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,
22 July 2017
I say a man, not a boy, because that’s what he was. In his early 20s, I met him hanging around at my high school’s battle of the bands. He smoked but was trying to quit, and he had a bad tattoo his aspiring-artist friend had given him as “practice”, and he told me a slightly sad tale about his no-more-than-normally sad childhood. If you want to just replace his face with a neon sign reading “Cliché” for the rest of this story, I won’t hold it against you – that’s about how much of him I remember too.
If you ask me now how I lost my virginity, I will pause, and I will scrunch up my eyes, and then I will finally remember. Not because I was drunk, or high – I was a Very Good Girl, the subsequent Fucking by the Cliché notwithstanding - but because it was such a non-event.
On our second date, I asked him if he’d ever had sex before and he said yes, of course, what did I think of him, he and his old high school girlfriend, they totally did it. More than once, even. He showed me her picture and I was instinctively ashamed; she had perfect red lipstick and didn’t smile in photos; I had just gotten my braces off and my hands shook whenever I tried to line my eyes with dark eyeliner like the skinny goth girls who hung out under the stairs at school. I asked if we had to have sex to keep dating and he said yes, and that was that conversation.
When it came time to do the deed, on our third date, I asked if we could pause the TV, or at least turn off Jackass (I wish that were a joke). He put on American Beauty instead and took my clothes off clumsily while in the background Kevin Spacey fumbled his way through the ennui of middle class suburbia by trying to seduce his teenage daughter’s cheerleader best friend. He probably kissed me – I’m assuming he kissed me because my god, wouldn’t he have kissed me? – and then I laid down on my back and closed my eyes. I knew that the girl needed to lay still so the boy could thrust, and it would all be over soon and he’d be able to keep being my boyfriend. I’d touched and been touched before, at the back of the bus with the boys who’d heard I wouldn’t move my hand if they put it in their lap, and in the basement with the older brother of one of my best friends where I acted my way through my first faked orgasm to stop him from jamming his guitar-calloused fingers full force inside me.
I wasn’t the kind of girl who had friends who would tell her what to expect, or parents who would have talked about my right to my own body. I’d had some animated videos in third grade when my mom took me to a class with a public health nurse where I embarrassed myself by asking if boys had to wear pads to bed in case of wet dreams, since the takeaway I got from the available literature was that puberty brought pain and blood for girls and spontaneous nightly pleasure for boys.
I don’t carry that first time with me, not really. Not the act itself. It hurt a little, and then it didn’t, and then it was over. I cried, and he told me to get dressed because his mother would be home soon. We did it twice more before he told me that I was a cold fish, that there was something wrong with me, and that he was going back to his more age-appropriate girlfriend with the red lips and the angry glare.
I didn’t understand. I had tried so hard; the third time I’d even climbed on top of him like the girls in porn, although we were interrupted mid-way through when the library called me about an overdue book and I had to start over. I tried to seduce him back to me the only way I knew how; with logic and numbers. I told him if I loved him with all my heart and he loved me with half of his then didn’t we already have three quarters of what we needed? He laughed, and he left, and that was that.
I don’t carry the act with me, but I carry its implications. He’s a non-entity; I could barely conjure up his name as I wrote this. He’s never come up in therapy. But that dissociation I felt, apart from my body, and the knowledge that he knew, he knew I was no good at this, just as I had already suspected. I was no good, and he could feel it all the way down to his dick. That’s what embedded itself through my body like shrapnel.
I talk pretty openly about trauma. I don’t see why I shouldn’t. I carry with me no noticeable shame from events that occurred without my permission. I was raped, and then raped again, and then raped a third time for good measure. They pile on each other in my head, sometimes blurring until I don’t remember who did what. They pop up when I least expect them; when a friend touches me spontaneously, when I’m alone in a room with a man. But they’re not always there.
I’m thirty years old, and I’ve had sex with men where I wasn’t thinking about my trauma at all. I’ve had sex where I genuinely, 100% trusted my partner, and where he genuinely lived up to, at the very least, my expectations for a consensual experience.
But I have never, not once, across dozens of partners and almost fifteen years, had sex where I didn’t somehow, at the back of my mind, remember that I was no good at this, that I was a “cold fish”. Nobody with whom I could hold back from second-guessing myself at every touch, no one with whom I could refrain from asking over and over again, “am I doing this right?”, until they tired of my questions and moved on from me.
I’m not sure why I decided to write this all down. A friend asked me the other day to stop berating the parts of me that I think are broken, and to try loving them instead. It’s a hard ask. But if there’s one thing about me that my whole adult life I’ve been absolutely positive is a failure, it’s that inability to connect, that inability to let go and trust myself in the moment. And it’s made me so bitter, because I look around and see everyone else doing nothing but connecting, so easily it seems. I’m not ashamed of things that have been done to me, but I’m ashamed of things I haven’t been able to let my body do or feel.
I don’t know if I can love those bits of me yet. But I can be a little kinder to them, I suppose. A little gentler. There’s a whole part of me I’ve never bothered to nurture because I just didn’t see the point; I thought I already knew that nothing would grow there no matter how hard I tried. But it’s an empty space, not a dead or even necessarily damaged one. Maybe I’ll just be a little kinder.
Just as a start.
With great love,