In this episode of Reckoning, Kathryn Kosmides speaks with Jimanekia Eborn about trauma, sexual education, safety post-trauma, and dating post-trauma. Jimanekia is the founder of Tending the Garden which is a space for marginalized survivors looking for community, healing, education, and growth. In this conversation, Jimanekia discusses rape and murder, so please be warned.
In this episode, Jimanekia discusses:
You're listening to Reckoning, the go-to resource for conversations about gender-based safety, survival, and resilience in the digital age. Reckoning is brought to you by Garbo. Garbo is on a mission to help proactively prevent harm in the digital age, through technology, tools, and education. I'm Kathryn Kosmides the founder and CEO of Garbo and your host for each episode. In the interest of safety, I want to provide a content warning for listeners as we do discuss some hard subjects in each episode. So please use your own discretion when listening, you can learn more about Garbo and our guests by visiting our website at https://www.garbo.io Thank you so much for being here and listening to this episode.
Jimanekia Eborn is a Queer, Sexual Assault & Trauma Expert, Trauma Media Consultant, and Comprehensive Sex Educator. She is the host of Trauma Queen - a podcast for survivors of assault and our allies. The podcast focuses on uplifting voices in all communities and exploring our collective journey to healing. Jimanekia is the Founder of Tending The Garden- a nonprofit in service of sexual assault survivors who have been marginalized, offering retreats, online summits, community, and education. She is also the co-founder of Centaury Co., bringing increased representation to the field of Intimacy Coordination in the film industry. In 2021, Jimanekia joined Lenora Claire Consulting as a SA & trauma expert for film & television productions. Jimanekia has been working in mental health for over a decade with youth, adolescents, and adults. She has led trauma-informed comprehensive sex and sex toy workshops at multiple universities including Columbia University, Georgetown University and Rhodes College. She has been the keynote speaker at Princeton Women's History Month 2021 and the UCSB Women of Color Conference 2019. Jimanekia has been a featured panelist at the MAC Belfast, Soho House, San Diego University, Converge Con, and GirlSchool LA. Her work as a sex educator has been featured in Marie Claire, Playboy, Cosmo, Mind Body Green, Well + Good, Nylon, and many more. You're going to love our conversation today, which covers everything from how we minimize our own traumas, what dating is like as a survivor, and how community can make all the difference.
KATHRYN: Jimanekia, how are you today?
JIMANEKIA: It's a day. You know what I stopped saying? It's, “Oh, I'm great” because I'm not. And I think that's helpful. They're like “role model”. You don't actually have to be great all the time.
KATHRYN: It's more powerful to just say, “I'm not great”, or “This is really how I am”, as leaders in the space, it’s a great introduction to this conversation. Working in trauma-informed spaces, you do have to do these things because when you do it, it allows other people to do it as well. They see it and they feel it and they're like, “Wow, okay. I can be honest. This is a safe space and I can not say I'm great.”
JIMANEKIA: I think people think that just because I do this work, I assume that people automatically trust me. And I'm like, “No, I actually think you don't trust me.” When therapists are like, “But they came to see me” and I'm like, “So you're still a stranger, trust has to be built.” And I think once I show my vulnerability, they're also able to be vulnerable because that's something that's lacking and there's a lot of fear about the exposure and connection of being vulnerable because it's kind of seen as a negative thing because it's open exposure to the “what if.”
KATHRYN: And especially for survivors, right? That open exposure to the “what if” is often what can cause some trauma and where their trauma actually happened is coming from a space of vulnerability and in some cases. Connecting with someone new and that person misusing your trust and things like that, so rebuilding that trust, rebuilding that ability to be vulnerable in spaces is huge for survivors.
JIMANEKIA: Absolutely. Absolutely. Even in the work that I do, I try to focus on where they're at. Not like, “Well, you should be here.” Or “You should be able to talk to me about this.” I'm like, “How are you today in this moment?” Because wherever you are today, you might not be there tomorrow. You might not have been there five days ago. It's an ever evolving situation, but also just we're fucking human. People forget that we're human. It's been a rough two years. So every day, as we've learned, is a different day.
KATHRYN: You were talking a little bit about your work in these kinds of trauma spaces. So let's rewind a little bit. How did you kind of get into this work and what led you to the work that you do now?
