Life Hacks Tech Now + Beyond

Using a VPN is the first step to making you own personal digital privacy changes

If you live in America, chances are you’re familiar with the battle for net neutrality. While many internet service providers (ISP) have made promised to keep user information private, there are still many reasons to limit access to your browsing history. This is where knowing your VPN options can help.

Virtual private networks, or VPNs, work by securing your web traffic from prying eyes looking to monetize or steal your data. And while your ISP may or may not be selling browsing logs to companies. Here are some basic reasons that using a VPN might be right for you.

1. You frequently travel or use public Wi-Fi

[Image description: Regina George asks “Could you give us some privacy for, like, one second?”] via giphy
This one is pretty straight-forward. When traveling, many of us use wi-fi connections in airports, hotels, cafes, etc. I can’t count how many different airports I’ve connected to wi-fi at and never removed from my list of connections. A VPN is the best way to make sure that your information stays in your hands and your hands only. More so, when traveling to countries that don’t have access to certain websites, VPNs can allow you to access the services you need.

2. You want to access streaming content outside of your country

franchesca ramsey popcorn GIF by chescaleigh
[Image description: Franchesca Ramsey eats popcorn and points at the viewer.] via giphy
I see you, Kdrama stans.

While some streaming giants like Netflix have been cracking down on attempts to access media through VPN servers, there are still many options in this arena. In some instances, you may connect to a VPN server and find yourself unable to access platforms like Netflix and Hulu. To combat this, many VPN providers have been working to frequently update their products. Depending on your choice of VPN, you’ll be able to view content from different parts of the world without traveling.

3. You have a roommate who won’t stop torrenting files when the internet is under your name

cecily strong snl GIF
[Image description: Cecily Strong asks “And like, why? And like, don’t.”] via giphy
A lot of VPN providers allow you to use your VPN on a number of devices without paying extra. That way you can feel safe while browsing on your phone, laptop, tablet, etc. And in the meantime, go ahead and use one of those free device slots for your roommates and living partners. This can make sure that not only is your privacy protected, but you won’t get any of those frustrating emails from your ISP threatening to suspend your service.

And you won’t have to argue with your roommate every time they “forget”.

4. You simply value your digital privacy

private michelle trachtenberg GIF
[Image description: Harriet the spy holds up a notebook labeled ‘PRIVATE’ and asks “Can you read this?”] via giphy
If supplied with a warrant or subpoena by government or law enforcement agencies, your ISP is required by law to share your browsing history. While this may not be an everyday situation, you are still within your rights to both understand and protect your digital privacy. Beyond the scope of legal circumstances, it’s probably simply in your best interest to be aware of where and to whom your information goes.

But not all VPNs are created equally. Unfortunately, there are some VPN providers that still log browsing history themselves. If using a VPN sounds like something you’re interested in, make sure to do your research. VPN providers that offer free services are some of the ones to be most cautious with, as they have the ability to sell your browsing history themselves.

Having a VPN allows you to safely work, consume media, and perform research without risking your online privacy. That added layer of privacy is something every internet user should have access to.

Tech Now + Beyond

Sharing my art online changed everything for me

Art is constantly changing. In the same way that it evolves, so do the platforms we use to project it into the world.

One of the most amazing things about being alive right now is the ability to share anything you want, or anything you create, by simply choosing where to post it.

While these technologies grew over recent years, job opportunities grew as well. People went from not being able to make a living to finding opportunities in small-scale digital media. From video editors to make-up artists to dancers, a newly rapid influx of content demanded these types of artists. And now because of this, these types of artists are finding fulfillment while still bringing in a paycheck.

I’ll be honest, for me personally, the dream of success through art felt foolish and unattainable when I was young. It was hard enough trying to be a budding artist. But braving auditions and competitions with anxiety piling on top of it all was even harder. I remember making firm goals in my youth but shying away from opportunities out of fear. My writing, my music, and everything else that I created was for myself, and no one else. Sharing was just too hard when you had to see the reactions on people’s faces.

I found small communities online as I got older. Unexpected places like Tumblr gave me a safe outlet from which to jumpstart my artistic motivation. I found myself in a constant state of creation. I would give writing advice to my peers and answer questions about my music. I was able to make small connections and help others find their own tiny victories. After a while, I started finding those tiny victories of my own.

