Morality is a matter of opinion, queerness is not: a Q+A with Da’Shaun Harrison

Sinclair: Your name on Twitter reads: “thicc,” meaning fat. Tell us more about what this means to you.

Da’Shaun: I wrote a piece titled The Conflict Between Thick and Fat where I discuss at great length how anti-fatness shows up in language like “thicc/k” and what it really means when people refer to fatness as “thicc/k.” Said differently, “thicc/k” being used as an avenue, of sorts, to arrive at desire for what really is just fatness is anti-fat, and this only adds to the systemic oppression which fat people experience. My Twitter name comes from this idea.

Sinclair: In your article, “Homeleness and the Death I Fear as as Queer Black Person”, you said: As a child, my family seldom spoke to me about sex or sexuality. Not in a healthy way, at least. How can we have these conversations in a healthy way?

Da’Shaun: First, parents should really educate themselves on all that sex is. I think many adults think they have sex all figured out because they are adults and/or because they have children, but the reality is that sex-ed is ever-evolving. We can never learn too much about what it is we can do to pleasure ourselves and our partner(s). Beyond that, parents should also educate themselves on sexuality. More and more knowledge is acquired and shared on sexuality each year. We know more about how attraction and identity and desire all work than we ever have; this knowledge is imperative to a child’s development.

With this knowledge, I believe that parents should always be open and honest with their kids about sex and sexuality. When they get to an age where they are able to comprehend what they’re being told, parents should talk frequently with their child(ren) about what sex is, what sexuality is, and affirm for their child(ren) that they are loved and cared for even and especially if they are queer and/or trans. And, not all people experience sexual attraction; this is valid, too. Opening children up to the fact that conversations around sex do not have to be taboo and are not always hypersexual will assure them that their parents can be trusted and, hopefully, will lead to them engaging in healthy sex—with whomever they want to—if they choose to.

Sinclair: What’s something we often get wrong when talking about sexuality?

Da’Shaun: Many people base their perception of queer people off of what they believe to be moral. However, morality is a matter of opinion, queerness is not. Science, both physical and social, provide more than enough “evidence” that sexuality is not rigid as many would have us to believe.

“We can never learn too much about what it is we can do to pleasure ourselves and our partner(s).” – Da’Shaun Harrison

Sinclair: What advice do you have for someone who feels like their sexual identity is often under attack?

Da’Shaun: If at all possible, surround yourself with people who love you. Other queer people who, for many, have similar experiences and pain. For queer and/or trans people—especially of color, and especially Black—chosen families, “houses,” etc. are all vital for our survival. This is true historically and still presently.

I’d also tell them that strength is not a requirement for their humanity to be valid, but that they are strong . . . even if that is not always their truth. Loneliness, sadness, frustration, and anger are all valid emotions for us to experience. Some of us never come back from those feelings, and their lives are valid, too. However, being queer/trans is not all about our suffering and our oppression. We deserve to enjoy life just as much as anyone else.

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Da’Shaun Harrison

Sinclair: You’re a prolific writer, Morehouse grad, and all around badass. How did you get to where you are now?

Da’Shaun: Thank you! I study, I read, I keep my ears and my mind open, and I feel deeply. These have all gotten me to where I am. This said, I am only as strong as my village. This journey has not been an easy one, by any means, and it seems to only get harder. Still, I am alive and where I’m at today because I have a host of people—my communities—who hold onto me, who allow me to be human, who pray for me, who burn sage for me, who talk to the ancestors on my behalf, who love me without wavering. I have honestly learned so much from all of the people I am around and I owe each of them all of the love and thanks I can muster up because I’m only here because of them and I’ll only continue to go up from here because of them. From my family back in my hometown, Wilmington, NC, to the many siblings I bonded with at Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta, to the large family I gained across the world (& the interwebs) through community organizing, I have a very strong support system.

“…Being queer/trans is not all about our suffering and our oppression. We deserve to enjoy life just as much as anyone else. – Da’Shaun Harrison

Sinclair: What advice do you have for HBCU students graduating in May 2019?

Da’Shaun: This advice is for the rebels, the ones with low GPAs, the ones who dropout, the fifth and sixth year students: keep being you. We are not all fit to walk the path that the world says we must, and some of us simply don’t want to, and these are all okay. Always strive to do your very best and be proud of whatever that best is. Don’t stunt your growth, but also know that growth is not always linear and it is not always exponential.
What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

As a multiply-marginalized person with major chronic depression and anxiety, there is not much that brings me joy. Nevertheless, being around friends who are passionate about writing, and creating content that changes lives, and enjoying it all in the process has brought me a lot of happiness recently. I am grateful for that.

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Da’Shaun Harrison

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off?

Da’Shaun: Solange said it best: “I gotta lot to be mad about.” This world is horrific. One thing that’s been pissing me off more now than ever is being poor. There is no reason that poor and working class people, especially those of us who are Black, should have to struggle to *only* be able to pay bills while others sit on piles of money. It’s an abomination. Capitalism has been pissing me off.
When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

I doubt myself a lot. I always have. I’m a perfectionist, so it is oftentimes very difficult for me to not worry or doubt. I am currently in a place, a moment, where I’m unsure of where I’m going next. I’m not sure where my writing is going, though I know what I want to do; I’m not sure what my next education move will be, though I’m certain of what I want it to be. I feel that I am in limbo trying to find my way back to the surface. It’s a constant journey, but it is one I’m willing to continue on.
What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

I am a communist. This, to me, means that I am staunchly against this capitalist, imperialist, white supremacist, cisheteropatriarchy. This cannot be compromised and it cannot be changed. I became very clear on this when I began organizing back in January 2015, and I grow clearer on this as time progresses.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?

Da’Shaun: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” —Assata Shakur

Eat the rich. The People will rise.

