The Canary in the Coal Mine

#depression #selfharm #suicide

At some point in college–years ago, now–I remember finding some of my old poems on DeviantArt. I wrote a lot of poetry in high school, but after I went off to college, the ability to do it mysteriously disappeared and I haven’t written a single poem for at least six years.

Whatever ideas you may have in your head about poetry written by teenagers, I was fairly good at it. I preferred to write structured, rhyming poems, and even tried sonnets and villanelles. It was fun. I gave them to partners sometimes.

As I looked over those old poems, I didn’t feel embarrassed or silly about them. Actually, I felt a little terrified, because I noticed something I’d never noticed before: they were completely full of suicidal imagery.

I don’t mean vague metaphors, although those would also be concerning. I mean lines like “I laid down on the railroad tracks / And waited for my train to come.”

Where did that come from? In those years before I ever consciously felt suicidal, why was I putting that stuff into my poems?

And then I felt even more spooked because I realized that dozens of people had read those poems. My partners read them. My friends read them. My teachers read them. They were published in my high school literary magazine.

Nobody fucking thought to ask why the fuck I was writing poems about willingly getting run over by a train? Or falling from a great height? Or going to sleep and never waking up? Really, nobody found that in the least bit concerning?

And then I thought, of course they didn’t. Because that’s Just What Teenagers Do. Because Hormones and Angst. Because They Don’t Know What They’re Saying. Because They Just Want Attention. Because it’s #JustTeenageThings to graphically imagine killing yourself and then put that in a poem that dozens of people read.

And look, I don’t know, maybe plenty of teens wrote poems like that and then went on to have absolutely no mental health problems whatever and live happily ever after. Or maybe they did have mental health problems but they had nothing to do with the thoughts that led them to write those poems.

All I know is, it could’ve actually made a huge difference if someone had noticed that and asked me about it. Maybe a few years later I wouldn’t be contemplating where the best place on campus to kill myself would be. Maybe by the time I was sitting on the couch in my dorm suite, looking over those old poems on DeviantArt, I wouldn’t be on antidepressants (there is nothing wrong with being on antidepressants, but it’s still nice to avoid it when you can). Maybe all of my friendships and relationships wouldn’t have been tainted by depression in some way, maybe today I wouldn’t have laid in bed till 1 PM trying to get myself to give a fuck about anything at all, because years later, I’m still not actually “recovered.”

Maybe I would be giggling as I tell this story to my friends: “Can you believe that back in high school they sent me to therapy over some dumb poems I wrote?” and everyone would say, “Wow, that’s so ridiculous, they make such a big deal out of nothing!” And I would never know what a bullet I dodged, and this, despite all my irritation, despite the money my parents would’ve spent, despite the embarrassment I would’ve felt, would be a victory. This is better than spending years wanting to kill yourself and then living the rest of your life in that shadow. Trust me.

We need to start thinking prophylactically about mental illness. It is easier to help a teenage girl who says, “But what’s really the point of life if I don’t have a boyfriend?” (yes, this is what I said, who’d have thought I’d grow up to be so gay) rather than an adult woman who says, “All of my relationships have been failures, I’m never going to get a job I actually like, I’m going to spend the rest of my life regretting all of my mistakes and also everybody hates me because I’m so sad and pathetic all the time.”

See, the time to unlearn all of these awful ways of thinking would’ve been then, not now.

But it didn’t happen that way, because not one of the dozens of people who read those poems stepped up and took them seriously. “Teenage angst” is a fucking punchline in our culture.

