Do you really know what you stand for and will fight for? Are you really what you say you are?
I believe that we do not really know who we are until we are faced with a serious even and our realities are challenged, when our lives are thrown upside down. These are the times that define us all.
Personally, I believe that the majority of us do not know who they are. I think this is because of society and how it teaches us to fit into the perfect model of a consumer and where we live to work. To the point that we do not challenge the way things are in the world.
Many people similarly situated to myself, who are and have faced death, have had their eyes forced open, they realize that having the newest Iphone or best dress is not important. That what is important is enjoying life and getting the most experiences out of it.
Unfortunately, or fortunately (depends on how you look at it), this may have made many of us a bit blunter or “lacking social cues” because we don’t quite see the need for unnecessary pleasantries in social situations or politics because life just maybe too sort.
Maybe we have also seen how that fighting over the little things like voting for a third party candidate over a so called “major party” candidate and the person that they are thworing their vote away is just not necessary. Even how there is this huge fight over making sure that Hillary Clinton is elected when she cannot do much if we do not have a progressive House and Senate.
Just the grossness in politics and society is a problem and at least for me it is sometimes very hard to deal with people because fo the experiences I have had that has given me a different perspective on life when I just don’t see the logic in even worrying about stuff like that. Such as getting the latest car, a great house, or the fancy clothes.
This is who I am.
I am a fighter, a transgender woman, a Democrat, a sexual assualt surivior, a feminist, and a student.
Let’s fight on and change this world! Let’s challenge the social norms!
I wake up feeling pain and choking on the dryness in my throat. The nurses around me are talking and doing things with my iv lines. I could not understand what. One of them ask me, “Mika, what is your pain level?” I don’t respond, I just groan because I still am fighting the hoarseness and dryness in my throat. I try to swallow the saliva that isn’t there, and fall back asleep.
I wake again hearing someone ask me, “Mika, can you tell me what your pain level is?”
I clear my throat and say, “I feel pain. A lot of pain.”
The person replies, “Yes, what is the pain level? One to ten.”
I reply, “It is a 11.” I then feel someone touching my arm and I fall asleep once again.
The next thing I remember is people talking and being in a different room but I was not wearing a mask. Someone in the room was speaking but not towards me. I ask, but to no one in particular, “Water, I need water.”
At one moment of my consciousness before I was fully awake, I turned to my grandmother and weakly said, “No more dialysis.”
I am a bit more conscious and aware, I see that I am in a private patient room with family around. A nurse is trying to talk to me about the surgery, the morphine pump, only being allowed ice, and needing to get up to walk by 10:30pm.
Cystinosis has been a struggle. It has been a challenge for me and those who care about me. Yes, perhaps I’m a survivor. However, I’m living with it every day. There is no break and I have fallen apart from time to time because of it.
When I was a kid, I was always seen as different. Every day, I would got to the nurse’s office to take medications. Many days, I had bad breath and body odor from my medications, and I felt sick to my stomach. This usually ended in me vomiting.
Elementary and middle school were especially difficult for me because of this. Not to forget all of the doctor appointments and hospitalizations I had to go to which caused me to miss a lot of school. Growing up with cystinosis is difficult and quite the journey.
Cystinosis is not the only thing that defines me. I am more than my diagnosis. I am a progressive democrat, a feminist, a human rights activist, an organizer, and a student. Beyond all of this, I am a human being.
Cystinosis is part of everything. It is with me every day and intersects everything. Because I must take medications every day and I must make sure that I have health insurance no matter where I go to school or work. I even cannot leave for a weekend vacation without packing medications and it is not just a couple, it is twenty-three different medications. Because of them, I am reminded of the disease every several hours.
In 2010, my senior year in high school, I turned 19 and lost my health insurance. In Nebraska, a person becomes a legal adult at age 19 and according to Medicaid rules one must re-apply for insurance. I did just that and was denied. I was told that I was not eligible for coverage for having a pre-existing condition (cystinosis). I tired applying four times with the same results.
While attempting to be a regular high school student and completing my senior year, I needed to figure out how in the world I was going to get health insurance. I needed the insurance to cover all of my medications that kept me alive and keeps the disease at bay.
At this point, I was working at J.C. Penny, but not nearly making enough money to cover private health insurance. Not to forget, I was beginning my process of coming out. And finding my political affiliation as a Democratic Socialist. This caused several other issues or benefits. It really depends on how you look at it.
Many of my friends were talking and laughing about who they were dating, talking about what college they planned to attend, and what classes they would take. No, not me, listening to them talk of these things actually made me feel angry, hurt, and mat at the world and God.
Nonetheless, at some point, I understood that I was seeing the world more clearly. I guess they all may have helped made me stronger in a way. They may have helped make me into the person I am today.
