#MeToo

Trigger Warning-sexual assault, domestic violence

This #MeToo movement feels like ripping off a collective band aid-badly needed but painful. Seeing men that I admired admit to sexual assault hurts. It reminds me of my slow realization that the man I loved was abusing me. It took a long time to realize I was in an abusive relationship, too long. Gaslighting is powerful though and for years I thought it was all my fault. As I read more recollections of sexual harassment and assault, it is starting to feel like we all have been gaslit, collectively.

I used to think I was lucky. I had my own stories but always downplayed them. In my mind they weren’t too bad. There was always, always, a female friend who experienced worse. Even after I left my abusive relationship, I downplayed the abuse. The other women at the Domestic Violence Resource Center had much more violent stories than mine. I never ended up in the hospital nor did I have any visible scars. Surely, I was one of the lucky ones.

Weeks of reading MeToo stories is triggering. The little details that match up, the way we excuse unwanted touches, blaming ourselves. My PTSD is back for an uninvited visit bringing with it the usual lack of energy and concentration, the insecurities, the insomnia, the ex nightmares.

A friend from college shared her story of sexual assault on Facebook today and I was shocked how several details of her story matched mine. But I was never sexually assaulted as a girl I told myself. I was one of the lucky ones. Right?

Her recollection sparked a bad memory. How different it looks decades later. She inspired me to write about the incident but as I began another memory spoke up for attention. And then another. And another. It dawns on me that I’m not one of the lucky ones. I’m just like every one else who’s experienced this.

And that needs to change.

The incidents that follow are the “bigger” offenses. The memories that jump out, the ones that make my arms feel heavy as I write. The incidents I label as “smaller”-the catcalls, the creepy come-ons, the inappropriate comments on my appearance, the countless bra snaps in elementary school-those have become the background noise of what I experienced growing up female in small mid-western town in the 80s. These experiences were so common they became normalized. That needs to change too.

It hurts to read about other women’s pain but it also helps tremendously. It’s like drinking liquid strength. One thing that has become clear these last weeks is that there is strength in our collective sharing. Strength to change the system? I need to believe the answer is yes.

***

The first time I remember being sexually threatened I still had training wheels on my bike. I was five, maybe six? It must have been summer because I remember I kept looking down at the training wheels, trying to balance my bike so they would finally get taken off.

My Dad taught me how to ride a bike. We would ride to the end our of dead end street, him holding the bike seat to help me balance. One day he told me I’d be big enough to balance on my own and he’d take the training wheels off. I didn’t like being a child and yearned to grow up faster. In my little girl mind getting my training wheels taken off meant I would be a big kid.

One sunny day I was riding my bike while my Dad worked in the garage. I rode up and down our sidewalk, wobbling along, trying to balance without the extra wheels.

A car was at the stop sign but that didn’t matter. I wasn’t allowed to cross the street by myself. By the time I got to the end of the sidewalk I looked over at the car wondering why it was still there.

A man was staring at me. The way he leered at me and rubbed his steering wheel scared me. He wasn’t from the neighborhood, I was sure I had never seen his car before. There was something wrong in the way he looked me up and down. I couldn’t articulate at that age what was happening, I just sensed danger. The temperature was hot that day but I remember shivering as I stared back at this strange man.

The man’s lips opened in a sneer me out and he crooked a finger for me to come closer. I didn’t know what he wanted but knew if I went closer I would be in trouble. Fear welled up in me and told me to run. I remember turning my bike around and riding it down the sidewalk as fast as I could. I raced down the sidewalk only realizing I wasn’t using my training wheels as I neared my house.

My Dad saw me ride up the driveway on two wheels and congratulated me. I didn’t tell him what had just happened. I didn’t even fully understand it. He was congratulating me on being a big girl and I didn’t want to disappoint him by telling him about the stranger. I never needed my training wheels again.

***

In second grade two older boys fondled me on the school bus. For years I never liked riding the bus to school. I always assumed it was the loud and crowded space or the pecking order of where to sit that made me anxious. I met my best friend Jennifer by asking to sit next to her on the bus. The safety of sitting next to her made our friendship strong. It is only as I write this does it occur to me that my aversion to the school bus was influenced by the following.

