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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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Danica Roem Earns Seat in Virginia’s State Legislature

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I’ve previously written about Danica Roem and how she, a transgender woman, made history by winning Virginia’s Democratic primary in June. She’s done it again! On November 7th, Roem defeated Bob Marshall, a man who once referred to himself as “chief homophobe,” in Virginia’s House of Delegates election.

Who is Danica Roem?

Danica Roem was born in 1984 at Prince William Hospital in Manassas and went to Catholic school for thirteen years of her life. She attended St. Bonaventure University where she majored in journalism. She graduated in 2006 and reported for the Gainesville Times and eventually for the Prince William Times. Danica also wrote about schools, development, business, and transportation. In 2012, she started her transition and in December of 2013, she began hormone replacement therapy. Her name changed occurred in 2015 and her coworkers were supportive of her. She was eventually hired as the news editor of the Montgomery County Sentinel in Rockville Maryland, where she worked from August 2015 until the end of 2016. After, she left her position at the newspaper to run for office.

A major victory for trans rights

By defeating long-standing Republican and firm social conservative Bob Marshall, Danica Roem became the first openly transgender official to be elected in Virginia and made history by being the first transgender person to be seated in a state legislature. This is a huge step for LGBTQ rights, as transgender individuals are heavily discriminated against in many forms, such as workplace discrimination and discrimination in regard to using public bathrooms. By electing Roem and ousting Marshall, Virginia, a traditionally conservative state, is showing that more and more Virginians are moving toward positive change.

So who exactly is Bob Marshall, the man that Roem defeated? Marshall was elected to the House of Delegates in the early 1990s and has run and won every single election until this year. He authored Virginia’s 2006 “One man, one woman” bill that supports the idea that marriage is defined as a union between one man and one woman, is anti-abortion and opposes tax funding of Planned Parenthood, purposely uses disingenuous language to undermine the struggles of the LGBTQ community, is against gay men from serving in Virginia’s National Guard because he believes that there would be an increase in the spreading of STDs, and is in favor of legal discrimination against LGBTQ people. He is very clearly anti-LGBTQ and holds views that go counter to the direction that this country is heading in.

A way forward for Virginians

In contrast, Roem is in favor of raising the minimum wage in Virginia, making preschool more accessible, vows to increase teacher pay, wants to decrease bullying and discrimination in schools and promises to create a more inclusive Virginia by making sure people do not get singled out based on sexual orientation, race, gender, or disability. Her experience as a journalist helped her gain excellent listening skills. Because of that, Roem is able to listen to the residents of Prince William County and help achieve what needs to be done. According to her bio page, she promises to tackle public issues the way she wrote news stories: by researching, questioning, listening, and reporting. By electing her, the residents of Virginia showed that they were tired of Marshall’s antiquated (and frankly) bigoted views and wanted a real change. Bob Marshall won fourteen consecutive general elections which definitely displayed Virginia’s views but this year created a huge change. In the wake of all of the tension within the United States government, Danica Roem offers a much-needed and refreshing perspective on how people view transgender people. Hopefully, this will be a crucial catalyst in the fight for transgender and LGBTQ rights and an important stepping stone in the fight for equality.  

Originally posted 2017-11-14 15:36:41.

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#FiveFilms4Freedom LGBT+ Film Festival

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The #FiveFilms4Freedom 2017 film festival is travelling across the pond this November. Originally hosted in Britain this past March, it is the first and largest LGBT+ film festival, and has featured independent LGBT+ short films from around the globe.

The film festival began in 2014 in Britain, sponsored by the British Council and the British Film Institute. It is a part of the larger BFI Flare film festival, which began in 1986, and is sponsored by the Love is GREAT Britain Campaign. .

This year’s #FiveFilms4Freedom festival marked 50 years since the decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain. As such, all five films were created by UK filmmakers.

After the films premiered in the UK in March, they were brought to Washington, D.C. on November 1, and will be shown in Los Angeles on November 13 and in New York City on November 16. The festival will also feature a panel of prominent LGBT+  rights advocates from the US and the UK, as well as two participating directors.  

The films focus on a range of LGBT+ relationships and issues. The majority of them are love stories; Crush tells the story of a young girl who finds herself smitten with another girl she sees at a train station, Heavy Weight deals with a young male boxer and his reaction to the arrival of a new fighter, and Jamie is a very modern story about a man who bravely decides to meet with the man he has been talking to on a dating site. The other two films explore very different experiences in the LGBT+ community. Still Burning is about a young migrant living in Paris who shows his brother the exciting and freeing voguing movement. The title is taken from the film Paris is Burning, a documentary about the voguing movement in New York City and its effect on the African American, Latino, gay and transgender communities. The final film is a documentary set in Scotland, entitled Where We Are Now, and focuses on a transgender parent and her bisexual daughter.