Growing up, I have made sacrifices that I did not want to make. But, I knew that I needed to, so that they would protect me and get things done.
The year 2011 was even more difficult for me to attempt to put cystinosis in a box as just one detail of who I am because my kidneys failed. I would need a kidney transplant or start dialysis. Thus, my doctors put me on hemodialysis. At the time I did not have a kidney donor.
Hemodialysis is a form of kidney dialysis that can be done with a catheter (a plastic tube) placed in the chest into the superior vena cava (a very large vein right above the heart) that is used to cycle blood into a machine that cleans the blood and returns it. I was on this form of dialysis every other day for four hours of the day in a center for about ten months.
I knew that I would need to look for a kidney donor because I could not indefinitely live on dialysis. After a couple months of searching I found one, her name was Erika von Kampen. She was a match and we had the transplant scheduled at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (Nebraska Medicine). Unfortunately, the transplant was unable to happen there and I had to move on.
Therefore, in February 2012 I switched to peritoneal dialysis. This form of dialysis uses my own body, the peritoneal membrane in my abdomen as a filter to clear wastes and extra fluid from my body and returns electrolytes.
I was on peritoneal dialysis for fifteen months. This form can also be continuous, which I did go to when I had a cycler so that it could cycle the fluid at night while I slept. I was on it from 2012 to May 30, 2013 when I received a kidney transplant at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC).
As I’ve said, cystinosis is only a part of my life. Peritoneal dialysis changed my life to make cystinosis a smaller part of my life. It was like I had some of my freedom again. I was able to follow my passion and fight for what I believe in again. I was able to even become active in politics, I also met many wonderful people including Amber Bordolo a Field Organizer with Organizing for America (OFA).
I was going to college at Iowa Western Community College (IWCC), working on my Associate’s degree in psychology, when Amber invited me to a couple of her events. I finally attended one of them, became friends with her, and she recommended that I apply to become a Summer Fellow (intern) at OFA. Little did I know how big of an impact that was going to have on my life.
At the beginning, I worked to organize house parties and other events to get supporters together, fired up and ready to go to work to get the President re-elected. Soon, I moved into a different stage of the campaign where I made many calls to convince voters to support him. Additionally, on the campaign, I had the change to go to Des Moines, Iowa to see the President speak to a crowd of supporter at the Iowa State Fairgrounds where I was able to stand on stage behind President Barack Obama.
It was while I worked with OFA, that I looked into going to the UIHC to get on their transplant list and perhaps have a living donor transplant.
In September of 2012, I went to Iowa City, Iowa for medical tests and evaluations at UIHC Transplant Center to see about being placed on their list. I passed and was placed. Additionally, I went out to find a living donor. This included me sharing my story and health condition with people. Then I sent out packets of information and forms to eight people who were interested. However, only three were returned to the transplant center and one was a match, but had complications and could not donate. I had to make a choice, spend more time sending out packets or see if Erika was still willing to donate her kidney.
I was lucky because Erika was still interested in donating. Once she filled out the forms and they were returned to the transplant center, they immediately scheduled her for an appointment to be evaluated since we already knew she was a very good match. The transplant was scheduled for May 30, 2013, which I dubbed adoption of Serenity because I named the new kidney Serenity.
I am living with full kidney function thanks to Erika and the staff at UIHC. The transplant gave me my life back literally and figuratively. I started the journey to kidney transplant on November 22, 2010 to May 30, 2013. Those were three very long years of two types of dialysis, doctors’ visits, and hospital stays. All I must deal with now is immune-suppressants, cystinosis medications, and fighting to continue to have health insurance.
But, it is still hard. I don’t know what it is like to just live. To live without there being a struggle or some sort of challenge to overcome. Ever since I graduated high school, I have been living from one struggle or challenge to overcome to the next. No time to breath, no time to relax or get comfortable. Or at least the moment I start to relax something new happens, another challenge confronts me. I know how to survive but I do not know how to just live. That is what I am learning.
Nevertheless, cystinosis and most of the challenges did not halt my endeavors. I wanted to do more and give back to society. This is why I volunteered with Iowa Pride Network and volunteered to be on their College Leadership Team. On the team I organized and ran the Iowa Pride Network’s Southwest Regional Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition. This Coalition was a great way for LGBTQIA youth and students to come together and have a safe space. The Coalition consisted of one meeting a month and the meetings were educationally based to fill the education gap on LGBTQIA studies and issues.
While I was a member of the College Leadership Team, I was a college student at Iowa Western Community College and in the summer of 2012, I had my first taste of political campaigning.
