Fear Kept Me From Being A Man

A Personal Testimony for Teen DV Awareness Month
By Chandler J. Lewis 

When I was growing up, teen dating violence and domestic violence were topics that were not openly discussed in my school or community. I knew that the Battered Women’s Shelter was at the end of our street because sometimes my mother and I would take food and clothes down to them to help out. I knew that some of my friends had abusive parents and that some often tried to stay out of the house as long as they could to avoid being subjected to their parents’ violent behaviors. When I was in high school, we did not even talk about healthy relationships or what it looked like to have healthy relationship behaviors. As I grew up and started to understand more of what was going on around me, I saw that violence existed not only within my own friend groups, but also affected many other people that I knew in the community as well.

 As a boy, I grew up in a very respectful and non-violent family. My parents and grandparents taught me to be respectful women and that women were never to be hit or abused. I was taught that men should open the door for women and stand up when they left the table, not because women were different than men, but because as a man, we should treat women with the highest level of respect and dignity. I treated my female friends like I treated my mother, a lady who I respect and love dearly, with respect.  

It was not until I went to college that my eyes were truly opened to the widespread levels of violence and abuse that took place between my peers. As a freshman at the University of Washington, I decided to join a fraternity. I thought that this would be a great opportunity for me to get some more close male friends that I could develop life long friendships with. Sadly, my experience was tarnished by what I saw members of my community doing around me, even my so-called “brothers”. During my first quarter at UW, my fraternity hosted a lot of parties and paraded the freshmen pledges in front of young women, encouraging us to get as many numbers as we could so that we could contact them later to increase the women to men ratio at parties. We often joked about how many girls numbers we had gotten. Honestly, I could barely remember the faces of the most of the girls I met. Regardless, me and my fellow pledges would joke about the many sexual endeavors we were pursuing, often using very derogatory terms to refer to the girls we were seeing or had slept with. It did not take me long to realize that lots of the guys around me were acting in very abusive and disgusting ways, often publicly shaming girls as they left our house in the mornings through the front door and yelling names at them from our porch as they ran off our lawn.

The tipping point for me was when one of my very close friends was filmed by her boyfriend while engaging in sexual acts. The boy that recorded her showed the video to his whole fraternity and luckily one of the men in that fraternity reported it and told her about the incident. He was however dropped from that house and served some time in jail as a result of his actions. As one of her best friends, I saw the devastating effect that this incident had on her. Yet, what made me the maddest was the response I heard from the so-called “gentlemen” around me. Many of them thought it was funny. Others joked that they should do the same to their girlfriends. There seemed to be no one that was speaking out about how messed up it was. It did not take me long to realize that being in a fraternity directly conflicted with my core beliefs and values around healthy relationships and what it meant to be a gentleman and a man of honor. I loved my female friends and would never even consider hurting them in any way, no less violating their privacy in such a way or even speaking about this in the ways members of my community did. I eventually dropped my fraternity because I felt that my personal values conflicted with the values that my fellow brothers held and that my membership in such a society left me a responsible party to many of the abuses committed on their behalf.

After dropping my house, I became active in an organization on campus called SARVA, or Students Against Relationship Violence Advocates. I went through a ten-week training program that covered a wide variety of topics relating to relationship violence and sexual abuse. It was during this time that I also began developing my own project, that later turned into a non-profit organization called The Evergreen Project. Even in my SARVA training group, I was only one of two men out of thirty girls that participated in the seminars. Something was wrong with this. It did not make sense to me that if men and women both comprise 50% of the population, why was it that only a small percent were actively having a presence in one of the largest advocacy networks on my campus. It was at this point I knew that I needed to step up my efforts in advocating to my male peers and to the younger generation of boys in my own community.

Over the course of the last few years, I have been able to reflect on what obstacles I have had to overcome as a male working and advocating in the field of domestic violence. I think the biggest obstacle for me was overcoming the fear of being the only one to speak out against observed abuse in my own social circle. I was afraid that people would make fun of me for being a “feminist”. I was afraid people would call me gay because I did talk about the things I did in my personal life with all my guy friends. I was afraid that speaking up would leave me alone and isolated because I was the only one to speak out and condemn the unhealthy and often times violent behaviors of my peers. I think fear was the biggest obstacle for me because even though I knew what was right, I still wanted to fit in and as a new college student trying to find my own way, it was easier to blend in than it was to stand out.

It is because of my own experience that I believe that in order to end the cycle of violence in society, we need to start the conversation early. We need to start talking to our kids about what healthy behaviors are and what abuse looks like. Men need to stop being afraid to speak out and denounce the violence that they see being committed within their own circles. Programs like Take the First Step and Start Talking are great programs to get our youth to start having meaningful conversations about relationships and violence. Beyond that, organizations that focus on the male demographic need to work hard to remove the fear of speaking out and instead make it cool to not be violent. Organizations like loveisrespect target boys between 13-24 to get them involved in the conversation about relationship violence. They help boys (and girls as well) to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors. It is essential that boys of all ages are included in the conversation about violence and abuse. As a man, I know I am “privileged”. I am privileged because I know when I go outside at night, I do not need to be worried about men stalking or cat calling me like a piece of meat. I know I am privileged because I am not looked down on for being a man, as is such with my female counterpart. I know that as a man, it is my responsibility to talk to my peers about the importance of healthy relationships and help make information more accessible. I know that it is my responsibility to continually challenge my peers to commit themselves to live non-violent, non-abusive lives and to speak out when they see injustices. I see it as my job to change the current perspective and look deeper at what it means to be a man in today’s society and not accept the status quo. I challenge all of you out there to not let fear hold you in perpetual silence, rather, use your voice to speak out for those who have no one to speak out for them. 