✍🏿✍🏿✍🏿

Da’Shaun Harrison is a nonbinary abolitionist and organizer in Atlanta, GA. He writes and speaks publicly on race, sexuality, gender, class, religion, disabilities, fatness, and the intersection at which they meet. His portfolio and other work can be found on his website, dashaunharrison.com.

Learn more about Da’Shaun and connect: Twitter | Website 

Stop waiting for people of color to educate you on their lived experience: A Q+A w/ Bonnie Boyle McGahee

Sinclair: How many books are you aiming to read this year? How many have you read so far?

Bonnie: When I started my New Year’s Resolution back in December 2017 I set the goal to read 12 books in 2018. I figured 1 book per month would be realistic and pretty manageable. I also wanted to catalog the books I was reading on some sort of social media platform, so I chose Instagram with the hashtag #BBMReads (after my full name). I thought it would be neat looking back on my journey over the last year and see the themes and genres of books I gravitated towards. I have just finished book #20 and I am currently reading book #21:  Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter and Trump.

Sinclair: What’s the reason you created this reading goal for yourself?

Bonnie: I wanted to set a goal for 2018 that would help me grow both professionally and personally. Late in 2017, I started becoming more interested in learning about mass incarceration, the role I play as a white person in society, and how I can continue to develop as a feminist, wife, ally and educator.

Sinclair: Is there any particular way you source the authors?

Bonnie: Mostly word of mouth, blogs, and let’s be honest—Amazon suggestions (hah!). Back in November of 2017, I told a colleague of mine that I was so angry about the way the criminal justice system targets people of color and I needed to learn more. He told me I needed to read The New Jim Crow and my world hasn’t been the same since. Thanks, Jason, for inspiring me!

Next, I read …But I’m Not Racist and right after I finished that, my friend Natalie suggested White Rage and thus began the beginning of my #BBMReads journey.

Sinclair: Which book challenged your thinking?

Bonnie: I just mentioned The New Jim Crow and how that was the catalyst for my #BBMReads adventure; but truly I was stunned by reading Michelle Alexander’s words. As an educator, I am very humbled to say this. Prior to November 2017, I didn’t realize once someone is conflicted of a felony their rights get stripped away. They can’t vote. Can’t serve on a jury. Housing is pretty much a non-option. Education is virtually nonexistent because of the high tuition costs and lack of financial aid. There are so many parallels between slavery and prison and at times it was too much to read. I would highly suggest pacing yourself with this book.

Sinclair: Which book made you feel inspired or empowered? How so?

Bonnie: Oh, this is a difficult question! I would have to say Make Trouble by Cecile Richards. For folks who don’t know, Cecile was the President of Planned Parenthood for 12 years and recently stepped down from the organization. She starts off the book by saying: “Maybe there’s an injustice that’s bothering you; maybe you see something in your community or at work you want to change; maybe you’re trying to get up the courage to share your beliefs with friends or family who see things differently; maybe you’re worried about the world your kids will inherit. I hope this book will help you get out there and do something about it. Just don’t forget: to make a difference, you have to make a little trouble.” From that moment on, I was hooked. I read all 263 pages in a weekend. Cecile talks about her mother, Ann Richards, the first female democratic Governor of Texas. And, how Ann went from housewife to Governor, all while battling alcoholism and getting a divorce. But, Ann never lost sight of fighting for what is right. Cecile talks about her journey of activism all throughout her life and what led her to Planned Parenthood. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is an incredible book. Go read it!

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Bonnie & Sinclair looking fly.

Sinclair: You told me about a social media post that caused conflict with a family member. What happened and what did you learn from that interaction?

Bonnie: Back in November 2017, I posted on Facebook a New York Times op-ed by Jay-Z titled “The Criminal Justice System Stalks Black People Like Meek Mill.” The article discussed Jay’s feelings on our criminal justice system and how Black people are sent to prison more often, and given probation at much higher rates than whites. This article really hit on how important it is to engage in conversation surrounding our criminal justice system, and how a person convicted of a crime at 19 years old would spend their whole adult life on probation, and be sent back to jail 11 years later for missing a curfew. This op-ed was important. It was interesting and really shook me, so I posted it on Facebook.

A family member reacted by laughing at the post. I was stunned. This article was talking about how the criminal justice system is harassing Black people. This is not funny.

I thought about what to do and decided to delete the post and message my family member. I told him I was deleted the post and reposted it. Apparently you cannot delete a reaction on Facebook. The conversation through Facebook Messenger was not ideal. I explained why I deleted it and that I was reposting the article because it was not funny to me. I also acknowledged that we have two different views on politics and that I’d prefer if we kept our views off of each other’s pages. He responded saying he wouldn’t debate a liberal like me, and that my posts are offensive to him because he views them as anti-white and anti-white police. My cousin is a police officer and I am very thankful for him keeping the city safe. I can’t even imagine how difficult it is risking your life every day. This situation made me really understand that doing this work of calling out injustice and discrimination is not going to be easy. I can’t even tell you the amount of negative messages I’ve received or relationships that have been strained. It’s sad, but at the end of the day: being an ally and confronting racism is just the right thing to do.

Did I handle that situation correctly? Maybe? Maybe not. Based on where I am now, I probably would have tried to engage in conversation a bit more: “What was so triggering? Talk to me about your view and here’s mine…” All we can do as allies is learn and improve.

Sinclair: You mentioned White Fragility at some point when originally sharing the story to me. What is that? And how do you think that played a part in this?

Bonnie: Oh, White Fragility…something that is so troublesome in our society. White Fragility is basically the discomfort that triggers defensiveness and anger when talking about issues surrounding race. Race is a very uncomfortable subject for a lot of white folks. Some people are open to listening and others aren’t not open to discussion. Instead of leaning into the conversation to learn about discrimination and injustices that happening to people of color, some folks get very defensive and try to shut down the conversation because that isn’t true of their lived experience. That’s white fragility. Derald Wing Sue talks about that in his book Race Talk & the Conspiracy of Silence, Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race. Sue writes: “Discussions of race between people with differing racial realities are likely to engender strong feelings of discomfort, anger and anxiety; most people prefer to avoid the topic of race, to remain silent, to minimize its importance or impact or pretend not to notice it.”

