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.
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.
Today was the first day of my summer practicum — at a grassroots coalition of women prisoners. This summer so far (oh my god, I can’t believe it’s already almost halfway over) I’ve been devouring everything I can on prisons, the PIC, the military/police/penal state, race gender and prisons, the War on Drugs… The more books I read and documentaries I watch and conversations I have the more overwhelmed I feel and also eager and urgent about the problem of our prisons (particularly in California) and the havoc they wreak on those inside and on those of us outside. I feel stuck about how to write about those things on this blog but I do want update here more often than once a month, which is what I’ve been doing… I’m thinking maybe I’ll try to do once a day, just whatever’s on my mind.
What’s on my mind right now, other than women in prison? Well, I’ve got a 12-week-old kitten named Gilda batting at and chewing on my hair right now, which I read on the internetz means that she loves me; evidently she’s grooming me. She is a menace, a devil and an angel all at once. She is happy and loved, and also keeps us up half the night. We don’t have the heart to lock her out of the bedroom from the beginning of the night, but it inevitably means that we are up at some point in the night to her batting at our ankles and pawing at our faces and squirming in our bed, at which point we grumble and try to ignore it until we’re fully awake and finally get up and throw her out of the room. (Not literally.) Still, I am in love with her and when ML and I drove down the coast on Sunday to wander the salt marshes and go to the beach, we both missed her! A cat! I’ve never understood the pet bonds that people develop because I’ve never had a pet before, but I get it now. She’s a member of our family.
However, I promise I won’t bore you daily with tales of her mischief. Maybe weekly though :)
One of the more established interns at the prison coalition is queer, and I feel like I have a “be her” crush on her. Have you ever had that problem, where you can’t decide whether the gal you think is really hot is someone you want to “be” or someone you want to “do”? It took me a bit when I was younger to sort that out, and sometimes I think there’s still some gray area. Well, Ari is a “be her” crush, I’m pretty sure. Not that I know for sure that she identifies as femme, maybe she does maybe she doesn’t, but she is obviously queer, and not butch or masculine and I studied her trying to figure out what the cues were for me that she’s queer because it was so obvious to me. Other than my gaydar, I think it was a combination of a subtle energy and some visual cues: the slightly asymmetrical haircut with a tiny shaved part on the front of one side and bleached wingtips on one side; several small tattoos; skinny jeans with muscle tank + a few dangly necklaces… It’s interesting though, because despite the “be her” crush I think that I won’t really ever read that way. I’m too girly-feminine. I don’t mean pink and bows and hello kitty, I mean just a more conventionally feminine presentation. I don’t have tattoos and despite the fact that I know I mentioned here a while back that I was thinking of getting one, I’ve pretty much established now that I’m not. I feel torn between wanting to adopt a marker of something that is pretty ubiquitous among “my people” now (by which I mean my queer demographic, not all LBTQ folks in general) and wanting to also not just follow along in that regard. So until I feel more secure in my own queer presentation and don’t feel as concerned with whether I’m mark-able as queer, I think I will hold off. For me, being visibly mark-able isn’t really a good enough reason on its own to get a tattoo. In addition to not having tattoos, though, I tend to think that I otherwise lack some of the subtle identifiers that even I don’t quite know how to place. What is it that marks people? I know I’ve talked about this before; it still occupies me!
My hair is continuing to grow; I now have a platinum streak on a dark cherry angled bob. I’m continuing to try to get to the bottom of what I, personally, am drawn to in terms of style. Pin-up, yes, absolutely; I’d like to incorporate that into my daily get-up more. I know I feel happier and more together when I do, when I take the time to dress myself with care. It’s a matter of time, I guess. But I should do that.
What are the things you do, on an average, casual day, to articulate (visually) your gender? Whether femme or other?
I hardly even know where to begin. It’s easy enough to talk about the “stuff” going on in my life — getting our kitten next week (reader poll: Should We Name Our Cat?: a) Gilda b) Greta c) Simone), moving to Oakland at the end of July, starting my summer practicum in a few weeks, seriously considering staying for a PhD but also looking seriously at other PhD programs elsewhere, my part-time library job, which I actually love, family goings-on, the stuff I’ve been reading and obsessing about… and I’m sure I’ll write about more of that stuff here in the coming weeks. It’s summer, after all, and I’m not in class. I’m not intending to let this place die.
But today I want to write, again, about my hair. I wrote about it here already, last fall, when I was starting the project of growing it out. Now it’s nine months later and I’ve got a just-below-chin-length bob and just-above-brow-level bangs. I get my hair colored, too; it’s a sort of auburn with golden streaks right now. It’s funny, when I had quite short hair I never felt unfeminine and as I started identifying more as femme in the past four years or so I always was adamant that I wasn’t femme despite the short hair but rather that the hair was an integral part of my femininity. And certainly this in no way reflects on short-haired femmes in general, but for me — wow, I had no idea how much having longer hair would affect my sense of myself.
I feel so much stronger, so much fiercer, so much more solid in my body. I feel so much more myself, sexier, more flippant. It’s hard to know, actually, how much of that is related to just the hair and how much is related to other things (like this education, my graduate program, which is hardening me and breaking me all at once), but I have felt it as being integrally related to my hair. I don’t feel more feminine, per se, but I feel do feel more femme — like the way I want femme to feel for me. This sounds funny, but I feel more visible — not more visibly queer (in fact I think it’s the opposite), but more apparent to the world. And that doesn’t mean that I’m more apparent to other people but that I’m more apparent to myself. I’m showing up differently, somehow.
