i will not be silenced

I just need to say something. I need to rip the band aid right off because it is seriously weighing on my heart. I have been caught in a whirlwind of ruminating thoughts since Friday. I finally thought I had begun handling everything that was already coming up because of my stress, but then Friday happened. When I was walking into the middle school that I work in I was cat called by an older guy on a bicycle. I threw out my normal response to those types of instances which is a swift “fuck you, you idiot” and I kept it pushing. This happens semi-regularly in the town that I work in, but I could have never anticipated what would happen just an hour and a half later.

I was wearing one of my favorite dresses. It has a swoop in the back that shows off my tattoos perfectly and completely covers my chest (which can sometimes be necessary) and is work appropriate as it goes all the way down to my knees. I am describing this because I am genuinely shocked at what happened when I walked into the teachers’ room. I went in to quickly fill my water before meeting with my supervisor. I walk in and the usual people are in there, mostly janitors, but only a few people all together about 4, two men and two women. One of the male janitors has always made me feel a bit uncomfortable ever since he told me he could “just tell I was Cuban” while he slowly looked my body up and down. He has given me the creeps ever since then and whenever I go in there I know he is looking at me. On Friday however he took it beyond just looking. As I leaned down to fill my cup he howled like a wolf howls at the moon. I am not saying he softly made a noise, but legitimately howled, very loudly the entire length of time that I was leaning down to fill my cup.

As it was happening I was thinking what the fuck is going on. A part of me hoped I had just walked in on a very weird conversation, but it was clear that wasn’t the case when everyone else just silenced. As I walked off to the bathroom that is situated in the teachers’ room I heard him mutter something about beauty. As soon as I closed the restroom door my body involuntarily shook as if I could shake the crude, disgusting, and violating experience clean off me. I told myself that because I am already having issues of resistance with the staff at the school I would just brush this off. I adjusted myself and quickly exited the teachers’ room without making eye contact with him. I just wanted to continue with my day.

About 30 minutes later I was waiting for a student who a teacher described as in crisis. She was taking abnormally long so I went out into the hall and started to look around for her. It was then that the same janitor approached me. I was up against a wall and he asked me if I was married. He asked me in Spanish so a huge part of me was hoping he was asking if I was tired as it kind of sounded like cansada not casada and I mean why the fuck would he be asking me that?! I’m sure he could tell I was confused by the question as he asked it a few more times and then came closer as he said it slower in broken English. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand him, but rather, a confirmation that the howling from earlier was most definitely meant for me. I eventually answered because he would not stop asking and said no. He asked me why not and I muttered I don’t know. Then he came even closer and asked me how old I was. I was literally backed against a wall and he just kept asking nonstop, coming closer with each ask, and was making attempts to guess my age. As I finally answered he backed away with a gasp, shocked at how young I am, saying as much as he shook his head walking away.

I tried to laugh it off, but I had not been able to shake that feeling and after I handled the situation with the student I was able to return to supervision. Near the end I just kind of blurted out what had happened because it wasn’t sitting well with me, and if I was being honest, it was really bothering me and forefront in my mind. I wanted to just talk it out and hopefully she would be able to talk me down from my thought that I was just sexually harassed in my work place. When it came down to it she only validated my feelings and concerns and encouraged me to talk to my program director. My program is not technically a part of the Board of Education so my director is offsite and I am by myself in the school the majority of the time. When I talked to my director about it she appeared just as concerned and stated that she wanted me to document the incident and write an email to the head of HR and CC her. After doing that, later in the day, the HR director and my program director called me.

I was informed that what happened was definitely termed sexual harassment and that they were legally obligated to make a complaint and report about it. I thought that I would at least have some say in the process, but apparently I do not. It is not that I don’t think that a report should be made. On the contrary, I think that it definitely needs to be addressed. The only issue I have is that it is going to make this already resistant and difficult environment even more difficult and hard to work in. I had a lot of conflict about the report, but at the end of the day I really had no choice in the matter.

It got me thinking about what made that instance when I was on the street and told off that passerby any different from what happened with the janitor? I have never experienced sexual harassment in the work place and now fully understand, in a more personal way, the complexity of power dynamics as a contributing factor in how I responded to the situation. I’m not saying that he is at a higher level than me professionally in the school, rather, I am pointing at his social standing in the school. He is a universally liked and respected person while I am new, with little support in the school, and no one knows me on a personal level as I just only started in October of last year.

