Call for Submissions: UnApologetic Women

www.unapologeticwomen.com

October 11, 2016:

A little over a year ago, I met my relatives in the hotel restaurant for the breakfast buffet. I said hello to my aunt and uncle, and walked off to peruse the perfectly cubed potatoes, the gorgeously golden brown french toast wedges, and the cascades of strawberries and blueberries over mountains of melons and pineapple. In the dimly lit corner, unspectacular, scrambled eggs being gently warmed by a bunson burner…when I noticed, across the room, a woman in a black shirt and smart vest expertly executing made-to-order omelettes, cracking not one, not two, but three eggs that filled the small iron cast pan perfectly, over the individually selected ingredients.  Peppers green and red, shards of onions, like glass, simmered alongside mushrooms and spinach leaves, nestled in between crumbles of feta cheese.

I walked toward her slowly, pausing. I too wanted a made-to-order omelette, but with only one egg, not three. Yet, I felt this was an absurd request; you could always ask for more, but who was I to ask for less? I imagined approaching her, as gently as possible, “Excuse me, sorry but, could I have…” and throwing her whole carefully choreographed culinary dance into disarray and chaos.

I turned and walked back to the standard issue scrambled eggs before turning around and heading back toward the omelette station. I did this about 3 times, weighing the possibilities, debating back and forth, battling between what I wanted and what I deserved, which I, myself, ultimately decided, was less than even the less I wanted. The determining factor was that I didn’t want the scrambled eggs, clearly neglected in light of this amazing omelette station, to get thrown away. I alone was responsible for food getting wasted.

I returned to the table and my aunt asked me what I was doing; she had witnessed me walking back and forth. I explained it to her, making a joke about “The Sorrowful Irish Woman” complex. Not sorrowful as in full of sorrow, but full of sorry. “It’s the Irish Trinity,” I explained, “Excuse me! Thank you! Sorry!” Always accompanied by nervous giggling. How we laughed and laughed, poking fun of ourselves, descendants of struggling Irish immigrants, victims of brutal and heartless colonization. Hilarious how this double consciousness became a character trait, born in fear and subjugation, passed down through the generations. Culturally conditioned to take care of everyone else before ourselves and to apologize for asking for basic necessities. Ha ha!

The Irish, like much of our homeland, cannot claim “Sorry” as our own. “Sorry” plagues all women. It is our collective unconscious agreement that we are second class citizens, that we don’t have the right to occupy the space it takes for us to walk down the street or stand up straight.  That if we’re wrong or not immediately right, we need to explain and beg for another chance. It’s polite to say “Excuse me” when pushing past someone, but we apologize, always, every moment, for asking for just enough or too little.

In college I met amazing people who opened my eyes to a whole world of ideas and theories and history regarding race, class, and gender. I felt empowered and vindicated when my best friend played “Feels Blind” by Bikini Kill for me for the first time. Unable to cope with or contemplate my own liberation, I adopted the attitude that my particular oppression wasn’t that big of a deal anyway and shouldn’t my time, energy and resources be focused on people who really suffer?

In July of 2016, I celebrated my 43rd birthday with all my shit and baggage and emotional issues from my 20’s intact. I guess you could say I have vintage trauma, my intimacy issues are from the 70’s even. If I hold on to them for a few more years, maybe they will double in value! At 43, I’m  still seeing the delicious omelet that’s for me, exactly the way I want it, that I would really enjoy so much, and I’m walking back to get the now dried out, room temperature scrambled eggs.

I was inspired, not so much by last summer’s breakfast buffet, but by the harrowing news that greets me each morning that women of all ages and backgrounds are still victims of rape and abuse at an alarming, incomprehensible, inexcusable rate. Compounding this very real and terrifying fact, that we are in danger all the time, all over the world, is that even movements for racial equality, which whom all women should be fighting alongside with full force, sees the cause of women’s equality as a footnote or point of reference and not a necessary ally for the liberation of all people. For example, Aaron Persky’s dismissal of Brock Turner brutal rape did not register a discussion of strategy to eliminate rape and rape culture where there is plenty of room for men to speak out about this to other men, but a plethora of articles lamenting the unfair sentences for rapists along lines of class and race. The discussion, “He only got this much time for raping that woman when this guy got like 10 years,” could have included, “Oh my god, look at all these women getting raped all the time!”

And then Donald Trump. Running for president. Today is October 11th, 2016. I am sure by November 8th, we will hear even more deplorable and misogynist “locker room banter”. Again, while I almost expect this backwards thinking by his supporters who can only understand their own liberation through the oppression of everyone else, it’s the “progressive” circles that worry me. Those who insist that a Trump presidency is the same as a Clinton presidency really perceive gender inequality as, I suppose, not that big of a deal. That our rights to our bodies will be much better off under Clinton than a Trump presidency isn’t a major, if not determining, factor for them in this upcoming election.

These things are related. Our constant apologizing for nothing, the colonization of our bodies, the direct and incessant messages bombarding us to be smaller, to take up less space in our own skin, our worth in the market place still at $0.65 to a dollar for white women, less for Afro-American, even less for latinx, even less for trans women, diminishing in real time everyday. 

