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BHEC Spotlight: Wen Feng Mo (preferred name Mari/Maribel)

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

I am Mari (pronounced Mary). I am an AmeriCorps VISTA serving a Midvalley Family Practice though BHEC. I’m 22, almost 23 years old now, and I graduated college last year with a double degree in political science and psychology. My main interests are building sustainable community health systems and networks, as well as doing deep dives on topics and issues that are of particular interest me including matters of the mind, like trauma, neurodivergence, and gender. I myself am transgender/transfeminine, and I’ve been on MtF HRT for 9 months now (to share a bit about my relevant lived experience that backs up all my academic work). Personally, I approach these sorts of things from a compassionate and analytically deconstructive lens, combining both the perspectives of people directly involved in these issues, with academic and clinical knowledge. My future plans include possibly being a psychologist or doctor, though that’s still very much up in the air.

 

 

How did you get into volunteering? 

After graduating college, I saw a lot of things that came off as wrong and unjust in the world. I very much wanted to help that. I wanted to apply the skills and knowledge I had to help resolve some issues.

I saw there were problems and I have, and solutions or insights and I thought I could contribute. I looked up AmeriCorps on a recommendation from a friend and I came across BHEC.

I felt I could be helpful first and foremost in LGBTQ+/trans issues. There’s so much that the mainstream narrative gets wrong, even from those that come from a compassionate place. I’d like to rectify that with bridging the gap between trans voices and those with institutional power, who are sometimes receptive to listening but don’t know where to listen or who to listen to. Other issues that I felt like I had much to share with the world include my learnings on trauma/CPTSD and specific therapies for it, autism advocacy, neurodivergence.

 

What do you most enjoy in your free time? 

I recently got my SSD back, so I can finally say this out of joy not frustration, but—I like playing many hours in a handful of very specific video games, partly because I’m good at them and partly because they relax me and it’s partly because of neurodivergent fixations. But I’ve been playing about 4-5 games since I was about 12. I just love Team Fortress Civilization, Minecraft and some others and playing them in a very specific way. Just feeling it and being in the zone for a few hours. I used to play Team Fortress competitively, and still do it casually (but semi-seriously) these days. I wasn’t very good compared to other comp players, but it made me better than the average player by a long shot. These days I “frag out” in public servers, and thanks to the power of my new data drive which can actually record gameplay, you can check out some late-night pubbing on Uncletopia I uploaded here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OHNQWxNl-8.

 

 

 

What advice would you give people considering going into service? 

 

First of all, just be aware that what you are doing may end up different than when you started. Also be aware of logistical life considerations—what you’ll do for recreation, who you’ll have around you, and food, access to basic materials and the cost of living, etc.

A more uplifting piece of advice to keep in mind is to be aware of your power because you have it. You can know things better than some professionals themselves because of your unique perspective that you bring to the table. If they’re worth your time, they will see that, and you can reach far wider audience than you think. Though academic knowledge and wisdom are important—you may not have as many letters after your name as others, but you can make a difference and you can know things that others don’t and educate them. In my case, for one, I helped educate on LGBTQ+ issues with many providers who had only a basic grasp of trans healthcare or less. Assert what you know and assert it well, and back it up with evidence and sources, but don’t think that you need 6 years of grad school to be able to appropriately explain what you yourself have lived; be aware of this and be emboldened by it.

The second thing is to be aware of opportunities because they can be around every corner. I am a Reddit user (I promise this is relevant), and a month ago I got the chance to participate in r/transplace, one of the biggest spontaneous trans community building activities that has ever happened on the internet. I eventually got to be an admin of the transplace discord, so that became another unexpected dimension of my capacity building services. I took this chance because I saw what was possible—I could offer my skills to an undertaking, and so I jumped on it.

