Don't pretend your bathroom laws are for protecting me

The most common argument I see for keeping transgender people out of the bathrooms of their choosing is protecting women and children from sexual assault. The argument goes "It's not necessarily that transgender people are more likely to commit sex crimes, but that abusers will take advantage of the law to do so." 

That is honestly some scary shit to think about. That walking around as a woman now could come with even more risk. Except that we know how this story plays out and it certainly isn't with great concern for victims. 

I am a woman who was once a child victim of sexual assault. I am the person those seeking to make any public venture more difficult/impossible for transgender people say they are hoping to protect. I see this uprising in chants, uplifting me! My right to be safe!

And yet I have never felt myself the benefactor of said protection. 

"Protect the women and children" seems to be a sentiment we continue to roll out in an effort to cover bigotry. To pretend that ignorance and hatred isn't just that. We are here to protect these "innocents." 

The protection I received from assault was the education that I had somehow caused it. That I should keep it to myself because of how it might damage both our reputations. That the problem wasn't grown men (who knew how old I was) making passes at me at 13, not whatever causes someone to disregard a no and become violent, not even predators sneaking into bathrooms cause assault. I learned early that if I was abused, that I was to blame. What I wore, where I chose to be, what I did there, my brand new breasts, my very existence-- all potential causes of assault. 

Of course I've learned not to agree with that anymore. To let go of that unfairly placed shame. Though I still have to remind myself when the wave of old ass PTSD shows up in my body and I shake my fist at the sky at these on-going consequences of violence. We have a lot of work to do to undo the way we actually treat victims of assault. 

But for the love of all things good, stop pretending that bathrooms laws are for my protection. Men with power arguing doesn't ever strike me as supportive of me. Especially when I am now being asked to look to my transgender friends and say, "Sorry, your right to pee is too risky for me." 

Don't ask me to look at someone even further oppressed than myself and ask me (again) to see an enemy. I've lived long enough to know better. This guise of protection is a scam at best and a total slap in the face for those of us who these "protectors" failed in every way. 

As for the possibility of an attacker in a bathroom? These days I walk with a weapon across my knuckles. I've learned how to fight as an act of survival and of great healing. I am constantly aware of who is around me and if I've any feeling someone might pose a threat. Certainly if I'm walking into a private space in public, I'm paying attention.

Because ever since I grew breasts, I came to understand that the grown men who leered at me were not my protectors. And as a grown ass woman I'm prepared to fight back. For myself or anyone else being abused.

And I know that who is most likely to help me is someone who has ever felt or been unsafe. Transgender women specifically are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted. 72% of hate crimes resulting in murder were transgender women in 2013 (source). It is actually most often transgender people who are unsafe in bathrooms. More on that here. If we really want to help victims of violent crimes, we should be allowing the primary victims of them to use the bathrooms of their choosing. You want me to tell those women they can't pee next to me because I'm not safe? Sisters, brothers, gender nonconforming folks, I have your back.

Don't use me as your special cause to mask bigotry. 

You can't tell me you are on my side, that you will stand with those abused and not those who abuse them, when you never have been. 

Erin Brown

Why I quit the gym (for now)

It's typical that in winter getting to the gym is harder for me. But I drag myself there and I always feel better for it. Usually Monday morning is the exception. Even in winter, Mondays feel so full of possibility and hope to me. Deadlifts or squats always seem to call my name that day. So when even Mondays I noticed myself dragging ass, I started paying attention. 

Whenever I'm going to make a change, I like to just get real objective about my behavior. Start paying attention. And I noticed that weeks would go by that I never had that excited "Let's go get this workout" mood. I also noticed that I would sit in the car at the gym much longer than is reasonable. 

So I quit.

After 7 years of consistent gym time, I gave myself permission to quit. I don't want to spend my life dreading things I don't want to do. And I really don't want to lose my love for weights all together. So I quit for now. 

What am I doing instead?

So much!

I'm dancing around my house. I'm doing yoga flows. I'm inviting friends over to do dated cardio dvds that I still love. I'm spending more time at home and less time in the gym parking lot. I'm remembering what I love about movement and taking 100% of the pressure off of what it's "supposed" to look like to "count." I'm having fun again. Enjoying my body again. Doing a little less barbell math. 

I'm hoping to miss it. I imagine I will. But it's refreshing as hell to let go of something that for any reason isn't serving me and find out again, that no that too doesn't fully define me. My habits are supposed to serve me, not the other way around.

So there you have it. One of my favorite things is taking a back seat while I seek other kinds of fun. I'm always reevaluating, being sure I'm at the helm and not stuck but not seeing it. Because I'm in charge of my body and my life. And I trust myself to follow where I'm lead, even when it surprises me. 

Erin Brown

Breaking all the rules #queenshit

Here are some basic rules as I came to understand them.

  1. Be effortlessly “I woke up like this” attractive. At all times. By standards that are constantly changing and move further away as soon as you reach them.
  2. Do not know you are attractive. Ever. If anyone compliments you in this manner, perfect the surprised/unaffected look. “This old thing?” about all things at all times. In fact, actually hating yourself is best practice.
  3. Sexy is about you but not for you. It is for everyone else to decide about you and you should be it while maintaining modesty as also defined by others. Like being sexy was an accident and not deliberate. And again, not for you. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll discover that your sexuality is a part of your whole human when you’re an adult. But keep that ish to yourself.
  4. Have opinions, maybe. But keep them cute and peppered with “I just” and “sort of” and anything that tones down what you say or makes them seem adorably curious.
  5. Do not exhibit passion about said opinions. Unless they are acceptable and non-threatening ones for lady-identifying-folks such as “my kids are my world.”
  6. Natural emotional reactions are not for public because one cannot be taken seriously and have feelings. Especially anger. Bottle that shit up somewhere because no one wants to see that. For sure don’t cry.
  7. Time/money/energy spent on oneself is selfish UNLESS it is justified by needing to do so in order to care for others. Because your sole purpose is nurturing others. Regardless of what your actual values/talents/desires for your own life entail.
  8. Abuse of all kinds is to be expected if you step out of any of these boxes. And should you dare speak out against any abuse of your person, it is you and your clothes/behavior/choices that will be critiqued, never the abuser.
  9. Run every feeling, expression, action by the list of “am I unthreatening enough?” rules and second guess yourself every step of the way.

Did I miss something? Probably. This is an “off the top of my head” list from my experience. And this is just about sexism. I didn’t have to learn these rules and those that are learned by those whose sexual orientation, gender identification, race, religion or other identities intersect with sexism making for an even longer list.

The trouble is, the woman I have become (and am becoming more all the time) doesn’t resonate with ANY of those rules. As it turns out I am a multifaceted human with my own values, thoughts and desires. I like who I am and the package it comes in. I am passionate about social justice which falls short of keeping opinions adorable. I am sexual and feel sexy and don’t agree that those things make me less able to be valued in other ways. I do not agree that abuse is justified, ever. I like doing things for myself. In fact, I’m the very best in the world at taking care of me. I have oh so many feelings, which I have found only add to what I say unless I apologize for them. And so, fuck those rules.

You’re going to be seeing more #queenshit from me. What is #queenshit? It is the audacity to believe that I am at the helm of my own life. That waking up in the morning is enough reason to believe I deserve my own care and attention. It is the radical idea that my voice, opinions, sexual expression, appearance, passions, all my ever-loving feelings and EVERY PART OF MY HUMAN are valuable and mine to decipher. Without craftily placing them in a perfect, limiting box I didn’t pick out or agree to.

I thought I was showing up before, but there were still things I was keeping close to the vest. Showing up like the queen of my own damn life means taking bigger risks so that I leave it all on the table. I keep having this image in my mind of me on my death bed asking for my phone to do another facebook live post in “And another thing *finger in the air*” style.

So goodbye rulebook, hello fully expressed human that I am. #Queenshit is a party and you are invited. The only rule is that you make the rules for yourself and allow others the space for their own journey of discovering who they are without all the shit we’ve been handed. We can (and should) help fine tune each others’ leadership and look out for folks whose struggles are different than our own. But this is diamonds sharpening diamonds, it’s about everyone shining not kicking anyone down.

Looking right at you, 2017. Even if doing so makes me somehow threatening. There is some shit in the world I’d like to pose a giant threat to anyway.

Unleashed, firey and showing up all the way. However you decide that looks for you, I hope you’ll join me.

 

XO,

Erin Brown

 

On whiteness

I had already made up my mind not to go. I couldn’t possibly. I laid awake the night before agonizing about it. And now I was going to march into this woman’s office and just let her down easy. She didn’t miss a beat,

“You are the president of this organization and it is your responsibility to go.”

So I moved immediately to plan B: continue agonizing.

Isn’t a white girl going to the “Big XII conference on Black student government” wrong? Disrespectful even? But I was the president of my school’s diversity programming/advocacy group and my advisor, the director of multicultural programming had made herself clear. I was going.

I knew I wouldn’t be the only one. There were two other white girls in attendance and both had come with my school. I noted I was the only blonde. A fact that made me feel like I had a strobe light on my head. I was so nervous as to how I would be received that I just wanted to blend in with the wall. Strobe lights don’t blend well.

I felt like a fish out of water. Except in this case I hadn’t realized I was a fish. Or that my whole life was water. Until I was actually in a scenario where I was in the minority by the largest of margins, I didn’t realize the experience I was used to having was so… white. Or that being surrounded by whiteness provided me a constant ability to blend in, maybe even a subconscious sense of belonging?*

*I want to admit it felt gross to type that. But I’m here for the messy, so I’m looking right at it.

Some people were curious to ask about what had brought us there. Welcomed us, happy we had come to learn. Others were visibly less thrilled. I remember being particularly bummed out leaving an inspired, uplifting gospel performance and overhearing unkind words about our presence as we left. After such a beautiful shared experience, it hurt my feelings.

The last night we were there I decided to turn in early. I was alone in the hotel elevator when the doors opened and a group of young men from the conference were waiting to go up. They looked at me and confirmed with one another “we’ll wait.” But one of the waiting men got on.

Feeling a bit low but grasping for naive enthusiasm, I nodded toward our shared conference name tags and introduced myself. I can totally picture 21 year old me with her hand eagerly extended. Asking for some sort of affirmation. He looked from my hand to my face and replied, “I know who you are” and turned to face the doors again.

I’m sure I held my breath while my lip quivered. I don’t know how I made it to my advisor’s room. It’s entirely possible I crawled. I was completely devastated. I hadn’t meant any harm. I had been trying to do good work on campus and taking all the flack that came with activism on a small, 97% white, conservative campus. I was there because it was asked of me, and striving not take up too much space. I felt like he hated me. Not to mention the men who refused to even ride with me. I felt tiny and disposable.

I gasped for air to tell my story through sobbs. But as my advisor realized that no actual emergency was taking place, she began laughing. At once, one of the most confusing and life changing moments of my life.

It’s been around 15 years but the words she said next have hung around the forefront of my mind ever since.

“I don’t mean to laugh at you. The way he treated you was unkind. I’m sorry that your feelings are hurt. I really am. There is a saying that you can tell how Black someone is by how much oppression they can take. And honey, you are white. What you don’t realize is that I have that experience with professors at your University every day I come to work. Who won’t make eye contact with me or share an elevator when we’ve long shared a hallway. Professors you respect.”

She went on to talk about racism she experiences every day. I had made a choice to be in the minority at a conference for 3 days but she often counts the number of people who look like her in a room to find zero. The experience that had turned me into a puddle was an everyday occurrence for her in a space we both occupied. And as her words washed over me I realized just how much I didn’t know about the water I was very much a fish in.

