How to Heal when the World Wishes for Your Silence

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What do healing and recovery look like within a world that you feel wishes you did not exist?   What does it mean to speak up about being a survivor of sexual violence in a society that, despite everything, is still maintained by silencing victims and glorifying misogyny and violence?   What does it mean to be a person with scars, a visible psychiatric survivor who is struggling to meet the criteria of “normal” in a capitalistic world which glorifies busyness and productivity?  What does it mean to be a queer person trying to create self confidence and pride in a world which contains homophobic and transphobic violence and microaggressions all around?

How does one heal in a world which wishes for your silence?

I’ve been struggling a lot with intersecting experiences of mental health stigma, abelism, sexism, transphobia and queer/homophobia.

I’d like to be proud of myself or even to accept myself as I am.  I’d like to believe that being a survivor makes me strong and brave.  I’d like to believe that my scars make me unique rather than disgusting.  I’d like to believe that being queer is just as acceptable as being straight.  I’d like to believe that I’m not broken, dirty, shameful, guilty or weak.   I’d like to believe that I am not TOO MUCH to handle, not too sensitive, too radical, too depressed, too whiny, or too demanding.   I’d like to believe that I live in a world which fights for the rights of people who are different in various ways.

I’d like to believe that I’m okay, just as I am.

Recently I feel like there is no place for me in this world.  I don’t feel I’m living up to my potential.  I feel like a disappointment to those around me.  I feel like an inadequate parent and am consumed by guilt for not being able to protect my children from violence.  I’m currently unemployed and this makes me feel like I have no worth in society because I’m not being productive.   I don’t feel well enough to be working full time and taking care of my kids full time, but I’m having trouble finding a suitable part time or flexible job.  I feel lonely, isolated and full of self doubt.

Last week my daughter described experiencing sexual harassment on the school yard.  She’s not even in Junior high school yet.  She was walking across the yard towards her friends and was briefly alone when a boy she did not know yelled “Come here pussy” at her and then chased after her when she said “No” and started to run away.  The most disturbing aspect of the conversation was how she went on to describe various ways that she could get boys to leave her alone if they didn’t listen to her.  She talked about saying “I already have a boyfriend” and various other things she could say or do to protect herself.   She told me these strategies matter of fact, and it broke my heart to realize that such a very young girl already had a clear idea of being vigilant around boys and men  and had already concocted tactics to protect herself.

I don’t know how not to be broken-hearted about how little things have changed in the world since I was a child.  The media and the #metoo movement would have us believe that we are making progress in the fight against gender based violence.  I disagree.  I don’t think we are making much progress at all.  Generally, perpetrators of violence are still walking free with very few (if any consequences) and survivors of violence are still being held responsible for protecting themselves at every moment.

The only thing I can identify that has changed is that my daughter knew that this was wrong.  This was the second time she was sexually harassed at school this year and both times she told me about it.  She knows that without consent any type of sexual action is assault or harassment.  She knows that she has the right to protect herself, to run away and to say whatever she has to say to stay safe.  She knows that it isn’t her fault and she knows what consent means.

When I was younger, and until shockingly recently, I just assumed this was the way things were.  I didn’t understand the concept of consent.  I just assumed that I was the one who was wrong, strange or broken because I didn’t enjoy sex or sexual comments.  I thought I just had to get used to it, endure, zone out, and put up with it.  I didn’t even understand the concept that sex was something that was supposed to feel good and/or be enjoyable and collaborative.  I didn’t know that it was an option for me to be queer, bisexual, a lesbian or gender non-conforming.  I didn’t know women could be with other women.   In essence, I didn’t know enough to have the option to know myself or protect myself.  I didn’t know enough to even know how to begin telling anyone I was being abused because I didn’t have vocabulary to express it and I thought it was my fault.

I’m learning and unlearning these things as an adult in my 30s.  My own children knew more about consent, gender, sexuality and sex by the age of 10, then I did at the age of 30.

