An Emergency Grant from TSP

TW: mentions of abuse, transmisogyny.

If you’ve followed the Stories Project for very long, you know that many of our efforts focus on those who are no longer with us. We reach back ten, twenty, thirty years into the past and forge connections over memories and legacies. We take well-known names whose rich and complex lives have been reduced to their violent ends and we seek out the stories which remind readers every one was a human being before they became defined only as a hate crime victim. We’re the last people who would deny how important it is to reflect on the past in order to create change in the present.

However, we remind ourselves from time to time that it’s important not to become so fixated on those who have passed that we don’t pay attention to the needs of the members of our community who are still alive. Financial support is just one of many ways we can accomplish this, but it is one of the most tangible with the most immediate effects.

With that said, the Stories Project Team is awarding an emergency grant in the amount of $1500 to Aurora J., a lesbian genderfluid artist, poet, and photographer who needs to leave a situation which is becoming increasingly abusive and dangerous. Aurora describes herself as a “lover of arts, music, fantasy, imagination, creativity, poetry, [and] nature,” frequently thanks those in her life who are kind to her for existing, and has expressed a desire to give back to the community through books and art once she is in a better situation.

Her mental health and safety are in danger as long as she remains in her current environment. She faces emotional abuse from the family she lives with, and her physical and mental disabilities along with the job discrimination she has faced since coming out as transgender have prevented her from being able to support herself. She has additionally faced violence and her life has been threatened. After watching some of her story unfold on social media, we reached out to her and her long-distance girlfriend Patricia and offered to cover the remaining amount she would need to feel comfortable moving elsewhere.

This post exists not as a reason for us to pat ourselves on the backs, but as a form of public accountability. We chose to do this as the Stories Project, and when we attach the name of our project to certain actions and promises, we believe it’s important that people feel they can trust us to follow through. Transparency is something we owe to all of the people who have supported us over the years and all of the people who have trusted us with their stories. By making this public, we are leaving a record affirming that we offered this. If we would for some reason fail to deliver on a promise, there would be no way anyone could argue we never promised anything to begin with. Though we would never pledge to do something we knew we couldn’t deliver, we will always be willing to state publicly what we offer in private.

We can’t do anything now for the people whose lives we remember somberly each year, but we can all work to create a world worthy of their memories. For Alice and myself, this involves taking care of the members of our community who are still here and helping them meet their needs as necessary. We wish Aurora and Patricia all the best moving forward and we hope this grant proves useful to them in their endeavors.

Author: Meg

Thoughts on “In the Hollow”

TW: none.

Note: I recommend skipping this post if you haven’t yet seen “In the Hollow” and are planning to. Though I’ve intentionally tried to leave out specific details about elements of the film, I’ve also left the comments from someone who was with me unedited.

“In the Hollow” is a short documentary-narrative hybrid directed by Austin Bunn which is currently making its way around the festival circuit. The film, which combines traditional interviews with images of events past and events present, follows Claudia Brenner as she returns to Michaux State Forest for the first time since the shooting which wounded her and claimed the life of her then-girlfriend, Rebecca Wight. It additionally tells the story of how the crime and Brenner’s activism in the years that followed helped lead to the creation of the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, the first piece of federal legislation to require the collection of data on acts of anti-gay violence.

Alice and I were both present at the premiere screening of “In the Hollow” in Toronto this past spring, and I recently took a group of people to see the film when it screened at the Dayton LGBT Film Festival. We never posted our thoughts about the film, though we highly recommended it and talked about it extensively among our inner circles. When I learned “In the Hollow” won the Audience Award for Best Short Film in Dayton, I wanted to share a bit not only about what I and my group thought of the film, but about what it was like to be in the audience in Dayton. The impact “In the Hollow” had on that audience was immediately seen and felt and absolutely clear from the opening scene, through its fifteen-minute run, until well after the film had ended and the next had started.

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Keep Going

TW: depression brought on by loss and/or violence.

I’d like to take a moment today to say something a bit personal. This is something I increasingly don’t like to do in this space, as I prefer to remain more in the background and let the voices of those sharing their stories take center-stage. However, knowing that some of the people who read our blog and follow our work are struggling with the same or similar things that I am, I decided to post this publicly.

This is something I wrote this week that’s as much for others who are hurting as it is for myself: it’s called “Keep Going,” and it’s about living in the dance of contradictions that is the aftermath of loss and violence. It’s about looking for all the love and light still left in the world in spite of those experiences that have made it easy to believe there is none left. It’s about how we find reasons to make living worthwhile, together, just because we keep going.

Much love to Alice for letting me use and interpret her words to write this post. She along with many others have helped me keep going for many years.

I’m not going to lie: the past week, in spite of all the wonderful things that have happened and all of the wonderful people I am privileged to have in my life, has been incredibly difficult.

