"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Thursday, August 27, 2015

perth at dusk.

We made love against the window
Looking out at a smoky golden dusk
The sun setting over the rubble of our childhood
As we reveled in the privacy of indifference

There is great solitude in intimacy
Snatched together, but far away
Tears draining into pools of sweat
Caught in the crosshairs of ecstasy

There is a dandelion beauty about you, my dear
Your hair catches the light
In the way that smashed beer bottles catch the sun
And the spiders watch, guiltily enthralled

When you came
You smelt like the sea
And now, as you leave
You smell like me.

Jouissance

Now Playing: Do I Wanna Know (Cover) by Hozier (sad to see you go, was sort of hoping that you'd stay) 

When you hang out with teenage and twenty-something men - like I used to - you become accustomed to people who are perpetually thirsty, as the kids are saying these days.

I'm not saying that we're always getting it on, but that energy colours all their interactions; you can feel it, electric and thrilling, in every word and every touch. The ones who don't know how to be happy without winking, the ones who daily bask in the heat of the moment that stretches as far as the eye can see. We revel together in the joy of being young and reckless.

I've often said that I like to hang out with men because I admire and envy and live vicariously through their freedom. Men are just allowed to be more sexual, even in non-sexual contexts, even with people with whom they are not or no longer in a sexual relationship with. We understand that they have this energy and that it needs to have an outlet. Men are allowed to behave in a way that for a woman would be embarassing, disgusting, and taboo. How do I know that? Because in openly admitting my own sexual desires and appetites, there are vast swathes of people who level incredibly bizarre judgement at me, whilst my friends slip under the radar by virtue of having a penis.

I don't feel threatened, by the way, by my male friends and their too-tight hugs and embarassingly weird innuendo.  It is our way of being comfortable with each other, our way of being our most genuine selves, and there is a lot of respect in that. They are my friends, and the love and respect is mutual and not cancelled out by our status as sexual beings. We can always tell each other to stop, always explain and clarify; sexuality is not the enemy, but in our society our blatant refusal to talk about sex has led to sexuality erasing our ability to communicate, which in turn breaks down relationships and turns things dangerous.

Incidentally, if I did feel unsafe or threatened by the overt sexuality of men around me - and I have, many times - my discomfort does not mean that society sanctions a man's sexuality. Girls are meant to be okay with aggressive male sexuality, and I am, most of the time - but when I don't feel safe, nobody cares. The tension often breaks with a nervous laugh, a patronizing sneer, and somebody saying 'it was only a joke, jeez'.

There's been a lot of kerfuffle in the media about 'gay panic' and 'trans panic'; the idea that criminal violence is excused, somehow, by the mere existence of people not conforming to cis-het sexual narratives. But I think the idea stretches much further than that; men overreact at any display, real or imagined, of any sexuality that isn't cisgender, heterosexual, and male. This 'sex panic' rears its ugly head whenever people find out that I've slept with someone, or that I'm bisexual, or even if I make a flippant sexual innuendo that I've learned off of one of my male slut friends. It comes in imagined match making, in random accusations that I am 'coming on to someone', when men expect to be treated differently than women by a woman who is attracted to both. I had a friend make a big deal when he reached in for a hug and I flinched, because I was triggered, but later down the track when we were all drunk and cuddly he decided to push me away quite violently, because he and we had established that I occasionally gave in to baser instincts. No matter that all of them had been consensual; any expression of female sexuality is a crime.

Men are inherently more trustworthy than women, even when their words and actions do not remotely match up. A male friend of mine can tell all and sundry that he and we are 'just friends', and then sweep me up into a very intimate embrace, and nobody thinks twice. All I have to do is look or act or dress a certain way that implies that I'm not living with Jesus, reach in for a friendly hug, and people think I'm about to rape someone, or that I am 'coming on to them', or that I really want in when I repeatedly tell them that I really do not.

Of course, female sexual violence against men does happen and I'm not trying to diminish the severity of that; but it is rare, and female sexual violence should not be conflated with female sexuality itself, especially considering we don't do that with men, even when all evidence points to rape and assault. This sex panic is less about protecting oneself from sex crimes, and more about shaming and stigmatizing feminine jouissance if it ever dares to bubble to the surface. I've been assaulted. I've been abused. They are situations not of sexual energy, but of total dominance and powerlessness. I have never put anyone in that situation, and it is an insult to conflate a cuddle from someone who is a foot shorter than you, half your weight, and too drunk to speak, much less emotionally manipulate you, with the utter violence and helplessness of genuine sexual violence.

