My grandfather always talked to me like an adult. I remember as a 5 year old, not even in school yet, standing next to his chair discussing my great grandmother's health. She was in the hospital, and the doctors were trying to understand why she was bleeding internally. He told me. He was kind, matter of fact, truthful...about this and so many other topics. He trusted me to listen and ask questions.
The first presidential election I remember was 1988. George H.W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis. For some reason, I was interested. The news was on in my grandparents' house every night, so I saw, and I listened. I asked questions about what I was seeing and hearing, and I began to form a strong opinion. While my mom was consistently closed-lipped about her vote, once I'd made up my mind and become vocal about it, my grandfather was truthful and matter of fact. We agreed on our choice of candidate.
In 1992, Clinton vs. G.H.W. Bush, I was again fascinated, outspoken. Sure of myself. My sixth grade language arts teacher, one day while we were getting ready to write in our journals, blessed us with her conservative political views. I wrote in my journal that day that teachers shouldn't try to influence students' political opinions. I still got a 100 on that writing.
I grew up being told, "You can do whatever you put your mind to." My mom told me, my grandparents told me, my friends, and family members across the board told me. I believed them. I wasn't afraid of adversity, of my friends' disapproval. I just did what I thought was right. I debated those presidential elections and big issues in class without a second thought. I ran for and won school offices. I put my head down and did what I wanted and needed to do to get scholarships and go to a university. I spoke about things important to me. Cried openly in class and berated my classmates for their callous comments about AIDS patients and gay Americans. This was the 1990s. Those things were still taboo, and I had close friends who were AIDS patients, beloved friends who were gay.
I had a voice, and because I had such great support growing up I wasn't afraid to use it.
I ran to college. Ran to a university that was just far enough from the town I grew up in. Just big enough to offer some anonymity and the promise of new friends, new experiences, a growing set of beliefs.
For all the confidence I felt at those earlier ages, I was fragile and naive. I was full of Christian values but also a raging wad of hormones, starved for affection. I was sexually assaulted. I've mentioned it just a couple of posts ago, and I won't offer much more detail now except to say that I should've been able to watch a movie in his apartment without being called names, shamed, berated, and ultimately broken down. Coerced. Bent to another person's will. I was effectively silenced.
I lost my voice.
I didn't tell anyone for years. I lived with guilt, self doubt, flashbacks, and a paralyzing hurt. I carried it silently for so very long because I blamed no one but myself.
After college I ran away again. Across the country to new opportunities, to a new relationship. For all his faults, he was kind in ways. He listened and respected me when I told him about my assault. I didn't even know it was assault. Just this big, troubling thing. For a while I shared my opinions in this new relationship, but any of them, especially social or political, that didn't line up with his conservative views were dismissed. I was "wet behind the ears," or "non traditional," and I was corrected. Like a willful child. Everything devolved into emotional abuse, infantilization, the witholding of love as punishment, neglect, infidelity, lies. I came back home to my first college teaching job, chronic depression, mounting anxiety, and antidepressants. I pulled the covers over my head. I never would've thought of "abuse" if it hadn't been pointed out to me. I still felt like it was my fault. For getting into the situation and for staying too long. A stupid decision by a not-strong woman.
Graduate school was a positive shift. I began to feel confident in my abilities again, respected for my intellect. I was surrounded by like-minded students, professors, and rad friends who loved me. I was with my mom, who is my best friend, and while my grandparents were gone, she still reminded me that she was proud, and they would've been proud, and I could do anything I put my mind to.
I started this blog. I found a comfortable space in writing. A new peace with myself. The ability to say what I needed to say for my own self awareness and mental well-being. Those times that people shut me down or bent me to their will, degraded, demeaned, and denied my values, my opinions, my very thoughts...it was heartbreaking. Dehumanizing. And I know I had it easy in comparison to many, many women.
I tell a lot of stories about myself. Not because I'm proud of this stuff, but because I'm still making peace with it. Working through it. Sorting it out. Sometimes over and over just like a broken record. There's a tendency for the curation of our lives online to come across as much more rosy than it really is. You tell me I'm badass and strong and empowered and inspiring. My God, those are the last things I ever thought of myself for so long.
I'm getting louder. More outspoken. Brash. Daring? Aggressive at times. It's come to a fever pitch in this election cycle in particular because seeing a man on the podium who so much reminds me of those darkest, most shameful, silent moments is terrifying. It is deeply, deeply personal. To watch people around me dismiss the abusive language, the toxic rhetoric, is infuriating.
I have a voice, and I'm insistent about using it. In particular, I talk about big things with my students. We analyze and deconstruct power structures, cultural norms, our own biases. I am honest with them. I am open. Not only do I want the young men in my class to get used to the idea of a weird, loud, opinionated, honest, thoughtful, caring, encouraging, fat, bald, running woman at the helm...I want the women who are the age that I was when I was silenced to see a weird, loud, opinionated, honest, thoughtful, caring, encouraging, fat, bald, running woman at the helm. I don't want them to feel alone. I want them to feel empowered when I wasn't.
This is my work. This is my reason for being so fucking loud and outspoken and brash and sometimes hateful and oftentimes diplomatic. Always insistent. Trying to not be afraid.
Even when I am afraid, I'll never be silent again.