Except I never grew out of it, and eventually nobody was laughing anymore. Least of all me.

~~~

This is not something I’m willing to discuss privately with anyone, no matter how well I know them. If you have a response to make, please leave it as a comment rather than contacting me in some other way.

My Feelings Do Not Determine My Activism

#homophobic & transphobic violence

The other thing I wanted to say about today’s Supreme Court ruling is that the emotions I happen to be having right now are not my final word on this whole question of queer rights and equality.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are a lot of things that this ruling not only fails to solve, but fails to address. That means for some queer and trans people, today is not a day of celebration at all.

And that is okay.

I mean, it’s not okay that there is so much still undone. But it’s okay to not be happy about a victory that feels like it’s got nothing to do with you and what you need.

So I see all these posts from people that are like “Well I’m not celebrating today,” and I nod and I think to myself, “Okay.” But then I also see all these posts that are like, “If you’re happy/celebrating today then [a bunch of unfounded assumptions about your views, priorities, concerns, and attitudes].”

And that I’m just not down with, because I’m not down with telling people how to feel, or with claiming that people’s feelings are what makes them good people or bad people.

Often I see these things online about various causes: “If you’re not angry then you’re not paying attention,” “How can you even enjoy ____ when ____,” and so on. I’m deeply uncomfortable with framing anger as the only legitimate response to injustice, just as I’m uncomfortable with framing anger as an illegitimate response to injustice. Remember neurodiversity. Different people have a whole range of emotional responses to the same stimuli and that doesn’t make any of them necessarily wrong or broken. For instance, I almost never get angry, and when I do, it’s only when some specific individual has treated me badly. Does this mean I have no place in the fight for social justice?

We say all the time that you’re not a bad person if you feel sad when others think you shouldn’t be, so how could you be a bad person if you feel happy when others think you shouldn’t be? We don’t control our emotions. We control our actions.

But besides, you don’t want me to use negative emotions as the sole or main basis of my activism. You don’t want me to do that because it means that I will always be 1) prioritizing the issues most personal to me first, and 2) either struggling to force myself to have negative emotions about other things or, when I fail to do that, ignoring all those other issues. If anger is what makes injustice worth fighting, then I’m only going to fight those injustices which make me angry.

I understand that a lot of these posts are also based on the (legitimate) assumption that people are not going to act on all these other problems in the wake of this momentous ruling. And yes, unfortunately, that’s probably true of some people. Some people probably now believe that homophobia is over. But those people were never going to get their heads out of the marriage issue anyway. That was their issue. They cared about it. Now it’s over. I wish it weren’t so, but some people only care about what impacts them personally and directly.

Others of us who are celebrating today have known for a long time that this is just one battle of the war. I am not ready to declare the war a victory as long as queer and trans people (especially people of color) are losing jobs, failing to get jobs in the first place, being denied medical care, getting profiled and arrested on the streets, being brutalized by the police, getting deported, getting spat at and thrown bottles at, getting kicked out of their homes by their parents, being forced into conversion therapy, getting beaten and raped.

But feeling happy about what happened today doesn’t make my opinions (and my feelings) about that stuff any less real. There is nothing inconsistent in fighting those other battles while also crying of happiness because maybe one day I can actually marry someone I love, you know?

I want there to be more acknowledgment of the fact that people can have a lot of conflicting and contradictory feelings about the same things, that feelings do not necessarily determine political opinions (and shouldn’t), that activism can be motivated by something other than anger. It’s weird when we say that you shouldn’t judge people for having emotions in some contexts, but then turn around and judge them for it in others.

I’m Not Gloating Today

I woke up today to a Facebook feed full of posts about the Supreme Court decision that came down today, 5-4: state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and marriage equality is now the law of the land (give or take a few states who’ll put up a pathetic fight for a while, of course).

One of my partners texted me “!!!!” and of course I knew exactly what she meant.

Especially considering some of the things I’ve been writing about recently (and many more that I haven’t mentioned), it affected me more than I expected. I teared up just reading the dry New York Times article, and then I cried at a YouTube ad that had just come out featuring queer folks coming out, and then I cried at Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm.” And probably some other stuff.

Almost as quickly as the folks in my feed started sharing image macros and news stories (and, of course, the obligatory reminders that the fight isn’t over [which I understand but also frustrates me because when the fuck did I say I was done???]), I also saw a lot of gloating. “Can’t wait to see what the Republicans are gonna say about this!” “So about that pastor who threatened to set himself on fire if gay marriage happened…”

I’m not going to say that gloating is somehow wrong or bad. I’m just going to say that it puts a damper on what should be a gleefully happy day for me and I wish I could somehow avoid it.

First of all, honestly, the first thing I thought when I saw those posts wasn’t “LOL YOU SUCKERS HAHA,” but oh my god, I can get married. Right here, if I wanted to. I no longer have to choose where I live based on where I can have a family. My wife, if I have one someday, will never have to be alone in the hospital because I can’t come see her, or vice versa.