My sexuality does not exist for or for the convenience of men. I cannot be sexual at whim, and I cannot put on a facade of asexuality whenever you deem my identity to be gross or disgusting. Women of all identities, of all orientations, exist autonomously from the entitlement of men. It is not my problem if you find my identity uncomfortable. We consider female sexuality to be so bloody passive; more of a reaction to men rather than something we can take ownership of. People are often under the impression that I am sexual because I hang out with sexual people, or that my partners pressure me into things, but that's just not true. I was exactly the same way when I was in high school and had no partners and no outlet. I just went to great lengths to hide and repress who I was, and people never stopped to consider that maybe I thought and felt and desired just like anyone else. But when I do talk about the times that I have been pressured and manipulated into things, people just don't believe me; just as they think that I am passive and asexual in situations that were actually consensual and respectful, they think that I am some sort of deviant in situations when I was young and scared and really not up for it. My perspective, my opinion, my point of view; none of that matters. Other people get to define my sexuality, and it is incredibly dehumanizing.

In Lacanian psychoanalysis, language silences women by constructing a masculine point of view; we only view sex in the same way that we view many things, by privileging male narrative. Jouissance is a French term that is difficult to translate, but is basically libidinal energy; pleasure and power and therefore empowerment and fulfillment. As a part of women's liberation it is important that women learn to reclaim their bodies through jouissance, to turn a narrative of oppression on its head.

Sexuality doesn't have an on/off switch. My sexuality is part of who I am and it is with me every living, breathing moment; it is woven into every word, every touch, every interaction. This does not make me a rapist, or a freak; it makes me human, and to take that away from me, to shame and stigmatize it, to flip sex panic onto me, is to dehumanize me at a fundamental level. We accept that, for most men, jouissance is always there, and that it isn't just a part of their nocturnal misadventures, but a fundamental part of their identity. It is time that we accept that that is the case for women, too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Politics of Purple Lipstick

Now Playing: Cherry Wine by Hozier (it looks ugly but it's clean, oh Mama don't fuss over me) 

I am something of a lipstick queen. Literally – my favourite brand is Lipstick Queen by Poppy. I own a lot of lipstick, and I generally don’t leave the house without it.

My signature shade is, of course, red – don’t I strike you as a red lipstick kind of girl? It’s become something of a trademark of mine, and I like it. Poppy King, the creator of my favourite lipsticks, often speaks about how lipstick makes you feel, and how that’s more important than how it makes you look. I feel that. Lipstick is a mask, a facade, to be sure; but it's a genuine one, a genuine expression of yourself, of your art - so blatantly artificial that it becomes authentic.

Quite honestly, my penchant for dresses and lipstick comes from a place of laziness; I genuinely don’t have the time to care about matching separate pieces of clothing, plus my body shape and my great love of lunching with the ladies doesn’t really agree with skinny jeans. My standard uniform is usually a dress, by itself in the summer, with a jacket and stockings in winter. It takes three seconds to look fabulous, which gives me three extra seconds to run for the bus.

Lipstick is also a time saver. I like looking quite put together, but beauty and the beauty industry is so heavily focussed on white faces and white people it’s very frustrating trying to make my yellow skin and non-existent eyebrows and hooded eyes look presentable. Lipstick looks high maintenance, but it takes three seconds to apply, and it gives me the polish I need to look confident and presentable.

Anyway.

When I was younger I was obsessed with the idea of 'natural makeup' - partly because it was the trend at the time, but mostly because I knew that men didn't like makeup, but I didn't feel confident without makeup, and I was savvy enough to know that 'no-makeup' still meant we had to aspire to impossible standards of beauty, even though we weren't allowed to show it. We had to make ourselves beautiful and con people into thinking we #wokeuplikedis. That was what I was taught femininity was.

I remember, vividly, the day of my first kiss. I still have the tube of lipbalm I wore; it was a fancy Dior one that was clear, but changed colour so that my lips look rosy pink; even though anxiety had drained any trace of colour from my face. In the confusing tumble of thoughts that cascaded afterwards, I wondered, stupidly, if lust was just a manufactured response to a manufactured body; it didn't feel real, and so I started worrying that it was artificial.

I had always been drawn to women with bold lips; I thought it was such a beautiful aesthetic. But whenever I did wear lipstick - mostly shitty $5 ones or old tubes I found in my mother's makeup stash - I smudged it in so it looked like I wasn't wearing anything at all. My mother - quite rightly - thought I was too young to wear lipstick, but the more pressing matter was that I didn't want my performance of gender to be explicit; I didn't want to let the cat out of the bag, that I wasn't born as beautiful as I was expected to be.

I also wondered why women wore lipstick; nobody could kiss someone wearing lipstick, and I had learned from a young age that part of being a beautiful woman was being accessible. And men didn't like women who wore lipstick, and I had absorbed this toxic and misogynistic idea that women wore makeup for men.

