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Finding Hope within the Shadows: Reclaiming Authenticity

This isn’t like my other posts, but I hope you’ll stick with me as I put together the pieces of the puzzle that has been my life for the past 40 years. This will be a very long post, but one that I hope brings some hope in the wake of current events.

Targeted because of truth

I have always been an expressive woman. I tend to dominate conversations because I can usually find some connection to the topic, the person or the theme. I make my point of view known by weaving in the threads of my life with the topics at hand. I’m a classic ENFP and love connecting individuals to the bigger picture through narrative.

As such, I had an online journal where I attempted to do just that. And of course, because I’m me, I focused on sexuality, politics and real-life storytelling. It was a display of sexual confidence, but also sexual healing.

Eleven years ago that blog was exposed by a republican website seeking to make its bones with political gossip. They effectively outed me as bisexual, kinky and poly. Friday the 13 of October 2006.

It was my own damn fault I told myself. I got careless with the security settings. I was revealing too much about my own life, family. I put everything and everyone at risk. For what?! for sex? For authenticity? For my truth? My truth was dangerous to my family, my career and my psyche.

The blog that outed me had no problem using my journal and photos to speculate wildly about my sex life, so within two hours, I became a liability to my employer and I resigned. I could no longer do my job because my credibility had been ruined, not because I was honest and transparent about my life, but because I was a slut and proud of it.  I didn’t speak up.  I felt such shame, such repugnant regret for my hubris that I hid out, taking low-level jobs, deliberately staying off of anyone’s radar, feeling undeserving of anything more.

I acquiesced, sacrificingauthenticity for security.

The poison well of toxic masculinity

As I took time away, getting progressively more isolated, alone and depressed, my anxiety flourished. We couldn’t watch the news. I screened every call. I got used to never having enough, never being enough, never feeling deserving. And when I would take one triumphant step forward another obstacle would hurtle toward me. It was kind of like a brutal game of dodgeball where I was also taking friendly fire from trusted friends, family, and partners. My perimeter of safety contracted and filled with a toxic dose of self-doubt resulting in a few suicide attempts that I don’t discuss. I knew my view was distorted, but I was so deflated, so traumatized, I could no longer even trust myself.This darkness has led me down several different paths of healing. But there was a recurring theme in that healing: my sexuality never fully came back to the voracious lust that it had once been. It’s not that I don’t have an exciting or fulfilling sex life, but that I felt like that previous life had all been a dream. My consent had been violated in a deeper way than I had ever identified now was in a constant state of hypervigilance.

I had no choice but to illuminate the patterns that were starting to emerge. The influence of an early childhood sexual assault, continual pressure for Much of the sexual history and identity I had been so anxious to get back to had been heavily influenced by some distinct experiences with men who had taken their lack of power out on me. A poisoned well of pride.

While a handful of men from my childhood and adolescence infected me with poison from that well, far more benefitted from the impact it had on me. They didn’t care that it would poison my thoughts about myself. They didn’t care that they were inflicting sexual assault, harassment, and exploitation that would carry a current of trauma in my life. They didn’t care that their actions were wrong and criminal. They felt desire and they felt entitled to have their shot, no matter what price I would personally pay. They normalized the abuse and dismissal of my consent with the constancy of it. What might my life had been without that?

I adapted to survive

Shining the light on this part of my life has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Tearing apart my sexual experience and examining my lopsided relationship with consent has thrown everything I believe about myself into question. Where I once thought I was sexually liberated and commanded respect for how I approached sexuality, I realized how often my consent had been coerced, how often I succumbed to the intimidation or perceived threats of harm. It wasn’t the whole of my history or even the majority of it, but those distinct moments shaped me and what I should expect from men.But in examining this, I had to also acknowledge that I survived. Not because anyone else came to my rescue. I survived because of me.After I was raped, I developed abilities that I used to protect myself.  I used limited acquiescence for reconnaissance. I learned how to read them before they could read me. I learned how to touch a raw nerve to get them to back off or show their true colors sooner.  I developed closer female friendships and learned how to use our stories as examples so that other survivors would know they weren’t alone. I was able to speak up, safeword if needed and fight back.

Ten years later (last year – October 2016), my life was finally starting to shift for the better. I was ready to start emerging from the coccoon. Trusting others was still a minefield, but I’m better at trusting my knowledge, my intuition, my sacredness, my value. I’ve faced a lot of the scariest parts of myself, some of the scariest situations and have emerged stronger than I expected. By walking through my own darkness, allowing myself to recover threads of resilience, I started to love this new wholeness of me.

