Thoughts From (Feminist) Places: The Wonderful Women of Whitechapel Walking Tour

A few days ago, I walked for hours around a part of London I’d never explored before with my Women in Britain class to learn about influential women and their contributions to modern day society—all of women I’d never even heard of before.

The tour gathered outside the Whitechapel tube station in East London. This was an important starting point given the fact that East End of London used to be the home to majority poor immigrants who were unwelcome and place in the same area as all the industry, factories, and pollution. Back then, nobody went out of their way to go to the East End like we did and nobody walked around during their leisure time. In fact, when I looked around at the sights, the shopping centers, skyscrapers, our tour guide told us that the air used to be so contaminated with dirt and ash that you wouldn’t have even been able to see the buildings in distance.

The people of Whitechapel were literally separated from everyone else.


It gave me an interesting look at the intersection of class, gender, and economic opportunity. These people—who were primarily poor immigrants—worked in poor condition in a toxic environment to produce the products and industry that benefited upper-class people.

Similar to what I noticed at the Imperial War Museum exhibit I wrote about last time, the working class women bore the brunt of the hard work in order to survive and keep the resting of London functioning.

From there, we went on to learn about the impact that women had on the lives of others around East London—something I’ve never had a chance to learn about before. Despite the impact that these women had on contemporary society, nursing, and education, they have been excluded from mainstream history lessons. For example, Princess (and later Queen) of Wales, Alexandra supported the nursing profession and set up labs to work on cures for diseases.


I hope that one day women’s accomplishments, history, and impact won’t be sectioned off as a “specialty” or “other” category that’s separate from the history we learn about in the classroom. I wish I didn’t have seek out these history lessons on my own through the internet and through taking specific gender studies classes. There shouldn’t be just “women’s history” or “women’s studies,” but the accomplishments should just be acknowledged and not overlooked.

I shouldn’t have to go out of my way to learn about these women and their contributions to mainstream society—they should be included in what we learn about history. If we learn about influential women—past and present—in institutional spaces like the classroom, it will reinforce the idea the accomplishments of women made a difference in our world and they shouldn’t be taken for granted.

For example, one woman in particular that stood out to me was Eva Luckes. Luckes was a matron at London Hospital for thirty-nine years and she made many improvements to the nursing profession and in hospitals in general. In fact, she was so dedicated to her work that she even died at her desk during a shift. Despite being the youngest one there and having to prove herself, she left a strong legacy at the hospital. For example, she came up with the idea of giving sick children spaces to keep their things to make the hospital feel a little bit more like home.

As we kept walking through the streets of London, I saw the places these women once worked at, the charities they started, the community centers they ran, the pubs they went to, and apartment complexes that were targeted during World War II.

I saw the places that facilitated their accomplishments and wished that I could have learned more. As a woman, it’s encouraging to see what young women have done to make their communities and workplaces better.

I also liked how the tour guide highlighted the ways in which the majority of these women worked together and worked for others. Furthermore, many of them looked out for those who lived more on the margins than them, those who were poorer and less privileged.

This should be the aim of contemporary feminism—to consider those who have less social power.

The Value of Not Knowing Anything

Hello beautiful people. I’m back and writing to you on a couch in my new apartment…in London. Did I say I was moving to London for a little bit to study abroad? Well, I moved to London for a couple months to study abroad.

Here’s a pretty picture to make up for my absence:


Although my transition to this big city where I never know which side of the street to walk on hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be, I’ve been away the activist community I’ve been a part of at home and I haven’t been participating in the same events or in the same spaces that always gave me ideas and content.

Even though I am unbelievably lucky to do so—moving here, leaving behind my friends, family, and comfort, without a place to live, was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. There were many times when I thought I wouldn’t even go. I had projects and communities I didn’t want to leave behind.

I’m working to build that community here and I’m starting to feel more at home. Every now and again, it’s good to switch things up, start new projects, and join new organizations. I’m excited for this even though it’s nerve wracking.

