This is what a white feminist looks like

“What’s the difference between feminism and white feminism?” My friend asked me in a text message. She had been looking at the Women’s March website, and she didn’t fully understand the distinction. I sat there for a while, staring at my phone, trying to figure out whether it was possible to hazard an explanation the length of a text message. I decided it was too complicated, something we needed to discuss in person.

Several days later, I found myself in a sea of pink hats, in the middle of our nation’s capital, trying to find my way to Independence Ave. When I arrived at the Women’s March on Washington, I had no idea where to go. Every street in every direction was flooded with demonstrators, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. I had to stand on my tip-toes to see the mega screen projecting live videos of the rally’s speakers—at times barely audible over the noise of chatting marchers. As I stood there, I was struck by the celebratory atmosphere of the event. All around me were women laughing and hugging and screaming like they were in the audience of a live broadcast of Rachael Ray. We deserve to celebrate ourselves, I coached myself, trying not to be cynical.

I tried to focus on the dizzying display of badass intersectional feminists leading the rally. Black, brown, Latina, native, disabled, formerly incarcerated, undocumented, queer, and trans women took to the stage to proclaim their truths, representing social justice organizations and movements that have been doing the good work for a long time, and will continue to do so in the years to come. When they announced that Angela Davis was about to take the stage, I nearly lost my shit.

“At a challenging moment in our history,” Angela began, “let us remind ourselves that we the hundreds of thousands, the millions of women, trans-people, men and youth who are here at the Women’s March, we represent the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent the dying cultures of racism and hetero-patriarchy from rising again.”

March, march, march, the white demonstrators around me began chanting, drowning out the rest of Angela Davis’s speech.

March, march, march, march, they screamed, waving their pink “Pussy Grabs Back” signs and performing various renditions of the white woman two-step.

If these women had quieted down for a moment, they might have heard Angela when she explained that “This is a country anchored in slavery and colonialism, which means for better or for worse the very history of the United States is a history of immigration and enslavement.”

They might have stopped to wonder what progress has and has not been made for women of color since that day in 1970 when Angela Davis was arrested by the FBI for crimes she did not commit.

They might have considered, for a moment, who and what deserved celebrating. Was it really their pink pussies? Their privileged white daughters decked out in North Face jackets? Their collective, and questionably phrased, “girl power”? Or was it the fact that up on that stage, women of all colors, genders, sexual orientations, and creeds were bravely sharing their stories and fighting for a world where justice and equality were not only ideals, but realities for all women?

I am a cis, white woman, a lesbian, and an intersectional feminist. As a liberal-progressive woman, I am not automatically entitled to the feminist label. It is something I fight for, challenge, question, and talk about on a daily basis. And the more I consider the weight of that label, the more I believe that feminism without a radical basis of anti-racist, anti-oppression work is not actually feminism at all.

Feminism is not just “the radical idea that women are people,” it is the radical idea that all people—especially women—deserve justice.

Or, to put it another way, white feminism is not truly feminism.

I am proud of what we accomplished this Saturday. I am proud that people showed up in the smallest towns and the biggest cities, in the snow and rain, wearing their rainbow flag capes and their purple lipstick, bringing their partners, their children, their parents, and their radical politics. I am proud that the organizers of the Women’s March espoused a truly intersectional platform. I am proud that people chanted Black Lives Matter and wore American Flag hijabs.

But for all feminists, new and old, this is only the beginning of a long fight. As a white feminist, I am humbled by all the work I haven’t been doing, and energized to begin showing up—in the streets, in meetings, in my community—to make justice a reality. I hope that all those two-stepping, pussy-hat-wearing white feminists who showed up at the Women’s March will do the same.

*Cover photo courtesy of Flyah Angelou




When writing isn’t enough

Ever since I can remember, I have taken to my notebook in times of despair. I remember the night of March 20, 2003 when the U.S. invaded Iraq, because after sitting in the living room with my parents, watching a foreign sky lit up in shades of alien green, I locked myself in my room and pulled out my notebook. I was ten years old at the time. There were tears in my eyes, and fears lodged deep in my belly. I didn’t know exactly what to say, so I just began writing. What came out was a fictional story about a young Iraqi girl, running from her home as bombs fell around her. I don’t remember much else about the story. All I remember is that it mattered to me more than anything else I had ever written. And somehow, it helped me to get through the night.

