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Hanging frames around shame, neglect, and more..

Friday, September 5, 2014

Male doubt

There is a doubt bore deep into nearly every male I've known. It is thick with fumes and weightless. They carry it everywhere. They unleash its poisoning effects when I say the wrong thing, the right thing, or anything really. It pours over me filtering into my nasal passage, soon stinging my brain.

Certain phrases timed in particular contexts trigger these fumes' aggressive pursuit. Like when I don't feel comfortable that something sexist or misogynist was said. Men's mouths open with, "You must be tired or hungry or stressed." Or, "I didn't want to say it but I was pretty certain you were PMSing." They doubt that passive and casual sexism is not passive or casual at all. They doubt that it really causes harm.

I am reminded of my biology over and over and over again. There are realities that I should not forget. I must remember that I am a woman.

"I wish you wouldn't indulge those angry feminists. They do nothing but complain."...as he complains about feminists.

"You're being too harsh on him. He can't help that his eye contact is creepy." says his friend, as he continues to gaze too long, too intensely, when I told him I feel unsafe.

"Don't cut me out because I've been in the dark about everything." ...after I told him everything, multiple times, spanning multiple years.

I remember being surrounded by my older brother and his friends. He liked to entertain, so when I entered their space he would say, "Hey fat-ass." and the room would laugh and laugh. I would always clam up. I was the only one who didn't laugh. I was no fun. How criminal. I dreamed of challenging back. I wanted to acknowledge that though his intention was to be funny, having my personhood reduced to an aspect of my body, then to have that part of my body demeaned, was belittling and hurt me. His friends would chime in before the words could form on my tongue, "Hey, hey, hey. It's just a joke. You know him, it's funny cuz he's fat." Well I didn't like that he was reduced to the number he weighed in pounds but he wouldn't let me speak up for him and he wouldn't let me speak up for me. They doubted that laughter could really hurt me.

I remember Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings where all I had to do was offer idle conversation. The reminder that I was a woman-daring-to-think would find its opening. I would offer something like, "Did you know that the crust of the bread is more nutritious than the middle?" My brothers would laugh, eye each other with solidarity, and say I must be stupid. "There's no way that's true." So I would decry their labeling accusations and of course..I was called..."A bitch."

When I told an ex-boyfriend that I wanted to break up, he roughly grabbed hold of my wrists and squeezed. The pressure inside him built up and his eyes turned red while my skin bruised. I lied and told him that I would stay committed to him but it was merely an escape plan. My "no" was not enough. After that night I often wonder if he ever thinks no actually means no. Does he leave a trail of wrists squeezed?

There was my high school sweetheart. I dated him off and on. He would talk about his girlfriends like a baseball card collection. I was the binder and he wanted to stuff all their stats inside of me so that I would never forget he is a master collector. It made me feel objectified. So I broke up with him. My "no" was not enough. He called everyday, three times a day, for three months. In truth he was a stalker but to many of my unknowing high school friends, it became well known that I was a heartless bitch.

In the recent past I coached a group of men through teaching. I told one of them that they needed to learn to use their power points more effectively. The whole group said I was being too nit-picky. So I explained that I am holding them to the same standards they will later hold their students to. I said, "Your students will fault you and find you unethical." They said, "Well why didn't you just say so." Well...I thought I did. That's what I thought I did.

There was a male student who sat at the back of my classroom. I wore a modest dress one day. In front of the class he asked me out for a date. I felt unraveled, void of authority, and mostly just sad. But I found a smile, blood rushed to my cheeks, and to this day I fear that I must have looked flattered.

So many moments I said yes to sexual intercourse like I was throwing a penny into a fountain, squinting my eyes hoping that the gesture was enough to fulfill my wish. I wished that whoever I was with would stop making sex about feeding a hungry male appetite. That sex would be reciprocal and nurturing. These former partners dropped subtle hints that if I didn't open up, put out, and remain accessible at all times, that I would not be woman-enough. Their "bad habit" of looking at porn could be blamed on only one thing; I'm only one woman. I have just one woman's body. That in itself is an unforgivable defect. There are so many categories of women. Just Google asian, big tits, ebony, and teen. How long could I really expect them to enjoy looking at me? I know, be cool Mary. Sex is so liberating.

Saying yes to a man has so often felt like saying no to myself. Saying no to a man has so often felt like a yes I did not mean. No matter my desires and no matter my needs, I can count on male doubt to invalidate both. These nuanced scenarios illustrate puffs of doubt, nearly glimpsed but still too difficult to really see. But the poison of doubt...well it has had a very real effect on me.

And before your doubt smokes out saying, "Not all men!" Let me assure you that I can count on men's doubt with more certainty than you can count on all of "your men."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Somebody is bound to hear.