I think that’s what happened between me and my cousin. He was looking at the article from his lens and wasn’t open to another perspective. So, he reacted by laughing and being defensive in his response.

Side note: Robin DiAngelo’s new book just came out in June called White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism if you’re interested in learning more! It’s on my “to be read” list for this month!

Sinclair: What advice would you give you folks who are looking to be better allies and supports to folks from marginalized identities?

Bonnie: Do the work. Do not wait for anyone, especially people of color to educate you on their lived experience. If you are seriously committed to being an ally and support folks from marginalized identities I encourage you to read, engage, show up, be vulnerable, and most importantly call out your racist friends and family members.

A quote by Desmond Tutu is something I reflect on virtually everyday: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

I was silent for too long, letting microaggressions slide, not confronting my friends and family when they would say racist remarks. Now, since I’ve been educating myself more about oppression, racism, white privilege – while also being married to a Black man – I can no longer be silent. That just isn’t an option for me anymore. Most importantly, if a person of color says that you’ve done or said something offensive, apologize and do better in the future.

It’s okay to mess up, but it’s important to be better and grow. There is a passage in So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo that hits the nail on the head: “If you want to be an ally you must remember… you are not doing any favors. You are doing what is right. If you are white, remember that White Supremacy is a system you benefit from and that your privilege has helped to uphold. Your efforts to dismantle White Supremacy are expected of decent people who believe in justice. You are not owned gratitude or friendship from people of color for your efforts. We are not thanked for cleaning our own houses.”

Sinclair: How are you working to incorporate what you’ve been reading and learning about social justice, inclusion, and equity into your everyday work? Life?

Bonnie: When I started my hashtag it was definitely a way for me to keep track of all of my reading, but since I have friends, colleagues and students who follow me on Instagram they’ve began to message me, seek me out and let me know how certain books or passages really spoke to them. I try to engage with my students as much as possible whether it’s a one on one conversation, showing up at events and speaking out against injustice, or simply listening to their lived experience.

On a personal note: I am trying to be extra mindful of microaggressions and calling them out as I hear them, being mindful of the language I use (I’ve erased “hey guys!” from my vocabulary), and being open and honest about my journey. As a person working in higher education, diversity work is my work.

We as white student affairs professionals cannot just say “diversity and inclusion isn’t really my area…” No. We need to make it our area, because at the end of the day we serve students, all students, and being able to talk about race, gender, religion and sexual identity is important. I’m still working at this. I don’t have all the answers but I’m willing to learn.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?

Bonnie: I believe that we have a responsibility to one another, to be kind, show compassion and listen. Black Lives Matter! Being a feminist is about wanting and supporting equal rights. Science is real. And most importantly, don’t tell me what you believe in. Show me. Actions speak louder than words.

📘📘📘

Bonnie Boyle McGahee is the Assistant Director of Residence Life at Stevenson University in Owings Mills, Maryland. She received her Master’s degree at the University of Baltimore in Negotiation and Conflict Management; her passion areas include residential education & social justice. In Bonnie’s free time she loves spending time with her husband Linton, typically wine tasting and of course, reading.

Keep up with what Bonnie’s reading and connect: Instagram | Twitter | Email 

 **This post contains affiliate links. 

Q+A w/ Rini Frey of @ownitbabe: Eating disorder recovery coach & social media influencer

Sinclair: In short, I see that you use social media (in a super effective way) to advocate for body positivity and intuitive eating. What caused you to start doing this work?

Rini: I suffered from various eating disorders, disordered eating and excessive exercise for many years and when I decided I was ready for recovery, I started sharing bits and pieces with my followers and found that it resonated so much. Body positivity is so important in today’s world of “perfect” Instagram bodies and being exposed to only one body type as the ideal. Intuitive eating saved me from what I thought was going to be a lifelong struggle with food and my body.

Sinclair: What are recurring themes that arise in your conversations with the women you work with (clients, followers, etc.)?

Rini: Body image is the biggest topic of conversation with my clients. We have deeply rooted beliefs about what a “good” body and a “bad” body looks like and it is a challenge to break those patterns down.

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Rini Frey

Sinclair: What’s something you think we often get wrong about dieting? 

Rini: The diet industry makes us believe that it is our fault for failing at dieting. The truth is that diets are doomed to fail, because from an evolutionary perspective, food deprivation causes our metabolisms to slow down and our hunger hormones to rise drastically. So, when weight loss occurs, our bodies make us hungrier than ever before, while slowing our metabolism. Rebounding and gaining weight is a natural response to food restriction and that is why people keep spending their money on the next diet that promises long-lasting weight loss, only to end up disappointed and heavier than before.

Intuitive eating saved me from what I thought was going to be a lifelong struggle with food and my body. – Rini Frey

Sinclair: How can someone living with an eating disorder begin healing some of the shame they might carry?

Rini: Talking about it helps a lot, as well as questioning our thoughts. So, self-awareness is huge. Question your beliefs about what a perfect body looks like, why it’s so important to shrink our bodies and why we label foods as good and bad. It’s important to understand that those beliefs are completely learned based on the society we live in and the good news is that they can be un-learned.

Sinclair: You wrote: “You don’t have to shrink your body to have an impact on this world,” on a recent Instagram post. Where do you think we get messages like these?

Rini: We get bombarded with underlying messages about smaller bodies being more successful at life from social media, movies, TV and other advertisements. We see small people represent health and happiness everywhere we look, when in reality it is all staged and being small doesn’t equal being happy, especially if we have to take drastic measures to achieve this look. We can do much more important things with our time than obsess over food and our bodies and that is where the impact comes in. If our brain space is taken up by thoughts about food and our body, we have no space left to do more important things in life.