I remember I couldn’t find a place to sit and had to move all the way to the back of the bus where the older boys sat. Two boys made me sit between them which I didn’t like but couldn’t avoid. The bus was moving and the driver yelled at anyone still standing when the bus was in motion.

The boys kept trying to touch me. I kept pushing their hands away. They kept laughing and whispering things to each other. They were both taller than me and their heads were over mine. I felt small and scared. They both leaned into me, putting their hands on me and I kept trying to slap them away. It never occurred to me to yell for help. The bus driver became angry if we made too much noise and I didn’t want to get into trouble.

I remember I had on a coat with a zipper. The boy on my right unzipped it and put his hand down my shirt. The boy on the left put his hand up my skirt. I remember trying to squeeze my legs tight to stop him. They were bigger and stronger than me and I couldn’t stop them.

This happened on the morning bus ride to school. There were kids all around us. I remember the bus pulling into the queue and jumping up as soon as I could, pushing myself forward, trying to get off the bus as soon as possible.

I don’t remember all the events that day. But I do remember being in the principle’s office telling a woman what happened. My mother had taught me “good touch/bad touch” and I knew the boys had “bad touched” me.

One was in fourth grade, the other sixth. The bus driver must have been consulted because I remember the two boys being brought to the principle’s office and me being asked to identify them. I told the woman (the principle, a secretary? I don’t remember) that they were the two boys who had touched me.

I was sent back to my second grade class. My school had corporeal punishment and the two boys got spanked with the principal’s infamous wooden paddle.

The two boys avoided eye contact with me afterward. I never had to sit with them on the bus again. I always sat near the front of the bus after that. It never occurred to me until writing this that maybe my eagerness to get Jennifer to sit with me on the bus was for protection. Girls know there is safety in numbers.

Were my parents called over the incident? What about the boys’ parents? I don’t know. Some of my classmates told me I was a “bad girl” for getting the boys in trouble. They told me I made the boys get spanked which hurt them. They bad touched me I told myself. I didn’t tell my classmates. Maybe I was too young to argue. Maybe I didn’t want my classmates to be mad at me. I stopped talking about it and didn’t tell anyone else for years.

***

When I was in junior high school I went over to my friend Matt’s house to work on math homework. He was in a higher grade, maybe ninth, and having trouble with algebra. I liked math then, it always seemed like a coded game. It was the middle of the day and he was alone when I arrived. This didn’t seem weird at the time, a lot of my friends were latchkey kids.

In the middle of homework Matt leaned over and kissed me. It was a light kiss and made my stomach flutter. I liked Matt and had a bit of a crush on him. We went back to homework and I liked that too. A little kiss and we were still friends. I remember wondering if Matt could be my boyfriend one day.

A few minutes later I was working a math problem when he grabbed my hand and placed it over his crotch. I felt hardness under his jeans. Thankfully I had received sex education and knew what an erection was. But consent wasn’t something taught back then.

I felt uncomfortable and pulled my hand away. I didn’t like this side of Matt and hoped focusing on the math problems would indicate this. He grabbed my hand again and put it down his pants, holding it on his penis while staring at me.

This made me feel worse. I remember telling him no and trying to pull my hand away. His grip tightened and he held it there but I kept pulling, telling him no louder. “Come on,” he whined.

I pulled my hand out of his pants, grabbed my math book and ran home. Matt avoided eye contact with me at school the next day. Our friendship died and later in high school we would pass each other in the hallway as if strangers. I never told anyone for years.

***

The one that scared me the most happened at Bible Camp. I grew up agnostic in a fundamental Christian town. Agnostic wasn’t an understood concept when I was growing up so instead I was known as the atheist kid. As a girl I thought it was awesome that I got to sleep in on Sundays but my friends peer pressured me from an early age to go to church. My friend Jennifer had asked me to come with her to Bible Camp. She was my best friend so I said yes. I believe I was in the seventh or eighth grade.

