Owning My Voice

For years, I was terrified to show the world any of my own writing. I found ways to avoid professional work that would require a byline with my name attached to it. I was stymied by a number of fears: What if my writing isn’t good enough or what if it’s “too much?” Worse yet what if what I say offends, turns off, or upsets anyone, possibly everyone—rendering me undateable, unhireable, or, even, unfit to be part of society?

Stories from the Belly has been up and running for eight months. This post marks my 17th one. While the blog is fairly new, for me working as a blogger is not. I’ve been ghost blogging for eight years and written thousands of posts—only you would never know that any of them were written by me.

I’d even started other personal blogs in the past—four, to be exact (one of them I’d forgotten ever existed until I stumbled upon the URL in my bookmark folder the other day). I never made any of these sites available to the public.

Author Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own, “I would venture to guess that Anonymous, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” For a long time, I might as well have been this “Anonymous.”

I’d love to think these fears are just a product of my own personal history—my Catholic upbringing, being born into a culture (Filipino) where sometimes the greater offense is to tell the truth rather than to keep up the facade that everything is fine. But from talking to other women in my life I’ve found that this is bigger than me.

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I’m not the only one who has worried about the consequences that might arise from expressing a personal truth or opinion in a female voice. At a young age, many girls are trained in how to be seen more, heard less. We are taught to make our voices sexier or dilute them of any real authority. We learn how to infuse the word “like” into nearly every sentence, end our statements with question marks, or wait for someone else to tell us when we can talk and what we are allowed to say.

For some women, especially in certain countries, speaking the truth can lead to jail time or a death sentence. And even in Western countries, there are female writers who have received rape and murder threats for expressing their opinions in a blog post or some other publication.

When I started Stories from the Belly last year, it wasn’t that I had gotten over my fears or stopped caring about any possible fallout, both real and imagined. It was that I finally understood that my fears were keeping me boxed in, shut up, and disempowered. I was allowing cultural conditioning and the constraints placed on me because I happen to be a woman to win out.

The only way to take my voice back was to start writing as me even if not everyone liked what I had to say. This included writing about the female body with as much naked candor as I had the courage to muster. (Society will objectify and sexualize the female body, but God forbid an honest depiction of what it’s really like to live in one—many consider that subject taboo.)

Writer and feminist Audre Lorde said: “Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever… and at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”

I doubt that anything I’ve published here has disrupted any dinner parties yet— although sometimes I can feel my parents squirming 400 miles away as they read my latest blog post. And I’m pretty sure that a lot of my older relatives are wondering what the hell is wrong with me. Then again, one of my uncles just signed up as a subscriber.

When I published my first blog post early last September, I sent it out only to a designated “safe” list of friends I knew would be supportive. My second post, about working out with Jane Fonda, I published to a slightly bigger list on Facebook. When I published my third post, about my period, I secretly hoped no one would see it. Instead, not only did readers find me, but many of them seemed to resonate with what I wrote. They left comments. The blog and its readership have been growing ever since.

When one of my blog posts, “Growing Up Like Skipper: On Breasts and Objectification,” got Freshly Pressed on WordPress and then syndicated on BlogHer, I was deluged with comments, mostly from other women, eager to share their personal breast stories. Apparently many of us had similar experiences and feelings about our breasts—only none of us knew this because no one talks about it. (As for me, to discover that sharing my truth could cause strangers to open up and tell their stories, rather than turn away, was a healing of its own and an honor.)

And while I did receive one comment from one reader about the “Skipper” post: “This post is like a rich white male proclaiming all the downsides of being so privileged. Cry me a river, please.”—You know what? I survived. And I became even more committed to continuing to write as me and tell my stories, including what its like to inhabit my female body.

That doesn’t mean I am devoid of the old fears. Often, before publishing a blog post, I pause, hold my breath, and second-guess myself: Did I reveal too much, get too personal? What if the writing isn’t good enough? Why the hell don’t I write about lighter, more positive topics, like ‘how to meditate’ or ’10 tips for growing a rose garden’? Or, what will my dad/former landlord/ex-boss/neighbor/best friend from kindergarten who I haven’t seen in over 30 years but is now my Facebook friend think of me now?