As I spoke about before, I became a Summer Organizer for OFA or the Obama campaign. In that position, I had many responsibilities including working closely with volunteers and talking with Iowa voters. I recruited, managed, and trained volunteers to organize their communities and neighborhoods into teams that registered, persuaded, and motivated voters. I organized my turf (most of Iowa House District 16), I planned and successfully organized on of the largest Equality Nights in Iowa. During that event I lead a discussion on the accomplishments of President Barack Obama and the Democrats for the LGBTQIA community. In addition, I worked to grow neighborhood teams on a grassroots level and managed team leaders.
This was an awesome experience to grow as an adult, learn how to manage several tasks at once and be focused on completing goals. It was quite fun. I loved talking to voters and making connections with them about what is important in their lives and how Democrats can work with them to better their lives.
Ever since getting involved in politics in 2012, I stayed involved because I felt that it was an important endeavor. Therefore, I became more active within the local party and learned more about Iowa politics, my new home. I stayed involved in Nebraska as well, where several Nebraska citizens were interested in fighting for second parent adoption.
It was in the winter of 2012, I worked with these citizens who did not have the ability to secure their families through second parent adoption or join adoption in their own state. After we did extensive research, we began working with Nebraska State Senator Sara Howard (District 9) to introduce a bill in the state legislature.
Senator Howard introduced LB380 in February 2013 to correct Nebraska law. I then ran a grassroots campaign for the bill that consisted of an online petition, emails, and calls to State Senators. And I organized postcard making parties in several cities throughout eastern Nebraska, which was sponsored by MoveOn.org. Unfortunately, the bill did die that session, but Sen. Howard continues to fight for families in the state legislature.
While, I was working on the second parent adoption bill, I was the field director of Forward Equality. The organization was formed by several friends of mine including a former professor of mine, and myself. Forward Equality worked on progressive issues ranging from workers’ rights to civil rights (including LGBTQIA). I worked (non-paid) at Forward Equality from April 2010 to April 2014 when it dissolved.
Furthermore, as I said, I continued to be involved in the local Democratic Party. I was elected of the Iowa Democratic Party and severed on the Pottawattamie County Executive Committee as Affirmative Action Chair. I served as Affirmative Action Chair from February 2014 to October 2015.
As the Affirmative Action Chair, I organized the first Affirmative Action Committee in Pottawattamie county for the county Party, where we worked to ensure that our Party was following the Iowa Democratic Party’s rules and regulations on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and their diversity requirements. This included organizing our involvement in several Pottawattamie County events such as Celebrate Council Bluffs and Heartland Pride LGBTQIA Parade and Festival. I assisted in ensuring that the Pottawattamie County 2016 Caucus locations were ADA accessible to the best of our abilities, and we worked to bring those who historically felt unwelcome back into the Party.
Moving forward, I have been involved in the Presidential Democratic primary. I was a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders for president. I first met him back in September 2014 at an event he was speaking at in Des Moines. From that moment on I knew that he was a person that I was willing to fight for and put in long hours campaigning for. He was my candidate. But, at that time Sen. Sanders was not running for president, he was only considering it. I then decided that I had work to do. I volunteered with the Run Bernie Run campaign to get Sen. Sanders to run for president and as a Democrat and I did that for a couple of months by sharing word about Sen. Sanders and sharing a petition for him.
On May 26, 2015, Sen. Bernie Sanders surprised many people including myself by announcing that he was indeed running for president and that he was going to run as a Democrat. I knew at that moment that I had to find out how I can help him out in Council Bluffs. However, I was still the Affirmative Action chair for the Pottawattamie County Democrats and so it made my choice to throw my full public support behind Sen. Sanders.
The choice was thrust upon me the last week of June when I was called by the Bernie Sanders campaign asking me if I could introduce Sen. Sanders at their town hall in Council Bluffs on July 3, 2015. I felt overwhelmed with excitement and terror. I have never spoken publicly to over 2,000 people. Thus, my first response to the staffer who called me was give me some time to think about it. I said this even though in my heart it was screaming go and do this
On July 3, 2015, I gave one of the first speeches kicking off the Bernie Sanders campaign in Iowa. I introduced Sen. Sanders in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I was so nervous but I did my job and did it well for Bernie. That day forward, I began my volunteering for Sen. Sanders. I volunteered on his campaign for months until December when I was hired as an Organizing Fellow for the campaign. I was officially on the Bernie Sanders campaign payroll.
I was an Organizing Fellow for two months before I was promoted Field Organizer. In that position I recruited, managed and trained volunteers, and I built and managed several volunteer canvass and phone banks.
While on the campaign I worked in Nebraska on their caucus. There my turf included Lincoln but I also knew people in three other counties so I organized them as well. Two of the three counties went for Bernie. After the Nebraska caucuses, I was sent back to Iowa to work on our County Conventions making sure Bernie got a fair representation by having all of his delegates show up.
