Gender & Identity Life

Intersectional feminism provided me a sense of community

Intersectional feminism has been a consistent and reliable source of community for me throughout my young-adulthood. Notably, it’s a community I’m eternally grateful to have found. This space has taught me so many important lessons about myself when I was struggling with my identity and mental health. The inherent community within intersectional feminism helped me learn to support myself as much as I should support others.

In the Fall of 2017, during my sophomore year of undergrad, I began struggling with undiagnosed depression and anxiety. At the time, I was going to school three hours away from home. Despite being at my university for three semesters, the campus and town still felt unfamiliar to me, which constantly clouded me in anxiety and discomfort. As my mental health worsened throughout the semester, it became hard for me to focus on any school or work responsibilities.

In fact, I often skipped class or called into work because it became increasingly hard to get out of bed most days. Ultimately, I had to make a critical choice that could save me from irreversible harm. So, I decided to move back home, transfer universities, and change my major.

The inherent community within intersectional feminism helped me learn to support myself as much as I should support others.

By Spring 2018, I essentially felt as though I was starting over. This felt like my second chance to “do college.” At the time, I was 20-years-old. I had a better understanding of my mental health; I knew where my passions lied; I had gained some of my dedication back. However, I knew I had some internal work to do in order to get where I needed to be regarding better health. 

Luckily, later that year I took my first women’s studies class in the Fall of 2018. I’m the kind of person who used my elective classes to explore new things as a way to satisfy my natural curiosity. The class was called “Feminist research methodologies” which explored a feminist approach to conducting research, compared to other traditional, sometimes exploitative forms of research. The class consisted of only women (which I initially thought was a shame but turned out to be a blessing) of all different ages, backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. 

Despite our differences in identity, during class discussions, everyone listened and empathized with one another. Every woman there, including my professor, was respectful of each other and offered outstanding support when other women in the class needed it. In turn, the professor as well as my classmates created such a warm, welcoming environment for me to feel comfortable; something I, and probably many other people with anxiety, never felt while being in a large classroom. 

Our feminist class was in itself an illustration of intersectional feminism, for our differences were how we connected with and listened to each other.

Our feminist class was in itself an illustration of intersectional feminism, for our differences were how we connected with and listened to each other. Intersectional feminism emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the way our marginalized identities intersect. The women in my class displayed so much solidarity and unrelenting support for every other woman there. We shared our daily struggles, societal struggles, what we were grateful for, and how we can begin implementing necessary change to create safer spaces for other communities. They taught me what being a feminist was truly about: unabashedly showing up for others. 

Interestingly, many of the girls from that class still show me support in my endeavors. I was ultimately inspired to pursue writing to spread many of the positive ideas I learned from the women in my class. Since taking this class, I’ve been a feminist who strives to uplift and advocates for myself and others the way my former classmates did, and still does, for me.

Intersectional feminism taught me how to be a necessary ally for myself as well as for others outside of my immediate community. This community has provided me a safe space to grow into an adult that is more confident, more self-aware, and more educated about the world outside of myself. So, in turn, I can provide a meaningful sense of community to those who need it too.

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Editor's Picks World News The World

The revival of Karachi Circular Railway has displaced local residents

Each morning at 7:30, when Sahira Bano, 35, leaves the congested house that her father built decades ago, she worries that the railway tracks connecting the strip of encroached land belonging to the Pakistan Railways will be taken back and she will not have a house to return to.

Bano, who offers her services at a house in Defence – an affluent neighbourhood located on the other side of the bridge having large houses, perfect landscaping and wide, unsullied roads – lives with five other people in a 30 by 20 quarter. Narrating her story, she recalls that her family has lived in Gharibabad for generations. Now, her home is in peril, wrapped with fancy terms like ‘revival’ and ‘development’.

With the “revival of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project” in full swing, the government fails to provide an alternative to the people residing on the land affected by the project, one of which is, unfortunately, the Gharibabad colony located under the Pakistan Industrial Corporation Development (PIDC) bridge.

Gharibabad is a neighbourhood littered with garbage, dotted with the rubble of demolished houses and a nullah that is flowing from the periphery of the Supreme Court of Pakistan into the same strip of dirt where the KCR, one of Karachi’s most ambitious and divisive infrastructure projects has been shaping up.

“Yes, this land belongs to our ancestors,” Bano said with hope that she is losing with every passing day.

“But, they are going to take it away one way or the other,” she further exclaimed.

With the revival of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project in full swing, the government fails to provide an alternative to the people residing on the land affected by the project

In November 2018, immediate steps to revive the KCR project and clear all encroachments on the Pakistan Railways’ land in the metropolis were given by Justice Gulzar Ahmed in a meeting he held at the apex court’s Karachi registry. Soon, work to clear the KCR route and the metropolis started with the help of local bodies. It was found that parts of the encroached land were owned by the Pakistan Railways, which was now needed back to revive the KCR project. The court strictly directed authorities to speed up the process, taking on-board the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and other cantonment boards to clear the encroachments. Along with houses, any shops or stalls that were built on that land were ordered to be removed. Hawkers and extensions of commercial businesses along the roads and footpaths were removed as part of the anti-encroachment drive during the same time in the Saddar area in Karachi.

Being displaced due to development projects is not something new to the katchi abadis in Karachi. What is new is the absence of an alternative action plan to move an entire community struggling with the impacts of such developments taking place in the city.

“We are going to lose our entire heritage, all our culture,” lamented Bano, pointing out to a young man standing nearby.

“He was born in front of me. I have seen him crawl, go to school and now take up the responsibilities of his household,” she said. Displacements due to development projects in the city have been traumatic and dehumanizing. The displaced people’s livelihood, their family, kinship systems, cultural identity and informal social networks are adversely affected and disrupted.

Being displaced due to development projects is not something new to the katchi abadis in Karachi.

Lack of policy framework and social securities has made them insecure and psychologically weak. Financial compensation is never enough to sustain their livelihoods. The assurances by the government almost always differ from reality which then leads to tragic consequences.