While she spoke my eyes grew bigger. My skin got just a little thicker. My perspective was forever impacted.

This is honestly a story I don’t tell white people very often. Thinking that perhaps it would be upheld as “proof” of “reverse discrimination” when what’s really happening here is privilege, mine. Privilege to walk on a campus everyday and not be subject to racism directed at me. To not see these on going, everyday acts of dismissal. To be constantly slighted by peers, the only person who looks like me in the room. Privilege that made me feel entitled to pleasantries from a stranger in an elevator and broke me when I didn’t receive them. As such a thing had never happened to me before. Privilege to choose 3 days of discomfort others describe as daily occurrences, stretched across a lifetime. Ranging from annoying to hurtful to violent.

With that lense my “one time this guy wouldn’t shake my hand story” didn’t carry the same meaning.

Racism wasn’t a brand new concept to me at the time. I was spending much of my free time working to combat stereotypes and hate speech my school. A few years prior on a mission trip in Tennessee, our group was rerouted to an area “less” populated by Klan when the organization realized we had a Black student in our group. In the area we were rerouted to he was subjected to families refusing to open the door for him, sending their kids out to call him racial slurs while he worked on much needed repairs to their homes. It was there I was berated by a white boy for “disavowing my race” by dating outside of it, and the equally hurtful but less aggressive curious questions from white girls about if I just couldn’t “get” a white boy instead. I found these things shocking and my boyfriend did not. But as my cloak of whiteness allows me to not see racism in the water where I am a fish, I somehow believed this more blatant racism existed in a bubble in the South. Not among my liberal professors. Not in my daily life. I was wrong.

By the measure my advisor spoke, that was the whitest day of my life. The day the smallest slight left me in a fragile heap at her door. But I emerged aware of how very much I would never know.

In spite of the blatant racist language I’d heard from students on campus which brought me to my advisor and the organization to begin with, I’d thought the professors were completely different. To find out the people on campus who I felt most supported by were not safe places for everyone was a shock. And one I hoped to never forget.

From there I read more. I learned about the stages of racial identity, which helped me understand myself better as well as where other people were coming from in their own processes. I read about whiteness, fragility, privilege. I attended, organized and lead workshops about oppression. I began making a point in my life to notice who was represented where I was and who wasn’t. To listen and get to work whenever someone spoke up to say they don’t feel safe, or were facing discrimination. To find what is mine to do and do it.

I began filling in the holes of my knowledge and limitations of my experience but just scratched the surface. I acknowledged and felt all the very real feelings that came up for me in this process. Guilt, shame, feeling like I belonged nowhere, wanting to disavow parts of myself and coming to terms with it.

I found accountability to be the actionable place where unhelpful guilt doesn’t live.

I never wanted to forget that people and places that felt welcoming and safe to me could offer someone else insolation, belittling and hurt or worse. And yet that’s exactly what I’ve felt like for the past few weeks. When you’re a fish you don’t have to think much about the water. And ours is toxic in ways I genuinely held hope it wasn’t.

Living with my husband for the last 10 years continues to pry my eyes open to everyday differences in our experience and how we navigate the world. While I think little of accidentally leaving the house without my wallet, he never goes anywhere without ID. Because he has never had an encounter with police, even as a passenger in a traffic stop or just walking down the street where he wasn’t asked to provide it. When he still had his afro, the price he paid for it was being pulled over in the suburbs where he worked so often it affected his job performance. Several times a week he was pulled over without given reason or citation, but made to sit on the curb while his license was run for warrants and his car searched. Even though it was within his rights to ask questions or decline an unlawful search, he has learned to comply as though his life depends on it. Hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2. Yes to whatever is asked of him. I drove the same streets without incident.

Just a few weeks ago a neighbor we haven’t met almost fell over in her attempt to get away from him. Skittishly looking over her shoulder in fear instead of at where she was going. He was taking our dog for her last walk before she would pass. A slow walk with lots of stops as her body was failing her. An already sad stroll in his own neighborhood.

Since the election a Brown family member of mine was accosted about her race and threatened with deportation. One block from my house. A small and intimate to me example of what we are seeing everywhere. Zooming out, white supremacists are coming out of the woodwork. Hailing Trump at meetings celebrating victory. Applauding his cabinet picks with links to white supremacist groups.

Trying to understand our very different world views, I did some poking around news sites trusted by conservatives. On the cabinet picks I saw discussion of how the Klan originated within the democratic party, pointing to the irony of displeasure with the group now. I saw narratives about “liberals crying about the loss” and calling everyone racist. But no actual addressing of what it means to have a president elect and his chosen advisors openly endorsed by the Klan. Another prevailing narrative is that all this talk of racism was somehow caused by Obama’s presidency or recent activism, as though it didn’t exist before. A perspective that can only be explained by the same thinking that allows me not to see racism all around me when I’m alone, as it’s not directed at me. A fish not seeing water.

Let me switch perspectives for a moment. Let’s say you don’t believe the president elect is a racist, and you’re a supporter because you are fiscally conservative. It’s important to pay attention to the fact that 700 hate crimes were reported to the SPLC just in the first 5 days since the election. White supremacists are counting Trump’s win a victory and celebration looks like terrorizing people who don’t look like me. That is worth standing up against no matter your party alliance or views on debt.

I still want to believe we are better than this. But to get there we have to grapple with a lot of uncomfortable feelings. Paying attention, listening to the experiences of those around you can bring about wild discomfort. It’s hard to imagine that our experiences are only our own. Especially if it means someplace that has always felt safe and welcoming to you is not so for everyone.

That talk 15 years ago may have been the whitest I’d ever felt, but November 9th felt much the same. The hateful aftermath of this election cycle had me in a heap of myself again. Confronted with embarrassment, guilt, shame and overwhelm. The swastikas graffitied all around the country, the “out and proud” racism on video. Countless stories of women not wearing hijabs for the first time in public out of very real fear of violence. There is no excuse to not see what is happening, to not at very least read about the experiences of people of color at this juncture. There is no denying it.

But the thing about whiteness is that as a whole, we do deny it. We deny it’s power in structures built by whiteness. We seek to believe that racism is a thing of the past. We want to believe that we see reflections of ourselves in leadership everywhere only because we have earned it. We uphold stories like my “he wouldn’t shake my hand” as “proof” that racism (power + prejudice) goes both ways. We want desperately to believe that men like my husband deserve mistreatment from the police, believing it somehow impossible that our history and our present are intertwined, that no public servant could possibly operate with racist ideologies. That a badge and a gun are somehow inherent markers of equality.

To be white is to be a fish in water we can choose to not see. But the alternative is messy, it’s work, and it requires the discomfort of looking at our own systems of operation. Of who we seek to uphold and whose experience we seek to deny. It means me looking again at the gaping holes in my understanding, and examining my own beliefs, even about the block I live on.

With tensions running high I have found myself in a state of paralysis. I fear misstepping and causing harm. I fear the harm caused by my silence. I struggle to find words to comfort my baby, as speaking as a family about racism was not a part of my white upbringing. It wasn’t necessary for my safety, one of the more jarring realizations from my first short reading on white privilege. But paralysis is scarier than anything else to me, so in moving to accountability I have recommendations. It is my hope you will consider them as calls for unity only work when we unify against hate.

  1. Stop saying you aren’t racist. I know that’s a big, hard, horse-pill of discomfort. It’s impossible to live in a culture that upholds some lives as inherently valuable no matter their choices and others as expendable and not have those same ideas in your consciousness. It’s just not ‘real’ to believe that you “see everyone the same” when messages all around you from the time you are born teach you otherwise. I’m still unlearning the damaging things our culture has taught me about me. Of course I’m still unlearning damaging things I’ve learned about others. Taking solace in not owning a white hood allows us to believe we aren’t a part of the problem and therefore don’t need internal work to be a part of the solution. I am white and benefit from white supremacy. I am accountable for looking at holes in my learning and experience. I will seek voices that don’t reflect my own and listen. That is a better starting point than, “I’m not racist.”
  2. Make space for your own messy feelings. Guilt, sadness, anger, shock, whatever you feel is valid. There is a difference between showing up at an event meant to support people of color and taking up all the space with your sadness about the state of the world, and acknowledging your own feelings alone or with those willing to sift through the mess with you. I’ve never met a feeling that miraculously dissipated by being shoved away or denied. My friend Dr. Tee had to call me out on not following my own advice on election day. “Erin (he interrupted me babbling in my messy thoughts), I’m going to have to stop you. I think it’s important that you allow space for your own feelings. Like all the time.” That moment probably accelerated my movement from paralysis to accountability more than I can know, for which I am so thankful. Show up to the discomfort of whatever you feel in your awareness today.
  3. Hold yourself accountable. First for your own awareness. For undoing covert and overt effects of being raised in a culture founded and currently upheld by white supremacy. Look at your own belief systems. Does looking at the words “white supremacy” make you defensive? That’s worth exploring as a few days ago white supremacists rallied to support our incoming government officials. We have to be able to talk about this. Is the history you’ve learned skewed toward glorifying whiteness, glossing over things like slavery (as in the widely distributed text book that called slaves “unpaid workers”), almost erasing contributions from women of color entirely? Yes. Do you know about racist acts happening outside your front door? In the internet era, there are countless (mostly free and freely available) places to read about oppression. Steph “Iron Lioness” just wrote this just for you. Start learning about white privilege, intersectionality, oppression. For me this sometimes means reading, noticing myself feel defensive or upset when confronted with my own privilege and walking away for a moment to enable myself to come back with fresh eyes. I keep talking about this book by Luvvie Ajayi because I’m really enjoying it right now, and it’s a great starting point. I want to learn more about misogynoirgender identity, and how to be more inclusive in my work while respecting the limitations from which my experience allows me to speak.
  4. Show up authentically to conversations about what you learn. How you do this is 100% yours. But I will offer that I aim to enter difficult conversations remembering that this information was once beyond my own experience and education. I don’t seek to “call people out” or shame them for what they don’t know, but rather to openly discuss what I’ve come to learn. Every meaningful conversation I’ve had that has impacted another’s point of view was had with the intention of not shaming them. I spent my first few years as an activist exhausting myself by thinking only about my responsibility to respond immediately to both blatant racism and casual (but equally harmful in impact) ignorance. I realize now that part of the privilege of not enduring racism on a daily basis is that my exhaustion was a choice. And one that wasn’t serving anyone (aside from perhaps my own ego) or impacting others perspectives the way I’d hoped. So while I never let a moment “slide,” my aim is to have an effective (not shameful) conversation and a positive impact, not just “make sure I’m heard.” My ego might be stroked by my ability to belittle someone in their ignorance, but if I’m only causing defensiveness I’ve done nothing to create more safety for someone else. While I cannot determine others’ response, I choose to be mindful of how my approach affects my impact. Patience is my privilege which I aim not to waste.
  5. Find what is yours to do. The veil is lifted. Not talking about the impact of racism because it’s impolite at the dinner table or historically hushed in the name of “not being divisive” is not an option. If we want to live in a world where hate crimes are thought hateful and not dismissed as the result of messy politics, where our children genuinely have the same opportunities including to live through the day- we have to roll our sleeves up. So we claim our own whiteness, do the work of self-examination and re-educating ourselves about the very real impacts of oppression, and we talk to other white people about it. But what else is yours to do? What talent, time, resources do you have to contribute and how?
  6. Be open to feedback and keep going. I’m writing this to future me when I hit publish here. Writing is something I know is mine to do. And to stay in personal narrative out of respect for me means focusing on whiteness. But maybe I overstepped. Or understepped in my focus here primarily on racism and not on multiple intersections of oppression. Maybe in an effort to stay in my lane, I just whitewashed this whole piece. These are risks I’m taking in hopes that my words might move someone toward discomfort to deepen their humanity and awareness. To look at themselves instead of denying racism as a whole or stopping at “I’m not racist.” In the little corner of the universe I occupy, I know there are people who care what I have to say. So it’s simply more important that I risk screwing up and learning from it than remain silent and without criticism. I have plenty to learn.