JIMANEKIA: Yeah. So, okay. I'll give the gist of the story. I always like to start it with, “I'm going to say a hard thing.” Just to allow people to go, “Wait, what?” Take a breath. I'm going to talk about rape, murder, death, all the things. So I have been identifying as a child of trauma. My mother was murdered in front of me when I was one years old by my sperm donor. He fled the scene. He's in prison forever, stay there. For me growing up, I was an early reader. I was raised by her parents, my grandparents, and they always let me to learn and explore. I was a Law and Order SVU child, as many of us are, and I wanted to help domestic violence survivors. I wanted to be that person that my mother didn't have. And so, I went to undergrad for criminal justice because I was like, “That's what I have to do. I have to be Benson and Stabler.” Clearly, there's only one way to do it. Upon being there, I learned a lot, had a lot of trauma. I was raped my third year of college. I always like to say that sexual assault is the umbrella and rape is underneath it because people are like, “Oh, it's all the same.” And I'm like, “It's not because everything is not penetrative.” There's verbal assault. People are like, “That's not real. And I'm like, “Ask any female body person if they have not been verbally assaulted.” And so from there I got kicked out of school, which was the best thing because my mental health was trash. This is where it gets tricky, but it makes sense if you know me. I became a rape crisis counselor doing volunteer work. I went back to school. I started doing community college and I opened a vintage clothing store online. So then while I'm doing all this and I was like, “I want to go back to school and I want to figure it out.” So I went back to school for psychology. And while I was going through that program, I started working in mental health facilities, juvenile sex offenders, teenagers with addiction, mental health and trauma, eating disorders, women with lots of money, women with no money. It varied the gamut of humans. I've worked with babies to 90 year olds. For me, I was like, “One, it's a lot, working in mental health.” And I also was like, “How can I find what I actually want to do?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, sex.” And I told my grandmother, I was like, “I think I want to get into sex.” Her response: “Oh hell, what does that mean?” And then my favorite part, she's like, “Aren't you going to be selling your pussy?” And I said, “I don't think so. But I'll get back to you as I sit with my son.” And she's like, “Ugh.” But I got into sex ed in a very intense way. There's tons of conferences. In that first year I went to every conference I could find. I needed to know who was doing all the work. I'm predominantly an introvert, unless you know me and then I won't shut up, but I'm an observer. So I was seeing who's doing what and what are the things. And upon that, I got to meet people. And I went to a camp that educators go to. And it was a very interesting thing, but what kept coming up was pleasure, lubes, different types of relationships. And I'm like, “What about those that can't even freaking imagine that level because they're so stuck in things that have happened to them?”, like varying traumas. What about those people? We shouldn't just assume that everyone's ready with lubes and condoms and different birth controls and toys. A lot of that stuff is really scary. I am not a monolith and in many ways. Other people are doing this work, but for me, I'm always like, “You don't need to reinvent the wheel, see where you fit. What are you bringing differently?” And so that's what I've been doing. I have been specifically doing the work of focusing just on trauma support for the last six years. I've taught sex ed, middle school, high school, all the things. I speak at colleges. Still what comes up for me, no matter how old you are, no matter what you've been through is people want to be and feel seen, supported and heard. We do. We all do. We all want to be a part of a community, even for those who are like, “I don't want that.” And I'm like, “No one wants to be alone all the time.” Right? Like, “Yes, leave me alone sometimes.” But also, we need it.
KATHRYN: And creating community for those who have been impacted by members of their community. We were talking about creating those safe spaces and those trauma-informed spaces, so they can begin to explore and navigate their healing journey. Part of that healing journey is being comfortable, at least, with sex and learning about your body and things that you may have shut off. I know in my trauma, there's one incident involving sex toys and now I can never use sex toys. I have that hang-up myself, in my own life. But allowing folks to have that open space, to have these conversations, and do that work and begin to heal is such an important space. So the work that you do, especially with survivors, I know you have those survivor support groups that you do, tell us a little bit about those.
JIMANEKIA: We do seven weeks on, two weeks off. We also have people that donate and help survivors that maybe can't get to the things. The reason that I do charge overhead and I do have a co-leader that is also a survivor. So for me, it's like putting money back into the community. I don't make any money off of it. Every week, it’s a different week. There is no, “This week we talk about this, we are only going to talk about this.” Because that's not meeting people where they are. The groups range from 10 to 15 humans, we do focus on women non-binary folks at this time, but there's still conversation about creating other groups and what that looks like. They’re just kind of amazing to get to see a group of humans come and be held. They get to come and be held by people that get it right. I feel like constantly as survivors, we're trying to explain and trying to make people, not even like realizing that it's real, but having to continuously be like, “No, and this and that.” I have people come like, “My family is fucking trash right now, and this is what happened.” And other people get to “Go mine too, here's what I did.” To have that in time, at least once a week, you know you get to go to a safe space to process. And then I've also created a Discord specifically for anyone that's ever been in the group. And I was looking the other day and I created it last year. What year was this, last year? It hasn't been that long and we have 46 members and we have spanned across the world like UK, Australia. I'm like, first of all, “Why aren't you sleeping?” Because it's like 2:00 AM, but I've had people be like, “No, I stayed up because I needed this.” Or “I set my alarm because I needed this.” And it's so beautiful. Some days we're talking about our favorite TV shows because that's all anyone can muster up and we need to laugh. Other days everybody's crying and supporting each other. Sometimes we’re talking about dating, sometimes we’re talking about sex work. Sometimes we're talking about just relationships and self-work. What does that look like? It's a privilege to be in that space and to have individuals trust that I would create a space where they get to not be harmed. It's my favorite. I love it. I love being in that space.