I bought my first red lipstick with this confusion of half-baked thoughts tumbling around my head; but the second I put it on, I ignored the conundrum. I had spent so long feeling so out of control, so inept at keeping my body and myself safe from harm, away from rough hands and prying eyes. I felt brave and beautiful and - untouchable. It was a delicious feeling. It was the first time that I had constructed an aesthetic for myself, to define attractiveness as more than just obedient adherence to what people thought I ought to look like.

Once you catch the lipstick bug, it never really lets you go. I started playing with different colours and textures, and I loved the compliments - mostly from women. Men seemed indifferent, or told me I didn't 'need it'; and most of them met me in the small hours when the lipstick had been drunk away. My mother accepted that I had grown up, and that was that.

But I was itching for that thrill again; looking bolder than you are, having your presence and your gravitas affected in the way that Poppy King said. Every time I tried to go dark, I chickened out. It wasn't that I wasn't used to how I looked, or that I thought it didn't suit; I had gotten used to red lipstick. I was worried about what people would think.

And then, eventually, I took the plunge - Nars Train Bleu, which is a lusciously dark purple. My mother hates it and I'm still getting to used to how it looks, but dear God, I am in love with how it makes me feel.

The first time I wore it was in Hobart - I was at a conference with a very progressive crowd and I was far from the most kooky person there. But I also had to walk from UTAS back to my accommodation and Hobart is sort of...conservative. Small town in the middle of nowhere kind of vibe. Dear God, the stares.

A younger and more vulnerable self would have been intimidated by it. A younger and more vulnerable self would have wiped $40 lipstick off, just to appease the crowd. But I'm not that person anymore, so I started to think about why people were tut-tutting.

(Incidentally, it's not that it looks bad. The purple lipstick by far gets the most compliments; again, mostly by women. And also by my gay friend. More on that in a bit.)        

As an Asian woman living in an Anglo society, I’ve long known that my body does not conform to standards of beauty here; my body as a commodity only serves a very niche market – a fetish for the alienness of my existence, if you will. And one of the many forms of oppression I experience is being informed that I have to look and act a certain way that conforms not only to people's perceptions of my ethnicity, but also to conform to the conflicting and contradictory white Western beauty ideal. All of this is to say that I have been trained, from a young age, to conform to the white, straight, male gaze; to live in the knowledge that people will assume that everything I do is for the attention or benefit of a certain group of people. The natural makeup bullshit was that; and some people's attitude towards my penchant for red lipstick was that I had missed the mark, but the overall effect was quite pleasing to the eye.

I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with natural makeup; hell I do it more than anything, because a) I work at a daycare and b) I only just figured out how contouring works and c) burgers and red lipstick really don't mix. But it's the attitudes towards makeup that pushes a lot of girls into wearing nothing but 'natural' makeup that is disappointing; the idea that makeup is an act of insecurity. Makeup is an act of defiance. It's fucking warpaint. Wear it like armour, and never let them hurt you.

There is a certain disgust or pity aimed at women who don't perform Womanness According To The Cis-Het White Males. Red lipstick is misguided; purple is deliberate, flagrant, disgusting contempt for the Rules. People are deeply uncomfortable that a woman of my age and class should dare to openly perform gender, openly construct identity, in a way that is not focussed on heteronormative narratives. There is no question, when I wear purple lips, that I am not doing it to allure men. Perhaps it's the first thing I've ever done for myself.

When we live in a society that tells men that sexually attractive, perhaps worthy of human dignity and aesthetically pleasing are interchangeable when it comes to women, they have a sort of checklist approach to women and how to treat them. I like the aesthetics of black leather boots and an oversized red blazer with dark purple lips. I like how it makes me feel, and I like the people who can appreciate it on a purely aesthetic level. I really don't care about indifference (the only response to indifference is indifference, really), and I certainly don't care about the haters. I do not spend $40 on lipstick so that men might think me fuckable; I do it because when I glower at people with my dark purple lipstick and kooky 80s clothes stolen from my mother, I feel brave and beautiful and untouchable in a world that tells me that I am timid and ugly and fair game.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

an empty chair at table four.

I had hoped that you would be
At my wedding

Not at the altar -

I could not have your hands
Your feet
Your smirking lips
(on holy ground)

Just

A smiling witness to the corseted triumph of womanhood

But you won't be there
When bells ring,
When tears fall,
When I return to the earth, because

(you always thought I would have to reconcile myself with the fact that you will not take my hand before the priest and they always thought that I would never wear white but the truth of the matter is I will have to learn to love your absence because)

You cannot bear to see me happy.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Hair.

Now Playing: Shattered by Trading Yesterday (let me go and I will run, I will not be silent) 

When I was a kid, I had gorgeous hair. Long, black, silky Asian hair, tumbling down my shoulders.