The personal is political

Around the same time I chose to cast aside my self-doubt and shame, the infamous “Grab ‘em by the pussy” comment came out.  Despite my political expertise, I was struck that Donald Trump had the audacity to defend it. The people around him had the audacity to defend it. The news became a too real personalization of rape culture.

I wasn’t alone in recognizing that this event retriggered most survivors of sexual assault. All the work I had done to regain my strength, confidence and sexual joy was smashed right back down with a deluge from that poisoned well of toxic masculinity. This sudden onslaught of smug entitlement, fueled by open victim blaming and lame justifications for criminal behavior has brought back all of the memories of every other lonely, angry man who decided he was entitled to whatever he wanted from my body.

The personal is political now. This Presidency has been an eerie real life example of the abuse many of us have suffered in our personal lives.

Abuse relies on an insidious spiral of control and power. It starts as small boundary-pushing, floating test balloons to see where we’re willing to tolerate their foolishness (questioning Obama’s citizenship, Mexicans are rapists and murderers). If they can get close enough, they can start to condition us (“lock her up”), feed us lies (“fake news”) so that we don’t believe what previously trusted sources would have told us. (No more links to Trump after this). They continue the isolation and they prevent us from asking for help (pissing off our allies), screen our visitors (ICE raids and travel ban), control our money (health care costs will rise). They openly mock us (disabled reporter impression), they make a big personal issue out of an innocent gesture (Take a Knee), control our bodies (birth control), they make us dependent on their help (Puerto Rico vs Houston vs California), they expect to receive better treatment than us (unjustified costs of protection and travel for administration). And when they know they’ve gone too far, they give the hearts and flowers usually with the delivery of a back handed compliment (“very fine people”).

Alone, powerless, you endure it the best you can because you’re just hoping someone will notice and come save the day. 

This entitlement and power hungry structure is not just confined to Trump. Much like the poison that infected my own sense of self, it permeates our culture. Harvey Weinstein exposes just how poisonous our culture is. How truth is stifled through intimidation. How mind-boggling common it is for this behavior to persist, not just in Hollywood, but everywhere. The courage that I have seen this week has been extraordinary. The more we speak our truth, the closer we come to freedom and justice for us all.

Freedom is Found in Authenticity.

This weekend Professor Marston and the Wonder Women was released on the same day as the day I was outed. What was so remarkable and inspiring for me in this movie is that it celebrated all of the things that I was outed for: bisexuality, polyamory, and kink. The problem is not that we are different, it is that others feel entitled to project their vulgar interpretations on us, to taint authenticity with judgment, fear and shame.

To see this triad fight through prophecies and internalized shame was a beautiful affirmation of what I have fought to regain for myself. To watch them submit to the authenticity of their love and prioritize their intimate connection over the compliance society expected is exactly the message we need right now. Living a lie just won’t work, not when those lies are used to subdue others into compliance. We must take the plunge into authenticity with our whole heart and soul, despite what the outside world convinces us to believe.

This especially is true when faced with harmful patterns of abuse and control.

Owning our own story, declaring ourselves to the world matters in the current environment. Being visible matters. Representation matters. Your truth matters. Your consent to live and experience life on your terms also matters. And in the reckless, power hungry, abusive patterns of men like Trump and Weinstein and the unfathomable number of other powerful men like them, speaking your truth matters.

Wonder Woman was the hero I looked up to as a young girl. In seeing some of the origins of her creator and the inspiring women who inspired her, I am more and more convinced that she is the symbol of the power that we need right now in our national narrative. So many women share a common experience, have found our truth stifled for too long, that we are speaking up, speaking louder and refusing to drink the poison fed to us by toxic masculinity. She stands for relentless truth, compassionate justice and unwavering alignment with her authentic self.

And what is encouraging isn’t just that women are speaking up, but men too. We’re making room for more of us to be heard and to hold more people accountable as we wake up to admitting our own truth. A truth that cascades into our selves and starts to washout the poison, healing the toxicity left behind in the wake of our too common traumas.

The golden lasso of awareness is starting to wrap itself around the body of the American politic – accountability demanded by those whose power has been most stifled and stunted: Women and marginalized communities. The powers that be are scared, lashing out and doubling down on their abuses.

