01 January 2019

On Blood and Growing Up

I was nine the first time I got my period.

It was December, a month before my birthday, so I was nearing ten. Still, I always say nine when I tell the story, not the nine-and-eleven-twelfths I would have said then, trying to make myself sound older.

The minute I got my period, getting older seemed like a terrible idea.

It took me years to realize that the periods that I experienced were different from other people’s. I had bled for close to a decade and a half before I realized that the crushing sadness, suicidal ideation, fainting spells, and deep, heavy, searing heat through my abdomen and legs each month were not how everyone with a uterus experienced a cycle. The doctor who diagnosed my endometriosis did so casually and dismissively. When he later inserted my IUD - one of the worst pains in my life to that point, although in mostly ending my bleeding it would become my saving grace - he mocked my request for a nurse to hold my hand, telling me “you think this is pain? You should have seen my wife give birth.” It was another several years before a much kinder and gentler doctor confirmed my suspicions that my debilitating mood swings were the product of PMDD, and helped me find medications that worked for me to tamp down on the rage and sorrow that gripped me for a week every month.

My mother talked to me about puberty in third grade, taking me to weekly classes with the public health nurse to learn about the changes my body would go through. This was fortunate in many ways. I cannot imagine having to stare down that road unprepared. My body started changing early, and it was not long before my sewing teacher was lamenting to my classmates the need to expand a shorts pattern to meet the challenge of my new “childbearing hips”.  While my breasts stubbornly refused to grow until my early twenties, to the amusement of my classmates, my hips seemingly sprang from nowhere overnight, leaving trails of tiger stripes all over my lower body. I traced them lovingly with razors in the school washroom every day. It seemed important to be in control of when and how my body bled.

That first day, in fourth grade, I had spent the morning before school curled up on the couch in pain. I had frequent stomachaches as a child (whether the product of anxiety or not-yet-diagnosed food intolerances, I’m never sure), so this was not an unusual occurrence. This pain was different, though I couldn’t yet articulate why. It was a weight inside my body, pushing me down into the cushions. I tasted metal in my mouth.

I went to school anyways. My body had always been a source of mysterious aches and pains; these ones were just a bit more mysterious than the others. Halfway through computer class, the cramping doubled me over badly enough that I ran to the washroom, and found my underwear stained with rust. Everything froze. I couldn’t cry; bleeding meant you were an adult now. I asked the teacher - one of only two male teachers I had in elementary school, of course - if I could call my mother, telling him that I had forgotten my lunch. On the phone, I calmly asked her to bring me a pad. Instead, she came and took me home. It was years later when I realized that the earliness of its appearance might have startled her. It just filled me with dread, followed by a sort of stoic resignation.

At home, I asked my mom for a notepad and pencil. As soon as I had learned about the existence of periods, I had asked her, incredulously, if I was really going to suffer this indignity forever. She reassured me that it came to an end eventually, although for the women in my family, this date tended toward the late 50s. Pencil in hand, I sat curled under an electric blanket, making calculations. Placing menopause with cautious optimism at age 55, I imagined another 45 years of this pain. A period roughly once a month. 540 more cycles to go. The public health nurse had told us the average period lasted four days; that was 2160 more days where my body disgusted me, hurt me, attacked me from the inside out. I wept.

I was wrong, of course. For one thing, my cycles lasted a mere 21 days apiece, with a week of heavy bleeding. A pad and a tampon together, changed out every hour, might save me the humiliation of bleeding through my clothes in the first four days. Nevertheless, I always kept a change of pants and a sweater to tie around my waist in my locker. A week of anxiety and intense grief, followed by a week of blood, then one week to try and catch my breath and brace for the next impact.