You can write well, or you can write poorly, or on a different spectrum of measurement entirely. What is important here is that you can write. If it is the case that you cannot write, well you can do something. There is communication in every cell of our body. You have the potential to communicate through your own system of language all day, every day, until your mind and the tangible expressions of language feel one and the same. Now that's ability; to reach right in and grab hold of what you mean to say without it dissipating into brain matter.

Negotiating what we mean through our own languages is only part of a much more complex communication process. For example, if your desire is to be listened to, it helps to reduce the noise between yourself and your own language. Saying exactly what you mean to say can bring you peace and resolve. When you find that kind of peace and resolve, the next hurdle to overcome is to inspire someone to listen. You must worry yourself, then, with resolving the interference between your message and this someone who you hope will receive it.

This is the point in the dynamic process of communication that kills me. More specifically, it kills me when someone who speaks the same language as you and comprehends it well enough, chooses not to listen. Even after you took the time and delegated vital energy into the frontal lobe of the cerebrum, all in the effort to master the art of speech! Or perhaps your language utilizes other parts of our wonderful brains? The point is, you were so ready to be listened to. Your heart swollen with hot excitement, a burning need to be received. And the person who could complete you in a way only whole communication can, chooses not to.

When they refuse to receive you, they know what it means to you. They know how they leave you decompressed, frustrated, confused, and worst of all - unheard. While it is rewarding in its own right to get to know your own mind more intimately, you hope that at the end of it all someone else will benefit from the labor. When we receive other people's messages, we expand. You were full and had something to give. You were trying to feed them and they chose not to receive you.

BUT the very worst, worse than the worst, part of it all...after some time it may occur to you that even if you had not labored over your message, you should still expect to be listened to. For what is more loving and more human than receiving a message? You were willing to negotiate a good time, place, and space to communicate if those factors were responsible for the muteness of your message.

What I am laying out here with this scenario is not one that can be generalized. There are messages that we certainly should not receive, particularly ones that can bring us harm. However, how we define harm becomes the listener's issue. When anything that makes the listener uncomfortable is perceived as harmful, powerfully transformative messages will not get through. Such as:

When the listener is an abuser and does not wish to receive their victim's message of pain and desperation.
When the listener is in a position of power and does not wish to have it questioned by subordinates.
When the listener is a parent and is weary of their child's curiosity.
When a white person believes in their superiority and wishes to reinforce their position over people of color.
When the listener is a man who enjoys his privilege and finds women's silence convenient.
When an abled-bodied listener enjoys the access they have and wishes to leave it inaccessible to the disabled.

When the onus of successful communication is placed on the speaker of the message, the listener can make up any number of convoluted reasons not to receive it. Abusers, powerful people, anyone weary of receiving challenging messages, colonizers, men, and so. many. more - they benefit from refusing to listen. They benefit from demanding the acceptance of their messages while refusing to receive any that challenges them. It's no wonder we don't see listening skills emphasized anywhere in our educational systems.

Still, at the end of this outpouring today I have hope. I deeply value the work I put into refining my own messages and I'm proud of building the channels that they filter through into the external world. The work isn't made invaluable because assholes choose not to listen. The work is always and will always be inherently valuable. I'll keep offering my whole body as ear to whoever has a labor of love needing to be received. I'll keep speaking too. Somebody is bound to hear me eventually.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Shamelessly struggling

I am struggling to write, think, and live shamelessly. In my last therapy session we talked about writing what we hope to manifest. This frame, shameless, was not a declaration of what I am but what I hope to be. What a shame, then, that I am frightened of living shamelessly in a society that functions on the fuel of shame. If I had endless reserves of energy I think I could manage a little more shamelessness but as it is, going against the grain is exhausting.

One of my first thoughts when I observe my fear of being shameless is that shame exists to keep people from doing harm. However I know that shamelessness does not mean freedom to do harm. It does not mean abusive actions or abusive people get away with hurting others. It does mean that we all speak and share more freely. Help to sort each other out more compassionately. Perhaps we would learn that something else is more suited for people who do real harm than shame. I haven't speculated far on what could replace it but I suspect sorrow or perhaps the transformative desire to treat others better.

The conclusion I have come to is that shame has failed as a tool to guide moral action. We humans are tool makers. Shamelessness may not be an answer but a way to manufacture a better tool for sorting the complexity of moral ambiguity. Perhaps conversations will one day be an effective route to justice and inefficient courtrooms will antiquate with dust?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Justice is a question

Our sense of justice is that the appropriate punishment for an act of injustice should be that all aspects of life are slightly or severely hindered. In other words punishment is for the perpetrator to be controlled by others, to lose autonomy. If you tend to lose control and hurt someone within a particular dynamic and you find yourself within that dynamic regularly, how much control-as-punishment should be exerted over you entirely? If you find yourself in that dynamic only once, again, how much punishment do you deserve?

