I meant to bring a notebook with me on this trip, the little black one with red edges that I wrote in a lot several years ago. I’ve always found myself to be self-conscious when writing journals, and typing is even worse but for whatever reason when I came across that little notebook sometime last year and re-read it I was struck by how genuine it felt. I think I honestly tried to capture the very thoughts that were in my mind. And the thoughts that have been swimming around in my mind lately need to be captured too, hence my wanting that little notebook on this trip. But at the last minute I couldn’t find it, it’s gotten misplaced in this move to Oakland, so I’m typing instead. Another 3 hours on this flight to Paris.
I was thinking earlier today – I was looking out the window of the airplane as it landed in Chicago – and there was a roof of a house, one of a thousand houses I could see from the plane, but this roof had blue patches on it. I don’t know a thing about roofs, but it was clear to me that that was a roof that’s getting repaired right now. And there I was looking at this roof of this house that I will never again see in my life (or if I do I will have no idea that it is a house I have seen from the sky) – people live in it who I do not know, and I will never know (or at least I will never know them in connection with this particular moment). And yet I know something about them – I know that they live in a house in Chicago and that their roof is currently being repaired. I could see it from the sky, from my one seat out of hundreds of seats in this Boeing 767, row 21, seat A. And maybe one of the people living in that house, if she was home, or he, heard the airplane flying above and didn’t give it a second thought, just the background noise of their day. That flimsy connection, half-way fabricated, yet somehow binds us together it seems. Us: this fictitious but perhaps real person, and if not a person in that house then a person on the ground, any person who heard the plane and either noticed it or didn’t. I – not even I but the existence of myself in this specific moment – was background noise to people’s day. Is that all we are, as humans, background noise to each other? Or are there others like me, who look down look up and wonder, who is in that house? Who is in that plane? We invent each other, even as we also all exist. The world I live in, when I realize how much of it I construct myself, in my mind, becomes suddenly so utterly illusory. There are as many fabrications of this world as there are people in it… and how do they clash with each other? Where do they match up? What happens when they match, is that when we meet each other?
I wonder what a story about someone’s life would sound like if it were told from the perspective of complete strangers’ fleeting impressions. The people in this house in Chicago: I can offer a piece – they are repairing their roof. It’s like this: do you ever wonder how many tourists’ photos you are in the background of? How many photographs you’re floating around in, whose albums you are memorialized in? What if you got all those photos together, what story would it tell about your life? Sometimes I wonder whether that’s all we are, whether that’s more real. Can it be that I am more real to myself, when I’m just one person, than I am to the hundreds of thousands of people I have encountered in my life, however transiently and unknowingly was the encounter? There are hundreds of thousands of witnesses to my life, I start to think they know me better, cumulatively, than I know myself.
I’m moving my fingers typing right now, fidgeting in my seat to try to get more comfortable. The man in the seat next to me, a middle-aged French man, is sleeping. This is part of his life, my witnessing him asleep, feeling slightly embarrassed about having to wake him up to go pee. I can see him sleep, and I know him, in this way, better than he knows himself.
Time to Destination: 02:48. Distance to Destination: 2390 km.
In these words, these pages (digital, real), only truth. That is my oath to myself. I think for the moment I have become too self-conscious to continue with my stream of consciousness. Instead I will write about another thing that I have been thinking of lately.
Just a minute though. I just looked out the window of the plane, creeping towards dawn in Europe. (It’s a short night tonight, playing catch-up with the sun!) I can see the sliver of white light above the horizon ahead of the plane. It’s 6:45am in Paris, and our plane is now southwest of Iceland over the middle of the Atlantic… not that I know the time zones, but that makes it the middle of the night, 3:45 maybe? We’re skipping ahead through time, in the next hour we will be moving into the sunrise and leaving the night behind, both an hour closer to Paris and while it will be 4:45 in the spot we’re at now, it will be more like 5:45 in the spot we’ll be then (as it will be 7:45 in Paris). I will hazard a guess that in the next hour, we will see sunrise… And right now, at this moment (now 5 minutes later than it was when I started typing this paragraph), I can still barely make out the Big Dipper right out my window. Five minutes ago it was brighter, if I hadn’t noticed it then I wouldn’t be able to see it now, because as we fly forward the stars fade away into the light. The night sky looks like it’s peeling back, I have the image of a sticker being pulled off, like the night sky is being pulled off the earth and underneath it is the day, and the more the sticker is peeled back the more the day underneath is revealed. It’s a wedge in the sky, to my left out the window is night, to the right the widening sliver of light and night is peeling back . . .
Time to Destination: 02:34. Distance to Destination: 2166 km.
I have suddenly been struck with the physical realness of the world. I’m looking back and forth between the visual map on the screen on the seatback in front of me, showing the little picture of the plane in the middle of the ocean, and then zooming back to show the entire map of the world and my little spot on it, and then looking out the window, back and forth, cementing the image of this particular horizon that I have with that spot on the screen in front of me. And I’m realizing that somewhere, far off to my front and right, is the continent of Africa. That Africa actually exists, it is a real thing that exists in space that is relative to the space I occupy. It isn’t just real space in other people’s lives, it is real in my life, and there it sits, an immense, huge, unfathomable chunk of land, off there to my right in front of me. I don’t blame my mind for only realizing this now, because how on earth (ha ha) are we supposed to be able to hold that in our minds, all the time? We have such capacity for thought, but our imaginations are better at creating fantasies out of nothingness than they are at grasping the fucking insane and awe-some realness of this actual existence we inhabit.
