Pure As the Driven Slush: Heather Corinna's Journal and Diary, Online since 1999

Archive for the 'online life' Category

Monday, November 21st, 2011

I wound up getting a pretty invaluable takeaway from the Staycation-that-wasn’t.

When it was over — or not over, really, since it didn’t really happen, but you know what I mean — I realized that I had stayed off my personal Twitter without even noticing.  Then I realized that going back on filled me with some level of dread. So did the prospect of doing pretty much anything that involved promotion or standing out from the madding crowd in any way.  While I didn’t get the time off I wanted, I was at least able to get a handful of days separate from my larger work world of late and away from its constant din. In a word, anything potentially extroverted or which carried the pressure to be extroverted made me feel highly anxious and depressed.

Growing up, music, writing and teaching were always my big loves, as they are still. Unsurprisingly, my musical abilities tended to be the ones that got the most attention and focus from others.  Some of that was just because I loved to make music, but I suspect a larger part of it was that making music tends to involve a level of performance that writing (well, until fairly recently) and teaching, especially when you do it the way I’ve always liked to, do not.

The thing is, I never liked performing. I still don’t. What I liked was making music, being a part of music, or even more to the point, being so much a part of music that what I was in those moments was music itself, separate from myself, invisible as myself.  My favorite part of any kind of art has always been the process, not the product, and really being able to get lost inside that process. Before I went to the arts high school I did, I was always in the choir at every school I attended. I remember people feeling very invested in getting solos or not, but that was never my interest. Being in the choir — in it –  was my favorite part.  I especially loved those moments when you’d be singing with everyone else, and all the harmonies would be just right: even though you were still singling just as clearly and loudly when your own voice was more audible, you’d blend in so that you couldn’t distinguish your voice from anyone else’s anymore. It was like you opened your mouth and everyone’s voice came out, and yours was only one part.  It’s the same reason I loved being in the mosh pit during my high school years: things were loud and intense, sure, but everyone was part of the crowd, it required going with that flow or people would wind up underfoot.

I loved being at the arts school. Being able to focus on my writing was fantastic, but I was there primarily to study music, and I loved that, too. At the end of senior year, everyone needed to present their own project, and I was so happy to be able to form a band and be able to collaborate with a group, rather than playing alone. But by the time graduation was coming up, I,d realized that a life in music would probably mean a life performing. Making my living as someone who only stayed in the studio was not likely to be doable (I should have learned a brass instrument, I know). If I wanted to sing, I’d need to learn to like performing. I tried. During my gap year, my friend Joe and I would play open mikes and at a couple bars and I literally tired to see if I could learn to like performing if I just sang and played my dulcimer with my back turned to the audience.  (Yes, really.  I did like it better, but audiences, as you’re probably not surprised to hear, found it a bit odd.) What about street performing, I thought? Maybe that would work. Nope. Also? Fucking brr.

So, when I started college, I decided to stop studying music and focus instead on literature and sociology, and on writing and teaching. There’ve been two decades between then and now, and a lot happened in my life and in the world in between.  And of course, silly me, I decided to write and teach about and subjects that seem perfectly normal and relaxed to me, but also wonderfully complex, so never boring, but which most of the world finds provocative and feels the need to yell about a lot.

But over the last couple of decades, the biggest thing that happened around my little epiphany I’m about to talk about is that it seems to me that our culture has become a culture of constant and en-masse extroversion to the exclusion of all other ways of being.  A “look at me” world. If how a lot of the world seems to be going right now was a kid in class, it seems like it’d be the kid who always has their hand up for every question, even though half the time, they don’t have the answer or weren’t even paying attention to what the question was.

Everything seems to involve marketing. Everything feels like it involves making yourself louder and louder and louder and bigger and bigger and bigger. If you don’t want to be on television — or, if you’re like me and that kind of visibility sounds like a circle of hell Dante would have invented if he’d written the Divine Comedy in the 21st century — it must mean you’re not really motivated to do whatever it is you do. Hell, we have reality television, and people who aspire to be on reality television as a what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up. If you just want to quietly do your own thing, it’s often assumed you must not want to involve other people or make an impact on the world, since making an impact involves being seen as widely, as largely as possible, even if what you have to offer when given those opportunities is less than the best you’ve got to offer. I can’t express how many times over the last year or two I have found myself arguing with colleagues who just don’t understand — they’re not being assholes, they just clearly don’t get it –  why I don’t self promote more, more, more and how I can be highly dedicated to doing what I am without wanting to spend more time marketing myself and my work than time doing my work. It’s gotten to the point where if anyone around me even starts the sentence, “You know, you really should promote yourself better by….” I feel on the verge of tears or shin-kicking, sometimes both.

And in the subject I work in, in sex, I feel like it’s just gotten really bad — and maybe it always was — to the point where the promotion and marketing schtick has gotten so fever-pitch that even smart people I know with great intentions frequently sound like snake oil salesmen to me. I ran from two professional email lists screaming in the last year because where I had been looking for educated community to deepen the actual work we all do, most of what I found was what sounded like a nonstop infomercial from hundreds of people at once, some of whom, it seemed to me, spent more time marketing than actually doing the work, because when they did ask about work-related things, the questions they asked were so rudimentary it made it obvious how little time they spent doing the work they were promoting.

When I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve felt so burnt out and tired, I kept finding myself very perplexed. I love the work I do. Working with teens and young people, especially when they’re in crisis, can be very challenging, but it rarely wears me out: it tends to energize me instead. I never get tired of writing: I still love the process. Same goes for teaching: I still love working as en educator.  The money stuff is always tiresome, so I often look there when I’m trying to identify a source of stress, but that’s not it. I wish I had more time for my life, still, and for my own creative work, but I’ve been working on that with some measure of success. I keep being asked for things from too many people who seem to forget I’m just one person over here, but as frustrating as that is, I can let mostly those annoyances go when I experience them. I’ve wracked my brain with all of these puzzle pieces and more, trying to find out where, exactly, so much of my stress seems to be coming from.

Then I realized that I somehow have managed to often fall into working in this extroverted mode that doesn’t work for me at all. In fact, it keeps me from doing my best work; from my best self, even. From who I am and the way that I do things best.

I’m gragarious, sure. And very open. Sometimes loud and boisterous. But I’m not extroverted. I’m introverted. It’s one of the reasons I always loved writing. It’s one of the reasons why I’m always much more concerned with getting enough time alone than with getting enough social time, and why I always feel completely perplexed when people ask me if I get lonely now that I live on the island or if I get bored out here. When I was in the UK early this year, Blue took some time off and was home alone for several days.  When he told me on the phone he hadn’t seen a single person in days, I said, “I know, isn’t it AWESOME?” (I think it is. Blue, on the other hand, was a little freaked out by the experience.) It’s one of the reasons I fell so in love with Montessori when I discovered it, where the teacher isn’t the focus, the students are. It’s one of the reasons I still love making music, and tend to save it for cherished, quiet times when I’m alone. It’s the main reason why it’s been very hard for me to have to adjust to the fact that semi-regularly now, I have to do public talks for big groups, something I’ve gotten decent at doing, but am always most thrilled when it’s over. My introverted nature is not news to me nor is it to anyone who knows me well.

And yet. Because — and really, I can’t believe how unaware of this I have been — it seems like the way things have been around this is that this, this high-key extroversion, is The Way you do them, I have tried to do them that way. I have tried to keep my own personal and professional din at something resembling the level of what seems like everyone else’s. I have pushed myself really hard to perform the way a lot of my colleagues perform. Heck, I can actually track this back to way earlier in my life, to times even as a kid where I forced myself to learn to be loud because I so badly wanted to do things, and the only way it seemed I was going to be able to get a chance to do them was if I acted like I was extroverted.

And that, my dears, is what I realized has been making me so incredibly worn out, above and beyond all else.

For an extrovert, see, that stuff obviously feels energizing and exhilarating. Not for an introvert: it gives me an intense desire for a rock to go hide under where I can take a long nap or listen to my records alone all day. An extrovert loves to be in the spotlight. We introverts generally can’t stand it, especially if we’re not at least sharing it, ideally with someone who wants that spot right on them, far, far away from us. My sense is that for extroverts, being constantly visible and in the middle of everything helps them focus. For an introvert, especially for this introvert, it feels like trying to watch one screen while 50 different screens with different things on them are on at once. It’s distracting. For me to see out clearly, I have to start by seeing in: and I can’t do that very well if I’m trying to be extroverted. It’s like extroversion puts a flashlight in my eyes.  Not only does it just feel wrong — wrong like you feel when you’re trying to get somewhere, and someone tells you you’re on the right street, but you are 110% certain you’re utterly turned around –  it makes it really, really hard for me to even remember what I’m supposed to be doing, let alone enjoy it.

The thing is, I — and my other fellow introverts — should be able to be who we are, the way we are, and do what we want to do in life and in the world in our way. It’s no more wrong or right than the other way: these are both ways of being. Not putting out a constant, flashy, look-look-look outflow doesn’t mean I don’t want to do things that have a big impact, nor that I don’t think my work has value: it usually just means that I want to be in the work and focusing on the work itself, and focusing on myself in such a way that I’m the vehicle for it, rather than the other way round.

I thought a little about some of the people I’ve admired most in the world who were clearly introverted: Blake, Goodall, Thoreau, Ghandi, Woolf, Bronte, Curie, Einstein, Dr. Suess, Jung, King, Van Gogh, Chopin, Yeats, Joni Mitchell, Georgia O’Keefe, Remedios Varo, nearly every writer and artist whose work I find most visionary and my father. Then I started thinking about how they’d fare in the world right now, and how hard it might even be to find them and what they did if they didn’t shift to an extroverted model. I mean, would Virginia Woolf really be like, “No, srsly, everyone, COME SEE MY ROOM! Pls RT!” Would Thoreau have a daily photoblog of Walden Pond? Why? How the hell would Chopin have composed anything with one hand on a cell phone? How on earth could activists like King and Ghandi have done what they did as well as they did with the kind of reactive urgency we have right now?

Then I realized that all the people on my list were brilliant people, very self-possessed and visionary people who I feel certain would have found a way to be who they are, and to do things the way that felt right to them, without taking on a way of being that would be more likely to stand in the way of their work and their lives than it would be likely to enhance it.

I am, at the moment, without solid answers about how to do this differently. At the same time, it’s not like I’ve ever really thought about it before: I only, and quite foolishly, just hit upon this awareness last week.

But I’m so very grateful to have gotten to that awareness, even if what got me there mostly seems to have been a lot of deep annoyance, a ton of new grey hairs, distraction from all of the things I actually want to do and which need a level of full attention tough to come by anymore for me to do them as well as I can, and feeling very misunderstood pretty much constantly, all unpleasant things.

For now, I’m just going to start thinking about this. I have a few strategies to start with, though, like staying away from social media I can until I figure out a way to manage it that really works for me, taking baby steps to ask the extroverts in my circles to accept I’m different than they are, doing things more quietly, even if it seems like a gamble to do so, and just reminding myself that the way it seems like everything has to be done isn’t the way everything has to be done.  There are other ways to do things than whatever the predominant model is or seems to be at a given time, something I know and have always applied to near everything in my life and my work, something I tell other people at least several times a day, and something I used to do all the time, so there’s no reason I can’t apply the same here with this, starting now.