This semester I’ll be working in local politics which is entirely different to the non-profit and organizing world that I’m used to.

In my last post, I told myself that the theme of 2016 was to be unapologetic—I’m sticking to that and that theme is carrying over into my study abroad experience. In my last post, I wrote that I’m going to demand more from the people and relationships in my life, but I’m also going to demand more from myself.

I want to put myself outside of where I feel comfortable, to be in spaces where I feel out of place so then I have to work harder to figure out how to fit there.

This has caused me to have to have to watch, learn, and pay attention. For example, at my political internship, I know almost nothing about British politics or working in local government. So I have to watch people, see what they’re saying and doing, and look things up.

This is relatively new for me. I’m used to doing hands on work and completing self-directed projects. Now I’m shadowing people and watching what they do. I like getting a different perspective, it’s helping me slow down, not take on a million things at once, and ask questions.

There’s definitely value in learning from other people and not placing pressure on yourself to feel like you have to know everything already.

For those of you back home starting a new semester this week, I urge you to set some goals like this for yourself. Put yourself in a space where know nothing. That way, you have to learn something new.

It’s refreshing. Much of activism is community-based and requires collaboration and learning from one another. So this learning is valuable.

I really appreciate these lessons I’m getting while I’m away from my activist community back home in the states.

On a similar note, I’m currently working on a semi-secret new project. Once again, I don’t know anything. Still, I’m weirdly enjoying figuring it out, messing up, taking breaks, and trying again. I’m also not entirely on my own. I have a mentors who I talk things out with and turn to for guidance.

I like not knowing anything, being out of my comfort zone, having to sit down and figure it out, and learn from others.

It’s not real, rewarding work if you don’t have to put in some effort.

Well, before I get to rambley and like an annoying motivational speaker, I think I’ll end this here.

Go learn some new things,


How to Spot a Toxic Friendship: Things to Consider

Around this time last year, I realized that I was surrounded by several problematic, toxic people. I seemed to learn the same lesson over and over again—toxic, abusive relationships aren’t just limited to the people we’re romantically involved with and both can be equally as consequential and personally damaging.

I’ve written a lot about unhealthy relationships on this blog in the past, but today I think we should talk about something that’s often overlooked: toxic friendships.

I was friends with this guy all through high school and a little bit into college—and at times the friendship was really beneficial, and at times it was really, really bad. Stupid jokes were fine when we were fourteen, but through the years the friendship became more and more problematic. Whenever we would make plans, we would always end up doing what he wanted to do. Other times, he would leave little space for me in the conversation. I would text him that I was having a bad day and a message exchange later the conversation would have flipped to be about him. He would say mean things to me and then claim to be joking.

It wasn’t until the friendship ended that I looked back and wondered why it lasted so long.

There’s something about friendships—especially friendships between men and women that we excuse, somehow we think poor treatment is okay because you’re just friends and not romantically involved.

That’s not true.

That also doesn’t mean that doesn’t mean that unhealthy or even abusive behaviors can’t work their way into a relationship.

Here’s some things to think about if you think your friendship is toxic:

1) Are they always looking for you to be who you were at the beginning of the friendship?

If you’ve been friends with someone for a while or over a period years, it’s normal that you’ll grow as a person, learn new things, and mature (hopefully). These are positive things.

Think back to who you were in middle school. It’s tough, I know. I have a point, I promise.

You might have dyed your hair, you might have downloaded embarrassing songs onto your iPod, you might have been mean to kids in your class.

But you grew up, found new interests, and shed old habits. This is part of being a person.

People—especially women—are taught that being a good person means being a good friend, and being a good friend means being who their friends expect them to be. I encountered this a lot in high school and sometimes in college where I would act a certain way in front of some friends and then hide aspects of myself in front of others.

This comes from a need to accommodate others, but this isn’t healthy and it will make your relationships surface-level rather than fulfilling.