Of course, I didn’t think I had gorgeous hair; I didn’t think I had gorgeous anything. I thought my hair was too thick; not helped by disparaging comments from the old Asian dude who used to cut my hair and mercilessly thin it out with hardcore layering without asking my opinion on the matter. I had the Rachel haircut for about a decade until I reached a point when my mother no longer administered hairdresser appointments.

When I was about sixteen, something changed. My hair started falling out in chunks – my hair was everywhere. As much as I whinged about my shitty haircuts and the endless halo of baby hair, I was pretty proud of my hair; and I counted on my hair to be there, as my one redeeming quality in this doomed attempt at being pretty, when I started erupting in acne, and when I had psoriasis and dermatitis and tiny boobs and the myriad of other things that can go wrong with a body. I hadn’t quite counted on my hair’s ability to suddenly vacate my head, but suddenly I had a bald patch. It’s still sort of there, but now my hairline is just a bit wonky instead of widely gaping.

I don’t think I can describe how horrible it feels, to be sixteen, female, and balding. Our society places such a high value on physical female beauty, and hair in particular is such a symbol of youth and health and femininity and I was losing it. The only people who were allowed to be bald were old married dudes, and I was none of the above.

The bald spot never really got bigger than a coin; and I’m sure most people don’t just stare at random stranger’s heads. But it was always on my mind; it was something I was always conscious of.

There are many reasons why my hair decided to just give up. I was unhealthy, unhappy, stressed, battling an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, and an abusive relationship. It was a period of losing control of my life, losing control of myself.

This was also, ironically, around the time my body became public property. I had spent so long dreaming and longing and impatiently waiting for love and romance and sex and all that crap, but when it happened I didn’t know how to handle it. I had little confidence and no agency; things just happened, without my having any say in the matter. Every time certain people touched me, or played with my hair, I didn’t feel anything but an odd sensation of disembodiment, like I didn’t belong to my body, couldn’t own what I was experiencing. It took a long time for me to learn how to take control of the situation, and then, slowly, to learn to love how I could feel.

But, this year, my hair started growing back. And now, for the first time in a long time, I don’t have to worry about my hair; as long as it’s clean, you would never guess at the anguish and anxiety and insecurity my hair has caused. My head is once again surrounded by a halo of baby hair; short, spiky things that stick up in all directions. I don’t care. I love it. I am far from okay, but I don’t know how to say how significant it is to have this part of my body back. And in getting my hair back, the hair of my carefree childhood, I know now that I have become the kind of person who owns her body, someone who doesn’t apologise for the space she occupies; just like when I was a child, nobody touches me without my permission, and I feel like I can own who I am and what I feel.

I often talk about recovery as a series of small victories; having to re-learn things, having to re-discover and reclaim yourself. And this, for me, is a little miracle.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

#myfriendsareproblematic

Now Playing: Like Real People Do by Hozier (honey, just put your sweet lips on my lips, we could just kiss like real people do)

People often like to tell me that friends of mine are, well, assholes.

I am, of course, well aware that a lot of my friends are assholes (I do mean that in the most endearing way possible, darling, if you're reading). A lot of them don't identify as feminists; many of them are identified by my fellow feminists as fuckboys (and they are, I'm not denying that).

But I keep them around, anyway.

Here's the thing; when you're a not-straight, feminist girl who hooks up with very straight, very not feminist guys in a very straight, very patriarchal setting like a club; obviously there's culture clash. But culture clash is something I'm very used to, you know, as an Asian kid in an Anglo place like Australia. If you look at my friends and I, we're like walking examples of the whole 'opposites attract' cliche; the ones who have stuck around the longest have absolutely nothing in common with me - and I've been quite open about the fact that a relationship that went 100 miles an hour and then hit a wall and exploded was with someone who was very much on my level in many ways.

Sometimes when you stay friends with someone you met when you were eighteen and blind drunk, they mean more to you than you would ever dare to admit; not in a soppy, let's get married and have babies way, but in the sense that you were broken and they - however messily, inadvertently, irreverently - went a little way into putting the pieces back together. They know that, I know that, but we don't talk about it because a) we're awkward teenagers and b) at the end of the day, we are friends, but I'm a feminist and they're fuckboys. But, I maintain there's something special about that kind of unspoken connection; and sometimes that's the reason why I can't let go of people.

And, as much as some of the things they say and do are terrifyingly ignorant - and sometimes just ludicrously funny - sometimes I think people don't give them enough credit. Yes, I keep them around, flaws and all, but they return the favour. I am a loud, rude, uncouth feminist with quite the reputation, and sometimes keeping me around is a threat to their carefully curated image of whatever the fuck teenage boys attempt to project themselves to be; but they keep me around. People know we are friends, and know that I am a feminist, and know that I won't stand for anybody's bullshit, at least within earshot - friend or not, excellent in the sack or not. Being a feminist is scary, and if you've had those rare, precious, incredibly vulnerable moments with some people, you'd know that occasionally, yes, men get scared too; and feminism is a scary, 'emasculating' bandwagon to jump onto. And that's the feminism in it all; I don't think I would be friends with some people if they didn't understand that I accept their vulnerabilities and inadequacies; which is often not a luxury afforded to some of the people I know. This absence of acceptance; this lack of acknowledging and embracing vulnerability cuts me like a knife, sometimes; I just get this swell of love and empathy and affection that is hard to ignore. It has been a hard lesson to learn, for all of us, to love in spite of flaws.

