The Phoenix and the Crucible

The Arch, Northwestern University

The Arch, Northwestern University

#depression #suicide #sexualassault #eatingdisorder

About once a year or two I find myself here again. It’s been a little over two years now. I don’t live in New York anymore. I have a graduate degree now; the diploma hangs in my office along with the one I got here. I joke that it’s the most expensive piece of paper I’ll ever have, but I don’t just mean the tuition. The cost that diploma carried with it weighed even heavier than my six-figure student loans.

Considering how everything happened, I should hate it. It was supposed to be my refuge, the place where I’d finally be able to be myself. Instead I got almost the full catalogue of college hazards: depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidality, disordered eating, sexual assault, sexist shaming and harassment, bullying, homophobia. Almost every adverse event a person of my demographic could experience in college, I did, some of them multiple times.

So now when I think of Northwestern I inevitably picture a kaleidoscope of papercuts that, taken together, tore apart my confidence, self-worth, and desire to live. Getting sexually assaulted and worrying that I’d cheated on my boyfriend. My assailant leering at me across the table at the student group meeting, the student group that wouldn’t deny him a leadership role because, after all, I never reported it. My editor asking me if I’ve seen today’s op-ed in the Daily, the writer of which felt empowered to insult my intelligence because he felt that my blog post was too angry. Losing my best friend when I asked her to stop making homophobic comments to me. My supervisor sheepishly telling me that in their RA evaluations, my residents complained that I dressed inappropriately, presumably to try to get back at me for writing them up when the stink of their pot was so strong in the hallway that I couldn’t ignore it and still keep the job I desperately needed. (“There’s nothing wrong with the way you dress,” she reassured me. The whole thing would’ve been less offensive if there actually had been.) The way the men I slept with treated me afterwards, every single one. (The idea of casual sex is still mildly triggering, and the thought of someone wanting me just for sex is still triggering enough to keep me awake for hours.) The things I put my body through to try to make it look right. Getting groped at parties freshman year; it would be years before I felt comfortable drinking and partying again. Sobbing alone in the snow after a failed exam. Hoping I fucking got pneumonia from it and died. Cataloging all the places on campus where I could kill myself. Winding up in bed with a knife with no memory of how I got there. How humiliating it was to reach out to the one person I had at the time, who could barely conceal their irritation as they tried to make sure I didn’t end that night in the hospital or in a coffin.

I had to stop myself from continuing to write that paragraph, because there are so many of those stories and eventually it would just seem gratuitous. But that was my life for four years. It *was* gratuitous.

What ended up destroying me even more than all that was how casually cruel my classmates were. These people will be your network for life, we were all told. I met plenty of great people, but of course what I remember most is the cruelty. Being emotionally vulnerable and open at Northwestern is all but an invitation for people to gleefully rub salt in your wounds. I don’t know how I managed to not only stop myself from becoming hard and calloused, but to celebrate my vulnerability even louder. This sort of writing I’m doing right now came from that. I do it in defiance of my classmates’ vicarious embarrassment, their averted glances, their ridicule, their patronizing advice that I should become someone else. Fuck you. Instead I became even more of myself.

Yet I can’t hate it. I came out of that crucible like a fucking phoenix. By senior year–the only year I even remotely enjoyed–I had become more or less who I am now, the version you know and love, or at least tolerate. For whatever it’s worth, college is where I finally became someone people could actually like.

(Even now, I question that. Did I become someone people could finally like, or did I become someone *I* could finally like?)

(I feel like almost everything about me now comes from what happened then. I’m so adamant about boundaries because of how mine were crossed. I’m a feminist because of the unrelenting sexism. I’m an anti-racist because no matter how bad I had it, I saw how much worse the students of color had it. I’m a therapist because none of the ones I went to back then could ever help me. I hate casual sex because of how I was treated during and after it. I hate pot because after I was essentially forced to write those residents up for it or else lose my job, they and their fucking frat brothers decided to harass and bully me for it for my remaining THREE YEARS of college. Over a fucking recreational drug. I always think about that when people say that pot is a harmless drug. Harmless to whom? It harmed me before I ever even tried it.)

And you know, maybe I could’ve had a college experience that wasn’t almost entirely horrible and still become someone I respect. Maybe I would’ve still become a therapist, a sex educator, a progressive writer and activist, an unstoppable defender of human dignity and autonomy. Maybe I would’ve. Maybe I wouldn’t have. Maybe I’d be a journalist covering the tech startup scene. Maybe I’d be a professor and researcher. Maybe I’d still be someone great, just in a different way. Maybe there are many paths that lead to the same place, or maybe I would’ve gotten lost in the shortcuts and detours.

