Steering into the skid: overcoming trauma

Tw: sexuality, sex, sexual assault, dominance/submission, anxiety, r-pe, healing.

 

I haven’t had to process trauma that happened to me just before grad school, and all previous traumas, for 5 years. I retreated exclusively into the queer dating world in all its beauty and wonder, and loved it. But I feel as if I’ve been ignoring part of my identity out of fear, fear of not knowing my limits. I struggle with relationships and even friendships because I don’t know what my boundaries are; I don’t know when I want someone and when I need to use them/let them use me. I don’t think I can sort it out until I work through everything that happened to me since I began my journey into the sexual world at the ripe age of 17–or maybe even before that.

I’m feeling icky and triggered right now for two reasons. One was that date on Thursday night; the one where he massaged my shoulders a bit at a show and I left minutes later and started crying on the train. I’m still not okay, days later. I actually had to take my vest off and readjust my bra straps earlier, because of how they were weighing on my shoulders.

The other was that this man that I’d been texting explicitly with… turns out his girlfriend (whom I’d known about but he’d made it sound more casual/open than it was) lives with him. We were never going to meet up; I was hesitating before. The fantasy was better than the reality anyways. The fantasy was healing; the reality would likely be triggering. But this shattered the fantasy of a guy who would throw me around and use me on my terms, in safe play, let me give trust over to him… and suddenly I didn’t trust him. I’m not okay from that either.

A straight friend of mine and I had coffee yesterday, because I had to process all my icky feelings. But for all the shitty triggering that I’ve been experiencing I learned something big about myself: whereas I never thought I wanted this before, I find myself in desperate need of a (presumably cis straight male) partner I can trust to dominate me and work my boundaries with care. One who runs the risk of triggering me, but with whom I can build mutual respect.

This is apparently a common thing in survivors of assault: BDSM and kink are ways of building radical trust and reclaiming one’s body, crucial things for healing after trauma. There’s even a very healing experience in being the submissive. I’ve never ever been interested in anything remotely in this direction so I never realized this; now it seems painfully obvious.

It surprises me because nobody’s ever held me down and r-ped me. I’ve just been guilted and coerced and denied emotional comfort until I gave in. I found myself after my first sexual experience wishing he’d just gotten it over and r-ped me; I felt that worthless. The gentle touch can be triggering sometimes, because it can be dishonest; it’s not violence and it’s not cold distance, it’s a “nice guy” who is using his gentle touch to mask the true power of his desire and lack of respect for my needs, and if gentle touch becomes icky it’s hard to get close to another guy after that. So in my fantasy world, I get used and I get fucked and the other person has complete physical control but I am in complete psychological control over the situation. But they know my boundaries and my triggers and will turn it into play.

For the first time in a long time I’ve shattered another wall, and after talking with my straight friend about it I was finally able to feel positively about what I need from a partner, finally able to process it completely, able to explain what I need to get past everything.

I’m not discovering anything new here. This is an age-old game. But to me it’s brand spanking new. Do I trust someone else bigger and stronger and maybe even cis het male? Do I trust myself?

I’ve talked with a few more people and learned more about the psychology of kink and my boundaries and open communication than I have in all my 12 years of being sexually active. How are we not teaching open communication and knowing ourselves and being in tune with ourselves in sex ed?! What the fuck. And how are we not as a culture talking more about sexual play outside of a wink-wink context? Again, nothing new here that kinksters didn’t already know, but wow, have I ever been repressed.

And one last thing; this exploration of gender I’ve experienced, just like my early college weight gain, is an effort to protect myself. It’s a way to feel in touch with my masculinity and my strength and to distance myself from (and even punish myself for) the things that make me sexual. I struggle, still, to embrace my femme side, because it can feel like vulnerability.

Even as I’m working through the triggers of the last few days, I’m learning or at least trying to channel it by steering into the skid and exploring things one step at a time. It feels terrifying, but it feels like what I need. I will be safe and listen to my bodily reactions; I will learn my boundaries; I will know myself. Who knows; someday I might even feel empowered.

 

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Nerdiness

I outdid myself.

