A twenty-year-old man who had been watching the Boston Marathon had his body torn into by the force of a bomb. He wasn’t alone; a hundred and seventy-six people were injured and three were killed. But he was the only one who, while in the hospital being treated for his wounds, had his apartment searched in “a startling show of force,” as his fellow-tenants described it to the Boston Herald, with a “phalanx” of officers and agents and two K9 units. He was the one whose belongings were carried out in paper bags as his neighbors watched; whose roommate, also a student, was questioned for five hours (“I was scared”) before coming out to say that he didn’t think his friend was someone who’d plant a bomb—that he was a nice guy who liked sports. “Let me go to school, dude,” the roommate said later in the day, covering his face with his hands and almost crying, as a Fox News producer followed him and asked him, again and again, if he was sure he hadn’t been living with a killer.
Terrorism is as much what we inflict upon others as it is what is inflicted upon us.
I couldn’t get out of Boston soon enough when I was in the midst of leaving the country in January. I wanted nothing to do with the city any longer, and I felt like there was nothing left for me there. But of course there’s something I left behind, or I wouldn’t be this upset, this much of a wreck that I interrupted a family dinner to shove a smart phone in my boyfriend’s face.
Surprisingly right now, I actually miss Boston. I even wish I were there. I feel something I didn’t think I was capable of feeling anymore. Homesickness. Powerlessness. I don’t know, but I feel something and that is more than what I can say for most days. I called the first friend I could think of in Boston, and the number was busy because every number in town is busy, and then I called my best friend, a native Bostonian, who now lives in New York. And I guess there is, after all, something I’ve left behind.
The only thing I want at the moment is to be able to see and hold my friends, to sit in my old apartment (now occupied by strangers), to be on that street I took for granted. We went every year to the marathon. We’ve waited at that finish line, me and the dog. Our apartment was two blocks away. Patrick has even run that race, back in 2008. I’ve passed that intersection hundreds of times over the course of the past few years, so many times that by the end, I didn’t even really register it anymore, because that’s how numb I was to it all. That’s how shut down I was in January. But I don’t feel numb anymore. I feel something, that’s for sure. I feel something.
I wanted to let you know that your blog has been a great source of comfort to me, though I've only popped in from time to time in the last few years. I was also socially ostracized in college (on a much smaller scale) when I was unhappy. Since then, I've felt that I'll never regain the confidence that I'd need to pursue my ambition of becoming an academic, a belief that my ideas could matter. Your passion and courage are so inspiring. They make me think I could be stronger, too.
I think you’ve already demonstrated your strength by sharing this story (which I have been terribly tardy in responding to - my apologies). Hopefully, in writing me this message, you can recognize that the people who ostracized you were wrong in their actions and especially in their opinion. Your ideas DO matter. This note mattered to me, and I’m sure it will matter to someone else who is reading.
I have been told many times that my work and writing are passionate and courageous, but if I am brave, it is only because I am continually humbled and inspired by others who have overcome far more adversity and emerged even kinder and more loving than before. There are so many people I have had the privilege of knowing (both online and in real life) who have shared similar stories of exile and rebirth. And these are mostly regular people - not sex bloggers or hardcore activists or folks who are even necessarily political. Sometimes, all it takes to be made fun of is to be poor, disabled, a person of color, a survivor of sexual/psychological trauma, queer, gender non-conforming, or just plain weird or “crazy” by typical standards of society.
The thing is, most of us are weird, most of us are born with both privileges and handicaps, most of us spend our lives trying to make sense of the suffering we witness or endure in the world, but few of us manage to avoid inflicting suffering upon others, few of us manage to ease the suffering of others. As Albert Camus noted, “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” And it’s precisely because I know how difficult it is to live in this society (no matter what position you might occupy in life) that I have tried to share a bit of my experience. Honesty and open-heartedness and empathy are some of the few tools at our disposal. Writing is simply my way of wielding these tools. I am certain that you will discover the right ones for yourself.
I’ve been harping on this organization for years, but it hasn’t exactly made me popular among my gay friends. Here’s why this incident (in which a HRC staffer tries to silence a trans activist) doesn’t surprise me in the least:
1. The HRC is first and foremost a political action committee, which means that they want and have always prioritized broad mainstream support, both financially and politically.
2. They have historically excluded, minimized, or simply ignored trans people (as well as other marginalized queer folks) in their agenda and have shown many times over that they have no qualms about abandoning equality for all in favor of equality for some.
3. Its leadership consists almost exclusively of privileged and white gay men. Its corporate partners are led almost exclusively by privileged and white (though not necessarily gay) men. Despite historic criticism of the organization’s lack of diversity, nothing has changed in the last decade. Because the HRC is not interested in anything changing.
4. I know from personal experience that they do not train their staff or volunteers on sensitivity toward trans issues even after all the controversy post-ENDA.
5. The HRC will negotiate with the Devil and sell out just about anyone if it fits their schemes. Would you trust a group like that with your social security benefits? You shouldn’t.
The organization has demonstrated time and time again that it feels no accountability toward major segments of their supposed constituency (trans or young or poor or non-white), so I find it fully plausible that this incident occurred and that the HRC is trying to cover its ass rather than admit that the largest lobbying organization for LGBT rights in the country is really more concerned about staying in power than actually challenging the power structures that currently exist.
In conclusion, you will not find an equal sign on my Facebook or anywhere else. I think it’s hypocritical and ignorant to allow the HRC to represent the entire American queer agenda, so long as the organization continues to devote the great majority of its manpower, influence, and money toward marriage equality alone - a goal which (long overdue may it be) frankly changes very little for the most marginalized and most ignored parts of the queer “community”.
I spontaneously threw up again last night, the culmination of a migraine that had been building up for the past few days. I don’t know what it is with my body.
I wasted away this fall, to the point where it became visibly noticeable. The worst of it was in August/September, when I dropped about ten pounds (approximately a tenth of my body weight) in a single month. It taken me a long time to recover. I guess my appetite went awry around the same time I got depressed and anxious and had a kind of breakdown.
After we left the East Coast in February for our California sojourn, I started experiencing food cravings again, but I also got nauseous whenever I consumed meat. I could barely eat any tacos, sushi, Chinese BBQ, all the things I associate with home. Patrick’s been vegetarian since he finished his dissertation (on food production) last May. But it wasn’t until California that I started doing the same. Like everything else that’s happened with my body, this is involuntary.
