only thing more painful than my own experience is the fact that once I did open up to people and talk about what had happened to me, so many women I spoke to in private in turn confided in me about their own experience with sexual assault. However, although they all recognized what had happened to them as non-consensual sex, none of them were able to use the word “rape” to describe what had happened to them, in part because of trying to repress the memories surrounding the event, but also because of the blame they had placed on themselves for not being able to stop it.

Let’s back track a little bit. In my first semester of college, I took a little class called “Service Learning: Women’s Issues.” I didn’t know exactly what the class entailed, but already being a raging self-proclaimed radical feminist at the time, I signed up. The class, taught by Michelle Sayset, a wonderful woman who deserves more credit for all the work she has done with students and survivors, focused specifically on educating us about rape and domestic violence through direct action in protest and volunteer work, reading and critical responses, class discussion, and lectures given by guest speakers. It was there that I learned about the sobering statistics surrounding rape, as well as what to do in situations where you or a loved one have been assaulted. In a world where college women are 25% more likely to be victims of sexual assault, the importance of such a class is not to be understated.

The semester culminated in facilitating The Clothesline Project along with featuring student performers. It was at this event, more than three years ago, that I met my perpetrator, who was bandmates with a classmate I had befriended and would come to be a part of a large group of friends who I’ve subsequently all lost in the aftermath of the assault. He came to be my best friend, my confidant, my collaborator in terms of my art work, before he drugged me and took advantage of me while in a semi-unconscious state. If the fact that someone who had enough insight to speak out against rape would also have the balls to do it themselves wasn’t enough of a unpredictable twist in the epic of my life, I was coincidentally wearing a free t-shirt I had gotten through doing volunteer work with a women’s shelter as part of the class at the time of my assault. So, last week, when someone from this semester’s class stopped by my student poetry organization’s meeting to invite us all to read at The Clothesline Project’s open mic, I had a feeling of my experience coming full circle. I made the decision to get up in front of a room full of people–some strangers, some colleagues–and speak about my experience through my poetry and through discussion, not only because I felt it was an opportunity to exemplify how to combine the knowledge gained from the class with artistic craft to a room full of art students, but because I felt it was necessary in the process of healing myself.

(Here is a video of an older version of the poem I read; you can read the version from the event here.)

Although I was personally motivated in my performance, something happened after the event that had already occurred too many times–someone I had known for several years opened up to me about her own experience with rape. Apparently she had never thought of what had happened to her as an assault; her perpetrator was her then-boyfriend who was sleeping next to her. And apparently, like all the other women who had opened up to me, she had never considered it as rape because she blamed herself for not stopping it. I had, apparently, inadvertently lifted the blame from herself by recognizing my own experience as rape. As with all the other women I had confided in privately about my experience who in turn shared their stories with me, she didn’t use the term “rape” to describe what had happened to her–and who am I to label her experience–but the fact that I could take my traumatic experience and use it to help someone else somehow has made everything I’ve gone through (which, believe me, could be an entire blog in and of itself) completely worth it.

I can’t say that everyone who has ever been raped should speak to a room full of strangers about their personal experience. Doing so doesn’t necessarily exemplify strength or help in the healing process of such an experience, as it did for me. But I will say this: because I mustered up the courage to speak about what had happened to me in a safe space, I felt a huge sense of fulfillment. Using my experience and my art to reach out to people, and, hopefully, help them, while in turn helping myself, made me feel that some justice had been served. The legal process of prosecuting someone for rape is a strenuous thing (something that’s all-too topical given the charges surrounding WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange)–I’ve made almost no process in my own case, and even if my perpetrator is behind bars, it won’t undo the damage that has already been done. We can, however–as survivors, as women, as people who feel the need to do something about it–speak out about these issues and educate men and women as a form of prevention against rape. Although these issues are something I’ve come to know all too well, unfortunately most people don’t realize how common place rape is. Not all men recognize their actions as rape even when it’s clear to the victim, and not all victims know not to internalize their blame. As I already mentioned, being educated about what to do when it came time to deal with being raped myself has helped a lot. Unfortunately none of the women who had confided in me were provided that privilege.

This blog post is a call to action. Whatever you know of rape, whatever you are comfortable speaking about, and whatever you can say without causing harm to victims, say it. Say it publicly outloud. Tweet about it or update your facebook status. Start a discussion at your school, workplace, or among friends. Do what I did and blog about it. You can’t always be there to physically intervene and prevent a rape from taking place, but you can raise awareness about the issues surrounding rape. You never know whose life you’ll be changing.