From the start I didn’t feel comfortable at Christian Camp. I disliked the morality stories, skeptically questioning them but not daring to speak out. I felt extremely out of place as the atheist kid. One day after a Bible lesson a wet balloon contest was held on a big lawn. Many of the girls were all wearing white shirts and the boys kept throwing balloons at our chests. Adults were present but they didn’t stop anything. Boys will be boys right? I heard this a lot growing up.

I wandered off to a trailer to use the bathroom. When I came out an older boy was standing in the main room. I recognized him, he was the son of one of the pastors and was in his mid teens. Assuming he was waiting for the bathroom I started to walk towards the door.

He blocked my path. “Show me your tits,” he told me. Certain I had misheard him I again made for the door. Again, he blocked me. “Show me your tits.” I remember thinking he’s a pastor’s son, everyone will side with him. I told him no.

He pulled out a utility blade. It was one of those box cutters with the retractable blade. He pulled it out of his pocket and pushed up the blade while staring at me.

“You’re going to show me,” he said in a quieter tone that was much more menacing. There was a smugness to his tone it, a confidence of someone used to getting what he wanted. Sometimes when I remember this incident it feels like he said something else but I can’t remember the words.

The way he looked at me was terrifying. I knew if I didn’t leave the trailer he was going to use that knife and force himself on me. I remember planning an escape-run around his left side since the knife was in his right hand. If he slashed out at my arms maybe I could still keep running.

Just then a pickup truck drove by. There were teenage boys in the back, their happy yelps were enough to distract my would be attacker. He momentarily looked over his shoulder and I seized my chance, running as fast as I could, shoving him as I passed. I ran out of the trailer and back to the main gathering of camp kids, looking for Jennifer and safety.

I never told her. I just said I didn’t want to go back to Bible Camp. I never told my parents either. They seemed relieved when I stopped going, likely happy I wasn’t getting religious.

I didn’t tell anyone because I thought no one would believe me. The teenage boy who threatened me was a pastor’s son. I was the atheist kid. At that young age I was convinced they would assume I was lying, trying to cause trouble for the church. For years I told no one.

***

Then there is the years of domestic violence. The bruises, the sprained-possibly broken-wrists taking weeks to heal, the seemingly endless amounts of broken glass. The slammed doors, the yelling, the insults of bitch and cunt and whore. Slowly I am learning how to talk about it but it’s difficult.

Sometimes it’s hard to talk about the abuse because it upsets people. They feel upset or sorry for me or feel powerless to change the system. And it always rattles me, though it also feels healing to share. It’s hard to open up your heart to show your scars.

This global sharing of pain feels like a watershed moment. What will come from this collective sharing of pain? I don’t know but let’s all keep talking.

Formoonsa Cup Review

Last month I attended the Taiwan International Beauty Show to interview Vanessa Tseng, inventor of the Formoonsa Cup. Vanessa’s story is quite interesting and I’ll post the interview soon. In addition to giving me some of her time (her booth at the Beauty Show was quite busy) she also gave me a Formoonsa Cup standard set to review.

0A030F95-7628-443D-B3B2-2E2E4A0743C5

The first thing you notice is the beautiful artwork by illustrator W.Y. Cloudie Chang. The artwork sets a gentle and whimsical tone, making the  idea of reusable menstrual cups quite approachable.

EA539525-3932-4E57-B587-9D02671EFE1A

The inside of the box continues this theme with happy flowers. Some women find the idea of inserting a menstrual cup into their vaginas intimidating and this packaging works to ease tensions.

7E4A9054-C9F2-49EC-A2EC-F41D5F8BC5A8

There are two silicone cups that come in the standard set. This close up makes the cups seem large but they’re not really. The training cup is 10 ml and the standard cup is 20ml. Women who have given birth might prefer the large cup set which comes with a 30 ml cup.

938690AA-34DF-4ABB-82CE-89046284DDAF

The cup is designed to look like a flower bud. This distinction sets it apart from other reusable menstrual cups on the market. The top part of the flower folds inward to prevent any blood from leaking upon removal. Such a clever design detail.

5339BE3F-C8F7-4617-A03E-72DDBB558EE1

This illustration is on the side of the box and shows how the lip folds in to prevent leakage.

955FF18D-7FB2-49CB-96B0-20B4798C180A

The smaller training cup has a longer loop, making it easier to retrieve and remove.

