The first time I kissed a girl

I have been working a lot on long form writing as of late, writing which I hope will one day become something I could call a *book*. Here is an excerpt from that work. It is the story of me at a young age, finding my way, and kissing a girl for the first time.

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I believe I peaked at age 13. Never before or since have I been as self assured, confident, witty, or smart. I know more now but I understand less.

The other day I was sitting in the tub with Lola on speaker, my phone placed on top of the closed toilet seat. She didn’t want to hang up even though I am trying this new thing where I ignore my phone starting at 9pm. It was 9:45pm. My therapist keeps suggesting that I need to get further into my body and feel my feelings IN my body. Just now as I was typing the word “body” my fingers automatically typed the word “phone.” Thats fucked up, huh?

In order to get into my body she thinks I should sweat more. I workout quite a bit, and I sweat there, and that absolutely takes me out of my head. Which is good. But mostly I don’t feel my stomach. Well, what I mean by that is that I feel cortisol coursing through my guts when my anxiety is triggered by literally anything. The rest of the time, when I cry or feel joy, I only “feel” the idea of it in my mind, perceive the tears intellectually. Think about the thing that makes me feel happy. My stomach is only good for anxiety. And real talk I don’t feel “joy” very often.

I have a feeling that sitting in hot water will help me get in my body more. The only problem is that I work at a tattoo shop and get tattooed a lot, and timing being what it is, I end up not being able to soak in hot water for weeks at a time. Because, for those who don’t know, you can’t soak in water with a new tattoo until it is healed, which takes 3-4 weeks.

So here I am in the tub on a rare night between tattoo healing. While I soak Lola and I discuss her goddaughter’s recent birthday.

“I loved being 12 and 13. I think I peaked at 13- its been all downhill from there. Don’t tell her that though” I say.

“Bammmbi,” Lola responds by way of illustrating her disbelief. As in- you did NOT peak at 13. When we first started dating she took to calling her dog bayboo. She also started calling me bayboo. Its a mix between baby, bae and boo. Our phones autocorrected bayboo into bamboo enough times that we started calling each other bamboo. Then bambi, bambam, bampersand. Bambelijah is our biblical name. Bambelijah Wood is our Hollywood Hobbit name.

“No really. When I was 13 I knew way more than I know now. I wasn’t insecure or scared, I was just curious and smart. Its been downhill from there for the most part, and I’ve only just started climbing back up in the last 6 or so years.” Which makes sense because I am now 31.

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When I was 12 I met many of the people who would help shape me, who would change my life forever. Before then, the things that informed my sense of self were:

  1. Discovering Nirvana, the unplugged album, in 3rd grade. My brother owned this CD. I remember learning about Kurt Cobain’s suicide.

  2. A pair of ripped jeans that I had worn out myself, some knock off converse, and some lace up canvas boots my mom had gotten me for Christmas. They were sand colored and had a low heel. My cousin got a pair before me and I was red hot jealous. I must have begged my mom for a pair. I was probably around 10 or 11 at this point.

  3. Speaking Spanish as my first language, being very aware that I wasn’t blonde or blue eyed, and wishing so hard that my name was Stephanie.

  4. Somewhat understanding that at some point I had a sister, born many many years before me, who had died.

  5. A puzzle, that when put together created the image of technicolor ballerina bears. I loved constructing that puzzle around age 5, when my parents were battling over child support. The image of the bears is always with me.

I first observed Lilith walking down the halls of our middle school. She wore tons of eye liner and had recently cut her hair into a pixie cut. I wanted to be her best friend.

One day she told me she was bisexual. Next thing I knew, every other girl in my group of friends also said they were bisexual. So I too was bisexual, finding words to put to things I was starting to learn about myself.

I told my parents, triumphantly, one night over dinner. My step father congratulated me and my mother waxed poetic about not being able to have any friends of ANY gender over for a sleepover EVER AGAIN. Don’t worry mom, in a few years time I will have gotten pregnant anyway despite all care and rules you put into place.

My first crush was on Mimi. Someone told someone else who told someone else that one of us thought the other one was cute, some sort of middle school rumor mill.

She had a slumber party that year for her 14th birthday. It was a winter birthday, right after the holidays. The day of her party I took myself shopping on St Mark’s place and bought myself my first REAL pair of Converse sneakers, using holiday gift money. There was a guy who had a small shoe store- it was more of a hole in the wall that extended much further back than you could see from the street. His specialty was to add platforms to Converse sneakers. I bought a red pair, because I had convinced myself that my favorite color was red. In retrospect, I only said this to stand out from everyone who thought it was cool to reclaim pink.

By this point I had also cut my hair into a pixie cut with strange long bangs in the front. Lilith had helped me with the cut. If I am being honest, my first crush on a girl was on Lilith. I was in love with her the way you are in love with your best friend at 13, completely obsessed, certain that everything she did was literally art. I would write her notes and letters, because we were friends, but quickly they turned into love letters. I would confess, as best I could, my deep and utter admiration. She rebuffed my advances, knowing better than I did, how it was really all a game of youth.

The day of Mimi’s birthday party, I knew that she knew that I thought she was cute. I wore fishnet stockings under ripped jeans that, this time, I had cut up. I had mints and perfume in my bag, probably a Gap Body spray that I had gotten for the holidays. I wore a rainbow beaded heart choker. It was cooler than it sounds and if I still had that necklace I would wear it today. I finished off what I would be wearing to Mimi’s party with my new red Converse sneakers.

Her mom had made us Pad Thai and flour-less chocolate cake- parties for my friends in middle school were always more sophisticated than seemed appropriate. Her mom had a huge standard black poodle named Bette, who, at being surrounded by a dozen screaming tween girls, was having an identity crisis. Over the course of the evening Bette pissed and shit in the house several times.

As the party wound down, I would catch knowing glimpses, Mimi and I sharing in fear and excitement. I spent most of my time in middle school perched up on the crest of this wave, riding the feeling of anticipation, knowing, in a very clear and palpable way, that my whole life was ahead of me. I was old enough to know how real and exciting that was, and young enough to not yet feel like I had failed at anything.

It felt like that tingling sensation when everything in Spring is budding and exploding around us, mirroring our internal turmoil. I wish I could have held onto myself at that age. I wish I could have kept that curiosity. I knew what I wanted to learn more about and I didn’t know to be scared of it. Here I am showing up to a house I have never been in, eating dinner cooked by a mom I didn’t know, feeling certain that I would end the night having kissed a girl for the first time. I don’t feel half as brave today as I did that night.

As our friends rolled out sleeping bags and brushed their teeth, our moment became more and more imminent.

We are sitting on the couch, alone in the living room. I am guessing most people in the house are asleep but I care about absolutely nothing else in the world. I am so nervous. We innocently check in with each other “Have you ever made out with anyone?” I had- my first real “boyfriend”, earlier that same school year. She had too- someone at camp, if I recall correctly. We move closer together, I have mints in my mouth and am recently perfumed, which is so cute and tender in retrospect. We start kissing, and she pulls away for a moment to comment on the minty-ness.

It could be that we kissed forever. But probably it was more like half an hour. We tipped toed back into her room, giddy. Drunk with power of self possession, with a secret. It meant everything to me. It was the first moment of the rest of my life, Mimi’s 14th birthday party.

She slept soundly in her lofted bed made of reclaimed pipes. I slept on a deflating blow up chair on the floor, twisting and turning.