Things I want to do in Paris:
Wander around the Marais and the Place des Vosges
Read in a park or at a café
Find someone to show me around
Buy a razor, get a manicure and pedicure
Buy cheese and nice things to eat
Buy something lovely for Noelle – a print?
Go to lesbian cabaret? Or a burlesque show
Take photos uninhibitedly
I can no longer see the Big Dipper at all. The sticker has peeled back more and now the sliver of day is no longer just silver and white but is red and orange. The night behind me no longer looks as deep. It’s like sunrise on fast-forward. Real time travel! But think – even when we walk around, we are chasing the day or the night, or straddling the line between them perfectly, every day is a back and forth a chaotic jumble of finding our spot in time, but we can never be content with staying still and letting the ground carry us because we always move around of our own accord paying little attention to the out-of-control spinning right under our feet!
Cat’s got my tongue. More literally than you even know.
There is a lot I can’t write about right now, things I am choking on but can’t quite dislodge. But in the meantime I can write about this: I can write about my grandfather dying. I am not sleeping well these days. I am haunted by ghosts.
I wrote the following post two months ago and didn’t publish it because I couldn’t for some reason, but then I just went back to it and want to publish it now, a snapshot of where I was then. The beginning of November:
Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone, gone to young girls every one,
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn.
I am in my grandfather’s bed right now while he’s in the hospital. He’s got advanced bone cancer and is slowly dying. He also had a heart attack the other night. My uncle and I are taking turns staying with my grandma until something else gets figured out. I put my grandma to bed tonight, tucked her in and turned on the nightlight and she said “where’s Sam?” and I said “he’s in the hospital Grandma, he’ll be home soon” and she said “where are you going to sleep?” and I said “in Grandpa’s bed” and she said “where’s he going to sleep?” and I said “he’s at the hospital” and she said “why’s he at the hospital? is he okay?!” and I said “yes he will be okay, and I am here with you tonight” and she said “are you going to sleep right away?” and I said “no, I’ll be up for a few more hours” and she said “will you sit with me for a little while?” and so I did. And when I heard her quiet snoring I tiptoed out and I’ve spent the past four hours sifting through memories. Photos, so many photos. Books, letters, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, VHS tapes of family summers. Things at my grandparents’ house haven’t changed much in the past fifteen years and the space holds so much.
Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing
Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago
Where have all the young girls gone, gone to soldiers every one,
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn.
I was reading a letter that my grandma wrote to my grandpa during the War. She wrote to him every morning and every evening even if she didn’t hear from him for days or weeks at a time. She was working for the Navy in San Francisco while he was fighting in France and Italy. Twice a day she wrote to him and the letters were always sweet, intelligent, thoughtful, and deeply worried. She’s losing her grip now, but not on him. I don’t know what she’s going to do when he dies. Today, earlier, after we were back from the hospital, she said “you know he’s always been the only man for me. He’s not going to leave me, is he?” and I said “Grandma, he would never, ever leave you.” And it’s true. Except he is, because he’s dying.
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone, gone to graveyards every one,
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn.
Before I came in here to write, I was standing in my grandfather’s bathroom in front of the mirror staring at myself. I was trying to see but instead I just cried and cried and cried and I watched myself cry and I didn’t look like a child. I’m not sure why that came out that way. I guess what I’m saying is, I put my grandma to bed. I spent the day talking to doctors and making phone calls to family members and negotiating with nurses to try to make my grandfather more comfortable and making sure my grandma was taking her meds and getting to the bathroom and not falling over and eating her food and getting bathed and going to sleep. I spent the day doing that and then I sobbed and wanted so much to be a child, but I’m not. I’m a fucking grown-up and I don’t want it. Take me back. I was watching myself cry in the mirror though and soon I didn’t understand anymore why I was crying and I noticed a tear trail down my neck and straight through the middle of my chest, over the ridges of my ribcage and I thought, “you look too thin” and “you look beautiful” and “you are a grown-up” all at the same time, and then I stopped crying. What is it about grief that brings out beauty?
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone, gone to flowers every one,
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn.
I was watching the local PBS channel a few weeks ago with my grandparents before they went to bed, before my grandfather landed in the hospital, and it was PBS’s fundraising season and so amidst appeals for money they were broadcasting a tape of a Peter, Paul and Mary reunion concert from 1986. That song came on and my grandmother started singing along, child-like and cheerful. My grandfather leaned forward and buried his head in his hands. He knows he’s dying, and he knows she doesn’t know he’s dying. And I watch and a slow ache takes over my body.
I’m not sure where this is going. He’s almost 95 and I know he has to die, and he knows it, and it’s not shocking and shouldn’t be so sad and it’s just strange and I feel all alone.
That was two months ago and my grandfather is still alive, though there have been some scares, and I still feel alone, although somewhat less so. My sister has been up a few times from southern California (and is here right now) and my whole family was here for Thanksgiving and I spent Christmas alone with my grandparents and Christmas Eve night washing my grandfather and putting him to bed and cleaning up after his incontinence and talking him through his night terrors. And he might live a few more weeks or another month or two or he might not and I don’t feel prepared, but so it goes.
He sat next to me on the BART. I was reading and I could feel him studying me.
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said.
“I might be gay,” he said, “but you’re beautiful.”
“It’s ok, I’m gay too,” I said.
“Really? You’re gay? That’s amazing, that’s wonderful. Do you have a girlfriend?” he said.
“It’s complicated,” I said. He nodded.
“It’s my birthday,” I said. “It’s midnight. Right now, it just became my birthday.”
“Why are you alone on your birthday?” he said.
“I spent all day running around with friends,” I said. “I wanted to usher in this new year by myself tonight.”