I struggled to understand how I could simultaneously feel so happy and yet so sad, sad enough I had crying fits lasting several hours for several days and could not eat a real meal for a solid week, until I realized something: this is the all-too-familiar dance of living in the aftermath of loss and violence.

Sometimes there’s a trigger. Sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes I just crash from the weight of my experience and the weight of trying to integrate it in a healthy way into my daily existence. People say time makes everything easier, but I haven’t necessarily found that to be the case – in fact, I’ve sometimes found the passage of time to be a terrifying, distressing concept that elicits an episode of sobbing for days at the drop of a hat. People say, “You’ve gotten through it before and you will again,” but that’s not an easy tunnel to see the light out of while you’re in it. However, this past week, one person in my life said two words that did help that I wanted to share with you:

Keep going.

Keep going, because although I can’t guarantee you’ll ever feel “better” about the things that have happened to you, the burden you carry will eventually lessen if you are able to notice all the light and love still left in the world.

Keep going, because once you start to notice all the light and love still left in the world, you might just realize that you are a source of light and love for someone who needs it, even if they won’t tell you.

Keep going, because light and love and reasons to live can be found in all kinds of unexpected places. There are people out there who are full of love and have an infinite amount of it to give, who give freely and selflessly without wanting something in return.

Keep going, because the world is brighter with you in it and would be darker if you weren’t. I know that to be true even if we’ve never spoken personally, even if we’ve interacted before and come to the conclusion that we don’t like each other. You matter. Your life matters.

Keep going, because even if you struggle with hardship, loss, the aftermath of violence, or depression, you are alive, and you should be. For those of us who feel guilty over the fact that we survived when others in our lives, or others in our position, did not, it’s nearly impossible not to question why it was so, and it’s something we can really beat ourselves up over. I don’t like the idea of surviving “for a reason,” but if you survived, I’m glad you did. I wish those who didn’t survive had, but it would be MORE painful, not less, if you had died with them.

Keep going, because we can be simultaneously healing and hurting, happy and sad, mourning and moving forward, brave and fearful, pained and pressing on – and to exist in this state of contradictions doesn’t mean we are broken, or not trying hard enough to move forward. It means we are human. It means something, somewhere along the way, tried to extinguish the warmth of our soul and failed, but left an irreversible impact all the same, one that still hurts and sometimes quite a bit.

Keep going, because it will be worth it. You will find ways to make living, even living with the weight of the painful things you’ve experienced, worthwhile.

Keep going.

I don’t believe in never crying. I believe in crying together. I also don’t believe in only letting people see or share stories of resilience, of strength, of overcoming adversity, of healing to the point where the loss or the violence rarely impacts you again on the level it once did. I believe, and I always have believed, in the power of the human story. I’ve built an entire project around that belief and included that phrase in every letter I’ve ever sent about it. I speak openly, and I share my reality, however sad or messy or painful it may be, because I am aware of the power in owning my truth. Because I know that there are people in my life who are experiencing similar pains, and whether or not speaking out is important to them, it’s easier to feel you can be honest if someone else has done so first.

So I’m not going to lie: I’m struggling, and at the moment, quite a bit. I’ve struggled with the things I’ve experienced for a long time and I can’t imagine there will ever come a time where I don’t struggle, or where I don’t cry. But I’m going to keep going and continue looking for all that love and light in the world that I have seen time and time again through the people who have invited me into their lives, if only briefly.

I can’t promise that everything will be okay – not to myself and not to anyone who may be reading. I can promise, however, that we are loved, that the lives we lead are important, that there is much still to love in the world, and that we will find ways to make living worthwhile in spite of our bad days – or bad weeks.

Keep going.

Author: Meg

Reclaiming “My” Date

TW: allusions to anti-gay violence (both my own assault and Rebecca Wight’s), depression, PTSD

The anniversary of the day I was attacked is coming up. It’s February 5.

I hadn’t thought about it, to be honest. Or at least, I hadn’t thought about it consciously, though I had wondered why I started to feel depressed and lethargic a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been dreaming about hate crimes. I’ve been dreaming about hate crime victims. I’ve been dreaming about violence, both experiencing it and watching in terror as it unfolds in front of me. I’ve been dreaming about Michaux – though one could argue I never stopped dreaming about Michaux since I visited this past summer. It’s so strange. It’s like even when I’m not thinking about it, my body knows. My internal clock starts sounding the alarm – it’s time, it’s time, it’s that time of year. It knows. And it reacts.