But we are reaching the tipping point where the cost of silence is no longer a price we’re willing to pay. Putting pressure on America to confront itself: its racism, misogyny, rape culture, violence worship, cycles of poverty and inequality, and devastating patterns of environmental abuse and injustice. We are shining a light on the monsters the lurk deep within the American psyche.

It’s time for us to face our collective shadow, to recover the threads of our connective community that have been torn apart by hatred and oppression. To find inspiration in the collective light of our resilience and strength. Only in confronting the deepest truths within, pulling forth the authentic power of our true selves, will we realize the freedom, equality and respect we each deserve.

Fight on, my friends. We are in this together.

The Courage to Bern

sanders-2016-feel-the-bernEarlier tonight a friend of mine posted this article criticizing the #FeeltheBern fervor drowning out all of those Hillary supporters who are just as passionate about their candidate.

I took an hour to pen the following response while my kid waited patiently for supper. I decided to post it here because, I needed a place to expand on these ideas that I have felt too inhibited from proclaiming to a wider audience. In the 10 years since the event described below, I have changed my view on politics and what I expect from our system.

And here I talk very frankly about being forced to create new ideas about myself and about the concept of loyalty. Take from it what you will, but it is my story and my reasons for believing we are on the precipice.

The choices that we make today for ourselves and our generation matter more than ever.  Read the rest of this entry

BellaRosa’s Spring Serenade

I have to be able to capture this feeling. Elation. Joy. Gratitude. Pleasure. Freedom. Desire. Cosmic Awareness.

It’s been so long, friends since I last felt this joyful in myself. Confident and self-assured. Devoid of doubt for my purpose or of my voice. Absent are the rules that once restricted me. My body is empty of the worry that always consumes it and holds it hostage. My mind is free of the fear that accompanies my word. My heart so strong and self-possessed.

08-easter-egg-broken

See, a few days ago, something broke open from within. I liken it to a hatched egg, but it was more like breaking free of a cocoon after nearly 10 years. It was a catharsis that I was convinced would never come.

February 2006 was a very different time for me and a very different version of me. A foolish and overwhelmed version of me. I always thought that the events of that year were designed to take me down a peg or two. Indeed, I had grown too full of myself and didn’t have the maturity to really see the 10 steps ahead that I needed to, so very caught up in the everyday poly drama, the attention, the successes.

But now I look back on that time in my life as resetting my path, resetting my calling, breaking down the towers that I had built for myself because they were built on top of shifting sands. Everything had to crash down for me to start over again.

Starting over sucks.

An inelegant and crass way to sum up the otherwise beautiful process of transformation. But as you go through it, the pain, the doubt, the impatience all wears you down until you don’t think there’s any “you” left at all. It breaks apart your identity to its smallest parts, examining it, discarding the corrupted and hurt bits.

The most painful part is letting go of the expectations you once had for yourself, the image you once had of yourself. We become attached to that image, not because it’s great or even accurate, but because it’s safe. That image we hold of ourselves is safe and familiar. And most of all it’s easy. It’s so damn easy in fact that we never think about changing it until something, like life, threatens to take away that part of our identity.

TowerThese crises of identity can happen for any reason and at any time. And while I paid a lot of lip service to the need for us to periodically confront these facets of self. I likened it to the Tower from Tarot. You spend your life building up this tower of self, the bricks and materials made of the knowledge, wisdom, beliefs and memories we had accumulated during our lifetime. This tower houses not just us, but everything that makes us special, unique and different. But then an event, a person, a cascade effect of choices comes in and knocks it all down, like a wrecking ball. Devastation and despair ensues. Chaos reigns. To the point that when it comes up in a reading, I’ve seen experienced tarot readers get scared.

But I had always thought that if I was proactive and took the opportunity to examine the bricks and tear apart my own tower I could avoid the headache and the mess that would have otherwise caught me off guard. I was going to be smarter than everyone else!

Until it happened to me. It wasn’t just being drugged, being outed, losing my job, or gaining a lot of weight. It was the impact on my family. It was the depression. It was the heartache and doubt. I thought life couldn’t get any lower. But then my spiritual husband and I broke apart for reasons that seemed important at the time but don’t make any sense to me now. But the worst of it started 4  years ago when my oldest son ran away. The events of that year, 2012, changed my life and broke me down even further than I thought I could be. If I had cracked, broken but mostly whole bricks before, I had dust falling through my hands afterward.