“How old are you?” he said.
“26,” I said.
“You are so beautiful,” he said.
“I wish I could be alone,” he said. “I’m in love with this guy and as soon as he loves me back everything will be okay.”
“You don’t need him,” I said. “You’re just fine without him. You have your life to live.”
“I’m 22,” he said.
Yeah, I said. You’ll be just fine.
You are a gift, he said. I’m not going to forget you.
And then he smiled and said, know something funny? You didn’t usher in your birthday alone. You ushered it in with me.
I’ve been beating myself up lately because it feels like really, the only thing on my mind that compels me to write is fucking rape, and then I get like, “who wants to read about that? who comes here to read my navel-gazing about how fucked up I am and how I can’t stop obsessing about a stupid event that happened ten fucking years ago? and why do I need to dwell on it anyway can’t I fucking move on with my life?” and the truth is my life has moved on, and it also hasn’t. And the same people who were interested in reading about my relationship and my random thoughts about queer politics might or might not be interested in reading me process my trauma, but that’s not my problem. And processing this rape isn’t really only just processing this rape but it’s about processing how everything in my life before and at the time was already brittle and it’s about trying to piece those things together so that I can figure out how to want, fully, to be alive.
I saw this the other day and was like, yes. This is my anthem.
The past two weeks I’ve been on the east coast and have spent a bunch of time with friends of mine from college. These friends were the very first people in the world who knew about my rape other than my rapist and the nurse at Planned Parenthood a few weeks later who, when I went for STD testing, knew immediately what the situation was just by looking at me, even though the whole reason I waited a few weeks was to avoid just that likelihood. But otherwise my friends in college were the very first people I ever told and it has been so strange now, at the ten-year mark, to revisit my relationship to it then. In ways I can’t believe how much I was able to separate myself from myself, how much I clung to this “this fucked up thing happened but it is in the past and anyway now I’m stronger for it” fucked-up survivor narrative which is now the whole reason why I have so many problems with the word “survivor.” Cuz in retrospect it doesn’t really feel like I survived it feels like I was just getting by however I could, and in college, my m.o. was like, I just gotta have a normal life, have real friendships that are meaningful to me and I can’t fuck them up by dumping some insane fucking trauma on them. I was also scared, I think, because I didn’t know what would happen to ME if I actually started really talking. When I was in Boston last week I spoke about it a bit with my best friend from college who is actually the first person I ever told about it and she said that yeah, it had been clear to her at the time that I hadn’t really known how to talk about it, how to be both a person who was still reeling from this nightmare AND a person who could be normal and thrive. And I of course remember still having intense flashbacks during those years, especially the first two years of college, and just not being able to move for hours, days, but not being able to even think about telling anyone why.
I guess I had a lot of internalized shame and to be honest I guess I still do. Otherwise I wouldn’t be feeling disgusted with myself for continuing to use this blog as a platform to write about this stuff. And if anyone else who has ever experienced any kind of sexual trauma or violence were to say to me that they felt shame around talking about their experiences I would SO VEHEMENTLY reject that without skipping a fucking beat, and so I’m trying to have that same graciousness with myself. And it makes me wonder how in another five years, ten years, how I will look back on myself now and think, “how did I do it? how did I survive?” the way I’m looking back now at college. I try to remember when and how it started getting easier and I can’t even force my mind to go back there without feeling like I’m going to throw up so I don’t know how to figure it out.
In early May, I went to a queer dance party in Oakland and left early by myself because I was feeling tired and drained, and I was followed by two assholes who were bantering with each other about my ass as a piece of fucking meat and I turned around and yelled at them to fuck off, yelled as loud as I could and was so angry. And rather than leave me alone they shoved me against a building and one of them went through my shit and stole all my cash and the other one went through my dress and stole my body. He couldn’t get a full erection (evidently my fault because I was a “fucking pervert dyke”) so he decided his hand was good enough. The whole thing lasted all of about five minutes and I am insanely proud of myself for staying in my body and not abandoning it. I stayed put with all my might. And I consciously decided at some point to just cry, thinking that maybe if I let it all out and just let my emotions be what they were, maybe it would stop them. So I did, I cried and crumpled to the ground and begged them to stop. And the one going through my shit was like, “this isn’t fun anymore, let’s go” and they left. And I felt broken and shaken and flattened and disgusted and terrified and humiliated, but I was like, whoa, I’m still here. I’m all here. And I called about eight different people to try and connect with someone, to stand up to my inner voice that wants me to isolate, cuz I was like, I am not going to do this again, I am not going to go through this alone. And I am so proud of that.
And then last week I was with my dad in my hometown and we were driving back to his apartment but there was some sort of race or parade or something through my town so he had to take a weird route and he drove right down that street and passed right by the spot where my rapist watched me run by him from his car ten years ago. And my clueless father took us right down that street and I have very intentionally avoided that spot for ten whole years. I haven’t been to that spot since it happened. And it’s funny because I was just thinking recently about how maybe I would want to pay that spot a visit sometime, maybe by myself or maybe with someone close to me, but maybe just by myself and sit there and rock. I thought maybe it would be good to confront that and see it as a regular spot on a regular street in a regular town. But the very second I knew where the car was going, I started throwing up and I had to frantically open the car door and lean out and puke on the street while my baffled father tried to figure out what to do. I couldn’t even talk to him I couldn’t even think, I just had this total panic meltdown and every tiny millimeter of my body needed to get the fuck away. And it was raining and we got back to my dad’s place and I couldn’t go inside, I needed air so I walked to the playground at my old elementary school and sat on the bench in the rain and stared at the playground that I used to play on before, and I tried to connect to a time before everything, when I would just play, on that very playground, with the same (child) body I have now.