Things seem quite bleak lately.  It’s winter and I’m longing for the summer sunshine warming my skin.  My kids are struggling with the impacts of past abuse.  Schools and services are not trauma informed.  I’m watching my child experience stigma and lack of understanding around her mental health issues.  I’m struggling with the impact of past abuse.  There doesn’t seem to be much to look forward to.  I don’t see a clear path forward and I don’t have answers to many of my questions.  I feel overwhelmed, hopeless and anxious most of the time.  Almost everything online, in the news and social media triggers me and makes me feel more hopeless about ending gender based violence and oppression.

The one thing that seems to have improved is that my children have more tools that I did.  They have more knowledge and more understanding.  I might not have been able to protect them completely, but at least they know that violence is not normal and that it is not their fault.

 

Living Outside the Binary.

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There have been an enormous number of changes in my life over the past 3 months.  I haven’t been blogging as much, but I hope to create some new posts about those changes soon.

I’ve been reflecting a great deal recently on how much society wants to squish people into binary boxes and categories.  Either/or.  Society doesn’t promote the shades of grey, the spectrum, the people living at the intersections of multiple gradient scales and who do not fix neatly into categories.

It’s quite difficult at times, being a person who doesn’t identify with many binary categories.   I sometimes feel invisible, different, crazy, or like my identities are not real or valid.  In some situations, I don’t even feel safe or comfortable challenging the binary norms which are coercively placed on me.

In terms of sexual orientation,  I’m non-binary.  I identify as queer, which means I’m not exclusively heterosexual or gay.  I’m open to relationships and dating with people of any gender.  I don’t fit neatly into a box.

In terms of gender identity, I’m non-binary.  I identify as genderqueer, which means I do not feel exclusively like a man or woman, but something else.   A different place on a spectrum, and outside the realm of female or male

In terms of sexuality, I’m non-binary.  I identify as demisexual, which means I’m on the asexual spectrum.  Not entirely interested in sex, but not completely disinterested in it either.

In terms of my health/disability status, I’m non-binary.  I identify as having both physical and mental health disabilities.  But I don’t “look sick” and I am extremely “high functioning” despite the level of symptoms I experience daily.  I’m able to work, but I don’t always have the energy to do all the things.  Some days I feel pretty good and others I feel barely functional.

The reality is, I think a huge number of people identify as non-binary in some ways.  Maybe you haven’t explicitly thought of it this way, but very few people exist solely in all the normative, expected boxes and categories.  No person has just one single identity.  Life happens at the intersections of our identities.

I’ve experienced some level of not being believed or validated for my identities.  I’ve felt not queer enough to fit in with gay people, but not straight enough to exist comfortable in heteronormative spaces.   I feel too feminine to be non-binary.  I feel like I’m “lazy” if my symptoms cause me to struggle on a given day.  I feel like I SHOULD be something very specific and it’s definitely not what I am.

The worst part of it is how I don’t consistently believe and validate myself.  Internalized oppression is something I struggle with constantly.  I tell myself that I’m not “queer enough” or that I don’t “look non-binary enough.”  I tell myself that I’m not functioning well enough to be normal, but I’m way too “able” to identify as disabled.  I put myself down.  I tell myself I don’t belong. I tell myself that folks won’t believe me.  I tell myself that one day I’ll be found out, and that others think I’m a fake or a fraud, or lying to get attention or to gain an advantage.

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Internalized oppression leads me to gaslight myself.  Internalized oppression means I don’t often accept myself.  Some of the worst pressures to fix into the neat clean boxes of normal society comes from my own internal critic!

I don’t believe in binary systems.  I don’t believe the messages of ableism, homophobia, transphobia and patriarchy.   On one level I don’t believe them or believe in them, and yet I put so much pressure on myself to “pass” as “normal” when I don’t even know what normal means.

I don’t actually want to be normal.  I want to be myself.  I want to be accepted as the person I am.   On one hand, I love the fact that I’m diverse and have experiences that can exist on a rainbow spectrum, rather than in black and white boxes.  But at the same time, I feel pressure to confirm, to choose, to fit in, to pick sides.

I’m not going to fit neatly into boxes.  It’s not possible.  I would have to deny so many aspects of myself that I wouldn’t be me.  I would have to compromise my own deeply held truths, just to be fully seen by society as valid.  I reject that option.