The following morning, with her nerves pushed beyond reason, unsure of which way was up or down, her canine world turned on its side, Bette the poodle made her way into the middle of the room and urinated on the face of an unsuspecting and still slumbering party attendee. We all woke up the screams “OH MY GOD, THE DOG IS PEEING ON MY FACE.”

There were endless birthday parties which invariably devolved into games of truth or dare and spin the bottle: all our thinly veiled attempts at setting “The Stage.” We all made out with each other, we explored our sexuality from within the safety of our small preteen world, in our childhood bedrooms. At my 14th birthday party a few months later, Mimi and I locked ourselves in my bathroom and went down on each other for exactly 20 seconds each.

We were known as slutty bisexuals at various other middle schools, and personally, I was proud of the label for a time. It was my first experience of empowerment and of giving absolutely zero fucks what my reputation was, because I knew who I was and what I was.

This was probably the most tender time of my life. Mimi and I would listen to Ani DiFranco for hours. That guy who sold me the converse sneakers also sold Mimi her first pair of Doc Martens. His shop was across the street from the place where everyone got their first tattoos. He has no idea how important he was to us. My friend Sidney told me about Sleater-Kinney that year. I don’t remember who it was that told me about Bikini Kill, but I also unearthed my brother’s old Tori Amos CD. I was finding my way, creating my own history, gathering up important artifacts, cataloguing items that would be important to the historians putting together the facts of my life in future centuries.

BBQ Man

This week my father starts chemotherapy to treat a tumor he has growing in the lymph nodes on the side of his neck. Last year when the season was changing he had moved himself from Vermont down to Chile to enjoy the southern summer months. This spring when it was starting to get cold he called me and told me he was planning on coming back up north to pass the summer months here. I suggested that he come stay with me for part of the summer.

He got to Portland mid July of this year. Due to a million circumstances, many of them consequences of his actions, he finds himself at 77 with no house, no partner, his personal belongings fitting into two suitcases and one shoulder bag, which he guards with his life. This shoulder bag contains both his passports, Chilean and American, and various other papers and forms which he refers to as his “documents.” “Mis documentos” he would say, when I was a kid, referring to whatever official paperwork was ascribed to various things in his life- his car, his house, his citizenship. Currently his Documents only pertain to his earthly form, paperwork that allows him to cross borders, and a few others that prove he belongs in this country and has the right to healthcare.

Within his first 5 days here I took him to the doctor to get some prescriptions filled. While we were there the very kind and patient doctor asked my father if he was aware of a swelling on the side of his neck.

Over the course of the next two months I dedicated myself, with so much invaluable help from my amazing partner, to get my father to doctors appointments, undergo testing, and figure out his diagnosis. It was challenging to find myself in the unexpected position of sole care provider, it was hard to act as translator, explaining to him as best I could in Spanish the medical jargon that doctors spouted at us in English, and it was hard to rearrange my expectations of his visit; this was to be a vacation, not a medical incident. Hardest of all, however, was confronting the reality of our relationship. To date, this is the longest consecutive amount of time I have ever spent with my father, and things surfaced that I didn’t expect.

An important theme in the personal work I have been doing lately is to understand how to assert my boundaries and to see, with as much clarity as possible, how I have allowed myself to sustain relationships with people who disregard and ignore my boundaries. Understanding the responsibility I have to make my needs clear, but also the fact that I can ask directly for respect, and then to take a step back and away in the event that I realize I am not receiving the respect I know I deserve. The respect I work very hard for.

My father is a recovering alcoholic. He drank heavily for most of his life, stopping only three years ago. As a result of this life long addiction he never developed coping mechanisms. Like all of us, he feels sadness, anxiety, and fear. But what comes out is anger, rage, and a notoriously short temper. For most of my life this short temper has been directed at his spouse and my brother. While he was living in Portland, it was directed squarely at me.

At the doctor’s office right after receiving his final diagnosis- stage 2 non-hodgkin’s lymphoma- my father started yelling at me in the hallway in front of nurses and patients. My transgression? Asking the doctor if I could have a moment alone with him so I could better grasp the scope of treatment and what I could expect as my father’s caregiver. Asking for a moment of personal space to address my fears and needs, without needing to translate or explain myself.

I understand that my father is deeply scared, deeply sad, and feeling vulnerable. I can see that his anger and poor behavior come from a place of fear. But how much responsibility do I have to be his emotional punching bag? To be berated and yelled at in public? Should I subject myself to poor treatment just because I understand that when he is insulting me, he doesn’t “really” mean it? How many times do I excuse his bad behavior?

There is a chance he could die from this cancer. And if not from the cancer, then from some other impending health issue, sooner rather than later. He is in an advanced stage of his life, in poor health, and he himself speaks of his imminent death. I suppose it could be seen as crass to write publicly (to the 10 people that might read this?) about the challenges I have with my father during his time of sickness. But the truth of the matter is that relationships don’t stop being complicated and challenging the minute death seems closer. I know that I need to move to a place of acceptance and peace regarding mine and my father’s relationship. But in order to get there, to find respect and understanding for my father, I also need to find respect and understanding for myself. I need to know my boundaries, the limits of what is ok and what is not ok for me to accept, I need to know when to stop giving and when to step away from that which hurts me.

Last fall at the urging of various important people in my life I took a memoir writing class. I was the youngest person in the class by at least 15 years. We were asked to write a piece using the prompt “and nothing was ever the same again” as the last line. This last line could be included or implied.

I feel a sense of guilt sharing this piece. I have always wanted to make this piece public, share it with more of my community. In my opinion it’s one of the best things I have ever written, and for me it illustrates a part of mine and my father’s relationship that I need to process. Stronger than the feeling of guilt is the understanding that sharing my experience is always valuable, and that there is never a “right time” to do self work and to dig deeper. It is on going and usually not convenient.

It is important for me to start working on processing my relationship with my father- I am feeling called to do this work now, and I can’t ignore that calling. I dont want to wait until after he dies, and I dont want to just sit with it in silence.

There is, of course, so much more I could say. And in time I will write more about it here. I want it to be clear that many of the times this summer when my father would treat me in a way that I didn’t think was right, I would speak up. It lead to a lot of screaming matches. I also think it lead to a deeper understanding between him and myself. After all is said and done, we are actually extremely similar beasts. Along with going through pain and grief with him this summer, we also grew closer, seeing each other more clearly. We went to the beach together, he met my friends, I got him a pair of hip Adidas sneakers which he wore everyday for 6 weeks straight. He spent time getting close with Lola, eating ice cream every day (sometimes multiple times a day), and exploring Portland. He would wake up every morning and walk to the New Seasons Market by my house and buy himself the New York Times; he became a favored regular. We discussed a lot of interesting things, I spoke to him about unpaid femme labor, we talked about death and pain. I spoke more Spanish than I have in years and we gave Lola impromptu Spanish lessons around the breakfast table.

And so, here is the piece I wrote for class.

“My father loves to barbecue. When we were kids him and our step mother relocated from Spanish Harlem to boring-ass suburban New Jersey. My father was a professor at the time and they moved into on-campus housing. We were the only latino family in a Korean dominated apartment building, which faced a college quad. On one end were a few neglected picnic tables, splintering to the touch. And next to those those tables, some unloved public barbecues cemented into the ground.

Based on court ordered custody agreements my brother and I would head out to NJ every other weekend. If it was just over 60 degrees, we knew what was for dinner. The gang of Korean kids who oversaw the quad had a nickname for my Chilean father- Barbecue Man- and would chant when they saw him coming “bar-be-cue-man, bar-be-cue-man, bar-be-cue-man.”

