The Alligator Did It: A Story of Rebounds and Imaginary Friends

When I was a child, if ever I got angry, I would take all the clothes from my dresser and throw them all around my room. Upon being discovered by my parents in the middle of a room full of strewn-clothing chaos, I would proclaim triumphantly, “The Alligator did it.”

Yes, it was always the Alligator.

And in a way I believed this: I believed that the Alligator, my imaginary but oh-so-real ally, had taken it upon himself to rip apart any semblance of normality and re-mark the world, rightly, with frenzy. Frenzy is only right in a world that makes no sense, in a world that, in the eyes of a child, inspires blue-eyed indignation. In a bedroom that smelled of the lilac trees that whispered just outside the window, chaos seemed only appropriate when things were oh-so-wrong.

Now that I am a grown-up, I think once again about the Alligator. Can I blame him again for my strewn-clothing messes? The ones that I have made in recent years, in recent days? The ones that are a bit more complicated. I would like to blame him, I think. Yes, surely, he was the one who incited that chaos. It was a green-scaled, fire-eyed chaos. Not mine. No, I wasn’t thinking, so I wasn’t there. I am a smart woman with a poetic but very analytical mind. I have a high IQ and have, in the midst of deep thoughts, maybe almost become a little wise. And so surely it wasn’t me who made those mistakes. Ha.

Oh, those mistakes. The ones that seemed to fit so beautifully into the moment, the kind that seem just right at the time. I’ve made them once or twice. Maybe three or four times. Maybe seven, give or take. Those mistakes that then left me recipient when I opened my eyes. My metaphorical eyes. Not the blue little-girl eyes.

But maybe those eyes as well.

Recipient. It is a favourite word of mine in recent years. It means regretful. But I like the way it sounds: it sounds like the wind as it moves through teeth.

I had my heart broken recently after the end of a short-lived but, at moments, treasured romance. The loss of love is always hard. The loss of love breaks the world apart. It is heavy on the chest. It moves like shadows do through a shipwreck. It is unjust. It turns you into that child again, the one to whom the world makes no sense and is only wrong.

After the little heartbreak (it was, this time, only a little one), I did what I swear time and again I will not do. I had a little rebound (oh no; haven’t I learned so many times over? And aren’t I too old and wise for this ? It solves nothing, and only leaves a big cluster of mess around my feet). Oops, I did it again. Again, a little strewn-clothing mistake. With someone who is no good for me. And then, when I saw it for what it was, I felt regret. I felt recipient. Like that child who realizes that now she has to pick up her own mess and reorganize the chaos into the compartments where it belongs.

But, like that child, I have learned a little bit too from the experience. I have learned that she, the child-me, craves, and deserves, kindness. This craving, this need, is the reason she throws her things everywhere. She wants to be held in the midst of the injustice but doesn’t quite know how to ask for this.

And I better understand the nature of messes. I know a little better how to tell the well-made, liberating messes from the ones that, in the end, are pure, irredeemable disasters.

And now, through these reflections, I’ve gotten reacquainted with my Alligator. He is in fact real; I know this now. And yes. Yes, the Alligator did it. The Alligator definitely did it. My Alligator, fierce and wounded heart. He needs a little bit of love of his own to get him through. He needs to be held gently in the lilac-scented light that comes into my old bedroom from the window by the garden. And so I will hold him, because he is mine.

Tangles

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Tangles

You gather the lilies in the folds of your thoughts
they are the same colour and feel of your skin,
under a torn silk dress stained with rainwater
You are a white sky
bruised with the sound of the sea

When I lay down with you by the ocean
the lines in the sand
tangled tightly into the lines of your palms:
these become your fishing nets
Inside them, you hold my heart, a seahorse
coiled deep in its fetal position;
the cluster of my lungs, wet and dark as seaweed;
and my eyes, twin seashells
that close shut on their own shadows

I am your mermaid, you say,
and you are my song that washed away

You know the words I was going to say
before I say them
like a forest knows
the shadows that wander through; they are
always new
but always remembered
because their kind has walked there
oh so many
times before

On Being Undiminished

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holdfast heart

Last night an anonymous man sent me a message comprised solely of hateful, demeaning comments about my body. The message came about, it seems, because he recognized me from my presence in my local Pride parade and wanted to wound me. I believe, though I am not certain, that it is someone who made a pass at me once and whom I turned down. The comments were designed to make me feel insecure and small. And I will not lie: they had this effect. The comments haunted my sleep and they have haunted my day today, not only because of what they said but because of the reality that someone I don’t even know would reach out to me with such cruelty and hatred.

