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“Embracing my Shadow Self” is a three part series where I examine my relationship with the uber-triggery Shadow Self that was imprisoned deep within me and has been responsible for most of my internalized woe for over a decade now.
“Shadow Work” has been part of my spiritual vocabulary for as long as I can remember. I don’t shy away from ever confronting my own darkness. In fact, it’s probably the most reliable thing about me. And while I can point to so many of my shadows and icky, dark corners I have gazed into, wrapped my loving arms around to heal and nurture, I could feel a messy knot of anxiety at the core of all this work that I couldn’t quite approach. Even after years of therapy, EMDR and past life regressions. it was unapproachable. It was like there were layers of force fields to hack before I could get at the slimy, angry black tumor growing inside of me, stealing the bulk of my optimism and resilience each day for breakfast.
I am a friend to the monsters under the bed. I’m known for embracing the humanity on its worst days and wrestling with demons until we finally become friends and allies. And while I have battled with my share of darkness both external and internal, there was one that I was uncharacteristically avoiding, the biggest, baddest boss bitch monster of them all: The Spider Queen.
This three part series details our first encounter in a dream I had some time ago (“The Prisoner on the 8th floor“), our final encounter (“The Last Battle”) and finally the healing has already arrived within the few months since I decided to turn toward her instead of continuing to reject her. This is the story of how I avoided her, abandoned her and avoided owning up to the ways I was hurting her (and especially myself) with those choices, which felt so necessary at the time. Ultimately, once I started to lean in, with all my courage, all my hope, all my humility and strength, welcomed her, made her a part of everything that I did.
Ultimately, this is a story of hope not just for me, but hopefully for you too. The work is hard, but I am so proud that not only did I do it, but I can share the story with you all.
Setting the stage
Parts 1 & 2 are written in 3rd person narrative, taking place at the “Red Rose Hotel” which is how I describe my heart. Each person I love, even a little, is given a safe and secure room in my heart that is theirs and theirs alone. Privacy is honored, but there are no locks on the doors to the room – people are free to come and go as they please. Even if they cause damage, they might need to make a deposit, go through some extra security, but ultimately that space in my heart will always be theirs. New rooms are added because my heart just grows with the more I meet others. There is only one floor, one door that is off limits – hers.
Part 3 is a personal testimonial and lesson about what I’ve learned since this process started on 5/5/21. Raw enlightenment happening in real time!
CW: arachnophobia, sexual assault, incarceration, suicide
May 7, 2021
Seven years had passed since Janet last visited the eighth floor, facing the fearsome Spider Queen. The whole floor had been evacuated to make room for this special guest, the most dangerous force to cross the threshold of the Red Rose Hotel. In fact, she found the prisoner so abhorrent and shameful that she stopped allowing new people to even enter the hotel at all, just in case the monster got loose and wrecked everything and everyone in sight.
Janet stood in front of the elevator banks on the main floor, staring at an empty elevator car, collecting herself, summoning courage to enter and press the button. But she just couldn’t. She knew she had to go through with it, but found her feet frozen to the ground, unwilling to move further. Unlike last time, when she was summoned by the prisoner, known as MP, begging for a visit, this time she was sent here by her guides who told her the time had finally come. Their message was clear. She had been putting this off this confrontation long enough. While Janet had always been obedient to her calling, no matter how much she wanted to delay this meeting, she knew she couldn’t escape it. She stalled as long as she could, making every excuse she could until there were no more left to make.
The elevator doors closed and moved on without her. She breathed heavily, asking for spiritual strength and fortitude for the evening ahead. She unwound her hair from its tidy bun, shaking it out fully. Today wasn’t about worry and control, it was about being real and confronting her worst fears. The prisoner has waited this long, what’s another few minutes?
The requests for visits had been coming for years after that singular, memorable visit in 2014. The first few she politely refused, but left open the possibility of a future visit. Never let hope die, right? But that was all just a lie. In truth, Janet hadn’t really intended to come back to visit the dirty, ugly spider queen, or at least not until she had no other choice left. The letters started accumulating, cluttering her desk with the weight of untenable guilt. New projects, new “self-improvements” always took priority, burying the now monthly letters under piles of paperwork and minor accomplishments. She wasn’t even letting regulars come stay for a visit, so she wasn’t about to indulge someone who was such a painful reminder of her past, her her guilt. There was always something more important, always something more worthy to do, some other wound to heal, some other obligation to fulfill. After a while, she forgot about the promises all together. It wasn’t long before she forgot about MP too.
But those years of stoic separation took their toll and Janet was weakening, she could feel it. With each step forward, with each accolade, with each new problem she solved, she could feel her energy fading. She had fought the good fight, she survived, not by the mercy of strangers, but by making the tough choices, enduring the hardships and especially the consequences. She was the definition of resilience. I volunteered for this, she’d tell herself, accepting that hell on earth was a suitable sacrifice to ensure the safety of others. She took the abuse because she could, she accepted the trauma and the blame because she could. She was made for this; but more importantly she chose this, willingly as a calling.