And I thought, they finally understand that this isn’t some pretend delusional version of a “real” love. This is a love as real as any other, not just two perverted adults playing house.

And I thought, now I don’t have to worry about writing up complicated legal contracts when I should be worrying about the color scheme and where to seat my best friend from high school.

And I had sadder thoughts, too, like “but my family still thinks it’s repulsive” and “but how are we going to fix all the other problems like transphobia and deportation and queer youth homelessness and violence and health disparities” and “but there are so few queer women out there I’ll probably never get married anyway.” So no, it’s not all rainbows.

But those sad thoughts didn’t bring me down the way the gloating did. Most of the gloating I saw was coming from straight cis people, and it really felt like they were just using this historic, incredible moment to take another shot at the Bad Out-Group and cement the status of the Good In-Group. “Haha, guess that pastor has to set himself on fire now!” I swear, you take one social psychology class and it turns you into an annoying cynic for life, but really.

It also felt extremely tone-deaf considering how much power churches, governments, and other institutions still have over queer/trans people despite this important ruling. Whatever laughable tantrums some of these conservative Christian leaders are going to have, guess what–they get to have the last laugh, because all around the country queer and trans people can still lose their jobs just because of who they are (and don’t kid yourself that anti-discrimination laws help much against this), and queer and trans youth still get sent to conversion therapy or kicked out of their homes, and trans people are still denied the healthcare they need, and queer women still face disgusting threats from men who want to “turn us straight,” and the President still gets to decide who he hears and who he doesn’t.

Unlike others (whose feelings are also valid), this doesn’t mean I don’t want to celebrate today. But it does mean that I’m very, very wary of the gloatings of straight people right now.

I feel differently when queer people gloat because I’m able to trust that they get all this. They live it too. For us, humor and ridicule can be a survival skill (though not one that generally feels all that good for me personally).

But straight people–of course your first thought wasn’t “finally finally finally I can have a family.” Y’all have had that right for millennia. (I acknowledge here that straight people with other marginalization have not always had that right, but I’m speaking generally.) You don’t even necessarily have to think about how close we might’ve been to an enormous setback.

So sure, gloat. I’ll stick with the things I personally find constructive: celebrating, and planning our next battles.

Telling Our Own Stories

As I wrote on this blog’s about page, this is where I go when I have nowhere else to go. One of the main reasons I started this blog was because I had started to feel like people needed my writing to be everything to everyone, and the pressure of those expectations was producing some unprecedented writer’s block. The intense personal writing that I had initially become known for was what suffered most, because that’s where it was most impossible for me to address every possible angle of each situation.

Sometimes when I wrote about my personal experiences, people would show up in the comments section and leave their own perspectives, both the similarities and the differences. Sometimes, stark differences. There they would discuss other personal factors that I had been unable to discuss because those weren’t my own factors. This is good. At its best, that’s how internet commenting should be.

But I would also get so much anger. “What you haven’t considered is ____.” “Yeah well what about _____.” But I’m _____ and that’s not how it is for me at all!” “Why didn’t you address _____?” “I’d like this article a lot more if you’d talked about _____.”

And I started getting angry, too. Why were these people expecting me to write about their lives and not my own? Why couldn’t they get their own blogs? How is one person struggling through depression (the thing I wrote about most often) supposed to address every conceivable experience anyone has with depression ever?

And so, writer’s block.

Of course, when I’m able to take a step back and think about it more charitably, it makes sense. Many people wish so much to see their own stories in print, but either they don’t know how to find the words or, more likely, they worry about the consequences of writing publicly about the things I write about. I’m very lucky in many ways, but remember, too, that I face many of those same consequences.

It made a lot more sense to me recently when I read this article about Black Widow and “high-stakes stories,” and why people were so upset about the treatment of Black Widow in the new Avengers movie:

There’s nothing wrong with stories about women who are housewives or stories about women who struggle because they were forcibly prevented from having kids as a condition of whatever mission they chose to undertake. The problem is that with so few women in superhero movies, each of these portrayals stands not only for the choices Whedon made, but for all the choices he and many others didn’t and don’t make. The portrayals of Natasha and Laura rankle at some level, for me, not because they are stories about a woman traumatized by not having children and a woman waiting for her husband to come home, but because it’s another story about those two women rather than any of the other bazillion women who could exist in this universe and don’t. If you had five butt-kicking women in this movie, it would seem perfectly logical that one of them might have a story related to getting pregnant or not. Why wouldn’t she?

These, for me, are scarcity problems. They are problems because there are so few opportunities to show women in action blockbusters that I tend to crave something very much capable of moving discussions of what those portrayals can be like forward.