Writing has always been the place where I feel like my truest self. The place where my tender heart can be at its most tender, and not fall apart. The place where I can watch it breaking, and still feel, somehow, whole.

I have notebooks full of letters to people who never knew I wrote them. There were things I needed to say, so I said them to the page. Sometimes I wonder where I’d be if those words had ever been spoken, or shared. But the truth is, they weren’t meant to be spoken, or shared. They were meant to be honored.

My friend sent me a picture the other day. It was a plaque from an art exhibit she had visited, and the theme of the piece was solitude. “To transit a moment of solitude,” it said, “is to tarnish the ascetic soul. But to let it burrow in and remain private can allow you to learn and unlearn the lessons as dictated only by the self.”

I have done plenty of burrowing, I thought to myself. And my ascetic soul is very much in tact.

But it is also lonely.

What were the lessons? I wondered. The lessons I learned and unlearned, alone with myself?

What was the lesson I learned from writing that story about the young Iraqi girl? Was it empathy? Was it pity? Was it compassion?

What was the lesson I learned from all those unsent letters? How much I had been hurt? How I could have protected myself? How I had failed to protect, and to truly seek, those whom I had so desperately loved?

And what was the lesson I learned when there came a time to stop writing? When there were no longer any words to be put on the page? When I woke up on Wednesday morning and went to my people instead of my pen? When I took to the streets instead of my study? When I sent out donations instead of words?

The lesson I learned was that some lessons can’t be learned alone. Some wounds can’t be fixed by bedrest. Some heartaches can’t be solved by ink.

Our nation is aching, and there are so many lesson we have still to learn. So many lessons I have still to learn.

But when the time comes for me to open my notebook again, it will not be to hide. It will not be to dodge hurt, or quarantine pain. It will be to look within myself for the achings of the world. To look within myself for hatred, greed, and anger. To see these qualities for what they are: human, and eradicable. And by seeing them for what they are, to understand how love is the strongest weapon we have. Not love in the sense of affection, or sacrifice, or possession, but love in the sense of liberation.

Love as all the ways our freedom is bound up with one another’s.

Love as the courage to speak, and the courage to hear.

Love as tenderness.

Love as light.

Some thoughts on the election, in no particular order 

1. I woke up this morning in the arms of my girlfriend, and I thought “how could anyone hate this thing we have, this sweet early morning thing we have, this warmth against my spine flowing to my heart, this love which has opened up wells inside me, so I always have more love to give?” How could they hate us?

2. My mom told me that she couldn’t remember being this distraught since JFK was shot. She’s not a very political person, but she wept when Hillary lost. I hope she sees a woman president in her lifetime.

3. I want to be empathetic to those who feel disenfranchised by American politics but I’m angry that their vote came at the expense of so many lives.

4. I want to be able to utilize my anger, but my heart is broken and I am tired.

5. I can’t stop thinking about my wrists, and how close my veins are to the surface. We are, all of us, so fragile.

6. “Misfortune had made Lily supple instead of hardening her, and a pliable substance is less easy to break than a stiff one.” -Edith Wharton

7. Sometimes guardian angels are the people organizing protests and writing petitions and organizing resources and offering money and to walk people home. They are everywhere if you are looking for them.

8. We did not start “making things political.” Sodomy laws made death a punishment for being gay in America. Until 2003 you could be arrested for being gay in 14 states. When white people came to the United States they brought black slaves and committed endless atrocities against them. They committed genocide against Native Americans for land.  Disability was treated with institutionalization which was often violent. Marital rape wasn’t criminalized until the 1970s, around the same time women received the legal ability to apply for credit separately from their husbands. All of this was legal. They made our bodies political, and our ancestors had to fight for our freedom. We are still fighting. We will not stop being political until we are all liberated. (My liberation can not ever come at the expense of anyone else’s).

9. For all the disagreements I had with her, I feel for Hillary Clinton. The sexism she experienced (has experienced, is experiencing) on a national stage has been an unsettling reminder of how we value ambitious women. I hope I channel her steely perserverence. I hope somebody has hugged her and told her she matters.

10.  You matter. You are valid. You are good. You are not monstrous or disgusting. You are not dangerous, except to the heterosexist white supremecist ableist transmisogynist system. You are a brilliant offering to the world around you. Your resilience is inspiring. Your vulnerability in the face of hate is breathtaking. You are cared for and loved. It is not alright now but I will fight to make it alright to you, wherever you are.