It felt like something finally clicked, after all of those years of not knowing how to share what I make. That environment of constant feedback framed a perspective for me that still affects how I create.

Because we exchange content differently now than we did even ten years ago, mixing concepts, genres, and types of art forms to find what speaks true to you is more common than ever. And without the constraints of geography and travel, simply using the right tags can help connect artists to their target audience, no matter how far away they might be.

Even the simple, and often painful, act of networking is more accessible. Between LinkedIn, remote positions, and connections with creators who already have a digital presence, it isn’t so hard to track down opportunities. This especially makes finding these opportunities easier for disabled or chronically ill artists, like myself.

I feel like the industry I was meant to work in didn’t exactly exist when I was growing up. I look around now and see more chances to create and inspire rather than more challenges. By simply being alive right now, I’ve gotten to share art and build relationships with other artists in ways I would never have imagined. I’m able to supplement my income and build on my dreams.

Am I currently able to support myself completely by creating art? No. But I get the feeling that someday very soon, I will.

Life Hacks How To Use The Internet Tech Now + Beyond

4 ways to delete toxic people off social media – and your life

Everyone has the right to cut toxic people from their lives. It’s usually messy, and not generally easy. But much of the time, it’s necessary for our own mental well-being. However, the way we move on from relationships has changed with the evolution of social media. And so, the coping tools we use should evolve as well.

Lately, it doesn’t really seem possible to cut anyone off completely. Thankfully there are still some tools and tricks that I’ve found to make sure I felt safe creating distance between myself and a former loved one. Sometimes it can be simple, and other times it takes a bit more effort. But in any case, these tips have always helped me find a solution.

1. Unfollow/Unfriend

[Image description: A person touches their phone while saying ‘Delete. Erase. Unfollow. Whatever.’] via giphy
This one seems obvious. But honestly, I’ve kept people in my social media sphere just out of fear of angering them. But in situations where you simply need to break a tie or give yourself a break from seeing their face, removing them completely is my go-to.

And when I say completely, I mean completely. Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat… the works. Unfriending them on one platform but then stumbling across one of their posts on another one is the worst. Whatever your reasons for cutting them off, leaving threads open invites you to go looking through the profile. Simply put, it’s not worth it. It’s okay to miss someone. But it’s easier to make emotionally healthy choices when you aren’t looking at their dog every other day.

2. Don’t be afraid to use that block button

[Image description: a man selects the block button on his phone.] via giphy
Seriously it’s there for a reason. The best thing I could have possibly done for my mental health was just to remove toxic people from my social media. But sometimes it goes beyond that. Depending on the nature of your former relationship, you might feel uncomfortable with the idea of that person being able to creep on your profile. Some platforms still allow other people to contact you via direct message even if you aren’t friends. Blocking is a form of self-care. The energy spent on worrying about that person contacting you is better spent on something you enjoy. You don’t owe them a conversation.

3. Be picky

[Image description: a woman says ‘You see how picky I am about my shoes and they only go on my feet.’] via giphy
Maybe you’re not ready to remove someone from social media completely. You have your reasons, and that is perfectly fine. You still have privacy options. Since these focus on Facebook settings, they’re particularly useful when dealing with toxic family members.

If you just need to keep certain posts away from a specific set of eyes, you can use the custom privacy options when sharing or creating a post. There you’ll be able to select certain friends who won’t be able to see your posts. You can keep it just for the one time or make it your default option for the future.

Another option for Facebook is the restricted list As I mentioned earlier, there are times when I felt unsafe unfriending someone. In one particularly bad situation, it was simply fear that they would get angry and retaliate by harming me. I was thankful to find out that the restricted list keeps them from viewing any of your non-public posts or information, while still technically keeping them on your friend list.

4. Let someone know

[Image description: Snoopy and Charlie Brown share a hug.] via giphy
When it came to the man who assaulted me, I wanted him to find no trace of my goings-on. Like I told my mother, he did not get to have any access to my life. So, I asked her and my grandma to delete and block him as well. Knowing that he wouldn’t be scrolling through his feed and looking on at anything my family tagged me in made me feel so much more secure. It felt like the final step in a long process of making myself feel as safe as I possibly could.

