It was 2013. I was couchsurfing SF and you were one of the many hosts Steve had connected me with to welcome me into your home. I didn’t know much about you then. Clean apartment, baller startup job, cute, and intimidatingly intelligent and self-aware.
Flash forward to February 2016. I found out through Facebook that Zoraida and you are moving from SF to NY. I find out that you quit startup/tech life and are now on this self-exploration/healing/artist journey, writing poetry, following feelings, and making new friends along the way. I had a deep yearning to reconnect. I knew deep down I wanted to learn the why and the how. I let my intention be known. Shout-out to Caryn for providing her home for all 3 of us to hold space, to live, and to bond.
There was one moment that I’ll never forget. You mentioned to me that your mission is to empower women to feel free. At that time, I felt what you had said was a very ambiguous statement. It was a shitty feeling when I discovered later that night how deep my insecurities of not feeling equal was. And then there was the "oh shit, was she talking about me?"
You may not have known this, but your words “I will try my hardest to never sell my soul for easy money or an easier way to exist” gave my subconscious the strength to break free from the chains that I, myself, had intricately woven into my soul. Being oppressed in China and stuck under the identity crisis of “boss’s daughter” was like being in a dark bag and not knowing what’s what. You poked a hole in that dark bag and I suddenly saw light.
Meeting you and seeing you progress in your journey gave me hope.
We had a breakthrough moment in our friendship when we found out that we were both Asian-American, Capricorn-Dragons, ENFP-Enneagram 7w6’s. By default, we had to be cut from the same cloth right? Conversation grew deeper and we felt safe to admit things to each other without fear of judgment; painful hard truths, fears, impulsive-escapist notions and defense mechanisms towards life, love, and the messiness in between. Our depth of understanding allowed for fears, insecurities, dreams and aspirations to surface without shame.
Flash forward to July 2016 - the month where I broke free from my chains and resigned from my family business. I have been reborn and I’m on a fast track towards healing mind-body-soul.
Flash forward to early August 2016. You are traveling solo around Latin America, letting your truth guide you, saying yes to heart-opening opportunities especially when it’s uncomfortable - and I am doing the same in San Fran. We are skyping once a week to catch up about our traveling, passion projects, sex lives, and the people we’ve met on our journey. This is when I begin to feel that I am your equal. And that you truly are my soul sister.
Present day. We are both back in NYC. We are rejoicing at the change we both currently see, the new stride in our step. Our minds and bodies feel infinite as we have removed ourselves from the “matrix” and have given ourselves permission to dissect of our value systems.
You boldly agree to do a Q&A interview with me, knowing that it will bring up or trigger moments of your past. You bravely tell me, “I give you permission to take pictures of me crying” knowing very well that your vulnerability is your truth, that this is one of the many gifts that you have to offer the world. We both pause to acknowledge that it is okay to feel what you are feeling and proceed to roll around giggling on the grass before we begin.
I listen and you speak. I hit record. You are about to share your beautiful story and soul.
Here it is. Thank you for your words, your thoughts, and your values as your voice radiates through the dark and light of your soul and intertwine with mine through and through. I hope this brings #ALLofthefeelings up for everyone else as well.
August 19th @ Blend on the Water, Queens NY
T: What is your mission?
I: At my core, I want to be free. But even below that, below being free, I just want to know that I am safe. I want to create safe spaces (digital, physical, whatever), inclusive containers for everyone to feel free enough to express themselves and also to love and live freely, whatever that looks like for them. I just want to live in a world that is safe for everyone. Because everyone deserves that.
My whole life has just been freeing myself enough to figure out…how to do that. And to educate myself further. I don’t think I know everything. I don’t think I know how to do this completely but through learning more about myself, my cultural background, the cultural background of others, the systems we operate within, and the way that people identify and live in this world, I’ve figured out very small ways to coexist compassionately with other humans -- and I’m still learning. I’m still unlocking, accepting, and transforming so many dark parts of my heart in order to fulfill my mission.
