a “not abusive” relationship is not enough

Humans need love. Humans need intimacy. We want to feel wanted- we need to feel needed- we crave those ecstatic hours where we feel total connected to our romantic partners. You should not be waiting, aching, strung along for those far between moments where you feel wanted. You should not be questioning if your partner adores you or not. You should not be starving for intimacy- you should be swimming in it. You should always know that you are cherished.

You should not be feel belittled by your partner. You should not question if they take you seriously. You should not have to wonder whether they could support you in a crisis. You should not question if they really want the best for you.

But so many unhealthy and unhappy relationships that are technically “not abusive” are accepted as “good enough”. Unhealthy relationships exist on a continuum- and there are many dysfunctional, unfulfilling, and unequal relationships that do not fall into the classic definition of “intimate partner violence”, but can still have devastating effects on our minds and bodies.

A relationship can not be “abusive” and still be full of contempt and resentment. Your partner can be a good person, and your relationships might still be unfulfilling. How long will you let this go on before you acknowledge it as a real problem? We need to raise our expectations. Don’t accept it as a “good enough” relationship- just because you are not being abused. “Not abusive” is not enough.

A truly healthy relationship, one that is worth staying in and worth working on, should make you feel good most of the time. If you feel constantly unappreciated, if you find youself trying to suppress your sense of bitterness- then something is wrong.

The passive acceptance of unhealthy, unhappy, unfulfilling relationships is crushing to our souls. I think for many people it is scarier to admit that their relationship is hurting them than to stay in a dynamic they have grown used to. Because if you admit there is a problem, there is the chance that there will be nothing you can do to change that problem, and then you have come face to face with a pain that is no longer deniable.

So you are not being abused. And you know that if your partner hit you it would be wrong. You know if your partner cheated on you it would be wrong. And you know if your partner tried to control you with wild excuses of jealousy it would be wrong. And your relationship isn’t like that. But your relationship is lackluster- there is contempt, and there is complacency.

Is it worth staying because it is easier? Because it is something you have grown used to? What if the fulfillment you deserve to feel is somewhere else, with someone else?

It might be worth taking a chance to find out- even if it means shifting where you are now.

We don’t have to sell ourselves short. It’s not enough for a relationship to not be abusive. Our relationships should truly satisfy us. They should make us feel bright- passionate- ecstatic. There is an ocean of sweetness out there, there is an abundance of intimacy available to us- don’t settle for someone who wants to string you along in scarcity, doling out their love like a single drop at a time.

Dangling

Hanging- stuck between ecstasy and trauma,
between hope and anguish,
not knowing how to stay grasping both.

Stuck- between desire and shadow,
between grit and pleasure,
between despair and deep meaning.

Dangling- between the convergence of below and above,
between daylight and the texture of ash.

There is terror and there is sacred song.

Between violation and sanctity- here is where my story stays. There is no theme to it- there is no rhyme.

There is only the experience of paradox: hopping from stone to stone, slipping into cold water.

I can make it to shore but I will be drenched.

Survival

CW: some ableist language

     The most fundamental form of resistance we have is to stay alive. Despite it all. We survive, we trudge on, we stay us. It is the most basic way to fight our oppressors- but first and foremost, we must stay alive. And to stay alive, sometimes we have to let go. We have to laugh at the terror. We have to pretend the collapse is not inevitable. If we don’t forget these things sometimes, for some precious moments, we will go crazy. And we can’t allow them to drive us crazy. We can’t let this deep and heavy system of repression eat us away, or choke us into nothing. If we die, they win. We can’t let them kill us. We can’t let them destroy us. We can’t let them make the world forget we exist.

     How do we stay alive in this world set on assimilating us? The only way is that sometimes we have to let go. Sometimes we have to let go of winning and just be alive. Sometimes we have to sink into the pleasure of our own bodies and not think about the world breaking down around us. We can’t let them drive us crazy. Crazy people shrivel away- isolated- withering- and then they die. And we can’t let them kill us.

