1990s Jen to Now

Osiyo readers!

“Osiyo” is “hello” in Tsalagi or as many of you know us as: Cherokee.

So I am still around. I’ve just been all consumed with my move to DC and my new career as a journalist. I’m now all settled into my new place with more articles being published every day so I thought since insomnia is plaguing me I’ll write a little something here.

In an effort to unwind and get to bed at a decent hour for myself I decided to make myself a martini and listen to some music from the 90s. This of course led me to think about my high school self which led me to think about my college self and then down the rabbit hole I went.

The music from my late teen years brought to mind the movies and fashion which naturally led me to think about the body image issues I had. Grunge was easy for a chubby girl like me because I could hide behind big tshirts, flannels, and jeans. It was the late 90s crop tops that became an issue though. My eating disorder switched gears from hoarding food, over-eating, and trying to make myself vomit, and ultimately failing and hating myself for failing to severely restricting my diet. The later would continue on throughout my adult life. It still plagues me to this day.

I spent part of my high school years being the smart, cute, funny, chubby girl that boys were friends with and would talk to about other girls and secretly date to eventually being the thin, hot girl that they had zero interest in talking to. Both situations fucking sucked. Frankly, dating men isn’t much different. Yes, there are men out there that are into women for who they are and blah blah blah, but they’re few and far between. Yes, there are men that are into larger women, but many of those men are fetishists and still wouldn’t date a fat woman openly.

Anyway, I digress. I eventually began to think about myself at my thinnest point in college. I was a size 10 and 156lbs. I know that doesn’t sound small, but I was really freaking skinny. It was bones holding my skirts and jeans up. I looked like I had a giraffe neck. I would double up from pain because I was so hungry. The only thing that probably kept me from looking sickly is that I worked out often and had well rounded workouts so I had muscle on me. By senior year of college though, I was throwing up. During the summer between junior and senior year, I had a horrible drunken night because I was upset about some asshole, undeserving man. When I came to the next morning on my friend’s couch I instantly ran to the bathroom and prayed to the porcelain gods to make it stop. As absurd as this may sound to some, throwing up felt cleansing to me. It felt like all of the pain that I was carrying around inside of me was everyday was leaving me. I couldn’t make the nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, and panic attacks from being raped and a survivor of domestic abuse and childhood abuse go away, but I could make myself feel better by puking.

Jump ahead a decade or so and I’ve finally mostly made peace with my appearance and was finally getting help for all of the abuse from my past and that had occurred since college. I won’t say all was well in candy land, but I was trying. Then my existing health issues became a problem. I’ve had health problems since I was very young, migraines since I was 13, and chronic pain due to knee and spinal problems since I was 14. This wasn’t new, but the intensity and frequency was.

These health issues have presented so many problems for me, which I’ve talked about here, but what it also did was present a new reason to hate my body. I had finally begun to accept my body for its size and shape, but now I hated it for all of its limitations and how it was ruining my life. It has triggered my eating disorder. I’ve been struggling with severely restricting my diet since 2012 which is unhealthy for even the healthiest of people. For someone with my health conditions it’s downright dangerous. My last PCP, Therapist, and myself were constantly working to find ways for me to manage my health, in particular checking my sugars (I’m diabetic) without triggering my eating disorder, as well as how I could safely take all of my medications even if I didn’t eat.

Believe me when I say it’s a difficult balance. What I intellectually know my sugars should be versus what my disorder tells me my sugars should be are two very different things. Fear is a powerful motivator. The thought of losing more of myself, more of my freedom, my autonomy, my life, my hopes, my dreams, my wishes, my ability to fight off potential abusers, is too much to bear. Sometimes I don’t eat when I know I should.

So there you have it. One martini and a little music from the 1990s and I have all of this, and a whole lot more, speeding through my mind. I intended for this to only be 3 paragraphs. My brain works an awful lot.

If you’re interested, and you should be, you can read my work on Autostraddle, The Establishment, Wear Your Voice, Medium, and the Matador Network.

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Trump, Warren, and the Dehumanization of Native Women

I’m incredibly busy with fast approaching deadlines and article pitches, but I wanted to share one of my recently published articles that I’m immensely proud.

I spent countless hours on the research, writing, and editing process. My PTSD was triggered throughout this piece and I was constantly in fear that I would let my ancestors, Indigenous women, and people down by the work that I produced. Through the help of many amazing friends and an incredible editor (I now know why writers thank their Editors) Kelley Calkins, I made it through the other side. I was honored with the privilege to interview Madonna Thunder Hawk and Rebecca Nagle for which I will always be humbled and thankful.

With that said, I give you Trump, Warren, and the Dehumanization of Native Women

http://www.theestablishment.co/2016/08/08/trump-warren-and-the-dehumanization-of-native-women/

Fuck this privilege!