And there was no part of my identity that didn’t have to be rebuilt. Yes, I was still polyamorous, but it was a different poly that I had started with. Yes, I was still a mother, but what kind of mother would I be now? No, I was no longer Catholic, but what did my sense of faith look like now?

The question when it all falls apart, is what will I build in its place? And ordinarily I would turn to some sense of higher consciousness to access the answers I needed, but not this time. That was the brick that had been shattered and shamed, blamed and broken beyond all others. No guidance. No light. No purpose. Nothing.

I cocooned myself away from the world. Only minimally engaging with the people I like or admire.

Until Now

496db3dc298df3ca3217bd786e9d7c59Here I am, free once again. Free from a few of the beliefs that inhabited the stones and bricks of my tower. Values like sacrifice at all costs. Habits like pernicious negativity. Beliefs like being replaceable in people’s lives. So much has changed. And yet it feels entirely authentic and natural.

I can’t get over the feeling that the universe conspired this break down to reveal the wise, wild, vibrant woman bursting to come forth. No longer the girl mourning the loss of her youth, but the wholly invested queen ready to rule her life.  I am discovering the dominant side of my switchiness. I am embracing the duality of my attractions to women and men. I know my limits but stretch my wings to try to overcome them. I am savoring the increase in attention from younger men.I am learning more about how to relax and just be. I love the grey in my hair, the wrinkles emerging under my eyes. I can feel the world in its wholeness again.

I feel renewed.

Welcome to Spring. My spring.

 

 

 

 

Poverty Battle Royale: a commentary on welfare (part 2)

Note:  I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job.  Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue.  This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts. 

Need a job

Unemployment is an income maintenance program.  This has an absolute requirement to look for work. Basically if you are offered a job, you must accept it if it falls within certain category requirements or equivalents, even if the job pays less than what you had been earning before.  It’s put up or shut up.

But on a larger scale, tell me how this scheme allows people to create their own destiny?  There’s no holding out for a better offer.  You cannot refuse a job.  If you do, that safety net is gone and you’re on your own. Never mind the impact that unemployment has on a resume or what taking a job isn’t your dream job does to your attractiveness to future employers who are looking for a consistent and solid work history.  Remember, employers don’t look fondly on any gaps in work history but they also want to see a gradual increase in responsibilities and achievement, something you can’t create when you have a temp job for 4 months.

And if unemployment required you to take a job A earning 25% less than your expected pay grade then in your next position Employer B is likely only going to offer you a modest bump up from your most recent all-time low.  It can have a very clear ratcheting down effect that makes it that much harder to get back to your pre-unemployment potential.  This, I can tell you from experience. I still haven’t broken the glass ceiling of my all time low to get back to what I was earning in my dream job 6 years ago, despite my qualifications and knowledge. A stint of unemployment longer than 3 months, can destroy a person’s bargaining potential for years to come. 

But the mantra is “any job is a good job”, right?  Sure, any job is a good job, particularly when it’s a step up from having no job at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right job or a long-term solution to crippling debt.  It doesn’t mean it will pay enough to feed your family.  It doesn’t mean that your children escape the detrimental effects of poverty.  And it certainly doesn’t mean you have significantly improved your chances of escaping poverty.

In Denver County, for a typical family of 4 to survive (2 adults/2 children), the adults would have to be working in jobs that pay an equivalent of $19.65/hr  ($40+K per year). Sounds reasonable, right?  But that’s the living wage, the actual cost of what it takes to live in this county.  The level of income they would need to qualify for most levels of aid (and to fall below the poverty line) is roughly $10.60/hr or $22K a year, still significantly below the wage they would need to earn to make ends meet.  Working a minimum wage job (at $7.25/hr, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year) gives that  family $15K to live on and pretty much automatically qualifies them for aid.

So, in order to make enough to get out of poverty in Denver county (let’s not include the debts accumulated in order to make ends meet or get utilities turned back on), they would need to be in one of the following types of positions: Management  ($45.62/hr),  Business and Financial Operations ($29.75/hr),  Computer and Mathematical ($38.14 /hr),  Architecture and Engineering ($35.93/hr), Life, Physical and social Sciences ($30.20/hr),  Legal ($33.05/hr),  Education, Training and Library ($21.37/hr),  or Healthcare Practitioner and Technical ($30.13/hr).  (Information courtesy of MIT’s Living Wage Calculator available here: http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/08031)

Do you notice any trends here?