I am scared about how all of this is going to shake out, but I am also angry. I am angry that when I talked to people about it that I don’t work with I got a lot of “Why did you let it happen/continue?”, “You need to just nip those situations in the bud.”, “Why did you continue the conversation?” – Over all a lot of victim-blaming statements and as a survivor of sexual assault it was a completely jarring experience. I very genuinely froze when all of it was happening. I didn’t really know how to respond, which in my very feminist aligned mind, seems insane and unacceptable. I was not someone who “allowed” these things to happen, but I think what has been so distressing about this experience is realizing that sometimes I really don’t have control over my responses. When it was a no one passing me on the street I was quick to react in a defensive and protective way, but in the context of my job, having someone I see every single day, someone well liked in the school, and with a larger group of support doing that to me I completely froze. Suddenly the same victim-blaming thoughts that plagued me all those years ago were resurfacing and were in full effect. It is a hard realization to manage emotionally and I am not going to lie, it has been a serious struggle for me.

More and more I am realizing just how much my past experiences inform my present self. When you do not really think about it, it is very easy to ignore. However, the deeper I go into this work and continue servicing victims/survivors of trauma, mostly women and girls, I am brought closer to an understanding of my own experience, not only as a woman, but as a therapist with a history of trauma myself. I read a blog recently that talked about the mental health minefield where we are confronted with so many situations in which we have to be the holders of others pain, but in the work place when is it appropriate to bare our truths? Would it be okay to talk about my response to this situation in the context of my past experience? Can I come out as a sexual assault survivor at my job? How will others respond?

These questions are real and legitimate ones that throw me for a loop regularly, but I cannot allow them to control me. I am so thankful to have this space, even if only a few people read this, this blog is a free space for me to express myself as I please. It is a space where I can bare my truth without fear of judgment – and possibly even find points of connection with others. I know I am not alone with these struggles and that realization is greater than any wrongdoing.

I will continue to grow and follow my instincts – never denying the truths of my being and always, and I mean always, integrating those truths into my every day because they are a part of me that is undeniable. I am a complex mosaic of contrasting differences; some pieces shimmering brightly, others dull or rounded, some jagged, but together they are beautiful. I know my worth, I know my strength, and I know I can get through this. It may not be the best environment, but I know I can do this. Even if I did not know what to do in the moment I did not remain silent. I spoke up. I raised my voice – and in a world where I have been consistently silenced about multiple aspects of myself and my experiences, that is nothing to ignore.

My hope is that we will all someday be able to live in a world where the lines that divide us, man, woman, gay, and straight, black, white, Hispanic – all of these lines will fade away and we can live in a world of respect. A world where we are embraced for our truths and never left silenced by the judgments of others.

take a hike

When this past weekend began I was feeling stressed to my max. The entire week just kept on dragging and I needed a break from my routine. Professionally I was spent – emotionally I was lashing out at my girlfriend. I hate it when I do that – she is easily the best person in my life, but I have been realizing that with stress comes anger and with anger comes explosion. It’s not like I was not aware of these connections, but I think a part of me was just ignoring it. I was ignoring how much everything around me was effecting my emotional response to her and that is just not okay.

I am sure we have all been there –we make excuses, we say sorry, we promise to never blow up like that again, but somehow a week or so later something else just boils inside of you and you look for the place where it is safest to explode – and for me, unfortunately, I have been allowing my work and family frustrations to spill over onto my girlfriend. I really should know better as a therapist – but hey, we are all human, I can’t be expected to keep it together all the time…can I?

The pressure to always have it together has been something that has been a part of my life since my childhood. I was always the one with the stellar academics, I played sports, I volunteered…I mean I did it all essentially, but at what cost? I was also pretty well known in my family to have an attitude and to get feisty from time to time. I am opinionated and often passionate, too passionate it would seem for my parents. I was raised by a 1st generation European and an immigrant from Cuba – my house was ran strictly so these types of opinions were not always welcome. As I grew up I began to squash down the parts of myself that did not fit into the cookie cutter picture that everyone had of me. Whether that be my favorite TV show or actress to my sexuality. I often times never felt like I was enough.

