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?
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…?
Well hello there. It seems like I’m beginning every new post in the past few months with some iteration of “it’s been a while.” It has been a while. Schmeesus. Grad school is kicking my heiny. In the best possible way. Also I have two friends visiting from Germany for three weeks. Four people in our tiny little apartment is a bit, um, crowded. And have I mentioned that grad school is a lot of work? It’s a lot. Of work.
This semester I have to decide what I where I want to focus my research, and it’s daunting. My professor last week posed some guiding questions for us to figure out what directions we might go in: “What is difficult for you? What are your histories, your legacies, your family’s histories and legacies? What excites you? What work will make you feel beautiful?” For me, all of those questions have many potential answers, and the answers to all those questions aren’t necessarily coinciding. So I’m mulling over a lot.
I met with the professor individually on Saturday because she noticed, I guess, that I was having a hard time in class with those questions. Not that we were being called on to answer them right away or out loud, but nonetheless I was struggling and she is so intuitive that she noticed. And asked to meet with me. And when we met we spoke about my struggles around identifying where I want to do my life’s work because on the one hand, there are the things that are incredibly personal for me, that come up for me in major ways, that I know I could throw myself into 100% — anti-sexual-violence work being a main one, obviously, and queer/gender identity stuff being another. But I don’t want these things to have to necessarily define my life; I want to be allowed to be excited about other things too; I just struggle with this feeling somehow of betraying myself and also with a fear of stepping into an unknown. When I do work around rape and around gender and around queerness, I can do it boldly because I’m working and speaking as myself, on behalf of myself. On the other hand I would like to cultivate an ability to do other work boldly too, to have faith in my ability to be critical of and participate in the world in ways that do not have to rely on my personal experience as some sort of “expertise.” I want to take risks. So when I met with my professor and talked about all of that, shared some of my life and experiences and struggles, she invited me to think of work that I’m excited about not as a betrayal of my life and struggles but as a way of carrying myself into whatever work I do do. I do not have to leave myself at the doorstep.
So carrying all of this around in my mind, I see a world of possibility.
Mostly for myself (but also in case any of you are vicariously interested in what I might be studying and researching and living the next while), I want to write up some of my excitements. Right now it’s all boiling in my brain, utter chaos, and I want to see it out in front of me. So, here are some of the things I’m feeling excited about:
- How are people in various ways self-reflexive about their genders? Not so much in terms of how they perform gender, but in how they inhabit it. How do people situate themselves in gendered ways in the world? What are their struggles around it? As a femme, for example, if I were my own research subject: how do I make decisions about presenting myself to the world? What do I think about and consider, what do I not think about or consider about my gender? What compels me to femininity? What has been my process of identifying with femininity, or not? How do I understand my gender? What feels exciting/comfortable/scary/uneasy/ambiguous/etc. to me about it? How do I understand my relations to other gendered beings? How is my reflexivity about gender tied (or not) to my understanding of my sexuality? How open am I about my gender, (how) does it shift? Are there ways I feel constricted or confined by my gender, and if so what are they? What is hard about my gender, and how do people react to it? These and more questions… and not just questions of myself, but of others.
- What are ways in which queer politics can be stretched and expanded in exciting ways to form new alliances? I’m thinking about, for example, ways in which queers make families push against heteronormative family models, and ways also in which people of color resist white/heteronormative family models as well. What opportunities exist there for alliance, for together re-defining for society what “family” is and how “family” can and should be protected and understood. This, to me, is more meaningful than a fight for marriage, which I see as one way for queers to form family, but not by a long shot the only way. This isn’t to say I disagree with the marriage equality struggle–I think it is hugely important in many ways–but I am more excited by ways of thinking beyond that in ways that also make room for alliance in struggle. Another example of my thinking around this: ways in which queers and folks of color, especially immigrants (and also keeping in mind that those two loose categories are by no means mutually exclusive) are both targets of nationalist rhetoric and politics in the US: we’re dangerous, a threat to national security, “Other.” And look what’s happening in schools — inclusion of curricula that address our curricula are being threatened, excluded, targeted as dangerous. This is not at all to say that our struggles are the same or to compare them in any quantitative or qualitative way, but rather to point out spaces for possible alliance, ones that I am excited by.
