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AMA: About (my) Bisexuality & Queerness

If you don’t really know me you may not know that I identify as queer. 

People are often surprised when I tell them I date women, too, because I can “pass” as being straight. I don’t have the stereotypical markers of queerness that some people look for in queer women: tattoos, short hair, rainbows and Xena (hey Haydee!), flannel shirt, etc. (trust me, I tried the faux-hawk thing and it didn’t work for me!). 

I identify as “femme” and I own and love it. My femme-ness doesn’t make me any less queer, radical, or feminist, because I am exercising agency to define what queerness and womanhood feel and look like for me. By the way, stereotypes that expect lesbian women to be butch, and gay men to be feminine further perpetuate heteronormativity and erase the necessary distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation. A topic for a longer blog post. 

As you can imagine, my ability to “pass” as straight and being seen as traditionally feminine give me access to certain privileges (cis- and hetero-). And it makes being queer a little tricky at times, too. I frequently find myself correcting people when they incorrectly assume my sexual orientation, explaining myself in queer spaces, and feeling defensive when my sexuality is challenged. Femme invisibility is real and I experience biphobia and internalized biphobia often. It’s been a journey learning the language and tools to empower myself to explore them. 

Coming out, for me and many others, is a constant act — every time I meet someone new, every time someone makes an assumption or questions my identity, I assess whether I want to come out. Do I feel safe? Do I trust this person enough? Do I want to engage in a longer dialogue? Is this going to require emotional labor and am I willing to perform it? Do I need this person to know all of me? Then, I run through my usual coming out repertoire, some variation of “actually, I’m queer” “I date women, too” “I’m not straight.” 

In honor of Bisexual Visibility Week, I figured I should share some of the frequently asked questions I get from folks and also my internal dialogues I tend to keep to myself. Over the past few weeks, I collected questions through my website, social media, and in-person channels. Here’s what I got: 

Q: What does being “bisexual” mean?

Like most identities, being “bisexual” or “bi” can mean different things to different people. The conventional definition of being “bisexual” is to be sexually attracted to both men and women. Some folks use “bisexual” as an umbrella term to describe being attracted to people beyond one gender. 

Q: Are you attracted to women or men more? Or is it 50/50?

On sunny days, women. On rainy days, men. Just kidding. It depends on the person I meet. Duh, people. Look at this handy chart below.

Q: What’s the difference between “bisexual” and “queer?”

“Queer” is often described as an umbrella term, but again, it means different things to different people. For me, it means being outside of the heterosexist norm — I also see it as a movement, a community, with a hint of radical flavor and a heavy dose of fearlessness. I sometimes like to identify as “bisexual,” not because I believe there are only two genders, but because I think bisexual invisibility / erasure is all too real. I like to claim the identity to increase visibility for folks who don’t fit into the L/G categories and to take up space. I find the term “bi” to be limiting in acknowledging gender as a much broader spectrum, so I prefer to identify as “queer.” 

Q: How about “pansexual?”

I identified as pansexual for a year or so in high school, but it never stuck with me. I see more and more folks identifying as pansexual, meaning you’re attracted all (“pan-”) people, irrespective of their sex / gender identity. I’ve also met folks who identify as fluid, heteroflexible/homoflexible, or choosing to not label themselves at all. 

Q: When did you know you were bi/queer?

I didn’t have the language to describe myself as queer until I was in high school. Growing up in South Korea, the concept of queerness wasn’t even on my radar, but in retrospect, a lot of my childhood experiences that made me feel “different” make sense. Like, as a child, I was obsessed with naked dolls (or are all girls like that? I don’t know) and I always got chills (the good kind) whenever my girl friends touched my hair. I had my first official crush on a girl when I was a freshman in high school. I was *head over heels* and oh so confused.

Q: What’s the biggest difference dating a man vs. a woman?

Again, this depends on the person I’m dating. But the biggest difference, for me, has been the ability to empathize with my lived experiences as a woman. I mean, it’s kind of an obvious statement, but it does make a difference when the person you are dating can deeply empathize with you. I have met some pretty cool dudes who have been able to listen to my needs and sympathize, but there’s definitely a difference in living an experience vs. observing them.