The name of the colony ‘Gharibabad’ is derived from two words ‘garib’ meaning poor and ‘abad’ which stems from the word ‘abadi’ meaning colony. The word translates into the ‘colony of the poor’. The meaning is evident not only by the class that calls it home but also through their living conditions.

Bano and other residents of the Gharibabad Colony do not mind development in their area.

“The government needs to arrange an alternative for us,” she said. They have no choice but to clean up the broken concrete and twisted metal themselves that has been lying there for months.

According to Zahid Farooq, who works at the Urban Resource Centre (URC) in Karachi, it is the responsibility of the State to provide shelter, food and other necessities of life to every person.

“You cannot just displace them without providing an alternative,” he added.

According to a survey conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2013, around 4,653 illegal constructions will be demolished as part of the anti-encroachment drive to clear the land for the KCR project. However, the figure is likely to be much higher now since it has been eight years to the survey and the population has also increased in the city, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) population survey, 2017.

The metropolis bares the weight of a huge population dependent on dwindling resources and a crumbling infrastructure.

A resettlement plan for the KCR affected people was developed in 2011 by the Karachi Urban Transport Corporation (KUTC) in accordance with the JICA environmental guidelines that acknowledged the residents as affected persons. The resettlement plan was one of its kind as it was proposed as a test on how to respond to demolitions caused by such projects in the most dramatic circumstances without tearing communities apart.

“We never saw the resettlement plan coming to life as setting a precedent for the rest of the country,” said Farooq, who monitors the KCR project closely at the URC.

The metropolis bares the weight of a huge population dependent on dwindling resources and a crumbling infrastructure. If the law had been assiduously applied from the beginning, such an extreme way of getting rid of these encroachments would not have been necessary. The question still remains: how does one justify a population of 15 million people, finding a space to call it home?

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USA Editor's Picks 2020 Elections Politics The World

The Democratic Party owes its Presidential election victory to BIPOC organizers

This is it, folks. After a nerve-wracking and close race, Joe Biden has won the presidency, with Kamala Harris as the Vice President-elect. Biden also received the most votes ever cast for a U.S. presidential candidate, in a race that saw a historically high voter turnout. As we look back upon a polarizing election season and the bitter years that preceded it, it is important to acknowledge the hard work of grassroots organizers, youth leaders, and volunteers who ultimately flipped the vote in critical swing states. In particular, Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour (BIPOC) played a key role in mobilizing communities and countering disinformation and voter suppression to make every vote count.

Grassroots BIPOC Organizers made a huge difference 

Key electoral gains in states like Arizona – which hasn’t voted for a Democrat since 1996 – Michigan, and Pennsylvania can be largely attributed to meticulous grassroots organizing at the county-level, challenging the Trump administration’s repeated attempts to delegitimize votes, declare premature victory, and cast doubt even as ballots were being counted.

Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour (BIPOC) played a key role in mobilizing communities and countering disinformation and voter suppression to make every vote count.

Across southern states, organizers and community leaders worked hard for years to build power in marginalized communities. Biden’s win in Georgia is significant – the state hasn’t supported a Democrat since 1992 – many credited his lead to Democratic Party’s Stacey Abrams and her lifelong work to address voter suppression. In 2018, Abrams became the first Black woman chosen as a major political party’s nominee for a state gubernatorial election in the country. Abrams lost the election to Republican opponent but her campaign then founded Fair Fight Action to empower marginalized voters in the state. Abrams worked alongside a host of other groups like the New Georgia Project who registered thousands of BIPOC voters and empowered them to exercise their political rights in and beyond the electoral cycle. 

Stereotypes about Republican-leaning southern states undermine how Black organizers – especially women – have fought for and engaged historically overlooked communities. The political and cultural shifts due to the hard work of these organizers may or may not translate into statewide electoral wins for the Democrats, but a blue wave in the elections cannot be the only indicators of progressivism in a state – community-level changes are just as important as national elections.

Reflecting on the importance of community organizing in southern states, Yasmine, 23, a volunteer with the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) said,  “Historically, the South is ignored and written off because of stereotypes. But it’s important to realize that the racist white people don’t define what the South is. It’s the BIPOC communities that have created environments for themselves where they care for one another, dismantle barriers to civic engagement, and advocate for everyone’s liberation.”

It’s the BIPOC communities that have created environments for themselves where they care for one another, dismantle barriers to civic engagement, and advocate for everyone’s liberation.

Progressive BIPOC-led organizing invested long-term in community coalitions and young voters, foregrounding critical issues like criminal justice reforms, mass incarceration, ICE detentions, climate change, and COVID-19 relief. Dream Defenders, a BIPOC youth-led power-building organization that was formed in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, are one of the many groups in Florida that worked to increase voter turnout, championing causes like defunding the police and minimum wage reform. In counties across Arizona, BIPOC groups helped Biden gain a lead in the state, despite being historically marginalized by the Democratic Party and the GOP. This was made possible by the advocacy of member-led grassroots organizations like Living United for Change in Arizona which have consistently mobilized working-class families and fought for social, economic, and racial justice. Mi Familia Vota engaged Latinx and immigrant communities in different states and advocated for stronger infrastructures for civic participation. 

In Arizona, Indigenous women community leaders fought to challenge years of voter suppression. Leaders like Gabriella Cázares-Kelly, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, ran to be the county recorder and co-founded Indivisible Tohono, a grassroots organizing group which made the voting process more accessible. 

lhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who were re-elected to Congress in Minnesota and Michigan respectively, tirelessly rallied voters at the local level and ensuring Biden’s victory in their states. Community activist and nurse Cori Bush – who became the first Black woman elected to Congress from Missouri – was endorsed by the Sunrise Movement progressive political action committee Justice Democrats who previously endorsed Congress members Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others. Run for Something, a political organization recruiting young progressives running for down-ballot offices, endorsed young progressive candidates like Mauree Turner who became the first Black Muslim nonbinary state legislator from Oklahoma. 

