I talked about abuse and made you uncomfortable? Good.

I talked about abuse and made you uncomfortable? Good.

“People mistake vulnerability for intimacy. It’s not just annoying, it’s damaging.” — these words from my friend and Anti-Nihilist Institute co-founder Anna Lind-Guzik have been knocking around in my head lately for a reason.

Vulnerability is a useful tool of connecting to one’s audience. This isn’t just true of confessional writing. When I began to open up about leaving Russia/an abusive relationship, I did so with an explicit goal in mind: Draw attention to the problem, and show people how abuse *really* works.

It was also obviously important for me to emotionally connect with my audience and friends in general. Pain becomes more manageable when you feel less alone. All of this is normal — mundane, even.

I wasn’t surprised by the amount of odd, insensitive, prying and condescending messages I received. A lot of them came from men who have trouble processing vulnerability — in all of its forms — and prefer to think of it as mildly distasteful/not respectable.

When a certain type of man thinks of you as not worthy of respect, he may write you off, or he may also attempt to hit on you/crowd you in a demeaning way. Because a man like this reads “vulnerability” as “she has no boundaries.”

Certain women also mistake vulnerability for a lack of boundaries, but they more frequently attempt to aggressively mentor the person they deem as having a lack of boundaries. Heaps of unsolicited advice, carefully worded to remind the individual of their lower/more ignorant status in relation to the self-appointed mentor, are the norm in this situation.

While it’s not surprising, this process has nevertheless been fascinating for me to observe, due to the fact that the Anti-Nihilist Institute is an organization that promotes emotional intelligence, not only because feelings get hurt and relationships are damaged when people refuse to be smart about emotion, but because real life issues get obscured in the process.

People who misread my tweets and posts about abuse missed important points, such as: Abuse is literally everywhere. It frequently doesn’t look like abuse from the outside. A victim can and will take cute Instagram photos with her abuser, for example (in fact, the abuser will insist on them —making sure that things look “normal” is important). Cues can be subtle. Trauma bonding is real. Bonding is real in general — nobody is abusive 100% of the time. Abusers can be charming, caring, and supportive when they’re not busy abusing someone. Making excuses for what’s happening is common. Bluntly telling someone, “Just leave him, girl,” will often have the opposite effect. Leaving can be so very dangerous. Patience and understanding are key to helping someone leave.

When we talk about abuse, we don’t just risk public ridicule. We risk breaking down the wall we have built between ourselves and the people who abused us. We risk revenge. We don’t want medals, but we do want the risks we take to be worth it.

I am better, much better now, than I used to be. These last few months didn’t just teach about survival, they taught me about what great friends I have. How lucky I am to have my country to go back to — the States is still beautiful, even under a cloud of Trumpism, even with all of the crap we have to deal with back here, and we have much left to lose. And I know know much more about my own resilience and, above all else, capacity to love. No matter what.

That’s the other part about vulnerability that people frequently fail to understand. Being vulnerable is not just about opening up to other people — it’s about opening up to yourself. Knowing yourself. Knowing what you are actually capable of.

So now that abuse is on the agenda again thanks to the likes of Rob Porter, please consider it not just as a subject you cluck your tongue at before turning away. Consider it as part of a narrative that many, many people — including your friends and neighbors — are living through. Consider the reality of it and the horror of it and how that horror can, with lots of patience and hard work, be slowly overcome.

Reality is, in many ways, a story we tell ourselves. True stories go beyond respectability politics, and keeping up appearances, and even beyond bravery. True stories take their roots in the fabric of life, in the universal latticework. They reach deep inside you and yes, they can cause discomfort and hurt, especially when they are about a topic such as abuse. But there is more than wisdom on the other side of the discomfort — there is also greater peace and understanding. If you let yourself be led there, if you trust the narrative. It can be daunting — but please do try it sometime.


The existence of this blog is made possible by the fact that you are good-looking and generous.

No guilt-trip, just good times

Writing round-up, 2016: Six non-horrible things that happened this year

Writing round-up, 2016: Six non-horrible things that happened this year

I’m not really sure what to say about the year 2016. “At least we didn’t all die in a nuclear blast” is one good thing I could mention, I guess.

On a personal level, it was a year of disappointments and setbacks, fears and frustrations, but also the year in which I sat in a taxi coming back to Chelsea from Broadway after a dinner with great talents whom I also simply admire as people, and the very dear friend and great talent sitting next to me turned and said, “You’re doing it right, you know.” I surprised myself by believing her. There are people in my life who burn very brightly, you see, and I’ve learned to let their light in, and for that I am grateful.

In light of that, in light of them, here are the six things I definitely did right this year: Continue reading “Writing round-up, 2016: Six non-horrible things that happened this year”

Love thy neighbor: in Trump’s America, some of your neighbors need it more than ever

Love thy neighbor: in Trump’s America, some of your neighbors need it more than ever

I’m going to share with you guys two stories sent in to me since the election. Two events that occurred in a country that has elected Donald J. Trump.