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

I’ve realized lately that by virtue of being such an early adopter of the internet and having done so right at the gate as a publisher and very visible writer and activist, I seriously missed out on one of the perks a lot of people seem to get to take advantage of.

In short, there are often times when I would really, really like to NOT have to engage in discussions or make criticisms with depth and thoughtfulness and care.  I’d like not to have to worry about what someone is going to feel/say/report that “Heather Corinna” said.  I’d like to be stealthy, and not feel any kind of social responsibility not to hide behind anonymity nor any to be a decent person and a Buddhist who isn’t fucking around about it. I’d love not to have to reread what I wrote even once, let alone several times.

In a word, there’s a post I keep wanting to leave online on at least one article or blog somewhere a day, and it is, simply, something like this:

This thing you said/wrote is seriously stupid, and I think you’re an asshole who is mean and also shitty.

Yep, that’d do it.  No careful analysis, no diplomacy, no “we’re on the same team so let’s work together,” or even “we’re not on the same team, but I know you’re a good person, right?”

Just that.  Without my name, without having to say anything else or engage in any way, without any kind of responsibility.  Just that lazy, drive-by not-at-all-thoughtful letting go that I know happens all the time because I get emails and posts kind of similar to that every day.  They’re more like, “That’s stupid and you’re stupid (or pretentious or arrogant or a dyke or a girl, the most offensive thing anyone can be, in case you were unaware), which I have to say because you’re not being mean or an asshole, even though that’s not stopping me from being both of those things,” but still.  Same gist.  Same words that elicit what I strongly suspect is a very, very satisfying — albeit pithy — feeling somewhat akin to a decent bowel movement of some kind.

One might knock that and call it small, but probably not one who feels chronically constipated, be that literal or symbolic.  I, too, want the online version of metamucil.  I am hoping having said it here just might suffice.

(It won’t, but it seemed worth a shot. And yes, most of what I just said was stupid, I’m being a bit of an asshole, and I literally even talked shit. But at least I’m not being mean.)

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Dear Amazon,

Yes, I am an Amazon whiner.  I made a big stink in the past when my book was among the books de-ranked by you.  And I have complaints about you, even though I would be remiss in saying that you benefit me by selling my book, to the point that Amazon may be where I do my best sales. Thank you for that, but at the same time, you get a cut, too, so it’s not like I’m the only one who benefits from that arrangement.

I’m irritated again.  I’ve been irritated by this for a while, but I have got to get it off of my chest.  And yes, I have a personal and vested interest in this: I am not without bias or personal agenda.

When I go to the Amazon section that is Books> Teens > Self-Esteem, I get a list of books almost entirely written FOR teens about self-esteem.  When I go to the section that is Books> Teens> Literature & Fiction, I get fiction books that are written for teens. When I go to the section that is Books> Teens> Horror, I get horror books that are written for (not about) teens. When I go to the section that is Book> Children’s Books> then ANY topic, I get books FOR children.

So, I cannot figure out for the life of me why, when I go to the section that is Books> Teens > Health, Mind & Body> Sexuality, the vast majority of books on the list are anything BUT books for teens about sexuality. This is not a new issue, it’s been how it is for years.

Right now, the top book is a book by Meg Meeker for adults about her ideas on teen sexuality (which perhaps best belongs in that horror section I mentioned earlier).  Of the first 25 books on that list, in fact, four are similar books to Ms. Meeker’s (at least one of which should be shuttled to that fiction list). Five of the first 25 are young children’s books about sex or reproduction, not teen books. Perhaps strangest of all, four of the books in the first 25 are children’s fiction that have nothing to do with sex whatsoever, and where it would be pretty disturbing if they did. I’m very certain that My Weird School #17: Miss Suki Is Kooky! and My Weird School Daze #3: Mr. Granite Is from Another Planet! are NOT teen sexuality books.  I don’t think anyone reading those books is reading about how Miss Suki is that kind of kooky or how the other planet Mr. Granite is from is a planet where there are free condoms for everyone.

Of the first 25 of the list, only 8 of the books, including mine, are actually for teens and about sexuality, sexual embodiment and/or reproduction.  Though of those 8, 4 are about NOT-sex — about how God doesn’t want you to have any until you’re married, in a word — more than they are about sex. So technically, only 4 of the 25 first books in the section currently showing are for teens and about teen sexuality.

This would be a whole lot like if I went into a section for vegan cookbooks and what I found instead were a handful of auto manuals, some contemporary fiction that had nothing to do with cooking vegan, a bunch of books about why vegans are terrible people, a few on how veganism will kill you dead, some steak cookbooks and then 4 actual vegan cookbooks.  Which I think we can agree would be mighty silly.

Or like if people looking in the religious section for books on funadamentalist Christianity found…well, nothing but books like my book.

I’ve left you a note about this before.  You didn’t get back to me.  This came as no surprise. But I can’t tell you how much I’d like an answer on this.  Is this random?  If so, don’t you want to clean it up so that the books are on-topic and relevant to the readers you have the section for, just like the books in all other sections?  If it isn’t random, what’s the deal?  Do you just not want teens to be able to read about sexuality at all?  If so, why bother having a teen sexuality section in the first place, why not be transparent that you just don’t want one?  Is it just that you prioritize sections being in order in such a way that teen sexuality just comes last?  If so, can I volunteer to freaking clean it up for you already?

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Consider this a bookmark.

In the last month, we’ve had two computer deaths. One of these meant getting a new system, a new system I haven’t even had a chance to get familiar with yet, though it’s been here for a couple weeks now. That new system meant that most of what I used to do most of this site and another couple was now obsolete, and I now have to migrate everything into Dreamweaver. Like, the ten years of site kind of everything. More accurately, the ten years of site kind of everything from someone who seriously talks too freaking much. Let’s remember that I learn any kind of tech by the seat of my freaking pants: it’s insane that someone who makes so much of their living on computers has such a tiny skillset with them. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have nearly wept with a longing for the manual typewriters I used until the mid-90’s. I want them back. I understood them. They understood me. We had a much healthier relationship than computers and I have.

On the computer FAIL theme, we also needed to upgrade the Drupal at Scarleteen, which broke about eighty million things myself and my tech developer for that site have been driving ourselves crazy to find and fix.

I’ve had to do the HUGE deal that was the fundraiser (which I still have to sit down and do all the accounting for), Scarleteen traffic has been insane and I’ve been busy as heck trying to keep up. I am drowning in teenage crises, to the point that I may feel more stressed out about their crises than they do. I had pieces that needed finishing there that have been taxing. I’ve had phone meetings on various things coming out of my ears.  I have people sending me input on things, ideas on things in such a huge way that I’m dizzy, and can’t keep track of a good, goddamn thing anymore. An internet drama turned into people or groups being at risk that I was also dealing with and trying to help do all I could with. I have an amount of planning for both Scarleteen and the in-person program I direct here in Seattle that boggles my half-crazed little mind.  Money, as usual, is stressful as hell and I want to kill it until it is dead.

I actually made some new year’s resolutions this year, but they are only half-blogged.  I also have photo updates to add, but I have to deal with all the computer stuff and figure out how the hell it all works in order to do that.

In other words, I’m here but I’m not here. I will get things up as soon as I possibly can, but I have no idea when that will happen and if I’ll have any hair left on my head I haven’t pulled out by the time that it does.

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

On Sunday, this journal turned ten years old.

Here’s that first entry, just because:

I woke up this morning to the sound of thunder, echoing off of the window beside the bed.

From the breadth of the sound, I assumed there would be sheets of rain, pummeling the grasses and sidewalks. The sound of the thunder woke both B. and I, and I slunk into my jeans, through the glass doors to the wooden porch to ingest my morning take of nicotene and take in what I expected to be a strong storm.

Though it sounded like a storm, it was the gentlest rain I’d experienced in some time. The drops fell down so lightly; it was like the softest kisses one could imagine, fleeting and teasing in their lightness. Shy rain, I would call it, just a little warm and very timid. I sunk my bare feet into the puddles on the walk and stood outside for several minutes, kissed gently again and again by the tiny droplets, inhaling the scent of morning, and all things new.

With that feeling, I start yet another journal. I have journals as far back as 1976, when I had just begun to write; six years old at the time. They often dissapoint me. I am an impetuous person: I embrace new projects with all the vigor of war, but often, as soon as something which seems bigger looms it’s voracious head, I drop the former notion before cobwebs have had time to settle.

I have many times sat and read through the pile of journals, looking for inklings of myself - as I am now - hidden in the pages written when I was a child, an adolescent, a blossoming woman. Often, I find them, and it amazes me how little - on some level - we truly change from what we were born as.

It is with these things in my mind: the newness of things that are in truth not new at all, and the compulsion and determination to begin, always, again and again, knowing there will be some lapse, but hoping there will not be; knowing it is nearly futile. Though living may be a continuum, there are always lapses, and they come and vanish in an instant that can swallow years.

By way of introduction, I warn you now: a journal for me is not a confessional. I was not raised in that cultural sect which keeps secrets and then feels the need to purge them somewhere secretly. Instead, I was raised with the notion that a large part of being an artist is to bear witness: to record events through individual eyes for the purpose of marking personal history, and perhaps bringing the personal to history in a way that is unique and diverse. By virtue of what I am - an artist who has, since I was a child, been a sensate creature, engrossed with touching, tasting, feeling, and the union of body and soul - I expect, like any journal I have kept, this one will be a bit more salacious than another artists memoirs may be, though I similarly suspect what is sensual, sexual, and considered an event by myself may be those things considered less noteworthy by others.

Being kissed by the rain this morning was an event. It may or may not have been as noteworthy an event as the falling of the Berlin Wall, the day women gained the right to vote, as a death, or a birth, or the union of two souls, but from moment to moment - and in an individual life - those moments spent with our feet in the puddles, the rain kissing our cheeks, are those I never wish to forget.

(I cannot help but laugh out loud at the “not a confessional” monologue.  If a journal never was for me before, it most certainly has been one here far more than once over the years.  Oh, hindsight: you briny bastard.  It’s also a bit hilarious to read my little warning about the fact that I would likely talk about sex and sensuality here: the internet most certainly is not the place it once was.  There really was a need for that statement then, for serious.  There was not a need to be so pretentious about it.)

When I first started journaling online, very few others were doing it, and no one was blogging yet: we didn’t even have the word “blogging” yet.  I also had far fewer gray hairs.  And I think my bottom has started migrating south since, no less.  If it’s heading to South America, I hope it takes me with.

I was thinking I’d sum up everything that has happened in the last ten years, but I started to do that and became dizzy very quickly.  It’s been one hell of a decade, and I can’t fathom how very much I shoved into it.  Meetups, breakups and makeups, nearly the entire development of my career in sexuality with all the ups and downs that has entailed, the whole of my photographic work behind the camera, four moves (two to different states), struggling with money (there is a post back when where I was literally unable to get myself a warm coat in Minneapolis, and a very kind reader — thanks, Kat — sent me an old coat of hers), struggling with family, struggling with life as we know it.  I’ve been single in this journal –sometimes gladly, sometimes miserably — I’ve been with partners, I’ve been cohabiting.  I’ve been flush and in scarcity, high and low; there has been high comedy and high tragedy.  There have been trials (literally) and tribulations (and how). Writing here has at times made me feel very comforted and with community, and at other times very isolated and overexposed. In many ways the world has changed massively throughout this relatively short span of time.

