“It's hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you're not imagining things. It's hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you're going to float the fuck away." - Roxane Gay
Sundaura Lithman or Sunny, tell us about her struggle becoming a women, her activism to help others in need and the freedom she's found by not giving up.
1.Who are you, what’s your name, where are you from?
My name is Sundaura Lithman, though I usually go by Sunny. I’m 24 years old and I’m originally from Ashland, Oregon.
2.What was your childhood like?
Though the town I grew up in was fairly small and sheltered, I did a lot of traveling when I was young. My mom has family in Germany and my dad lived in India for two decades. Some of my best childhood memories were overseas, and India was actually where I first found my love for motorcycles. I was probably 3 years old when I first rode with my parents on a motorcycle, sitting on the gas tank in front of my dad. In addition to the adventures that come with traveling, though, these trips caused me to grow up with a sense that world was much more diverse than what I saw around me at home. They also gave me an awareness of struggles that were less visible where I grew up, such as extreme poverty and homelessness. Little did I know, these early experience would be a major influence on my career path later in life.
3.What was the hardest thing you've been through and how did you get through it?
Though many challenges in my life have been hard, the one that took the most courage was coming out to myself and then to the world as a transgender woman. Though I struggled with the expectations of masculinity throughout my youth, it took years to break down my internalized shame and fear enough to explore the possibility that my truest self was in fact not male at all. The problem is, society places expectations and assumptions on us from the moment we are born, simply based on our assigned sex. This dictates how we’re expected to dress, act, communicate, and even who we are expected to love. When we deviate from those expectations, however, we are often faced with harassment, rejection, or even violence. The hardest years for me were actually before I came out, when I was just starting to explore my gender presentation and embracing more femininity. In those years, I was a much more visible target and struggled to find community and safe spaces. One of the biggest day to day struggles was finding safe, accessible public restrooms. I would say I was able to get through this time because of the support I had from close friends, colleagues, classmates, and family. I am incredibly lucky that the people in my life who mattered most were supportive of my transition, but sadly this is not the case for many trans people. Something that continues to help me get through challenges is practicing gratitude for the positives in my life and finding community with others who have been through similar struggles.
4.What is your profession?
I’m a full time advocate for LGBTQ youth and youth experiencing homelessness. Part of role is working in a transitional housing program and part of it is in a drop-in resource center. My job involves case management, crisis counseling, and skills training. I am also currently in school working on my Masters in Social Work.
5.What inspires you to live bolder and more true to yourself?
Everyday I’m inspired by the youth I work with. They have all endured extreme hardships, and yet show incredible resilience and compassion for others. I am a firm believer that vulnerability is the key to connection, so I strive to be my most authentic and vulnerable self. Though at times that means dealing with pain, fear, and lots of discomfort, I believe it also makes it possible to have empathy and feel all of the love and joy in my life.
6.What are you passionate about and how do you rally for the well being of others?
I am passionate about human rights and I rally for the well being of others by doing what I can to stand up and speak out against issues of oppression. I work directly with clients who have been impacted by sexual and domestic violence, racially-targeted violence, homophobia/transphobia, homelessness, and substance abuse. Though the work is not easy, there’s nothing else I would rather do. Everyone deserves rights, and I’m motivated by the fact that positive change does happen when people come together.
7. What was your first motorcycle?
My Ducati Monster is actually the only motorcycle I’ve ever owned. Even though I learned to ride when I was younger, I wasn’t able to get a motorcycle of my own until after college. When I finally did, I went for the dreamiest bike I could afford!
8.How has your life changed from motorcycles?
Riding motorcycles has been one of the most freeing and empowering experiences of my life. Not only is it the best self-care I’ve found, it has opened me up to an amazing community of other women who ride, and has become a major part of my life.
9.What is the community of women riders in Portland like?
Some of the most fierce, fun, and kind women I’ve met in Portland have been in the motorcycle community. Being a part of the Torque Wenches (a local women’s moto group) has been an amazing experience of sisterhood and super validating of my identity as a woman. I would encourage any moto ladies in the Portland area to join!
10.How has motorcycling made you stronger?
Motorcycling has helped me believe in myself and know that “I can do it!”. It has given me a sense of community, while also strengthening my independence. And I’m not gonna lie, it also feels pretty bad ass.
11.What is your dream motorcycle trip?
My fiancé and I have actually been fantasizing a motorcycle trip for our honeymoon. We’re dreaming about warm places in Central or South America, or perhaps Southeast Asia where we could rent motorcycles and travel across a country, exploring a new culture, language, and landscape, while also having the adventure of motorcycling. My absolute dream motorcycle trip would be to travel from here all the down to Argentina by motorcycle.
12. Any final words of wisdom or comments?
As women from diverse backgrounds, a lot of us still face a lot of shit for who we are and simply for being women. Because of that, it has been inspiring to feel how much support and openness there is in the women's moto community. I encourage everyone to speak up and speak out about issues that matter, but the best advice I can give is to know your worth. Please don’t let fear stop you from being your full, beautiful self!