01 January 2019
12 December 2018
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 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
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
27 June 2018
25 June 2018
18 January 2018
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,