because it has one foot out the door, and one tiptoeing in. it is between worlds, not sure if it wants to collapse upon itself or open its existence so wide it lets everything in. it stands as a metaphor for my navigation as a bisexual woman, straddling the line between the feminine and masculine, and not wanting to choose one over the other.
i can remember the first time i had a crush on a woman, when i was five years old, and the world no longer felt secure to me. i was a survivor of abuse, and here was this girl, i believe she was eight, and she was tender, and she held my hand. when we played house, she always pretended to be the husband, and would kiss me delicately on the lips. i leaned in because she made me feel good about my body and who i was. she had hazel eyes. i am a sucker for hazel eyes.
my first girlfriend had such eyes. and the most beautiful smile i’ve ever seen. she was the personification of sunshine and grace. i have never felt as safe as when she would wrap her arms around me. it felt like i was embracing myself in powerful, necessary ways. her heart wrapped itself around my own like a wooly blanket in the deepest freeze, and it protected me from myself: self-doubt, self-image, imaginings, and neuroses. she was so good for me, too good, and in the end i buckled to pressure around me that whispered she wasn’t really what i wanted or needed. except she was. everything and that much more.
it was so hard to accept this part of myself for so long. hiding in shame that i felt these longings, not consistently, but in waves. i was curious about the female form but afraid to peek, afraid of my own body, deeply frightened that i was irretrievably broken in a way that was out of the natural bounds. i hated that i would imagine myself with girls, and that it felt so wrong and sinful to do so. i despised that when i finally saw those fantasies spring to life through her, that i let all the self-doubt do me in, and that i broke her heart into chunks and pieces, and with it mine. it has never quite fit back together the same.
like the iris, I live betwixt, one foot across the threshold, the other already outside its frame. never will the two meet. i have grown to enjoy a certain peace despite the tug and pull. there is a gentle sweetness knowing that i fall for a human, not just the physical accoutrement that delegates them as x or y. there is a silence in my heart and a quiet in my soul that i am exactly who i should be, because that shame doesn’t live here anymore.
Because the Iris, part one: http://hollybaldwin.weebly.com/reflections-of-an-unapologetic-badass/because-the-iris
I’m sorry that I’m smart. Smarter than you.
Not as smart. Or as smart as you think.
I’m sorry that I’m pretty. Ugly. Average. Exceptional.
I’m sorry that I’m too thin.
Not perfect enough.
I’m sorry I have more money than you. Or not enough.
That I grew up wealthy. Impoverished. In the middle.
I’m sorry I love dogs. Cats. Ferrets. Animals that bite. Those that swim.
I’m sorry you wanted my hair beneath my shoulders. Medium. Pixie. Red. Blond. Black.
I’m sorry I got the job.
The one you thought you deserved just because…
I’m sorry you harassed me. That you thought it would be funny to say “ ____.”
Or to touch me here, or there.
I’m sorry I called you back.
That I didn’t call. Ignored your text. Waited for you to text in vain.
I’m sorry I hated your silence.
I’m sorry you won’t ask me out. Or that you did.
I’m sorry I had to say no. That I said yes.
That we dated. Didn’t date. Wanted to date but couldn’t.
Got married. Separated. Divorced. That one of us died.
I’m sorry I wore red. Black. Orange. Pants. Shirts. Socks. That I was naked.
I’m sorry you raped me. That I blamed myself. That you blamed me.
I’m sorry my body belongs to me.
I’m sorry you feel ownership over my body.
That you love my breasts, tongue, thighs, cunt, ass.
That I hate you loving my breasts, tongue, thighs, cunt, ass.
I’m sorry you stopped talking to me.
And made me feel disposable.
I’m sorry that I left. Stayed.
That you were miserable. And you cried.
That I became despondent. Or haven’t stopped weeping.
I’m sorry that you never stopped yelling. Or beating me.
That I didn’t defend myself and tell you to stop.
Or that I did and you hurt me worse.
I’m sorry I can do something better than you.
That I am strong. Weak. Ambivalent.
I’m sorry you don’t love your wife. Or she loves me.
That I love men. Women. The humans in between.
That you had sex with me. I had sex with you.
Or we fucked different people.
And it was fabulous. Awful. Indifferent. Dynamic. Passive. Hurtful.
That I was faithful. Or I cheated.
I’m sorry I desired you in the first place.
That I pushed you away and stopped wanting you. Or you, me.
