[Updated to add new memorial posts. They are underneath the Basho poem at the bottom.]
I think Niki Massey would be astonished by the lives she touched and the impact she had. When you’re living in a country that values white skin, conventional beauty, thinness, able bodies, religion, heterosexuality, and political conservatism, it’s horribly difficult to feel good about yourself when you’re none of those things. But because Niki defied pretty much every convention ever, and wasn’t quiet about it, she was the kind of person who means the world to need an advocate. She was someone who didn’t pull punches. She was someone who didn’t suffer injustice in silence. She was someone who felt the fear and didn’t always succeed but tried her heart out anyway. She was someone who kept going no matter how much she wanted to quit. She was everything to us.
A lot of people have memorialized her beautifully. I’ll be sharing as many of those memorials as I can over the next few days. Today, we’ll start with one of my favorite pictures of her, and the blog posts I’ve found so far. Please do feel free to add links to any of them at Ronja Addams-Moring’s Facebook post or in the comments here. And if you want to add a message to those who are remembering Niki, please do comment at my Facebook page. I’ll be collecting those tributes into a post later this week.
Today was a shit day.
For those outside of the atheosphere, you probably don’t know who Niki Massey is. You probably don’t know that she died today. You don’t know about her years long struggle with depression, anxiety, BPD, chronic pain, fatigue, and of course the fucking system designed to help people like her that had done jack squat for her until the day she died.
Niki was a writer. She wrote erotic fiction to make a living and she wrote inspiring, amazing, social justice pieces because it was who she was and what she cared about. She lived the kind of life that our media and our society like to pretend doesn’t exist; the life of a black, asexual, disabled woman. On top of all of that she was outspoken and took no shit. Because of who and what she was, I want to talk about her. I want to tell stories about her. I want to make damn sure that the world knows who she was, the systems that did this to her, and exactly how much she gave to the communities she was a part of. I want you all to know how strong she was, how smart she was, how loved she was.
So here is what I know about Niki. Here is who she was, at least the pieces of her that I knew. Here is a life that fucking mattered, and I will not let it disappear without being remembered.
We lost her yesterday. We don’t know how. Her life and her health were complicated enough we might never have clear answers. It doesn’t matter. Answers won’t make her not dead. My friend, colleague, co-conspirator, and a host of other, more complicated relationships, Niki Massey, died early yesterday afternoon.
Yet I still feel like I need to say something here. I still want–need–to tell you about the bits of Niki that this much love and grief will try to file off. I need to keep her from being “sanitized” in the name of being worthy of it all. So this is who Niki Massey was.
Despite all of these pressures, despite living with chronic pain and having to cope with low energy, despite all of that Niki stood up and fought for what is right.
Her writing served as an education for more than one of us. Her words, at times angry, at times sad, at times sarcastic, at times even happy or excited, they will live on. Not just on the page, but in the hearts, minds, and actions of those people who she taught how to be better. We will all strive to live up to the faith that she had in us. Because even when her words were brought on by despair, the simple act of sharing them means that she DID have faith in us. Faith that we could do better. That we could BE better. That we could change the world.
Most of a year ago, half a dozen of us decided to set up this site. When the time came to discuss who we wanted here, Niki Massey’s name came up immediately. I didn’t know Niki that well, but we’d tweeted, and I was one of the people who spoke to her about blogging with us. If I had any doubts about the need for a network like ours, that conversation changed my mind. Like many of the godless people you don’t hear about, Niki, who had multiple disabilities and was cut off from family, lived without much social support. As she put it: ‘I’m poor, I’m black, I’m an atheist. I exist.’
In her spare time, Niki escorted patients outside abortion clinics, where the religious right did their best to obstruct access. Last November, a man in Colorado killed three people at a Planned Parenthood branch: a day later, Niki went back to work. In a talk at Skepticon the same month, she’d spoken about volunteering and how others could get into it. ‘People say thank you,’ she said at the end. ‘They say “You’re super brave for doing this.” But to me it doesn’t feel that way. It just feels like something a decent person does.’
Niki was an extraordinary person and an extraordinary writer. She was a force of nature: she filled every space she was in with humor, rage, passion, intellect, honesty, and love. She was fierce: many people writing about her have described her brilliant and unparalleled snark. But she was also deeply kind. She was kind in that way that shows up as fierce anger towards those who cause needless pain.