- I’m stirred, for obvious reasons, by issues surrounding sexual vi0lence. What would it mean for targets of sexual violence, including cis and trans women, children, elderly, homeless, sex workers, etc. to be able to find empowerment? How can sexual violence education be targeted towards potential perpetrators rather than towards potential victims? (And I don’t mean specifically men but rather, turning the lens of education away from “ways to avoid being raped” and more towards “ways to have justice and cultivate a society free of sexual violence, and ways for folks to be aware of and accountable for their actions and ways of moving through the world.”)
- Moving away now from the stuff around my personal legacies now… I’m interested in Islamophobia and ways in which the West v. Islam bifurcation is harmful to our freedom and justice in the US. Specifically I’m really interested in going to Germany to study this — I think many Western European countries are much more clear-cut case studies of the rise of anti-Islam sentiment in the world. Germany is an interesting case on its own: it has a long history of Turkish migrant workers in the country, many of whom after several generations still do not have citizenship. Turkey, too, is a place with its own West/Islam struggle — Istanbul seeing itself as more “modern” and European in many ways and then eastern Turkey aligning itself more closely with “tradition” and the Middle East (these are gross over-generalizations to be sure). So Germany’s relationship with Turkey is quite illustrative of global trends. In addition, Germany has its awful history of anti-Semitism, which I think in much of the West informs our relationship with Islam in that we are paralyzed by guilt and feel the need to be unreflexively allied with Israel. And, Germany (and Berlin especially, which is where I would want to do my research) itself has the fascinating history of being divided in two after WWII, being split between (capitalist) West and (communist) East. This is not the same split, obviously, as the West/Islam split, but I think it still does strongly inform Germany’s conception of itself with and in the world. There is so much material here. And I would love to be able to go back to Germany and continue fostering my relationship with it.
- At the end of last semester, I wrote a paper about multi-national tourist corporations and the post-tsunami (the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, that is) reconstruction efforts in specifically Sri Lanka; how tourist corporations, US aid agencies, and Sri Lankan government leaders saw the tsunami reconstruction less as a project to re-build what was lost and more as a project to capitalize on coastal land freed of inhabitants by the waves. So (again, an over-simplified narrative, but still one that holds truth) reconstruction of homes and small businesses was forbidden along much of the damaged coast, and a green light was given to large-scale tourist operations to move in. The idea was that this would stimulate the national economy and provide jobs, but what of people’s homes? What of their autonomous fishing livelihoods? Are those really so easily replaced by jobs as concierges in luxury hotels? The lack of consultation with the tsunami-affected themselves is astonishing, and I was appalled that the money I donated back then was likely not used in ways I would have supported. This paper excited me, motivated me, angered me. And so I’ve developed a strong interest in multi-national corporations and politics of “Third World” development. How can we do “development” work ensuring that people’s lives are prioritized, accounted for, heard, respected, and also ensuring that global nations are growing sustainably and without perpetuating reliance on (and indebtedness to) the US, Europe, Japan?
These are just some of what my mind is busy with these days. Perhaps more to come. What are your thoughts about this? What excites you?
I will continue to write when I can. Miss you all greatly, and much much love.
I don’t think I’d ever cried while having sex, until last night.
Granted, big changes always unsettle me. When I first moved into the place I just left last year, I felt disoriented and weepy for the first week, questioning my decision to move and convinced I would never feel at home there. Of course I got over the disorientation and weepiness after a bit (though I never did feel quite at home there, with a roommate who was lovely but who really had made it her home). I didn’t think it would happen this time, given that on the surface there didn’t seem to be anything remotely disorienting about this move: same neighbors, same building, mirror-image floor plan of the old place. And moving in with my lover, ferchrissakes. What’s disorienting about that?
