This week, I lost my hairbrush. For most people, this would probably be an inconvenience. For me, it’s been downright distressing. For one thing, brushing my hair is a majorly calming stim for me. When all else fails, the tug of boar bristles on my hair will calm me down. Secondly, I am very focused on my looks, and the thought of going out without brushing my hair made me cry. But I braved this fear and went out, getting a great deal of comments on my hair. Not the kind I was anticipating though. I had people say, “Oh Leah, your hair looks lovely!” and “Did you get a haircut?”
Huh? How could anybody say that about the ugly rat’s nest on my head? It wasn’t a haircut, it was a perfect storm of terrible, messy curly knots. Didn’t people get that?
Now tonight, I contemplated it further. When I was a child, my mother never let me leave the house without brushing my hair. I was repeatedly told that my hair in its natural messy state was ugly, dirty, nasty, and needed to be brushed. It appears that as an adult, I have continued to internalize this poisonous attitude, even when people who have never before seen my hair un-brushed tell me it’s pretty. I manifested anxiety about my mother’s criticism of my appearance into my hair, and had to have it perfectly coiffed to not feel anxious.
This realization is liberating.
My dearest readers, I am exactly three final papers away from finishing this semester for good. During this time period, a lot of great and terrible things happened, which changed me, for the better, I believe. I learned, for instance, that a full-time course load and working two jobs, plus volunteer/advocacy work is a surefire way to end up exhausted and unable to pour your time into blogging.
On the good side of life, I’ve made a lot of new friends and learned so much this semester. I took my first two women’s studies courses, one on the medicalization of sex (Which covers the ways that mainstream discussions in the medical community often marginalize and seek to control the bodies and experiences of those who are seen as different or deviant, like women, trans and queer folk, the disabled, people of colour, and others) and one course on Indigenous women’s literature. My new friends are amazing. We go to classes together, work out together, write poetry over coffee together, and go dancing together. When you’ve been fed ridiculous myths about how, as an autistic person, you can’t be expected to enjoy a life of “normal” social activities, discovering that you can enjoy them and in fact, look forward to them, when spent with wonderful people, is a great discovery. And of course, my greatest joy this semester: I was published! I now have a semi-regular column up in The Jewish Week’s disability blog, The New Normal, and I love my new audience and the fun of sticking to just one topic, dating.
Some tragedy happened as well, which probably contributed to my lack of blogging. Last month, on March 1st, I was abducted and raped while on my way home from a party. That night, I was terrified and traumatized, and convinced that I was going to die. But I managed to text a good friend of mine who I knew was nearby what was happening, and they came and saved me from being dragged away by my rapist. I’ve been dealing with the police, and trying to move on with my life. Being sexually assaulted twice is painful and difficult to deal with, but I am proud of myself for managing as well as I have. But I am not going to lie, I’ve had moments of severe depression, anxiety, and I feel that my post-traumatic stress has been extremely aggravated.
But, here’s where it gets better: After having an experience where you feel like you could have died, you gain a new perspective on life. The Monday immediately after the rape, I was scheduled to meet one of my heroes, the poet, Chrystos, who was visiting my school. She had come into my life at just the right moment. The day after it had happened, I picked up her book, Not Vanishing, which we were reading for my Indigenous Woman Authors class, and started taking in all of her poems. One by one, I absorbed the words and spirit, until I felt myself growing stronger, more resilient, more willing to get up, survive, and fight back, reclaim my life, and live more powerfully and with greater intention than ever before.
When I met Chrystos that Monday, she passed out a copy of a poem she’d written just for our class, called “Prayer for her Students”. Reading it gave me strength, and made me resolve to tell Chrystos just how much her poems had meant to me. After she’d finished writing her poems, I told her everything. She gave me the greatest gift imaginable- her love, her support, and a request: In five years, she wants me to have a book written and published. No excuses. The promise of one of my literary heroes wanting me to write, for her, is keeping me writing every single day. I will publish that book, for her and for me.
Summertime will be here soon. I have a good feeling about where my life is going. I don’t feel helpless over what happened, or like my life is in any way, over. Instead, I feel like I’ve gotten a new lease on life. I feel like my goals and dreams are more reachable. I’m alive, and I’m realizing what a precious, beautiful gift it is for me to be alive. I will taste the summer peaches, mango milkshakes, buttery corn, feel the sun and sea salt on my face and shoulders, listen to the beautiful rhythms of music and laughter, and know the love of my friends.
So, again, I’m sorry for not blogging as much as I used to. I went through a lot. But I haven’t forgotten you. I just needed to engage in other forms of healing and happiness than blogging. But I feel ready to start again.