The arrival of Sofia even happened during this journal’s tenure.  And no, I can never turn down the opportunity for a gratuitous shot of my dog, so here’s us when she was around six months old.

As insane as I kind of feel for doing this for so long and in this way, this has actually been the most consistently kept journal I have ever kept in my life.  By all means, it has its limitations, but it also has its boons.  While I’ve had to make some adjustments over the years due to the way life has changed, how journaling here does or doesn’t work for others in my life or for all aspects of my life, and it’s not the same journal it once was in many ways, I don’t see any good reason to stop writing here.  I like writing here, and I also feel really blessed by those of you who read here, some of whom have offered me generous feedback, solace, comfort, help, humor, love, compassion, understanding, counterpoint, friendship, lust, confusion, sadness, cheerleading and silliness. I’m even strangely grateful for the occasional vitriol and bullshit left in comments here over the years.

So, moving forward, here’s my right now.

There is a spirit of candor I’ve tried to keep over the years I have written here: most often, I think, I’ve managed it, though sometimes I’ve slid, particularly unsurprisingly, when things are tough, awkward or painful, or when I have been worried about invading someone else’s privacy or having such a lack of my own that I just wouldn’t be comfortable. Certainly, when I first started journaling online, the audience was much smaller, and I didn’t imagine I’d be read by as many people as I have been over the years, nor as visible with everything else I do: thinking maybe ten or twenty people are reading you and knowing thousands do is a pretty huge discrepancy.

But I’m going to try to write today with that same spirit, even though there have been some things that have been difficult to talk about, certainly personally, but particularly publicly.  I’ve been avoiding them with no small measure of intensity.

One is that I’ve not been well lately.  I’ve said a little about it, and over the last few years, have also made some mention of some things that have gone wrong with my health.  But in the few months, things have gotten pretty scary over here at times.  The long-story-short, sparing you my whole medical history ad nauseum and giving myself some semblance of privacy, is that I’ve had various neurological issues my whole life.  I was epileptic for years in high school have had heinous headaches off and on since I was a kid.  The deal in the last month and change is that…well, two fingers of my left hand have gone numb, and my left arm has periods of either numbness or pain. Needless to say, when I already have a disability in my right hand, this is even more scary.  (However, the weird part is that I’m so used to adapting for those two fingers on my right than shifting the same behaviors to my left at least isn’t something new I have to learn.)  I get some weird tremors, shakes and spasms these days, and every now and then, my speech also seems to simply run away with itself in a really disconcerting way.  I’m also just plain exhausted, despite getting way more sleep lately than usual.

So, what’s going on?  I don’t really know yet.  By virtue of not having healthcare for decades, and public health in Seattle being beyond heinous, I’m limited in this process, which blows in part because the not knowing bites, and also because I’ve no management for the pain this has involved yet, and am very tired of being in pain all the time.  I do, thankfully, have the benefit of the services of the Barstyr clinic here.  I prefer eastern  or holistic healthcare to western anyway, and I can both pay cash to go there and get a discount due to my income.  I don’t have a ton of dough to do this with, but for now, I’m managing.  As of this week, I’ve had a bunch of tests done, and just got the results of my bloodwork back yesterday.  So far, nothing terrifying, but I do have some low levels of a couple things which may be a cause of, a contributor to, or signals of something else, or the problem all by themselves. My care team has some theories, but they’re all still murky.

By the way, am I the only person who did not know — and being in any branch of healthcare, I feel like a particular dipshit about now knowing — that very LOW cholesterol is a problem?

I’m going to start some physical therapies this week, have been given some nutritional therapies, too, and then they’ll determine if we want to see about getting me an EEG and MRI, which will be a bit of a trial because they can’t do them there, and the one place we found I could pay cash for them did not exactly have a nice-looking price tag.    I’m also groaning at the prospect of those tests: been there, done that, more than once.  I swear, high school was a blur of having shit stuck in my hair.  If it wasn’t a whole can of aqua net from making it all stick up, it was the rice from Rocky Horror shows.  if it wasn’t the rice, it was someone’s beer or whatever from a mosh pit.  if it wasn’t beer, it was glue from some brain scan or another while they tried to figure out the seizures and the headaches.  Apparently, I have come full circle.  Maybe I need to go buy some Aqua Net.

What else?

Well, Mark and I have been in the process of shifting our relationship to a friendship and family relationship.  That perhaps has been obvious.

It wasn’t having the triad that got us here (yes, I say that defensively: I really hate that bullshit perception that when you go poly, some relationship will go to shit).  I do think it can be said that all the deep communication that went on in that process made us realize we already were or were heading here for the last year or more, maybe even for the last three, but I don’t think that’s a bad discovery or by-product.  The more we’ve talked it all through, the clearer it becomes that this has been the direction for more time than the both of us had a real, full awareness of or wanted to have an awareness of: we like and love each other a lot, and this isn’t the outcome either one of us really wanted when we first got together.

I write about that today in part because I’m reminded of how tough it has always been to write and publish here about these kinds of times and spaces.  Obviously, one of the big things to manage when you journal so personally and publicly is how you write about others in your life, especially those closest to you.  While certainly, everyone I’ve gotten intimately involved with over the last decade has known or been made aware that I publicly journal, that doesn’t mean anyone is automatically signing up for their every detail, shared moment or feeling to be shared here: that’s not my right.  I’ve often done negotiating around what I write, and my default setting with intimate relationships tends to have been that both for myself and for others involved, everyone is — unsurprisingly — a lot more comfortable with me going on about the good stuff or the easy stuff than the tough stuff.

I haven’t usually tended to write about arguments, about huge conflicts, about many incompatibilities, about some of the changes that have gone down.

Obviously, that’s a big flaw when it comes to the integrity of writing because of course, the way I present my relationships are often going to appear a bit fair-weather.  And I know more than once that readers have felt like a breakup or interpersonal change of mine has seemed like it came out of left field for that reason.  At the same time, I’m not quite sure how to remedy that, especially with such a public journal, especially with always having kept it under the same name I do rest of my work and personal life with.

I’m not going to go on and on about the deal with Mark and I right now, save to say a few things, both for clarity’s sake and because they’re so important.  We’re still living together.  We likely will be for at least a couple more months, and perhaps even a good deal longer than that.  It’s hard to say, finances, practicalities and the whole soup both either of us moving and no longer being housemates entails, emotionally and otherwise. Blue may also be moving out here in time, too, which is another complex ingredient to factor in. We are no less friends than we have ever been.  We also still very much feel like family, and both of us have a tough time envisioning that ever not being the case.  By all means, we’ve had some rough moments and have been very sad at times; hard truths on both sides have whacked both of us upside the head lately, but we love each other very much.

This is coming off like a parent talking to their kid about an impending divorce, no matter what words I use: sorry about that.  Mommy doesn’t mean to talk to you like you’re six.

In short, no one has done anything wrong here. There’s no bad guy in this.  Without unfairly disclosing someone’s feelings and experiences which aren’t mine, this feels primarily like both of us facing certain limitations we each have, and those of the situation we’re in.  This is about us figuring out the difference between things we want and things we need, dealing with the fact that the overall arc of our lives and our relationship history have always been incredibly different, and that in some ways, we each want to head in different directions, or have a different timetable for the directions we’re heading in.

I’m still involved with Blue, and while that has its own kinds of complexity, as well as its own brand of not knowing where anyone will land in many ways, it’s been a very good thing.  There are a lot of old fears involved, some new ones, and I really wish someone had written a guidebook for having a new relationship that is also one of the oldest ones you’ve got.  It’s also a relationship that for a big batch of reasons I’m not up to discussing over much here yet.  Too, Blue is far more of a private person than Mark is or I am, or than many other partners of mine have been for that matter, so we’re just going to have to feel this out as we go in terms of what I write here.

I’m still hoping to make a move to the island here in the future, but I just don’t know when I can make that happen.  Finances are a usual issue, and until I have the word on what the hell exactly is going on with my body, what I need to/can do about it, and have some idea of what to expect per getting better or getting worse, getting there soon isn’t exactly a doable plan.  Putting myself in a rural space alone when I’m having days where I can’t open a can or am feeling dizzy and disoriented all day long?  Not so smart.

From the Department of Things Far Less Heavy, the SSSS weekend at Monterey Bay was just lovely.  I got to have quality time to sit down and talk with some people I respect the hell out of (like Joani Blank and Susie Bright), catch up with some folks I haven’t seen in way too long (being able to sepnd the Aquarium afternoon with David Steinberg and gab for hours was a real treat: the last time we had a lunch was in 2000), meet some new people, see some excellent presentations (the Sex in the Sea lecture from Steven Webster at the aquarium and Gina Ogden’s and Remi Newman’s talks were big highlights), and also enjoy a breathtakingly beautiful place for two days.  I did a lot of solitary walking meditation, which I’ve very much needed.  I went to bed very early both nights and didn’t wake up at the crack of dawn, either.  Getting the award was really awesome and flattering (even though with the recent shakes and other unpredictable body stuff, I felt self-conscious about standing up in front of people), and it got all the more compounded by winding up getting two awards for my work in one week, which is seriously something else.

This last weekend, I was up on the island at Sacred Groves with my buddybro Ben, both looking at some places and options, and just chilling out.  We built a vulva out of branches and leaves, because we’re like that.  We made a nice communal dinner.  I got to sit in a meadow bathed in sunlight for a half hour Sunday morning.  We got to have the talks brothers and sisters who are close do.  Good stuff, all of that.

Work has been….worky.  Not a lot to write home about, since it’s the usual stuff, sparing a lot more travel in the last year than I’ve done before.  I’ve been doing more of that in order to get myself more comfortable with it.  I’ve gotten a lot better over the years at speaking publicly to bigger groups, but it still isn’t something I love to do or which I find fun, so more practice always helps, and it’s a smart thing for me to do more of career-wise.  I am also trying to create a plan so that, ideally, sometime in the very near future I am burning the candle at both ends a lot less, for both my mental and physical health as well as so I can be sure I’m doing the best job I can when I am working.  Perhaps off-topic, today I have been asked more times about this by press people than seems reasonable, and am apparently the Pulling Out Poster Girl even though I’ve never used withdrawal as a method myself, and I haven’t been asked about something like this with other methods of contraception before.  So, I don’t know what that’s all about.

me, on this journalversary.

And that’s really about that.  Or the best I can do with all of that for now, anyway.

Again, I want to express my love and affection for everyone who has been on any leg of this journey with me, and particularly to those who have been readers the whole damn time.  I think there may be something seriously wrong with you for reading me for this long here, but that doesn’t make me love you any less.

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

It was pointed out to me today that I occasionally boggle the mind. And not in the super-impressive, I’m-just-that-bloody-brilliant way.

The observation made was that I can be shown or hear some sort of recognition or praise from someone I profoundly respect, who is a god among wo/men, and I’ll be really touched (I am quick to tear up, as a habit), feel good, but tend to a respond with a, “That’s really cool,” or “Wasn’t that nice?”