Then, I remind myself of what is really important: That I keep telling my truth no matter what. Then I press “publish,” and get on with the rest of my day.


68 Comments on “Owning My Voice”

  1. Katalina4 says:

    I love and admire the gutsy ovarios of your blog – there is still time to disrupt some dinner parties… :)

  2. Here is what I think – thank God, you decided to own your voice! Gosh Diahann, you have probably touched on a lot of similar nerves for many of us again. I love your bravery, and if I haven’t made it clear before, you are one of the writers I aspire to live UP TO. Makes me wonder what you have hidden in those anonymous blog caches. ;)

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Robyn, for all of that… and LOL- yes, some of those “anonymous” blogs… I am still working my way up to writing about a few of the topics on this site.. slowly but surely and someday for sure!

  3. Tony Single says:

    I do wonder if this is a fear we all share (regardless of gender), although I will agree that owning one’s voice is definitely harder for women living within a patriarchal framework. And if what you say is true (I suspect it is) then I do wonder where that leaves us men. I shall attempt to explain what I mean…

    I’ve long held a suspicion that although the deck is clearly stacked in favour of men in how the societal game is played, we don’t really know what to do with that… well, advantage? Sure, we can construct buildings, progress scientific knowledge, and thump our chests in triumph over the latest sporting achievement, but as soon as it comes to matters of the heart we become little boys again. We regress from a position that really wasn’t all that and a bag of potato chips to begin with to a position that just isn’t healthy.

    I mean, big deal if we can do all that stuff when there are still wars in the world, when people are still starving and dying from preventable diseases, and women are still being silenced (and in more subtle and deviously artful ways)! The only dialogue that a lot of men seem to be able to engage in is talk of the next BIG thing. Everything’s got to be big, manly, hard. We’ve got to thrust forward into the future and make it our bitch. We have to conquer.

    As a male, that’s not the kind of voice I want to have. I want my own voice. Unfortunately, I’ve hit a wall more often than not whenever I do try to exercise my voice. In my admittedly limited experience, people – especially men – don’t want you to speak thoughtfully and at length about anything. They want to know what you think in a ten second sound bite so they know instantly whether to knock you down or support you. There is no proper discourse any more, which is why blogs like yours are so important Diahann (so please keep it up).

    So, what am I trying to say? Well, I think it might be this: I wonder if women get silenced in society because we men don’t know what to do with our own voices. Oh sure, we can shout, we can puff ourselves up, and we can pontificate, but when it comes to admitting what we might really be thinking – especially when it comes to the more personal stuff – we absolutely falter. In fact, I think we’ve been faltering all along. We only have to glance at history to see that truth.

    History is truly “his” story indeed, and it’s not a pretty one.

    So, the question is, where to from here? I’m not entirely sure. I only know that, like you, I need to practice owning my voice too. Let’s wish each other luck in this endeavour. We’re going to need it.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Tony, I think you touched upon so many important issues. I so wish you would write about all of this more. Are you familiar with the Good Men Project http://goodmenproject.com? I bet they would love an article about this by you. (I’m not sure if you are in the US, where it’s based but the publication is a popular online one) Or Role Reboot even. http://www.rolereboot.org

      This voice of yours and what it has to say… I hope you do own and use it more too because it is needed. Your “I wonder if women get silenced in society because we men don’t know what to do with our own voices.”- that’s pretty thought provoking and I am definitely curious about that.

      I know for sure there are other men like you who want the type of discourse between each other that you are talking about except that, like you said, cultural and societal expectations limit them. They feel like they can’t or shouldn’t want that (or are never shown how). It is definitely a problem. And I hope, as more men like you come forward, all that can change.

  4. So grateful for WordPress. I doubt I ever would have found you if you hadn’t been Freshly Pressed and that post still sticks out in my mind, every single sentence!! I am thrilled to hear it was syndicated on BlogHer as well. I will be at that conference this July. Your writing has helped me summon the courage to sometimes venture into deeper subjects than my lighthearted humor and I took the biggest plunge when I wrote about being hospitalized at 16 for 4 months in a mental institution when I first tested the waters with my own Quest for Smaller Breast post. All because of you. I hope you know the ripples of inspiration you’ve started that lead to cathartic waves for the rest of us. Thank you, Diahann!

