Posted 3 months ago

When Am I Ever Gonna Use This? Sex Ed and the Developmental Dilemma

This series of blog posts were created for the Afterschool Matters Practitioner Level 2 Fellowship. Since 2012, I implemented an inquiry project that explored identity and adolescent sexual health education. These blog posts were created drawing on some of the large themes that emerged from the project.

*Names of programs and individuals have been changed to protect participant and staff identities

I became involved in pro-choice organizing when I was a freshman in college. I was eager and excited to work on an issue that felt crucial in the face of ever-increasing attacks on people’s right to have autonomy over their bodies and their lives. I began attending meetings of our campus student group Students for Choice, but my enthusiasm quickly gave way to discomfort. Many of the meetings seemed to center on group members’ personal experiences needing to access family planning or other reproductive health services. I, on the other hand, was choosing to be abstinent. All of a sudden, this issue that I believed in so strongly began to feel alien to me. Should I even be in this group if I don’t have an immediate personal stake in these issues? Would the other members (who all seemed like very cool feminist women) think that I was weird or a loser because I didn’t know what it was like to get birth control from the campus clinic?

I’m proud to say that I continued to participate, and even organized over 200 students to attend the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C. in 2004. And I know today that one doesn’t have to have an immediate or personal relevance to a topic to be passionate about it. But I do wish that the organizers of that campus group had been more conscious of including individuals who were not using family planning at the moment. Their assumption that all of us must be certainly did not contribute to creating a safe space.

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Posted 3 months ago

Sex Ed and Safe Spaces: Issues of youth identity and structuring groups

This series of blog posts were created for the Afterschool Matters Practitioner Level 2 Fellowship. Since 2012, I implemented an inquiry project that explored identity and adolescent sexual health education. These blog posts were created drawing on some of the large themes that emerged from the project.

*Names of programs and individuals have been changed to protect participant and staff identities

These days, it’s easy to find the phrase “safe space” used in everything from organization websites to academic articles. It seems that the field of youth development has come to a consensus that safe spaces are possible to create, and important to have established. The phrase “safe space” arose out of the social and political movements of the 60s and 70s that centered marginalized identity (or identities). The idea was that people who had a common thread, a similar background of some kind, could freely discuss and organize around issues if they established a space that was created for and by them. The main goals of safe spaces were to be able to begin with a common understanding of a particular type of experience. But is it really so easy to create a safe space? Do people who share certain demographic categories necessarily share meaningful commonalities? As awareness of intersectionality increased, safe spaces were simultaneously cast with suspicion and also more important than ever.

In this next post, I’d like to discuss dynamics between and among participants in after-school sex ed programs. There are many factors that will impact participant group dynamics: Do participants know each other already? Are they all meeting for the first time? How large is the group? Where are the groups taking place? Beyond these questions, however, participant relationships will also be affected by what kids are in the room—whether there is a selection criteria or not. It’s important for sexual health educators and program planners to engage critically with the question, how do we organize youth to create safe spaces for discussing sex ed topics?


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Posted 3 months ago

“Who They Need Me to Be”: Facilitator’s Role in After-School Sex Ed

I wrote this series of blog posts for the Afterschool Matters Practitioner Level 2 Fellowship. Since 2012, I implemented an inquiry project that explored identity and adolescent sexual health education. These blog posts were created drawing on some of the large themes that emerged from the project.

*Names of programs and individuals have been changed to protect participant and staff identities

Sex ed these days looks very different than sex ed when I was in high school in the late 90s—and I think this is largely for the better. My sex ed teacher was a male football coach on the verge of retirement, who made his discomfort with the subject very apparent. He even told me that since he hated teaching it, that he wanted me to teach the class (in retrospect, I see how unbelievably inappropriate that was). At times, I wish that I had sex ed the way that many students in after-school settings today receive it—with younger facilitators, sometimes even peer educators, who seek to make the topics inclusive, fun, and engaging through a variety of activities that focus on how to make sex safer without sacrificing pleasure. In the past decade or so, an increasing number of after-school programs across the country are seeking to serve youth of a particular identity group—for example, race, gender, sexual orientation, or any intersections of those. And several of these programs require or strongly recommend that the facilitator of these groups share a similar background or identity to the program participants.

