By JT

Content warning: mention of child sexual abuse and invasive medical procedures

Photo of a black night sky with part of a pinkish colored moon peaking out.
[Photo of a black night sky with part of a pinkish colored moon peaking out.]
I’ve been doing work with the BATJC since 2016 and I often share how being a part of this group has completely changed my life. We begin all of our meetings with a grounding and Mia often times asks us to think about who we do this work for, and for me it is often times a younger version of myself. I do this work for the children in my life. I do this work for our liberation and divestment from prisons, but I also do this work to heal my inner child.

This has led me to be in deep reflection about what self care looks like for me. Engaging in the work of building transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse is deeply personal for me. This work has meant putting a mirror to my life and thinking through how my survivorship has affected so many aspects of my life and the way I relate to the world. I’ve been gently pushed to think through my trauma responses, my relationship to myself, and how I’ve chosen to build relationships with my community. I’ve realized that the way I build relationships with the people in my life is deeply connected to my trauma responses. I am conflict avoidant, insecure, lack healthy boundaries, and tend to appease, and these are all behaviors that are at the core of how I relate to myself and my community. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve [thankfully] become more conscious of how these have resulted in me building toxic relationships with friends and romantic partners. This naturally means that I also have not been good to myself, I’ve exhausted myself with guilt and have a lot of work to do to forgive myself for the many years of unhealthy patterns. I also know that I’ve harmed people I love along the way, and need to be accountable for that. I am now at a point where I understand the parts of myself that need some deep healing. I want to be a better person for this work and for the people that I love, and that is honestly a huge motivator for me to address and work on my shadow side.

Mia often reminds me that taking care of myself is a huge part of accountability: If I am doing the work of building community responses to harm that are centered around true accountability, then I need to be practicing these same skills in my personal life. I’ve learned that many of the responses that people have when they are being held accountable for harmful behavior, are similar to the responses that we have when we are attempting to be accountable to ourselves. There is shame, denial, not making it a priority, making excuses for not following through, etc.

Doing transformative justice work and being a part of a collective that is genuinely grounded in their values, has pushed me to want to be my best self and this means prioritizing my healing. I am very far from loving myself and/or stepping into my power, but I do feel like reflections on my childhood and my survivorship have pushed me to have a clearer understanding of my full self and my needs. I’ve tried to not make my survivorship my entire identity, which has sometimes meant refusing to speak about it. Being a part of the BATJC means being in constant conversation about child sexual abuse and sexual violence as a whole. This has encouraged me to become more comfortable with telling my story and connecting with other survivors. I have also learned about common behaviors of folks that grew up in abusive households, and see myself reflected in those at times. All of this has created a supportive foundation for me to begin to see myself more clearly, not just as someone who lived through years of abuse, but also as someone who was shaped by moments of joy and survival.

In thinking about taking care of my whole self, I’ve also been reflecting a lot on the long term impacts of abuse on the body. As a survivor of child sexual abuse and someone who struggles with chronic pain and reproductive health problems, I can’t help but wonder about the connections that exist there. I’ve read that trauma and histories of abuse, can impact brain development and have effects on our immune and nervous system. I recently learned about a condition called fibromyalgia, where folks can experience musculoskeletal pain, fatigue and cognitive difficulties. One of the thought causes of this condition is physical or emotional trauma. When I read about fibromyalgia, it affirmed for me that we can carry memories of abuse and trauma in different parts of the body and that this can lead to negative health outcomes.

Our bodies are wise, they remember things that our conscious selves might not. I think that trauma impacts the way we relate to our bodies, sometimes to survive we have to dissociate from our physical selves. For me, being fully aware of myself means remembering, it means facing the ugly thoughts, the shame, the disgust, and deep emotional wounds that have resulted from the abuse. Even if I wanted to forget, I’m not sure that the way my mind and body relate to one another would allow me. I am reminded of this when being physically intimate with people. There have been plenty of times when I’ve had physical reactions that I had no control over and where I couldn’t even find the words to explain what was happening. I understood that I was triggered but didn’t know exactly what was causing this bodily response. I couldn’t understand how even in being intimate with someone I trusted, my body was still paralyzed by fear and discomfort. Over a year ago I had to visit my gynecologist to get some extensive testing done (due to the reproductive health problems I mentioned above). I received a pap smear, biopsy, and transvaginal ultrasound all within days of one another. I was not prepared for how extremely triggering and painful this experience would be. I didn’t even know how to talk about it, all I knew was that the way my body felt was similar to how it felt when I was living in the abuse. The effects of this experience were felt for months and I am still figuring out how to care for myself after having these responses. The memories of the abuse exist in all these different crevices of my body, healing means being aware of all the ways I’ve been impacted by it. Healing will not only happen through talking through my lived experience, but it will also require me to care for my physical health. It will mean being consistent with myself and being honest with others about my physical boundaries.