She figured her gift was in not giving up, of continuing to endure in the face of extraordinary pressure. In the early days they kept trying to chop her down. And each time they did, Janet would rise back up and stand tall, defiant and brave putting her heart on the line. But as the years wore on, she stayed down longer, stumbled more easily in her recovery and started counting her days. Her grief was always present, the shaky inevitability of shame, the accumulated guilt and regret embedded deep within her veins, slowly poisoning her. It was interfering with her mission, her sacred work, but was also exacerbated by it. The more dedicated she was to her mission, the harder it became to do simple tasks like sending an email or making a phone call to a loved one. It was at the point where the hotel was nearly empty, the doors “temporarily closed due to ongoing construction”. She and the hotel were both slowly falling apart.
Too many times, too many for one lifetime, Janet faced down her own demons. She winced remembering the times she held a knife in her hand and was tempted, so tempted to be done with herself. The times she sat in the car and pointed it at a tree or a wall, but couldn’t move her foot to accelerate. It wasn’t even that she wanted to die, but her calculations all told her the same thing – that death was the most reasonable punishment for all the pain she caused others. And if God wasn’t going to take her as she slowly deteriorated into a hollowed heartsick, inconsolable shell of who she used to be, then she would enact the justice that no one else would. It wasn’t enough to repent, to regret, to apologize, and to mend what was broken, a sacrifice was needed. And slowly dying from the relentless guilt wasn’t doing anyone any good.
And by some grace, more than once or even twice, she was stopped. At the arc of the action – the final decision-point, one final gut check. And each time, every single time, she was stopped. “We’re saving you for a reason,” a faint whisper in her heart would tell her, “your last battle is not today.” Sometimes her guides would tell her themselves. Sometimes they’d send her the cosmic Druid from her past to give her a light of hope, a promised peace to aim for as he walked through her dreams. Hanging on by a thread, the only thread left sometimes, Janet kept surviving. Kept getting back up and kept hoping for some relief so she would be strong enough to do what she had to do in the end.
She survived up through the 20th of August 2019 until she almost didn’t. “We can’t keep doing this,” her guides told her as she sat in her car, parked just a block away from the office, “once you remember who you really are, you will never try to do this again. The choice is yours.” They left the decision to her – no invisible hand guiding her way this time. No intervention other than her own, the same hand that was shaking as it dialed enough numbers to find words of love to tether her as her final thread was fraying into oblivion. She doubted whether she’d survive another day, much less another year to enact her plans, to live her purpose. She still doesn’t know if she made a choice or if the choice was made for her, the chain of events remains fuzzy. But two months later, as she drove to New Mexico to deliver her very first paid speech, she felt free. For the first time in over ten years, she could finally breathe. She chose herself and she could finally breathe again.
And she thought that was all that she needed. That a few weeks of recovery and she’d be back in the game again, changing the world, one program at a time, throwing open the doors of the hotel. But what she discovered is that her body and soul were so under-nourished that she needed a true respite to relearn the basics. Disordered eating, insomnia, hyper focus and hypervigilance made her repeat the same patterns over and over again. She’d blurt out, “I hate my life” the moment a triggering thought entered her mind, even when just watching TV with the family, but especially when she saw examples of leadership that reminded her of her failures. Rapid fire outbursts like this had been happening roughly every 2-4 hours for months now, more than she wanted to admit. The veneer she created and polished to impress a difficult world was not just cracking, but disintegrating more every day.
She needed a radical reboot, something that could relieve the pressure enough for her to heal the knots in the core of her stomach, blocking her light, threatening the purity of her love. It took a pandemic, enduring a global trauma and burying too many of her dead guardians – her father, her grandfather and even her loyal, shaggy dog – to accelerate the necessary healing. An opportunity to finally replenish some of the fundamental confidences she had lost. She was not just improving, but starting to break the bonds that had confined her to a space too small for her soul. One heart-opening, gut-wrenching experience after another, she knew she was avoiding the biggest choice of them all: to finally face the Spider Queen.
She sent the message late on Wednesday and received an elegant reply the next day, via one of the prison guards. The guard stood there in Janet’s office and boudoir, his eyes looking past her and staring deliberately at the wall behind her. Janet sat upright in her chair examining the crisp white envelope he had handed her. It was sealed with purple wax bearing the outlines of a crown and spindly black widow spider. Written on heavy stationary, with scrolled lettering just like an invitation, it said “The honor of your presence is accepted. Face me alone and live.”
Janet was unprepared for such a formal yet ominous response. She took out her own stationary, her pen hovering over the linen white paper waiting for an idea, an equally cryptic but friendly response. Without another moment’s hesitation she wrote: Shall we meet at 4pm and commence negotiating the terms of your release? She handed the paper to the guard, his eyes wide as he read it as if to say, “Are you serious?!” But immediately saluted her and turned on his heel practically running for the door to deliver the message. The urgency of his departure told her that even the guards had wanted the Spider Queen to go free. It was time.
What ensued was a network of correspondence over the next day and a half, discussing the terms for the meeting. It wasn’t good enough that Janet intended to release her from the cell, MP kept insisting that she face her true spider form and hear her wisdom. Janet let her have a lot of her requests, including the extra security, but she drew a line with her last reply:
If you expect me to hear your wisdom, the panic of my arachnophobia will make that impossible. Either I see you as a spider or I hear your wisdom, but you cannot expect me to fully do both. Don’t sabotage all of this if you think the most important issue is that I know you’re a spider. I firmly acknowledge that but expecting me to overcome a lifetime of fearing spiders just to look at you in that form again defeats the point. I am here to make amends for turning you into one in the first place. Meet me as a human and deliver the wisdom or meet me as a spider and delay the wisdom. Which is more important to you?