Well, I’m not quite sure what’s disorienting, but I think I do feel vaguely disoriented and weepy this time around too. The move in with her feels completely natural, and in fact it doesn’t seem like much has changed in terms of our patterns except that we no longer have the stress of trying to balance quality Us Time with roommates being around. The shift into not working also seems entirely natural — I get up early, when she does, and the past few mornings I’ve been popping muffins in the oven (batter whipped up the night before) so that by the time she leaves for work, she can take some fresh out of the oven with her to work. And then I spend my days doing (for now) house stuff — massive grocery trips, unpacking, setting up internet, cleaning, organizing… But I guess there’s a period of adjustment just the same. Stuff still spilling out of boxes, things every which way in the house, closets utterly overflowing (damn San Francisco and its tiny closets!). It’s just not settled yet. And when things in my environment are unsettled, I think I’m more prone to being emotionally unsettled, too.
So maybe that’s part of why I cried last night when she was fucking me. But somehow I think there’s more to it than that.
It’s not like she was doing anything new. She was fucking me with her right hand, which I love because she can fuck so hard and so fast that way. But lately, I’ve developed a kind of mental block about being fucked this way. It started back in November, when I noticed one time after sex that I was bleeding. Then I kept noticing it — almost every time, I bleed. And despite the fact that I brushed it away, “don’t worry, I’m fine, no it doesn’t hurt, it felt really good, don’t worry!” sure that it was just some very minor tearing, it did bug me. I did go to my gynecologist, and she didn’t find anything wrong, so that was comforting as well. So I just shrugged it off. What’s a little blood here and there?
I thought I’d shrugged it off, anyway. Except for this afore-mentioned growing mental block around penetration. There’s a tiny rise of panic when she first goes in me, which she can read and so she always checks in with me. “No, no, do it, I’m fine.” But for some reason, that tactic wasn’t working last night, and as she was fucking me, my panic was stealthily rising. Panic isn’t exactly the right word. Not anxiety either, really. It’s more like this little voice of fear in the back of my head that kept getting louder, only since I was keeping the voice kept in a glass box, it was getting louder and having to pound at the walls of the box in mounting force and anxious energy because I was trying to ignore it. (How’s that for an extended analogy?) And so suddenly, I found myself crying.
My poor lady, she was so concerned, and was probably perplexed, too. I was telling her to stop and go and “it feels good” and “something doesn’t feel right” all at once. All of that was true. It did feel good, I really, really wanted her to fuck me. But at the same time, something wasn’t right, and it wasn’t anything about our connection, or about the way she was fucking me, or anything specific like that. It was so frustrating not to be able to put my finger on it. So instead I cried.
It’s funny. I’ve often wondered about triggers, since I’ve rarely been “triggered” while having sex. I’ve heard that many women who’ve been raped have a lot of trouble with sex and have a lot of trouble with physically-triggered flashbacks. I’ve only had that once, I think. I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that my memories of being raped are dissociated. I don’t have physically-triggered flashbacks because my mind separated from my body completely. But I wonder whether what’s coming up for me now, what came up for me last night, is some kind of trigger. I was dissociated from my body during the actual trauma, but came slamming back into it right after and for the aftermath — immediate and long-term — I was definitely experiencing my body. I have very acute physical memories from that time. But even those are rarely triggered, and even when they are, it’s not always easy to identify what it is that’s going on. I’m not even sure whether it’s worth trying.
Last night, though. I think that was a trigger. I think the slow build-up of anxiety over the past few months about this bleeding thing, I think that’s a trigger. It’s a trigger of physical damage, lasting physical pain, blood, and above all not knowing — not knowing and trying to repress, make it go away, ignore it, not let anyone know.