This is perhaps the first time it’s been widely uncomfortable to be white. To think about race on an almost daily basis. To see headlines that confront us with the very different reality we experience. It means realizing that “not thinking about this stuff” is a profound privilege based in not having to experience racism on a daily basis. “Unity” from here comes from deepening our understanding of one another’s experiences, and examining more closely the limitations of our own. It’s messy, uncomfortable, imperfect and urgent. Please choose discomfort with me.

Erin Brown

Dr. Tee and I are working on resources and a project to aid those grappling with these ideas again or for the first time. For now, making sure you are on my mailing list will ensure you get the info as soon as it’s available. I send emails around once a month, so this is not a sales pitch, but to keep you in the loop.

Losing a baby, how to be supportive in profound grief

I wholly believe that personal narrative is of the most profound activism there is. This is a moment of unrest for so many, and a time to pass the mic. Today’s essay comes from Renee Lawrence. 

*July 15th, 2013*

Five a.m. hardly seems like a perfect time to say good-bye. The sun has not even said hello, and here I am expected to leave everything I currently knew as my life in this hospital room. I spent the previous hour and sixteen minutes holding her. She not yet a pound, laid on my chest making small movements, sucking her thumb, and peeing on me.

It’s barely five a.m. and I have given birth and said goodbye to my daughter Lucy, today. Lucielle, actually. Spelled wrong, on purpose. She never did have a chance. She spent her whole twenty three weeks in utero fighting for her life. And I, fighting with her, naively believing that although every evening for the past week I would labor, laying flat on my back to not disturb her, refusing medicines, unsure of their effects, and not listening to medical reasoning, that I would have my daughter to raise. Blind faith in her, and she in me. Not ever meeting and we would already would do anything for one another.

It’s five a.m., on that day. Our fight was now over. But, Lucy… It had just begun. “Lucy” as she is known has brought light into this world in many ways. I hear her calling to me to bring love to the forefront. It starts with women, mothers, and daughters who know our pain. This is a love like no other, it’s not tangible, yet it’s palpable.

 

***

Infant and pregnancy loss is taboo. Rarely talked about and leaving so many living in silence. There are not many people who can rise above their comfort levels and I have experienced that on many levels. But, they also need someone out there speaking their voices, so they can find their “Me Too.”

One in four women will share this experience in their life time. That’s 25% of our women, hurting.

I think that it takes the collective “US” to rebuild our women. I get it, you may not know how to help, it can feel pretty devastating to see someone endure loss of this magnitude. Even I am learning how to approach other women who have my story. So, I have analyzed my own experiences and experiences of other women with my story to provide you with a list of what I like to call: Act and Refrain.

REFRAIN: I like to dub myself an optimist; short list.

-Refrain from verbalizing false positives. A child loss mother wants nothing more but to acknowledge and honor THIS child. We are grieving a life…

…SO REFRAIN from phrases:

“At least you know you can get pregnant.”
OR

“I am sure it will be better next time.”

OR

“Are you going to try again?”

OR

“You already have children, you should feel grateful.”

OR

“If you have another (boy or girl), will you name them the same as (lost child).” (WHAT? NO)

-Refrain from sending flowers. (They die too…and we are in no space to care for plants)

-Refrain in thinking she should “get over” it. She won’t, ever.

I am resilient and I “get over” things pretty quickly, but I will NEVER get past losing my daughter. So, in three years, Im going to still cry about it and need you to hear me.

-Refrain from taking her to places where babies hang out.
So, I never experienced this feeling. I have heard it verbalized a lot by loss mothers. Target can be a glorious healing place or HELL. Refrain from triggering these feelings. I however wanted to hold ALL the babies, but grief looks different for all Moms.

ACT: When we show up for the people we care about, we put love in action.

-Act on acknowledging her and the life her baby.
Facilitating and being a member of support groups, this is the one thing that I hear most women verbalize. Women have hopes for these children, they have spent their whole pregnancy investing a life in this child, where their children are born and go off and change the world. We want to know that you believe our babies existed. You can do this in so many ways. You will have to find what speaks best to you, but just show up.

*Remember their baby’s birth-date.
*Remember their baby’s death-date.
* Remember October 15th. (Pregnancy and Infant Loss, Day).

-ACT on giving her space, but don’t stop holding a place FOR her. She wants to know that you not forgetting about her, but you are there when she needs you.

-Be an ACT(ive) listener without judging or interjections.
Your personal experiences might not be appropriate at this moment. But, this doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about you.

-ACT on being a positive role model for self care.
This is huge. I remember thinking that getting out of bed and brushing my teeth felt like a major accomplishment. It was in that normal ritual of love for myself, I was able to see some light.

*Send a care package with her favorite bath salts.
*Ask her if she would like go for a walk.
*Order her a massage.
*Offer to watch her other children so she might get some time to herself.
*Bring her food

-ACT(ively) seek to provide laughter.
The first time I laughed felt raw and confusing. I thought that if I was laughing, I wasn’t actively grieving. Not even remotely true. The more I sought out laughter in the saddest time of my life, I was able to dig out. If my friends weren’t there to crack my ass up, I’d be lost.

-ACT on finding her resources and connecting her with other loss Moms.
Solidarity is found in other women who share stories.

-ACT by supporting Women’s rights. In fact, fight for it. Honor ALL women, all the time.

Lucielle Diane, was born with a small body and a big purpose. It took her to leave us to even recognize what that was. Her name, the meaning, held the clues. “Divine Light”, is what we choose to lead our lives with. In Lucy’s name, in all things, put love in ACT(ion).

Actively listening to your stories of “Me Too”; my message box is always open.

***

Do you have a narrative you’d like to share here? Details about why personal narrative is so important to me and how to submit yours here: http://bit.ly/2gaRsmh

Shining light on hate

I wholly believe that personal narrative is of the most profound activism there is. This is a moment of unrest for so many, and a time to pass the mic. Today’s essay comes from Steph “Iron Lioness” Dykstra.

 

I’d like to share an incident of racism I experienced growing up, and how it affected me then, and now.

This is a tough, and uncomfortable story, but I promise, if you bear with its darkness, it may shed some light on who I am, and what my life experience has been like as a woman of color.

When we talk about racism, people in Canada proudly stand tall, and say things like, “we don’t have that here”, we are a ‘Melting Pot of diversity’. Much like the U.S., people love to assert we have progressed beyond racism, if they themselves have not experienced it.

While we have come a long way, my story, and countless other stories like it, is proof that we have much more work to.

My family moved to a small town called Pickering in 1988. My parents had recently divorced, my biological Father was M.I.A., and my Mom was doing her best to give my Brother, Sister and I the best Life she could, now as a single mother.

Starting school in first grade, I went alone. My siblings both being older went elsewhere. Off I went like a brave little soldier to my new school. I was a super courageous, precocious, high energy kid. In spite of everything that was happening at home, I really just wanted to make friends.

The kids did not welcome me and when they did pay attention to me it was to say some hurtful shit. They made fun of my hair quite a bit, and one girl told me Black people smell funny… kids can be dicks.

But it was my teacher, Mrs. Hodgeson who was especially foul. She was known to be a mean teacher, but I always felt she was especially mean to me, and wasn’t able to ‘name’ why.

Mrs. Hodgeson seemed to hate me. Now, I know this is the part where we want to deny my experience to feel better about the world. Hold tight. She always got super annoyed when I asked questions, occasionally grabbed me harshly. She hit me and one time yelled across the room for me to take my “cotton picking pickaninny hands” off something. I don’t remember what it was I was touching, but surely there was nothing in a grade 1 classroom that would warrant that from a trusted Educator, right? So yeah, she hated this little Black girl she was entrusted to ‘Teach’. I guess I learned a different kind of lesson than the other kids.

This abuse unfortunately was not limited to the classroom. In the school yard I was bullied by a boy who was a proud White Supremacist – again, I’ll remind you, this was grade 1, 1988, in Pickering, Ontario, Canada.

Ryan W., the boy who bullied me, didn’t do so without me fighting back. If he pushed me, I pushed him back, if he threw rocks at me, I threw them back, when he called me a nigger, I told him he was stupid, and we’d fight. One day I got the better of him and he told his older brother. At recess his older Brother accompanied by his high school friends came to my school and beat me up. A few of my classmates watched and laughed.

Think on that for a minute, go ahead, I’ll wait.

They beat me in such a way, to not leave marks on my face. But had fun pushing, kicking me, and calling me ‘nigger bitch, monkey’, (and a variety of other hateful slurs). I told a teacher. Not any one of my classmates did, I did. She made Ryan W. apologize, and that was it. No call to my Mom. I never told my Mom as I somehow felt responsible for what happened to me. Why did I have to be so different? These are the conclusions of a now lost, and broken 7-year-old black girl.

This was one of the worst times of my life. I felt worthless, alone, afraid, and helpless to the attacks that were happening both in the classroom, and on the schoolyard. I really needed someone to have my back, and I felt that I didn’t have anyone.

I took my lumps, and kept moving forward. I reached a point near the end of my first year in Pickering where I vowed to be so tough, no one would fuck with me. I fell in love with Martial Arts films, and comic books as an escape, because there was always an element of protecting the little guy. Being so skilled you could beat up a gang of attackers and so forth. So from this abuse, began the roots of something deep, strong, an element of me that people call toughness, discipline, grit, or drive. Whatever you want to call it, I think it was partially forged during this time.

In High School I ran into a drunken Ryan W. (the former 7-year-old White Supremacist). I was on my way home and attempted to avoid the interaction when he jogged to catch up with me, and asked if we could talk.

Ryan W. then proceeded to beg my forgiveness for how he treated me in Grade 1, and explained he had learned fucked up shit at home and that what he and his brother had done was horrible. I wasn’t ready to forgive him, but I did and we hugged it out.

Now, fast forward a little bit farther to when Facebook was a new thing, and all your childhood friends were sending you Friendship requests.

Some of the requests were the same children who stood around while I got beat up by grown boys.

Well that brought up some interesting feels.

One request stood out, as it was accompanied by a message. The message was from someone in my Grade 1 class, a guy named Andrew K. I had no bad memories of Andrew, I actually remember I thought he was cool because he also liked comics, and Lego (I was heavy into the Lego as well). In any event, Andrew reached out to apologize for what happened in 1988. He apologized because:

“’…connecting with you reminded me of how she (Mrs. Hodgeson) treated you, and only as an adult did I realize that her behaviour was clearly racist. At the time I thought it was just regular meanness.”

Thank you, Andrew.

I wish my exposure to pure hate was limited to this experience I shared, but it wasn’t. Unfortunately I have too many stories of violence from people who were simply scared of what they didn’t know. I can’t understand how people can fear people when we’re all more the same than we are different.

Hate is an interesting monster that some of us have seen up close, and personal.  Some are lucky enough to never see hate like this, or they see only glimpses of it.

Those of us who have experienced this hate know its destructive power.

The small way I fight it daily is by the creation of a safe, welcoming place for people to come, get healthy, and relieve some of their stress. The gym my husband and I created is rooted in love, with an objective to help people, and make them better where ever we can.

Over the years I have developed a set of specific skills, that in the event shit pops off, I will fight for what is right. To protect myself and those I love.