That’s right, all of these are positions where one needs at least some post secondary training/education, significant work experience or a college or post-graduate degree.  If they are in a position that requires only a high school diploma with little to no additional training, they are more likely, if not absolutely assured, to fall below the poverty level.

Add to that anecdotal evidence of people who are looking to go back to school so they can improve their chances—only to subsequently be let go or have their hours reduced for daring to utter or even investigate that dream.  Employers have a lot of power to be as choosy, bitchy or negligent as they want.  Not all jobs are created equal or provide an equal opportunity to advance or maintain a living. And in at-will states, you can basically be terminated for any reason.

[Oh and another little tidbit that I noticed on that site is that a single parent with two kids pays about $2000 more in annual taxes than a 2 parent household.  Hence, a clear argument for the inequity applied to same-sex households with children and that disproportionately could land a same-sex household below the poverty level.   Fortunately, the reversal of DOMA will help remedy this situation but not completely.]

Another cost of poverty that you may or may not have considered is the constant stress that comes with wondering where the next paycheck is going to come from.  Sure, if you believe the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) children living in poverty may or may not be going hungry each day.   But you still have rent to pay, right?  You still have electricity to keep on?  And in this day and age, you still have to choose whether internet is a good idea to pay for as you try to find a job or complete online classes.  Stress creates a whole host of health issues that, if left unchecked, could significantly lessen your chances of maintaining stable employment and thus ever escaping poverty.

Finally, let’s also consider those who are living just outside the poverty line.  In my example above, it’s the difference between those making $22K and those making $40K.  Quite a large number, if you think about it (two full-time, minimum wage earners  with two kids fit here).  These are people who are just one car wreck or one illness away from complete financial catastrophe.  Even the family with $40K a year is hovering in that danger zone.

Think about what causes people to enter poverty.  Think about the traumas, disasters and crises they may have experienced.  The death of a spouse, a chronic illness requiring daily medications or treatments.  The special needs child who requires constant care.  The snowstorm where they slid into another car and totaled their vehicle.  The lay-off.  The divorce.  The hurricane.

This isn’t laziness.  This is life and it is threatening to eat us alive every day.

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 3

Poverty Battle Royale: a commentary on welfare (Part 1)

Note:  I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job.  Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue.  This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts.
Image

Sometimes you meet some winners on OKCupid.  Earlier this month I met one the winners out there.  The self-assured, confident guy who is also sensitive, caring and intuitive (putting it lightly).  I have no idea how well that connection will turn out, but I’m willing to let it settle in a bit to see if it moves forward.

Then you meet some true assholes.  In fact, I’ve held off responding to most messages in the past few years because frankly I just don’t want to spend much time slogging through the waste of messages that I get on a daily basis. There was a time I replied to each and every one of the stupid messages I got, but now I’m much more comfortable with the delete and block feature.  First impressions count.  I put a lot of thought into how I approach someone before I rattle something off to them in the hopes they will reply back.  And if it doesn’t seem to fit, it’s not a biggie.  It means we likely weren’t going to hit it off in the first place.

However, every now and then, a message arrives and sometimes you have no choice but to relentlessly make fun of it.  I’m not normally a fan of mocking someone’s effort to find a special love, but sometimes the approach is so filled with hubris and presumptions that it begs to be publicized so we can point to it and make an example of it.

And in this case, this message from…let’s call him Timmy6917 (apologies to anyone with that username) was so arrogant, misguided and off-the-mark, that I felt obligated to spend a day researching my response which is posted below.

See, Timmy made three very crucial errors:

  1. He never once introduced himself, asked a question or even pointed to some commonality that might explain why he contacted me;
  2. He trotted out a lazy, conservative trope about welfare to a woman who is very clearly far left of center politically;
  3. He describes himself as “intelligent” and “sharp” in his profile, which sort of begs the question–who is he really trying to convince?

I needed to make sense of the rage I felt when I read his messages so I researched and I wrote.  I wrote 8 pages and could keep on going.  Writing out my thoughts on an issue that deals squarely with poverty and policy “suggestions” that rely on prevailing myths about poverty, I felt the need to expand even my own privileged horizons on this topic.  It was more cathartic than I ever thought it would be, or so I tell myself to justify the full day of work and sleep that I lost to this project.  It brought me back to a sense of pride for my political prowess.  All knowledge is worth having, I suppose. 