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Rini Frey

Sinclair: I’d love to hear your response to a question you posed on another post: “What is something you’re currently trying to accept about yourself?”

Rini: I am trying to accept my perfectionism at everything I do, especially work-related. It used to show up in my diet and body image as I thought I had to be “perfect” at everything. Now it shows up in my work and I am working on accepting that I feel this way, but also learning to slow down and accept that nobody is perfect and I am doing the best I can with whatever I’ve got.

I am now at peace with my body and don’t get hung up on weighing a certain number. – Rini Frey

Sinclair: Your Daily Mail feature mentioned that you haven’t weighed yourself in over a year. Where has making this decision gotten you?

Rini: I feel better in my body than I ever have before. I am not interested in knowing my weight, because it is the least interesting thing about me. I used to be a slave to my scale and I refuse to let numbers dictate my well-being anymore. I am now at peace with my body and don’t get hung up on weighing a certain number. It doesn’t determine my worth.

Sinclair: Recovery and body confidence coaching sounds like it changes lives. What’s it entail?

Rini: I work with women that want to break away from self-destructive behaviors in terms of restricting food, bingeing and purging on food, binge eating or overexercising. We are breaking down their old patterns and beliefs and find ways to heal their relationship to food and their bodies. My mission is always to get them to a place of doing something with their lives that brings them joy, fulfillment and purpose. Instead of obsessing over food and their bodies, I see my clients go and start their own online business, leave a toxic relationship, go travel or do other things they were putting off before, because they had no energy to make those changes. It’s an amazing journey worth going on.

 

💎💎💎

Rini is an eating disorder recovery coach, blogger, fitness instructor and social media influencer. She is working with women who want to find peace with food and their bodies and live a life free of rules and restrictions. Her mission is to help women embrace their bodies as they are and focus on what their bodies are capable of instead of what they look like, so they can take the wheel and finally take action in creating the life they always dreamed of.

Learn more about Rini and connect: Instagram Facebook | Website

Rini’s awesome services

1:1 Coaching: 

  • Do you prefer one-on-one support on your journey to food freedom and intuitive eating?
  • Do you need more accountability and a personalized program?
  • Are you ready to rediscover who you are, what your desires in life are and how to find your self-worth?
  • Do you want someone to talk to and reach out to anytime whether you struggle or have something to celebrate?

Rini works with a small number of people on a 1 one 1 basis to create a full transformational coaching experience!

Book a complimentary session.

Own Your Body – Your 4 weeks to food freedom: 

  • Are you a few months into your recovery from disordered eating or chronic dieting and are looking for extra support and/or mentorship?
  • Do you still feel triggered to restrict, binge eat or change your body?
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  • Are you ready to live your life free of food and body obsession?

Let’s work together to make that happen! 

 

Q+A w/ Sabrina Cognata: Award-winning writer, producer & storyteller

Sinclair: What is The Dickoupage Project and what inspired you to create it?

Sabrina: In 2015, I started Dickoupage as a literal dick pic project. I was sick of being sent anonymous dick pics or even not anonymous dick pics. So I took a bunch of the ones I had been sent over the years and I started writing around the photos. I didn’t even really write about the dicks as much as I wrote about being a woman online in the 21st century. It was super polarizing but people kept reading. I was told time and again by womxn that they liked the message but the dick pics were just too much.

By the time got to dick 69, my last dick pic, I knew that the project had evolved into something bigger than shaming men for acting inappropriately. It had grown into a sort of ideology that really began to help me deal with my own issues. I started it because I was mad as hell but I kept doing it because it basically freed me from feeling like a victim. It helped me find like minded people and in turn, it has been a real beacon of light during this nightmare that is the Trump Administration.

Sinclair: What was one of the biggest challenges when trying to launch this project?

Sabrina: Dicks. I started asking for dick pics. Do you have any idea what it is like to be a womxn online who also asks for dick pics. I couldn’t win. Men would send me dick pics and then they’d get very mad and borderline violent if I didn’t use their photos. Also, dicks. Womxn do not want to see them, womxn want to feel them. Really, my biggest challenge with launching Dickoupage was realizing that it could be something bigger and could actually help people. I’m stubborn. I wanted it to be about making men feel like womxn with the hopes that it could SHOW MEN how horrible it is to live at the crux of sexualization and marginalization. But that didn’t happen until I got really vulnerable with the things I was writing and by then, it was very apparent that the dicks were unnecessary, as was shaming men.

“The patriarchy is designed so that they can have the power to give womxn the things womxn want and if womxn take these things and do not sleep with the men, they’re monsters.” – Sabrina Cognata

Sinclair: On your website, it says that The Dickoupage Project publishes “stories with the intent to crush the patriarchy, enrich the self, and promote the general welfare of everyone, everywhere”.  Tell us more about how you hope the project will enrich others.

Sabrina: Like there’s a worldwide stigma with being a woman there’s one with Feminism. There’s this idea that FEMinism, because it begins with the root for female is about rejecting men, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is, calling it EQUALITY didn’t work because a certain sect of people (white men) don’t want equality spread around. I look a certain way and that gets a reaction out of men. I tell them I just want to be treated fairly and with respect, but they’d rather do me a favor I didn’t ask for with the hopes of sleeping with me. The patriarchy is designed so that they can have the power to give womxn the things womxn want and if womxn take these things and do not sleep with the men, they’re monsters.

I just want to change the whole operation. I don’t want to get a fucking job because the boss wants to sleep with me. I don’t want children to have to figure out this fucked up system we’ve allowed to go on since the beginning of time. I want non-binary people to have the same rights as a white man. I want people of color and the mentally ill and the disabled to all be able to exist with those same rights and privileges and not the idea of having them. So I write about this inequality. I share information that highlights stories that are NOT about white men and really, I want to give people who don’t have a voice, a voice.