Some of you need to ask yourselves when people share their fears regarding their experiences with racism, do you listen?

Do you listen to hear, soak it in, understand their experience? Without deflection, asking them to rewrite their experience to comfort you?

Do you tell them to be positive, move forward, and fight hate with love?

Here’s what I have to say on that – don’t ask anyone to do something you yourself are not doing.

Are you exhibiting the same love, by glossing over racism? By asking someone to not discuss their experiences because it makes you uncomfortable? By denying that hatred exists? Are you moving forward in love by supporting racism for personal gain?

We need to take care of our people, and our environment. If we make these things better, we make the world better, but instead, we only think of what makes us comfortable, and shy away from doing things that makes us feel uncomfortable.

Get uncomfortable.

To quote Frederick Douglas: “Without struggle, there is no progress”

In these times, we have an opportunity to pull together, and do better, but I feel it’s going to have to start with people of privilege acknowledging the monster of hate, instead of making excuses for it. To acknowledge that their experience is not that same as others. To not skip the step of discomfort in a call to love.

My story is worse than some, and not as bad as others, but I assure you it is real, and far too common.

I recently met a Fitness Hero of mine, Powerlifting Legend, Brandon Lilly. At a recent conference I attended, he told a story about him being so full of hate, he hated Black people.

From the lips of someone I looked up to, and now look up to even more.

Brandon went on to share that when his brother came out and told his Family that he was gay, he, his Southern Baptist Mom, and homophobic racist Dad were forced to confront their hate. He shared that their love for their openly gay son, was enough to have them question their hate. Brandon realized he didn’t have a reason to hate Black people, that was just what he had been taught.

After he shared his story, the good, the bad, and the ugly – I felt connected to him, because of its honesty, and vulnerability. Brandon stayed past the talk time to answer questions, but also to give everyone who wanted one a hug. I think I hugged him 5 or 6 times.

Listen.

Get Uncomfortable.

Get honest with yourself about your own history and views.

Acknowledge the monster of hate.

Do the work.

And then we move forward with love.

Thanks,

Steph

Approaching winter sadness with open arms

It’s the most beautiful fall in Kansas. The leaves have turned, Halloween is around the corner and pumpkin spice everything is in full effect. Which means that winter is practically tomorrow and I would normally be full of panic. Historically the act of putting on a scarf means full blown anxiety about what’s to come.

Every year since my baby was born, I have approached winter with serious plans and clenched fists. Having spent many a winter depressed, locking myself in my room, causing worry from bosses, teachers and friends, this time of year I get anxious. I can’t go back there. I can’t sit in a room alone getting high and writing bad poetry, waiting for “everyone” to figure out how awful I am and get over it. I have a kid who needs her Mom present, I can’t disappear from myself.

Around this time last year I was writing up my rigid wellness plan and mentioned it to a friend. Her response gave me pause, “We aren’t meant to be full steam ahead in all seasons, we hibernate in our own ways.” It was a casual comment that I couldn’t let go of. What?! Acknowledge my body’s desire to slow down for a whole season without fear?! So last year I went about my well laid plans and thought about what she said all winter.

This year I’m opening my arms to my body’s ask to slow down. I’m looking forward to sitting in uncomfortable feelings without judging myself or trying to fix them. To embracing some sadness. And quiet. I’m diving into the darkness of the season and of myself with full trust that if I feel that familiar downward spiral- I know how to pull myself out. I’ve spent the last 10 years examining myself, my triggers, and how to come out if I need to, so I feel equipped.

I’ve been studying the seasons, what they symbolize and what happens in the natural world, and I’ll be damned if it all doesn’t resonate on a cellular level for me. Themes of traveling inward, the hermit, incubation of ideas, crystalizing growth. Things appear to die so they can come back to life again with bigger, more beautiful colors. And rest, so much rest.

So if you need me I’ll be doing my own kind of hibernation. I have projects but plan to be in no rush. I will be still and unsettled should discomfort be asked of me. I am walking inward knowing that the underbelly is where deeper understanding is. I am hoping to let go of control and trust my own evolution. I don’t want to go full speed all the time, and I hope I discover that I don’t have to. That there is a way to slow without disappearing completely.

I’ll keep you posted.

*This is in no way an RX for anyone else. I can only speak to my own experience. But figuring out what is best for your unique situation is between you and those whom you seek advisement.*

A short history of violations to my consent

Content warning: Explicit sexual violence

The first list:

When I was in kindergarten a much older boy who I thought was my friend told me about sex and said we should try it in secret. I said I didn’t want to play like that but he got out his penis to show me anyway. I found it confusing and made my way out of the room. He refused to talk to me or even make eye contact after that. I blamed myself for upsetting my friend.

When I was in 7th grade I flirted with a boy and he kissed me. Then he threw me against a fence and eventually to the ground to pin me down and stop me from fighting him. He ripped my thick jeans in the process. At some point I quit fighting and left my body. I laid lifeless until he finished. I still remember the street scene to my right where I focused my gaze, numb.

When I was in seventh grade I attended a sleepover. I woke up in the middle of the night to a much older boy kissing me. He tried to pull my pants off and I told him to stop. The room was full of my friends sleeping, I was embarrassed. I grabbed my pants and held on but he became more forceful. I begged him to stop but he pulled off my pants and my underwear and spread open my legs. Then he stood up and turned the lights on to reveal several of his friends standing in the doorway watching. I cried. They laughed at me and left. Some of the boys in the doorway went to my school and would laugh when they saw me in the halls. I wouldn’t speak of it for many years, ashamed.

When I was in junior high my friends and I were regularly followed in public places by grown men making passes at us. We were taught to ignore this for our safety. I always kept my head down and tried to get away quickly. It felt gross.

When I was in 7th grade I pretended to be asleep when a 30 something year old man touched and groped my vagina. I remember thinking resisting always made things worse and feeling like a whore. I tried to cry motionless so he wouldn’t see I was awake or be offended.

When I was 17 a boy spent hours after getting me alone at a get-together convincing me to sleep with him. He told me he wanted to be my boyfriend. That he cared about me. The coercion went on and on. Exhausted, I quit saying no and laid stiff while he did what he wanted. He made a big public display of refusing to speak to me after. He told anyone who would listen that I was a "lousy lay" and a slut. I would hear about these rumors for years to come. 

When I was a senior in high school the boys in my weight-lifting class harassed me relentlessly. During a squat max out one boy ripped off my tear away pants and I stood in my underwear in front of the football team. The coach asked me not to wear those pants again. I didn’t return to that class.

When I was in college I learned the art of rejecting a man at a bar while tediously caring for his ego. That every no on my part was the beginning of a negotiation. And that to safely reject someone meant putting his ego ahead of my dignity.

In my twenties I went dancing with friends. As we were leaving the bar, men had the exit surrounded so that we had to walk through a line of them to get to our cars. They said lewd things to us and groped our breasts and back sides as we passed. I put my head down and walked to my car as quickly as possible. I felt equally ashamed, enraged and helpless in the vacant parking lot.

In my 30s a man stood in a freshly dark box-store parking lot leering at me while I put my child in the car. He looked me up and down and spoke under his breath. I marched like someone who wanted to be left alone to put my cart back and hurried back to my car, repeating to myself “just get home safely.”  I collapsed at home into a heap of tears. I had somehow believed being a mother with a child would offer me some protection from this.

Just a few weeks ago a drunk man at least 10 years my junior shook his belt buckle at a friend and myself saying, “Someone is going to get fucked up.” He had walked through our many kind attempts at asking to be left alone and invaded my friend’s space. He was angry at being rejected. We were scared for our safety.

I am skipping the countless times I’ve been surprised by someone placing their penis on my body in a public space without consent or even having my attention. I am skipping cat-calls, being grabbed by anonymous people who utilize crowds as disguise. I am skipping so much of what I came to expect as regular violations to my body with no regard for my wishes.

The main thing that has changed for me overtime is my agreement that I am to blame for any of those violations. The notion that I be ashamed of abuse I’ve suffered and fears I’ve realized is no longer one I agree with. But it took years of deliberate and often painful work at my own healing to embrace that I had not caused those things to happen to me, cannot ask for shaming, violence, or threats to my safety.

Here is a different kind of list:

When I was 16 my boyfriend and I decided to have sex for what would be our first time. I got nervous waiting for him and drank too much. We kissed but I was drunk so he stopped, saying kindly, “This isn’t how this is going to happen for either of us,” and insisted we just go to sleep. The next month we had sex for the first time, both of us sober and fully consenting. Both remain loving memories.

In college I chose to have sex outside of relationships a couple of times with men I liked but didn’t want relationships with. We were both fully involved in the entire act. It was fun.

Once I was out dancing and a man made eye contact with me and asked me to dance. I declined and told him I just wanted to dance with my friends. He told me I was beautiful and walked away. It was a nice compliment.

Sometimes when I’m walking alone during the day in high traffic areas a man will make eye contact with me, without leering at my body parts, tell me I look nice today and keep walking. It makes me smile to be complimented and respected at once.

My husband and I have sex regularly. When we do both of us want to. Both of us participate fully. We communicate about it. These details are private but it’s very satisfying.

***

These lists feel different because they are. Dramatically.

CONSENT is beautiful, it’s fun, it’s playful, it’s intimate, it’s everyone being on board and having a great time. The difference should be so clear, so important, so obvious. Anything short of yes is no. The burns to my skin have healed now, but I won’t suffer them anymore. And I cannot support anyone or anything who minimizes the effects of this kind of predator.

There is no time in my life that I feel smaller, less valuable or less safe than when I am asked to put a man’s ego ahead of my dignity. When I shrink myself and play small for my safety. But I’m not sure I have that in me anymore. Something about the last young man who shook his belt buckle at me was a final straw.

The way you speak in private informs the way you engage in public. “Locker room talk” is indicative of entitlement to others’ space, attention, bodies and violations of their safety. It is not how all men speak or behave, and in no way represents the men in my life who I have loved. It is the opposite of seeking pleasurable consent, but bragging about coercion and control.

I want “no” to be the end of an interaction and not the beginning of a negotiation. I want eye contact if a stranger wants to initiate contact with me and I don’t want my space violated for any reason when I am alone, when I am in a parking lot, when I am with my child or ever. I want to reasonably expect that I am in charge of my body and that others will respect my boundaries. And just for good measure, I want everyone who wants to have sexual contact with another to do so with full participation, excitement and enthusiastic consent. This isn’t about policing how people who choose to engage in sexual activity together behave, but demanding that the choice is clear and respected for everyone.

More than anything I don’t want my daughter to share any of the first list with me. And I will stand between anyone who feels unsafe and those who seek to violate their safety. I am full of fire and I’m too tired not to fight now. With my words, with my actions, with my body and with my full presence; I am done with the first list. I’m no longer here for protecting the egos of predators, of those who need to feel big by making others feel small, even when they believe themselves harmless.

I am a woman and a sexual being. The difference between experiences that are traumatic and those that are enjoyable/fulfilling/welcomed/FUN is consent. Consent begins with eye contact. With respect for another’s space. And it continues with ongoing awareness of both parties actively choosing to engage. It does not force interaction or touch. It does not cause embarrassment, fear or shame.

Bodies are not conquests. Boundaries aren’t games. No is not a negotiation.

Your ego is no longer my problem.

Erin Brown

How confidence works (in my head)

It dawned on me today that the fact that confidence feels a bit like a roller coaster to me is a win in itself. For decades I lived in such a low state, hating myself secretly all the time, that there were no real ups and downs. Just down and dramatically more down.

After years of exploring the downward spiral, learning to be compassionate with myself and buoy back up with my own love- I’m happy to report that there are lots of “ups” now too. Which is tremendous, really. Life is like that. Peaks and valleys. It’s nice to really feel those peaks now.