Aggression from a Queer Perspective

Submission from Scout R. 

I was asked why I'm so “aggressive” about queer/trans shit, and I'm asked about that a lot. I thought it was a great opportunity to address this idea in a public way, so here goes.

People ask me why I’m “so aggressive” as if there’s a socially acceptable way to ask for my identity and pronouns to be respected or address microaggressions.

No matter how polite I am, somebody will always feel like I’m being aggressive when I assert my identity.

Trans and queer identities are markedly subversive/disruptive—we break down patriarchal concepts simply by existing. Existing, for us, is an act of aggression towards cisheteropatriarchy. Which is why in order to not seem “aggressive,” we, as queer and trans people, have to try so hard and sacrifice so much.

We are forced to constantly and very publicly disarm ourselves to the satisfaction of those who are invested in cisheteropatriarchy — by accepting misgendering, by making our gender expression more palatable to those around us and by being sure to separate ourselves from and denounce “those” bisexuals, queers, trans people and lesbians, who are too loud and fed up, too fat and hairy and promiscuous, who demand too much, who refuse to participate in things that harm themselves. 

There is no socially acceptable way for trans people to ask for our pronouns, our names and our gender identities to be respected. There is no way to ask for your pronouns to be respected that is both “polite” and effective in getting people to actually use your pronouns.

So how about instead of asking me why I’m so aggressive, ask yourself why I have to be.

Realize that I have a lot of conversations about this shit, and I participate in a lot of educational moments. Honestly, I tend to get shit handled.

Sometimes I do make the choice to make myself and what I’m saying more palatable. I’m constantly in situations where in order to educate and make change more effectively, I do compromise my identity. But that is my choice to make. That’s every individual activist’s choice to make for theirself, and I am the only one in a position to decide for myself when it is appropriate to do that as an activist and to decide what I can handle.

So, I’m gonna need people, especially people who honestly don’t know shit about effective activism or organizing, to stop telling me how to act as a trans/queer person.

Never Forget

Submission by Austin C.             

In today’s society there is constantly a battle between ourselves and others. I have always been told that my biggest critic is myself and that I’ll never go anywhere without the courage in myself. But today I have the courage and I will never forget it. Courage, self-esteem and pride it is not only in your heart but it’s in your pocket and in sewn into your favorite jacket. These emotions and feelings are things that can be a present for ourselves. Take pride in who you are, because there is not a single person out there that is like you. There is no one with the same name, the same address, the same parents and the same hobbies. You are a single individual that is completely and ultimately a unique piece in society. Never forget that.

You are not another note in the symphony but the conductor. Love yourself entirely because there is only one of you.

Never forget that. 

Featured Bloggers

Austin C. - Featured Blogger

Hi my name is Austin, but I go by my middle name which is Chase. I am 18 almost 19 in December and I am currently living in Chicago, Illinois and am a Freshmen at Columbia College in Chicago. I am majoring in Fashion Business with a focus in Journalism and Minoring in Public Relations. I am originally from Matthews, North Carolina,. Writing has always been a passion of mine, it helped find my voice and create the image I had for myself and not what others had for me. I am so happy to be apart of this process and blog in which I understand so much about it due to my experience

Cristiano M. - Featured Blogger

Hey guys! My name is Cristiano, I am 17 and I love to write! I am Puerto Rican and Colombian (Latin and proud!). I am just a passionate guy who wants to see the world changed! I really believe that this next generation can save the world, so let’s do it! 

Titles Don't Mean Anything

Submission by Cristiano M. 

Titles and labels. Two things that can destroy a person. We live in a society where people treat you based on a variety of labels you might wear. Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Retarded, Poor, Immigrant, Spanish, Black, Slut. Labels like these can leave lasting impressions on people that affect them their whole life.

Titles and labels generalize people and act as an agent to dehumanize them. Instead of being a person, you are some gay guy. Instead of being a neighbor, you are some immigrant that does not belong here. Instead of being a classmate, you are the whore that cannot keep it in their pants. And the more we use these terms to define someone, the more they can begin to see themselves as that label. They do not see a bright future for themselves because they are blinded by the words and titles that are being forced on them. They accept these lies and can live the rest of their life unwilling to live to their full potential because they fear that their labels will limit them.

