exploring vulnerability and transparency one bath at a time

Tag: Friendship

Mandi Jo Stoll

Mandi Jo Stoll


Date of Interview: August 26, 2016

Name: Mandi Jo Stoll

Age: 24

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Location: Washington, DC


If you were an underwater creature which one would you be?

A mermaid. One of the things my dad always says is that “you can’t rule out the possibility of the mystical.” Well, he might not say it quite like that, but basically, you can’t assume that things don’t exist just because you haven’t seen them, or experienced them and… I like the idea of being a mermaid.

What are your thoughts on vulnerability?

Vulnerability is something that I’ve thought about a lot. I think part of that is that it’s had such a strong impact on relationships in my life and experiences of feeling welcome or not feeling welcome, and finding out what relationships meant and the inherent vulnerability that is in that. I mean, now, I’m working in a vocation that heavily involves vulnerability and trust. And that’s really what drew me to it, the willingness to be vulnerable is important and that’s something I’ve valued in my own relationships and I think it will continue to be a huge factor in my life.

What are your thoughts on relationships? Sexual, platonic or otherwise.

I think relationships are at the center of how I behave and how I show what I think is important. I grew up in a Mennonite family and the Mennonites are all about simple living and service, but I think a large part of that, is focusing on living out what it means to be like Christ. And to me that means my relationship with God and my faith isn’t just something that I do by following certain rules or by going to church on Sunday. It’s something I do by showing the same love that I believe God has for everyone to all the people that I know. And so, deep relationships are something that I seek due to that, but it’s also something that we all need. And that we all crave. The relationships that I’ve built in my life are the most important things that I have.

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about people. About music and art. I’m passionate about service, and I don’t think that means something like going to volunteer. To me it means being someone who is generous and trying to be a positive force in the world.

What made you want to be a part of The Bathtub Project?

For me, vulnerability has always been BIG, so definitely that aspect of it. I love water, and so, that just kinda tugged at me a bit. But I think it’s also the fact that The Bathtub Project calls people to step outside of what is normal and safe… And to trust one another. Yeah, it’s not very often that people get the chance to say “I don’t know you, but I’m getting in a bathtub with you”. Like, even this is different because we know each other. The idea that someone would do this is so amazing to me and honestly, the interviews are my favorite part because I feel like I’m able to see parts of people that you really have to ask about in order to hear about. Because they aren’t things that you’re going to hear in regular small talk.

What are you most afraid of for yourself?

I think something that I’m most afraid of… is selling myself short. I think part of that is wanting to put relationships first and wanting to trust the people in my relationships and to not give up on them. But I know there have also been times when I’ve wanted sooooo much to make a relationship work that I’ve put myself in danger of not taking care of myself enough. That’s something that I think about a lot. But I also really don’t want to lose my ‘softness’ because even though I know that being vulnerable makes my emotions be at risk, it’s also one of the most beautiful things to me. So it becomes a balancing thing.

What are you most afraid of for the world?

I feel like the easy answer is to say Trump… But I think beyond that, I think it’s a lack of listening. I mean seriously, Trump is a scary thing but I think that really, what he represents is people being afraid of things they don’t know, and not being taught how to listen to things they know nothing about. I’m afraid that we are moving towards a place where we “other” each other so much, that we forget to see our common needs and humanity.

Sean Estelle

Sean Estelle


Date of Interview: August 24, 2016

Name: Sean Estelle

Age: 25

Pronouns: They/Them/Theirs

Location: Chicago, IL


If you were an underwater creature which one would you be?

My first go to is usually a seahorse because of their genders. Yeah, probably a seahorse. Seahorse or an octopus.

Do you feel like your gender effects your day to day interactions?

Yeah, I think in the daily. I think it’s like, a decision for me about how much I want to present. I think that when I first started thinking about my gender identity and unpacking it from my sexuality and realizing that I also have a lot of complicated feelings about gender and felt like I do not fit in the normal gender binary. That lead to me having a lot of conflicting internal feelings about my gender identity and I feel like that isn’t really present anymore and it’s much more stable. I’m so comfortable saying “yeah, I’m gender-queer” to a person and that’s it. And for me it’s questioning if I need to reflect that in my gender presentation and do I feel like it’s worth the battle of getting stares from people or like, having to explain myself or like, being confident enough or solid enough that if I’m going out in jeans and a t-shirt, that doesn’t mean that I’m not presenting femme enough to claim trans-ness.

Is being gender-queer the same to you as being trans?

Mmmm. I think it’s a part of trans-ness. I think it’s something that is definitely different than someone who identifies as a visible trans-women or trans-man. And I think, it sometimes feels like I… I go back and forth about how much of that is something that was developed in an academic context versus peoples lived experience and how much it actually matters when somebody does or doesn’t respect my pronouns… and how much it’s a part of the identity politics of my life. I know that for me queerness and gender-queerness is also about the revolutionary politics I have, and being an anti-capitalist and talking about the ruling class and fucking up rich people ::laughs::. Also, oppositionality but it still is an important part of it and to me being able to expand our definition of gender and like, honor the people who identify with historical trans-ness in the way of transitioning from male to female or female to male or things like that will also be able to have this in between space. It’s important.

What is something you feel accomplished with?