Mostly, I am interested in helping people who don’t have anyone else to talk to or a place that feels like their own. And I am in no way an expert on any of this. I learn a lot by simply talking to people and asking them about their experiences. I learn by caring. Empathy is something I think we need more of in the world, so I am trying to achieve that by creating a community online.

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Sabrina Cognata

Sinclair: What is progressive feminism, and what does that term mean to you?

Sabrina: For me, progressive feminism is basically the idea that I am not hunting down men because I am angry. There is this really convoluted idea that feminism is about oppressing men and it’s not. It is simply about helping people in a society designed to basically humiliate their attempts to achieve the same type of success as white men.

If I am being honest, men do a good job of oppressing themselves by perpetuating this idea that men must be cold and without feeling. Empathy is really what helps us grow and change and evolve. So if you’re a person who’s desperate to live without empathy because you think it makes you weak, you’re probably suffering.  

“Black trans womxn are responsible for so much of the progress we have today. Really, this question makes me want to just stop typing and offer the floor to a black trans womxn.” – Sabrina Cognata

Sinclair: What do you think about the criticism many feminists have received about not centering black trans womxn in their advocacy work?

Sabrina: I think the criticism is fair. I think that there’s an intersection of people who get lost because they’re not mainstream (aka white) and to be perfectly honest, they’re truly marginalized and their issues are bigger and deserve more attention. My mom is Mexican and white and my father is Sicilian. I am white passable. That was really important to my mother. I think a lot of that generation just wanted to forget where they came from and be accepted, which is understandable but it also means they turn their back on their communities. Now, more than ever, it’s important for people with a voice to use it to help marginalized people like black trans womxn.

I am not even saying I know what that means other than looking for them and having them tell their stories to me so I can share them with my audience. Black trans womxn are responsible for so much of the progress we have today. Really, this question makes me want to just stop typing and offer the floor to a black trans womxn because she would know exactly what to say here and I think that’s probably the biggest realization white feminists should have. Just stop talking.  You have it pretty good. Let someone else share for a second. Let them tell you what’s going on in their world. Listen and learn.

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Sabrina Cognata

Sinclair: You wrote “come for the tits” in your Instagram bio. How did you come up with this and what message are you looking to send with these words?

Sabrina: Honest to god, I didn’t come up with it. Someone on Twitter did when I was sharing some insane story of mine. I started using it because men typically follow me because of my photos–because of how I look, but stay because I am much more interesting and intelligent than my stupid vessel makes them think. I guess, I am just willing to let the fact that I am very sexual looking draw in men so I can pepper my feed with liberal and feminist ideas, which may in some way, change the way they think…even if they don’t believe it will.
Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Sabrina: I dunno. I think that my values have changed over the years. I think that evolving and growing has been the biggest thing for helping me to have really any values. I used to be a drunk party monster who only cared about what went on from the time I could make it to an event until I blacked out. Because of this, I have been able to understand anyone is capable of change and no one is a prisoner to their past. I was pretty much a piece of shit during my party years, sure. But knowing that I could find value in really anything outside myself, especially helping other people has probably made this sort of, thankless work I do totally worth it.

I guess my actual answer my unshakeable value is that I believe people can change, which is why I continue to work on Dickoupage even though it literally costs me money instead of making me money.

“I just know that I can really overcome anything, but I have to be kind to myself and others to accomplish it.” – Sabrina Cognata

Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Sabrina: When I was 19, I broke my neck. Before that I was held hostage. Then my neighbor across the street murder suicided his wife. These are all separate events and traumas that built the kind of person I was and am.  Thanks to these things I felt like I was going to be hostage to the way that stuff made me feel…forever. I just want it to be clear that trauma is just always there with us but it doesn’t have to become part of how we function.  Like, how I began to act out was because I didn’t seek help for the things I had been through. This is because my parents are from that generation where only “insane people” go to a therapist. So I had to do a lot of deep soul searching to accept that I needed an outside perspective so I could finally grow. When I started drinking I was like 23 probably. I was a very late bloomer and I hated myself on a deep and visceral level. Because of that, I spent a lot of time destroying anything in my path, myself included. But it felt fucking horrible. I was always weighed down by bad stuff instead of uplifted by doing good things, which is something I now understand helps me to get out of my own damn head and push forward for growth.

Really, there have been so many times where my self-doubt lead the way, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without having gone through these things. It made my life fucking miserable and was probably why I drank so much. I just wanted to turn everything off so I didn’t have to consider that I was a fraud. Prior to getting sober in 2016, I basically just was so overwhelmed by anything and responded to everything with a rage that could fuel this fucking Administration.

And I still struggle with self-doubt. I probably always will, but now that I take care of myself and am honest about my feelings and mental health I don’t worry that I am going to become the worst version of myself. I just know that I can really overcome anything, but I have to be kind to myself and others to accomplish it. We’re all going through shit and it’s easier when you consider that someone else’s misdirected rage is really about them and how horrible things are for them, than being about you. Accepting that is a kind of freedom I wish everyone understood.

Sinclair: What advice would you give to artists and writers struggling with believing in themselves and in their work?

Sabrina: Don’t do it to get famous. Do it because you simply cannot do anything else. I seriously still find myself struggling with this and the only thing I can do is work through it. Like literally by writing, I am overcoming the anxiety I have from this idea that my work must be revelatory. Just do the work and it will set your ass free.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?

Sabrina: You can only be conned if you believe that human beings can be perfect. You can see through the snake oil salesman’s charms if you accept that he is but just a man and all men are flawed.

💎💎💎

Sabrina Cognata is an award-winning writer, producer, and storyteller. During a decade-long meltdown, she burned her life to the ground and revamped it as often as Madonna. Sabrina has written or produced for HuffPost Live, CBS Radio, TMZ and XO Jane, and she’s most recently produced a syndicated news show while tirelessly trying to resist. Every. Damn. Day.