Basically, it’s hard to end relationships with so much social media surrounding us. But whether it’s a toxic family member, an aggressive person you met on a dating app, or just an unhealthy friendship, you have the right to the amount of privacy that you request. And despite what you may be led to believe, you don’t owe anyone anything. Feel free to shoot for your most stress-free social media experience, if at all possible.

Tech Now + Beyond

5 spooky podcasts to cure your Halloween cravings

If you’re like me, then you might be of the opinion that summer is the worst. It’s hot and humid and isn’t everything just that much better when the air is crisp and cool?

Okay, so you don’t have to hate summer to love the spookiness that comes with fall. But if you’re craving a little bit of bump-in-the-night to tide you over until Halloween takes over, there are plenty of options in the fictional podcast world. I prefer to listen to these favorites while exploring a haunted mansion. But while working or driving home will do.

1. Limetown

via Limetown Stories Facebook

Limetown is an episodic adventure centered around a mysterious town whose residents have suddenly vanished without a trace. Literally, no DNA or anything to be found. They took a long hiatus after the first season but announced earlier this year that season 2 will be released around Halloween of this year.

This basically gives you the perfect amount of time to binge the current episodes and get some vivid imagery stuck in your head forever.

2. The Black Tapes

via The Black Tapes Podcast

My personal favorite podcast is definitely The Black Tapes. I’d describe it as a combination of The X-Files and Buzzfeed Unsolved. The classic skeptic/believer dynamic towards paranormal happenings is in full swing here, with plenty of mystery to keep you guessing.

While not a ‘jump in your seat’ kind of scary, I’ve definitely sat in a brightly lit, crowded office while listening to this and still felt the urge to peer around and make sure nothing was behind me. Listen to this if you’re looking for story immersion to the point that you become a participant.

3. Tanis

Where is Tanis?
via Tanis Podcast

Tanis comes from the same creators of The Black Tapes and is hosted by a character that appears on The Black Tapes regularly. What starts as a curious mystery turns into a surreal fantasy while our host searches for the answer to one question: What is Tanis?

The storytelling is vivid and shrouded in uncertainty. If you’re looking for something immersive but able to be enjoyed while sitting alone in the dark, this is the one you’re looking for.

4. Welcome to Night Vale

via Welcome to Night Vale

It wouldn’t be a spooky podcast list if I didn’t include Welcome to Night Vale. This cult classic in the podcast world combines eerie concepts with irreverent story-telling and absolutely unforgettable characters. As someone who has been to multiple WTNV live shows, I can tell you without a doubt that they are so, so worth it.

For those unfamiliar, WTNV takes place in a desert town where strange and absurd events are always happening. It’s perfect for long drives and road-trips after the sun has started to go down.

5. Alice Isn’t Dead

via Night Vale Presents

Also from Joseph Fink, the creator of Welcome to Nightvale. Alice Isn’t Dead tells the story of a truck driver on a search for her long-missing wife, who she long assumed was dead. In the process, otherworldly events, scientific anomalies, and deep conspiracies unfold. While you listen to her encounters, you’ll for sure find yourself wondering just how all of these puzzle pieces fit together.


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4 things you definitely need to know before you visit the doctor’s office

Finding proper healthcare can be a nightmare for some of us. Personally, I’ve spent years in and out of doctor’s offices, trying to find the answers to my health problems. It doesn’t help that going to see a doctor can feel like being interrogated and accused of a crime.

The best thing you can do for your health is to be an active participant in it — i.e., self-advocating. Put simply, it means to communicate your thoughts and questions fully to your healthcare professional and to insist that they listen.

Whether you have a disability, are plus-sized, or feel like there is a language barrier between you and your physicians, these tips might be useful in bridging the gap.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Kelly of The Office states "Yeah, I have a lot of questions.
[Image description: Kelly of The Office states “Yeah, I have a lot of questions.”] via giphy
Healthcare settings can be intimidating. Whether you’re in a bustling emergency room or in a calmer, more private setting, it can sometimes feel like you have to go along with whatever the doctor says. But you have the right to be fully informed about your health. If you don’t understand what a healthcare professional is telling you, ask them to clarify. If you’re concerned that they’re forgetting something or dismissing a symptom of yours, ask about it.