I’m sorry you didn’t make me cum. Or I didn’t make you cum.
I’m sorry you didn’t make me cum enough.
I’m sorry I don’t please you as much as you want.
Or that I want you all the time.
I’m sorry I can have babies. Can't have babies. Wanted a baby. Got pregnant. Or didn’t.
Kept a baby. Miscarried a baby. Aborted a baby. Adopted a baby.
Loved a baby. Hated a baby. Loved you. Hated you.
I’m sorry I held your hand. Wiped your tears. Kissed your mouth.
Touched your face. Held you close.
I’m sorry I always feel like too much. Never enough.
Or nothing at all.
I have always pushed the envelope when it comes to how I dress my body. I think that is because I struggled so much with my weight for most of my adolescence that when I finally hit my stride and finally felt body confidence in my early twenties, I wanted to adorn myself with as much beauty and sensuality as I saw fit. It was my sweet spot: I sported fishnets, garters, formal dresses in dive bars, pretty much whatever I saw as fit and worthy, and that made me feel good. For me, feeling sexy feels amazing. It’s an integral part of who I am that I have lost at times, but always come back to throughout my life.
I read an article today about an exhibit of different outfits worn by people that were sexually assaulted, most of them on view to shatter the perception that women are ‘asking’ for it via their dress (I am going to only address assault against women, even though I recognize that it happens to men too. But let’s face it, women bear the brunt of this epidemic by a longshot.) It struck a raw nerve within me. I despise that we are still having these conversations in such a modern age, still need to have discourse about the clothes people wear, still need to debate if what women are wearing insinuates that our clothing choices are responsible for ‘it’, and by extension, us. I can clear this up right now, as the exhibit strives to point out: it does not fucking matter.
When I was raped, at the age of 23, I remember exactly what I wore, down to intimate details, but mainly: khaki capris, a white tanktop, and a white button down overshirt. Casual, understated, relaxed, kicking back. The irony that I was violated in country club attire when I usually dressed much more provocatively was not lost on me. I certainly didn’t ‘ask’ for it. I had a casual conversation in a bar with a stranger. I prepared to call a cab to go home, and he kindly offered to take me instead. He seemed nice enough, spilling his sad guts about his failed marriage and ex-wife, as close to harmless as I thought you could get. So I accepted. Next thing I knew, we were driving on roads that were unfamiliar, and he pulled up to his apartment, so he could pick something up. I planned to wait in the car, but it was cold, and he offered me water, which I needed, being tipsy. I still didn’t feel threatened. Then we went upstairs, and he put something on television as I sat on the couch, feeling sleepy. The next thing I knew he was on top of me, and I was stunned. He outweighed me by double. I didn’t know where the fuck I was. I froze. It was horrendous. When my mind wanders back to that experience, I can feel the crushing weight of body on my own, and I remember how I turned my head to the side so I wouldn’t have to watch his face as he took what he had no right to steal. I passed out, and when I woke in his bed, naked, I received the joy of being sober and having him rape me again before he left for work, telling me he would call me during his lunch break, because my protestations and limp body weren’t clear enough indication to him that the sex was unwanted.
The memory never fades, and it feels just as fresh every time it resurfaces. When my second marriage was crumbling, and intimacy between my ex-husband was strained, I would often have flashbacks to that experience when he would attempt to initiate something sexual during our downward spiral. It was a horrible paradox of feeling marital obligation toward someone I felt affection for, even when I didn’t want to engage. And I hated myself for it, and I began to resent my husband for wanting to be physical at a time when I was straining to sort out if I still wanted to be legally committed, and if the entire love we had once shared still existed. I’ve heard from other women that they have also felt this same pressure, when they are asked to do things that might feel demeaning, or uncomfortable, and how it is a huge burden to say no to someone you love within that context. But trauma is fickle and funny, and in relationships, it can often rear an ugly head that serves to destroy. Boundaries are so important, as is asking directly for what you want and being clear in your affection, and saying no even if your mind kicks in the machina of guilt that all women seem to have been given as the gift for their femininity. This is so much easier to write than live, but we need to start having conversations about why.