That’s why I regret it and I don’t, and I miss it, and every time I walk through Ohio State’s campus back home I remember the full ride that was waiting for me there–the path I didn’t take–and I imagine who I’d be if I’d spent the past seven years in the city that has made me so happy and healthy at last.

I can’t hate it. I miss it like I miss everything and everyone that ever hurt me when I really thought they wouldn’t. I miss what it represented before the dream became reality, and then nightmare. And I miss the parts of it that were truly good. Because for all that my darkest times happened there, it was also there that the worst of the fog lifted for good.

So I walk through the arch with a shudder, but not for the last time: I know I will pass through this place again, and again, and again.

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.

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.

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?

I Will Probably Never Come Out To My Family And That’s Okay

#homophobia

Despite being a financially independent adult, I am not out to my parents or anyone in my extended family. There are two reasons for this. The primary reason is that I already know exactly what they think of people like me, and the secondary reason is that I just have no reason to tell them or to want them to know that about me.

A lot of it, both the homophobia and my need to keep close ties to my family and my resultant silence, is probably a cultural thing. If you think the homophobia is bad here, it’s much worse where my family is from. (But you probably know that already; that country’s terrible LGBT rights record lands it on the news all the time.) I think my family is actually quite progressive compared to most people over there. A relative of mine told me once that she visited home and people there were surprised to hear that she “allows” her (adult!) daughter to be friends with a gay man. Friends. With a gay man. She said she had to leave the conversation because of the way it was going.

In our culture family trumps everything. Absolutely everything. Your family, including your extended family, will help you in any way they can–give you a couch to crash on when you’re in town, let you stay in a spare room without paying rent when you have nowhere else to go, lend you money, give you free childcare, listen to you talk about your problems, and, of course, cook you many, many meals. Of course many American families will do many of these things, to varying extents, but having been a part of both cultures, I can attest to the fact that there’s something different.

It’s not just that losing the support of my family could be dangerous, if not physically then mentally. It’s also that, despite all the things they don’t know about me, I feel close to them in a way I don’t feel to anyone else. I’m comfortable around them in a way that nobody else can make me comfortable. I can tell them things I can’t tell anyone, not any of my partners or closest friends. They are the only people I can talk to when I’m extremely upset, though I usually choose not to because I can cope by myself. I’m pretty sure they would never abandon me, not even if I came out, but that would make things tense and difficult and painful.

Of course, there are already tensions. I’m tired of having to justify so many of my decisions to my family, including my choice of career, my choice of relationship styles, my choice of partners (namely, non-Jewish), and even, sometimes, my choice of friends (namely, I’m not interested in being friends with some of the people they want me to be friends with.) It’s exhausting, but it’s manageable. Because at least they don’t hate the thought of any of these things; they just happen to disagree with my decisions.

Queerness would make it much, much harder.

Despite the difficulties I have with my family, my experience with them is overwhelmingly positive. More so than with many other people with whom I’m much more politically aligned and open, to be honest.

It is difficult for fellow progressives to understand my decision about not coming out to my family, especially when they’re straight (but well-meaning) and have never had to grapple with this themselves.

The first annoying thing that people do is that they assume this is just the first or second stage of some “process.” You know, like “denial is the first stage” and all that. They claim, explicitly or implicitly, that there will come a time when I will understand that I need to come out to my family in order to be “fulfilled.”

Part of it is probably those bullshit models of Gay Identity Development or whatever that have “coming out” as the apex stage. Until you come out, to everyone, you are not a self-actualized queer person according to these models.

Needless to say, that’s a complete sack of turds. I am comfortable with my queerness. I relish it. I am joyfully open about it with my friends and acquaintances, and sometimes even classmates. I easily came out to my interviewers in my last job interview (it was relevant), and I got the job, so, you know, whatever. My desire to maintain a good relationship with my family has nothing to do with how I feel about or process my own queer identity. The problem is with them, not me, and I’m quite aware of it.

Another part of it is the possibility that coming out will be unavoidable. “But what if you end up marrying a woman?” people say to me. Well, yes, then I would probably come out rather than elope. But, honestly, that’s not very likely for me at this point. I don’t prioritize marriage very highly. I don’t prioritize integrating a long-term, serious partner into my biological family unless everyone is super into the idea, and since my partners are rarely Jewish, my biological family is rarely super into the idea. I do prioritize remaining close with and comfortable with my biological family, however, and I have always known that marrying a woman and/or coming out will probably destroy that forever.