Instead, I’m creating communities and groups of friends who do accept me as I am.  People who do see me as valid, just the way I am.  People who aren’t trying to place me into categories that don’t fit, like uncomfortable outgrown clothing.

The spectrum is beautiful.  I like to think this is part of the symbolism behind the rainbow pride flag.  We are all part of a spectrum, like the light spectrum which creates a beautiful rainbow. Without each individual colour, the spectrum would be incomplete and neither the bright light or the rainbow would exist.  Spectrums are all around us and within us.

Embrace the non-binary.  Embrace the intersections.  They are beautiful and valid.

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Closets are for clothes.

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I was an adult when I acknowledged my feelings of attraction to women and gender non-conforming folks.  I was in my mid 30s before I began coming out as bisexual and then finally queer.  Some people I know STILL assume I’m straight.  I’ve been told over and over that I “don’t look queer” (whatever that even means!!).  Some people think I “just like rainbows!”  That makes me laugh.   As time goes on, I make more and more slow steps into the realm of “coming out” and living as my own queer self.  I even have a gay agenda! (my agenda is literally decorated with rainbows).

At the end of the day, I don’t fit into a binary of sexual identity.  I’m neither gay nor straight.  I identify as queer which to me means I’m open to dating anyone who isn’t an abuser, but my preference is to date women and gender non-conforming folks.  My primary sexual attraction is to those who are not cis-gender men.

Yes, I was married to a man.  Yes, I dated men throughout most of my life.  No, that doesn’t mean I’m straight.  And for the record, if I date a man again I STILL won’t be straight.  I’m not heterosexual when I date men or gay when I date women.  I’m queer and I’m always queer.  The rainbow pins on my bag, and rainbow jewelry is not just “because I like rainbows.”  It’s a symbol of identity and pride.

Heterosexual people are really fond of assuming everyone is straight.  I call this the straight agenda!  We are surrounded every day with images and representation that teach us that heterosexuality is “normal” and ” neutral” and people who identify as gay, bi, pan or queer are “other” and “different.”

I identify as queer because I reject this binary.

I still struggle with being openly “out.”   It’s new to me, I’m self conscious and I feel different.   I think I fought it internally for a long time because I didn’t want to feel different in another way. Recent political events and news worldwide makes it difficult to be proud and confident as an out queer person.  I see other gay, trans and queer people being discriminated against and even killed worldwide and it impacts me.  It makes me more afraid to be out.

As part of my journey of recovery and healing from violence, I’ve been reflecting on and exploring my sexuality and also my gender identity.   I realize that as a child and teenager I didn’t know any openly gay women.  I didn’t know any trans folks (as far as I know).  As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that many people I knew as a youth identify as trans, queer, gay etc. adults, but as a youth I only knew a few gay male friends.

I didn’t even know that being gay/queer was an option for me.  

But now I do. and whether I was born this way, or grew up this way as a result of trauma, this is me.  I’m here and I’m queer.

Most people in my life don’t know that I’ve also been exploring my gender identity.  I’m still very much “in the closet” about this journey.  It’s much more recent and my reflection on it came about after speaking to and listening to many gender non-conforming folks and finding elements in common with their experiences.

I experience body dysphoria and have since I was 9 years old.  I’ve come to realize that this isn’t entirely related to anorexia or to sexual abuse.   I’ve engaged in self harm in ways that don’t always make sense.  I won’t get into that here, but I’ve come to reflect on the connection, not just with coping with trauma, but with my gender and gender identity.

After a lot of refection and some discussion in counseling, I’m now most comfortable as identifying as:

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What does this mean?  It means that like my sexuality, my gender does not fit neatly into a binary.

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I’m still exploring exactly what this means for me.  It has more to do with my gender identity (how I feel inside and how I relate to myself) than it does with my gender expression  (how I present my gender to the outside world).

So this is me.  I’m coming out of the closet again.  I’m queer and gender queer.

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I’m on a journey of self discovery and healing.  I hope you can wish me well.

Born this Way?

 

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A question that I get asked a LOT when I disclose to people that I’m queer is:

“Were you always attracted to women or do you think is it a result of your trauma?”