Six years later BBQ man had worked his way out of bankruptcy and had bought a house in another shit suburb of New Jersey, right off the rotten egg stink of the New Jersey Turnpike. One summer night my father had the barbecue fired up. We were eating steak and sliced tomatoes with white onions, mixed with oil and salt and my favorite thing was to sop up the tomato juice with a slice of cheap white bread. White bread, devoid of all nutrients, always a treat at my father’s house, never allowed at my mother’s house; it’s mono-dimensional sweetness mixing with salt and fat to light up all the flavor centers of my tongue.

My father’s nightly enthusiasm for whisky and diet-caffeine-free coke far surpassed my enthusiasm for the white bread. My father lit cigarettes and took sips, removing himself further from our world, and soon he would be in his own dampened universe.

I wish I could remember how this happened, but for some reason the conversation turns to the topic of my tragically alienating experience of teenage pregnancy and corrective abortion. It has been 2 years since that day which feels so vivid and so distant all at once. It’s the smell of the shampoo that I stopped using- its scent too strongly linked to memory, it’s the feeling of a car moving me to a destination, my father and mother in the front and in control. And it’s the deafening silence from my step mother.  Its 365 days and another 365 days during which she doesn’t ask me if I hurt, hear me speak of the experience, help me feel less alone.

I feel the warm tears that I’ve held back start streaming down my face, sitting there before the dinner table, my family bearing witness to brushed off pain. To grin-and-bear-it pain, to sit-in-silence-with-it pain, to present-false-bravery-and-strength pain. To this-isn’t-such-a-big-deal pain. I ask my step mother- “where were you? Why weren’t you there for me?” She responds, crying. Some truth comes out; a missing piece.

“I wanted to be there for you, but your father forbade me from contacting you. He didn’t even let me speak to you; when I called that day he refused to put you on the phone. I wanted to tell you that I love you and that I support you. That I am here for you. But he wouldn’t allow it.”

I am appalled. I am shocked. I am taken aback. I turn to look at barbecue man- speak to this you drunk fuck, I scream in my head. But I know he is too far gone to take responsibility, nodding and mumbling, no one home to pick up the call.

I feel so betrayed, having been allowed to think that the woman sitting across from me had turned her back when I needed her most. The two of us, pawns in a game to keep my father in power and dominance over his children, time and distance an unanswerable equation of deep depression and a continued excuse for addiction.

His weakness comes into grotesque and sharp focus. I am 17 years old, the coals die out, the heat presses in, and I see that my father is a fallible creature.”

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The Legacy of Trauma

I am part of the sweetest book club in all the land. Well actually, we call ourselves a Readers Club cause we don’t want to limit ourselves to only reading books. Maybe we wanna read an article, or a graphic novel, or watch a movie together based on a book! Or maybe we want to get together and just chat about how much we love our dogs, and maybe we have talked about renaming our club Dogs Who Read Books and Bark and Watch TV Shows Club. You can’t pigeonhole us!

This club was born of wanting to spend more time with friends who we don’t see enough, new friends who we want to get to know better, and committing to consuming books and media created only by people of color, women, immigrants, queers, and femmes. We rotate hosts, we vote on what we will read next, we share snack duties and there is a dog (or two) at every one of our meetings. At our last get together the host, Leif, went above and beyond. We all grilled, there was a kiddie pool, we sat in Leif’s beautiful backyard, and the night ended with us sitting in the pool, eating hippie otter pops, next to a beautiful fire that Leif had built. Tell me that isn’t dreamy.

One of the books we were discussing at our last meeting was The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende.

Isabel Allende has been a long time favorite of my family’s. She is an internationally recognized Chilean author, my father has written books about her writing and counts her among his friends, my brother named his daughter after one of her famous collection of stories, and mom has read everything she has ever written.

But not me!

Probably because I am a total brat and had to do everything to try and differentiate myself from my family, I decided to completely ignore the Allende canon. Until within the context of this very supportive and fun space, I thought I could finally read and discuss Allende’s first novel.

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It is hard to express the emotional journey that La Casa de Los Espiritus (I much prefer the title in Spanish) took me on, because words fail me, and are generally lacking to express complex and deep emotions. But I’m gonna try, cause this is a blog, and presumably you came here to see words.

Never before in my life have I felt so understood by a work of literature. I had no idea what the book was about, and didn’t realize it would build up to a depiction of the 1973 CIA backed Chilean military coup, which ousted socialist president Salvador Allende (related to Isabel Allende) and put into place the military dictator Pinochet, who amassed countless human rights violations from 1973 till 1990.

My family lived this. In every way. My father’s cousins were imprisoned and tortured for being communists, my parents helped hide contraband guns and my mother played “socialist telephone” through her therapy office, sharing and trading political secrets with those trying to resist the government, find their “disappeared” loved ones, or escape the country and seek asylum.

Also during this time- my parents had their first child and, within the year, lost her to a rare form of leukemia.

Within this context of loss they decided to leave their home country and move to the United States, ultimately settling in New York City. Here they did their best to, in so many ways, start new lives. They had to learn a new language, a new culture, all while grieving the loss of their first child, their home, and their community. They got jobs, finished degrees, had children, moved to the suburbs. And when my brother and I were born, even though in every way we were American- born on US soil, learning English as we learned Spanish- the truth of our parent’s trauma, the trauma of our lineage, the heritage of imperialism, was ever present. In the stories that they told us, in the food they fed us, in the country we knew we actually belonged to.

The military coup that occurred in Chile on September 11, 1973 was fueled by the motivation of capitalism. It didn’t serve the interest of the rich, and by extension the “first world” (read: the United States) to have the poor and disenfranchised citizens of countries long pillaged by Spanish colonialism, elect their leaders; It endangered business interests to have poor farmers read Marx and imagine worker’s rights. And so the upper class, factions of the government that wanted more power and wealth, and surely a whole other cast of unsavory characters, teamed up with the CIA to overthrow the socialist government and instill a despotic military regime.

For the next 17 years this regime literally traumatized dissenters.

Trauma is stored on a cellular level. It gets into the fiber of your being, it affects the way your body functions, and it is passed from mother to child for generations. This is why imperialism works so well- you need only to break families once to have a ripple effect. At the time of our reading The House of the Spirits, the current US political administration is systematically separating asylum seeking families at the “US boarder.” Literally taking children from their parents and keeping them in holding cells.

We are taught in school that imperialism is a thing of the past, relegated to our history books and the darkest corners of our imagination. But you know what imperialism actually is? Yes, it is the taking of land and resources- but in practice, it is the breaking of bodies, the altering of cells, the trauma that becomes blood and spans generations. Imperialism is happening right now, with children who are scared and not with their families- they are learning and internalizing fear, isolation, and loss. Deep deep loss.

The practice of taking children from families is a long standing tradition of imperialism. And these children who have most recently been separated from their parents will grow up facing all the same challenges everyone else does, but with the added challenge of that fear response. Of anxiety and depression that creeps up, that goes undiagnosed or untreated. That needs to be ignored in exchange for mere survival. It is literally the difference between surviving and thriving.

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I have struggled with anxiety for much of my life. Mostly I have tried to ignore it and when I think as to the root cause, I can figure some things out, but mostly I get frustrated. I think of myself as weak and like if only I could just think it away, do some complicated equation in my head, I could come out the other side anxiety-free.