And then there are the sleeping issues, the weirdly intense dreams featuring people I thought I’d long forgotten. I wake up with aches and pains, despite the fact that I spend an hour or more stretching everyday. Sometimes, I get claustrophobic in bed. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t breathe properly. There were entire days I spent on the verge of tears this past fall. The last time it was like this, it was 2008 and I’d been humiliated in the most public fashion possible. I haven’t been humiliated this time around, but I’ve been deeply disappointed.
I stretch so much these days because I had to stop doing yoga regularly this fall. Then the last time I attempted it (in New York City in early February), I fainted half an hour into the class. That’s never happened to me before in all the time I’ve been practicing, and now I don’t feel like doing yoga again, which I know is stupid.
I think I know what this is all about, but if I don’t know how to express it, how to be honest about it, not just to myself and to Patrick but to the other people in my life, then how am I supposed to gain back everything I’ve lost, both physically and emotionally?
I wish I felt like there were something in America for me to return to. But I don’t - not at this moment. I feel like I’ve done everything I can over the past few years to help the people in my life become better versions of themselves. I feel like I can’t care about anyone the same way anymore. I don’t miss my friends the way I thought I would. I don’t miss my life or my work or my old apartment. I don’t miss who I was either. That’s the thing I miss least.
I’m not angry, not anymore. And I’m not without hope either. But I do feel blank, like there isn’t much I left behind.
I think I miss having expectations of people, having ideas of who they would become, having hopes and dreams about a common future. I don’t know what my future holds anymore, but I feel like I can’t wait for the past. I feel like I’ve been waiting and waiting for something or someone to change. And the only thing I can change is myself.
“The choice to follow love through to its completion is the choice to seek completion within ourselves. The point at which we shut down on others is the point at which we shut down on life. We heal as we heal others, and we heal others by extending our perceptions past their weaknesses. Until we have seen someone’s darkness, we don’t really know who that person is. Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness, we don’t really know what love is. Forgiving others is the only way to forgive ourselves, and forgiveness is our greatest need.”—Marianne Williamson (via humanflower)
I feel silly writing this, but here goes. Several years ago, we had a soc class together; we were in the same section (with Patrick as TF). I'd heard of your blog and read a little of it; I judged you. Today, something reminded me of all that and I thought I'd check it out. I read about your depression and I felt normal and unashamed for the first time in 3 years. I couldn't believe it. I was inspired. To be healthier. To work harder (or at all, again). Thank you. :)
Don’t feel silly - this note made me feel better about a lot of things (both past and present), so I’m glad you wrote it even though I have no idea who this is.
We’re all guilty of judging other people, and what I’ve come to realize since I left college is that more often than not, we are really just judging ourselves. Cruelty to others is too commonly a manifestation of self-hatred. Maybe that’s why I’m able to take criticisms less personally and treat strangers more kindly these days. I actually like myself and I want everyone else to like themselves too.
(And it does help to be reminded that there are those who once judged a younger me and who have since reconsidered their original opinion.)
So, thank you for your honesty. I’m glad that reading about my depression made you feel less alone. I’m sure that your message has made someone out there feel less alone as well.
"Certain conquests made by the soul and the mind are impossible without disease, madness, crime of the spirit." –Thomas Mann
I could say that my sparse blogging is the result of being on the road or overwhelmed with assignments, but neither have stopped me from journaling before and there is plenty I write these days that I don’t post. This blog isn’t for journaling, though. It used to be, when I wasn’t as public a figure, when I started this as a scrapbook of my remaining college years, when I was still considered what we then called “early adopters” - but whatever this site has morphed into, intentional or not, no longer serves my writing. I’ve deprioritized what I care about for far too long, and now I feel like I owe an explanation to someone, maybe to myself.
I’ve wanted to write a goodbye post for a while, but there never seemed to be an appropriate time to write it or to post it and what I really feel like I need to do is explain myself, which is not so much of a “goodbye” but a “hello”. And how do you say hello to people who think they already know you?
I am not even talking about readers anymore.
My blog was a selfish endeavor when I started it. I was trying to heal myself and fight back with text, and for a while, what I was doing felt authentic even if it was different from my Sex And The Ivy writing. At some point, blogging stopped being about healing. It became only about fighting back. And maybe that’s when I started being selfless about it - maybe to a fault.
How are you supposed to write freely when you are in constant fear of what might happen to others as a result? I don’t allow myself to mourn for lost friendships anymore, because I see what happens to those who can’t handle betrayal. I don’t think I’ve ever loved myself enough to protect myself from getting hurt. My own self-preservation is learned.
I wish I allowed myself the kindness of peace a long time ago, but I never believed then that I deserved it. I never believed I deserved anything. Never the fame, for one, and then the infamy - well, that was just terribly confusing. It’s funny that so many people seem to think - even if they don’t say it - that I’m moving to Germany for someone or something other than myself. As if I could still envision a life here.
No, this is actually one of the first things I’ve done for myself in years. I was supposed to live in Berlin during the summer of 2010. There was a plan: a couple of languid months with the dog and mountains of books and bustling flea markets. And back then, I didn’t believe in fate or absolutes or God, but I did believe that I would go crazy if I didn’t live in Berlin that summer. And I didn’t end up living in Berlin, and I did go crazy, except I don’t think it was just for that summer and obviously, my unrest was about a lot more than a vacation.
You can break yourself with unwant. I no longer think about what that lost summer means for who I am today, but ever since, I’ve always felt fragmented, like there was a part of me that didn’t make it back to Boston. I changed. I changed because I had to in order to survive. Because for people like me, there is really only one alternative and that is not a route I will take.
Maybe I’m lucky to have lived interesting enough a non-fiction existence that I can’t even talk about it transparently without getting pilloried by both left and right. I have allies, of course, but they’re pilloried too, and I’ve certainly encountered my fair share of agents and producers who think that my unlikely truth is more marketable than any fiction. Friends or foes? You can never know. Another reason why I wouldn’t mind my blog dying a nice, quiet death. Less lying around for the opportunistic scavengers idiotic enough to believe I did this for money.