1989- My father wants a son, but I pop out of the womb, the doctor holds me up, and announces, “Congratulations, it’s a girl!” and I’m designated female on my birth certificate. My dad gets over his disappointment pretty quickly, but lingering signs of his wanting a boy remain, like his penchant for dressing me in the baby clothes version of the Kansas University Jayhawks basketball uniform.
1992- I attend pre-school. The school complains about my behaviour, since I’m erratic and tend to do my own thing, rather than partake in group activities. I discover the words “wild little Indian” (sic) were used to describe me on my evaluation report.
1994- I attend Kindergarten at King Kamehameha Elementary School. Boys make loud claims about girls having cooties, make a game out of touching girls without getting cooties. I lift my skirt and flash my underwear to get them to stop trying to touch me, to great success.
1995- I read my copies of The Paper Bag Princess and Outside Over There until the pages droop and dog-ear beyond repair.
1996- I get enrolled in little kids’ basketball, and the coaches try to get me to tie my hair back or cut my hair so that it won’t get in my face while I play. I respond by being the best damn player possible even with my hair in my face, refusing to compromise my lovely feminine locks or my love of basketball. Mom finally finds a compromise by giving me a French braid “Like a ballerina”.
1997- I’m switched from partial special-needs to “gifted and talented” in elementary school after scoring a 158 on my I.Q test* administered by the school. Annoyed to discover that there are only three other girls in the course. Pocahontas and Star Wars become my favourite movies, and my mom buys me all of the dolls associated with the Pocahontas film, along with any Native American barbies and dolls she can find. I spend a lot of time combining my two favourite movies my tying my dolls’ hair into Leia-style buns and having Pocahontas and her Powwow crew use lightsabers to defeat Ratcliffe, Darth Vader, the Empire, and the settlers.
1998- I discover the Anastasia Krupnik book series, my life is changed by having books in my life that involve a girl character who is not a princess. Anastasia becomes my role model. I start wearing a pair of my dad’s glasses with the lenses taken out so I can look more like Anastasia. I also begin keeping a journal like Anastasia’s, which is mostly a list of my favourite things, and complaints about school.
1999- While watching Jeopardy with my father, there’s a category about sports on the program, and my father makes a disparaging comment about how that will never get any right answers today, because two of the three contestants are women. I angrily declare that women can know just as much about sports as men, and get pleased when one of the female contestants kicks butt in that category and wins.
2000- I discover the Royal Diaries book series, and my love of princesses returns, but in a new way. I don’t want to just wear my hair in buns, put on pretty dresses, and shoot blasters at villains, I want to learn Latin like Cleopatra visiting Rome, learn Astronomy like Son Dok, learn Classical Chinese poetry like Princess Redbird, and ride horses with Elisabeth.
2001- I am enrolled in a Catholic school. I’m too large and tall to wear the ordinary uniform, so I have to (briefly) wear the “boy” uniform. I come face-to-face with a heaping helping of teasing because of that, because of my size, and because of my plain t-shirts and board shorts worn on “casual dress” days. I’m asked if I am actually a girl on multiple occasions, and at one point, students in the girls’ washroom pull up my shirt to see if I have breasts. I don’t yet, so the accusations of being a boy go on.
2002- Patsy Mink, a hero of Hawaii women, dies. I learn about her life story in school, and make her one of my real-life role models. I become very grateful for Title IX, which was named for her.
2003- I discover, through my reading course, the works of authors like Gish Jen, Nereida Roman, Emily Dickinson, Leslie Marmon Silko, Barbara Kingsolver, and other great woman writers. Their words are an endless comfort during my dad’s illness and eventual death.
2004- I struggle with my weight increasing drastically, related to depression over my father’s death and a string of sexual molestation episodes perpetrated by a friend of my mother’s. My mother mocks me for this, calling me “fat as a pig”, making mocking “suck suck” noises every time I eat or drink something she doesn’t approve of (especially milk), and buys me clothes that are several sizes too small in order to “encourage” me to lose weight. She also refuses to believe me when I tell her about the molestation, calling me a “drama queen” who is deliberately “stirring up trouble” for attention. I am also bullied about my weight by others, especially other students. As a result of this, I develop an eating disorder, drinking excessive amounts of mineral oil in order to facilitate a laxative effect, and drinking enough water that I end up feeling too sick and weak to do anything. I am never hospitalized, and my mother never notices how unhealthy this pattern is, instead praising me for rapid weight loss. What saves me from this dangerous and unhealthy pattern before it hospitalizes or kills me is music. Melodic, symphonic, angry, heavy music gives me a new avenue of expressing myself, and makes me want to feel beautiful and strong. I start eating regularly again, and go for long walks. I go from looking frail to healthy, and I ditch the fibre supplements and mineral oil.