One time as a child around the age of 8 I found myself alone in the house with my twin brother. I thought it would be a good idea to grab some change, hop on my bike, and purchase some penny candy at the drugstore just down the road. My twin imagined the potential punishment if we were to get caught and declined to come with me. Still desiring some candy he handed over his change without hesitation. I biked to the drugstore without a hiccup in the operation. Tootsie rolls were my decided purchase and I bought as many as my pennies would allow. To get home I had to cross back over the street before heading home.

As I waited for the crosswalk light to change I watched terrified as my father pulled up in his vehicle and stopped at the red light. I met his intense, cool, emotionally suspended gaze - and pedaled home quickly. Not a rushed pace but a steady, resigned pace. I was able to get home before my father so I threw my bike down on the grass (I don't know what became of the candy) and ran up the stairs to my bedroom. My father soon entered the room with a similar steady, resigned pace to match my pedaling. For a moment I thought I detected a smile inch up the right side of his face. No. It was more of a pinched straight line. Without any words he whipped off his leather belt in routine fashion and began hitting me over and over the back side.

I don't care to go into more detail at this point. The terror that I felt then pervaded into every active and passive aspect of my life. My punishment for risking my safety by going out alone without a guardian was to be beaten by my guardian. It was a normal aspect of life to be healing from red welts on my back and backside. Taking this line of thought further, I was simultaneously and routinely punished in a different way. My punishment for being a small and impressionable little girl was to be raped and molested by a much older, stronger, and manipulative sibling.

What had I done to have my autonomy robbed from me? Why was justice being dealt so harshly to a 5 year old? A 6 year old? A 7 year old? An 8 year old? Why were all aspects of my life hindered so severely? As a child I wondered what I had done to deserve this life but looking back I know better. I deserved none of it. The tragedy is I have to wake up every single day and remind myself that I didn't deserve what I was dealt.

So what sort of justice should my father endure for his hands-on way of teaching me a lesson? What should my sexual abuser face for the injustice I endured at his hands. What kind of control should be exerted over them, robbing them of free will over their time and daily activity?

My sexual abuser has passed on. He is dead now. He died at 30. Is this justice?

My father lives in a big house, drinks alcohol in ample amounts, attends church daily. Is this justice?

Should something be done?

I spent a decade of my life attempting to rehabilitate my abusers by explaining how they hurt me, how I did not deserve that pain, how it did permanent damage to my psyche. I asked them to sit down and talk to me and to listen to me. See that's what I think justice should be within my personal circumstances. My abusers should have to pause their existence and devote their precious time to listen to me until they are changed by what they hear. This is not a type of justice you can force. My father has shown time and again that he will not show me justice. There is no hope of that from my sexual abuser now.

In the absence of justice I have offered myself space away from abuse and abusers. I speak up now when I feel my control is being taken in a way that brings me harm. It will always hurt that justice was never served - that I was not heard in a way that changed my abusers into safer and better people.

I can't focus for too long on their refusal or the impossibility to bring about justice. I have my own listening to do for those that I have hurt and bring harm to. So I move forward. Still, it is important that people know it will always hurt. Never receiving justice will always hurt.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Shamelessly Normal

I can write when and how much I want. No one gives me permission. No one tempts my self esteem to drop because they disapprove of what I write, how I write, how well I write, or what I write about.

I do not write for improvement nor for aim of 'high art'. I do not share for profoundness or inspiration. I am not on this Earth to bolster my name or to impress another with bloated credentials. I write because it is cathartic and I share because I am human. When we are at our best, is when we humans share ourselves.

I identify as an average survivor, one who will never turn her pain into a success story. I am genuinely proud to make it through each day; writing, drinking coffee, having deep discussion with people, and achieving an excessive level of contemplation. I have no intent and feel no pressure to entertain or refine a product of my daily actions.

I sing for myself and do not find this selfish. I know I sing quite well and that is enough for me. I do not see it as a gift I have to share. I more often ask the question, "Should we not all sing?" The least anyone could do is take up routine humming. Or finger tapping.

I run to take my body back. It is ever out of reach, bodily autonomy. I run and kick soccer balls in a field hoping to feel powerfully connected to my body's capabilities but that was stolen from me. Still, I am content to chase after it each and every day. I chase my birth right, not a narrative that comforts those around me.

I am settled over my anxiety. It is my buzzing companion. Sometimes it is beyond my control, sometimes it feels like a massaging rhythm, at other times I am above it observing. No matter where I position myself, it is within reach, always making me aware it is vibrating.

My arms will always alert me that a flip was switched on my PTSD. Fire up and down, heat on the surface of my skin, combined with anxiety it makes for a hot, incessant tingling. The threat feels external but I know I have to go within first, hold a conference with my body's capacities if you will, and sort out if I am indeed experiencing a real physical threat. I have a complex and energy draining response to circumstances that most could brush off. This is okay.

This is my normal. Shamelessly.