Many people (including myself) spend years trying to get proper diagnoses and treatment. And while a lot of the time you can feel rushed or small in situations like these, your inquiries are vital to you having a full understanding of your health. If you still feel intimidated or nervous about vocalizing your concerns, the next tip can help get it done.

2. Make a list of your health concerns.

Jafar unrolls a comically long list on a long piece of paper.
[Image description: Jafar unrolls a comically long list on a long piece of paper] via giphy
Right at the beginning of a visit, I let my doctor know about my list of talking points. It doesn’t take too long to put together. I usually keep mine in an app for note-taking and put together my thoughts on the ride to the appointment.

Just a simple list of your symptoms and how they’re affecting you should be good. Your physician will usually give you an opportunity to air these thoughts at the beginning of a visit. However, it’s not uncommon to be asked about why you’ve come in today, and then rushed through the process. Which is why sometimes, it’s best not to go alone.

3. Bring an advocate to help you out.

A woman says 'best friends' with determination.
[Image description: a woman says ‘best friends’ with determination.] via giphy
This isn’t always necessary, but it is 100% always an option that is available to you. I’ve had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) since my teen years. When a friend of mine was struggling to get a diagnosis from her doctor for her own case, she asked me to come along to her visit for support. It turned out to be exactly what she needed to get her doctor to listen to her.

If you feel like you might get overrun by the healthcare provider or simply don’t feel comfortable with the communication, a friend or family member might be helpful in expressing your concerns and not allowing the physician to drown them out.

4. Remember that you know your own body best.

A man shoves another man while stating "Maybe I know more than you think I do
[Image description: a man shoves another man while stating “Maybe I know more than you think I do.”] via giphy
Yes, your doctor has training in their field. But no one knows your body or mind like you do.

The intimate knowledge of what does and does not feel right to you is uniquely your own. There can be a lot of pressure to accept what we’re told as fact. But the truth is that everybody is different. What works for others may not work for you. And while it’s important to give treatments and medications time to do their job, you still have the right to say, “This isn’t working for me.” Sometimes that inner narrative tells us more than we realize. If you don’t feel good, it’s your physician’s job to listen. Plain and simple.

We get fed the idea that the doctor always knows best. And while they are trained professionals, their job is to help you and to invest in your health. No aspect of your identity disqualifies you from receiving the best care possible. Even though communicating with healthcare professionals can be daunting or even feel impossible, you are entitled to thorough treatment. Your voice matters.

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I’m afraid to tell the police what happened – because he follows me everywhere

If I were a different person, maybe he would be in jail right now, instead of in my grocery store when I’m trying to buy cheese.

I was raped a decade ago. When I was in college I would flee the common area once I spotted him. At my first job, he walked in, asked me about nail polish and said we should be friends again. At a Denny’s on Halloween, I excused myself, went to the bathroom, and vomited after seeing him enter with his friends.

There are a million reasons why people don’t report sexual assault. Mine is: he’s everywhere.

By the time I was nineteen, I was already very familiar with the concept of fear. Most are. But with an untreated anxiety disorder and a history of sexual abuse by a former partner, fear and I were far better acquainted than I would have liked. I’d never dealt with it particularly well, especially not considering the many ways it had been used against me during that relationship. But I’d learned to ignore the knot in my throat – to swallow the nausea and remember to breathe. I counted slowly with deep inhales, and though it wasn’t a cure, it helped.

But how do you overcome that sort of fear when you’re faced with reliving your experiences? When the source of terror walks casually through a door and grins at you, almost as if nothing had ever happened? That’s the thing though. That calm collection that fills whichever room you’re in can also get into your head.

Looking back now, older and more educated, I have the resources I need to cope with what happened to me and pivot the need for accountability away from myself. But a younger and newly independent me couldn’t understand why he thought it was okay to look in my direction and show no remorse. He thought it was more than okay. He thought we could be friends. It was so much different in my head than his.