Us feminists sometimes get into a very self-aggrandizing, 'preach to the choir' loop; we simply cut out people who don't enthusiastically cling to and repeat everything you say.But we are most challenged as feminists and as people, to be empathetic, to imagine complexly, when we are not talking to our brethren.

Also, the fuckboys that I know? Not really that bad. I've always maintained that some of the best - kind, considerate, body-positive ,etc. - people I know, men and women, are sluts. The ones who have seen it all, done it all, with absolutely everybody.

And: don't hold me responsible for whatever shit that they start spouting when I'm not around. I'm not their mother, and it's not my job to educate grown men.

My friends keep me grounded, and keep me sane. And my fuckboys teach me endless, endless patience. And I am grateful for that, really.

(they are also really good in bed, but that is totally off topic.)



Saturday, August 15, 2015

on mistakes.

Now Playing: Fifteen by Taylor Swift (in your life you'll do things greater than dating the boy on the football team; I didn't know it at fifteen)

When I was fifteen, I made a lot of mistakes. I thought that going to school with one eyelid painted blue and one eyelid painted purple was a super cool look. I never did anything that could be considered 'study' or 'homework' or 'a good use of time'. My locker was a glorified garbage disposal unit, my school bag was a certified biohazard with its own mould colony experiment, and my uniform always had ramen stains and random holes in it.

And, just before I turned sixteen, also got into an abusive relationship with someone who had a partner.

I know I talk about this a lot - partly for cartharsis, and partly to raise awareness for the many kinds of abuse that happen to many different kinds of people, including me. And I know I focus a lot on the 'abuse' side and less on the 'cheating side'; because honestly, for most people, they're so fixated on one story that they forget about the other/s.

The reason why I can't talk about the story in its entirety is because, to be honest, I really don't know what I'm talking about. The abuse that happened was mostly gaslighting; which 'is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.' I don't know exactly what happened; I don't even know what I thought or how much I knew. There are gaps in my memory that I have no hope of ever recalling, and why, from the outside, it looked like I was deliberately doing a lot of very hurtful things. Resisting gaslighting depends on your ability to trust your own judgements; and I didn't. I was a very insecure, naive kid who trusted a friend.

I don't know how responsible I am for the mistakes that I made then; for the pain that I inflicted on myself and on other people. What I do know was that our relationship started as a very formal email correspondence and escalated very rapidly from there. I do know that I was very naive and sheltered, even for a sixteen year old, and that I'd never had a relationship that came close to matching the intensity of this. I do know that, for the duration of the relationship, I had been told by my abuser to only consider it as a cut-and-dry friendship, even though I knew at the time, I definitely know now, and everyone else knew that it was more than that.

I knew there was someone else in the picture; and I remember the only times that I really pushed back against the web of lies were times that directly involved her. I don't know how to say that I genuinely didn't feel comfortable with it; and I don't know how to say that no matter how hard I pushed back, it wasn't any good.  Had I not been in an abusive relationship, had I not been fifteen, perhaps I would have had the willpower to break off something that, for him, constituted cheating.

But I was in an abusive relationship. And I was fifteen.

The funny thing is, people are obsessed with telling me to 'get over it'; as if I like dwelling on horrible things that happened years ago. But they have never let me get over it, largely because they have never gotten over it. I have had to pay the price for being 'that girl' many, many times since then. People seem to enjoy holding me to account for a mistake that I made a long, long time ago; but nobody's really bothered with him. Nobody has ever called him out for cheating, or for abusing me; but people are perfectly happy to erase the fact that I was abused for nearly two years, and refuse to let go of the fact that, as part of that, I was 'that girl'.

Abuse is not a mistake. You can't 'accidentally' abuse someone. My abuser did not make a 'mistake'. Every day was a conscious decision to abuse me, and he has never been held to account, never apologised. It is an unbearable burden to carry for so long. I see him move on with his life, blissfully unburdened by any kind of consequence of comeuppance, and I wonder at people's audacity to label fifteen year old me a slut and to consider him to be such a bright upstanding young man.