Is marriage worth that? For many people, yeah, but not for me.

The second annoying thing people do is related to the first one, and it’s that they assume that my relationship with my family is suffering because of my decision not to come out to them, and that I am suffering too, because they don’t know Who I Really Am.

“How could you keep something so big from them?” they ask. “Don’t you want them to know who you really are?”

No, not really. There are plenty of things about me, important things, that my family does not know and hopefully never will. There are entire huge swaths of my life that are just blank spaces in their minds, unless they’ve filled them in with their imaginations. And that’s how I like it.

But also, it’s curious that people seem to universally assume that which types of people I happen to be attracted to is such an essential part of Who I Really Am, so much so that it would actually pain me not to be out to my family. Truthfully, the only reason I think about my sexual orientation at all is probably because this society forces me to, all the time. I adopt the label “queer” and I come out to most people I know (except my family) in order to intentionally push back against a structure that says that queerness is disgusting, bad, and morally suspect. In the absence of homophobia and heterocentricity, which is an absence that’s nearly impossible to imagine, I would probably have no need or reason to label my sexual attractions at all.

So, yes, it’s a part of who I am, but at the same time, it’s…not. It feels weird when my parents don’t know what I write about or what I love to do in my spare time, but it doesn’t feel weird that they don’t know I’m queer. Maybe that’s a self-defense mechanism I’ve cultivated, maybe not, but regardless, I have no burning desire to reveal My True Self to them in that way, and it’s condescending to assume otherwise.

The third annoying thing that people do is they concern-troll me about What Will Happen If I Get Outed. Yes, believe it or not, I have actually considered that possibility a lot, because, believe it or not, queers think about these things.

First of all, whenever I have friends or partners who are going to meet my family, I ask them beforehand, awkward and hopefully unnecessarily as it is, to make sure not to mention anything about me being queer or anything about my non-male partners to my family. So that takes care of accidental outing by friendly agents.

As for non-accidental outing by non-friendly agents, that’s even assuming that these hypothetical people are able to find my parents, and assuming that my parents believe some spiteful tattling rando they’ve never heard of. This seems highly unlikely. But if it happens, my response will be, “I think it’s pretty creepy that this person seems so obsessed with my private life,” and leave it at that.

And if my parents somehow stumble upon the information themselves, well, I know them well enough to know that they’d be too embarrassed and disturbed to bring it up with me, and it would probably never be mentioned at all. Sometimes I idly wonder if this has actually already happened.

Regardless, if asked directly, I will be honest. I don’t like to lie. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to open the can of worms myself.

The final annoying thing that people do is “YEAH WELL IF THEY WON’T ACCEPT YOU FOR WHO YOU REALLY ARE THEN FUCK ‘EM YOU DON’T NEED THAT IN YOUR LIFE.”

I don’t want to even dignify this ignorance with a response, but I will, just to say this: yes, I need them in my life. No, I don’t need to justify or defend that to anyone.

So yeah, you know, it’s annoying to hear my parents say things like “Do you have a boyfriend?” or “You should _____ if you want guys to like you” (the second is annoying for a multitude of reasons), but they’d do that even if I came out. Because most likely, they’d just refuse to believe me and then ignore the new information as though I never told it to them. Or they’d just start including little stinging microaggressions in every statement (“We’ll pass those clothes down to you when you have children…assuming you even can…“). Or they’ll never speak to me in any sort of normal parent-to-adult-child way ever again.

What’s the point?

If there’s anything I would want people to take from this, especially straight people, it’s that we should recognize the fact that there are uncountably many different queer experiences and not all of them are centered on the idea of coming out, and not all of them are “unfulfilled” or “full of shame” or “sad” just because they include neither that Ultimate Hallmark Family Coming Out Moment nor the Brave Self-Actualized Cutting Off Of Family Ties that sometimes follows coming out.

I don’t want or need either of those in my life. I wish I could come out, but only because I wish my family were not homophobic. Given that they are, this is the right decision for me.

Feelings of Hopelessness

#depression #mentalillness #suicide

One commonly cited symptom of major depression and persistent depressive disorder (formerly known as dysthymia) is “feelings of hopelessness.”

“Hope,” and by extension “hopelessness,” is one of those vague concept-nouns that most English-speaking people “just know” the meaning of, but it’s probably difficult to imagine what it’s actually like to have no hope. How that looks. How that feels.

