Sit, Breathe, Rest.
CW: sexual and anti-Asian violence.
This week, I allowed myself to move more fully than I have before into emotions other than anger about some of the violence I’ve endured. I was terrified, but I looked to the people who model this for me and found courage. Today, after attending a healing space for people of Asian descent organized by Healing by Choice! and Rising Voices of Asian American Families, I feel ready to open up to the people who care for me.
I am exhausted from carrying shame from what I’ve survived. I am tired from sharing it with people who have invited me to, only for them to downplay my experiences or cut our relationship short rather than sit in vulnerability with me. I am ready to release and let go of what I can. Many people know smaller parts of this story, and I’m not going to share details I don’t want to, but I’ve never shared it as directly or intentionally as I would like to now.
Please sit with me here if you can and take a deep breath. If this is too heavy to hold right now, you can close this window and come back or not.
* * *
My freshman year of college, I endured a series of racist and sexualized attacks. I was called names including ‘Asian princess’ and ‘geisha doll’ while my body was violated and assaulted. I was locked in basements and carried into attics, unconscious, or conscious but unable to maneuver my body into safety. I was threatened and made a spectacle. I was eighteen. This was not the first time I had experienced sexual violence.
At the same time on a different part of campus, a white women in my dorm building had decided to target me. She was two years older than me. She was popular. After months of enduring unexplained verbal and physical harassment by strangers in elevators, stairwells, and hallways of my dorm, I learned that her comments about me, slut-shaming and racialized, were what drew others’ attention to me from the beginning. Somewhere in my life before this, I had internalized that this was how Asian women were supposed to be treated, and I accepted it for too long.
My first act of resistance came months later when I got into a fist fight on a sticky dance floor with a boy who accepted the nickname ‘Hiroshima’ after having sex with me. I threw the first punch and can still recall the sound of my knuckles meeting his face. I lost the fight. I’m still proud of this memory. I will always glow when someone calls me scrappy.
After that year, I transferred schools. I started working in the service industry. It feels important to me to name that working in restaurants, I continued to experience sexualization, verbal abuse both which were tied up in financial manipulation by a system that withholds healing from, and punishes workers.
Almost ten years have gone by. I have been sitting in this anger. I feel it shake in my chest, tighten in my throat, stretch over my eyes, and burrow through my stomach. Sometimes it takes the movement away from my back and shoulders. I am quiet in many spaces both because I fear saying the wrong thing to the wrong person will cause me further harm, and because I am still learning how to control my anger. I am afraid it will spill on accident, slipping between my teeth, hitting the wrong person.
Nearly ten years now. I am learning how to sit with my anger in gratitude, as the close friend that it is, fiercely protecting me. I am learning to access my fear and my sadness and let it run through my body and flow between my fingers like water. I am learning to play with, to speak with my joy without feeling overwhelmed or guilty by its presence. So many people have been gentle and patient with me without me having to explain. Thank you.
Many of the relationships I have been a part of in these ten years no longer fit in my life. It does not mean I do not love the people who were in them with me. I am grateful for them, and it also has to be okay if many of them no longer fit, or no longer fit in the same way they used to.
In the aftermath of these events, pieces of myself that have been frayed, that I have lost much of my access to are my ability to care give and my connection to Japanese culture. I am exploring what it means to heal from this and to be able to access parts of myself required to engage in care-giving more fully without feeling threatened. Immediately after transferring schools years ago, I buried much of my connection to Japanese and Japanese American culture and am in the process of un-doing this. Currently, I am simultaneously deeply and urgently drawn to connect with Asian American community, with Japanese practice and culture, and I am terrified to do so.
I’ve struggled to connect with the #metoo movement, feeling frustrated and unclear about its relationship to punitive and carceral systems. I am grateful to have been introduced to transformative and healing justice movements, to abolitionist frameworks. This has been the home where so much of my healing has taken place. Thank you to the radical Black women, Indigenous women, women of color, queer people, trans people, disabled people for creating these spaces and holding them. Through and after college I was prickling and suffocating from the many white, cis women who told me when, how, and to whom I needed to tell my story in order to ‘resist’ in the “right way”. I’m glad that, to the extent I was able to, I did not listen.
I’m still very much unfolding how my queerness and my non-binary identity relate to and share space with these stories. Perhaps I’ll write another piece about this some other day.
What I’ve shared is not the whole story of these events, and it’s also not my whole story. It’s simply what I am choosing to share in this moment. As we continue to talk about the ongoing anti-Asian violence we’re seeing, I really hope we remember that this didn’t start with the pandemic, and it didn’t start with 45. This has been a part of America’s fabric. Every part of this story is connected to capitalism. Every part of this story is connected to imperialism, to the sexual violence Asian women, Asian queer people have and continue to endure through wars and colonization, many of whom do not survive.
I hope as Asian Americans, we lean into this moment to reconnect with ourselves and connect with each other, to invest more deeply in solidarity with Black and Indigenous communities, with immigrant communities and other communities of color. I hope we do not use the violence we are experiencing as an excuse to turn away from what is our responsibility to engage actively with and support the resistance and liberation work our friends are moving forward, from what is a gift to find our power alongside comrades.
If you have made it to this point with me, thank you. I have been afraid to share these stories for many reasons, the main reasons being that I’ve been afraid that sharing them will either cause me further harm, or that people will acknowledge them for a moment, and then want to bury them again, as if they’re not still alive and with me.
I hope people accept them and are willing to be aware that these stories are present, without feeling pushed to turn their attention to them every time we interact. Just let them sit, breathe, rest.