And, by the way, I am not excusing mistakes or changing the topic; and people who say so fail, as so many people fail, to imagine abuse complexly. These two things are so inextricably tangled that to think of them in isolation results in absurdity, such as the absurdity of asking an abuse victim to apologise for the consequences of her own abuse. It is hard to think that I made such a terrible mistake - something that deserves so many years of vitriol - when not only does nobody seem to care about the person in question, but that the person in question abused his 'best friend', which is how I got caught up in this mess in the first place. How am I supposed to apologise for an unconscious mistake when nobody is pressing him for an apology for conscious acts of cruelty?

Things are not always as cut and dry as saying sorry; it is so often much more complicated than that. And I think, very often, about the way in which victims and survivors are expected to get over it, to move on, to forget about what happened, at the drop of a hat; and I think about how it has less to do with helping survivors heal and more to do with the fact that our stories are difficult, uncomfortable, complex, and challenges the hierarchy that often puts our abusers above us. I made so many mistakes growing up; and I own them all. I take responsibility for the many times I have hurt people and let them down. But I cannot, should not, and will not take responsibility for my abuse, which is at the core of what people are asking of me, in this relentless fixation on what happened in days gone by. Because as much as I was a stupid teenager who made big mistakes, I am also an abuse victim trying, very hard, to keep on keeping on.




Saturday, August 08, 2015

on objectification.

'It is easy to forget how full the world is of people, full to the bursting and each of them imaginable and consistently misimagined' (Paper Towns)

I love the rush of going out.

It doesn't always work out; there's nothing more frustrating than an unsuccessful night out. But when it works, it works, and it's fucking beautiful. I love the rush. I love the dresses that always end up riding up to your See-You-Next-Tuesday. I love the heels that fail spectacularly at being adequate footwear.

And I love...I love meeting people in places that drown out voices.

When you're a young intellectual person, you learn pretty quickly that intellectual connection is sometimes vastly overrated. There is something profound and visceral in physical connection, in the electric chemistry that sometimes just happens when the most unlikely people collide. I have met some pretty terrible people and pretty poor candidates for Future Life Partner in my nocturnal escapades, but that wasn't the point - no one goes clubbing in search of a marriage proposal. I love the sparks that fly, I love how ethereal everything is, I love how it comes and goes in a heartbeat. When the people and the speakers are so loud you aren't quite sure what their name is or what the hellcrap they're saying and you can't quite put a finger on their accent but all you know is that this feels good; sometimes I like that.

Is it objectification? Probably. They don't know, or care, about my life story or my values or my opinions on whatever. But I don't care, either; you really can't overthink stuff like this. You don't need to think about the fact that you really can't date a bricklayer from Leeds; because you're not going to end up dating a bricklayer from Leeds, because eventually you two will part ways or you will sober up or both. Beautiful things are sometimes fleeting.

When I was younger I felt like people treated me like some kind of disembodied brain; like my body was only there to provide transport for my Marvelous Intellectualism. I come from a family of science nerds and my sister is quite athletic so I never really felt smart or competent, but people thought I was a fucking genius. Which is flattering up until a point, but then it just feels dehumanizing. I wanted what all teenagers wanted; I wanted an outlet for the confusing tangle of sexuality and attraction and lust but all anyone wanted to talk about was the essay that they needed help on. I wanted someone to acknowledge that I was more than just my books and my grades; I wanted people to consider me as a person, someone who fell in love and got hurt and sometimes did stupid things and sometimes didn't always have the answers and fucked stuff up and got angry and really, really, really wanted a boyfriend in that unironic way that most teenage girls were allowed to, except for me. In some ways, I hated being smart; in the same way that some conventionally attractive people sometimes dislike being pretty. It's all people can see, and when you're reduced to just one trait you stop being human.

Physical interactions can be dehumanizing, sure; but there's more power in it. There's nothing subtle about the hook up scene, and I am not above slapping sense into people or even just doing the 'thanks, but I'd rather watch paint dry' thing. I am allowed to be blunt and rude; I am allowed to voice my desires or my disapproval. I am allowed to walk away; but I am also allowed opportunities to do things I never had a chance to do before. I still remember the first time I went out for real; and the person I met didn't care that I was 'smart'. I was just a person; perhaps that's the first time someone actually acknowledged that I was an actual person.

And physical interactions don't have to be vapid. One of the sweetest people I've ever met, I met at a party and will probably never see again. Our relationship was brief but gosh, it was kind. It was the easy, casual courtesy that people associate with Australians but that I'd seen little evidence of, and I still think of it fondly. In contrast, one of the longest and most intellectual relationships I had was also profoundly abusive. I don't understand why people were more okay with that than with a short, but deeply respectful encounter.

Here's the thing - sluts are meant to be the worst kinds of women. And the men who want to interact with these 'bad women'  are the best and the worst; the worst are pretty easy to spot and even easier to 'accidentally' spill your drink on, and the best are the ones who see past the slut-shaming bullshit, the ones who are actually the most capable of viewing women as multi-faceted human beings.