Recently, I have very much returned to dressing with the same I don’t give a fuck attitude as I did in my early twenties, mostly because: I REALLY don’t give a fuck as a 41 year old woman. If I could get raped wearing the blandest clothes on the planet, what do I have to gain by denying myself the joy of wearing what I love? As a woman, I have grown weary of trying to censor all the parts of myself for the comfort or self-control of others. And truthfully, it a societal problem: one that continues to allow violators to be given the benefit of the doubt, and that encourages men to view women through a lens of sexual objectification. If I want to wear garters, fishnets, or visible lingerie, I will do just that. Fuck it, if I want to walk around naked, I should be able to do so without having to worry who might take that as an invitation to something they are not welcome to have. My body is not for anyone’s taking, but it is mine to decorate in any form or fashion I see fit. And instead of examining and picking apart those outer appearances, perhaps we should be asking why we continue to allow men to carry imbedded expectations regarding sex, and why we don’t hold them properly accountable when they decide they should be justified in taking what they want, when they want it.
It’s enough that I find myself dealing with this professionally, even though I make every effort to dress the part of my staunch care provider role. Yet, I work with male providers who can’t find a way to keep their eyes leveled at my face, whose glances dart to my breasts mid-conversation, and beyond fucking infuriating, it’s insulting. It makes me feel uncooperative, and I often wonder if I should just imitate the same behavior, glancing at the space between their legs, if I wasn’t worried that it might be viewed as enticement. So when I am on my own time, I don’t want to fucking have to sit and weight my options so that hopefully I won’t be considered a walking invitation to sexual assault.
I remember when my daughter turned twelve, and suddenly she formed an interest in makeup, and then clothes that were more body hugging, or that showed skin. We argued over appropriateness in circular fits, until I finally realized that I was blocking her own ability to represent herself because of my own trauma and fears. Quite frankly, I hate the notion of living in a society where I feel I need to censor my daughter to keep her safe from people who refuse to accept responsibility for their own losses of control. It also dawned on me that it didn’t matter what she wore, because, as I learned from my own experience, it doesn’t take ‘anything’, except a violator’s determination, for these situations to manifest. Instead, I hope I have instilled in her feminist leanings that she can be, and dress, any way that she pleases, giving a polite middle finger to those who try to sanitize who she wants to be. When her high school initiated a policy that girls had to wear bras last year, it invoked protest and conversation around who exactly would checking to see if this was coming to pass. My daughter was on the forefront of fighting back, and I adore her for it.
I read an article by actress Amber Tamblyn that had a quote that summed up how exhausting it is to have to worry about the actions of others: “Every day, women across the country consider the risks. That is our day job and our night shift. We have a diploma in risk consideration.” I am so fucking over having to think of ways to make myself less brash, less sexy, less objectifiable, less noticeable, just so men (and some women) won’t be offended, or unable to manage their impulses. I am, more than anything, boned tired of the heart of this issue: men feeling threatened by women, and their endless fears that they might have to relinquish power as society progresses.
So here’s what I have to say to all the men who feel that they should be able to take what they want, or who perpetuate their own twisted perceptions of women to make themselves feel better:
For all the women out there who have been in this same place, who have felt the degrading and raw, internal agony of being violated, know that you are beautiful, you have every right to be who you are, and every right to wear whatever you see fit to make yourself feel good. I am in your corner, and let’s have a conversation, because the fact that we still have to dispel ‘myths’ around sexual assault is a strong indicator of the sickness of our society and how poorly it supports women as human beings. Being a full-time risk manager of our existence is exhausting, and it’s time to make it clear that we no longer wish to bear that burden. Because what we wear should have no bearing on how the world interprets who we are, and it’s more than time to make that message heard.
September 11, 2016, will mark the 15th anniversary of the twin towers destruction. For over a decade, I’ve struggled to feel emotionally tied to the attack the United States suffered because I was living abroad in Mexico when it transpired. In January of 2001, after discovering I was pregnant, I moved to Puerto Vallarta to be with my fiancé. We had considered applying for a K1 Fiancé Visa through the Department of Immigration, a process that could take from a few months to years, without a guarantee that he would be granted temporary permission to live in the United States in time to witness the birth. While I could travel to Mexico just by flashing a passport and stay for a greater length of time, he could not come into the U.S. for any extended length, unless he had the right paperwork. In Mexico, the right paperwork cost time and money, and often involved political connections. Instead, I opted to go to him.