I am one of those people about whom others speak using phrases like “bright future” and “high achieving.” When I graduated from college and joked that my diploma is the most expensive piece of paper I will ever have, my brother said, “But what about the deed to a house?” He said it with a tone like it’s self-evident that I will someday own a house.

I don’t think I will own a house. I don’t think I’ll ever own anything that costs more than a few thousand dollars at most, but that’s okay. That’s not really the issue.

I’m sure that the reason people are so optimistic about my future is part privilege and part the fact that I genuinely do come across as a capable person who works hard and accomplishes things. It doesn’t really matter. I don’t see what they see.

On “good” days, I just don’t give a fuck about what happens to me more than about six months out. It’s not anything I have any interest in. I’m sure it won’t be especially great or happy or fulfilling, so I have no reason to think about it.

On bad days, I’m actively afraid and horrified about my future. I don’t think I’ll ever find a stable relationship close to home. If I decide I want children, I will not have anyone to have them with, nor the money to give them a good life. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford to live anywhere I’d actually enjoy living. I think that my job, if I manage to find one after I finish my degree, will be awful, dreary, boring, low-paid, even abusive. (Sadly, this does seem to describe many jobs in my field, though certainly not all of them.) I think that my friends will start their own families and largely forget about me. I think that my own family will always be just out of reach, an expensive plane ticket away, growing older without me there.

I think about the frankly ridiculous notion that you can either have a low-paid but fulfilling job or a high-paid but unfulfilling one, and my friends’ frankly useless reassurances that “Well, at least you’ll be doing something you love, right?”, and I just know that I’ll be stuck with a low-paid and unfulfilling job for life, miserable while at work but with no money to do anything pleasant while outside of it.

Tell me truthfully–if you were certain that your future was going to look like this, would you be all that interested in seeing it happen?

Although I’m not suicidal at the moment, I have been in the past, and I can say that this profound sense of hopelessness influenced it. (There are other factors that contribute to suicidality, obviously, such as feeling like a burden to your loved ones, being in so much pain you can’t stand it, etc.) If the endpoints of the spectrum of my feelings about my future are “meh I don’t give a flying fuck” and “oh god please don’t make me,” well, what really is the point?

For now, the point is that I’ve managed to convince myself that my hopelessness does not follow from the evidence. There are reasons to be worried, yes, maybe not too terribly optimistic given the economy and the political climate and the profession I chose and the city I want to live in, but there is no reason to believe that I will never, ever, have anything I want in any domain of my life, be it family or finances or friendship or romance or career or location or leisure. That just doesn’t make any sense. Nobody with as much privilege as I have, and as many social resources, gets fucked that badly.

Right?

Feminism, BDSM, and Me

#sex #BDSM #NSFW

The debate over feminism, BDSM, and whether or not the two are “compatible” has a cyclical nature: every once in a while, it explodes, and people discuss it passionately, and come to some sort of resolution; but a few months or years later, all is forgotten and the debate explodes again.

Here is how I feel about it.

Yes, the feminists who oppose BDSM, or who call themselves “kink-critical,” have one very good point: our desires do not develop in isolation from sociocultural influences. What is sexy to you is not some intrinsic property of The True You that is formed from some idiosyncratic combination of genetics and the uterine environment. It is formed through interactions with the world, from childhood onward (yes, children can very much have a sexuality, and many kinky people say their kinks developed prior to adolescence).

It is facile to claim that your sexuality has nothing to do with your environment, nothing at all.

But then the kink-critical feminists lose me, because they seem to think that the solution to this is to…not do the thing? Think about how Bad it is every time you do it? Somehow force your desires to change? (Is that even possible?)

And why don’t they seem to have a problem with dominant women or submissive men, or with people doing BDSM in queer/transgender contexts? Or with people who get off with water sports or certain foods or crossdressing? Or do they assume that male Doms and female subs is the only way it’s ever done?

Refusing to fuck the way I want to fuck isn’t going to bring down the patriarchy. It’s going to make me and my partners miserable while distracting me from doing the work that might actually help demolish stereotypes about women as passive and weak.

I also think that some of these critics haven’t spent that much time talking to people who enjoy kink and BDSM, because I don’t think they understand the headspace that we’re in.

Here are some reasons I like being submissive during sex:

I like not having to worry about ok what are we doing next what do you want to do what have you been fantasizing about lately do you like doing it this way do you like doing it that way what do you want to do now?

I like indulging in that feeling of completely trusting someone, of knowing that I’m okay with anything they could do to/with me. (By the way, this is only fun because we’ve set limits beforehand and agreed on safe words, which is what most ethical kinksters do.)