     We’ve suffered so much already. There are so many of us who have already died. There are so many of us who have sacrificed their lives so we might win. And yet still, we keep dying. We need to survive. We need to stay alive so the world will not forget we exist. We need to stay alive so we can pass on the stories that affirm our lives. We must be here to tell our truths. We must continue. We must survive. And to survive sometimes you have to let go- of the grief, of the rage, of the struggle. To survive sometimes means turning away from the dread- it means touching each other- it means smiling at the turmoil- it means lying quietly on our beds while the fire burns right outside our doors. Sometimes survival means taking a moment to not struggle- to let go and just be.

I’m a predators vs. I really messed up: Accountability

Anyone can perpetrate abuse or victimize someone. It is what happens afterwards that defines whether that perpetrator made a big mistake, or whether they are a predator. The key to this difference is accountability

A predator is someone who has a pattern of enacting coercive control in their relationships, especially intimate or sexual ones. A predator is someone who feeds off of being in power, and being in control. A predator is someone who gets off taking advantage of other people- by making other people feel helpless and powerless. A predator is someone who thrives on being manipulative.

Even when they have behaved in an abusive or harmful way, if someone is able to look back, take accountability for their actions without making excuses, and make genuine amends by abiding to whatever requests their victim has made, I can generally assume that they are not a predator, but that they made a big mistake.

There are lots of reasons why someone might make a big mistake. Maybe they have personality flaws that made them selfish in a particular situation. Maybe they had a hard childhood and have some maladaptive patterns of behavior. Maybe it was a side effect a mental illness they have, or maybe they were under the influence of substances and made a poor decision. I should also note that a predator may also have any of the above traits, but they actually enjoy being in control and in power non-consensually.

Another important thing to note is that the effect on the victim or survivor can be the same regardless of whether the perpetrator was a predator or a person who made a mistake. The accountability piece is important- it can have a huge impact on how the survivor feels later on into their life, but not change how they experienced the abuse and the immediate after effects.

Accountability is complex process. It requires taking responsibility for your actions while taking into account the environment that contributed to it, while not using that environment as an excuse. It requires listening to those who were harmed by your actions, regardless of the intent of your behaviors. It requires fulfilling the requests of those who were harmed in terms of how you go about your future actions.

Accountability is essential for healing on all parts. It is essential for survivors to feel validated that yes, someone did something to harm them and they are not crazy. It is also important for the perpetrators, because they cannot investigate and reflect on the reasons behind why they made the choice to hurt someone, intentionally or unintentionally, until they take accountability for the fact that they did in fact hurt somebody.

In my experience, the way you can tell the difference between a predator and someone who made a mistake, is that actual predators will not take accountability. The people who take accountability are the folks who aren’t actually predators, who really did just make a big mistake. It is the actual predators who will continually deflect and manipulate around their accountability. This is the nature of accountability and how it works. But it leaves the most dangerous people out in the world, still un accountable, still perpetrating harm.

Impact Play and EMDR

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a technique that helps people process traumatic experiences. Developed by Francine Shapiro, it uses various methods of bilateral brain stimulation to help reduce the psychological distress associated with specific memories. It has been repeatedly shown to be effective in treating PTSD. Through my experience both in the mental health field and in the world of kink, and as a trauma survivor myself, I’ve begun to wonder if before EMDR was developed, kinksters accidentally stumbled upon the same underlying phenomenon.

The assumptions that underly EMDR come from a body centered understanding of trauma. In this perspective, an event is “traumatic” when it is too overwhelming for our brain to process. The brain has no schema with which to “file” these memories into long term storage. So they become “stuck”- frozen in the visceral body. The way you can tell that the traumatic memory is “stuck” in this way is if you still experience being “triggered” in relation to the memory. Feeling “triggered” is that stuck traumatic energy being activated and trying to disperse.

EMDR therapists use bilateral stimulation, whether it is eye movements, a sound, or physical, like a buzzing sensation in order to activate both hemispheres of the brain. While being stimulated in this way, the client focuses on reliving the bodily sensations related to a traumatic experience. The brain is then able to process it into long term memory. In my experience, when I received EMDR therapy, there is a very distinct sensation of “evaporation” or “dissapation” that is the sensation of the memory being processed and filed away. After this, you may still feel sadness or grief that you went through this experience, but you will not feel “triggered” in terms of a distressing physical response related to this memory.

