My Evolution

So I’ve arrived: I am twenty-six years old, in the supposed “prime of my life”, with a graduate degree, jobless, and in the midst of a full-blown existential and/or identity crisis.

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I’m no stranger to the feeling of not having an identity. Events in my life have forced me to bend and mold; I am a chameleon. My identity has always been shaped by where I am, and who I am with. In a particularly intense session with my therapist, when I explained that some might call me a “commitment-phobe” (although that’s not a word I would use for myself), she asked if I am afraid of losing myself. I agreed, instantly, but then pulled back: “But I don’t even know who I am, really.”

Over the past ten years, I have been in five relationships that lasted longer than one year. With each of these men, I was a different person – not only because I was changing and growing, but also because I believed that they each required a different version of me.

I decided to ask these men, including my current partner, for three words to describe me or our relationship – good or bad. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for, but I figured it would become clear to me once I’d heard back from everyone.

Unsurprisingly, my first boyfriend did not respond. I can’t say I blame him, the request reeks of narcissism and a ravenous ego. His response, of course, was the one I was most interested in, because I couldn’t think of words to describe us. I was, perhaps, least myself with him – I tried too hard, I was too self-conscious, and I had no idea how to be in a relationship, and I often didn’t want to be. I hated feeling like my mental state was in his hands, like everything he did and said weighed more in my mind than my own words and actions. I became obsessive without really knowing why, and felt a surprising amount of relief when it was over.

Second: “Sexual, stabilizing, connected,” he said. Stabilizing?! My relationship with him was probably the least stabilizing experience I had ever encountered. We were certainly connected – by our mutual destruction of each other! We were tumultuous partners, exalting in our reciprocal tortures. I felt simultaneously inadequate and esteemed. The sex was astonishing, his affection was intoxicating, and his criticisms were agonizing. With him, despite my best efforts to display nonchalance, I was inwardly meek, easily manipulated, and eager-to-please. When I finally displayed my spiteful side, he forced upon me the most shame I’ve ever felt, and our eventual demise created a wall so thick, it has yet to be demolished.

Third: “A contagious laugh/sense of humor, an electric personality, and a kind soul,” he responded. I’m touched, and also not surprised that his response had nothing to do with our relationship; I can hardly think of any words, myself. He always did think too highly of me, and with him, I could feel that way about myself. I was radiant, driven, and strong – or, to put it less flatteringly, I played the role of “too good for him”. It was easy to feel better than him, because he offered me something I hadn’t experienced before: unblinking adoration. He provided safety after the Second’s disaster, and allowed me to exact a strange sort of revenge on the gender that had so tormented me.

Fourth: “Unguarded, connected, adventurous,” he offered. These are accurate, of course; he is ever astute. His generosity and love lit something in me that I didn’t know I had. I felt like becoming a better person for him. I even allowed myself to picture a tentative future with him, clinging to real or imagined hints that he felt similarly. And although the slow realization that it will never happen has left ugly traces of resentment on my memories, I still love him for weakening the wall and giving me a definition for “love” that sticks. With him, I was my ideal form – a less neurotic, less insecure, more composed version of my authentic self.

Current: “Sex, hard, mundane (which he then changed to ‘routine’, when I reminded him that mundane means dull).” I can’t help but laugh. Convinced my request was a trap, he went ahead and said the bad things anyway – and that is one of the things I admire about him. Sure, from my perspective, two out of three of those things are not good, and it took every ounce of restraint not to ask, “What the hell are you doing with me, then?” But that’s for him to ask himself. I know why I’m with him, and I know that we’ll end. And of course, he is the only one who says anything bad – because we have not yet created rose-tinted memories, and because he met me when I finally started to become real. With him, I don’t hide my neuroses. I don’t hold back my anxieties. I am pigheaded and irrational and, I’ll admit, often boring. So of course it is hard, because I do not try to be better for him. In fact, sometimes, I find myself playing up this “damaged” role, because he allows it; it is comforting to feel supported and cared for while playing the worst version of myself.

I’ve found surprising gratification in this little experiment. With each passing relationship, it seems that I become more and more “myself” – whatever that really means. But questions remain: why must I form my identity around my lovers? Who am I when I am completely alone? By jumping from relationship to relationship, am I losing myself, or am I finding myself? If it is true – that to find ourselves, we must lose ourselves – perhaps it does not matter, the finding or the losing. Whoever I am will find me, if I ever stop running.