T: So your mission is to create a safe space for everyone to love and live freely. What is your platform to do this? What is the medium in which you seek to create impact?
I: Oh man, this has changed so many times as I’ve changed through the years - I feel like the medium is constantly in flux as I grow and learn more about myself, others, and the world. I’ve been a lone wolf my entire life (at least in my own mind). I sought independence from groups and anything that felt like a tiny box - which was almost everything to me. In some ways, I mistrust groups greatly because I am afraid of losing my Self in them. But the more I allow myself to engage with the world (by moving around, traveling, exploring, actively seeking safe spaces and people, re-defining what safe really means to me), I’ve discovered that I really care about collaboration and community and that I actually love working with the right people. And while I love taking myself out on dates, I don’t always have to isolate myself and do everything alone. After this realization - and you know, the realizations sometimes have to hit us in the head several times for us to accept it as truth - I decided to commit to finding community outside of myself and I sometimes had to push myself way outside of my comfort to do so. Just by committing to that, as if it was some sort of affirmation to the universe, I met Poppy through Zoraida a week later. They (and a creative crew of badass ladies) are working on a short film called Names of Women, which is a poetic first person account of Poppy’s abortion story. Just from spending a week with the two of them, getting acquainted with the rest of the community and mission, I’ve fully committed to working on this. It was that yummy heart level “YAAS.”
And the interesting thing is that it wasn’t about being invited to help. It was actually a huge point of growth for me to accept that I wanted to be a part of something like this and to give myself permission to soften into the value-alignment that I felt. To really get in touch with my needs, desires, and purpose. Instead of out-casting myself, I asked to join this film crew, this sisterhood, this healing circle. And it was just beautiful what happened after that. And now, I, the indecisive commitment-phobe, am fully committed.
T: So let's get into this? What are the values you have and how have they led to the point where you are now?
Passion. It’s a huge part of who I am! It’s why I have this deep desire to do the work that I do. If I’m not passionate about something, my whole body and life rejects that thing. And I’ve rejected things in ways that I’m not proud of. And I feel like the best thing I could do for everyone is to be honest with what I really want. That also comes with getting in touch with what my actual needs are and accepting that about myself.
I used to feel so much shame for having needs because I was ashamed of being seen as a needy person. But I realize that acting on my fear of having needs is actually the thing that makes me feel the most needy. It causes me to shy away from asking in truth, and instead passively do things that can feel really cruel… it’s cruel to not be in touch with one’s passion and needs. It’s cruel to be dishonest with ourselves. Or, more truthfully, it is cruel to create a world in which people do not feel safe enough to explore their needs. A world in which needs are not known, and therefore cannot be met.
Oooooof. That’s something that is very vulnerable for me to share. I have always felt very guilty to need anything from anyone. I’ve always felt guilty for following things that I’m passionate about. The things I’m passionate about deviate from the norm. I’m not interested in having a 9-5 job or surrendering to systems that are unkind towards people, or betraying myself to make someone else feel comfortable. So passion is what leads me to continue seeking out the helpers. I’m looking for the helpers of humanity so I can support or join forces with them…which is what led me to you and Names of Women, and poetry, and everything.
It just makes me think about all the mistakes that I’ve made along the way. And you know, the privilege to go for what I believe in is not lost on me. I feel grateful, but I want to help create a safer world in a real way.
Like, I’m very passionate about..wow, it’s already starting to get deep now..Okay! I can’t escape this..(nervous laughter)
Part of what I’m really passionate about is sexual liberation.
I care a lot about sexual liberation and that is something I have felt strongly about ever since I was first sexually active. I know that a lot of that has to do with the fact that I felt like control was taken from me at a very young age. Being sexually abused was one of my very first memories, but I’m sure it was happening at a time that my memories can no longer reach. Before I was 3. Before my memories could form and up until I was 14. This was by the same person, someone in my family. I choose not to disclose who this person is publicly, not to protect them, but because healing from family abuse is more complicated than just outting your abusers, there are other people whom I love who would be affected. It is not that I feel obligated to them, it is that it would hurt me more to hurt them. It would not heal me.