Fighting against his perception only fueled the endless pump of doubt that I had to somehow keep in check. How was I supposed to feel about my trauma when there was this nagging fear that maybe I was just overreacting? That feeling bled through all of my decisions, and like many people, I ended up sinking into it, trying not to be seen.

On those occasions when I would run into him, he would corner me and make small talk while I chewed on the inside of my cheeks and tried not to say anything. He said we should be friends. I gave nothing in return save for a polite smile – the kind that can barely be regarded as one.

“Don’t you think?” he pushed, as was his M.O.

I received a text from him three days later and blocked the number. I wanted it to be as easy as that. But every time I stepped out my door, I ran the risk of bumping into him. He went to my school. He lived four minutes from my house.

He showed up at my work, my social events, and even once came to my home unannounced, only leaving because my brother refused to let him in.

Even to this day, I’ll happen upon social media posts from himself and his family. They’re usually along the lines of shaming women and the victims of assault.

It’s no new story, only the ignorantly accepted norm of a white family from the south. I feel lucky because he hasn’t contacted me in years. Our last encounter was one I can’t even remember, as a friend informed me that he tried to get my attention on a drunken night out after we passed him on the street. It was my birthday. I’m sure he knew that. I’m sure he felt comfortable in approaching me with the cushion of that fact behind him.

But there is no comfort in knowing what I know. I’ve gained a sense of peace through my openness. When it came time to decide whether I would participate in the #MeToo movement, it wasn’t a question of whether I would admit I had been abused. It was about whether I felt safe enough to admit who the abuser was. And I didn’t. I don’t. I’m not sure I ever will.

Not with him lurking around the corner.

Maybe I’ll find my words once I’m far enough away to know he won’t come knocking at my door. Maybe I won’t. But he does know. And I’ll never forget.

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The women in my family thought panic attacks were normal – until I learned they weren’t

Most of the women in my family have suffered from some form of an anxiety disorder. It would take me a long time to figure out, but this is actually fairly common in many Latinx families. It just simply wasn’t something that we talked about.

Looking back on being young, I think that I always just sort of assumed that I was nervous. I was nervous about everything. The things that now intrigue and excite me as an adult would completely wipe me out with panic as a child. This was mostly things like space, the ocean, or dogs – wonderful, slightly mystical things that have the power to consume. To me, that leaned a bit too close to being the power to chew me up and spit me out. When asked what I wanted to be when I got older, I remember saying “Not an astronaut,” just to lay it out on the line in case anyone had any funny ideas.

It took a long time, but I finally was able to put a name to what I was going through. Of course, this wasn’t without years of filling in blanks and tracking down missing pieces. I learned over the years about how my mom would watch my grandmother struggle with panic attacks. Slowly, bits of information were peppered into conversations as I got older: a cousin with health-related anxiety, an aunt with PTSD. I was forming a picture in my mind of all the women who came before me, and we all looked the same: afraid and confused.

So when I started noticing my baby sister developing certain phobias and compulsions, I was sure she was feeling it too. I knew more than anything that I wanted to spare her the guilt and uncertainty that comes with anxiety. I wanted her to know most of all that she was okay. But beyond that, I wanted her to have answers – to have tools to keep it from taking joy from her life.

Understanding the nature of your anxiety and learning how to manage it is a full-time job. I have spotty gaps in my memory and years lost that my ambitious heart wishes it could get back. I went through a lot of suffering in order to find a path to peace. Still, I feel like it was worth it in so many ways. Because of the trauma, research, and recovery that I went through, I now feel educated enough to offer help to the other women in my family when they need it.

[bctt tweet=”Understanding the nature of your anxiety and learning how to manage it is a full-time job.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I can still remember the first time my grandma told me how she felt on one particularly anxious night. It was terrifying and something I was all too familiar with. The look of hope and relief on her face after I explained what a panic attack was will always sit with me as both comforting and unbelievably sad. She and her sisters didn’t have the resources that my generation does; I feel endlessly lucky to know that I can find solutions to how I feel.