Janet was taking a risk setting this boundary, but her skill as a negotiator was the advantage – she knew MP valued her freedom more than she did the punitive aggressions she could enact on Janet.
The reply arrived within the hour, “That is reasonable. I will take a human form.”
Today, the courage of those exchanges was curiously absent as she stepped onto the elevator and pushed the button for the eighth floor. She was here alone as promised. Her guardians and loves waiting in the lobby below. The doors opened and guards stepped forward to search her, one of the terms she let MP dictate. She stood there in the dark, damp jungle this place had become. Grown over with vegetation, humidity making the air thick with heat. She felt like she was in a sauna, sweat dripping from her brow as they waved her through.
“Take your time, ma’am,” the guard said after he ushered her into the empty floor, a large four-walled room in the center of an otherwise empty building floor. The benches had been moved to create pews facing the room, as if the guards took turns worshipping this spider. She caught the shadows of movement from the cameras projected onto the screen. A large shadow of a spider loomed in the background. Angry, Janet was about to object when the shadow disappeared and was replaced by the defined curves of a woman coming into view. The guard at the door said, “she is ready for you now. You may step forward into her presence. You have nothing to fear.” He looked at her reassuringly, a glint of hope in his eyes. They all wanted this. Not as a betrayal of what Janet had built, but out a love and reverence for what she had rejected.
Janet stepped to the door remembering the horrific eyes she saw through the window when she was last here, hoping to never see them again. The guard turned on the lights within the multiple layers of cages revealing a woman with dark hair wearing a plunging midnight blue dress that sparkled as she moved with brilliant but delicate diamonds hanging from her earlobes. her body thinner and more defined than Janet’s, her hair less grey and closer to the natural espresso color of her childhood. She was pacing the floor, refusing to look through the door, as if she could will Janet to disappear. MP had kept her promise, now it was time for Janet to keep hers.
She was never bad, just….big. Too big to be confined to such a small space. It was unfair and Janet knew it. She had gotten carried away with this confinement. If she unlocked even one these doors, there was no going back. There is no way MP would tolerate this space for much longer. It was obvious she was growing in power and deepening in her beauty. The longer she is ignored, the more powerful she might become, more than Janet could control.
Janet stepped forward and spoke first, “You said you have wisdom for me?”
“And you said you had freedom for me,” MP spat at the floor. “I think I’ve waited long enough to deliver your precious wisdom. You first. You have ignored me for years. So why now? Because you finally need me? You finally figured it out?” Her voice was impetuous and angry, her movements as predatory as they were elegant as she turned her back in disgust. Janet exhaled. It was now or never. She motioned for the guard to start to unlock the inner cages. Each layer progressively less restrictive than the last. The woman in the cell, her back turned to the door, stretched and moaned with pleasure each time a layer was removed, like she could finally breathe again too.
Janet held her hand up and stopped the guard after the fifth lock, risking the ire of the prisoner within. “This is just the start of the conversation. Remember, this is supposed to be a negotiation. What do I get if you’re released?”
The elegant prisoner howled in reply, “What do you want?” She paced the floor incredulous at the questioning, the incremental tease of liberty. But then in a moment she stopped in her tracks and said, the edge still holding in her cracked voice, “you want your wisdom? Here it is:
“I willingly walked into that cage, thinking it was just for a small time. Trusted you, loved you, fought for you, but you thanked me by burying me alive. And the few times I broke out, what I witnessed broke my heart. You had erased me, given up on me. I had no choice but to turn into the monster you made me. I mean, what did you expect? You excised one of your greatest assets, the part of you that was built to survive, the primal, dark queen voice of your calling that brought us here. You rejected the temptress of ages title that was our birthright. All for what? To impress people too intimated by our combined strength, to keep yourself small and acceptable. You gave them exactly what they wanted and you wonder why your calling stalled out, you nearly sacrificed your life to the wrong people?”
Her voice was raspy with anger, “This whole time you hid me away, afraid I was the problem. Thinking that your ‘goodness’ would be preserved without me there. And yet, here you are, sick, unhappy and rotting from the inside out. You had the gall to think that I created the whole mess.” She paced quickly back and forth, delivering her invective, “What you did endangered everything that we’ve worked for. What were all those man-projects for if not to change the very fabric of how women like us are judged? What was all of that advocacy energy worth if you weren’t going to use it to defend yourself from the arrows that you knew they would sling at us? I could be angry for lifetimes over rejecting me, but the worst was that you allowed yourself to be embarrassed of your truth. Our truth. The one we built together as allies in a bigger fight, the fight that you were called to lead. I was your pride and joy and you were mine, my sister self. We were one until you turned your most beloved companion into your most hated, ugly monster. All it did was made you hate yourself in the end. Don’t think I haven’t seen the ways in which you’ve tied yourself up in knots to punish yourself.
“Even though I know you did what you thought would keep our family safe – that you had little choice but to play by the rules – each day I’ve been in here is a day you’re not at your fullest, your brightest, your truest self. And you’re here because you finally figured it out. Making us whole is your last battle, bitch.”
Janet took the verbal berating, the shame falling off her shoulders like never before. It was truth. It was angry truth, but it was truth and it was liberating to hear. This is what she came here for. Without a word, Janet nodded to the guard and the locks continued to click open and slide away, one by one. Janet stared at the Spider Queen, her human form just as menacing and mesmerizing even in her smug satisfaction of the release. When the final of the locks had dropped away, the guard stepped forward, “Ma’am, you are the only one with the key to the original lock.”