There were so many trigger points over the past year, so many instances in which I promised an unknown someone, “Okay, this is the last time I do this to myself”, and in the end, of course I kept going. I kept doing things and going on and on and on until I couldn’t anymore. I felt like I’d made a Devil’s Bargain, except it was one with myself, because I knew that stopping meant confronting that I didn’t know what I wanted anymore. That what I wanted was something I gave up and that I had given it up willingly because I didn’t care enough about myself.
Maybe I always knew this but chose to ignore it. Maybe instead of simply forgiving and forgetting, I had to have the peace of not remembering what hurt so much in the first place. It’s a funny thing, the business of forgiveness. It’s an act of kindness toward others, but most of all toward oneself - and only in undoing my purposeful forgetting have I realized how the worst of these wounds have been self-inflicted all along.
After seven years in New England, I’m leaving Boston for good on Wednesday and moving to Germany in March.* Before I bid adieu to the East Coast, I’m making a pitstop at the Barnard Center For Research On Women in New York City to participate on a panel about young feminist activism.
I’ve spent the last few months writing less publicly to reflect privately on whether and how I can better serve the causes, communities, and people I’ve come to love during my time at Harvard and in Boston. What this means in practice: less time spent on the Internet, tweeting, Facebooking - and in its place: listening, thinking, journaling, surprisingly learning things I never thought I’d need or want to learn. Taking a break has helped me reflect on the work I’ve done (as part of a movement, as an individual) and the work I hope to do in the future.
Naturally, I thought this conversation at Barnard would be a lovely way to end my time in America, and I also liked the idea of being able to see friends and readers before my departure. I’m planning to spend February on the road in California, Lunar New Year with my mother, while the contents of my apartment/life got shipped to Berlin. So, when a bureaucratic error almost forced Patrick to leave the country last week, I cursed immigration laws, sort of freaked out, and almost cancelled everything in order to fly the coop literally and figuratively.
Needless to say, I’m glad that didn’t happen and that Harvard worked it all out. Because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to all these lovely people :) Whether you’re a real-life friend or an online acquaintance or first-time reader, details are below - please, please, please come and say hello to me and spread the word and invite your friends.
FEMINISM AND BEYOND: Young Feminists Take on Activism and Organizing with Lena Chen, Jessica Danforth, Dior Vargas, Sydnie Mosley ’07, Julie Zeilinger ’15, and Dina Tyson ’13
January 30, 2013 | 6:30PM Event Oval, The Diana Center | 3009 Broadway, New York, NY
Young feminists have long battled invisibility. Countless media articles bemoan young women’s lack of activism or suggest that movements that “go viral,” like SlutWalk or Occupy Wall Street, have come out of nowhere. In fact, feminism among young people is as active as ever, constantly pushing boundaries both inside and outside feminist communities and engaging with issues new (privacy in the digital age, universal healthcare) and old (racism, rape). Young feminists today are consistently building coalitions and questioning narrow interpretations of what makes a feminist issue. This activism is local and transnational; in the street, in the classroom, online. It frequently engages with multi-layered identities and challenges itself as much as it shakes up the wider culture.
In this panel, moderated by Dina Tyson ’13, five feminist activists discuss their areas of interest, what they see as the major challenges for feminist movements, how organizing today compares to that by previous generations, intersections between feminism and other approaches to social justice, and how to build coalitions that can enact structural change.
This event is free and open to the public. Venue is wheelchair accessible.
Getting ready to show my apartment today - so bizarre, but I’m just five weeks from moving out. New York is one of my last stops before I go onward to California (where I’m visiting family as my stuff gets shipped to Germany). In late January, I’ll be in NYC to say goodbye to friends and talk to people about book stuff. A final opportunity to get face-to-face time with so many people - it’s all a little overwhelming. I’ll also be speaking at Barnard College on the 30th - probably my last event for a while. I’d love it if any readers would like to attend. Please let your NYC-area friends know that this is happening :)
Young Feminist Activism Today
A panel with Lena Chen, Jessica Danforth, Sydnie Mosley ’07, Dior Vargas, and Julie Zeilinger ’15
Wednesday, January 30, 2013, 6:30 PM Event Oval, The Diana Center
As long as there has been feminism, there have been young feminists. On the street, on college campuses, and online, young people have worked to break down oppressive systems and nourish creative communities that honor the worth and dignity of all involved. Young feminists continue to labor on a daily basis to change policies and perceptions around reproductive justice, policing and the prison system, popular culture, gender-based harassment and violence, sexuality education, and much more. With this panel, BCRW continues a decades long tradition of examining the forefront of young feminist activism with this group of dedicated activists under 30.
Two months of not being on email has made me realize how little I need email. If you need me, call, text, or if you must, resort to Facebook. My auto-responder will be on until the end of the year.
I’m in no state to be working on my book right now, so I’m refocusing my energy on projects that have fallen by the wayside and reconsidering some ideas that I had filed away in case of a creative drought. Some examples of things I have on the list for next week:
Finish an article on the Affordable Care Act, the first assignment I’ve taken in ages (since I desperately need to write something, really anything, unrelated to the book)
Watch at least one movie (promised a friend I’d see Conversations With Other Women, also would like to rewatch Mysterious Skin)
Retype some more of The Bell Jar, which I need to reread for research purposes anyway
Catch up on contracts, forms, mail all that boring life stuff I’ve just ignored
Make a dent in my two-foot tall clothing pile
I really wanted to have a draft of this book done by now, and in fact, it’s been almost exactly a year since I decided to turn what had previously been an idea for a memoir into a fictional novel project. It’s become a much larger, more artistically challenging undertaking as a result, but I also think I’m a better writer and a better person because of it. I continue to be extremely grateful that I didn’t write a memoir or sell the movie option to my blog at age 20 when I lacked both business sense and a sense of self. On the other hand, I’m not able to just take off to the woods (or even to my mother’s house) for an uninterrupted six months of writing - I have a boyfriend and a dog and roommates and, well, people beyond myself to think about. And that’s a really hard position to be in when I’ve been literally trying for years to write this story and don’t feel like I can move on - emotionally or otherwise - until I get this out and get out of Boston.