We are rarely taught to think about the ways we should—and deserve to—benefit from our friendships.

2) Can you be yourself unapologetically with them and express your thoughts and opinions?

It’s likely that you will come across people who you have differing opinions with. This can be a positive thing—they can open you to new ideas and ways of critical thinking. But this only positive if your friend doesn’t stifle your thoughts, opinions, and values that you bring to the table.

The same friend I was referring to before used to always challenge the way I felt and invalidate my thoughts—especially when it came to social justice issues I care about. Given that things like body image, healthy relationships, activism, etc. are things that I take the time to blog about and have conversations in my everyday life about, it clearly matters to me.

Your friends don’t have to share the same passions you have, but they do have to respect them.

3) Does the occasional bad outweigh the good?

Because we oftentimes receive false cultural messages about what respect looks like, it can be easy to minimize feelings of being disrespected as “overreacting.”

But here’s the deal: from time to time, friends might say or do things that hurt you—but this shouldn’t happen on regular basis.

A good exercise to do when thinking about how healthy the friendship is to think about how often you feel happy with this person. Do you genuinely enjoy your time together or do you always find yourself waiting for them to cancel plans or make an insulting comment?

If it’s the second, this friendship may be damaging to your well-being and anxiety and resentment can build up.

4) Do they feel entitled to your friendship?

This is a big one that I’ve encountered with a lot of past friends—especially male friends (speaking from my own experience). People who think they can behave however they want and say whatever they want and then feel as if you don’t have the right to take offense or expect an apology when they hurt you—even if it was unintentional—are not worth your energy.

Especially for women, it can be different to walk away from people who hurt us. Because oftentimes those exact people do an excellent job minimizing and invalidating our feelings.

I remember when I would call my friend out for things, he would later send me text messages explaining how he didn’t actually do anything wrong, that I had unrealistic expectations for him as a friend. In reality, I was expecting him to be a relatively decent person towards me. But he felt as if he could act in ways that upset me, and it was my job to get over it.

When our friendship came to its inevitable end and I told him to stop contacting me, I received text messages and Facebook messages telling me he didn’t do anything wrong, asking me why I wasn’t answering, and demanding that we start hanging out again.

I received these messages for an entire year after our friendship ended.

It wasn’t until I wrote about this friend awhile later for a writing exercise in class that I finally used words like “manipulation” and “harassment.”

It doesn’t matter if you appreciate their company and laugh and have a good time 40% of time if the other 60% involves that person making you feel inadequate. What you experience might not be abuse with a capital A—but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t toxic and that it doesn’t hurt.

Emotional pain is still pain no matter who’s inflicting it.

Either way—you deserve better.

You can love someone and care about someone, as a friend—and they can still treat you badly.

Being Different: Some Thoughts on Being “The Activist”

*Sorry for the delay in posting, please read some of my latest blogs for here.

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my Dad we were talking about an altercation I’d gotten into with someone via Facebook on the importance of saying #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMatter and he said: “it seems like you have to deal with a lot of people who say ignorant things to you.”

Sadly, this is a reality for a lot of people who do social justice work. It’s common for people who express certain opinions to be boxed into being “the feminist” or “the activist,” instead of a person with valid thoughts and feelings.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone say to me: you’re upset about x because you’re a feminist. As if the fact that I’m upset doesn’t matter anymore; suddenly, it’s my problem that I’m upset and I need to get over it.

Even though I spend a lot of time sifting through ignorant conversations and I’ve gotten better at tuning them out, it can still be draining.

Sometimes when you’re at a party and you mention to someone that you care about reproductive justice and someone starts drunkenly debating with you about where life begins—it can get old. Really old.

I recently got into a pretty heated argument with someone. I’ll leave the details out but let’s just say it wasn’t so much a conversation or debate but rather one person raising their voice at me when I wouldn’t suddenly change my values and opinions to match theirs. I wouldn’t cave and I kept responding to their claims; they got angrier. I left feeling frustrated and disrespected.

