i grew up knowing that my Vietnamese name, Tố Như, symbolizes “White Face.”
it hints at things like beauty … and pureness. when i was younger, i rejected my Vietnamese name because of several reasons, but most prominently, because i 1) had quite a brown face, actually, 2) did not feel beautiful or pure and 3), did not enjoy all of the teasing, stumbling and questions about my name. more recently, however, i have re-claimed Tố Như as well as my conceptualizations and practices around beauty, power and the color of my skin. a by-product of this journey is “alyx.” this has been a cyclic process, ya’ll, and it continues on the daily.
my má and chị just shared something else about my name. i was also named after Nguyễn Du, the author of Truyện Kiều (“The Tale of Kiều”), an epic poem that is celebrated as one of the most prolific Vietnamese pieces of literature of all time. i have begun conducting literature research in English around the xstorical, socio-cultural and political contexts of Nguyễn Du and Truyện Kiều. post-colonial Vietnam writers and contemporary archivists refer to it as a significant reflection and critique of the Nguyễn dynasty’s rise in Vietnam that brings issues of gender, filial piety, Buddhism, Confuscianism, corruption and resilience. Truyện Kiều was originally wrote in chữ Nôm, a logographic script used to write Vietnamese based on the Chinese model during the 15th to 19th centuries. i am not versed in chữ Nôm, but i have begun the reading of contemporary Vietnamese translations of the texts. as i read and learn more, i feel myself feeling so much more prideful of my name, with its cultural, xstorical and poetic richness.
the opening paragraph from Truyện Kiều:
In contemporary Vietnamese:
Trăm năm trong cõi người ta,
Chữ tài chữ mệnh khéo là ghét nhau.
Trải qua một cuộc bể dâu,
Những điều trông thấy mà đau đớn lòng.
Lạ gì bỉ sắc tư phong,
Trời xanh quen thói má hồng đánh ghen.
An English translation by Lê Xuân Thuy:
Within the span of hundred years of human existence,
what a bitter struggle is waged between genius and destiny!
How many harrowing events have occurred while mulberries cover the conquered sea!
Rich in beauty, unlucky in life!
Strange indeed, but little wonder,
since casting hatred upon rosy cheeks is a habit of the Blue Sky [Heaven].
what i find particularly re-affirming about this knowledge is that Nguyễn Du wrote under the female pseudonym Tố Như. many authors choose their pseudonyms strategically, but this goes full circle for me. a Vietnamese man writes under a female pseudonym. my name also means “White Face.” beauty and pureness are often linked and chained to notions of beauty and pureness. it is like a mask, for him - a mask that provides his creative work and life more access to more audiences and communities.
maybe i am reading too much into it - but what is in a name?
well, in my name, there is a man. there is his female mask. there is colonialism, struggle, loss, grief, love, duty and resilience. there is poetry. there is motherly wisdom and insight. there is my face. there is me.
this isn’t one of those notes with a “i/we/you can do it” sort of ending - where i rant and spill my feelings first … and then conclude it with some sort of call-to-action that i’m repeating to myself as i’m typing - convincing myself. this is an of-the-moment, glimpse into me.
i initially began writing tonight because writing, nowadays, is one of the only things that dissolves my anxiety. it dissolves it from a chaotic blob into neat-ish, coherent-ish thought processes. my third language is neurotic taps and clicks. it is organizing all of the utensils into the appropriate space in the utensil holder. it is going through dozens of hand-held notebooks by making check lists. it is making sure that all of the cups are facing the same way. it is writing until i fall asleep and the candle burns out. it is, obviously, repeating myself a lot.
writing is also one of the few means in which i stabilize myself and ensure that i have some sort of snapshot of life moments. it works as a digital and physical archival of me. i write in a semi-public sense because i have faith in the process. i also like that if i forget what i’ve written, others with longer memory lapses might bring them up again later. sometimes i like it more than other times, because let’s be honest, i am not always the most chipper writer. i write a lot about my memory problems. i write about living with psychiatric spunk (how i refer to my Dx’s). i write about my how my reality is sometimes seen as weird and/or stresses people out. i write about the things i am most uncomfortable about. i think some people like to read these notes. i don’t know. for each persn’s reasons, i could guess, but tonight, i am writing because i need to.
