This past Saturday my best friends, Reese and Chelsea got married. In the sad and hard times we find ourselves in, Saturday night will be a flame and a light in my heart and in my mind. I saw a room full of people bless a love and a relationship. I saw a room full of people uplift themselves and each others. In dark times, those moments of joy are what we live for. Those moments are why we keep living, they are what we are fighting for.
What follows is the toast I gave to two of my favorite people in the world….
I’ve always known the way I felt about girls was different from a lot of people. When I was in the 9th grade I read a book, Keeping You a Secretby Julie Ann Peters. It gave me words for what I felt, I was a lesbian. I even came out to my Mom. But for another decade I only dated men. I can’t really answer this question to myself satisfactorily. I try not to let it, but it haunts me. How many less times would I have been assaulted? How many less horrifying and terrible emotional and sexual encounters could I have avoided?
Why didn’t date women? I guess on the one hand I didn’t think I was cool or good enough. I’d never dated women so I didn’t know where to start. It didn’t help that being gay was not something you did in Fallston, Maryland, where I grew up. The very few out classmates I had suffered extreme harassment, alienation, and abuse. Maybe I was too scared to subject myself to that.
On top of that I was socialized to date men. Society showed me one way to live and one way to love, from every TV show I watched to the adults I was surrounded with to the toys I played with. We call this compulsory heterosexuality. I was socialized to prioritize the needs of men over literally everything else. Theoretically I can understand how this played out in my life – choosing to accept the advances of men, choosing to commit my time, energy and resources to them, etc.
But theory only takes you so far in life. It certainly doesn’t take you very far in understanding your own life.
I have found out that two people passed away while watching Winnie the Pooh.
I remember exactly when during the movie the news came both times. I remember the first time, in 2014, how the movie played in the background while I stared into my ex-partner’s eyes. I will never know whose face was whiter, or who cried first. All I know is that Pooh did get his honey, but I still feel pretty bad for the bees.
In 2015 I remember I was sleeping on the floor in my apartment in Lancaster. My father texted me to tell me my grandfather was dead. It is remarkable how quickly your body can go completely numb.
I don’t watch Winnie the Pooh anymore. I know where the naloxone is in my house. I am always the DD. I send people texts before I call so they know everyone is still alive. I keep a list of suicide hotline numbers saved in my bookmarks. I move through the world expecting death. What I don’t understand is how anyone else doesn’t.
What does guilt look like to you? To me, guilt looks like a pile of dirty laundry. It looks like a wall half-painted. It looks like an unfinished letter, or a mistake at work. What does it feel like to you? For me it sits in my chest, deep within my core, pulling my shoulders taut and my stomach tense. It makes me want to bury my face and hide from everything and especially, everyone.
Guilt used to be a feeling I experienced all of the time. A year and a half ago I was in the depths of a codependent relationship, and in the midst of a self-esteem spiral. As my relationship ended I put myself in therapy and began putting my mental health and emotional well-being first.
When I started focusing inwards I was surprised by so much of what I found. I felt sick, I felt sad, I felt tired. I hated myself. And for some reason I felt guilty, about everything. As I worked through a lot of those emotions, learned coping mechanisms, and started to re-learn the language I use to talk about my body and mental health, I got really, REALLY tried of feeling guilty.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the care and the emotional labor I perform in my life. I’m glad that I can serve as a resource for the people I love to talk about and work through their feelings, their problems, and their experiences. At the same time, the disparities in the amount of this work I perform compared to that of other people in my life is pretty remarkable.
“Emotional labor or emotional work is composed of tasks that require a high degree of understanding or management of emotions. Women are disproportionately believed to be good at these tasks as a function of their gender, regardless of their actual skill or willingness.” from Geek Feminism Wiki
I use the terms “care” and “emotional labor” interchangeably here. Women perform FAR more emotional labor than men. There is little information about the emotional labor that nonbinary and gender nonconforming people are performing compared to others, which is frustrating to say the least.
As a very specific and intentional life choice I am no longer close to men that are incapable or unwilling to take care with the people around them. As such, I am close to very few men in my life at the moment. What I see is that women and nonbinary people carry extreme loads of both self and community care. We are performing massive amounts of emotional labor, all the time.
TW: Mentions of sexual assault, emotional and mental abuse, trauma, death.
Last week I had my follow up appointment with my rheumatologist. We had thought that I likely had a connective tissue disorder, like Rhuematoid Arthritis or one of the other few hundred diseases of that category. I walked into the appointment excited to get some answers about why I was feeling as bad as I was, and hopefully get some treatment to make life a little easier.
All of my test results came back negative. The physicians assistant didn’t say, but might as well have said “there’s nothing wrong with you.” As much as an auto-immune disorder would have been difficult to deal with, the result of “nothing” was pretty devastating. I thought finally I would be taken seriously.
Ya’ll this post gets really graphic from here on out. If you are someone in my life who doesn’t want to or shouldn’t hear details of assaults I have experienced I would strongly advise you NOT to read this.
Very strong trigger warning for: trauma, abuse, rape, assault
I’m having a really hard time right now. Most of us are. Today in the midst of a highly political and apocalyptic lunch discussion at work I told myself out loud, “there is definitely something happy to think about” to which a co-worker replied, “yeah there’s only 4 more hours until the work day is over.”
What can we find in all of this that makes it possible to get out of bed every day? I am asking you genuinely from the bottom of my heart, collectively, how do we keep going? In the face of the monolith of terror and hatred we’re uncovering (p.s. it’s always been there) and experiencing, how do we keep moving?