The kicker, of course, is that I never wanted children. The first time I begged my doctor for a hysterectomy, I was still a teen. I was put on the pill instead, which stretched my period to a more traditional 28 day cycle and alleviated a fraction of the pain. My IUD, implanted in my twenties after the endometriosis diagnosis, gave me my first real relief from the hurting (although not before major surgery to remove the dermoid cyst - a mass of hair and teeth glands that can develop inside the body - that had grown over one of my ovaries, as though my body knew how badly I wished my reproductive organs to be consumed).

I have thought about these experiences frequently since coming out as non-binary.  Before my period even began, I was horrified by the idea of it. The thought of “becoming a woman” disgusted me, made me weep, made me stop eating to try and fight the changes in my body. I read books like Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”, and I wondered about these strange girls who longed for their periods. They seemed like a different type of creature from me entirely. 

But I didn’t know I had any options other than woman, then, and in the years between my first hatred of the word and my announcement to the world that I hadn’t, in fact, grown up to be one, the physical markers of womanhood had scarred me so badly that I have trouble separating my gender identity from the trauma of bleeding. If I am being honest, this bothers me. I want a pure narrative, an authentic narrative. I want to be one of those trans people who just always knew. My story of being born in the wrong body deals more with my insides than my outsides. My small breasts, once a source of derision amongst my classmates, are a blessing in a binder; I have no current intention of surgically changing them. I pack when I want to, and I use different language than before around some of my body, but it’s as though the public admission of my gender anxiety, my gender ambivalence, my gender confusion, and finally my gender delight - have released a pressure valve within me. The assurance that I did not, as I feared, grow up to be a woman, is enough. Learning that my gender was not immutable has allowed me to let go of twenty-three years worth of tension.

I wonder what I will really grow up to be.

I’m finally excited to find out.

12 December 2018

How Does Your Garden Grow

I grew up with two fat grandmothers, the result of which was that I avoided most of the disdain for fatness in others that can be an unfortunate part of eating disorders. One grandmother was kind, and one is not, but we will talk about the first of the two. The kind one tried to feed us like her life depended on it, keeping an overflowing sundae bar in the bottom cupboard in the kitchen for my brother and I to descend upon every Saturday afternoon as though our parents had forgotten to feed us for days. Choose from three kinds of ice cream in the deep freeze, then time for caramel sauce, fudge sauce, maraschino cherries, sprinkles, nuts, chocolate chips, oh, did you miss the strawberry sauce? Better go back for more.

My grandmother passed away last year at ninety-two, and up until our last visit, every time she saw me, she worried that my weight was too low. No matter what I had gained – and my weight since my teen years has fluctuated dramatically, but rising, ever rising – she tutted and said: "don't they feed you in Montreal?" She never asked "aren't you eating enough?", because it was a given that food must be provided for me, rather than something I should have to get for myself. Eating is a necessity; being fed is an act of love. I would get home to find candy tucked into my jacket or bag, my grandmother having acted as a reverse pickpocket.

Fatness in others, for me, felt safe, and warm, and loving. Fatness in myself – real or perceived – was the enemy, a sign of my failure at perfect control. Fat went on my body in ways that hurt me, although it took coming out as non-binary to pinpoint the exact why of it. Those child-bearing hips. Hips that I shared with my grandmother, although we had no genetics in common; for reasons I never knew until after she was gone, she couldn't bear children. Me with a body I never wanted to use, her with one she wanted but that refused to cooperate. Both stuck with a daily reminder that things hadn't gone the way we had planned.

For years I wore the most femme of dresses, billowing out around me from below the waist. Crinolines, as ladylike as you can get, except, except, except, with all that volume, could you really know the size of my hips? A secret hiding place in plain view. I performed girlhood very well, but the second I allowed myself to stop, arms crossed, falling backwards into something new, I didn't want to go back. My dresses don't go unworn, but they are a more conscious act of performance now, while my boxers and binder feel more like a second skin.

The more masculine I present, the more comfortable I feel in my body. At the same time, my hips have gone back to being fraught in a way that is worryingly familiar. I spent too many years fighting daily with food for those feelings to go away just because I suddenly like myself.

