OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci.
As I wandered through the orchid exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden, a space that has become a staple in my daily Washington, D.C. routine, I stumbled upon a case of Lady Slippers. The Pink Lady Slipper is a flower that defies all odds. A bulbous pink perennial that takes years to reach maturity and requires a network of fungus and pollinators to survive and reproduce in its native New England woods. To me, the Pink Lady Slipper is a signal of summer. A sign that I am where I love to be, out in the woods breathing in the mossy smells of earthy sanctuary. I never imagined that I could find that same peace in Washington, D.C., but here it was sitting right in front of me in the same botanic garden I happily slip off to every lunch break.
The Pink Lady Slipper, also known as the Moccasin Flower, draws its name from an Ojibewe tale in which a young girl runs barefoot through the snow to find medicine for her people. It is a symbol of bravery, healing, and care for community. While perhaps cheesy, I cannot help but compare this flower with the words of Mayor Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, at our dinner last Thursday. She spoke to the need for all LGBTQ+ identifying people to join together to build resilience and resistance. Together, we find strength, growth, and healing from a world that is often unwelcoming to non-normative identities. While not necessarily the prettiest metaphor, together we build the fungus network that allows these funky, fabulous orchids to grow and thrive.
This Saturday, I had the privilege of volunteering for Femme Fatale DC, a womxn and non-binary owned hub for creativity and community building. We created a massive quilt made of woven squares of fabric scraps from recycled clothing and chicken wire to hang in their Cleveland Park shop. I have never felt so welcomed. I was immediately swept into their network and felt freedom to be myself in a way that can sometimes be a rarity. The creativity and pieces of myself that I expressed on my squares of the quilt were woven together with those around me as we chatted about life and our goals for the future. I am so excited to have found such an incredible community in my first weeks in Washington, D.C., and I cannot wait to continue to build my network and to find ways to fuel myself.
On my first day going to work in my Congressional office, I pulled on a pair of pinkish-burgundy wedge boots and strutted out the door feeling powerful in my “fancy lady shoes.” My pink lady slippers (these burgundy boots) signify growth, community, and courage. The boots were a gift from my former supervisor/adopted auntie, and root me to the family that I have built for myself. This network gives me the strength to branch out, make new connections, and take root in the world. What I was not prepared for in these pink lady slippers, however, was all that I would encounter each day in the office.
While I had a general idea of what being a congressional intern would entail: taking calls from constituents, running errands, and taking on tasks that staffers don’t have time for; I had no clue what I would really be stepping into. As an intern, I am the frontline for the office. Answering calls, greeting people at the door, responding to emails, voicemails, and messages sent through our website, reading bill co-sign requests and creating summaries and suggestions for the Congresswoman, directing people to staffers; I have become a one stop shop for reaching the rest of the office. Sometimes this has meant that I am the person that frustrated constituents unload upon; conflating me with all the problems they see in the world and accusing me of trying to destroy the country and their way of life. While this is considered a typical part of the job, it can be hard to shed these accusations. Without intervention, I find myself building a nest of anxiety within myself waiting for the next aggressive caller with claims about my character. My daily ventures to the U.S. Botanic Garden started as a way to untwist those tangles and try to come back to an understanding that those callers’ words are not truly directed at me. They are spears thrown by people who are deeply afraid and are trying to catch onto something before they fall. My time in the garden provides the distance I need to see the network that lies beneath my feet and the strength I have around me to lean on. I am not alone, none of us are.
Gazing at the Pink Lady Slippers in the U.S. Botanic Garden and breathing away the stress of the day, I feel a touch of peace. Here grows the feeling of home I found in New England’s woods, and perhaps here I can start to bloom.