I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately much of which I’ve been submitting for publication. To my surprise my writing has been well received. I’ve already had 4 stories picked up out of the very few submissions I’ve sent out. Granted, I’m not being paid very much at all, but still, I haven’t been at this even a month and if I were to take a guess at the amount of pitches and completed stories I’ve sent out versus what’s been bought thus far I’d say I’m 70/30 in my favor right now. I’m also sending out some of my poetry which I don’t have high hopes for being published, let alone being paid for, but the fact that my voice and the communities I represent are valued so much that I’m being paid for any of my writing at all is awe inspiring and the fuel to the fire that I’ve really needed to keep me going in this dumpster fire of a life I’ve been living.

With all of that said though I am seriously enraged that it took 5 1/2 years of undergraduate and 3 years of graduate education for my voice to be important. That was $250,000 worth of student loan debt. Thankfully, I say ironically, because of my debilitating disability my federal student loan debt has been wiped away now. However, my private student loan debt is forever there until the federal government decides in their infinite wisdom to get off their asses and give private student loan debt relief to those of us who need it-unlike those motherfucking asshole banker dickheads they gave that shyte to. In the meantime there isn’t a fucking thing I can do about it. The mafia would be kinder in their interest rates and payment plans than these motherfucking private student loan lenders. Yet it took all of that education and debt for my voice to matter. Without it I highly doubt anyone would have taken me seriously. Scratch that. I can say with absolute certainty no one would have taken me seriously. As a Tsalagi (Cherokee)-member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Bisexual, Disabled, Poor Woman I had to work 1,000 times harder than every white, able bodied, straight, American, woman, and man I encountered. That sadly even includes some  Gay men, Lesbians, and other People Of Color because of the Biphobia and Colonialism that we Bisexuals and Natives experience at the hands of Gay men, Lesbians, and other People Of Color is fucking intense and holds us down at all turns. I’ve lost out on jobs and have been denied healthcare because I’m Bi, Disabled, and Native and it hasn’t always been white, able bodied, and het people doing the discriminating. I guess my long winded point is that education is a right for one and all, not a privilege and not one that should weigh down and ruin our futures.

 

I was also thinking earlier about the oppressions and privileges I’ve had throughout my life from childhood until now. One of those privileges as a child was that while I didn’t grow up with an “educated” family with money who could guide me through my higher education and career, I also never had to worry about being evicted from our home, where we’d sleep next, the lights going out, or going to bed hungry. That’s some fucked up shit right there! Those aren’t privileges, those are basic, bare bones human rights! What kind of a fucked up, oppressive, hate fueled, capitalistic world do we live in that a child of abuse who has grown up to be a Native, Bi, Disabled, Poor Woman who’s legally homeless, living below the poverty line, and has spent almost her entire life being abused and yet she can  say she’s “privileged” because she didn’t go to bed hungry at night as a child? Seriously? This is the best we can do in the so called “land of the free?” This is it? The land of milk and honey where Trump and Hillary are our saviors to right the wrongs that so many of us suffer from? That’s some just fucking straight up laughable shit!

I say this as someone who worked for roughly a decade in liberal, mainstream (white) Feminist, and Democratic Party politics. By 2014 I was on my way to being a so called party insider, but I had seen and experienced too much. The racism, colonialism, sexism, ableism, saneism, ageism, elitism, bi/trans/homophobia, and so much more that I experienced first hand or saw others experience working in that environment was too much. I couldn’t keep going in that world. I left for a reason. Once upon a time, even though I ultimately felt that the system should be torn apart and built anew by those of us who have been oppressed by it, I still thought some good could come from working in it. A decade later and I knew different. I didn’t become this far left Radical out of nowhere. My revolutionary beliefs didn’t spring up overnight.

Sadly, we’re (currently) stuck with this colonizing, hate mongering system that has me thinking about how I was privileged to not go to bed hungry as a child, but it doesn’t always have to be this way. We can change this system. It won’t come through Trump, Hillary, Jill Stein, or any other white, able bodied, hetero, wealthy, cisgendered, American, colonizer or settler privileged, status quo candidate. Change comes with us standing up and challenging this corrupt system now! Remember this when you get beaten down and worn down by the system: Privilege isn’t having $250k in student loan debt so maybe people will take you seriously! And Privilege isn’t going to bed hungry!

 

Erasure, Hatred, & Data for the Masses/But We Live On

I’ve finally begun pursuing publication for my writing and lo and behold I’m actually finding success. I’ve already had one article published on Autostraddle and am currently working on another for The Establishment. Yay for finally getting off my (disabled) ass and sending my work around! Really it’s that I now have enough stamina to work for a couple of hours most days hence why I’m now able to pursue my dreams of being a published author. It is rather overwhelming though on many fronts. Presently, my current writing project is really draining me psychically, emotionally, and physically.

Without giving away the details of the article I’m writing I’ll just say that I’m digging into a lot of very heavy data on violence against Native women in the US. Most of it isn’t new to me. I’ve read, and shared publicly many times, the studies and statistics. I don’t know a single Indigenous woman that hasn’t suffered multiple forms of violence throughout the course of her life, usually at the hands of a white man. I’m no exception to this. Most sexual assault is intraracial-the predator is the same race as the victim-but we Natives are the exception. Even our men have horrifically high rates of sexual abuse and it’s also predominantly interracial. This should come as no surprise given our history of boarding school abuses and the current abuses our children, women, and men suffer in the foster care and criminal injustice systems.