A few months ago, while laying in bed on a rare lazy Saturday morning Lola said “I think part of why you are so anxious is because you have inherited, on a cellular level, the trauma that your mom has carried around.” How beautiful, to have a companion at your side who can lovingly help you see yourself.

To say my mom and I are similar is an understatement. In so many ways, we are carbon copies. As a child I watched her struggle with anxiety. I was acutely attuned to the triggers and warning signs of her panic attacks- restaurants with loud music, excusing herself to go to the bathroom several times, bright lights or extreme heat. As I moved through my 20s and found myself starting to exhibit my own signs of anxiety, I felt a sense of despair. My mother’s fate was my own, I was becoming that which I most feared in her, my weakness catching up to me. I was her child, and this was my birthright, my inheritance.

I never stopped to consider where it was coming from and what it meant, why my body and mind seemed more prone to anxiety and fear response. This isn’t about blame, not at all. I love my mother and her strength astonishes and amazes me, strength that was also passed down to me, that is also a part of who I am. This is about seeing how factors beyond her control, controlled in fact by fascists, had a deep and adverse impact on her quality of life. Its about seeing how that has found its place in my reality, without mine or her consent.

Reading The House of the Spirits was like reading a road map through the time and space. Its a terrain that I haven’t necessarily walked all of myself, but it is familiar and I know it in my bones. Its a terrain that my family, my ancestors, all the energy and life force that came together to bring me into existence, have traversed. Have endured. Have lived through.

This is, RIGHT NOW, about seeing how imperialism isn’t conceptual- it is something that is continuing to unfold before our very eyes. And you know what else can’t be conceptual? The dismantling of imperialism, and the active role we all can, nay NEED, to take to interrupt the perpetuation of trauma.

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The book we are reading now to be discussed at our next meeting is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. He clearly and devastatingly articulates that the breaking of the body, specifically the black body, is terrorism. To break the body is to break the spirit and is to break communities- interrupting life with constant grief. I can’t understand the reality of being black in America, and in very many ways my skin keeps me more safe and living in different reality than that of black PoC in this country. The breaking of bodies happens to varying degrees and extremes to different groups of people, but to a certain extent it happens to all bodies that are deemed “other.” It is the breaking of that which isn’t male, which isn’t white, which isn’t straight, able bodied, monied, clearly “gendered,” and believing in Christ. It breaks those of us who are extra and who don’t fit or make “sense.”

I am not sure what needs to be done here, but I do think a first step is to see that although our pain is very much real and very much ours, it isn’t our fault. I suppose there is a certain amount of cause and effect, but living within a broken system- how much are all our choices and actions really ours?

Writing all this down was hard and a little disheartening. Mostly I don’t just want to be an observer- guess its in my Aries nature to find and offer a solution. But I don’t think I can for this. So I guess I will just end with a petition, which I think in some ways can lead to undoing some trauma. My beautiful others- lets care for ourselves, and care for each other. Our struggles are not the same, but our liberation is bound and none of us can be free until all of us are free. Oh, and you should read The House of the Spirits and Between the World and Me. And maybe start a book club to discuss.

P.S. Happy Chilean Independence day. On this day in 1810, Chile started the process of ending Spanish rule. Layers of Colonialism and Imperialism.

 

 

 

Tattoos

The other day my father and I dropped Lola off at a tattoo appointment. As we drove away he asked me what I knew he was thinking- “Why on earth do you all get tattoos?! I literally CANT understand it!”

My father is kind of Old School. He was born in the 1940s in Chile, spent basically his whole life working in the world of academia as a Spanish Literature professor, and spends his time reading and thinking about language. Things that make sense to him: the opera, The New York Times, the critique of literature, deep thinking, intellectual conversations, and ham sandwiches. Things that don’t make sense to him: pets, unpaid internships, bad grades, his smart phone, vegetables, and mine and my brother’s tattoos. Well, presumably everyone’s tattoos, but more specifically, the tattoos on people he knows. I remember once when I was in my late teens arguing with him and my stepmother about my tattoos, and telling them that whether they like it or not, they are going to have to start accepting these tattoos on my body cause they aren’t going anywhere, and their response: No, we never have to accept the tattoos on your body.

I knew I wanted to be tattooed starting at a pretty young age. I have always been aesthetically inclined, I studied art in high school and college, and my attraction to subcultures has always been strong. My favorite CD to listen to on repeat when I was in 5th grade was Nirvana unplugged, I considered myself a “punk” and a riotgrrl in middle school when I discovered Bikini Kill, I came out as bisexual (ooh la la) at 13, and I wore slips as dresses to school, much to the chagrin of school officials. The groups of people I idolized- homosexuals, musicians, artists- well, a lot of them had tattoos.

I got my first tattoo when I turned 18. Its a poem about the ocean by Chilean poet (and family idol) Pablo Neruda. I got tattooed at MacDougal Street Tattoo, in the Village in NYC, by some super apathetic dude, and while he tattooed the back of my thigh (right under my right butt cheek) I read White Noise by Don DeLillo. I used to be way cooler. I put A+D lotion on as aftercare, and paraded around the halls of my high school feeling very very superior.

At age 19 I got my second tattoo- I picked a super ambitious image (an antique print of a bird I found in some ornithology book at the Smith College art library) and a super ambitious location- right below my collar bone, with the tail feathers wrapping around the side of my left breast. Thats right- I got my boob tattooed at the second go around. This tattoo was done in Boulder Colorado while I was visiting my brother over Spring Break, took hours, and hurt like HELL. That was my first year at Smith College and I was feeling super gay, super liberated, and super entitled to take my shirt off and not give two damns about this tattoo guy seeing my boobs. Apparently everyone else was scandalized- but I was like, tough shit- tattoo my boob please.

My collection of tattoos has continued to grow over the past 13 years. I’ve got a pig, a bear, a key, a lantern, an apple for NYC, a rabbit eating a carrot, a tattoo that says Lez, some roses, a skull, TCB, a snoop dog lyric, 2 pairs of scissors, an umbrella for Portland, a ton of friendship tattoos, a literal “bro-tat” with my brother, some tattoos I regret, some I’ve covered up, some I have  with ex partners, some with ex friends, some with current friends who are also ex partners.

All of them have hurt a lot, some of them more, depending on the location. I don’t have a favorite one, but I do like some more than others. I have two appointments coming up, and in order to support this habit, I recently started working the counter at a tattoo shop by my house. I have been tattooed by some super sweet and incredibly talented artists. I have also been tattooed by some mega douche bags, and a lot of those tattoos I have covered up, or have plans to cover up.

So really though, what is it that I like so much about tattoos? For real, they are expensive. And FOR REAL- I repeat- they HURT. Every time I sit down for one, I think to myself, what on earth is wrong with me? Why am I subjecting myself to this? But deep down inside I know that I am going to keep getting more tattoos, and sure enough as soon as that particular tattoo appointment is done, I am ready for the next.

How do I explain this to my father, who has, over the years, stopped asking me if they are permanent, and has started ignoring my growing collection, but nevertheless, still asked me the question just the other day- why do you get tattooed?

I was recently working behind the bar at my other job, chatting with one of the baristas about our future tattoo plans. She has some beautiful work on her left arm and has been completing a sleeve over the last few months. We were commiserating about how different spots on her arm hurt more, and how the older we have gotten the more tattoos have started to hurt, and so we got onto the question of why we do this.

So I said to her what I think to be the biggest truth for me, one that I have learned over the years: every time I get a tattoo, especially one that captures the image I have in my mind, that fits in the right place on my body, it feels like some part of my self image is falling into place. It feels like I am further claiming that one particular part of my body as mine, and only mine, with which to do as I please, and of which I don’t owe anyone a single explanation.