All my love,


Keep Your Heart Open

I’d like to apologize for the radio silence these past few weeks. It’s been a hard few weeks to be a person here in the world. Our hearts have been heavy in response to the violence in Orlando, Tel Aviv, Turkey, Istanbul, Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and I’m sure a few more places that I am missing. There is so much to say and yet so few words are forthcoming. I don’t know what I have to offer in response to these tragedies.

I am sad. I am tired. I am doing my best to help in my own small ways though it does not feel like enough. There is always a voice in my head asking “what else can I do? what else should I do? what else do I have the responsibility to do?” I am scared often for the people I love, in this world where people die because of ideological reasons, for their identities, for simply existing in public.

Sometimes I am reminded that despite the breadth of human history, there will always be questions that don’t have neat answers. I wonder if my ancestors felt this in response to the tragedies of their time. I wonder if they chose to act, or if they turned their eyes and closed their hearts, to protect themselves from the confusion and pain.

I hope to keep my heart open, even in these heart-breaking times. To be affected by injustice, even when it is not close to home. To not allow myself to be complacent. To keep helping in my small ways, and hope that if enough people chose to act in small ways, it can become large scale change. I hope that you will too. I hope you will keep talking (and shouting) about injustice, keep donating money and time, keep being kind to those around you, and choosing to accept when you are wrong.

I’ll leave this small post with some articles and a poem that I have found useful these last few weeks.

Love and peace to all of you.


Full Transcript of Jesse Williams BET Awards Speech 

Racism in America FAQ

Philando Castile Was A Role Model to Hundreds of Kids

In Praise of Latin Night at the Queer Club


LGBTQ People Can’t Have Safe Spaces But We Still Need Community

After Attacks on Muslims Many Ask: Where is the Outpouring?

Mourning on Ramadan: Breaking My Fast With Queer Muslims After the Orlando Shooting

Love is all we have

There are no words for what happened in Orlando last night; or rather there are too many and none of them are quite right.

There is the fact that I have already seen people asking not to politicize this tragedy, saying we can not blame the hateful ideology of a presidential candidate, or gun laws for what happened. It’s true there is no one thing that convinces someone to take a gun and use it to kill people he perceives to be “different” and “wrong.” But this didn’t happen without context. There are many ifs. If he hadn’t been able to access a weapon that can kill many people in a short period of time. If he hadn’t been exposed to political agendas that say that LGBTQ folks don’t deserve basic rights and heard the underlying message that queer folks, trans folks, and people of color don’t matter and don’t deserve to be alive. If if if.

There is the grief for the queer folks who died while celebrating their identities. It’s pride month. It was latin night at Pulse. It is a time of joy and community and conversation about how to make our communities stronger. There is grief for the families and loved ones of these queer folks, and the knowledge that family often looks different in the queer community. There is imagining the fear of not knowing if someone you love was hurt because you’re not “next of kin” on government forms.

There is anger that this could happen. Why did this fucking happen? Why did this have to happen? Why has this been happening in smaller, less publicized ways for years and why hasn’t it been stopped? Why is my queerness perceived as such a threat that people debate if me and my community deserve basic rights and safety? Why are trans women considered threats when they want to pee, when they are part of a community that constantly has to worry for it’s own safety?

There is fear for those I love, for copycat attacks that will follow, for losing more queer people, who are just trying to live.

There is a sense of impotence for what I can not change, and for the privilege I have that means I am less at risk for these kinds of attacks because I am white and middle class and cisgender.

And there is love. Love for my queer community. Love for the people who are already organizing vigils and donating blood and writing their representatives. Love for the others afraid for their own safety. Love for the grieving and the bereft. Love for Muslim folks in the U.S. (especially LGBTQ+ Muslim folk) who already are the scapegoats for so many tragedies.

It can feel trite to quote Martin Luther King Jr but since reading about the shooting, what has circled in my brain is this:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

We have to continue to love each other as hard as we possibly can. The root of justice is love. The root of our community has always been love. In heartbreaking times like this, love is all we have.

Who It’s For

It’s a Saturday night.  I’m all dressed up: high heels, polka-dot tights, red lipstick, the works.  I could be going to The Cubby Hole, or Hot Rabbit, or a house party in the Village.  Instead, I’m in an auditorium full of scholars, holding a shiny silver trophy in my hand.