Monster, Me

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I am an empty fleshbag. I am continually seeking ways to fill this hollow sack.

Sometimes, the fleshbag is hungry for validation, so I hunt for compliments. This merely takes the edge off; my pride does not usually allow me to beg like a puppy for treats.

Eventually, the fleshbag craves emotions. I track down reasons to be sad or angry, because those are the strongest antidote. My bones don’t mind the pain, but misery does not flatter the figure.

Often, the fleshbag itches for physical sustenance. So, I eat and drink and fuck and suck and run. These are my disguise, this is how I appear more human, less monstrous.

My vessel is never satisfied, never whole. I fill myself with lovers’ identities. I try them on, force my arms through their sleeves. For months, I feed on their sexual desire – I am a scavenger, picking meat off the bones. But when the flesh is gone, I ache for more. I claw at their hearts: only the source of their sustenance will gratify. Their pleasure and affection is ample, at first. I fatten them with cuddles and giggles and carefully curated words. Their contentment oozes through my pores. Comfort, though, does not mollify for long. When luxury ceases to be enough, I lust for disaster. I thirst for heartache. I never create the collapse; I cannot have the blame lie anywhere near me, or else I would be exposed as the hollow, ravenous beast that I am. So I wait patiently, prodding ever-so-cautiously, nudging us towards destruction. Because that’s when I finally feel fed. Lovers’ desolation keeps the fleshbag glutted.

Objectification Versus Love

I remember the first time I was catcalled. I was a late bloomer, and my tits barely grew at all, so I never received the same level of attention that some of my friends did. I spent much of my middle school and first year of high school convinced that I would remain a virgin, because no one would ever be interested in me and my tiny tits. Ah, how naïve I was!

On this occasion, I was walking to high school, fourteen years old. It was a mile-long trek on one bustling street that connected several towns along the Long Island Sound. The man on the far right of the truck whistled at me and stuck his tongue out in a circular motion. I looked behind me, convinced that he could not be pointing that attention at me, but I was a lone pedestrian. In the first moment, I felt shock. In the second, I felt disgust. In the third, I felt excited. And in the fourth, I felt fear.
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I am a very lucky woman. I grew up in suburbia, rarely took public transportation, and did not develop an objectively “hot” body until well into my college years, where I finally figured out how to exercise, and how not to be so gangly. I was sheltered from a fair amount of unwanted male attention during my most formative years. I think this is partially how I developed such a “sex positive” outlook – although living in New York City as a social worker is a continuous abuse to this attitude. This walk to school, and the countless instances that followed, were a rude awakening. I couldn’t deny the thrill I got from becoming a sexualized being – but the more it happened, the less exciting it was, and the more afraid I became.

Being seen as a sex object can feel supremely empowering – when that person also cares for other aspects of you. But these men on the street don’t know a thing about me. All they know is that I am a woman, and all they believe is that I am walking by them solely for their entertainment. Their lewd gestures and repulsive words are less an appreciation of my body than an assertion of dominance – a constant reminder that I am being studied, that my female body is not safe. It does not matter what we wear or how we walk, we are sex objects.

As I began to engage in more and more sexual relationships with men, I started to notice that there is a fine line between feeling appreciated as a person and as an object – and I often cannot tell the difference. Sometimes love feels like objectification. And sometimes objectification can feel like love.

I used to commend myself, internally, for never having experienced the typical “one night stand” scenario. Not once have I been ghosted or dumped by a man that I was interested in. But while I may not have experienced the blatant objectification of being “used” for a night and then discarded, I have still been a sex object to those who appreciate other aspects of me.

There are men who have loved me because I represented something to them: an escape, a taboo, a mistress. To them, I am an object, a mirage; I embody what they need, I am merely their projection. Until very recently, I didn’t mind playing those roles. It felt fulfilling, because I was also using men – for validation, for sex, for novelty, for intimacy. But as my need for novelty and validation wane, I’ve found that achieving intimacy while playing an inauthentic role is impossible. And as the reality of misogyny, the leers on New York City streets, and the barrage of messages on OkCupid finally set in, I have begun to resent being a sex object – even for the men who care about more than my body.