last summer, i was in love with your rage. juxtaposing the California beaches and sun, you were like messy, accidental splashes of red, teal and purple paint across an immaculate, black and white photograph that was trying way too hard. imagine a black and white, angular, high-contrast photograph of some mediocre scene - like a river with some rocks hinting at a trail formation.
pretty, but nothing special.
now imagine aggressive strokes of red, layered with slow drips of purple … and splashes of teal.
you turned a factory-made photograph into honesty i couldn’t understand until now.
last summer, i was floating on consistent casual Hi’s, knee-ripped denim and a too-familiar hunger that sneaks into lectures, organizing meetings, dates and hook ups.
tonight, i write by a small flame - pathetic in comparison to you. a slight breeze would put it out. heavy rain and thunder storms couldn’t stop you from doing what you needed to do.
pretty lipstick, a love for lookin’ good and heels that were sharp, but not nearly as sharp as your intellect and resilience - i wasn’t ready for you. this flame, this flame on the other hand, is contained in a glass cup that shields it from burning me. the deep maroon wax pooling underneath it reminds me that last summer, i was in love with your rage.
i don’t know where you are or what you’re doing nowadays, but things still remind me of you and my gut churns whenever i feel that deep, “Well, shit. I deserve this,” after Life wraps Karma up and i fall. i see you, then, in myself, today. i see myself in others. i see the me that drove you into anger in others that are now driving me to the ground. i guess i’m doing this to myself. it is all some sort of twist that keeps me guessing. i am still reading your writing and wondering if i’m still in there, somewhere. i don’t think that neither of us saw this night coming.
Life lessons, internalized, could crumble into inefficiency and horrible misdirection when practiced in other contexts. what i had spent the last cycle of seasons committing myself to addressing - all of the critiques of my character and questions of my politics - were finally forming a somewhat articulate semi-responsible survival handbook. sort of like a “ways to get by (without fucking up too bad) for a crazy introvert, 1st edition.”
but what happens when validating some of the more nuanced quirks of my psychiatric spunk collides with my understanding of transformative justice, anti-capitalism and coloniality? a gradual build up … and then tonight happens, and i am left tapping, clicking away, with red eyes, and lingering summer flames that i don’t want, but is my burden to carry. i just need to make sure i don’t do last summer, again.
i’m not much of a talker, but i find a lot of power in writing. i enjoy writing because i get anxious when speaking. i’ve been punished, drastically, for speaking - & when i say drastically: institutionalized or criminalized. when i write, my anxiety translates into neurotic finger spasms across a keyboard, or sloppy swirls across some paper. there’s an outlet. it is sort of like when i’m nervous & my feet start to tap, or body starts to shake. when i speak - especially in front of crowds that don’t look like me - i stutter & i feel like throwing up. writing works for me because i may not be much of a talker, but written words are my way of being loud - in a silent, subtle way.
i’m writing this note because i’m feeling really fragile this morning. like many of my homies going through their finals or overworking underpaid jobs, i haven’t been getting a full night’s sleep. my back has been hurting more than usual. my mind is wandering. my chest is cold.
this morning, i woke up from a nightmare - a recollection of past traumatic experiences that linger. i don’t know how many of my friends can relate, but my nightmares are usually lucid flashbacks:
i am in a small, hard bed. next to me is another small, hard bed. the pillow is a deflated, rubber thing. the sheets are light, mossy green. scratchy. thin. i’m on top of my sheets because even when i’m cold, the fear of bugs, germs, in an unknown sheet, trumps my shakiness. the lights turn off at the sound of a loud bell. around me is all white: white walls, white tiled floors, white ceilings, & a white, artificial light shining in through a barely-cracked open, white, thick door. i can barely move. i’m not sure if it is because i’m too cold, or because i’m afraid that if i move, i would make some noise that would attract some one, or some things. as alone as i’m feeling, i don’t want to engage with anyone, or anything. all i want is sleep - that deep slumber. my eyes slowly drift around the room, trying to make out shapes in the darkness. do you know how shadows move through a crack of a door? how if someone was standing outside of the door, their shadow is enlarged, engulfing the whole span of the light coming in? someone keeps pacing back & forth in the hallway. i hear their footsteps get softer …& then louder … & then softer. my heart begins beating faster as the shadow progressively shifts faster & faster, along with the footsteps. i hear a voice - presumably a nurse - yell, “go to bed! lights out!” the nurse’s voice echos down the hall way, into my room.