It is very easy, when you're 5'2" with stretch marks and scars and wobbly bits and acne scars, to convince people that you're not made for male consumption. It is very hard, when you are intellectual, to convince people that you're not an encyclopaedia.

I've had friends who do what I call the intellectual booty-call; the ones who chat me up demanding some kind of blisteringly intense debate. I value their intellectualism and gosh, I value my own; but I'm not a machine. Sometimes I don't know the answer; sometimes I don't know what I'm supposed to think about something. Sometimes I just want to chat, sometimes I just want to lie quietly with someone who wants to lie quietly, too. I want the space to say something that isn't a joke, or a controversial opinion, without worrying that you will think less of me, that I'm not living up to my reputation, or that I have - shock horror - forced you to think of me as a person with flaws and bits that don't work and things that I don't understand. In this obsession with 'smart girls', with this total disregard for my sanity or feelings; that's when I feel the most dehumanized.

As a woman, and as a woman of colour, I have been dehumanized many, many times by many, many people. And yes, some of those times were by sleezy losers lurking around at parties; but some of those times have been fully clothed, completely sober, at uni, by my 'friends'. Objectification is a multi-headed beast; there are many, many different ways in which many, many people fail to imagine others complexly. And when we divide interactions into 'good' or 'bad', when we arbitrarily label people and places and relationships with blanket labels; that's objectification, too.


Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Content with Loneliness

Now Playing: The Only Exception by Paramore (and up until now I had sworn to myself that I'm content with loneliness) 

I look at the writing and musics of my younger and more vulnerable years and remember that I was a very lonely child.

You wouldn't think so, really. Yes, my extended family are all overseas and my nuclear one is rather small, but I grew up in a bustling daycare centre and I have a sister. But I spent a lot of time alone, for varying reasons, most of them voluntary. But I was always lonely.

This loneliness has informed much of my life. I used to cry a lot, for no good reason. I don't always remember how or why I felt so lonely but I remember it cutting my smaller self like a knife. I understood, from a very young age, the concept of feeling alone in a crowd. I wasn't starved of people; in fact, I often felt crowded, suffocated, and in this lack of privacy I learned to be quite a secretive, even sneaky child. But I lacked people to connect with, people I could understand, who understood me. It was a strange kind of isolation.

And this loneliness made me quite a reckless person; I often took dangerous risks with my safety and sanity in an attempt to connect. It gave me an air of desperation, too, or at least a very tenacious persistence; I could never quite let go, never quite give up. And in refusing to bend or or bow down, I broke.

People often thought I was too trusting, too naive, perhaps a little stupid for an otherwise precocious child. But I always knew what I was doing, and I always knew when what I was doing was a bad idea. But the hurt was still a shock - I didn't think I could hurt so badly. I had never been as trusting as people thought I was, but in this loneliness, in the breaking and hurting of my life, I have totally lost my ability to trust. I simply don't...I cannot trust anymore.

When I was sixteen someone painted a pretty picture for me, running away, going to Oxford, chasing dreams and reaching for the stars, and then coming home to warm arms. And I watched that dream shatter in my hands and now, when anyone offers anything, I am immediately afraid. Someone offered me the world once, and I took it, and then realized that I had been left with nothing; and perhaps doing it again will be a leap of faith, or an act of gross stupidity, but either way I will be cursed for a coward or a fool; my reputation always seems to rest on how other people act on me - whenever I do anything with anyone I feel like a puppet, being pulled this way and that. And so I don't take what I am given; I create things for myself. I don't know how many people are like this ghost from my past, driven by a sick need to give love, then take it away.

I have grown content with loneliness. I don't mind it anymore; in fact, I have learned to love it. I love my own company, I love the peace of solitude. But in truth, it doesn't matter if I love it or not. Because, either way, I have had to grow content with loneliness. Nothing else seems safe anymore.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Sparks.

Now Playing: Sparks Fly by Taylor Swift (give me something that will haunt me when you’re not around)

We should talk about sparks.

(I am aware that this ramble might make me come off a little cuckoo.)

Girls like me – not-white, not-skinny, not-cool, not-pretty girls – are supposed to settle. I see it all the time; I know a slew of insecure girls who introduce me to their distinctly uninteresting boyfriends and can’t even think of a redeeming quality aside from ‘he’s nice’. Which is code for ‘he picked me, he has a penis, and isn’t deranged, so I can’t complain’.

The long story short of why I’m still single is that people generally don’t settle for me, and so I returned the favour and refused to settle, too. I don’t settle. Because I like sparks.

The only way that people talked about ‘sparks’ when I was young and stupid was that the deranged said it was love and the cynical said it was rubbish. They were both wrong.

