It is a risk to talk about the truth of personal experience because we are afraid others will think we are crazy or bad. But the truth is that most other people have quietly felt the same way, and by truth-telling you are liberating not only yourself, but the honesty of human experience.
I still pick at my skin as a coping mechanism in anxiety and grief. I have had hormonal issues since I was a teenager which have given me skin very short of flawless. I have had acne, scarring and male-pattern hair growth that have attacked my ability to feel normally female, much less attractive. This experience has given me great empathy with those who suffer other physical disorders. At age 26, I am starting to get the condition under control, and have had years of expensive and uncomfortable skin treatments administered by professionals that has, luckily, made leeway into solving the aesthetic remains of this pain. I used to pick at my skin constantly, because it helped me feel that I could do something about the feeling of ugliness and undesirability that weighed on me. I still do this to comfort myself. I see that this method of coping is not unlike an alcoholic’s, but is less disruptive to functioning in life. It is a compulsive behavior of self-soothing.
One time, when I was a kid, my mom told me to wear a headband, to get my hair out of my face, to pull it back so other people could see my face. So that I could be a thing being looked at instead of doing the looking. It’s a fucked up thing to tell a kid to do to her hair what will please others, do to her body what will please others, but not herself, don’t please herself because what good is that for a woman, and don’t you want to keep your hair long so you can be pretty for boys? I didn’t want the headband. Later, she told me that men don’t like girls with scraped knees. I thought, Grown men aren’t supposed to like girls at all. I’m still a child! Leave me alone! And even if she had said “boys”, and not “men”, I would’ve said “fuck you”.
I never had a problem with alcohol. Not because I’m good, but because I’m lucky. I’m oriented to cope in other ways, like picking my skin or dancing alone to my own music. I don’t pick my face as much now as I used to. But when I did pick at the skin of my face, it was not only to cope with anxiety and grief, but so that others couldn’t have my face, so that I could keep it for me. I hated the pressure of doing to my face what pleased others without also pleasing myself. Because I am not and have never been the people-pleaser sort, it has never been so for me that what pleases others necessarily brings me pleasure in turn. The two are not intrinsically connected. Now, I don’t pick as much. I was looking for catharsis when I cut my hair three inches long at age twelve. By fourteen, it was shaved. I’d never felt better at that time, because that Borderline wraith who used to be my parent couldn’t control it as an extension of her hyper-sexualized self. I made sure those knees were scraped, too.
My desire and instinct is to do the active looking at males. Beautiful androphilia.
Humans in general have a real problem with controlling people’s bodies for the benefit of the powerful without regard to the lives and experiences of the people living in those bodies. Here, a possible relationship is cut down, where real love and mutual affection could have flourished between humans. This is the foundation of all movements for equality. In anger at the breadth of injustice, it is easy to think that to reach equality there must always be some struggle, but struggle alone only breeds sour animosity. If we pull back the layers we see that anger is a response to a severed relationship, as a teacher of mine once said. Anger is the wrapping for grief in response to human beings not in right relationship with one another as they should. It even goes for two strangers. If somebody cusses you out for accidentally bumping into them, and you feel angry, it is because you rightly expected they treat you with respect, at minimum. Respect and courtesy would have been the right relationship, if even a brief one, passing on the sidewalk. When right relationships become severed, connection is not speedily repaired.
Sometimes I still feel agonized in frustration when the stray hairs fall in my face. So I wear bandanas. My mom didn’t wear them. She always wore piles of makeup, which I never do, and it was her shield against all vulnerability which she volleyed on others, on I who was trapped and could not get away because she was looking at me like somebody who wouldn’t or couldn’t stare back with ferocious knowing in my own sight, seeing her horrible, abusive personality disorder. She told me things I shouldn’t have heard at a young age, completely inappropriate things about her stupid personal life and what she thought about men, at a time when female children are in need of joyful empowerment, not stories of predation and victimization. She spoke un-lovingly even of herself, not thinking how parents pass these beliefs onto their children, whether they consciously intend to or not. And she never once apologized, sincerely, without angry blame in her next breath. To this day, she lacks all serious self-awareness. I saw her six months ago and I don’t miss her. I told her by the shape of my back that I do not miss her. I always saw that white wine glass on her nightstand when she lay in bed, complaining before me that TV was her only joy. I remember asking her, when I was a child, if she loves me. She said she loves me but she doesn’t like me, with biting spite in her voice. What the hell is a kid supposed to think when a parent answers that way? She watched Lifetime misogynist terror, mistaking victimizing sensationalism for a worthy use of her spare time. Dante said the gates to hell are locked from the inside. Often, she locked her bedroom door against, and I couldn’t get in to comfort her, not realizing I was trying to be her parent, because I thought it was my job to save her and help her.