In other news, I am doing an informal farewell tour that involves eating everything that I won’t be able to eat in Berlin. (Fish tacos are on the top of my list.) I’m trying to fit in a DC trip in December, spending January in California to visit friends and family, speaking at an event in New York at the end of January, and packing up my life in February. I’ll be out of the country by the first week of March.
This has been such an emotionally and physically exhausting year that I need more than a vacation from life. I need a new life, and I need 2012 to be over. I mean that in the least apocalyptic sense possible.
First and foremost it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation. So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.
Second, writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die.
This website is a really fantastic resource and speaks to the difficulty of doing good (via research, awareness, etc.) even in a “not-for-profit” context.
The commercialization of the pink ribbon is hard to defend, especially when many of the companies behind these supposedly philanthropic efforts are more concerned with public image and profit than with actual research:
Think Before You Pink™, a project of Breast Cancer Action, launched in 2002 in response to the growing concern about the number of pink ribbon products on the market. The campaign calls for more transparency and accountability by companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising, and encourages consumers to ask critical questions about pink ribbon promotions.
Breast Cancer Action is the watchdog of the breast cancer movement. We are able to tell the truth about the epidemic because we are the only national breast cancer organization that does not accept funding from entities that profit from or contribute to cancer, including the pharmaceutical industry.
P.S. For those interested in reading more on this topic, you may want to check out Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay Welcome to Cancerland (a great recommendation from a reader). Enjoy!
A good education does not prove itself in a test, but instead in practical application.
Totally proud and shamelessly bragging. There have been two Crimson articles in one week about Patrick’s course on inequality. This one is a staff editorial urging for more classes to merge theory and practice. I couldn’t agree more. My final semester of college, I took a course on feminist praxis taught by Susan Marine, the then-director of the Women’s Center. Susan asked students to apply feminist values and principles toward evaluating and making sense of our experiences interning at partner feminist organizations. This class left a huge impression on me and has informed many of my professional decisions since graduation. Two years later, I still refer back to it whenever I come up against contradictions in my day-to-day life and activism. So basically, I think about it every other week ;)
I would add that the goal of Patrick’s teaching method is not just to improve the education of Ivy League students, but to offer a better framework for addressing homelessness. In a culture in which academic degrees are synonymous with authority, I think it’s easy to forget that the people who are most informed on the subject of housing insecurity are not social scientists or leaders of non-profits or policymakers, but those who have personally experienced it themselves. Rather than simply theorizing about homelessness or trying to “save” people (both common tendencies in the academy), students have a responsibility to sit back, listen, and learn from the real experts.
I’m speaking tonight at Pomona College and will be in Los Angeles until Wednesday. If you’re in the Claremont area, come check this out :)
Faith and First Times: Sex, Society and Religion Thursday, October 4th, 7:00-8:30pm Rose Hills Theatre, Pomona College
In today’s modern age, female sexuality has become less taboo to discuss. Whether through Cosmopolitan Magazine or Victoria’s Secret, society is beginning to explore a certain brand of female sexuality. Yet many women of faith are faced with the dilemma of embracing their sexuality while still maintaining religious traditions that value virginity and purity, while secular women often feel these cultural representations are not a true expression of their experiences. Come join the Pomona Student Union at Faith and First Times, an event aimed at exploring the influences of religion on virginity and how it effects women in today’s society.
“This is why the work is important. Its power doesn’t lie in the me that lives in the words as much as in the heart’s blood pumping behind the eye that is reading, the muscle behind the desire that is sparked by the word - hope as a living state that propels us, open-eyed and fearful, into all the battles of our lives. And some of those battles we do not win. But some of them we do.”—Audre Lorde
On being "cynical", "so-over-this", and "holier-than-thou"
In other words, this is what feminist burnout looks like:
Lena, I’ve read you for several years ago and I have to agree with some of the other comments (like those on the Mitt Romney post). The constant sarcasm, criticism, ‘so-over-this’ I don’t need to engage tone of your posts is getting really really old. You are essentially your own boss, frequently travel, appear to have a healthy relationship and connections to many leading feminist/social justice activists and yet all of your posts lately have been dripping with, if not outright disdain, a sense of forced offhand indifference. To be frank, it comes off as immature and almost comically narcissistic.
I get being critical of social movements, because I think everyone involved in them is, and I get feeling disillusioned. What I dislike is feeling that I am being talked down to and the sense that you believe no one else is doing enough, or at least not doing it exactly the way you would. I know you are still involved in movements and activism - why not blog about that? Unless, I guess you afraid that it will open you up to the type of criticism you have begin casually lobbying at others?
I want to preface this by saying that I really respect readers’ willingness to be honest with me about their feelings toward my writing. I’m a bit dismayed that so much of my discontent with feminism and the political system has been interpreted as “holier-than-thou” and all those other adjectives on the subject line above. I’m not here to tell anyone how to engage with feminism or social justice, and I don’t judge anyone for their decisions unless their name is Mitt Romney. Different people have different resources, lifestyles, needs, etc. and it’s because of dramatic changes in my own life that I’ve been forced to reassess how I do my activism. My stance on politics is pretty identical to my stance on sexuality. Just because I have certain experiences or beliefs does not mean that I’m trying to get everyone else to think or act the same way. In other words, who or what I do in my life is not a judgment on who or what you do in yours.
First, if you’re really involved in this election and are campaigning on behalf of candidates or causes, then that’s your prerogative and I’m honestly glad you’re engaged. Among my own friends, there are many who are involved in political campaigns and have donated their money or time to Elizabeth Warren, others who have been climbing the ranks of different non-profits for years and who are more concerned with issues than with specific candidates, but regardless of how any of us identify politically, it’s undeniable that we’re all working toward the same general goals. We’re just going about it in different ways. I’ve never implied that I think “no one else is doing enough”, because I don’t actually think that. In fact, I see a lot of people doing way more than they should, and I think we need to recognize that some will burn out while others don’t. I burnt out last year and this year and despite appearances, it’s been a long time coming. Lots of people burn out and no one has the same reasons, but that doesn’t mean I’m going around telling my friends that they’re wasting their time with what they do. I think many of them are engaged in valuable, irreplaceable work and I envy them because I lack the emotional strength to do the same. For me, realizing that I needed to take a step back has been really humbling and it’s made me realize that my time is better spent on different projects. When I share my disillusionment with a particular movement, it should not be interpreted as me telling you what to do with your vote or trying to get everyone else to “give up” on social change at large. I’m simply trying to make sense of where my own activism is at.