These days, the valleys sometimes feel deeper. I don’t know if that’s how depth works. I think you just keep digging through your own baggage to find another layer you didn’t know was there. But I don’t know if it’s actually darker in that next layer. Perhaps it’s the fact that I spend a lot of time feeling great that the lows feel lower in their juxtaposition. All I know is, there are still lows.

I’m learning to ride them like a wave, expect them without asking for them, learning what they have to teach me without setting up camp. Feelings are meant to come and go. I hope to live fluidly in my emotions without attaching them to who I am. But in case you relate and could use a surfing comrade, I thought I’d share what my confidence “cycle” looks like today. Maybe in 5-10 years this will look a lot different. But here is 34.

  1. Feel inspired to do a thing.
  2. Get really excited about it.
  3. Decide not to do it.
  4. Lay awake at night being smacked in the face with how much I have to do it.
  5. Psych myself up to do the thing.
  6. THE THING.
  7. I DID THE THING!
  8. Feel pride about the thing.
  9. Pick a part the way I did the thing.
  10. Start wondering who the hell I am to do things.
  11. Seek validation that I am the last person on earth who should do things.
  12. Recount nasty things people have said about me and things.
  13. Privately pout.
  14. Wonder why anyone is friends with me when I have the audacity to think I can do things.
  15. Figure it’s just a matter of time before they all finally hate me.
  16. Lay still on my couch recognizing that I’m in that fun, irrational place again.
  17. Force myself to move around.
  18. Start to feel forward moving again.
  19. Call a friend and laugh at this pattern.
  20. Contentment…
  21. Feel inspired to do a thing.

Sometimes I can get through steps 7-21 in a matter of minutes. It’s not always quite as dramatic as it sounds. But to be honest, sometimes I dig my heels in around step 11 and hang out awhile just because it’s so familiar there. I put really comfy couches there in my 20s and didn’t get up for many years.

What’s different these days is that while I’m not proud of the irrational places I tend to go when I’m feeling low on confidence, it’s no longer where I live. I know when I’m there, I can almost always point to what lead there and I know I’ll pull myself out. I even know how to work from that space as it’s no longer all consuming or scary to me. I’d prefer not throw a party from there, but I can write, I can walk, I can be still and listen. All valuable and productive things.

Most importantly I know I don’t have to stay. That I’m not meant to move in, but to pack light and see where it takes me. And hopefully the less I stamp my feet at my own patterns, the more ease I will find wherever I find myself. Hell, maybe I won’t need all those steps anymore.

Now I’m just so dang thrilled I keep moving forward. Even if in spite of myself sometimes. I keep doing “the things,” even though I don’t feel 100% confident in my abilities all the time. Perhaps this is all a part of the big risk of putting yourself out there in any way. Of honesty, of creating, of not hiding anymore.

Whatever it is, I’m in for the ride. It’s much better than setting up camp in the depths of myself or shutting up the part of me that wakes me at night and asks me to be more. That nags at me to show all the way up, even if that’s the biggest risk of all.

To doing things anyway,

Erin Brown

What sucks about being an ally (and why it doesn't matter)

I have both luckily and purposefully not lived a homogenous life. Learning about injustices others face that I don’t has almost always come from first hand accounts from loved ones and not “baffling” news stories. So showing up in the world as an activist regarding issues that affect me as an individual as well as those that affect others has not ever really felt like a choice. Racism, for example, has never been a subject of debate as a “theory,” but rather has always been a lived reality of people I loved. None of that is to say I’m some sort of special outlier, but rather that activism has always been personal to me.

I aim to be an ally (a term I realize is controversial in itself and worthy of examination). It is of utmost importance to me and a matter of my integrity that I show up and use my voice when casual or downright overt ignorance and hatred rears its head. Every time. And sometimes it sucks. I’d like to have a honest chat about that, in hopes you might feel inspired to alleviate some of that yourself. Or even feel a gentle nudge to keep going yourself in spite of the suck-factor.

  1. It’s inconvenient. If you are an ally to a cause that you are not directly affected by, you have a choice to be quiet. It’s more convenient, truly. And by directly I mean it’s likely that anyone looking on can know you personally are affected by a particular injustice.  Personal example: I can choose to point to the diversity in my immediate family and believe myself to be an amazing unicorn/outlier with regard to race. But I am not. I am white and therefore benefit from the falsehood of white supremacy. When I get in my car, I am white. When in a group of strangers, I am white. In every interaction I’ve had my entire life, I have been white. Which means I can choose to breeze through racist undertones without comment. I can live under a cloak of whiteness.  I can feel the discomfort of disagreeing and just fly under the radar. I can choose not to confront it head on. But because others do not have that option, because they feel eyes burning into their skin waiting for their reaction, because I have that choice: I stand up, every time. Inconvenience is not enough reason not to, in fact it’s quite a privilege. And so I must.
  2. It’s unpopular. Recently while getting a pedicure (a semi annual indulgence for me) the gentleman painting my toes decided to launch into a speech about young girls on instagram “asking for it” with reference to rape and the (then everywhere) Brock Turner case. I wanted to roll my eyes inside of my head and make it stop. I really wanted to just enjoy my pedicure and relax. I didn’t want to be the person “ruining” everyone else’s experience by standing up to him. It was inconvenient and very triggering as a survivor of assault. It’s so much more tempting to give “passes” when the person affected by the injustice is you, honestly. I tried to “politely” let him know I disagreed without “making a fuss.” I just wanted him to stop. When he asked my daughter sitting next to me to cover her ears so he could speak freely it was as if I uncontrollably roared at him. I told him what was wrong with where he was placing accountability. That the fact that he wanted my daughter not to listen meant some part of him knew his stance was problematic (and no you don’t get to tell her what to do with her body). What his words meant to me as a survivor and what I did for my work. And then I waited for everyone to roll their eyes, like I was the problem present. To my surprise, all the women (everyone else in the room) cheered. One said he had daughters and needed to hear that. It was the only time I had ever felt encouraged and not isolated in my protest. The only time. I’ve been actively wading into that unpopular water for nearly 2 decades. I will never forget how meaningful it was to have others join in in spite of the inconvenience. But every other story has ended in eye rolls, in being regarded as a bitch, (and now the new “insult?”) social justice warrior. But I so often have a choice here where others do not. I wholeheartedly believe that my silence for fear of being unpopular is potentially deadly for someone else. Every time I hear about another unjust murder, I wonder how many times that person said or did something indicating their prejudice viewpoint and someone present knew better and said nothing. It’s important to me to disrupt injustice and ignorance when I see it, as the result of what goes undisputed is much more dire than my popularity problem. So unpopular is a place I can live.
  3. You get it wrong. Man is it frustrating. You’re out here sticking your neck out. Not just sharing academic articles or making sure your vernacular is up to date, but really using your own voice. Speaking from the heart (which is where I really believe the most transformative words come from) and all at the risk of screwing it up. Of saying the wrong thing and being called out. Even publically. Sometimes by people who aren’t sticking their necks out themselves. *Shakes fist at sky.* And when this happens to me I feel so defensive. “I’ve been here! Aware! Listening! Educating myself! Sticking my neck out for decades! Being shit on for it! And now I’M being called out?! YOU GET IN THE ARENA!” (Oh, hi. This is me being very problematic). *breathes deeply.* Getting it wrong is part of being an ally. Role modeling ‘getting it wrong’ and learning from it is part of being an ally. Realizing that you too have learned problematic ways of thinking and behaving, and a willingness to address them is part of being an ally. So I will get it wrong. I’m sure I’m getting something wrong right now. If “called out” I will probably feel defensive. I will do that alone, while examining my own shit. And I will come back having more finely tuned myself, thankful for the lesson after my defenses have calmed. For me, getting it wrong is important. As much as I hate it, honestly. It challenges me to be better, it means I’m showing up fully. So I’ll keep getting it wrong.
  4. It’s exhausting. No one really wants to be “that guy” who everyone is tired of pointing out injustice where it lives. It ruins the blissful ignorance that says things like “the good ol days” when speaking of decades when women couldn’t vote and were legally beaten in their homes or POC were regarded as a percentage of a citizen. Yeah, people hate that. Especially in its isolation, it can be so tiring. And yet I’m acutely aware that it’s a choice. I can stick my head back in the sand. I can revel in the safety of most of my identity. I can choose to “take a break.” While people close to me feel incredibly unsafe driving their cars. Ask themselves multiple times a day if what just happened to them was because of their identity. While mothers whose children don’t look like my (white appearing) child worry daily about their children’s safety just playing. My exhaustion just doesn’t even know what exhaustion is in that light. Which doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge when my emotional capacity is low, that I don’t deserve self-care that humans require especially when doing emotional work. I need all of that. But “I’m tired of choosing to stand up to injustice” just can’t even compare to “I’m tired of worrying my child will be perceived as a threat and murdered.” One is discomfort and the other is ongoing psychological harm and threats of violence. No comparison. So I can choose that discomfort too.

Today there is uproar. Intensely so. Looking onto both the spaces pertaining to my identity and those that don’t, I see and feel so much exhaustion. I was talking with a friend (a woman of color) recently who said “I have been in such a place of anger that I thought I didn’t want to explain things [about my experience] to white people anymore. That I was too tired. But it’s not that I don’t want to have meaningful conversations with white people, it’s that I am no longer willing to beg them to affirm my humanity.” If that statement somehow makes you feel defensive instead of called to be better and take action yourself, (with all the love I can muster, really) I’d ask you to look at yourself more critically and honestly. Because those words tug every piece of my heart and make me see all of the above as exactly what they are– a distinct privilege to choose when injustice matters to me. The choice to look at myself or decide it’s too uncomfortable to. To sit in guilt or eradicate it with accountability for my individual part.

So being an ally doesn’t get me any gold stars. In fact it’s unpopular, inconvenient, tiring and likely to cause a loss of friendships. Speaking out is highly likely to lead me to being pointed out as being wrong about something, even though I am trying really hard with great intentions. All those things are a bummer. And yet none of them are likely to cost me my life. None of those inconveniences are worth my silence so long as others’ lives and safety hang in the balance. The more folks stick their neck out for others, the less those things will be true. But so much more importantly, the more folks stick their neck out for others, the more change we will see in the hearts and minds of those around us. That is exactly how “society” changes. One little, unpopular voice at a time. With no gold stars and lots of refining.

If for some reason all you hear is “people with privilege should feel guilty,” I recommend you read this all over again. Because while guilt is a totally understandable feeling, I truly believe it’s not helpful to anyone. If you hear me saying I feel responsible for all the injustice in the world, you’d be projecting your own discomfort again. I feel accountable to my part today, that is where I know my personal power and responsibility lies. And if you hear me saying that I hate white men and/or police officers, that is a willful decision of yours alone. I don’t hate my dad or men who look like him. I don’t believe that being honest about racism and challenging systems of power is the same as vilifying every person in a system. If those are your immediate responses, try looking again with a more open heart. I am vilifying no one, these are not issues with such clear cut “sides.” I am claiming accountability for my own part, in my own life, with my own voice. I am acknowledging that my experience is different than others instead of shutting those narratives out. Those (common) responses are attempts to derail discomfort. I encourage you instead, to choose discomfort with me.

Because my discomfort has to be less important than others’ suffering. I hope you stick your neck out and probably screw it up at some point. I hope you take your defensiveness to a lonely corner or to someone you have a close relationship with who is willing to help you sort it out. And you come back with newly refined leadership skills. Because you have a choice where others do not.

Your voice matters tremendously.