Learn more about Sabrina and connect: Instagram Twitter

Learn more about The Dickoupage Project:  Website Instagram | Facebook

 

One more thing.

Sabrina said: “I come from a place where violence was apart of everyday life. I struggle greatly with saying and acting in a way that is typically “male.” It means a lot of what I am trying to do can be negated by the fact that I exhibit characteristics that are typically male ie. being aggressive, screaming at people, looking for a fight. When I wanted to change I found NonViolent Communication and it is wonderful. I use it all the time, especially when I am struggling to communicate my wants and needs with others.” 

 

 

 

 

Q+A w/ Ashley Stahl: Counter-terrorism Professional Turned Badass Entrepreneur

Sinclair: Ashley, you accomplished a lot in your 20s (managing high level programs for the Pentagon, running a global threat intelligence team, to name a few). What led you to say yes to those opportunities?

Ashley: Being able to say NO to so many opportunities is what translated into my spaciousness to say YES to my career in this chapter of my life that was so important to me. Often, we live in a distracted– and complicated– world with lots of options. It’s difficult to stay SIMPLE, and FOCUSED, and that’s what it took for me to hone in on growing my network, building authentic (and mutually supportive) relationships and taking care of myself.

Sinclair: What is CAKE Publishing and what inspired you to create it?

Ashley: It’s a house of ghostwriters, copywriters and publicists– all of whom support entrepreneurs/companies/influencers in expanding their impact, whether it’s through writing a book, blog posts, email sequences, or pitching them to be on TV. I was inspired to create it because I love WORDS and writing. Connection is my deepest core value and I find such a profound connection to people through writing.

Sinclair: What do you hope CAKE Publishing will be one day?

Ashley: I’m currently focused on taking it to its next level, from a team of 5 to a team of 10 in the next 12 months! The bigger my team, the more people we can serve in being who they truly are in the world, and that is what great writing is all about! I want to be a business of inspiration that moves the clients who walk in and the writers who support it as employees.

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Ashley Stahl

Sinclair: What was one of the biggest challenges when trying to launch the company?

Ashley: Finding top notch writers. First of all, they’re a creative bunch! Sometimes managing them feels like managing the wind.  Everything starts and ends with the talent you have. There are too many entrepreneurs that are GREAT at sales, but who are forgetting the customer after the invoice is paid! I’m in love with writing and supporting my writers, and a lot of that means being a powerful presence from start to finish.

“Connection is my deepest core value.” – Ashley Stahl

Sinclair: You have a master’s in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica. How does your degree currently inform your work?

Ashley: It makes me a more conscious leader who is committed to bringing my masculine energy (action, implementation) in cohesion with my feminine energy (collaboration, wisdom, softness). I put my team first and care about them most, because I know that, first off, I can enjoy work better-– and secondly, they’ll do better work when we have a connected relationship.

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Ashley Stahl

Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them? Also, when was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Ashley: Connection, achievement, freedom, humor and growth! I’m crystal clear on my top 5 core values and I have a values guide on my website I often turn to as a way to check in with myself and make sure I’m living life on purpose.

Self-doubt was massive early in my career, and continues to rear its ugly head. But to me, doubt does NOT mean Don’t. So many people think doubt or fear is a sign they shouldn’t press on, and I’ve questioned that belief for myself. In fact, fear is welcome– it means I’m on an edge for myself and I like to grow!

Sinclair: Who are some badass entrepreneurs that folks should follow?   

Ashley: My friends @amandabucci, @Sarahannestewart, @libbycrow @thelaylamartin, @nataliemacneil, @alyssanobriga… So many more! They inspire me and stretch me into the best self I could ever be– thank GOD for them and their patience, understanding, and love.

Sinclair: What advice would you give to others looking to build their own business?

Ashley: Pushing won’t work forever. Don’t burn out. Honor yourself, create spaciousness for your creativity to come through, because only 16% of your best ideas (studies indicate) will come through at work. You need space to keep that source of creativity alive inside of you!

“Fear is welcome– it means I’m on an edge for myself.” – Ashley Stahl

Sinclair: As someone who is out here crushing it on many things, how do you know when to say “no” to opportunities?

Ashley: Based on how my body feels when I think about them– the body knows all.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?

Ashley: Feel everything. The best leaders and inspirations are people who don’t avoid pain, but rather move towards it.

💎💎💎

Ashley’s a counterterrorism professional turned career coach, entrepreneur, podcaster (You Turn Podcast) and author. She runs CAKE Publishing ghostwriting house, and helps entrepreneurs inspire others through their words.

Learn more about Ashley and connect: Instagram | Private Coaching | Ghostwriting 

 

 

Suicide Wasn’t The End of My Story

Sinclair: So, we literally just met each other at an Honesty Hour  that I hosted in Baltimore. What’s the reason you were interested in coming to this event?

April: I’m someone that lives for deeper meaning. I feel everything deeply, and I find meaning in the mundane. I believe in vulnerability, despite the hurt that can sometimes come along with being vulnerable. I think that by putting it all out there, we open ourselves up to pain, but we also open ourselves up to love. Through being uninhibited, we develop real relationships.

We have a community loving us and cheering us on. We also get to love others and be their cheerleaders. All that to say, that’s why I wanted to attend Honesty Hour. I assumed I’d meet a few people that felt the same way, and I’m pleased to say the night ended with new friends.

“I would love more than anything to be healed this side of heaven, but if I’m not, He is still God, He is still good, and I will still tell people that He is good.” – April Shenberger

Sinclair: We were all fan-girling over Come Matter Here by Hannah Brencher. What’s something in the book that you deeply connected with?

April: I’ve never encountered a writer that speaks the things I long to say until I started reading Hannah Brencher. She says the things my heart feels with such eloquence. Come Matter Here is a gift. The thing I love most about it is how much it resonates with everyone that’s read it.