I’ve been obsessed with trying to get to the bottom of why I feel like such an outsider. As I thought and talked about it, I started realizing something: most of my closest friends nowadays were to some extent nerdy kids. Maybe we had friends and maybe we found ways to fit in, and maybe we’ve outgrown the bulk of it by now, but our brains all operate at a slightly different wavelength from the rest of society. There’s always that piece of us that wants to get into debates and analyze and get all wrapped up in ideas.

So of course, the next thing I did was google “nerd personality type” and came across this article (for all its shortcomings, it was useful) which starts off with this anedcote:

One day when Erik Charles Nielsen was in seventh grade, his teacher taught a lesson on time zones. The first thing you needed to know, said the teacher, was that the International Date Line was at 180 degrees longitude. “Not exactly,” said Nielsen, piping up to interrupt the lesson. “It actually moves to avoid islands.” After a 15-minute argument, Nielsen was escorted from the room—despite being correct.

Reminds me almost EXACTLY of a time in 5th grade when we were learning bike safety and the gym teacher told us to stay 3 feet from the curb and other obstacles on the side of the road: about the distance from the line around the basketball court to the wall. I did what any well-adjusted 10 year old would do: I raised my hand. “I don’t think that’s three feet.” He looked at me in disbelief, then demonstated how the distance he’d indicated was exactly 3 of his foot lengths. “But is your foot really a ‘foot’?” I asked, regretting it almost immediately. After an awkward pause, during which the whole class looked over at me as I realized I’d messed up, he finally said: “It’s close enough to three feet.” I never did that again, but as we rode around town practicing turn signals and safe riding, I made sure to stick as close to the three feet rule as I could.

And that’s the thing. My brain was ALWAYS trying to figure out rules while my classmates were focusing elsewhere. For me, rules were important. They were foundational.

I was most. definitely. a nerd.

I also had to laugh because only a nerd would go through this amount of research to figure out whether they were in fact a nerd. Because I always knew I was an outsider, but I didn’t know why. There are a million reasons I was different. I’ve gone through them all. But ultimately, social interactions were so hard for me that only in adulthood am I really able to figure this shit out. Most sources (YES OKAY I RESEARCH WAY TOO MUCH) say that the nerdy personality is a mild form of Aspergers, which is a mild form of Autism. It’s not on the spectrum because it doesn’t interfere with daily functioning, but it shares a lot of characteristics of ASD.

Sometimes it BOGGLES my mind that I could be so different from someone else, that they don’t care about my amazing fact about blue pigmentation being COMPLETELY absent from the animal kingdom. That shit’s amazing to me.

But the thing is I’m a total extrovert. I don’t have particularly nerdy hobbies and I don’t like being alone for long periods of time. Academia is really hard for me in that sense. But it’s taken me years to learn how to socialize normally, and a LOT of trial and error. Nobody cares that it’s not exactly three feet but me. Maybe some other kid in the back of the class also wondered the same thing and had the good sense not to open their big mouth, but not me at the time.

It’s been causing a lot of growing pains. It’s been something I’ve denied for a really long time, thinking maybe I felt different because I was queer… or because I was bad at all sports… or because my parents were older… or because my brothers shamed me… or because I was a sensitive kid so I was picked on and/or ignored by my peers… or because I was brainy… or because I was first-generation…

Why do I want to crack this code? A dozen reasons. But mostly because I think that, for all its benefits, nerdiness means getting stuck in my own head and thought processes, which prevents me from really being there for others as a friend and daughter and sister and aunt and girlfriend. And cracking the code means being able to hack having community and a sense of belonging, and participating in this whole human race thing.

So yeah, I’m gonna research the shit out of this, keep analyzing. This is just how my brain operates. Don’t tell anyone, because being cool (or at least functional) is supposed to come easy.

But yeah. I outdid myself in nerdiness by researching nerdiness.

Running on my own terms

I’ve run in one form or another since I was 10. It was around this time I started getting feedback about what running does to my body, and what people would see: people said I looked good during periods when I ran and lost weight; they said nothing during periods when I didn’t run at all. Thus was born my love-hate relationship with running and with my body. But during times when I do run, I do it for other reasons; I run because it feels good, because I feel useful, because it clears my head. I run to reclaim my body from a world that told me, “yes we are watching and judging your body, from the moment you leave childhood until the day you die.”