I’m struggling. It’s like time is fucking around with me and has decided that it doesn’t need to move in a linear fashion, it doesn’t need to make things easier for me, it doesn’t need to be predictable and it will just do whatever it wants so-help-it-god. And I’m left trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all. Sometimes though it feels like even picking up the pieces is too much work, let alone the making sense of it.
One of my very favorite bloggers, and someone who in the meantime I feel really close to, wrote recently about a particular memory of her own trauma, a very specific memory that always flattens her and leaves her shattered. And someone commented, and said to her, have you ever asked that memory what it wants? Asked it why it keeps coming back? Cuz maybe if you can figure that out, you can give it what it wants and it will eventually stop coming back.
The simplicity of that stunned me. What does it want, this part of me that keeps poking and prodding and sticking, and what do they want, these images and memories and body-memories that keep revisiting? I know I need to figure that out. The thing is, the only way I’ve really known how to deal with it has been to push it away and say “no, you are not allowed.” I’m so terrified of giving it space and letting it in, I’m so terrified of what it will do it me and by syllogism, what it will do to everyone in my life.
In the meantime, I’m on the plane to Berlin right now. By the time I post this I will be there already but I’m writing this on the plane. And for the next three weeks I’m hoping that whatever part of my brain it is that is rising up and needing attention will just quiet down so that I can get some rest, get some space, and maybe then try to start figuring this out when I get back.
Also, sorry for saying fuck so much lately. It just sorta happens.
Okay. So, recently, as in a few weeks ago, I got married. I married a gay guy, and I did it for reasons that are advantageous to both of us, and they have nothing to do with feelings. It is, essentially, an arrangement that gives me health insurance (so I can get an invasive surgery that I need to get) and gives him significant material benefits that I won’t bother to go into here.
Although it’s a good story on its own (I met him on a Tuesday, we married on a Wednesday, we had to do the whole ceremony and we giggled the entire time, we even drew up a pre-nup and had it notarized all within eighteen hours between meeting and marrying), I’m bringing it up because it has made me think about something that had already been percolating but that this “getting married” really made real for me. It’s made me think of a LOT of things, actually, including the absurdity of government having a hand in this kind of ridiculous institution. But what I want to talk about here is queerness, femininity, and “visibility.”
See, when I got married, I had to get a ring. I had to get a ring because I had to go with my husband into his place of work and waltz around as his wife for two days while getting his marriage all legitimized and getting my and his benefits solidified. My ring is a $20 simple sterling silver band that’s slightly too big because the kiosk at the mall didn’t have my size so I had to go a half size up. And I kind of love this ring. I don’t love the RING, itself, as a piece of jewelry, I mean it’s fine and all, totally unoffensive, but it’s not particularly lovable in itself. What I love about it is what happens to me when I wear it. What happens is, when I’m wearing it, I feel like I have this inside joke with myself that no one else gets. Not that anyone really notices it, or thinks about it much if they do notice it, but that’s almost precisely it — in a way, it’s like the ultimate symbol of straightness, of heteronormativity. A wedding band, right? And so when I wear it, I “pass” as a regular ol’ married woman. I’m a wife. I’m a straight, blond (oh yeah, my hair is blond now), young, hazel-eyed wife. But the thing is, the joke’s on them because they don’t even know there’s any joke. On the surface I would appear to be one, totally comprehensible, sensible thing and yet? I’m so *not*.
And I guess what it did for me in a way was release me from this idea of “visibility” as my aim. It’s like, ok, I look fucking straight. So? And, to whom? Why? And does that even matter? And the answer is, no, it doesn’t. I actually don’t give two shits whether I’m comprehensible, and I don’t think that comprehensibility or visibility as an aim of queer politics is even particularly desirable. I mean, look, I spent years trying to figure out how to be queer, how to be the “right kind” of queer for the straights, how to be the right “wrong kind” of queer for the other queers, how to (and yes, this is a pattern in my life) liquify myself and take up the shape of whatever space I’m in so as to fit right in. To me this has been partly about attaining a sense of belonging (where since adolescence I’ve tended to acutely feel like I dis-belong). And it’s also been about safety, majorly. Like I’ve got this deeply internalized sense that passing and fitting in are the best way to stay safe. Physically safe, sexually safe, emotionally safe.
So what the hell is my point? My point is, I guess, to repeat what I said before, that I don’t think that comprehensibility or visibility really ought to be a desirable aim of queer/femme politics. Like, what does that say about my relationship to the world if the way I organize myself in it is to best appear a certain way to it (or parts of it)? What that says is that my sense of self comes from outside, comes from how others perceive me, or rather comes from how I imagine others perceive me. And that’s bullshit because, honestly, I don’t think there’s any such thing as an “authentic self” or essence of self that can be authentically reflected or portrayed by your outer appearance. I don’t think there’s any way that every part of who we are will ever be visible to/perceived by/comprehensible to “the world” or “people” or whomever we are aiming to be seen/perceived/comprehended by. And like, if you think about it — when we try to be visible or try to be comprehensible, what is it we’re really reaching for? How do we measure what constitutes visibility? What are we reproducing in that effort? When we aim for inclusion, what remains excluded? When we use certain markers or norms or standards as a way to stay safe, what are we committing those who don’t/can’t access those same standards to? How are these standards also silently determined by whiteness, straightness, cisgenderness, upper-classness, ableness? Am I making any sense?