The summer’s Black Lives Matter protests should be credited for sparking conversations about structural injustices, and the importance of showing up to vote.

Black Lives Matter protests politicized the electorate

The summer’s Black Lives Matter protests should be credited for sparking conversations about structural injustices, and the importance of showing up to vote. Some studies even suggested that the protests were responsible for an increase in voter registrations. The protests also politicized many, particularly young BIPOC first-time voters, empowering them to understand the interconnected nature of oppressions that maintain the status quo in an unjust society. 

In Philadelphia during election week, protesters took to denounce Trump’s premature declaration of victory in the state. The protests converged with simultaneous BLM protests in response to the murder of a Black man, Walter Wallace Jr., by the Philadelphia police. Other protest organizers also called for the release of Philly for REAL Justice activist Anthony Smith. In this context, the demand to count all votes was framed as one of the means to the greater ends of protecting civil rights, challenging police brutality, and authoritarianism, and holding a racist criminal justice system accountable.

Volunteers and poll workers saved the day

In between social distancing laws and divisive political struggles, thousands of volunteers for the Democrats utilized digital resources and low-risk physical outreach methods to connect with voters. For Laura, an organizer working with the Chicago chapter of NAPAWF, information access for diverse communities was critical: “We put a lot of emphasis on making information accessible in multiple languages and canvassing. In Georgia specifically, we were able to get older South Asian women to help us phone-bank within their community. This was effective since most of them don’t speak English.” In many swing states, almost 200 NAPAWF volunteers for the Get Out the Vote campaign reached out to AAPI women voters in more than 15 languages, made over 40,000 calls and sent out over 12,000 texts. 

Elsewhere, during and after election day, poll workers risked their lives to count every vote. In Maricopa County, Arizona, poll workers were harassed by Pro-Trump supporters spurred by conspiracy theories of voter fraud and stolen votes, driven by merit-less claims peddled by Trump. Nonetheless, the workers persisted, and the county voted blue. 

It is undeniable that the bulk of progressive organizing was led by BIPOC leaders, but this labor, which is typically not compensated proportionally, should not be romanticized.

Organizers put in the work, what about the Democratic Party?

One of the most significant victories of this election cycle belongs to Kamala Harris, who became the first woman and Black and South Asian-American person to be elected Vice President. However, as many have noted, representation does not guarantee transformational justice. She has been critiqued at length for her controversial track record as district attorney. It is also ironic, that she was elected alongside Biden who, as a Senator, actively caused harm to poor Black communities through legislation.

All of this is to say that despite the impending end of the Trump presidency, the Democratic Party must address its own conservatism and how it continues to uphold oppressive structures through governance. If the Party wants to honor those who won them the election, it must take the voices of BIPOC communities seriously and commit to radically progressive agendas in policy-making. It is undeniable that the bulk of progressive organizing was led by BIPOC leaders, but this labor, which is typically not compensated proportionally, should not be romanticized.

Martha, 23, a volunteer with Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and the Sunrise Movement, stressed that political leaders and white voters should dismantle white supremacy: “Young organizers turned out the huge number of young Democrat voters in this election. But we also saw that more young white voters voted for Trump than any other young demographic. White people must reflect and actively work against our own roles that uphold white supremacy… Organizing without challenging this will only reproduce the racist systems of the past.”

A Biden Presidency is just the start of a long and difficult road towards such liberation. Perhaps the movement will pause and take a break to celebrate, perhaps it will shift and manifest in new and more powerful forms. Perhaps a better future is indeed closer than it seems. In the meantime, organizers will continue to hold space for the most vulnerable, reminding us that the fight goes beyond one election cycle.

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History It Happened Once

I Googled the Salem Witch Trials so you don’t have to – and they are hella confusing

As a part of our Halloween series this year, since we’ll be mentioning witches a lot, let’s talk about the Salem Witch Trials and how the events that took place do not make any sense.

Honestly, after reading a bunch about the “trials,” I still do not really understand what happened or why it happened. Suggestions about fungus causing illnesses and other analyses on political issues within Salem at the time are speculations that are often used to try to explain the trials. But, you have to admit that there are a bunch of missing pieces in the story. The whole thing sounds like complete chaos to me!

I have so many questions. Like, why did they randomly believe the claims of young girls without any true evidence? Who really thought that allowing spectral evidence was a good idea? How were the accused supposed to prove to a court that they were not actually witches? And lastly, what were the true reasons and motivations behind this tragedy?

So let me explain what all went down in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693.  It all began when the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris, the minister of Salem Village, began having violent fits, intense contortions, and uncontrollable outbursts such as screaming. After a local doctor in Salem could not find anything physically wrong with 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris an 11-year-old Abigail Williams, he diagnosed them and other young girls within the community that showed similar behaviors and symptoms with bewitchment. This first diagnosis of witchcraft led to the imprisonment of over 200 people and 20 hangings throughout Massachusetts.

Puritan pioneers first settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. During this time, the Puritan communities established their own theocratic government systems. Theocracy is a form of government largely led and structured by those who believed to be divinely guided. The government and legal system are structured based on religious law.

You still with me?

The Puritans believed that the Devil could give individuals on Earth powers in return for their loyalty. (and that isn’t even the most ridiculous claim) Those who received powers from the Devil were called witches. The principle of witchcraft became prevalent in 14th century Europe, where between the 1300s and 1600s, thousands of people, the majority being women, were executed for accusations of witchcraft. Under the legal structure in Salem, an individual who consorted with the Devil was considered a criminal. The punishment for committing such a crime was hanging, yikes!

During the time of the Salem Witch Trials, the community was stressed and struggling. The King William’s War put a strain on the community’s resources. Additionally, there was a rivalry between wealthy families and the working class that depended on forms of agriculture. There was also an on-going smallpox epidemic and fear of attack from neighboring Native Americans. The stressful and anxiety-fueled climate of the community led to ongoing tensions and suspicions among the Puritan villagers.