Sometimes I dream of female demons, soulless and angry and covered in sharp long nails and makeup, and I never want to wear makeup or fake nails in my life. In my dreams they come to corner me, but I fight them by songs and invocations to Joan of Arc and Artemis, who came to me in my Queer teenage years with their short hair and muscles to defend me and teach me to fight. When I was young they would show me the way through mazes to women who I wanted to be like, who weren’t horrible excuses for empty, angry, promiscuous, addicted, emotionally reckless, abusive, un-nurturing, terrifying self-absorbed moms.
I talked to my counselor; She says that once couples are together for a while, you feel more secure that you can sleep-in without thinking the other person will be too lonely. But she herself has been divorced. I don’t take my relationship with T for granted. Instead I say to him, if its my insecurity that keeps me so devoted to caring about our relationship, then so be it! Maybe there’s good in it. He says he agrees, this is the best possible expression of insecurity, which makes me care more about every precious moment together. “Every moment is precious,” he says, one night when I decide to go with him to fencing practice instead of staying home alone to write. We both feel the same way. Now, when I need to sleep-in, I have him tuck me in lovingly, saying “tuck tuck” with a kiss, that way I know he is alright, and won’t be too lonely.
“Maybe, whatever you’re doing right now is the right thing to do,” says T. To sleep well and long enough, or tend a space or finish a hand-crafting project is a fine way to be together in domestic love.
Grandma dreamed of Great Grandpa. He had Bipolar, what they used to call Manic Depression. I was told that he was put in a hospital for this in the days before better compassion. I wonder what it must have been like for Great Grandma, to see her husband who she loved so much suffer this way. Was she the rock of the family? I have no records from Grandma about it, only that it happened, long ago.
In Grandma’s dream, dreamt in her old age long after her father’s death, she revisited her father. It was his brain she remembers: lit, with electricity, gold-sparkling yellow in coursing beads of dendrite flames in the night of the mind. The current of his brain appeared to her as sparklers traveling in the black of midnight from the base of his cerebellum, back of the neck, top of the spine where the nob of reptilian green evolution wells up in bone-memory of scales turning into to feathers, to fur, and finally to skin, tightened over the rare dome of the prefrontal cortex. Through these places the night-sparkler traveled up around his right ear, a railroad of electric-lit wires between one thought and another. Somebody said they cut the two sides of his brain, left divided from right side to save him. Who did this to him? Why did they think it was right? I only know of the story she told me: it was a breakdown. A loss of stability, while the two watery balancing boards of each inner ear tipped in slow-time, then suddenly spilling into the sea of Psyche. The ship of sanity surrendered, sending its planks overboard into the black waters below. I do not know where the sparkler stopped, but I remember that he was wide-eyed and strange when I, as a small child, met him in his ailing years. But my Great Grandmother still loved him completely.
Walking an hour to a cafe this morning in the clear light of day, sunscreen and hat applied, I realized I was going along without so much pain or heavy depression. I pick a spot in the shade under a tree when I arrive, not minding the faint smell of the garbage cans nearby. So it is. The smell goes away in the breeze. The air is cool to perfection on my skin, life in the sensory world. Wisdom comes from the life of the land and of animal bodies, who do not worry about the past or the future or the endless ghosts which plague the minds of humans. Our human heads are too easily filled with ghosts. I put them aside. It is said to us that we must right down these moments of insight before losing them, but I now know the other side to this fear of forgetting. We humans do not want to lose a part of ourselves, even it is better to keep it no more. Animals do not worry about always remembering. I want to remember their wisdom. They will remember what they need to, and not solely the aversion to trauma. To be happy is good because we hold something worthy inside. I want to always be an animal. The earth will remember the rest, remembering all.
Photo by Paul Gilmore on Unsplash