Tag Archives: identity

without knowing what will arise in its place

stencil graffiti: I can taste your dreamsgood morning good morning from the chilliness. I was not up nearly as early this morning as I was yesterday, and that’s all right. I did wake up with a bit more motivation and energy than I’ve had in a few days, and that feels good. I have come to trust and lean-into the sinking-down that happens for me in December; I get quiet, move more slowly, read a lot more.

A year ago, today, I wrote here in this blog:

I didn’t let you help, not then, and I’m sorry. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that, these 15 and 20 years later: how to lean, how to say, Yes, I’m not ok. Yes, I need you. Please, I need help.

and then

After the arrest, my mom wasn’t legally allowed to contact me or my sister for about six months or something. She had to sell the house during that time; she didn’t know what to do with our things up in the attic — most of it, she got rid of. All the papers and things I’d saved from jr high and high school: gone. I save things so that I can keep my memory. And that’s why I wrote, too, for years: so there would be an external(ized) memory. What to hold on to? What to release? What to take back in?

It’s fascinating, painful and also connecting, to go back a year and find that I was tackling then what I’m still tangled up in now: how to honestly reach out to friends and those who love me and who I love, how to be vulnerable with them, risk connection, risk being all of myself and trusting that they won’t turn away (trusting, too, that if they do turn away, that I’ll be all right). And that part about letting go. Not a single step, a single action, is it? Another (goddamn) process. Whew.

I have been thinking again about survivor identity, and how to let it shift — even, maybe, how to put it down. I’ve written about this before, I know, and probably will again: how survivor has been a core identity for me, first before anything (before woman, before queer, maybe even before writer) and how I’m not sure who I am or could be without that badge on my chest. There’s the sense I have of lying if I don’t say it, passing as something I’m not — and what is that something? Normal? Even though I know, intellectually, that the vast majority of women, maybe the majority of folks of all genders, have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives — still, that fact, that experience, doesn’t (normally) enter into regular everyday conversation, does it? It’s one of the things we smooth over, don’t mention, don’t bring up, so that we can move through the work of the day. That elision is a part of the lubrication necessary to most social interactions.

You could say that I just need to change the whos and wheres of my social interactions. It’s true that there are some communities where folks talk about the realities of sexual violence and other forms of oppression as a part of everyday conversation — and that those conversations aren’t downers, necessarily, they’re just a sharing of the realities of our lives. I’m talking about communities (of friends, let’s say) where we can be all of who we are — survivors, yes, and writers, too, and gardeners and potters and funny and great cooks and bookmakers and clothes-artists and candle-light writers and cat lovers and parents and lovers and fucked up and silly and and and… where survivor doesn’t have to be a brand or a shield or a badge anymore. Where it doesn’t have to be the only lens to see the world through. Where we can trust others to look through that lens sometimes, so that we can look through another lens.

Those communities exist. I am finding them. But, more, I’m letting myself out into them.

There’s another piece, too, about shifting the whys of writing: writing for more than just an externalized memory, a declaration of old story, a litany. Writing to create something new. What about that?

Here’s some of what she says about survivor identity in Women Who Run With The Wolves:

Once the threat is past, there is a potential trap in calling ourselves by names taken on during the most terrible times of our lives. it creates a mind-set that is potentially limiting. It is not good to base the soul identity solely on the feats and losses and victories of the bad times. While survivorship can make a woman tough as beef jerky, at some point it begins to inhibit new development.

When a woman insists “i am a survivor over and over again once the time for its usefulness is past, the work head is clear. we must looen the person’s clutch on the survivor archetype. Otherwise nothing else can grow. I liken it to a tough little plant that managed–without water, sunlight, nutrients–to send out a brave and ornery little leaf anyway. In spite of it all.

But thriving means, now that the bad times are behind, to put ourselves into occasions of the lush, the nutritive, the light, and there to flourish, to thrive with bushy, shaggy, heavy blossoms and leaves. it is better to name ourselves names that challenge us to grow as free creatures.

(page 197, 1992 edition, emphasis mine.)

Once the time for its usefulness is past. Only each of us can know when that’s true for different parts of our own survivorship — when is a good time to set that banner down or just let it rest on our side for awhile, not releasing it forever, because it saved us, that sense of ourselves, claiming the power of survivor. But there comes a time (doesn’t there) when it’s ok to set it down without knowing what will arise in its place.