After the diagnosis of bewitchment, a few of the “bewitched” young girls blamed three women for bewitching them. The first is Tituba, an enslaved woman from the Caribbean bought by the Reverend Parris. The second woman was Sarah Good, a homeless beggar.  And lastly, an impoverished elderly woman named Sarah Osborne. Of course, all three of the accused women were considered “outsiders” based on race and/or class. (Is anyone shocked?)

It remains unclear if the girls were persuaded or forced to accuse these three women. However, I think that the social statuses and positions of the women in society should be considered when trying to interpret the potential reasons that these three women in particular were actually accused of the crime of witchcraft.

This is where the whole thing launched full speed into a downward spiral to me. The imprisonment of the three women led to further paranoia in a society that already suffered from numerous stresses. Good and Osborne claimed that they were not guilty; while Tituba confessed and named other witches who were working along with her against the Puritans to receive repentance. In response to Tituba claiming other individuals were also practicing witchcraft, the governor of Massachusetts ordered the establishment of the Court of Oyer and Terminer to pass judgment on witchcraft cases.

The accusations of witchcraft continued to spread across the Massachusetts colonies against mostly women and a few men (which I did not know). Similarly to Tituba, those accused confessed and named others who practiced witchcraft. The court allowed testimony based on spectral evidence. This refers to evidence that is based on visions, dreams, and a person’s spirit. The testimony was based on witnesses claiming that they interacted with or saw a person’s spirit, in place of basing testimony on a person’s physical actions. The trails lacked focus on truth and investigation. Under religious practices, the courts preferred that the accused confessed, asked for forgiveness, and vowed to not engage with the Devil again.

After years and the (unlawful) deaths and imprisonment of so many people, the Court of Oyer and Terminer was finally replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature, the testimony of spectral evidence was no longer allowed, and the trials were deemed unlawful. In 1697, the General Court ordered a day of fasting and soul-searching due to the events that had occurred during the trials. Additionally, in 1711, the families affected received reinstitution and the restoration of the names. However, it was not until the 1950s that Massachusetts formally apologized for the event.

The whole story is definitely a lot to digest, but it did give me a lot to think about.

While many aspects of the Salem Witch Trails are perplexing, within this tragedy remains lessons that should be reflected on and questioned today. It remains crucial to have objectivity, to think about the consequences of unjustly punishing individuals, to be cautious of the use of fear within the justice system, and to foresee the damages of groupthink going unquestioned.

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I am more my true self on my fake Instagram account than on my real one

Linda leaned against the glass window of a used book store, her cheeks painted red under the gleaming neon light. The glowing “BOOKS” sign reflected in her tiny white shades which were balanced precariously at the edge of her nose. She peered over them in the direction of the camera, grinning. The accompanying caption was the starting point for many jokes to be had throughout her account: “She can’t read”. This was mostly amusing due to the fact that was Linda, a then-junior English Literature student.

It was my roommate that came up with the tasteful name, Linda, as soon as I put on those white shades for the first time in an Urban Outfitters. They were so unlike me, a girl who exclusively wore black. They were a very “bitchy accessory” that drew attention. With their encouragement, I created a finsta (a fake Instagram account) embodying Linda and her bold fashion choices– the list of which grew gradually as I was in New York City after all.

Is having an alternative online persona or a finsta dishonest? We’ve moved on from thinking that everything we are being presented online is genuine. We know social media warps our expectations of each other and is not a true reflection of someone’s reality (although there has been a call for users to show more authentic versions of themselves). 

I pressed ‘share’ more times in a day than I blinked.

Having an alias, finsta account, spam twitter or any other side account allows you to let loose. I believe that they allow you to explore different parts of yourself. Your unbothered side, that unironically enjoys Tik Tok videos, gets to shine through. Or your liberal views get to be made known despite the sternness of your conservative home. Who is to say which is more authentic? And does it matter? 

In my online persona case of Linda, I could play with inside jokes. I could post whatever I wanted whenever I liked. Gone were the days where I had worried about any curated scheme or began overthinking about whether the content seemed like ‘me’. I didn’t have to care if people from high school (who I don’t even speak to anymore) or my mother’s cousin’s nephew’s friend got the ‘wrong idea’ about me. 

Having an alias, finsta account, spam twitter or any other side account allows you to let loose.

My online persona was confined to my private finsta account and I only followed people close to me. I enjoy having a page that I can look forward to posting on. It wasn’t about the likes or comments. It was about the joy that came with the account itself. The fact that it was clearly a finsta made it clear that I was saying, “Don’t take me seriously. Not here at least”. 

In propagation for finstas, I’d like to make it known that the ‘share’ button is always a site of anxiety for me. That looming moment just before you press it often fuels a lot of tension within. I know that it isn’t a real social interaction, not in the same way as a handshake. But it would rather be eternalized in the digital realm – something a finsta can combat. Having an alternative persona allowed me to overcome this anxiety and let me share whatever came to mind. I pressed ‘share’ more times in a day than I blinked. If the post contained a poor fashion decision or an ill-received spoken word video, it was Linda’s doing. 

In my experience as a Muslim woman, we, as well as other women with more conservative backgrounds, use finstas and online personas as a personal outlet. An alternative account is seen as a haven away from the male gaze or even their family’s eyes. The accounts become a way to have a presence online while also remaining private.

Other friends of mine use twitter accounts with aliases to release any pent up thoughts. They read like journal entries. They aren’t forgetting who they actually are or trying to fool anyone. Instead, it is simply a space for us to put ourselves out there while not fearing anyone’s judgement.

The accounts become a way to have a presence online while also remaining private.

There is the fact that any of these side-accounts could turn into a breeding ground for gossip. I can’t deny that I haven’t seen the dark side of being unfiltered and unencumbered by social judgement. People tearing each other down behind aliases and exploiting anonymity to be cruel to those around them or other strangers. But there is a potential for so much more. 

We need these spaces. We need to be under-the-radar and ourselves…or maybe someone else entirely. It may be an illusion, but finstas and alternative accounts do feel more private and personal. Linda can attest to this. 