This is, of course, a different situation and my writing is not a Joss Whedon film (in either the good ways or the bad ways), but I think that there is a scarcity of stories being told about things like mental illness and queerness and sexual assault, and so those of us who are telling these stories are expected to speak for everyone who has lived these stories.

And even though these stories are being told more and more now, and there are many more of them than I could ever read, many people don’t feel like they can share their own. So they look to those of others.

But I can’t tell other people’s stories for them. If I could, maybe I wouldn’t have dropped out of that journalism program years ago.

What I can do is share the writing of people whose stories are different from mine, and I do this online literally as much as I can. I have 2,000 articles saved on my phone that I still need to read. I read them as fast as possible and then I post them, with quotes, to make sure people get at least a little of it if they don’t click.

There’s nothing more I can do now besides hand over my blog to someone else and have them write it instead. And then that person will have the same (possibly overlapping) set of people angry at them for telling their story and not someone else’s.

What else is there? I could end each sentence with “but of course a person of a different gender/race/sexual orientation/class/ethnicity/nationality/religion/body type might experience this differently,” except that 1) that makes for horrifically bad writing and 2) even someone who is exactly like me on all those dimensions might experience this differently. Annoying put-downs about snowflakes aside, we are all unique.

I’m frustrated but I understand. Everyone deserves to have their story told, but not everyone is able (for any number of reasons) to tell their own story. I don’t see how I could do it any better than you, though.

So I try not to take it personally, but in the meantime, writing has become very hard indeed.

The Glass Closet: On Queer Female (In)Visibility

#homophobia #sexualharassment

I had an awful dream recently in which my girlfriend and I were running around in the city, trying to find a place we could be alone. I don’t remember much of it except that we couldn’t seem to find any privacy. The city felt dark and unsafe, not at all the way it usually feels to me.

Finally, we ended up in the dark basement of some huge apartment building, where we found a single bathroom stall. We went into it and started kissing, only to realize that the stall was made out of glass and that the building super was standing outside of it, watching us.

I don’t attach much importance to dreams, usually. I don’t think this “means” anything other than that these feelings have been on my mind, and the dream brought them out in a stark and horrifying sort of way, as dreams do.

Queer women are simultaneously invisible and hyper-visible. We’re invisible, though increasingly less so, in the sense that we are almost always presumed straight until proven otherwise, that our girlfriends become our “gal pals,” that our sexual experiences become “just college girls experimenting” or “just girls trying to get guys’ attention.” We’re invisible in the sense that you almost never see queer female relationships in shows or movies or books that aren’t About Gay People (such as Glee and The L Word). (Even with shows like Glee, though, queer female fans often had to fight for that representation, to fight for characters like them to be treated seriously.)

Queer female relationships, when they happen in film or television or literature, are rarely anything other than the Main Point of that work. You don’t get the badass ex-Soviet spy who happens to have a girlfriend. You don’t get the detective on a cop show flirting with the girl at the bar. The surgeon on the medical drama doesn’t come home to her wife and kids, who are upset that they so rarely see her. (Yes, there are exceptions. There’s a reason I’ve stuck with the mess that is Grey’s Anatomy for so long.)

Maybe it doesn’t seem like this matters. “You have your gay women,” you might say, “so what more do you need?” But the fact that queer female characters are virtually nonexistent except in Media About LGBTQ Issues suggests a divide: Media About LGBTQ Issues, and Media About Everything Else (hospitals, crime, law, spaceships, spies, drugs, college, elite New England boarding schools, aliens, Medieval Europe, politics, etc). Do queer women have a place as doctors and detectives and lawyers and spaceship pilots and spies? Or are all those things exclusively for straight people?

Yet at the same time, in some contexts, queer women are hyper-visible. I think of the glass toilet stall from my dream again when I remember how I’ve felt out in public with my female partners. Queerness is a “marked” identity, which means that sometimes it’s way more obvious and noticed and remarked-upon than straightness. When I’m out with a boyfriend, nobody pays us any particular mind. Sure, sometimes people might notice us and think, “What a cute couple!” (or maybe I’m just flattering myself, but really, people have this thought about straight couples sometimes), but certainly nobody’s going to stare, let alone point fingers or giggle or glare disapprovingly.

But if I’m out holding hands with (let alone kissing or cuddling) another woman, it becomes very obvious. The mere act of being affectionate with my partner marks us as queer and makes us vulnerable to all the bias and hatred (and, potentially, even violence) that may result.

Luckily, in New York, there’s obviously a lot of acceptance and people are used to seeing queer couples, and even if they weren’t, New York has a very strong culture of LEAVE OTHER PEOPLE THE FUCK ALONE DO NOT STARE AT THEM. (I love this about New York.)

But even in New York, hate speech and hate crimes against queer people happen. I feel silly to be afraid of it, especially as a white cis person, but the thing about oppression is that it doesn’t just go away because you have other privileges. When a partner and I are walking up to my apartment building, holding hands, I think about the men who catcalled me right at that spot, late at night. One of them said he wanted to come and tuck me in.

