I don’t care how my feminism makes you feel

I winced at the pain of the tattoo machine on my soft forearm and my phone buzzed.

“You discriminate against people based on their DNA? How much more shallow can you get?”

41jdoc6unol-_sx342_A man I barely know is railing against the statement “The Future is Female” which I posted on the way to my appointment and against the fact that I have chosen to tattoo it on my body. I did it because I have fought and worked on behalf of women since I was a teenager. The feminist struggle has been the defining feature of my adulthood. I did not have much to say to him at that moment. I was busy. Still, this is one of the most common accusations that the privileged hurl at marginalised people when we fight for our own causes.

Let me be very clear. Marginalised people reserve the right to demand the fight for the rights of our group without giving a second thought to the feelings of our oppressors.

I was raised by diplomats, so my habit through the years has been to make sure that even when I was engaged in activism, no one felt hurt. I have not stopped caring deeply about individuals, I think that is why it has taken me so long to get to this place. Still, the years of running up against my detractors and being personally attacked for my beliefs has allowed me to cease caring.

The same goes for “Black Lives Matter”. It has been such a flashpoint because black Americans have grown tired of tiptoeing around the issue and watching their brothers and sisters be slaughtered in the street. Everyone who reacts to that statement with the earnest insistence that “all lives matter” is simply wishing for a time when their feelings mattered more than the lives of bright young people cut down by their government.

My beautiful picture

They do not.

So no. I don’t care about how my feminism makes men feel. No part of me is sorry for that, and the men in my life who stand with me in the fight are not threatened by that. If you are a member of an oppressive group- be it gender or race or whatever, you are either an ally or an enemy. It is easy to identify the enemies by their reaction when people stand up for themselves. Call it harsh, but we have wasted so much time worrying about the feelings of white men. Hoping that maybe by not angering them too much, we may get away unharmed. That did not work, with every polite comment our cause was made weaker.

That is precisely why I chose to put The Future is Female on my body for all time. It allows me to sort my enemies from my allies quickly. I have no desire to spend time with someone who does not believe in my right to stand up for the rights of female presenting and bodied people.

Sorry not sorry, boys.

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To the mothers who chose to wait

 

The question “Who is Mother’s Day for?” seems like it would have an obvious answer, but for me, that’s not the case. I usually spend this day with my mother, a powerhouse of a woman who raised me in nine locations across the globe and still managed to be there for us despite spending a quarter century doing one of the hardest jobs on earth- being a US Diplomat and working in Systems-a field dominated by men.

I have the best mum, and that’s one of the reasons I want to be a mother myself- more than anything, I want to pass that love forward. Today though, I am not only thinking only about my mother, but about my own experience of motherhood. In the summer of 2012, my birth control failed and two weeks after a tumultuous breakup I found myself pregnant in a city where I barely knew anyone, my mother was three hours away by bus, my ex was refusing to speak to me, and I had all of two friends in Philadelphia. I found out rather unceremoniously- I had gone to the hospital with stomach pains and while in the ER, a male nurse opened the curtain around my bed and said “You’re pregnant”, then walked off.

With those two words and my world fell apart.

I was in a daze from the morphine I needed to to survive the pain, and I had no idea what to do. My mind raced through the problem, I was still in University, I didn’t have a dime in the bank and I was pretty sure my parents weren’t down with abortion, but then again,they’d never talked about it. After what felt like an eternity, a doctor came into the room and told me that the pain and vomiting were likely just me overreacting to morning sickness, and they would discharge me immediately. That felt wrong, but I’m not one to question a doctor so I went home. I was in excruciating pain for days after, and I finally broke down and tried to get a public bus to the hospital. I was so delirious that a fellow passenger removed me from the bus and brought me to the hospital herself. She was the first in a long line of nameless women who I will always love for what they did for me. When I arrived, I was nearly triaged back to the waiting room- until I mentioned I was pregnant.

I don’t remember getting up to the tenth floor, but when I came to my senses and the pain subsided, I was in the most peaceful hospital ward I had ever been in.Everyone was smiling, the nurses and doctors were taking my pain seriously, and maybe it was in my head, but I swear there was soothing music playing the whole time. That’s when a sweet, hijabi nurse walked to my bedside and said,

“How are you feeling, mama?”