(I myself am a little weary of the survivor-to-thriver language — maybe the easy rhyme just gets on my nerves. I do like this language of “put[ing] ourselves into occasions of the lush” — yes, please.)

What about this for a write for today: both what “survivor” means or has meant for you/your character in your life, and, too, what it could mean to put yourself or your character “into occasions of the lush.” 10 minutes (or more, if you want!) — and follow the words wherever they seem to be pulling you.

Be easy in your writing today. Thanks for your shifting over time, the way you make space for yourself and others to grow. Thanks for how you are easy with others as they change, how you allow others to be easy with you, too. Thanks, yes, for your words.


calling ourselves

graffiti of a woman, facing left, with a word bubble before her, "Who am I?"A dark morning with a bright moon outside, and I’m collected up on the couch with my little candle light and cup of mint-dandelion-green tea. Outside the moonlight is bright through the trees, lightening up the cloudful sky.

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Sometimes I feel like I want this blog to be even more of a resource for those who are survivors of sexual trauma. And then I wrangle with that identity, with even the language there: for us, survivors. When I say survivor, I mean people who have experienced sexual abuse. Other people mean someone who has experienced domestic violence, or someone who has experienced cancer, someone who has had a relative die, someone who lived through a car crash. Survivor means ‘one who lives through affliction’ or ‘one who remains alive or in existence,’ ‘to persist after,’ ‘to remain functional or usable’…

So here’s where I’m torn: between wanting to be a useful resource for survivors of sexual trauma, and not wanting to further that identity category at all, because once we ‘own’ that label, we step into its language, we are shaped by it. And I want us to be bigger than survivor, bigger than thriver, bigger than these experiences. I don’t know that I want to use the phrase incest survivor to define myself all the time anymore. Sometimes, yes, and it’s not a thing I’m going to deny or remove from my bio. But does it have to be the first line, the first thing people know about me? This isn’t about shame, but about how I shape myself, what I think is possible and knowable myself. The language we use for ourselves defines us for ourselves, as well as for others.

Maybe for the first time in my life, I am feeling this way. I used to get super annoyed with people who would talk that way, assume that they were completely in denial. Didn’t they get it? If you experienced this, you are this. It’s the way things are.

I don’t want us to rid ourselves of these categories, because we categorize, we humans; it’s what our brains do. What I want are different words — instead of using the word survivor, I might use the phrase, people who experienced sexual violence. First of all, it’s more precise, and more people will understand what I mean right away. Second, this language defines us first as people, rather than as incest or child sexual abuse, which “survivor” can do.

Sometimes we need that place in us forefronted. I know I have. I have needed people to meet me and my work through that lens, and it’s a frightening thing now to want to find a different lens, different language. If I am not only, or first and foremost, incest, then what am I? I have said, in the not so distant past, maybe even here in this blog, that Incest is the main lens that I see life through, that I meet every experience through, that shapes and colors everything. Am I wanting to take those glasses off? Can I? Is that allowed, or possible? Maybe that’s some of this nausea, too, that queasiness, that question, this blurred, new vision.

How we call ourselves matters, because it determines how we define ourselves, what we understand ourselves capable of; every word, every label, every identity category has its attendant, often unspoken, rules and regulations, guidelines, boundaries.

If we use different language, playful language, even, to define ourselves, can we call out different parts of ourselves?

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An interesting write can be to take 10 minutes, open your notebook, and write down all the identities you (or your character) walk with: mother, daughter, sister, brother, queer, straight, worker, boss, left-handed, trans, man, woman, genderqueer, midwestern, new yorker, survivor… write down as many as you can think of. Notice which ones seem to be at odds with one another, and why that might be. Which ones are most important to your life right now? Which ones have been most important to your life in the past? Are these identities you have chosen, or that you were born with, that someone else determines? Choose one, or more, of these identities, if you want, and write your history with it, write its story: when you knew that you were identified as such, and what it meant. Are there different words for this identity, either communally shared or that you have made up for yourself?

As always, follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.

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Thank you for your broad vision this morning, for the ways you can look around the edges of the boundaries that someone else set for you. Thank you for your resilience and new and playful languaging, for your gorgeous words.

“a raid on the inarticulate”

(I googled "graffiti inarticulate" images labeled for reuse, and this image was the sole result returned -- love it!)