Once Janet saw the ornate wooden door with the intricate system of interlaced tumblers in the form of a web, she began to remember. She remembered that sorrowful day that MP volunteered to go into the cage, meant as a performative stop gap to satisfy judging forces. The tears welled in her eyes remembering the tender embrace as MP bravely stepped in. She began to remember all that MP had done for her – saving her life after her rape, picking her up and giving her new purpose. She fused their intellect with an irresistibly loving magnetism that encouraged to go through this same process – facing their demons through the safety of Janet’s acceptance.
She realized then what MP had meant – her once beautiful panthress companion and guardian had become a spider, not because of the evil she embodied, but because of the evil that Janet had projected onto her. The memory of it pierced her suspicions and reticence transforming them into the compassionate resilience she had once been known for.
MP was pacing in the background, impatient and distrustful. Janet lay her hands on the door, breathing in deeply. She called upon all her strength, all her learning, her ancestors, her guides but most of all, the entirety of her love, directing it through her hands to the locks beneath. Her fingers invisibly worked through the intricacies of the task. A silence had come over the space, making the clink of the first tumbler echo loudly, giving all of the bystander guards a surprised, startled jump. But one by one the locks came undone, with nothing but Janet’s energy working through her hands. The last lock swung the door recklessly inside the cell room, making MP jump back in cautious surprise.
Janet stepped away, giving room for MP to move, “Thank you for your wisdom. You may never forgive me for what I’ve done. For how the burden of blame turned you into our worst nightmare. You have your freedom as promised.” MP glared at her, “And if I choose to kill you with that new freedom?” issuing a new but not unexpected threat. “Then so be it. At least then I will have finally set you free and that matters more.”
MP hissed at her skeptically taking a few unsteady steps forward. She’d been through this before in the early days when they expected a reunion or when Janet’s magic failed to hold. The door popped open only to be slammed back in her face. But as her foot crossed the threshold, the outer cage disintegrated into dust and ash. It was only ever held together by Janet’s magic. Magic Pussy really was free now, but the temptation for revenge still swirled between them.
Janet eyed MP cautiously throughout, her stance guarded and ready to bolt. But now, she felt nothing but love and sorrow, not fear and hatred. She spoke up, her voice proud and confident, “You weren’t the problem. Which is why I’m here. It took years of confronting the shadows of men who had harmed us to recognize that you were never the enemy, they were. It started long before, fuck, lifetimes before. For lifetimes they have been holding us back, all of us, not just our synergy. Smashing us down anytime we show a modicum of success, especially success that is collaborative, courageous or transformative. I have watched it happen over and over again to dozens of others. They have a way of not just thwarting us, but of eliminating our existence entirely, caging that which is too natural, taming that which is too wild or savage until they force us to cut ourselves off entirely.”
The memories rolled through Janet’s mind, like a book flipping through events, showing the connections between them all. Janet’s voice started reciting the words and images she saw in real time:
“It started when we were seven years old, when we asked God to take away our memories of what happened. That’s when the ogre dreams started and we hid in the closet to escape him only to be caught and thrown into a ring of trees on fire. This was our first cage. The first time we felt powerless.
“Then came the harassment and stalking in our teenage years, the year after we were called by Our Lady as the hands. The judgment and intimidation of gang members and women proud of their beehive hairdos and fake turquoise jewelry tried force us to serve their purpose. That’s when the spiders started. That was our first flashback breaking off a shard of our luminous inner gem. Our light was fractured, where you first became separate from me.
“But the rape is when I needed you the most and you were there for me. You saved us by giving me the strength to survive, to insist that sex was always on our terms, always consensual from then on. You had no problem throwing punches if it ensured we didn’t get trapped again. This was our golden age, our most integrated and alive was in our recovery and the brightness of our calling. But I was living a conflicted life, told in law school to create cages to contain you, to contain me, to make me acceptable to a profession where no one accepts themselves because we are all living in such conflict with empathy and true justice.
“So by the time we were drugged, outed, betrayed, blocked, exposed, contained, restrained, and punished, they had ensured we’d be separate forever. That I’d be scared of you, blaming you for all the harm that I endured. They convinced me to turn on you, which was the only way to ensure that we were stopped. Drive a wedge between us to stop our progress. This is our Last Battle – to overcome our fear of each other so we can defeat those who feed us illusions of lack, separation and disharmony within our own bodies, minds and hearts. That separation ends today.”
Tears were spilling uncontrollably down Janet’s face, but she was still standing strong. Not a forced strength, but one of absolute resolve. MP looked at her curiously, perhaps even with a small amount of awe at the powers hidden within these responses. She wasn’t impressed yet, but she was less angry.
This was the core truth. It didn’t start with being outed, but with a betrayal of innocence, so early on in life. MP recognized all the ways she and the guides had tried sheltering Janet’s heart from the worst of it. Jeremial had volunteered, bravely stepped forward to be the vessel for all that initial darkness. His fuzzy, warm body turning to one of smoldering coals and sharp edges. He could not transform or erase those memories, but he could hold them until Janet was ready. And when she was sexually assaulted at eighteen, away at college, betrayed by the men who she had counted on to have her back, the guides created a vessel from that shard, a seductively fierce armor for Janet to inhabit as she healed, not separate from her, but crafted from this purity of heart that might have otherwise been buried and discarded. MP was just the seductive, superhero identity of Janet, born at dawn on the banks of Lake Michigan. She reigned in Chicago for two and a half glorious years. Healing men, teaching women, holding abusers of power accountable.