What it’s about, to me, or ought to be about, is just whatever the fuck we want. I just want to feel moderately okay in the world, and I want to measure that feeling according to my own feelings about and perceptions of myself rather than others’ feelings/perceptions of me. Like, I don’t want to seek to look a certain way in order to feel safe or to belong. Instead, I’d like to seek to look a certain way because it makes me feel bold. And by bold I don’t mean daring, flashy, fancy, etc. I just mean, I want to strive for a feeling of taking up space in my body such that my body feels strong, solid, present, and so that I can in turn try to think beyond a politics of comprehensibility and make room, in my own mind, for the immense possibilities that queerness presents to the world in all of its bodies.
Right, so the wedding ring. Yeah, it makes me feel like laughing hysterically when I have it on because everything it is supposed to symbolize — undying love and commitment to another person for a lifetime — is just totally irrelevant for me in my life right now. Instead, for me, it symbolizes this juxtaposition of who I was raised to be versus who I am; it symbolizes my own freedom from the ties of certain expectations; it symbolizes my commitment to myself that I am capable of making my own way in the world; and it symbolizes that I don’t give a fuck whether I’m “visible” or whether I’m “comprehensible” because honestly, it’s too much goddamn work and it’s not work that I even support.
There’s a lot more I could (and maybe will) say about this stuff in relation specifically to femme politics and femininity. But I’ll save that for now.
The end! You may now congratulate me on my recent nuptials.
EDIT: Someone just alerted me (god y’all are quick, that was like half an hour) to this post on femmetech.org on “deprivileging in/visibility” which is very much along the lines of what I’m getting at only she does it much better and with way less rambling. I don’t agree with everything she says but I do with a lot of it and I’d like to think about it more… hmm…
So much has changed since the last time I wrote earlier this year, but what hasn’t changed is that things are equally intense, confusing, shifting, painful, growthful. ML and I broke up in April and it has been freeing and devastating both at the same time. What was clear to me was that I was forgetting about me, about myself, about how to take care of myself and how to make decisions for myself, and I felt, inside, like I was failing her all the time because I also loved someone else and because I knew that that hurt her and I knew that she didn’t really want to have that kind of relationship even though she went back and forth on whether she would be willing to try or not. I blamed myself for falling in love with J even as it also felt unstoppable. ML never blamed me, she was so kind and still insists that it went both ways, that we both failed each other in different ways, and although there were things that she did or ways that she was in our relationship that made it hard to feel like I was growing, it is still hard for me not to feel like the failure was mostly mine, that I could have and should have done things differently. And while it’s not totally clear yet that we are done for good, this break that we are on has been excruciating and hollowing, and has also been good for me because it is pointing out in glaring neon flashing signals the places where I need to figure shit out and the places where I was unhealthily leaning on her for my well-being. For example: I don’t take care of myself for my own sake. I forget to cook and eat, I let my to do list grow and grow without checking things off of it, I isolate and stay in bed and do nothing. I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted about depression here but I think that what happened was that in that relationship I eventually forgot to keep cultivating my own ways of coping with my mind and now that it’s just me again I’m like, oh, right, this, I need to deal with this.
I think it’s also been a difficult time mentally because of the ten-year mark of my rape and that I haven’t ever had any kind of therapy for that is becoming increasingly difficult to justify to myself any longer. I need to start doing that work. I need to be able to face the world on my own without falling apart just from mild exposure and I need to be my own care-taker. During high school I was just getting by. Early in college I was figuring out how to have friends again after having isolated myself during high school, and I was studiously repressing any complicated shit out of fear of, what, being too much maybe? And then I had my first major relationship and then pretty soon after that got together with ML and in both of those relationships I think I lost myself in some small way, or I oriented myself more towards the other person and derived my sense of self from them, or I prioritized the health of the relationship over my own health and didn’t quite grasp the connection between the two. And that’s just not working, that’s not healthy and I don’t want to continue that way. I need to ground myself in my own body, feel my own emotions from within, and care about making healthy choices for my own sake and not someone else’s. And I think that what comes up most for me in realizing this is that, all along I think I’ve internalized this sense of not being entitled to take care of myself kindly and lovingly. I feel faintly embarrassed as I type that, uncomfortable with that acknowledgement, and it sounds absolutely idiotic. But I think there’s truth in it, that I measure my value according to how useful I can be to someone else, how loved I can be by someone else. And I reject that! And I need to be careful with myself, moving forward, and make sure that whatever relationships I have, I am in touch with my own desires, capacities, priorities, goals. And the messiness of the past six months of my life (personally, medically, financially, logistically) shows that when things get complicated I’m not super in touch.
I left my job in May and have been taking time off (until the beginning of August) to do various travels. I went to Cincinnati in May for a week for a conference, and then I went to Texas for two and a half weeks to do political organizing work/research at an army base. Now I am heading to New York and Boston for two weeks and then Berlin with several friends until the end of July. I’m hoping to clear my head, spend a lot of time with friends and equally important time by myself, and come back to the bay area in August ready to move forward, whether it’s going back to my old job or finding a new one altogether. I’ve been semi-seriously considering nannying; I’ve been watching a few children this year and I just love them, I love them so much. On the other hand, the benefits of an office job are appealing too. Or something else altogether…
I got a pink triangle stick and poke from a few friends a few days before Pride (which was this past weekend). I don’t have any other tattoos. It’s right under my left collarbone, just above my heart, and under the triangle now is a yellow-purple bruise the size of a sand dollar. Who bruises from getting a stick and poke tattoo?!
What else do I want to say? I feel like I have SO much to talk about and I don’t even know how to start.