For a very long time, the way I dealt with it was I just didn’t talk about it. I would say to myself, ”I’m not going to let this control my life, I’m not going to let this break me”
But when I tried to suppress it, I felt like I was not showing up for people. I felt like I was not showing up as my whole self, because I couldn’t share this part of my life with anyone. It wasn’t that this needed to be the topic of conversation every time I met someone, or that this needs to define who I am, but it is a part of me and regardless of whether it is comfortable for me or anyone, how I dealt with it does inform some of who I am and how I operate in the world. And if I were to get close to anyone, I’d want to be safe enough to share this with them. So I started trying. And when I did, the way people responded made me feel so dehumanized and it was clear that they were so uncomfortable that they couldn’t see me.
For example, I told my best friend from early childhood I was molested for most of my life and that it was still happening. She just treated me like a victim. I felt like power and control was taken from me by merely sharing my truth, because people felt sorry for me… and that wasn’t what I wanted.
In my more recent adult life, there were certain partners that also didn’t get it. It was frustrating because the way they coped with it was by idealizing, which was also dehumanizing.
The opposite reaction of victimhood is heroism, like, “wow, you’re such an amazing person because you were molested and now you seem so okay” makes me feel like shit too. Like, what does "seeming okay" actually mean? That they are surprised that someone who has been violated and abused could be so whole? Are they not perpetuating the negative ideas that I already have about myself? Creating more tiny boxes to fill me in? Because that’s not getting to the core of the problem. It still further dehumanizes me, it makes me feel like an object. It feels like they are taking ownership of my pain and giving me a diploma for having graduated from the suffering I never enrolled in. And I know that people have been attracted to me as well because of this part of me. And that is just many levels of disgusting that I am still dissecting to this day.
I just want to feel like a human.
I care so much about sexual liberation because having gone through the darker side of sex through non-consensual sexual trauma - sexual abuse - I also know the beauty and pleasure that comes with feeling sexually liberated. That liberation means feeling safe. And creating safety for those who have been made to feel unsafe in any way should be a priority.
There’s also so much guilt wrapped up in childhood sexual abuse that it get’s really confusing. For me, having had it happened before I could form my own opinions about the world, I felt like I asked for this. Even though I have spent a lot of time educating myself and practicing feminist values, there is still this emotional component that is hard to break out of – this PTSD. I sometimes still feel so guilty because when something bad happens my unfiltered/unedited reaction is something like:
“Am I asking men to exploit me in this way?”
“Am I asking for unsafe environments?”
“Is it my fault that ---”
and, most of the time, I can recognize intellectually that it’s not my fault, but it sometimes takes me awhile to unblock my heart and trust that I feel this emotionally.
I just want to feel safe to live and love.
T: It seems like your passion is definitely driving your cause and your intention. What else is behind Irene besides that? Despite how strong your own story is, what else beyond your past is fueling your future?
I: That is such a good question because I can sometimes get so wrapped up in my past. What fuels me is people. People. And love. Which is one of my core values. It’s my love for people, the world, and myself that drives so much of my life.
It is because I have seen such darkness that I can recognize what being loved feels like. I want to live in a world where everyone can feel it. I want to be able to love everyone - this doesn’t mean giving them everything I have, it means unlocking parts inside of myself that keep me from being touched by people emotionally. I used to seek out the darkest people possible because I felt like it was easier to hide inside darkness than it was to find the love that I never felt at home. I wanted to give up on love because I felt guilty about having it so I indulged in this dark time where I betrayed myself. Fell into some of the deepest pits of my soul and refused people who wanted to love me. I eventually gave up on suffering and decided to heal so I could give myself love instead. And it’s so beautiful to now, after walking this path of loving myself and others, to meet people like you, who love with no bounds. I don’t mean no boundaries, by the way. Knowing that love is an infinite resource and accepting that our time and energy are finite are completely separate things that I’m still learning how to work with myself.
