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Reflections of a Survivor: Review and Interview

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What does it mean to be a survivor? What does it mean to have everything taken from you, to have everything you know get flipped upside down, yet still remain standing? What we survive often leaves us scared and voiceless, unable to reach out. However, the new anthology, Reflections of a Survivor from Stronger than my Struggles, a Baltimore-based organization created by author and entrepreneur Melony Hill, gives fighters a voice to their struggles and proves that there is life after trauma.

Reflections of a Survivor is a collection of  15 essays by six different authors (12 of the essay are written by Melony Hill) that discuss an assortment of complex topics such as domestic violence, abandonment, mental illness, chronic illness, birth defects, family betrayals, self-esteem (and a lack thereof), sexual assault, etc. Through powerful prose, depth of experience, and a touch of humor, this collection fights the stigma of mental illness by creating a diverse portrait of the different ways a person can suffer, but all can overcome.

One of the essays, “A Legacy of Love Betrayed” is by TravelPride’s very own C.Imani Williams. Imani is a freelance writer, essayist, poet, and social/human justice activist who is working hard to empower others and have her voice be heard.  Her essay is one of betrayal by her last surviving immediate family member, her sister, after the death of her mother. As a queer black woman, Imani has been faced with adversity in the past, but this same adversity coming from your family brings a new level of hate. Imani tells her story with eloquence, dignity, and candor as we go on the journey with her: from the passing of her mother, the legal battle that seemed never ending, to learning forgiveness of those who are not sorry. Imani makes her story relatable even to those who have never shared the same experience but have felt betrayed by a loved one, haven’t been believed no matter how loud our truth is, been trapped in a rigged system, and, most importantly, have tried to do the right thing.

(C Imani Willams)

I had the absolute pleasure of “virtually” sitting down with Imani to talk about her book.

 

Ellen: So let’s start at the beginning. How did you get involved with the book?

Imani: I had heard about it from the “Write Black Art Connection” group on Facebook back in June. Someone had posted about a call for writers for this book, and I had this manuscript all ready to go. It was a very fast process, starting in June with Melony Hill, who was very professional and helpful throughout the whole process. She really made everything that much smoother.

Ellen: When did you start writing this piece? What was the background that went into writing this?

Imani: 2009. I was journaling a lot. If someone pisses me off that’s usually where I go first. It’s my early stage of venting. I started to journal about this when I came home around Christmas, as my mom got sick and after her passing, so with everything going on — I was also getting a divorce at that time — that journal stayed full. It helped me process what was going on.

Then sometime in 2010, when I was in counseling, just dealing with what was going on. I had also just joined a sexual abuse survivor group in California, but was “uninvited” from the group after I admitted that I am gay. Also around this time the movie Precious had come out and that really affected me, I carried around the novel Push in my bag for three weeks before I could read it. So all that really affected me into writing my story.

Ellen: Why write a piece like this? Why tell this particular story?

Imani: I know what my parents stood for. I know how hard they worked and they had a legacy that they wanted to pass down. The money we were to inherit wasn’t going to make anyone rich, but I wouldn’t have had to literally start my life over. No one cares about your degrees after 30. I had to pray hard and dig deep to get myself out and I don’t want anyone to go through what I had to go through. Have those hard conversations with your families, but handle them with care.

Ellen: Talk to me a little about what you experienced.

Imani: A hate crime that was very hard to prove. It was like being in court in the 1940’s, everyone was against me. I talked to a lawyer in California but no one wanted to touch the case. I felt so attacked because of my sexuality and race. I had to go through nine court dates, on top of everything else in my life.

Ellen: You mentioned in your essay that you worked on forgiving your sister, what was that process like?

Imani: Writing saved my life. I talked to my creator to help me with forgiveness and I had a great community to support me, but it was hard. Loyalty is very important to me: if I can’t trust you, I can’t f*ck with you. I don’t hate my sister, I just forgave her more for my sanity than for her.

Ellen: Have you had any contact with your sister since, and would you want to?

Imani: No, I’m good. My last contact with her was in the early 2010’s through text or email and I told her that she knows what she has to do to make it right. I don’t have time for games.

Ellen: What do you hope people will take away from your essay?

Imani: No matter what people say about you, know who you are. It won’t be easy, but stand for it anyway. And we are all charged with honoring legacies; do right by your people.

The book Stronger Than My Struggles Presents: Reflections of a Survivor is available for purchase from Imani directly (for $20 plus $4.99 shipping and handling) here. You can also check out C. Imani Williams Healing Art Writing Workshop Here.

Trigger warning! This anthology contains scenes of rape, sexual abuse and mental illnesses that may be triggering for some people.