It’s enough that they know where I live, but to know that I’m gay, too?

And now I’m in Ohio, where I might have to stay for some time. Here I don’t know how to navigate it at all. Will people admonish me because “there are children here”? Will they tell me I’m going to hell? Throw bottles at me? Am I being completely overdramatic and unreasonable? If so, can you really blame me, considering how deep the well of Midwestern Christian homophobia runs?

It seems that we get the worst parts of visibility and the worst parts of invisibility. Our relationships, when they are represented at all, are never treated casually in the media, like obvious givens. Yet in real life, we can never seem to fly under the radar unless we get back in the closet.

And even that’s not exactly a guarantee. The closet, too, often feels to be made of glass–transparent and fragile at the same time.

The Emotional Performativity of Social Work Education

For me, the most stressful thing about social work school has nothing to do with homework, exams, or internships. It’s the constant demand that I share my emotions with near-strangers for everyone’s supposed educational benefit. And if I’m not experiencing emotions at the given moment or about the given topic, I must invent them, because nobody believes me if I say I don’t have any emotions. Moreover, that’s the wrong answer, because if I’m not having any emotions, then I cannot engage in the required “processing” or “reflection” and complete the assignment.

I understand why this is such a large component of social work education. Most people lack self-awareness, and therapists without self-awareness can do a great amount of harm to their clients–for instance, by subconsciously using the therapeutic encounter as an opportunity to get affirmation and then lashing out at a client who fails to provide it.

By nature, I have too much self-awareness. Without intervention, I am too aware of every slight emotion and reaction, every passing thought, every potential reason for those emotions, reactions, and thoughts. I’m constantly weighing possible sources of cognitive bias in my head. I’m constantly modeling how I must look and be perceived by others, physically or psychologically. In its worst excesses, the self-awareness leads to unstoppable rumination, which leads to depression.

The way I have been able to survive depression is by learning to ignore, postpone, or shut down my emotions.

But of course, this is not The Right Way. That would be to just “learn how to sit with the emotions as they come” or whatever, or methodically talk myself out of them every time. Quite frankly, I have neither the time nor the energy. My way works. I am (mostly) happy, I am productive, I am attentive to others, I am (mostly) focused. So what if my methods are unorthodox?

Other helping professionals really dislike this. If I’m distracting myself from my emotions, or–worse yet–not having them to begin with, surely they will all suddenly come back and crash down on me like a collapsing building because I have failed to properly do the work of Processing and Reflecting upon them?

But it’s been years of me successfully managing emotions and that still hasn’t happened. I truly don’t think that it will. The idea that it will is probably a vestige of psychoanalytic thinking.

And yet, my professors and supervisors seem to think we’re either “resistant,” lacking in self-awareness, or else just cold and inhuman if we’re not constantly experiencing a lot of emotions connected to our work.

Something happens with a client and my supervisor asks, “How did that make you feel?”, and I can’t just say that it did not make me feel anything. My supervisor simply wouldn’t believe me. Either I’m repressing it, or I’m being withdrawn and not participating in the educational process like I should, or something else bad.

But I really didn’t feel anything. I generally leave my feelings at the door during therapy sessions. Sometimes I have some feelings afterward, but rarely, and when I do, they’re usually gone by the time I come back to the office the next day.

So I have to perform emotions. “I felt sad.” “Why do you think that is?” “Because it made me think of times when I have experienced _____.” “Well, you know, it’s very important not to overidentify with our clients.” “Yes, I know.” All lies, except the last part.

“Please write a five-page essay about your own experiences with _____ and how that may impact your practice.”

“How did it feel when ____ dropped out of the group?”

“How did you feel when ____ terminated counseling?”

“I’m wondering if that session brought up any feelings for you.”

“How did you feel after watching this video?”

I can’t wait till I graduate and my emotions can finally be mine again.

“I’m wondering if this brings up any feelings for you.” Yeah, I’m fucking pissed off because I want my fucking privacy back.

“How might this impact your practice?” I dunno, maybe I’ll respect the fact that there can be many different effective, “healthy” ways of managing your emotions besides venting them.

“Please reflect on this topic in terms of privilege and oppression.” It is a privileged position to have feelings that are “acceptable” to share. We simultaneously marginalize and pathologize the feelings of women, mentally ill people, people of color, queer people, etc. Our feelings become something to be analyzed and “fixed.” Excuse me if I don’t feel comfortable sharing mine with an authority figure.

Further, the cultures of dominant groups determine which methods of coping we consider “healthy” and which we do not. According to the dominant frame, if I am not willing to share my private thoughts with a supervisor or professor, I’m the one who needs fixing, because there is something wrong with a person who is “distrusting” or “resistant.” No, my ways of managing feelings cannot possibly be healthy or effective for me personally, because they are not what people with authority over me are used to.

And if I’m really not having any feelings, that’s even worse. Then I don’t care. I lack empathy. I’m repressed. I’m pathologically numb. I can’t possibly be cut out for this work, because being a therapist means constantly feeling things on behalf of our clients, doesn’t it?