I feel accomplished that I was able to move to Chicago with very little money in the bank and no secure housing, no secure job and like, no real safety net and very quickly find a community of people and find a job and find stable housing and get my life on track. Start to come into myself in a really complete way. I feel like a much more complete person than I did a few years ago. I think that I like to tell myself that I feel accomplished in my organizing and I know that I hold a lot of power for how much organizing experience that I have. And I have the ability and the relationships to be able to move very serious things if I want to move very serious things. In a lot of ways that’s great and I can feel very accomplished in it but I think that I know, and I wake up terrified every day, that the fight we are up against with climate change and with everything else, it’s not moving fast enough. Sooo it’s very hard for me to feel accomplished when I also know what we are up against.

What are you most afraid of for yourself?

For myself… I think that I’m most afraid of not being able to ever find someone or people that I can be in romantic or whatever, deeper relationships outside of friendships. I think that I’m very good at that and I’m able to put a lot of emotional labor emotional investment into friendships and that sort of thing, I’m very good at that kind of emotional labor. But I’m very bad at being able to find the people that I’m able to be my most vulnerable neurotic fucked up self with. And like, have those people to share that space with. I go back and forth between really valuing and appreciating the relationships that I have and really wanting that and being really scared that I won’t find more. For lots of reasons and I think that’s the biggest thing, and also being a part of me continuing to put other people in front of myself and all of my emotional, physical and mental energy out into the world and not taking the time or space that I need in order to survive.

If you could tell your fifteen-year-old self something what would it be?

Ohhh… lord. Uhhh ::laughs::. I would say that it’s okay to not feel like you need to buy into this story of like, asking the girls to prom and having crushes on other girls and fitting that box. And that a lot of the underlying feelings that you feel, you should go find other queer people and know that the feelings of shame that you feel about sex and sexuality are being manufactured by everything around you and there’s a larger world out there and you should figure out what that is. ‘Cuz you’re there. You aren’t here.

Nick Stavely


Date of Interview: August 6, 2016

Name: Nick Stavely

Age: 25

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Location: Washington, D.C.


What are you passionate about?

Passionate about trying. ‘Cause I think, if you are… This is actually really difficult, to answer questions like this [in a bathtub] ::laughs::. I don’t know, it’s kind of like if you think about stuff in terms of inputs and outputs, and your only input is effort, then you should probably just be trying more. But that’s also kind of a short-sighted thing to say, ’cause eventually you’ll just get tired, and efforts’s not necessarily all that goes into anything. But, at the knee-jerk level of decision making [in a bathtub] it seems like a thing to say.

Do you think where you grew up had any impact on that thought process?

Mmhm. Yeah, I grew up as an only child, with my mom and my dad. And Dad was a carpenter and Mom would work around at other stuff until I was around. It was very much a blue collar scenario. And they weren’t very pushy about anything and kind of let me do as much or as little homework, or within or outside of school or whatever, as I wanted. Which was good, I guess, but it eventually kind of puts you in a situation where if you weren’t doing something it was because you weren’t doing it. It taught me occupy myself, but it was ripe ground for anxiety and being self conscious and second guessing. Yeah.

What do you think of living in the D.C. area?

It is kind of an unsurprising logical step for someone who grew up in Maryland. I went to school around a little bit and finished up in Maryland, and kind of came here because there are a lot of different types of people, a lot of jobs, it’s far away but not really far away. Kind of boring standard answers. But I always wanted to think that I would live in a city and it’s a good place to try that out cuz it’s so close. But parts are weird. Being apart of and being cognizant of being apart of development, of people being dislocated, and gentrification. Which is kind of… you would want to say that it’s a source of guilt but it’s honestly also a source of uncomfortableness, because I don’t know exactly what to do. And that’s kind of acknowledging your own shit or whatever, feeling weird being around people that are in a very different strata of life than you, but that isn’t… bad.

What is your biggest fear for yourself?

That I’ll die alone. ::Laughs::. I think so… ::laughs::. The real answer to that might be, always being dissatisfied with how you spend your time and not being able to fully articulate why. The adage of “hell is meeting the person you could have been”.

What are you most afraid of for the world?

People being as callous as you think they are. If that makes sense… ‘Cause when you think people like groups of people. Groups of people find a lot of reasons to not like each other, and to not listen to each other. But when people meet each other, they can usually find something to connect about or commiserate about. And then they can build a connection out of that. It’s something that could possibly end up with them meeting Someone X who is apart of Group Y, and they normally hate Group Y but suddenly that group is okay because of Person X, or something like that. Out of that comes… just the presence of political polarization and how that can impact a small family… And when you listen to certain people speak ideologically about specific people and specific ideas it’s kind of heart breaking in that, some broad ideal that is not real in the sense that the number one billion isn’t really real but is impacting a day to day life, of how they interact with another person or group of people.

What are your thoughts on relationships? Platonic, sexual or otherwise.

You need them. For whatever reasons, I understand how people can enjoy being alone a lot of the time. But there’s usually a time when you want to be alone so you make yourself alone, but then you cross this threshold and you’re thinking, “I wish I was not alone.” Relationships are really important and something I crave and wish other people would crave. Or hope other people crave as well.

Do you have communities in D.C.?

I would say yes, but kind of. I feel really disconnected from people that are my age that are living in white collar scenarios, and I also feel really disconnected from people who are my age, or not my age, who are in actual blue collar scenarios. Being in and around the music scene is very, very nice because there are a lot of incredible people and things to see. But moving into it as it’s already been growing or grew kind of lends itself to a feeling of being in it and not of it. Which is still really nice and also feels kind of sad. Like spending a lot of time with other peoples friends ::laughs::. Which doesn’t mean they’re not your friends, it’s just an awareness inducing thing of being around people who are really close with one another and missing those feelings when you had them retrospectively or wanting them in the now.

What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

::Laughs:: Just chill out. That’s it, to relax.

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