But liking myself, even loving myself, makes the eating disorder confused. I want to lose weight - need to lose weight - because to not lose weight is to give up, to fail, to admit defeat. Even as I sometimes catch myself secretly loving my body, now that it feels like mine, that voice still pops in to interrupt. To be loved in a body that is allowed to be fat is dangerous. To consume without guilt is unthinkable.

And yet… I suppose it wasn't, once? I did love those sundaes.

And God, I did love my grandmother.

I started a step ahead of other people, I suppose, in that I started out knowing it was fine to be fat, it just wasn't fine for *me* to be fat. I realized today, suddenly and painfully, that all these years when I thought I was trying to defeat it, my idea of winning was that I would finally be at a stopping point, a resting place. I promised myself it wouldn't be like before, that I would stop at a totally normal weight, perfectly balanced for my height, and I would stay there forever, effortlessly. All I had to do was the thing I had tried to do my whole life, the thing that a part of my brain knows is impossible, and I could finally rest. But not until then.

Some parts of my eating disorder have lived inside me for so long they have put down roots. When I thought about how it would feel to finally be free of it, I pictured ripping up the whole system, wrapping my arms (now muscular - imaginary me goes to the gym three times a week) around the trunk and tearing the whole thing out of the ground in one heroic gesture.

The problem is that, in practice, this means I have spent over a decade holding onto that trunk for dear life. It means that tree has held all of my attention and taken all of my energy. It means it has never felt safe to let it go.

As it turns out, it doesn't need to be ripped out at all. Lately, for a few minutes at a time, I have tried to stop pulling. Tried, even, to loosen my grip. And with that, I can feel the littlest threads detaching, one at a time, like cobwebs so old they just disintegrate at my touch. It seems it is only me holding it together.

It won't be fixed overnight. But if I stop nurturing it, I'm hoping it will start to wither, and there will be space in the ground for something new.

I have more interesting things to plant, and I'm not scared to grow.

02 August 2018

On Being Good

Of all of the repetitive questions I ask myself – and there are many; I am essentially a very tall toddler – “Am I Good?” comes up the most frequently. Notice the capital G in Good; one “o” away from God, a very Catholic Capitalization if ever there was one.

I have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy with a particular focus in ethics, and am about to embark on a masters’ degree in the same. In between I studied law, which, contrary to popular belief, does in fact require at least some grasp of ethical theory. It’s the early Catholic upbringing, though, coupled with an emotionally abusive father who cultivated a near pathological terror of being in trouble, that triggered this lifelong questioning. The degrees were an afterthought, a terribly failed attempt to find an actual answer (although clearly the failures were insufficiently demoralising to stop me from trying again in the semester of Fall 2018.)

One of my autistic charms is that I tend to take people at their word. I also love structure, and am delighted to be given a set of rules to follow. The former has mostly made me an easy target for predators, while the latter made me an extremely easy mark for shame as a child. Fortunately, in addition to these qualities, I have a stubbornness and a knack for spotting when a system of rules is broken, and needs fixing.

By grace of those traits, I was able to extricate my queer feminist ass from specifically religious shame fairly easily. The rule system was clearly flawed. The guilt part was trickier. I remember confessing various and sundry sins to Father John (*yes, his real name – I am confident in your inability to track down a Catholic Father John in the same way that I am confident you’ll be looking for that needle in that haystack for awhile*) and thinking two things: 1) That these were not really sins, and 2): Oh fuck, I disappointed the priest.

The Church left me with a fairly impressive capacity to simultaneously have no faith at all and to feel constantly guilty. I gradually moved farther and farther away from any kind of formal spiritual practice, although I missed (and still miss) the ritual. What I couldn’t do, however, was get away from that need to be Good. And, without any particular text to follow, Goodness became more or less a crapshoot.