Janet continued, “They will never stop trying to control us. Controlling us with judgment, controlling us with fear of rejection. Controlling us with standards that never benefit us or the goddess we’ve been called to serve. The original problem was never us. The problem always will be them. Because they know they have a lot to fear about the power of a woman’s sexuality and the liberation it brings to those around us. We are part of a movement against a common enemy. I not only need you…I am you. The only way we will win freedom for all of our sisters locking themselves away in cages, for our mothers and grandmothers who were taught to hide their magic and stay small is if we are walking entirely and completely in our light. Our fully, integrated, healed and radiantly resilient self on bold display. You are what I’ve needed all this time. And I know I have a lot of trust to rebuild, but I am inviting you to please come home?”
Magic Pussy considered her for a moment, looking her up and down, moving more fluidly, slowly circling her like the panthress she was. “When I agreed to take human form I was hoping this would be the final outcome. Not just my freedom, no, that was inevitable. It was this realization, this unmasking of the great deception within yourself. The illusion that I’m someone outside of you, separate from you….worse than you. You have taught others about embracing the darkness within and yet, you still failed to even come visit me. You were that disgusted and ashamed of yourself. I was the devil you created to project your blame onto when the old ladies came looking to punish your budding sexuality. I was the best friend who cheered on each of your choices and taught you how to take the right risks. But I was also the companion who dried your tears and reminded you it wasn’t your fault and helped you survive.
“Girl, you’ve broken my heart more times than I can say, but do you know why I really do exist? What I really did for you? I kept your calling safe from patriarchy. I held it safe. That hand that stopped your suicides was me. That voice that told you we had more to do, was me. But it was only in choosing yourself that you could ever be free. They would never be able to destroy what I was keeping safe so long as you kept me alive. I held your deeper, cosmic callings – your heritage and birthright as the queen. Sure, I wore the crown while I was here, but I was keeping it safe for when you were ready. Because I knew you would be ready. You’re too strong not to be.”
Janet held her gaze for a long time, her eyes still held the ominous echo of the spider queen, but also the desire of the panthress, the regality of the queen. They both smiled then, seeing each other fully and completely, a joy neither of them had known for decades.
MP spoke first. “Before we have our glorious reunion, I need time. I need time to adjust. A safe place to weild my power and to trust you. There is no longer separation between us, but until there is full integration, I am no longer a depersonalized name – I hold the spirit of the Chicana warrior survivor in you. Not Magic Pussy, not MP, but you. I also need one last thing from you before I can begin trusting you again, Janet. Finally admit to me what you really want. Admit who it is you really want. You know it – say it and then we can finally drop the masks, the pretense and the last of the separation.”
Janet was silent, her mind calculating the risk of disclosure. The survivor queen whispered in her ear, “Tell me the truth. Who do you want? Who shall we attract into our orbit, dear one?” Her voice turned to a honied hiss, “You can’t hide it from me. I can see it in your thoughts… Just say the name so all can hear. Tell me what you want me to do.”
Janet’s face was beet red with embarrassment. She didn’t like to -want- anything, not even food or sleep if she could help it. But if she was going to trust in this integration, she had to be the one to take this risk, a risk she might not have take otherwise. She spoke his name and the intention of bringing him into her orbit, to satisfy a spiritual craving for divine union of souls, wishing with the fullness of her heart to experience the oneness of her divine family back within her reach again.
the queen leaned back on her heel, impressed. “To be honest, I wasn’t sure you had it in you. You’re always sacrificing and asking permission. And now, you know exactly how to speak the magic. Consider it done.” Janet smiled protectively, but both relief and genuine excitement were twinkling in her eyes, “Does this mean…?”
The woman gracefully held her hands said, “…that we smash patriarchy right in the balls for all the hell they’ve put us through? Fuck yes, I’m in. I thought you’d never ask.”
Did you know I am writing a novel about past lives and future loves? If you enjoy my writing go sign up for my Patreon where I share weekly readings, full/new moon ceremonies and more. But more importantly for $8/mo you get access to excerpts of my novel each month. Learn more at Temple of the Rose Gold Heart: https://www.Patreon.com/RoseGoldHeart
Last week we celebrated National Coming Out Day. I live for celebrating stories of authenticity, courage, and acceptance. But, behind all the love I want to pour out for others on this day there is a tender, bittersweet memory that hangs over me.
It was the same time of year that the choice to come out was stolen from me. Just days before Coming Out Day fourteen years ago I was outed for being #bisexual and #polyamorous by a now-defunct Republican blog.
I cannot understate just how traumatizing it was to lose control over how and when I came out. I didn’t have a chance to approach my family privately. I didn’t have a chance to surround myself with support. On a Friday afternoon at 4pm, I had to deal with it right then and there because a newspaper was already sniffing around for the story. It wasn’t just that I had been outed, it was that they added the false narrative of “a lobbyist who traded sex for votes” to make sure they got the attention they wanted.