My tea is steeping and I want to step down from the panic, the sense that I should be doing something different, that I have to be doing something different. How can I keep breathing, how can I relax?

This is what I imagined — finding words, letting myself be in the place that feels bigger than my identities, than what I’ve decided for myself, letting myself live, for awhile, in that flat open space of humanness, the place where I’ve rarely felt that I belonged, the place of mistakes and love, the place of connectedness, connection.

What do I want to tell you about it. There’s something warm that lives there, a feeling I have that’s beyond this bodily achyness, I could feel it yesterday, I don’t have time to stop and think about it, or try and remember. I just want it to push down through my fingers.

How do we get outside the identities that we’ve talked ourselves into (gay, woman, queer, survivor, what other ones) — but not just those, I mean the specifics about them (new school queer femme dyke, strong, isolated, lonely incest survivor who talks openly and brazenly about sex), what happens when if we want or are something outside of those specifics, what happens when our lives bring us to a place that we have no words for? I read a line about this yesterday, in the book about reflective writing that it’s taking me forever to read (in spite of the fact that it’s fantastic!), so I have to keep checking out from the UCSF library, something from Eliot about every new experience being a battle with the inchoate or the inarticulate.

here’s the quote from Eliot (in “Burnt Norton“) :

Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate …

And this is where I’m living now (always living): finding new words for the new thing, this new place, and again I’m in the struggle (and why isn’t it a gift, a blessing, why am I not grateful to be in the struggle?) with the inarticulate, with the feeling that there aren’t words for this experience. This is what we do.

The struggle now is in finding the words for what the body knows, what the body is remembering and offering back to me, and of course, the body knows without words. The body knows in the feeling that was indescribable, had no need of words, the body holds the remembering that was without words, wasn’t allowed words. And so I try to find nuanced language for the dread that can lace through me upon waking — what dread is it this morning? The I stayed up too late kind? The monstrous kind? How do I find words for this thicket, this morass, this molassysludge that lives in my belly and lower intestines and callows the rest of me with numb? And why would I want to? What does it mean? That’s the interesting part (interesting?) — finding words for what I don’t have meaning for (yet).

These are the things I’m wanting to find a way to bring together — expressive writing (including the almost elemental power of metaphor), embodiment (does that mean generative somatics work? embodied expressive writing?), the Lacanian/Foucault-ian engagement with language (and how we are constructed, shaped, how we become what and how we have words for), and the re-welcoming processes for those who have experienced trauma (I mean, those communal rituals that bring a trauma survivor back into community, back into relationship, back into humanness). And one of the ways I learn a thing is to do it, is to experience it, or attempt it. Thanks for being with me in this process/practice.

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Is there a feeling in your body (or your character’s body) that you want to understand better? Maybe begin by just describing it, and let yourself describe it, write it, in as much or as little detail as you want, depending on how far you want to go into the feeling. Feel welcome not to describe what it means, or where it’s coming from, or why you’re (or your character is) experiencing this feeling, this sensation. Just focus on describing the sensation itself, so that someone else reading might also be able to embody that feeling — but remember, you don’t have to show the description to anyone else, if you don’t want to!

Thank you for the ways you hold true to the fullness of you, even the bits of you that flush and push past the community-dictated guidelines for particular identities, the ways you are so much more grand than the sum of your gorgeous individual parts. Thank you for that creativity, and for this, here: for your words.

‘under a genderqueering microscope’

The more comfortable I get with my girlhood, after seriously striving to embody masculinity for almost a decade, the less able I am to describe it — girlhood — with any kind of precision: Well, a girl’s a female-bodied person, unless she’s male-bodied, and she likes dresses and pink unless she hates them and prefers skinned knees and tree climbing or none of the above or all. Well, it’s clear, isn’t it, that the girl’s the softer one, right? Except I’ve stroked some pretty soft boys — and met girls rocked hard like stone and the girls are the ones who cry right except when they don’t and the boys do and I’m done with layering on description and definition: femininity likes frills and adornment and paint and frivolity up to and until and unless and and it digs its unpainted nails into thick rocky soil or, yes, knows perfectly well how to turn a phrase between a girl’s or a boi’s legs and sings its songs with abandon until and unless it remains silent.