Anyways, I’ve been slowly getting back into running. Last night I ran to the climbing gym: 2.5 miles over a long-ass steep-ass tiring-ass bridge. I was thinking about how many things in my life are dictated by fear. I am not my fear, but it’s been a driving force. I am not my fear, but I’ve been enslaved to it. I am not my fear, but I live with it every day. I am not my fear, but my life would be different were I able to let my fear go.

I am not my fear.

I want to repeat this to myself often, because I associate independence with fear. Because often I act to avoid one thing rather than to gain something else. Because I’ve always been timid, even when I’m bold.

I am not my fear.

Monosyllabic words are perfect for a running mantra, because each word is a step.

Mantras can also take the form of a song, like this one:

I hope to learn how to run on my own terms.

The importance of patience

Life is just one big test of patience. Just wait and things will change; nothing stands still.

The discomfort we all have with time is that it’s the one dimension we have no control over; we can move left and right, up and down, forwards and backwards; we can change our rate of motion and we can change our direction. But we can’t change how fast or slow or even what direction we move in time. Realizing the limitations of time and working within this framework means accepting helplessness. We can only brace for the passage of time, which puts us perpetually on the defensive.

I’m no good at being patient. It involves accepting the most basic human helplessness. But when I’m impatient, I push relationships along. When I’m impatient, I frantically ask all the questions that come to mind but don’t stick around to figure out the answers.

Time will pass with or without my cooperation.

A gender rebel’s gotta do what a gender rebel’s gotta do.

I’ve been doing some mindfulness stuffs, as part of a new years resolution I’m undertaking with a friend to meditate and/or do yoga regularly. As a naturally anxious person, I tend to just stew with the thoughts in my head, and most of them are pretty mean. For anyone who is curious, I personally like the super straightforward interface of calm.com for relaxing background sounds and a timer; there are also guided meditations. Nothing spiritual or touchy-feely. Just you doing you, for 2-30 minutes. (If you do 2 minutes nobody will judge you. But it’s awesome, seriously.)

The meditation I try to do is about being gentle on myself and letting myself feel the things I feel. That’s the only reason I’m still thinking, “Okay. Let’s explore this whole gender bullshit.”

I started with dresses, and then cut my hair, and then slowly stopped wearing dresses except when necessary, and then started binding, and then started experimenting with men’s clothing, and now most of my clothing is men’s. It’s a weird progression and has really thrown me off.

When I cut my hair into a pixie cut, I thought that’d be okay. But then suddenly my feminine clothing seemed too feminine in juxtaposition; so I tried styling my hair “pixie” but wound up giving up on that and letting it go androgynous. Then I tried androgynizing my clothing and it felt good. Every step seemed to get me closer to recognizing myself in the mirror. I started exploring how comfortable I am being perceived in different ways. I’m sure I was perceived as ugly at some points along this path; I didn’t like that. I wanted to flirt and be acknowledged. It’s shallow, I know, but I can’t help it. I’m sure i was perceived as confused. I didn’t like that either. I want to be seen as a secure adult, and I’m such a long way off from that.

The reason I feel the need to explore gender is that with this progression has led me through anxiety and depression to a point where I can live with myself, where I more or less recognize myself. So I don’t know if this is where I’m settling down, as an androgynous female with very open views of stuff, or if I need to go further.

I want to know now. I don’t want to wait 6 years to figure things out. But for now, things are getting better, and as a side project to my life it’s not half bad. So maybe I’ve reached the end of the road; but I need to see this through.

I like a few things now: 1) I attract open-minded friends (or repel the closed-minded ones). 2) I am treated as an equal by guy friends and find it easy to be myself around them. I think they think of me as a lesbian but I’m not shy to disclose my mixed dating preferences. So I guess that’s all cool, and maybe I’ve settled down in a place that feels good for now.

If I keep saying to myself, “This is stupid. I’m so foolish and selfish for going down this path; people must know I’m in a quarter-life crisis…” then I’ll never see the end of this road. No, I have to be nice to myself. I’m not stupid or foolish. I’m me. And I am not the most graceful at life but it’s my life to be not graceful at!!

I’ve pushed through a lot of discomfort to get here. When I sly-ly began exploring everything by wearing a men’s t-shirt here and a sports bra there, I had intense anxiety about wearing it in public. But I pushed through. And I feel myself walking taller, feeling prouder, being lighter. And still, I feel I have a ways to go.

A gender rebel’s gotta do what a gender rebel’s gotta do.