2005- My friends and I create a “beauty scale”, rating our individual features, like our noses, lips, cheeks, hair, breasts, legs, skin, and butts, and distribute them to our guy friends for their opinions. I remember feeling rotten and ugly after I get mine back, with none of my features earning anything higher than a “6” (on a 10-point scale) while my friends all earned solid 8-10 ratings on theirs.
2006- I attend my Junior Prom. I ask a good girl friend of mine to go, and we have great fun with each other, without needing boys. Everybody from my mother to my classmates express sadness (real and fake, respectively) that I couldn’t find a boy to take me, I don’t really care.
2007- I catch Jessica Valenti being interviewed on the Colbert Report, and I am intrigued by the idea of feminism being something modern, relevant, and alive today, I was told, both implicitly and explicitly, that feminism was something which happened long ago and had since then lost its relevance. Even though I experienced sexism daily, I didn’t question it, until Valenti convinced me. I buy a copy of Full Frontal Feminism the next day.
2008- My first year of university. I am surrounded by intelligent, accomplished, successful female professors who self-identify as feminists. This strengthens my dedication to self-identifying as a feminist. I immerse myself in feminist writing, from Simone de Beauvoir to Emma Goldman to bell hooks to Zora Neale Hurston to Yosano Akiko. Another great development is discovering woman painters, poets, and songwriters. Patti Smith, Shirley Manson, Lydia Lunch, and others fill my playlist. My blogroll is filled with the most popular feminist writers of the day, like Womanist Musings, Feministe, and others. At first, I act like a self-congratulatory asshole who feels she’s found the Truth, and I pity other girls who haven’t discovered feminism as being plebeian and backwards. These wonderfully patient women professors of mine take the time to correct me, and make me challenge my own assumptions, my own background, and my own flaws. I start the process of realizing that I have a lot of shitty, terrible ideas still ingrained in my head, and that it’s just as important to challenge your own assumptions about how the world works (and how it should be) as it is to call it out when you see it in others.
2009- I begin blogging about autism. I realize how much misinformation there is out there on the experiences of autistic women, especially in regards to the ridiculous “autism is a hyper-male brain” nonsense. I discover other autistic feminist bloggers, like Lindsay from Autist’s Corner and Clarissa. I become involved in disability advocacy in Montana. It opens up endless discussions between myself and others about the intersection of disability advocacy and feminism.
2010- I start thinking more critically about how I self-identify, especially in terms of my sexuality and my race. I feel like I am queer and biracial, but I don’t know how others will react to me owning these terms for myself, so I just silently contemplate them alone in my bed. I take a big leap forward in my sexual exploration and buy my first vibrator, a Leelo Gigi. It’s a breakthrough for my sexuality. I start attending local Indigenous events at UMontana, and feel welcomed. My shame and uncertainty begin to melt away.
2011- I move to Victoria and start working for UVic Pride. I’m no longer ashamed of either my sexuality or my race.
2012- I have the year of the greatest intellectual breakthroughs regarding feminism, intersectionality, and the continued relevance of it all, in one year than I did an entire two decades of living. But I realize that the more I learn and the more I take in, the more I realize I really don’t know, so my journey is only just beginning. I look forward to it with every step forward, every call-out, and every personal revelation.
2013- I write a post hoping to map out what it is that made me a feminist, and discover that it’s an ongoing process. I have fun, and remember that one of the best parts of my advocacy is being able to enjoy having a good laugh at the things which I know I will eventual render powerless. I’m having a chuckle at you, patriarchy.
* For the record, I.Q scores are garbage, especially for non-neurotypical kids.
Since I am not going to be blogging much while I am on vacation, I figured I would do this now.
Highlights of 2012 Include:
1.) Getting more involved with the Indigenous community at UVic.
2.) Meeting more wonderful new friends, and getting very close to them. They know who they are.
3.) Having the greatest period of intellectual maturation and growth so far in my life.
4.) Discovering what it is I really want to pursue academically, and realizing that it’s okay that that’s so different from what I started out doing at college.
5.) Enjoying an unprecedented new confidence and satisfaction in my sexuality and self-expression.
6.) Learning how to more effectively live on my own, including how to cook a greater variety of foods.
7.) Developing a more fun and confident personal sense of style.
8.) Discovering just how well many situations can be improved upon by good-quality coffee or tea.
9.) Developing a much stronger metaphorical backbone.
1.) Being raped.
2.) Breaking up with Jaime.
3.) Losing both one of my most beloved professors and one of my dearest mentors.
4.) Coming out to my mother and having her blow up in my face.