I’m not usually a huge fan of competitions, but this time around, I thought I’d give it a try. The Threesis Competition is a chance for master’s students to share their work with people outside of their fields.  Three minutes, one Powerpoint slide, eighty competitors, one winner.

Apparently, that winner is me.

My cheeks hurt from smiling so much.  I’m trembling.  I’m shocked.  I’m nervous.  I’m excited.  I can’t wait to have a big glass of wine in my hand.

I’m on my way to the reception, and just as I’m about to walk over to my group of friends and give them all big hugs, an older man approaches me, and takes my hand.

Not shakes.  Takes.

He’s holding it there, in his sweaty palm, like a scene from one of those crime dramas where somebody is making an illicit deal in a public place and they have to keep smiling even though they’re about to kill each other.

“I’d love to get coffee with you sometime,” he says, before asking me my name, or congratulating me, or asking me how I feel about winning.

“I’d like to talk to you about the fact that men can be feminists too,” he says, “the boundaries are porous, it’s not just about women…” blah blah blah blah blah

He goes on like this, holding my hand hostage, mansplaining man feminism to me for about five minutes.  Once he’s finished, he looks up at me as if he’s forgotten that the hand he’s holding belongs to a person, and says, “What’s your name again?”

This, after I had just given a presentation on radical lesbian feminists and their fight to smash the patriarchy. Oh, the irony.

If this had happened to me a few years ago, I probably would have smiled, and nodded politely, and thanked the man for his thoughtful feedback, and explained that of course men can be feminists too, that everyone should be a feminist, that we were so happy to have him join our ranks, that I was just so grateful to be here in the first place, so lucky to have the support of men like him.

But instead, I took my hand back where it rightfully belonged and explained that there’s a difference between being a feminist and being an ally, and that if he had more questions on that topic, he could consult any number of resources on allyship, and that I really needed to be going.

Thirty minutes later, I was happily holding a big glass of wine in my hand, discussing intersectionality, workplace discrimination, and astrological signs with a group of fellow queer feminist scholars, grinning from ear to ear.

Dear mansplaining faux-feminist, I want you to know that my research, my life choices, my red lipstick, and my activism have nothing to do with you.  I don’t do it for you, and I don’t give a shit about your approval.

I do it for my mother, I do it for my best friend and the baby she’s carrying in her belly, I do it for the friends who cheered me on from the front row, I do it for every girl who walks down the street with her eyes down and her keys between her fingers, I do it for every queer kid who’s ever thought they were the only one, I do it for all the women who could never have stood on a stage and announced to the world that they loved women, I do it for my friends, I do it for my lovers, I do for my family, I do it for myself.

And if you, mansplaining faux-feminist, happen to be in the audience while I’m speaking, rest assured I won’t be paying any attention to you.

We’re making some changes!

Hello Femme as in Fuck You readers,

Thank you so much for following this blog, reading our work, and giving us your feedback! We’re young writers, and having folks interact with our work means the world to us.

When we made this blog back in November we didn’t anticipate how generous our readership would be with sharing our words, or that we would have a readership at all! Some folks have told us they’ve shared our blog with their parents, or their friends, or that our posts have helped them start conversations. That makes us so happy, and to make sharing easier we have decided to change our name.

We love Femme as in Fuck You as a title. We love that is unapologetically angry, and that it refuses to accept stereotypes of what femme should be. However, we do understand that having profanity in our title affects the extent to which folks (including ourselves) feel comfortable sharing the blog. It’s our goal to create conversation, so after many months of back and forth, we have decided at last to retire our original name in favor of something a little more family friendly.

From now on we will go by the name femme for femme. We chose this name because it describes us, just two femmes writing to each other, and to other femmes of the world.

Thanks for all the love and support. We hope you keep on reading!

Your BFFemmes,

Hannah and Marnie


Doing the Work

For me, social justice work is about love.

Loving humanity and wanting everyone on earth to have access to basic human rights. Loving my community enough to stand up against the oppression that takes place within it. Loving myself enough to trust my instincts and use my voice.

In her transformative book All About Love, bell hooks tells us that love isn’t a noun, but a verb. We can’t just say we love someone, we have to learn how to intentionally practice love. Practicing love means setting boundaries, providing care, being honest, and seeking justice. Without justice, she tells us, there can be no love. Love, in short, takes work, and bell hooks argues that many of us don’t know how to do the work.