In my experience, surviving has meant some some serious dissociation from my body, resulting in years of ignoring/being unaware of the pain that lived in my body. What does it do to our physical bodies to experience sexual abuse as children? Where does the tension and trauma live? Is it possible to heal these parts of ourselves, especially when we still have to interact with our abusers? What are the physical trauma responses that we are having without even being fully conscious of them? Even if I do the work of addressing my mental and emotional wounds associated with my childhood trauma, can I ever heal the physical impacts the abuse has had on my body?

BATJC member Mia Mingus was interviewed by radio program In Plain Sight about love, transformative justice, and the work of the BATJC responding to child sexual abuse. In Plain Sight is a podcast that features stories of everyday activism from Asian and Asian American women.

Download or stream the podcast on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/in-plain-sight-1/episode-2-the-work-of-love

Transcript of interview:

Mia: You know, I think for me, liberation work looks, all kinds of different ways. I think it’s any work that’s helping us move towards, you know, not just freedom and justice but like, love and the world that we want to have and the world that we want to be in, and the relationships, and the way that we want to relate to each other ultimately. And so…

Geraldine: What is that? Like, what does, what is the work of love? What is love?

[laughter]

[music]

Mia: I mean, I don’t know everything that love is. I think that.. I think love is justice. I think love is… love is liberation. And liberation is love. Like, those things I feel like are true.

[laughter] Hi, my name is Mia Mingus. I am a writer, I’m a community organizer and a community educator. And I do a lot of work specifically around disability justice and transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse.

So, I do work with the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective. The BATJC for short, which is not short, but, that’s for short. [laughter] And, we are a collective of folks and we are folks who are committed to figuring out how to respond to child sexual abuse without relying on the state, and how to do it in ways that are transformative and that actively can cultivate the things that we need. Things like healing and accountability and community and breaking isolation and all of those things. A lot of the response support that we do right now is historical cases of CSA, and so, it’s mainly adults who come to us. Some of them are survivors, some of them are bystanders. And they want to respond in their family, community, network, church, whatever. Whether it’s like they’re a survivor of child sexual abuse that happened when they were 9 by their brother and they want to figure out now as an adult how to confront what happened. Or, they’re trying to figure out how to confront their former youth pastor on what happened.

So, we do a lot of response support and we sit with them and think about mapping allies, and how to think strategically on how you could do this, and who they have for support, making safety plans, all of those things. Right? How to think about people’s safety in advance. What are safety plans not just for survivors, not just for bystanders, but also maybe for the person who has caused harm as well, right? Because part of this work is about prison abolition, and we don’t think that people should be locked up in cages. We don’t think that people are inherently born as criminals, for example, as the way we get told by society. We actually believe that these are learned behaviors, and we actually believe that accountability, healing, that those things are possible.

[music]

At the same time that we’re doing our work one of the things that we know is that violence is generational and violence is systemic, and it’s not something that people just invent in their head. These are practices and behaviors that have been passed on by generation to generation. Both around all kinds of violence, right? State violence gets passed down generationally, and then that trauma gets passed down generationally, and specifically with intimate violence, you can literally look at people’s family trees and family histories and see how the violence was literally passed down. And so, what we know is that because violence is generation, and because it is systemic, that we need everybody to end violence. We need everybody to end it. And what that also means is that we can’t just only work with survivors, we also have to work with people who have caused harm and people who have been violence. And what we also know is that because violence is so widespread, that most of us have also caused harm at some point in our lives as well, either intentionally or unintentionally, most of us have colluded with violence as well, and allowed for violence to happen.

You know, we exist in a community and in a broader society right now where child sexual abuse is one of the most polarizing forms of violence that there is. People who even are nonviolent, even people who don’t believe in prisons are like, “But if anybody ever touched my kid, you know, I would kill them,” or, “Those people definitely deserve to rot in jail, and everybody else you know doesn’t.” But, I think  that a lot of what transformative justice and community accountability work has really taught me, is about how do we get away from these notions of like, good and bad people. Yes, there are gonna be times we’re going to have to draw hard lines and say, “we are not going to tolerate child sexual abuse in our community. That’s not going to happen. And, we also need to have compassion and empathy and be able to hold contradiction. Right? It doesn’t mean that we give away, or like, we go all the way to one side or the other of that pendulum. It means that we figure out how we can have skills in all of those things. Right? Without having to sacrifice one for the other. How we can hold the line firmly, with accountability and integrity, but also hold compassion and empathy. There is a way to do that. I feel like we get taught that the only way to hold firm lines is to do it in this really harsh, punitive way. But that we get into a better space, a different space, where we learn how to have compassion and empathy, and have boundaries. Those two things can exist together, right. You don’t have to be totally for something or totally against something. You can have complexity in your thinking. And it’s ok. And that means none of us are deserving of violence and nobody is deserving of peace, for example. And I think what that it also does and means and requires of us is that we begin to do this work around humanizing offenders, which is really hard work. But it also means that we have to humanize ourselves as well, and the parts of ourselves that we push away and that we’ve criminalized within ourselves. And I think it also means, on the flip side, which is equally as hard, that we have to also equalize survivors. And stop pushing survivors into this cage and this 1-dimensional way of being, right? That survivors have to be this perfect, innocent, most of the time white, most of the time [xyz] kind of thing, or else, and being, or else we don’t deserve to have justice. Or else we deserved the violence that happened to us. And so, while that has been very challenging, there’s this other side of it that I think has also been really great because it has brought us to this place where we are actively engaging our minds, our hearts, our bodies, our spirits in our work too. So, it feels, so, it feels very whole in this way that’s not about perfection, but that’s more about, complexity and nuance can exist now. That feels, really human, and I think a lot of our political work should be about, and a lot of our liberatory work, should make us more human in an inhumane world.

