A Healing Ritual and The Power of "Girl Talk"
When I entered fourth grade, the women in my family decided that I was old enough to be included in closed-door conversations during the gatherings of our extended family. My mother, grandmother, aunts, and cousins would sit around or cuddle on a bed while we talked about family drama, clothes, news, or celebrity gossip. As someone who hasn’t yet had a political awakening and also the least amount of life experience at the time, I only listened in on these sessions. The men and boys in the family would usually be outside, waiting impatiently for us to be done gossiping. More than a decade later, I finally realized how incredibly political and valuable these gatherings are by nature.
I met my current core group of friends when, as a journalist, I was reporting a student movement erupting in Seattle University, miles from my alma mater University of Washington. I was a fourth-year student one month away from graduating with my Bachelor’s degree. The student protestors were occupying the office of their school’s humanities department. Some of them slept there for nights, many went in and out but collectively they were there for 23 days, protesting the racist curriculum of the department and its dean.
After the end of my reporting and thousands of photographs later, I began forming very deep friendships with a lot of these students. Many of them are now third year students, and this fall I attended my first Healing Ritual that they organized. I had been invited before, but work had always gotten in the way.
You can probably tell from the name, what a Healing Ritual is. It’s a gathering of people who share their troubles, anxieties, and joy while we sip on beverages and munch on all kinds of snacks. The Healing Ritual is a political act of taking our experiences that exists in the contexts of racism, sexism, colonialism, and homophobia and using tools like listening, crying, and storytelling as ways to heal ourselves. It’s like a very socially-conscious curhat.
The first Healing Ritual night that I attended was intense. I was happy to be around exclusively people of color, women and non-binary people (people who identify as neither woman nor man despite what they were assigned at birth according to their genitals). But that night I was feeling a lot of pain. I had come from a dear friend’s art show where I saw my ex-boyfriend with his new girlfriend. It sounded very trivial, to see someone you used to love in public. In the small dating circle for 20-something-year-olds, this happens very often, at least for me. But this particular ex-boyfriend is the one who sexually assaulted me over six months ago.
A complex set of emotions washed over me. I arrived at the Healing Ritual, greeted immediately by the faces of those I love, and had burst violently into tears that didn’t really stop flowing until I went to bed that night.
We sat in a circle, and introduced ourselves since not everybody knew one another. We said our preferred pronouns (not everybody who we think look like women based on our idea of what women should look like actually identifies as a woman, so referring to them as she/her is incorrect and therefore oppressive. They might use the pronouns he/him, they/them or others instead). And next, we talked about what we're going through, if we’re willing to share. Nothing that’s said in the ritual will be repeated without the consent of the person sharing their story.
When my turn came, I had been crying so continuously that it was hard to breathe and speak. But they waited. Patiently. And all had listened intently as I talked about the deep trauma I had been suppressing for months.
Right after the assault happened, the therapist I was seeing for free at my alma mater left the university to open her private practice in the city over, separated from Seattle by Lake Washington, the second-largest natural lake in the state of Washington. I had no money to continue seeing her, but two professors offered to pay for my counseling with her. I called her new office while they sat next to me. She did not pick up, and never returned my voice mail. I, feeling terribly abandoned and betrayed, refused to see another therapist. So I just didn’t address this trauma appropriately. Graduation came and went, then work took over. I never sat down and really thought, “What did this experience do to me and how can I heal?”
It is powerful to be vulnerable. It is encouraging to be say whatever shitty thing you’re feeling and know that the people in the room care about you and are helping you carry the weight of what life and these man-made oppressive systems threw at us. No wonder my mother and aunts loved their gatherings so much. It’s solidarity. It’s not mere gossiping—or heck, maybe it is, and it’s fine! It’s healing and safe.
I always cry at the Healing Ritual. I never mean to, but it happens anyways. I wonder if that’s my body detoxing all the bottled up pain from six months ago, and months and years before that. There aren’t always answers at the Healing Ritual. Often, we don’t look for one. What we seek is love, and there it’s plenty.