I started learning how to practice love through therapy sessions in college. In psychoanalytic therapy, you learn to look into your past and find the roots of your shame and pain. You learn how to read the messages you internalized but didn’t recognize as contributors to negative thought cycles. You learn where you were missing love, and how those situations could’ve been handled differently. I don’t know if I will ever quite be free of depression, but because I did that work, I don’t think I will ever be able to reach the same depths of shame and self-loathing as I once did.

Learning how to practice loving myself gave me an unexpected side effect: in learning about the context of my own life, I also started to look for the context of the lives of the people who hurt me. I could empathize with them, and figure out how to create boundaries to keep myself protected, while also forgiving those people for how they hurt me.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean excusing someone for their actions. It doesn’t mean giving them a free pass for the pain they’ve caused or pretending that I wasn’t hurt by their actions. It doesn’t even mean expecting immediate change, (although wouldn’t it be nice if we could guarantee that we wouldn’t be hurt in the same way again?). For me, forgiveness means accepting that the journey that brought me to where I am is completely different than another person’s journey, and under different circumstances I might have done the same thing.

Often in a community where social justice is valued, I feel this urge towards empathy stir. I think in progressive circles, we are often enraged when we see someone who we consider to be “one of us” make a mistake. It hurts more coming from someone we thought we could trust. Meryl, why did you say we were all from Africa when asked about diversity in a film panel? Beyoncé, why were you in a culturally appropriative Coldplay video? Why can’t you just let me love you uncritically?

Despite the fact that they make great examples, I don’t want to talk about celebrities here. I want to talk about communities that center social justice and how we can better love and do good work for one another.

I think that often when feeling angry and uncomfortable people forget that they too were once learning about social justice. They too made mistakes that we are uncomfortable to think back on. They too are not perfect. To paraphrase a problematic fave, Albus Dumbledore: the world is not divided into social justice advocates and bad people.

The fact of the matter is, love shouldn’t be uncritical. People we love make mistakes, and we forgive them. We make mistakes, and we forgive ourselves. That doesn’t mean we excuse ourselves, or continue being hurtful. To err is human, and to grow is also human.

But, you say to me, I am hurt and angry and exhausted from explaining myself over and over and over again! I don’t have the energy to forgive, because those little offenses add up quickly, and I deserve better!

I understand that, too. As a queer woman, I often get upset with well-intentioned straight folks who ask intrusive questions, and as a femme, I’m hurt when I feel like my queerness is erased, because I like to wear dresses and paint my nails. As a person with depression and anxiety, I am infuriated when I hear “everyone goes through that” and “you need to calm down.” If it happened once in awhile I could deal with it, but as an ever-present hum in the background of my day-to-day, it often feels like too much. Sometimes I have to love myself enough to say “no.”

But luckily, I am not alone. It’s not my responsibility to singularly educate and forgive everyone who has ever said something problematic (i.e. everyone). There are educators doing the hard work of writing and teaching about homophobia and femmephobia and stigma around mental illness. I have straight friends and masculine-of-center friends and neurotypical friends who listen to my frustrations, and use what they hear to inform themselves and their other straight/neurotypical/masculine-of-center friends. These people do some of the tough work of “calling in” the people in their lives who say problematic stuff, and challenging them to be conscious of what other people experience.

And it’s my job to do the same thing. As a white person, I’m not doing anti-racist work if I decide to get mad when a friend or family member says something racist, but don’t try to educate them about why what they’re saying is racist. As a person who has grown up financially secure, I’m not working to eliminate classism if I hear someone say, “they should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” and don’t try to explain why that thinking is wrong. As a cis gender woman, it’s my responsibility to point out jokes that are transphobic and as a queer person, to call out transmisogyny in my community. As an able-bodied person, it’s my responsibility to recognize and address ableism, whether it’s in my workplace or in everyday language. If I don’t have the language or the knowledge to respond, I can find information from someone who does, because the internet is a magical place.

I think that when people stand in solidarity with an identity that isn’t their own, there is a pull to distance ourselves from our identities as an oppressive majority. When someone who shares our identity do or say something oppressive, we’d like to get angry and be hurt and say, “that’s not me!” We’d like to forget that in the past we might’ve done or said the same thing, because we didn’t know better. But we have to be able to say, “That’s not my pain. Someone else is hurting or will be hurt if these actions continue, and if I can make a difference I should.” We have to love each other enough to protect each other from hurt and to call in those who mean well, but still cause harm.