When I studied philosophy I combed through every new text hoping that this would be the one. This would be the class where I encountered a flawless system that made perfect sense and made everyone happy. I believed in God and then I didn’t and then I decided that it didn’t particularly matter. I tried to please everyone and invariably failed. I have been told more than once to stop carrying the world on my shoulders, but have never quite found the right place to set it down.

My upbringing, particularly under a narcissistic father, taught me to look everywhere outside myself for confirmation of my goodness. To authority figures, to men in particular. I have always been good at defending other people, but never myself. If someone disagreed with me, then it was proof of my Badness. Of my unworthiness.

I have been working lately to quietly but urgently extricate myself from the more damaging parts of my family. A little overdue, but critical nevertheless. And the farther I get from that toxic structure, the more I start to recognize the flaws in the framework. I know I said I’m good at working out the kinks in systems, and it’s true, but when one is with you from birth it’s a lot harder to notice it’s even there long enough to realize it’s broken.

I am a kind person, and I am trying to learn to include myself as a worthy target for that kindness. I don’t have much of a structure beyond that yet. I am not sure how much of one I need. I try to make people’s lives better by my presence. I try to be gentle with myself. I try to protect my loved ones. I try not to beat myself up for not being able to save the world, and to just focus on the part right in front of me.

I try to be Good.

I think that might be Good enough.

10 July 2018

On Gender and Bodies and Penguins

My name is Katie, and I’m likely not a girl. Certainly not a woman. Probably a boi, but not a boy, and not a man. Definitely a penguin.

Yeah. That one I know for sure.

I have been planning this big gender post, where I would talk about my identity (penguin + ?), and my pronouns (they/them except when they’re not), and my journey of learning and discovery, and all that delightful jazz. I have been revisiting my adolescent music tastes recently, and I am full of Big Feelz about growing more and more into myself (shout out to Jewel, the somehow both over and under rated poet of my teen years). My brain is basically going through an existential second version of puberty at the moment, so I am a big ball of melodrama. Perfect timing to spread my arms and spread my legs and spread my gospel of gender queerness or gender fluidity or gender… oh shit… I don’t have the words yet. Right. That’s why I was putting this off. I knew there was a reason.

This being summer, though, and me being me, the need to talk about my body and my relationship to my body in general has cropped up much sooner than my desire or ability to talk about my wonderful but complicated new gender feelings. For the then moment let’s set those aside, except insofar as they relate to said body. So, actually, let’s not set them aside at all. Let’s tackle this shit, shall we?

If you’ve been following along for awhile now, you know I have a history of disordered eating. It has followed me for over half my life at this point, and at this point it is reflexively written onto my brain. Case in point: I am a happy and healthy and sexy and smart feminist person who “just happens” to peruse eating disorder websites from time to time. I tell myself it’s just as a reminder of how bad things can get if I’m not careful. That is a blatant lie. In the darkest little corner of my brain where the disorder still lives, I hope that I’ll trip and fall back into it. Out loud I tell myself wow, look what these girls are doing to themselves, I can’t believe I was ever that sick. And in the quiet, she whispers you could be again, you know.

So, yes, deeply sad, deeply tragic, deeply unpleasant. A constant battle between the various parts of my brain that tell me that, on the one hand, in order to be “good” (a good feminist, a good queer, a good body-positive ally) I have to be accepting of my own body no matter what, and the part of my brain that says in order to be “good” (to be pure, to be holy, to have the right body) I need to lose 10, 20, 50, 100 pounds by tomorrow, today, yesterday, stat.

So I am weak for wanting to be thin, and I am also weak for not being thin. Recently, I have been working on flipping the script. Could I maybe, just possibly, just-consider-this-for-a-minute, be… strong? For hanging on in the face of painful contradiction? For surviving a super shitty illness this long?

My brain lets me hold onto that thought for about .062 seconds before it fights back. But it’s a start.

