LOVE, COUSIN

My first inspirational post comes from my dear friend, photographer & writer, Stacy Osterman. Stace is inspirational to me for many reasons-- she's an amazing photographer, for one, but she also inspires me with her enthusiasm for travel, adventure and by marching to the beat of her own drummer.  Stacy and her husband do their lives different than most.  Rather than having children, they save up to travel the world.  So when I asked her to be my first inspirational guest blogger, I was expecting something about photography or maybe about living a lifestyle that is different than the cultural norm. When she sent me this, I was surprised but knew its timeliness could touch a lot of people this week.  It is both lovely, thoughtful and beautifully written. I also asked Stacy to include some of her photos and she picked what she thought might bring more beauty into the day.  Keep playing today, kids.  xoxo.





LOVE, COUSIN by Stacy Osterman


As my deadline loomed I did what any good writer would do, browsed Facebook. It was a minefield. Hours after the presidential election was called my friends woke up to a world they didn’t recognize. That’s a feeling I’m familiar with, being an international traveler, and although I was disappointed in the outcome, and know that people need to go through their mourning process, I’m a little jaded when it comes to politics as I was a poly sci major in college during the Bush elections, a Dean supporter and Bernie will always have my heart. I know to get up and keep working because that’s what we have to do every day, even if we suffer a loss. The world goes on and we get another chance in a couple years to make a change.


Then I came across a post from my 19 year old cousin. A sophmore in college she was raised in a suburban town and had a hard time understanding her sexuality in that environment. Now in a more diverse space at college she is thriving, settling into her new queer identity.


"What I want to say is that I fear for my life. HE is not exactly what scares me. He is just the fuel for the flame that frightens me. What scares me is the fact that I'm living with people who agree with most of the things he has said. You can tell me all about how "not all his supporters agree with the way he's treated women, POC, LGBTQ+, etc." But that is exactly my point. We still have millions of people out there in the world who DO agree with how he treats all the groups I stated. And being a queer woman myself, I am terrified to live with people that believe that my basic human rights should be stripped right out of my hands. I am terrified that our soon to be Vice President believes that you can shock gay people into turning straight. I've struggled for the past two years to become more confident in my queerness. I still feel slightly uncomfortable holding a girl's hand in public because I see all the stares and I let my anxiety get the best of me. I'm afraid this election will make it even worse to be me. I'm afraid to exist as myself."




I have reached the point in my life where many of my friends are having children. Grappled with the idea of telling their daughters how a man like Donald Trump could be elected president they penned open letters to their babies, apologizing for how the future may look. I don’t have to wait, I have a young person in front of me asking why. I dropped the article that I had researched for the last two weeks and wrote this letter. It’s a little different than what most people would say to someone who is afraid, but I don’t think anyone should be afraid of fear: we should use it. It’s one of our most valuable possessions.


"These thoughts were just as horrifying as the first time I saw you get hit by the opposite team while playing ice hockey. I couldn’t believe how hard they ran into you! And you just got up and kept playing!"

Dear Jolie,


Although many of my friends are in shock, mourning the loss of their political party and literally crying while holding their newborn children, I’ve not shed a tear. Knowing many of these people have not participated in the political process other than complaining on Facebook about the options for President has made me apathetic to their sadness. No one mentioned the Senate or House races. No one talked about the initiatives and propositions. I didn’t see a single mention of any debate other than those which our media promoted as earth shattering. This country has gone through Watergate, Clinton’s impeachment, wars, terrorist attacks, the Bush/Gore election and we have not imploded. I wasn’t worried nor was I too surprised at the results.


It wasn’t until I saw your post that the sadness settled in. The panic crashed over me and I became irrationally angry. She could lose her freedom! She could be called out in the streets for simply being herself! She will have to live in fear!! These thoughts were just as horrifying as the first time I saw you get hit by the opposite team while playing ice hockey. I couldn’t believe how hard they ran into you! And you just got up and kept playing!