Impact play is a form of BDSM in which one persons hits another person with some kind of object, such as a hand, a paddle or a cane. Impact play usually happens in a rhythmic fashion, which helps the bottom process the pain and may even take them into a meditative state sometimes called “sub space”.

When I was first venturing into the kink and BDSM world, one of the things that stuck with me was the ritualistic and attachment oriented nature of kinky play. I would be standing in a dungeon, surrounded by pairs of people, one bent over across a bench or table, one standing over them standing over the other, rhythmically beating them back and forth, from one side of their body to the other, for extended periods of time. It appeared to me like both partners were embodying a deep connection to both themselves and each other- like in a deep trance- their cumulative energy filling up the room.

As I began to get more experience in kinky play, especially impact play as a bottom, I started to have these experiences myself. The two parts to it are essential- the trusting attachment and the physical act. Allowing a person I trust to beat me rhythmically back and forth over and over again creates a feeling of both deep groundedness and deep reverie. And in this context, I think it may possible to process trauma- integrating it our bodies and into our long term memory.

Kinksters will often argue that BDSM and kink play is therapeutic. Not a replacement for therapy- but therapeutic. By focusing in the bodily sensations related to a traumatic memory, and allowing a person I deeply trust to beat me rhythmically from side to side of my body, I can feel in my body what it’s like to be back in a moment where I felt hopeless, unworthy, or broken. I stay in that body memory while my partner hits me rhythmically, again and again in a pattern of meditative pain, until the charge in the memory dissipates. And I wonder, does this help integrate my trauma memories in the same way that EMDR does?

The Sexual Assault of Daily Life

Rape culture is not just about the millions of women who have been violently assaulted. Women are traumatized by rape culture every day without being raped. One of the most damaging things about rape culture is experiencing the sexual assault of daily life.

In writing about the sexual assault of daily life, I am not attempting to minimize the effect of rape or abuse in women’s lives. It is a singular experience that cannot be compared to others. But trauma is relative, and a lifetime of smaller violations can lead to the same symptoms of avoidance, hypervigilance, intrusive memories, rage, feelings of worthlessness, and the desire to dissassociate.

As a woman, feeling violated can be an everyday part of life. It’s the small interactions that keep adding up until finally each new tiny trespass can make you feel like exploding. With trauma comes hypervigilance, and eventually even well intentioned conversations might be read by the traumatized person as a potential attack.

It becomes a crazy making experience. It is a feeling in the pit of your stomach- in it’s most basic form this feeling is fear. It is knowing that something is a little off- it is a little bit wrong- it is knowing that you should watch your step. You should be careful. You should be on guard. You are an object. You are an idea. You are a fantasy. You are a toy. You are expendable.

It is noticing that a man took my picture from behind without being asked. It is the feeling of a man’s hand suddenly around my waist without my permission. It is the whistles and yells out of car windows. It is being told I should smile. It is the casual comments about my breasts. It is the piercing male gaze, being looked up and down and up again. It is the mocking joke. It is being talked to like a child. It is the grimaces, the stares, the lip licking- it is being backed up against walls, it is being stood over and intimidated.

Then when you call it out or complain, it is dismissed over and over again: “You’re overreacting.” “He didn’t mean anything bad.” “He was just trying to be friendly.” “You should like the attention.” “Get over it.” “It’s not a big deal.” “Stop complaining.” “Take it as a compliment.”

But it is a big deal. These little violations build up in the back of your mind. Sometimes I get a feeling of dread knowing I need to walk somewhere by myself at night. My body gets stiff and guarded when I know I have to talk to a strange man in public. I avoid the eye contact of the men around me. I feel shakey when I feel men walk up close behind me, even if we are just standing in line somewhere.

You can’t look at these experiences without understanding their context in the system of our society. There is a reason that women are having these experiences and men aren’t. It is a way to let women know that they are always being watched- that they should always be a little afraid, always walking on eggshells, that they are never really totally safe- every little movement we make will be noticed by men and then either sexualized or mocked.