Another big difference is how I take up space in and outside of the queer community when I’m dating a man vs. woman. For example, when I’m in a relationship with a cis, heterosexual man, I think twice before entering spaces that are created to honor and celebrate queerness. Even if I identify as queer, being in a relationship that is perceived to be normative and heterosexual gives me privileges that I need to be aware of. On the flip side, when I’m with a woman, I tend to avoid spaces that make me and my partner feel less safe — think super bro-y sports bar, conservative neighborhoods, etc. Well, I guess I don’t go to those places anyway :P 

Q: Is being bisexual just a phase people go through until they decide to be gay or lesbian?

No. Although my dad still believes this. People thinking this is just a “phase” is deeply hurtful. It denies my desire that spans multiple gender identities, and makes me feel like I am not a whole person. It’s as if someone is telling me I’m still “figuring it out,” when actually, I have it figured out! Saying bisexuality is not a real identity or calling bisexuals “fence-sitters” is offensive and invalidates a big part of who I am and who I’ve always been. 

Q: Have you dated other bisexuals? What’s the prevalence of other bisexuals among those you’ve dated? 

I found this question to be so interesting. Yes, I have dated other bisexuals, but not because I sought them out. I never thought to look for other bisexuals, although this question makes a lot of sense if you think of it from the perspective of lesbian, gay, or even straight people. Huh, interesting.

Q: When do you bring it up when you are dating someone? 

Depends on the person. It’s usually something that comes up or I bring up on the first 1–2 dates. I’ve ended dates after learning the other person is not comfortable with me being bi/queer. I’ve also ended dates after hearing biphobic remarks (“oh that’s hot” is amongst my favorites. NOT). 

Q: Are you straight now that you’re dating a man?

Nope. Whom I’m dating or sleeping with currently doesn’t dictate how I identify. Does a straight person become asexual when they don’t have a partner? No. My queerness doesn’t just disappear when I’m dating a man and I bring my queerness to all of my relationships, regardless of my partner’s gender identity. Also, just because I’m dating a man, that doesn’t make our relationship “heterosexual” — I’m still a queer person, and there are ways to “queer” relationships that may seem normative on the surface. There are privileges and access points I get when I’m in a visibly “heterosexual” relationship. However, those privileges don’t make me straight. I’m happily in a relationship with a cis, heterosexual man who makes me feel seen as a whole person, who acknowledges and honors all of my identities, including my queer identity.

Q: What are some examples of biphobia? 

  • Believing bisexuality isn’t a legitimate identity (e.g., “it’s a phase” “he’s actually gay” “you can’t be a fence-sitter. Choose!”) 
  • Assuming someone’s identity based on sexual or dating history, or current partner’s gender / sex
  • Calling bisexuals “allies” to the LGBT community
  • Assuming everyone is either gay or straight 
  • Believing bisexual people are confused or trying to “decide”
  • Erasing bisexual people from the broader LGBTQ movement and struggles
  • Thinking bisexual people are “half-oppressed” or have it “easier” than lesbian and gay people
  • Sexualizing bi women or thinking bi women are seeking attention from men
  • Telling bisexuals that we have “double the options” — no, we don’t
  • Not dating bisexual people because you think they’re going to leave for another gender; thinking bisexual people can’t be monogamous
  • Thinking bisexual people are attracted to everyone
  • Assuming all bisexual people want threesomes. GAH!

Check out this Invisible Majority report by the Movement Advancement Project detailing the disparities facing bisexual people (this glaad article summarizes it nicely).

Also, check out these amazing graphs summarizing my life.



Q: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Now this is a tough one. I’m into pistachio these days, but I also love a good, high quality vanilla. I’d like to identify as a lover of all ice creams. Jk, butter pecan is a shit flavor. 

Q: How do you think your life would be different if you weren’t bi? Do you ever think about that? 

I don’t have to think about it because the media shows me what it’s like. Every. Damn. Day. 

Q: What advice do you have for people going through self discovery?

Everyone’s journey is different and only they can define the right milestones for themselves. Seek out resources and perspectives of others, try to develop a supportive community of folks you trust, and reach out! Don’t feel pressured to come out at the expense of your own physical, psychological, and emotional safety. Take as long as you need to validate your feelings and to find language that feels right for you.

Q: What advice would you give to allies who’d like to support queer / bi-folks?

Do your homework — Google all the things. Ask questions respectfully, don’t make assumptions, and try not to put additional emotional burden on folks you’re trying to support for the sake of your education!

Intervene when you observe homophobia / biphobia. Speak up whether we’re in the room or not.

