Harvey at Eye Level: SWAAY Reporter on Houston Aftermath

This morning I woke up in my own bed, freshly made with clean sheets. I got up and took a hot shower. There was plenty of water and body wash and privacy. I slipped into clean yoga clothes, made a cup of coffee in my own well-appointed kitchen and I drank it before heading out on my walk on dry streets, with my content puppy, Walter, at my side.

Every step I took was one part gratefulness and one part guilt. I have been on the verge of or in tears since the first reports came in. I don't live in Houston. I live on the edge of devastation.

We live about 90 miles Northwest of the city on a massive lake. We were terribly lucky. The lake rose to a level the likes of which we had never seen. But then the dam was opened and despite the heavy rains, the lake remained at a steady level. Even the winds were nothing to write home about. A half-filled water bottle that we had mistakenly left sitting out on the grill when my fiancé was clearing off the deck and tying down the furniture was still standing right where we left it.

Phoot Courtesy of: Andrew and Christy Landgraf

We were prepared. Cars were filled with gas. Pantry stocked with water and food and necessities. Things brought in or tied down. Garage floor cleared of anything that might succumb to water. Furniture and accessories moved away from the sliding glass doors. But we aren't in a floodplain. We're safely situated high enough above sea level. My fiancé assured me we were in no danger. Still we prepared.

And yet we were so unprepared. How do you prepare to watch the destruction of lives and homes and families and a city that prides itself on its strength?

In many ways, this it too surreal to even wrap my head around. The stories coming out of Hurricane Harvey sound like the ones written for those ridiculous, over-the-top disaster movies. A toddler found in flood waters floating on her dead mother's back.

A man is the sole survivor when his van is overcome by rising waters and he listens as his parents and four children scream for help but he cannot save them. The family of a terminally ill child loses their home and all of its contents including life-saving medical equipment. An entire school system loses half of its buildings. Animals left chained or caged to drown. A nursing home of residents sitting in waist-high water.

Phoot Courtesy of: Andrew and Christy Landgraf

It's not just the losses that are so hard to take. It's also some of the responses. Joel Osteen, the minister of a 16,000-seat megachurch called Lakewood locks the doors and then days later opens them only after extreme public shaming and only to those who are members or who are willing to “donate," read pay. The “President" who commented first on the “turnout" which “he" received upon his arrival in Texas – not Houston - and who did not meet with even one victim of the flood.

I hate the word victim. It makes it seems like the disaster is the boss of things. I don't love survivor either. I prefer thriver. The people of Houston are thrivers. Those who suffered damage and injury and loss and those who volunteered to help.

The volunteerism. That has been miraculous. That has been the only saving grace, both literally and figuratively. When the massive losses began to seem unbearable to not only those suffering but also those whose hearts went out to them, there were all of these people. These incredible people doing the most incredible things.

Photo Courtesy of CNN

A man buys a boat just to perform rescues. The Cajun Army comes from Louisiana to save people. Shelters open. Churches open. Mosques open. A woman embroiders pillow cases so people have some tiny bit of comfort. Restaurants feed first responders. Reporters tirelessly reporting from the thick of it, even leading rescuers to those desperate to be taken to higher ground. People come from Mexico with supplies to give and hands to help.

And our beloved Jim McIngvale, aka Mattress Mack, opens the doors to his Gallery Furniture stores and tells evacuees to make themselves as at home as they can on the miles of brand new furniture.

The Godliest among us are so often not those who loudly proclaim themselves to be “men of God."

It's hope in the face of hopelessness. It's the brightness of humanity. No one is gay or straight. No one is black or brown or white or yellow or red. No one is a man or a woman. No one is young or old. No one is Jewish or Christian or Muslim. No one is rich or poor. No one is a citizen or not a citizen. There are no papers. There are no distinctions. There are no delineations. There are those who need help and those who are helping.

In the face of disaster, we see the true colors of humanity as a whole and of people as individuals. We find joy in knowing that most of us dwell in love.

I have been reminded every moment of how lucky I am every day and certainly this week. I am reminded of how grateful I must always remember to be. I am reminded that compassion fatigue is real. That there is no shame in being overwhelmed and sad. That it doesn't have to be your home or your family to feel sorrow. I am reminded that self-care is mandatory when there are so many people who need help from those of us not directly affected.

There is no shame in feeling. There is only shame in ignoring.

So, I take a break from the coverage and I seek ways I can make a direct impact no matter how small. And I remember that love is love is love is love. And I remember that we are more capable and wanting of good than of evil. And I remember that nothing is promised. Our health and safety and well-being is not promised. It is precious. And I remember that for but the grace of God go I.

Photo Courtesy of David and Brad Odom-Harris

For those of you feeling helpless and lost, whether Harvey's toll on you was direct or indirect, breathe, eat, drink, sleep, ask for help, accept assistance, take care of yourself, take care of others, forgive yourself for whatever feelings you are having. And sally forth. That is what we are here to do. Care for one another and sally forth.

We are one. This too will pass. And we will rise.

Houston will rise.

Note: If you're looking for a simple, direct way to help, tampons and diapers are very much needed for evacuees. I have created a Target wish list where you can buy product or gift cards. Everything purchased will be distributed to shelters and agencies as needed.

Just click here to donate -


A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.