Breaking down walls while hiding behind others…

Basically in every arena of thought we have andexpress, is a reflection of who we are, and how we came to be that person.  So whether it’s politics, oracupuncture, or cookbooks, or gardening, or healthcare, it all connects and it all communicates subtly things about us and our beliefs.  This relativist point of view that has been talked about alot lately—you know that no one is wrong, just have a different POV,experience, etc. is to me relatively true.  To say that Hitler and the Dalai Lama just have different POV and they are both valid, doesn’t ring true to me.  Nonetheless, part of what makes talking about our differences so difficult, is that we all have a different experience, wethink.  You know how we keep hearing that we are more alike than different?  Wouldn’t we all like to think this is true?  It’s one of those infinite circlemobius strips that someone referred to here.  What’s also hard about talking about –isms, is looking honestly at our own.

            As a kid I was teased because of how I look. I am “hapa”—this is the Hawaiian word for “half” and I am half Filipinoand half-Italian.  I grew up in an affluent suburb of NYC where most of the 108 kids I graduated from public HS with went to college.  There was some ethnic diversity in the sense that there was one Korean family, one Japanese family, one Czech family, etc., minimal religious diversity, very little racial diversity, with the black kids in the school system coming from one particular geographic area. The community was primarily upper middle class with lots of doctors, and lawyers, and the working class people being the “townies” who could still afford to live in the community because they were actually there first; often for several generations. 

            My father was a doctor and my mom stayed at home to do the work of raising 3 kids.  My mother’s family is Italian-American from Brooklyn and this is the culture in which I was mostly raised.  Growing up, I did not identify with my Filipino blood except to pick fights with kids who called me hurtful names because of my looks. As a teenager and as an adult I have been assaulted, more than once, because of how I look: for looking Asian, and for having a shaved head (and offending some guy’s sense of what females look like.)  These events triggered in me a rage so great that in both instances it was a good thing that others were around to intervene.  Someone might have gotten really hurt, and it probably would have been me.  Throughout my life to that point, my greatest rage and call to action around these issues came from being directly threatened. 

            So how does this relate to my CAP or my role as a healer?  Before I delve into that let me also tell you all that I moved from San Francisco to Providence almost 9 years ago. When I arrived here I knew no-one and I started practicing as a BA at once.  Providence is fairly diverse ethnically, racially, and with several colleges here there is an air of progressiveness that comes with privilege.  Providence is also fairly gay.  And though there is no “gay ghetto” like in SF or LA, etc. there are plenty of visible, openly gay and lesbian people, couples, and families.  Our current mayor is openly gay (Jewish and Italian, and the son of a mob-lawyer.) 

            So from my origins, upper middle class, with education provided from the status quo curricula, of some ethnic minority, and as a lesbian, I have had my share of both privilege and discrimination. I have fought to simply be who I am, and I have fought for the rights of people like me to be people like me (and people you.)  I have decided it is better to risk being assaulted or insulted, or treated badly by someone who wants to make a judgment about me without knowing me, than to not be who I am, or so I thought…

            Community Acupuncture has brought issues of classism, racism, sexism, and their connection to healthcare, into the forefront of my work as anacupuncturist.  By examining many of the presumptions I have, and judgments I make about other people, I have been able to use CA not only as a successful model for my business, but as away to work towards a more just and fair world (and there’s a looooooong way to go.  As a caregiver my sense of my responsibility to others has grown from helping people heal and alleviating pain, to trying to figure out ways to change the current health care system, and our very notions as a culture about health, sickness, access, death, etc. 

            Just as we, as world citizens, see the importance of reducing our waste stream and toxic footprints, we as caregivers are impelled by our call to help others whoare suffering.  But in both ofthese instances we have to dig deeper to uncover the “who” we are saving the world for or offering to serve.  Is it okay to insist on organic foods for ourselves , while mega-corporations blackmail public schools with soda machines in exchange for sports uniforms?  Is it enough to offer palliative care, without working to uncover and address the deeper sources of suffering?   I don’t have the answers, but it seems that every action that is towards a more just and fairworld, uncovers more actions to be taken.

            So in my efforts to try to serve my patients with more integrity, to let go of my judgments about who they are, what they can afford to pay, how they should change their lives to be healthier, etc. I need to uncover the ways I judge myself.  I recently had the opportunity to see something I was blind to—I have been a bit of closet case at work for a long time.  This was actually brought to my attention by my girlfriend, and by that I mean my lesbian partner.  Now let me launch into relativist mode for a moment, and say that it may not be safe for some people to be openly gay at work. It was this perception that initially caused me to practice a bit of “don’t ask don’t tell.”  Hey it’s my business right? I was new to town, having just moved from a very gay-friendly city to a new and unknown place, and though my office mates all knew who I was, I wasn’t sure how my patients would react. But that was 9 years ago…

            In that time my reputation as a practitioner has grown, and yet I have held on to this fear of failure because of who I am, when in fact it is who I am that has had the most influence on my success as a practitioner. My fear of failure was failing others more than me.  Mypride, and courage and strength comes not only from within me, but from the different communities I belong to like my family, or CA, or gay and lesbian community.  My connections to others buoys me up when I need it, but I must emanate it so that it can buoy others;  it may be the very thing one of my patient needs from me most; to be most genuinely real. In the same way that it was easier to be 20 and coming out in San Francisco, it has been much easier to believe that a CAP works because all of you hold that belief  and/or have that experience too. 