Originally posted 2017-09-22 15:17:41.

Ellen Ricks is a word-for-hire, fashion blogger, and bibliophile living in upstate New York. She has a BFA in Creative Writing from SUNY Potsdam and has been published in a number of literary magazines, both in print and online. She runs the fashion blog Sarcasm in Heels.  When not writing, Ellen enjoys frolicking in fancy dresses, consuming pumpkin spice everything, and dismantling the patriarchy.

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Trans History Part 1: From the Stone Age to Stonewall

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When the topic of trans history comes up, most folks start with Marsha P. Johnson and her role in the Stonewall riots in 1969. The truth is, trans folks have been around since at least the Iron Age. When discussing history, the majority of topics and stories told in the United States are Eurocentric. Given that limitation, trans history appears not only to be less diverse, but also shorter – like we’re a trend that started in the 1970s and hasn’t gone out of style. In honor of LGBTQ History month, here is a condensed timeline of moments in trans history worldwide, before Stonewall.


900 BC

In 1995, archaeologist Timothy Taylor discovered evidence of men who cross-dressed during the Iron Age, in graves in southern Russia.  


700 BC

King Ashurbanipal of Assyria spent a great deal of time in women’s clothing. This was later used as justification to overthrow him, proving that transphobia is nothing new.


1503 BC

Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut ascended to the throne for 21 years until she resigned in 1482 BC. Possibly learning from the disfavor shown to her predecessor, Queen Sobekneferu, she donned male clothing and a false beard signifying kingship. She had one daughter, Neferure, whom she groomed as successor to also present as male, but Neferure did not live into adulthood. After Queen Hatshepsut’s death, her second husband attempted to erase all record of her.


1576 AD

The explorer Pedro de Magalhaes recorded that some women in the Tupinamba tribe in Brazil lived as men, hunted and went to war. Referencing the Greek legend of the Amazons, he named the Amazon River after these individuals.


1577

King Henry III of France frequently crossdressed. When he was dressed in women’s clothes, he was referred to as “her majesty” by his courtiers. Even his everyday kingly clothes were considered outrageous despite the flamboyant standards of 16th-century France.


1624

Assigned female at birth, Nzinga ruled as King of Angola for 29 years. They cross-dressed and led several successful military battles against the Portuguese.


1654

The wonderful, bisexual Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated the throne. They dressed in men’s clothing and renamed themselves Count Dohna.


1676

Abbe Francois Timoleon de Choisy attended the Papal inaugural ball in women’s clothes. Their memoirs, published postmortem, offer the first written testimony of MTF gender expression.


1700s

“Molly houses” started popping up around England. They provided a space for the gay community to meet, carouse and relate to one another. “Mollies” were men who often crossdressed and developed their own queer culture.


1728

Chevalier D’Eon, assigned male at birth, was a famous French spy/ambassador. They lived a significant part of their life as a woman. Chevalier’s birth sex was a hotly debated question, even though their birth name was Charles d’Eon.


1907

Chui Chin, a cross-dressing Chinese revolutionary and feminist was beheaded for organizing an uprising against the Manchu dynasty.


As you can see, trans folks have ALWAYS been here. While it may seem like there has been an increase of members of the trans community within the past 5 years, the only thing that has changed is more diversity and inclusivity in vocabulary. When I first heard someone say that their pronouns are they/them, and explain to me what genderqueer means to them, I felt comfort and excitement and validation all rolled into one. There’s a word for what I feel! Other people also identify this way! I’m not making anything up, this is a valid identity!

When folks say that they’ve never met a trans person, they don’t know it, but that’s more than likely not true. According to a study run by the Williams Institute published June 2016, 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender. This number does not include the trans folks that did not participate in the the surveys used to procure this study, nor the folks that were comfortable enough to identify as trans. Given this information, 1.4 million is a bit on the low side. Chances are, you HAVE met a trans person, they just didn’t out themselves.

Be sure to check in next week for Trans History Part 2: Stonewall and Beyond!


Most resources were found at http://out.ucr.edu/docs/trans_timeline.pdf and http://bilerico.lgbtqnation.com/2008/02/transgender_history_trans_expression_in.php.

Originally posted 2017-10-08 12:41:59.


Also published on Medium.

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Film Review: Battle of the Sexes

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With women and the LGBTQ community in hopeful anticipation of seeing ourselves and our history played out on the big screen, last weekend Twentieth Century Fox released “Battle of the Sexes” in theaters. I went last Saturday afternoon to see mainstream Hollywood’s take on the infamous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, and looked forward to connecting with the human stories behind one of the most infamous events in modern feminist history. While the artful production design and crackling performances from the actors give us a lot to be proud of, this is not a film I can recommend, and the mis-steps found in the well-intentioned script lie at the heart of the problem.