Second, I think there’s a bit of a double standard here and a lot of assumptions being made about what I think. The Internet isn’t fantastic at conveying emotions, and the original post that seemed to attract so much ire really wasn’t trying to be combative in the first place. I actually thought the quote I chose was a hilarious satire, which was why I felt totally blindsided when people found it offensive. When I’m getting comments like “Do you really need to keep rubbing it in everyone’s faces as if your disengagement makes you somehow better than those of us that are still trying to give a damn?” … I can’t help but think that something I wrote was wildly misinterpreted. Shouldn’t I be able to voice my discontent with the two-party system without being called “arrogant” or “so superior to everyone else”? Or being told that I think “99% of the world are suckers”? Whereas I really haven’t directly addressed my readers at all, these are actual things that readers have said to me about me, and beyond the fact that they’re all ad hominem, they’re just kind of, uh, mean? Of course, I’m happy to apologize if there’s a specific statement I’ve published that is offensive, but even if such a statement existed, I would like to note that I don’t actually think I am better than anyone, so this seems to be largely a matter of misinterpretation and it would be great if I could get the benefit of the doubt.
Third, I’ve always maintained, even way back when I was writing Sex And The Ivy, that I keep a blog for myself first and for my readers second. That doesn’t mean that I don’t value the opinions of my readers. I very much appreciate it whenever you guys give me feedback, positive or negative (as long as it’s not, you know, stalker-y and libelous). But I can’t write or work or live simply for other people - it would make me go crazy (and that’s more or less what happened over the past year). As I’ve become more and more stressed out and overcommitted and worn down in my personal life, I’ve engaged less and less with the Internet. Offline, I still spend the majority of my time working on stuff that most people would put in the category of “feminist” or “radical” or “total hippie shit”, but I don’t write about it, and I don’t want to publicly write about it unless it feels safe to. I’m sure there are a lot of people who don’t publicly write about their activism, but are they being accused of being “apathetic”? Probably not. Anyone familiar with this blog must surely realize that any silence on my end is NOT due to fear that “it will open [me] up to the type of criticism [I] have begun casually lobbying at others”. I’ve never been afraid of people disagreeing with me nor have I been personally attacking anyone. I have, however, become very concerned about the escalating harassment directed toward everyone in my life. If I make public any projects or even relationships, my very obsessed stalker will likely try to sabotage them, so please don’t mistake a lack of blog posts for a lack of engagement. I’m just trying to protect people from unnecessary attacks, and ultimately, I can’t share everything that you may want me to share.
Last, a cause doesn’t have to be perfect for me to support it, but if this is how criticism of feminism is treated, it makes me seriously second-guess whether there’s a place for me within this movement. Having been on the receiving end of some of the nastiest things that have ever been done to anyone on or off the Internet, I am kind of surprised that it can still hurt to be called “immature” and “narcissistic” by readers. I’ve been called much, much worse, but to be fair, I care a lot more what my readers think than some random troll. Because of my personal experiences confronting bullying and having my personal life dissected and regurgitated for public consumption, I think I’m much more aware of how I speak to others, and as such, I take great pains to never “talk down” to anyone. I certainly don’t “casually lobby” criticism at random people without just cause. I keep rereading the offending post but I just don’t see where I disparage anyone, except for Mitt Romney, who - let’s face it - has no defenders left anyway. If there is something I’ve written that you feel is an attack on your person, please call me out. I don’t consider myself a bully and I never want to turn into one.
Please don’t think that the purpose of this post is to shut anyone up. Whether or not I feel unjustly attacked is not even the point, and I would rather people be honest when they’re offended, because my pride is less important to me than my ability to write in a way that is understood. Just know that in the weeks to come, I may share opinions or beliefs that contradict things you have previously thought about me. Originally, I wasn’t planning on sharing any of these opinions, precisely because I didn’t want to deal with having to explain things that happened in my private life over the past year. But how am I supposed to make peace with the person I used to be if I can’t be honest about who I am now? Multiple readers have pointed out the privilege inherent in my position, and indeed, I am really lucky to be my own boss, to have the opportunity to travel, to have been able to establish good relationships, etc. as a feminist activist, but that doesn’t mean that I should turn a blind eye to the many problems that I see within the feminist movement and that doesn’t mean that I should pretend to have a perfect life because I don’t. In fact, that illusion of perfection is likely the reason why so much of what I’ve shared recently has come as a shock to readers, and for that, I do apologize. I should have written about all of these things far earlier. I am not trying to speak for anyone but myself. I am trying to do what I think is right, and that involves telling the truth about the injustices I witness and telling the truth about myself. Particularly since this movement has accepted and benefited and protected me, I think I have an even greater responsibility to be honest about its shortcomings and its failure to do the same for those with less privilege. Maybe this honesty is coming way too late in the game, maybe this isn’t credible because of who I am, but part of the reason why I’m attempting this at all - when I have nothing to gain from it and everything to lose - is because I know that I’m not going to keep this website up forever, but before I’m finished with blogging and public life, I want to write this blog the way I should have been writing it all along.
A typical Harvard course may host renowned authors, environmentalists, and politicians from around the world, but the speakers featured in Thursday’s Sociology 149: “Inequality, Poverty, and Wealth in Comparative Perspective” spend most of their time on the streets right outside the campus gates.
These speakers, three members of Cambridge’s homeless population, were invited by Sociology Lecturer Patrick Hamm to share their experiences of poverty with the students in his class—a study of the sources and consequences of inequality in America.
The Harvard Crimson covered Patrick’s class last Thursday. In all my time at Harvard, I’ve never witnessed anything like this before, and the experience was truly transformative for all involved. I would love to see more college courses on inequality encouraging students to engage with the real world and to not just theorize about social problems but to personally get to know those affected. They’re not Harvard graduates, but the panelists from Thursday know more than any policymaker or Ivy League professor about the experience of homelessness and how their community needs should be best addressed. At the end of the lecture, Patrick gave his students the following assignment: talk to homeless people that they encounter in their local neighborhood. It’s something that both of us have been doing for some time and have found a great deal of meaning and inspiration from. I hope others are inspired to do the same :)
I've been with my boyfriend for almost two years. For almost half of our relationship, we have been long distance (he lives in Canada and I live in California). Have you ever thought of going to Berlin ahead of your partner? Or go on holiday for a year, if finances allow? I feel like you are only staying in Boston for him. You will survive the distance.