It has become exceedingly difficult for me to separate my anger at the patriarchy’ from the individual men in my life. I struggle with conflicting feelings of immense love and gratitude versus frustration, disgust, and resentment. Determining exactly when I am being objectified, and how I should feel about it each time, feels like an insurmountable task, and it’s completely fucking exhausting. And yet, to not do so seems unthinkable. Feminism today is using humor and optimism to undo the damage that sexism has caused. And while this is a useful and worthy tool, ignoring the reality of our combined experiences, and the impact these experiences have had on our mental, physical, and emotional well-being does not heal our wounds. “We laugh with Amy Schumer, listen to Beyoncé tell us that girls run the world or Sheryl Sandberg when she tells us to lean in…But maybe we’re doing ourselves a disservice by working so hard to move past what sexism has done to us rather than observe it for a while. Maybe it’s okay if we don’t want to be inspirational just this once.”

Similarly, laughing off the men who treat me like their own personal sex fantasy feels like acquiescence – not humor – and I am quickly running out of chuckles. But, importantly, these are not just the men on the streets or anonymous online messages. These are also the very same men that I love, or fuck, or have loved, or have fucked. These are the men that love me, the very same men who commend me on my intelligence and humor. These are also the men that I adore for their generosity and kindness. These are the men that I want to gratify, because I care for them, and because it pleases me to do so. How can I love someone for their sweetness, and simultaneously feel objectified by them? Where is the line between feeling used and feeling special? And how do I balance my adoration with my frustration?

XHamster’s Publicity Stunt

All that can be said about Brock Turner and his jail sentence has already been said. This story is nothing new: survivors of sexual assault are put through grueling, horrific re-traumatization, they are called liars, they are blamed, and in the end, there is little to no justice. People can write think pieces, they can rally around anger or frustration or sadness, and still nothing changes. And then companies come along, eager to prove just how “anti-rape” they really are – as if there should be any other stance. USA Swimming can ban a rapist for life, so that people feel as though something has been done – hurray for USA Swimming! We can all rejoice in your progressive stance and continue to support… whatever it is that USA Swimming does! Except that there is nothing progressive about publicly shaming and denouncing a human being – no matter how atrocious his actions were. Hatred only breeds more hatred, and absolutely no one benefits.

And then there’s this bullshit cherry on top of the pile-of-crap sundae: the “Brock Turner Rule” on xHamster. Essentially, the site will be tearing down any type of video that depicts rape, authentic or simulated. If anyone searches related buzz words, they will find no search results, and a message that says, “If you are searching for this category, probably it’s time you consulted with a professional psychologist.”

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Ah, I see! XHamster has decided to utilize a tragedy in a conspicuous publicity stunt, and simultaneously pathologize literally millions of porn users. In order to make a bold statement, and create the illusion of being an altruistic brand, xHamster has not only decided to set itself apart from the people who commit heinous crimes, it also apparently is setting itself apart from those who (according to popular belief – not fact) may, in the future, commit that crime.

Many people’s first response to this was: “but won’t that leave potential rapists with no safe outlet?!” But this is not about helping potential rapists find the help that they need (and, needless to say, that is also flawed logic to begin with). This is about xHamster’s brand. It’s an attempt to convince pornography consumers that they are “bettering the world” by supporting the “good guys” in the industry, like xHamster.

In short: it’s about money. And, as xHamster has made clear here, there is money to be made in proliferating fear, including fear of sexuality and deviance. Entire industries are built on fear: fear that we’re not attractive enough, fear that we’re not safe enough, fear that we’re not healthy enough. By denigrating sexualities that are “non-normative” (although, let’s be clear, rape fantasies are absolutely the norm across all genders), xHamster is lauded for being “anti-rape”, while upholding the systemic fear, othering, and pathologization that fuels our current capitalist society.

Not only has xHamster turned a woman’s trauma into a publicity stunt, they have missed the opportunity to normalize the sexualities of their consumers. Instead, they’ve chosen to demonize a huge amount of people who utilize their website – and that’s not a brand I’d put my money behind.

I Am a Bad Feminist

Some would call me a bad feminist. I listen to The Weeknd almost religiously. I prefer male partners who display at least some semblance of chivalry. I still consistently fake orgasms. I watch porn that depicts women being degraded and humiliated. I occasionally entertain the desire to leave all semblance of a career, marry a rich divorcée, and raise his bratty kids. I wear makeup every day. I still don’t know exactly how I feel about legalization of prostitution. If these things make me a bad feminist, then I certainly am one.

