This month’s theme is close to the heart of our Co-Chair, Kate Van Dermark. Let her tell you why.
Her identity is a part of my own.
The two cannot be separated. And neither should they be.
When I was a young woman, I was once told, “Her struggles are not yours. They are not your cause.” While I will never face the threat of violence she has, the institutional oppression and systemic marginalization she battles every day, the familial rejection and exclusion she carries like heavy chains seeking to debase, drag, and fetter her—my mother’s identity has shaped my own. Her stories, her trauma, her triumphs live in me—and are embedded in my every cell.
I am both the living product of her oppression and the realization of her emancipation. For she bore me in a marriage that seemed the only choice when her very existence was considered a mental illness, and would bestow in me a profound sense of equity and responsibility that governs everything I do. From the way I parent, to the way interact with others; from the way I lead, to the way I listen; from the way I think; to the way I act. She is—and her identity is, while different than my own—wholly within me.
Each of her setbacks, set me back too. It meant that we lived on food stamps because the first female plumber and contractor in the state would not make as much as her male, straight counterparts, and her own side business would go under in a backward, conservative town. It meant that her achievements would be disregarded, her body abused, her worth overlooked. And despite this, perhaps in spite of this, she was determined to rise. And while she could not protect me from the shackles of her oppression, she would forever work to loosen my own. I am a feminist because of her. I am an activist because of her. I am me because of her.
For every wound she carries, I have a matching scar, imprinted in my DNA. But each of her obstacles created a resilient, dynamic woman determined to ascend, and each of her successes bolstered me and provided access to a previously unachievable realm.
And so, my successes are an exponent of her own. They are a conquering of the tribulations she faced. They are an extension of her accomplishments and pay tribute to her. She calls me the “new and improved” version of herself. I know that isn’t true. Her life created a diamond. I am merely the light cast out of it. And so, to the memory that whispers that we are segregated I thunder back, “She is a part of me, within me, the foreshadowing of me. Her struggles are my own. They are my cause.”