How could I describe the sensation of dread that accompanies a particular date, a particular time of year with bad connotations? It’s like there’s a seed, a seed that is full of toxins, that’s sitting there in the middle of my gut, in the back of my brain. It gnaws. It growls. It becomes a lump. It changes form – it bubbles, it grows solid. It gets bigger. It’s ready to expand its reach. It’s kind of like a ruptured appendix. It hasn’t burst yet, but I feel those toxins slowly seeping out and infecting other parts of my body. It’s waiting for the day it can explode and send all the poisonous emotions that have been building up in it – fear, anger, depression, restlessness – through my bloodstream. It’s there and once it’s made itself a home, I can’t will it away. All I can do is wait for it to burst and then ride it out once it does.

I have kind of an interesting relationship with another date, May 13. I have never been a huge fan of it for a multitude of reasons, not the least among them being that while the Week of Action ran over it, I used it as a sort of “cover.” In 2012 and 2013, the first two years I tried to run the event, I had a severe visceral and emotional reaction to that date, way more than would be appropriate if I were really just upset for someone else like I claimed. As the truth would have it, I wasn’t just crying for the person whose date it was. I couldn’t remember the date I was attacked – it was a major gap in my memory of that event until a young woman I knew was murdered in my hometown a few days prior to it in 2014. I also had undiagnosed and untreated PTSD until 2014, at which time I received a professional diagnosis and began treatment (which not coincidentally made May 13 a lot easier to deal with that year). In the years prior, May 13 was the only date I had to react to – I couldn’t remember my own, I hadn’t yet come forward about what I’d experienced, and it seemed more acceptable at the time to hide behind the cover of crying for Rebecca instead of my own loss of safety and security in the world.

For those reasons, it used to be that I felt this way in the weeks leading up to May 13. In a way, I think my brain came to associate that date with my own assault and I reacted accordingly, even though it was neither the right date nor time of year. Now that I know when I was attacked, and now that I don’t feel the need to hide behind Rebecca’s story any more, it seems my brain and body have finally reclaimed “our” date. It sucks – believe me, it absolutely sucks – though I am glad I figured out that this was the cause of my slump. PTSD is an interesting disorder in that I’ve had to learn how to work with my brain enough to navigate this new existence with this new perspective, but I’ve also had to learn how to work against my brain enough that I don’t become paralyzed by its inability to move beyond what happened. Now that I know it’s the date and time of year that are triggering this reaction, I can do something about it.

So what am I doing with the awareness that I’m approaching the dawn of my own “anniversary date,” as I call them, besides writing a thought piece about it?

Alice and I are making plans for the Week of Action 2015. As part of our commitment to amplify the voices of those with stories different than our own, we will be shaking it up a little this year and have spoken with some people who have expressed interest in guest posting. We have a tentative blogging schedule and a rough outline of the topics we are going to cover, with a different person writing about a topic of their choice each day of the week. Right now, the lineup looks like this:

Monday, May 4 – Theme: “Remembering Our Dead,” Author: Alice
Tuesday, May 5 – Theme: “Those Who Survive,” Author: Meg
Wednesday, May 6 – Theme: “Making It Better Now,” Author: Khadija
Thursday, May 7 – Theme: “The Dangers of a Movement that Excludes the Women Who Created It,” Author: Jazmin
Friday, May 8 – Theme: “More Than a Martyr: Stunning Stories of Success from the LGBT Community,” Author: Rebecca
Saturday, May 9 – Theme: “United We Stand (in Solidarity),” Author: Aviva
Sunday, May 10 – Theme: TBA, Authors: Alice, Meg, Khadija, Jazmin, Rebecca, Aviva

Nothing is set in stone as of yet, but we have been discussing a multitude of ideas. We’re currently working on the list of specific stories to highlight, which has led us to questioning if we actually need or want to have a list this year or if there’s a different / better way we could recognize and bring awareness to the lives we’ve lost while still also remembering there are living LGBT people who need our attention.

We are also talking about returning to Michaux State Forest, possibly as early as next summer (2016). For those of you who were with me when I visited that place the first time and know how intense and difficult it was, I imagine you’re thinking, “She wants to go back there? God, why?” The idea was Alice’s – to get a bunch of women to get back on the trails and reclaim them while remembering what happened there. If that comes to fruition or we start talking seriously about it, I’ll definitely post more about it. I really don’t know how to feel about that place – I ran from the site when I went there in June and said I didn’t think I’d ever go back, but I’m wildly idealistic that perhaps it would be easier the second time around. Or perhaps not. It’s something I would do if Alice or someone else wanted to. Something we’re considering, anyway.

So that’s what I’m doing with the knowledge that my own date is coming up and my body and brain are already trying their damnedest to incapacitate me in response. I’m doing what I do best: making it mean something. Channeling it into work that’s productive and constructive. I don’t pretend to believe I can willpower my way through trauma. I won’t pretend that I’m Superwoman or that the impacts of violence against me have been finite. Over the course of the next two weeks, I might panic. I might freeze. I might cry. I might shut down. I might remember and be reminded of things that are awful and shouldn’t happen. But I know something this year that I didn’t know last year, or the years before that:

I know that this date will pass and when it does, I’ll be able to pick up the pieces and make them meaningful.