Got other questions? Ask in a comment below. Are you bisexual? Share your journey and perspectives!

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About Michelle Kim

Michelle is an entrepreneur, activist, speaker, and a coach passionate about empowering individuals and organizations to create positive change. She is the co-founder of Awaken and owner of Michelle Kim Consulting.

Follow Michelle’s continued journey to create change in this world:

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To engage or not to engage: how to resist alt-right white supremacist rallies
Antifa and alt-right clash in Charlottesville. Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Antifa and alt-right clash in Charlottesville. Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As the alt-right, white supremacist, neo-Nazis continue their roadshow throughout the country, there have been many discussions around how to best respond. While we all strive to dismantle white supremacy, there seems to be ongoing debate around tactics and strategies. 

I had the privilege of attending a planning meeting hosted by Mayor Ed Lee at City Hall yesterday afternoon, joined by other city government officials including the Chief of Police Bill Scott and San Francisco Human Rights Commission Director Sheryl Davis. The conference room was filled with community organizers and leaders: there were leaders from the faith community, nonprofit organizations, education institutions, protest / rally organizers, bringing a wide range of perspectives and voices to the table. 

In this post, I intend to provide you with a comparative summary of those perspectives, as well as my own commentary and recommendations. 

First, some basic background information to catch you up: 

  • The rally is being hosted by an alt-right group called Patriot Prayer
  • Patriot Prayer is known for inciting violence at their previous events, which many recognize as an effective PR and recruitment tactic for the alt-right, neo-Nazi movement 
  • Patriot Prayer seeks to obtain a federal permit on federal land, which supersedes the state or city jurisdiction 
  • On federal land, you are legally allowed to carry concealed weapons, which poses a greater threat of violence 

Now onto the perspectives. 

Perspective #1: Do not engage, protest peacefully elsewhere (SF City’s official stance). 

Mayor Lee, Police Chief Scott, and HRC Director Davis made their collective stance clear in their opening statements: do not engage with the alt-right, do not dignify them with your presence. Instead, attend peaceful counter rallies the day before (Fri, 8/25) and the day of (Sat, 8/26). The city’s #1 priority is public safety, and they are increasing security measures all over town. 

This approach makes sense if you think about the goal of the city government: minimize risk, ensure public safety, reduce costs. 

This seems to be the most popular perspective among liberal intellectuals and progressive elites, who believe counter-protesting at the alt-right rally is giving the neo-Nazis exactly what they want: confrontation. The alt-right is seeking attention through sensationalized media coverage while framing the left as “anti-free-speech snowflakes.” So why give them what they want? Let’s just ignore them and make them feel insignificant. 

My take: I like this option because it reduces the chance of possible casualties on our side (yes, we’re taking sides, people) — it would be naive to say there will be no violence given what we’ve seen in Charlottesville and Berkeley, and I’d just hate to see folks get hurt. I also like the idea of a bunch of neo-Nazis showing up all pumped with their tucked away weapons, only to find our beloved Karl the Fog and a bunch of dog shit at the park. My concern about this approach is this: this works only if enough people choose to not show up at Crissy Field. If there’s critical mass of folks that do decide to show up, the threat of violence still exists. 

Perspective #2: Engage. Confront hate face-to-face. F*ck the Nazis. 

This perspective was held by Rev. Townsend (VP of San Francisco NAACP) among other leaders, who noted that throughout history, what forced change to happen was the courage shown by brave front-line fighters who stood up to oppressors face-to-face. He cited MLK Jr. and Birmingham, and noted there are young people who are ready to fight, who will be at the direct counter-protest, whether others join or not. He also reminded us that as much as this is a recruitment strategy for the alt-right, it can serve the same purpose for the left — we can inspire other passionate folks to join the movement against white supremacy. HRC Director Sheryl Davis chimed in, stating while she agrees with Rev. Townsend’s overall sentiment, she also wants to acknowledge the risk of police arrests for our young people of color participating in violent protests. “We have to be real,” said Davis, calling attention to the fact that we may be exposing our young people of color, knowing they are likely to be profiled and arrested at a higher rate.

Others community leaders validated they know people who will be at the counter-protest. Which begs the question, are we leaving our bravest folks high and dry? 