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Posted 2 years ago

Agents of Violence: What the violations against sex workers in Latin America reveal about U.S. presence in the region

In much of Latin America, collective memory of terror is often tied up with U.S. presence and intervention. For over a century, the U.S. government and military has occupied nations, trained soldiers on how to be better murderers and torturers, and helped to squash democratic popular movements in favor of genocidal fascist dictators in Latin America and the Caribbean. This may sound hyperbolic, but the facts show that if anything, the previous sentence is understated. So it’s with good reason that the presence of agents of the United States can signify at best deception, at worst widespread violence. The latest examples of these signifiers, involving United States armed forces and executive security detail, reveal a complex history that continues to impact the lives of ordinary Latin Americans, and should prompt all of those living in the United States to ask the question, “Why are we there?”

Over the past month, a “scandal” has erupted over the exposure of Secret Service agents who have used the services of sex workers. It is important to remember that scandals are created from popular imagination. So why has this news in particular captured people’s imagination? The story is often referred to as an “embarrassment” and a “public relations” problem for the Obama administration. Missing from these descriptions are the voices of the women who were victimized by agents of the United States. Let’s be very clear: sex work is work. And refusing to pay a sex worker for his/her services is a form of violence and slavery, in the same way that refusing to pay any worker for his/her labor is violence and slavery. An even more appalling incident in Brazil came to light recently, where three U.S. Marines ran over a female sex worker with a car after she tried to open the car door to demand payment for her work. Although the Brazilian police wanted to press charges, the Marines were immediately deported (or smuggled out, let’s be real) back to the United States where they were supposedly “punished,” far out of the reach of the Brazilian justice system to which they should have been held accountable.

So where does this leave the women who were victimized by these agents of the United States? Calling these acts of violence, deception and manipulation a “sex scandal” diminishes the horrific nature of these acts, perpetrated by those who have immense power over the vulnerable woman-bodied people who survived these interactions. Similarly, as the media loves to use the phrase “sex scandal” for instances of rape and other types of sexual violence, the portrayals have again devolved into exotifying brown-skinned women, particularly sex workers, as simultaneously sexually deviant and unrapeable.

Sex workers face instances of violence at astonishing rates, largely because of the stigmatized nature of their work as well as misguided efforts to “rescue” sex workers which actually both drive trafficked individuals further underground and place sex workers in increasingly dangerous situations. For the women whose services were used by these American men in particular, the imbalance of power seems almost unimaginable. Clearly, the men who caused the harm to these women in Colombia and Brazil did so precisely because they knew they could, because brown-skinned women not of the so-called “First World” have always been assumed to be invisible, and because the gender-based violence that accompanied every U.S. war game in Latin America and the Caribbean has been buried, dismissed or even condoned. One should not assume that this history is not recent enough for average folks in Latin America to have collective memory of the role U.S. state agents played in these tactics that sought to crack down on dissent, self-determination and empowerment through terrorism.

The Obama administration has been criticized from the outset for its willing participation in maintaining and expanding military campaigns around the world, campaigns which go hand in hand with neoliberal economic policies that would never survive without the framework of violence at all levels of their implementation. Women throughout the world have rightfully decried the gender violence that inevitably follows occupation and militarism, no matter who is fighting whom. As Yifat Susskind, Executive Director of women’s human rights organization MADRE International states when describing gender violence during the Guatemala wars, “Through the years of the conflict, tens of thousands of Guatemalan women and girls were raped, tortured and murdered. These were not attacks carried out randomly; violence against women was deliberately calculated by U.S.-backed fighters to traumatize families and destroy the capacity of communities to resist and organize.” Women of color globally have also been at the forefront of elucidating the intertwined nature of U.S. political and economic interests, and how tools of neoliberalism actually make women more susceptible to violence at a community and structural level.

These latest incidents are a continuation of the legacy that U.S. presence in Latin America has established, a legacy that was articulated through U.S.-backed coups in Guatemala and Chile, the occupations of Grenada and Haiti, and the devastating impacts of NAFTA and CAFTA (as well as countless other exploits that are too numerous to name). The violence committed against these Latin American sex workers should not provoke embarrassment, it should provoke outrage. As long as the Global South is seen as a playground for the U.S. to extract what it wants and ensure that its corporate interests are protected, such incidents will continue. When it comes to U.S. intervention in Latin America, brown-skinned women’s bodies are always collateral damage.

Posted 3 years ago

The Value of a Safe Space: One WOC’s experience with harassment at Occupy Wall Street

Is Occupy Wall Street an inclusive movement? I’ve discussed this in-depth with so many of my friends, colleagues and comrades over the past weeks. It seemed to me that while almost everyone felt inspired by the movement, many were reluctant to directly participate. I read notes from meetings and blog posts where people discussed the unsettling elements of racism, sexism and queer/transphobia that seemed to be present in so many of these spaces across the country.