With this, I’ve been able to help my sister understand and better manage her own anxiety. Moments, where I would falter, are now moments of self-learning for her. When I was a child, any thought that felt out of the norm was a serious cause for worry. I would keep myself awake at night worrying about the moral and psychological implications. I kept it all to myself, and I felt very alone. And while she may still feel lost often, she has the tools she needs to work through things like intrusive thoughts and rumination. She has the comfort of knowing that someone understands and that she is not in any way abnormal for having these feelings.

I know that I’ll always be constantly searching for coping techniques and ways to remember to relax, decompress and breathe. But I’m watching the knowledge and self-care flourish in the women I love after years of battling with themselves, and that is enough to give me hope. I know now that we’ve broken the pattern – that we will continue talking to our daughters about this feeling before they get lost.

That is what gives me peace.

Gender & Identity Life

When my little sister was diagnosed with a rare brain disease, I had to learn how to trust her

My little sister has been through more than any child should. But she’s also the bravest person I know.

After years of struggling with mystery symptoms, she was diagnosed with a very rare brain disease called Moyamoya. In Japanese, it means ‘puff of smoke.’ It concerns the blood vessels in her brain, and without surgery, she was at a very high risk for a stroke. When we got this news, everything changed. But some of it changed for the better.

When my sister was a baby, my biggest fear was something happening to her. She nearly choked on a cracker once and ever since the idea of her getting hurt in any way makes it a little hard to breathe. Now that she’s a little older, she’s an athletic kid. Because of this, her favorite thing to do is climb anything she can find and hang upside-down from it. I think part of why it’s her favorite is because of how I react: with pure panic. I can’t handle the ease with which she places herself in danger.

Still, her thirst for life and adventure were things I could not deny. If anything, I could relate to them. Our shared anxieties always brought us close. But we bonded through our determination. Watching my little sister, I witnessed the ability to forge ahead like I never had before. Finding out about her illness only strengthened the resolve in her. She was in real danger this time. And like finding her hanging from the furniture, all I wanted was to catch her and keep her safe.

Because the disease is so rare, there are very few facilities that specialize in the kind of care she needs. We were lucky to have a community of friends and family to help raise funds for her to have surgery where she would get the best care. At the hospital, she braved some of her biggest fears and tackled recovering from the life-saving procedure like the superhero that she is. And even though she was emotionally and physically drained, she still managed to open her eyes and say, “Hi mommy,” with a sweet little wave the first time she was able to see our mom after the surgery.

And while life is different now, with things like brain scans to check her progress or new rules like keeping hydrated and taking her medicine, she is still the brightest and kindest person I know. She loves to dance, and does it often. She’s even playing on the school basketball team with her friends – something that even her doctors didn’t anticipate happening so soon. And while I’m still terrified every time I find her hanging upside-down from something, it’s nothing but instinct.

Because what I’m really feeling is so very thankful to have her here. To see her shining. And yes, to watch her gain strength by doing the things she loves – even if they’re a little dangerous.

Gender & Identity Life

Passing as white in a family of color means learning to use my privilege

From doctors to cashiers, anytime I would go somewhere with a member of my family, people would refer to me for the important questions. Even more, they would come to me for the small-talk. They would treat me like another human being. My brilliant and capable grandmother could be standing directly next to them, and never would their attention falter, even when the topic wasn’t about me. Growing up meant slowly realizing exactly why that was: privilege.

I pass for white easily. Next to the women of my family, there is no doubt that the matrilineal line comes to me. I have my mother’s empathy, my grandmother’s passion. Placed side-by-side, you could point out all of our shared features from nose to cheekbones without question. I’m my mother’s daughter. I just happen to be a fairly pale version.

Growing up, I, of course, made this about myself. I felt disconnected like I stood out. But as I got older, the truth became more and more evident. People wanted to assume that I was smarter or more capable than my family members. Even at twelve-years-old in the pharmacy, employees would ask me important questions that should have been directed at my grandmother. After all, she was the one they were meant to be helping. She was the adult. But even a child was a more comfortable option to speak to than a brown woman with an accent. Understanding the behavior behind this was a huge turning point for me.

It was clear that when placed in a room full of white people, my presence would not deter them from saying the horrible things that they truly felt. Racism finds a comfortable home when it sees no threat. I was often left confused and angry during these kinds of interactions. But my feelings on it could never touch those of my family members. The more time that passed, the more I realized how much my silence allowed this ideology to fester.