I tried so hard to blend in. I was a follower and I took my sisters examples very seriously. So seriously in fact that I found myself in the apartment of a 17 year-old guy who I didn’t really know well, alone, when I was 16. I thought that this was supposed to be what I was doing at the time. I thought that all girls did these things so when he invited me to watch a movie I thought nothing of it. At first I was okay with making out, but it slowly progressed to places I was really not comfortable with. I had no idea what I was doing and was working off the bits and pieces, the small images that I had of other girls who had more experience than I, and so I went into his room willingly. Now it was in this moment that I remember thinking about how much I really did not want to be there, but I stayed. When the time came to go even further I voiced a no – it was light, weak some would say, he continued to try to make me do things I did not want to do, but I resisted. After about the 3rd attempt he got up and locked the door. I was really scared – I was on his bed, half naked, my clothes on the floor far from me and I began to shake my head no and cry. He just laughed at me and said, “Why are you crying? Now we are gonna have some real fun.” I don’t think I have to go into great detail for you to understand what took place, but when I was finally released from his room I ran out the front door, shoes in hand and raced down the steps. I never spoke to him again, but I never reported it either. In fact, I never told anyone else for years after.

See, I tell this story not because I feel it is an excuse for my actions. It is not because I feel wronged by society and never learned to deal with it or that it is what I blame for my anger, but because when I feel stressed out I have flashbacks and nightmares. It is as if I am in that space again, the smells and sensations are real, and that lurking beneath the surface of being is a lot to handle in conjunction with other stress. I know that I have healed from this experience, but I cannot stop these occasions when extreme stress pushes me back to that space. My anger and frustration grows and it really is like a pot boiling on the stove. I have been thinking about it this in the recent weeks and have been having some really weird dreams. I feel lucky to be able to reflect on the long journey of healing that I have gone through to become the woman I am. I am lucky that I know what healthy coping skills are and I am capable of using them when I am in need. I am lucky for all of these reasons and so much more.

Some may not see the connections between all of the things I just said, but for me, all of these things are linked. We, as humans, are a never ending network of experiences; one connected to the one before it and so on and so forth. When I was younger and dealing with that experience I had that short fuse, I did not trust anyone, I was sad a lot of the time, frustrated, and I even turned to drinking. So when I begin to notice these patterns reemerging in my life I don’t just take note of them – I actively address them with every fiber of my being.

I am writing this down because I have been avoiding it. Although it has been on my mind I have been avoiding sharing it. I think a part of me has felt like if I were truly healed it wouldn’t be coming up, but I know that is not true and I have decided to treat myself with the same respect and non-judgment as I treat my clients because the reality is that these things do come up. What happened back then comes up when I am very stressed, it is a normal thing that happens, and there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in experiencing it. I hope more people can understand that they are not alone and that we all have our battles. I’d be a hypocrite to continue to ignore or omit this part of my story because it is a part of my reality. Although it does not define me it is still significant and I would not be who I am today if I had not fought to become her.

I do not want to become complacent and allow the stress that builds up inside me to control my every day so I find myself trying to infuse my days with something that takes me out of my element. I went out into nature this weekend and just let it all go. It was so refreshing to get out of my day to day and experience something different and to breathe in something different. Writing this has been another way for me to de-stress and just be real with myself.

Find what works for you. Write, draw, sing, paint, go bike riding, run…take a hike. Do whatever it is that helps you connect to yourself again and allows you to take in a calming breath –you deserve that breath and connection that we all so often take for granted.

If you or someone you know has experienced Sexual Assault please check out the link below for connections to services in your area: RAINN is an organization that has both online and toll free support.

A Joyful Revolution Gala

Wouldn’t it be great if…

This, the theme of the night, was only one of the many incredibly inspiring pieces of this gala. The performances and speeches throughout the evening were phenomenal and very touching. The Joyful Heart Foundation was founded in 2004 by Mariska Hargitay in response to the overwhelming outreach she received after taking the role of Olivia Benson on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit from survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Child Abuse. The mission of this organization is not only to bring an end to these types of violence but to also transform the way society responds to survivors and support their healing.