Though there is the thing about being more apparent to other people and that’s what I really wanted to write about. The longer my hair has gotten the more I’ve been a target of street harassment. Again, this is not a generalization of women-with-long-hair-get-more-street-harassment, not at all, but that has been my experience, and as I’ve felt more powerful in how I show up and walk around in my body, as I have felt sexier, I have also been getting a lot more desperately unwanted attention. And I don’t know what to do about this because I hate it, that isn’t strong enough, I don’t just hate it I loathe it, it makes me shake with rage.
I don’t quite know how to manage it. When ML and I were talking about moving to Oakland, one of the things she brought up was safety — is that neighborhood safer than, equivalent to, or not as safe as the Mission? And to be honest I can’t take those questions seriously because I never feel safe, ever. Ever. I’m always on my guard, no matter where I am, no matter who’s around. I’ve learned first hand, multiple times, that safety, for women, is an illusion and I feel like debating the nature of the safety of neighborhoods is the privilege of people who do feel safe in places. That probably sounds crass, and intellectually I know it probably is, but what I’m not saying is that we should throw ourselves in the path of danger or, through ignorance, subject ourselves to more of it. (Though even that sentence is victim-blaming, do you see it?) So I try to engage those issues seriously and with care but I end up generally getting really impatient and feeling like it’s all a farse, because honestly whether one neighborhood “seems” safer than another feels so arbitrary and so fictive. Also, racist. But at the same time, I don’t want to be flippant.
And still every week I get yelled at, whistled at, followed, groped, cat-called, in every neighborhood and no matter where I am. I feel less safe with the longer hair, feel somehow more vulnerable as I also feel stronger. Perhaps it’s that as I’ve felt more like me, I’ve felt less like I’m hiding — in short hair and in my body in general — and as I’m hiding less I feel more vulnerable. I don’t know, maybe that’s not it, maybe I’m entirely off base. But I need to figure out a way to respond, for my own sanity… And my hair grows longer.
I also just have to say that there is an adorable, tiny kitten playing on my lap trying to get my attention right now. So I’m going to go dote on her :)
I can’t believe I didn’t post at all in April – at all! I thought I was on such a roll at the end of March; then, classes resumed after spring break, and here I am now – it’s the last week of class, I’m sick in bed for the third time this semester, and I am utterly overwhelmed. But also okay. I’m okay.
J, C, ML and I have all hooked up a bunch more times since the initial time back in February (that post is password-protected; just email me for the password!). It’s been awesome and lovely. We’re cooling it for a bit now; largely because J and C are going to be in New York all summer but also because we all want to focus a bit on our primary relationships. Also, another classmate of mine, K, is someone that ML and I are both excited about and for different reasons than J and C. I’ll write more about her in the future, I’m sure, because I hope something will come of it. She’s smart and open and sexy and curious and really mindful. She lives way outside the city now, but is probably moving into SF this summer so hopefully there will be more time to spend with her.
Speaking of moving, ML and I may be moving into Oakland this summer. We wouldn’t have come up with that on our own; the short version of the story is that a friend of ours lives in a 3-bedroom house in Temescal and his two roommates are moving out at the end of July. It would be $1000 for both me and ML for the two bedrooms. I.e., $500 each. For a house, with a yard, and two bedrooms, and a living room/dining room/kitchen, our own bathroom… two blocks from BART… And did I mention $500 each? That is an absurdly good deal. So we’re seriously considering it. It would mean living with a roommate, which would be different for us and I’m not sure I’m that excited about that. So we need to have conversations with him to see what his living habits are, etc. I do know that he spends about half his time at his boyfriend’s place anyway, so there’s that.
Another reason why this would be a prudent move is that we are getting a kitten!!! Our current place is tiny and has no easy access to safe outdoors for a cat. A house with a yard would be a much better situation. The kitten we’ll be getting is one of a litter of 4 that our friend’s cat gave birth to on April 15th. We’ll get to take it home with us in mid-June. We haven’t actually identified yet which one we’ll take home with us; we figure we should get to know all of them a bit better through frequent visits and sooner or later we’ll figure out which one we have the best relationship with (or which one seems the best behaved!). This semester has been rough for me in many ways and one night, when I couldn’t stop crying, angry about the world because of street harassment (which will be another post…), ML said, “I know what you need… kitten videos!” and for half an hour we watched kitten videos on youtube and it really did make me feel so much better. I’m looking forward to having something to love like that, something so removed from the hard stuff in the world, something to care for uncomplexly.
I’ve been sitting here for a bit trying to figure out how to write about the things that are on my mind: my summer practicum, drama in my grad school program that I’ve somehow been swept into, gender identity and street harassment, showing up. Showing up especially. This semester has brought up a lot for me and sometimes showing up is all I can manage and sometimes I can’t even manage that, such as the several times I’ve gotten sick. It’s like years worth of pent-up rage and sadness and internalized sexism are oozing out of me out of my control, infecting me with their toxicity. Right now I’m tired, too tired to write about this in depth. But perhaps classes ending will be a chance for me to catch my breath; maybe seeing the kittens again this week will boost me up.
In the meantime, I need to go make myself cayenne and garlic soup to try to kick what seems like a nasty sinus infection. Any other non-medical sinus cleansing tips…?