I try very hard to stay informed and incensed. I stick my middle finger up at catcallers. I believe fully in the existence of misogyny and will point it out when I see it (but only when it is safe to do so). I care deeply about the intersectional oppressions that occur in tandem with patriarchy and I do not believe in a hierarchy of oppressions.

 

Roxane Gay’s talk reminded me that I am flawed – we all are. No one can be the “perfect” feminist. No matter how deeply I care about the depiction of women in the media, I may still pay to see a movie that – yet again – revolves around a “complicated male protagonist”, while his “one-dimensional female love interest” sits on the sidelines and shows up for the slow, sexy moments. And that’s okay! All I can do is my best, and for now, today, this is my best. I am boldly claiming my feminism, and “I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all”.

I Was on a Radio Show!

Check me out here! I show up around 8 minutes and 15 seconds into the show.

I am often frustrated by my inability to articulate myself when I’m speaking. I get flustered and overwhelmed by all of the things that are twirling around in my head. There were literally a million moments during this radio show that I wanted to refute what he was saying, or take back what I had said. Of course I could listen to this clip a thousand times, and criticize every goddamn thing that was said, (and believe me, I probably will), but all in all it was a pretty cool experience!

An Untitled Monologue

About a week ago, I found out that an ex-partner is now seeing someone else. I got his text when I was just tipsy enough off of alcoholic root beer not to care – I didn’t need to acknowledge the feeling of my heart twisting into knots or the way my breathing got shallow. I offhandedly mentioned it to the friends I was with, and they commiserated as good friends always do, but my display of apathy did not merit an empathic response. As the alcohol wore off, and I left the company of my friends, I noticed the familiar lump in my throat.

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meow

I had been trying to cry for weeks; watching sad movies, listening to sad songs – anything to get the tears flowing. My parents moved away from me, I need to find a job soon, I’m graduating after two brutal years of graduate school, my friends were going through so many difficult things, my clients were disclosing truly horrific events from their past, I had been feeling numb and empty for the better part of seven months – I desperately needed a release, but the tears wouldn’t come.

I figured this was my chance. Here was the perfect opportunity, ripe for the picking, here come the tears!, I thought. I settled into my bed, curled into a ball with my favorite stuffed animal, conscientiously brought some tissues, and waited. And waited and waited. I tried to torture myself. I actively sought all my happiest memories with him, all the things about him that I loved, all the reasons we were perfect together. I vividly imagined him wrapping his arms around me while we spoon, the way his body fit perfectly with mine. I recalled our lazy weekends, week after week, staying in bed long past noon and cooking dinner on Sundays. And then I imagined this unknown woman, doing all those things with him instead. I imagined that she’s all the things I’m not: blonde, huge tits, washboard abs. But all I could manage was one, soft, bitter sob. The tears still wouldn’t come.

I had worked through most of my feelings about losing him already. Although we had seen each other many times since we moved to different states, I had managed to put all of the emotions that I had about him in a little box, stored in a far-off corner of my brain, only to be opened in his presence.  The only emotion for him that I had yet to trap was anger, and as I lay in bed, clutching my teddy bear, there it was, clear as day. I was angry. It may not have been rational or defensible, but it was real.

Anger is a wonderful thing. Anger, when reflected upon and explored fully, is one of my most useful defense mechanisms. It is a way for me to delineate, to assert my separateness, to control less tolerable emotions. Anger helps me accept people for who they are, rather than who I need them to be. I allow myself to really feel anger so rarely that when I do, I’m shocked by it. Anger is exciting, because it hits the body so intensely. It makes me want to do absurd things; it convinces me that I’m completely fucking right about absolutely everything. For a brief moment, I’m not ruminating or overanalyzing or intellectualizing – I’m just angry.

Anger is rarely the primary emotion though, it merely covers up the ones that are too painful to acknowledge. My anger is always fleeting. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how to hold a grudge. As the anger ebbs, I have to acknowledge that I’m simply sad. I’m sad that time tears people apart and nothing lasts forever. I’m sad that the illusions we create around people are so easily shattered. I’m sad that I can be replaced. I’m sad that he can, too. I’m sad that everyone in my life eventually becomes merely a paragraph, or a chapter – a finite collection of snapshots and lessons learned. I’ve left people behind and watched relationships crumble so many times, in so many different ways, and I’ve never once figured out how to carry that sadness without squeezing it into those boxes, filing it away, and ignoring it indefinitely. Onward, to the future!, I think, and so I trek on.

