Diana Nyad: Dreamer, Champion and Feminist Superstar

Besides an irregular check-in on my hometown basketball team, the I am not one to keep up with sports. I watch the olympics for the gymnast and tennis for the aggression through oddly sexual shouts but have never been much of a sports fanatic. As a self identified feminist though, I support strong female athletes and am often disappointed by the lack of attention they get from well, everyone. To be quite frank, I am a part of that lack of support. For years I have found most fanaticism towards sport to be rather silly and unnecessary. It just made no sense to me that someone can have a horrible day at work because the night before, their favorite football team lost a game. How does a football game affect our society as a whole?

Well, I’m no longer an anti-sport feminist. That’s right folks, I’ve been swayed by a fascinating warrior of a woman, Diana Nyad. Nyad makes sport and athleticism relevant to non-sports fans because she uses her athletic abilities to parallel what it means to be the best human you can be. Here, let me explain.

Monday, September 2, 2013 Diana Nyad,64,  completed a 53-hour swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida, making her the first person ever, in history, to make it without a protective cage. This was no overnight achievement. Not even years. No, this was a dream thirty five years in the makings.

Nyad first attempted the epic 110 mile swim at age 28, in the year 1978. Since 1978, she attempted the Cuba swim four more times, each time failing to complete the course due to various set backs from heart-stoping jellyfish stings to disastrous and unexpected weather or illness.In spite of failing four times in a row and being doubted from just about every media outlet of any importance, Nyad just knew she’d make it some day. Somehow, she “found a way.”

This time around Nyad came prepared with a skilled crew equipped with scientists to document her trip, her best friend and swim coach, jellyfish experts and even a team of kayakers to lead the way. She wore a suit that was well-tested to protect against jellyfish stings, a challenge she struggled with immensely in former attempts.She swam exactly one hundred and ten hours without sleep and only short breaks every 90 minutes to eat.And then she made it. Diana Nyad made it, at 64 years old, showing (among other things) that age really can be just a number.

Diana Nyad feat was so unbelievably amazing that many critiques quite literally did not believe it. After being challenged by a number of fellow long distance swimmers that couldn’t quite imagine anything close to her swim coming to fruition, Nyad defended all skepticism in a conference phone call with the Marathon Swimmers Forum, in which her crew’s navigator explained how the escapade was possible, in all it’s scientific detail.

Nyad sat with Oprah in a two-hour special where she spoke of her trails, her tribulations, and best of all, how she overcame and conquered. In the inspirational interview, Nyad spoke of her desire since childhood to be a star athlete. She spoke of her recognition, even at age ten, that life is short. That we come on this earth for a little time, so why not use that time to make a positive impact in whatever way that you can? She spoke of her resilience from past sexual abuse by her former swim coach and her new outlook on life after her mother passed. She spoke of way she feels so strong now in her mature age of 64, and touched on a number of topics except for the obvious; Nyad neither spoke directly about her gender being a factor, nor her sexual orientation as a drive for making an impact as a champion athlete. Instead, she had a very adamant and universal focus; determination, with the empowering mantra “ Find a way.”

”All of us suffer heartaches and difficulties in our lives. If you say to yourself, ‘find a way,’ you’ll make it through, ” Nyad told Oprah.

Diana Nyad is an inspiration for not just women, or people “over-the-hill”; she’s an inspiration for anyone who has ever has a dream, anytime, ever. “Find a way.” The fact that she is a woman and also a queer woman is only icing on the feminist cake. No one cares or even remembers it took her 35 years, and all that really matter now is that she made it. Without ever mentioning the word feminist, she oozes feminism to the core by simply being.

Just one month after her successful, record-breaking swim, Nyad took the plunge again, this time into a pool set-up in busy Herald Square in Manhattan, New York. But this time, Nyad was coming from a completely different angle. Her Herald Square pool swim ran 48-hours straight specifically to raise money and awareness for all those affected by last year’s devastating Superstorm Sandy.In pure Nyad fashion, Diana helped raise a total $103,001 to go to Sandy victims as she made her way out of the pool, having swam every last drop of the 48 hours. So in other words, Nyad continued to be an awesome human being.

Diana Nyad had no doubt that one day she would make it from Cuba to Florida, and somehow after 35 years, she did just as she planned; she found a way. She reminded us why sports are so important in our culture.Resilience, power, strength, hope, persistence, teamwork, humanism through sports advocacy. Simple human characteristics anyone can strive to achieve. Rather than an elaborate speech after her successful swim that sunny September day, Nyad just made three powerful points

  “I have three messages: One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you are never too old to chase your dream. And three is, it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team.”

Of course this advice is not specific to sports, but every good athlete in all of history follows these three simple rules. Athleticism done right is simply a reflection of what it means to be a good human being, and Nyad is all that. So really, shouldn’t we all aspire to have an athletic state of mind, whether we like sports or not? Diana Nyad, the champion, sure makes me think so.

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Why We’re Awesome: Girls Who Code

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” — Maya Angelou

Why We’re Awesome- A series spotlighting wonderful organizations that empower women and girls all over the world.

Science. Blerg. Many young girls will tell you it is their least favorite subject. But not these girls! Girls Who Code is a New York City based organization with the goal to close the gender gap in science based careers by training young girls interested in learning computer specialist techniques.  Hence the name: Girls Who Code.

Girls Who Code aims to provide computer science education and exposure to 1 million young women by 2020.