5.) A very poor decision to move into a place that was run by an obsessive and demanding landlady.
6.) Blogging less due to a variety of reasons.
The good weighed out the bad this year, even though there were some terrible things which happened, the wonderful things in my life will continue to give me happiness even during moments of great despair.
[Trigger Warning for Sexual Assault]
Last Friday, I was raped in a public park. I’m just going to come out and say it, loud and clear, again: I was raped. No uncertainties, no excuses, no tidy language, I was raped. After it happened, I was in a daze for about ten minutes, and then I texted three people in Victoria whom I trust above all others, telling them I needed to talk and needed help. One of them was awake and called me back, and I told him what had happened. He drove me to the hospital, and I had a battery of tests performed to make sure I was okay, and received emergency contraception. I’m still waiting to find out whether or not I have anything truly serious, like Hepatitis B or HIV, but I am optimistic that I will get a clean bill of health and I plan on getting tested every three weeks for up to three months now, to clear away any chances of false negatives.
That’s the technical, physical stuff. I can’t even begin to describe the emotional and psychological impact this has had on me. I wasn’t even sure if I could write this post, because of how raw, how vulnerable, how temperamental, my anger, grief, frustration, and fear are in this situation. I was feeling protective of my mind and heart, and I didn’t want anything shattering the fragile peace I’ve established since that horrible night. I knew that writing about it on the Internet, in a public space, would open me up to victim-blaming, criticism, and questions about my intentions, my integrity, and my decisions from before, during, and after the rape.
But I’ve decided to do it anyways, because I’ve realized that this is how I heal best. I’m one of those fools who wears her heart proudly on sleeve, even if that makes it more likely to be hurt and scrutinized. But I’ve built up a lot of strength in this method, and I feel now that I’m stronger than ever, because I have newfound sources of empowerment and gratitude in my life which will be my sword and shield as I try to work my way through this, and regain happiness and satisfaction in my life. These sources are my medicine for the sickness of trauma and guilt which have tried to creep into my life.
My friends and loved ones are my medicine. The ones who answer that 3 AM phone call, the ones who hold me close and tell me the world hasn’t ended for me yet, the ones who give me money for groceries, the ones who open their homes to me because I’m afraid of sleeping alone, the ones who open their ears to my crying and wishes for a different scenario, the ones who make me feel beautiful and loved, the ones who remind me that I’m brave, and strong, and that I was moving mountains long before I knew I could.
My heart is my medicine. It’s stout and brave, and keeps me grounded when I begin to feel judgement creeping towards my mind, advocating on my behalf and reminding me that I don’t deserve it. My heart draws out the poisons of that inner critical voice and the critical voices from the outside who have told me things like “You don’t seem too upset about it”, or “You should have done xxx differently.” My heart is the one reminding me that I can take all of the time I need to recover from this, that there’s no deadline to healing, no “right” way to do this, and that I am doing this for myself. I’m not doing this to be a “role model” to other survivors, not to prove something to anybody, not to draw attention to myself.
My mind is my medicine. My mind allows me to explore the future and think of the possibilities that lay ahead of me. While my heart keeps me in the present, my mind goes to the future and shows me how full of hope and happiness it can be, if I let myself work towards that happiness and don’t hold back on whatever I need to do. My mind gives me the words I need to defend myself and to make proud declarations about how happy I am to have survived, to live the life I have now, to have the support I do, and to express the love I feel for all who have helped me.
I won’t be blogging too much about this. I have a therapist I can speak to, I have friends I can vent to, and I have a personal diary I can really bleed my thoughts into. But I feel better and stronger having written this, knowing that I can take back something I love to do after such a long absence. I will not lose anything I love about my life to this trauma. Thank you for listening.
The Harry Potter series has done a lot to contribute to my emotional, intellectual, and personal growth. One of the ways in which the Harry Potter universe assisted my maturity is an exercise I developed to see where I was in life and what my priorities were. Whenever I needed to think about what I really, truly wanted out of life, I would quiet my mind for a few minutes, and ask myself, “What would I see right now if I were to look into the Mirror of Erised?”
If you’re not familiar with the Harry Potter universe, the Mirror of Erised, if the name didn’t give it away, is a magical object, which shows whomever gazes into it, the deepest and most desperate desires of their hearts. When Harry Potter, an orphan from infancy, first looks into the mirror, he sees himself with his entire family, parents front and centre, and other relatives smiling and waving to him. His best friend, Ron Weasley, the second youngest of seven children, sees himself outdoing the achievements of all his older brothers.