But I think this sort of experience is all too common. It is the reality of being a woman with any kind of presence on the internet. No, let me amend that: it is the reality of being a woman with any kind of presence in the world. People (usually straight cis men, but not always) feel entitled to map, assess, characterize, and legitimize women’s bodies.

I am writing this because I want to own this experience and transform it. I will not let a stranger take my joy away from me. My presence in the Pride parade this year meant the world to me. I danced through the whole parade. Joyfully, blissfully. I danced because I was surrounded by people who mean a lot to me and because am in a place in my life where I am genuinely happy. I have a job that I adore, I write songs that fill my mind with beautiful electricity when I play them, I love the people in my life, and I love my presence in the world. All of the things are possible because of my body. My body is my voice, my movement, my heart, my hands, my bliss, all I am, and all I create.

I am 34 years old. It is probably only in the last couple of years that I have come to love my body. In my younger years, I struggled with, and overcame, an eating disorder. I internalized the message that my body would only be ‘right’ if I changed it in some way, reshaped it, cut away at its contours. I believe that I would have the right my place in the world only if I occupied less space in the world. And so I reshaped my body. I participated in a long, soft process of self-diminishment, of slowly disappearing like a shadow that slips under the door as the day moves on its axis.

But I am done with disappearing. I love my strong leg muscles, the curves of my stomach, and the feeling of the wind in my hair when I am dancing. I may never be completely free from the inner voices that tell me that I am not good enough, but I am finished with disappearing. I will dance in every parade that means something to me. I will occupy space, I will create, I will make change. I will not be silenced: neither my voice nor my footfalls as I move through the world with joy and presence. I am a formidable human being.

And to all the women (or people of any gender) who have been made to feel like your bodies are not good enough, who have been subject to cruel words and glances that cut you to pieces, I want to say this: I send you all my warm thoughts and love in solidarity that, if you wish, you can wrap around yourself and hold for a while. Come dancing with me, if you want to. In the streets, by the ocean, in songs sometimes, and sometimes in silence. We can undisappear, we can be whole, we can be undiminished.

No.

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Ever since I was a small child, I have had the tendency to put the needs of others before my own. It has often been a struggle for me to say ‘no’ even when I want to. I spent much of today in a contemplation which slowly evolved into a vow. This vow is to nurture and strengthen my ‘no.’ To hold it tightly until it knows it is safe to reach out into the world.

‘No’ is a small bird that I hold in my hand. When released, it flies back to me, bringing sustenance. ‘No’ is the edges of the ocean that encircle my beautiful space of solitude. ‘No’ is the coils of the muscles of the braids in my hair. ‘No’ is a hidden strength that, if ever unraveled, may be woven again.

‘No’ is the crow with wings like torn black construction paper that hovers above me when I run along the waterfront. Despite the force of the wind and the way its body pauses tensely in the air, it is not pushed to the ground.

‘No’ is the quivering light on the forest path. ‘No’ is with me at some of the moments when I feel most free. And so I am learning to love my ‘no,’ to nurture it, and recognize its subtle warmth.

On Bisexuality, Three Fears, and, Ultimately, Love

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One of the realities that I deal with as a bisexual person (yes, I said that word, because silence is good for sleep and stargazing but not so much for changing minds) is that I live with three particular fears. These three fears come alive most vividly when I am dating someone new. They wind around me, bind me tightly, and ask me to choose one of two directions. Fears do not beseech with gentle words; sometimes they speak without words at all, or they shout loudly in the most hidden places, but they always seem to convey their meaning.

One of these fears is that, if I am dating a man, friends from my queer community will reject me (as sometimes has happened in one way or another) for not being or acting queer enough.

Another fear is that, if I am dating a woman, other folks in my life will see it as an experimental whim (as has happened, even from those who are dear to me). Being bi is so often assumed to be just a phase. This is hurtful because to me it is a vital element of my identity.