i close my eyes & think, “i need some sleep.” my eyelids are a bright, uncomfortable pink from the light shining in, hitting my face. as i begin to drift off into sleep, a darkness creeps over my eyelids. ”what is that? is someone standing there?”
i begin to hyperventilate. my chest begins collapsing on itself. the shadow remains on my eyelids. i am frozen. my eyes too afraid to open. my imagination twisting around my head, visualizing a large-eyed figure, staring at me, standing at my door.
“not again. i don’t want another shot." the shadow remains, still. silent.
"not again. i don’t want to another handful of pills." the shadow shifts, softly.
i hear the recognizable sound of our ugly, white gowns shuffling. the shadow gets larger & larger … i begin breathing faster, & faster … & then i snap -
- snap back into what so many refer to as “consciousness.” the blaring pink screen of my nightmare is suddenly a more familiar, dark, red hue. i’m “awake.” i’m “awake,” with my eyes closed.
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this morning is a little difficult for me. lately, i’ve been working on various research projects regarding mental wellness within Vietnamese communities. i’m surrounded by psychologists, counselors, doctors, researchers, graduate students, eager under graduate students, publications, manuscripts, grant proposals. the list goes on. as i approach my 2nd year post-graduation as a psychology & socio-cultural anthropology double major, i am engulfed in what others may view as “where i should be.” i think i’m on the “right track” - you know what i mean? i’m working in the field i studied (often disdainfully) - psychology. i got into cal for graduate studies in the community mental health concentration. yet, as i sit in my office in the uc davis psychology department, this morning is a little difficult for me.
yesterday evening, i entered young 198 for the first time in 3 years. the last time i sat there, i was taking a final for some upper division psychology course. i most likely hated it. i stood in front of about 200 students about to take their final. i carried a stack of tests in my arms. ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY; it read, in huge, unapologetic letters, across a large white screen in front of the class room. i stood there & scanned the room. when i took this course in my sophomore year, i almost failed it. i argued with the professor endlessly against her stigmatizing of mental illness. i argued with the professor against her construction of trans* people as “sick.” i hated it. also during my sophomore year, as some of you may know, i was addicted to various substances. i hated this course on so many levels … yet here i was, yesterday evening, standing in front of about 200 students about to take their final. ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY. i felt the students’ eyes scan my body; stare at my buzzed hair, cocking a little bit when i’d pass them their test, open my mouth & say, “good luck,” in my girlish voice.
i connected with one of my dear friends, Chucha, in the masses. his piercings, tattoos & beautiful face stood out.
Chucha, i want you to know that in my moment of anxiety, making eye contact with you eased me.
since yesterday evening, i’ve been thinking a lot about my experiences with addiction. i can recall, so vividly, hugging my knees, tucking my head down - hoping that if i squeezed myself hard enough, the visceral cravings would go away. i’ve also been thinking a lot about the “health” industry - which i say including institutions that are “in the name of ‘health’,” like psychiatric wards, hospitals, clinics, etc.
the nightmares/flashbacks come with no surprise when the lines between “then” & “now” are so blurry.
this morning is a little difficult for me, because with those thoughts floating around in my head & drifting throughout my body, i’m a little fragile. i keep having flashbacks to my experiences on stretchers - being forced fed medication, so drugged up i couldn’t tell up from down; watching people being dragged behind closed doors, hearing screams & yells throughout the night, lying on daily check sheets that i was happy so i could get out faster.
i don’t know if i can write much longer about these experiences. i can feel myself tremble & i should probably stop. as i write, the arbitrary connection between “unconscious” &”conscious” doesn’t do any justice to the complexities of life. ”unconscious” dream or not - happening “in the past” or not - it all drastically weighs down upon who i am. (& i haven’t even gotten into how my trans*ness & dark skin are intertwined with all of this, ya’ll!) & embracing that, i move forward. i shake & shimmy a little bit - in the tiny wiggle room i have - & search for ways to survive, thrive & resist.