I don’t think so. I think my ability to keep a clear head in session is actually an asset, not a deficit. Of course I express empathy for my clients, because I have a strong sense of justice and fairness and I know that the things they go through are wrong and unfair. I know that they deserve better. I know that it must be very hard for them. I don’t need to feel anything to know any of that.

And because of that, I never get caught up in seeking reassurance or affirmation from my clients. I don’t need them to get better quickly so that I feel good about myself. I don’t need them to tell me I’m the best therapist they ever had so that I feel competent. I don’t need them to open up immediately, be polite and deferential, stop being so upset because that makes me sad, keep their voice down lest they hurt my feelings.

I’m able to actually just be there for them rather than mentally swimming around in my own issues.

But that doesn’t make any sense to anyone, so I sit in class and in supervision and perform emotions like a good social work student.

Escape Routes

#sexualassault #suicide

Sitting in a cab, I wonder how hard it would be to jump out if I needed to, if I noticed that the cab isn’t going the right way. (And do I know the city well enough to tell?) Traffic rarely moves fast here and there are a lot of stoplights, but I’d have to get out of the street fast so he wouldn’t run me over.

I like parties, but even then, I always think about leaving them. I think about when I will leave, who I will say goodbye to, how I will manage their reaction if they feel I am leaving too soon, and what I’ll do when finally, finally I’m alone again.

Whenever I’m in a relationship serious enough that ending it would necessitate a “breakup” rather than a fade-out, I imagine how and why I would initiate a breakup. What would they have to do for me to fall out of love with them, or to leave them despite still being in love? How would I say it? Who, or what, would fill the gaps they would leave in the landscape of my day-to-day life?

I plan my escape from cities, just like my parents did before me. I planned my escape from my American “hometown,” and then from the city in which I went to college, and now from the city I love most. Not because I want to leave, not this time, but because I’m afraid I’ll be forced to.

There was a period of time when I was constantly trying to figure out how to escape from life itself. Things I considered, if not seriously: tall buildings trains pills car crashes illnesses. Although I thought about it a lot, I didn’t actually intend or plan to do it. What I needed was the comfort of knowing that I had a way out.

It is ironic that despite finding change so difficult to cope with, I can sometimes only comfort myself by thinking about leaving or escaping or disappearing. Otherwise it feels like people and places are growing on me like vines, crawling on me like insects, and I need to keep shaking them off.

But in another way, escape is often a matter of survival. In that cab, in that relationship.

Being read female means always having to plan for escape.

But besides, no matter how much I enjoy something, I’m always devoting some little space in the back of my head to plotting escape routes out of it. Whether it’s a car or a room or an event or a relationship, I need to know I am free to leave.

Half-A-Sexual

#sex

For a while now I have noticed that I don’t experience sexual attraction to people I don’t know fairly well. That moment when you see someone across the bar and feel a spark? Never happened to me. Meeting someone sexy at a party and going home with them? Ew. Going on a first date and wishing you could just kiss them right now? Never.

At some point I learned that there’s a word that people like me use to identify themselves: demisexual. It’s as if we’re “half” asexual–usually ace, but in some situations not.

For a long time I did not use that label because people shamed me out of it. People online love to hate on demisexuals because they think we’re sitting here claiming that being demi makes us as oppressed as Black people or trans people. I’m sure someone somewhere can be found claiming that, but as for me personally, I don’t give a fuck where I fall on someone’s Oppression Olympics ladder; I just care that this changes my life in a number of ways and having the language to talk about it with people is helpful.

But people make me feel like a pathetic broken idiot for using the word, so I stopped. There, I stopped Boxing Myself In With These Useless Labels and Inventing Silly New Words For Things That Don’t Need Words Anyway. Happy now? Well, I wasn’t. I felt like an anomaly, a fuck-up.

Using the word helps me remember that I’m not the only one who’s like this; it’s not an individual quirk but a way of experiencing sexuality that many other people share, including a few of my friends and partners.

That said, I hate being demi. Unlike other identities I have, like queer or atheist, it adds absolutely nothing positive to my life. It does not make my experience more colorful or interesting in any way. It only makes things harder.

I feel like all of these experiences and feelings that most people get to have are something I’m completely cut off from. Sexual negotation and communication becomes fraught as I try to articulate that I’m not sure if I want sex, or don’t know when I will, or might want to try it or might not depending on my mood or fatigue level or number of remaining spoons.

More often than not, I start to panic–not, thankfully, because I worry that people will disrespect my boundaries, but because often I don’t even know what they are.

(I’m aware, though–how could I not be?–of how lucky I am to be in the types of social circles that I’m in. If I were friends with normal people, this would all be a nightmare.)

Here’s what I do know: if I followed the “standards” of affirmative consent when it comes to my own boundaries, I would’ve never had sex with anyone at all, and I would’ve missed out on a lot of great times. Because the first time I have sex with someone is usually less “I NEED YOU NOW” and more “I’m kinda curious, let’s try it.” I’m grateful that my partners respect my agency enough to hear that as the “yes” that it is.