I started there, at that, with my answer to my father. And I continued: This act, of claiming, is not just important as a female bodied and identified person, its also important as a queer person. Since forever the “female” body hasn’t been regarded as ours, but rather as public property for public scrutiny and ridicule. And same goes for the bodies of queers, those of us outside the “norm,”- truly, how beautiful it is, and how terrifying as well, to forge our own path. Our own “norms” and our own standards of “beauty,” of relationships and family, of life goals.

Getting tattooed is also to fall inline and become part of a historical tradition of body art and modification, one that has been expressed by various indigenous cultures the world over. Getting tattooed can be rooted in religious practice, it can be rooted in the practice of queerness, in the practice of rebellion, and for me, in the practice of self awareness and in the harnessing of personal power.

For me, its also a completely ridiculous exercise in the even more ridiculous idea of “permanence.” Invariably I get people saying to me “I love tattoos, but I could never get anything tattooed because I change my mind all the time and I couldn’t possibly decide on anything I want to look at forever.” Want to know something though? Guess what isn’t forever- this body. And by extension, anything you do to it in this world, in this lifetime, is in no way permanent, and every time I agree to have someone ink my skin, I giggle to myself about the actual impermanence of it all. The moment is fleeting, the pain is fleeting, and in the end, this body, with all its art and flaws, will fall away to impermanence.

You know what else is true? The more tattoos you get, the less precious they become. When I first started getting tattooed, uff, I would think about a tattoo idea for months before I committed! I would draw and redraw, I would ask friend’s opinions, I would draw it on myself. It has felt really good to let go of some of that over time, to instead feel lighter about the experience, and instead of focusing on the permanence, focusing on the fleeting whim of a moment that feels good and memorializing on my body. I am not scared, I do not feel fear of cursing a relationship or friendship, I do not fear regret- this relationship to my body and literally what I do it, is so incredibly freeing.

And lastly- I get tattooed for the art of it, simply because I think tattoos are beautiful, and interesting and as trite as this might sound, fucking cool. Which is a totally legitimate reason, in my humble opinion, to get some permanent art on your body.

I am not sure if this explanation made sense to my father. But it was a great reminder to myself that there are so many ways to relate to our bodies as fully our own, and tattooing is one of my favorite methods. Mystery solved!

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Of Therapy, Race and Unpaid Labor

About two years ago shit was getting super real and with every passing day it become increasingly apparent that I was in need of some GOOD CLEAN THERAPY.

I was raised by therapists, and my brother is a therapist- I often joke that its the family business and wonder to myself how long it will take me to just give into the familial calling and become a therapist myself.

I will now guide you on a picturesque stroll through therapist-memories past-

  1. I had a childhood therapist analyze my IQ for scholarly aptitude at age 7. This was bogus though because the test was done in English and the time I primarily spoke and understood only Spanish. Bet that douche isn’t bilingual.
  2. During my parent’s divorce, my brother and I endured family therapy with the dreaded Evan- she was the first to suggest we be given chores to help my mom out. Can you even handle the nerve?!?! My job was to set the table. My brother’s job was to take the trash down the hall to the trash chute. One night he decided that rather than walk down the hall a few hundred feet,  he would chuck it off of our eighth floor balcony. The trash bag landed on the balcony of our downstairs neighbors, exploded, and littered their property with our mail. Not exactly an airtight plan right there.
  3. I asked for a therapist my first year of high school- actually just for fun. My mom found me an older lady with cats, who lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She didn’t understand me AT ALL.
  4. I was provided with a therapist after my abortion my second year of high school and I requested a male therapist this time around- who the FUCK can even understand why. I think I was trying to be edgy, and he was as confused as I was.
  5. I got myself a therapist through my college my sophomore year when I started experiencing extreme anxiety- Marge Litchford. Marge was a great therapist but then later went on to hit on me and completely disrespect the patient-therapist code of conduct, opting instead for a complete abuse of power which included (but wasn’t limited to) using facts from my life that I shared in therapy against me in a sick game of Two Truths and a Lie. Playing the game was her idea. So was inviting me out to dinner and suggesting that although she can’t “break the rules,” (presumably because of her occupation as a THERAPIST, our extreme age difference, my status as a former patient of hers…) I should “throw caution to the wind.” These last two comments were completely unprompted by me, and punctuated a bizarre night of personal panic and dissociation.
  6. This last experience seriously soured me on therapy, which is a shame because I really needed help at the time. Smith College provided me with a therapist to process the situation with Marge – just to cover their asses- but they didn’t fire her. In fact, they promoted her, and for the remainder of my college career I would endure public panic attacks any time I saw her on campus.
  7. I don’t feel any sort of guilt here using her actual name and the name of my school. According to Smith’s website, Marge is now available via Google Chat. How nice.
  8. Took a long hiatus from therapy after college.
  9. I decided I needed more therapy sometime during my first year in Portland. Probably because I couldn’t understand why I had moved to Portland- but thats neither here nor there. I started with the therapist my partner at the time was seeing, but she was really nice and gentle, and I need someone to smack me when I try to bullshit my way through things. She clearly wasn’t up for the task.
  10. She suggested I see this other person, who was located a 45 minute drive from my house- which is hard to imagine, considering everything in Portland is within like a five mile radius. Previous therapist assured me that this therapist would “hold my feet to the fire.” But alas, she wasn’t up for the task of my BS either.

So I gave up for a little bit. And during this break once mentioned to my ex that I didn’t understand how everyone in the queer community was always talking about how they were healing. I was like – I’m not healing from anything- IM FINE.

Right.

But the truth is- I wasn’t healing because I was in the depths of denial. And after years of suppressing everything, things started to boil over. At the time that I started realizing it was time to get back to therapy, I was going through a break-up, my father was getting sober and suffering extreme fluctuations in health (he also moved to back to Chile at this time and found out that my step mother— whom he had been married to for over 25 years— was gas-lighting him), I was starting the process of buying a house- which is a total privilege and also very stress inducing, and my body was showing extreme physical manifestations of anxiety- – – I really needed to talk to someone.

I strongly believe in the clarity that can come from processing with someone who is completely uninvolved in your life, but the task of getting into therapy is daunting, and finding the right one can feel like an insurmountable challenge. There should be a Tinder for therapists- just a brief snippet of what they focus on, if they accept insurance, what their sliding scale is if they don’t take insurance, and as cute or calming a picture as they can find. Cause finding a therapist is like dating, if dating involved delving into your most vulnerable shit in one hour increments every single time you go out. And always being the one that pays for dinner.

One weekend I drove out to the coast for a friend’s going away party, and she asked if I could bring one of her friends back to Portland with me. On the 2 hour drive home we talked about all kinds of stuff, one of them being therapy, and she told me that her current therapist had changed her life. I took it as a sign that maybe this could be the therapist for me. She mentioned that her therapist- we shall call her Cindy- also worked with sound healing, which in my head I was like “what the hell is that???” but didn’t press the matter and instead got Cindy’s contact info and thanked my new friend for the lead.

I should note here that I am a no-nonsense East Coaster and when I first moved to Portland was allergic to all talk of: astrology, tarot, woo, crystals, phases of the goddamn moon etc.

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The first session went just fine. We got some basics out of the way, and I found that I enjoyed speaking with her. I was right there with her on most of her insights, and her take on things. The first session ends without much fan-fair.