My take: I am conflicted. Do I think this is the only way we can win? No. However, history tells us we got to where we are today because we had both MLK and Malcom X. Rosa Parks and Black Panthers. People who are going to Crissy Field, apparently a lot of young people, are literally risking their lives to confront white supremacists. Even if we disagree with this tactic, is it time for us to have their back? Like, is this one of those “ugh, FINE, I’ll go with you and have your back, but we’re going to talk about this after” moment? And no, I don’t think people who are going to Crissy Field are less strategic minded — I think these folks are fierce AF. I think they believe this is what solidarity looks like, and this is how history gets written. I don’t think they’re “dumb for giving them what they want.” I think they believe in their heart that alt-right extremists cannot be defeated with intellectual debates, political correctness, or campaign strategies. And I’m starting to think, in weird ass times like today, where you see decades old, toxic, oppressive violence being normalized as “extreme, but still a legitimate point of view,” perhaps just the right prescription to wake people up is a big ol’ slap in the face. Sometimes, you’ve got to fight hate with the equivalent amount of passion, uproar, and fearlessness. 

As much as I’d love to see thousands of people gathered in Civic Center holding a peaceful protest, I’d love it even MORE if we could turn up 40,000 people at Crissy Field to drown out the alt-right’s noise, and immobilize them by our sheer volume. Now that would be epic. 

Perspective #3: Pretend everything is fine and talk about music and dancing.

Uh, yes, this was a real comment. Two hippie white women got up and said we should not talk about politics and just laugh. They’re organizing a peace event where there will be bands and speakers, who have been instructed explicitly to not be political. Just focus on good music, food, and dancing. 

My take: Somebody please hand them a Pepsi. Pepsi, please come collect your people. No, you cannot have a rally against white supremacists and not get political. This is simply insulting and offensive to the actual pain and material harm caused by the alt-right, that is being felt by communities of color and the Jewish community. Folks, please remember that you can center your protest around peace and joy and be politically conscious. 

Perspective #4: All tactics are necessary. Make room for everyone. 

Feng Kung, the lead organizer of Jobs with Justice SF and the co-founder of Bay Resistance, made a moving remark, explaining why they are choosing to go to Crissy Field. Kung is going to Crissy field not because they want to be violent (“No, I have a little boy that I want to come home to”), but because they believe in standing up to confront the oppressors face-to-face. And Kung asked that folks get engaged, in whatever form they choose, but to “please leave room for us.” 

My take: This resonated with me a lot. No matter where we stand on the political spectrum of the left, or what our preferred tactic is, we have to remember, we’re all fighting against the same enemy right now. We have to make room for everyone, and have each other’s back. Yes, yes, and yes. 

There were many more comments I didn’t get to capture here — most other comments were plugs for other events, and didn’t add much more to the perspective discussion, IMHO.

The most important takeaway is this: you have options. It’s up to you to reflect on what your engagement will look like and to ACT.

Dr. Amos Brown giving his remark about the danger of indifference

Dr. Amos Brown giving his remark about the danger of indifference

Dr. Amos Brown, a civil rights activist who worked alongside MLK Jr and the President of SF NAACP, reminded us in the beginning of the meeting that the greatest threat we have to battle during times like this is indifference. Hearing directly from someone who lived and fought through the oppression that resembles the hatred we see today was truly humbling and sobering. 

My final thoughts and calls for action: 

  1. Support all people who are participating in anti-white supremacy events
  2. Stop creating new events — there are a lot of options already. Build coalition, join forces, support one another, consolidate so we can achieve more with fewer resources
  3. Show appreciation for folks going to Crissy Field and risking their physical safety to fight for justice, instead of criticizing their tactic 
  4. If you’re going to Crissy Field, please be prepared. Attend riot preparation workshops, read protest safety guides, watch online training videos, purchase appropriate gears and first aid kits. This is not a joke, and this is not a drill
  5. Wherever you are, be cautious and thoughtful about how you engage with the law enforcement. If you’re white or East Asian, be the buffer for black and brown folks, who are more likely to be profiled or targeted by the police — do not let our people, especially our brave young people, getting arrested!
  6. The fight doesn’t start or end this weekend. We need more education, teach-ins, strategizing to happen before and after, and ongoing, to build capacity to organize en mass, in unity; thank you Director Davis for this reminder from our youth
  7. We have to envision an alternative future and ground our movement in that vision — rather than centering our movement solely on opposing their vision

Last week, I posted a list of counter-protest events I found. I’ve since updated the list multiple times to reflect new events that have popped up. Check it out

So what am I going to do? 