The third thing- be aware of why you are serving and make it sustainable. Coming to this I had the mindset of, honestly, trying to prove something, from some deep-seated developmental pains and traumas, and I’ll freely admit that it’s been hard learning to slowly let go of that. You can try to make the world a better place but don’t run yourself into the ground trying to do it or do it to try to prove that you’re good enough. Leave something for yourself and do some of what you’re doing for you. It’s good to do things for others, but it’s easy to adopt a philosophy of self-sacrifice and complete struggle, based on an endless treadmill of justifying yourself. If you have these problems, that incline and motivate you towards service, that would be good to acknowledge and work on, because you will have to eventually.

I want to summarize the entire service year with the term “diplomatic victory.” That was what serving was all about for me. I came into this thinking I would be an authority and educating people, and I did give quite a few presentations, but really one of the more important things that I didn’t think I would do is connecting people and resources to other individuals/organizations that may not have otherwise connected. Working with others and making sure more people are connected will go far longer than trying to educate everyone by yourself.

 

 

If you could visit one place, anywhere in the world, where would you go?

 

I would visit my girlfriend and my friends in western Europe, realistically. But to take advantage of this hypothetical… If I would definitely survive the experience, I would visit the earth’s core. It’s somewhere nowhere has gone before, and it’s technically “in the world.”

 

What is one item you cannot live without? 

 

I would say my laptop. It connects me to everyone I know. Taking this remote position, I’m about 250 miles away from anyone that I’m really close with. Close friends are very hard to come by, and some friends I would have never even met without my laptop.

 

 

What is your favorite hobby? 

 

I’m basically being asked to choose between games and that’s hard, but I would say Team Fortress 2. Of all the games I’ve played it combines perfectly strategy, tactic, mechanical skills, and a unique and vibrant community that refuses to die—nowhere was this more exemplified than the recent #savetf2 campaign, an almost VISTA-like grassroots campaign to petition the owners/authorities of the games and servers for change.

 

What would you like the world to know about you and your work? 

Well, first of all, know that it exists. There’s a lot of good stuff I’ve written here, but it’s not just me, and it’s not pulled out of thin air, either. There’s plenty of literature on what I’ve been working on, yet there hasn’t been much attention to these works. With regards to neurodivergency—there are so many compilations and analyses by ND and autistic advocates, researchers with lived experience, all sorts of people before me. These works have been historically undervalued because they don’t fit the dominant narrative of productivity and autism-as-defect, how to accommodate it, or how to understand there are many different valid ways individuals and communities can function.

At the end of the day, there’s no one right way to be human or, for that matter, to heal from the past. I’ve seen that the dominant psychiatric paradigm, for all that it’s helped, also has historically imposed one view on what normalcy should be and to label anything else as deviant or abnormal. You can see that with homosexuality being labeled as a disorder in the past, or being transgender being only recently removed as disorder in 2013 in the DSM5, or with neurodivergence (ADHD or autism) still being considered solely-debilitating afflictions in many schools of thought, or with a lot of therapy these days being seen as inadequate for addressing issues of deeper trauma (don’t take it from me—take it from the survey results I’ve collected and helped collect over this year). You can see it in how (at least until recently), many therapists treating dissociative disorders (DID and OSDD) pushed final fusion as the end goal and the only path towards functionality and health, instead of considering that there was such a thing as healthy multiplicity.

I’ve been stressing in my writing and my efforts to expand mental healthcare capacity, to have it recognized that not every difference is a defect to be cured. Some people want to be accommodated by society for being different instead of forced to be the same, and these accommodations take very little, especially financially, compared to what has previously been done to “fix” them—on top of all the traumas that result from such attempts.

We should respect everyone’s way of healing and their needs. There’s no one way to be human, and it’s outdated to think people need to conform to a certain way of being that our society has ironically, arbitrarily created. That’s what I want people to know about my work.