I had been complicit in the moments that I was too anxious to speak up. Be it uncomfortable or not, I had to learn to speak up when necessary. I had to learn to use my privilege. It became obvious that in my silence, whether intentional or not, I was condoning acts of hate against those I loved most. This was unacceptable.

Educating myself was the first step. My family didn’t have the privilege of biting their tongues and pretending it didn’t bother them. Who they are was worn without question for all eyes to see. How could I pretend that it wasn’t easier for me? I could tune out, walk away, remove myself from the situation. I could do this because no one thought twice. I had the privilege of sliding through the situation unnoticed. But had it been another member of my family, I know that they would not have experienced that kind of ease.

I am still faced with situations like these. I still see the struggle of those I love and know that I will never fully understand it. What I do know, however, is that I have no intention of backing into the shadows and allowing myself to be an observer. How others choose to deal with hate when they are faced with it is personal and up to them. But for me, I simply want to do better, and I will.

Gender & Identity Life

My mother has always supported my dreams of becoming an artist, but I was the one who rejected it

I’ve always wanted to share my art. From an early age, my active imagination took on a life of its own. My head was filled with vivid imagery and music that I could not contain. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Maybe it’s because I was so loud about it, but I can’t remember a time when my family wasn’t cheering me on and fueling all of my young hopes and dreams. Specifically, my mom.

I’ll be the first one to admit how lucky I am to have a parent who cared so much about my emotional fulfillment. But, for better or for worse, I was determined to make sure that I never ended up as anything less than financially stable. I wanted to be an artist. But the fear of failure and continued poverty nearly took the wind out of my sails – until recently.

My mom is my best friend – I’ll just lay that out there. I have never started a venture without first consulting her for wisdom and advice. So when she saw me struggling with confidence as a kid, her first instinct was to help me become more involved in something that I loved. And let me tell you, I really did love it. From performing music to creating stories, I was most certainly in my element when I was in an art class. Art of all kinds felt natural and healing, like some magical band-aid on all the knee-scrapes that come with youth. I flourished.

But as I got older, the anxiety of real life kicked in more often than I wanted. I’d spent most of my years being praised for having talent, but couldn’t seem to happily marry talent and success in my mind. For me, it felt as if chasing after my passion was irresponsible. I’d been given the gifts of college education and unyielding ambition. The struggle of my family didn’t have to always be so difficult. I could make a future where they were taken care of. I could create that for us.

But still, my mom urged me to sing. She urged me to write. She gladly praised me to all who would listen, and softly encouraged me to follow my heart. It wasn’t her fault that my heart was so torn. I was simply too familiar with the taste of failure. The idea of having it on my tongue for the rest of my life was enough to scare me senseless. Or, at least, it was enough to scare me into thinking that I wanted to be something other than an artist.

I spent a lot of time working in a field that my heart just wasn’t in. My mom could see it, and it broke her heart too. How could it not? I was standing there with my entire life ahead of me, longing for adventure, but refusing to move my feet. It must have been torture to watch. Still, she didn’t give up singing my praises. Nor did she stop reminding me where my heart was: “You’ll never be satisfied until you go for it.” And of course, mom is always right.

Nothing is how I imagined it when I was younger. But then, what could really live up to that kind of imagination? The life I live now is bursting with art. I follow my heart and I listen to my intuition. I understand now how to exist on my own terms and not allow the world’s idea of responsibility to take over. There is food on my table, love in my heart, and peace in my mind knowing that I am happy in what I do. The rest doesn’t matter. And I’ve always got someone who truly cares about my happiness on my side. I think that’s worth a lot more than any career could have given me.

Gender & Identity Life Stories Life

A doctor said I couldn’t have children – but I found out he was actually wrong

Finding out that you’re unlikely to have children is different for everyone.

For me, there have been peaks and valleys of struggle that I wasn’t sure what to do with. I’d never been keen on the idea of having children in the first place. In middle school, I’d made it pretty clear that I had no interest. As the years passed, I softened on the concept. I considered adopting. Like many, my mind thought of parenthood occasionally, decided it was a question for another time, and let it be.