Disclaimer:  I did not actually send the following message to Mr. Timmy as he forever shall be known.  No, instead, I posted it as information for myself and my Facebook followers, many of whom know this subject far better than I can hope to emulate.  What Mr. Timmy got in reply was a curt notice that he failed to state an argument with his conclusion and that anyone who hopes to be a partner with me must demonstrate a minimal amount of kindness, respect and humanity.  I told him blatantly that the problem is not abuse of the welfare system, but rather limited and narrow viewpoints that shame those who live in poverty.  I have since gotten a reply from him, but haven’t read it because…well, I’ve already wasted enough time on someone that I never, ever want to meet much less fuck.  

Dear T,

Let me start off by saying that I’m not entirely sure what your basis is for the conclusions you’ve drawn.  You say Medicaid “is easily one of the most abused programs available”.  Okay?  Abused in what way?  Is it abused by the administrators of the program, those who receive benefits or the doctors/companies providing services?  And by cash programs, it would depend on which cash program (I’m going to assume Federal) that you’re talking about.  TANF? Unemployment?  WIC? Disability? Is your beef with the federal program itself or the state administration of these programs?  Or is it a state program you have an issue with?

But I hope to god that you’re not basing any of these broad opinions on the oft-debunked yet relentlessly persistent myth of the “welfare queen”.

Read the rest of this entry

A peacemaker speaks

The shooting in Connecticut has been on my mind all weekend.  I’ve been somewhat silent as I watch friends on Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere rally behind a cause that essentially says “more violence = less violence”.  This whole concept is just abhorrent to me.

It feels low.  It feels base.  It feels like moving backwards.

The suggestion that arming teachers and administration would somehow have prevented this tragedy tells me that people I used to respect and like would rather see more violence, more fear, more aggression than try to establish peace and compassion.  The fact that these suggestions are often accompanied by “evidence” that seems suspect or at least slanted doesn’t help their cause with me.  I will not say that the other side doesn’t have skewed statistics either, but at least they are not advocating for more violence so that definitely wins out for me.

Read the rest of this entry

Far from Straight

Here is what I posted today in response to a post called “Anything Other Than Straight” by a great blogger I absolutely love to read: Single Dad Laughing.

Dear Dan,

I absolutely loved this post and have considered writing one of my own for quite some time.  I’m probably going to end up sharing way too much here, but you know, I believe in authenticity.  I believe in honoring one’s own truth.  I believe in honoring each other’s journeys so I share a little of mine.

I remember the first inkling I had that I was attracted to women was when I was in 6th grade…in Catholic school.  I was heavily Catholic.  Believed in and practiced the Church’s teachings to the fullest extent possible. Believed with my whole soul.  And back in the early 90’s, bisexuality wasn’t really a thing yet.  Not like it is now.  I chastized myself heavily for even looking at other girls, for thinking anything sexual about them at all. Read the rest of this entry

Fix the Fucking Stair (*trigger warning*)

*I posted this late last week on FetLife. I was asked to publish this in a larger forum where they could more easily link to the content for people who might have FetLife blocked or just aren’t members. With over 300 “loves” and 100+ comments and countless personal emails and messages I agree that this is worth sharing with a much wider audience.

I’ve also added a trigger warning on the title for those who are survivors of sexual assault whether in or out of the scene. However, there is no cut to protect against the triggers.*

—————————————————————

I’ve been part of the BDSM community for 8 years and the Denver community for 6 years. There was a time when I was new. And when you’re new you do some pretty stupid things.

When I was new I agreed to play with someone who told me he’d listen to and respect my boundaries, even though every conversation seemed to revolve around how great he thought he was. When I sent him my personal narrative about the “whys” of my limits, he told me “well, that was more than I ever needed to know”. But you know, I made a commitment to be there and I didn’t want to back out since absolutely no one else expressed an interest in playing with me (before the days of FetLife). When we played I safeworded, calling Red, three times only to have him to continue the exact thing that I said I didn’t want on the spot that was already sore, the very thing I negotiated as off-limits and for the DMs to walk by or watch oblivious even when in earshot of “Red”. He ended the scene by shoving three fingers up my cunt as my face is covered in snot and tears and asking me if I liked it, expecting to be able to start on my front-side since it was clear he wasn’t done.