And at Occupy Wall Street on Indigenous People’s Resistance Day, I unfortunately came face to face with some of these elements myself. Walking with my friend M, we greeted old friends, took pictures of signs, and discussed (unsuccessfully) what kind of clever slogan we could come up with as teachers. We circled back around to the entrance, and I stood trying to read a sign someone had posted about “ground rules” for the space. I felt an arm circle me tightly around the waist, and then a hand grabbed and squeezed my hip roughly. I quickly disentangled myself, turned, and saw a white man, probably in his late 30s, looking very pleased with himself. And I went off.

"What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You can’t just touch people without their permission. It’s not ok to be in someone’s personal space if you haven’t gotten their consent. I have no idea who you are, you can’t just touch me!" I was yelling, getting louder and louder. I wondered if anyone was listening.

"I was just giving you a hug. I’m not allowed to give people hugs?"

I couldn’t believe he was arguing with me. My heart was racing. All those other times that I had been harassed or groped, and it happened so quickly, or by a faceless assailant, or when I just felt paralyzed, flashed through my mind. All those times that I didn’t feel like I had a voice. This time, I had found

mine somehow.

"No, you are not allowed to touch people if they haven’t asked you to. You’re giving this movement a bad name right now because you are going around and violating others’ space, and it makes people feel unsafe." My voice sounded clear and very strong, even though I was shaking. Wow, I thought to myself, I know exactly what to say for once!

The man continued to argue with me. I finally told him, “I don’t want to discuss this anymore. You think about it.” He asked me one last time if he could give me a hug. “NO!” I screamed, and walked away.

As we walked, I told M I felt a bit shaken up, but that at the same time I felt empowered, and that I hoped that others had witnessed what had happened and how I responded. “You were on a roll!” M said. She gave me a (MOST WELCOME) hug and told me how proud she was of me. I hoped that my pulse would slow shortly. I thought about how ironic it was that a huge part of why I felt shaken was that I had spoken out, that I had been the center of attention loudly calling someone out. Sometimes speaking out, and not ignoring it, is the most difficult part.

We walked on further. We came across a youth chanting, “Lady Liberty is a whore!” I almost walked past, then I stopped. “What do you think calling someone a whore is accomplishing?” The youth was defensive and didn’t really take my question seriously, but the man standing next to him thanked me for asking him that. Less than 10 minutes and two misogynistic incidents in a row.

I said to M, “Wow, we’ve had a lot of crazy things said to recently, huh?” Yes, we had. The night before, we heard a group of youth yell “You fucking gook” while telling a story as we were exiting the subway. As we walked up the subway exit stairs, two men leered, “Look at this thick ass Asian girl.” Less than 24 hours, and at least 4 incidents of sexism, racism and misogyny towards women of color directed towards me and my friend.

More stories began running through my mind from the not-so-distant past. My sister, the day before, telling me that her older white male landlord told her she had a “nice butt.” A relative experiencing dating violence with a classmate. Women, queer and trans friends recounting that particular day’s outrageous act of interpersonal violence. My own reluctance often to make eye contact on the street.

So maybe today wasn’t that much of an anomaly after all.

And here I was, at Occupy Wall Street, a space where people were supposedly confronting and resoundingly denouncing oppression of all kinds. I wondered why no one in the crowd of people who had seen what had happened besides M came over to me and asked me if I was ok. I wondered if anyone spoke with the man later and backed me up, denouncing his actions in a forthright manner.

The Occupy movement(s) are inspiring for the very reason that they are umbrella movements of people who believe in envisioning and constructing a different kind of world, one where justice is pursued through radically caring means. And in this world, all kinds of violence must never be excused. Within the spaces we are “occupying” at the moment, we need to be conscious of the traumas so many of us have experienced in our lives, and our interactions with one another must come from a place of understanding that as we build community with one another we cannot make assumptions about what type of interactions will be welcome or wanted. For women and queer and trans people of color especially, interpersonal violence has historically been intertwined with institutional-level violence, and the way in which we move through the world is informed by these histories and experiences. In order for the Occupy movements to be truly inclusive, they must also be safe. This will not be an easy process, but it’s one that everyone can be a part of. Call out the violence, the harassment, the racist and queer/transphobic comments, the exclusion of people of color, queer and trans folks, and women from decision-making. Check in with those you witness being harassed, and see what kind of support they may want from you. Discuss problematic racial and gender dynamics in the space without being defensive.