Patrick is definitely a large part of my motivation for staying in Boston after graduating in 2010, but although I was fully prepared to move abroad by myself this summer, I ultimately decided to postpone Berlin not for him or our relationship, but for our friends and family. “Friends and family” doesn’t even really encapsulate it, because I’m not talking about my actual blood-related family here, and I’m not even really talking about friendships in a traditional sense.
For much of this year, I felt lonely, isolated, unable to write and barely able to work. There were a lot of reasons for this, the harassment being a major one, my proximity to Harvard another. I wanted to leave America all year because I felt like I couldn’t be myself here anymore, because being myself was actively interfering with, well, the rest of life.
The following wasn’t something I was able to share on the blog, because I was having a hard articulating my feelings even to myself, but right up until August, I was still considered leaving for Berlin ahead of time as you suggested. I had literally reached a point when I thought it might be healthier to remove myself from Boston, because I became concerned by how my depression was affecting everyone around me. And moving earlier to Berlin wouldn’t have meant the end to my relationship, simply a temporary separation, but it was something I ultimately decided against, not for Patrick, not even for myself really, but for the greater good.
And that’s the part that I don’t know how to quite explain. We went from living as a couple to moving in with five other people last month and simultaneously, I took on a slate of projects that I will not be blogging much about (if at all). I am enjoying the remainder of my time in the country with my unconventional “family” - a group of people who share my belief that there is something deeply wrong about this world and that we must do something about it. There are certain goals I’d like to accomplish before I leave Boston, different goals than what I had in mind when I first got started doing this work, and they are why I have chosen to stay here. Perhaps when things get a little less busy, I’ll be able to write a fuller explanation of what happened over the past year and why I’ve chosen to make certain changes in the way I live.
“Part of where you are is where you’ve been. If you aren’t too sure where you are, or if you’re sure but don’t like it, there’s a tendency both in psychotherapy and in literature to retrace your history to see how you got there.”—Margaret Atwood, Survival
I was on campus earlier this month during the first week of classes at Harvard to sit in on Patrick’s lecture. Afterward, I overheard current undergraduates discussing a rape that never happened to me, a rape supposedly perpetrated by my partner, a rape that only ever existed in the minds of anonymous Internet vigilantes who saw it fit to spread such rumors four years ago. I saw a student Google my partner’s “rape scandal” right in front of me, not realizing that I was the “victim” in question, and it made me feel like I was in 2008 again.
How is it possible that this is all it took to completely obliterate the sense of peace and security I’ve built up over the past year?
There’s a lot of talk about whether universities, particularly the elite and rich ones, are hostile environments for women and minorities. But even if Harvard enacted all the policy changes I could ever dream up, I wonder if I could ever truly feel safe there. And I think that’s why I am so utterly exhausted and defeated by all the new attacks. It’s not about stopping whoever is behind this, it’s not about taking someone to court, it’s not even really about trolls on the Internet. It’s about the fact that normal, everyday, perfectly nice people play a role perpetuating rumors and falsities and don’t even realize the impact their actions have on others.
I used to find it hard to breathe walking around Harvard because of all the shit my classmates would say about me. I developed anxiety issues that only receded when I took time off and moved off campus. To this day, I get uncomfortable when I find myself in a crowd on campus. Who do I blame for all this? The ex-boyfriend who put up nude photos of me and opened me up to ridicule from the entire World Wide Web or the anonymous trolls on the Internet who had no problem making fun of a stranger or the people who knew me in real life and participated in the bullying? Do I blame myself for writing about sex in the first place?
I am now 25, not 20, and I’m not sure if or when I will ever like my alma mater or the society I live in. I’m not even supposed to still be in Boston right now. I only stayed because I felt that there were important things that had to be done, things like Patrick’s course, which are now compromised by a “scandal” brought on by a blog I started in 2006 when I was 19 and didn’t even know him yet. I had planned to be in Berlin by now. And frankly, half the reason I want to get the fuck out of America is because I’m unable to contain the rage and resentment I feel toward everyone I’ve ever met in my entire life and everything that’s ever been done to me in this country. I’m not saying that the same thing couldn’t have happened in Europe, but it’s the associations - emotional and physical - that I can’t stand anymore.
My entire time at Harvard, I tried to make it a better place. By the time I graduated in 2010 (a year later than my original class), I had a restored faith in my fellow students. I’m happy in that picture up there. It’s almost as if all my post-grad activism has evolved out of a desire to make sure that the bullying that happened to me will not happen to anyone else again. Maybe there really was some sort of psychic pull, and not just my partner’s dissertation, that kept me in Boston all this time, that made me feel like I couldn’t leave until I felt like I’d settle a debt with Harvard. And given what I know about the students and culture there today, I actually have quite a bit of optimism that sexual discourse has evolved. But my god, there is a limit to what one person can do and what one person can take. I have long surpassed that limit. I don’t want to fight with people about this anymore, I don’t want to cry about this anymore, and I don’t want to explain myself to anyone anymore. I don’t know how to be the girl in that picture today, because she believed in redemption, forgiveness, the ability to move past who we once were. But people are still talking about a rape that never happened to me, without even realizing that their words have done far more damage and caused far more truama than that non-existent assault. For me, the rest of the year is a waiting game. I cannot wait to get out of here. I cannot wait to flee. And what does it say about me that after all these years, I still think of leaving Harvard behind as running away from a home that was never really mine?
Lena, I just wanted to remind you that you are awesome and I can't wait to read your book. For every hater out there, you have a fan! Keep writing and doing your thing. I think that your ability to overcome all of that hatred and bullying is inspiring to fellow feminists like myself. Hang in there, the world needs a strong, young, honest women's voice like yours!
Thank you! I really want to emphasize that I appreciate messages like this so much, and I always read everything even if I don’t have time or energy to respond. I suspect that many of the people who have just become targets of harassment have also found reassurance in hearing from others who have gone through this experience. Even if you aren’t comfortable writing or commenting about this, I encourage you to at least talk about it. I would never have made as much progress as I have toward getting over all my bullying experiences, if it had not been for the support of my partner and friends.