    • diahannreyes says:

      Stephanie, you are definitely one of the women I felt a connection with from that post.. I was so moved by your share right after I teared up in the best way possible.

      I am now officially sure you are not always showing up in my reader because I know for sure I would have remembered that post. I will definitely go back and peruse your site for that one. (I loved your breast post) , btw.

      I’m glad to know my writing has rippled.. thank you for that… that’s so wonderful to hear.

      • How on earth did you find it?? I didn’t even give the title here?! You’re so wonderful. I cherish your comments on my blog. Thank you. Are you by chance going to be at BlogHer this summer? It would be an honor to meet you.

  5. drshapero says:

    Very nice article and nicely written. You are wonderful to articulate these things for the readers. Who in some cases feel the problem but are not sure how to put it into words that make sense. May this article help others to unveil their thoughts and ideas.

  6. jennbird77 says:

    I was so happy to read this post. I usually finish a post and hit ‘publish’ just before going to bed. Even when my subject matter is completely un-controversial, I go to bed feeling vulnerable, worried. So, I loved reading about your relationship to your own writing and blogging. In short, I feel less alone.

  7. Diahann, this is so great. I am on a very similar journey; every time I write a post that could potentially be a little controversial or something that very few people talk about, I go through the exact same thing you described before I press the publish button. My post Fatherless child, Fatherless woman was the first time post I took a risk with and then my post the ‘M’ word (looking at female masturbation) was the scariest thing I have ever wrote and shared about.

    Thank you so much for being one of those women, values her voice and uses it for truth and good. That really makes me feel like I’m not alone :) x

    • diahannreyes says:

      Leancia, I am going to definitely check out both those posts. They sound wonderful. Thanks for sharing what it’s like for you too and that our processes are so similar! Though I’d love for both of us to be spared the angst, :) it really is nice to know that it’s not just me.

  8. ninoalmendra says:

    Always a nice place to spend my SIESTA!!! Congats on your new subscriber =)

  9. Lusiana Njo says:

    Your blog is thought-provoking yet enjoyable to read. Please keep writing in your own voice. It’s beautiful!

  10. vnp1210 says:

    Great insights here.

  11. Ralph says:

    Hi Diahann :D I not only follow you because of the content of your posts but the ease I have in reading your style of writing. You are one of the best. It’s YOUR voice and blow what others may think. Well done my friend, you impress me immensely. Ralph xox <3

  12. Thanks, Diahann, for your honesty and fearlessness. From a guy’s perspective, all I can say is: bravo and keep on digging deep and exploring and communicating. We are all of us frightened sometimes about revealing too much, offending our friends and family, opening ourselves up to ridicule or worse (and this is true no matter our sex, race, social background, sexual orientation, whatever). But it is definitely worth the effort to try to overcome the self-doubts and fears.

    So keep up the good fight and keep blogging!

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Erich! And very good point that this goes beyond gender, race, etc. Hopefully we can all support each other in continue to express ourselves, our art, and our truth. Ps. Your guy’s perspective and insights are always welcome and appreciated here. :)

  13. Another interesting post, Diahann :)

    In books on writing one often reads about finding your voice. I wrote two posts on voice. In one of them I said: I am finding that the closer I come to my voice, the more I uncover who I am. This excites me and pushes me more to want to write so that , through the discovery of my voice I will become a bit clearer about who I am.

    In the other post I wrote :All my life I’ve been trying out other people’s voices in an attempt to find my own. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing because you’ve got to have models. But there’s a point, I believe, where you’ve got to stop emulating and trust in your own voice. To believe that you’ve got something of value to say. And then, when your vision of what’s in your mind corresponds to the words you’ve written then I think that’s voice.

    It’s no wonder that your post on breasts was freshly pressed and then syndicated on BlogHer. You have a fresh voice because it is yours. That’s what makes you interesting, besides the fact that you dare write about subjects which most people think about but are afraid to express. Your voice, is both unique and universal and that’s what makes it work so well.