Mental Health The Pandemic Love + Sex Love

What is the new intimacy in a world without touch?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the very fabric of our lives in more ways than we can count. The entire world is uncertain; not knowing where to turn or who to turn to. It seems that the only thing that is constant is this sense of dangling amongst nothing. 

Before this crisis, many people would escape their routine to find some sort of getaway within the world of dating, but now COVID-19 has taken charge and made this nearly impossible. Being forcefully torn away from such a break keeps people trapped in the banalities of everyday life. Not to mention that all of those feelings of tediousness have become exacerbated in quarantine. I can say for myself that it feels like I am spiraling in this scenario which has no end in sight. 

Something that used to keep me grounded, the relationships that I have with the people that I don’t live with, is indefinitely and physically unattainable. I’m having a hard time grappling with the long-lasting implications that this has for our generation of young people and lovers. I’m afraid that Coronavirus is changing how we date. 

Relationships have become completely reliant on technologyand I’m turned off. Sure people have been online dating for awhile now, but there was always a possibility of something in-person. I hope that when the COVID-19 outbreak blows over virtual romance doesn’t become permanent. 

In-person chemistry is almost impossible to replicate; certain social cues, expressions, and emotions can only barely be acknowledged virtually.

Therefore, a very distinct barrier exists in terms of dating and love during times like these, and it’s not our fault. We can, and we will, do what we can to fill those gaps up until we start to brush against the walls of such technological limitations

For those same reasons, I am anxious about the lack of physical touch while in isolation for COVID-19. Being able to simply touch, or be near, another person is known to generate trust and sense of community. My boyfriend and I are not quarantining together, for simple and obvious reasons.

We didn’t live with each other before all of this either. But now, our relationship has been unprecedentedly restricted. I can see the strain. We depend on things like physical touch, even just being in the literal presence of each other to feel love and comfort. The lack of touch seems to be a completely different experience than this; maybe the opposite.

I feel unsure and as if there is a dull, whole body, ache that never gets settled. In the time since our ability to touch has been put on hold, I’ve recognized just how essential it is. I am hungry to be held, even if for just a minute. I can only try to mimic his open-armed grasp with a weighted blanket for so long before I have forgotten the sensation of it entirelyuntil it becomes a distant memory. 

Sometimes, during all of this, I feel strange in my own body. It is as if my skin is thinner than ever before. I am thinking that this sensitivity is because our distance has manifested in my mind as rejection. My relationship has been steady, but shaky, while in quarantine. There are just some things that can’t be duplicated. I have found that when him and I do talk on the phone, I don’t have much to say.

Not that there is nothing left to say, there is plenty, but that I don’t want to have to say anything to be with him. I am okay with just being near. Much of the foundation of our relationship is based on small physicalities that lay on those exact walls of technological limitations.

I just don’t want to forget about them or what they feel like. I need them in times like these; my body has been trained to rely on them to feel salvation from suffering. 

I am afraid that we, as completely social creatures, will become so deprived and lonely that we won’t know how to fix it when society opens up again. The result of our current isolation is way beyond ourselves and our actions, but the implications still remain. I can’t help but wonder if we are becoming too far gone from the depths of compassion to save whatever is left of it.

The Internet Pop Culture

Tik Tok is how I’m really staying sane during this quarantine

A clock isn’t the only thing that makes a Tik Tok when its bored; humans do too. And in this crisis time, people are making Tik Toks now more than ever.

Self-care is one of the most important things during a crisis time like this and with all of the entertainment options out there, it’s very easy to put on a film or some music and just relax. However, with the rise of Tik Tok, self-care has transformed into a more creative and active process. Laughing to the stupidest short clips on Tik Tok isn’t the only thing that the platform offers. The ability to create is becoming more vital during this time and it has allowed me personally to connect with others as well as cure my boredom during self-quarantine. Balancing work and finding time for myself has always been a problem for me in general with my busy schedule, and when I need to do something quick to help myself relax, I find myself pressing on the Tik Tok app on my phone almost immediately.

Entertainment doesn’t have to come from a four-minute long song, or a two-hour long movie; it can come from five second clips that some random girl halfway across the world made. 

Moreover, it’s not just that it’s funny. Tik Tok is relatable; it’s a community. Sharing Tik Toks with my friends and family has become an everyday activity for me now, and it doesn’t feel like I’m wasting time. Moreso, I’m taking time for myself to enjoy quality, unique entertainment (for the most part). With some balance, Tik Tok had carefully crafted a more creative lifestyle for me, where I didn’t have to constantly worry about deadlines or whether or not I would finish my Netflix show, which, yes, that’s extremely stressful for me. In the short period of time that I was on the app each day, I would stop thinking about everything else crappy going on in my life and just for a second forget about it and solely focus on the stupid jokes people were making.

The platform has now become a lifestyle. In fact, it is estimated that Charli D’Amelio, a famous creator on Tik Tok, has a net worth of over three million dollars. Teens, kids, and their entire families have become invested in the platform and spend hours working on creating the perfect Tik Tok that they hope will go viral. Getting on the ‘For You’ page is a dream for many. Some say Tik Tok has ruined people’s lives for increasing how digital the world is getting, but I say it improved it. We should embrace this new digital lifestyle and find ways to accept, adapt, and integrate new platforms like this. 

Despite the obvious attention-grabbing environment, the content on Tik Tok has only gotten better. The process of making the actual clip has become so exciting for many, including me. When I make a Tik Tok, I don’t make it to get likes, or views (I’m a private account too, so I don’t really care about views), it’s always been about putting content out there and expressing my creativity and feelings, which is the same as many others also view it. Sure, there are the occasional posts only asking for likes and follows, but there are genuine content creators who want to entertain others on the platform. Tik Tok is more real than any other platform I’ve ever used, except maybe Twitter sometimes.

Self care doesn’t have to be putting on a spa mask and some relaxing music and meditating or sleeping.