To discomfort and accountability,

Erin Brown

Training plans for everyone

When I was a personal trainer, I spent hours designing programs for myself and others. Hours on hours on hours. These days I prefer following someone else’s plan. I like to follow strong leaders who know their stuff. It takes the guess work out and feels so much easier to grab what I’m doing and go.

Since today marks my first “official” day of summer and I’m looking at a complete change in my schedule and time alone, I thought I’d share with you the three training plans I most often am working through. They are all different and there’s something in there for everyone. So if you are like me, looking at your summer like “Shit, what am I doing?” perhaps there’s a program here that’s a good fit for you. And they all cost less than what 2 sessions with a personal trainer would cost around here.

Every one of these is designed by my friend Jen Sinkler who is the only person who’s work I affiliate because you won’t find “skinny jeans” marketing or shamey verbiage. She’s also a badass who’s energy is contagious. And all of her plans have full video instruction of movements, are easy to follow for beginners and beautiful to look at too! Her products always have a money back guarantee. She does business with integrity.

  1. Lift Weights Faster.This is an easy yes for me. There are body weight workouts, dumbbell workouts and workouts that utilize all the fun toys at the gym. All of the workouts are 10-30 minutes which makes for a quick and effective session or you can combine a few if you have more time. They are all based on combining strength training with conditioning (faster) which is about the most bang for your time buck there is. It’s not progressive in nature, so you can pick up the workout that best fits your equipment and time limitations for the day and make it happen. I often turn to LWF when I’m in a time crunch, though for folks who are always in a time crunch or don’t have access to a gym, this is perfect for everyday. 180 workouts y’all.
  2. Unapologetically Powerful. This program is for lifters and aspiring lifters. There are beginner, intermediate and advanced programs included. This walks you through all of the major power lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press) and accessory lifts to support the big ones. Again, all of the movements have video instruction. I love that Jen and team cover every piece of a lift. Without feeling condescending, they explain movements as though perhaps you’ve never even heard of them. Which is always good for me because sometimes the piece I’m missing is a basic one. Including the warm ups (sample video below). This is the program I wish I had when I got started teaching myself. It’s handholding and empowering at once. So if the barbells are calling you, I’d start here. (Someone once told me that they weren’t sure about watching all these videos at the gym. I don’t. I usually watch through the ones I’m unsure about when I’m puttering around before bed the night before. If it’s brand new to me I practice in my mirror. And you can totally pull it up at the gym for a refresher).
  3. Lightning and Thunder. This is a brand spankin new one that I’ve been working through for the last couple of months. It’s the program that got me excited about working out again as I’ve been needing to switch up my training and do something totally new. This one combines a strength training program (2 days a week) with SAQ (speed, agility and quickness drills) that are easy to follow and fun. I know, I was skeptical about the fun part but I’m enjoying the hell out of myself. The SAQ drills make me feel like a badass and make sprint drills way more purposeful than I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been doing them in the track at my gym and at a nearby outdoor track but my yard would work fine too. And I AM faster. I switch directions faster, my start is faster, my sprints are faster. Most importantly to me, I’m having fun with training again. Because this one is new, it’s on sale for the launch. So if those kind of drills sound like just the thing to make you excited about training again, now’s the time to pick it up.

I’m planning some playdates to get some other moms in on the track action with me this summer. This kind of work is totally fun with friends. Prioritizing 2 gym days a week to get the L&T strength sessions in and sprinkling in LWF workouts for at home in a time crunch days. Totally ready to crush this summer in an awesome way. Hope there is one in there that calls to you– if you are scared to start, that is totally normal. But I’m confident you will feel walked through the process entirely. And by my friends I trust implicitly.

XO

Erin Brown

What happened when I told my 7 year old about my rape

I started writing Letters to Lola when I was pregnant. I wanted to have my stories, my advice, my words all written down long before we got to the time when she might need them most. A time when many children distance themselves from their parents seeking independence. A time when they need their parents most.

When I had the first copy in my hands it hit me that I was publishing a book of secrets. While there isn’t anything in there I had lied to her about, I had written a book for her that I was giving to the world with many details I hadn’t disclosed to her. And she’s 7.

So we had a talk. I told her there were things in the book she didn’t know about and I didn’t want to have secrets from her. But also that she might not want to know all of it yet. “Because I’m very sensitive,” she said. “Yes, but I know you can handle hard things.”

I started by telling her I had some friends who were mean to me. Then I told her I had used drugs. And then I took a giant breath and said, “You know how I’ve always told you that no one is allowed to touch you in a way that you don’t want them to? Well someone did that to Mommy. And they didn’t stop when I said no.” I told her that that might be as much as she needed to know for now but that I would always answer her questions honestly.

Then she asked me a question that no one had ever asked me before. “I have one question Mommy. Why would someone do that to you?”

I’ve probably never collected my tears from my belly faster than in that moment. I gave her my best answer. Which was that I didn’t know. That sometimes we don’t get to know why people hurt us, and that I didn’t know why that person hurt me.

Her question hit me like a ton of bricks. In her 7 years she is not yet ingrained in rape culture, so her question stood outside of it. It seems to me that this is the first and best question we should all be asking when we hear about assault. Second only to, “Does the victim have support?” And yet it had never, ever been asked to me before.

I’ve been asked what I was wearing. If I was drunk. What I did to provoke it. How I lead him on. How long I waited to say no. If I fought back. How hard I fought back. I’ve been asked everything under the sun about what I did wrong to cause my assault but no one had ever asked me why a rapist would choose to rape.

In fact I’ve never heard the question posed in any context. No without placing some amount of blame on the victim.

We haven’t discussed it further. She’s decided she would like to wait until she’s 10 to read the book herself. She has a copy. She says she wants to be “more mature” before she reads it but she read the introduction on her own. I anticipate more questions in the future and I will answer all of them honestly. I may never have the answer to her question about “why someone would do that.”

But I hope that that is the question more of us will begin to ask. I hope that we can begin to take the lens away from victims of assault and start asking what causes someone to feel entitled to another’s body against their will. What inspires violence? It seems at least a piece of this answer lies in the fact that the question isn’t asked.

But if this was my baby’s only question, perhaps there is hope that the rest of us can begin asking it too.

 

Losing weight, gaining weight, living my values

Once upon a time I lost 100 pounds.

 

I worked hard to get there. Was mindful of everything I put in my mouth. Worked out with a vigorous schedule. Ran miles and miles and miles. I was absolutely proud of what I accomplished because I worked my tail off to get there. I had let go of any requirements on what my body looked like and was hooked on movement. I was showing my daughter how to show up for herself, in her body, for herself. I stopped blaming my life on my weight and started living my life, trying new things and knocking out physical accomplishments.

What you don’t see here are the parts of my life that were falling apart. My legs looked damn good in a photograph but my stress level was so high that I struggled with IBS for the first time in my life. I physically shook with anxiety about stressors at work. I was struggling with a toddler at home most days alone. My marriage was on life support. In those years- exercise was sustaining me. Those were the only hours I felt ok.

My body was the most physically fit it had ever been and it showed. And my nerves were still so shot my bowels weren’t having it.

Then we turned everything upside down, starting the long road to where we wanted to be. I quit working odd hours and my wee one started preschool. My husband went back to school and we moved into my parent’s garage. I quit teaching bootcamp and taking personal training clients to focus on writing. The stress didn’t stop but I slowed down the ways I was taxing myself. I did a lot more of this:

 

I never stopped moving. Never changed my dedication to caring for myself daily. I never looked at my changing body and wondered if I was worthy of good things. But the stressors of my life piled higher. I had a job that I grew so much from but often left me in tears. Very little privacy anywhere. It felt like I went from place to place to hear how horribly I was doing. No solace or calm but what I found in the trees.

So here’s some basic science. My body looked one way when I was teaching bootcamps, running distances, carefully portioning my food and training hard on a schedule. My body looked a different way when I lifted with no plan but finding some power in my meekness, spent more time walking than sprinting, and quit prioritizing measuring food. I fully accept my body however it comes and appreciate so much that it has continued to sustain me.

 

Things have changed again. Things are always changing. I like to think of these as seasons in my life. And I respect the season and what it asks of me. I am more interested in doing whatever is required of me to live well than I am in maintaining a physique. I know people who have different values choices about that. That decision is up to you. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of your own priorities, but it’s worth while to make sure you are living your own.

Once I got my head above water I still chose not to prioritize fitness in the way I had before. Generally speaking I lift 3 days a week and walk/yoga/dance/whatever movement I choose 2 days a week. But I haven’t put any real effort into “results” for several years. Choosing instead to put my focus elsewhere.

I wrote two books:

 

I teamed up with some powerhouses and put on a retreat:

 

I’ve been traveling with new friends and speaking all over saying exactly what I want to say:

 

 

My marriage has become one of the brightest parts of my life. 10 years together this year.

 

I learned to fight which transformed my relationship to feeling safe in my body:

 

I’ve followed my heart and curiosity to some strange and magical places:

 

I have changed, I have grown, I have continued to take great care of myself. And I have gained weight. My legs don’t look today like they do in the first photo but neither does my life. I have agonized about these changes for a rough estimate of about 20 minutes in the last several years.

When I made the decision to not live as though the appearance of my body was my value, I stuck to it. When I made the shift in believing I deserved great care, I kept it up. When I decided to take ownership of all of my life, I meant it. And I’m incredibly pleased with how I have chosen to prioritize my time and energy.

I pay attention to my weight. Again, personal boundaries and needs are yours to decide. But I have a neutral relationship with that number so I just keep loose track of it. And for the first time in years I’m seeing weight loss again. The number is decreasing. My clothes are getting looser.

What happened?

I have my footing again. With a slew of things behind me, a grasp on the process of how I work and having established healthier emotional boundaries in my life- I have time and energy again to devote to specific training. Movement and trying new things makes the top of my list of priorities consistently, but focused planning of it has not for sometime. However recently I have chosen to free up some space for that. I’ve made some different choices about how I train, the intensity with which I train, I’m interested again. I’m “in the sport” instead of primarily for the emotional aspect of movement and strength.

So here’s some science again: Regular sprint drills, maximal effort in planned strength sessions and making more conscious efforts in how I’m fueling that training is changing my body. And to be honest, while I’m excited to feel myself getting faster, I’m pretty middle of the road with regard to how I feel about the physical change. I’ve been loving my bigger hips and softness. But I know (having been so many different sizes) that wherever I end up will come with it’s own fun attributes. I will always primarily appreciate my body’s sustaining me.

What lead to my weight gain? Changes in my choices around eating and training. What is leading to my current weight loss? Changes in my choices around eating and training. That’s it. For me it’s super objective. You see results where you put your energy. I am accountable for and happy with all the choices that lead to both outcomes.

The nuanced pieces in there about what I chose to give energy to and why, what challenges I was dealing with emotionally and what I felt lead to do with that- that’s my life. My life that is sometimes uphill and sometimes doesn’t slow down. My life that is beautiful and messy and at times even numb. My life that I take full responsibility for in which I am striving to live by my own values every single day.

Perhaps this weight loss that I’m seeing now is fleeting. Maybe I lose weight and it never comes back again. I’m already bored actually thinking about the possibilities for my aesthetic. Which doesn’t mean you have to feel the same way, this is a values statement not a values judgement.

Living my priorities means I move everyday. I care about being strong and in the kind of shape that means I could race to help my kid if she were in danger. I take care of all the parts of who I am and take special care to let my body lead on when to rest and when to push. I deal with my emotions directly and always seek growth. I nurture my meaningful relationships. I stand for and create what I believe in no matter what. If I’m doing all of that, I’m living the way I truly want for myself.