on top of those experiences & thoughts, i logged onto FB this morning & saw a lot of FB statuses about some “mental hospital top 7 chat people” & others about folx feeling frustrated (sharing the feelz, ya’ll!!)
so, here is my frustration, & a little bit more:
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i have been diagnosed a myriad of things. i am also now unashamed about living as what many fondly/bitter sweetly refer to as a “neurologically diverse” persn - or, let’s just say it, crazy persn.
here are some of my frustrations as a crazy introvert:
"why are you so stand-offish?" / "you are so intimidating" / "you’re so quiet!" / "you are such a bad direct communicator! why can’t you verbally tell me what you need?"
i’m going to throw this back: does it make you uncomfortable that i refuse to engage with you verbally?
does my quiet, intense stare make you feel uneasy?
is there something about my refusal to smile that upsets you?
sometimes, in my sleep, i experience lucid flashbacks. i experience hands down my throat, forcing medication, over & over again. i experience being strapped down to a stretcher & hauled off to the looney bin, over & over. i wake up with these traumatic experiences that may have happened in the past, but they feel so real today & drastically shape how i move in spaces & the choices i make. if you sneak up behind me & put your hand around my shoulders or neck, two things might happen: 1) i might freeze & relive experiences of being held down, or 2) i might twist your arm & flip you (the perks of dedicating the recent years of my life to boxing, MMA, training, etc. (i am of service to my physically dis/abled family & i will fight back to whoever violates you.).
my answer: my silence is intentional. my constant on-guardness is a survival tactic. please respect it. if i am not engaging with you verbally. maybe it is because you are an elitist asshole (this one is about you: https://www.facebook.com/notes/t%C3%B5-nh%C6%B0-%C4%91%C3%A0o/t%C6%B0%E1%BB%9Dng-tr%E1%BA%AFng-white-walls/144481802395882) that can’t see past your own PoV or definition of “communication,” or maybe it is because the setting is so overstimulating that i feel much safer against the wall, quietly observing. beyond that, with my homies, i am a lover of consentual hugs, cuddling & deep conversations over candles & good food.
"why don’t you want to come to this party? come onnnnn, you have to go!" / "why are you leaving so early? the party is just getting started!" / "you’re such a flake." / "come on, just one shot!"
please be more reflective on how dis/abled, neurogically-diverse, sober &/or drug-free people are too often isolated.
i don’t mind when homies smoke, drink, decompress, spill the tea … but please respect my choices to (not) engage, as i respect your’s!
my answer: i would be coming to more events if they were more accessible, period.
"wait, i heard you had an alcoholism/addiction problem. YOU CAN’T DRINK! *swipes wine glass out of hand*"
this is a complicated one. i know & admire many folx who live sober & drug-free. i have been in various “recovery” programs, rehabs, etc., & stayed sober/drug-free for 2 years, but they have not been for me. they worked in the sense that i stayed “clean & sober,” but not in an empowering way. only recently has conversations around accessibility & ableism really sparked an interest in me to reclaim my identity of being a (recovered/recovering) drug addict & “crazy” persn.
i appreciate the concern, but i’ve found a conscious way to live with minimal drinking & consumption of all-things-i-consider-potentially-addictive (such as video games, sex, caffeine, exercising). i can write more on addiction later, but shortly, please respect my autonomy.
my answer: if you would like to support me, just ask. the binary of sick/non-sick (alcoholic/non-alcoholic, drug addict/non drug-addict) is a gross oversimplification. in the end, for me, it is about autonomy, empowerment & selfcommunity care.
"*usually at a social/party setting* HEY!*the music is loud so the persn is yelling* HEY! I KNOW YOU - YOU KNOW - HAVE, LIKE, A MENTAL ILLNESS. ARE YOU FEELING OK? ARE THE LIGHTS OK? IS THE MUSIC TOO LOUD? DO YOU NEED A MOMENT BY YOURSELF? DO YOU WANT ME TO WALK YOU TO THE BATHROOM? ARE YOU FEELING OK? HOW CAN I HELP YOU? ARE YOU FEELING OK? *grabs arm* HERE, LET ME SHOW YOU WHERE IT IS QUIETER."
was the all-caps was unfriendly to your eyes? can you tell how stressful this is? i got a little stressed out just typing it.
my answer: thank you, but please recognize a million questions - especially in already high-intense settings - is extremely stressful. support, for me, is gentle.