There’s nothing worse than conversations with people who don’t care about you, or learning, or having a productive discussion—their only concern is to control the way you think and feel.

You’re wrong. They’re right. The end.

People can have different opinions. People can disagree with each other. That’s all fine—what’s not okay is making someone feel like shit because they disagree with you.

Remember: it doesn’t matter if someone is a “feminist,” an “activist,” or any other kind of social justice person, they are also a human being who deserves respect and validation.

When I got in the car with my Mom soon after the argument happened, she could tell I was upset. She was upset for me.

“When you’re different like you are, and you have your own opinions, you’re going to run into people like that. It’s part of being different but it’s a good thing,” she told me.

She’s right.

Being different is a good thing—even when it’s difficult.

In those moments though, it can be easy to feel singled out. It can be easy to feel like you’re being punished for caring about the things you’re passionate about, for being different.

But in the end, it’s worth it to stand out.

At the end of the day, all that matters is knowing what you stand for and sticking to it. Knowing why you care your cause and fighting for it even when some people are against you. Knowing that for every stupid comment on a Facebook post or untimely debate at a college party, there are a whole bunch of people who are on your side.

Some Thoughts on Coming Home

I apologize for the small hiatus I took from writing, midterms were rough ya’ll and I really needed the break to recharge.

Let’s move on now to some quick life-updates now that I’m backing from visiting home.

During my first year of college, I had to take a personal essay writing class and the theme of one essay that we had to write was “home.” I remember having a hard time knowing what to write about and I struggled to come up with the right words to describe what home even meant to me. A year later, in an environmental politics course, we were asked to define home and community—and I still didn’t really have an answer.

I’m from a very small suburban area that’s mostly malls and chain restaurants. I’m not complaining about where I come from, that’s just what it is. I didn’t really like it. It didn’t feel very much like home.

My hometown sits between two bigger cities in upstate NY that people have heard of and I alternate between those two cities whenever people ask me where I’m from. I just started defaulting to what people would recognize.

There have been many spaces in my life that have actually felt like home. My college, my grandma’s house, the summer camp I used to work at. But all these homes have been at least a little bit temporary—unlike my home that has always stayed the same.

When I think about my hometown, I can point to the huge rock behind the staples where my high school friends and I used to on sit and talk, the long line I always waited in for the same Chipotle burrito I always ordered with the same ingredients every time, and the almost empty neighborhood where my Dad taught me how to drive.

I treated my hometown like a waiting room before I would finally leave and my Real Life would finally get going and I would make new friends and my weekend plans would be more than just deciding whose basement we should hang out in.

And I did head off to college and I did make new friends and go on adventures and change my major and make stupid mistakes like every college student does, but I spent most of that time waiting for what was next.

That was a really unhealthy way for me to live.

You may be wondering if I really took up all that space just to give you some You Should Live in the Moment speech. That’s not what I’m saying.

My point is that not every moment or memory you have is going to be wonderful and eventful and that’s okay. Don’t walk around feeling unfulfilled all the time. In fact, when you’re bored is oftentimes when you’re most creative and have the time to start new projects.

So to everyone out there who likes to work on a million things at once and engaged in a million social justice movements—take a quick break, go home (or to a place that feels like home)—if you can—and remember some of the things that shaped you.

All the best,


My Planned Parenthood Story

I apologize for the little break I’ve taken from updating this website. In the meantime, I’ve posted a few blogs here:

This summer there were many ongoing attacks and attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. The organization that serves over five million women, men, and teens worldwide and that has primarily supported low-income women is still under constant threat. The loss of such an organization would be devastating for women, their families, and for reproductive freedom.

In response to these ridiculous, ill-informed attacks, many have come forward sharing their stories and experiences with Planned Parenthood and explaining what it means to them. There is now even a Humans of Planned Parenthood page where people can share their stories.

Here’s mine.