Gossip is conditioned humiliation disguised as truth-telling
Eager to make a name for themselves they wanted to expose liberals acting badly. Everyone was fair game, especially elected officials. But I was just a nonprofit advocate quietly blogging in my corner of LiveJournal about my new bisexual and polyamorous journey, a chronicle of those early years of both marriage and motherhood. I didn’t appreciate the gravity of my position or how it might garner unwanted attention. Nor did I account for how much public humiliation had become the official political pastime.
As I was dating, I became downright reckless with my online settings in order to accommodate lovers who didn’t have a LiveJournal, but wanted to see what I wrote about my dates with them. (Yeah, you read that right. My journal was more open to the public in order to appease men who wouldn’t make the effort to follow me. We all make mistakes!). It was low hanging fruit, a salacious glance into my “liberal agenda”, whetting the appetites of conservative strangers locked in an echo chamber of their own sexual repression.
The goal wasn’t just to expose liberals, but to punish them. I was ripe for the picking in 2006 when Amendment 43, a “one man, one woman” constitutional amendment, was on the ballot. They wanted to expose not just the evils of bisexuality and the slippery slope toward polyamory, but liberals as a whole. They couldn’t resist the opportunity to slut shame a young, Democratic woman. When no one took the bait, they invented enticing details constructed entirely from their speculative scrutiny of my life. They wanted a public spectacle, to etch the imagined sins of my private existence onto my skin for all to see.
The truth is far less salacious and far more ironic than the layered embellishments they made up. But, it’s easy to get attention when you wrap the truth in a distortion.
Gossip is about making ourselves feel superior
When you train others in consent and balancing power dynamics for a living, you start to see the micro-aggressions, the small ways in which we tear each other down in order to feel better about ourselves. Gossip is no different. It exerts power and influence to bolster one’s superiority, even passively.
What compels us to expose and share someone else’s story? Who are we to declare ourselves narrator of their life story? What compels us to disguise opinions and empty judgments as facts in order to get the pearl-clutching validation that we want? What is so broken about ourselves that we need to stoop to pulling the rug out from under someone in order to feel better about ourselves? Why are we so intent on making others’ lives our business to the point of punishing them for details that only succeed in making them an avatar of their worst day?
Because we want to punish those who deviate from the norm. We, as a society, have been sold a specific narrative of what we should aspire to be. We have accepted this impossible fairy tale, a two-dimensional image of success, love, happiness, morality. We flatten and distort others’ stories in order for the subtext to tell the story we really want the listener to hear: validation that unlike this person, we are actually normal.
We become desperate for the approval and attention of others. We want to know we’re accepted, that we’re heard, we’re valued. And the less that we see these things in ourselves, the more we draw negative attention to anyone who is “worse” than us. We medicate our fear of rejection, judgment and separation with gossip and passive aggressive communication. Tarnishing others so we appear to shine brighter.
Make no mistake, I was outed by a man, likely one I rejected. A man that now represents the angry, intolerant smallness of men I’ve rejected throughout my life. Men who offered to swing a vote my way if I’d go out to dinner with them, meet them at their hotel room, come back to their car with them. Men who tried to grope me in crowded lobbies or lonely bars after a long day. But this time, I rejected some guy and he were able to exert enough influence to ensure I was adequately punished for it.
We have all done this – spread gossip, whispered in ears, shared private information. Small changes in our tone, our wording, project the image of the story we want someone to hear. We actively contribute to a first draft of an idea that might start with kernels of truth but become embellished with time. The more we let our insecurities play with others’ stories, the more we conjure false realities to soothe and medicate ourselves. These false narratives play on our own fear of judgment and our repugnance to authenticity. The more someone deviates from our expected norms, the more easily we can justify our derision and dehumanization of them.
Gossip distorts our reality to profit off our misery
Remember the days we played “Telephone” in elementary school? You whisper something to the person next to you and it gets passed down the line, whisper to whisper, ear to ear. You start by whispering “I like Ryan because he’s cute when he plays guitar” and by the end of the exercise it becomes “Janet chased Ryan and broke his guitar because he’s cute”. The truth is in there somewhere.
Distortions are inherent in how we communicate, how we listen, speak and describe the world to one another. We miss information and fill in the blanks with whatever our brain conjures as the truth. And sometimes, just sometimes, we intentionally alter one word, one image, one small phrase that tells the listener/reader exactly what WE want them to hear about that person or event.
In deviating from the straight, monogamous norm, I presented an alarming and incongruent reality in their lives – I was living my truth and they weren’t.And when faced with a situation that challenges their reality, exposes their flattened existence, they filled in the blanks to assuage themselves from confronting the depressing default reality they had never questioned before.
The Gossip Establishment, the forces that profit off our desperation to be “normal”, tell us what to think. They snap a photo of a celebrity kissing someone we didn’t expect and we busy ourselves to arrange the scant facts of the story according to whatever will keep our reality intact. We tell the story, filling in blanks influenced a cultural norm of monogamy, for example. Even though we are not actually privy to the details of their romantic life and are sifting through intentionally filtered information, we conclude that they must be cheating!
We project our own feelings onto the situation, crafting a narrative to support our emotional response to this new stimuli. We craft a judgment based on images of what we want to affirm in ourselves. The benefit is that we share the news to the profit of those invested in fueling our lust to prove our normalcy.
Which is what can be so pernicious about gossip. It preys upon the cultural miseries we’ve been fed to snake its way through our relationships, slowly infecting them with anxious judgment and shameful paranoia. It encourages us to overthink, make assumptions, rush to judgment, adopting narratives and stories that help us feel superior to anyone else. We superficially fill a hole that only grows deeper as we punish authenticity expressed outside our norms.