I’m either going to be at Crissy Field or I’ll be supporting my fellow organizer friends at Harvey Milk Plaza, then marching over together to Civic Center to join the rally. Either way, I’ll be rocking my hottest protest outfit and my red lips (call me “fearless and fabulous”),

Want to join me? Subscribe to my mailing list here — I’ll be sending out an update prior to Saturday. 

Let’s show up, San Francisco.

It’s our turn to strike. 

Self-care in times of distress: Create your own “self-care toolbox” (here’s a list of 51 self-care options)

There’s so much talk about self-care these days. It seems like we’re constantly reacting to something terrible happening in the country and across the globe. We are inundated with tragic or disturbing news every day and the intensity seems to be on a steady climb. On top of that, we hold in so much stress and anxiety from our own life experiences.

There is no doubt we need self-care.

So what is (and is not) self-care? Well, well, for all answers about life, we obviously should turn to Audre Lorde:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 
― Audre Lorde

Here’s what I believe self-care is:

  • It’s about refueling ourselves so we can continue our work
  • It’s about drawing boundaries so we can stay whole
  • It’s about pausing to take a breath so we don’t collapse
  • It’s about acknowledging that we’re running a marathon, not a sprint
  • It’s about being vulnerable and honest with ourselves so we can allow others to be vulnerable
  • It’s about knowing ourselves intimately
  • It’s about honoring our struggles and celebrating our being
  • It’s about choosing to value ourselves when it feels like no one else is
  • It’s about creating space for ourselves so we can create space for others
  • It’s about loving ourselves so we can continue to love others
  • It’s about healing ourselves so we can heal others
  • It’s about giving ourselves permission to feel and pursue joy
  • It’s about knowing we are enough. Always

Here’s what I think self-care is NOT:

  • It’s not checking out completely ← important!
  • It’s not pursuing “guilty pleasures” for the sake of indulging
  • It’s not selfish
  • It’s not a one-time thing or a prescription for burnout
  • It’s not an excuse to become apathetic to others’ suffering
  • It’s not the same for everyone

Self-care should be an ongoing practice. For folks doing social justice work, it’s especially important to know when and how to care for ourselves, so we can continue the work.

It’s important to acknowledge that self-care is closely tied to power and privilege — marginalized people have different self-care needs than privileged people. People of color and women of color, queer and trans people, folks with disability go through life experiencing a much higher level of stress and anxiety than their white, hetero, cis, able-bodied counterparts. Marginalized people also do a lot more emotional labor. So excuse me when I give a little side eye to straight cis white men saying they “don’t read the news because it’s too depressing.” But I digress.

So how can we practice self-care?

  1. Know when you need self-care
    “How do you know when you need self-care?” Sometimes when we realize we need self-care, it’s when we’re already exhausted and beat up. Knowing when you need to turn inward and prioritize yourself is key to actually practicing self-care. This was a great piece of advice from Rich Russo, founder of The Elephant in the Room.
  2. Make a list of your self-care options
    It’s your “self-care toolbox.” Or a box of “self care chocolates.” Ok, it’s just a list of all the things you can do to care for yourself. Having a list of options readily available is hugely helpful because when you really need self-care, you may not have the capacity to think about what you need. I have a list of 51 things I can do when I’m feeling down or nearing burnout, which I’ve shared below so you can get some ideas.
  3. Commit to practicing self-care
    Having a list is useless if you don’t actually do them. Once you’ve decided on a few options, commit to doing them. I like to schedule things on my calendar so I remember to practice them, or tell a friend so they can hold me accountable for actually following through. Text your bestie “I’m going to go for a walk tomorrow morning. Make sure I do it!!”

Need inspiration for your self-care toolbox? Here’s my list of 51 self-care options. I first created this list back in March and have been adding to it.