And I think finding people like you is what fuels me to keep going.
(Irene is tearing)
T: So there is Passion and love behind your intention.
I: This is so good Tiff, I love this. (sniffing)
(Irene is tearing and I begin to take pics. Which makes her start to laugh)
T: This is the drive that keeps you going and keeps you breathing. Because of how strong of a woman you are and the fact that you are willing to share your story with us speaks so much of your character. Can you give us another value?
I: Serenity. Being at peace with everything that has happened in my life, all of it, the good, the bad, everything in between. Serenity s also tied in my need for safety, because I can never fully exhale and be at peace until I feel safe enough to release.
T: How do you strive to find serenity in your life?
I: By accepting myself completely, wholeheartedly, no matter what and sitting with my feelings as they arise instead of intellectualizing them.
T: YES ! Wow, that’s definitely something we all need to hear. (Poetry slam SNAP SNAP to that). It’s interesting that the values you’ve chosen for yourself, passion and love being your driving forces, and serenity is something you seek. I’m curious to ask what your 4th is.
T: What does forgiveness mean?
I: A strange, confusing mixture of love, acceptance, surrender, and compassion.
T: Can I ask you, have you fully forgiven yourself yet?
I: No. And I accept that. I accept where I am completely. I couldn’t be more proud of who I’ve become.
T: Forgiveness, for me, anyway is often associated with self-love. Do you agree?
I: Yes, I 100% agree. And my immediate thought was, I feel like love of self, love of other, and love of life in general is all the same. And we all have an infinite capacity for that. It’s just about unlocking the closed doors and the dark rooms inside of us, to allow for true forgiveness.
T: I think it’s powerful that you acknowledge that you have dark rooms and that you’re open to looking deep within at your fears and insecurities. What are some ways that you are now taking control and power over those fears and the darkness that you have?
I: Allowing myself to feel the fear when it comes up and like…
It makes me think of a worksheet I did with Zoraida where we examined our fears. And the prompt was "List your fears. What is the fear trying to protect?"
Because fear is about protection. And for me, that was very impactful because it allowed me to examine, why I have this disconnect between safety and home. I’m ALWAYs leaving. I’m always either traveling or escaping something. Or some combination between the two. I always question why it is that I don’t want to stay. Is it that I am truly nomadic, or maybe, in my healthier states it’s nomadic healing?
I feel that because I was molested in my own home all those times, and left without a safe parent around so often, I equated home with being unsafe. So I never wanted to come home, or have one, so I have never (until now) known what it feels like to truly feel at home. Because home is a safe container for your being to relax and release. Home is where you arrive. But home has always been the place that I have left.
Upon examining that, I feel that my core need is to feel safe at home. Because I actually love being at home. And just being able to admit that to myself was HUGE for me, because now, I feel like I am free to travel for the true reason that I like traveling. It’s to explore. To explore myself, to explore the world and to be in community with people.
T: I love that your response which started off as talking about your fears had actually led you to this powerful realization. I think self reflection and introspection gives us the power to do that, so thank you for sharing your insight. So what is the last value for you?
I: Oh, this perfectly ties in. It’s Freedom.
Passion, Love, Serenity, and Forgiveness frees me to be who I truly am. I am all of those things and I just want to be free to stand in my truth. And to free others. Whatever little thing I can do to help the world along. I want to keep doing that. This is what freedom feels like to me. To be and to help.
T: And I see that you’re now doing that by working on this project, Names of Women, Can you tell us more about the project and how you are currently feeling and also healing from it?