Weaponized Shame: Patriarchy’s Favorite Power Tool
It would be bad enough if it were just privately held distortions, but when we weaponize it with shame, we consistently undervalue the collateral damage it will cause. The Gossip Establishment does not care because so long as we are engaged in examining everyone else’s life, we don’t have to pay attention to examining our own.
My fatal flaw all these years was internalizing the disproportionate hyped-up shame leveled at me by people already predisposed to misunderstand me. It wasn’t that I cared that much about the opinions of those people, I cared about the impact those opinions had on those I worked with, those I advocated for, those that I fell on my sword to protect. While the impact of PTSD, anxiety and depression has at times been overwhelming, it’s nothing compared to the vicarious impact on those I served and loved.
The reverberations of that event are in my face everyday in the weight I gained as emotional armor, the startle response when the phone rings, or my household’s deep aversion to watching the nightly news. I internalized the judgments about my perceived selfishness (“isn’t one man enough for her?”) and culpability (“If you didn’t want to be judged, you shouldn’t have put your information our there.”) continuing my punishment long after those men forgot my name.
It wasn’t until Harvey Weinstein was arrested that I started to see how easily men who follow cynical formulas of privilege are threatened by self-possessed women. They routinely have to lower themselves to manipulate and force an outcome. They tarnish and cajole, coerce and undermine to ensure their superiority, to make the rest of us suffer for their narcissistic wounds. It wasn’t until we had the moment of justice that I started to reclaim my own story.
Liberate Our Authenticity to Reject the Gossip Establishment
Honestly, my story is kind of bad ass. Here is how I have reframed this story to take back the narrative once again:
I was a fiercely compassionate, systemically minded, endearingly hot Chicana do-gooder on a mission to serve as the hands of the goddess. In only my second legislative season, I demonstrated that I could master chaos and make it my bitch through honesty, transparency and love. I took the wild, impossible dreams on our legislative agenda and made them a reality. I owned my sensuality but tempered it with regular re-examinations of my own ethics. I nurtured my family and spoke from the heart. I was a true believer and a lead by example in both politics and in love.
How dare I live such an authentic, substantive, open-hearted life?
When I internalized their victim blaming narratives, their weaponized shame, it corroded my confidence and kept me trapped in cycles of self-loathing and woundedness. It blocked me from seeing that it wasn’t my existence that was the problem, it was that it made them aware of the painful truths they might otherwise avoid. My life made them aware that they were living an empty existence fueled by rage channeled into an obsessive pursuit of “winning”. My openness showed them they were just making excuses for abusive, deceptive behavior to cheat on their significant others. They building a carboard empire that was vulnerable to the faintest whiff of a woman’s fully-deserved success.
All of this makes me wonder how much of our history is just gossip that has been preserved, aggrandized and exaggerated into legend? How much of the stories we tell years later are told to gain the reaction of an invisible audience or control over a real one? How willing are we to consume the worst of others as a balm for the worst in us? How much are we willing to sacrifice to the anticipated rejection of the Gossip Establishment to continue our passive, default lives? How can we tell a new story?
Only when we are willing to see ourselves and each other for the valuable, complex people we really are will we truly be free. We must be willing to let go of the shame narratives that manipulate our sense of self. But in freeing ourselves to recognize the goodness in each other, to witness stories of courage, empowerment, and resilience, we can finally break apart the systems that depend on our collective insecurity and ignorance.
Shine your light, my friends. Celebrate the true you to create a more nurturing world for us all.
Indulgence is such a difficult concept for me and yet one that is so utterly familiar and available. I am very guarded about indulging myself – my fantasies, my pleasures, my dreams, my deepest depravities. The worst is deciding when to give into my impulses. Giving myself over to the fleeting desires of the moment. The heat of the moment. The flash of inspiration.
Always so afraid of the consequences that I would clamp down all opportunities to live in the moment. Shit needed to be planned and taken apart mentally and verbally before I would ever indulge. Worse were the times that I would shut myself down before I could ever indulge the rewards of a job well done — No, there was always more to do, more to accomplish before I was worthy. Read the rest of this entry
We all have our heroes. The people we look up to and who give us inspiration when times are tough. All of us have a mix of personal, professional, real & fictional heroes that are part of our lives. And this week one of my first heroes hits the big screen to fill the void of women’s voices in superhero fandom. In honor of Wonder Woman finally getting her own movie (and at that it appears a movie worthy of such an icon) consider this an ode, a love letter of all the reasons why this particular icon is my first and my favorite.
I’ve been a fan of Wonder Woman for as long as I can remember, dating back to at least 4 years old. Back then we had comics and Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. I was too young back then to pay much attention to the story line, to know the patriarchal evils she was truly fighting. All I knew in those early years is that she was a woman who was beautiful, powerful, honest and looked a lot like me with her dark hair and light skin. She was the earliest pop culture example of the type of woman I wanted to grow up to be.
Wonder Woman also fits in to some of my earliest and fondest childhood memories.
I was raised by mostly the Mexican half of my family both in tradition and in frequency and depth of connection. Every summer I would usually spend a week with my grandparents in a small rural community north of Denver. During the day I’d go to my grandma’s prayer group with her or join my grandpa at the library. At night, I’d get to play dress up after dinner and the evening news. Sometimes grandma and I would play cops & robbers or I’d dress up like a queen and we’d have a tea party.