This is an organization that the U.S. education system has been needing for a long, long while. After all, to say girls don’t like science and math is simply a myth created from the way our education system is structured. Don’t agree? Check out the facts below.

In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.3% of high school girls select computer science.

Women today represent 12% of all computer science graduates. In 1984, they represented 37%.

Thank you, Girls Who Code, for helping young girls find their love for science, again. Programs like this are making  the U.S. just a little more like the progressive place we all hope to see one day, and that’s why Girls Who Code is awesome.

Girls Who Code began in NYC, but is currently working to launch programs in San Francisco, Detroit and San Jose in the year 2013.

Gender and the In Between- A Gender Queer’s Journey

Featured on Afropunk.com and SheWired.com!

As a child, I spoke as few words as possible. The sound of my feminine voice disgusted me. I hated to be called a girl, while loving the color pink. I was a budding genderqueer.

Boys are different from girls, they said.  Fundamentally different, they’d persist. Boys don’t have long hair. Boys don’t like pink. Boys don’t cry and boys are tough. Girls like playing with dolls. Girls do poorly at math and enjoy frilly things.

Boys.  I studied them. I developed obsessions with male classmates with the utter desire to someday become all that they were. I would play make believe with my siblings in which I’d only be satisfied if I took on a male role.  I connected with boys in a way I never could with girls, and never quite understood why. I would wear suspenders as a tween and feel like a boss because they would make it look like I had no chest. When I started to develop, I would wrap myself in a bandage, not realizing that was a trope practiced all too often in the trans community. I would do this until my gender identity was challenged.

“You are so flat,” my very influential peers would say, prompting me to ask my mother to buy me my first training bra.

And then I discovered the internet. I learned about the term transgender. I looked at hundreds upon hundreds of befores and afters, FtMs. Top surgeries, bottom surgeries, hormones. I would read and read until my eyes would blur from my families’ bright Dell desktop screen, and I’d sink in my chair, feeling the emptiness grow inside of me. It was as if the more I searched for myself, the more lost I got. Because I couldn’t avoid my feelings; I didn’t feel fully male.

I didn’t know any trans people in my anti-queer, southern town, and definitely wasn’t going to be the first. So what did I do? I conformed. Like the scared child that I was, I began to present myself as outrageously feminine, so no one would suspect anything strange. It was as if I thought people could see through me, and wanted to give them no reason to use thier x-ray vision to spot my insecurities…or my weirdness.

I fell into a bout of shame, hating my natural femininity because I’d used a false, hyper-femininity as a wall to hide behind for so long. Oh, what a person will do to fit in.

I wanted no more shame, so I turned to the bottomless internet once again, searching for a reason to love myself. I studied femininity and the power of it all. I learned that being feminine does not equate weakness. There is strength in the power of women. In femininity, there is beauty; not the skin deep kind but the unconditional kind.  Through countless articles and books, and studying empowered feminist women like Betty Dobson and bell hooks, I learned to love my female body, and now I don’t want to lose it.

So here I am, yin and yang. Masculine and feminine. I wear my hair long but learned to walk from male role models growing up. The color pink still makes me smile, but I feel like a lie when wearing a dress. I still bind and wear clothes from the men or boys section, and prefer to hide my curves (the little bit that I have anyway). Not because I want to look male, but because it is how I feel most comfortable.

I call myself a boi, a budding term used in the lesbian and queer community, and truly believe if energies were gendered, I would be just that. I have little to no desire to have surgery or take hormones, though I like it when you call me “he.” I don’t mind “she” or “they” because I am that, too. All of the above, please. Sometimes I feel completely male, and wish on those days I had an attractive male body to wear. But most days I feel like both. I know it is confusing. I even confuse myself sometimes, but that’s simply how I feel. I don’t feel masculine enough to be male, nor am I feminine enough to be female. I love and accept my female body, though I ask you to not suspect that makes me a “woman.”

Through my journey, I find that in terms of gender identity, you are what you say you are. A man that wears makeup and has double D’s is still a man if he tells you so. It takes no more criteria than that. What it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman are social constructs, and though the masses follow these standards, you don’t have to. I don’t have to. I prefer to say I am in between genders, masculine of center, and as I feel, I am.

I spoke recently to a dear friend that had a challenging question for me;

“Why don’t you just ignore gender? Why don’t you just be who you are and not worry about what that makes you, be it male, female or otherwise?”

I sat there, stumped and silent, too caught off guard to admit my annoyance. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but this anger boiled inside me. I slowly felt the tingle as my senses returned and I blurted out,

“Because nobody wants to be an outsider!”

I certainly didn’t think before I spoke, but couldn’t ignore the truth behind my words. Nobody wants to be an outsider. No one wants to feel like they belong nowhere. So many queer and trans people walk through their lives never feeling fully human, as if there is something alien about us that no one will ever understand. That is why we search for acceptance. That is why we challenge the gender binary and tell you to call us Zir. We’re fighting for our visibility, because we don’t like feeling invisible. We are not transsexual, we are sometimes not even transgender, but we’re definitely all over the gender spectrum, as a gender “binary”  is all but an illusion.

I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while now, but due to the fear of officially coming out as a genderfuck, I’ve avoided it. But as you see with this whole rant, I don’t care who knows anymore. I am tired of hiding in the binary and this is my way of connecting with all you gender queer and trans folk out there that are not interested in going all the way, on either side of the gender binary. We are the in betweeners, and we’re proud. Finally.