KATHRYN: That's so beautiful. It's so beautiful. Just to be held, like you said, to know that people are there for you that have similar experiences that, like you said, it is a safe space and exploratory space and it's not a rigid kind of “Here's the program for today.” “We're going to talk at you” Versus bringing you into the conversation. I think that's just such a different way in which to view healing. It doesn't have to be a solo journey. There's a community in healing.
JIMANEKIA: I don't think that you can do it solo, honestly.
KATHRYN: I agree.
JIMANEKIA: In some capacity, even if you have a therapist, because everyone thinks you have to do talk therapy first. I am not that person. I also didn't do talk therapy first, but I think even utilizing friends, that’s your community, your family is part of your community, your therapist, your whoever, your bodyworker, that's a part of your community. We need each other to lean on emotionally, sometimes physically. We need each other to lean on. I think when we're talking about role modeling, you see how other people have dealt with it and you learn that there are other options because if you're only looking at television, it always looks so awful. Yes. Is sexual assault not great? Absolutely. Is it awful? Yes. But the way that they portray survivors, I'm like, “Is she just gonna cry every day?” You're not going to give her a human side. It's always just a victim.
KATHRYN: Exactly. And here's what a victim looks like in a very much square and it's not true. It's not true. It's what the media portrays as a victim, as a survivor of what a healing journey should look like. It's not reality. So in your mind, what does healthy healing look like when it comes to the aftermath of experiencing trauma?
JIMANEKIA: I think it looks different for every person. I think it's being able to communicate, and finding language. I just finished watching Brené Brown's new special on HBO and it was all about communication. It's just we're never taught how to fully communicate. We're not taught how to navigate. I think part of healing because it is not linear. It's being able to advocate for your body, being able to verbally advocate for yourself in whatever capacity that looks like. Maybe it's being able to write down what you need to tell your doctor and that is communication of “Here's my boundaries”. It looks like you being able to get out of bed, but also it can look like you getting out of bed and being like, “Not today.” Because you are aware of your body and your needs. Everyone's like, “Oh, people are just in bed.” And I'm like, “Maybe that's what they need today.” I dunno. Did they have snacks? I don't know. It's being able to do the self-care and the self-soothing. I think people are always like, “Oh, self-care, self-care.” But I think that there's an idea that self-care costs a lot of money and you have to go to the spa, but in reality, self-care is how you're literally just taking care of yourself. Are you eating? Are you drinking water? Are you stretching? Did you take your medication, if you have medication? Did you go outside today? Did you take a shower? Those are self-care things. And then we're also talking about healing. Are you able to do that? Are you able to do those things? I do one-to-one work and sometimes when we get together we'll do a chart of how to get them back on the path to do their hygiene because the first thing we lose is how do we take care of ourselves because we feel like we can't. I've been there.
KATHRYN: I've been there. Like you said, it's not linear and there is no destination to a healing journey. It's never one day you're like, “Oh, I'm done. I'm done with that. I'm healed.”
JIMANEKIA: I'm always like, “I wish I could give someone a little candy and it’ll be like, “You've done it. That's your achievement sticker. Your little healing gummy.” It's not real. I wish though, that'd be nice.
KATHRYN: It would be nice, but it's the process. And, like you said, meeting people where they are, allowing them space to not get out of bed. I love that you said that, working with people to get them back on track. We all fall off. A healing journey is not linear, it's also not ongoing. Sometimes you will stop and say, “I cannot go further than this today.” Or take three steps back on your healing journey and then have to move forward and things like that. But I think people just assume it's, “Oh, I go to talk therapy, and then I do this. And then I start doing yoga every day. And then all of a sudden, two years later, I'm healed or how many ever years later.” And it's like, “No, sometimes healing is going to a break room and smashing things because you are so angry.” Healing doesn't have to be [linear]. I also think people think healing is like getting over, being okay with it, or happy in your life. And sometimes it's like, “No healing can also just be living in that anger for a minute.” And that anger can be healing, in my opinion.