It is how women are kept in line. It is how we are reminded that we should always be worrying about what men think. And wheher we conform or we don’t- there is always the threat that we could be hurt. Men have power over us and the violence could happen at any time.

This is the sexual assault of daily life. This is the cumulative fear of womanhood. So my face turns red. My body gets jumpy. I yell at men to get away from me. I act icey cold.

And then I get called crazy- bitch- psycho- cunt.

Yes I’m crazy. And men have made me this way. We are policed our whole lives, and little by little, moment by moment, we get crazy. People are incredulous, like the don’t understand why when we kill ourselves, when we cut ourselves, when we get high and drunk, when we starve ourselves, when we binge. How can you not understand why? I will feel violated no matter what I do. So I have limited choices within this constraint: I can let me rage simmer down to a white hot coal in my stomach until it burns all the way through my body. I can explode, and let every blood vessel burst. Or I can numb myself slightly- we will find ways to cope and make it through until the end.

a history of violence

The first time a man looked at me with sex and power and obsession, I was ten.

It happened for the second time a few months later.

At the mall my mother sneered with fear, pointing at the older man walking by us. He had looked me up and down. “Is that what you want? Is that who you want to notice you?”

I could feel her anger. She was angry at my clothing, she was angry at the way I walked; but mostly she was angry at my sexuality. She was angry I was growing up so young, despite every effort to keep me canned like in a jar.

I startle easily. I can feel people walk up behind me. I watch men’s feet walk by me out of the corner of my eye- I make sure they aren’t slowing down, or turning around back towards me.

I had never learned the skills to say no. It is a skill that you feel in your body- and I had never felt it. I had spent my childhood learning to accommodate the needs of others. It was no different when it came to boys.

I learned from TV and movies and magazines that women have to change ourselves to be liked by men- we aren’t enjoyable the way we are just naturally. And the worst thing we can do is be upsetting to a man. We are the keepers of their comfort.

It started by learning to freeze. I never learned what I wanted and what I didn’t want. I didn’t know there was such a thing as wanting something that was different than what men wanted.

Even when I started to trust my own desires a little more, it was an internal negotiation with male entitlement. How much do I have to not want something for it to be ok to make a scene? Is it worth the shame of being a woman and asking for what I want?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had sex didn’t really want to. Desirable girls want sex every day- so I must want to? And something is wrong with me if I don’t. It was impossible to tell the difference between the expectations I felt and the wants and needs of my self.

I never argued with men. Their opinions always made more sense. Their stances are wide. Their voices are loud. Their shoulders are hard. Why would I argue with them? I knew I would always lose. I believed I would always lose. I couldn’t confront the absurdity of it all. I wasn’t ready.

Men do things to you and you let them. I had no concept of empowerment, consent, authenticity, knowing what I really want. Not in any way that was meaningful. Not in any way that nurtured my soul.

Accommodation. Freezing. Permissiveness. The overwhelming desire to be desirable. With the praise came shame. With the approval came disdain. With the lust came disgust. It’s an impossible paradox.

I never said no- I never said stop. I never even pulled away. This happened in my own bed. This happened in other beds. It happened on couches and in bathrooms and in cars. I was lied to. I was coerced. I was talked down to. I was tricked.

I’ve been followed by men on the street. As early as eleven years old. As a teenager I heard more jail bait jokes than I could count. I knew I was expected to be seductive, so their behaviors could be understandable. I knew I had to embody their excuses for abuse.

I’ve been convinced by more men than I can count to do things that made them feel in control. When I did what they said to it validated everything their masculinity stands for. A smile, or a hello, or a giggle, or not arguing back. It was a daily proof, that I was there to not be offended, to not make a scene, to not hold a grudge, to not be upset: just be enjoyably passive.

Later, I grew up and learned more and dug deep and found hints of my self. I pondered the idea of saying no. I started shouting back to catcallers. My adrenalin boiled and my heart exploded with every try.

The first time I really refused someone who thought they owned me I was punched in the face.