My “Self-Care Toolbox”: 51 things I can do when I need self-care

  1. Hot shower in the dark with candles lit
  2. Candle-lit yoga at Yoga to the People
  3. Cook a healthy meal
  4. Box
  5. Outdoors run
  6. Walk
  7. Sit at Dolores Park on my favorite bench
  8. Embarcadero happy place
  9. Call friends / family (list out the names)
  10. Hold / play with a baby
  11. Get an ice cream cone and walk around
  12. Cry
  13. Journal
  14. Write a blog post
  15. Breathe
  16. Email Larry
  17. Remember grandparents
  18. Go hiking
  19. Go to Ocean beach
  20. Hug someone for a while
  21. Clean
  22. Meditate
  23. Listen to Ericka Huggins and remember her wisdom
  24. Drink tea
  25. Go to Berkeley
  26. Go to Barry’s
  27. Go out and dance
  28. Go to Kabuki
  29. Hike the Big C
  30. Go see mom
  31. Thank someone
  32. Read mom’s maternity journal
  33. Open up memory box and read some cards
  34. Go to the movie theater
  35. Eat Korean food
  36. Make to-do lists
  37. Read my diary from the past
  38. Remember Ashok
  39. Read my list of gratitudes
  40. Message Steph Lee
  41. Plan a potluck
  42. Listen to music
  43. Go to Stinson beach
  44. Drive somewhere, anywhere
  45. Get away for the weekend
  46. Book a trip to San Diego
  47. Plan a vacation
  48. Watch the video of mom talking about Worry Dolls
  49. Browse old travel photos / videos
  50. Wander the city
  51. Date night with bae
List of my self care options written in my Evernote

List of my self care options written in my Evernote

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About Michelle Kim

Michelle is an entrepreneur, activist, speaker, and a coach passionate about empowering individuals and organizations to create positive change. She is the co-founder of Awaken and owner of Michelle Kim Consulting.

Subscribe | Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Medium Awaken

Why asking people to be "respectful" when addressing harm is problematic

This is going to be a controversial one. 

If you haven’t watched Brené Brown’s Facebook Live discussion on #Charlottesville, please do.

I loved a lot of what she said in the video. Naming privilege, white supremacy, power, and accountability — I think it’s what most of America, most of white America, needed to hear, and I appreciated her firmness. 

There was a few minutes of heartburn for me, though. 

She talked about shaming as an inefficient way to impact people, and that we should approach people who cause harm with more respect and civility so we can actually engage them. I think the discussion needs to be a lot more nuanced than that. 

I agree shaming is not always (and may never be) the most “efficient” way to create change. I know, because I’ve been on both sides of the coin. I’ve dragged and shamed people. I’ve been dragged and shamed. For innocent, unintentional mistakes. Mistakes nonetheless, harm nonetheless. 

At Awaken, we, too, advocate for having both compassion and criticality when trying to call folks in. To meet people where they are. To subscribe to the belief of incremental awakening rather than a rude one. 


We educate folks to take accountability for causing harm. This includes understanding the needs of the person harmed, even when the harm is communicated in a way that is tough to swallow. 

Brené Brown gave an example of when she was called out by one of her fans for unintentionally using the word “gypped” without knowing the anti-semitic nature of the word. She noted how ashamed she felt, and how the fan should have talked to her with more civility and love. She suggested a phrase like “I loved your work, you changed my life, and I’m sure you didn’t mean it but the word you used made me feel…”

Here’s where I disagree. 

When someone reacts to what you say or do with an intense emotion, before asking them to please be respectful, try to understand where that emotion is coming from. Because the moment you ask for civility from someone you just harmed (albeit unintentionally), you’re putting the burden of emotional labor on the person you just harmed. You are asking them to put their raw emotional reaction aside to communicate in a way that makes you, the person who caused harm, want to listen. You are asking to have your dignity intact, when you just stripped the other person’s. You are asking them to disregard their history of being treated without respect so you can listen better. Do you see the problem? 

Whose needs are you prioritizing -- the person causing harm and their need to be humanized or the person harmed and their need to be heard?

We can debate the “effectiveness” of such approach all we want, but we can’t deny the reality that we, as a nation, have been putting a lot of burden on marginalized people to do the emotional labor of helping people understand and listen. 

It’s like a paramedic telling a person in extreme pain “Please do not scream. You’re making me not want to treat you. Talk to me nicely and I will diagnose you.” NO. You ask them, “How bad is the pain? Where does it hurt?” 

I wish Brown, instead of asking people who are harmed to be more civil to create change, advised her audience (the same audience she urged to name privilege and white supremacy) to learn to work with shame. In our journey to social justice and equity, we will never stop making mistakes. And therefore, shame is unavoidable. Instead of shutting down when we feel ashamed, we should try to understand where the anger, frustration, agitation, exhaustion, and impatience of marginalized folks come from before writing them off. Actually, I was surprised by her not arriving at this conclusion after her spot-on narrative on privilege. 