    If you’re interested you can read my post at http://carolbalawyder.com/2013/12/23/i-wish-you-voice/
    Have a Happy Day.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Carol! I am going to definitely check out your post that you mentioned. It’s amazing how important voice really is beyond the obvious and especially in terms of one’s sense of self and ability to take up space in the world-and also as artists. A former teacher of mine was adamant that to remember how to use the fullness of our voice was an act of power. She was so right!

      • Yes…our voice is our power and when we suppress it we diminish ourselves…we say I am not worthy of being heard or simply I am not worthy. I say all this, but I don’t always have the courage to practice it.

  14. BroadBlogs says:

    It’s funny how bloggers can start out fearful of expressing their thoughts. I went through a similar thing years ago. I would keep hoping that someone else would say what needed to be said so that I wouldn’t have to say it– Put myself out there. But when no one would say what needed to be said I felt like I had to. The thing that surprised me is that I got so much support for speaking out, so much gratitude. And even when I get negative feedback that isn’t necessarily bad. Either it’s helpful or the person is just trying to make themselves feel better by putting someone else down. I “get that” and I feel sorry for them. But I rarely post their comments on my blog.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Georgia, I’m so glad that you did! And you are so right- more often than not the judgment I’d projected that would come from others was actually my own toward myself. People in general have been very gracious and supportive and appreciative.

      And I so now see the value of the “moderate” feature. It’s been interesting to realize that just as the judgments I was expecting were mostly my own- when someone says something derogatory or rude I finally get it- it’s about them.

  15. So glad you gave your voice a whole new life. Keep writing your truth!

  16. ledrakenoir says:

    Very well wriiten – I think, without wanting to generalize – that women often see themselves as the large hurdle for success, while we men often see other as the large hurdle for success – I think we could learn a lot if we learned a little from each other – because neither the 1st nor the 2nd are the whole truth… ;-)

  17. I’m so glad you found the courage to share your voice, and your writing, Diahann. I’ve enjoyed reading every one of your posts and always find them relevant and illuminating. They make people think. And in this day and age of easily digestible pop culture, we desperately need more writers who make us think. I can understand your initial discomfort at sharing your personal experiences in a public venue such as this, but if someone doesn’t find the nerve to speak first, no one ever will. I hope you continue this important work.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Miranda! I really appreciate your support and encouragement. It helps to have likeminded companions such as yourself.. makes the journey more fun, too.

  18. katherinejlegry says:

    I love your approach to teaching self exploration and self acceptance. I hope you always write.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you so much, Katherine. In the before and after of this particular exploration, there is no way I can go back to that particular silence… Hope you are well. :)

      • katherinejlegry says:

        Hello Diahann, I was curious if you’d viewed the panel discussion at The New School in NYC regarding bell hooks comments about Beyonce (specifically: the cover of Time magazine) being “anti-feminist” and a “terrorist” to girls. It is something you can view online as it was down streamed live if you have not seen it. The discussion on gender/race sexuality and beauty was just the tip of the discussions to be had and well worth exploring and considering. Many of Beyonces fans are defending her and insulting bell hooks, missing bell hooks nuanced observations which got lost in her “revolutionary” statements about Beyonce participating in her own exploration and enslavement. I have always been a fan of bell hooks and coincidentally agreed with much of what she said about Beyonce… but I could see the transgender point of view Janet provided, as a black female often excluded by black females and how she related to Beyonce wasn’t something I could or want to take away. Something that truly came out of the panel discussion was creativity and the essence of ones identity being about that personal experience and expression.
        My best to you as well!

        • katherinejlegry says:

          word correction: in my sentence regarding Beyonce’s participation in her own “exploitation” not exploration as my typing auto correct presumed. (sorry!)

        • diahannreyes says:

          Hi Katherine, this sounds really rich! Thank you for the heads up. I will check out the panel. I have heard a bit about what Hooks has been saying and definitely curious to find out more about this. I hope you are having a great week. Diahann

  19. pjsarecomfyn says:

    This definitely resonantes we me. I am at a bit of a stand-still on my own blog. It took me so long for that last post and now I am like ‘where to go from here?’ I still don’t have an answer, but I agree, whatever comes next has to be true to myself.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I so loved your last post . And I am glad to hear there will definitely be more to come.