I am someone who is capable of being romantically and sexually drawn to people of more than one gender. I’ve known this since I was 14-ish, though for many years I seldom spoke of it. I have spoken about it lot more frequently of late. I’ve written about it too, and probably will so more – partly because a dear friend (someone whom I love ferociously and devotedly) recently referred to me as a ‘bisexual activist.’ Coming from this person, these words made me infinitely proud and made me want to shake up the world with words and dancing.

If I am going through a phase, realistically it’s a twenty-year-long phase because I’ll be 34 in less than two weeks. Happy birthday, me, let’s have a party and eat some delicious cake! But oh goodness, that brings me to another assumption: the assumption that as a bi person I want to have my cake and also eat another cake too. That, if I really like more than one gender, then I will never be satisfied. And there it is – there’s the third fear that nestles itself gently between the other aforementioned two.

This third fear is that the person I fall for will believe that someone like me can never love one person fully and completely. That this person will be wary of me because of that notion that bi folks can’t settle down and be satisfied with one love. I can’t speak for everyone, but I for one just want one that person to write songs about forever (as realistic or unrealistic as that hopeless and yet hopeful romanticism of mine may be).

Some people who read this will think to themselves, why can’t she just be more confident? Why focus on fear? Let the fears fall away. Don’t give them your breath, and they will just die naturally on their own.

But the thing is, I am confident. This post was born of fears, but just as much it was born from love. It is about whom I choose to love, but it also comes from a very deep place of self-love. Despite the fears and stereotypes that have haunted me, I am proud of who I am.

And I’ve come to realize that the problem is not that I have these fears. It is that I have good reason to have these fears. I have twenty years’ worth of interactions with friends, lovers, family members, and strangers to confirm to me that these fears are neither irrational nor benign. The problem is not me, but the biphobic stereotypes and myths that still thrive. These stereotypes and myths are often silent but they are still brazen. And their brazen silence is the reason I feel that I need to speak – because people like me have sometimes chosen a long, intricately woven hush rather than bare our authentic selves. Because fear has told us that love and acceptance cannot exist for us without compromise and erasure. This is not a reality I want to endorse; I’m rather fond of love.

I don’t claim to speak for all bi folks. Everybody’s lived experiences are their own. I only have one voice and one heart, but I am at the point in my life where I find value in using both of these instruments unyieldingly. Love is worth the risk. It always is.

Anchor

Anchor

You with a tattoo of an anchor on your arm,
you pin down the ocean
like the snow pins down footsteps
of all the strangers who walked there before it covered the ground

All the same, you bound me effortlessly
and without knowing

because you are
the winter light that steals through
the holes in my coat
the shadows of the stray cats that live under the steps
the silence trapped under the ice
and the dried rose petals that were my voice

You swept them off the windowsill
but the vase still stands there filled with time

All of these things have become essential

Though I was only a silhouette
my fingers balanced on the balustrade
and feathers woven into my hair
I brought the cold draft in with me
when I came back inside

And you
were a joke I told that fell flat at a cocktail party
that I carried home in a cardboard box
like a small animal with a broken leg
I could love you in the same way

You gather all the shrill points of light
when the cars move past your basement window
where you have buried your bed
under your body
and all the boxes full of unfinished letters
they bide their time inside
your fortress of closed lungs

I’ve seen the way
you are afraid to speak to me
You hold your tongue
like a banjo holds its tune

I was cold
but I chose not to put on my sweater
because I wanted you to see my bare arms
and realize that I am vulnerable. I also planned
the way the hours moved across the walls,
the wrinkles in my dress,
the way the bridge rises
to let the ships through,
and the manner by which you left through the back door
of the cafe
before I had time
to say
that your eyes make the same sound as rain
on the steps of an old wooden church by the seashore
that I fell in love with when I was a child
and still believed in ghosts
that wear the skin of lost lullabies

On Biphobia, and the Cozy Nature of Closets

On Biphobia, and the Cozy Nature of Closets

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I’ve been posting a lot of content about Pride on my facebook this week. And that has made me reflect on the fact that I am probably confusing people, and that maybe friends and acquaintances are making assumptions about me.

I know these assumptions. I’ve heard them spoken out loud, whispered softly, and now I can hear them in my head. I can hear them breathing beside me, walking behind me, following me home from the bus stop, tapping me softly on the shoulder. The assumptions go like this: it’s just a phase, you’re only trying to get attention, you want too much, you’re just a stowaway on someone else’s ship, you’re confused, you need to choose a side. And these: you’re a straight lady if I ever did see one with your long hair and your pretty dresses, and oh wait a second girl didn’t you get all straight-married once when you were 24? Yep. I guess so. I did, sorta kinda.