I: Omgosh, hearing Poppy tell her story and why she decided to make a project out of her abortion unlocked things within me that I never thought I would ever address in my life. Because it is now 2016 and not long ago on June 6, 2016 that I, by myself… felt this urge within me to heal something. I realized after a bit of rolling around on the floor crying and journaling that 6/6/06, a date ten years prior was the date of my first abortion.
I was 17 years old. And I never thought I would tell that story. I thought I was just going to keep that inside of me for the rest of my life, and that it was unemotional, just a thing I had to do. But on that day of the 10 year anniversary (and I say anniversary, not to celebrate that something inside of me was aborted, it’s rather that I am proud of myself for choosing motherhood, meaning, I knew I was not in a position to raise a child and it would have been cruel of me to bring a child into a world where I could not keep them safe, or fed for that matter), there was something inside of me that needed to come out and heal. So I released it in writing.
By writing these feelings out, I healed my mother-wound, I realized that I desire motherhood, not necessarily to birth a child, but I love birthing projects and movements. Healing that part of myself changed my life. Because it led me to this. And working on this project reminds me of the stigma of talking about abortions because I experienced it myself, especially within my community, especially as an Asian American woman.
Like there was no choice right? Not like I wanted to have a child, but the first thing that popped in my mind was “my family is gonna kill me. My life will be over. This can’t happen. I can’t do this to them. I have to research how to deal with this another way.”
And the thing is, the actual experience was beautiful. I had never before felt so taken care of in a healthcare facility and I thank you so much Planned Parenthood Federal Way for taking care of me that day. I am grateful.
T: Aside from your passion project, where are you with yourself and how you choose to love others?
I: This question makes me uncomfortable because I know that there is still this deep judgment of myself which unsurprisingly comes out as judgment of others in an unloving way. I’m in this place, where I am actively learning more and more every minute of the day, how to accept parts of me that I feel ashamed of, in turn and sometimes not in this order, I learn how to do the same for others. It’s like a self sustaining organic ecosystem of love.
So to actually answer your question, I think I’m in this place of accepting where I’m at and just being proud of who I have become. As someone who has been so afraid to commit to anything, or anyone because I don’t want to betray myself… I am so proud to look back on my life and realize that the thing, or person I committed to the longest was myself. The acceptance of all of me, my life, my love, the messy parts, everything. That is the biggest commitment I have ever made and I will never compromise myself for anything or anyone.
That is how I set my boundaries.
T: I think we are good. I think that's a wrap.
It’s 2 AM as I’m transcribing this and the feelings are heavy for me as Irene’s story and her truth spills out tears of sadness, pain, and joy. It triggers and brings up past traumas of sexual and cultural identity that I am still currently dealing with.
We all have our own “stuff.” It’s so fucking nice for someone to admit it. That’s what projects like Names of Women is about. That’s what I’m about. I like it raw and heavy and unfiltered. We all have a voice and our stories should be heard and not dusted off as insignificant moments of shame.
The truth is we are open and emotional. We are women and we are proud. Maybe too open or “too overshare” for some people. But that’s okay. It’s what makes us bold and gives us strength. We don’t lie or suppress or repress. We have no hidden agenda. This is our story. This is our history.
We are women. We embrace pain and show up to tackle it.
There’s fear. Loads of it. But I stand with my soul sisters in solidarity. I know we have each other’s backs and that we can hold hands, hold space, cry, laugh, surrender, and listen.
I know deep down, we are connected by the same values.
Do you know yours?
LIVE YOUR PURPOSE
The Values Dissect is a practice where we pick apart and discuss 5 values that have gotten you to where you are today. How these interrelate to each other helps us better understand the driving forces of why we do the things we do and to what purpose.
I invite you to share your personal truth and bring to light past, present, and future in this telling tale of who you are and who you aspire to be. Sharing how your values align with your mission and expressing your intention in such an open and raw way has the ability to inspire others to do the same.
If you'd like to sign up for your own Values Dissect and show off your organization's values, please get in touch below!