I told him I was done and was non-verbal the rest of the night. I didn’t confront him because it was clear that he enjoyed himself, chiding me for not being able to take more…that more would be expected of me next time. And the gall that he thought there would even be a next time combined with the passive aggressive insult that I wasn’t a good submissive, that I didn’t give my all, that I was lacking in some respect told me that he would only try to justify his poor choices and blame me if I confronted him head-on or publicly about what he did. I was a nobody in Denver at the time nor did I feel strong enough in myself to not only endure having been outed but to also be unwelcome in a community I wanted to be a part of. Who would ever listen to me?
But the fact is, I wasn’t wrong to trust and communicate when things were going badly. I wasn’t wrong to trust someone who was in such a position of authority. I wasn’t wrong to communicate when there was a problem (screaming Red counts!). The only thing I really did wrong was wait so long to really talk about this.The parallels between that and my rape are too sad when you think about it. Much like when I had been raped 16 years ago while hanging out with my friends in their dorm room, I didn’t tell others until much later (although I did make a post about it on LJ back then–but no locals were on there at the time). Much like the people who witnessed my rape and heard my “No” (and who jacked off as it was happening), no one stepped in to stop it, even when they had a duty to do so. And like 16 years ago I didn’t confront him, but just made sure to avoid him or anyone closely connected with him. As a person I tend to always put blame on myself and I definitely did for this.

What prompted this? It isn’t to publicize his mistakes. It’s to share an experience that, much like the date rape I survived, is far more common and one where I see a lot of others wrestling with whether they should say something or just keep quiet. What’s worse is I see others who continue to act badly, who take no responsibility for their actions or the impact they might have on others (particularly in a public space) and continue to act as if they are the ones who are victimized whenever anyone wants to address their behavior. I’ve had enough. It is precisely the pattern of consume-destroy-silence-shame- Repeat that is hurting members of our community and I’ve had enough. Particularly with the influx of people coming to BDSM from 50 Shades I am quite concerned about the model we are setting for those who have unrealistic expectations to start–but who genuinely feel a draw to practice what we do. What responsibility are we going to take as a community?

I know I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Hell, we wouldn’t have had to have hosted a FuK Yes! party if everything was working smoothly and people weren’t getting hurt by the same limited few who continue on this path of consumption and destruction. We needed the community conversation and we need a LOT more of them. That conversation needs to continue but more than anything it needs to be followed by action.

The do-nothing or the no-drama response is cowardly, irresponsible and does not actually fix anything. Nor does crying foul when someone is told they are no longer welcome at a particular venue or event. Nor does retaliation when you or a friend has been asked to stop a particular behavior such as touching things and people who aren’t yours or the obvious stalking. Nor does shaming or silencing someone who decides to speak out about their experience whether privately or publicly.

For those on the “we just don’t know what really happened” or “we don’t have enough evidence yet” fence let me clarify how utterly insulting and insidious that response really is. First of all, there are very few of us in the community who have a law degree even fewer of us who are trained to be third-party neutrals. So to suggest that our community is even qualified to hear or evaluate evidence in any sort of neutral, balanced way is fucking ridiculous. And to sluff it off as if there is some magic organization that we created or even trust to sort out the problems in our community is invincibly ignorant. Then to imply that it is the survivor’s burden to bring forth that evidence in sufficient quantity (judged by whom?) suggests that justice basically consists of victim-shaming, silencing and outright dismissal until some superior (that we haven’t actually designated) finally decides that the complaint is “worthy” of listening to. And in those rare cases where the perpetrator was you know, -really, really bad- then we won’t say anything about it publicly, but we’ll have some agreement (not always involving the actual stake-holders) on how we will deal with that person. Probation? Supervised by whom? Suspension? Outing?

At the risk of repeating the obvious, here is another link to the article “The Missing Stair”. Pretending you are dealing with the problem by ignoring the problem or rationalizing why it’s not a problem is akin to denial. And it’s what many families who are confronted with an allegation of sex abuse from within do as well. Denial, shaming and victim-blaming is anything but healthy because abuse is abuse. We as a family, we as a community are in denial and people will continue to be hurt until we wake the fuck up.

Yet when people who have woken up, who are doing something about the problem such a party host, a bystander or community leader who confronts someone either privately or publicly with an issue, the backlash is extraordinary. Whether it was the person who was confronted or their merry band of misfits who do the retaliation, it actively discourages others who felt the same from speaking up and standing up. But more than that it affirms the original perpetrator’s lack of remorse or empathy and allows the wrong behavior to continue as a pattern harming more people along the way. Tell me how that is called responsible, much less safe or sane?? And yet, we continue to invite them or at least tolerate them in public spaces despite their alarming lack of concern for the consequences of their own actions. We have acquiesced and turned a blind eye and yet we have no problem judging other institutions such as churches who do the exact same thing.