The first time I tried to confront a harasser at the bar he stood his ground and stared at me cruelly and coldly. If I had punched him I would have been put in handcuffs. So I walked away and cried that I had no power.

The times I’ve felt powerless still overshadow all the times I’ve gotten away. That hot feeling of helplessness I still remember clearer than the times I’ve said no and pushed and shoved and ran and been safe. It’s an uphill battle. It’s treading against a current.

I am learning to take care of myself- but the times I didn’t allow myself to are still bigger in my memory. Fighting back takes practice- it will take the rest of my life to learn these skills, like I am a toddler again, crawling towards my own empowerment.

Too Much Sometimes

He told me that I am selfish sometimes. He said I only think about my self- my own needs. He’s tired of always accomodating the things that I want.
I know this- It’s true. Because after a lifetime of ignoring my own inner voice, after growing up not trusting my gut when it tells me something is wrong, after years of tip toeing around, ignoring my own trauma and rage and sadness so I can be passive, so I can be pleasing– sometimes I go too far the other way. Because it feels so new and so good.
He told me that I read into things too much. I’m offended- I’m triggered- I’m annoyed- I’m angered at such little things. Sometimes it seems random to him. It seems inconsistent. He doesn’t understand why I pick on some things and not others. He doesn’t understand why there are days when nothing feels okay to me.
I know this- It’s true. He’s right. Because after a lifetime of ignoring violence, after years of my experiences weren’t
being constantly dismissed, after growing up thinking it was better to never be offended- that I should just swallow everything, even when it’s harmful- sometimes I go too far the other way. Because it feels so new and so good. This different way of living life feels hot in my bones. And I want to try it more and more.
He told me I talk about this shit too much. I’m constantly explaining
myself. I’m so often defending my perspective. I’m so frequently debating the issues. I just can’t let it go. The words keep falling from my mouth- uncontrollably releasing. My voice turns to yells. My blood boils pressured and hot when I try to hold it back now. I have so much more to say. I have so much more to tell you.
He’s right. Because after a lifetime of
staying quiet, after years of listening to what others had to say, after spending so much time not thinking my thought processes all the way through to the end- sometimes I go too far the other way. Because it feels so good and so new. This different way of standing- with my voice thrown out into the world while other people listen- it feels trembly in my throat. It feels life saving like rain after drought. And over time I crave the feeling more and more.

You will have to forgive me if I seem too much, too loud, too focused on myself, too immersed in my own perspective. I have never allowed myself this before: this satisfying congruency inside myself- the feeling of fitting two puzzle pieces together and knowing it is right.

What I Have Survived

What have I survived.

Sexism.
Misogyny.
Rape culture.
Slut shaming.

Humiliation.
Self Hatred.
Victim Blaming.
Whorephobia.

Objectification.
Watching women I love get laughed at and talked shit about. For being women.
Harassment.
Biphobia.

Male privilege. Masculine normativity.
Having my needs needs trivialized.
Intrusive, inappropriate questions and comments.
Delegitimizing.
Judgement.

Being taught that men’s needs are most important. Being taught that nurturing men is most important. Being taught that I need to keep men happy and satisfied at the expense of my own needs.
Being put down.
Never feeling safe.
Feeling unsafe around my uncle, my dad, male friends, male partners, potential male partners, male acquaintances, male strangers.
Thinking I’m worthless.

Constantly second guessing motivations- both my own and those of men.
Lack of security. In my world. In others. In myself.
Constant anxiety and hyper vigilance: I could be betrayed or assaulted at any moment.
Cat calls. Yelling. Groping. Stalking.
Believing that I’m damaged.

Microaggressions. Every. Day.
Having pictures taken of me without my permission.
Always feeling scrutinized.
Feeling helpless.
Feeling hopeless.

Being judged by how passive, permissive, and sexually available I am.
Discouragement.
Exhaustion.
Being treated like I’m silly, stupid, and pathetic.

Watching women I love idolizing their oppressors.
Watching women I love bend over backwards for their oppressors.
Knowing that every woman in my community has been abused by men. More than once.
Knowing that predators are everywhere.

Contempt.
Disgust.
Hate.
Dehumanization.
Fear.