Storytelling has been a way for humans to understand themselves as much as each other since the dawn of time. From Scheherazade to Shakespeare, those who are able to captivate the mind through their tales — both fictional and otherwise — have been celebrated.
Poppy Liu ’13, too, has been using storytelling to facilitate understanding and healing. After graduation, Liu started New York City–based Collective Sex, an organization that aims to eliminate stigmas around sex and identity through public events where people share their stories.
In 2015, Liu found herself needing that supportive environment when she decided to have an abortion. Although she had support from her partner at the time and staff at Planned Parenthood, Liu struggled with the silence surrounding the procedure.
“As a pro-choice person, I felt empowered in my decision and yet I felt really lonely during that period,” she says.
The conversations she encountered about abortion were politicized, Liu found, and often didn’t tackle other complex emotions: isolation, questions about the role of motherhood, and even an understanding of how to obtain an abortion.
“I had this feeling that there was a huge amount missing from that narrative,” she says.
While working through her experience, Liu shared her story at a live event hosted by Collective Sex.
“There’s something really potent that happens when storytelling meets community organizing and conversations about intersectionality,” she says.
Seeing how deeply it resonated with those in attendance, Liu wanted to reach out to a wider audience. Six months and 20,000 crowd-funded dollars later, she assembled an all-female crew to produce Names of Women, a short film about her abortion story.
“I realized we’ve all been experiencing this in close proximity to each other but in silence,” Liu says.
As a feminist activist, Liu has been touring the country to screen her film at college campuses in the Northeast (including Colgate) and at reproductive organizations throughout the South.
“This is not a film about abortion; this is a film about women. This is a film about why a story about our bodies is often not being told by our voices,” Liu says in the film’s trailer. “[It’s a] film about how one in three American women will have had an abortion, and yet it remains a lonely and cumbersome journey.”
This dedication to storytelling and representation can be traced back to Liu’s time at Colgate when she wrote This is Not a Play About Sex (TINAPAS) as the senior thesis for her women’s studies and theater majors. Student interviews about relationships, gender, sexuality, and identity became the script for what is now an annually produced and highly anticipated play on campus.
“I have so much love for all the students at Colgate who are involved in TINAPAS,” says Liu, who continues to work with student directors, tailoring the script to better reflect the evolving social and sexual climate on campus.
Ultimately, Liu hopes that as Collective Sex takes on more projects, people can heal through sharing their experiences and hearing stories reminiscent of their own, creating a community where intersectional identities are validated and celebrated.
She says: “The power is in our own stories.”