Your Unexpected, Counterintuitive, NEVER-ENDING Source of Personal Power (Rrrrraawwrrr)
Nearly everything that has been used against you is actually a source of power.
Let's use me + my life as our guinea pig for this exercise.
I was sexually abused as a kid. Which, obviously, is awful. I felt a lot of shame about that, for a long time.
Even after I cut the shame cords, even after I went to the police in my early twenties and had him arrested, even after all the therapy and healing, even after I volunteered as a rape crisis counsellor, there were still many, many times when men in my life -- boyfriends, partners, even friends -- whom I had disclosed the abuse to would later use it against me.
If, for example, I protested when there was a family event that an abuser was invited to; or I got heated about a dynamic I was witnessing in a movie or real life where there were men or a man preying on a young women; or I pointed out their friends' destructive behaviour towards women, then they'd say things like that I was "too sensitive" or "too reactive" or that my history was driving my reaction.
The inference was that what happened to me was unusual (it's not, sadly) and that there was something wrong with me because that if I had properly done my work to heal, then these things wouldn't upset me. My reaction, when I spotted sexual predation, was apparently not normal.
My reaction wasn’t normal, because we’ve collectively normalized rape culture. What’s normal is to overlook it or be complicit with it.
So fuck normal. We should be outraged about it. Outrage and protest and naming it should ALWAYS be the reaction.
My point: even after the abuse had ended, other people used my experience of abuse to shame me and invalidate my CORRECT perceptions of injustice.
Why? Because my perceptivity is powerful.
My ability to connect-the-dots is POWER.
If I spoke up in a movie or during a song declaring that a scene or lyric was bullshit, then I broke the spell and ruined it for the men around me
If I spoke up about actual abuse in real life, then I broke the spell and ruined men’s fun (and maybe their lives)
One time, when I was a graduate student and pregnant with my first child, a 14 year old girl showed up at my house in the wee hours of the morning and disclosed to me that she’d been raped by a 30-something year old mutual “friend”. I was horrified and outraged and immediately called the police and the rape crisis centre.
That night, around 10 pm, a large group of men – mutual “friends” of both mine and the rapist – gathered in the dark courtyard outside my ground-floor apartment. Some of them got into the building; suddenly there was shouting and pounding on my front door. I locked myself in the bathroom – the only room without a window, because I was scared one of them would break in through one of the first-floor windows – while the 911 operator tried to keep me calm. I prayed that the police got there before they got inside. (They did; the men were gone before the police even arrived.)
Later, I heard from mutual in our community that I was “over-reacting”. Those guys hadn’t meant to harm me or scare me; they just wanted to ‘talk’ to me and explain how I got the story all wrong. The girl was at fault, you see. She’d wanted it. I was the one blowing everything out of proportion. It’s totally normal for men in their thirties to “date” and “have sex” with 14 year olds.
Another time, when I was teaching English in Taiwan, I was assigned a male teaching partner. We went out for lunch to get to know each other, and it was excruciating. My spidey-senses were tingling. I couldn’t prove it, but I knew he was a predator. There are certain things sexual predators say when they’re testing the waters, looking for accomplices and partners. It’s a code. He was saying those coded things and I knew it.
I went to the administration and refused to work with him. He got assigned to another classroom…and later in the term, devastated parents showed up at the school. Sure enough, that teacher had molested their daughter. Even after all that went down, another teacher, a woman, gave me shit for “libeling” him. I had picked up the signals, protested, and tried to prevent this exact outcome; but she wanted to talk a good game about “innocent until proven guilty”.
Once again, someone was trying to shame me and gaslight me out of my appropriate reactions to sexual abuse, predation and rape culture. Over and over again, people have attempted to shame me for my own victimization and the perceptive powers I hold as a result of that abuse.
My perceptivity is a threat to their regime – the regime of rape culture. Our culture.
In other words: my perceptivity & protest (and yours) has the power to end this brutal game and change our culture.
This is good information.
“Too sensitive” means two things:
(1) You see things clearly
(2)Your clear-sightedness is inconvenient for power structures that require invisibility
So…when they shame you, remember that: your power is a threat to the status quo. Hallelujah.
Please go ahead and interpret shame cues as a reminder of your power.
Another important thing: the thing that I used to be ashamed of, and the thing that has been used against me (abuse) is the very reason that I can pick up the cues and see the signs. It’s the reason I can connect the dots. I can see the real working of power and abuse, often when other people cannot, because I have intimate, lived experience with it. I am fluent in that shit.
My ability to connect-the-dots is a source of my culture-making power
My perceptivity and protest, combined with other people doing the same work, has the power to destabilize and undermine rape culture
My ability to connect-the-dots is also a profound source of power in my personal life (although there have been some notable missteps, I’m getting more and more adept at detecting and avoiding narcissists, predators, pick-up artists, abusers and movement grifters)
Connecting the dots -- and speaking up about what I see -- has also been pure jet fuel in my career
For example: my own intimate, lived experience with sexual abuse is why I was able to see and explain how standard online marketing formulas devalue consent, reproduce the love-bombing of predators, and reinforce rape culture. It’s what motivated me to figure out different tactics.
My connect-the-dots perceptivity and specific approach is why I developed this body of work, why I get hired, why people take my workshops, why I get paid, why I get interviewed, and why I get invited to speak at conferences.