On September 5, 1995 First Lady Hillary Clinton stood at the podium at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and declared “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.” Last week, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley voted against a resolution condemning the discriminatory use of the death penalty for LGBTQ people. Despite the Trump administration’s weak clarifications in an attempt at damage control, the fact remains: the United States failed to stand up for LGBTQ people around the world. We were, and are, still fighting this battle of the sexes. Secretly, King fought a personal battle to guard the secret of her sexuality from almost everyone who knew her including her husband, family, and certainly the professional and public world of tennis.

Over 3 decades after Billie Jean King, a married world-famous female tennis champion, was outed as a lesbian in a lawsuit brought by her former girlfriend and 42 years after her ground-breaking leadership on the issue of equal pay for women in the world of sports, women and LGBTQ people are still fighting for justice in the workplace and equal rights. The importance of knowing our stories, of telling them, and making sure they are remembered cannot be understated.

This film reminded me that the world knew King as a straight woman in 1973. We didn’t have “gay stars” back then. We had male stars and female stars. To come out was to risk everything. We know Billie Jean King as she is today, a lesbian icon of rights for women and LGBTQ people who did “something or other” back in the 70s, but most of us know the story in basic terms at best. The basic plot points are easily accessible with a few clicks these days. What a film, or any good storytelling, should do is to connect us to the human beings who lived out these plot points. What are their moments of personal challenge, failure, or triumph? We can go back and watch the old clips if we want to know exactly, in perfect historical terms, what happened. A great film explores these questions but goes beyond that to connect audiences to their imaginations, to evoke empathy and inspiration.

“Battle of the Sexes” is somewhat successful as a historical account, but it falls far short of that mission at times giving us stereotypes and filler instead of character, conflict, and substance. First, who are the other women, including one woman of color, who joined Billie Jean in the walk out to form the Women’s Tennis Association, the first league of its kind? In this film, with the exception of Margaret Court the homophobic Australian player who beat King to win the first WTA tournament, the other athletes are cardboard cut-outs “Woman 1, 2, & 3,” their dialogue strung together with tired feminist slogans and lines that are fraught with stereotypical language. In “Battle of the Sexes,” they are exactly the empty-headed pretty faces that men at the time expected them to be. Depictions of women like this make it easier for men to discount us as second class citizens. In one particularly embarrassing scene, the women squeal and jump up and down when they find out they’ll have a hairdresser on the tour. If the women were fleshed out in the screenplay as individuals with depth and varied personalities, goals, and interests, scenes like this one are less hard to watch. These heroes of feminism in their own right, the sisters who stood with King and risked their careers for the cause of female equality, deserve a lot better. (Read more about 1996 inductee to the International Tennis Hall of Fame  Rosie “Rosebud” Casals portrayed memorably by Natalie Morales.)

My next question is; are we supposed to be grateful? Are we supposed to be grateful to see the Hollywood mainstream pull off a tender and believable same sex love scene? The script by Simon Beaufoy does not explore or even hint at the core of who these two people are and the possible consequences of what was happening between them, so how could I? We see two women locking eyes for the first time, their growing attraction to one another. We see their first kiss. And the actors are giving it their all. The direction shows sensitivity and injects romance as well as intimacy, but it’s the sum of what we have to go on to understand the characters and the risks being taken, so the potential impact misses the mark. Though admirably and warmly portrayed by Andrea Riseborough, the character of King’s girlfriend Marilyn Barrett is poorly developed, similar to the way female love interests are often portrayed in a film with a male lead. Having failed to set up the dangerous personal stakes Billie Jean was facing to risk having a same sex relationship at this time in history, the scenes about her relationship with hairdresser Marilyn Barrett fall short.

Understanding the risks and consequences experienced by real people at that time would have injected suspense and drama into the subplot. You have to watch very closely to catch onto the point that Billie Jean is actually married to a man at this time. It’s glossed over. We don’t know the character of Billie Jean at all beyond her star athlete persona when the movie starts, and we only know slightly more by the end credits.

Beyond the extremely well done costumes and production design, there’s no context given that pulls us into the sexually repressed, misogynist world of the early 1970s. And if, as a filmmaker, you don’t take us to the oppressive place where this story happens, you’ve lost us. Why? Because, in an “overcoming obstacles” story like this one, context is everything. We have to know where these characters are and exactly what they are up against before we can care about cheering them on.