As a Christian that struggles with depression and anxiety, the theme of faith and mental health was incredibly relevant to me. It’s something that needs to be talked about so the stigma can be shattered.

My whole book is tattered, underlined, and well-loved, but I think the thing I connected with most was one sentence. “God, even if you don’t heal me, I will still tell people you are good.” God is good. His goodness doesn’t depend on me. He is who He is, and He is good. I would love more than anything to be healed this side of heaven, but if I’m not, He is still God, He is still good, and I will still tell people that He is good.

Sinclair: During our Honesty Hour, we really put it all on the table. You shared with us about a time in your life when you were hospitalized. What happened?

April: It was refreshing to put everything on the table and see that the table could hold all our stuff. Sinclair, you talked about carrying around a backpack and not realizing the weight of it until it was removed. That’s what Honesty Hour was for me.  The hospitalization I brought up during Honest Hour was in the summer of 2015. During that time, I was overtaken by intrusive thoughts, so much so that I felt like I was drowning. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t escape the thoughts. As someone that has previously attempted suicide, I knew not to mess around. I reached out for the help I needed, and I spent 10 days on an inpatient unit to stabilize. 

At the time, I had taken anywhere between 30-40 different medications in hopes of alleviating my depression, especially the suicidal ideation. None of them made a marked difference, so my psychiatrist at the time recommended electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This doctor had placed me in several of his clinical trials for treatment-resistant depression, doing everything he could to help me get well. I knew he only brought ECT up because of the severity of the situation.

I trusted that the timing was right for ECT. I started having treatments while I was on the unit. It was reassuring to see other people having it done at the same time, but I was still a nervous wreck before every treatment. After my inpatient stay, I started a day hospital program, as well as receiving ECT treatments three times a week for the next few weeks. Due to the memory loss associated with ECT, I don’t remember much of that summer. I do remember a lift in the depression that I had never experienced before, and though it was only for 48-72 hours, it was glorious.

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April Shenberger

Sinclair: What’s your life like now, since experiencing all this?

April: I’d love to say that life is great all the time now, but that’s not the truth. That’s not the truth for anyone. We live in a fallen world, so we can’t expect perfection. I still deal with depression and anxiety, and I live with intrusive thoughts everyday. I’m in therapy. I take medication daily. I have the best support system in the world.

The biggest thing I’ve learned through all of this is that my mental illnesses are a part of who I am, but they don’t get to define who I am. I am a follower of Jesus, and my identity is in Him. I never thought I’d share my story publicly, but I’ve realized sharing is part of my purpose. Getting out of bed each morning may be a challenge, but I really do love doing the things that make me feel most alive, whether it’s taking a trip to New York City, living vicariously through a musical, or snuggling babies. Life is bittersweet, and I’m focused on soaking in the sweetness of it.

“I think that by putting it all out there, we open ourselves up to pain, but we also open ourselves up to love.” – April Shenberger

Sinclair: What advice would you give someone struggling with suicidal ideation?

April: I’d tell them to believe. It sounds simple, but to someone struggling with suicidal ideation, believing can feel impossible. Believe that better things are palpable. Believe that everyday is different. Believe that your brain is more than a tangled mess of lies. Believe that you have support. I know how incredibly difficult it can be to reach out, especially when you feel like a burden, but you are not a burden. You deserve to feel better.

I’m a huge advocate for therapy. I have no idea how therapists do what they do, but we are blessed to have them. Talking things out helps. There are also many different kinds of therapy. I do dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and it’s made a tremendous difference in my life, more than any medication ever has. Once you find the right therapist and treatment approach, I can almost guarantee you’ll notice a shift.

Along with therapy, I think medication is, as Hannah Brencher’s husband was quoted as saying in Come Matter Here, a miracle. How amazing is it that we live in a time when we can take a pill to alter the chemicals in our brains?! God is still the God of miracles. As crazy as it sounds when your mind is telling you to do the exact opposite, believe in miracles.

Talk to the people you love. I know you think they deserve someone better than you, but there is only one you. You are the only one that plays the specific role you play in their lives. You cannot be replaced. Believe the truths your loved ones shower over you.

If you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and they’re available 24/7. If it’s an emergency, call 911. We need you here.

Sinclair: What advice would you tell someone wanting to support a loved one who struggles with suicidal ideation?

April: The most important thing a loved one can do is listen. Most of the time, I think someone struggling is terrified to open up because there’s such a stigma surrounding mental health, especially suicide and suicidal ideation. I think they’re afraid the person will report them for having these thoughts. There are obviously times when that is necessary, but for passive thoughts, I’d venture to say that they simply want to be heard and validated.

Also, it’s okay to ask questions. If this is new to you, I’m sure the information is overwhelming and scary, and you probably don’t know what to do with it. Since each person and situation is unique, I’d actually encourage asking questions. My friends truly become the hands and feet of Christ when they ask questions. They listen and validate, but they want to be active and do something. Most importantly, I invite you to pray for your loved one that’s struggling. There are no words that can adequately express how grateful I am knowing that I have sweet friends that talk to God on my behalf. It makes me feel exceedingly loved and known to have them fighting alongside me.

It appears that we’re having a national – if not worldwide – conversation about suicide and stigma. 13 Reasons Why has certainly opened up a lot of dialogues. As well as the recent deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. What’s something you think we often get wrong about mental health when we talk about it?

I personally won’t watch 13 Reasons Why, and I’ve had to stay away from the news recently. It’s heartbreaking. I just want to let anyone out there that’s struggling know that it’s okay if you can’t watch the show all your friends are watching, and it’s okay if you have to turn off the news. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Minor changes can have a major impact.

I think something we often get wrong about mental health when we talk about it is that everything is “one size fits all” in terms of mental health and mental illnesses. Mental health is just like physical health. Every person’s experience is vastly different. It’s important that these issues are being talked about, but we have a long way to go.