JIMANEKIA: I love that you brought this up because people put anger on such a negative pedestal. I love talking about pedestals clearly, but anger is not a bad thing. It's an expression and maybe you need to express your anger. Being like, “Don't be angry. Let's just move through it.” First of all, “Shut up.” Second, let that person be where they need to be. Sometimes we need to be angry because that is where we feel present and that is their truth. So if you were telling someone, “Don't get mad about that.” You were stunting them. You're not helping them. You might be trying to soothe the situation, but sometimes I'll have clients come and I'm like, “That sounds awful.” And they're like, “Yeah, that was awful.” Because people need to just be where they are. We are allowed and we need to be in these feelings to learn, one, how to navigate through them, and what they look like and feel like in our bodies. Being triggered, one, everyone you are not triggered. Let's reel this in. Let's talk about words mean things. Instagram has found out about triggered and they are going wild.
KATHRYN: Like, gaslighting and love bombing, and all these other words.
JIMANEKIA: Here's the thing too: People are like, “Oh, I finally have an attachment in an understanding.” But spend a little more time. Are you triggered or are you uncomfortable? Often I ask people because there is a difference. And then when we're talking about being triggered, it's so amazing and not great because you can be triggered by any of your five senses and you can be grounded by any of your five senses. And it's like, “Yay.” “Cool.” “Cool.” “Cool.” “Thanks.” “Thanks.” But being triggered also isn't necessarily a bad thing because you might smell something and be like, “Oh, that reminds me of my mom or when I connected with this friend.” It still triggers a memory, but it doesn't have to be bad. And also sometimes sitting in that moment, instead of trying to just get out of it is how we get through it, by being like, “Oh, this is the thing that I've been avoiding.” So now you know what you need to focus your energy on it instead of running from it because fun fact– It'll still be there waiting on you.
KATHRYN: I have found that too. If I move to a different city, if I get a different job, if I do this, it'll go away. That's not how it works at all. It's not how it works at all. But, I love that you say sitting in it and sitting with it because oftentimes when someone is triggered, whether that's positive or negative, positive you sit in it. You want to experience that memory and that smell and things like that. But when you have a negative trigger, you want to escape it as fast as possible, but we're kind of trained to do [that]. It's like, “Oh, just run out of the room or close the laptop or this or that.” But a lot of the therapy that I've gone through, at least it's like exposure therapy in a bit. You do have to expose yourself to these negative things in order to be okay with them, overcome them. At least not be so negatively triggered by it because exposure does reduce that negative reaction to it.
JIMANEKIA: It does. It does because yes, it feels real again. Yes. It might feel like you're not able to control the situation, but this is also when you're in those spaces with professionals holding space for you, that's where you also do your reality testing. And it's like, “Okay, am I in a safe space?” Yes, emotionally. When we talk about safety for me, I talk about internally and externally, like externally, am I safe? Yes. So if I'm externally safe, am I able to now go internally to deal with this situation? Because I have my support now, if I'm internally feeling unsafe, what does that look like? Can I sit with it to even identify with the thing it is like, “Oh, there it is.” And then maybe you step back out and maybe you slowly get into it and find out more aspects of it to navigate it. But yeah, you don't have to run. And I think that's also a very much societal thing of like, “Well, let's just not worry about it now.” We're very much a Western society, in general, which is very much a fix-it. Let's just fix this quickly so we don't have to deal with it. Here's a pill. Here's a band-aid. Here's this tool. It might not even work for you, but try it because that's all I got. I find that we have to do the trial and error to see what works for humans.
KATHRYN: And it's different for everyone. Kind of speaking about different, everyone's journey is different, but where do you folks often meet you or find you? Or how do they find these support groups? Where are they in their journeys when they tend to find you and want to engage in this type of work?
JIMANEKIA: I have people from all levels of it. I have people that are like, “I was assaulted last week too” to “I was assaulted 10 years ago.” It varies and how they find me, honestly, I have no idea. But I think the reason that I do love doing podcasts is everyone's into listening and that's how people are absorbing. I find that a lot of people, that is how they find me because they're just seeking. People are just trying to do anything because they're tired of feeling that way and even if it's something that just happened, they're like, “I don't want to feel this way and I know it could possibly get worse. I want to navigate this or it's been worse.” And then they're like, “I've never done a support group. This freaks me out. This scares me.” Even in the support groups, when people first come, they're like, “I'm not turning my camera on.” “I'm giving you a fake name.” “I'm only going to type.” And we're like, “Okay, that's totally fine.” Before the end of the group, about halfway in, people start turning their cameras on, people start talking, and then the same people, you can't get them to stop talking. It's a process. All of it's a process of just being like, “Today, this is where we are, tomorrow [I don’t know].” And it will vary. I think finding me is maybe you were seeking out a Black lady, you're seeking out a Queer, someone that's polyamorous. Talking about the vulnerability and the sharing, I think sharing who I am and whatever marginalizations or how I show up in the world, or even my hobbies, I think that allows people to go, “Oh, we have a connection.” There's something similar here that feels maybe safe or just like, “I feel like you might understand the thing.” And so I'm like, “I've worked everywhere. I've seen it all. You can't tell me anything wild.” I have a boyfriend, I have a girlfriend, I do these things and they go, “Oh, okay cool. Finally.” I think that is how people find me by just being honest and running my mouth.