Between working on the Iowa Conventions, I was sent to Kansas to help organize the campaigns’ participation at their state’s District conventions. When I was finished in Kansas I went back Iowa to continue to work. Nonetheless, I was sent to Colorado to assist with organizing for their State Convention. There I called to invite people to the convention, organized carpools, and at the convention I helped in several ways including monitoring the official ballots and observing the counting of the ballots. I worked for Sen. Bernie Sanders as a Field Organizer from February of 2015 to May 3rd of this year.
Today, I am living my life, I am out and open about who I am. This is who I am, a human being who has a lot of passion to make this world a better place for all. I am a human being who lives with cystinosis and who is a transgender woman. I am a woman, a sexual assault survivor, a Democrat, a human rights activist, a feminist, a student, and a fighter.
This is my story and it continues. Cystinosis will not win.
In second grade, there was a boy in my class, we would go to his house and play games together. At school, we played frequently during our recesses. I seemed to be drawn to him. He always stood up for me against the big bad bullies. He would hug me and tell me,
“Don’t cry, I won’t let’em hurt ya.”
At that age, I did not think that I was different or see that there was anything wrong. I had no idea what being gay meant. I was being me and he was my best friend, which is all I saw at the time.
Later, my family moved to Wahoo, NE, and I never spoke to him again. I was in the third grade when I first heard the word ‘gay.’ I did not understand what it meant, I was too busy playing and being a kid to worry about it. However, kids started calling me gay and a sissy because I was weak and I did not like what most of the other boys liked. I guess I seemed girly. In addition, I had feelings that I did not quite understand. I thought they were normal, so I did not pay much attention to them.
Around the end of the school year, someone called me a, ‘fagot.’ I cried and cried that day. I could not understand what it meant, but it hurt that people would call me these names. I started to feels as thought I was different. I did not know what they saw was bad or wrong with me.
In the fourth grade, I began thinking that I might be gay. I started having sexual feelings about boys. I tried to push them away and tell myself, “No, it’s wrong to think like that.”I started believing that I was sick, and depression set in. I had no idea what to do. I wanted to go back to second grade and be with my friend; he would make all the bad things stop. I tried to pretend I was sick all the time so I would not have to go to school or to leave early to get away from the bullying.
Fifth grade, my last year of elementary school, and first year at the new building in Wahoo, I was so happy. Everything was new, I was excited to have a chance to start over. I thought I could lose those feelings I’d been having. I was so hopeful.
As much as I tried not to be myself, I could no longer hide it. Somehow, my fellow classmates knew. I looked to the teachers to help, but they were very reluctant. I must be sick, I constantly told myself.
Sophomore year at Wahoo High School, was sort of the best and worst year I had ever in Wahoo. I decided I could be ‘normal.’ I worked hard to open up to people and put myself out there. I very much wanted to be normal, to be like everyone else. I decided to try to find a girlfriend.
Thus, I knew my cousin had a friend who I also knew, and we had several things in common. I asked my cousin’s friend to go to the homecoming dance with me at my high school, along with my cousin herself and one other of my friends. It felt like a safe way to attempt to belong.
On New Year’s Eve, I was with my older sister and cousin, while we drank that evening, celebrating the promise of the New Year, I told them that I was indeed bisexual and that there was a guy I liked. My cousin and sister said,
“Yeah, we know.”
They poked fun for a bit, in a loving way, and we continued chatting as we always had. I finally felt like I could be myself.
The following day was a new year and I decided to live openly. I began to experience what living openly means. Including the pain of being gay in a small town high school in the United States and especially in Nebraska, where it was legal to bully and harass a fellow student based on their sexual orientation. To this day, there are no state or federal laws banning bullying or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
As an openly ‘gay’ student, I began to experience bullying and harassment in a different way, but I decided I would have to live with what was thrown at me. At the same time, I was beginning to feel the hurt manifesting from the fact that I really liked the boy I told my sister and cousin about. I knew the feelings I had for him would not be returned. I thought at the time that he was too perfect. During this time, I was learning for the information I had at hand, that gay and bisexual people do not get ‘perfect,’ and knew they never would.
Soon the bullying and harassment escalated to the point where I needed to leave Wahoo. I became very depressed and angry. I did not completely understand why. I just came out and learned from my research that I should be feeling better. Coming out always makes things better. Nevertheless, I did not feel much better. I was not happy many days. I still felt wrong in my own body.
One day after watching my older sister get her nails done, something happened. I felt that I would like to see how my nails would look painted. Thus, a couple of my friends and I painted my nails. I learned that I did love it.