Those are the only measurements with which I concern myself. 

XO,

Erin Brown

***

For your own thinking:

What are you dealing with/going through/creating right now? What’s the focus?

Are you healthy? Taking care of yourself? How best can you care for yourself now?

What are your priorities and values? Does the way you expend your energy reflect that?

There are no wrong answers to those questions, they are just worth thinking through. I believe, regularly and often.

5 things I quit caring about

The best part about getting older is how much more energy I feel I have to devote to things I care about. My values become clearer all the time. So living those values and expending energy where it matters means so many things drop by the wayside. Here are a few that I’m not missing these days.

  1. Friendships that aren’t meaningful. I’m always open to new connections. I’m often amazed at how much room can be created for relationships that matter. How easy it is to pick up a friendship with someone I rarely see but love to pieces. But parenthood, schedules and loving early bed times makes seeing those folks harder. So making time for people who sometimes seem like my friend and sometimes don’t, for relationships that aren’t supportive, uplifting or just hard? I have to decline. Saves on drama and leaves myself with more time to devote to the ones that are mutually beneficial and matter most.
  2. If I’m well liked or not. I once vetted every choice I made, even about what I “liked” by others. Consumed with the fear that a wrong step, even wearing the wrong clothes would lead to being disliked. When I found my voice and started standing up for what I believed in, I found there was no way to be assertive and well liked. That if I didn’t craft my conviction as curious questions or apologies, I would be viewed poorly. The harder I tried to be universally liked, the more ways I found that to be impossible. Not without silencing important parts of who I am. So instead I put that same energy to better use making sure I’m honoring my own values. That I like my behavior. That I’m happy with my life and how I’m living it. Sometimes that means people don’t like me, but at least I’m coming by it honestly.
  3. Criticism without love. The internet is a really good place to get comfy with critics. And comfy I have gotten. I take every critique (at least briefly) to heart. “Is this mine?” is a question I often ask. I ponder if it’s a place I need to grow, an insecurity of mine, or if it belongs to the sender. Sometimes these provide really helpful looks at myself, and sometimes they do not. But what I will not do any longer is spend copious amounts of time agonizing over harsh words from someone that are meant only to be hurtful or attack. It’s hard, because it’s my engrained habit to attach the nastiest of words to myself and not let go. But I don’t respect the act of putting someone down just to belittle them, and engaging in that in any way doesn’t fit with my values.
  4. How “hot” my body is to others. I don’t agree that I’m here to be looked at, an object for judgement or that my value is in my desirability. Another great benefit of the internet is all the wonderful experience I’ve had being called fat, ugly and disgusting. This being a primary way people choose to engage when they disagree with my content. What’s great about this opportunity for insults is that I’ve had so much practice disagreeing. If my values are such that I don’t agree that this is where my worth is, then I won’t spend energy here either. Don’t think I’m hot? I guess we have different taste. =)
  5. Fitting in. What’s so funny about not caring about fitting in, is that I so much more frequently find where I do now. Not trying to be anyone other than exactly who I am means almost immediately finding “my people” in a room. But it also means that sometimes I stick out like a sore thumb. Which is of very little consequence to me. I’d rather like who I am then fit in where I wouldn’t be wanted without compromise.

I love getting older. I don’t buy into this idea that sometime after 30 we are to start mourning our youth. You couldn’t pay me to go back to all of the ways I can now see that I chose to struggle. I’m more than happy to be called ma’am (you’re damn right I’m a ma’am, and I’m not into being called what you would call my 7 year old). I can’t wait to see what old lady me is into and what she’s let go of.

To letting go,

Erin Brown

Presence: The FOMO anti-dote

One of the awesome things about this work is the other women I find myself connected to. Women who are powerhouses in their own right, taking on the world in different ways. And they are literally scattered about the world and traveling it constantly.

My facebook newsfeed is full of mountains and beaches. Beautiful yoga retreats and sisterhood building gatherings. Places and things I am missing out on, much of the time. Without missing a beat, as soon as a glorious photo is posted, a barrage of envious comments commence. FOMO (fear of missing out).

I used to experience this too. I even attached a lot of “why not mes” and “I deserve that toos” to it. With a bit of resentment sprinkled in for good measure.

To be real honest about my own life, the accidental extra day in Iowa Falls, Iowa a couple of weekends ago made for the longest family vacation we’d ever taken (2 days). And the first time we’d ever spent the night together in a hotel outside of a one night stay 45 minutes away for my sister’s wedding. So I get it.

The problem with FOMO for me is three fold:

  1. You miss out on what’s in front of you. This last weekend I watched a bunch of friends and sparkly acquaintances meet and/or reunite at the radiance retreat. They were beachin’ and bonding and happy af. I was in Kansas with my family. Enjoying my life and my choices. I could have found a way to attend. I chose not to this year. I own my choices and my life, and I’m present in it. And because of that I was so happy for these women and their experience in spite of not being a part of it. I watched giddily their snapchats and posts. I was proud of my friends who pull this glorious thing off. And I was enjoying my own choices as well. Don’t miss all the amazing things right in front of you because you are gazing at someone else’s fun.
  2. You take a tiny bit away from the other person. It’s probably not intentional. But it does feel a little like taking something from the other. Either with jealousy or a bit of holding their experience as though it is outside of the realm of possibilities for you. I don’t know a single person who travels regularly who doesn’t agonize a bit over if they should post about their travels at all. As though their choices might upset someone or seem unattainable. In spite of some of those people choosing to actually sell all of their things and not have a home base to make it happen. It’s all choices. When I see a glorious landscape or opportunity, I see a possibility for myself. One I can choose or not choose. One they made sacrifices for that I might never know about. Choices I have as well.
  3. You will always be missing something. Even if you were jet setting about the world without a care in the world, you cannot be everywhere at once. There will always be something to miss out on. Something to sacrifice for something else. Someone or something to miss. If you FOMO realistically you will always be FOMOing.

Show up for your life. Be present. Look for all of the magical moments and possibilities in your own space. I find it in the trees right outside of town. In my daughter’s giggle. In the (I once thought “boring”) plains I only learned to love when I spent most of a year away from them. And when you see someone else’s circumstance and choices that ignite some part of your interest, take heart. That is a possibility for you as well. But don’t miss out on right here and now because of someone else’s current experience. The magic of life is not only created on far away beaches. It’s on your front stoop if you are paying attention. Show up.

XO, Erin

I tried the Thinx panties- total convert

Somewhere around hitting 30, I rather suddenly became uncomfortable with putting bleached cotton inside of myself. I started researching alternatives and nothing sounded awesome, honestly.

I hate pads. They make crinkling sounds when you walk, they move around which always ends up with stained underwear or just the feeling that it has cozied it’s way into me in the worst diaper like wedgie of all time. Plus they just feel wet.

The cup seemed like a nice alternative. Very in line with my other hippie ways. But I still didn’t like the idea of containing it. It’s a release. It wants to come out. I want it to come out. Not find a less bleached way to keep it in. Plus as non-shy as I am, I really didn’t want to rinse it out in the sink in public restrooms while squeezing myself together and hoping not to bleed on myself in the process.

Organic tampons? Not into it. If I am going to stick cotton into myself, I’m doing it with a nice plastic applicator that doesn’t hurt like cardboard. It’s probably wrong for me to love vaginal comfort more than recycling. But it’s true.

Enter Thinx absorbent underwear. An alternative I hadn’t heard of. Designed by a woman. Who has bled. Interested. I looked at them for several months and never bit the bullet. They aren’t the same price as the TJMaxx bin I usually get my drawers from ($29-$38). But each time my period came I was kicking myself as I ran to Walgreens to buy the bleach plugs I can’t stand.

They feel like thick fabric. I’d compare the thickness to in between a bathing suit and a regular panty. They are super comfortable. So much so that I wouldn’t think twice about throwing them on if I was somehow completely out of clean underwear on a no-flow day. And cute! You’d never know the difference just looking at them.

I bought two “heavy flow” pairs to give it a real “go.” They aren’t cheap but will definitely pay off in the long run when I’m not buying tampons. And for something that I do monthly and don’t enjoy my options for now- it’s a worthwhile investment.

I read several reviews where people were wearing these WITH tampons. For me this defeats the purpose. I want to live tampon free. I want to bleed all the blood out of my body. I want to release, damn it. And I don’t want thirty dollar back up underwear. I’m going all the way.

Let me tell you I tried to make them fail me. Day one of my period is — a lot. It’s painful and not messing around. I wore the thinx longer than I would normally wear any underwear on my period. I was just at home and I wanted to know their threshold. I wanted to see if I could find their limit and was curious what that felt like. So I put them on at 3pm when I started and took them off the next day at 11:30 am. I fully welcomed a crazy accident which would make for a more interesting review. Zero problems.

I feel dry, comfortable, it did the damn thing.

The “heavy flow” panties are supposed to hold 2 tampons worth. In that time on day 1 I would expect to use at least 6 super tampons. No problem. I won’t “test” them again like that. But it was good to know that they really aren’t messing around.

I bought a pair in beige (because I like to live dangerously) and black. Was surprised to find the beige pair was lined in black. So smart.

It says on their website “you may have heard to size up but we now run true to size.” I found a bit different. I really don’t like my underwear to squeeze my buns. Per the size chart I would need a L (10-12), I wear a size 12 in jeans usually. I sized up and went with XL and they fit just how I want them to.

When you take them off to wash them you have to wring them out. I don’t hate this but I know some people might be squeamish. I was kind of amazed how much blood was in there since I still felt dry. It somehow feels more hygienic instead of less, since I’m actually bleeding. Like, letting that flow out instead of stopping it up. They smelled like zinc, but faintly. Because that’s what blood smells like. And since being washed they are good as new.

I’m a total convert. I got sad today thinking that I might have to have a tampon on hand for surprises and the swimming pool. Otherwise I’d have immediately gotten rid of the few I still have in the house. This is life changing. For something I do so often, I’m happy to have found a solution that I feel really good about. Even though it’s the most money I’ve ever spent on underwear, it’s also the most excited I have ever been about them. And it means instead of buying another box of tampons I loathe, I get to put on my lacy drawers!

Wanna try? Use this link to get $10 off OR get your own link to share with your friends and you both get $10 off.  They also have a badass feminist “periodical” (see what they did there?) they send monthly. Love a company who’s mission and even “personality” I dig! Let me know if you try them. I can’t stop talking about how much I love mine.

XO, Erin Brown

**NOT a paid review. I bought them with my own monies and all thoughts are my own. But if Thinx wants an ambassador- HOLLA! =)

You are not broken, but you deserve healing

For much of my life I felt broken. Like something (everything) about me was totally wrong. My body was wrong. My words were wrong. My choices were wrong. I was beyond fixing.

None of that was true. From love and not shame, healing continues to reveal itself to me. Allows me to look honestly at the places my hurt has come from. Retell the untellable stories, see what’s real and what’s not. Slowly undo the damaging stories I’ve been telling myself and speak directly to my own darkness.

That isn’t about being broken, it’s about seeking healing.

There is a narrative floating around that we should “never look back.” That “the past has nothing more to teach us.” While I understand obsessing about old stories is not a productive past time, looking with fresh eyes at places you’ve been- things you have buried, requires bravery and lends itself to peace.

What we refuse to see, attempt to hide of ourselves, only magnifies in darkness. It shows up in other kinds of pain. It is ever-present until we allow ourselves to walk through it. That is not weakness my friend, that is warrior shit.

Having a daughter was the wake up call for me, to shift my thinking out of victimhood and into an introspective journey back home to myself. Born from the most honest love for my daughter and her mother, I have been marching toward what hurts. Seeking my wholeness. Collecting the pieces of myself I left in stories I wanted to leave behind.