Moving to a foreign country I had only visited twice felt like the epitome of romantic travel. At the time, I had seen the best of what Americans felt Puerto Vallarta had to offer: timeshare resorts with luxurious amenities, built on prime real estate along the ocean-side of a former quaint fishing village. Ventures off the property to eat at local tourist trap establishments offering table side guacamole, and nightclubs lining the Malecon with cheap drinks, music pumping into the streets, chiseled doormen beckoning ladies with flowery phrases and compliments. Day trips to Yelapa and into the Bay of Banderas with free drinks and shots passed at the ready as the sun slowly put itself to bed in a blaze of fiery orange and flamingo. In my early twenties, I was smitten by the poeticism of what had been placed in front of me to consume, and I bit hard: I carried the assumption that the life I was accustomed to living would magically materialize once I arrived on foreign soil. Not yet aware of Mexico’s pecuniary underbelly, I was led by a naïve vision of expectation.
My first indication that I had arrived with a head filled with naive dreams came in Mexico City, where I had traveled to meet Marcos and his family. Driving around the monstrous metropolis, the economics of the city were clearly presented: the neighborhoods along the outskirts of its huge span suddenly became filled with handwritten, clapboard business signs, junkyards piled high with metallic limbs for cars, citizens panhandling in the middle of the high speed beltway, and mounds of overflowing garbage. On the rolling hills outside the city, trash was scattered along the surface, with shanties constructed from worn boards dotting the countryside, housing the impoverished cast out from the city. I had never seen such desperation and depravity.
Once we settled in Puerto Vallarta, my dreams officially vaporized when the reality of living in a tourist town settled into my bones. For a few weeks we rented a room in a no-frills hotel for around $20 a day. My fiancé worked in ‘marketing’. With exceptional English skills, he was able to peddle free tickets to the region’s most popular excursions in exchange for attendance at timeshare presentations. It was seasonal work, unpredictable money and often required him to be out on long afternoon and evening treks to the ocean boardwalk to solicit. But it was quick and lucrative when he could hawk, and we finally saved enough to rent an apartment in Caloso, a neighborhood tucked back into the mountains where many of the indigenous families lived. It was sparse: no phone, television or microwave. Our water had to be purchased in huge jugs, ‘bombas’, to guarantee it was safe to consume. Most of the homes were concrete slabs where families slowly built vertically as their lineages grew, the metal skeletons peeking up through the rooftops awaiting the time when there was enough money to expand with more cement.
At the bottom of the cobblestone road leading to our tiny space, a river ran through town, trash tossed along its narrow banks, a wooden bridge connecting our world to the larger beachfront neighborhoods. On a flat field by the river lived a mechanic who attempted to revive my fiancé’s dead Wagoneer. He had a small shed that housed his various equipment, while his family lived in a teetering shack constructed from uneven, wooden beams with gaps between where I could faintly make out movement from his wife and young daughters. Every time we stopped to see him, my heart ached for their situation and their life. His girls, with permanent patches of dark grime along their plump cheeks, often carried their snow white, perfect kitten around outside, watching us with bottomless, chocolate eyes that flickered with speculation. Marcos’s car sat there for months as their alcoholic father produced laundry lists of why he could not get a part or why he needed more money to fix something else he found, until we finally towed it elsewhere.
It was easy at first for me to judge him and be appalled by their situation. I came from a country where one was expected to succeed by any means possible, and my upbringing in a middle class, steel mill town only reinforced this ideal. Further, even in our moments of feeling the pinch of poverty, I had family who were willing to help, wiring small sums of money when emergency struck. I had never experienced poverty so raw and unfiltered, sitting in the open for everyone to drink in with his or her eyes. It hurt to swallow.
After a few months, tired of relying on my husband and being stuck at home, I landed a job at a hotel in old town Vallarta. For $1.00 an hour, I manned the front desk, solved the petty problems of tourists, made sure guests were comfortable in their suites that twice as big than the shack of the family who lived by the river. I roughly earned $30 a week, grateful that I was making ‘good’ money. Many of those who were employed by the giant, chain resorts were paid $1 a day, with the expectation that those travelling from the U.S., Canada and abroad would fill in the wage gaps with tips for their services. From our tiny apartment in Caloso, where we paid $300 a month in rent, I was travelling a grueling half hour to get to my job, and we were forced to move closer. We lucked out finding an apartment directly across the street from The San Franciscan, so I could rise, prep and walk across the street to work but at twice our rent.
Then, September 11th hit, the town just reviving up for tourist season, a hush falling over its usually bustling streets. Americans and others from abroad flocked to Internet cafes to watch mounted televisions replay images of the destruction. When Marcos came home, his tone was an “I told you so” litany of how America had finally got its just desserts. After the initial shock of what he described, I hustled to the closest cafe where I watched the towers as they eventually fell after the second plane unexpectedly crashed. Shortly after, I ran to the phone banks to call my family, where all I received was a busy signal over the next twenty-four hours.
