By Apphia K.
Every day, I am thankful for the work I have been given the opportunity to do. This is how I start my day. I intentionally thank the universe for guiding me to make the right decisions, to be able to be in the exact spot that I find myself in. This means that I have a steady source of income, which means that I can make rent and put food on my table. This means that I walk into an office where my team creates the safest environment I have ever worked in. This means that for right now I am not looking over my shoulder in fear. This means that for now I can continue to be part of important work that needs to be done. With that reassurance and the calmness and confidence that come with it, I can begin each day with a full heart and for this I am thankful.
I work at the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence. We serve Pan-Asian survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence. We provide services in Greater Boston and Lowell, and offer limited assistance throughout Massachusetts and New England. We currently provide services in 18 Asian languages and dialects. The office I work in is staffed by a group of fierce non-binary folx, genderfluid folx, and women of the Asian diaspora. Some of us are immigrants, some of us are citizens, and some of us are asylees and refugees. When I interviewed for my position, one of our executive directors told me that the work was hard and intense, but we support and take care of each other. I didn’t really believe it until a few months into working here.
I am the Youth Education Coordinator, and a member of the Education and Outreach Department at ATASK. Part of my job is to run the Youth Empowerment Project. We hire youth and help them to become Youth Community Leaders. I like to introduce myself as a maker of trouble makers. The other part of my job is to facilitate workshops in high schools and with other youth organizations around teen dating abuse, and I train the staff at our agency.
Every day is an experience that changes my life, warms my heart, and moves my spirit. Not everything is smooth sailing, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done – but I want to share with you a few things that keep me grounded. Five things have shaped my work here at the agency:
During my mandated professional training when I started, I learned about domestic abuse, intimate partner abuse, and child abuse. For the first time in my life, I understood the vastness of the term abuse. While I was being taught, I simultaneously realized and recognized the abuse that I had experienced in my own life. I felt like a statistic. I felt small, and I was confused. It made me angry.
One of the last training sessions I had was run by my peer at work – an amazing non-binary agender person. When they were building their LGBTQIA Competency training for us, we talked about the importance of including the statistics of violence faced by bisexuals. As people with the highest rates of all sexual orientations, we had to talk about it – and I insisted that we talk about it with the same weight that we were giving to rates of violence in trans* communities.
I changed how the Youth Empowerment Project teaches youth about LGBTQIA issues and identities. This meant changing our curriculum from having a separate LGBTQIA 101 training, to integrating LGBTQIA issues into every subject – whether it was Asian American history, gender and sexuality, or understanding domestic violence and intimate partner violence. Asian cultures have suffered so much at the hands of colonizers, and I am committed to stubbornly decolonizing gender and sexuality for the youth I work with, for the communities I serve, and for myself!
A couple of months ago, I ran my first staff training and I loved it! It was the first time I was in the position to set the tone for people coming in to work at our agency. Again, I integrated LGBTQIA issues into my trainings. When we talked about understanding abuse, domestic violence, and intimate partner violence, I made it a point to highlight examples of people of all genders and orientations. It took a bit longer, but it is equally if not more important for these conversations to be had in this way.
One of the programs our department runs is called Engaging Masculinity. This purpose of this program is to engage with people around gender-based violence and masculinities. The amazing thing about this program is that my peer has a queer lens to the subject that makes it accessible beyond the binary, and literally disrupts the mainstream, limited view of masculinity, while reimagining and reconstructing our perception and understanding of masculinity. We’re also talking about how biphobia shows up in gender-based violence and how people with masculinities can work on not being biphobic, transphobic, and homophobic as part of this curriculum.
While this may sound ideal, hopeful and inspiring, I want to be real with you. Changing our assumptions about gender or orientation is challenging. It is a slow, lethargic process – as is any kind of institutional change. But as people who work in a field where we are helping survivors of intimate partner violence and domestic abuse, there is no excuse for us to be perpetrators of violence ourselves!
For far too long we’ve been conditioned not to take up too much space in this world. One of my core beliefs is that when you hear your narrative being erased, or not being included in the work you do or the spaces you hold… take up space, challenge the stereotype, and change the narrative. My intersectional identity as a South Asian, bisexual person has me held in a stubborn embrace of wanting to make important services that my communities need better and more accessible. As people who identify as queer, quite often the labor of educating others about our issues and teaching them how to be safe people for us falls on to us. It takes copious amounts of self-care and love to show up and disrupt the binary and create spaces that are accessible for LGBTQIA survivors. Thankfully, my ferocious love for our community far outweighs every other obstacle and I will continue to show up as much as I can, for as long as I can.
I have been blessed to be a part of my immediate team at work, as they support me through the work we do. While we all push the binary, we also create a very intentional safer space that is empowering and uplifting to each of us. I have never experienced this kind of healthy work environment before. I had previously found this only at community summits and conferences – but this time it’s my full-time job! I am honored to be able to support my team and our staff in return, and I’m constantly looking for ways to empower us in a manner that is culturally sound – both as LGBTQIA allies and members and as Asians.
Of all LGBTQ+ people, bisexuals and trans people experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence and domestic abuse. We must be centered in gender justice and gender-based violence prevention and support work. I do what I can, when I can, in the best way I know how. If you know of organizations that could benefit from a productive conversation with us, please do not hesitate to reach out! Let’s change the way we love and support each other. Change is not only possible, it is inevitable!
Apphia K. is a community organizer and advocate with experience in community building, organizational development, public speaking and relations, network building, training and facilitation, fundraising, and event production. A warrior, survivor, the voice in the room reminding everyone to be bi-affirming and inclusive, a hugaholic, a poet who loves to sing, Apphia refuses to tiptoe around biphobia and bi-erasure.
This post originally appeared in Bi Women Quarterly in Summer 2017 and is reprinted with permission. Read current and back issues and sign up for a free electronic subscriptions to Bi Women Quarterly at www.biwomenboston.org.