KATHRYN: It's amazing that you've created that space for people to connect with by just being your authentic self and showing up in the world as your authentic self and saying, “Here I am, and I have experienced trauma.” Again, not to say that you are healed, it is not a gold star, but to say, “I am healing and I am going to help you heal as well. Let's go on this journey together wherever you are.” And meeting people where they are is just such an important part of the work. I'm sure that in a part of your work, I'm sure you've experienced a lot of people talking in terms of a trauma hierarchy or trying to downplay their own trauma. “Oh, mine's not as bad.” Or “It was just this.” And downplaying it. How do you feel, or what do you tell people when they start doing those kinds of things, minimizing their own pain?
JIMANEKIA: I think the first out of the gate, I'm always like, “Whatever you feel is valid.” Whatever happened to that person, I feel for them. But also it doesn't take away from what happened to you. I still hear you. I still believe you. Whatever has happened to you has affected you. There is no level of this that is worse than others. Maybe more things have happened to someone else. Yes. But also it can affect someone differently. I always say that I've been sexually assaulted more times than I can account for it, but I've been raped once. For me doing this work, people are like, “How do you do this?” I'm just different. I think even comparing the way that I process my stuff is not the way that you process. Normalizing that, I think is really important because [inaudible content], we're good girlfriends. She talks about comparison. It's within us. We, as humans, will always compare ourselves to other people, regardless. No matter how much work you do on yourself, you're going to compare to someone else. Now, I get to add this: What I learned from her is, people are like, “The grass is greener on the other side.” And it is because it's the angle that you're looking at. It's the same grass. It might be the same shit show over there, but it's the angle that you're looking at it. I also like to remind people you never know what that person's going through. And so it might look “better” visually, you might think you know what's happening, but we never know. So I think, just normalizing, you are allowed to be wherever you are because this is your journey. They have their journey. We don't have to compare and contrast because it also doesn't help you.
KATHRYN: Exactly. So powerful, so powerful. And it kind of goes into my next kind of question. So, Sexual Assault Awareness Month was last month, April, and we're talking on Tuesday, May 10th. Here at Garbo, we were talking a lot about how we can spread awareness in the context of helping people be more aware of their own lived experience. Like you just said, I've been sexually assaulted many, many times but many people aren't sure whether or not what happened to them was sexual assault or violence, and they don't know how to classify or name it, etc. We have our quizzes on the website and it was built out of just analyzing SEO results. I saw that there were all of these quizzes people are Googling– Was I sexually assaulted quiz? Am I being emotionally abused quiz? They didn't know how to label it. And so, how do we help make it easier for people to understand their experiences and feel validated enough to find support? I often think that people minimize their own trauma or place it in a bucket, especially older folks. They will be like, “Oh, that was normal back in my day.” And I'm like, “That does not mean that it was okay.” Just because something is normalized doesn't mean that it's okay. And so how do we allow people the space to unlearn and relearn and define and redefine what their experiences are, their lived experience?
JIMANEKIA: Yeah. I think that even just normalizing and compartmentalizing is how you're just trying to cope. Trying to navigate the thing of just being like, “No, I'm fine.” And so when people say like, “I'm fine.” I'm like, “What's another word for, ‘I'm fine.’” “What's some more words that you can say?” And they're like, “I'm tired, I'm sad. I'm scared.” And I was like, “Well, you know what Just flew out the door? Being fine.” I think when we're validating our own experiences, people often try to put a label on it. I like to let the person label it, but I will go into details. What is sexual assault? Any type of touch that was not wanted or consented to by the person. So if they are touching you in a sexual manner, any type of your body, it could be a shoulder rubbed down, it could be alluding—Breasts, butts, mouths, forced held— again emotional. When I say emotional, like verbal. “Are they messing with your psyche?” I ask questions for people and they're like, “Well, I don't know if I've been sexually assaulted.” And then I'll ask, “Can I ask you some questions?” And then as I'm asking questions, I'm like, “How does that make you feel?” “What does that feel like for you?” I think for me, allowing people to opt-in for whatever label they want, I think is super important. People are like, “They're a victim.” Maybe they don't want to be a victim. Maybe they don't want to be a survivor. Maybe they call it that thing that happened to them that one time. For me, that's fine. I know other people are like, “Well, you need to name it.” “You got to put a name.” Call it Steve, I don't care. Whatever feels good for that person, I think that's where we have to allow them to navigate what it looks like now. Now, if you are in a supporting role, you are supposed to be there to support. So you can offer resources of, “Here's some more information that maybe will feel connected for you.” If you don't know you've been sexually assaulted, for me, when I was raped, I didn't think about it at first because I had been with this person before. But also I thought about it as I woke up and this person was standing over me naked. I didn't say yes. I didn't say anything. Why didn't I say anything? So maybe for the person, maybe recanting can be helpful. It can also be really harmful. It took me years to be like, “I didn't say anything. They penetrated my body and then they just got up and left.” I was like, “Oh, that was rape.” And then it slowly started to affect me. So also think about who you are and who you've been. Did something change? Did someone say something? My mom was like, “I don't know who you are,” before I told anyone. She was like, “You, I don't know who you are. I don't know what happened, but you're not acting like yourself.” That took me to go like, “I'm fine.” Like there's nothing wrong. Maybe that's what people need, is to have an outside perspective to be able to start doing whatever works for them. But I think taking that time to go do a little self-reflection and then choosing how you want to label it, I think is really, really helpful versus how other people try to label it for you.