The day after, despite its quiet, Puerto Vallarta rustled with the same undertone of reckoning my husband vocalized. People went about their lives as if my country had not been damaged in a crucial, violent way. On the newspapers, editorials coldly pronounced that what devastated America had been a long time coming. American tourists and ex-patriots suddenly no longer felt at home in the silence: shopkeepers began hanging apologies for their wooden reactions to the events: they had needed time to ‘digest’ the event before reacting and denouncing the horror. For the first time, I saw my country through the eyes of the world, unbuffered and naked: we had taken so much, for so long, that it felt satiating that someone finally took something from us. Our colonialism, its roots visible in the raw moments of 9/11’s aftereffect, had finally rebounded in a horrific way. It felt like a terrible karma burning off the centuries of wrongs that had propelled us to the financial and political powerhouse that the twin towers represented.
On foreign soil, I processed the aftermath alone and in private, never connecting to the nationalism that the rest of our nation shares yearly from remembering the collective fear. In truth, in the shadow of the tragedy’s events, I discovered that I had never quite felt at home in a bubble of red, white and blue. The global ‘dream’ my country promoted in an effort to secure its own materialistic, consumptive needs, despite the effects its capitalistic policies unleashed across the rest of the world to realize this vision, had always felt more like a nightmare. While I could theoretically say these things out loud without penalty for what would be considered an unpatriotic view, I’ve keep them to myself, because my country is masterful with keeping the appearance of freedom. In truth, the act of speaking ill against the United States draws ire, and it has become increasingly harder to question the status quo since that fateful day.
My heart mourns for all those who lost precious lives from a battle that they may have never realized existed, because we have mastered the ability to polish our image even as it rots under the surface. My soul aches for the nearly 3,000 lives that were sacrificed because of greed and determination for dominance at any price. When I see remembrance pictures splayed across social media, the images I conjure are not the same: I see people digging through trash mountains outside Mexico City; the destitute, ebony haired girls with the ivory kitten by the river; and the broken backs of hospitality staff as they trudge home from lush hotels with morsels of cash lining their pockets. I feel the ambivalence of the people when our country’s spirit was torn, when the world flashed its eyes upon us and saw how the trail of blame ran full circle, grief blinding us to our own complicity. I carry deep shame having witnessed atrocities caused by my country abroad; I can never truly feel at home in the United States of America. I will, through a distinctly divergent lens, ‘always remember’ as the rest of my countrymen never forget.
i’ve been staring at the symbol glowing on my dashboard, the exclamation point in a horseshoe, the one that has told for me two days that the air pressure in my tires is low. but i don’t know how to fix it, how to measure the air in the hollow tubes, how to calculate what i need to add or subtract so that i can continue moving, because this was always your domain. you always lorded over the car, scheduling oil changes, filling tires, checking brakes, pumping gas. you never taught me these things, hoarding this knowledge, keeping it close.
it’s ridiculous, that this one simple thing, this single task, could incapacitate. i search through the manual, finding nothing that explains to me how i can darken the dash light, how i can move proceed. i turn to the internet, my new husband, and i search, learning about gauges and pumps and how to unscrew the valve covers so that i can place a small tool that reads the pressure. i run to the store, and i look through the car aisle, and i choose what i hope will work, and i go home, and i read directions, finally wandering out to the parking lot.
i bend by a tire, and i remove the first cover and hear the rush of air escaping as i place the pressure tool and think maybe I did something wrong, until i see the number pop into the screen. i figure out that the culprits are the back tires, so i grab the small tire inflation machine i have purchased, and i carefully position it on the valve, and when i think it is tight enough, i turn it on, and it sounds like a jackhammer, and it scratches and vibrates against the hot concrete, and i take a guess after a few moments that maybe it has filled it enough. i test it again with the pressure tool, and it is filled exactly where it should be, and i feel a slight rush to know that i am capable of this, that i can do something i have never had to do, that i can live without you, and outside of your shadow, that i do not have to miss you.
i fill the other tire, replace all the caps, and i sit in the driver’s seat, turning the key, fearing the light will pop into my dash, except it stays dark, and i feel a wave of relief because my heart not only sighs, but finally believes itself as it whispers:
‘i do not need you anymore.’
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...