I am tired of apologizing, I’m done with being sorry. Let’s not be sorry anymore together.

This is an invitation to be part of UnApologetic, a series of testimony and portraits toward liberation, to eliminate “sorry” from women’s vernacular. Share your story of what you refuse to apologize for any more, of what you unapologize for, and help put “sorry” where it belongs: in deliberate conversation where you are seriously trying to make amends for hurting someone else. When you liberate yourself, you open the door for others, you can be the voice that empowers another woman or girl or femme to stop apologizing and together we can start a movement.   

What is UnApologetic?

UnApologetic is an open and public photography project accompanying testimony for women’s liberation. Women write their testimony to be shared publicly, online and elsewhere, explaining what they are no longer sorry for, and collaborate with the photographer, Tracey Noelle Luz, to create a portrait  that reflects who they are as a woman who refuses to apologize for who they are or what they have been through.

The Process: Sign a release form* and submit their testimony to unapologetic.women@gmail.com, and collaborate with the photographer on a portrait to accompany their testimony.

How can you participate?

1. Email unapologetic.women@gmail.com and let us know you are interested in participating. All portraits and testimonies will be shared online, through social media, and through other venues for people to read, so if you’re not comfortable sharing your story publicly, this option is not for you. Otherwise, we will send you a release form, and you can send us your testimony of what you no longer or refuse to apologize for. Based on your testimony, we’ll create a portrait that best represents you as your unapologetic self.  

2. At this time, I can only take your portrait if you are in the metro New York area. If you want to share your story, but it’s too far for us to connect at this moment, please take your camera phone, point it at yourself, and declare, “I’m not sorry for……” Tag us on social media with these hashtags: #unapologetic, #unapologetic_women, #unapologeticwomen, #weunapologetic. Post on our FB page, share with us on Twitter or FaceBook.

3. If you’re not comfortable with sharing your story and being photographed, you can still read about other women’s stories and be inspired by their voices! Stories will be updated on a regular basis so check the web page often once we get up and running!

4. Love yourself and be yourself completely and totally all the time. Apologize for nothing.

*Portraits and testimony will be used shared publicly on unapologeticwomen.com as well as in print and in gallery settings. Before participation, you must sign a release.  

Social Media:

FaceBook: UnApologeticWomen

Instagram: @unapologetic_women

Twitter: @weunapologetic

Camiesha Cassanova, A Wilder Fire

I met Camiesha in an Uber pool in Manhattan. I got into the car and was immediately struck by her beauty. I told her so. “Are you a model?” I asked. She said, “No, but I want to be.” We exchanged numbers and two months later she agreed to meet me in Rockaway on the last perfect summer day in September. We met at Playland, and talked for maybe 15 minutes before walking to the beach. And we just started shooting. Cameisha knew exactly what to do, how to look, how to move, she’s so natural in front of the camera so that the shoot itself is like poetry. It just flows and the images are reflective of her love of modeling and my bliss behind the camera.

 

Growing up in Jamaica, Camiesha started modeling in competition and runway shows at 7 years old. Six years later, she came to New York City to attend school but was sent to meet some family, she is one of 15 siblings, in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Throughout high school, she could not quell her dream of modeling. Camiesha discovered that she had a grandmother living in New York, and she knew that to launch a modeling career, she needed to be there.  “I always had the burning desire to live in NYC and to follow that dream,” she explained. “However, it was not a ‘safe’ profession, as people in my family would say.” After her 18th birthday, she left for New York without telling anyone where she was going.

“I read a lot of magazines and self help books as I had no mentors, or anyone who believed in a dream only I felt and only I could see. Meditation became a big part in my life after all the failures I’ve endured during my journey. Journaling is an escape for me; it spills my mind out on papers that I can read over to relearn myself.” – Camiesha Cassanova

 

 

I love Rockaway Beach and was elated when Camiesha agreed to meet me there. I was also elated when the weather decided to cooperate, since the forecast had predicted showers. There’s a joy when you’re collaborating with someone to make something beautiful, but it’s even more exciting when that person is a complete stranger. We saw a motorcycle, and we were like, Oh it would be so great if  we could ask the owner if we could use his motorcycle in a couple of pics. And then that guy appeared. Cameisha would invite who ever she could into the photos. When we were by the swings, she summoned over these two little girls, “Can I push you on the swings?” “Don’t scratch me!” said one of the little girls. Bratty Irish! In front of Saint Rose of Lima, where my mom was baptized, she reached out to take photos with a nervous chihauhau. Princess was not accommodating. So we had this great playing going on, but as soon as the distraction was over, Camiesha popped right back into to glamour mode.

 

“When I first came to the USA, I was home sick, culture-shocked, and scared. I missed my little island, my comfort zone. That is where I felt I can do anything,” said Camiesha. “Coming here made me feel so small. I realize now at the age of 22 that fear and doubt is what prevented from being that fierce 7 year old that I once was. Now I’m evolving into something more, a wilder fire, to finally become the model I always was, and wanted to be.”

Follow Camiesha on Instagram @theresamoraltothestory.

All Rights Reserved, Tracey Noelle Luz
Camiesha Cassanova, Rockaway Beach, September 18, 2016