            So what I saw in my own homophobia, were the seeds of doubt, of who I am, and the goodness and integrity of that, having taken root.  I can go and stand on the stairs of the statehouse to support same-sex marriage, I am totally out with my family, but still I was sending my patients this message that who I am is not quite okay…or at least I am worried that it’s not.  That says to them on some level that who they are may not be okay.  We all have parts of ourselves that we doubt, don’t like, want to keep hidden. It may be that we keep them hidden because we fear recrimination.  But the danger is that when we don’t accept ourselves, we will construct ways to trick ourselves into thinking that if we can one-up someone, find someone that we are stronger, smarter, better looking, or more powerful than in some way, then those “doubtful” parts ofourselves will go away.  Classist people fear that they are not good enough or that they don’t “measure up”, sexist people fear that they lack something inherently that the other sex has that makes them more powerful, racists cannot see that physical, cultural, and religious differences do not make anyone any less of a citizen of this planet.  In one more step towards freedom, I can see how who I love matters, and it matters most of all to those of us here who have come to love.  Lovingand accepting ourselves for who we are, as we are, is a huge step towards all healing.  Finally seeing another of my own blind spots has been humbling and so freeing. Got to keep mining those blind spots…

Author: crismonteiro

I've always thought that I would live to be 100 years old and now that I have an actual idea of what it might be like to inhabit this body for a century I want to be damn sure that Community Acupuncture is around to help me through my days and in the end, on my way. In the meantime, I am passionate about getting shit done, and also having fun.

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Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


  1. At the risk of coming across as obsequious…

    I am so proud to work and learn with such fantastic hearts and minds.


    Much love to you Cris for your honesty and insights…

  2. Really liking and accepting yourself.

    Not an easy thing to do, ever.  I catch myself on this frequently, even after I think I’ve resolved the issue.  Just think: when we have our 20th year reunion, how outrageous we will all have become, and how contented!

  3. Innate perfection

    Thank you for your deep and insightful sharing Cris. It made me think of how I’ve not cut my hair for about a year now. Initially, my reasoning was that climate change is causing Seattle to be colder for the past half year and wearing it short leaves my wind gate vulnerable on wet windy cold bicycle commutes.

    But I’ve come to notice a bit of rebelliousness and nonconformity in me of late, wishing to gently challenge the delusional projections that members of society (including patients – actual or potential) hold about what is deemed “professional”. And I’ve caught glimpses of some of those internalized demons – false identities I got tagged with during an earlier time in my life.

    Your comment about “not enough” really resonates. I think we (Americans) all have that deeply conditioned in us. I was at a Trauma Stewardship Conference today, and the conference presenter showed slides of a very recent ad campaign by New York City Child Protection Service’s to recruit caseworkers.

    The ad slogans are “Are You Smart Enough”, “Are You Cool Enough”, “Are You Strong Enough”, etc. Laura pointed out that it’s obviously a very complex issue and there is an urgent need to address the abuse of children. However, to solve the problem of child abuse, you need to pull out the root of the problem, not perpetuate it by abusing past, present, and future agency workers (or anyone riding on the NYC subways who can read English) with messages of internalized oppression. That’s like going to war to make peace – totally illogical.

    We are all stronger and more powerful, effective healers when we are coming from our place of inner power, aliveness, and fearlessness, not the artificial, adrenaline induced, secondary trauma fight for recognition from outside authorities.

    We need to keep striving to remove those false messages from within ourselves, or else we remain a prisoner of the lie, and to that extent, we reinforce other’s subjugation.


    May all beings be peaceful and happy.

  4. very nice

    your honesty in your self introspection, especially in the openness and vulnerability of others(ie community!) is absolutely beautiful. thanks for sharing.

  5. Your honesty is beauty beyond words…

    Forgive me if the following is too mushy for some, but this reminds me of some words that might be worth sharing…

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
    It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

    Your playing small does not serve the world.
    There is nothing enlightened about shrinking,
    so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
    We were all meant to shine as children do.

    It’s not just in some of us…it’s in everyone.

    And as we let our own light shine
    We unconciously give other people permission to do the same.
    As we are liberated from our own fears
    Our presence automatically liberates others…”
    (by Marianne Williamson)

  6. From Another semi-closeted acupuncturist…

    Hey Cris,

    I can so relate to your story, as it is also my story.  I’ve been in practice for 12 years.  For the first 7 of those years, I had a husband.  In the boutique clinic I had at the time, it is easy to chat with patients about what you and your husband did over the weekend, when your husband’s family is coming to visit, etc, etc.  They expect it — no eyebrows go up, and because most of my patients were heterosexual women, many would share the same.  Since ’02 I have had a woman partner, and the past three years, I have a wife.  Not so easy.  At least one patient (from my boutiqe acu days) has told me all about her church, which apparently casts out deamons from gay people.  I have no doubt she wouldn’t allow me to touch her if she knew.  The photo of my grandson, who is now five, never went up on my desk, because it would stir up questions. 
    I am out in every other area of my life, but in a small town, in a small business, you think about anything that might possibly cut your appeal.

    Since moving completely to community, I share more easily.  (Tho’ I usually don’t say ‘wife’).  Seeing many patients who pay a little makes me worry less about alienating one or two by being open about my sexuality. And seeing so many patients a week, I have some lesbian, gay, & bi folk who come for treatment.  This also makes me feel comfortable to be more visible.  Community Acupuncture gives us strength in numbers.