Jesus. I don’t know. I guess talking about it is a good thing. I’m not sure what to do about it though. Therapy, yeah, I know, right. I’ve cut therapy out, though, for now, for budgetary reasons since leaving my job with cushy health insurance. I just wish I knew how to help soothe that panicky, isolated voice in my brain that thinks it’s invisible and inaudible and that’s afraid of — what, pain? I guess — I hope — noticing it is the first step. Hearing it, voicing it, hugging it, letting it know I hear it. Does it sound like I’m schizophrenic? I think I feel kind of schizophrenic about this. Is that what dissociating does? It’s confusing. I don’t want that flattened 15-year-old creeping back. No.
Or, maybe I do. Maybe it’s the right time to go back and visit her and tell her everything is going to be okay.
Fuck this is ridiculous. I cried during sex last night, and look what I’ve made out of it! Anyway, here’s the moral of the story: I’m working on sorting shit out. And luckily, I have the most amazing lady to support me in all of it. After the tears last night, and after a little bit of trying to articulate what was going on, she asked me if I wanted to stop.
“No,” I said. “I want you to fuck me.” And so I patted that anxious voice on the head, and listened instead to how good it feels when she’s filling me up. Mmmmm.
I haven’t written about depression or anxiety in a while. I’ve been a bit stymied, to be frank, about the fact that I have an audience. Originally, I started writing this blog primarily as an outlet, a way to direct my depression and anxiety so that it had somewhere to go, rather than staying bottled up. I was in a bad place last summer, just felt like I was spewing my mental guts all over the sidewalk, and the blog was a way of at least spewing in a contained place. (Ew?)
And then something weird happened: I got readers. And somehow spewing my mental guts all over a bunch of kind lovely internet people is harder than spewing my mental guts all over the big internet black hole. And in tandem with getting a readership, I started slowly working my way out of the bad place I’d been in. I had started feeling like I wasn’t an I anymore, I was wasn’t a complete being, I didn’t have control over anything and I was incoherent, even to myself, but the very act of writing this blog helped me out of that. It helped me find a voice. And it helped me realize that I have a voice that other people, for whatever reason, actually listen to.
I’m choking up as I write this. Sometimes writing a blog is hard: people like it, and I start worrying that the next thing I write isn’t going to be good and people will stop liking it; or people don’t like it, and I think that maybe the next thing I write will make them change their minds. And yet. I think the more I write, the more I want to keep writing. Those of you who comment and/or send emails give me so much to think about, you inspire me so much, and the voice I thought I didn’t have is shaping and strengthening and I’m so grateful to all of you who read and all of you who write your own blogs for being a part of that.
Writing isn’t the only thing that’s helped me feel stronger, though. I have a village of people and a mental crater full of tools that help me cope. When I got an email from a reader a few days ago who was curious about what’s been going on with me mental-health-wise since I last talked about going off Prozac a few months ago, I realized I’ve been wanting to do this post for a while. Because this shit is real. Yes, I love talking about gender politics and femme-ininity and love and sex. It’s a lot of what goes on in my life, and it’s a great deal of what I think about every day. But it’s not the whole story. I’m like a tapestry, finely woven so you can only see the individual threads if you look up close, and most people just see the pretty picture, but I’m made up of millions of threads and so many different colors… femme is one thread, queer is a thread, San Francisco is a thread. My love of philosophizing and politicizing and being radical progressive: all threads. Mi’lady is a thread.
…and my history of sexual assault is a thread. My tendency towards co-dependency. My anxiety – a vibrant colored thread. My control-freak ways, my insecurity, my inability to be vulnerable, my difficulty accepting criticism. Those are all threads that were easier to write about and try to untangle when I was writing to (what I thought was) a black hole internet. Harder to write about when it feels more public.
But if anything, the fact that it’s more public now means it’s more important to write about it. For one thing, it’s good for me; it helps me unweave that one glaring thread I mentioned, my inability to be vulnerable. I can practice being vulnerable on my own fucking blog, for crying out loud. It’s a great place to practice vulnerability especially, in fact – because I can shut my computer when it’s getting hard. I can delete comments, ignore emails, I can be the boss of the space and control my level of comfort. And I also think it’s important to write about because it’s not just my truth, it’s a truth that belongs to so many of us, and I know how much it means to me to have solidarity, and maybe if I write truthfully I can help other people feel like they have company. Even if I’m in the Internet.