You just got up and kept playing.





Three months ago on a particularly lovely day I decided to walk to the grocery store up the street. On my way home a man exposed his genitals to me before dashing off in his car so quickly I couldn’t catch the licence plate. I got back to my apartment, told my husband what happened and then I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. The experience triggered me to remember when I was younger and the same thing occurred, a man exposed himself to me on the street as I walked home from school, but at that time I was told it was simply because of how I was dressed and to be more careful. I was 12 years old. No one ever called the police to report it.


It’s only been in the last couple weeks that I’ve allowed myself to walk down that street again and in the meantime I’ve noticed that all the clothes I currently wear cover myself as much as humanly possible in the heat of the summer. I haven’t taken any photos of flowers in months, one of my favorite activities since I usually have to be so technical in my image making. It took me this long to realize I’d changed my clothing, my daily routine, my ability to enjoy my surroundings, basically everything about me because of this 30 second encounter.  I felt just as helpless as I did when I was a little girl being told it was my fault.


I had to get up and keep playing.





I had to remind myself that the first thing I said when this man tried to take away my power was “I didn’t need to see that’. Those words came right out of my mouth as soon as he opened his pants. My strength caused him to run away. I didn’t initially fear him, I was angry and I expressed it out loud. That comes from experiencing this over and over, from constantly walking into situations where I was scared, nervous or anxious and making it out ok. Battle scarred, but still here.


My friend Shawna is a unicorn. She has short, delicate pink hair. She wears leotards and shirts from the kid’s section at Target. She dances like a fairy with the little girls she teaches and she inspires the adults she coaches by telling them not to let anyone “crush their shine”. Her significant other delights in walking behind her in a crowd as he gets to see the smiles and looks from those who have just experienced Shawna’s presence. She is just existing in the world but because she doesn’t blend in she is occasionally taken down by those who don’t like it when others are out of the ordinary. People have singled her out and berated her on the street, insulting her looks or her demeanor. But every day she gets out of bed, laces up her sparkle shoes and greets those who may look at her strange.

She keeps playing.


The television is going to tell you to be afraid. That when you step outside your door you will be ostracized because of your sexual orientation. That the world is a scary place so tune in at 11pm and watch it all burn.


Unfortunately they are right. Kinda. Nothing in this world is that black and white.

We will continue to make strides and then we will take two steps back in our fights for social justice and human rights. No matter where you travel in the world you will come upon those who want to harm you just for being you. Maybe it’s because you’re a woman, maybe it’s because you’re gay, maybe it’s because you cut them off in traffic: the threat is always present and it hasn’t changed in my lifetime. I don’t see it changing in yours. There will always be ignorant people who fear what is unfamiliar. There will always be people who would rather hurt another human than understand them.





This means you have to be strong. You have to hold the hand of the woman you love while walking down an unfamiliar street. You need to shave your head (or dye your hair purple) and know that people will look at you strange and that’s ok. You need to travel the world and go to places that take you away from everything you’ve known and shakes up everything you’ve ever learned. You need to learn to live with fear. Fear about who you are means you don’t get to be you, and that’s not something I’m going to let happen, but a healthy fear about the world around you is normal and will help you to...

Get up and keep playing!


Find your tribe, those who love and support you when the world seems like it never will.  Seek out  your Shawna to help you fend off those who want your shine to be crushed. Remind yourself that those who try to hurt you are hurting themselves. That we need to love them but that we don’t need to be around them if they cause us pain. Learn how to protect yourself, how to be self sufficient and how to manage your anxiety when it gets to be overwhelming.


And I promise to always help you stand when it seems like you can’t get up and keep playing.


I hope one day you don’t need to write a letter like this to your own children or to the young people in your life but just in case you do I hope this reminds you that the world is what we make of it.


Make it beautiful.


I love you,

Cousin

Waynesville/Asheville Area, NC

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