I find myself wondering what the answer is.  Was I born this way?  Or did I become less and less attracted to cisgender men as a result of experiences of sexual assault?  Does it matter? And why do other people care about the “cause” of my sexual orientation?  Is it really anyone else’s business?

Is my sexual orientation any less valid if I wasn’t born this way?

As a result of recent world events, I find myself feeling less self confident and proud of being queer.  I’m afraid that it might make me more of a target, or be perceived as more different.  I already feel like I don’t fit in, and being queer sometimes feels like one more way that I’m not “normal.”

I came out gradually to people in my life after 3 decades of living the straight lifestyle.  I bought into the “straight agenda” of heteronormativity.  Grow up, get married, have children, live happily ever after.  But it didn’t turn out that way for me.  After dating men for my entire adult life, and after being in a serious relationship/marriage with a man for 13 years, I was single and I had the freedom to explore what not being straight might mean.

I honestly don’t know if I was born this way.  Because as a young person, I don’t think I even knew or understood that being gay was an option for me.  I did know a few gay guys, but I didn’t know any gay women (or at least I thought I didn’t!).   I don’t remember ever having a conscious thought that dating women was something I could explore.  I don’t remember NOT being attracted to women, I just remember it not being on my radar.  Does this mean I wasn’t born this way?  Or does it represent a lack of knowledge that I could explore options other than the heterosexual path.

I have survived a lot of sexual violence perpetrated by men.  Because of this I have flashbacks and triggers related to men.  There is no doubt that experiencing sexual trauma at a young age impacted my sexuality.  But did it “turn me gay?”   And again, does it matter?

For me,  neither answer rings true.  I wasn’t 100% born this way, and it wasn’t entirely trauma either.  Most of all, I don’t think it’s important to figure out exactly why, in my 30s, I came out and identified as a queer woman.  Maybe for some people there isn’t a clear path.  Maybe for some people sexuality is fluid and develops across a life span.  I don’t think it makes me any less queer just because I came to the realization in my 30s.

I do know that when I identified as straight, nobody ever questioned me about it.  Nobody ever asked me if I was “born that way.”   Nobody asked if I’d been abused by women and thus was only attracted by men!  Hetero-privilege means that you don’t get questioned about your sexuality.

I do know that my sexual orientation isn’t a choice.  It’s not something I can ignore and it’s not something I’m ashamed of.  Whatever the reason, I’m not straight.  And as much as I’d sometimes like to return to my hetero-privilege, I can’t.  Once you come out of the closet, you can’t shove yourself back in there.

I’m here, I’m queer and I’m made this way!

 

Mansplaining.

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I’m single right now.  Single enough that I sometimes frequent online dating apps, despite the peril and the ridiculousness involved.

I’m also queer.

This is the term I use to self identify my sexual orientation.  Key word being “self” identify.

Recently, I’ve been hoping to meet another woman or anyone who doesn’t identify as a cisgender man.  I haven’t met anyone.  There are fewer people online who are also not straight, and so today I switched my profile to show me everyone (men and women).

I messaged briefly with this guy, he seemed interesting and apparently we were a 92% match.  That was BEFORE the train wreck of mansplaining that derailed the conversation.

Dude: What’s the difference between bisexual and queer?

Me: It’s just another word for not straight. I’d be open to dating any gender, including trans folks, so bisexual doesn’t seem to quite fit and I just like that way of self identifying.  It seems to fit.

Dude: Isn’t that pansexual?

Me: (silently thinking is this actually happening?)  Yes, that’s true. pansexual, but I identify more with queer. I just looked it up on Wikipedia and it gives a decent explanation of it:

Because of the context in which it was reclaimed, queer has sociopolitical connotations and is often preferred by those who are activists—namely, by those who strongly reject traditional gender identities; reject distinct sexual identities such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight; or see themselves as oppressed by the homonormativity of the politics of the broader “gay” or “LGBT” community. In this usage, queer retains its historical connotation of “outside the bounds of normal society” and can be construed as “breaking the rules for sex and gender”. It can be preferred because of its ambiguity, which allows queer-identifying people to avoid the sometimes rigid boundaries that are associated with labels such as “gay”, “lesbian”, or even “transgender

….so… I like it for those reasons.