I have been doing this type of work in one form or another for the past seven years. I began as a crisis counselor at a women’s resource center and am now a therapist working with these exact same issues. As someone who works day in and day out with trauma it was truly a blessing to be able to take in all the experiences of this gala. Yes, there were famous people galore, but there was nothing more poignant to me than Mariska’s speech.

She spoke while introducing Vice President Joe Biden about the two paths we can take with this work. A lot of times the people who work with violence and trauma gradually make attempts distance themselves from the pain that they bear witness to on a daily basis; however, there is another path. It is seen as the harder path, but, as Mariska explained, it can be the one that brings about the most change and support for the survivor. A path that puts you right in the trenches, little distance between you and the pain of the experience of the survivor beside you — this path of compassion can be difficult because it is a heavy one, but a necessary one at that.

I’ve spoken a little about the difficulties of holding boundaries for me when working with teens. I somewhat frequently find myself in the mama bear protector role which is a hard thing to manage. Lines blur and it can sometimes be many shades of grey. When I hear their stories and what they have experienced, at such young ages, it is really difficult to balance those roles, but I do my work with my heart. I am transparent and clear and real with these kids – and I take pride in that because it is not easy to balance all the roles that I play in their lives while being completely 100 all the time. I teach classes, I lead groups, I run an after school program, and I do therapy throughout the day. It is a lot and being able to stay real with them, even when it gets really tough — I keep them with me every step of the way and never take their voices out of the picture.

This gala last night, going to it was a dream come true. A literal dream of mine, but what I felt there and the way I left it – the feeling of fullness in my heart and the motivation to keep going down this path every day, I mean that is what it really means to have a joyful heart. It gave me a breath of rejuvenation that was totally and completely necessary as I move to closing out this school year.

Wouldn’t it be great if no child or adult had to suffer the paiSnapchat-135764167300701697n of physical, sexual, mental, emotional, and verbal abuse?

Let’s change the way we look at these issues. Let’s start talking about it because enough is enough.

The NO MORE PSA Campaign 

❤ E. Rodriguez

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

I cannot quite remember the way other Mother’s Days were in the past, but there was something different about this one. There was an insurmountable tension that left me feeling unwelcome and further distanced from you. I went there booming, happy to see you; a bouquet of flowers in my hand, presents, and a card, but it proved to be nothing of importance to you. You see, I love you so much. I love you so much that I stayed the entire length of the day. I purposefully put myself beside you, helped you cook, but still, the deafening silence between us only grew louder.

It was the first Mother’s Day that I brought her with me. I thought nothing of it because we always come on Sunday, but it was different. Suddenly and unexpectedly on this of all days you took steps backward. We both felt it, but I insisted we stay, even when she begged for us to leave. I am not really sure what exactly happened or where this change came from, but I want you to know that I will love you through it.

My girlfriend and I spoke about it on the way home and although I hate it, I hate the idea of moving backward now, over two years later, I will continue to make adjustments for your comfort. I will shorten the time that I stay there with her, but I will not stop bringing her. She is a part of my life that cannot be erased depending on my company. I understand how fortunate I am, yes, many LGBT people have lost their parents after coming out where you did not leave, but that does not mean I will continue to push myself down until I am nearly unrecognizable. As I love you I have to plead with you to please not make me because pretending that I am not in love with her would be like taking a piece of my heart away.

When I came out I did not realize how much it would affect our already strained relationship and I am sorry that it hurts you in any way, however, that is all I will apologize for. I firmly and unwaveringly believe that I deserve to be happy and loved – it is not something I will apologize for. I know that one day you will realize that the love I share with her is just as real and valid as the love you have with Dad. It will take time, this I am sure of, but I will keep trying through it. I refuse, quite plainly, to let you go. I know we are bigger than this…we have to be bigger than this.

I want more than this awkward tension between us. I want beauty and light and love and happiness. I want all of it and I want you to be there beside me, supporting me, as I find out what that looks like for me the way that you found it for yourself. This life can be so beautiful, Mom. Our differences can be opportunities for growth; they do not have to condemn us to isolation.

So Mom, next Mother’s Day will be different. It will be different because we will be different. We will be stronger and happier with no deafening silence, just love and hope.

Love,

Your Lesbian Daughter