I didn’t think I needed to worry about it.

If I’m being completely honest, the news that I wouldn’t have to make the decision on my own was a blessing at the time. If nothing else, it solidified that passive involvement I seemed to have with the concept. If I ended up wanting to be a parent, I’d sort it out then.

It was a problem for an older, possibly wiser, future me.

So I never claimed to have the situation figured out. I’d be happy – filled with all the familial love I needed just from the people surrounding me. I’d take pride in being an older sister and giving my attention to the child that I already loved. But on the other side, I’d end up teary-eyed during talks with my partner about the future.

I was always wondering. If it were up to me now, would I make a different choice?

Of course, there was no way to know that. Or at least, that’s what I thought.

Years later, I sought a second opinion about my condition from another doctor. With new research and more education on the topic, she told me something I was actually afraid to hear: it wasn’t impossible. It could still be difficult, but it certainly wasn’t impossible.

I had the potential to become pregnant.

What was I supposed to do with that? I’d built a life around the belief that this wasn’t an issue for me. It wasn’t my responsibility to make the choice. But suddenly this glaring beam of scary expectation shone on me. This brand new information could be meant to change my life. I could reevaluate everything as an adult and really figure out if becoming a parent was right for me. I now had the ability to choose.

Everything was different now.

Except, it really wasn’t. I walked out of the appointment with a new perspective on the situation, sure. But who I am and how I felt about my future felt shockingly familiar. Did I suddenly have the urge to change my life plan? Not in the slightest.

I never even made it a point to really announce the news to anyone around me. It felt private. It felt like an affirmation that I hadn’t expected. Maybe knowing wouldn’t have made any difference at all.

I don’t bother speculating about what might have changed had I known earlier. I still would have focused on my goals. I still believe I would have put off the decision as long as I possibly could. Where I am now is a place I want to be.

Do I know yet whether I’d like to be a parent? Not really. But I’m happy to say that it still only crosses my mind on occasion.

I guess not that much has changed.

LGBTQIA+ Gender & Identity Life

I didn’t think I was queer enough to warrant coming out

I don’t know exactly who I thought coming out was for, but I was certain that it wasn’t for me. It’s hard enough to simply find a grasp on your own queer identity, let alone deal with all of the external factors that can come with it. Between the fear of how others would react and my own misguided inhibitions, I hit a lot of detours on my path to finding peace.  For me, the journey towards this turned out to be less about being out. It was more about learning to love who I am.

When I was young,  I spent most of my energy trying to push my identity down. Like most people in the queer community, it’s pretty entertaining to look back at things I enjoyed as a kid.  ‘Oh. Okay, that makes sense now,’ is the usual thought that comes to mind. But at the time, a lot of negative ideology about queer identities were rampant. To the people around me, being anything other than straight was being the butt of the joke. And like so many of us have heard before, being bisexual, to them, was fake – something that the girls did to get attention.

This type of thinking poisoned my mind and sealed the vault shut on the idea of coming out. It wasn’t even real to them, so how could it be real for me? So, there I was, never having had a moment to let my own self come to terms with my identity, already closed off to the idea of sharing that truth with anyone.

Of course, getting away from the toxic people of my youth was a big precursor to finding peace. However, on my own and with the freedom to educate myself, I still felt off about who I was. Despite knowing what I knew about myself, it still felt stuck somewhere in the middle. As if by being attracted to more than one gender, or having a non-binary gender identity, I straddled the line between one concept and another. As if I was between being one person and another. I didn’t feel any differently about myself but had convinced myself that to others, I would be different. And so I stayed in the middle.

Finding a community where I could talk openly about my experiences was key to overcoming all of this fear. I was able to talk to other people on all sides of the queer spectrum. Even better, I learned that there is no such thing as being “queer enough.” I was able to find confidence in myself that I hadn’t known existed.

Now when I think of coming out, I think of the slow progression of telling my friends and loved ones. I think of the trust I’ve established with those people and with myself. I’ve told those I love when I felt private, and I’ve screamed it from the mountaintops when I felt proud. What I do, I do at my own discretion. And I never wonder what other people might think of who I am. I hope I never do again.