“Talk to the people you love. I know you think they deserve someone better than you, but there is only one you.” – April Shenberger

Sinclair: What’s something people often get wrong about what it means to experience suicidal ideation?

April: I think that since the topic of suicide is so taboo, many people don’t understand suicidal ideation. The most common thing people get wrong about suicidal ideation is that the person has a plan. I can only speak for myself, but the suicidal ideation I experience is passive. The thoughts are more along the lines of wishing I wasn’t here, thinking people would be better off without me, and wanting to go to sleep and not wake up. My thoughts never involve a plan. I wish I didn’t have the thoughts at all, but I work on treating them like annoying background noise.

Sinclair: We spoke a little about Project Semicolon. What is it? Are you gonna get a tattoo?

April: Project Semicolon is such a special movement. It’s one of my favorite non-profits. A semicolon is used to represent the fact that a person’s story isn’t over. A person chooses to go on, to place a semicolon in their story, instead of ending their story with a period. As someone that appreciates few things more than grammar, this has always been a powerful analogy for me. The founder of Project Semicolon, Amy Bleuel, died by suicide last year, and I think the weight of the semicolon has even more meaning. We must continue our stories.

As far as a semicolon tattoo is concerned, I think I will eventually. I haven’t had the best of luck with tattoos, but this is something I’ve wanted for years now. I’m toying around with ideas in my head. I suppose only time will tell!

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?

April: This is an incredible question. I’d say that you are familiar. You are familiar to God because He created you. You are familiar to the people that love you. You are you, and that’s more than enough.

💎💎💎

April Shenberger is a child of God. She swoons over big cities, musicals, and proper grammar. Life is bittersweet, and April is focused on soaking in the sweetness of it.

Learn more about April and connect: Instagram | Website

 

Q+A w/ Jada Gomez: Executive Editor of Bustle & Inspiring Brown Girls Everyhwere

Sinclair: You shared something super touching the other day on Twitter: “I guess it’s safe to say now, I’m the new Executive Editor at Bustle. This is a dream. And all I can think of is the little brown girls who will see me and know they can do anything they ever dreamed.” Who inspired you to go after your dreams when you were a little brown girl?

Jada: There are so many people who inspired me as a little brown girl. For starters, my parents were always supportive of me dreaming big dreams, and opening the door wider for the generations to follow. I’ve always admired Danyel Smith, an acclaimed journalist and author who created an entire era at VIBE, because she’s brilliant and authentically herself. Former president Barack Obama is my greatest hero. I discovered his book Dreams From My Father in college, when I was sorting my own identity. He’s always fought for the greater good, and he’s humble and confident in a way I hope to embody in the tiniest way. When I found out we share the same birthday, I officially named him my birthday twin!
Sinclair: What’s one challenge you think women of color face as they seek to progress in your industry?

Jada: One challenge is definitely the ability to get a foot in the door. In media, connections are everything, and there are some talented writers out there who just need access to a platform. I make it a mission of mine to nurture young journalists, of any gender or nationality, and to help connect them with the right people when I can. It can really make all the difference.
Sinclair: Have you ever felt like a fraud while on your journey to where you are today?

Jada: I’ve never felt like a fraud, but I have definitely had moments where I felt like I was too young, too quiet, or too something to really make an impact. I first started out as a reporter at TIME, and I’d sit in the newsroom meeting with so many incredible journalists—Pulitzer prize winners, journalists who’d been embedded with troops in Iraq, people I’d seen as regulars on CNN. What could I, fresh out of college, contribute? But I realized after a year or so, that I did have value. I understood the burgeoning impact of social media and how to incorporate it in traditional media. I had a diverse upbringing in New York City which is extremely valuable, and I had my own perspectives. Once I started to own that, I started to thrive. But it’s still a growing curve, and I’m still constantly changing and learning about my worth.

Jada (10)

“There’s always another door.” – Jada Gomez

 

Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Jada: When I started out, layoffs in the industry were constantly happening. I was laid off at my first job after just a year, and I really never thought something like that was even possible in college. I blamed myself, and I thought there was something I could have done better in my job. But in fact, my boss was so impressed with my work ethic, that he actually recommended me for my next role! There’s always another door. But I do know that I feel nerves every time I start a new job because of stability. It’s nagging at times, but I try not to let it take over my brain so that I can truly do my best work.
Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Jada: My core values are the same ones I have in my personal life: to treat people with respect first and foremost, to be honest and reputable, and to uplift with my words. In my career, I’ve been unwavering in the way I support my teams—there’s no hierarchy, we’re all valuable and in this together! It’s extremely important for me to treat sources with respect, and to tell their stories honestly and accurately. Trustworthiness is crucial in journalism. And I also tell the stories that will uplift communities, whether they are informed, or inspired. I have been clear on these values since day one.

Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?

Jada: Keep going! It takes years for someone to be an “overnight success.” Make sure to do the work, and treat people with respect. If you’re interested in journalism, read everything you can get your hands on. Use everything you can as way to learn and grow. Don’t give up on you.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?

Jada: I love this question so much, because it’s so easy to caught up in titles and accolades. I believe that we must take care of each other as humans, regardless of race, gender, or any other differences. I believe that light will always be the antidote for darkness. And I’d want people to know that I tried my best to be a good human, to myself, and everyone I’ve ever known.

💎💎💎

Jada Gomez is a Queens, N.Y. native, with a love of all things music, books, sports, and glitter. An NYU graduate and the child of New York DJ’s, her love for pop culture turned her childhood dream into a dream career in journalism, that led her to TIME, PEOPLE, HipHopDX, and Latina. Her spirit animal is a combination of a Care Bear and a Disney princess.

Learn more about Jada and connect:  Twitter | Portfolio | Website

P.S. This is how this interview even happened. Yes,  I jumped for joy. Yes, AMAZING people like Jada agree to share their time like this. Just reach out to the person you admire, ask, and see what they say.