But no. No, I didn’t. Because I am not a straight person. I never have been straight, though I am often read as straight because I am feminine in presentation and because two of the long-term relationships I’ve had have been with cisgender men (and then there’s that one I refuse to acknowledge – hah). I loved those people (some of them, and oh so profoundly), but I have loved people across the gender spectrum. I have loved other women. Very deeply, completely, with all of myself. That love, that part of me, is there in the songs and stories I’ve written. But that love has not often been spoken out loud.

I went to a Pride Week lecture yesterday about bisexual invisibility. The content of the lecture is covered here by a writer I very much respect. She does it justice in a way that I could not, so you should go read her piece.

Yesterday’s lecture was amazing, and made me realize some important things. It made me realize that I don’t tend to speak about my sexual orientation because of fear. This fear derives from the very real reality that when I’ve called myself bi or queer, there are times when I’ve very much been shut down, erased, disbelieved, or judged. And that hurts, particularly when it’s from people you trust and love.

The lecture also made me realize that I don’t want to be invisible anymore.

People like me who are drawn to more than one gender have to come out again and again in a way. Part of this is because we might appear straight for a while to the world because of our choice of who to love. For me, I really never wanted to come out in the first place. I’ve always been a shadow-creature of sorts, an observer who wants to watch the world and then create things from pieces of reality when I find moments of silence. I didn’t want the world to watch me back, scrutinize me, assess me. I wanted to just be who I am, without a cumbersome label or a box to fit inside. So I just moved about in the world, avoiding both spotlights and search beacons, telling people who I am only when I felt they needed to know.

But then something someone I admire said yesterday made me reflect on the reality that coming out can carve out a space for others to be who they are without so much fear. And that is something I would like to do: to make the world a little safer for others, even if it makes it a little less safe for me. I am able to overcome my fear of heights when I remember that I love the sky. Being high above the ground means being surrounded by the sky. And so I can overcome this fear too, this fear of being known, when I remember that I love how in so many ways the world has embraced me, gently encircling around me, because of the very things that make me strange and different.

Closets are cozy, comfortable places. Mine has been a shelter in a world full of colliding storms. My closet is full of all of my nice dresses. But it has also been full of complacency. My closet is a small, contained space, and in that manner has acted like a cast around fractured parts of me, holding these pieces together. But, I remind myself, a closet is not a place to dance wildly. Nor is it a place from which to launch a revolution, write songs, tell stories, and love other human beings. And I want to do all of those things. Very much so.

So, after the talk yesterday, I went away and reflected for a while on how afraid I’ve been to let people know my authentic self because I thought it would cost me love.

I’ve had women in the queer community disbelieve and de-legitimize me because I’m ‘not really gay’ (I paraphrase, but I’ve felt your tone and seen your eyes). I’ve had straight people think that I just haven’t reached a decision yet, that I’m a deftly balanced fence-sitter. I’ve had strangers on the internet think that I just identify as queer or bi to make straight cisgender men like me more. I’ve had queer women not want to date me because of the fear that I will go off and want to be with a man (oh good god I won’t; when I am in love, my heart is so completely full of a particular person that it seeps out into my songs, my mind, my steps, my every moment, and it feels like love has become a beautiful ocean of light around me).

Love is always part of my world. And I think that words concerning love should not ever need to be tucked away in shame. So, this week, I have found a voice that might tremble sometimes like ripples in a pool but that, as a force of its own distinct from the water, will not evaporate.

Though I am very much an introvert, I’ve been out (pun intended) at events a lot this week. This particular Pride Week is infinitely important to me, because this year I’ve vowed to put more of myself out there into the world. So that is what I am doing. And if people keep loving me, great. If you want to love me even more, I’ll love you back just as ferociously because I’m like that. And if someone wants to erase me or make who I am invisible, they can certainly try, and maybe to some extent they will succeed. But I think now they’ll be less able to. Because for the first time in my life, I feel like I am genuinely part of a community of people like me who, in a myriad of both similar and dissimilar ways, are also beautifully strange and different. And that fills up my heart to the point that it just can’t help but spill into the spaces around me.