My Planned Parenthood story is not the typical story that’s been cropping up. I’ve never really had to use their health care services (although everyone I know says they’re great). I’ve never had to have an abortion. Planned Parenthood has given me something different—a cause to care about, close friends, and confidence in making my own decisions.


Let me explain a little more:

When I first started my freshman year of college, it was a little lonely. I’d made some friends. I liked my class. It wasn’t terrible—but I didn’t love it. I felt very stuck and isolated on the hill of my college and overwhelmed by it. Then I went to a random, extra-credit presentation on Roe v. Wade.

Before starting college I knew almost nothing about reproductive health. I knew nothing about the attacks on women’s bodies and their right to have control over their bodies. I thought Planned Parenthood was just a place to get condoms. I had no idea that they were part of a much bigger, crucial fight for basic human rights and gender equality.

So I listened to the speaker, a former Ithaca College professor named Zillah Eisenstein, talk about women she knew who got “back alley” abortions and risked their lives because they couldn’t get the care they needed. It just seemed so fundamentally wrong to me that someone’s rights and bodily autonomy could be taken away from them because of their gender.

And I wanted to get involved.

After the presentation ended, there was a woman named Alicia from Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes tabling in the back. She was the current Director of Public Affairs, and she is now one of my dear friends. She was looking for people to table downtown with her during Applefest and since I really wanted to be part of something outside my college, I signed up.

The whole time when I was tabling, women kept walking up to us and telling us that PPSFL is the only reason why they can get their breast exams and basic, necessary health care needs. Alicia also told me that I should consider starting a Planned Parenthood VOX (now called Generation Action) chapter.


Photo Taken in October 2013-The First Time I Ever Volunteered with PPSFL

I agreed.

Because of Planned Parenthood, I was able to start building a home and community for myself on my campus and get involved in the community. I started working with other students to start a Planned Parenthood group and I would go off campus to phone bank and speak with legislators about bills that impact access to reproductive health.

Planned Parenthood gave me a home and something to care about.

Planned Parenthood gave me a cause to put my negative energy into to turn it into something good.

Planned Parenthood taught me the importance of body positivity and bodily autonomy and the way they intersect.

I owe the organization everything for that.

My whole life is different now. I floated through high school only doing things I thought would get me a scholarship to college. I never did things that actually mattered to me until college. I challenged myself. I stopped being so shy and started facilitating conversations on tough, necessary topics like bystander intervention, Title IX, reproductive health, and more. I started understanding the social forces like gender inequality, sexism, classism, and other power structures that shape the world we live in.

Planned Parenthood gave me the tools to start to do something about that. To stop being so uncomfortable with body and to learn how to take ownership of it. To find the courage to stand up and speak in front of a group of people, to write online, and to realize that my voice has value.

PP post

Thanks for everything PP,


Let’s Talk About Activist Burnout

Hi there, blog. Do you remember me?

I’ve missed you. I really have.

Each day I tell myself I want to blog. I tell myself that today will be the day that I post. I have lists of blog ideas in my notebook right now. I have written many blogs at my job. I have mostly-completed blogs just sitting on my desktop.

                                          Blog 2

But each time, something stops me.

A few days ago I read a passage in Roxane Gay’s book Bad Feminist that really seemed to describe what I’ve been feeling but never knew how to explain:

“We all have history. You can think you’re over your history. You can think the past is the past. And then something happens, often innocuous, that shows you just how far you are from being over it.”

Lately certain events and random occurrences in my life have dragged old, distressing memories to the forefront of my brain.

We all have moments that brought us to care about the things we do, to fight for the things we want to fight for. For me, a lot of what brought me to do the work I do—which mostly involves engaging people in conversations centered on equality, gender, healthy relationships, and activism—came from those memories which have me a strong desire to fight back, to take experiences that once brought me pain and use them to help people.

My drive to keep pushing forward for change came from those memories. But now my drive has been slowing drastically. And I hate it.

