Beyond Survival, Week 7: Returning More Fully to the Body

When I was in high school, I sent some poems to a rag called "Damaged Goods." They sent me a sweet note to keep at it. They sent me a t-shirt that said, "Damaged Goods." I wore it around. I figured if the culture was going to consider me Damaged or Goods, I might as well wear a warning.

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I don't think of myself as damaged anymore. I also don't think of myself as goods.

If anything is damaged, it's this culture we continually co-create, this culture that supports and protects people who consistently violate other people.

I haven't thought of myself as damaged in a long time, but I do think of myself as affected, still affected, in the way that anyone (everyone) is affected by all the myriad ways we're all stuck navigating the world.

This Weinstein mess is messing with me.

I have a lot of survivors in my social media feeds, and I've seen a lot of calls-to-arms from various people, suggesting that we should all be outing every serial abuser, harasser, perpetrator, or predator that we encounter.

I've been asking myself what my life would look like if I'd taken on or reported every instance of harassment I've encountered at work or in my professional life. When I say harassment, I'm talking strictly of the situations to which I never remotely consented, to which I never opened a door, and which were clear and obvious violations--being grabbed or groped without provocation, being pushed up against walls or tables--and if I'm coming from a place of bald honesty? Y'all, my life would be an endless swarm of human resources files and legal battles, most of which would have taken all my energy from other endeavors and which would have come to a whole lot of not much more than my having been branded a problem. I feel lucky that I've been in Houston longer than three years and have yet to encounter one of these situations in my current department. This shouldn't feel lucky. It should feel normal.

I don't know how we can manage to take the onus off survivors and put it back on the predators, but we have to figure that one out.

And so I've dealt with most of those encounters on my own, often with snarling teeth or a low growl, a physical push back, a vague threat. I told one particularly well-known literary predator something along the lines of, "I've already sent two men to jail. Keep that in mind if you're the abusing kind: I have no qualms about adding a third." And he called me a bitch, told plenty of people I'm a bitch, and yeah, y'all. I'm a bitch.

I'm a bitch because I've run out of patience. I'm a bitch because I'm just trying to live in a body and that body is constantly accosted and I'm out of patience with living in an accosted body.

I feel guilty that, with most of those men, I've protected myself but done not much  more. I'm tired of being expected to be the one standing up to the behemoths. I'm tired of knowing that no matter how much we do call them out, most of them go on being president or being film producers and directors and celebrated artists and writers and on and on and on, and most of the women who try to take them down wind up dis-empowered.

I do refuse to participate in being beholden to these men. I'm not taking any fucking favors. But there have been times I've kept my head down and kept walking.

This chapter wants me to "let my body speak."
I still don't especially like doing this sort of writing. It feels so plying, so cloying, so vulnerable and much as I would love to believe in shit like The Power of Radical Vulnerability, I'm really sick of the fact that unfortunately, vulnerability does not actually serve to make most of us more powerful.

I'll put myself through the exercise anyway, because I do believe we need to stay visible to each other if we're going to keep getting anywhere.

The body speaks: don't trust pleasure or praise. Don't trust, especially, men who want to make pleasure of you--unless they're willing to be your pleasure, too. If they want to take joy from your face, destroy your face so there's nothing there to take. The body says don't sleep. Don't sleep. Something could come for the children if you sleep.

The body says, if men want you lithe and light, if they want you in a wisp, give them a hard stomp. Turn your flesh to gore. If they want you starved and wanting, gorge and gorge some more.

But--only take the damage so far. Desire is still its own need. You powder-cake your gouged face. You pull a pair of tights over your scars.

You light another, and another, and you mean to look like you mean it. You mean to look like whatever hits you get, you can take and remake into something you always meant to make.

Let the body speak, and sensation begins to obscure. Because my body is a blur of hands that aren't my own. His hands. All the hands that have since replaced his hands. Because my body is a blur of other skin, and the frequencies of other skin have past drowned the sound of my own cells.

I'm still trying to figure out how to stay in my own cells without wanting to destroy them. I mean this literally. I haven't sliced into my skin in decades, but for years I've been picking it until it bleeds.

People have told me in the past that this is about shame. I think they're wrong. I don't think I feel innately unworthy of anything. Rather, I think most of these habits, these body-destroying habits, have purpose. They repel. They make the body less available for other people's desire. They weed out the desire of people who want to touch innocence, who want to touch unblemished tenderness.

There's a line of thinking that claims predators are destroyers of innocence. He didn't destroy my innocence: he coveted it. He wanted to keep it and keep siphoning it for himself. I destroyed it because I wanted to destroy his want for it.

I do not regret destroying my innocence. I do not regret transforming from a tender child into a formidable woman. I happen to like being a formidable woman.

What I do not want is to keep breaking my skin open. What I do not want is to keep inhaling remnants of him. What I do not want is his haint in my lungs. What I do not want is to keep damaging my own skin when what I really need is all these hands off the skin of the innocents.

What I want is to weed out every facet of my behavior that is a reaction to trauma. I want to excise his effect on my cells, excise his repercussions, banish him fully to the grave he made for himself. I want all these men of supposed genius, these men who keep crushing the undeveloped genius of others, to be thrown out of the garden of good faith so that other genius can flourish.

The things I've done to bring myself back to my own body are tiny.

I managed to break the hair-trigger, really break it. I haven't colored my hair in over a year, haven't hacked it in my bathroom mirror, either. I have a trusted friend, a professional, who cuts it for me every few months, and I don't fuck with it because I don't want to undo her good work. Beyond that, I leave it alone. Left alone, it's becoming beautiful.

I've never set much stock in being beautiful. Mostly, I've meant to be strong. I've definitely meant to be formidable. The other night my mother told me on the phone that she thinks my ex-husband thinks I'm terrifying (he's told me as much himself, so I suppose that's true). During that conversation, I thought back to the fact that his pet name for me used to be Beautiful.

There plenty of people to whom I'd rather be terrifying than beautiful. There have been plenty of times I've destroyed whatever natural beauty I might have because I meant to terrify and force away unwanted wanting gazes.

I don't need those old means anymore, though. So I've set myself these tasks of the body:

*I've quit wearing foundation on my face, because I've used it in an attempt to hide the daily damage I do--the scars, the marks and gouges, the deep sleep deprivation crescents.

*I'm going to wear clothes that show my arms and legs when the weather's fit for it. I'm going to quit giving a fuck if anyone can see my faint scars.

*I've moved my nicotine addiction from smoke to vapor. I'm not ready to quit, but I'm going to taper and taper until it's no longer got a hard hold on me.

*I'm going to keep staying physically strong, keep strength training on the "boy's side" of the gym with my equally formidable best friend.

*I'm going to quit trying to be less beautiful in the hopes of staving off so many men. We all should know by now that diminishing ourselves has never kept us safe, anyway.

If you missed what I'm doing with these "Beyond Survival" posts, you can go to the beginning here.