I learned about “calling in” as a practice from Ngọc Loan Trần’s brilliant essay on Black Girl Dangerous. They write: “Mistakes are mistakes; they deepen the wounds we carry. I know that for me when these mistakes are committed by people who I am in community with, it hurts even more. But these are people I care deeply about and want to see on the other side of the hurt, pain, and trauma: I am willing to offer compassion and patience as a way to build the road we are taking but have never seen before.”

They suggest “calling in” as a practice to use with people you are in community with, “of pulling folks back in who have strayed from us.”

I think calling out has become very mainstream in communities that center social justice. Especially online, where we often forget that we are talking to a person and not an algorithm, it’s easy to place blame. In a queer facebook group, I’ve seen fights break out because someone didn’t know the right language to use when querying about creating a safe space, and battles in statuses about sharing a meaningful message from a celebrity who has also recently made a tasteless joke. We live in public, and sometimes we forget that just as often a private word will make more impact than a public chastisement. People respond more to love than to shame.

Now I’ve also seen some great education happen on social media – I don’t want to discount the work done to call out those who are not willing to recognize their actions as oppressive, who continuously spew hate or apathy for people who don’t share their identities. Publicly showing up in solidarity for one another can also have an impact on folks you don’t even realize are reading.

All I ask is that in doing the work, we remember the humanity of one another. We forgive those who are trying to grow and change, and we care for those who experience violence and oppression everyday. We check-in with ourselves and make sure we know when is our time to speak and when is our time to listen. And we continue to do the work for one another, with love.

Mount Holyoke Forever Shall Be

Yesterday morning, after receiving news that I had been accepted into the PhD program of my dreams, I sat down to write a love letter to Mount Holyoke.  I wrote it in a state of raw emotion, overwhelmed by the memories of a place that had given me so much.  I wrote it because I knew I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Mount Holyoke.  I wouldn’t be in New York City, surrounded by the love of friends old and new, learning about language and history and art and feminism, spending every day face-to-face with the raw and often overwhelming vicissitudes of the human heart.

I chose to write to Mount Holyoke, rather than about Mount Holyoke, because my alma mater has always been so much more than a college, or an institution, or even a place.  Mount Holyoke has been, and continues to be, a series of encounters, what performance art curator Dan Fishback defines as “who I am because of who you are, and who you are because of who I am.”  Every one of us who has walked through Mount Holyoke’s gates has learned who we are because of what Mount Holyoke is.  But I too often forget that the opposite is also true – that Mount Holyoke is what it is because of who we are – that we are just as much a part of this encounter as the beautiful place we called our home.

The reality of this truth hit home for me today, as I was walking through the streets of my neighborhood.  I looked down at my phone, surprised to see a message from a name I didn’t recognize.  Reading it, I learned that Margaret Bishop Brehmer, a Mount Holyoke alum from the class of 48’, had recently passed away.  I wept as I walked, remembering her story, overwhelmed by the long legacy of Mount Holyoke women who have lived impactful, generous and uncompromising lives.

Margaret Bishop Brehmer lived a life of adventure, courage and integrity.  A woman whose first forays into education took place in a one-room schoolhouse, Margaret was a shining student at Mount Holyoke, where she – like me – received her degree in French.  After writing her senior thesis on the works of Albert Camus, Margaret traveled to France to teach English.  Faced with the poverty and destruction of post-war MOM ON HARLEYFrance, Margaret strove to make a positive impact through her teaching.  After her marriage to Frank Brehmer in 1950, Margaret went on to work for a non-profit organization called World Education, as well as to write both letters and poetry throughout her lifetime.

I never had the chance to meet Margaret.  By the time I first heard her name, she was already living in a retirement community for Alzheimer’s patients, her memories of Mount Holyoke no longer accessible to me or anyone else.  It was during my sophomore year of college that I learned I had received a scholarship in her name.  I was asked to write a letter, thanking her for her generosity.

Dear Mrs. Brehmer, it read.

As I sit at my desk in South Mandelle Hall, I look out at a hillside covered in snow.  I have often looked out at this view, wondering how many eyes have studied it – how many Mount Holyoke women, throughout the years, have climbed it, drawn it, written letters to mothers, fathers, friends and strangers with its image in mind.  Across the span of years, walking from the obscured distance, I see a woman waving to me.  Thousands of Mount Holyoke women pass her by, and yet she reaches out her hand to me.  In her hand is a gift, which I grip tightly as she recedes into the distance, unknown to me but for her name.