KATHRYN: Yeah. That's something I think I see. I've probably been guilty of it, “Oh, that's definitely sexual assault.” I'll jump to the conclusion to other people, but it happens to me just very recently. I won't get into details, but I said to a friend, “I was sexually assaulted last night.” And they said, “No, no, no, no, it's sexual harassment.” And I said, “Hmm, I view it as assault.” And there's a difference. So it kind of reversed to someone labeling my trauma and I stood my ground and I said, “No, to me, it's assault.” But so it's allowing, the who experienced the trauma to label it in whatever way they want to and compartmentalize it and not label it, just forget about it for a while, whatever it is what they do to cope, to deal, to just survive. That's the surviving. I often say of whether it's sexual assault or domestic violence or any other form of gender-based violence, whether or not you call yourself a survivor, the root of survivor is surviving. Surviving is not pretty and it's not a good place to live. I think I have lived so deeply in that space of just survival. I do things that, on the surface level, don't seem so rash to other people, but in my mind, it makes sense because you're operating out of a different headspace than other people are. They don't understand it because they aren't living in a survival brain. But when we’re talking, it's like we get it, we see each other because we have been through that. It's interesting talking to people who haven't experienced trauma, which tends to be… I mean, everyone has experienced trauma on some level, on different levels. When you start exploring things like dating again, or even new friendships and trusting people into this thing, and you've experienced some level of– especially gender-based– trauma that can be really difficult. To allow someone into your space and to be able to trust someone again with those most intimate parts of your soul and your body. I know you do a lot of work with dating after trauma and helping survivors go on that journey, which I think is so important and something that's not often touched on, especially when we realized that– I don't believe these statistics, but— it's one out of three women will experience gender-based violence, but I think it's one out of one, in my opinion. I've never met a woman who has not experienced gender-based violence in some form. It's a spectrum. I say, from catcalling to murder. Every woman I've ever met is somewhere on that spectrum. So everyone is coming to dating with trauma. We can't come to it without trauma because it's happened to us. So what are some of the things, some of the advice that you give people who are starting to date again and want to put themselves back out there after something has happened?
JIMANEKIA: I think the first thing is spending time with yourself. Learning if you're able to find out what your triggers are, helping to find out what allows you to be present. What grounds you in your body, finding out what feels safe for you internally and externally. If you're able to find out what lets you or has you not feeling safe. Let's talk dating profiles because this is an alignment. For me, when I teach dating for survivors, the first class is where are you? Where are you at in your body? Where are you at in your sexuality? Do you know, if you go on a date are you going to want to have sex? What does that look like for you? Do you have a kit? I'm like, “I have a kit in my bag. I will have condoms and lube, an extra pair of panties, and things like that.” That's just for my own preparation for a thing. Also dating profiles, there are levels to taking care of yourself. Because again, that's vulnerability. We don't know these people. Dating profile tip, use a different name and people are like, “That's rude. You're lying.” I'm like, “Or are you taking care of yourself in that moment?” I'm only putting photos that are for dating profiles on dating profiles. That's going to help with reverse image searching because they only find that photo. I'm not giving your phone number out, use a Google voice number or use an app. Why? Because the internet allows you to find out anything and everything. So for me, I'm like, “How do I allow you to feel safe?” As you're opting into this, setting up your profile with like, “Here's my boundaries.” When someone says something that's out of character, a lot of times, in-person our panic is to laugh or to make space. On dating apps, if someone talks to you wild, “unmatch”. You owe no one, anything but yourself and how to take care of yourself. And then once you decide you want to go on a date, make sure you set your boundaries again. Like, “Here's what I'm feeling.” You choose the date. You choose the location, at least for the first one– public spaces, letting people know where you are. One thing that I always love to set up survivors with is, you know who your people are, you know how they show up for you, sit down and ask them, “Will you be my person for this?” And then you create a plan, you create a safe word. So if something happens, you can send them one word. If you're like, “Oh, blue.” They know if that means to call. If that means to check your tracker, to show up. Whatever you need for yourself, do that. Also, if you are able to navigate, we talked about grounding using your five senses, what are your favorite things that get you back into your body? I keep Rosa Central Oil on my desk. I will be mid-talking. I'll do an interview. I'll be just smelling it because that allows me to feel present. If you're able to– I've seen a lot of people do this– Altoid kits (do they still make Altoids?). They do the little tin kits, put a little mint in it, put a little perfume, put something that's textile that allows you to be present so that you can stay able to reality test situations like this person said something weird. How