When you’re a nerd – even a nerd of the distinctly artsy persuasion – you hang around with a lot of science geeks, and the science geeks like to babble on about the chemistry of kissing, of sexual attraction, of falling in love; analysing the oxytocin and saliva and bacterial exchange of those moments when you feel like your veins are turning into pure sunlight. As much as all this talk of germs and neurochemicals is kind of unpoetic, I do think they’re onto something; the spark is a chemical, physical, visceral reaction that is entirely irrational.

One of the most dangerous things I was told when I was younger was that that rush, that spark, is falling in love; as in, you’ve met the right person and they will treat you right.

I didn’t get that spark for my first kiss. The only thing that comes to mind is just total absolute shock followed by extreme guilt and then emotional overload. But it came, eventually, after a couple more kisses, punctuated with a lot of rambling and mumbling on my part. It felt like surrender. That was the start of ignoring reality and all the red flags that came with the real world. I had my spark.

It is difficult and painful to think about that time, and how so much hurt has tainted that golden rush of three years ago. But it was still there; I still remember it. With the benefit of retrospect, I know now that neither of us loved each other; but the chemistry was there and the life experience was not so we called it love.

And for the people who asked me why I stayed in a toxic, abusive relationship, yes, the spark was part of it. I didn’t know what it meant, but it meant something. I wanted that rush again.

There was a period of the most aggressively vapid, disconnected intimacy after that relationship went down the toilet that I don’t like to think about, and then the spark, again. I remember everything just sort of clicking into place, that strange, surreal moment when the two most unlikely people collide. I remember the scent and sound and feel of the moment; I remember, for the first time in a long time, arms around me that felt like home. And that was when I finally connected the dots that the spark is just something that happens in the moment, and that it doesn’t say much about the other person other than you have good chemistry; and god knows you can’t build a whole lot on that. This friend and I; we don’t talk much. We have nothing in common and fight all the time. But when we are alone together, quietly, the chemistry is undeniable, and that was when I learned to accept things that only work in the moment, things that don’t really have a past or a future, just a present.

And the spark isn’t really necessary, you know, in those fleeting relationships that happen in the blue hours before the sun rises. I remember meeting someone and having one of those painfully awkward conversations that you can only have when a slightly drunk engineering student tries to chat up an arts student nearly a decade younger. But we ended up having a good time, even with no spark. It was just like hanging out with a friend. A friend that you just met, that you have sex with.

I was eighteen, don’t judge me.

But you can’t build a whole lot without the spark, either; and sometimes the spark just doesn’t happen, even on people you’re dead keen on. I remember meeting someone at a party, and I just wasn’t feeling it. Objectively, he was very attractive; out of my league several times over. And he was lovely, as far as pretty strangers go. But no spark. He just kind of grew on me, later, when we were doing more talking and less aggressive face eating. We were both smooth talkers, which is a bad mix.

The spark never came, but we still managed to go down in flames. And when people constantly badger me with ‘but you did want something, didn’t you?’ or ‘but you were jealous, right?’ I really, really wish I could tell them about the spark, or lack thereof, without sounding crazy. There wasn’t any spark; and even as friends, we never really clicked. And even when I had a crush, even when I was in over my head, I knew nothing was going to happen and so I tried very hard to ignore the gossip and focus on my friendship. And now I just focus on trying to not sound crazy.

You know what else is crazy? Smell. You know when people just smell…strange? Like, not after-gym BO, just not right, and nobody else seems to notice? I think that’s the opposite of a spark. The physical chemistry is off.

It’s the most surreal feeling, when you kiss someone and you get that spark. On my birthday, it just sort of happened, with a beautiful stranger who was all kinds of strange and uncouth and trouble. And for the first time, I didn’t think about after. I didn’t think about maybe. I didn’t think about what if. I didn’t think it was love or anything other than just this spark of chemistry that just meant that on a visceral, physical level we connected, but everything else was all rather ethereal. I just went with it and it was beautiful, and then it was shitty, but I remember that spark and that made it special.

I get a lot of shit for being fussy. I often do the kiss and then politely leave thing. I haven’t been blessed with love, yet, but I have been blessed with a few precious moments. Some of them are marred by pain or fading into memory, but they happened and I am always happy that they did. Because quite separate to the many other joys in life – falling in love, curling up with a good book, dancing to hip-hop in the shower – the spark is something we don’t talk about, or we misunderstand, or we don’t give enough credit to.

I’m still young and reckless. I’m living for my next spark. I don’t know when, or who, or how, but I know it’ll happen and there will be something exciting to think of in my moments of nostalgia. People come and go, but that rush…there are no words, sometimes. And when people puzzle over why someone like me could stand to think well enough of myself to not settle, it’s got less to do with arrogance or confidence and more to do with the fact that I know what I would miss out on, if I settled for less than the spark (and also less than, you know, a decent human being). And that’s a price I’m not willing to pay.