I’ve talked before about my childbearing hips (so named by my sewing teacher in grade five, in front of my classmates, as she demonstrated why a pattern needed letting out to accommodate me). I do not want children, have never wanted children. I suffered horrific periods with endometriosis and PMDD from age nine onwards that went undiagnosed until my 20s. I started asking doctors to remove my uterus while still in my teens. My anorexic self sprang from any number of sources, but the desire to be rid of those hips was chief among them. We took health classes and learned that we were each on our path to becoming A Woman, and the word tasted metallic in my mouth.

“Woman” never stopped feeling wrong, no matter how old I got. I attributed it to not wanting to be a mother, not wanting to be a wife, not wanting to be a person with these awful organs and this awful body built for awful things I didn’t want to do. In undergrad I bound my chest when alone in my apartment, and I packed my jeans with rolled up socks and felt the bulge. I called it a sex game, or roleplay. I wore flowy or baggy clothing and no makeup. I gained weight because I was in recovery, and then I gained weight from my anti-depressants, and then I just kept gaining. I didn’t know what to do with my new body. I ran into corners with hips that didn’t used to protrude that far. My body become a thing that could not be denied.

Fast forward to Montreal. I chopped off all my long hair and suddenly found my curves more bearable. I met a charming and handsome man who let me call him Daddy, who would call me his little girl and keep me out of womanhood forever. This felt reasonably safe, and I poked my head back out of my shell a bit. I started buying big, frilly dresses and wearing cat-eye makeup. Hyperfeminine beauty ideals from the 1950s, clothing that accentuated my hips, that let me actively perform a gender role. In acting, I could control it. I could finally control how people perceived me. An anorexic’s dream, albeit realized in an untraditional (or very traditional) way.

Fast forward again, through my first spaces featuring queer grownups, through learning that Femme could be a designation for me, lo and behold, a name that didn’t hurt so much, a name that at least embraced the performance. Skip past my continued discomfort in those spaces, my simultaneous crushes on and coveting of butch individuals and their identities where I read only the crushes. Run quickly by the repeated disintegrations and careful rebuilding of my relationship with S that left me with a wonderful forever-friend and concert-buddy and cuddle-companion, but a realization that I couldn’t be his little girl out in the world anymore but still couldn’t bear the thought of being a woman.

Now slow down. Watch me start to date someone new. See them read this blog, and notice a throwaway comment from years ago about the binding and packing, and ask me to tell them more. Hear me whisper it at first, like I was telling an awful secret, then louder and louder. I have always had feelings like waterfalls, but now, for the first time, that wasn’t too much. I wasn’t too much.

Of course, I still have that same body that has plagued me since birth. I am dressing it up in different clothes, now. Strangely, I hate my hips less. It’s not their fault they’re attached to a boi. My small chest, a source of much teasing in school, fits nicely under button-downs without much assistance beyond a sports bra. Encouraged to wear flats, I suddenly care about shoes. I am still wearing makeup, but the cat eye has mostly been replaced with sparkles and experimental colour palettes. I have my dresses, and I wear them, and I enjoy the performance more knowing that I can take the whole thing off at the end of the day, not just the dress, not just the shoes, but the whole identity. Toss it over a hanger and crawl into bed naked, with a body that is frustrating and belligerent and undeniably mine.

I am not over my body struggles: because no one ever is; because I accidentally spent a decade and a half training my brain to hold onto them for dear life; because the patriarchy. Because because because. What poking about at my gender has let me/is letting me do, though, is to finally start to internalize, at least a little bit, the understanding that this is my body, that we’re stuck together, and that we might as well try to be friends. That all the time I have been starving it and hurting it, thinking I could run somewhere from it, I was fooling myself. That I might as well give being kind to myself a shot, having tried everything else.

Besides. That’s no way to treat a penguin. 

27 June 2018

On Being Queer Enough

Sometimes I really struggle with not feeling queer enough.