I was one of the targets of the harassment campaign of readers here, and I recently finished applying to grad school. I just wanted to let others know that I was accepted into two really excellent programs! So I think the people who make these decisions can tell the difference between people who have actual dirt on you and anonymous losers calling you a "cumslurping skank." I just wanted to post this in hopes that it would give some hope to the other targets of this campaign.
This is an old note, but I wanted to post it, since it might put some people’s minds at ease. I’ve also gotten messages from other readers who have successfully gotten jobs despite less-than-flattering Google results. So for what it’s worth, most reasonable people realize that there are probably more reliable indicators of your character and qualifications than what a troll put on an anonymous hate blog.
“[Mitt Romney] is making a mockery of our democracy, and The Harvard Crimson will not stand for it. Our form of government depends on the good-faith participation of both major parties. When one candidate chooses to throw an election instead of trying to win, the sanctity of our republic is diminished, the quality of our leadership is reduced, and the financial contributions of our wealthiest citizens are wasted. As political scientists can attest, the perpetual tug-of-war between pitchfork-wielding, Apocalypse-awaiting reactionaries and latte-sipping gay supremacists is one of the few things keeping us from the terrifying descent into tyranny. By effectively removing Republican participation from the 2012 presidential race, Mitt Romney has pushed us one step closer to Beijing-style autocracy.”—
This may very well be the first time The Crimson's made me laugh since Alexandra Petri was a columnist! I couldn’t be less enthused about the presidential election right now, and the only reason I’m even bothering to register to vote is in order to weigh in on a couple ballot initiatives in Massachusetts. I’m done with American politics, done with America, and feel so vindicated that I’m not the only person fed up with the fact that elections are treated like the freaking Olympics by the news media.
I have never registered with a political party, and I cannot imagine a future in which I ever do.
I made the "mistake" of reblogging one of your posts and as a present, got an email from Anonymous threatening to out me and my STDs (?) if I did not cease and desist. Though thoroughly creeped out, I just ignored the email and haven't heard anything since. Lena, I admire your honesty and courage...just know you have a loyal reader in me.
You’re one of many people who have reported a resurgence in harassment this week. I know it’s not much solace to know that you’re not alone, but my friends and even my sister have gotten nasty “warnings” either on Tumblr or email over the past year and a half. These attacks, especially because they come from an anonymous person, can feel really frightening, so I hope you have someone you can talk to about this. If you’ve been threatened on Tumblr, you can also report abuse to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Chen said she does not aspire toward a career in writing about sex. In recent posts, she has moved away from the controversial topic. “It’s really hard to keep the separation between my online life and my real life,” she said. “It’s good to have a certain distance. I don’t want what I start writing about to start impacting my personal life.”—
This is an article that appeared in a Boston University student newspaper back in 2007. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. I can’t believe I ever thought it was possible to move away from writing about sex once I’d been pigeonholed as a sex writer. And even back then, I never wanted to be a Carrie Bradshaw. I thought the fact that I was writing about my sex life was just so secondary compared to everything else I was confronting as a not-wealthy, not-white odd girl out at Harvard. (Feel free to count the number of sex scenes that appeared on Sex and the Ivy over the course of its two-year run. I assure you that you’ll be disappointed.) But the sex part has always been what people want to concentrate on.
The 2007 version of me who was interviewed for the above article was still optimistic. The 2007 version of me didn’t think that the slurs I occasionally got in my comments section could ever escalate to a full-fledged campaign to destroy not only my reputation but the reputation of anyone who ever demonstrated any sort of support for any of my work, sex-related or not. I have spent the last three years advocating for comprehensive sex education and contraceptive access and fighting against the marginalization of women and queer people. I have tried to write less and less about myself. I’ve been actively distancing myself from Sex and the Ivy. I haven’t even reread the old blog since I stopped updating it. I haven’t finished an entire piece of personal writing in over a year.
I hate this. I hate the constant worry that someone new has been slandered today. I hate the guilt I feel for fucking up god knows how many people’s Google results. I hate that I can’t blog anything anymore, not even anonymous things from anonymous readers, without worrying about the implications. I hate that no one can do anything about this. And I hate the writer’s block, I hate that this entire ordeal, which has been going on for years and years and years, has completely eliminated my ability to examine my past or the person I used to be. I don’t want to read writing that reminds me of trauma when that trauma is on-going and exhausting and impeding my ability to produce writing today.
I love writing and I love my readers and I love my friends, but my god, I do not love blogging or the Internet anymore.
So here I ask, to no one in particular, when do I get to have my peace of mind? What am I supposed to do to convince everyone who hates me and pursues my loved ones relentlessly that it’s enough now, that I get it? What do you want me to say? That I am, in fact, a slut? That I am wrong? That the way I conduct my life is morally reprehensible? Because if that’s what it takes, if that’s all you wanted to hear - a hallow and resigned acceptance of your judgment of me - well, I could’ve given you that years ago if you’d just asked.
I found my name on an Autoadmit thread, although I am uncomfortable with being listed, what I found worse was the fact they linked my name to the wrong person. The school and the school email address belongs to someone else. Your haters would go so far to harass you that they would attach the wrong things to my shared name. Although it's proof that I've done a good job in keeping my identity secret, I feel bad that someone else is being targeted.
This isn’t the first time that’s happened. Similarly, I feel bad for anyone who shares my name. Whereas I have a website, social media platforms, and other methods of disseminating correct information about myself, there are a lot of people who have been harassed who do not. Hardly any of my closest friends even have blogs.
It’s hard to say whether the best response is to lock down your entire online existence or to disseminate accurate information. That said, a friend of mine, whose Google results are as bad mine, has had no trouble finding a job or demonstrating her credibility. She wrote in a recent comment:
As one of the most frequently featured targets of this individual’s defamation, I can offer a word of reassurance. I have worked for and been vetted by very high-profile institutions during this four-years-and-strong harassment campaign, and I shared your anxieties about how it would affect my career (particularly when this person started spreading lies that I had been fired). Yet in these four years, I’ve gone through reviews and formal background checks with no problem, and in the one instance when it has come up, my employer was 100% sympathetic and supportive. So I’m letting out a slow sigh of relief as it’s become steadily more apparent that anyone with more than two brain cells can deduce that this person is full of lies and crazy. While it’s unfortunate that more and more people are being dragged into this, there’s kind of a perverse strength in numbers here: the more people he defames, the more obvious it is that he’s full of shit.