I survived childhood sexual abuse
I correctly saw the signs of sexual predation everywhere, and connected the dots –including in our marketing traditions
I started marketing from a feminist perspective, which means developing strategies and tactics that do NOT reproduce rape culture
I thought I was going to be exiled and wildly unpopular but instead my career took off
I started consistently making real money for the first time in my life
With that money, I was finally able to hire a lawyer and settle a child custody and child support dispute that had been going on for TEN YEARS
Do you see what happened here?
My financial resources, which grew out of my ability to connect the dots between rape culture and marketing, allowed me to legally protect myself and my children – something I had not been able to do for a decade.
The thing people tried to shame me for was my source of POWER.
That’s why they try to shame us away from our own power sources. Because if we use our power, if we know that we have it, then we can use it to protect each other -- and we will. Everything will change.
So. The thing you’ve been shamed for is nearly always a source of profound culture-making and personal power. It can fuel cultural change AND fuel your own body of work and life.
Once again: re-interpret shame as a reminder of the exact source of your superpowers.
In my life, and especially in the last couple years, I’ve been made fun of and erased; experienced concern-trolling, dismissal, size-ism; and even discriminated against because of my size and weight. My body shape activates other people’s internalized fatphobia, and in our culture, people have permission to be size bigots. And so many of them are.
And even as all that shitty stuff happens, my fat body is a source of power and creativity. My experience living in a fat body is the reason I can see around corners that other people can’t.
As I explained to Virgie Tovar in a Forbes interview:
…because I’m fat, and because I’m a woman, I see things and know things about our world that other people cannot.
I can see the edges and contours of our culture and our corporate spaces specifically because sometimes I’m excluded from them.
That insight significantly helps me in my own body of work. I am able to analyze the world and connect dots in novel and innovative ways because I have access to information that other people don’t. Interestingly, this is the same question Peter Thiel uses to get an investing edge: what does he know about this deal that other people don't? My body and my identity help me know things other people don't. They are a source of creativity. So in any setting where creativity is the engine, I’m an asset -- and knowing that is power.
That’s what I want other fat professionals to know, and what I want everyone in corporate spaces (and our world!) to know, too: the things we’ve conventionally considered "difference" or a problem are in fact drivers of creativity and innovation and a net asset to all of us.
Being fat, being a woman, and being a survivor, have together heightened my ability to perceive and explain and navigate and change invisible power structures. As a result, I can help other people do this, too.
My marginalized identities, even as they get used against me, are a personal and culture-making source of power.
I interviewed Sonya Renee Taylor in the summer of 2017, a few months before her brilliant book, The Body is Not an Apology, hit the bookstores. In our interview, and in her book, she talks about anti-oppression and liberation being a language we all have to learn how to speak.
Some people, like black women, and queer folk, have been speaking it their whole lives, and so they’re fluent. Others, like liberal white people, are new learners. They’re still working from vocabulary lists, and struggling with grammar. They’re going to have to commit to practicing and then do it, over and over again for years, in order to get fluent.
Her metaphor about fluency is another way of saying that the identities our culture is hostile to and the identities people get shamed for are in fact locations of skill, capacity and creativity. Fluency is power.
All those calls we hear on social media for women to lead, for black women to lead, to listen to trans women, aren’t arguments that for a changing-of-the-guard. They are directions to a better location. They're a map to a wholly different world: This is where the richest understandings of power live. This where the fluent speakers of the language of liberation live. This is where we, as a culture, will find the ingenuity, the remembrance of older ways, the creative solutions we need to survive and thrive.
It’s no coincidence that Greta Thunberg is an autistic teenage girl and that Autumn Peltier is an indigenous teenage girl. This is why they see the world differently than powers-that-be. Their identities are their endlessly renewable sources of truth.
(The headline of this Vox article gets it right:“Greta Thunberg became a climate activist not in spite of her autism, but because of it.”)
Our identities are fuel. They are power. We know things that are valuable because of them.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling shitty or ashamed of something about myself, even something trivial, I remind myself that if I am feeling shame, then there’s probably a hidden source of power here.
And then I go find it.
I just got some photos back from a photo shoot, for example, and what I noticed was that my upper lip seems to have disappeared in the last two years. I felt embarrassed by that. But then I inquired into that shame to see if there was hidden source of power.
Why is my upper lip decreasing in volume? Age.
What happens when you age? You grow in experience, wisdom.
Experience and wisdom are sources of power.
Now that I know this, if in the future some asshole troll makes fun of my thin lips (again), I won’t be ashamed. It can’t really be used against me. My thinning lips go hand-in-hand with my growing power as a women of experience and wisdom.
Whenever you're ashamed of something about yourself, try flipping the switch.
What power source that was previously hidden from you is being revealed?
Being a woman. Being young. Being old. Being fat. Being trans. Being racialized. Being a mother. Not being a mother. Being a survivor. Being disabled. And, and, and.
All the things that have been used against you are in fact endlessly renewable sources of power.
Everything the world has tried to shame you for are the reasons you see the world differently and know what you know.
This is how some artists become 'great' artists and some culture makers become cultural icons (Toni Morrison, Gloria Steinem).
They changed the way we see the world because they saw the world differently. That's the source of their power and genius.
I'm going to use this power.
I hope you will, too.
Because we should never have been made to be ashamed of it --
Because it's OURS --
And because we are the culture makers.
This is Lift Your Face to the Sun, a newsletter about A future in which we all flourish.