That was possibly the strangest moment of the whole ordeal, I knew I couldn’t have this baby. There was no chance I would, but that word sent me to a place I wasn’t ready for-motherhood.

I smiled and said I was alright. They had learned that I had appendicitis and it was extremely serious. I called my mother, who did not yet know I was pregnant and was scheduled for life-saving surgery early the next morning. Now, until you have waited for your card-carrying Republican, somewhat sex-negative (or at least, I thought) mother to meet you in the maternity ward of a hospital, while pregnant and single, you do not know the meaning of the word anxiety. It didn’t take long for her to realise what was happening, and through my tears I had the sweetest realisation- my mother was on my side. Right now, we had to get this appendix out of me before it killed me, but we talked about what I would do afterwards and she was completely supportive. She admitted she hadn’t really thought about it, but her willingness to be ok with my choice makes me tear up to this day.

The next few weeks were a blur, I got out of surgery and would have to wait almost three weeks until I could have the abortion. I was stuck on my couch, seven weeks and pregnant waiting to get to ten before I could go to Planned Parenthood. I wanted to be at home with my mother, but my parents lived in Virginia and getting an abortion there was complicated and difficult. My only option was to stay in Philly.

When you have an unwanted pregnancy, there is an overwhelming sense of urgency. You want it done and over with. Every minute you spend pregnant is strange, emotional, confusing and heartbreaking. I sat on my couch for weeks, and during that time I was a mother. I do not think that the tiny soon-to-be baby inside of me was biologically anything more than a rough sketch of human life, but I loved her.

Every day, I spoke to her. I explained that I loved her but couldn’t be the mother she would need. I fell asleep with my hands over my bandages, sending vibrations of adoration. Despite all of this, I was never unsure of my choice and after the time had passed, I went to the Philly Planned Parenthood with my girlfriend Amanda and started the process of getting an abortion. In Pennsylvania at the time, they made you get an ultrasound to see your foetus and then sent you to “counselling” to make sure you really wanted an abortion.  I powered through. I wasn’t able to be put into twilight sleep for the surgical abortion since the clinic was booked up. I would be awake, which scared me but I was ready to be strong.

The room was sterile, there was a doctor and a lovely young woman who smiled at me and said she was there to hold my hand. I lay down on the paper lined bed and he put the cold forceps inside of me. The pain of dilation was intense, and I held onto that girl’s hand like my life depended on it. I don’t know who she was, but I love her for being there for me. After what felt like forever, the vacuum began to roar. I was clenching my teeth, I was trying to stay strong. Afterwards, I stood up and my thighs were covered in blood, I wasn’t ready for that- it looked like something out of a slasher film. The doctor said that was normal.

I sat in the recovery room, cramping and listening to my iPod. I wasn’t mourning, I was grateful. Abortion isn’t easy and it doesn’t come without a cost, but because of my abortion, I am able to have the life I do. I will choose when I have children and on the days when I get sad about it, my partner looks at me and tells me what I know to be true- that little baby is going to come back to me. I love the child I never had. I know now that it’s possible to love something more than anything in the universe, the love of a mother is incomparable and I tasted it- that’s why I know that motherhood will be the greatest thing I ever get to experience.

To mothers of children who never were, to the mothers who chose to wait- happy Mother’s Day. Our stories aren’t told, and I want to be open about what its like to not regret your abortion, but still have learned motherly love from the experience of pregnancy.

Note: There were many things about my experience that illustrate how horrible the politics of getting an abortion are for women. First, I nearly died because of the epidemic of doctors not taking women’s pain seriously. I was forced to have the abortion far from my family because of the variation in state laws, I was also forced to get an ultrasound that I didn’t want. I had to experience this wide awake because the Planned Parenthood in my city was one of only a few clinics and was overbooked- unable to serve all of the women who needed them. Lastly, because I couldn’t afford the abortion (which is why I didn’t have the child) I was paying off the $900 bill for nearly a year after the ordeal. Every time a bill came I was reminded, and I was lucky enough to have a campus job that allowed me to pay it off eventually. 