One more thing, about me and the people that I have been reading: listen to more people than those with letters behind their name. Respect professional knowledge and experience too, of course, but we’ve increasingly seen in health measures and outcomes for people, that the best subject experts are often those with their own experiences of the topics discussed—from peers helping people recover from addiction to trans teens speaking about their own struggles and how society mistreats them. Don’t think that these people with lived experience can’t rise to an academic standard of making observations and conclusions that academia that traditionally has. And, even beyond that, internalize that they don’t need to meet those often classist and excessive standards to offer something. Work from a multitude of perspectives, synthesizing both the academic and standpoint epistemology, and strive towards diplomacy instead of conflict.

 

 

Program questions: 

Tell us about your host site. How do you, as a BHEC member, fit into their vision of supporting communities? 

 

 

My host site is a very highly rated rural clinic with MD residents consistently vying for placements. I’m at Midvalley Family practice, a little clinic in the middle of Basalt, right between Aspen and Glennwood Springs. I’d say it might be the best on this side of the state because people drive 2-3 hours to see our primary care providers. We serve a lot of underserved communities including those of low economic means, immigrants, Spanish speaking populations, and housing/food unstable people. We also work with patients that other care providers often throw out because they are too complicated or costly to handle. This fits into my vision of service because we are aligned in our aim of providing for these underserved communities, and our understanding they are the experts of their experience instead of the sometimes-toxic paternalism you see in medicine. Speaking of such issues—both my host site and I also see that currently, structural problems with healthcare necessitate solutions beyond the medical model. In fact, the medical model may always be insufficient to address them. These aren’t just my words: they are paraphrased by a talk Dr. Kotz (the MD) gave in a team meeting recently. Wellbeing should be more than just diagnoses, cures, and after-the-fact treatments, as has been the case historically. Social determinants of health should also be looked at—everything from environmental factors to housing to economic situation and opportunities for connection. So many contributors to health aren’t acknowledged, but at Midvalley we try to our best to acknowledge them no matter how hard it can sometimes be.

 

 

 

What attracted you most to work with BHEC? 

 

BHEC’s realm of service was what I was passionate about, based on what I mentioned before. It creates impact at the intersection of addressing systemic issues (capacity building) and mental health treatment that I’ve taken a very keen interest on due to my own lived experience. BHEC also addresses LGBTQ+ advocacy, which was I was very passionate about given all the health disparities and discrimination suffered by this population—and even amongst allies there is a desire and need for education. BHEC hit home everything for me and it felt more applicable for my skills to shine than anywhere else.

 

What programs/projects have you worked on? Please describe.

 

 

There are a few major categories of projects that I worked on.

First is the research I’ve done and the reports I’ve written—for example, a paper on internal family systems therapy, or a mobile detox and SUD treatment literature review that has been applied to our Ambulatory Detox Program, or research in mental health and medical realm. Perhaps the most challenging and rewarding completed project in this category might be the massive paper I’ve written on Ketamine Assisted Treatment and possible applications for Esketamine. I’m also currently working on a neurodivergence paper in anticipation for autism acceptance month, which was actually last month (in my defense it is a super long paper). It weaves together books on the history of autism diagnosis and treatment, the history of the neurodiverse self-advocacy movement as well as current compassionate and neurodivergent affirming approaches to care and accommodations. Finally, I’m working on a short series of statements on trauma and trauma therapy, too.

The second category would be needs assessments. Near the first half of my service, I drafted, distributed, and analyzed a successful LGBTQ+ survey with 240 respondents from the Western Slope. Since then, we’ve gathered resources and interest together to implement the recommendations included in the survey report. We’re also planning a youth survey based on the discussion we’ve had on this subject.