Soon, I felt more comfortable and I started looking at the tighter jeans from Hot Topic. I knew guys were not ‘supposed’ to pain their nails or wear girly cloths. However, I wanted to wear them. I wanted to wear those things, and they made me feel more comfortable when I did. They also really scared me. I began having problems sleeping and could not stop thinking at night. I also became interested in other things to express myself such as choir, drama, and activism.
In drama class, while still living in Wahoo, I learned that I really like to do make-up, read plays, and act. My drama teacher was the most supportive. She taught me that it was okay to be myself and that included my sexual orientation and gender expression. Because I could not sleep at night, that is when I would end up staying up all night practicing for speech competitions, reading the poems aloud, and allowing the words to connect with my own emotions. Perhaps not the best for my academics, but it may have helped me psychologically.
In 2007, my family and I left Wahoo. Most of that summer we lived in a subdivision of Omaha. When school started, I moved in with my cousin and her family so I was able to attend school with her at Millard South High School. I met so many new people there. People there were finally accepting of me for who I was regardless of my sexual orientation or gender expression. I even met many other openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and asexual (LGBTQA) students. Millard South was a safer environment for me. I was able to open up and become the person who I truly was all along.
Millard South even offered many more academic opportunities than the small town school did. I was able to take part in the German program. I was able to thrive there, and I soon gained confidence in myself. I was even somewhat popular, although I attribute that to the fact that I was openly queer and ‘different.’ In many aspects different was good. I might not have been ‘normal,’ but I was accepted for who I was.
Students and teachers at Millard South actually thought something of me. They believed that I could do some awesome things in my future. I had a couple of teachers who believed in me especially when I did not believe in myself. They gave me encouragement. They told me to keep fighting for what was right. They believed in me when I really needed someone, when even my own family was not there for me. I will never forget all that they did for me and I hope I can repay them.
Junior year at Millard South flew bye and the next thing I knew, I was a senior. I was terrified of what would be in my future. However, I could not wait for the end of the year because I wanted to move on to college.
My new pride and confidence did not help me at home. My mother and her boyfriend acted as if they hated me. They probably did. She not only did not understand who I was, she seemed not interested in trying to learn. Her boyfriend, who had been living with us since we lived in Wahoo, had said he wanted me dead. He truly hated me then and will always. He has never told me why and I do not care. They both thought I needed to see a psychologist.
On that particular issue, they were right. I needed to see someone who could help me understand myself. I had known for years that I was different and my time at Millard South allowed me to develop and embrace certain parts of my identity. I knew there was more, but I could not figure out what. I could not piece together why I felt that a part of me was incomplete.
Finally, I did see a psychologist, one that was at Boys Town. She was very nice and LGBTQIA+ friendly. I spoke with her about my research on LGBTQIA+ matters and laws that affect them. I spoke with her about my classes and the many issues. She understood that the problems at home were multi-facet and did have a lot to d with my mother and her boyfriend. She understood that some of the problems I was facing were related to being queer and dealing with the bullying and harassment. The sessions with her helped me to begin to accept a fact about myself that I had previously been unable to come to terms with. I was able to finally come out as transgender. I was able to identify the roots of some of the many problems and discovered more about my identity. I also realized that the only way to overcome the feelings of injustice I had was to continue to fight for my rights, as I had done in high school the year before.
At one of the sessions where my mother and I were at, I came out to her. I remember yelling,
“Well, I am fucking sick of listening to you cry about you cry about your problems! We are here about me! I am fucking transgender!”
That day forward, I began coming out to people. On October 11, 2009, I told the store manager at J.C. Penney that I was transgender and from that moment on, I would be identifying as female, using female pronouns, and prefer being addressed as Mika. I also began the process of coming out at school and requesting my teachers to address me the same.
Coming out as transgender was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was so difficult because I was so scared. I knew my family did not like me being queer. I was worried about how my friends at school and work would treat me. I fully expected to be fired from my job.
Now, I wonder why I did not notice this sooner. Coming out actually opened my own mind to new possibilities. It helped me accept myself and I was able to improve my academics and work beyond what I thought I could.
It has been a long journey. Now, after nearly six years I am starting medical transition to assist me in confirming my gender. I recently started transgender hormone therapy. The medications I take are to assist in secondary gender characteristics. I take spironolactone (aldactone) to suppress the male sex hormone (testosterone) that my body does produce. Having hypogonadism my body’s sex organs do not produce much testosterone. I also use estradiol (climara), which adds the female sex hormone (estrogen) to my body. Because of the hypogonadism, my body was never exposed to large amounts of the testosterone. Therefore, I was able to socially transition into my true gender much easier.
In the film Divergent (2014), the society is divided into five factions that each person in that society must choose from when they reach a certain age, and they must commit to that faction for life. To help determine which faction each individual fits into as they mature into adults, each of them take aptitude tests.