She was brave. Brave doesn’t mean not having fear: it means being afraid, and moving ahead anyway. She was strong. Strong doesn’t mean not having weakness: it means having weakness, and moving ahead anyway.
If you want to do something to honor her memory, please consider donating to Whole Women’s Health of the Twin Cities (the place where she did clinic defense) or This Week in Blackness — or, if you can, volunteer to do clinic escorting at your local abortion clinic. Here is some other good writing about her. I’ll update this list as more writing about her comes in.
She was kind, and fierce, and she never stopped trying no matter how much circumstances made her despair. She was always there for people. She always had the sharpest insight, and the right words, and the biggest heart of us all.
And now she is gone. And the world will never be the same. There’s a great big gaping hole where she should be.
Niki was a fucking badass. An original, one-of-a-kind, force of nature. A Social Justice Warrior of the fiercest, finest kind (she preferred “Social Justice Daemon.” Hahaha.)
Niki taught me many things: to be a better writer, a better activist, a better friend, a better human being.
It is with sadness and anger that I tell my few readers of the passing of Niki Massey. Iris already said everything at that link. I really don’t know what else to say. I met her once, but we were largely online friends. I’m going to miss her so much…
I first met Niki Massey several years ago — I think it was at Convergence that this force of nature asserted herself to me. She got this response a lot, I suspect; you’d meet her and be staggered by this sassy, loud, laughing, determined woman, and you’d know she was going to be whirling back to bounce off you again in the near future.
Except now she’s not.
All I can say is that I will remember Niki. I can’t help it, she won’t let me, she was unforgettable.
I first heard of Niki Massey when The Orbit launched earlier this year. I found her blog, and immediately fell in love. She was smart, she was funny, and she had a major DGAF attitude. I knew I eventually wanted to interview her for the Bi Any Means podcast, and I did this past August. She was just as smart and funny as her blog. It still remains one of my favorite episodes.
I could write for tens of thousands of words describing gratitude for each and every thing you taught me, made me rethink or consider, made me laugh. And in some ways I intend to do just that, to continue in the capacities in which you have helped to empower me.
We never met, and now we never will. But I will always see your fingerprint in the foundation of my ethics, and your work will never be forgotten as long as I live.
And finally, Alyssa’s words, because they are the perfect conclusion.
In grief, we are small creatures railing against permanence, remembering what was and making promises to what will be, staring into the lonely vastness and dreading our turn, but we are small together.
Niki. Yusuke. You left us too soon. We are smaller for your absence.
We will remember you.
I wasn’t as close to Niki as many of you were. I got to know her when I joined the Orbit before our launch. I always appreciated her voice, whether that be through her blog, her Facebook, or her contributions to our various backchannel chats. She was always the voice against caution- the person who’d speak up for doing what was right regardless of the consequence. Many of us, myself included, are more inclined to be swayed by our fears. For me, Niki was a counterpoint to that caution.
And now she’s gone, and I’m gonna have to figure out for myself how to be brave when I want to hide.
Others have written beautifully about who Niki was, but I knew her best as a geek. Niki and I first met at Convergence, when I was a timid newbie to the Skepchick network, and she was incredibly friendly to me there. Two years later when I returned to Convergence we geeked out about her new costume together and shared in our mix of both loving, and struggling with, the party atmosphere. Niki understood my conflict with that perhaps better than anyone else, but over and over she dressed fabulously (I adored her cool outerspace dress) and turned out to party because she cared so deeply for her community of geeky atheist friends.
When we talked it was about video games and cats. Niki was accepting and welcoming of me and my friendship in an intense way I treasure when I find it. Everyone who knew her knew that Niki accepted no bullshit, but she was also able to see good in people and accepted me without hesitation.
When I write down bios, I tend to start with ‘I was born a strange black child.’ Because I was the introverted kid. I was the quiet child that just wanted to stay inside and read and have everybody leave me alone. I would go to the library and I would have all these questions. How old is the earth actually? What happened to the dinosaurs?
I became a closeted atheist at about twelve, thirteen years old. Oh God, they tried their very best to raise me religious. I was in the children’s choir. I ushered. My grandmother played the piano for our home church. My dad ushered. My aunt probably is a deaconess right about now. They tried, they tried, they tried. But it never stuck.