I like feeling that my partner finds me so desirable that they “can’t help” but to hold me down and force me to submit to them. (This, too, is only hot because it’s an illusion.)

I like giving someone I’m very fond of everything they want.

I like the physical sensation of having my movement restricted, of being held down forcefully, or being spanked (hard), of having my hair pulled, of being bitten, of being scratched, of my muscles straining, of having my limbs held in awkward positions to make me capitulate. Those things hurt, but they also feel good. I also like how they make me feel mentally.

I like not having to think or worry about when I’m going to have an orgasm or how to accomplish it. (As much as I love the fact that feminist men are generally concerned with their female partners’ pleasure, I really wish this would stop manifesting itself as so are you going to come I really want to make you come I’m just worried that you’re not having a good time what could I do that would be more likely to make you come. For the most part, I don’t care about coming. I don’t have partnered sex for the purpose of having an orgasm.)

I like having this one part of my life where I don’t have to make any decisions or take any initiative.

Yes, I’m quite sure that part of the reason I like all these things is because they have been presented to me from infancy as “sexy.”

But for what it’s worth, I also enjoy domming, and I like plenty of other things that women aren’t “supposed” to: lifting weights and building muscle, messing around with computers, playing video games, having sex with women.

So clearly my interests and desires aren’t just about gender roles, and I don’t think sex is either.

The personal is political in the sense that “personal issues” can reflect political ones, and in the sense that sometimes, personal choices influence other people and that can build a political movement.

But the personal is not political in the sense that I have the obligation to view every single act as political, or to reshape my personal life to be more in line with my political beliefs.

I’m especially uncomfortable with telling people how to fuck. Yes, how you fuck reflects society, and if you want to be a more politically and socially conscious person, it’s probably a good idea to at least spend some time thinking about where your desires might come from, especially as they concern race, gender presentation, body types, things like that.

But no, there’s nothing empowering about forcing yourself to ignore sexual desires that can be expressed safely and consensually.

 

 

“I’m not hungry.” “Good!”

#eatingdisorders #mentalillness #bodyimage #weight #food

There was a point in my life–the point at which my body started “developing,” as they euphemistically put it–that food suddenly became Bad rather than Good for me at home.

If you have children or have been a child with attentive parents, you probably remember the squabbles over eating. “But I’m not hungry.” “Sweetie, you need to eat. How else are you going to grow?” “I don’t want any more.” “Just one more bite, and then you can have ice cream.”

I also had these conversations as a child, once.

Then it all changed seemingly overnight.

“I don’t want any more.” “Good!” “I can’t, I lost my appetite.” “Good!”

It must’ve taken a few years, but by the time I was in high school, the implications were clear: not eating is virtually always good. Any reason or excuse or motivation you can find within yourself to not eat, or eat less, is good.

“Wow, I was so engrossed in this book that I totally forgot about dinner.” “Good!”

I hate feeling hungry. Always have, still do. So it wasn’t that I wanted to “go hungry,” as it were. But lived for those things that made me forget about eating or to lose my appetite: distraction, sickness, tricks played by certain foods.

“I only had an apple and some almonds today!” “Good!”

Nowadays I don’t do that sort of restriction anymore. I try to eat at least two full meals a day, though sometimes that’s impossible because I’m busy and can’t cook and end up eating energy bars or pretzels instead. I eat bagels with cream cheese and chocolate and macaroni (sometimes with cheese) and ice cream and pizza and other Bad Things, usually without thinking about calories.

I also don’t think I’m fat or ugly; I don’t like everything about my body but overall I’m fine with it the way it is. I’m comfortable with the curves and folds that I have. Buying clothes does still cause frustration, anxiety, and even panic, but I recognize that that’s more because of the bullshit idea that humans can all discretely fit into categories like Extra Small, Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large, and Extra Extra Large with neither overflow nor empty space.

But my actual attitudes about food haven’t really changed. When I’m sick or when I realize I’ve been too busy writing to remember to eat, I still reflexively think, “Good!” When I get hungry, I think, “Fuck, again?” Although I don’t normally think of it this way, I “practice” eating normally several times a day, and I enjoy eating–I love the taste and feel of food–but I can’t stop wishing I didn’t need it.

I’m so much better off than I could be, given how dangerous and tenacious eating disorders are. But it’s not just about the symptoms. It’s about the ways in which certain thought patterns–entire belief systems, really–take root in your brain, seemingly for good.