There are days when this phrase flints itself against me, inside the emptiness, inside the loss, all through my body: I’m not ok, I’m not ok, I’m not ok. And what my conscious mind thinks is about how desperately I want to be able to be public with how I’m doing, how I’m sad or angry or lost, how much I miss my family, how broken I feel in that moment, how not put-together and fine.
And then there’s the other side of “I’m not ok,” which is, I’m not safe, I’m not a good person, I’m not someone you want to know or be around. Like something about the very essence of me is not all right. What if I let that feeling fly whenever it pushed through me? What if I let it out of my mouth and fingers?
When I don’t, what I get left with is the hangover from the stuffing down, the hangover from hiding (from) my not-okayness, my humanness. The stiffness and achiness in my shoulders, where I hold the rage, in my throat, where I swallow all my words.
We know that in our culture, women showing rage is not ok. We’re supposed to be good and quiet, cry if we’re upset, laugh a lot otherwise and make other people comfortable. Wanting to be other than that is not ok. Wanting to feel all of our bodies is not ok. Wanting people to take care of their shit is not ok (that’s supposed to be part of our job), wanting to scream or cry in public or wherever is not ok. Wanting to not be safe, to be a danger, is definitely not ok.
There’s a place that can get unlocked in me, that I still carry from those years back, a huge thick of hopelessness. Hopelessness is ok for women, isn’t it? When it moves out to consume me, I am reminded (“reminded”) that nothing will ever be ok, that no place in the world is safe, that my aches and hollows are meant to be, are built into my system now, are left for me to hold and cradle and love (like a woman does all her babies, right?).
(But isn’t it a radically honest thing to attend to and hold all the parts of ourselves, even, especially, the messiest ones?)
I want to tell you about stone butch and incest survivor femme, stone femme, and when I open my mouth, all the words get clotted beneath the thick mass that lives in the low part of my throat, all those years of unspokens, all those years of holding back, don’t offend, don’t upset, you want people to think you’re ok. I want to tell you about how many different ways stone can melt, transform, unfold, unfurl — and, too, how many different ways it sets inside the body, how it roots in conversation, in distrust, in fear. How our histories, our daily realities, take up residence in our right now and remind us that we are not ok, we are never ok, even (especially!) with this person here who sees our scars and tells us they love them, even with this person who runs their hand over our hardest places and offers to love us anyway, even with the someone who told us we could tell them anything, and then stayed after we did, holding what has damaged us, what could damage us still. I want to tell you about triggeredness that inflames another’s triggers, about days spent throbbing from the deepest wounds getting reopened, about how very common this all is and yet how intimate, individual, personal, just-us it feels. I want to tell you about the tremendous grace required and revealed when we meet each other anyway, when we continue to love each other anyway, not in spite of or because, but with and through.
There’s so much more I want from this writing right now — it needs to be an essay, not a blog post. I want to tell you about all the different ways, shapes, forms that “not ok” takes — what does that mean? I’m trying to learn my own not-okayness, meet those selves that carry my rage, my inappropriate responses, my cattiness, my too big strengths and desires and hungers. I want to tell you about butch strength and femme huger and femme strength and butch hunger. I want to tell you how tired I am of femme-girl-woman being relegated to the hungry open mouth, and I want to tell you about the resilience of allowing oneself to know and speak one’s appetites.
I’ve been rereading Stone Butch Blues, because I’m still searching for old-school femme voices through the mouths of butches: where is the femme’s novel, the book about about pushing through the struggle to live a full life while loving butches? Where are words of femmes who stood their ground, took up space in bars and at women’s/feminist meetings, had to rage on both sides, had so little room to blossom completely, (just as their lovers had so little room to blossom completely), who never disappeared into shadows or straight life? Where are those words, describing how femmes made a life for themselves with partners who needed them to melt stone, and who carried stones of their own, so often untended to? I need that history. I guess I need to know this work leads somewhere. I need to see how my foremothers stood their own ground, raised their voices and energies for their own needs, took care of their power in a community that just saw them as girls, as T&A. Or is that only now? Is that only me? Where are those words? Still stuck in so many of our throats.
Let’s do this: Make a list entitled, It’s not ok for me to…. Let yourself write down 10 things that it’s not ok for you or your character to want or think or feel. Then read through your list, and mark one or two that have a lot of energy for you, for whatever reason.
Begin writing with one of those items, only change the first part of the sentence to read, Today, I… (Today, she/he/ze, Today, you…)– and then the words from your list. Write it out as if it happened, with as much detail as you want. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go!
Thank you for the ways you are honest about your okayness — even in the deepest inside places of your own amazing self. Thank you for your words.