What Youth Survivorship has to teach us
I’m oriented to time in a particular way.
One of those characteristics
is that I recall tremendously too well
what has happened on the same date,
and I bring it into today.
Today as I opened up my phone
and entered social media,
I saw three messages loudly.
Posts addressing impeachment.
Posts spotlighting youth climate activists.
And my archived posts on this day,
It was the day before Dr. Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh were scheduled to testify before the country.
A day where youth survivorship was discussed in nearly every news channel.
A day adults got interested about what their children might not confide in them.
A day our beliefs in the importance of consent were being challenged.
A week of endless triggers,
and equally endless dismissals of them.
Our responses revealed that our confusion had an older root than we were describing,
as we’re brought back to a recent precipice.
What’s the iceberg below the water?
Who holds authority in this topic?
How relevant is my experience to understanding our collective experience?
Can we afford to get this wrong?
How do we hold the present stress building?
What happens if we don’t listen?
Am I feeling rage?
Am I feeling grief?
Am I too numb to feel anything?
Am I too powerful to see why this matters?
Am I too privileged to be a target of harm?
What does it take to make this real?
And while we’re debating the information, where do we put the inequitable heaviness,
knowing that for some of us this feels too real,
and for others it won’t be.
Often when we discuss violence publicly,
we fail to acknowledge the experience created for survivors.
We operate as if safety is unimportant,
just as we debate whether or not said action in question is really an example of harm caused.
For youth joining this forum, they are navigating a threefold fight.
How can I be seen as vulnerable — in need of care and resources, likable — compelling and relevant, and still capable — not having to give up my right to autonomy and decision making.
We require them to earn the right to speak for themselves and to get people to act in support of their leadership, in the backdrop of structures that guarantee neither while impeding on both.
And even in past tense, when you share your experience of sexual assault as a teenager, as Dr. Blasey Ford recalled in her testimony, you are met with the scrutiny and the loss of credibility.
But it’s strange, because the credibility isn’t in response to the information, but the messenger.
A messenger who within our biases and socialization is not meant to take up public space.
You enter this dynamic, and must avoid allowing the power structures to be made invisible by people you need to partner with, who are vested in keeping the dynamics blurred.
You become equally penalized for your maturity and immaturity; the latter used to argue your intimidation, the former used to justify your exclusion in decisions that effect you.
Neither overcome the self fulfilling prophecy of being able to develop advocacy skills in an environment that limits how you can self advocate, or be viewed with authority.
When I let myself sit with the dynamics I’m describing, I travel to my adolescence, how I’m referenced in stories in adult recollections.
When I’m exceptionalized.
How I’m mocked.
How I’m left having the least perspective when it comes to viewing myself.
How incurious responses make withdrawals unnoticed.
How somehow youth and naïveté are one in our conceptions, until there’s a moment for exception.
I say moment, because it doesn’t globalize to a group or a person in other instances.
Just to the example in question.
Our embrace is tested when implications for change become clearly stated.
Implications mean that there is power that will shift if we acknowledge them openly.
And here in is when scripts are flipped.
When praise becomes rejection.
When scrutiny reenters so that decision making isn’t moved, or even shared.
Our lesson to young people is that we want you to have power, but only if I get to keep mine over you.
When applied to stories and examples of violence, we assume that adult involvement is the best outcome.
When youth share their hurt, their avoidance, their experiences in contradiction, their secrets, story lines are altered.
When that happens publicly, story lines are also connected and seen on a different scale.
And still, we struggle to have the conversation that youth are leading us into.
The ones where we’re not more capable,
always acting in their interest,
moved to compassion,
moved to accountability,
or open to change.
But the one where their transparency reveals our lack of it, and our defensiveness makes our judgement less objective.
In this space where were wading, honesty continues to be the invitation.
Just be honest, they say.
If we could do even that, we could imagine problem solving.
More than imagine, we could take action.
Either way though, we can’t wait for you.
Perhaps our myth that time is a renewable resource is becoming clearer,
Facts will speak for themselves,
one way or another.