I know it’s been awfully quiet around here and I’m so grateful to have this space to report back to when I can, when it feels okay. Thank you for being around.
It’s April and I have so many unread and unresponded-to emails sitting in my inbox from all of you and I’m so sorry. I’m going to get to it. I can’t believe I haven’t posted since January. Shit happens?
Last year in April I didn’t post at all. A year before that in April, I posted this as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month which falls in April. And then a week or so later I posted this. And that part I has been all by its lonesome since then, these two years since. I don’t know if I’ll ever write the II, III and IV I’d intended on writing then, I don’t know if it’s important anymore. Two years later it almost feels fitting to leave it hanging like that because it never will wrap up in my life, it never will be completed, finished. There will always be more to the story and the violence will go on, against me and others.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and it is also the month in which I was raped. This year, in April, it was ten years ago.
I feel exhausted by that. It’s been ten years and it still feels like it was a moment ago. Is it always going to be so close? It’s been ten years and it also feels like it’s been a hundred long, hard years. Will it continue to drag on and on and on like that? Will the next ten years feel this long too? Its nearness feels claustrophobic and its distance is draining.
Last year, my friend’s husband died all of a sudden and a few months later she asked me, “will it get easier?” and I didn’t know what to say. Does sudden and horrible trauma get easier? In ways, of course. Yes. Life becomes livable because it has to. There isn’t really an alternative. I go on and do things, I get excited about things, I feel pain and joy eventually and I love people and they love me and I laugh and sometimes cry and I struggle in normal ways and in extremely difficult ways. And in ways, no. You can never get back what you had before and you have to live with that, as long as you live.
Ten years on and I’m now struggling with that perhaps more than in the past. I’m far enough away that I’m squarely on my feet, but not so far that I don’t remember what it was like before and I want her back. I want the her-bef0re back, I need her. I want to remember what it feels like to feel unthinkingly safe and to take up all the space I can and to breathe SO deep and laugh SO hard and to feel like my body is my own and to be in it. I have always thought that the her-then needs the me-now, and that has given me some comfort, to imagine the me-now and everyone who loves her surrounding the her-then and giving her strength, and imagining the her-then feeling it, re-imagining the isolation. That has given me some comfort. But now I feel like it’s the me-now that needs the her-before because the me-now — I am tired and I want to remember. Just that.
Some years on that day I’ve tried to forget, some years I’ve intentionally remembered, some years I’ve tried nothing at all and let what came up come up. Some years it’s been a normal day and some years I’ve cleared my calendar and done something special alone. I don’t know yet what I’m going to do this year.
I’ll be back soon, I think. With more to say about other things than this.
There are good days. There are not so good days.
Sometimes I suddenly am aware with a gut-wrenching force that I am more than a quarter of a century along and I don’t know how to be happy, I don’t have any answers at all and I am still trying to figure out what questions I even ought to be asking. Far enough away from childhood and youth that the process of living it can now be picked apart, bit by bit, shoved under the omphaloskeptic microscope. Turns out that’s painful. Turns out the process of turning into someone I want to be when I don’t even really know who I’ve been and who I was feels a bit like trying to build a snowman out of ash. You think you are forming a shape and then you move away and there it goes, invisible in the wind. And it’s like, why am I doing this work when next year I’ll feel like a totally different person again anyway.
Turns out too that when you’ve spent twenty-plus years trying to be something for someone else, that when you strike the “else” and that “someone” becomes yourself it’s exhausting, impossible, isolating. I don’t know how to live for myself and I don’t know how to talk to people anymore when what they think they’re going to hear out of my mouth is so different from what’s at the back of my throat. Somehow somewhere as it’s sliding over the tongue and through my lips it turns into banalities. “So what’s new for you?” “Nothing much. I sprained my finger.” I sprained my fucking finger?
How about this: I have a part-time job that puts me under the poverty line and I have ideas, a lot of them, about community and sustainability but I don’t have the resources or the know-how to make it happen and I’m in love with two people in totally different ways and I want to do sex work to help make ends meet and I waste a lot of time and I am so full of self-doubt it brings me to tears on bad days and I eat nutella out of the jar on a regular basis and I am sick most days and I don’t know how to have sex and not have it be sex-after-rape and I might not ever go back to school and I might not ever get married and I might not ever own a fucking house and I might have family that looks a whole lot different than is imaginable to just about everyone and my politics might not make any sense to anyone except myself.
Someone wrote to me a few weeks ago and asked me, what are the daily consequences for you of being a rape survivor? How does it affect your daily life? Here’s a thing, and it’s about more than rape but that has a lot to do with it: I keep walls behind me; I face doors at all times. I sit on the inside. I tuck myself in corners and against walls so that I can see anything and everything that might be coming at me and it is my life’s work to pull myself out of the corner and into the middle of the room where it feels like I have to spin so so so fast spin spin spin just to keep an eye on the 360-degree 3-D world surrounding me. And recently when I was talking to friends about self-destructive habits and patterns we have to work hard to keep ourselves from, the one, for me, is curling up and crawling into a fully-enclosed, iron-encased space where I am protected at all angles from things that be. My form of destruction is keeping myself so safe from everything that I become invisible, that I evaporate. Willing myself to untuck unfold, peeling myself off the floor away from the wall out of the corner is sometimes all I feel capable of in a day and those are the days that leave me spinning. Sometimes I get to the middle of the room and plant two feet down and it’s all my force to stay put. Good days — of which there are many, don’t get me wrong — are days when I can keep myself busy in the middle of the room and forget, for a bit, that I’m not watching out behind me.
