Our next installment for Women’s History Month comes from PhD candidate, and former student of mine and an M.Div. alumnus of LSTC, Elyssa Salinas. Like last week, it is a reflection that starts with #MeToo, but quickly turns into an, inimitable, defiantly beautiful poem to the power beauty of the female body – as only this magnificent, aspiring academic and theologian can write. Read, comment, and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
Me too. Two simple words that offer validation, assistance, and the momentary glimpse of community with another person. Me too. These two little words have rocked our world, and from the power of these two little words there rose a community of shared pain.
Those words felt innocent before I saw them rising up from my social media feeds. I thought of someone saying they were going to get another cup of coffee or walking to the train, and my response “me too” would erupt from my lips. In those instances, there was no agenda, no greater thought, just the acknowledgement of similar tastes or travel plans. Then the night I saw the first #MeToo on my Facebook feed, I was confused and curious. Who is saying this? Why are they writing this? And why is there nothing else on my feed as I scroll down? I finally got some direction, and realized that I needed to respond with #MeToo.
When I wrote mine, I remember wanting to cry. I wanted to weep because of the memories that flooded back of each and every time that my body felt like it was not my own. Times when it felt like it was the object of a man’s gaze, the control of my abuser’s whims, or the piece of my fondler’s dreams.
As painful as it was to recall these memories, it was important for me to write out #MeToo into the chorus. I kept thinking how for a moment I not only felt heard, but not alone. I didn’t need to tell a story or share everything, it was a moment that felt as though a community gently sat down next to me, and held my hand. It was a moment of deep liberation, but also of traumatic triggering.
For the next few months, I kept hearing my abuser’s voice in my head, and it was drowning out every moment of self-confidence that I had regained. I kept hearing his voice, and forgetting that I had come so far from that awful time when I could barely look myself in the mirror. So, one day, I looked in the mirror to try and remember the woman who I cultivated and loved. The woman who got me to this place, and I tried to remember that she was standing in front of me, looking back at me.
In that moment, I realized that this #MeToo movement was more than words, it was a resounding echo of painful moments and that I was going to need to remember that my body was for me.
I went back into my old poems, and I found this one. I read it and cried because the woman who wrote it felt much stronger than me. I knew that something needed to change, and I needed a reminder of how far I’ve come and how strong I am, no matter what I see in the mirror. I decided to shave my head, for the second time. This time was about reclaiming my body, my beauty, and myself. When I let my hair fall to the kitchen floor later that night, I knew that this would not be the cure for my pain, but instead a ritual in my resistance to the voices in my head. The truth is those voices still sometimes whisper in my ear, and on some level, they probably always will.
But I remember that I also have a voice, a voice that resounds in a chorus of #MeToo, a voice that can speak my truth in poems like this one.
First: A Conversation I Never Expected to Have
I was made with more than flesh in mind;
A mind! Imagine that.
A mind that reasons & wonders why
All you see are body parts;
Mountains & valleys that you can walk over & conquer.
Not afraid of rough terrain or how it will fight back,
Just looking for a place to stick your flag.
A claim for all to see that you saw, you came & you conquered.
I was made with more than flesh in mind.
Given the gift of womanhood,
Of soft curves, short stature & the hope that one day
I will meet her.
The woman I’m supposed to become –
The woman everyone seems so excited to meet.
I was given the gift of womanhood.
A package filled with more than
Sugar in the raw &
Spices to fill the rack.
My womanhood lay underneath
Tissue paper and ribbon.
Gently laid and ready to be assembled.
My limbs were put together by women;
Women older & wiser than me who
Fastened me, piece by piece.
Putting my arm in a socket,
Showing me how to embrace
A mother &
Telling me one day I won’t need any instruction
To embrace a lover,
I’ll get enough practice when I find him.
Placing my hips low to the ground,
With a laying on of hands
Showing me how to sway when a beat calls to me.
They place my feet firmly on the ground & tell me
Each step I take will lead me
Through pain unbearable &
Toward pleasure unimaginable.
I was given this gift of womanhood,
As much as you might think my hips sway only in your direction,
My body submits simply to your touch,
& my lips never speak anything but your name.
You are mistaken.
My body is not a present for you to unwrap &
Discard when you’re done playing.
My body is a gift from God with
My name on the tag.
A God that gave me the ability to create or wait,
Or just to say no if I choose.
My hips are not just childbearing –
They are weight-bearing, rhythm making, melody moving &
Cocked from side to side, depending on my mood.
These breasts are not meant for you to unclasp & set free,
To fondle as you dream.
They were meant for me
To push down, push up, fill out my dress if I see fit
& if I want you step
From that plate to touch a new base
I will tell you.
And what I hold between my legs
Was never meant to be called
Chastity, virginity, purity or honor.
It was never meant to be
Property, a bicycle, or a revolving door.
What I hold between my legs is not called
It has a name
all its own,
but one I choose
& do not have to share with you.
What I hold between my legs is
Beauty beyond measure
Ecstasy without ceasing
A point of pleasure & pain
Of life & death
& it is by invitation only that you get to come.
I have the God-given gift of being a woman &
What rests between my legs is divine pleasure,
What resides between my thighs
Is something more than a switch
Madonna & Whore
Virgin & Slut
Prude & Pleasing
What I hold between my legs is more
Than a fleshy existence
More than a quick night or fleeting fancy.
It is a place where life begins
Where existence is known
And where more women have been hurt
Then you can imagine.
I never thought I would have to explain
That my body belongs to me.
That it is my own,
That it does not belong to you.
I never thought that my decisions would give you ownership
Of a body that you do not take care of.
A nice dinner might fill my belly,
But do not think of it as admission
To play games and ride around as you please.
Take a whirl all the way to the top &
If you like it,
Make it spin again.
Pay a little extra and maybe it will go backwards?
I was made with more than flesh in mind.
I have the God-given gift that you try to turn
Into something I should hide
Or something I should give away.
But I have decided to keep this present,
This ever present gift that is God given,
The gift of being a woman.
Of soft curves, short stature &
That ever present hope that one day
I will be her,
The woman that everyone seems so excited to meet.
Elyssa Salinas Lazarski believes that her theology must touch her body; therefore, her scholarship encompasses her experience as a Mexican American and as a woman. Utilizing her own body as a crux, her research embraces sex and body-positive theology in order to combat a culture of disgrace. Currently beginning her second year at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Elyssa continues to write for www.boldcafe.org and on her own blog Coffee Talk With E, and performs poetry throughout the city of Chicago.