On the other hand, I am sent completely over the moon sometimes by things one might think are nothing at all to write home about, or something that should perhaps be a trifle and little more.

For example, around 2000 or so, I called everyone I knew in an ants-in-the-pants frenzy (actually, I think Audra might have been one of the people assaulted by this) to point out that in one of the first published pieces on my work in sex ed with me as any kind of front-page news, a photo of me was right next to — drumroll, please with a minor parade — a photo for a story on Paul Reubens (and no, not that story, that was ten years earlier). I was next to PeeWee Herman, dude. PeeWee, old tapes of which were my comfort back in the day when I was coming down from loads of LSD. PeeWee, who I have always thought is just divine, quite in spite of myself. If I was next to PeeWee Herman, surely I must have arrived.

Today, I noticed this influx of traffic to Scarleteen, hit the logs and saw that the inclusion of a Buffy reference in this piece was blogged on Whedonesque. In the comments, a reader of mine who apparently found this link before I knew about it myself, made a note of my thanks to Joss in the acknowledgments of my book.

Which means…

– since Joss sometimes reads and posts there –

…that it may very well happen that Joss sees that and knows, even if for just an instant, even if just in a fleeting glimpse, how very much I adore him. I don’t need him to love me back. My fangirlness for Señor Whedon is so lunatic-fringe and high school that were he simply to know how I loved him, again, all would be right with the world.

Upon the realization of this teensy shimmer of possibility, this golden glimmer of hope, there was much squealing which followed. (Then some minor irritation that I still have yet to finish the very-long “Everything You Ever Really Needed to Know About Love & Sex… You Learned from Buffy” piece I’ve been working on on and off for a year or so now, since it would have made a far more impressive display.) Kind of all day. We could have managed to achieve world peace – even though it might require the loss of free will – and I probably would have been like, “Well, that’s really neat, but… Joss Whedon might see my acknowledgments, man!”

I’ve now since started breathing again and am able to speak without squeaking. About other topics, even. Go, me.

However, I have decided that should I ever get any evidence to show that Joss, indeed, has seen any of this, I am making myself a t-shirt that reads “Joss Knows I Exist, Therefore I Am.”

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

I did my first day here at the home office where I was doing both jobs — Scarleteen and working on CONNECT and the CRC website — at the same time.

This is what a ludicrous amount of multitasking looks like. My corner desk, with…

• to the far left, my home office laptop on a freestanding table, where an ashtray that so isn’t anything close to empty also lives
• the CRC work laptop to the right of it on my desk, with a mouse plugged in because this business with PCs (first time I’ve been stuck with one of these stinkers) having two buttons drives me batty with a touchpad
• my stationary computer on while I downloaded cards from my camera and kept a little music going
• my phone on the desk to the right of that, with my headpiece attached to my ear
• one legal pad of notes and to-dos for each gig to the right of that
• a cup of perpetually tepid coffee on one of the legal pads
• a jade plant at the end of the desk, desperately trying to represent
• the birth control comparison chart for CRC stretched out over my office chair behind me
• and me, in the middle of all the melee, rolling around on a swiss ball I use as a chair

For most of the day, I couldn’t figure out if I was doing the kind of work I think I do, or somehow electronically responsible for the fate of the free world. I had several paranoid moments of feeling like there was probably some sort of button somewhere I shouldn’t push that had the capacity to delete Australia. Halfway through the day, I shouted “Mayday, MAYDAY!” into the phone just because it seemed like the thing to do.

Want to know the big funny? All this, and I am the girl who, in the early eighties, was completely incensed with my father, who had been having a field day for a while taking apart and putting together Ataris, who thought this whole newfangled computer business would be all the rage, endlessly nagging me to learn DOS so that I could manage the amazing and oh-so-useful feat of making the letter A blink on a black screen with orange text. I HATED technology. I even got my stray cat at the time, Bowie, to pee on one of the keyboards in a shared protest.

I still have to confess that while I know full well how I fell into this tangled-cord-spaghetti, beepedy-beep-beep, creepy-chrome digital business (in short print publishing = instant bankruptcy), it’s a full-tilt love/hate relationship.

Which is why I must head to my garden immediately, now that much of my workday is done, and get as stinky, muddy and full of pollen as is humanly possible. I might even kiss a slug.

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

(Heads-up: parts of this post are fairly explicit when it comes to detailing rape and abuse.)

One of the more interesting (and by interesting, I mean ridiculously ignorant) responses I have seen in a few places discussing the I Was Raped project and my input was my statement on the news that the first time I was assaulted — at the age of 11 — I did not know what had happened to me and was without any language to even express it.

This is being met with some measure of disbelief by a few folks, or the assumption I was on drugs or had been drugged or that I was simply stupid. My personal favorite was that I’m a young girl who only called my rapes rape after being brainwashed by Jennifer and feminism, a newfangled notion she apparently just clued me into. Who knew I was such a late bloomer, and that I was somehow able to grow up in the 70’s in a progressive Chicago neighborhood with a single mother, an activist father, and managed to never hear about feminism? Wowza.

I think people forget that in the early 80’s and before, we were without SO much awareness about rape and all other kinds of abuse. (And other things: I also had attraction to women before then, and a girlfriend before I knew bisexuality was a term for what I was. I was actively dating both men and women for a few years before, as detailed in one of my teenage journals, there was an entry that simply says, “Huh. It seems that I’m bisexual.”) That’s hardly to say we’re living in an acutely aware world now, but that things really have changed pretty substantially in a relatively short period of time. I was an exceptionally intelligent child, in many ways precocious, and also being a compulsive reader, I knew a whole lot about a whole lot, including having some knowledge and understanding about sex.

However, even for plenty of people who know something about sex, who are smart and relatively informed, figuring out what sex is and what rape is aren’t so easy, particularly when you’re raised female. Even if we look at classical literature - much of Greek mythology, all sorts of folktales, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the Bronte Sisters, you name it, and this was the kind of reading I did as a kid — it doesn’t take a genius to notice that usually, when rape happens, it’s often presented as sex or, at best, “sex by force.” It’s rarely, if ever, called rape. In that literature, in religion, in common parlance, in romance novels, in films, in family gossip young women have for eons been taught, more than not, that we are passive sexually, that sex for us is something a person “takes” or we “give” (rather than as something shared), and that often enough our sexual awakening is supposed to be about men deciding to indoctrinate us. Many of us were, have been and still are taught, overtly or covertly, that rape is only rape — and even then may not be — if we’re screaming no at the top of our lungs, if there is a knife at our throat, a scary-looking stranger who is scowling (not getting off and smiling or laughing), a dirty alleyway. Even then, we hear about what women in that situation did to deserve it, ask for it, incite it. As I’ve said before, with my rape that came closest to that, at the age of 12, I heard that kind of backlash from the mouths of the police.

My first assault happened with a man I trusted — my family trusted — the man who cut our hair for years. When he asked me to go back into that shampoo room with him, I earnestly thought nothing of it. When he told me how pretty I was getting, I was marginally uncomfortable, but then I always had been with compliments. When he started getting closer and closer to me as he said this, then started talking about my breasts and my legs as he backed me up against the wall, I became very quickly and acutely uncomfortable, but I was taught by one of my parents and all of her family that you trust adults, and that’s just that: that when you feel uncomfortable around them, you don’t yell out or tell them to get out of your face, or tell them how much their breath in your face makes you want to throw up. I was taught that it was more likely I would misunderstand the well-meaning actions of adults than be correct in knowing when they were doing something wrong. When his hands went everywhere he could possibly put them, I was in such a state of shock that this was happening to me. Part of that was that while I had developed a bit early, for the most part, I did still feel pretty childlike, and what was going on very much did not feel like what happened between an adult and a child. Another part of that was that from everything I knew, this was not unlike how, when sex happened, it was described. I didn’t want it, I didn’t feel aroused — I felt incredibly repulsed and before I walked home, wound up throwing up in the alley several times — and yet, it’s not like anyone had ever talked to me about how sex was supposed to feel, emotionally, or like I hadn’t seen enough representations of sex where it clearly was not about the woman’s wants, initiation or boundaries. What I was looking for, later that day and for years afterwards, was a rationale of why that happened to me, how, somehow, something I said, did or wore would have given the impression I wanted that or was available for that. For a couple years, I blamed my developing body: pulled hair out of it that had grown in, tried to make it go back to my childhood body, cut it up with a razor.

I did not tell a soul what had happened to me then. I was cut off from my dad at the time, and I was living in a household with a stepparent who was verbally and emotionally abusive, and who, since I had started puberty, had used that to humiliate and torment me. One of his favorite taunts during those years was to tell me, in lurid detail, how he might cut my breasts off. I think it’s also entirely possible — remember, these are memories which are now 27 years old and which are also made murky by a lot of trauma in a short time - I was worried that having my stepparent know this man had done this to me would give him or any other man the feeling they could do the same. Telling my mother would have meant he was told — my privacy was never respected in that home (the only place I could assure that was a closet I rigged to lock from the inside, where I spent a whole lot of time for a few years), and I was often treated as the interloper to what would have been, apparently, an otherwise idyllic existence. I had no idea what telling anyone else would mean, but I didn’t think it would be helpful. I was already a bit of a misfit at school and we had just moved, so all my friends were very new friends — and didn’t want to say anything which would cement my status as a freak further.

Again, there wasn’t any precedent for this back then, when it comes to telling. There were no talk-TV shows, no magazines, no books, not hotlines, no PSAs telling you to tell, or letting you know that telling could be a big help. There were only an onslaught of messages telling you to shut your trap and pretend nothing happened. My clear assumption at the time was that I must have done something to deserve this or make this man think I wanted this: I was often blamed for so much I did not do in my childhood that I had no reason to think otherwise. I was used to being found at fault. I wasn’t about to tel anyone about this thing which felt so wrong and get sorely punished for whatever I did.

There’s something else people seem to forget. I was more educated in many ways than a lot of girls my age, but I work in sex education right now, not in 1981. And every single day we get questions from people of a wide range of ages, from a wide range of nations, who very clearly would not — or do not - know, either. We hear from people who do not know the names of their own body parts, or do not know what the most “basic” forms of sex are. We hear from people all over the globe in their teens and twenties who do not know the basics of reproduction, or when sex has even happened. We work with a population who is frequently told that ANY sex is wrong for them, and so they tend to expect sex — wanted sex, sex of any kind — to feel wrong. We hear from people all the time who have been forced into sex or other kinds of abuse and do not know what happened to them; know that it was rape or abuse and it was not something they asked for or are responsible for. In other words, things have improved, but we still have a loooong way to go, and there are lots of things which inhibit people from knowing they have been abused which have little or nothing to do with rape at all.