The pivotal moment when an adolescent King first caught a passion to change things for women and minorities in tennis is only hinted at in passing. I realize this is not a miniseries, but give us more than that, please. She’s spoken about it in several interviews over the years when, at the age of 12, she looked around and thought “Where is everybody else? Where are the people of color?” She wanted to shine a light on the elitism in the world of tennis. She “made herself a promise,” she said, “to do something about it.” That’s dynamite, dramatic substance, and it really happened. It gives us insight into the heart of this iconic leader. This point along with so much more, Billie Jean’s straight life, her relationship with her parents and husband, is merely a footnote in this film.

Emma Stone uses everything she’s given to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on this one, and I can see her struggling as an actor against the the script, to bring us into Billie Jean’s inner life and heart. Without her strong performance of this sub-par screenplay, along with a few others like Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, and Alan Cumming who give nuanced and emotional portrayals, the film is completely unwatchable. Cumming’s final scene in the film is particularly moving, and Beaufoy gives Carell much more to work with. We see Riggs interacting with others in his personal life in a variety of well-written and artfully directed scenes. We’re told nothing about Billie Jean’s husband Larry King. Like Marilyn, Rosie, and the other women athletes, he’s presented as a flat stereotype. Carell’s scenes with his wife (played by Oscar Winner Elisabeth Shue) portray the struggling, strained relationship in the aging tennis player’s marriage. In many ways, the film makes us care more about his struggles and triumphs than Billie Jean’s. Ironic, right?

Women and the LGBTQ community still need allies. Many people do not understand our cause; some are apathetic, or are outright enemies of our equality. So more than anything, this film misses the chance to have a huge impact on our culture to affect changes we would all love to see in our lifetimes.

Overall, I felt delightfully hopeful about seeing this movie. I wanted to marvel at its ground-breaking courage and applaud its relevance in giving us historical context to understand the heroes who laid so many foundations for the rest of us. We’re winning the battle, but we still have a lot of people in this country who could become vocal allies if they can be somehow swayed by emotional and personal connection, which is what we’re supposed to have as audience members. Hampered by writing, directing or both; “Battle of the Sexes” is a stellar film they didn’t make.

We highly recommend you read more about the fascinating personalities surrounding this historic time in women’s sports. To find out more about Billie Jean King and her work as an activist, look for the 2006 Peabody Award winning HBO documentary “Billie Jean King: Portrait of a Pioneer.” What did you think of “Battle of the Sexes?” Let us know in the comments below!

Originally posted 2017-10-07 18:33:21.

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Amazon is selling a pro-anorexia hoodie during Mental Illness Awareness Week

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It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, folks, a time for sharing stories, knowledge, and coming together to talk about the importance of respecting mental illness.

Apparently, Amazon UK did not get the memo because they are selling hoodies making a mockery of anorexia, which is a serious mental health issue. The hoodie, in hot pink font, says “Anorexia: like Bulimia except with self-control.”

 

This is, of course, is disgusting and troubling, not only because it trivializes anorexia and bulimia, both of which are serious and life-ending illnesses, but because this isn’t the first time that people have disregarded eating disorders. Most of our culture treats eating disorders like a hollow punch line. In recent years, celebrities like Meghan Trainor said that she “wasn’t strong enough to have an eating disorder,” the late Carrie Fisher called herself a “failed anorexic,” and who could forget the infamous Kate Moss quote “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”?

People are understandably upset about this hoodie, calling for Amazon to ban the sale of the hoodie which is sold by a 3rd party for $25.88. People, many of whom have suffered for years or have lost loved ones to the illness, have spoken out about their disgust for this shirt.

However, other people have commented saying that this shirt is “no big deal” and people need to stop being so “politically correct” and some even find it “funny.”

So why is this shirt a big deal?

Because anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness and causes 12 times more deaths than any other illness among girls ages 15-24, to whom this hoodie is targeted. According to the National Eating Disorder Association 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from eating disorders at some point in their lives and 1 in 5 people with an eating disorder will die prematurely as a result.  

This isn’t a question of political correctness, or not being able to take a “joke.” These are human lives, humans who are dying over an illness that is constantly not treated or undertreated because of the horrible stigma. Because of horrible stereotypes that end lives. I personally never felt stronger, or felt that I had self-control because of my eating disorder. I don’t feel pride in my anorexia, but I will not be ashamed of my struggles and I will always speak out against toxic things such as this. Shirts like these, thoughts like these, are part of the problem. Speaking out is part of the solution.

So maybe I’m being too sensitive, but I think things are too loud to stay silent.

Originally posted 2017-10-07 18:16:23.

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