For the longest time, I was more like Harry when I looked into the mirror. I would imagine this exercise, and when I looked into my own imagined Mirror of Erised, I saw myself with a family that was whole again. I saw my father, looking healthy and vibrant, with no signs of cancer or sickness, my mother, happy and wholesome, rather than alcoholic and emaciated, my sister looking radiant and confident, and myself free of all of the pain and baggage I’ve carried with me because of the history of abuse and pain my teen years brought me.
It was all an illusion of course, my family was never truly that together and functional, but childhood nostalgia is a powerful mind-altering substance, and it still seemed like paradise compared to what I had gone through after my father died. When I looked in my Mirror of Erised though, that image managed to comfort, agonize, and tantalize me. It was a pathetic fantasy, but one that I felt I had to cling to, for the sake of my sanity, to remember what could have been, if only my father hadn’t died, if only my mother hadn’t become an alcoholic, if only my family hadn’t broken apart. All of these variables were to blame, at the core I knew there was something to be done… right?
Tonight, I did the exercise again, sat down, and thought long and hard about what I would see now if I were to gaze into the Mirror of Erised. The portrait of the family that never was and never could be was gone. Nor did I see myself looking slimmer, or with a handsome boyfriend on my arm, wearing a bridal gown, winning a scholarship, or any other number of fantasies relying on “what if”s that I’ve passed through over the years. Tonight when I peered into the mirror, I saw myself pretty much exactly as I was, but with a different physical presence and carriage, as though I were walking with a weight lifted off of my shoulders, tall and proud and strong- I saw myself in the mirror free of the troubles of the past.
There is a “what if” attached to this image. But it’s not a superficial “what if”, like “what if I started a low carb diet again” or “what if I started wearing make-up?” Nor is it an impossible illusion, like “what if my father had never died?” This is something which is achievable: “What if I managed to let go of all of that false hope and all of these false ideals of what a family should look like, and worked with creating a new family out of people who truly loved me, and who would not impede me from building up a positive and uplifting existence for myself?”
In the books, it was said by Dumbledore that people had wasted away in front of the Mirror of Erised, taunted by what they could never have. But the key to the Mirror ends up being not just knowing what you want, but how you will reach it. I think that I have made a breakthrough in that exercise tonight and done just that.
Clarissa wrote about her core beliefs and how they influence her outlook on her blog a little while back, and I’ve decided to share my own here on my blog, for posterity, and to remind myself of them once in a while. Mine are:
1. We are all on a learning curve, and have to be responsible for what information gets put into our brains. You can’t fault anybody else for your own ignorance once you’re an adult living on your own.
2. My body is my own, and how I choose to nourish it, how I choose to please it, and how I choose to use it are my own business.
3. My rights end where other people’s begin.
4. Human rights are inalienable, and belong to us all from birth. Nobody is deprived of these rights due to gender identity, sex, colour, disability, or life circumstance.
I’m sure there are others, but those are the foundational four. They’re always worth remembering.
I live fairly close to a small mall which has a variety of stores. I inquired about hiring to a good chunk of them today, and all of them said they weren’t hiring at this point, and none would even take my resume for consideration. Poo.
It’s made me reconsider just how far I’ll go in getting a second job: I’m considering dropping my previous pledge to avoid restaurant work like the plague, since that seems to be a popular industry in Victoria and may be the only one I’ll have a fighting chance at making money in. I initially refused to consider restaurant work because the stress on my back and my olfactory senses would be overwhelming. But I have access to a free masseuse under my student health plan, so I may swallow my fears and just make a weekly visit to get a massage to keep my back in good shape. I don’t have any experience in restaurant work, so they may not even take me anyways. But I still feel like casting a wider net.
But before I get ahead of myself, I’m going to apply to other retail places, just in the downtown area, and just take the bus from my place or the university to get there, it’s only about a 15-25 minute ride each way.
I’m counting on tourism picking up in the summer, and the businesses downtown anticipating it by hiring more people. Please…
A long time ago, right after I came out as dating a trans woman on this blog, I promised myself one thing: That if there ever came a time that someone who knew me from outide the bloggerverse stumbled across Jaime and I’s secret, that I would pull the plug on this blog and never again risk our safety and privacy by blogging.
Well, that day has come. The cat’s out of the bag so to speak. But I am not deleting this blog.
I’m not really afraid any more of the consequences of being outed. Neither is Jaime. We’re not exactly going to come bursting out of the closet, but we’re not keeping ourselves shut tight in there any longer. I’m still apprehensive about what will happen when we have to come out daily, regularly, to people like bosses, professors, and potential landlords, and above all, parents, but I’m beyond caring whether or not anyone else has a problem with us being who we are.
I consider this a great moment in the development of our self image and confidence.