Back when I was running my alternative pre-kindergarten and teaching in other classrooms, the few times I had a student I discovered was being abused in some way, figuring it all out was very tough, because children normalize whatever their normal is, and they are also very easily manipulated by abusive adults into believing that when they say a given thing is okay, that it is okay, even if it hurts, even if it doesn’t feel right, even if every part of them initially — in time that intuition is often worn down to nothing — knows it isn’t okay. I had a student once with a babysitter who, as it turned out, had a husband who punished the children they cared for by burning their mouths with a lighter (you can guess, sadly, when this all played out, how little happened to this man — as I understand it, the only consequence of all of this was that the woman doing home daycare got a limit placed on how many kinds she could have, and stupid DCFS told them who made the report, so the child and his mother were harassed by phone at their home for weeks by these people). I only found this out after my young student had told me all day his mouth and throat were sore. I had given him water and juice, and finally took him in the bathroom to look back in his throat… and saw that the roof of his mouth was literally charred black. I knew well enough by then that you have to be careful how you talk to kids about this stuff — again, it’s very easy to lead or influence them — so it took everything I had to try and ask questions cool as a cucumber when I was mortified and heartbroken, knowing something awful had happened to this child. In asking where he’d been lately, what he’d done over the last few days, he finally volunteered, with a shrug, that “Maybe that happened when Mike put his lighter in my mouth. He does that sometimes.” He said it as if he were saying, “Maybe I’ll have eggs for breakfast this morning.” Mike put a lighter in his mouth, sure, and it later came out that Mike liked to physically “discipline” him in other ways, but Mike also played ball with him, told jokes, was his friend. These kinds of situations are confusing for children, confusing for teens, confusing for adults.

See, sometimes we don’t know we’ve been abused because the person who raped (or otherwise abused) us isn’t supposed to be someone who can harm you: a boyfriend, a teacher, a parent, a clergyperson, a friend. If people who are supposed to care about you, who say they care about you, who others you trust invest trust in assaults you it surely must have been something else, because people you love aren’t supposed to do you harm. Sometimes we don’t know because the person who is assaulting us tells us, quite plainly, while they are doing so that we like what they are doing, that everything feels so good, that we are so special, that they are our friend and would never hurt us. They’re smiling, the way we see them smile all the time, not looking scary or yelling or calling us bitches or sluts. Sometimes we don’t know because what we are told or shown in sex and what we are told or shown is rape so closely resemble each other: my personal feeling over the years is that one thing that makes healing so hard for a lot of survivors is that so much of the consensual sex they are having is still pretty rape-y in a lot of ways. Sometimes we don’t know rape was rape because we have heard so much more about how women are temptresses (or, for male survivors, how men and boys always want any kind of sex from anyone) who lead men into the things they do to us, who cause men to lose self-control — this kind of talk loomed large among my mother’s Irish Catholic parents, for instance — or we hear about how dirty and filthy and bad we are from birth, no mater what we do or don’t do, no matter what is or is not done to us by others.

Let’s also not forget that often, our psyches do us a profound favor with traumatic events where they can kind of turn off and tune out our minds so that our memories of a traumatic event are murky and even nonexistent. This is not some kooky idea people came up with in order to prove imaginary traumas, it’s something very well documented, and one very typical aspect of PTSD. In my case, while I remember much of my first assault very clearly, my second is one where a whole chunk starting where I was forcibly grabbed and pulled into the van and ending where I somehow had gotten myself back into the bathroom of the ice rink where I started, shivering and shaking and bruised, is just missing. I’m very well versed in this point of therapies for missing memories, things like RMT, and of the big flaws in them. Before I even knew how flawed approaches like that could be, I had no interest in trying them (and the one therapist I had who I stuck with in my teens was very down-to-earth and never suggested them): I never wanted those acute memories, nor did I, personally, need them to know what happened to me and to work through it. All the same, when you have memory loss with trauma, it can make figuring out what happened right at or around the time it did a challenge, especially when you factor in the very typical desire for denial of trauma.

One of the biggest bummers of the last couple of weeks is that I wish so many of these conversations could have been had only with rape survivors, in spaces that felt safe, where survivors could really talk and where those who were not could just freaking listen. Every time I read one of these bouts of en masse ignorance, it was usually dovetailed by comments about how we don’t need rape awareness, how everyone knows all they need to know, and how anyone who wants to talk about their rape can with no problems and full support, which is an obvious and sad irony. If we didn’t need that awareness, survivors would feel and earnestly be safe to share their stories and all the prototypical myths — like the idea that everyone knows when they have been raped and knows that’s what to call it — wouldn’t be anything we still had to counter. If people could just listen to survivors — and put aside that sometimes, what we have to say is going to make people feel uncomfortable and is going to challenge certain worldviews profoundly — we’d have come a lot farther by now both in reducing rape and in having a better environment for survivors to heal in. It’s really tough sometimes to even figure out which is more traumatic: a rape itself, or the aftermath of rape, living with rape, trying to work through it all in a culture which is so hell-bent on enabling rape and blaming or silencing survivors.

So, no: I didn’t know that two of my rapes were rapes for the first few years after them, or even when they happened. I wasn’t drugged for any of my assaults, nor was I on drugs or any other substance. I have never been stupid a day in my life. They were not wanted, consensual sex which I only decided to call rape when a bunch of feminist women brainwashed me. I was not atypical in this respect, even though my not-knowing isn’t universal, either. The biggest reason I didn’t know is that, like many, many people then and many now — including some getting the message loud and clear from some of the discussions which have happened over the last couple of weeks — I was taught in a million different ways not to know.

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Oh, but there’s just nothing like waking up in the morning to find an image of you (from a clearly copyrighted page, no less) used without your permission and to be the unidentified rape survivor used as a poster child without even a request for your permission, let alone the permission itself. Having your work (Scarleteen) attributed to someone else is just icing on the cake. Given the subject matter, there’s a pretty grotesque and sad irony afoot, to say the least. Sure, it’s likely just editorial/journalistic carelessness, but it does strike me as sending the message that rape survivor = available to anyone for their own use without permission.

This is not to say I expect better things of Gawker or Jezebel — nor that I didn’t send their shared legal department a nastygram minutes ago — but rather, to say that I’m clearly going to require an awful lot of coffee, a very long bath, a hug and to manage my general disappointment with people today.

P.S. To friends who I told about my father coming down with pneumonia — which is obviously incredibly dangerous for him given his general health and the conditions he lives in — I just heard from him and he finally seems to be on the mend. That also means he will be able to come up and stay with me for a week and a half as planned next week.

P.P.S. If you’re local to Seattle, I just took a call from KOMO news on the I Was Raped project, who have assured me I can count on them for the sensitivity I have not otherwise encountered much today.  I’m not entirely optimistic, but we’ll see.  It is crazy to me that I have to explain (and I have, several times today to different people) that my choosing the context where an image of me identifying myself as a survivor is not minor.  A big photo of me on my local news can mean that I get to spend days, even weeks possibly running into people locally who know me only as “that girl who got raped,” by my face, it might mean opening myself up to all kinds of things with groups of people that are broader than the groups I usually encounter.

I will probably have more to say after the segment is aired, depending on what they used of what I said, but I gotta say, so far, this doesn’t go down as one of my best days ever.  I feel exposed — and given, I signed up for some of that, hoping it will be a worthwhile thing for others — and like I’ve had to fight for my right not to be some sort of commodity and it’s just… I don’t know.  It’s just something, and not something very great for me at the moment.

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Two work-update quickies:

1.  RH Reality Check is now — as of today — syndicating my advice columns at Scarleteen twice a month.  I love them big bunches, and really appreciated their asking in the interest of getting more youth involved in reproductive and sexual health education and activism, so that’s exciting.  I’m also hoping my having some content there might help get some of our users at Scarleteen feeling more confident about getting involved in some of the discussions there.
2. I’m also the sexual health consultant for the upcoming orb28, a site I am SO thrilled is near to launch.  It’s from New Moon Media, the fantastic organization which publishes the magnificent New Moon magazine for and by girls, and orb28 will be an interactive site gearing to a slightly older audience than New Moon targets.   Feminist outlets for girls and teen women are so few and far between, and I think this is going to be a great one.

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

This just in: I’ve been really depressed.

Probably not a surprising headline at this point, but you know how depression goes: you don’t usually see it coming, and only figure out you’re there once you’re soaking in it.

It’s primarily work-related, which is some of why I’ve been reluctant to talk about it, because getting into the specifics of why the work I do is hard, and why parts of it aren’t working for me always feels precarious and uncomfortably like money-grubbing, not to mention, is likely not all that interesting for anyone else. Hell, it’s not interesting to me.

But I’ve no doubt my radio silence is a bit odd, and since I’ve been doing what I do, pretty much out there for all to see here for eight odd years now, I may as well just come out with it. It’s not like I don’t have other readers who run their own businesses or work as activists, after all. At least the lot of you can share a sigh with me. I apologize in advance for going on at great length: there’s no making this brief.

As I often find myself — and have, running independent businesses and working the causes for the whole of my adult life — I’m in a finanical and existential pickle, and looking further down the road, I’m seeing the vinegar turn.

A lot of how I’m feeling I described to Mark as this: I spend my time doing what I think is building something higher and higher, but right now, I feel like maybe I was unknowingly upside down, and what looked like upward construction was, perhaps instead, me digging an incredibly deep hole for myself. It’s not a hole for anyone else, for anyone utilizing what I do and have done, but for me, personally, it really does look like that.

Many years ago (so crazy that it really is many) when I first starting shifting from classroom teaching to working full-time in sexuality — in erotica, but also in education — my pro-bono lawyer at the time told me to consider what I was doing very carefully, because if I made that choice, and got any kind of notice in making it — or even none at al - I may well never be able to go back to classroom teaching, especially not in this country, where the ethos are so insanely bizarre when it comes to fear and panic about children and adults having any sort of overt sexuality or doing anything even remotely considered sex work. I didn’t blow that concern off, by any means. I did consider it pretty carefully, and it just seemed like what I was aiming to start doing was important enough that I could live with that.

But what I didn’t really consider as well as i should have, however, was if this other work could actually sustain me. Some of why is because I was making so little and working so hard teaching that it was hard to imagine being even less financially stable. I’d also grown up poor enough, and continued to live poor enough, that at the time, it felt like if that stayed that way forever, I wouldn’t be elated, but I’d deal. Of course, having always lived scrap-to-scrap, it’s not like I’m exactly the best financial planner ever.

Throughout the now almost-ten years I’ve been working online in this arena, getting by has been incredibly difficult, because in every aspect of my work, I have been really dedicated to doing it in such a way that I did not sell out: did not misrepresent anything in order to make a buck, did not ally myself with anyone or anything that I wasn’t comfortable supporting (or felt effectively would cancel out the good I was doing with my work), did not do things in such a way that were driven by profit, rather than by the integrity and aim of the work.

It’s no news flash that when you’re working in any aspect of sex and sexuality, that is more than a minor challenge.

Now, there were a couple good years in there. Certainly, not good by a lot of people’s standards: I live pretty lean — I don’t have a car, I cook at home more than go out, I rent, I don’t own, I don’t do credit cards — but I’d be living primarily that way even if I was rolling in it, most likely. But by my own standards, there have been times when I’ve done alright. Being in at the gate before the web boom, this site here did pretty well for a handful of years before alt-porn was on the map, and when there did seem to be a market for erotic work that wasn’t porn, or wasn’t marketed as porn. When Scarlet Letters was in its heyday, and people really thought there could be a real market for women’s sexuality content (oh, you laugh now…), we had a few paying advertisers that we liked a lot (Good Vibes, Babeland: good folks who don’t exploit anyone or objectify women’s sexuality — when SuicideGirls first started, we accepted them as an advertiser, but when it started seeming — in pretty short order — like that wasn’t the great woman-run thing they said it was, we stopped working with them). Back before the dot-bomb, Scarleteen was on Chickclick’s network for a couple years, which meant that we were able to run good avertising, paying an apporpriate CPM, and working with really nice people who really supported what we did very bravely — even to the point of refusing to take us off the network when their biggest network advertiser, one of the major American personal product companies, blew a gasket about having ads run on a network which included a teen sex education site and demanded they did or else they’d pull their millions.