Second session- I wear my hair in braids, which is what I do when its too greasy for decency and I don’t have time or motivation to shower before getting on with my day. I sit down for the session, and she looks at me and with a smile says “Well, don’t you look like your beautiful indigenous self.”

This is the part where the record stops because she is a nice older white lady, and I am young and ornery Latina.

Like in most questionable racist and misogynist moments, I swallow my shock, and carry on. Because, as backwards as this is, I don’t want to question someone and make them feel uncomfortable or on the spot. I don’t want to assume the worst, and clearly she thought she was paying me a compliment. But fucking hell, if I don’t get a stupid ass comment every time I wear my hair in braids.

I work in customer service in Portland Oregon, for crying out loud. Talk about mislead white people trying to be nice by fetishizing you incessantly. I think people get excited when it looks like “Pocahantas” is making their latte.

Here is a snippet of some of the things people have actually said to me during my time in Portland-

Wow your skin is so tan. NO- its not “tan” if its my year round skin color.

Omg you went camping for the first time just 2 years ago? Thats so chola of you! NO- chola isn’t a blanket term for all Latin American people raised in an urban environment. Also- what?

Gracias for my latte! NO- I took your order in English, you are not my friend, my language isn’t just a fun tourist moment for you. ALSO what a privilege to just speak spanish freely as a white person, without ANY THREAT OF DEPORTATION.

You speak Spanish?! No way- can you teach me? NO- will you just quickly teach me coding in exchange? Also- see above. Also, why? Like really- why do you want to know how to speak Spanish? So you can order your burrito in Spanish? Give me a break.

BUT I DIGRESS-

So here is this new nice therapist, saying some super questionable shit to me. But I push on with the session and in my head tell myself I am never coming back.

During the following days I tell everyone about what Cindy said. “O M G can you believe this lady?” “blah blah blah what a terrible person!” And my friends and community members lovingly followed along, ooed and ahhed and agreed and said, “ugh you clearly need to leave. her. in. the. dust!”

And yes- that was a totally bone-headed misguided thing to say. But also, now stay with me here- People Mess Up. That doesn’t make it ok, and its up to PoC on an individual basis to make the choice regarding how much unpaid labor they want to put into the general education of white people. But I knew that there was more going on for me here. Yes, she said something offensive, but also, I was pretty freaked out about taking steps to move towards healing, and trying things that were new to me (like, um, sound healing…) that could be good for my anxiety, my relaxation, and my relationship to therapy. It would have been much easier for me to ditch this therapist and claim that she couldn’t understand me based on her misunderstanding of race and fetishizing- which would be well within my right- than it would have been for me to confront her about the comment and push forth into the unknown, taking potential steps towards some personal healing.

I have done a lot of unpaid emotional labor in my life- both femme and PoC. It exhausts me, it really does. I also have come to understand that some of it is my work in this world. I have found myself countless times in positions of mediation and leadership, starting at age 5; some of those situations have been detrimental to me and have been forced upon me without my consent. Other times that position has helped shape me into who I am, has played off of innate strengths and a deep ability to empathize, and has given me strength. I engage in this labor at work, where I do get paid, and in my social and familial life, where I have needed to develop tools to discern whether or not it is additive or detrimental. I have worked a lot on learning to have boundaries.

At the next session, I sat across from her and said:

“Before we get started, I need to address a comment you made last session.”

I outlined what she had said, how it made me feel, and why it was inappropriate and steeped in white supremacy. She apologized, explained where she was coming from, and didn’t make excuses. She thanked me for helping her understand. We got into a deeper conversation about choosing to be in a therapeutic relationship, and how both parties involved need to make sure its a good fit. She said:

“I understand you have reservations about working with me, and I thank you for telling me about those reservations. I too have my reservations about working with you.”

“What are those reservations?”

“You are very cut off emotionally and I am not totally sure that you are interested in digging deep and making yourself vulnerable to the process.”

WELL DAMN LADY, AREN’T YOU JUST HITTING THE NAIL ON THE HEAD.

We shared our reservations, our honest observations about each other and whether or not the relationship could work; I felt like she was seeing me as clearly as she could.

What I have gained over the past two years of therapy with her has been invaluable and imperative. I had a few sessions of sound healing- and it was weird and not totally my thing, but I am glad I tried it- and worked at unraveling why I go right into my thoughts when an emotion comes up, worked at understanding family of origin relationships that no longer serve me to perpetuate, and got closer to feeling my own personal power and standing more fully in myself.

+++

I am honestly still on the fence a lot of the time regarding how much its the responsibility of PoC to teach white people about the ways in which they perpetuate racism and white supremacy. Even without meaning to or knowing thats what they are doing. Cause, duh, white people- you have access to the internet and BOOKS and a responsibility to be the least shitty iteration of yourself. PoC are also engaging in personal work, and the added work of holding your hand through race 101 (and putting up with white fragility and tears) is really, just honestly, asking too much. And so actually, fuck being on the fence- its NOT the responsibility of ANY PoC to guide you through understanding your racism. Just like it isn’t femme/female identified people’s responsibility to help misogynists (in alllll their iterations) stop speaking over the femmes and female identified people in their lives.

If individuals benefitting from the power of being favored within dominant culture find themselves learning from a member of any marginalized community, they are extremely lucky.

In this situation with the therapist, I did the math in my head of what I stood to lose from making myself extremely vulnerable and helping a white person evolve, vs. what I could possibly gain. I ended up gaining a positive long term relationship with a therapist who helped me a lot. In 90% of cases where I am working to help lift the veil of white supremacy and the patriarchy, I actually gain very little aside from knowing that I am *maybe* keeping someone else in my community from having to do the work for this particular individual. My chance of not being objectified or fetishized in this particular instance has passed, and I missed it.

And this is a VERY cursory explanation of the risk management those of us in marginalized communities asses on a constant basis moving through this world.

I guess my ultimate take away is that my relationship to therapy, especially the white anglo tradition of therapy, has always been a complicated one; its been a relationship that at times has taken more away from me than it has given me. I am back on another hiatus, and as with most other parts of my life, unpaid PoC labor played a role in this most recent leg of my “therapy journey.”

Interacting with each other within the system of white supremacy affords us all with various opportunities: the opportunity to learn, the opportunity to work and teach, the opportunity to assert boundaries, and the chance to feel both enlightened and exhausted. Its up to each of us, my fellow PoC queer femmes with whom I share my particular community, to make the call for ourselves when to engage, and when to keep ourselves safe and for ourselves.

I know the work needs to be done, and that teaching is, and will continue to be, an imperative part of dismantling white supremacy.  But I think its important to understand at what cost it actually comes.

Happy Pride- Why am I a Concerned Lesbian?

I recently came out as someone who does AND enjoys Crossfit.

I have NEVER before in my life enjoyed any sort of physical activity. I have literally given away hundreds of dollars to gyms through unused memberships (thirty dollars a month adds up), attempted and promptly given up periods of “running” (that shit is free and horrible), focused only on cardio when I did get my ass to the gym, and mostly felt uncomfortable and directionless when trying to engage in any type of exercise.

I wasn’t raised to be active. My family didn’t put a premium on sports or sweating, and as a person socialized “Female,” I certainly don’t recall encouragement from society at large. Encouragement to be thin, yes- but through dieting and based solely on impossible aesthetic standards with absolutely zero regard for my physical health. My parents (all four of them) are the academic type and encouraged me to get good grades and expand my vocabulary. Which is great- I use the word Superfluous in casual conversation all the time. But for most of my life I didn’t understand the value of feeling myself in my body- which can be done in many ways, one of them being through any sort of god damn physical activity.