I’ve gotten better at saying these words out loud lately instead of just letting them simmer along until my brain boils over. I recently spoke them whilst lying in a naked tangle of limbs with my girlfriend (Hi Jae! Thanks for letting me feature you on my blog in all your unclothed glory.) The look I got upon making this pronouncement was a well-deserved one.

Of course I feel queer in my attractions. From a relatively young age – considering that Will & Grace was my first real pop culture encounter with the concept of being gay, and didn’t air until I was 11 – I experienced more or less indiscriminate crushes, and recognized them as such. Moreover, due to the rarely discussed autistic side benefit of not understanding certain meaningless and harmful social norms, it didn’t really fully sink in until much later that there was anything strange about this. There was no real process of coming into an identity for me in that sense. By the time I grasped the fact that people were going to be uncomfortable with my sexuality, it was pretty well cemented. The challenge was more in recognizing that being myself out loud was not always the safest path, and coming to terms with my anger around that. I was often inadvertently defiant, not necessarily because I was trying to upset that status quo so much as because I had trouble seeing where the status quo lay.

And yet I walk into queer spaces and feel utterly alien. I am very good with large groups of people when I am talking at them. People often wonder how I can be so painfully shy when socializing but so very comfortable in front of a crowd. The short and vastly oversimplified answer is that I know how to read a crowd as a unit, and subsequently how to maneuver that crowd comfortably. I am getting better with age at reading individuals the way I have always read crowds, although any sort of anxiety (such as the kind I get in new situations) diminishes that skill significantly. But when I am forced to look at a group as a bunch of intersecting individuals, as a community, I get incredibly overwhelmed. I shut down.

Group dynamics require that you read individuals exponentially, with each addition complicating the equation significantly, whereas reading a room requires merely that I observe the group as a single entity. And every group has its own traditions, its own rules, its own signifiers.

For many people, I think that queer spaces bring a relief from the external rules that don’t make sense. I get that. If I were able to pick up on those rules easily, moving from a society with seemingly arbitrary gender norms and dating norms to one that is more fitted to my own identity would be delightful. But much as I did not read and then reject straight social rules in coming into my queerness so much as I passed over them in blissful ignorance, so do I feel a tad lost when I stumble into the new – albeit much kinder and gentler, usually – set of rules in queer spaces.

I have found this in leatherdyke spaces in particular. One of my terribly autistic qualities is that I yearn, badly, to actually *know* the rules. I will decide afterwards whether or not to follow them, but I can’t do that until I know what they are. In kink, in protocol, in traditions, I can see the edges of something that I desperately want to belong to. I want someone to point to me and say here, here is your place, here is what we need you to do to become a part of this. Here is a path for you to belong. I have desperately romanticized the idea of community in general, and this community in particular. I want nothing more than to be one of those individuals adding to the overwhelming complexity. I don’t want to just observe the mass; I want to see the string that goes from me to my partner to their partner to her partners, branching out through time and space until I am a part of something. Someone compliments my shoes or straightens my tie and my heart jumps, because I wonder if it’s a secret sign of queer acceptance, then tell myself it’s just a casual kindness. I see signals everywhere because I’m constantly looking for that one wink that says you’re in, you’re alright, we’ll keep you now.

I have been hunting for that acceptance for so many years that it’s almost reflexive now; I don’t know if I would even recognize it if it happens. I wonder if might already have happened, and I was so busy analyzing it that I didn’t notice. I wonder if there is really any one gesture or experience that would convince me, or if it’s just a matter of needing to be accidentally defiant like I was in my teens, to step in and say I’m here and I belong and to just own whatever fuckups come along with that.

There is something to be said for that.

25 June 2018

On Writing in a New Language

Let’s talk about not writing.

I know I have the unfortunate capacity to love a good meta-analysis right into the ground, but having been gone for five months, it seems like the inevitable place to start.