does this make me feel? Also, if you're going out on dates, do it in a way that feels good for you. What does that mean? Setting your plan, making sure you know where exits are, driving yourself, doing all these things. It sucks that we have to do so many things to take care of ourselves, but I would rather I have conversations and we try to set you up for success and creating the systems. Get a weapon. I got a new pepper spray literally on my desk. I hate that we have to do so much to go outside. But if this little conversation and hearing this piece of this podcast, you go, “Oh, I can't ask for help.” “Oh, there's about 11 people that have because I have an iPhone, they have my location.” “I've let people know on dates.” “There's at least 11 people that know where I'm at at all times.” Maybe you say that, “Do something wild.” They will find you, all my friends are detectives in our heads. We'll try it if you want to. I think dating is a lot of trial and error. You give a little bit, you take a little bit back and when you're on a date, I think that it's not fishing or putting anyone in a corner, but asking them the questions that actually matter for you. How do you feel about therapy? Do you know survivors? What is your history with mental health? What kind of job do you do? What did your last relationships look like? Asking these questions and trusting your instinct. If it feels off, you're allowed to leave. You don't have to be like, “Well, mate.” You don't have to justify for anyone, it's for you. I don't care if they're like, “Oh, maybe they're a little weird.” If it feels off, you're allowed to bounce. Even with therapy, I always tell people if it doesn't feel good, break up with them. You can break up with your therapist just like you can walk out of a date for your own safety.
KATHRYN: It’s bringing me back to the days that I've left or haven't left. There've been days where I haven't left because you're placating someone else's feelings. I think that that's a lot of experiencing trauma. I don't want to label it as being a victim or a survivor, but experiencing trauma is often placating other people's feelings, putting them above your own. “I am going to be small.” “I don't want to make this person mad, so I'm not going to say the thing that I'm really feeling.” Or, “Hey, that person just did something inappropriate, touched me or kiss me and I'm just gonna not react.” “I'm gonna freeze or whatever it is.” We're taught to put other people's feelings above our own. Something I've really had to unlearn in my own dating journey is boundaries and what I want. When people ask me for dating advice, especially women, I often say, “We spend so much time on a date asking if the other person likes you.” “Oh my God, do they like me?” “Is my hair okay.” We don't even take a second to say, “Do I like them?” “Am I asking the questions to them that I need answered?” I've been so caught up in other people's perceptions of me that I've allowed people in my life to overstep boundaries, because it was like, “Oh, they'll like me more if I allow them to do this, even though I wasn't comfortable with it necessarily.” So I definitely agree with boundaries and safety. Safety is very personal to everyone. Like you mentioned, you might feel safe in a situation. I don't feel safe, or I need to take these extra precautions to make sure I go into dating feeling safe and comfortable and confident and all of those things. But let's pull on that thread a little bit, about how safety looks different for different people. It's something that we really talk about a lot here at Garbo. For example, people fall in love with people in prison for murder and they get there and [inaudible content]. That's good, you feel safe and comfortable. Again, each to your own. But safety is so personal.
JIMANEKIA: Yeah. Yeah. I think that even talking about the variant of internal versus external people, automatically go to external– they don't think about that. It's like, “Well, there's no one around to harm me.” “Are people catcalling?” I think catcalling is violence because now you're emotionally affecting me and I have to carry that. That is violence. What does that look like? Safety might look like being in your trauma response and staying in that moment of whatever it is, because that is the safest you can do. When I was raped, I froze because I knew this person, which most of us know the people that harm us, I knew he had an obsession with weapons. I knew he was stronger than me. And so I just said, “How do I take care of myself in this moment?” And I internalized. So for me, that's what safety looked like in that moment. I think, like you said, “Safety looks different for everyone, but also safety can look different depending on the situation.” So I think that safety for the people that I've worked with, it is external for sure. That's the main thing, but then what do we continue to carry? Are you able to visually think about this thing? Can you think about the situation? Are you able to go to certain spaces? Certain photos, colors sounds, are those affecting you? That's not a physical thing, we're connecting to the emotional. Navigating what that looks like and being honest. Like, “That makes me uncomfortable.” Explore it. Exploration of self, I think is truly a part of navigating your healing process. Being like, “Why am I feeling this way?” “What's happening?” It allowed me to start figuring out that's because I was raped. This is why I carry a bar in my trunk. This is why I'm here. Because once we figure out what safety looks like for us, or just the start of it, pieces of it, once we start exploring, it opens up other caverns of other things that maybe we didn't think about because we're finally starting to trust ourselves again, to figure out what the safety is to believe that we feel this way and whatever we feel is valid.