The first is from a Nepalese American woman who lives in the Midwest. Let’s call her Kyrah. It’s necessary for her to keep her identity hidden. Her bosses have warned her, alongside all of the employees at her company, that “politically themed posts” on the internet “will not be allowed” following the election. They are ostensibly doing this so that the company “will not attract any negative attention.” I’ll let you be the judge as to whether or not this is responsible policy.

Although she lives in the Midwest, Kyrah grew up on the West Coast. She came to the United States as a child. She describes herself as “not very political.” She did not vote in the 2016 presidential election, having been put off by both of the major party candidates, a decision she now regrets. Here’s why she regrets the decision. I am republishing a portion of her e-mail to me, with permission, and with a couple of edits for clarity:

“A lady who was my neighbor in my hometown for 20 years sent me hate mail after Trump was elected. I am calling it hate mail because I have no other way of describing the message, although it’s hard for me to believe…that somebody could really write this to someone they know…

Here are the exact words. I am not making them up:

‘Your nice job and nice home could have been a real American’s nice job and home. Its [sic] simple math. By coming here, you are taking away from someone who has been here longer and has more of a right.’

She thinks I should leave. This is someone who knows me. She watched me grow up. Now she treats me worse than a stranger, she treats me like the enemy. My husband [and I] are upset and grieving.”

The focus now isn’t just on migrants, on people deemed “foreign.” The focus is on who is and isn’t a “real American.” As you can imagine, this issue is close to my heart. I have also frequently been compared to “real Americans” – and found wanting. The fact that Trump’s wife is an immigrant herself is completely irrelevant to the people who now demand what amounts to a witch hunt against those of us who “aren’t pure enough.”

I also had a conversation with an older friend from North Carolina. This conversation was even more shocking and upsetting.  Continue reading “Love thy neighbor: in Trump’s America, some of your neighbors need it more than ever”

Pride, Prejudice and Ukraine, the Beloved Country

I get accused of hating my roots nearly as much as I get accused of being a nationalistic Ukrainian. It’s like walking a tight-rope while balancing a stack of Wedgwood plates on my head.

Consider, for example, the extent of anti-Jewish sentiment in Ukraine. There are members of my extended family who are Jewish, and living in Kyiv, so the issue is personally important. Sometimes, I am tempted to say that Ukraine is being unfairly labelled as a cesspool of hate. Other times, I have to stop and scratch my head at just how ingeniously Ukrainians themselves will contribute to that label.

You can’t make everyone happy, but I make no-one happy.

Talking about my life is anecdotal, not scientific, it points to lived experience. Lived experience is intensely subjective and, because of its immediacy, it also paints a vibrant picture. It helps to remember, however that this subjectivity means that I don’t speak for anyone else.

Personally, I deplore Ukrainian nationalism. Nationalism, or an unconscious version thereof, is the major reason as to why I have reservations about coming home. I would not want my living partner stabbed in the street because he looks like a typical Arab. Stabbing is an extreme scenario, but consider just how many nationalists believe women “belong” to the state. An autonomous woman who chose an evil foreigner for a husband is “selling herself.” She is a “traitor.” All your reproductive organs are belong to us.

These sentiments have been expressed to my face. They have been expressed to me in hate-mail. They are brought up on news websites, blogs, forums, and chat servers.

They are not limited to the Ukrainian-speaking population of Ukraine or to Western Ukraine (these people are demonized, trotted out as the “typical” racists). Plenty of people who speak Russian and/or consider themselves ethnically Russian think this way too. The hate-mail I got, for example, was written in Russian.

I couldn’t give you a numeric estimate of just how many Ukrainians think this way. But I can tell you, in no uncertain terms, that this has affected my life and my plans. Continue reading “Pride, Prejudice and Ukraine, the Beloved Country”

Post-Soviet Feminism and “Nashi”

The word “nashi” means “our” or “ours.” I use it as a tag on this blog not as a reference to the members of Russia’s political party: Nashi. However, it’s obviously appropriate here.

Last week, Lyndon asked some question in relations to the, ah, creative ways that members of Nashi have come out in support of Putin. For the uninitiated – Nashi are a youth movement – its members are often referred to as Nashisti (rhyming with “fascisti”) by Russians and Russian-speakers alike. They ostensibly exist to target the spread of Nazism in Russia, but their politics have been aggressive, reactionary, and downright intimidating – particularly wherein Putin’s critics are concerned – at the very least, that’s the way I see it. Admittedly, I’ve never sat down with a member of Nashi for a chat, but this is the sort of image they have cultivated.

Lyndon was particularly interested in the revealing outfit that the young woman from Nashi was wearing. How do we explain it in terms of post-Soviet feminism? Continue reading “Post-Soviet Feminism and “Nashi””