Self-care comes in many forms, and entertainment is a huge one of them. For me, self-care became Tik Tok. It’s one of those apps that just blew up, because it had just the right combination of humor and community. It was a perfect feel-good app that enticed groups of all ages, and will most likely last years from now. Ultimately, Tik Tok has provided me an emotional release at the start and end of every day. Just getting on the platform oddly brings a smile to my face to see all of those relatable, goofy memes.

Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

“A Place For Us” perfectly captured my complex relationship with community

Any love story worth paying attention to has two integral components: conflict and devotion. Often the former gives way to the latter, but in Fatima Farheen Mirza’s debut novel, A Place For Us, the two coexist, both in her writing and in the lived experiences that inspired it. Mirza’s novel is not a love story in the way that you are thinking, although there are a number of romantic subplots within the narrative. At its core, A Place For Us is a love letter to community, specifically the Indian-American Muslim community whose culture, customs and complexities are at the center of the narrative.

The novel catches a family in the middle of their eldest daughter, Hadia’s, wedding, which also marks the return of Amar, the estranged youngest child, back into the folds of his family after three years away. Going back and forth in time, the novel tells the story of Rafiq and Layla, immigrants from India, to whom religion, tradition, and culture are both a comforting reminder of their old lives in India and an anchor in their new lives as Americans. Their children, Hadia, Huda and Amar, are attempting to navigate their way between their parents’ world and their present reality, to find a balance between doing right by their roots and staying true to themselves.

Throughout her novel, Mirza situates this family firmly within a wider community and culture. This is evident in the locations where much of the novel takes place: obligatory prayers and Quran classes at the local mosque, functions at the homes of different families within the community, basketball games in mosque parking lots. Many of the most significant events in the characters’ lives are also a by-product of these wider influences, from the pressure to fit in, rumors and gossip, to unconditional support and unspoken solidarity. It is clear that their community, culture, and religious convictions have a deep pull on the central characters, who are both fiercely loyal to and struggling against them.

When you belong to a community that is not widely represented in mainstream media and art – like the one Mirza writes about – there are certain complexities in how you choose to depict them when given the chance. Ideally, you would do so with total accuracy and transparency, but there is always the fear that if you expose the bad as well as the good, the former will contribute to pre-existing stereotypes and rhetoric while the latter remains largely ignored. This is particularly true with regard to Muslim communities because we are at the mercy of a media landscape that refuses to see us as anything but homogenous. And so we are torn between propaganda and accuracy, between irresponsibility and betrayal.

Mirza finds a solution to this dilemma in a single, powerful tool that is the foundation of her storytelling: empathy. She knows her characters intimately and loves them despite this. The same applies to the wider community in the novel, which is reflective of her own. Raised in California by Indian Muslim immigrants, Mirza walks the precarious line between loyalty and clear-sightedness with careful diplomacy.

It can be intimidating to disclose – no matter how subtly – the flaws of one’s community, marginalized or otherwise. And Mirza is subtle, touching on the sexism, the judgment, and the immense pressure that exists within the Indian Muslim community without ever sounding preachy or deprecatory. Even in her criticism, she is deeply empathetic. She recognizes where these flaws come from, in what environments these injustices and oppressions grow, compelling us to understand them without excusing them. She communicates that all these things exist simultaneously with the warmth of the community, the hospitality, the unyielding loyalty, the generosity, the fierce love – and that to weigh either side against the other to come to a definitive conclusion is both impossible and unnecessary.

 As we do with those we truly love, Mirza recognizes and confronts her community’s shortcomings with a degree of empathy and thoughtfulness that catches you off-guard, especially in the fourth and final part of the novel. A Place For Us shows that there is a middle ground in between the extremes of blind loyalty and calculated critique and that writers and artists from marginalized communities must claim for themselves that space that is so easily afforded to everyone else.

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Giveaways Editor's Picks Startups Now + Beyond

GIVEAWAY! + Trolls, social media, and a startup: Meet the two women who took social media into their own hands

Presented in partnership with Trill Project.

There is no doubt that social media, and the ability to be anonymous, is one of the biggest evils of the internet.

Because of the safety of anonymity, cyberbullying has become a common experience of many high school students, sometimes ending in tragedy.

However, Georgia Messinger and Ari Sokolov thought that in the right environment, anonymity could be used to create something beautiful. They came together to create a social media platform that is safe and anonymous for all to discuss everything and anything.

With that goal in mind, Trill Project was born.

“Growing up with social media, [this negativity] is something we experienced firsthand,” said Messinger, co-founder, and COO of  Trill Project. “We really just saw potential to turn digital spaces into something that could be more supportive. Our users and Trill Project remind us that is something that can be possible if given the right tools and the right space.”

Trill Project is a completely anonymous social media platform that allows users to connect with each other by following feeds based on specific topics. Topics range from relationships to music to mental health.

The Trill Project recognizes that mental health is hard to talk about and provides a safe platform for people to discuss their well-being without being judged or scrutinized. 

Celebrate self-care this winter and WIN a Trill Project colouring book set

All a person needs is a username to create an account. Account names are automatically generated and based on a color that the user picks when they register their account. Posts on Trill are managed by a team of over 50 moderators to prevent bullying and ensure that content is safe for all users.

If a Trill user is struggling with mental health, moderators are trained to provide resources such as the Suicide hotline or RAINN.

Many moderators also work with Teen Line, a teen-to-teen hotline designed to help young people connect with support services.

One thing that the moderators of Trill Project have been working on is ensuring that all voices are respected on the app. With the currently charged political climate, often the rhetoric of the President is harmful to many people who identify as minorities.

“Something that we really strive to do is make sure that we’re allowing all voices to be heard as long as it’s not attacking somebody else,” Messinger said. “Of course that always comes a final line and something that we’re always looking to improve upon.”

Messinger and Sokolov are not only entrepreneurs but currently freshmen at esteemed universities.