KATHRYN: And on the flip side, when someone starts to date a survivor of trauma, what should they know?
JIMANEKIA: You should know that they are normal and human. What I'm tired of is everyone being like, “Well, we have to handhold everyone.” And they start whispering. And I'm like, “What is this?” “Why is everyone suddenly dropping their voice five octaves?” What I find really helpful are reminders. You can ask someone what they need as someone that has a survivor in their life, which fun fact, as we talked about the numbers, everyone has a survivor in their life. Whether you know it or you don't. Doing your own research is really helpful in finding out what a survivor looks like and what might be attributes that might show up for them. Find an educator that does this work. I have an ally to an accomplished class, go buy it. It's online. Do it on your own. Because I think that's where a lot of the work is these allies becoming accomplices. If you are with a survivor, we need you to be an accomplice. I need you to show up. I need you to put yourself in the way. If I'm feeling uncomfortable, help me get out of situations. Do your own research, don't assume, ask them what they might need. If they don't know, that's fine, letting them know that you are still there. Even if they don't know, don't shame them, don't guilt them, and don't use those “W” questions: who, what, when, where, and why. Avoid the W's because even if you're trying to show up for your partner, they might feel like you were victim-blaming them with all these questions because we all start to internalize and compare because it's just within us.
KATHRYN: And like you said, don't assume what you think, a survivor looks like. I'm sure that you've had this before and I've definitely had it where people get on the phone with me. I think they think I'm like some solo, quiet, depressed, sad, little girl or something. I’m not and I refuse to fit your definition of what a survivor should look like. I think again, just like safety dating someone is very personal, whether that person comes with trauma or not, and it's about helping them become the best version of themselves and going on a journey together and not pressuring that person to tell you what happens. Maybe you'll never meet me. They'll tell you in five years, don't ask. If someone says I'm a survivor, they don't have to tell you what they survived.
JIMANEKIA: You can say, thank you for sharing that with me. Look at that as a complete sentence.
KATHRYN: Exactly. And I think that, especially in heteronormative relationships with a man and a woman, is that there are just so many expectations of what a survivor should be and how they should act and how they will act. They're going to cry during sex. And all of these kinds of things that you did, people get caught up in their heads of thinking like, “This is what a survivor is.” But like you said, just allow them to be in the relationship on their terms. Like you said, maybe they did give you a fake name when they started this journey. This doesn't mean [inaudible content].
JIMANEKIA: I'll transition after a while. I'll be like, “So remember I told you that name, here's what you could actually call me.” And then one day, “Here's my actual phone number.” I met one of my partners on OkCupid. He didn't know my name on our first date. He didn't have my phone number. He didn't know where I lived. He didn't know that I actually live literally less than a mile from where we met. He didn't need to know that at all. For what? How does that help? And then I was like, “Hey, you can actually call me Jimanekia. Who's that? That's me. Here's actually my number.” I also explain it to people. There is an extra level of safety and care for myself. I am putting myself first. I think normalizing that for people is like, “You're not being sneaky. You're not being vicious.” You are taking care of yourself. There are people that will try to shame you and then will try to guilt you. That's not for you to take on. It's not. You were literally just doing the best that you can. Dating is scary. We don't know these humans. Humans are humans. Sometimes people act in ways that maybe they wouldn't normally or they do, but we don't know that. So I'm always like, “Do that feel good for you?” Give a burner phone number. I don't care. They're welcome. They got a number.
KATHRYN: The combination of this whole conversation is do what you need to do when you need to do it on your own terms, whether that's dating or healing or surviving or labeling things, whatever it is. Don't compare. Even though we want to, let's get out of that. Let's just sit in our own journeys and our own spaces and show up for ourselves the most.
We hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you're interested in learning more about the topics discussed in this episode or about our guests, visit our website at https://www.garbo.io Now available: Garbo's new kind of online background check makes it easy to see if someone in your life has a history of causing harm while balancing privacy and protection in the digital age. This episode was produced by Imani Nichols, with whisper and mutter. I'm Kathryn Kosmides and I look forward to having you join us for the next episode of Reckoning.