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.

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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.