Thank you to all the women who got me through this, during and after. I have so far confided in just a few friends, but they all provided me with incredible support to deal with this, to Michele M, my roommate in Philly, Amanda M, Samantha T who was the first person I told after I left the hospital and walked into her place of work nearly crying, Liv and Erica who visited me in the aftermath, and my mother who is one of my best friends and champions. To my Alway Something Girls- you know who you are, you were so important.

 

Recline

I do not know how to abandon my fervent search for impressiveness. I want people to look at me and tell me they don’t know how I did something, or better- continually bring up my experiences and successes like I’m some wunderkind for just doing the things I have just been presented with in the course of my life so far.

I want to be extraordinary, and it’s currently making my life hell. I can’t even fathom spending GOD FORBID THREE WHOLE YEARS here in Frankfurt. Here I have my life; I have my partner in life, and I am terrified just to relax for a minute, let alone a few years because I think it’s too “average”. When I left the United States, I chose to move to the most stressful, complicated and rewarding places I have ever been- the West Bank, Palestine.

Palestine is everything that I love, and my busy addicted brain was getting a daily dose of my favourite drugs: constant stimulation and praise from the people I had left behind. When I got stranded in Germany in January of 2015, I was terrified because I traded those things for quiet and unimpressive surroundings. A year later, I am even more scared.

I find myself already desperate to get out of Europe and keep fighting my way to some success, as defined by my high-achieving parents who are my role models in this regard. There are so many things that excite me- the list is long, and I have no idea which ones I should pursue. I get equally excited about public diplomacy, women’s rights, photography, food, marketing and wine. I do not have a calling.

Maybe I just don’t know what it is yet, but at 25, I refuse to let myself believe that it’s OK to opt out of the race to succeed for a few years. I have a fear of being overtaken by my peers, compared to whom I already feel woefully inadequate. I went to high schools that produce incredibly successful global citizens, and in those places, I was attracted to the people who were driven, smart and successful and unsurprisingly, have become very successful in life. My Facebook feed is filled with individuals who are exactly my age whom I wish I could be.

I am filled with envy, and I am terrified of underachieving. I come from a family and a background where I wanted and want for nothing. I have a safety net so why shouldn’t I continually, obsessively, work hard to achieve a specific kind of success?

I would not even consider taking a break from that mindset if I weren’t being forced to see it for what it is. My anxiety has grown into a monster I can no longer control. My life is one huge case of FOMO (fear of missing out), and until I can let go and allow life just to happen for a while, I am afraid I will continue to suffocate under the weight of my expectations for myself.

I do not know how to trust life. I don’t know how to trust that just taking care of myself and not obsessively seeking warmer weather, busier streets and more difficult work will not derail my entire life.

I’m living in a world of high achievers; I hear about the importance of being successful before I have children, so it’s harder to stagnate when I have a family. I hear about going to grad school sooner rather than later, I hear that I need to be working towards a goal with every step I take, but I don’t even know what that goal is right now.

I honestly am not sure how to go about reclining and allowing myself room to grow, heal and find what truly drives and inspires me. All I can do is try.

 

It happened. Again.

I’ve been very, very absent- I know. One of the things you live with when you live with chronic mental illness is the possibility that it could wake up and rear it’s head at any moment. I started this blog as I was trying to avoid whats been going on the last few months but I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t a failure, just part of the rhythm of my life.

I’ve been in therapy for months, I’ve been struggling since October and I can’t pretend I’m doing much better. I gained 20 pounds from the stress and its hard not to feel like a massive failure. Still, I meant for this to be a place where I’m open about these things.  I went to the UK for a week after Christmas and Ben and I are now home for a week off work and in Frankfurt before I get back into the grind. It allows us to explore Frankfurt a little bit and take some us time during our one year anniversary. Also, it’s a perfect time to cook and share some healthful recipes!

I’m looking forward to sharing with all of you in the new year.

Katie K

Jiah Khan’s suicide needs to be treated as more than some juicy Bollywood scandal.