Of course this is just an obnoxious extended metaphor but it also is the rhythm of my life and there are times I feel it crushing me. I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m depressed; of course there are times I wallow and feel nothing but most of the time I feel exhilarated or I feel obliterated or I feel something in between. I’m busy, I’m growing. Growing pains, I said in my last post, were a thing of 2011, and it already feels like they’re going to be even stronger this year.
I try to create narratives out of my life: I’m the protagonist, of course, and there are antagonists and various story arcs and things add up and loose ends get tied up. But then, memory doesn’t work in a linear way and as soon as I think I have it figured out I find more loose ends — like the time when I was in seventh grade and went to piano camp and all the boys snuck into the girls’ cabin, one per each bunk, except for mine cuz there was one more girl than boy and I was a goody-two-shoes; and then the time I played soccer in fifth grade and the boys all made fun of me and told me I kicked like a girl and I cried and didn’t go back; and the time I gave a boy a blowjob because I went to a party with someone who didn’t tell me it was a party for all the “smart girls” to give all the “popular boys” blowjobs; and the time I made out with my second cousin at my great-aunt’s funeral — things that I’d forgotten about, things that don’t make sense to me, things that I want to place and tie up in an ugly box with a piece of twine and throw away or maybe in a pretty box with tissue paper and a bow but either way I don’t want to deal with them because I want everything to make sense, because I spend so much time trying to make it all make sense, because I want to know who I am and what the hell I’m doing.
What do you do with all that? What do I do with all that?
Since the beginning of a new year seems as good a time as any to look back at the past 365 days and forward at the next 365, I thought I’d pop up and say some things.
2011 was a very peculiar year, full of growing pains. My graduate program has been more or less dismantled, which I have been reluctant to go into much here. I finished the spring semester excited for the summer and the following year of learning, but by mid-summer I knew that at least in the fall I would not be in classes and as of a few weeks ago, I am done with that school for good. One year of an MA under my belt and I am bitter. I was supposed to be done with my masters by this summer and instead I’ll have no degree and very few transferrable credits, and I haven’t applied to other programs yet because I loved that one so much and have no idea where I will find another one like it. So in the meantime, I’m working, trying to figure out where I’m going, what the fuck I’m doing, what matters to me. So the year began with direction, purpose, energy, excitement, momentum. And ended, here, with a grinding halt and a giant question mark.
2011 was the year of moving to Oakland, which ML and I decided to do before I found out that grad school was up in the air but which I ended up being very glad of, given that rent at our new place is $700/month less combined. And we have a house! With a yard! And wild blackberries and lemon trees, and I have a hammock and spent many fall afternoons reading in the hammock drinking lemonade. We also have a roommate (a friend of ours from before) who is pretty much my favorite person ever and I actually really like living with a roommate again. And we have a cat, Gilda, who owns all of us, and who knows to sit to get a treat. ML is trying to train her to take to a leash. So far, she’s having none of it.
2011 has been a year of a lot of personal and emotional upheaval, which has been both painful and broadening. I’m trying, probably unsuccessfully, to tow a line between taking risks and making a giant mess, and I think I’ve crossed that line in unfortunate ways at times this year. Maybe, eventually, I will go into some of these things here.
In 2011 I deepened friendships that are so meaningful to me in so many ways, and I watched one friendship between close friends crumble and am still grieving that, especially as I feel in some ways in the middle and don’t know how to support them and also give myself space to be angry at both of them and sad. In 2011 I grew apart from my parents but closer to my siblings and especially my sister who, despite being mystifyingly different from me also, still, can finish my sentences. We now live in the same state!
I came out to my grandparents this year, in the middle of everything else, and sobbed for three straight hours when my grandpa hung up on me. Not that that response was a surprise, but that there was so much of all of this other stuff stagnant inside me and unable to surface emotionally, and that when I started crying about grandpa hanging up on me it turned into crying about everything all at once and altogether. Then I brought ML to Thanksgiving with them, and with my mother and and my aunt and uncle and (gay, but not yet out) cousin and my sister and her boyfriend. And three days later my grandpa called me and told me, awkwardly and hesitantly, that ML sparkles and that he will consider her in our family. And I was like, wow, that was it? Like eight years of agonizing over this and he tells me she sparkles? I should’ve done it a lot sooner.
2011 was a year of deepening politicization and although this hasn’t been a space where I’ve really talked much about politics, current affairs, and theory much, I’m wondering whether that will change this coming year as all of those things are more present for me than they’ve been before as things I’m constantly wanting to think about, talk about, process. It was also a year in which that politicization has changed me personally, changed my sense of self and my sense of possibility in the world, and that feels exciting and that regardless of my grad program no longer existing, that energy is still simmering and I am running with it still.
Things look a lot different from this end of 2011 than from the front end. Maybe I won’t even bother trying to look forward; maybe I’ll just take this next year little by little.
There’s something on my mind recently that I’ve been struggling to put to words. When I was out last weekend with ML, we had a good conversation about it and I intended to write about it right away but then I sat and stared at a blank document for a while, the words bottlenecked in the tips of my fingers and I couldn’t type. Maybe this time will be different.
[Trigger warning: this post discusses violent rape.]
There’s a serial rapist in a neighborhood in San Francisco where many of my friends live and where I go to frequently, and he’s struck multiple times. The attacks have been violent and in public in early morning hours. And I’ve been really turned off by the way it has been discoursed in communities I’m tangential to and in general by the patterns I have witnessed over and over in the past, repeated here, as responses to extreme violence against women.