      It’s strange how it works, doesn’t it… that sometimes it can get tougher for a bit and usually after a really strong piece or sometimes for no obvious reason.

      I am beginning to discover that it’s just part of the process.. thank God, that’s all it is. Here’s our truths, writing, and voice!

  20. Feeling you’ve exposed too much when you publish a post–me, every time. Cheers!

  21. HeartBound says:

    Diahann, I’m really glad that you feel you’ve found your voice through this blog. I think your writing strikes a wonderful balance between the ‘serious’ and the ‘light-hearted’, and while I understand your need to question whether what you write is too ‘personal’ I think your candidness and honesty is something that really makes your writing and message shine – it also makes it something that we can all relate to more deeply. Congratulations on your growing success with Stories From the Belly. I’m looking forward to your future posts, I sense you have much more in share here. ~ Cat :-)

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Cat! Yes, I have a feeling my voice is going to keep getting louder.

      It does strike me as ironic that the blog posts in which I feel the most exposed are usually the ones that resonate the most…

      Part of my courage beginning to grow more as I was getting started (right now 8 months ago feels like a lifetime :)) has been because of you and a few others. You were among the first to start reading and commenting and supporting. Then there is also what you write about your passions that have inspired me too.

  22. So neat to know the backstory to the blog, D! I love how you realized your fear had disempowered you and that you decided to take back your voice. We certainly hear you.

    You have more than survived.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Diana, you were one of the first to chime in on Stories and I thank you for that. I so appreciate your continued support. Our exchanges sometimes make me laugh, often make me think, and leave me with warm feelings.

      • =) I meant to add that where fear disempowers us, we allow it to redefine us. And you had a line that almost made me swallow aloud – bc it “spoiled” a post I have coming up in a few months. ‘Nuff said! (I was just a bit bummed it was even brought up but I’m just being full of myself. No one knows what the hec I have simmering so it’s no skin off my nose.)

        Love the laughing and thinking, but most of all the warm fuzzies bc they say it all.

        Xxx

        • diahannreyes says:

          Lol–now you are going to have me sifting through all your posts a few months from now looking for clues as to what that was! xx

          • LOL. I know you don’t have the time. But you are a curious one for sure to almost really do that. Will try to let you know when we cross the bridge, though you might pick it up yourself ha ha ha.

  23. sweetyshinde says:

    Love your guts, Dia. I thought gagging a woman’s thoughts was unique to India, esp rural India. Now you tell me its a universal problem. I don’t know whether to be relieved or worried. But many more women find their inner voice, like you did.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Sweetyshinde!! I I am with you in that it is not right that the muting of the female voice continues to be a widespread issue. That said, it does feel that more and more women are feeling compelled to speak up in their own way. That many female voices speaking out will inevitably change the world.

  24. It’s awesome that you’ve found the courage to be real and to share your honest thoughts with the world. This is a challenge for many, if not most, of us. Not only in writing, but also in personal relationships. It’s easier to put up a front than to be real. But what a price we pay when we do that. Of course there is risk in being real too, but I’d say there’s more risk in hiding. Your courage is an inspiration, and your writing is refreshing chica!

    • diahannreyes says:

      You are so right, Celeste. I’m finding that it’s really the only way if I want to live a full, authentic, and empowered life personally and professionally. And it’s been wonderful to discover that my biggest “critic/oppressor” was me. Most everyone has been so gracious and supportive. Thank you. I really appreciate your support and presence here. And look forward to whenever we finally meet for lunch!

  25. Love your writing and your guts to own your voice! You go Girl <3 xox

  26. […] of Stories From the Belly appeals to sexual empowerment. She urges men and women to overcome shame by discussing — in […]

  27. WeaverGrace says:

    Please notice that I nominated you for the Reaching Out: Social Justice Award. You may accept the nomination without further ado, or complete the tasks listed at my blog to fully accept the award.

    Thank you for all that you do to appeal to sexual empowerment in a creative and effective way.


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