Each faction represents a different human virtue. Abnegation the selfless, Dauntless the brave, Erudite the intelligent, Candor the honest, and Amity the peaceful.
Tris Prior, however, does not fit into any of these factions. She fits into Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite. Therefore, she is Divergent. The film is focused around Tris Prior and her journey through this society, and into the civil war. Which broke out between disagreements on what should be done with the Divergent population and the true meaning behind this cohort.
In the film Divergent (2014), the leader of Erudite, Jeanine Mathews came to the conclusion that the Divergent population are a threat to their society. This leads to her entire faction supporting her and her decision to overthrow the Abnegation. I believe this is an example of groupthink (Sanderson, pgs. 301-303) because the entire faction sides with Jeannine Mathews and they do not dissent her decision. They also have unanimity in their opinions of Abnegation and of the Divergent.
I believe that the Erudite came to these conclusions because of their biased perceptions against the Divergent. None of them, however, have known an openly Divergent individual. For instance, Jeanine Mathews claims that Divergents want to destroy society, and that their entire existence goes against nature. All of which align with mirror-image perception (Sanderson, pg. 308). She says this because they do not fit into one faction but do sometimes fit into or with multiple factions, and therefore even Divergent individuals could also see Erudite as destroying society, and going against nature. However, the other factor leading to the events was the hostile media phenomenon (Sanderson, pg. 309) because the Candor-run media published news that was biased against the Abnegation. The Candor-run media was making accusations about abuse and neglect in the faction that happened to align with rumors started by the Erudite.
Finally, in the film Divergent (2014), the Erudite revolted and raised an army to attack the Abnegation. They did this by using the Dauntless faction as their pawns, and also as their soldiers. Again through groupthink, the Dauntless leaders decided to align with Jeanine Mathews and use a so-called “serum” on their own faction members. This so-called “serum” did two things, made the faction members who were not found to be worthy of elite titles to go into a simulation and to find out the Divergent population in Dauntless who were immune to the so-called “serum.” These Dauntless murdered all the Divergent found within their ranks. I believe this is an example of deindividuation (Sanderson, pgs. 295-297) because they would not have behaved that way if they were not in a large group.
I have read all of the books in the Divergent series and watched this specific film about six times. Thus, now, I must say that watching it again in a social psychological perspective it did change how I looked at this film. I saw underline themes that I did not pick up on before, such as how it discusses aggression, group process on decisions, and even factors that lead to conflict. The film also made a mental impact on me when it comes to deindividuation and murder or war.
I think the film Divergent (2014), was done well in catching themes for discussion on group influence, specifically deindividuation, groupthink, power of leadership, and biased perceptions. If one looked at this film differently than I did, they could possibly have seen a different set of themes to discuss. I chose group influence because of the faction system set up in their society, which inherently had problems. Thus, I looked at the social psychological problems caused by that system. I would recommend the entire Divergent series for students to watch. Divergent (2014) especially, because of how it sets up the playing field with explaining the factions and because of what I said before about how there are other themes than the one I choice to look at.
I was in second grade when I noticed a boy in my class. We would go to his house, play games, and at school, we played a lot together during our lunchtime recess. I really liked him. He always stood up for me against the big bad bullies that made fun of me because of my bad breath at times. He would hug me and tell me, “Don’t cry, I won’t let ’em hurt ya.” At that age, I did not know what being gay was, I didn’t think that I was different or that there was anything wrong. I was just being me and he was my best friend that is all that I saw back then. Not too long later, I moved to Wahoo, and I never talked to him again.
The following year, when I was in third grade, I started hearing the word ‘gay.’ I did not understand, I was too busy playing and being a kid to worry about it. Kids called me gay because I was weak and I did not like what most of the boys liked. I was a bit girly. Nevertheless, I started having these feelings about boys, and just thought that they were normal so I didn’t pay much attention to them. I was not having any sexual thoughts, just friendship, but strong attachment. One day, around the end of the school year, someone called me a fagot. I cried and cried that day after school. I didn’t understand what it meant, but it hurt that people would call me these names. I didn’t have my friend to protect me anymore. I started to feel like I was different but I didn’t know what they thought was bad or wrong about me.
In fourth grade, I discovered what gay was. I started having sexual thoughts about boys in my class. I started to push the feelings away and told myself, “No, it’s wrong to think like that.” I started thinking I was ill, and began to get depressed and didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go back to second grade and be with my friend; he would make the bad things stop, I thought. I started pretending I was sick all the time, so I didn’t have to go to school or so I could leave early to get away from the bullying.