I wish she urged folks to understand and sit with the anguish and pain marginalized people feel, and to practice listening before reacting. 

We need all sides to try (let me be *crystal clear* — I’m talking about uniting the left; I’m not talking about reaching the alt-right fascist / KKK / Nazis. Don’t confuse this with the whole “both sides” bullshit spewed by Trump).

Dragging and shaming as the sole tactic will never bridge the gap. I get that. 

Demanding “respectful and civil” engagement from exhausted marginalized people so it’s easier for privileged folks to partake in the movement — that’s also not going to work. 

We need all sides to try. 

So when you ask people to call you in respectfully, you also have to ask the folks causing harm to understand the anger. When it comes to bridging the distance between people harmed and people causing harm, both sides have to give a little — but I’m asking people who caused harm to do a little bit more emotional labor. 

Ok tell me…was I non-shaming enough in this post? 

About Michelle Kim

Michelle is an entrepreneur, activist, speaker, and a coach passionate about empowering individuals and organizations to create positive change. She is the co-founder of Awaken and owner of Michelle Kim Consulting.

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What it’s like to grow up without health insurance in America

I grew up low-income watching my dad be exploited as an undocumented worker.

Then he, my determined, gritty, and hardworking AF dad, finally got his green card and became a real estate agent.

For a while we had Medi-Cal (health insurance for low-income folks), but that didn’t last long. As soon as he barely crossed the threshold for being qualified for Medi-Cal, we were out of options. Premiums were too expensive and my dad’s preexisting condition limited access.

So I didn’t have health insurance all throughout high school.

Let me tell you what that was like.

We sought out doctors that primarily treated patients without health insurance, usually folks of color, usually undocumented folks.

Our go-to was a Vietnamese doctor who operated out of a small “office” in near the Mexican border in San Diego. It was about an hour away from where we lived. The first thing I always recall about the place is the stench. This pseudo clinic was located next to a run-down butcher shop and it always reeked of blood and spoiled meat as soon as we pulled into the parking lot. I would plug my nose every time and tell myself not to vomit.

There would always be a line. The line started forming at 4am — the doctor would get in around 9am, but since they only take walk-ins, patients were seen on a first-come-first-serve basis. My dad would wake me up around 4:30am, so we could get in line to be seen before he had to go to back to work. As soon as we arrived, we would write our name down on a piece of paper with multiple rows already filled out by other ill patients. The beauty about this place was that that’s about all the “paperwork” we ever needed to complete. They never asked for any documents — no insurance card, ID, credit card. Nothing.

Even our 5:30am arrival would have us waiting 3–4 hours before we could be seen by the doctor. We were usually the only Asians in line. Almost everyone there was Latnix and every staff spoke fluent Spanish. I was always self-conscious getting out of the car and having everyone stare at me, somehow feeling guilty that I was taking up an undeserved spot, taking up precious resources from more marginalized folks.

There were only a few indoor seats in the “reception” area of the clinic, which was composed of two small rooms, a hall way that could fit maximum 3 people, a small bathroom, and a magical cabinet filled with different drugs and syringes. So my dad and I would stand outside, wait for our turn, or sit in his car.

The visit always cost $20 flat, then another $20 if you received a shot. Cash only.

The doctor was always generous with his shots — I didn’t know what the hell he was injecting in me, but I always ended up getting a shot. Terrible flu, sprained ankle, ear infection… there always seemed to be a shot for every occasion. At first I resisted and asked too many questions the doctor didn’t care to answer. “What is this shot for? What is it? Should I really be getting a shot on my ankle?!” He was a sweet man, but he didn’t have time to coddle my sheltered ass. I also didn’t feel like I had the right to ask or receive full information. I had to either silence my suspicion and worries and take the damn meds, or suffer indefinitely without any other treatment options. So yes, I got a shot every time. After the shot followed a prescription, or sometimes he would just hand me a bottle of pills from the magic cabinet.

Truth be told, I never found out if it was indeed a legitimate clinic — maybe I never wanted to.

Legal or not, this doctor saved me in high school. He saved my dad. My dad, like most Korean fathers, was never an emotive man. But whenever I was sick, like really sick, he couldn’t hide his desperation. And the guilt. Oh the guilt. For not being able to provide access to quality care and prompt treatment. For having to wake me up at 4 o’clock in the morning to drive an hour to a stinky “doctor’s office.” Seeing his own daughter suffer and feeling absolutely, devastatingly helpless — I don’t wish that on anyone.