You know what happens when you never learn to feel yourself inside your body? Tons of bad shit, and for me it includes dissociation, and lots of anxiety. Of all types! The acute kind, the daily kind, the kind related to flying, the kind that leads to IBS, the kind that causes me to ruin lots of relationships, the kind that leaves me feeling lost, groundless, and depressed. I’ve tried lots of ways to treat this anxiety- meditation, diet, staring at the ocean, therapy, getting a dog, quitting coffee- and all of these helped. But it always felt like I would get a momentary leg up on the anxiety, finally finding a fix!, and then I would deal with a hard day at work or a flight and it would all unravel, leaving me feeling like I was taking two huge steps backwards.

For a few different reasons though, I decided to try Crossfit about 5 months ago. There was a lot that lead up to this decision, but mostly it was because my gf suggested I try it so many times that I figured even working out would be worth shutting her up.

Aside from being extremely against all physical activity (read: intimidated) I thought Crossfit seemed, well, dumb. I was put off by how much people who do Crossfit talk about Crossfit (what do vegan crossfitters talk about first?), and I had a hard time admitting that there was something else out there, something super basic and elemental such as the habit of exercise, that could help with my anxiety. Sometimes, as much as we suffer from our pain, we learn to identify with it. We think it IS us, and all that we deserve, and to lose it would be too big a relief, that it would throw the Earth off its axis and the universe would find itself unbalanced. Or maybe I am just dramatic, but I have felt so stuck in my anxiety, its hard to think of a world beyond it. Of myself without my old friend, as abusive and manipulative a friend as she is.

I could have of course tried any sort of physical activity, but this was what was being suggested to me. In February the opportunity for a super affordable month long foundations course at a gym run by PoC and queers arose, so I signed up. The class met every M, W and Th at 8am for one hour and we would stretch, go over some of the different movements you find at most Crossfit gyms, and then end with a metabolic conditioning session. And that shit was HARD. During the first week I cursed in my head the whole hour and thought to myself, I will finish up this month and then call it quits on Crossfit FOREVER.

During the second week, I was like ok- actually, starting my day achieving something that feels physically challenging is kinda neat and makes me feel sorta good… but I know I am not going to enjoy weight lifting and I don’t want to get “bulky” and look “muscular.”

During the third week I was like- HOLD THE PHONE, weight lifting is actually kinda fun and totally something that has been missing from my life. Like literally, all I have ever considered exercise is cardio (see: socialized female and “beauty standards for women”) and the goal has never been strength but rather weight loss. I’VE BEEN LIVING A LIE.

During the fourth week I was like THESE PEOPLE ARE MY FRIENDS AND I LOVE THIS PLACE.

Well maybe thats excessive- BUT- at the end of the foundations course I had to admit to myself that I was starting to feel good in a new and different way, that I never ever felt uncomfortable or intimidated at the gym, that the coaches were nice and interested in my progress, and that the self esteem boost I got from knowing that my very own body could do all these hard things that my mind thought were impossible- it was worth the early mornings and admitting to people I do Crossfit.

OK so now that all that is out of the way- I am getting to the real point of this whole damn thing, which is “Why am I a concerned Lesbian?” Well, let me tell you.

After about five months of doing Crossfit, getting stronger, and feeling a REAL break in my daily anxiety (!!!!!), I decided to share some of this story on the internet. Now I am of the opinion that generally speaking, sharing anything genuine on the internet, specifically social media (I am looking at you Facebook and Instagram) is a BAD IDEA. The internet is a playground of dysfunction in which people’s absolute worst comes out. I know this, because I have participated in all that garbage for most of my life. I had my first screen name in 5th grade (it was the title of a Nirvana song) and my friends and I catfished all over the place in chatrooms all night long, giggling and feeling the power of anonymity. I had a Friendster in high school through which I experienced for the first time the self esteem crusher that is posting pictures of yourself for public scrutiny and the sick comparison of your “life” to the way other’s “lives” look on the internet. Everyone else looked more glamorous, like they had more fun, went to more parties, were thinner and had better clothes. I fully participated in this cycle, posting only the best pictures of myself, editing my existence to look as good as possible so that I could illicit jealousy in anyone else. I had a Myspace, a Facebook- actually, I started with Live Journal in middle school and jesus christ that was a mess. And also, I currently have an Instagram account.

So whatever, I posted a video of me lifting on Instagram, and on Facebook I asked for gym suggestions in New York- this was my big unveiling. And the response was generally supportive, which is awesome! But, there was also this interesting bit of response that I was definitely expecting, and this is a response I have also gotten in person, not just on the internet.

This response is an interesting cocktail of equal parts shit talking Crossfit (by people who haven’t tried Crossfit), internalized misogyny (like suggesting that women’s bodies shouldn’t be able to do certain exercises), and warnings that I may hurt myself even though I am working out under the care and guidance of experienced coaches (warnings that would likely never be given to my male counterparts- surely not to my brother.)

Many of these responses have been from people in my queer community.

AND most of these things are TOTALLY things I HAVE SAID AND THOUGHT MYSELF. Except for the moment in conversation where it was suggested by a masc partner that their femme partner shouldn’t do Crossfit so as to not hurt her body and jeopardize her ability to carry their child. I don’t fuck with that depth of internalized misogyny.

One interaction in particular stands out, cause I took it as an opportunity to articulate some of the thoughts I had been formulating on the matter. Someone sent me an article through Facebook about a biggoted thing an owner of a Crossfit gym did. It was just the link to the article with no other information, and it was from someone I don’t know very well and hardly ever speak with IRL. It wasn’t upsetting or offensive, but I did think it was an interesting internet moment.

I replied saying that I had read the article, I knew about the situation, and I wasn’t planning on stopping something that felt good for me because some bigot was trying to ruin it for everyone else. But then I thought about it further, cause I realized that not only am I feeling good physically, I am feeling accepted and supported by the Crossfit community in a way that I have hardly ever felt by the queer community. In these past five months not once have I felt unwelcome at my gym. When work outs finish up usually people high five each other and encourage one another by saying good job, or well done. So cheesy, I know. But its actually a personal fact that I have felt more welcomed and seen at my gym than I have in 90% of queer spaces I have entered, especially here in Portland. And for every moment of feeling cheesy at my gym for being encouraged I recall a moment in which I was exclusionary of someone in my queer community.

Whether or not it was the intention of the message sender, the negative feedback I was receiving was just that- a reaction of negativity, in reaction to something I was clearly saying was a HUGE positive for me. Like- are you actually listening to me? I am saying I like this thing, I feel good doing this thing, it has helped my mental health.

And herein lies the concern. I am concerned for our queer community, concerned that we are happier to lick our wounds, talk shit, and try to bring down the positivity of other people, both within the queer community and outside of it, than we are to lift each other up. I have my own glass house, so don’t worry about these stones I am throwing. I’m right there with the best and worst of us. But, like, does it have to be like this? Does it really feel good to say we don’t want to do something because the other people who do it are happy about it and enjoy speaking about their positive experiences? Do we feel like we are above it and more cool because instead we choose to tighten up, hold our pain closer, and over identify with the exclusionary practices homophes are trying to push on us?

I feel really great in my body, maybe for the first time ever in my whole life. I feel like Crossfit is helping reduce my anxiety, and I look forward to my workouts. If you have any questions about Crossfit, I do actually like talking about Crossfit. If you want to talk about anxiety, I am here for you.