I found out about it because of an email blast by the local rape crisis center to all of its volunteers; the email gave the details of the attacks, I guess just as an advisement to the volunteers about potential hotline callers. It also said that the police are on the case but that they’re asking that it not be brought to media in order that they can find the rapist more easily; media attention might alert him that they’re looking and he could relocate. Before too long this email had spread throughout the various networks I’m a part of and I got it sent to me in various truncated forms several additional times, always along with some sort of cautionary note by the sender about being careful, not walking alone, taking appropriate measures, and finally “be safe.” People are hyperaware and there has been a palpable climate of anxiety.
There are multiple layers of all of this that I struggle with. There’s the obvious fact that the sensationalizing of the street attack and the stranger rape is highly problematic, especially given the ubiquity of rape, sexual assault, and violence perpetrated by non-strangers. For me, though, that’s a more difficult argument to grapple with given that for me it is not a myth, it is not sensational. Still, I can’t write about the problematics of what’s going on in SF right now without bringing that up, the hyper-paranoia and perhaps exaggerated response to this sort of rape, especially in contrast to the silence around all other (and way more common) forms of sexual violence. Related to and beyond that, though, I’m angered by the way this kind of information is just sent into the world to live its own sensationalized life and that it seems like the only real possible reaction to it is fear, and the result is a kind of social control of women operated through this fear. One of my friends called the rape crisis center to ask if they were planning or knew of any organized community or collaborative response and she said they just sounded annoyed and dismissed her. This isn’t to say that it’s their job to put something like that together, but that given the way they disseminated the information and offered no container for coping with the gutteral punch of the email other than to suggest that individuals who have feelings about it call the crisis hotline, a dismissive response to my friend’s inquiry just seems inconsiderate and even irresponsible to me.
I’m also struggling with the faith in the police that that initial message conveyed, and particularly with the lack of questioning the police’s methods which, in this case, was essentially “don’t tell the media because we need to find the guy and if he knows he’s being hunted he’ll move” and to me reads as “we need him to strike again so we can catch him” or, “it’s more important that our strategy for catching him not be interrupted than for the community to be able to feel safe.” When I was subletting in North Berkeley in summer of 2008, there was also a serial rapist who was breaking into the homes of young women who were living alone and violently raping them. I was, in fact, living alone and in the immediate vicinity of his previous attacks when the police knocked on my door, handed me a flyer with “information” and how to contact a tip line, and then left me alone in my ground floor apartment with windows that didn’t lock, shrugging and saying “sorry, can’t help you there” when I asked them, panicked, “well what should I do??” What we should do, apparently, is fear for our lives and our bodies, because what else does this method of disseminating information call for? And, why did the crisis center that historically only will cooperate with police to the extent that it is forced to so blindly follow in the police’s footsteps in this case?
Then there’s the fact that eventually a local newspaper did release a blurry black and white still from a security camera of the suspect, and that the only thing about him that is discernible from this photo is that he is black and that he was wearing a dark hoodie. What is the purpose of this circulating when there is no chance that anyone will actually be able to identify him based on that photo and instead it just sends the message: “be afraid of black men in hoodies.” This is such an ugly dynamic and it’s one that I don’t really know how to untangle. But sending that out into a world in which black men are already racially profiled in super intense ways and experience intense criminalization on a daily basis is irresponsible at best and nasty and racist at worst. This is not to say that it’s racist to talk about a black man being a rapist, or to identify this one as a black man. I’m not saying we should pretend he’s not black or refuse to engage what comes up around his race. I’m just asking, in this case, what is the point of that blurry photo being circulated? If the rest of the messaging around there being a serial rapist is “he’s brutal, he comes up from behind, and he isn’t deterred by fighting back” then how is having a blurry and unidentifiable photo of him helpful for the community? If the logic is the paternal “ladies, just stay inside” then it seems to me that this photo will only exacerbate that as the message by bolstering the public imaginary that all black men are to be feared. It’s just ugly.
And then for me there’s the very personal level of struggle. I have been feeling a lot of anger, resentment, irritation with people who have been talking about this and have been having difficulty articulating why. I don’t think even I have really been able to understand myself why those emotions are coming up for me. It came up for me a lot when I was hanging out with one of my friends who lives just blocks away from the most recent attack and she insisted on walking me the one block to my parking spot when I was leaving around midnight. I wasn’t angry at her or irritated at her but I was feeling a mess of angry/frustrated emotions that I couldn’t quite place. I guess the best way for me to explain it is that, for me, this serial rapist on the loose doesn’t change things. I don’t feel any less safe knowing that that’s out there. I don’t feel any more safe at any other time when there isn’t a known rapist on the loose. I always feel that fear, I always feel like any second now it could happen again. I know that when it happened to me there hadn’t been any community warnings and so I guess I just feel like, what do these warnings do, what are they for, if it happens anyway, whether we are prepared for it or not. And, what does it even mean to be prepared for it? It’s impossible, you can’t possibly. I feel like I just have so much resentment that I can’t understand the fear that other people have about it, I can’t understand fear from the side of not-knowing. It makes it hit home for me so much that I live in a different world than they do. My normal is so wildly different. And it’s occasions like this that bring it all back to me when in general I feel like I do a pretty good job of dissociating from it in my daily life. I do a good job of intentional forgetting. Not forgetting that it happened, there is not a single day that goes by that it is not present for me, but forgetting how it makes me different, forgetting the anger and bitterness about it being the background of my daily life.
I didn’t really intend to end here. I wanted to go into a sort of brainstorming session of what might a robust and healthy community response to sexual violence look like, and how might we organize around that more rather than stopping at feeling trapped and afraid? I have thoughts. But I’m feeling drained, so I’m going to stop. More soon. Xoxo.