A few days ago I bought tickets to play inside the ball pit inside the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. The ball pit was essentially a giant pit of balls exactly like you would see in McDonalds but bigger and deeper and kind of dangerous.


One moment you could be standing and totally fine and the next you could be slowly sinking, getting stuck and buried beneath a million tiny white balls. I would start to slip beneath the surface and then I would fight to break free.

That’s how I feel right now.

I feel like old memories and little things—that remind me how messed up the world still is and how much work there still is to do—keep piling up, threatening to bury me and I keep having to fight to break free to the surface again.

I know this post is metaphor-heavy but I think that’s what it needs to be.

The weird thing about the way I feel right now is that I don’t feel unhappy. I have many good things in my life and I’m aware that I have many good things. I feel more confident than I ever have before in my life.

But right now I also feel buried by all the things that still need to change.  

This weekend was rough. I realized how much I’m chained to my anger. Nothing huge happened. Instead, it was a collection of occurrences that added up.

I felt anger at  the men who cat called me outside my metro stop—just like they do every time I walk home alone. I felt disgusted by all the men who felt they were allowed to touch me because I was wearing a tank top. I felt gross and objectified by the men who grabbed me to get me to dance with them even when I screamed the word “Stop” over the loud, thudding music. I’m furious that this behavior is normalized and allowed—and I have the right to be. I’m having trouble letting myself take up that much space.

This is just one example of how backwards everything is. This is just one example of what I’ve been experiencing lately.This isn’t even close to the worst injustices out there—but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

It just means that I can’t give up yet—or ever.

But the way I’m feeling right now is telling me that I need to make some changes. I’ve written advice blogs on staying motivated before, but I missed something very important—I never talked about how critical it is to validate and address the way you feel.

All too often, when I try to call out something problematic, I’m just the annoying feminist activist who needs to chill, who doesn’t understand that that’s just the way the world is. And this happens frequently to anyone who dares to object to sexism, racism, ableism, etc.

Being silenced will not change anything, staying silent will not allow you to help make things better.

When it comes to feeling burnt out, take a break if you need. Reflect on the way you feel. Talk to others who will understand.* Find an outlet. Realize that you have a right to feel the way you do. Let yourself feel it.

Then keep going when you’re ready.

My voice is one of the few things I have among all the things in my life that I can’t control. I’m not going to give it up.

I’m ready to keep going.

*Although it is sadly stigmatized, seeing a counselor or mental health professional is always a good option when it comes to self-care and burnout.

The American Constitution Society: A Reflection

This blog post was originally posted here on on June 26th, 2015.

About a week ago I walked twenty five minutes to the closest Forever 21 in pursuit of a professional-looking jacket at a reasonable price. I had to look extra-professional because I was going to be playing the part of law student at 9am the next morning.

As a part of my internship with Young People For (YP4) this summer, I’ll be helping to engage young people in the courts and raise awareness of the importance of judges and the judicial system to advance progressive causes. Because of this, I was given the opportunity to attend the American Constitution Society Convention, a conference for law students and lawyers so I could learn more about the courts and their impact on our everyday lives.


I was surrounded by people in suits. I was probably the only one there who was twenty and couldn’t legally drink at the reception. People were surprised—and impressed—to see that I was only a college student who was there to learn. I was given lots of advice on law school—that it’s worth it, that it’s the worst, that I should go, that I absolutely shouldn’t.

Courts Cohort

Despite receiving conflicting advice, I learned a lot—both in and out of the panel discussions and speeches. I attended panels on Title IX, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, mass incarceration, and I went to a workshop on writing Op-Eds. I listened to distinguished law professors from top law schools, I listened to Wendy Davis speak about reproductive freedom, economic inequality, women’s rights, and the ways in which these three issues intersect with each other, I attended a Q&A with—wait for it—Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


It was awesome.

I learned so much. I learned from inspiring, knowledgeable individuals who had a real impact on addressing social issues and equality for marginalized groups within the legal system.