(Chriesta, I sound like someone’s grandma. Back in MY day….)

Scarlet Letters hasn’t been updated or shifted to something else since 2004 because for the life of me, I cannot figure out how on earth to do it in a way where it pays its own bills — without putting things on it neither I nor our readers would want — how on earth to make the time to do it, and because I don’t have the heart to sell the domain (even though it’s got some worth), because I know full well the buyer would likely use it for something noxious. I update the artwork and work here less and less often because at this point, making the work costs more per time and money than I get back for it, and flatly, the better my work gets in my eyes, the less saleable it seems to become. Plus, the move to Seattle hasn’t been good when it’s come to opportunities for photography work: I did far, far better in Minneapolis, and that’s the understatement of the century. To the point that I have sat down and looked at if it is fiscally feasible for me to just fly out there every few months to do that work, because that is still where I get the most people inquiring about having work done.

And Scarleteen. Oh, Scarleteen.

A wonderful thing Scarleteen is, I know, from a public service perspective, and from a maybe-if-I-stopped-liking-the-sex-so-much-I’d-get-sainted-for-this viewpoint, but want to know about an insanely stupid business model? Come on, I know you do.

An insanely stupid business model is choosing to serve the population LEAST willing, likely and able to support that service financially. Seriously, that’s beyond dumb. And when your second rung of support for that service is the adults responsible for that population, it’d SEEM doable, unless you consider the fact that the majority of them obviously don’t care overmuch about that service being provided for their kids, or else the kids probably wouldn’t be coming to you for that service in the first place. Tack on that the service you provide is viewed as provocative at best, and downright evil at worst (especially coming from a bent, wanton harlot like me OR from a man-hating, anti-sex hag, depending on who’s making the judgment that day), and you see just how financially suicidal that is.

Scarleteen, for most of its history, has been sustained — and me with it, especially as it’s turned into my full-time job — by donations. And yet, with every year that passes, those donations become less and less frequent. Used to be that a bad month for us per donations was when we only made $50. Anymore, if we net $50 in donations over a couple months, it’s a freaking miracle. The longer we stick around and keep up the good work, the greater our reach becomes — just over the last few months, it’s elevated over 100% — which just costs us more money and requires more time spent serving everyone, and doesn’t result in any more donations to offset that. I have one private grant — thank christ — but that’s not guaranteed to be permanent, and it is arranged to decrease over time. We’re working on 501c3 status, but a) that costs money and time, too and b) that may or may not be of a lot of help given the cultural climate right now, and it looking like it won’t change very much for quite some time.

So, when it’s looking like this, I look back to advertising, preferably as a stop-gap, not a permanent solution, for all the obvious reasons (well, obvious to me as an anti-capitalist and as someone whose work often involves correcting and fending off the effects of the media and acqusitional culture, anyway). I’ve just finally put Google AdSense on Scarleteen, and I’m not at all happy about it, but it’s certainly a lesser of other evils and it’s also something we CAN do right now to net a little income and try and hang in there until something better comes along. Beyond that running at a really skimpy CPM and so helping, but not much, and looking like arse, even with me filtering the things showing up on it like a maniac, I’m unhappy with what’s being run there overall and what I have to race to filter in the first place. Vaginoplasty ads, sexual performance “enhancers,” really gross dating services — and yep, found an abstinece-only program ad on a page — aren’t things I want on a site where I am trying to help young folks build up esteem and come to sexuality in a healthy way.

But as of right now, I’m nearly out of other options. About once a year, I’ve gone on a kick for a few weeks where I try to persuade what SHOULD be considered appropriate advertisers for us — condom companies, birth control manufacturers, books and magazines, independent media, record labels, indie designers, etc. — and every single time, it’s the same song and dance. Pretty much everyone is outright terrified as to what it would say about them and their business to be on a site “endorsing” teen sexuality and telling teens that they are still okay if they decide to be sexually active. That bit that happened with the Chickclick advertiser I mentioned up there? That was about a CEO coming home to discover that his 17-year-old daughter was reading about masturbation — and how it’s totally okay — at Scarleteen. Oh, the horror! And at the tender age of 17, no less! Having interest in her own genitals! Is there no end to my great corruption of America’s youth?

Apparently not. This week, I’ve spent time on the phone with a couple of the larger ‘net ad agencies, because our traffic and reach (and the number of pages we have) is such that most DIY ad revenue sources just aren’t feasible for me. Plus, I hate shilling for money, and don’t have the time in my day (or the heart: it’s hard not to take personally) to spend every waking minute trying to persuade advertisers that I really, truly, am not trying to turn teenagers into depraved, sex-addicted beasts, and that I’d really just like to sustain what we do for them — which they ask us to do for them — while at the same time helping them find their way to thinks like books to read and decent condoms to use, which seems like a pretty decent arrangement, no?

Not to advertisers or ad agencies it doesn’t. Never has, apparently still never will. I have one more left to talk to, but since all the others gave the usual “No, we can’t, even as great a site as I personally think it is, our higher-ups don’t want to lose ad clients, and our content needs to stay ‘clean’,” I’m not feeling particularly hopeful. This, for the record, is also what’s happening with coverage of the book so far, even in terns of getting promotional venues. Note: it WOULD be okay — and “clean” — to support my site if it was all about appearance, bikini-waxing, getting skinny, if it was a lad mag or a site full of sexist jokes and videos. But talking about birth control or clitorises or noncompulsory bisexuality to teenagers? Filth!

So, here I sit. Well, more like, here I slump and skulk. I have a seriously challenging and emotionally demanding job which requires I work more than full-time, but which pretty much never pays me for all that time, and which I sometimes even find myself in the position of having to pay for the great privilege of doing. I’m in the hole due to time I had to take to re-edit the book, costs of promoting the book, the costs and labor of the site upgarde, an upgrade I was hoping would pump up book sales and donations — as well as make it easier and more efficient for me to do the work — but instead has only increased reach and thus, cost. My usual avenues of freelance work to offset Scarleten-debt — as well as to help pay for my own personal expenses, rent, food, healthcare, the perpetually never-paid student loans, etc. — appear to be closed to me right now.

And my lawyer was right about going back to teaching. Right now, if I wanted to go back to teaching in a classroom full-time, the only way I’d get hired would be to outright lie about how I’ve been spending my time (I publish with my first and middle name only, so while given my visibility, it’s likely a lie I’d get caught in eventually, I likely wouldn’t right off the bat), which I am beyond not okay with for so many reasons. Alternately, I could invest some time in making much of my work disappear (though the book pretty much makes that impossible) so that you had to dig a lot harder for it and it wasn’t in any way active. Even thinking about effectively throwing away so many years of hard work is beyond heartbreak, and knowing that I can’t do both — this is why I left in the first place, it’s not that I was tired of teaching, I loved teaching — which means some things would just have to get shut down…ugh, it’s just too much to even bear thinking about right now. I try to make myself think that way to be practical, and I wind up weeping.

Sometimes, I get really irate about people doing any kind of work like the work I have done or do under secrecy or big pseudonyms. Often, that’s because I really do think it’s important not to do that to take the shame out of sex, even though (obviously) I fully understand the price that requires at this time (though if everyone took that risk, I think in pretty short order, things would be very different in that regard). But sometimes, it’s simple jealousy. I envy the fact that most people working in sexuality don’t find themselves in this sort of position: came from a place where it felt/feels okay to be invisible as who they are in their “other lives,” and aren’t limited in the way that I’ve set myself up to be, even though, for me, I don’t see how I could have accomplished what I have without doing it this way, very visibly.

Beyond….well, being broke, which is crappy as it is, but especially tiresome when you spend close to forty years being that way, the even harder emotional hit for me lately is that not being able to even sustain myself and my businesses in the most basic ways, despite working so damned hard, and doing something for so long, with so much dedication and in such a way that even at my low points, I don’t often doubt the value of, makes me feel valueless.

I don’t like that feeling for a lot of reasons. I don’t like it because it stands in pretty sharp conflict with my knowing full well that money and wealth, while it does PUT a value of things, does not accurately DETERMINE the value of things, and I resent my believing, even for a minute, that it does. (Plus, I hear my father lecturing me about it inside the recesses of my head, and if you think I, can go on and on for an age, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I’m like this for a reason, you know.) I don’t like feeling that way because even on the days when the work is harder than hell, and not a single person I help remembers to say thank you, even when I’m at a low point and so self-pitying I feel like nothing I’ve done is worth anything, it’s really important to me to be able to shake that stuff the hell off and get real, knowing that it’s psychological suicide to rely on anyone or anything else to acknowledge the value of what I do. I’ve done a ton of work in my life for absolutely no money, or very, very little, because it was of real value and I was able to do what needed to be done: money shouldn’t determine a value.

But I’m having a harder and harder time believing that of late, and the more time goes on. I can see 40 from where I’m sitting, and I really don’t want things to be like this when I get there. When I see the things people hurl money at and fiscally support, it makes me more and more bitter and less and less optimistic. Some woman wants new boobs — not because she had breast cancer, even, but because she just wants new boobs — and she makes that about all the big, wonderful men helping her achieve that “goal,” and she can raise money for that, but I can’t often for the life of me get fiscal support to help prevent rape or help someone heal from one, to help someone avoid an unwanted pregnancy, or let some girl know her boobs are just flippin’ fine so she can achieve productive goals, actual acheivements, and NOT wind up the woman grubbing for cash by flashing skin to get fake boobs in a vain attempt to feel better about herself, who will most likely ultimately come back to just needing someone to tell her she’s just fine as she is TO feel better. I could go on for an age with these examples, but I’m not going to, because it’s just too pathetic and I just get pissier and pissier the longer I go on about them. Plus, y’all know the stuff I’m talking about.

A week or so ago, I had someone write me back in reponse to trying to arrange a promotional event who actually felt the need to explain to me — as if I had no idea, and you know, haven’t been doing what i do for as long as I have — the demographics and general needs and practices of people who blog about sexuality. I don’t have diva moments often (which is a big part of why i stopped studying opera in high school), but as I read the missive over here, an audible gasp issued from my mouth (which made me sick of myself quite instantly), and I just couldn’t even make myself respond back. I mean, there’s no way to say, “Umm, do you know who I AM?” that doesn’t sound prissy, pissy and banal. Regardless, and even knowing the stupidity of the way I felt at that moment, feeling valueless comes up again: you do something for a long time, starting before anyone else even does it, and sometimes, when you’re recognized in no way for it — it just makes you feel like shite.

Know what else? When people DO sell out, there is SO much noise about it. But when you really don’t, even over loads of time? When you bust your arse NOT to, and take the hard hits for not doing so? Ain’t a peep. And you know what? That freaking blows.