And now here is a whole list of disclaimers JIC-

  1. No, not everyone needs to do crossfit. I understand there are other ways to do exercise, and even still more ways to get in touch with your body. Crossfit is also expensive, and not accessible to everyone and I completely acknowledge my extreme privilege to be able to afford it at this time in my life.
  2. Finding your OWN way to happiness is SO valid, but for me true happiness is born out of positivity and acceptance, rather than shitting on everyone else that seems to be having a better time than me.
  3. Some Crossfit gyms are total bullshit. So are some coffee shops (yet I work as a barista), so are tons of tattoo artists (yet I love getting tattooed), there are terrible, racist, homophobic artists (yet I still like art)- I think you get the point I am trying to make here…
  4. I really love my dog- I wonder what he is doing right now.
  5. I REALLY love my queer community and everyone who said anything to me about Crossfit, both “positive” and “negative.” I am not trying to call anyone out here, just trying to hold up that mirror for myself and the people I love.
  6. Happy Pride, Portland- I hope you are staying safe out there and having a good gay ass time.

Bruiser/Bruce/Lil’Poodz/The Poodle

Today is March 28th. I turned 31 three days ago, celebrating on the Washington Coast with my girlfriend and our two dogs. If you had told me this time last year that I would have given into Lola’s constant badgering for a second dog, I would have surely laughed in your face.

Lola and I started dating two years and three months ago. She came with a dog- a one Arthur Leonard aka Arnold Palmer aka Arnie Parmie aka Parmie aka Parmageddon, Parmadillo, Parmadeus so on and so for ad nauseam. And well, to put it lightly, I am/was not a dog person. I am not really an animal person. I was raised by a woman who never gave into my childhood pleading for a kitten, and soon I came to see the value of fur-free couches and the absence of that *unique* littler box smell. I firmly believe that the potential love I could have cultivated as a child for furry friends was replaced by a strong love of cleanliness, unencumbered travel plans, and undisturbed nights of sleep. In my mind, at the age of 30, I was waaaaay past the point of no return. I cared for Arthur Leonard because I love Lola, but I didn’t really get it.

But also when I stared dating Lola, I was a vastly different person. I was stuck in a cycle of personal denial, over identification with people who didn’t respect my boundaries, and stuck in relationships that felt emotionally abusive and sustained by my enabling and controlling nature= exact replicas of family of origin dynamics. Super FUN.

The first few months of dating were spent mostly boning around in bed, which was actually super FUN. But shortly there after messy feelings started (blah blah blah) and before you knew it, we were “emotionally involved.” So I did what any emotionally stunted aries does- I put up tons of walls! I did my best to hold back my feelings (even though I was falling more deeply in love than I ever had before- causing me to question if I had ever actually really fallen love before- waahhhh?!?#$%^&) while blurting bratty things out to her like “Don’t try and wife me like all the other butches do.” I did my best to become more fully “myself”- the protected self I had been cultivating since early adolescence (probably since riiiight after the good people of Planned Parenthood terminated my unwanted pregnancy). Extra judgmental, extra sassy, extra anxious, extra removed.

BUT two things were occurring simultaneous to this protection mode spiraling. 1- I was finally starting to get tired of never allowing myself to feel actual emotion and 2- I was dating an actual saint. Lola stuck it out and lovingly (albeit sometimes frustratedly) held up The Mirror. She held up The Mirror when I pushed her away, she questioned me when I was obviously engaging in behavior that was detrimental to me, and she took very little of my crap. The result was a lot of confusion and crying on my part, and tons of attempts to jump ship.

I came out of that period of time- and in many ways am still in the throws of this development- as a softer more emotional version of myself. I’m still a sassy bitch, but I allow myself to feel way more and judge others and myself way less. We joke that Lola spent this time tenderizing me (like a piece of meat).

Anyway a few months ago a friend of mine had two puppies up for a adoption- two of the cutest little pups that would melt anyone’s cold dark heart- especially my newly tenderized meat heart. One was a tiny white fuzzy chihuahua and the other was a tiny black chiweenie. And I got it in my head that even though I had never had a dog before it would be a good idea for me to adopt these two puppies. I started romanticizing the idea and would day dream about having two puppies in my life. I really have no idea exactly how I made the leap from feeling lukewarm about most animals to all of a sudden being open to the idea of adopting two dogs in one fell swoop, but I have a feeling it had something to do with becoming a kinder gentler person. Maybe.

Even though they had names Lola and I were so enamored that we gave them our own pet names- Mouse and Moose.

But these two dogs were out of state and still in a limbo-holding period. And one day during that wait we drove by the Oregon Humane Society and Lola chanted “puppy sweep, puppy sweep, puppy sweep!” And so we pulled over, parked the car, and after a three hour wait finally got to meet some dogs.

The first guy we met was named Pixel cause he weighed 8 pounds. He was not into Arthur Leonard, which is weird cause AL is the biggest dog charmer. The second pup we met was named Bogart, cause I have no idea why. He also was so scared of AL he wouldn’t move from behind the employee, Tyler’s, legs. Tyler felt bad that we had been waiting so long that he offered to show us another dog- we wracked our brains for another one we thought was cute- “Jax?” I suggested- we had been there all afternoon and had made so many rounds by the kennels I couldn’t remember which dogs had given us their numbers. But Jax was already visiting with other people.

“What about that miniature poodle, Carlito?” Lola suggested. “The dog that was being carried out by that old dude for his ‘walk’? In that dumb red jacket?” I asked. “Yeah that one.” “Ok…sure.” But while Tyler was out retrieving Carlito I thought about how busted and old that dog looked.

Within 20 minutes of meeting Carlito,  however, all three of us (Al included) were in love.

Carlito was 2 years old and had been picked up in Fresno the week before, and in his before pictures in the adoption papers he looks like a mop that had been living in a barn with other dogs, un-groomed for years and probably living off of Big Mac wrappers. (This is the story of 20 dogs picked to live in a barn, and what happens when they stop being polite and start being REAL.)

He had a 24 hour hold on him so the next day after work I went back to the shelter alone and waited anxiously as though I was about to go on a first date. What the hell was I doing?! I am not a dog person— but I knew I had made the right choice when he was brought out, being carried again, and I was informed by the adoption agent that he was afraid of his leash and had puked on his way out to me. Excellent.

I took him home, washed his pee-smelling red jacket, and renamed him Bruiser.

(We didn’t end up adopting Mouse and Moose cause duh, 5 dogs is insane even though I know Lola would love that.)

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That was 5 months ago, and in these past 5 months I have come to love this creature more than I knew was possible. Literally, when we nap together I hold him and cry a little thinking about how much I love him and how one day he might die (but probably never, right?)

What this little fuzz ball has helped me realize is that the more love I put out into the world (by loving him as much as I do) the more love comes back to me. Nothing feels quite like how it feels to have him cuddle up next to me and then rest his dumb little head on my leg and GAZE UP AT ME. With his soulful human eyes.

When he smells something good that he wants to taste he stretches his neck out and sticks his nose up, gently sniffing the air.

At the dog park he puffs up his little chest and walks right up to big dogs ready to play, but shows his stupid little teeth to small dogs that bother him. As if, little dude!

When its time for his before-bed walk he is usually so tired that I have to stand him up, and sometimes his legs don’t work and he falls right back down on the couch cause he is a lazy ass poodle.

And he has become a total pro at walking on a leash. IMG_4537