Sokolov is attending the University of Southern California while Messinger is spending her first year away from home 3,000 miles away at Harvard. They’ve found that working on Trill Project is instrumental in helping manage their first year away from home.

“Actually Trill Project has really helped us with [first-year college struggles].” Messinger said.”It was something that really grounded us to Los Angeles and to our families and to each other. We even use the app. So we would go on it, invent ourselves [on the app] and talk to other students at colleges that are experiencing the same things.”

Because of the anonymity of the app, users wouldn’t know whether they’re talking to another college student or one of the founders. Interactions can be between two individuals, without the prejudice placed on the person by societal pressures.

However, that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy managing studies and business plans.

It’s a lot and requires loads of caffeine,” said Sokolov, CEO of Trill Project. “When I was 13, I founded an iOS and web app development company whose apps were recognized by SXSW, the U.S. Congress, and Apple. So, I’ve been balancing school and work for the past five years… In college and in high school, I think I have had less social fun than my peers, but I’m more fulfilled by creating products that I know will have an impact on others’ lives.”

Messinger and Sokolov got started early in computer science and app development, giving them the tools they needed to start changing the world. Sokolov’s path to entrepreneurship was a bit serendipitous, and thanks to a fateful turn into the wrong classroom.

“When I was eight years old, I was supposed to be in a photography class during a summer program.  But, I accidentally went to the wrong classroom. It ended up being a computer science class. I loved the class, and the teacher allowed me to stay. I made a drawing using the coding language Processing in the class. After, I used that same knowledge to create a digital birthday card for my mom.”

Fate continued to play an important role for the two developers. Despite living only blocks away from each other, it took going to North Carolina, over 2,500 miles away, to come together.

“Ari and I met at the National Center for Women in Information Technology. We were winning their national award in North Carolina…It took us going to North Carolina for this [young women who code] award ceremony to meet one another. I really think it was like a weird chance of fate that brought us together.”

That fateful meeting created a friendship that bloomed into Trill Project. 

This all-star pairing of young talent helped Trill go from concept to reality at breakneck speed. Within the first month, the app was in beta. In under six months, it was one of the top apps in the Apple App Store.

“We’ve been very lucky to have been featured by Apple on its App Store and appreciate that Apple shares many of our same values [like] user privacy, diversity, and acceptance,” Sokolov said.

Despite the team’s youth, Messinger is confident with the guidance that she’s getting when it comes to managing the business. While there are plans to monetize the business moving forward, Messinger and Sokolov are taking the opportunity to be very conscious of who they choose to partner with, and have taken no money outside of the initial investment it took to get Trill Project off the ground.

They aim to partner with services that will bring value to the users of the platform. That selectivity takes courage, but it’s something Messinger takes in stride.

“Sometimes you’re still swimming with sharks,” Messinger said. “But the good thing is, there’s lots of life rafts around, people who are helping you navigate the waters. That’s another reason I think it’s so great to stay in school because all of my professors and mentors at school are allies and they just want their students to succeed without ulterior motives.”

Remarkably, that is a near perfect summation of what Trill is, people using their anonymity to ask for help, and help others.

Because of it, we all succeed, no questions asked.


Celebrate self-care this winter and WIN a Trill Project colouring book set


Gift Guides Money Now + Beyond

Here’s a different way to give with your wallet for any holiday season.

If there’s a time to rally up some money, what better time than a season of giving!?

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of giving and receiving material things, but taking a step back to acknowledge who could use more financial support in your community or around the world, can reel you back to what’s important. 

I grew up in a typical Atheist American family who celebrates Christmas solely as an excuse to get family and friends together and of course to make my great grandma’s famous fudge. We were always big on gifts, but over the last few years we’ve minimized the material things and encouraged a different way for everyone to give with their wallet. Growing older, more financially stable and understanding the value of quality time has shifted to wanting and needing less as the gift-giving holidays roll around. 

Now, my family members and I exchange our lists with at least three organizations or charities to donate to, who are working hard to do good in the world. 

If you can’t afford to give back with your own buck you can make it known to your family and friends how important it is for them to donate on your behalf instead of receiving a gift. Giving people a reason why specific charities or organizations are important to you makes it feel more personal and can also help your family and friends better understand you and your own personal values.

This might be a given but start by finding things you’re passionate about. Maybe it’s helping animals, keeping the arts alive, supporting after-school programs, park and nature conservation, tech for youth girls, news websites, police brutality resistance, LGBTQIA groups, or combatting homelessness.

Obviously, it’s so important to be involved, participate and show up in your community but this can also be an easy way to better get to know your community, what’s going on and the support that exists.

For instance, some charities I choose to support are:

Girls on the Run Bay Area. Running has been a huge part of my life since I was 12. It has taught me so much about myself and has been such an outlet for my anxiety and mental health over the years. It’s always been about so much more than just running, so I found this non-profit program that works to encourage pre-teen girls and show them just that. It aims to show them that community, self-respect, and confidence can come from running as well as an empowering and healthy outlet.

Living in a city that supports and encourages the exploration of my queerness has been such a gift in and of itself. Transgender Law Center is the largest trans-led civil rights organization in the United States and its headquarters resides in Oakland, California. I know there are people who are working hard for LGBTQIA spaces, support, rights, and resources and this is my small way of giving back. Transgender Law Center  “employs a variety of community-driven strategies to keep transgender and gender nonconforming people alive, thriving, and fighting for liberation.” An organization that feels deeply important and necessary to support.

I’ve also always been creative at heart. Writing, painting, dancing and just the arts, in general, have been some of my greatest joys of life. However, many different cultures tell us the arts are not important or valuable and have decreased,  been eliminated or even banned from schools and after-school programs. In many forms, art has helped me express my inner self. I want to be a part of the movement that shows youth and adults how the arts are equally as important as math and science and have every right to stand tall in school curriculums. Youth Speaks is “One of the world’s leading presenters of Spoken Word performance, education, and youth development programs.” It’s an organization I choose to support for its strong belief system “that literacy is a need, not a want,” aligning with my own.