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by Katie Kaestner

It’s not been reported on here in the states, but in the world’s largest democracy the media is totally swept up in the suicide of a young, beautiful Bollywood actress.

Suicide is, of course, nothing short of a tragedy, but as a survivor and someone who watches Mental Health issues pretty closely I cannot help but hope there is an opportunity for education here. Bollywood actors are speaking freely about the case, and they have the ear of the whole nation and most importantly, the youth but what they are saying isn’t helping anyone.

There is currently a case being put together against Jiah’s former boyfriend Suraj Pancholi sparked by her suicide letter which details how it was the dissolution and dysfunctional nature of their relationship which pushed her over the proverbial edge.

Her mother is fighting questions about whether being so famous and living with the pressure of Bollywood stardom did anything to push Jiah to towards her tragic end- she wants instead, to arrest Jiah’s boyfriend and his father for abuse. I get that- I definitely believe that there should be serious questions about how women are treated in relationships, everywhere and certainly in India. I am 100% for examining the way contemporary relationships carried out in the context of conservative Indian culture can backfire and leave women in a scary place, but that can’t be the whole conversation.

In 2011, the WHO showed that at a rate of 36%, if that number is anywhere near accurate- India has the largest occurrence of Major Depressive Disorder in the world. Every news article about the suicide seems to be accompanied by a photo of Jiah in her role as an always sexy Bollywood starlet-it’s obvious this is about scandal and sex and not about the plague of mental health problems India faces. This is about more than slighted lovers, a ruined woman, and a public breakup- this is about the reality of mental illness and the ways it is provoked and surfaces.

( By the way, this is one of the grossest examples, showing her Maxim photoshoot while reporting on her abortion)

There is a battle being waged between two camps, the family of Jiah and the family and friends of the influential Pancholi family. When the suicide letter was released, Jiah’s mother wrote an introduction in which she said “Some sections of the media and some film industry people are speculating that my daughter Jiah committed suicide because of depression related to her career. However, the truth is that it happened only because of the trauma and the abuse she suffered at the hands of Suraj Pancholi and his father Aditya Pancholi.

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Aditya Pancholi being confronted by the media at Jiah’s funeral in Mumbai last Friday. (Photo: AP)

The letter is heart-wrenching and anybody who’s had a really bad breakup has felt these things temporarily, but there is a lot of other scary stuff in that same letter. One line reads “I don’t know why destiny brought us together. After all the pain, the rape, the abuse, the torture I have seen previously I didn’t deserve this”. I have to ask- how are we not talking about Jiah as a survivor of rape and abuse? She then spirals into desperation –

“I have nothing left in this world to live for after this. I wish you had loved me like I loved you. I dreamt of our future. I dreamt f our success. I leave this place with nothing but broken dreams and empty promises. All I want now is to go to sleep and never wake up again. I am nothing. I had everything. I felt so alone even while with you. You made me feel alone and vulnerable”

This girl was sick. This girl was a survivor, living through rape and an abortion. This girl didn’t have a chance in a world that emphasizes chastity and sexual attractiveness simultaneously. There is an apparent vacuum in the Indian media- nobody wants to confront the problem of mental illness. Actress Sonam Kapoor spoke out and briefly mentioned the need for the treatment of depression, but turned almost critical when she mentioned the allegation that Jiah took her life as a result of her breakup. “I can’t judge anyone who is going through depression. It’s something I will never understand…I think no man is worth it and you don’t want to do that to your family. I can never pretend to understand what that person feels and at times such conditions are medical. All I would say is that get help and depression should be treated.” Naturally, she followed it with “I think it’s important as she was a beautiful girl and very young.”, reminding everyone that what antlers is that she was lovely and famous, de-emphasizing, I think her illness.(Sonam Kapoor to the Times of India)

This is an opportunity for people to talk about depression and abuse and rape, not to paint a woman who is already dead as the tragic, pathetic victim. Perpetuating the trope of the hysterical, slighted woman with too much invested in a relationship isn’t going to bring justice for the death of Jiah Khan– but opening avenues to talk about mental illness in Bollywood just might.

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(All Photos: AP)