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Today a video from BuzzFeed.com, “How To Confuse Pro-Lifers With Just One Question,” has been just about all over my facebook feed. The video shows a cameraman interviewing folks at a pro-life protest and their responses to the question, “If abortion should be illegal, what should be the punishment for women who have illegal abortions?” I thought this video offered a fresh new prospective on the abortion debate. The intention of the protestors becomes suddenly illuminated: they want to end the practice of abortion, but can’t say how the crime should be punished. Most reply that they’d never thought of it, others say that God will provide punishment in the end, but none suggest any method of prosecuting offenders.

The video points out a fundamental flaw in how pro-lifers perceive pro-choicers as not being sympathetic to the unborn child, while on the flip side, it becomes clear that most pro-lifers don’t think of women as worthless sluts. In fact, pro-lifers and pro-choicers share a common goal: both sides want to prevent the situation of unwanted pregnancy. The difference is an arbitrary sense of morals. Pro-choicers don’t necessarily view abortion as a moral issue; most know the difference between “human life” and “sustainable life.” Meanwhile, many pro-lifers are attached to the idea that human life is valuable no matter what, and therefore abortions should be restricted under the law as a form of condemnation. Not that there isn’t already a whole lot of cultural forces that condemn abortion, from religion to pop-culture phenomena.

What pro-lifers blindly ignore is the fact that death, and the practice of humane killing, is just as much a part of the continuation of life as having sex out of wedlock. Living wills allow people to consent to be “aborted” should they fall into a vegetative state. We put animals to sleep 9 million times per year–some because they are old or sick, most because there’s no one to take care of them. I really don’t see anyone celebrating with champagne over these statistics (well, maybe a fucked up few), but if we didn’t “abort” unsustainable lives, everyone would suffer. Abortion is similar, but for some reason, pro-lifers are far more judgmental of women experiencing unwanted pregnancies than the drunk driver that put your grandpa in a vegetive state–yet it’s easier to name a punishment for those convicted of DUI’s than those who undergo illegal abortions. Hmm, how’d that happen?

Maybe there should be less people protesting whether or not abortion is legal and more people trying to offer support to women with unwanted pregnancies through education, financial aide, and improving accessibility to birth control. It’d be nice to live in a world where we only needed the assurance of being able to get an abortion when and if we needed one.

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We live in a culture that revolves around male sexuality; female sexuality is rather unstudied and warped by male view points. Young women are seen as attractive and passive, while older women are often associated with the “cougar” stereotype. Women who have sex too much are promiscuous and are contributing to the spread of disease, abortion, and the cultural demise of the “family.” Men are more likely to remain bachelors and sleep around; women need to marry because they depend on a man for income. Dr. Laura Berman has come forth from her own research into female sexuality to dispell four common misconceptions about sex & relationships:

1. A woman’s sexual performance peaks in her forties, while a man’s peaks in his teens.

Myth. While Planned Parenthood says that the sexual prime for males is around age 17, and that females’ sexual prime is around age 30, these ages actually reflect the genital prime, when sex hormones (testosterone in men; estrogen in women) are highest. But in general, both men’s and women’s sexual performance will peak when they feel most comfortable with themselves and their sexuality. Though this tends to happen between 40 and 60 for both men and women, it can really happen at any age, depending on the person!

2. Having sex more often can help boost your immune system and prevent illness.

Truth! Researchers at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., found that sex may help strengthen the immune system. According to their study, couples who had sex once or twice a week as compared to couples who had sex less than once a week had 29 percent higher levels of immunoglobulin A, an immune system protein that protects the mouth and upper respiratory tract against cold and flu viruses. Just another reason to get busy with your honey as often as you can!

3. Older people have less sex and/or less enjoyable sex.

Myth. According to a recent study of 27,000 people conducted across 29 countries, the majority of men and women studied had active sex lives past the age of 40 and well into their ‘eighties’! Couples in Western Europe who shared greater equality were more likely to enjoy their sex lives than couples in more male-oriented societies, such as those found in Asia and the Middle East.

4. Most American women who are 45 and over are married.

Myth. About 25 million of the 57 million American women who are 45 and older are not married, according to a recent study by the AARP. The study’s authors suggest that this may be because American women marry later, have high divorce rates, and tend to outlive their mates.

Source

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For those of you who don’t think it’s important to include health insurance coverage of abortion in health care reform, maybe hearing Tiffany’s Story will make you reconsider:

She was pregnant with twins and had to abort one to save the other. If abortion coverage isn’t included in reform, it’s likely she wouldn’t have been able to afford the procedure, and would have lost both her children.

Although cases like Tiffany’s are rare, I still think it’s important for health reform to include abortion coverage, if not because it would otherwise screw over willing mothers, because restricting fair access to abortion violates Roe vs. Wade and a woman’s right to choose.

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