Usually, I’m pretty good at being positive in light of all of this kind of stuff and the daily crap I slug through. I’m no dummy, I know and understand why what I do is so often so unsupported, even though I don’t agree or — obviously — like it. But when you’re staring down at a stack of bills, looking at rent due a couple months away and not sure where it’s going to come from, needing some real healthcare and having no idea when you’ll be able to get it, eating peanut butter and jam too often for lunch, having a book you worked on for six years to promote but no cash to promote it with, piling stuff you love off to pawn, and envying the hell out of people who can go somewhere and take a real vacation while you’re harboring the heartbreak counseling yet one more sexual abuse survivor you really — however much of a shit you feel like for feeling this way — wish someone else was taking care of, it’s pretty easy to not only cease being positive, but to get pretty damn negative.

My new thing lately is to be out to dinner or drinks and if I’m with someone I feel even remotely close to, I just burst into tears for no reason, in public. That’s a winner. I’ve been avoiding seeing friends because I’m such a drag lately, and I kind of don’t feel like having to try NOT to be a drag: faking it just feels even worse, and when I talk about this stuff, I usually wind up with a) a bunch of earnest trying-to-help that are usually all ideas I’ve had and pursued, so I have to recount my failures, or b) a total silence, likely because no one knows what to say, which is understandable, especially since it’s pretty unusual for me to have my spirit so broken. Poor Mark has effectively been living with Sybil — if I’m feeling better, I try and just avoid this topic altogether, but if I’m low, or something brings it up, I just lose it and turn into a weepy pile of mush, on top of being critical with him about every damn little thing lately, because my threshold for anything else going wrong or getting messed up is so low, and because he’s one of the only people I feel even remotely comfortable losing it in front of. Lucky him! (Course, he just had his own personal breakdown in front of me last week, so it is a pretty mutual exchange.)

BAH!

I just wish I knew what the right thing to do was to get on the right track with all of this, instead of feeling so lost and so torn and so out of options. I wish I could magically change my attitude about it all, to boot, because I know that cannot possibly be helping the matter. Some days lately, I just wish I could say to hell with the whole lot of everything, pack up my dog, my cat and my piano, get our arses to Mexico or some nice farm land somewhere — and convince Mr. Price to join us — change my name and grow tomatoes until I kicked it: it’s a fantasy I entertain often, and quite enjoy entertaining. If I share that fantasy with others, the typical response was that I’d get bored in no time, feel useless and need to go do some activist work. While I think that would have been true about me at one point, I’m not so sure it is anymore: in fact, I’m becoming pretty certain that it isn’t, to the point that I almost resent the implication that I simply MUST do The Big Work. I’m tired, man, I’m world-weary, and if I’m going to scrape by on so little so much of the time, it’d sure be nice to do that without having to work so hard and juggle so much of everyone’s heaviest stuff.

(It felt very liberating to write that out loud just now, actually. That’s a load off.)

I’m not asking anything of anyone here (save your ever-wearying eyeballs due to this entry, and for that I apologize). In fact, right now, it’s pretty critical that I sort my own shit out without a lot of interference. Obviously, if anyone has any super-brilliant ideas they’re pretty sure I haven’t thought of, I’m all ears, so long as it’s understood that I may not reply back, especially if the super-brilliance is a road I’ve already gone down, or something that I just know won’t be workable (in which case my lack of reply isn’t about not being thankful for help or concern, but about not wanting to rehash nonoptions, because doing so bums me out more).

I just wanted to get this stuff on the table, both because I needed to for myself, and because I do expect to be a bit distracted with all of this until I come up with some solutions, so it may be quieter around here than usual. Plus, it felt pretty essential to just keepin’ it real around here. I will be fine — I will, even at those moments when I’m sure I won’t — lord knows, I’ve lived through worse than this and managed to be fine, and I do have some good supports. I’ll cry a lot, and — thank heaven for working alone during the day — raise my fists and yell at the air a lot, spend late nights singing sad songs on the piano a lot, hit my bag, make a lot of lists, and hopefully, I’ll think of and find something to put me and my work in a better position to sustain ourselves soon, in a way that I don’t have to compromise myself and which also isn’t temporary, but has some longevity so I don’t have to keep ending up back in this sort of a jam and this sort of malaise.

What I would be up for, though, if you’re of a mind to feel you ought to offer something when a girl is down, are really good stories about people fixing seemingly impossible problems. I’d prefer you not just make up a fiction, but I won’t say no to a fiction right now outright, either (plus, I won’t likely know the difference). Too, I am up for anyone who is able to connect me directly with a good (and brave) ‘net ad rep who can really serve it up for larger sites: given my numbers, that really does look like the best solution right now, and it shouldn’t interfere with 501c3 filing, either.

And I’d also not say no to anyone who felt the strong, pervasive need to ship me a bottle of silver Patron, a whole lot of non-dairy chocolate, the new Patti Smith CD (she just makes being depressed and pissed off seem so much more glamorous and cool), one-way tickets to Chiapas or Oaxaca and a good kick in the pants. Just sayin’.

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007


While I’m sure plenty of you have already seen this, if you haven’t, it’s well worth a read.
Violet introduces some of the basics of this matter here, succinctly and pointedly
. And she asks a very potent question, namely “Do we women need to portray ourselves as victims to garner support when men threaten to defile our corpses if we gain notoriety?”

I’ve been stalked (in-person and online both) before because of my sex and what I do online and in print, and I’ve been hated on for what I do and who I am, for certain, but I don’t kid myself. When we’re talking about harassment based solely on work, for the most part, the genre I work in isn’t one which is going to usually bring this kind of hate down upon me, because no matter how I redefine sex, no matter how what I prescribe and discuss in the work I do might challenge patriarchy and the status quo, the fact that it is sexuality and sex I’m writing about, and the fact that I say sex is a good thing is — quite unintentionally — some measure of protection for me against this kind of violence. In short, I remain in an arena I am often perceived by many to be protecting for men, not my own behalf or that of women, no matter what I say, or in which men just want no real ownership of. Sexuality education: what a bore, right? Besides, half the time what I’m doing with all the referring of locations for EC, comforting through pregnancy scares and wounded vaginas, places to get STI screenings, help with how to reclaim sexuality, counseling for rape and abuse survivors is just cleaning up the messes lots of men have made for them.

I also have the benefit — if you can call it that — of the fact that calling a sexuality writer and artist a slut, a whore, a cunt, or sexualizing me period doesn’t pack a particularly powerful punch when it comes to undermining my credibility, largely in part because my credibility is tenuous at best anyway (and that’d be part of the other entry that’s in the pipes), but also in part — whether I like it or not, whether it is true or not — because to many, it’s already a given that I’m a slut, a whore, a sexual object, and that I LOVE all that, or else I wouldn’t be doing what I do in the first place. But I digress.

* * *

In reading Violet’s piece, reading other coverage of what’s happened to Kathy Sierra, and keeping in mind the multitude of other times things like this have happened and will continue to, I was painfully and unexpectedly reminded of something I’d filed away for my own sanity for some time. In part it was also filed away because from the time it began happening through now — and still now — I couldn’t think of a way to air any of it that didn’t seem unfair or potentially hurtful to others involved, even though there wasn’t anyone it was ever going to harm the way it harmed me, and the only reason it did me less harm than it might have was simply because I was used to this sort of treatment and know how to compartmentalize it.

The tone and content of the hate site centers around sexually threatening you, suggesting ways you could be killed and have your corpse defiled, stating that you are a “slut” and that your gender is also in question. Your straight male colleagues don’t have this problem. Then the person running the hate site blogs about every word you say, every time you make a post or publish an article. And targets your friends. And posts the names of your family and Google satellite maps of your family’s homes. They deface your Wikipedia page at every opportunity, with sexual slurs, objectifying you at every possible chance.

A handful of years back, I had a brief relationship (far briefer in the actual relationship than in the aftermath, unfortunately) with another blogger which very quickly became emotionally abusive when the limits and boundaries I’d made clear I needed were simply not those he desired, and which from the start, he’d only said were okay because he’d clearly decided for himself he could ignore them completely. What was supposed to be, agreed to be, a temporary stay in my apartment until he found housing of his own very quickly escalated into a long-term cohabitation I incessantly protested, and which became a tool used to manipulate me with daily.

After I finally managed to get that person out of my home and my life, the abuse escalated from afar and moved online. For a while, I simply stopped writing anything at all personal about my life, because if and when I did, it would be unraveled, respun and used as a weapon on his blog and amongst shared friends. For a little while in there, I just stopped writing, period: nothing felt safe, nothing was safe.

I got to watch someone with a readership that included lesbians and women launch barbs at me on both accounts that were at worst, applauded, and at best, silently allowed because I had made the grave mistake of not giving some man who other people liked what he wanted, or perhaps, simply because his abuse gave others a convenient place to hide a desire for same (or perhaps because no one wanted the same abuse launched at them). I got to have friends tell me unbelievable slander he’d disseminated among others (my personal favorite was that I had raped him via the interesting logic that once or twice when we were having sex, I wasn’t demonstrating my enjoyment of sex as clearly and vocally as he’d desired). I got to watch a very smart man very calculatingly use what he knew were triggers for me — which much if not most of his readership was likely unaware of, and thus, unaware he was doing — in what he wrote about me, knowing full well that the only vague recourse I had to make things like that stop was expressly to publicly proclaim certain types of victimhood — including acknowledging that he was succeeding in victimizing me — which I did not want to.

It didn’t stop with me, either. Several friends of mine had to block their emails or change their addresses: one other was also harassed by this person online, and since he couldn’t be maligned by his gender, instead, his race was where the abuse was placed. My closest friend, having the unfortunate burden of being female and of a higher economic class, as well the wrong race was harassed on all accounts.

When endless private emails and calls to me went either ignored, or were responded to with yet one more calm request to please stop contacting me, that person quite clearly and purposefully found a way to escalate it further by bringing it to their blog, watched as some commentors to that blog egged it all on. (I won’t pussyfoot: it was my good fortune that the majority of his readers were female, and sparing maybe one exception, all the eggers-on were indeed male.) Mind you, as I said, I did not tell my story, and I accept the responsibility that goes with my silence. I was trying to do everything I could think of to quell the abuses and harassment, foolishly thinking silence — and my even publicly stating there were no bad guys when there very much were — would accomplish that, and in hindsight, I was also pitying the person who was doling out the abuse and also very much not wanting to either play the victim or recount the ways in which I had been victimized, especially since lord knows, I’d been victimized enough already in my life as it was. (Not to mention that I was also at the time getting a whole different brand of shit on my own journal from random commenting/emailing assholes about finally accepting the fact that my attraction to women had hit an all-time high and my attraction to men an all-time low. Bisexual and lesbian women, never forget — as if you could — that the only way to be accepted in our culture en large as such is for men to have the idea that women are but a dalliance to you, and men ever-preferable.)

That, right there — okay, not quite right there, the stuff before my bi-dyke-beef — is an answer to Violet’s question, and one pretty much any solidly or radical feminist blogger already knows: I don’t know a one who has a readership of any size who isn’t faced with comments like Sierra got in her comments all the time, many on a daily basis. I get them less often here than plenty I know, but I can predict at this point to a near-pseudo-science when I will get them. I brace myself any time I speak unapologetically or without victimhood about abortion, about sexual violence from men, about being nonsupportive of D/S, about loving women, about why masturbation masquerading as sexual intercourse is boring as hell, to say the least, about body image issues, about how fat women are beautiful, about some of the reasons why porn is a problem, about older men going after teenage girls, about… yeah, you get it.