Dude:  I get that but, assuming the purpose is to indicate who you’re (sexually) attracted to, selecting “queer” seems unnecessarily vague. Especially given that queer could meant that you’re gay, bisexual, pansexual or everything in between.

Me:  That’s what it means..and that’s okay.

Dude: silence

What the actual f#@k just happened?  This complete stranger,who I’d known for about 5 minutes online, decided that my sexual orientation was “unnecessarily vague” and that he knew a better word (pansexual) for me to use to define myself more clearly.

This is a terrible example of mansplaining and oppression rolled into one.

In my experience, folks choose words to define themselves based on how they feel and how they want to express themselves.  The words marginalized groups use to define themselves are important, and often have historical or political significance.  Nobody has the right to tell someone else that their identity is incorrect or inconvenient.

This is the type of binary thinking which problematically excludes so many people.  People don’t just exist in boxes: gay or straight, man or woman, black or white, disabled or able bodied and so on.  There are beautiful spectrums of folks in this world, people who identify all along those spectrums and don’t identify with binary concepts.  Self identification doesn’t exist for the convenience of others.

When it comes from outside it’s a label and labels are for jars, not people.  When it comes from inside, self identification can be liberating and empowering.

Please, ask questions from a place of curiosity if you do not understand a word or concept.  Better yet, educate yourself first.  That’s what google is there for!  But don’t assume that you know a better, more accurate or clearer word for someone to use to define their own lived experience.  It’s not cool, it’s oppressive and it is certainly not attractive.

No uniformed officers please.

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It’s Pride Week and I want to write about why I don’t think uniformed police officers should be in the Parade.   The police should be welcome, but they should attend the parade as civilians, dressed in ordinary clothing.

I’m not anti-police, so much as pro-safe spaces.  There are a number of groups of people and communities that may feel threatened by uniformed police officers (no matter how nice those officers might be!).  I know some LGBTQ* folks who have declined to attend Pride this year because they don’t feel it is a safe space for them.

Some communities that have experienced marginalization, violence and oppression perpetrated by police include (but are not limited to): Trans* folks, People of Colour, Indigenous communities, sex workers, immigrant and refugee folks, lesbians, gay people, queer folks, survivors of sexual violence, people with disability and people with mental health and addiction diagnoses.  Especially people who embody any of these intersecting identities in a visible or public way.   The police have a lot of power and privilege and this has often been used against, and not for/with, marginalized groups.

My own experience, and the focus of this blog, is related to my experience of living with a mental illness that does not always allow me to “pass” as normal or neurotypical.

I will describe one of my interactions with the police, as an illustration of my own preference not to have uniformed officers at Pride.

When I used to self harm and attempt suicide on a regular basis, I used to get to the hospital by car, bus, taxi or on foot.  Near the end of the years of regular ER visits, a doctor told me she didn’t think it was safe for me to drive myself to the hospital after cutting myself deeply.  I thought about it for a while and figured she was right.  The next time I hurt myself I was suicidal, not just cutting as coping.  I was home alone and I decided to call 911 rather than a taxi.   During the 911 call I told the truth to the operator.  I told them that I had cut myself on purpose and that I wasn’t feeling safe.  I sat on the staircase in the front entryway and waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door and I could see tall people in dark uniforms outside.  I opened the door and two huge uniformed police officers stood there.  I was confused, already upset and I started panicking.  I asked where the ambulance was, I told them I changed my mind, I didn’t need police.  They came into the house and told me to sit on the steps.  They started asking me what seemed like hundreds of questions and told me I couldn’t move.  They asked me if there were weapons in the house, if I was alone in the house, if there was medication in the house, where the tools I had cut myself were, whether I had a doctor, what medications I took etc.

I felt more and more panicked.  I knew I couldn’t visibly keep panicking because I knew they wouldn’t leave until they felt I wasn’t a danger to anyone. The feeling of being out of control and knowing you can’t properly show your feelings is an unsafe and triggering one for a survivor of violence.