F7E53EE5-3B09-484A-9D9E-1E4B1C8D9DA1

The set includes one reusable pantyliner. While getting used to the cup, the user can wear this pantyliner to ease any worries about leakage. Once properly inserted leaks aren’t an issue but it’s a good idea to use this when first getting used to the system. (More on that below.)

2BA51843-DB0B-4314-81CA-D5AA471D8265

The last item is this adorable bag. At the expo Vanessa’s booth had many samples and there was a wide variety of textile patterns. There were several pretty floral designs but I’m happy I got these cute hedgehogs.

41FF0B38-34DB-47B3-B1F7-92C6A3CD1BF7

From start to finish the Formoonsa Cup is beautifully designed. The shape of the cup strongly resembles the flower on the cover.

237A4104-7A79-4F14-8727-5A17C289524F

The bag has plenty of room for the cup. I had enough extra room to fit in the reusable pantyliner, some spare tampons and some Ibuprofen.

When it came time to review I was convinced I didn’t need to use the training cup. I’ve had my vagina for 41 years. Certainly I could get a silicone cup in and out of it easily. Right? Turns out I was completely wrong and should have followed Vanessa’s suggestion of starting with the training up first.

After my period started I watched several YouTube videos for tips. Turns out there’s a plethora of how to videos on just this subject. (Fear not, vloggers use colored water or oil for their demos) I dutifully folded up my cup and expected to be done in under a minute.

Several minutes later I was forced to admit this was more difficult that I thought. To avoid making a mess, I grabbed the trainer cup and hopped in the shower. For first timers I actually suggest this. The hot water helped relax me and washed any blood right down the drain. Another tip-file your nails first. Trust me on this one.

The training cup is much easier to insert, position correctly and remove. Once the training cup is mastered it’s much easier to manipulate the bigger one. After about an hour of wearing the cup I stopped noticing it. If you’ve used tampons chances are you’ll adapt to using a reusable cup easily.

Reusable menstrual cups are gaining in popularity and it’s easy to see why. They’re environmentally friendly and don’t contain chemicals. The intimacy needed to use one is healthy and has the potential to build a positive relationship with one’s own genitals. Disposable pads and tampons create a stigma towards menstrual blood-it is something odious that must be immediately thrown away. Reusable cups and cloth pads creates an understanding of one’s own menstrual cycle that I believe is quite healthy and revolutionary in this industry. By giving the package and cups such a pleasant design, Vanessa is helping to erase some of the negative stigmas around menstruation. The Formoonsa Cup is an excellent product to try if you’d like to start using reusable menstrual products.

Formoonsa Cup can be bought from their online store or in Taiwan at Cosmed.

Top transformation

IMG_4563

I brought home another dud from my last shopping trip. There was no dressing room but this tank tank looked pretty cool on the hanger.

IMG_4564

But when I put it on at home these poofs at the bottom made me look lumpy. They were not flattering at all so I cut them out. The inner black tank top fit wonderfully and was super soft so I left it as is.

IMG_4566

There was almost enough for sleeves but not quite. I cut off fabric from the bottom tapering down to the front sides. The tank top had a tie at the back that I removed and reused as trim for the front opening.

A28D21B4-A261-4865-B7E5-B355DC5CB0E7

With the tapered front ties the fabric flow was kept intact.

AD7EB01B-DF44-45D7-932B-14086FAEE60A

The sleeves had to be patched together but since the fabric is so thin the seams aren’t really noticeable when wearing.

76A18659-69A6-4BE2-B9B4-1874AEFA2EFE

The tapered front makes a really great tie.

97A27BE1-9381-408A-B0D8-1213FC61A456

I’m so happy how this top transformation turned out!

C6F50ABC-481E-43D9-9BCA-D0414C3DE869

A sewing success.

In other news, Josh wrote up two great blog posts for My Taiwan Tour about traveling in Taiwan while gluten free.

Gluten Free Eating in Taiwan Part One: Restaurant Dining

Gluten Free Eating in Taiwan (Part Two): Wheat Free Snacks and Gluten Free Night Market Fare

We learned a lot of this while traveling around the island for our upcoming book Formosa Moon. If you have a gluten allergy fear not-there’s still plenty for you to eat in Taiwan. As for the book, stuff is happening behind the scenes. I’ll post news as soon as I can!