In the last hour alone I’ve read that more than 1 million  Native women have experienced sexual violence in our lifetime. According to the 2015 US census we only comprise 5.4 million of the total US population. This is including those that self-identified as mixed race and Native. While I don’t believe blood quantum and tribal enrollment are the signs of a true Native (these are the tools of the colonizer after all), but there aren’t 5.4 million federally enrolled tribal members in the US. According to the National Congress of the American Indian we comprise 2.9 million, 0r .9%, of the total US population. If we’re only 2.9 million people and more than 1 million of our women have been victims of sexual violence that basically means that almost all Indigenous women in the US have been assaulted in some fashion at least once in our lifetimes. From what I’ve experienced and the stories I’ve heard, from many Native women, one time in a YEAR is a miracle. If you’re Two Spirit, Queer, Bi, or a Disabled Native woman then your likelihood and occurrences of abuse only increase.

I’ve had to sit for days with this heavy data and the extremely hateful and racist rhetoric of some of our Amerikkkan leaders and try to dissect it in a way that is intelligent, understandable, and gives a heartfelt and impassioned cry to the overwhelming non-Native readers that will see this article so they will hopefully get off their privileged settler asses and be our allies and fight for our rights. Needless to say, it’s eating at me. Last night I went to the anti-police brutality march in Roxbury, MA in solidarity for the Black lives that are being slaughtered by the police, but I also used it as my PTSD wellness break from my work. It says a lot about the state of Amerikkka when a Disabled, Bi, Native woman with chronic pain who can’t stand for long or walk great distances and feels panicky in crowds and near the police goes to a protest and march that has 1,000 plus people and is littered with police so she can get a break from her research. But hey, it’s the land of the free, right?

I can understand how it would be easy for many in America, and abroad, to write off some of what I’ll bring up in my soon-to-be published article. It’s easy to brush aside the hateful and ignorant comments of some people because they behave like jackasses so why would anyone take them seriously? But the thing is, when it comes to us Natives, people do take them seriously and it’s never just one jackass in the spotlight. It’s Victoria’s Secret hypersexualizing Native women and culturally appropriating war bonnets which are sacred to some Plains’ tribes. It’s the white hipsters at music festivals that also wear headdresses or Pharrell Williams, a Black man, who posed with a headdress for British Elle. It’s the Colonial Bros and Nava-hos frat party. It’s me as the only Native in a room full of so called Massachusetts’ progressives who repeatedly ironically ask “You’re Indian? That’s so neat! Will you speak at my child’s school for Thanksgiving?” Meanwhile, I’m Tsalagi. That’s Cherokee to you colonizers. I’m a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. When the pilgrims came, my people were in the Southeast nowhere near present day Massachusetts. It’s the Wampanoags that had to deal with those British wankers.

It’s me at the Boston LGBT health center with me feet literally in stirrups waiting for my Woman Of Color (WOC) doctor to replace my IUD, which I’ve already told her is incredibly painful, and she asks me “So your last name, are you Native American?” It’s the resident at my chronic pain management clinic, who I assume is Southeast Asian, asking me as I’m writhing in pain on the table after having several very large needles stuck in my spine “So you’re Native American? What tribe are you? Tell me all about it!” as if it’s any of his business, my job to teach him my history, or that he’s not taking advantage of his power in that situation and making me feel unsafe, and that it wouldn’t cause him pain and rage when people force their racist and colonizing microaggressions upon him.

And the one that’s really sticking in my craw right now is this: It’s me on a date with a white man who calls me “exoctic” and “Pocahontas” without the slightest irony that he’s the exoctic one because this is our land and that the story of Pocahontas as he knows her is a myth. Pocahontas’ real name was Matoaka. She was approximately 10-12 years old when she had the misfortune of encountering John Smith. She was soon taken captive by the British and “married” to John Rolfe, forced into Christianity, and then dragged across the Atlantic to England where she was paraded around as the so called noble savage until she died at the age of 22. Despite all of this I’m supposed to be turned on, bat my pretty exoctic eyelashes, and be ready to open my red legs when some asshole, racist, colonizing, misogynistic, rape culture loving white man calls me “Pocahontas.”

I could really go on for months, possibly years, about all of this because sadly our abuse and injustices run that deep, but despite all of the colonizer’s best attempts to wipe us out, we’re still here. I’m still here. I, a Bisexual, Disabled, Poor, Fat, Native Woman am still here. We’re hurting, and I’m most definitely hurting, but we’re still here. I may need a lot of PTSD breaks and I may not produce the same amount of work as the colonizer does, but I’ll keep writing. I live on through my ancestors. Our voices are strong and we will be heard. I will be heard.