So, I wouldn’t worry too much. And now that your name is out there, I would recommend becoming more visible, not less: actively manage your public profiles/blogs so that any reasonable person can find an easy rebuttal to the lies.
I hope the above puts some people’s minds at ease. And to anonymous, thank you for sharing this experience. I think it just goes to show that anyone can become a victim, even those who don’t know my work, but simply have the unfortunate luck of sharing a name with someone who does.
Not to sound like a public service announcement, but if you or someone you know has been affected by this harassment campaign, you can share your story here.
“The most profound betrayal of feminist issues has been the lack of mass-based feminist protest challenging the government’s assault on single mothers and the dismantling of the welfare system. Privileged women, many of whom call themselves feminists, have simply turned away from the “feminization of poverty.”—bell hooks
This is part of the reason why I find it harder and harder to identify with “feminism” by the day. Because feminism today is not merely an idea, it’s an institution, and just like in a political party, those in power might very well have good intentions, but good intentions don’t feed hungry children. In other words, I am tired of debating things like work-life balance with other educated women when the people who concern me most can’t even find work in the first place.
sigh - just wanted to say that searching my full name on google leads to those blog-reader-target-websites with a link to my tumblr, wordpress, twitter, and real name (and even my uni). not so bad since most of those pages are private, but what really galls me is that my sisters names have been dragged into it as well. reported those pages to google, but eh. anyway, hope you're having a good day...
I’m posting some old notes (all anonymous) that I’ve received over the past year regarding the ongoing cyber harassment against my friends, family, readers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and well, anyone even vaguely associated with me. At the time this first started happening, I was not dealing with it very well. I’m still not. I’m hardly on the Internet nowadays, purposely avoiding social networks for the most part, despite the fact that my work used to kind of depend on it. I just can’t do journalism anymore. The money I get isn’t worth it and the shit I deal with isn’t worth it, and everyday, whether or not I blog, I am negotiating between the public and the private, and it’s exhausting given that most of my work has consisted of personal writing up until this year. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I am spending more and more time on fiction these days. My own little sister’s name has been dragged into this, so has my mother’s. I don’t want to deal with this kind of scrutiny for the rest of my life. I don’t want anyone else to deal with this scrutiny either.
Anyway, if you or someone you know wrote the above, I truly hope things have improved since. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the past 12 months, and I wish I could have been more understanding and supportive, more engaged with those affected by this harassment campaign. I’ve never written so much and shared so little during such a long period of time. And while I do miss engaging in discussions with my readers, I also realize that this has become less and less possible as people fear retaliation. After all, what’s the point of having a comments section when I am simultaneously advising people to not post comments lest they attract the attention of my stalker? What’s the point of having a blog?
Hi, Lena. I've been reading your blog(s) for years now and deeply admire your courage and honesty. I did, however, make the mistake of liking ONE of your posts here with my personal account. That, of course, led to some pretty nasty posts/comments on AutoAdmit, laughingly labeled "the most prestigious law school discussion board in the world." It's my bad, I know. But I intend to take on this high-profile job. Any advice on legal action I could take that could help out with the libel?
Thanks for taking the time to read my work! And please don’t blame yourself for what happened. You’re not the first reader who has been targeted for harassment and concerned about the professional implications, and sadly, you probably won’t be the last. Most of my close friends and many of my fellow progressive activists have already been libeled endlessly on the Internet (all thanks to their association with me). People have come to me with concerns about what this will mean for their grad school applications and job interviews.
That said, I’d actually advise you against legal action, which will likely be costly in terms of time, money, and emotional energy. This has been going on since 2008, and whoever the perpetrators are, they have a lot more free time on their hands than I do. I’m guessing that you probably have more worthwhile projects to pursue as well. While I can’t guarantee that these misogynistic and racist rants won’t be taken seriously, I suspect that your qualifications are going to carry much greater weight than anonymous posts on the Internet.
What’s important to note here is that you didn’t do anything wrong and you shouldn’t have to feel like you’re on the defensive (though of course, that’s a pretty inescapable feeling when you’re on the receiving end of random attacks from a stranger on the web). The only thing you did was click a “like” button, and it’s pretty ridiculous that people can’t do that on my blog without being afraid of getting outed and accused of all kinds of made-up things.
I encourage others who have been targeted for reading my site to share their experiences and strategies for coping. Beyond the professional concerns, I think the most damaging aspect of being harassed without cause or reason is precisely that: not knowing what you did to deserve this type of treatment. It’s treatment I’ve gotten essentially my entire life, not even from the Internet but from people in the real world. The only thing that has helped me emotionally cope with the bullying I experienced in middle school and at Harvard was to talk about it. Maybe if more folks discuss how they, too, have fallen victim to the malicious whims of bullies who live on and off the Internet, people will begin to realize that this is something that can happen to their friend or sibling or classmate. There’s so much shame and self-blame around this topic, and while I don’t want others to have to go through what i have to go through, I don’t think the answer is to turn to the law, given that this harassment is happening in part because of the law’s inadequacies.
In truth we never talk about a book unto itself; a whole set of books always enters the discussion through the portal of a single title, which serves as a temporary symbol for a complete conception of culture. In every such discussion, our inner libraries — built within us over the years and housing all our secret books — come into contact with the inner libraries of others, potentially provoking all manner of friction and conflict.
For we are more than simple shelters for our inner libraries; we are the sum of these accumulated books. Little by little, these books have made us who we are, and they cannot be separated from us without causing us suffering.
”—Pierre Bayard, How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read
I’m sick with the same thing everyone else has. And I’m pretty sure all my other roomies had/have it too.
How funny that I went from being irritated over lost productivity to becoming kind of grateful for the reprieve from life. I haven’t had a moment’s rest in the past two weeks, barely time to read email, no energy left over to write at all. My illness is a welcome break, a chance to breathe, a chance to read, a chance to be alone with myself.