I felt like I had no choice but to do exactly what they said.  They told me the paramedics couldn’t come into the house until they were sure it was safe.  I tried to explain that I had harmed myself and had no intention of harming anyone else.  I was crying.  I offered to get the things they wanted (the blade, the medication) but they wouldn’t allow me to move.  I had to explain where the items were and one uniformed officer walked around my house collecting them, while the other stood and watched me.  They both had guns.  Generally, guns do not make a suicidal panicky person feel calmer.  Just FYI.

Then they were both back in the room.  I was sitting on the couch, now in the living room.  They asked me questions about my treatment and my medication. I didn’t want to answer them.  They were taking notes in a small black book.  I was keenly aware that this information could be used against me in the future.  I was scared I might have a police record, when what I really needed was medical attention.  I was confused and I didn’t understand how harming myself was a police matter.

Finally, at some point they determined the situation was safe.  Two paramedics, one man and one woman came into the house.  At some point the police left and went outside, making further notes in their cars.  I was embarrassed and ashamed because I knew my neighbours would see the commotion.  I felt my face burning with shame as I walked to the ambulance with the paramedics.  I begged them not to turn on the sirens because I was so embarrassed already.  I’d spent every minute since I opened the door to the house wishing that I had never called 911.     The female paramedic drove the ambulance and the male sat inside with me.  He was calm and kind and he didn’t have a gun.  I felt safer once the police were gone.

In the past, I’d had security guards sit by my bed, or just outside the door in the ER.  Ensuring that I didn’t run away before being assessed by the doctor.  That was associated in my mind with feeling unsafe and not being trusted.  Being a prisoner within a hospital rather than a patient.  That’s how I felt in my own home that day.

The ambulance took me to the hospital and I received treatment for my cut.  I wasn’t admitted to the hospital, because nobody really took my self harm seriously by that point.  They had labelled me borderline and didn’t believe I would ever actually kill myself.  I was often treated like a misbehaving child.

This memory is one reason why I don’t feel safe around uniformed police officers.  The other reasons, related to reporting violence, I will talk about more in future posts.

If I have a serious mental health crisis again in the future, I hope nobody will call the police.  I can’t think how that would calm me down or de-escalate the situation.  I would feel more at risk, rather than safer.

So, for this reason and for many others, I believe there are other ways to create safer and more inclusive spaces.  And LGBTQ* police officers, please feel welcomed by me at Pride…just leave the uniforms and guns behind.

 

 

 

No words.

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I don’t have words to express my thoughts and feelings today.  50 queer folks shot, and as many as 50 more injured, in a mass shooting in Orlando.

It saddens me, as a queer person and as a human being, to think that I live in a world that is  filled with deadly homophobia and transphobia.  And let’s not forget racism and Islamophobia.  Please remember that the majority of folks killed and injured were queer People of Colour and the shooter is likely to be vilified as a Muslim terrorist, rather than a homophobic misogynist.

It’s terrifying to think about the magnitude of this crime, the number of lives impacted.  Marginalized folks, trying to relax, share love and have a great night in what they thought was a “safe space.”

I don’t really know what to say.  I’ve been disturbed and upset by the oppressive, ignorant and transphobic laws that are being passed and debated in some USA states.   The fact that governments think these types of bathroom laws are protecting people would be laughable, if it weren’t so damn offensive.  When governments stir up hate…it’s a dangerous situation.   Transgender folks just want to pee in peace.   Just like those queer folks in Orlando just wanted to dance with friends and loved ones and enjoy a Saturday night out.

At the end of the day, transphobia and homophobia don’t make a lot of sense.  Neither does racism.  I won’t start with that “all people are the same” nonsense.  No, people aren’t all the same.  People have different lived experiences. People have different paths and different options.  But that’s okay, it’s great, it’s a wonderful thing.  Diversity  should be celebrated.  It shouldn’t be erased with a colour blind attitude, and it shouldn’t be erased through violence.  Diversity should not be feared.

You can’t make a rainbow with only one colour.   You can’t bake a cake with only one ingredient.  You can’t solve every problem using one approach.

Diversity is what gives humanity it’s strength and resilience. All people’s voices must be heard, and that often means that dominant groups need to speak more quietly and listen carefully.

Oh, and ban guns.