Living as a woman in the state of Kansas for the last seven years, I have learned many new things. How does one rightly go about being a woman? After all, I spent many years trying to figure out how one rightly goes about being a man -- to no avail, I might add. Thus, seven years ago I began the process of discovering, uncovering, and recovering the woman of my soul. It never occurred to me that one day I would be organizing a women's conference in Topeka.
Last weekend Capital City NOW worked together with the Washburn University Women's and Gender Studies department, the Washburn student group STAND (Students Together Advocating Non-Violent Dating), YWCA of Topeka Center for Safety and Empowerment, and the local chapter of the League of Women Voters to present the first-of-its-kind Womyn Rising conference at Washburn University in Topeka. As vice president of Capital City NOW, I had the honor of being the conference committee chairwoman.
We had 17 workshops with 27 different presenters on a wide variety of women's topics. About 75 women and men attended the workshops, which dealt will political issues, medical obstacles and services, grief, joy, human trafficking, sexual assault, and gender and sexual minorities. There were workshops on substance abuse, domestic violence, racial justice, women in journalism, and leadership.
Seven years before, when I began this journey of truth and self, I had no true understanding about any of this. One of the first transgender-woman lessons, which is sadly also one of the first cisgender-woman lessons, was about how to avoid becoming a victim of rape.
Lesson two was about privilege. I watched as my opinion became less valued (not less valuable but less valued) as I began to be seen as a woman. Subtle, silent shifts in how I was viewed in the world came into direct, stark conflict with the lessons of my youth. Having been perceived as a boy, I was taught the value of my opinion and the limitlessness of the heights to which I could aspire. In the meantime, my father told my sister that she did not need to learn math.
I realize from these experiences that I did not become a feminist. I became informed, knowledgeable, and aware. After that, being a feminist was just the right thing to do.
As I grew, I became more aware of many things. A Kansas legislator who compared being raped to the inconvenience of having a flat tire. Another who thought that shooting human beings from a helicopter, should he perceive them as being "illegals," was a potential solution to a perceived immigration problem. A Kansas state senator who compared being gay with bestiality. A Kansas pastor who called for the government to execute gays. A Kansas state representative who suggested that human trafficking victims could be excluded from services if they were gay. This was before the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill that would designate LGBT Kansans as a separate, lesser-than class. This bill has stalled, but there are groups in Kansas working to get it moving again.
I recently listened to a black man talk at a gathering about the mass incarceration of young black men in our country. He spoke about how he felt the need to teach his teenage sons that they could not go walking outside after dark because the color of their skin would more likely lead to law enforcement intervention into their world. And then I hear people say that racism no longer exists in America.
It simply leaves me shaking my head. But shaking my head is not enough. The truths of oppression are many, yet they are rarely discussed in open conversation between individuals for whom there is no direct personal stake. We must understand that everyone has personal stake in these truths, and that failure to discuss them in open conversation is at the root of all that is wrong with the world.
From the beginnings of the journey, I have discovered and learned how to be my true, authentic self. My gift to the world today is my true, authentic self. I have also discovered the value of conversation about the things we do not talk about, and the needless suffering that injures us deeply when those conversations do not take place.
Womyn Rising Topeka 2014 was a great success. Some of those who stood on the outside saw it as a gathering of women rising up against men. Those who experienced the inside saw a gathering of women and men who cried and laughed and hugged each other, who shared pain and suffering so that others might not feel so alone, who bound together in our humanity, for there is no humanity that does not contain both women and men. There is no humanity that does not include all human beings on the planet.
Womyn Rising Topeka 2015 is in the works. We will open the window shades once again and shed some light on our common humanness and our common humanity. Those who experience the inside will be forever changed for having experienced the light.
View photos from the conference here.