Besides this last resort option we had for when my sister and I were sick, I depended heavily on Planned Parenthood for all things a sexually active teenage girl may need (sorry mom and dad): birth control, STI screening, UTI / yeast infection treatment, pap smear, mammogram, pregnancy test (oh the paranoia days!)… you name it they provided it (and still do). Getting an appointment right away was always near impossible, so I would always wait 2–3 hours to be seen as a walk-in. But I was never turned away.

I was always jealous of my friends who talked about their “primary care physician” — it sounded like such luxury to have someone who understands your holistic health needs, equipped with your medical history and treatment options.

My days of being uninsured ended when I began college. When I got accepted into UC Berkeley, I signed up for the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) but I was worried about paying for it. I was making minimum wage working a part-time job, something I had started doing when I turned 14 to help lessen the burden on my dad. The student health insurance cost $625, I think it was, per semester.

I had shared my concern off-handedly with my high school counselor, Mrs. Morton, who managed the student advocacy program at my high school. She had been my biggest advocate and champion, rooting me on to go to college and to change the world. She thought I would one day run the world. She facilitated the underground support group for LGBTQ students which I was a part of, most of whom were also low-income and struggling in school. Mrs. Morton and the support group played a huge role in helping me get through high school without losing my shit. Most students didn’t know its existence and most of my friends didn’t know I was a part of this group. I was a model student: straight As, AP classes, student government, blahblah… To Mrs. Morton, I was an unusual profile among more troubled students she typically supported. I was like a daughter to her and she was always proud of me. Before school ended, she handed me check for $625. She told me I needed it and that I deserved it. We cried. I will forever remember her and how much that check meant to me.

So I signed up for SHIP. I felt safe.

While at Cal, I had a major sickness one night where I had to go the Emergency Room. I still remember that night — I kept telling the nurse I was going to die and she looked at me stoically and said, “you’re not. going. to. die.” and gave me a morphine shot to calm me down. Then came the bill — a whopping $20,000 for a night in the ER. I was in major panic. I hadn’t realized the ER trip wouldn’t be covered by my student insurance. Luckily, after many desperate phone calls and paperwork, I was able to apply for financial assistance and got the bill shaved down to a much more reasonable amount. It was a rather obscure process that I would not have found out without much pestering and research.

Since graduating from school, I’ve been lucky enough to have jobs that provided full health insurance coverage. I appreciate it every single day. Because I know what it’s like to feel vulnerable and exposed, being fearful of insurmountable debt that could cripple your entire life.

But the fear still gets me, it’s so deeply rooted in me from my young adulthood and I can’t really shake it off.

A couple of years ago, I dislocated my elbow after I fell during a run with my co-workers. Immediately after the fall I knew something was very wrong with my arm. People called 911 and I was taken to a nearby hospital. My then CEO was with me, holding my injured arm in a splinter on the ambulance. I was in a shit ton of pain, but I was mostly worried about what this incident could do to my bank account. I remember I kept asking him about our insurance — I was deathly afraid of incurring tens of thousands dollars of medical bill. He probably didn’t realize why I was so paranoid, but he managed to calm me down by letting me know everything will be okay.

When the Affordable Care Act finally passed, I was ecstatic — not for me, but for my dad. He can finally go see a doctor with an appointment. Get preventative care. Get a damn physical! ACA by no means is perfect — but it helps millions of people like my dad and young people that I once was.

But some people seem to disagree. With the upcoming Orange Stain Administration, people’s livelihoods, in addition to the very existence of our democracy, is under attack. And shit’s beginning to unravel with the proposed repealing of the ACA. We are on the brink of repeating my youth days all over for millions of folks: youth living in fear, parents in guilt, and too many without the basic human right (not privilege) to be healthy.

Our health is the very foundation that enables us to reach our potential — and we have to fight for it to become a right, not a privilege. So I urge you, friends and friends of friends, strangers, doubters… whoever you are, to realize that millions’ livelihoods are at risk, and to do something about it: go to a protest, call your reps, donate to Planned Parenthood… there are options. Google it.

My relationship with the medical and insurance world will always have an undercurrent of fear, suspicion, and helplessness. I never take for granted being healthy, and my ability to access treatment and information with dignity. And I will always advocate for universal and affordable health care, because my political stance is a deeply personal one.