After I’ve slept with someone once or a few times, my brain seems to learn to associate the pleasant sensations of that with actual, sexual desire–in the sense that I think about them when I masturbate or have the urge to send them sexy texts or otherwise behave like someone who wants to have sex with them. And then it’s great. But until then, it’s quite awkward.

One thing that is basically impossible thanks to my demisexuality is dating. How does dating typically go? You meet an Intriguing Stranger, at a party or on OkCupid or whatever. Someone asks the other out. You go on the date to Find Out If You Have A Spark and want to keep seeing each other.

Well, I have never felt any spark with anyone I barely know. (Actually, not entirely true–the first time I fell in love at age 14 happened that way, and that experience was so uniquely horrible that my brain seems to have kept me from repeating it.) That hasn’t stopped me from loving many people and sleeping with even more people, but the fact is that if I’ve just met you, I probably don’t really care about you.

So dating becomes tricky. How do I decide if I want a second “date” or whatever? What do I tell them if they ask me where I think this is going? All I can say is, “I feel no sexual attraction towards you, but you’re the sort of person that I might get attracted to with time, but I also can’t guarantee that, so I understand if you don’t want to stick around and wait”? Hot.

Therefore, I don’t really date; I make friends online and sometimes those friendships develop into more. The distance means that there’s no pressure to decide whether or not I want to fuck them, at least not for a while. By the time I finally see them in person, we’re usually close enough that I’m interested in experimenting with sex, and usually I like it and keep doing it.

But that means that my partners are basically always long-distance, since I’m not willing to date in any sort of “traditional” way.  OkCupid (which I consider traditional at this point) is even more useless than other ways of meeting people to date, because there’s even more of a pressure to Decide What This Is. Is it Friendship? Is it Friends With Benefits? Is it Dating? God, who the fuck cares.

In general, it’s impossible for me to predict when sexual/romantic feelings will happen, and with whom. Once I became interested in my best friend after we’d known each other for four years. Another time I became interested in another best friend after we’d known each other for two and a half years. Once I had an online acquaintance that I honestly couldn’t stand at first but then they changed or I changed or something happened and we fell in love.

So when I’m sitting across the table at the coffee shop with some random person who’s basically a stranger to me and they want to know What This Is, who am I to say?

Thoughts I Had About Food Today

#food #eatingdisorders #health

  1. I love food. I love creamy mac & cheese, crisp gala apples, bittersweet chocolate (especially with almonds, hazelnuts, or sea salt), chewy bagels with slippery, salty lox and cream cheese, gooey freshly-baked cookies with molten chocolate chips, bottomless bowls of ramen, sticky rice with seaweed paper, juicy Thanksgiving turkey, sweet berries. I love a lot of it.
  2. I hate planning my fucking day around food. When can I have it. Can I get enough of it. How much it’ll cost. Will it be messy and if so how will I clean it up. When I’ll have time for dishes. Where and when and how I can buy groceries. What I’ll do if I suddenly get hungry unexpectedly and I have no more food, especially while I’m stuck on a long subway ride. Will I be able to fit all of the food that I need into my bag.
  3. Because if I don’t eat almost immediately upon first feeling hunger, I will experience one of two effects for hours thereafter: stabbing stomach cramps, or a full-body weakness that makes me feel paralyzed with fatigue.
  4. If I eat too much, I will feel bloated and full and will be battling sleep for the rest of the day no matter how much sleep I’ve been getting.
  5. “Too much” = anything more than what’s just enough to stop feeling hungry. But if I only eat enough to stop feeling hungry, I’ll be hungry again an hour later. Who the fuck has the kind of schedule when they can eat every fucking hour?
  6. Does everyone feel this way?
  7. Clearly, there are a lot of ways to fail at/hate/have difficulty with food even after you’ve recovered from your eating disorder.
  8. I never felt so good as I did when I was restricting. An apple here, a few almonds here, about 800 calories a day. No hunger. No bloating. No cramps. No sleepiness. No guilt. No worrying.
  9. Yet I’m told that this is Very Bad to do.
  10. I am told that I need to Eat Regularly At The Same Time Each Day. Well, some days I feel so full at 10 AM despite not having eaten since last night that the mere idea of eating makes me want to vomit. Other days I’m so hungry at 10 AM that I can’t move. You try Eating Regularly then.
  11. Does everyone feel this way?
  12. If everyone does feel this way, then I feel totally ridiculous for making such a big deal out of it and being so miserable about it.
  13. If everyone does not feel this way, then what the fuck is wrong with me?
  14. I’m hungry. I’m getting hungrier. I won’t be able to eat in time. The entire evening will be lost to lying on my stomach to dull the cramps. Homework, cooking, cleaning, reading, writing–even harder than they usually are. Panic.
  15. How much have I spent on snacks from Duane Reade this month?
  16. They said there would be lunch provided at this work training but there isn’t. So I can’t have lunch until after the training, in two hours. The growling of my stupid stomach makes it hard to pay attention to the training.
  17. I’m on the subway and I feel the fatigue coming on. All I have is a bag of Cheerios. I’ve been holding on to the subway poles. I forgot my hand sanitizer in the other bag. Is it worth it? Hunger, or risking getting sick again?
  18. I can’t believe I’m an emotionally and financially independent adult who somehow can’t manage to fucking feed themselves properly.
  19. Feeding myself properly seems like it would require nearly-infinite amounts of time, money, or both.
  20. Does everyone feel this way?
  21. I can almost still remember a time when food was easy.