I started fifth grade, my last year of elementary school, at the new school in Wahoo. I was so happy when school started. Everything was so new. I was excited to have a chance to start over. I could lose those feelings; I’d been having for boys. I was hopeful. Unfortunately, as much as I tried not to be me, I could no longer hide it. Somehow, they knew. The bullying became worse. I looked to the teachers to help which they were very reluctant to do. I must be sick, I constantly told myself.
My sophomore year was the worse and best year in Wahoo. I decided I could be ‘normal,’ I worked hard to open up to people and put myself out there. I just wanted to be normal, like everyone else. I decided to try to find a girlfriend. My cousin had a friend who, I also knew and had some things in common. I decided to ask my cousin’s friend to go to homecoming with me at my high school, along with my cousin. We would go as a group. It felt like a safe way to try to belong.
At the dance, we sat the entire night talking about how we thought many of the other students looked so stupid. My cousin and her friend were from Omaha. They went to school at Millard South High School (MSHS). Therefore, I thought they were cool and sophisticated. I thought they would understand someone being gay or bisexual, and thought that maybe it would be safe for me to come out to them.
That same year, on New Year’s Eve, I was with my sister, cousin, and her friend, while we drank that evening, celebrating the promise of the New Year. I told them that I was bisexual and that there was a guy I really liked but thought he would never like me. My cousin and sister said, “Yeah, we know.” My cousin’s friend said nothing but as the evening continued, it became clear that they were all okay with me, despite my declaration. They poked fun a bit, in a loving way, and we continued chatting as we always had. I finally felt like I could be me.
The following day was a new year and I decided to live openly. I began to experience how to live openly and began to understand the pain of being gay in a high school in the United States of America and especially in Nebraska where it was legal to bully a fellow student based on their sexual orientation. To this day, there is no state law banning bullying or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. As an openly ‘gay’ student, I began to experience bullying and harassment in a different way, but I decided I would just have to live with what was thrown at me. At the same time, I was beginning to feel the hurt manifesting from the fact that I really like the boy I told my sister and cousin about. I knew the feelings I had for him would not be returned. I thought he was too perfect. I began to know that gay and bisexual people do not get ‘perfect,’ and knew they never would.
At that point, I decided that I needed to leave the small town that I grew up in. I could no longer deal with the constant harassment and bullying. I became very depressed and didn’t know why. I just came out and learned from my research that I should be feeling better. Coming out always makes things better. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel any better. I was not happy most of my days. I constantly, felt that I would be more comfortable dressing more girly and really liked the idea of panting my nails. I soon began to wear skinny jeans and black nail polish. I knew guys weren’t ‘supposed’ to wear girly cloths or nail polish. However, I wanted to wear those things; they made me feel more comfortable. They also really scared me. I started having problems sleeping and thinking. I became interested in other things, like choir, activism, and acting. In drama class, I learned that I really like to do make up, and act and read the plays. My drama teacher taught me it’s okay to be gay. Since I couldn’t sleep, I started staying up all night practicing for speech competition, reading the poems aloud, allowing the words to connect with my own emotions.
My family and I left Wahoo in 2007, and lived most of that summer in a small subdivision of Omaha. When school started, I moved in with my cousin and her family. I was able to attend school with her at Millard South High School. There I met so many new people. Many people there were accepting of my gender expression. I even met other openly LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual). MSHS was a safer environment for me; I began to open up and became the person who I truly was. MSHS offered so many more learning opportunities than the small town schools I had attended. I was so excited to be able to take part in the German program and really was able to thrive there. I became confident in myself. I even, became somewhat popular, thought I attribute that to the fact that I was openly queer and ‘different.’ Although, there different was good. I might not be ‘normal,’ but I was accepted for what and who I was.
Sadly, as I became more confident and popular, it seemed that my cousin and I began to grow apart. She seemed at times to be a bit upset that I was making many friends in a short time and she had been there for two additional years than me since I only transferred there.
At Millard South High School, students and teachers actually thought something of me; they believed that I was going to do some awesome things in my future. I had a couple teachers who believed in me even when I did not believe in myself. They kept giving me encouragement. They told me to keep fighting for what is right. They encouraged me to go into politics and maybe run for office someday. They believed in me when I really needed someone. I will never forget all that they did for me and I hope I can repay them.
Junior year at Millard Sough High School just flew bye and the next thing I knew I was a senior. I was so scared of what will be in my future but quite excited. I could not wait for the end of the year. I really wanted to move on to college.