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i am the way i am today after years of counseling, expressive arts therapy, community healing, praying & intentionally practicing self-care practices around the clock, day-in, day-out, like using herbal medication, meditating & setting boundaries when they are needed.
this note is long, but i hope it gives folx a little bit of a picture of my daily life struggles & experiences. i don’t separate my reflections on addiction, mental wellness, trauma, etc., because i experience that they are all related.
closing love feelz: to my trans* & gender non-conforming family, dis/abled family, diaspora gia đĩnh, recovering/recovered drug addict & alcoholic family, introverts, wall flowers, awkward bois, shy guys … i love ya’ll
- black person: please know that other pocs are measured on the blackness scale. note how white people would come up with slurs such as "sand niggers", "yellow niggers", etc. it shows that being black is pretty much the worse thing on earth, and that we'll always be oppressed due to anti-black racism.
- non-black poc: NO STOP PLAYING OPPRESSION OLYMPICS. WE ALL FACE RACISM. STOP SAYING THAT BLACK PEOPLE HAVE IT WORSE.
- black person: i'm aware that we all experience racism. however, anti-black racism is prevalent in every poc community including our own. it's pretty fund--
- non-black poc: NO. WE ALL FACE RACISM STOP BEING SO IRRATIONAL! I THOUGHT YOU GUYS WANTED SOLIDARITY?!
- black person: we do, but in order to fight solidarity we need to fight anti-black---
- non-black poc: IT'S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT YOU SHUT UP. YOU GUYS ALWAYS ARE UP IN ARMS AND HAVE NO COHESIVE ARGUMENT.
- black person: but i'm trying to explain--
- non-black poc: STOP IT!!
(inter)community accountability: addressing anti-black racism in “poc” communities and challenging “us”/”them” conversations
i’m really tired of dark-skinned folx and light-skinned, self-identified folx of color participate in anti-black racism without any accountability. like, literally, tired. exhausted. not to say that witnessing anti-black racism is in any way shape or form comparable to experiencing anti-black racism, but i am, still, at the end of the day, after everything else going on, am recognizing the need to address the uncomfortable elephant in the room. i am speaking out against anti-black racism as someone that has been called racist. i am speaking out as someone that is in the process and will always be in the process of confronting internalized racism, colorism and other forms of violence. i am speaking out as an ally. i hear and witness and experience white folx being racist and my skin has already become thick and worn, but within spaces that are labeled as “of colour” or “queer” or “activist” or “revolutionary” or “radical” or whatever - these so-called “safe” spaces (http://feministing.com/2009/08/12/there-are-no-safe-spaces/) - it hurts. it hurts from the inside out. in any room full of unicorns, there is still elephants so few people seem to want to address.
on topics of anti-black racism, i often get things like, “i grew up in ____ with black friends,” or, “i can’t be racist towards other poc,” or, “are you calling me white? don’t invisibilize me/my hstory!” (especially common among light-skinned folx of colour or Jewish folx).
i understand the complexities of our identities, but like many others have discussed (http://blackgirldangerous.org/new-blog/2013/3/21/whats-wrong-with-the-term-person-of-color), the term “people of color” or “communities of color” is perhaps a too loosely used umbrella term that implies we all experience the same oppressions. but … we don’t. please stop using the “poc” umbrella. as folx of ethnic and cultural hstories and along the spectrum of colored skin, our struggles may stem from similar roots of imperialism and globalization of capitalism and militarism, but as a southeast asian persn, i can’t claim that my refugee and diaspora reality in the states is synonymous with the colonial hstory of black communities, with deep roots against slavery and, presently, mass incarceration. i can’t appropriate that colonial hstory. i shouldn’t, and it makes me really uncomfortable when other’s do. our struggles are different. our realities are different. my trauma is unique from your trauma. my generational trauma is unique from your generational trauma. as a 2nd-generation, vietnamese-amerikkan, i can’t deny how whiteness has shaped my imagination, access, privileges and daily life, just like how i can’t deny how my amerikkanness demands accountability and responsibility, regardless of my skin color, ethnic and cultural hstory. simply put, my oppression does not excuse me from oppressing others or perpetuating oppression against others, and my identities don’t disengage the systematic privileges i obtain.