And then, let’s check ourselves in the process too.

Posted 3 years ago

Not too late

After going on a tour of Jerusalem with the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions:

"All of the Americas are under occupation too, in that sense."

"Yeah, but what can anyone do about it at this point?"

*we all pause, as what was just uttered sinks in*

"What if one day, people are saying, ‘Well what can anyone do about it at this point?’—about here?"

It’s taken me a while to write this final blog post reflecting on my time in Palestine.  I had always known that the conflict was largely about land.  But it wasn’t until the ICAHD tour that I understood, at a gut level, what exactly this meant.  The Israeli government continues to go on a free-for-all campaign of tearing down houses of Arabs throughout the West Bank, Jerusalem, and other areas.  There is often no rhyme or reason to these housing demolitions.  The photo below is of a house that was demolished in 2008.  Nothing has been built over it.  The rubble has not even been cleared away.  Obviously, this land was not “needed” for anything.  Yet it was demolished still.  What is the point of this?  Psychological terror.  Display of complete authority and control.  Making a population’s day-to-day life so difficult that you hope they will say, “fuck it, we’re out of here.”  But when you have a culture and a people for whom the cultivation of land is central to a way of life, housing demolitions and seizure of land is especially heinous.

First, a few facts.  Palestinians today make up 30% of the population in Jerusalem and pay more than 30% of the municipal taxes in the city.  But less than 10% of it goes to schools, roads, etc. in Arab areas.  65% of Palestinian families in Jerusalem live under the poverty line, and the situation for education, freedom of movement and residency rights is equally bleak.  So the poverty of Palestinians is, in a lot of ways, funding their continued oppression.  Many ultra-Orthodox Jews do not pay taxes in Jerusalem, although they too have large families and rely on state aid quite a bit.  But of course, tax collection for them is unenforced.

Earlier today, I read an opinion piece in Al-Jazeera, detailing the rise in anti-Arab and anti-“immigrant” actions and demonstrations in Israel over the course of the past week (immigrant is in quotations because the definition of an immigrant is skewed in Israel—even natural-born individuals who are not born to citizen parents are considered foreign).  Framing the rhetoric as “nationalist” is a step in the right direction, I think.  This is not about Jews versus Muslims, or Israelis versus Palestinians.  Today, the conflict stems from a nationalistic desire to “preserve” the superiority of a specific ethnic or religious identity to the exclusion of all others.  Under this vision for Israel, only certain people would be given full citizenship rights, while others would be used for their labor, but would never have basic rights or equal protection under the law. 

The two-state solution would only enshrine this kind of nationalism.  And “nationalism” is what got us into this whole mess in the first place.  I believe history has shown that when you try to carve out “homelands” for people exclusive to a certain ethnicity or religion, you invite disaster.  If we must have nations (which is debatable), they must be secular and democratic, nations that accept and protect all people regardless of their identity—this is what we all should be striving towards, and continuing to try to improve the very flawed models we have of those today.

At the end of the ICAHD tour, we went to a settlement just outside of Jerusalem.  The buildings were solidly constructed, flats were spacious, and the view was breathtaking.  Settlements are all “gated communities”—heavy security does not let anyone they think is undesirable in.  Since we were with Israeli Jews on the ICAHD tour, we were waved right in.  As we stood discussing the settlements, one of the tour members said, “Well there’s no way all these settlements are going anywhere.”  Silence indicated everyone else’s agreement.  There’s no way every one of the hundreds of settlements throughout the West Bank and Jerusalem will be demolished, and that all of the people who live in them currently would be relocated.  Our tour guide said, “Israel is creating a very dangerous situation for itself as it continues to build settlements.”

(settlement a few miles outside Jerusalem, but I forgot the name of it)

My mind wandered again to what this would look like under one state.  An ad up on Craigslist Jerusalem…”3 bedroom, 2 bath flat.  Upgraded kitchen.  Covered parking.  Walking distance to pool and rec center.”  People would respond to the ads—Muslims, Jews, and others alike.  The settlements that remain would just be housing, nothing more.  Housing built on land stolen from Palestinians, yes—but if it’s going to exist, it should at least be open to everyone.  I didn’t share my vision with anyone else at that time, but I wondered if I would ever live to see the day where an apartment complex would be truly integrated—Jews living next to Arabs, Christians, Druze…or would my children be saying one day, “Yeah it’s terrible what happened, but what can anyone do about it now?”

