Christen Reighter is an essayist focusing on issues of social justice. Her interests in writing include sex-positivity, LGBTQI rights, confronting racism in America, women’s issues, and mental health issues and recovery.

A speaker at It’s About Time, she is also a spoken word artist, having performed in many venues and competitions across the country. She can often be found writing and speaking about societal prejudice and medical paternalism. Here we talk about the power of art and finding compassion and love in the world.

Who inspires you in terms of advocating for social justice awareness?

I beam with pride in my community when I see someone taking a risk and standing tall to confront injustice. Recent examples that stick out in my mind include: The protest of the North Dakota Pipeline at Standing Rock Sioux reservation, Colin Kaepernick, Malala Yousafzai, Cocks Not Glocks at UT Austin, Black Lives Matter, “I’ll ride with you” (Australia’s solidarity with its Muslim citizens), “I’ll go with you” (allies’ solidarity with the transgender community) and then I also see friends who post photos of themselves at marches and rallies. There is a sense of: if they are doing it, I can too, and there is no excuse for me not to.

Those are inspiring examples.

I’m also inspired by artists. I am deeply moved by they way art can influence and inform an entire movement. Photographs humanize those who we might have previously considered our enemies. Performance art and music deliver the stories of the subjugated to the masses, all while allowing the kind of transformative space in which a musician can transcend his or her oppression and become a powerhouse on stage. The written word puts the reader in the perspective of someone they would never have considered paralleled in any way. Art illuminates aspects of the human experience that we would otherwise gloss over as inconsequential. This is why I write. Writing is my best way of contributing to the movements that move me, of sharing with the world a new perspective, a silenced experience. We all have our place in the fight. This is mine.

Is it hard to focus on your own happiness when there is so much injustice in the world?

This is something that does give me pause from time to time. I am sensitive to the energy of the world around me and sometimes that can become very overwhelming. A question I have often revisited is whether sticking our heads in the sand when the world becomes too ugly is cowardice or a self-care, a temporary respite from the pain. I waver back and forth in my answer. I personally confronted this dilemma recently when I had to step away from a project I was working on about police brutality and institutionalized racism in America. I had become enwrapped and fervent in what I was writing and researching…I had to force myself to detach because all I could see in the world was pain and hatred, therefore losing my perspective of why [I was] writing the piece, why envisioning change was even worth it. I have only recently revisited it once I regained some objectivity and balance in my worldview. There is so much compassion and love in this world, and that has to be my inspiration behind delving into and exposing the oppression and pain.

Do you have a favorite TED talk?

I can’t say I have a single favorite. I often use TED talks as a catalyst when I need inspiration or motivation. If I had to pick a few that really piqued my interest and influenced me in the past month they would have to be: “Teach girls bravery, not perfection” by Reshma Saujani (which made me consider my own socialization); “How great leaders inspire action” by Simon Sinek (which changed the way I approach many things); and “A call to men” by Tony Porter (which reinvigorates my advocacy for challenging prescribed gender roles and norms—and, side note, makes me cry every time).