Author: Meg

Ferguson Resources

Not directly related to LGBT issues but important nonetheless. Jazmin and Aviva, two Stories Project participants who have spoken out about their experiences with racism, transmisogyny, and misogynoir among other things, have compiled a list of resources and links both for protesters in the Ferguson area and for those watching from a distance. Their guest post below.

TW: racism, white supremacy, anti-blackness, and murder in some of the links.

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A Visit to Michaux State Forest

TW big time for this post – murder, death, anti-gay violence, and reflections on all of those things, specifically: Rebecca Wight. Includes photos of the area where she died (not crime scene photos – just pictures of what it looks like now).

Edit 10/15: I was later informed what we built near the site is called a cairn of stones. At the time this was written, I didn’t know there was a term for it.

I’ve been home for two weeks and stewing on this post for about as long trying to find the words that could adequately express what it was like to visit Michaux State Forest and the site where Rebecca Wight was killed. I’m usually great with the written word, but this post is proving to be quite difficult. It was an experience that defies words if for no other reason than the magnitude of what I was trying to accomplish in going there: it was for me. But also for her. And also for the families and the people who were directly involved and impacted. And also for all of the women who have felt less safe hiking in the woods or holding their girlfriends’ hands in public because of this story and others like it. And also for all the victims of violence, like me, and like Rebecca, who have had enough stolen from them, dammit, enough that the people who commit violence against us can’t have this one thing that used to belong to us. It was personal, but it was bigger than that. And I walked every one of the 30,000 steps I took in Michaux State Forest thinking about what that meant.

So here goes.

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A Visit to the Colonial Parkway

TW: Some mentions of death and murder, specifically: the Colonial Parkway victims.

Back in August, I posted about an upcoming trip to the Colonial Parkway and Michaux State Forest, “the Places Where Things Happened.” In this post, I expressed a desire to visit the sites where some of the victims spotlighted here lost their lives – for reasons that were hard to describe.

“There is something about walking the grounds where something important occurred that is powerful,” I wrote at that time, “I am not sure what I want to get out of visiting the sites, but I want to experience them, see them for myself. These sites are important; these people are important. There’s a certain power in these sites – these are the places where five members of our community fell – and I think I need to make peace with them.”

Today, I made this a reality and paid a visit to the Colonial Parkway.

Colonial parkway

The Colonial Parkway.

I started in Williamsburg – and actually went the wrong direction initially, winding up on Jamestown Island instead of the York River. I rode the entire length of the Colonial Parkway and I did see the area I believe to be where the first of the CP murders took place. There’s no way I missed it and no way I could have been more than a few feet from where Cathy Thomas and Becky Dowski were found – I’m certain I had to be right there and I can’t begin to describe what it’s like to be right there. Much like when I was that thirteen-year-old who could almost see Lincoln at his desk if I looked hard enough in Springfield, I could almost see the two of them if I stood there long enough. Could almost see the pair of women newly-in-love, who drove out of the way to the river sometimes to steal some time for themselves. It seemed wrong that I could describe the Parkway as peaceful – beautiful, even. For a number of reasons, my initial post anticipating what I would experience once there was pretty spot-on. These sites – this site – has tremendous power and there was something powerful about being there. And oddly enough, I do feel like I’ve made my peace with it.

I can’t end this post about the Colonial Parkway murders without a call to action, so I would like to reiterate this: the Colonial Parkway murders are still unsolved. No one knows who is responsible for the deaths of Cathy Thomas, Becky Dowski, David Knobling, Robin Edwards, Daniel Lauer, Annamaria Phelps or the disappearance of Cassandra Hailey and Keith Call as of 2014 – almost twenty-eight years since the first couple was discovered, and any information is welcomed. A couple of Facebook pages have been set up if you are interested in keeping up with what is happening with the Colonial Parkway victims: here and here.

There was one other thing that occurred during my visit that I thought was significant enough to mention. There was one point where I had stopped at a pull-off area along the York River, at or very close to the area where Cathy Thomas and Becky Dowski were killed. As I was walking around, I got to thinking about what happened here, the lives that were lost on the spot where I was standing, and the fact that I was indeed standing at a spot that seemed remarkably peaceful in spite of its history, and it started to get me down – it didn’t seem fair. It didn’t seem fair that they had died, and it didn’t seem right that this spot could be so damn peaceful after what happened here. Those thoughts had no sooner entered my mind that I looked down – and found myself in the center of a circle of brilliantly-colored rainbow shells.

I don’t think it means anything – but occasionally, chance events have great timing.

Rainbow shells at cp

I attempted to take a picture shortly after I found them, but the camera does them no justice – in the sun, the colors were bright as anything and caught my attention right away.

Author: Meg