For more information on housing demolitions and Palestinian rights that will make your head spin, go here:

Posted 3 years ago

The Social Construction of a Taboo

I remember while at an event while getting my graduate degree in public health, a friend of mine said that he wanted to smoke.  I told him half-jokingly—but half not—that he if he wants to smoke, he should go hide somewhere and do it, because public health students do not take kindly to smoking.  But I noticed that, ironically, there was plenty of alcohol provided to us by the school itself at that same event.  I started wondering why smoking had become so taboo in many social circles in the States, but drinking generally is accepted—even drinking in excess, as regularly happens at weddings, graduation parties, and most other “family” events.  Is it because of secondhand smoke?  Is it because people truly believe that the health risks posed by smoking are much worse than drinking?

But drinking alcohol also has the ability to affect others, as drunk driving continues to be a norm in most car cultures in the U.S.  Alcohol abuse can also have an extremely negative impact on a person’s relationships.  Drinking regularly poses serious health hazards just as smoking regularly does.  So why is it that I have tons of peers who drink to excess regularly, often more than once a week, but next to none who smoke cigarettes?

Upon arriving in Nablus, the smell of cigarettes was one of the first things I noticed.  Here, no one thinks twice about smoking around you, in enclosed spaces—in the home, in the workplace, even in taxis with the windows rolled up.  I have often seen parents lovingly cuddle their infant children with a lit cigarette in their mouths.  No one bats an eye.  But these same people would likely never even think to try alcohol.  I would never ever mention drinking alcohol around them.  The blanket disapproval of drinking is pretty much akin to the blanket disapproval of smoking (again, in certain socioeconomic/cultural circles, and especially the circles I tend to move in) in the U.S.

So does it all come down to social construction then, to cultural context?  Both of these can be addictive behaviors, and both can be harmful—but both can also be enjoyed responsibly and with probably little impact to one’s health if done in strict moderation.  But in a conservative Islamic society, drinking is forbidden, while smoking cigarettes, shisha, etc. is often a cultural tradition.  In the U.S., after tobacco companies have (justifiably) been raked over the coals for a couple of decades, and where anti-smoking education, awareness about secondhand smoke, and statewide bans in businesses and offices have been established, smoking is definitely frowned upon in a way that drinking is not.  And I’m not sure that there’s really anything substantive to distinguish these two taboos, aside from just the way that these respective societies happened to evolve.

(And then of course, there are cultures in which both are taboo—like mine!  Marathi Brahmins, we have literally NO FUN!  ;)

Posted 3 years ago

Resistance and Identity

"My uncle speaks perfect Hebrew."
"Where did he learn?"
"In Israeli prison.  He was there for 15 years."

As I develop deeper friendships with people my age here, I am seeing how significant a personal and/or familial history of subvervsion is to identity here.  The previous conversation was between my classroom volunteer J and me.  It was said nonchalantly—not because her uncle’s imprisonment was unimportant, but because it was so common.  J had previously told me about her father’s imprisonment, and also about how her mother, pregnant at the time, was wanted by the Israeli police during the Second Intifada for attending a banned protest.  When they found her in her home, her mother’s sister asked them to take her instead.  J’s aunt subsequently spent a year and a half in prison, taking the place of her pregnant sister.  And I am certain J has many other stories like this that remain unknown to me.

The height of the Second Intifada hardly a few years ago, and even many children here remember what life used to be like when it was ongoing.  The refugee camps in the city of Nablus, where I currently live, were the epicenters of the resistance during both Intifadas.  So it’s not surprising that still, for so many young people, participation in the resistance is crucial to constructing one’s identity.  Furthermore, there are so many people my age who have been in prison themselves, and the experience of being incarcerated is even more intensely a part of how they view themselves and how they fit into the world.

In one of my classes here, I teach girls between the ages of 12 and 15 to build self-confidence and self-esteem through the fine and performing arts.  One activity we did involved drawing pictures of our personal “heroes.”  Over 3/4 of my students chose a family member who had been involved, or even killed, during the resistance.  Reflecting upon that, I found it a bit jarring that it was more common to have a close family member arrested or killed by the occupiers than to NOT have had this experience.  I can’t imagine what it must be like for a child to make sense of living with that much fear, with seeing his caretakers uncertain about basic survival, and to find a world collapsing and out of control.