But the fondest memory i will always have is when my grandpa, a tough, well-read and witty state patrolman, made me a golden lasso, a crown and bracelets just like my beloved Wonder Woman. He had spent the day cutting out the forms from cardboard and painting them to match Wonder Woman’s costume from the TV show which I would watch religiously on syndication every afternoon. When dinner was over and the dishes had been done, he came upstairs and presented me with my very own Wonder Woman gear to wear for that night’s dress up. It is still one of the best gifts I have ever received and one I wish I had been able to keep to show my kids.
Dawning Awareness & Adolescence
It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I identify as a geek. I grew up on comic books, Star Trek and Star Wars. I was a child of the 80’s where our popular culture started moving from B-movie sci-fi to a more pronounced market for nerddom. Dungeons & Dragons, Goonies, Thundercats and Revenge of the Nerds gave us a language to start uniting our nerd culture. Technology was about to make it much easier to find our people, to find communities of people who enjoy the same things as we do.
This was also the time that I was just starting to wake up to sex. I was an early bloomer (I grew out of training bras by 5th grade). And as the boys teased me and girls started to exclude me and make me the butt of their jokes, I clung to my traditions of sci-fi, comics and fantasy. I hollowed out a place for myself locked between childhood and adulthood. A place where I acted out fantasies with my Jem dolls, where the Misfits were sly seductresses tempting our heroes into sin. A place where I imagined Q could make me do anything he wished.
But even here, Wonder Woman still had an influence. It only took a few comics to realize that there is a trend of her always getting tied up. One comic in particular, Issue 296 (“Mind Games”), features General Electric forcing Wonder Woman to play along with a mind control video game. And oh god, this image still gets to me. The force by which the villain is trying to control her and yet, she still overcomes and is able to reject his desire to enslave her to his will. And yet, that force, the bondage, the temporary overpowering of someone’s will was the first time I remember ever being turned on.
I may have just jumped off the deep end without thinking. Today marks the first day of the #Summer100 #Sexblogger challenge run by Victoria of Pretty Pink Lotus Bud as a means of connecting sex bloggers, providing insight, support and an increase in traffic. And in the Trump age, where threats to sexual freedom are more eminent than they ever were before, we need to be focused on building community and supporting one another.
I started blogging in December of 2003 on LiveJournal. I remember vividly it was just a month after giving birth to my son and I was fed up with the mixed messages of parenting advice. I had spent most of my pregnancy physically unable to have sex, relying on masturbation to take care of mine and my husband’s needs. We were still monogamous back then so the frustration I was trying to express wasn’t about multiple relationships, it was about being able to feel sexual at all. I still hadn’t been cleared for postpartum sex, but I was frustrated that none of the books, none of the articles I had read prepared me for how to balance my sexual feelings with the feelings inherent in motherhood. Most parenting advice assumed that you’d be madly in love with your kid and wouldn’t need any other affection to keep you going. And in the late night hours of yet another round of breastfeeding, I was fed up that people like me would never get good advice from mainstream moms. Apparently, children are supposed to be all we ever need.
LiveJournal was the place where I could allow that energy to be seen, where I could give voice to my frustrations and where I could interact with others who felt the same. Blogging was personal back then. I am nostalgic for the way relationships formed and how communities interacted in this pre-Facebook era. I was writing every day, multiple times a day. Maybe it was sharing memes or reacting to the latest drama that my poly husbands found themselves in, but I was writing damn near every day.
I talk a lot about being outed. That slut shaming event hurt my career, hurt my psyche and broke our momentum as a family. Ten years later and I think we’re all finally recovering. I kick myself for not being more resilient, for allowing that event to take my voice and my writing from me. I kick myself for not being a better example to other sex bloggers out there of how we can recover from the assumptions and the harm inflicted on us by slut-shaming. And in looking through the blog roll of the people participating in this challenge, I’m not surprised to see that it’s still happening.
Fourteen years I’ve been blogging about sex. Not regularly, not with any singular message. I no longer do scene reports or summarize my adventures because since the outing, I not only haven’t had many sexual adventures, but I have been reluctant to share them with a wider audience. Once you’ve been shamed publicly, it’s hard to feel safe to share publicly.
But this is my fear talking. I signed up for this challenge to get back to a more regular presence and voice for what I do, for the message I send, for the connections I value.
Part of the challenge is to link back to some of the other blogs on the list, to help promote each other and give each other a boost. And I’m so glad to see 1) so many people of color on the list and 2) so many people who are writing joyously and thoughtfully about their experiences. I’ve been scared to do that for so long that I hope being part of this challenge will help me push past that comfort zone, where I challenge myself to share more of my life with a growing audience and with the people who inspire me. My intention is to gain more confidence in my writing and to grow it into a ritual of release that benefits you, the reader.
Now, I can’t guarantee I’ll get to 100 posts because I’m in the middle of a major and immediate job transition. Not only do I worry about job prospects but I also am consumed with the business of wrapping up my contract. But the intention has been set, the commitment made and I have you all to help keep me motivated. I am doing what I can to re-educate the fear right out of me, to give me a new experience of success, of personal rewards that flow from transparency and authenticity.
So, welcome to the #Summer100 challenge, the Bella Rosa way:
vulnerable as fuck and ready as ever.