The other day, a client of mine said that she feels like her past is a monster, and it’s ravaging her future. Ever the hypocritical therapist, I suggested, “Have you ever tried to just sit with the monster?” Maybe one day I’ll actually follow my own advice.

Portnoy’s Rival

Yes, only what if later, after the show, that one over there in the suit, what if… In sixty seconds I have imagined a full and wonderful life of utter degradation that we lead together on my stuffed-animal-covered, memory foam mattress; me and Alexander Portnoy. And what a life it is, too, above the wholesome Park Slope sidewalks. He slathers every inch of me in chocolate, honey, raspberry jam (Bonne Maman, of course, no preservatives on my perfect cunt!). He licks, bites, sucks ferociously; he starts at my ears, and finishes at my pussy, burying his face between those plump, pink folds and lapping at my own sticky secretions like an eager puppy. And then I piss – I piss! – into his open mouth and watch him drink every drop. He throws me against the walls with such startling greed, his cock hitting every crevice of my slick slit, grunting, groaning at the sheer force of his need. He begs, pleads! to lick my puckered shitter, nestled so prettily between two perfectly-yeasted buns, tongue probing for the taste of pennies. He bends me over, belt in his hand, and whips my cheeks until they’re striped with blood – ’til tears are streaming down my face, so he lays me gently on the bed to lick the blood off me, his hot breath only inflaming me more, and I beg him to fuck me, to smear the blood all over us both. He whispers all the things he finds irresistible about me: Your handful of tits! Your delicious snatch! Your lengthy legs! Your long, suckable toes! The taste of your armpits! while I tie him up, render him immobile, his legs in the air, and tease his reddening prick ’til he spurts – all over his own face! and licks it up – a slave to our shared depravity. A slave to my cunt. Everything, everything I have ever thought of, he has thought of too, and will do.

(This is an ode to a book I just read, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, because he’s deliciously salacious, crude, and obscene – and women can be, too!)

Swingers’ Club

Last week, I took a “sexual health in social work” class. Although the class itself was expectedly disappointing (outdated, heteronormative, lacking in depth), we were required to visit a “sexual health consumer site” by ourselves. This includes any physical place where sexual health is a product or service offered there, such as: sex toy shops, Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) meetings, or Planned Parenthood. The teacher specified that the place had to be a stretch for us to visit; it needed to be challenging.

I rolled my eyes, and shrugged my shoulders. What exactly would be “a stretch” for me?! Perhaps a bestiality show would do the trick, I joked. I briefly considered going to an SAA meeting, because that would at least incite anger and dismay, but I decided against attending another depressing group; I’ve facilitated more than my fair share of sad groups this year. I prowled Fetlife and came across this: “Adult Socials Girls Night Out: the perfect place for single women to learn about the swinger lifestyle!!!” I have expressed my opinions about swinging before, but those opinions were mostly unfounded. My exposure to swinging was limited to a weak understanding of the definition. So, I decided that, although this event was unlikely to take me out of my comfort zone, it was something novel, and therefore worth attending.

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The Swing by Jean-Honore Fragonard

As is often the case upon exposure to anything involving sex, I felt enthralled. The women at the event were sexually liberated, and funny, and badass. I conversed with one beautiful woman who described herself as a “lioness” – she did not deny her feelings of jealousy, but explained that the level of communication that her and her partner maintain allows her to not feel threatened. Meanwhile, she is free to do as she pleases, including Domme-ing, which, of course, delighted me. The hostesses even asked me to be a guest on their podcast in April (more information on that to come!).

I was hungry for more, so I convinced my current partner to take me to their Saturday night event. While we did nothing more than fuck each other several times in front of an audience, the experience nevertheless left a lasting impression. I watched, mesmerized, as a woman receiving oral sex from another woman yelled out in unadulterated pleasure, and subsequently recovered, with several whoops of delight, shakes of her head, and a playful shove-off of her male partner, as if to say “What use are you now?!”

Another noteworthy and exciting element of the night was the surprising amount of racial diversity. My experience at BDSM and kink events has been that there are very few, if any, people of color. This is no secret to the BDSM community. It seems that swingers do not have a similar problem – or at least not this particular club. It was, as always, an absolute pleasure to witness people of all shapes, sizes, and colors enjoying their sexuality without shame.