OK, obviously the universe is big. But understanding quite what that means takes a few more brain particles than I have.
In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.
"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.
"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."
Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.
"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."
Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.
"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."
"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."
This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.
"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."
What helped them during this time was having the support of others.
"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.
"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."
"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.
Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.
"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."
So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.
"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.
In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.
While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.
For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.
"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."
To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!
Sometimes sighted people can easily forget that beauty isn't just something for the eyes to experience. It can be heard, smelled, and touched as well. Nowhere was this more evident than at Anthony and Kelly Anne Ferraro's wedding on October 2.
Anthony is a blind Paralympian and winner of the gold medal in the 2018 USA Judo National Championships for Blind & Visually Impaired. He's also an accomplished guitar player and motivational speaker.
Kelly Ann wanted her husband to experience her in a beautiful dress so instead of having one designed that was pleasing to the eye, she reached out to Loulette Bride to make one that felt amazing to the touch.
"Kelly really wanted to ... make it really special for me," he told Newsweek. "She went above and beyond" to find the wedding dress, which was made "tactilely pleasing" with use of chiffon, lace, silk, and velvet.
The dress has a beautiful fringe on the arms that looks angelic when she waved her arms. It probably feels wonderful, too.
In a traditional wedding, the groom isn't allowed to see the bride in her dress until she walks down the aisle. At the Ferraro wedding, he wasn't allowed to touch the dress until that magic moment.
"She wouldn't let me know anything about it until she came down the aisle and I got to touch it, so it was incredible," he said. "It was so beautiful to me ... I could picture her in my head perfectly," said Ferraro.
"The textures are everything," said Ferraro. "I see through my fingers, and through my hands, and through ... touch."
A video clip of the wedding posted by Anthony on social media has gone viral because people love the idea that beauty isn't just about what we see with our eyes. Since it was posted on October 13 it has over 550,000 views.
One commenter called the dress "the sweetest thing ever."
🤍🎥I married my camera person @turmericteatime #blind #wedding #relationshipgoals #lucky #pov
The couple met in 2018 after being introduced by friends. Anthony told USA Today he felt an "instant connection" when they first met. Their relationship inspired Kelly Ann to learn how to create a safe living space for Anthony by putting bubble wrap or pillows over sharp objects in the house.
She also learned to appreciate his love of the feel of soft fabrics such as velvet.
Studies show that blind people have heightened senses of hearing, smell and touch. Researchers from Society for Neuroscience also found that blind people have the ability to process sensations associated with touch faster than sighted people.
"Our findings reveal that one way the brain adapts to the absence of vision is to accelerate the sense of touch," Daniel Goldreich, PhD, said according to Science Daily. "The ability to quickly process non-visual information probably enhances the quality of life of blind individuals who rely to an extraordinary degree on the non-visual senses."
The wedding dress was an incredibly thoughtful gift for Kelly Ann to give her husband on their wedding day. It also sends a wonderful message to the rest of the world. Every couple is different. Every person is different. But when we branch out and learn to experience the world the way others do, we can find beauty in places we never imagined.
When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.
Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.
"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."
Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."
That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."