So start there, something that’s personal, something that makes you excited and hopeful. It will take you much further than the amount in your bank account. Giving with your finances to charities and organizations you believe in and are passionate about can provide time for you to better understand the mission of the groups and all the awesome things happening around you. It also can help us all veer away from the hype of material things and create space for a richer holiday.

Editor's Picks Community LGBTQIA+ Gender & Identity Life

At 25, I’m just starting to learn what being queer means to me

This past June was San Francisco Pride. It was my first time attending pride as someone a part of the community and not solely as an ally. Even with all the acceptance and inclusivity being thrown my way, it still felt like I should’ve been standing on the sidelines as a cheerleader instead of in the game as a queer participant.

This past year has been a difficult, slightly unexpected and extremely refreshing year for me regarding my sexuality. I think I’ve always prided myself on how much I know myself and how in-tune I am with how I feel and why I feel that way. But this time around, I had to put my ego aside and get to know another part of myself and allow myself to simply….not know.

Less than a year ago I met my now partner, who is fully immersed in the queer community and so openly proud and comfortable with who they are as a non-binary queer individual (fuck yeah 100%). As we got to know each other better, we decided to share our coming out stories. It was my turn and I didn’t have one. I was physically shaking, I felt ashamed, embarrassed and thought they would think I was a fraud. Am I a fraud? I thought. I was so terrified to admit to them, let alone myself that I was not comfortable or sure of who I was, which was a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time.

I didn’t and still don’t fully feel a part of either the hetero or queer community. It’s that feeling like you don’t have a spot on the team, because before you get a spot you first have to choose which team.

When I’m around the queer community, there’s this feeling like I have to be fully queer, that I have to prove my “gayness” when I myself don’t even know what that looks like yet. Then there is this fear of if I express my attraction towards men that I no longer belong to this community because “I’m just going through a phase”.

But even through all the dark tunnels I go down, I come out of it every time reminding myself that this isn’t what the LGBTQ+ community is about, right? It’s about accepting the in-betweens, the unknowns and the exploration, whatever that may look like and down whichever road it may take you. It’s about remaining non-discriminative, even within your own community and allowing people to be who they are, no questions asked (unless they’re being assholes and rude, bye).

Going through the exploration of my own queer identity has created a whole other shelf of empathy for the LGBTQ+ community. It has also made me recognize my privilege that exists within my experience. I have both parents, my sister, my closest friends, my colleagues all telling me they love me no matter whom I love. I live in one of the most progressive regions of the country, and I have a partner that wants nothing more than for me to feel included. I am cis-gendered and can pass as a hetero femme.

So maybe this is not where I take center stage, where I do not stand in the spotlight, but learning that I can still be a part of the team as a whole. That I can still admit I feel lost and out of place.

I still don’t feel like I have my coming out story, and it’s a strange and unnerving experience when you feel like others are writing it for you. The best thing y’all can do, both people of the LGBTQ+ community and those outside of it, is to not assume or tell people who they are, who and what they must like. ASK. Create space for others to write their own story and allow them to read it aloud when and if they’re ready. Listen, be supportive and open to all the times they may change their mind. Believe them if they tell you they’re not sure, if they say they’re still figuring it out. Believe them if they say they like both men and women, believe bisexuality, show them that however they feel, is valid.

I am still learning myself, so say it with me: “My sexuality is real and valid wherever I fall on the spectrum.”

I thought that I had to be fully gay or fully straight. I thought I had to prove myself one way or the other. But learning that human sexuality can be SO fluid and that we must practice patience for ourselves and learn to love our process.

That is where we can truly understand ourselves.

So here I am, 25 years old, a baby queer, still learning my first steps, growing with each day, hearing my own voice, and being okay with admitting that I don’t know.

Editor's Picks The Fam Love + Sex Love Advice

What’s the best – and worst – advice you’ve gotten about procrasturbating?

What’s the best piece of masturbation advice you’ve ever received? For me, it was to grab a mirror and have a good look at myself. Because damn, there are a lot of bits down there – bits that we don’t always learn about in sex ed.

The worst masturbation advice I’ve ever received, on the other hand, was to masturbate with toothpaste.

According to an unnamed women’s magazine I read when I was sixteen, the ‘minty-fresh’ sensation was supposed to bring a ‘delightful tingle’ to your nether regions. Hard pass, I thought, remembering the burning sensation of toothpaste on a tongue ulcer I had years before.

A GIF of toothpaste exploding on a toothbrush.
[Image description: A GIF of toothpaste exploding on a toothbrush.] Via GIPHY
Figuring out the difference between good and awful masturbation advice often isn’t so clear-cut. Let’s face it – it’s something we don’t talk about often enough. Whether your advice is funny, useful, or mind-blowing, we want to hear from you!

[bctt tweet=”We’re asking our readers to share the best – and worst – masturbation advice they’ve ever been given. Whether your advice is funny, useful, or mind-blowing, we want to hear from you!” username=”wearethetempest”]

To get your creative, um, juices flowing, I asked some of my friends.

The best advice:

Invest in a vibrator. Even if you decide it doesn’t feel great, it’s fun to play around with different sensations.
Do it in the shower. The soothing, private environment of the shower makes it one of the best places to masturbate.
Wash your hands before you masturbate. This rule will help you prevent pesky urinary tract infections.

The worst advice:

Masturbate with a full bladder. Unless you’re masturbating in the shower or on waterproof sheets, that sounds like a recipe for disaster.
– Don’t ever masturbate on your period. While period sex is something I don’t personally enjoy, it’s totally okay to masturbate when you’re menstruating – if you’re okay with that!
Masturbation is something everyone enjoys. This isn’t true. Some people don’t like it – and that’s okay!

Here we go.

So, we want to know: What’s the best and worst masturbation advice you’ve ever gotten?

GIF of RuPaul saying "Honey, get out the china because I'm about to spill the tea"
[Image description: GIF of RuPaul saying “Honey, get out the china because I’m about to spill the tea”] via GIPHY

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