i hope we begin confronting anti-black racism within our communities. as we participate in the fight to dismantle racism and white supremacy outside of our communities - outside of these blurry, often inadequately complex boundaries that we use, our ethnic and cultural heritage does not excuse us from participating in and facilitating anti-black racism and other forms of inter-“poc”-community violence. it’s not just an “us” (“poc”) vs. “them” (white folx) - especially considering the massive migration, displacement and diasporic consciousness of folx nowadays, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural folx, bi-racial adoptees, etc. mimicking “post-racial” “colorblindness” within our own communities is too dangerous and, to me, feels like racism manifesting itself in a sneaky, toxic form. we need to cut it, from the root, under our feet, as we address it around us. similarly to the article linked above (“there are no safe spaces”), we need to start having more accountable spaces. until then, how can we demand state and institutional accountability if we can’t be accountable to each other? it’s not just about calling the “other” out - it’s about being responsible ourselves and checking in with ourselves and others about our actions, conversations and implications. anti-back racism within “poc” communities is part of a broader issue of inaccessibility and other’ing. while we confront those that generationally, systematically and directly hurt us, we need to address the trauma that shapes us to hurt those around us. while we go on ambitious and passionate quests to “educate,” “advocate” and “resist,” we need to support and listen to those that have been/are hurt and have less/no access to these mobilities. we need to be accountable to ourselves, and to those around us. self care must be tied to community care, when able.
as bell hooks says in Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, “It is necessary to remember, as we think critically about domination, that we all have the capacity to act in ways that oppress, dominate, wound (whether or not that power is institutionalized). It is necessary to remember that it is first the potential oppressor within that we must resist – the potential victim within that we must rescue – otherwise we cannot hope for an end to domination, for liberation.”
for example, as a persn with a hstory of medical institutionalization, hospitalizations and trauma in spaces that are centered around alcohol and drugs, as well as a bilingual English-speaking persn with masculine privileges, able-bodied privileges, access to citizenship status and other things, i understand that i am as much struggling against violences and multiple barriers to services, as i am able to and an agent of perpetuating the very violences that violate me. we must not forget that we are not only agents of change, revolution and resistance, but of hurting others and perpetuating systems of violence and oppression. to me, that is, in itself, a huge resistance: to be humble, responsible and symbiotic in our actions and imagination, we break the individualistic, glamorized idea of “social justice” that academia and activist spaces reinforce. let’s not be like the white saviors.
like many before me, i am ready to take the plunge. i am committed. i know that the Bay Area and cyberspace is a sort of “hot-spot” for transformative justice, but we can have these conversations, too. Sacramento, 510, central cali, little saigon - i’m ready. where ya’ll at. leggo.
let’s start talking about the implications of appropriating “ratchet” (http://feministing.com/2013/03/28/lets-get-ratchet-check-your-privilege-at-the-door/). let’s start talking about the consumption and trivialization of “being black” (http://locatinglysippe.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/bh-selling-hot-pussy.pdf). and while we’re at it, more broadly, let’s talk about ways to talk. let’s talk about ways to talk that are accessible to our gia dinh and familia back home and over seas. let’s talk about sober and clean spaces (http://fabianromero.tumblr.com/post/36502463875/sober-spaces-and-accessibility-in-the-queer-community), scent-free spaces, physically-accessible and light-sensitive spaces. let’s talk about justice that transforms us and shifts us away from the elitism of academia and individualism, where we can take the “knowing,” “PC,” “educated” glasses off, to learn, share and be humble. let’s have generational dialogue - and i’m not just talking about migrant generations, but queer and trans* generations. let’s talk to elders and youth.