It made me think: would a law degree be a ticket to being one of these people?

But then other thoughts came to my mind: would I be smart enough? Then I looked around the room: most of the people there were white, and most of the people there were men. Most of the universities that were represented were Ivy League. Would I survive in a profession that only caters to a certain demographic of people? A law degree could cost upwards of $80,000 a year for three years. Then there are application fees, LSAT exams and preparation expenses on top of that.

Something that I thought was missing from the convention was addressing how we get people to go to law school so then they can become judges and fill spots in political offices, the Senate, and the Supreme Court in the first place. Because right now only a certain set of financially-able individuals are encouraged to go to law school and are put on track to get there.

If we truly want diversity on the bench and in the legal profession, then we need to start encouraging people of different backgrounds that they should and are capable of successfully receiving a law degree. We need to carve a space for those who belong to marginalized identity groups so then the space doesn’t seem to only belong to predominately white, upper class males.

Too many people get turned off if they feel like they’re going to be in a space where they won’t be valued, heard, or represented.

We need to start churning out lawyers and politicians and other professionals that can understand a wider demographic of people who are really committed to addressing inequalities.

Just a thought.

At the closing of the convention, I sat there and listened to Ruth Bader Ginsburg discuss the sexism she faced in the workplace and I listened to her tell the story of how she struggled to get her first job. Employers told her directly that they didn’t want to hire her because she’s a woman. It’s scary to think that that wasn’t that long ago.

But then they showed us pictures of t-shirts that Justice Ginsburg’s fans made and I thought about the incredible influence that she’s had on many lives and in many monumental court cases. Through all the adversity and discrimination, she made a real difference and that’s worth noticing and celebrating.

Now we just need to pave the way so that more people have the opportunity to get there.

You Deserve Healthy Relationships, Plural.

This past Thursday I started facilitating a program called SPEAK, a prevention program for adults with developmental disabilities that focuses on education around consent and healthy relationships. Although I really want to share my thoughts on this program and the ways that it acknowledges that people with disabilities have sexual desires and want fulfilling relationships just as much as the rest of us (something our culture often forgets,) today I want to focus on one component of the program: healthy relationships.

Our culture tends to put romantic relationships on a pedestal and tell us that we’re not complete on our own. For example, we see the same narrative played out over and over again in movies and sitcoms—the successful woman with a great career whose love life is a disaster. We see her lack of a romantic relationship as a complete failure. Its cultural attitudes like this that lead people (male, female, and otherwise) to settle for unhealthy relationships because that seems to be easier and more accepted than being single.

I think that stinks.

Early on in the SPEAK program, we had the participants tell us different people that they have relationships with. We got answers like mom, dad, cousins, co-workers, sisters, friends, teachers, boyfriends, girlfriends, healthcare professionals, bus drivers, and acquaintances.

One of the facilitators then went on to ask the participants if it matters if they are treated badly by a boyfriend or girlfriend vs. an acquaintance. Is one more acceptable than the other? She asked them.

The answer is no. We deserve to feel genuinely respected and appreciated by and safe with everyone we come into contact with.

That means that you should ditch that significant other that’s always flirting with other people as much as you should rethink your relationship with your aunt who always points out when you gain weight or the friend who always blows off plans.

Although there tends to me more emphasis on romantic relationships, you deserve multiple fulfilling, beneficial, healthy relationships that allow you to grow as a person.

I know many people, including myself, who have stayed in unhealthy partnerships for longer than they should have because they didn’t feel like they deserved any better or could do any better. I’m telling you, you do deserve better and you can do so much better.

Say it with me: I deserve respect. Now say it again.

The days surrounding Valentine’s Day can feel very lonely and isolating for some people. Take some time today to reflect back on the positive relationships in your life, not just romantic ones. Not to get to cheesy, but remind yourself of the wonderful people in your life who make you laugh and listen to your problems and make you feel better when you’re sad. Remember that you deserve all these things and more.

With love,