notes from your big sibling
Who are you? Where did this blog come from?
It’s covered briefly in our inaugural post (which you should read before you read this), but here’s a little more background: The idea for “I Believe You | It’s Not Your Fault” grew out of a conversation in a private Facebook group for women writers. Most of us don’t know each other in real life, and may not even be acquainted with each other’s work: Some of us write poetry, some of us write comedy, some of us write scientific treatises, some of us write celebrity gossip, some of us write sad personal essays, some of us write dry political analysis, some of us write songs. This group was thrown together almost arbitrarily—friends and colleagues adding friends and colleagues, here and there, one by one—but the distance between us bred a strange, surprising intimacy. Sometimes you can tell a stranger things you would never tell your best friend, you know?
One day, in July 2014, one member shared a worrisome anecdote about her pre-teen daughter, and we began talking about how unbelievably painful and confusing it is to navigate the world as a teenage girl—particularly if you live in a conservative, suburban or exurban community—and how rare it is to find trustworthy adults who will really be honest with you, really help you challenge the oppressive, shame-based narratives that circumscribe girls’ lives. (The conversation quickly expanded to include queer, trans, and non-binary youth, who struggle just as painfully as straight cis girls—if not more so—with the trappings of patriarchy and rape culture. All of those voices are welcome and encouraged here too.) Immediately, stories came bubbling up from seemingly everyone in the group—stories of being victimized, scared, confused, ashamed, alone, defeated, empowered, defiant, triumphant. EVERYONE had one. And we realized how much we’d needed to hear these stories when we were younger. How much it could have helped to know we weren’t alone.
But what could we do about it now? How do you TALK to a TEENAGER!!?!?!?!!!?!?!?
"Could we write letters and post them somewhere?" someone asked. Sure, we could write letters and post them somewhere. It was a start. And "I Believe You | It’s Not Your Fault" was born. Plop.
If you’re reading this, and things are tough, we want you to know some facts right off the bat: that your body is YOURS, that consent is not a gray area, that it doesn’t matter what you were wearing, that fitting in isn’t as important as it seems (though caving to peer pressure isn’t the end of the world either), that you have the right to set and defend your own boundaries, that you have the right to have fun, that some things get better and other things, honestly, kind of don’t.
And, maybe most importantly, that aging isn’t a series of discrete plateaus, it’s a continuum, a slope. This shit you’re going through? We’ve been through it too, and not that long ago. It’s still inside of us. We’re just people, like you. Sometimes it’s so hard for older people and younger people to communicate—we put up these barriers, on both sides, of condescension and eye-rolling and awkwardness and “mom jeans” and “kids these days.” But we’re all throwing ourselves against the same wall, and we have been for generations. We might as well compare scars.
This blog isn’t about advice, exactly—though that’s certainly a part of it (ask us anything!)—as much as it is about solidarity. If your step-dad tells you that “it’s your fault,” we’re here to stand in defiance of that, forever, without question. If your teacher says you “shouldn’t have made a scene,” we’re here to shout in one great big voice that you didn’t make that scene—your harasser did. If your family or your town or your school seems so small and small-minded that you think you might just fold up into nothing, we’re here to let you know that the world is much, much bigger. If you have questions about anything, no matter how insignificant, we’re here, and there are so many of us.
Q: I have a story to tell. Do you take submissions?
Yes! We do take submissions, and we would love to read yours! E-mail them to us right here.
Q: Are there any rules or guidelines?
Please educate yourself on intersectionality, don’t body-shame, and use gender-inclusive language whenever possible. Our goal is to create an honest, transparent, safe space for young people of all genders.
Q: Why does the page description say “notes from your big sister” if you’re trying to be gender-inclusive?
It’s a nod to the community where this project started, and to the supportive, friendly vibe that we hope to foster here. We accept submissions from all ages and genders.
UPDATE: The subtitle is now “notes from your big sibling.”
Q: Do I need to send you a pitch first or can I just write something?
Nope, no pitching necessary! Just write what you feel and send it in.
Q: Will I get paid?
Man, I wish! We’re all doing this for free in our spare time.
Q: Will you link to my Twitter/Tumblr/personal blog in my submission!
For sure! Just let me know what you want.
Q: I’m [insert age]. Am I too young/old to submit something?
Definitely not! We would love to hear from you even if you are a baby or a ghost.
Q: Will my submission be edited?
Every post will go through a light copy edit, and you can request a heavier edit if you feel like you need one. But we won’t change anything beyond punctuation errors and typos without your permission.
Q: Is my submission guaranteed to get posted?
Q: I’m shy and my story is really personal. Are a million people going to read it and ruin my life?
Possibly! We don’t know who might share and publicize this blog, and things can blow up fast on the internet, so keep in mind that your story could wind up being read by a LOT of people. If a high level of publicity and scrutiny is too much for you, please don’t submit! Or change any identifying details and ask to be kept anonymous. Our top priority is for everyone to feel comfortable and safe here.
Q: Do I have to follow the “Dear Teenager” letter format?
Not at all. This blog started as a letter-writing project, but if videos/essays/collages/comics/etc. are more your style, go nuts.
Q: Someone already submitted a piece on the topic I wanted to cover. Can I still write about it?
Yes! The idea here is quantity as much as quality. Repetition just bolsters the message that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. THESE PROBLEMS ARE WIDESPREAD AND COMMONPLACE AND WE ARE ALL FIGHTING THEM TOGETHER.
Q: It seems like most of the submissions are about rape/sexual assault/sexual abuse/physical abuse. Can I write about something else?
Great question! I answered it here. But the short version is YES YES YES WE WANT TO HEAR ABOUT ALL THE THINGS.
Q: Am I allowed to swear?
Q: Can my submission be anonymous?
Definitely. These are tough subjects we’re talking about here. Just make it clear at the top of your e-mail that you’d like to be anonymous, or if you’d like us to only use your first name.
Q: Do I have to include a photo?
We like to have a visual element with each post, because we find it’s really humanizing, but it’s not mandatory.
Q: If I do include a photo, does it have to be a photo of me?
Nope! Photos of you are great, obviously (you are beautiful!), but if you’re not comfortable revealing what you look like, that’s fine too. It could be a picture of your cat or your bus stop or your garbage can or your bunion.
Q: I’m a teenager. What’s a bunion?
OH, MY SWEET SUMMER CHILD.
Q: If it is a photo of me, does it have to be from the time period in which my story takes place?
Nope! A selfie from five minutes ago would be fine!
Q: Do I have to include my age?
Most people do, but you don’t have to!
Q: Who answers the questions submitted to the “ask us anything” page?
If one of the “I Believe You | It’s Not Your Fault” contributors really resonated with you, you’re welcome to request their advice specifically! Otherwise, the questions will be answered by the site’s editor (me), and/or opened up to our pool of contributors. (Note: We are not mental health professionals. If you feel like you might hurt yourself, please call someone.)
Q: Who’s running this thing?
Right now, it’s just me. I’m Lindy West. I might bring on some other moderators once the site gets its legs underneath it. But the people who really make this project happen are our incredible contributors, so YAY YAY YAY THANKS TO THEM I LOVE THEM THEM FOR PRESIDENT.
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