During my senior year, I wanted to reintroduce a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) club. The last one fell apart a couple years before I transferred to MSHS. After I mentioned my intentions the year before to Mr. Byer, the Activities Director at MSHS, he told me that I had a long process to go through before I could get the club off the ground. Thus, when I decided later that year, after speaking with some other students and several supportive teachers, I went back to Mr. Byer’s office and told him that I wanted to go through the process. That is when he became reluctant to let me start his so-called process. Nevertheless, I was quite persistent, and I he finally caved and told me that I needed to gather at least 50 students names who were interested in joining the club. Instead, I collected almost 300 student’s signatures and about ten teachers to sign a petition asking for Dr. Case, MSHS Principle and Mr. Byer to let me form the GSA club.
About a week later, after I brought the petition to Mr. Byer and Dr. Case, Mr. Byer then requested I provide a sample mission statement, constitution, and by-laws. My next period, I went directly to the computer lab and wrote them all up for him. I went back to Mr. Byer’s office and handed them to him. Of course, he now decided that I needed to fill out an application (which I believed was the only thing I needed to fill out in the first place) and he would have to give it to the school board for their review and approval of the application, he said it could take up to a month for their approval.
Two weeks went by, and I went to his office to see if ‘they’ decided yet. Obviously, they hadn’t and told me that he thought they might not since it is a controversial group. Thus, I decided to agree to wait another week or so and get back with him. Therefore, I went and began my research into what laws protected students and if we had the right to form a club. I found the GSA Network in California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Iowa Pride Network. They helped educate me on the federal Equal Access Act (EAA). According to the EAA, the school cannot deny the formation of my club because the school already has other non-curricular related clubs. MSHS would need to treat the GSA club the same as the Anime or Diversity clubs.
Thus, I brought the law to the attention of Mr. Byer and Dr. Case. Nevertheless, MSHS was not going to follow the EAA; they claimed that I did not understand and tried to explain to me what the EAA ‘said.’ They told me that the law only gives me the right to meet on campus as a club but not give the club the right to use school computers, printers, or make announcements like other clubs. Further, Mr. Byer informed me that I could not form the club but that I could try again next year. Thus, that summer, I contacted the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Nebraska.
The ACLU documented my complaint and the fact that the school was violating my first amendment rights and the federal Equal Access Act. They told me that they could send the school a letter directing them to allow the formation of the GSA club. They included information regarding the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the federal Equal Access Act. The school responded to them, stating, that they had every intention to let me form the GSA club and that there must be a misunderstanding. Thus, my senior year, I was able to form the GSA. Had Dr. Case and Mr. Byer allowed the formation of the GSA when I first requested, I might never had taken it upon myself to do all of the research to learn about my rights and the EAA. Going through that process, I learned that I was not only okay, but that I had a right to be me. My senior year at MSHS was one of my best and worst years of my life.
My new pride and confidence in myself did not help me at home. My mother and her boyfriend acted as if they hated me. She not only didn’t understand who I was, she seemed not interested in trying to learn. Her boyfriend, who had been living with us since we lived in Wahoo, just wanted me to die. He hated me then and always will. He never told me why and I will never care. They both thought I needed to see a psychologist. On that particular issue, they were right. I was aware; I needed to see someone who could help me understand myself. I had known for years that I was different and my time at MSHS allowed me to develop and embrace certain parts of myself. I knew there were more. I could not figure out why I still felt that a part of me was incomplete.
I began to see a psychologist that year at Boys Town. She was very nice and LGBTQIA friendly. I talked with her about my research on LGBTQIA matters and laws that affected them. I spoke with her about my Advanced Placement Psychology course (which my mother did not help pay for), and the honors German 3 class that I was taking, in addition to my issues at home. She understood that the problems at home were because of my mother and her boyfriend. She understood the problems I was facing related to being queer. The sessions with her, caused me to accept a fact about myself that I had previously been unable to come to terms with. I was finally able to come out as transgender. I had become able to identify the roots of some many of the problems and discovered more about my identity. I learned that I should begin facing those issues. I learned that they only way to overcome the feelings of injustice I had was to continue to fight for my rights, as I had done in high school, the year before.
I finally came out to my mother at one of my sessions I had with her and my psychologist. I remember yelling at her, saying, “well, I am fucking sick of listening to you cry about your problems! We are here about me! I am fucking transgender!” From that day forward, I began coming out to people that I was transgender. That same year, on October 11, 2009, I told the store manager at J.C. Penney where I worked, that I was transgender and from that moment on identify as a female, use female pronouns, and I would appreciate to be addressed as Mika. I also began the process of coming out at school and requesting my teachers to address me the same.
Coming out, as transgender was the hardest task I will ever have to do. It was so difficult because I was so scared; I knew my family didn’t like me because they thought I was queer. I was worried about how my friends at school and work would treat me. I fully expected to be fired from my job. Now, I just wonder why I did not notice that I was transgender sooner. Coming out actually opened my own mind to new possibilities, it helped me finish accepting myself and I was able to improve my work beyond what I thought I could.