I tend to focus these posts on a singular moment or feeling, but that’s tricky when I haven’t written in so long, and there is no context for that moment. So. I have been on anti-depressants since last fall. In a turn of incredible luck, my phenomenal GP actually worked with me and heard out my fears and priorities around medication, and I was able to find something that worked on the first try. (This was very unlike my first go at medication years ago, which threatened to put me off them forever.) The meds have helped me create safe spaces within myself to examine some of the anxieties and traumas that I have talked about here, and to find coping mechanisms and support networks that work for me. Since then, I have started a brilliant and wonderful new relationship, finally found the confidence to start exploring my gender identity in ways that I had pushed to the bottom of my hierarchy of needs for a decade or so, moved to a new apartment that actually feels like home, and decided to go back to school and do graduate work in philosophy.

I am deeply fucking happy right now.

And I don’t know how to write about being happy.

During a queer writing workshop a few weeks ago, I mentioned this problem to a friend. I’ve dropped off writing my blog, I told her. I don’t know how to write about these feelings. I am growing into myself more with every passing day, and the vulnerability of that is breathtaking.

She looked at me with a raised eyebrow. Well, write about that.

So here we are.

To begin with: What the fuck do I know about talking about happiness? I haven’t felt comfortable writing about these feelings of contentment and belonging and joy in the same way I wouldn’t have felt comfortable writing a blog post in German after a semester of undergraduate language classes. Until recently, I possessed a certain expertise in misery that I was able, for the most part, to put into words. Often with humour – I am a big proponent of whistling in the dark – but still. That’s where my language was situated.

And of course, I still have that expertise. Depression is like riding a bike; no matter how long it’s been, the second you hop back on, it all comes flooding back. In the past, I have sometimes managed to get off the bike for periods of time, or at least to apply the brakes. I’ve written a lot of posts where I felt like I was just on the verge of getting better, only to come back a day or a week or a month later and say whoops, no, my mistake, still broken, still riding around in circles.  Around the time that I started these meds, I had stopped trusting that I could ever get off it completely. And don’t get me wrong – for the first few months in particular I paused before turning any corner to peek around and see if the bike was there waiting for me. I woke up in the night expecting to see it sitting in the corner of my room like that awful clown scene in the Poltergeist that scarred me for life.

The longer I go, though, the more I let my guard down. If there’s one thing I’m starting to learn, it’s that I’m fucking strong. If it comes back, I’ll handle it. But living life constantly on the lookout is exhausting.

The thing is, though, that I have always been an expert at dissociation, able to leap tall traumas in a single bound. I have been able to write about my pain because, in my head, it happened to somebody else. I’m good at writing about my hurt because I can put two, five, ten layers of distance between myself and my demons without a second thought.

Being happy, by contrast, makes me feel so deliciously vulnerable. I have always felt like a raw person, like God got sidetracked halfway through and forgot to give me skin. When I was depressed, all the hurt flowed in without a filter. Now that joy is flowing in, I don’t know what to do with it. I’m not expending all my energy trying to keep out the world. That rawness is becoming a gift, but it’s a gift that I haven’t even begun to unpack. I can’t distance myself from these feelings and I don’t want to, but that means that writing about them is an act of pure exposure. There’s being naked with your body, which I have more or less mastered at this point in my life. Being naked with my feelings is a whole other thing.

It seems an awful waste, though, to only ever talk about my hurt and to silence the joy. So bear with me, please. I'm learning to be eloquent again. 

18 January 2018

The Aftermath

I've been hesitant to write much in the last little while. The #metoo movement, while powerful and gratifying and very, very important, has also basically turned the world into one giant trigger.

I am not a thick-skinned person, and frankly, I don't really want to be. I have never figured out how to purposely block the bad stuff from getting in without blocking some good stuff in the process, and I would rather be a person who feels everything easily and over-abundantly than a person who struggles to feel anything at all. That's a personal choice, not an indictment of anyone else's way of experiencing the world. There have certainly been times in my life (usually when crying in front of someone who doesn't deserve and has not earned my vulnerability) where I've wished for a shell. But I don't have one, and the conversations currently swirling around sex and consent are unrelenting; it's less of a knockout blow than it is death by a thousand papercuts.