Besides these major categories, I built capacity in other ways as well. Throughout the year, I’ve presented on a lot of info on LGBTQ+ issues and gender-affirming care based on my own knowledge and that from experts, including the Denver Behavioral Health Conference that I attended. I helped run a GSA (Gender sexuality Alliance) to affirm LGBTQ+ in a school, and I also helped run a food pantry. I help organize monthly meetings for the Peer Recovery Advisory Network, composed of a group of individuals working in peer services for substance abuse recovery. I gathered a dynamic massive trans resource list for LGBTQ+ individuals, allies, and providers, and participated in r/transplace, the grassroots trans community-building effort that started on Reddit; I have since become an admin on Discord. I was an affirming voices panelist for an ally education event in March on best practices for affirming LGBTQ+ youth.

Besides these discrete projects, I contributed to a lot of resources hubs, and connected a lot of people in general—providers, healthcare organizations, non-profits, local governments, etc. In particular, collaborating with Sorin Thomas from Queer Asterisk, I helped conduct and distribute an LGBTQ+ training that was attended by 45+ unique providers in the area.

Finally, in terms of volunteering—I extensively helped out with the Love Notes project, which was an effort to croudsource and display affirming messages for LGBTQ+ individuals in the valley. I volunteered for the Aspen Gay Ski Week, which is a massive fundraiser in the area.

 

 

Highlight a specific project you are currently working on or completed. 

 

It’s hard to choose, but the one I would pick to highlight is the LGBTQ+ needs assessment, because that is what spawned and renewed many of the initiatives that are currently geared towards LGBTQ+ individuals in the Valley. It was successful beyond my wildest dreams because it captured most of population who would have responded here anyways—242 total, which is massive for a rural area. This single endeavor led to connections, the Affirming Voices panel, Love Notes project, the revival of PFLAG, and more. It was the progenitor of many things, and on a personal level it was very nice to use both my written skills and my data analysis skills that I had accumulated over the years.

 

What impact do you feel these projects/programs will have on the community? 

 

I think my work will help people be connected to educational resources that they have long desired but didn’t know how to access until now. It will also help centralize these LGBTQ+ advocacy efforts and community in the valley, which is something we need according to the results of the survey and general consensus around these parts; we’ve put together a coalition to address exactly that. Finally, especially my research will open people’s eyes, mostly about what I mentioned early, that there is so much knowledge out there about different paths to address how to accommodate people.

 

Tell us about the support you receive from your host site. 

 

It’s been great. They offer the best constructive feedback I’ve ever had in the way they actually say something instead of some vague corporate buzzwords. They also give feedback in a compassionate and empowering way. My supervisor asks me what I think and how could I approach problems in other ways, instead of just giving the answer or, the opposite, assuming I should know. So many people these days try to “help” by telling others what to do or demanding someone does something, which is frankly disempowering and not very effective. In other terms, the support I’ve gotten is phenomenal to say the least. They’ve helped me with rent, find a place to live, everything.

 

What have you gained from service at this host site? 

 

Besides the research I’ve done, I’ve gained self-confidence. I feel my contribution is valued and I can start making a difference and get the ball rolling on projects and undertakings that actually matter. I’ve also learned a lot about my own issues and how it’s impacted the way I have approached life, through my research and interactions with people. In short, I feel I’ve grown a lot and it’s because of this extensive service opportunity. I’m looking to moving forward in a less intense but sustainable, passionate, and compassionate direction.

I have to say that few experiences really change how you think of yourself and the world and this is one that has changed it.

 

What is the most rewarding aspect/proudest accomplishment of your work/position? 

 

Honestly, the thing that’s most rewarding is being heard and by extension having others be heard because of my work. This is very valuable knowledge that should be out there but isn’t, or maybe it is but it’s behind a pay wall, or it’s dense esoteric reading that no one has time to go through. I’m trying to make accessible information that could very well revolutionize the way we see aspects of the human experience, from gender and sexuality to trauma and neurodivergence (as stated before), and I’m glad it seems to have come to fruition. In the past, people have always dismissed me on these matters and more, so by having this opportunity to make a difference, I really felt vindicated especially compared to previous experiences. Everyone wants to be seen and affirmed of what their capable of, and I was.

 

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