Pantree Restaurant

IMG_4860

On of my favorite restaurants in Taipei, Oh Cha Cha recently opened up a new venue called Pantree, which boasted a completely gluten free menu. A gluten free restaurant in Taiwan?! I was cautiously hopeful. Josh and I met our friend Carrie, who took this cute pic of us, for lunch on opening day.

IMG_4851

The menu is bilingual and indeed completely gluten free. Their kombucha, which is rare to find for sale in Taiwan, was flavorful and slightly fizzy. I jumped at the chance to try GF pizza and was very happy with the doughy crust. So tasty and I didn’t have to cook it myself.

IMG_4852

Yummy snickerdoodle cookies for dessert! Pantree was giving out free mini GF muffins for opening day but we ate ours too quickly for a pic.

It is such a luxury to eat at a restaurant where I can safely eat everything on the menu. An allergy to gluten is not very common in Taiwan and is often misunderstood. I have gotten sick a handful of times eating out so am hesitant to try new places without Josh to translate my diet restrictions. Finding a restaurant that both understands and caters to GF eating is gratifying.

Thank you Pantree! Everything was scrumptious and I’ll definitely be back.

Home cooking

IMG_4817

Life is getting busy now that grad school has started. But despite my full days I’ve managed to squeeze in some home cooking. The above pic is my latest batch of kombucha. I left this one in for a full two weeks and it turned out delicious. I think my scoby mothers have fully matured as these last few batches have turned out very well.

IMG_4815

I have an early morning class so these biscottis were great breakfast meals. They are made with almond flour so are naturally gluten free. I definitely need to make more. Our friend Li Chun brought us some homemade coconut chocolate as a housewarming present and it made a great topping.

IMG_4857

Josh and I were hanging in Dihua, one of my fave neighborhoods, when we found a vendor selling black garlic. Black garlic! I’ve been meaning to try this for months but hadn’t found any.

IMG_4859

At first I thought it was fermented but some sources say it’s carmalized. Black garlic is incredibly distinct and has a taste reminiscent of figs. There was a moment when I thought “I should make my own” but my pile of reading for school tells me otherwise. It pairs well with so many foods I definitely recommend trying some.

More Superheroes, more art

IMG_4795

I’m really happy to be drawing again. After drawing female figures I’m now working on the male form. The above is Thor from the Avengers movie and below is Captain America.

IMG_4706

Last month Josh and I got to hang with fashion blogger Jonathan Waiching Ho while he’s here Living Like A Local. We went to the Bamboo Curtain Studio and got to experience this beautiful art installation:

This is the My Womb My Mother Earth Art Project by artist Lin Xiuping. Volunteers helped her create knitted, crocheted and woven pieces for the installation. I wish I would have known as I would have jumped at the chance to contribute. Next time! These fiber art bird was such an inspiration.

IMG_4725

Our friend Shraddha Borawake had invited us to the studio and showed us her work as an artist in residence.

Our new friend Ivan not only showed us Taiwanese musical instruments used during puppet shows but gave us a demonstration.

It was a delight to spend an afternoon with fellow artists. Looking forward to my next visit to this wonderful studio.

Sewing machine and cover

IMG_4801

I finally got a sewing machine! After two failed attempts with second hand machines I decided to buy a new one. Costco not only had my trusty Singer brand but one with flowers.

IMG_4800

Dihua neighborhood has fabric galore and after a shopping visit I set about making a cover for my new machine. It’s so wonderful to be working with fabric again!

IMG_4802

This is my first sewing project since leaving Portland. Not only does it fit great, the fabric is a cheerful print.

IMG_4803

I finished it off with a blind hem stitch for practice and it turned out great.

Speaking of new additions

IMG_4789

Hazel is welcoming the puppets’ newest roommate to Casa Twosh.

And speaking of puppets, I managed a couple more visits to the Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum before school started. I got to hang out with my friend Rosie before she leaves Taiwan and work on more pillow supports for puppet costumes. This internship has taught me so much!