Full disclosure: I haven't been touched in a long time, not sexually. By choice, insofar as avoiding trauma is a choice. Sometimes I miss it. Other times, even masturbation leaves me in a sobbing heap.

My current profile labels me a stone femme. I think about those words a lot. It fits me, as I understand the term, and yet I don't quite understand how I can be stone and so easily hurt.

I think a lot too about Susie Orbach's "Fat is a Feminist Issue", and whether my body – my weight, my buzzed hair, my always-full-coverage clothing – are my defiant slashes to the patriarchy or another piece of armour I don't remember building.

I think about the people I've loved, and how we've hurt each other, and why some wounds heal so cleanly and others never do.

I think about how the older I get, the more I learn and grow, the harder it is to forgive myself for being harmed.

Twice, in the last two years, men violated my consent. In both cases they were men I knew well; in one case, a man I loved. They both skated expertly and neatly down the line between assault and "that sounds terrible, but…". I say this mainly as a lawyer; even as I lay there, panicked, hoping it would be over soon, I had run through all of the arguments that what they were doing was unlikely to be realistically prosecutable. In both cases I said no, but did I say it repeatedly and forcibly enough? I didn't fight. I didn't scream. I froze. We had pre-existing sexual relationships. Both were married to other women. None of these things should matter once the word "stop" left my lips, but they would be a non-starter in court, if I ever wanted to pursue that option.

In any case, I didn't. I wasn't upset because I was the victim of a definable crime, I was upset because people I cared for had treated me as though I didn't matter. I cried quietly during, and loudly later on, alone in my bed. But the physical experiences aren't the source of my trauma.

It's in my nature to give too many chances. Whether that's out of kindness or stupidity is really up for interpretation. Both of these men proclaimed themselves loudly and frequently to be feminists, and to care deeply about consent. The second, in fact, knew about the encounter with the first, and made a great display of having to restrain his full and manly fury toward my violator.

And yet and yet and yet.

Enough time has passed that I could describe what happened those two nights without too much pain, if I wanted. The way I curled into myself. The "stop", and then the "no", then the "please no". The chill in my body and the feeling of being somewhere else. Thinking about those things makes me quietly sad.

Thinking about the aftermath makes me angry.

I was a Good Communicator. I followed up. I explained how I had felt that night, how scared I had been, how it had surprised and then terrified me to find myself so unsafe in the company of people I trusted.

One told me that he "should have known" that I, with my (disabled, abuse-survivor) past, "couldn't take a joke." (When I replay this conversation, every time, in my head, I wittily respond, "are you calling your dick a joke?" Alas, in real life, I just cried more.) The other told me that this was not something we could discuss, because it "hurt him too badly to think that he had hurt me." When I told him I needed space to process, he followed up with aggressive and repeated proclamations of love. When I finally told him I still cared for him but did not feel safe being physically intimate with him anymore, he abruptly blocked me from contacting him, after a two year relationship.

I have been violently raped, in the universally accepted definition of that term, and I have dealt with that experience over a long period of time and with a lot of help. What made that easier was having a villain. I was hurt by a Bad Man. When the self-proclaimed Good Men hurt me, it didn't heal. They left something poisonous behind.

I don't have some brilliant insight into the current zeitgeist. I don't have a pithy moral. I have some pain, and I have some sadness, and I have some people who love and support me through that. I have had to let go of some of the ways in which sex used to feel central to my identity, at least for now, and for awhile I mourned that. I have to put a bit more energy these days into trust and into seeing the best in people, but it feels ultimately worth the effort. Not for anyone else's sake, but for my own.

With great love, always,