these (inter)community micoaggressions cut too deeply and add salt to the wounds we already face on a daily basis, as queer, trans*, undocumented, different abled, neurodiverse, elder, sex-working, addicted, migrant, and/or poor, folx. we can be and should be allies in our own shape and form. we can support each other in ways that don’t hurt and violate each other. it’s not just black and white. anti-black racism is just one layer … misogyny, ableism and inaccessibility are all poisonous - especially when ingested. how do we talk about systems of privilege, power and oppression in ways that go beyond oppressor/oppressed, and recognize that we are all, in complicated layers, agents in hurting, wounding, violating others and ourselves, as much as we are agents in supporting, healing, empowering and nourishing ourselves and others? let’s talk about it. then do some things about it. collaborate on it.
in closing, to embrace, mia mingus has said: “all the best analysis is worthless if we don’t know how to treat each other well.”
for a few weeks, i was having very visceral cravings for meat - specifically salmon. i was having dreams about eating salmon and swimming in rivers. this hasn’t happened to me in years. especially this intensely. as someone who lives a diet of đồ ăn chay, i initially disregarded these feelings and dreams. as someone that is committed to daily rituals of cleansing, spirituality and checking in with my self, however, i realized that trivializing these feelings is a little irresponsible and hint at a broader hierarchizing of diets. just because i am craving meat, does not mean i am inherently having a “bad” craving or needing a “cheat” day. i trust my body more than that. i trust my spirit. so, i am thankful for my dear house mate, Andrew, for hearing me. he has a similar cultural and communal relationship to food and cooking as i do, so there were no judgements, and i felt very safe. we had a connected moment in the kitchen and he told me, “trust your self.”
i watched him eagerly offer to prepare salmon for me - “just the way my ma makes it. she showed me how.” he biked out to seek the perfect salmon. he got the herbs to season it. he prepared a delicious dinner and when the time came, served the salmon onto three dishes: one for him, one for me, and one for jo. i savored every little bite last night and am still feeling lingering feelings of nourishment.
reflecting on that meal and process of cooking and loving today, i realize that even as a vegetarian/vegan, i don’t always consciously give as much respect to the grains, greens and nuts i eat primarily, as i did to the salmon - as i saw him give to sharing that salmon. that seems contradictory. i am recognizing that the greens i have been nurturing in the garden and the nuts and grains i buy from the store are as much full of life as a fish, and deserve just as much love. they may not have blood, but real peoples lives and blood have been part of the process of producing, cultivating, packaging, shipping and selling them. blood has not touched my mouth in years, but only indirectly. i am recognizing that all food is filled with blood.
i am feeling a shift in my diet and relationship to food as i try to live a life that is most conscious of productions and consumption. wherever it goes, i know that i’m going to eat each future meal as i did that salmon meal - slowly, thankfully and hopefully, among friends and lovers. i am determined to cook each meal as andrew did that meal, and most meals i see him prepare for himself and others - intentionally, carefully, lovingly and openly.
I am a queer Chican@ Immigrant and a chronically ill person with able bodied privilege.
Being sober means that I rarely ever go out to clubs or events unless I can drag along a sober friend. I have gone out before without that support and I end up feeling overwhelmed and panicky. I need at least a friend with me that will agree to not drink or use substances while we spend time together. In the past this has saved me by knowing that I have someone to be accountable to (I will stay sober) and that I have someone that understands when I feel tempted or miss drinking and using.
Tonight I went dancing. My body missed it so much. I did my awkward shuffle, my cumbia inspired body movements and let my arms relax into the music. It was 90’s dance night at a small club. On the dance floor were awkward people trying to dance while balancing drinks on their hands, bad lip synching, or standing in the middle of the dance floor and talking loudly over the music. It was refreshing to see so many people dancing. We left right as it got crowded, our strategy for limiting time around drunk people.