But then I speak with J and others like her, and I recognize how these histories of resistance also help to build the commitment to an unoccupied, self-determined Palestine.  J lived in Jordan for most of her life, but when I ask her if she wishes she could go back there when she’s older, she says “No!  I love being here in Palestine.  It doesn’t matter if I can’t travel to as many places.  It is our homeland.”  And I know that for many Palestinians, it is impossible to divorce these histories of struggle with their very basic identities, and the question of “Who am I?” is intricately tied to “Who are Palestinians?”

Posted 3 years ago

As long as sexism exists, so will standards of beauty

I have found that even in a city where 99.9% of women wear hijab, the pressure to be “physically attractive” is still pernicious.  It manifests itself in different ways, but it is still very indelibly there.

Nabulsi women are known for being fashionable, and I absolutely love seeing what my classroom volunteers will be wearing each day they come to the center.  Their outfits are always so chic, with perfectly matching colors and accessories, that I always feel like a schlub next to them.  As my volunteer J was telling me the other day, “I love wearing hijab, because god chose it for us for a specific reason.”  This sentiment is reflected pretty much unanimously in conversations with other young women.  But still, all over the world sexism is pervasive, and it is no different here—women still feel great pressure to look a certain way.  Not a week goes by that I don’t hear a woman my age (or usually younger) bemoan her unhappiness with her weight, or some other grievance about her body.  The girls in my class, when asked to draw self-portraits, consistently draw themselves with blond hair and blue eyes, when they are brunettes and dark-eyed.  I even had an incident in my class where a fight broke out because one girl told another her skin “looked like chocolate.”

Any society should work towards women being recognized for their intelligence, accomplishments, kindness, and other qualities besides looks.  So in that sense, I don’t think hijab, at least in Nablus, is quite the “liberation” from having to fit into standards of beauty that some people may claim it is.  The ironic thing is, there are still standards of beauty—they’re a little bit different, but they’re definitely well-established.  And there is always some sort of balance between just the “fun” of participating in fashion, and the obsession with the way one looks.  One doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the other, and I love seeing how women here have created a booming fashion industry—it’s a direct challenge to the idea that you can only be fashionable if you fit into Western ideals.  But I guess as long as sexism exists anywhere, women will continue to be valued based on how society perceives their attractiveness, and being free of beauty standards will remain difficult, if not altogether elusive.

Posted 3 years ago

When confronted with bigotry—Queering Nablus

I have been TERRIBLE about blogging, I know.  I think this is mainly because everything here is so new to me, it has taken a long time to process.  So I apologize that my first blog from Palestine is on a somewhat negative note, and please know that this in no way represents my experience here—overwhelmingly, I have been incredibly happy and the people I have met have been accepting, gracious and kind.

But, today I came face to face with not only some important cultural differences between me and some of the local people I work with, but also with the limitations of what I am doing here.  One of my favorite coworkers asked me to edit an essay her sister had written in English.  I of course agreed, and she handed me a copy of it.  A few minutes later, I looked at it and saw that the title was, ”Homosexual Rights.”  Interesting…I thought.  I skimmed over the essay and my heart sank.  ”Homosexuals” are not favored by god.  Marriage was given by god to be between a man and a woman.  Homosexuals spread AIDS, and they should go to doctors to be cured.

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

Moreover, I didn’t want to edit this essay.  I didn’t want to be a part of improving (grammatically) something so hateful.  But how could I tell my coworker this?  Excuses about being too busy would be accepted politely, but this was not the real reason I couldn’t do this.  I would be more than happy to edit anything for her sister—but not something that conflicted with some of my very core beliefs.

If I had encountered a situation like this in the States, it would have been a point of departure for discussion.  But here, I am expressly forbidden in my capacity working for this organization to have any discussions on this topic.  Which makes this situation all the more depressing for me—the fact that something like this was given to me to read without any consideration about its content being potentially offensive.  It was no less controversial than an essay about what I ate for dinner yesterday.  It was just normal.

I still don’t know what I am going to do with this essay.  I truly have no idea.  But I am realizing the limits of who I am and my role here to engage with people on more than a surface level due to these many constraints—namely, being from the U.S. and being here temporarily.  And of course, and most importantly, queer Palestinians and allies themselves are constantly working on the ground to challenge norms—check out the great organization Aswat for more info on some of these efforts.

But I also feel like I am hiding a very important part of myself here from people I have grown to love and who love me.  This is not a good feeling, and while it may be bearable for now, today’s incident made me realize that when confronted with these attitudes, I am still at a loss as to how to deal with them.