So. I’m not taking any medication at the moment. My intention, when I stopped taking Prozac, was to switch to Wellbutrin, but then I switched insurance providers and one thing leading to another means I haven’t actually seen a new psychiatrist yet. I may, eventually, but I’m not sure: as someone with a history of fainting/seizing, Wellbutrin is cautioned against, and the others (like Prozac) have these damn sexual side effects. So for now, I’m employing an army of strategies to see if I can get on without medication. But if it appears I can’t, you’d better believe I will go back to a psychiatrist in a heartbeat. Taking Prozac made me feel like I was going to be okay. It helped me believe that I had options, and that it wasn’t my fault. That medication was my lifeline, and I will never ever be one of those people who says you should try everything else first, that psychiatric meds are just a bandaid, that people who take psychiatric meds are just avoiding the real problem. Not. True. It’s a personal choice, of course, and if you choose not to take medication, awesome, I hope you figure out what works for you. And if you do choose to take medication, power to you, I hope you find the one that does the trick.
So, that army of strategies. I’ll share a few of them, the ones that work particularly well for me, both in general and specifically to deal with isolated situations.
1) I see a therapist. He’s gay, he’s really smart, and he specializes in coping with anxiety, trauma, and feeling out of control. He’s working with me on figuring out ways to work with my various trip-ups, rather than against them, and most of all on being forgiving to myself and parenting my own inner child to help heal past wounds.
2) I have a some somatic tricks, meditation-type techniques, that help me find my mental ground in situations (such as extreme anxiety) where I feel like I’m losing control. These include the stuff in this post, as well things like:
* finding my pulse, and counting my heartbeats
* closing my eyes, lying down if possible or at the very least sit, and greet every body part with gratitude or soothing (I know this sounds silly, but it helps me remember I’m whole, I’m human, I’m all here, for example: *wiggle my toes* “hi, toes, thanks for sticking with me”; or *inhale with my belly* “don’t worry, belly, you’ll be okay”), or if I can’t bring myself to greet my body parts, at the very least touch them and notice them and breathe into them
3) Sometimes motion is what I really need, because moving my body helps me get the emotions moving too. I’m not talking about exercise (though of course, that’s recommended for combatting depression), but about any type of motion. Shaking it all out. Taking a walk. Putting on Beyonce and dancing to it.
5) Setting small goals, goals that are achievable, and then achieving them. This helps me out of my depression (helps me feel like I have more agency, like I’m not stuck) and my anxiety (by giving me something concrete to achieve, so that I’m not overwhelmed by something massive and, thus, anxiety-provoking). Example as applied to graduate school applications: small goal would be “write to undergrad professor to ask for recommendation.” Or, “register for GRE and order GRE prep book.”
6) Having a plan for what to do if I start feeling anxious. For example, I have some social anxiety, and if I’m out with large crowds and loud music, I can easily feel overwhelmed, distressed, and then panic. So, setting a plan for dealing with that particular situation, as well as an alternative plan in case it’s not working out, really helps me a lot. Example: “When I go in, first I’m going to get a drink. Then I’m going to find one person I know to have a one-on-one conversation with to ease me into the situation.” And if it doesn’t work out, if I still start getting anxiety? Alternative plan: “I’ve also really been wanting to practice my burlesque moves, so if I’m not having fun, I’m going to go do that.” That helps me know that I have options, so no situation can get the better of me.
So, this is where I am right now. Coping with my various threads, finding ways of pulling out the garish ones, but also being okay with the knowledge that my picture is far from perfect, but that’s what makes it beautiful.
Phew, congratulations if you’ve made it through to the end. Have any of your own coping or strengthening tactics to share?