There’s no sure thing about femininity and masculinity for me anymore — not about either except in the know-it-when-i-see-it sorts of ways and even that is all up for interpretation and assumption, those kinds of grabs. The things that say boys are strong and girls get carried have never seen me (or you, or him, or hir) carry a box of books wearing four-inch heels and who cares if its girl or not except

I do. I thicken into the femininity my stepfather wrought for me, the tough bitch smart broad high femme ball buster prima donna that he was always just the right man for: it’s that last part, of course, that leaves me nauseous, that wrote me into boyhood, into all the masculinity I’d always already carried, all my life — they just called it tomboy but I took it out of my back pocket, fluffed it out, slicked it on and called that leather jacket and jeans and boots and shorn shorn head strong and safe

girlhood was the stuff that smeared his palms and yes, greased his chin, and I wanted to get myself far away from the staining thing that I had been. I drove a straight sharp line down between butch and femme, masculine and feminine, girl and boy and always I meant to bend myself toward the unlayerable side, unbreakable side, unbroad side, ungirl side. ‘Cause boy is always and only not girl, right? We can say that at least for sure,

right?

Not in the world I come from, the dancers I live within, who question every frilly tail-marker under a genderqueering microscope. Some boys will be boys and girls will be women but other girls stripe their butts with Marilyn Monroe panties and dance on the stage with barbells in each hand and some boys like to bend at the waist when they sob or lay open to the receiving they were never supposed to want and all the lists of what’s feminine and what’s masculine just ends up being make believe or stereotype for me now, jogging my memory around what the folks outside the Bay Area Bubble say is good for gooses and ganders. It’s longing for play I frill into, glitter that doesn’t stain the eye and a kind of strong-fisted handshake that makes a grown butch do a double take.

We make our own lists every day anyway, stripped around society’s damage, and when we come back home now and again, the bois will be girls will be femmes will be right

“Real” Butch

(This is a part of a longer, ongoing work in progress about this transition from feminine straight girl to butch dyke to femme…)

I’ve been defending you a lot recently in ways I never would have back when I was you. You never used the term Real Butch, hated that essentializing, that narrowing of focus, that erasure of all the other queer possibilities of the masculine gendering the female flesh. Nowadays, now and again, I tell the ones who ask me, OK, yeah, I was a Real Butch.

They can’t hear the “but…”         but you do, I know it, I can feel you peeling behind my teeth, wanting to push out the whole story, wanting me to keep on telling it like it was—and is—how there’s no such goddamn thing as a real butch and butch is as ze says it is, whoever’s wearing the skin on that body, but we both know that’s always in question, right?

The truth is I’m still grateful to you for the ways you made me know I could be safe in the world and although just recently we, you and me, got told that we had a privileged coming out because there was the semblance of a community at school when I put 2 and 2 together and got gay and because I came out into a place where gayness was relatively acceptable—we both remember that there was not much safe about my life then and your hands had had to go places they were never meant to visit and you carried all the heavy boxes of our terror and you opened the doors for our future possibility – all the things, yes, that a goddamn real butch is supposed to do. You found a way to fit this me, now, into your curvature and flank, into your faggy footwork on the dance floor under the smoke machine’s smog and the one starry sad set of flashing red green and gold lights at the local bar.

And here’s what I want you to know now: I’m sorry we didn’t make it out any deeper before my plumage and finery found its way back out again, before the girl was made possible again and you had to slide that fine black leather motorcycle jacket off your shoulders for the last time – it just doesn’t fit now; I’d wear it for you if it could. But I mean, I’m sorry that we never found those bars, those old smoky hinges of solidarity where you could have shaped and strapped the hard gear of your masculine future, where you could have butted heads with other women willing to ride the hard truth of this existence; goddamnit, I mean I’m sorry you never got to be a real butch with other real butches, be looked upon as something or someone right not just novel or different or brave or odd or whatever. Not as just a shield, but as a real self.

I want you to know I believed in you and needed you in those years, and, of course, it’s not like I can’t feel how you shaped my walk, or how you get me in trouble still, assuming I can make eye contact with anyone on the street and have it be the right safe thing to do.

Here’s what I mean to say – that there’s never anything false about us when one identity shifts and slides into another. We both know that girl wasn’t a safe place to be all those years and you stepped up like a butch does and you made a handful of things a little safer. I know I’m not supposed to say these things: we spent so much time pulling up the roots of our history to find the nascent butch inside and just look, just look where we are now—