I don’t think for a second that I’m alone, my inbox, my conversations, the women that run up to me after I speak to share their stories, all tell the same tales. We are aching for our stories to matter. To uncover what we’ve left behind. To see ourselves as we are, unbroken. To warrior.

I can’t tell you where it is you need to go. I believe whole heartedly that you already know. That as you read these words, those stories already came to the surface. They are asking you to remember. To look with fresh eyes. To believe you are worth showing up for, to tell a new story of you.

You are the only person with that power.

Following what aches has lead me to mentors, to body workers, to write it all down. To examine the words that float in my head and see with new clarity where they came from. I have allowed myself to be open to my wounds, to finally be angry and let my rage be medicine too. To mourn where I haven’t. To be kind to myself where I wasn’t. To look again.

I found pieces of myself I left on the ground when he raped me, where I learned to float outside of my body instead of be present. I have stood on that ground as the woman I am today, I came back for myself, let go of the notion that no one rescued me. Because I did. I learned to fight, got my bite back. I came back home to my body.

 

I found the pieces of myself I learned to silence when my voice was deemed “too much.” Learned to ground myself and speak from my feet up. To stop apologizing for my conviction, that passion is not just leadership when it comes from a man.

I collected the piece of myself that lived in paralysis. Terrified of what others would think if I moved, breathed, changed. I let go of the notion that my fully realized self lived behind a locked door, only opened by perfection that I could only seek and not obtain. I found myself to be whole.

Perhaps the most beautiful thing to me, is that I believe I’m just getting started. But instead of that feeling like a hill too far and high to climb, it feels like an adventure I know I’m made for. I no longer fear what’s in store for me, or where else I might be asked to go as I follow my intuition and what calls to me. Instead I find strength in the knowing that I can handle it. Of that I remind myself daily.

Our healing does not come from our silence. It does not come from brushing aside our darkness, the hurt that lives in our bellies, our hips, our bodies asks to be freed.

 

You are not broken. Even if the world has not offered you only it’s best. You deserve to look again. To seek what you know is seeking you. You are not broken, you have survived. But you are being called to become a warrior. You are your own mother now. The laboring has come.

***

Letters to Lola feels like a huge release. To honor and acknowledge where I’ve been to the very person I feel most conditioned to hide that from. Due to demand, I am working to release the book ahead of schedule so that it can be delivered by Mother’s Day instead of launching that day. My newsletter folks will be the first to know. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being a part of my healing. Both the support and the backlash has forged a new woman of me. And she is one I am proud to continue to become. XO

10 summer goals (that have nothing to do with weight loss)

Want to lose weight? Super. Really, do whatever you want to with your body. That’s all up to you. But we hear so much about weight loss goals (plus as fun as it is to meet goals, the actual staring at the scale isn’t the MOST fun ever) that I thought I’d give some additional (and/or alternative) goals to consider.

  1. Sign up to try something totally new. I am obsessed with trying new things. It makes for a fun story (especially if you happen to be not amazing at it). It makes you proud to show up. And it stretches you outside of your comfort zone. This summer I’m taking fencing and a cardio drumming class. What? Yeah I don’t know either. Sounded fun. (Check your local parks and rec offerings as they are usually quite affordable and surprisingly diverse).
  2. Play a sport. There are all kinds of summer rec leagues for everything from pickleball to kickball. Why not gather some friends and play? Or just schedule some pick up games even. PLAY! Because life is short and it might as well be fun, too.
  3. Experience the pool like a kid. This can be with kids or with a grown up friend who is down to have a good time. Buy a bathing suit that fits and you can run around in. (I just got this one and I’m in love). Stand in line for the slide. Bring diving sticks. Dare each other to jump off the high dive. Go to the pool and play. The kids there have the right idea. Join them.
  4. Watch the sunrise and set. One of my favorite goals for the summer is to see the sunrise more often. Shooting for once a week at minimum. Perhaps the sun set is more your schedule. Either way, take time out to just marvel at this amazing showcase. Maybe it’ll cause miraculous shifts and existential exploration, or maybe you’ll just get to see how beautiful the sky is. Either way is pretty rad.
  5. Spend time in nature. Take short walks outside. Try out new trails. Go sit on a beach. Whatever is available to you, take the time to soak it in.
  6. Create a new ritual. Mine will have to be about what I do with my mornings since my full days to myself will be replaced by all day with my kiddo. I’ll need to create the space to just be quiet and with myself. New rituals can be as simple as listening to a meditation app while you brush your teeth and as intricate as you want. I like to think of them as being small tweak experiments toward a better daily life.
  7. Road trip! This doesn’t have to be extravagant. We drive from Kansas to Nebraska every summer and it’s my daughter’s favorite thing we do all year. Explore nearby cities. Check your state’s tourism website for oddities that might make for a fun destination. Grab whoever you like being in the car with and have a blast.
  8.  Schedule time with friends. Adulthood can make friend time more difficult to come by. We have so much more we have to do, months can easily go by without seeing your favorites. So looking ahead to summer– schedule some time! Some of my local girlfriends and I have been talking about going gambling together for years. I’m trying to make that happen this summer.
  9. Do a fun run. There are so many fun race options now. For all fitness levels. Suitable for sprinting or walking. Some they throw colorful crap at you, some have music, some require silly outfits. Sign up for something ridiculous and make a memory. You can PR or walk and laugh with a friend. Both are great endeavors.
  10. Make a summer bucket list. Don’t like my list, or have so many other ideas? Make a list of all the things you want to do before summer’s end. And then make it happen! I’ve heard of people doing this with their kids too which I think is an amazing idea.

Regardless of what goals you do or don’t have pertaining to your body, I hope you make plans to enjoy the shit out of your life. This is it. Right now. With all the rampant reminders about “summer bodies” floating around, I wanted to remind you that the body you have today is the one you live in. Whether it changes or not, it will be in your body that you have to enjoy this summer.

So I hope you do. I hope you savor all the delicious opportunities to soak in your life. That you actively plan excitement, calm, joy, togetherness and whatever else you need. There is no time like right now to get off the sidelines and jump in to life. It’s not waiting on you, and the you you are today deserves a damn good time.

XO, Erin Brown

How I became a masturbation evangelist

It was the summer after freshman year. I had recently broken up with my high school boyfriend. Perhaps that was why the wild hair. Maybe it was all the “Sex and the City” I had been watching. It was around this time that I learned staggering statistics on how many women never have an orgasm, that might have been the push. Though it is very like me to wake up one day with an idea I can’t shake which quickly becomes my mission. Whatever the reason, I suddenly decided that the fact that I didn’t have a sexual relationship with myself was unacceptable.

I marched into the local sex shop on a mission. I was going to procure a vibrator and figure this out. The shop was owned by two red headed twin brothers. Honestly, not “uncreepy,” though when I try to think of the “ideal” dude to discuss my first vibrator with nothing comes to mind. I was the only person in the store and the present owner had me pegged from a mile away. “First time?”

Knowing myself at the time, I’m sure I feigned confidence and just beneath the surface was trembling and sprinting for the door. I smiled and walked toward the giant wall of vibrators. Sex shop dude turned out to be amazing at his job. He kindly walked me through the entire selection. He explained the differences in the products, what kind of reviews he had heard. He showed me the section that were more aggressive, the preferences of many women “in the (porn) industry,” and steered me toward the more “beginner” models.

What I thought was going to be a horribly embarrassing and possibly creepy interaction was educational, respectful and so very helpful. The shop no longer exists and I’m still sad about it.

I took my new water-proof “beginner” model home and in short, took the best shower of my life. Being me, I had to tell everyone. As a general rule, if I find something I’m into, I’m telling all my friends. Perfect lipgloss? Jeans that are comfortable and fit a serious caboose? Earrings made by a local gal with a cool story? I’ve got all the recommendations. This was one that I just couldn’t NOT talk about. It was down right liberating.

My first recruit was my best friend. We went back to the shop and saw the dude. She made her selection and we went back to her apartment. We each took a room, closed the door and decided to meet in the living room in 20 minutes or so and go to dinner. I still laugh at the hilarious mix of awkwardness and “go for it” spirit of this endeavor.

Walking out of her apartment together was the first time I remember the feeling of empowerment. It was like a glorious movie montage moment when the women figure out they’re okay without the guy or whatever. I remember looking at a group of dudes in her apartment parking lot and thinking, “I don’t need you.” Not the same as “screw you,” but simply, “I can handle myself, thank you.” We went to dinner and compared notes. Proud of ourselves.

This went on to be a somewhat regular thing. Late night conversations with girlfriend’s girlfriends nearly always evolved into talking about the sex shop dude, the silly “solo date” with my friend. And I became the person who encouraged women in troves to explore their sexual relationships with themselves. I lived in a sorority at the time, and my friends were always teasing me about “what I was up to” when they walked into the giant bathroom and smelled my old spice body wash. It was fun, it was sexy, and it was empowering.

It was the first sexual relationship I’d ever had that felt entirely safe. Which makes sense. My history includes trauma, but also a variety of exciting, loving, just completely awkward and even downright bad sexual experiences. So many of which I can see looking back had nothing to do with my own pleasure at all. Not for me anyway.  And of course having sex with another person is a completely different experience in every way. But this was a way I could enjoy my body and myself that wasn’t complicated at all. Deliciously simply, actually.

Since I live in my hometown, I still run into women I don’t recognize who stop me to thank me for encouraging her to purchase her first vibrator. I rarely recognize them and always love these interactions.

Life has changed a lot since then. I got married. I had a baby and didn’t sleep like a human for about 3 years. I worked a million jobs at once. At some point I sort of forgot to include this variety of “self love” into my life. Until the last year or so. A combination of stress, injury and circumstances that took my usual fitness routine down a notch had me exploring other things.

It’s not news that I’m the self-proclaimed “princess and the pea” with my self-care. I know how to pony up and gsd regardless of what’s going on. But on a day to day basis, barring a situationally pressing circumstance, I take excellent care of myself. First. I wake up every day and check in with my body and spirit. How am I feeling? What do I need? And I have developed over time all kinds of “recipes” for different variables.

When I’m sad I like to clean my house and revel in the “everything in it’s place-ness” which often lends itself to clear headspace as well. When I’m angry I like battle ropes, deadlifts and/or sprints. To sweat profusely and catch my breath when I’ve gotten it out. When I just want to have a glorious day, I love to lift, then put on a twirly skirt and bright lipgloss and brunch with a friend. Some of my self-care though feels so ritualistic, so down to a science that I feel like I’ve discovered the “ultimate” in something.

And recently I have found myself evangelizing amongst my friends again.

Today I am sharing with you my favorite self-care ritual. It feels like the “ultimate” cleanse and it takes very little time at all. I call it the “trifecta,” which is now just a “normal” part of the vocabulary between my girlfriends. I feel like I’m giving away a trade secret or something, but it really is that good.

Trifecta:

Bath. Orgasm. Meditate.

I pour myself a “fancy” bath which usually includes epsom salts and some kind of essential oil blend. I put my “breathe” app on the meditation of choice for the day ready to go. And as soon as I’m done with step two I press play. It’s the perfect mix of transcendental, physical release, total relaxation and who doesn’t love a bath? I walk away from the trifecta feeling clean in every way. Like I’ve lifted all the weight off my shoulders and sunk it into the water to wash away.

While I no longer even own a vibrator, I am often thankful for sex shop dude making me so comfortable. For not making my exploration about his voyeurism or facilitating my embarrassment. Where ever you are, that guy, Cheers.

Erin Brown