Though I may not know the words you murmur while waving, the memories you manifest in the hand you hold out to me, or the experiences that have inspired you to untold generosities – though I may not know anything about the story behind that hand, I reach back out across that distance and give you at least a small glimpse of me: the gripper of that gift, the smiling viewer of that blurry wave.

I go on to describe a day in the life of sophomore me… the way I would drink my coffee in the mornings in my small room in South Mandelle, watching the trees change outside my window.  The way I hurried to my first morning class, cradling thick volumes of French poetry in my arms, my pen poised to capture as much as I could of this place and of the people who surrounded me.  The way I would meet my friends for lunch at Prospect, swapping stories of our busy days, hugging each other generously, though we would see each other again only hours later.

The more time I spend at Mount Holyoke, I wrote, the more time I want to spend at Mount Holyoke. I want to get to know every face, learn from every professor, memorize every tree, open and sniff every book in the library.  What you have given me is the chance to continue my education here – an education that is beyond value.

Three years after writing that letter, I feel the truth of its words more than I ever could have at the time.  When I think of Margaret, I know that Mount Holyoke is not just a place, not just a name on a piece of paper.  I know that for whatever I may have lost when I left Mount Holyoke, I have gained and will continue to gain so much more.  In the words of our alma mater, “For what thou hast given we honour, But we love thee for what we can give.”

From the little I know of Margaret, I am honored to call her one of my Mount Holyoke siblings.  I am moved by the knowledge that without her generosity, and the generosity of others like her, I would never have had the chance to encounter Mount Holyoke at all.  It is a humbling reminder that nothing I have accomplished is entirely my own – a reminder that every acceptance letter I open, every blog post that I write, every accolade I receive, I do it all in the name of my Mount Holyoke siblings – in the name of this fiercely loyal, daringly creative, radically loving community that I am honored to be a part of.

Mount Holyoke forever shall be.  

Dear Mount Holyoke

Dear Mount Holyoke,

It’s been a long time since we talked.  So much has changed since I last saw you.  How have you been?

It’s been eight months, and I still miss you every day.  At least now the pain is duller, subtler.  I don’t cry as much anymore – or at least, not about you.  

The last time I saw you, I was not the woman you thought I was.  It was late October, the time when everything around us dies in the most beautiful shades of orange and red, and I hadn’t seen you in months.  In my head you were still exactly as I had left you – an explosion of green, a warm mid-May breeze, one long day of golden sunlight.  But I was different.  Changed.  Aged by time and heartbreak.  I half-expected you to be the same, your clock tower somehow weathered, your stepping stones broken, your lakes emptied.  But you were just as beautiful as I remembered you, just as vibrant and serene.  I wept for your unchanging beauty, entered through your gates knowing that once I had left them, I could only ever temporarily return.  I wish you hadn’t seen me like this, undone, unbecoming of you, of us, of everything we had been.

The first time I ever saw you, you were bare, aching towards spring.  Early April, snow still blanketing the ground in thin layers, your trees grey but almost budding.  When you appeared to my eyes, I knew it was you.  I knew it had always been you.  I knew it always would be.  It was sunset, the hour of reckoning.  The sun sat low, painting your stones in shades of orange and gold and rusty red.  I had never seen you, hardly knew anything of you, was young and naïve and unsure of everything.  But I wept for you.  My heart recognized you in that moment of dying light, and I was yours.

I will always remember the last time I ever returned to you, when you were still mine to return to.  It was only days before my final departure, and I came to you as I had come so many years ago, in the exploding light of sunset.  It was as if no time had passed, and centuries.  The beauty that had filled me with hope so many years before broke my heart now, in the bright promise of May.  I knew then that I could never love you any less than I had that first day, and every day since.

I could tell our story, fill pages with the tale of you and me.  It would be my life’s work, the last page penned on my dying day, never quite finished — always more to be told, unearthed, recovered from the depths of us.  

But I am writing today because you cannot be the only one I will ever love.  I chose you, and for a season you were all of me, and I was all of you. When I lost you, I lost the all of me I was because of you.  And I survived.  We both did.  I have to find a way to be all of myself again, without you, just as you are all of yourself without me – vibrant and serene and strong enough to survive the winter.

And next time I return, maybe we can meet at sunrise, when the world is awakening to light.  Maybe we don’t have to live our whole lives saying goodbye, losing, becoming undone.  

Maybe we can just become.

All my love,