The BFI Flare festival as well as #FiveFilms4Freedom have given the LGBT+ community an excellent place for celebration and representation, especially in the UK. With the decriminalization of homosexuality 31 years ago, British LGBT+ representation is extremely important because it has only been able to exist for a short amount of time. The festival allows filmmakers to make LGBT+ people and relationships extremely public, and continues to encourage and support the idea that LGBT+ people can make and star in incredible pieces of media. The move from showing the films in Britain alone to showing them in the US will hopefully continue to encourage the rise of LGBT+ relationships in mainstream media as well as in independent media.

Tickets for the festival in New York City are still available for reservation here. The festival is on November 16 from 6 – 9 PM at the Barclays-ASK Auditorium on Seventh Avenue. The festival is also currently accepting submissions for next year’s festival here.

Originally posted 2017-11-13 21:00:23.

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Online Dating While Genderqueer #notokcupid

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Anatomy, pronouns, sexual orientation. These suddenly become much more important when talking to cis men online. I often don’t disclose my gender identity or pronouns in conversation because I don’t want to scare folks away. I also figure it’s more of a 2nd date conversation. I do mention my pronouns in my bios, though. I don’t want to hide my gender identity, but I also don’t want to talk about it a lot. There’s more to me than just my gender (or lack thereof), and I’m not interested in teaching Queer Theory 101 courses when we could be talking about movies, or where we grew up, or which Disney Princess is our favorite. It’s an exhausting thing to talk about – there’s a lot of emotional energy and work involved, often met with even more invasive questions, a sense of entitlement, and arguments.

Living in Brooklyn, dating can be exhausting. A major pro is the seemingly endless amount of options/available folks. At the same time, a major con is the seemingly endless amount of options/available folks. There is a lot of sifting and sorting that needs to be done before even meeting someone in real life. Here are three dating apps I’ve used, and my experiences with each.

OKCupid

OKCupid is one of my favorite dating platforms thus far. The expansive options for gender identity/sexual orientation, and the option to not be seen by straight people, is validating and creates a safer space for an already vulnerable venture. OKCupid does require a bit more work – not only in filling out your profile, but when looking for cuties. There is a swipe feature, just like Tinder and Bumble, but OKC is a better platform for folks interested in dating, not just hookups.

Bumble

Bumble has been a recent favorite of mine, simply because of fast results. I get to know within seconds of a swipe if someone also likes me, and I have to message first within 24 hours, giving me the power to initiate conversation. If the other person doesn’t reply within 24 hours, then the connection is lost. I enjoy this feature because I get to set the tone. Getting a dick pic instead of “Hello, I also adore the film ‘Nacho Libre’” is a much less successful and appealing opener. Bumble is not as trans or queer friendly. There are two gender options for your identity and who you are looking to talk to, and you must select one for each. You can also only change your gender once – so you better decide which end of the binary you’d like to claim, and stick with it!

Side note: I’ve also heard that Michael Che is on Bumble. Michael – if you’re reading this, let’s get coffee?

Tinder

OH GEEZ. I had a tinder account for quite a while, and haven’t been back on it in over a year. Apparently, it has gotten more trans inclusive, with a total of 37 gender identity choices. Tinder is the ultimate hookup app. That doesn’t mean one couldn’t find folks seeking other types of interactions, the likelihood might just be slimmer. To me, Tinder feels like a frat party, and I’m not in Greek Life.

When Life Gives You Interactions with Dumb Bois, Make a Hashtag

On any dating platform, you’re bound to have some … interesting conversations. The internet is powerful – it makes people braver, ruder, and sometimes dumber. When I’m getting harassing messages from dumb bois, I feel safer telling them off than I do in real life. I’m less likely to get assaulted, physically and/or emotionally. I also screenshot EVERYTHING. If you feel comfortable talking to me that way, then I’m sure you won’t mind me sharing that with the entire world. Here are some memorable interactions I’ve had that I’ve posted to my personal Instagram:

Notice how he doesn’t deny it… #notokcupid #smelly

A post shared by Sara W (@swhitt17) on

So greedy. #notokcupid

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When he’s a dumb boy but also loves @rupaulofficial ? #notokcupid

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LET THE GAMES BEGIN!! #notokcupid

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… but you're not a feminist? #thingsthatmakeyougohmmm #notokcupid

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Boy, can I relate. #notokcupid

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Originally posted 2017-11-13 18:58:09.

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