I went with my sober white friend, I joke that she is the only person in the world that wears crocs but she isn’t. She is however one of the few people I really spend time with in Seattle. Seattle is very white and although the people of color community here is tight, most of us are introverts spend a lot of time alone and only hang when at events centered around alcohol or drugs.
this, so much …
i remember the overwhelming anxiety of going out. the trivializing looks of why i passed on beer, parties, socials, fundraisers, etc.
as a recovering drug addict that still struggles with alcoholism, i wish there was more loving conversations around accessibility within our communities. sober and clean spaces are not only accessible for those of us in recovery, but as fabian points out, it facilitates all-ages spaces for youth as well. it’s really a very radical thing. sober and clean spaces are part of “safer spaces” as well as a broader, much-needed conversation around ableism, accessibility, wellness and community care.
reading fabian’s post is churning some old, sad memories from a few years ago, when i was out of my first long-term rehabilitation and could not find any sober and clean spaces to go within the local queer community.
let me paint the picture: prior to this rehabilitation, i was often carried out of parties, over the shoulders of elder queers, because i was high, drunk and undeniably suicidal. i remember too vividly the many occasions younger folx around me were pressured to drink or smoke … and then have seizures, anxiety attacks, delusions and other bodily (i would go as far as to say, for me, that i have a psychological allergy) allergic reactions. too much. it works for some, but not for me. i don’t even want to get started on the consumption culture of “castro gay.” it leaks into our queer and trans* communities.
and, i do want to explain to prevent misinterpretation, that i am not criminalizing substances. i believe in autonomy. i know many that use herbs and the like for self care, decompression and healing, as well as many that use herbs for ceremonial and ancestral practices. chuc mung. celebrations, i understand. i feel safe around. but, there were so many times when others choice (and ability to choose) to drink, smoke weed, etc. triggered and endangered me. with jail, more institutionalization, relapse and trauma hanging over me and festering inside of me, there is a two-year gap in which queer and trans* folx in the davis (where i went to undergraduate studies and am often at nowadays) don’t know me. that is because i was not only being institutionalized day-in and day-out, but because on the days i was “free” to go as i please, i could not find any sober and clean qt/poc spaces. i ultimately was barricaded from the very communities i yearned for, while i was surrounded by anti-queer and racist doctors, shrinks, officers, etc.
while i longed to reconnect with queer and trans* family after being so violated in psych wards and rehabs, i absolutely needed to stay clean and sober. i needed to stay clean and sober because another strike and i would’ve been sent to jail. i needed to stay clean and sober because i was appealing to re-enter school. i needed to stay clean and sober to deal with my own internalized trans* phobia, fatphobia and pains. alcohol and other substances only set fuel to the pain that killed me inside and sent me to psych wards and rehabs. i was in that liminal space - the space between queer and trans* spaces with drinking and/or using, and the pre-dominantly white “recovery” community that has a colorblind and utopic “we are all the same thus we all must follow the same steps to recovery” view. to say the least, after two years of not finding enough homage in recovery communities, i “relapsed.”
like i told fabian, “relapse” is too simple a word to fully explain the complex circumstances that lead to my decision/leaving of the recovery community. while i was staying clean and sober, i was unrooted. i could not talk about spiritual recovery, while not talking about misogyny, oppression, racist trauma, etc. i needed holistic healing - empowering recovery - transformative justice.
it has been about two years since i turned away from the “recovery” community, and, i have stayed clean. no meth, no coke, no hallucinogenics, no opiates. as proud as i am of those “clean and sober” tags, i hold them with sad eyes. it has been about two years. it has taken me two years to re-root into the queer and trans* community, the diaspora, the communities i am from. it has also cost me sobriety. like fabian, i relate to the intense fatigue of navigating the inaccessibility of non-sober spaces. connections lost. i wonder, often, as those tags lay in a small box above my bed, how much community organizing i would have been able to do these last two years if i had stayed clean and sober. i don’t want it to be a trade off anymore.
fabian’s post comes to me like a gift. my drinking is minimal nowadays, but i don’t know how long that will last. who knows when my next manic or depressive episode will just spark the wrong, horrible formula.
i want to embrace and share my story. i wanted to write this in honor of my family and dear friends that have passed from overdosing, addiction, homelessness, suicide … maybe the few others that will read this will know that there are others of us as well - other brown bois, queer and trans* folx, unicorns, that are living in recovery and need recovery. the only option is not the bleached painting too often offered. for myself, as someone living with mental (ch)illnesses and able-bodied privilege, recovery is calling me back, and i am coming back armed with wisdom and community support.