[music]

Part of this work is really tapping into the skill and capacity of vision, and what a collective vision of liberation would look like. And concretely. Getting as concrete as you can. And really believing that another world is possible.  And really challenging us to, again, not just say things like, “Oh we just don’t want prisons,” but really challenging us to think about ok, then how are we gonna handle conflict when it happens? Then what are we gonna do with people who are violent one time, or who are maybe abusive? Right? Like, what does that look like?

Our liberation work and our work for social justice should be grounded in love. And it should come from a place of love and what we want and our longing for something and what we’re moving towards, rather than what we’re against and what we don’t want, and rather than a place of hate, disgust or despising, whatever. That it should come from a place of love. Because we’re so good at talking about what we don’t want, and we’re so good at resisting the world that we know is fucked up. When I think about the work of liberation and the work of love, it’s all of it. It’s all of our lives. And that’s really what we’re asking. Is for transformation of your life and who you are. I think bell hooks has a quote about this. That we think that love is gonna be this place where all our needs get met and where we never have to worry about things. But that actually, the purpose of love is to transform us, and the process of transformation is so difficult.

CONCLUSION:

Geraldine: The Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective works to build and support transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse. To learn more about the BATJC, you can visit their website at batjc.wordpress.com, or you can visit the In Plain Sight website at inplainsightradio.com for links to the BATJC and more information about what you heard today. And as always, if you have any thoughts and comments, please let us know! We’d love to hear from you.

This is a big conversation, and we’re not done yet. Next time on In Plain Sight, stay tuned to hear Part 2, when Mia talks about disability justice and how we can share our love with each other in order to realize the world that we not only need, but long for. We’ll see you there!

Hey everybody, we apologize for not being on top of the blog game, but just in case you want to know some of what we’ve been up to, the BATJC presented last month at the conference organized by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, called Color of Violence 4 (COV4) Beyond the State: Inciting Transformative Possibilities.  Here’s the workshop we presented:

Building for the Long Haul: Strategy, Structure and Work

Transformative justice and community accountability (TJ/CA) offer compelling visions and possibilities for liberatory responses to violence in our communities and help us to better envision the world we want to build, but how do we build it? What does TJ/CA organizing actually look like not in theory, but in practice; and not just when we are directly responding to violence, but before then? How do we actively do the slow, long-term, day-in and day-out work to prepare? What could a TJ/CA long-term organizing strategy look like, outside of campaigns and non-profits? And how do we build the kind of liberatory (infra)structures, processes and tools we will need to be sustainable? How could we build work that actively reflects and cultivates our values?

The Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective is a local community collective working to build and support TJ/CA responses to child sexual abuse in the Bay Area. For the past four years we have been developing strategies, tools, values, structures and work that can build a strong foundation for generations to come. We continue to engage in the daily work of building the kinds of relationships and structures that could actually support community responses to violence. This workshop will give participants a chance to hear about a local TJ/CA collective and how it has developed its work, strategy, values, tools and structures. By sharing our work and tools, we hope to spark ideas in participants for their own communities and how they can build foundations for their passionate TJ/CA work. There is no one-way to do TJ/CA work and we offer our work with humility and a commitment to interdependence.  Participants will develop a deeper thinking about how to support the work of community-based responses to violence. Specifically, the kinds of tools, strategies, (infra)structure and values that can help us prepare for and prevent violence. We meet so many people who are analysis-wise “on-board” with TJ/CA, but then who don’t know exactly how to start or how to conceive of the work outside of direct interventions to violence. We hope to offer some concrete examples of what that work has looked like for us and why.

**This workshop is ideally for folks who have a basic-good grasp of knowledge about community-responses to violence, even if they haven’t had any experience in it.  Of course, we would welcome everyone who wants to attend. 

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