Sparing two mutual friends (one of whom had been made an unwitting party to the final in-person abuse I tolerated), and my own close circle of friends, no one reading what he was penning or speaking to him was told, to my knowledge, that, for instance, I was dealing with a daily barrage of emails and messages that continually went back and forth on the predictable abuser seesaw between “I love you, you’re so wonderful, please take me back, please love me back” to “You’re a man-hating dyke bitch, and I’m going to come into your house whether you like it or not, at any time I want.” No one reading likely knew that despite being abused by this person, out of an earnest concern for their well-being and safety, I’d only told the couple mutual friends about the real deal in the hopes that they could mediate and provide some sort of support that for obvious reasons, I was unwilling to give, and one reason why I didn’t tell anyone else is that I did not want this person to lose the allegiances and friends he had. Save maybe one other person of our shared friends and readerships, no one else even knew or knows the backstory of this person to have any idea of what I was dealing with and how entirely unsurprising it all was: pity I didn’t have that information in advance myself. To my knowledge, he told only one mutual friend, who only passed this on to me today, about the crafty “game” he was playing with me (and was shocked when she didn’t respond with shared glee to this presentation of the abuses, but with complete disgust).

In more ashamed hindsight, I found myself in the position of dealing with abuses and harassment from someone who I knew people glorified and didn’t think for an instant I’d be believed (though as it turns out, the few who were ever as close to that person as I did believe me, without any reservation, when I finally starting talking in private), and I honestly didn’t see what use speaking out would have had, for me or for anyone else. In my defense, I did finally say something to one other mutual friend a year or so later who I worried might have found herself in the same line of fire in time, though I recognize that even that is weak, at best: you never can know who is going to be at risk, not really.

I suspect that the vast majority of those commentors and other folks who did the egging, really did not know what was going on behind the scenes, though they certainly can’t claim innocence about seeing what was right there on the surface in his words. My impression is that some simply took what was said about me and what went down at face value, without question, or thought so little of me that whatever I’d have had to say would have been fruitless. A few others seemed to have the idea that harassing someone else online was some sort of acceptable catharsis for the harasser. I also think some who engaged in this through that by virtue of identifying as progressive people, as people sensitive to issues of minority of various types, had made themselves completely blind to what they were doing, full-stop, because gawd knows, people like “that” aren’t capable of such things, right?

But none of these things are reasonable excuses — there simply are no reasonable excuses for ad hominem attacks and for enabling and taking any part in stalking and harassment — because people earnestly interested in assuring that violence or harm isn’t done to another person simply do not engage in this sort of thing at all. Ever. In any circumstance, in any venue, for any reason.

One can only reasonably assume that when someone goes into a forum or blog and contributes in any way to verbal abuse, women-hating and stalking, it is because they enjoy doing so, because they like the veritable masked gang-bang, and because when the invitation to do so is in any way extended, they are happy to accept. I simply do not see any other conclusion to reach from where I’m sitting.

* * *

I’m not sure how I feel about having stayed silent, and even still staying partially silent now, giving only the Cliff’s Notes. Part of me feels like a chicken-shit, and like my silence, like so many silences, enabled the whole culture of silence that I do work to try and dismantle every day.

On the other hand, I have a private life that is public in many respects, and when my relationships go south, overall no one is informed as to why, because relationship conflicts of any type strike me as utterly personal for all parties, and I’m well aware that no matter what the situation, my readers have a feeling of loyalty to me, so even when there isn’t a bad guy, the other person is very likely to come out looking like one. Heck, I don’t even write about petty arguments, about a lot of the sex I’m having, about a given partner or friend’s personal details or life issues, and I understand that that often results in most of my relationships looking different than they actually are, but everyone having some semblance of privacy is more important to me than complete accuracy in this regard. And no matter the scenario, I very much want to avoid any sort of public demonizing of anyone, or what could be perceived as such, for all the most obvious reasons. (It also is doubly complex when the person in question is no longer living, and so can’t speak for themselves.) Point is, I’m somewhat conflicted about the silence I kept, and the silence I’m still keeping: it’s a tough line to walk, always has been, remains so, and is all the more complex when dealing with an actual demon.

One reason I’m really not conflicted about some aspects of my silence, though, is that as a writer, I obviously have a firm belief that words hold great power, and we can wield power with them. As a Buddhist, and as someone simply invested in doing my level best to enable as much kindness and compassion as I can, I think that we all need to give pretty serious thought and care to how and where we use words, and be ever-mindful of the fact that they not only are powerful, but that when we put them out to the ears and eyes of the massive, unknowable many, we have only so much control over the impact they have and what they will cultivate, even in those instances when we don’t even intend to do harm. That isn’t to say there were not ways I could have handled this better, still using the power of my words without any intent to harm, but that my motivation to handle it as I did was greatly fueled by trying my best to be as compassionate and caring as I could (even if some of it was also based in my being less than brave).

Now, I don’t doubt for a minute that those who initially maligned Sierra, and plenty thereafter, DID and do give thought to their words and very much meant and mean for them to have the effect which they do. Same goes for what this guy, himself, did to me. I’m not certain I can say that about the participants from the sidelines with this experience of mine, but I can say that had things escalated among commentors even further, that none involved would have called for a halt, including the original author, and that it was his hope and intent that they WOULD go that way: that was what he was seeking out, and that was his intent. It’s entirely possible and likely that had a commentor gone so far as saying some of the things that were said about Sierra about me that the blogger might, on a good day, have asked them to play nice online, but knowing him, I assure you that as he typed that, he would have been inwardly pleased they said those things all the same, and found a way to use them to harass me further. Do all the people who egg on folks who abuse this way know that? I don’t know.

I don’t think that everyone who engages in these kinds of free-for-alls does really know or understand (or care to know or understand) the effect they have. Perhaps I’m naive in that respect, but I don’t think so, not about everyone. It isn’t because I think some are kinder than they seem, but rather because my impression is they’re either just not that bright, just that self-absorbed, have just that much internalized misogyny they’re blind to or think is somehow rational and acceptable, or all of the above.

The invisibility the net provides, as likely most of us well know, is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it allows for situations like youth posting questions to me at Scarleteen, important questions, some of them with answers that will actually save lives, which they wouldn’t post without some degree of that invisibility. On the other hand, it very clearly gives all too many the permission to act without conscience and to enact abuses, especially en masse abuses, and to have the feeling that nothing is real: the people they abuse aren’t real, their actions aren’t real, the harm they do isn’t real. I think we can safely — albeit sadly — say that some of the thinking that fuels this isn’t “If it were real, we’d see real hurt,” but “If it were real, I’d be getting in real trouble.”

* * *

Part of the illusion of ‘net invisibility is also, of course, safety. Plenty of us — and I’m no exception — may think we have some relative safety, even if we think we only have it in this circle or that one.

So, maybe this seems like an unsuitable cautionary tale for my readership, because we’re what — not THOSE kind of people? Thing is, some of the folks involved in what I went through were the same kind of people, even some of the SAME people, reading right here, right now. We are not somehow automatically protected from these things by hanging out with leftists, or with women, or with other queers, or with “nice” men, or with artists or with authors, or with yellow/red/brown/white/green people, whatever we decide “our” group of safe people are. Sierra was pretty obviously shocked to discover that bloggers-en-large were not “her” people, because she was one of them. I won’t feign any greater sophistication and say that I, too, was shocked, to see “my” sort of people contribute to or enable my online abuse.

Is a lot of that simply, and only, because she is, I am, we are, female? You bet your arse it is. We can deny, deny, deny all day, but the reality stands in pretty sharp relief to whatever persuasive denials we conjure up. We can blather all day about how anyone can find themselves victimized in this way. Certainly anyone CAN; but far, far more often, it is women who ARE.

But anyone can, sure. Just like anyone can start up this engine, too, and keep it running, which is much of why I’m here airing things that are really painful and precarious for me to air, because even the lot of us who think we’re somehow immune to engaging in this stuff or enabling it — even if it’s “just” with our silences — just plain aren’t. Internalized sexism and internalized hate aren’t phantoms or dusty ghosts: they’re exceptionally real. In Kathy Sierra’s case, I think it’s pretty obvious we aren’t likely dealing with people with hidden biases: they’re right there on the surface, and we can probably assume that they know they hold them (to the “wrong” kind of women, anyway — more than likely, plenty of these guys are thought to be perfect gentlemen to the “right” women, the ones who know their place, or their mothers, their sisters, whatever women deemed worthy of their protection and failty somehow) and hold them proudly. That kind of hate is a bit easier to speak to, and perhaps easier for all of us to look at because we can easily exempt ourselves from it, when the hard truth is that not only are none of us safe — particularly and specifically if we are women — but neither are we exempt unless we very mindfully, cautiously and intentionally work to exempt ourselves from it, in every way we can.

For me, there have been a lot of ways I have tried my best to do that, but I think I have some learning to do when it comes to my silences, and how I bridge the gap between silencing something personal-made-public and keeping some privacy, both for myself and for others. It seems to be that it couldn’t have been so simple a set of choices, this thing, as choosing between presenting myself as a victim and just staying silent, that I had other options, but that I just didn’t like what I expected the consequences to be, namely that I’d likely have to deal with a period of even more harassment, stalking and bullying. Given, I think that’s more than reasonable to want to protect yourself from, but at the same time, it calls up other issues: finding it hard to ask for help, for instance, not putting enough value in the power of my own words, having too much concern about looking like the bad guy myself or appearing vulnerable, internalized self-hatred, and, let’s face it, pandering to the status quo just because it’s less of a fricking headache and heartache in the short-term. I’m sure that’s the tip of the iceberg, but I’ve way too much self-evaluation for one week already: being flat on your back sick for a few days leaves too much time for that.

Point is, there’s easily at least something any single one of us can do to work towards not just avoidance of enabling and participating in this stuff, but towards disabling it. Obviously, for some, like those who stalked and harassed Sierra, it goes a lot deeper, when we’re talking about unlearning misogyny and hate that for plenty, just won’t effing ever happen because they’ve no interest in making it happen. Maybe for others, it’s simply finding a reason to learn not to engage anything even remotely like this, and to wield the power of words — like any power — unoppressively and more carefully. Or to make a point of sending complaints to a server when hate speech of any kind is on it. Or to stop freaking denying sexism all the damn time, no matter your sex or how acknowledging sexism makes you feel about yourself or those around you. (And perhaps to also recognize that there’s a whole additional discussion to be had about what is a portrayal of victimhood and what is simply acknowledging that ourselves or others have been victimized, and how colonized even that has become.)

Or to just remember that there is no “game” in any sort of stalking and any sort of abuse, no matter how innocuous a given environment may make it seem, no matter how reasonable a given abuser may make it appear, or how much an abuser may present themselves as anything but, no matter how safe from it any of us think we are.

I’m going to leave comments open for this, but only because I think dialog about the overarching issue is important, and I think that’s all I really need to say to make clear what’s appropriate in comments here and what very much isn’t, given everything else I’ve said today.