~~~

(I do not want advice.)

Liar, Liar

#depression #mentalillness #gaslighting

When I was a child I was a terrible liar.

I didn’t try it often, but when I did, my parents told me so. For a while, this discouraged me from lying.

But as I got older, lying became less of a trivial indulgence and more of a survival skill. I lied so people wouldn’t know how mentally broken I’d become. I liked to maintain family relationships. I lied to my first serious boyfriend when I was 17, told him I wasn’t an atheist so he wouldn’t leave me.

I don’t like to lie, but sometimes I feel like people leave me with no choice.

I lied to men so they’d leave me the fuck alone. I lied to professors about late papers, said I was sick because they’d never guess the sickness was actually depression.

I lied to friends. Yes, I’m okay. No, I don’t want to talk about it.

I lied to interviewers and employers. No, never about my credentials or skills. But about my feelings and identities, yes.

I lied to lovers, said I didn’t like them “that way” at all, figuring they’d exploit my feelings if they knew about them.

People–primarily men–insist that I should endeavor to always tell the truth because something-something Immanuel Kant. They say that if someone can’t Handle The Truth then I should Just Ignore Them and Move On. Even if it’s my boss. Even if it’s my mom.

When you have a mental illness, lying is often necessary because your thoughts and feelings just aren’t acceptable. Because you get tired of having to explain them to people, only to have them say, “That isn’t really justified though” or “That’s not exactly fair.” I never fucking said it was.

The most frequent lie I make is turning a negative thing into a positive. “Well, the internship wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I learned a lot and gained lots of useful experience for the future.” “Yeah, the party was lots of fun.” These embellishments and selective answers come tumbling out of my mouth so easily now that I’m not always sure that they’re inaccurate anymore.

But I say them because I was never given the space to say anything else.

“Honestly, I really hate my internship.” “Oh, but there must be good things about it too, right?”

“I miss college a lot.” “But it must be so much better to finally be done with it, right?”

People turn my truths into lies. “Come on, it’s not that big of a deal.” “You’re not really bisexual.” “You don’t really think that.”

(How dare you tell me what I do and do not think.)

If you are a white man, I can almost guarantee that you don’t know what it’s like to have everything you try to say about your own experience considered suspect by default, always in need of proof or correction or clear argumentation presented in a bulleted list. It is tiresome, and above all it is boring.

Maybe telling the truth is intrinsically “better” than lying by some measure. Maybe you think I owe it to you. Maybe I “ought” to be strong enough to either argue my opponent into silence or Just Forget About Them And Leave.

Or how about this, instead: I don’t see any reason I should have a moral obligation to tell the truth if other people don’t seem to have any moral obligation to respect it–and to respect me.