But these titles do not mean anything. These labels do not hold any power. The only power these words have, is the power you give it. We have the power to write a new name over ourselves. And once we discover the truth of this freedom, our potential is unlimited. We live in a generation with access to technology that the world has never before seen. Just imagine all the wonders we can make if we only tried. Everyone is valuable and contributes to our society in some way. I believe that everyone has a purpose in life, and that we all have greatness stored up in us. Do not dare let someone tell you that you are insignificant. You are a gift, there is no one else in the world like you. Not to be cliché, but honestly every single one of you are so special. Do not allow a title or a label to limit you. You are worth so much more than that! So if no else tells you today, I just want you to know that you are AMAZING, and that’s the only title that you will ever need.

Ending Unhealthy Relationships

A Submission by Alexis O. 

When I was growing up I watched my mother fall in and out of love with men who were nothing but bad for her. There was never a day when my mother and her man of the week weren’t at each others throats, and I watched, day after day as he verbally and physically abused her and she just let him. Later in the day she would go crawling back, because she thought no one else would want her. A thought put in her head by the same person who had earlier called her a “stupid slut”. I always knew somewhere deep down that their behavior was abnormal, and I swore to myself to never end up like my mother had, sad, alone, and victimized.

And I have not. Very few people know about the way I grew up. I disclose as little of my past as possible, because I believe that my past is no longer a part of me. But everyone knows about my refusal to be treated as less than, and my boyfriends over the years have had to learn that as well. There has only been one incident where I allowed my partner to treat me as less than a goddess and in the end, I broke up with him.

I say that like it was easy, though. It was not. I knew that he was wrong for me from the minute he told me that I was his girlfriend so he could do whatever he wanted to me, whenever he wanted. This came after I got angry with him for being too clingy and grabby in public. When I thought it over later and decided to break up with him, I tried. But he cried and told me he was sorry and that it would never happen again and that he loved me more than anyone he had ever met and I couldn’t do it. That’s the thing about abusers. They are not wholly evil. And they are damn good liars that sometimes they even fool themselves. But if you let them get away with something once, they start pushing their boundaries and pretty soon they are telling you that they didn’t rape you because you never said no, in fact you didn’t say anything. That’s when I realized if I didn’t break up with this boy, I would marry him and have children with him and be forced to spend my life with a man I didn’t love telling me that what I did or didn’t want wasn’t important. I remembered that promise I made to myself as I little girl to never end up like my mother, and I left.

The thing about unhealthy relationships is that we want to believe that person can change. We want to believe that if we stick around they will stop insulting us to keep us with them longer. That they will get over their rough patch in life and they won’t have to hit us when we mess up. But I am here to tell you as a survivor of multiple types of abuse that they don’t change and it is important to realize that. I wish I could say that you can change them. That if you want it enough, and try enough, your partner will stop hitting you, insulting you, isolating you. But for a person to change, they have to want it, and abusers are oftentimes in denial about who they are, so they are going to get angry for you even suggesting there is something wrong with who they are as a person. If you find yourself dating someone who hits you, even once, you leave. Run, and run fast. Tell someone, tell everyone. Your partner is going to make you feel like you are scum for trying to make them look bad, but you should not be ashamed of defending yourself, and preserving your well-being. It is not your fault they abuse you, physically, verbally, or emotionally. It is never your fault.

Healthy relationships should be based off of equality and respect, not control and power. In a healthy relationship you are not afraid of your partner's anger, because they aren’t a threat to you. You feel safe, supported, happy, and excited to be around each other. You respect each other, have lives that are separate from each other, but come back and be a unit at any given time. In healthy relationships, both parties have a right to privacy. If your partner is forcing you to allow them to read your text messages or emails or facebook messages, there is a problem.

Remember, love is respect. And you deserve that. Don’t settle for anything less.

Welcome to Evergreen Bloggers

Dear Readers, 

Let me first introduce myself and tell you a little bit about why I have decided to start a blog focused on sex, dating, and healthy relationships. My name is Chandler Lewis and I am the Executive Director and Founder of The Evergreen Project, a non-profit organization whose focus is to raise awareness and support those affected by domestic/intimate partner/relationship violence in the Seattle Area. I recently graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. in Political Science. Currently, I serve as the Tennis Director for the company TGA of North Seattle who specialize in 10 and Under Junior tennis and golf instruction.  

The goal of this blog is to have healthy conversations about sex, dating, and relationships by having both myself and others contribute to it so that it becomes a community of people speaking from their perspective. At The Evergreen Project, we are dedicated to creating an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect, so please do your best to respect the writings and opinions of all the authors who contribute to this blog. Personally, I believe that through discussing often taboo topics about sex, dating, and relationships, we can come together and create a community of people who are truly passionate about being a catalyst of positive change in our community to end violence once person at a time. 

The Evergreen Project welcomes submissions to this blog that are appropriate for all ages of readers and are focused on the three topics previously mentioned. We also welcome survivors of violence to share their stories with us. If you are interested in writing a piece for The Evergreen Project, please email chandlerlewis9331@me.com with your piece. Please limit submissions to 800 words. We look forward to the start of this new addition to our website and hope that everyone will be able to take something important and meaningful away from each of the submissions. 

 

Sincerely, 

Chandler J. Lewis
Executive Director
The Evergreen Project