The minute they are called out on it, they are on the attack instead of taking any amount of energy to determine whether these people might actually be right and to embark on a journey of self-awareness and knowledge. Much like the man who violated my safeword, they become oppositional the moment they are confronted with wrong-doing and use every tool in their rationalization tool box to assert themselves as the actual victim. But that blame-shifting in order to avoid actually confronting themselves and looking within. It’s a defense mechanism, a wobbly, crooked, and sharp one that has been honed by years of people stepping out of its way instead of stopping it. And the more we allow these behaviors to continue the more we are the ones perpetuating the problem instead of solving it.

Lack of self-awareness in a partner is a deal-breaker for me. A non-starter. And I had stopped playing publicly (even though I really love it) because I continued to encounter people, including the man I spoke of, whose shocking lack of basic remorse, empathy or cognizance makes them a danger. I do not trust their judgment and want them nowhere near my personal space. I have survived too many violations to my very reasonable boundaries and limits to simply “tolerate” those who have violated others. Nor am I the only one who feels this way.

Look, I deal with conflict. It’s my job. It’s a job I chose. And it’s not that I don’t encourage us to deal with our problems peacefully in private with education or healing conversations. What I’m saying is that the people who are actually doing this have been confronted privately and they continue to engage in this behavior and worse yet, they try to lean on those who were trying to be understanding and compassionate about lapses in judgment by wrongly assuming we are on their side.

I know confrontation is scary to everyone. Everyone has their hackles raised. It’s uncomfortable and it’s hard. And those, like me, who normally are more willing to accommodate and accept blame rather than make anyone feel bad about themselves are the least likely to do it. So we take the passive way out…we remove ourselves from the community, we throw up our hands and wait for someone else to take care of it. We limit ourselves waiting for someone to step up to fix the broken stair.

Not anymore.

I am no longer willing to wait for everyone else to wake up to this problem. And I support those who tell problem players that they are not welcome. I’m happy to shut doors of opportunity, pulling away welcome mats to those who continue to violate others and act without regard to the consequences of their actions. No more skipping over that stair for me.

Personal responsibility, integrity and awareness are everything.

(Other articles for useful reading:

http://www.petting-zoo.org/2012/06/05/cops/
http://tacit.livejournal.com/359244.html

http://inthemiddleofthewhirlwind.wordpress.com/philly%E2%80%99s-pissed-philly-stands-up-collected-materials/

A wide-open world

I’ve been struggling to write this post for a few weeks now.  Ever since I learned that I passed the bar exam in my state, I have been struggling with how to write about it. How to reconcile it to what I’ve believed about myself for so long and more than anything deciding what to do with myself now.

This picture jumped out at me as I was trying to find a way to describe how I felt about taking the bar exam again.  Taking the exam, while not the most important thing in the world, is a monumental and scary rite of passage.  I was being asked to cross a chasm separating two immense mountains.  The first is the mountain of my experience as a student.  I had faced failure, faced success and conquered it all.  The other mountain was the mountain of my profession.  Several have crossed this path before.  It shouldn’t be that hard…but the fall is so great if you’re unsuccessful that it’s daunting to even consider reaching that mountain.  And that path, a tiny bridge between two worlds so similar but so very different looks as if the moment you step upon it, you’ll plummet to your doom.

The first time I took the bar exam I was full of confusion, hatred for the path and resentment.  I fell and I fell hard.  I didn’t pass the first time.  I have used tons of excuses over the years to explain why I fell (“I was pregnant at the time”, “I was buying a house”), but the honest reason is I wasn’t sure I wanted to be on that mountain.  After I fell, after I gave birth, I climbed back up to that precipice to try once more.  But again, I lacked commitment and purpose (yes, even I lacked purpose).  I allowed myself to become distracted and in truth I did a lot to sabotage myself because the same month I was supposed to take the exam is the same month my husband and I became polyamorous.  Looking back on it, I can see why I fell, why I failed the bar that year.  But nevertheless I was in that chasm dividing these two mountains.

Read the rest of this entry

The Awakened Shall Trust

This morning I participated in an online “oneness” meditation with hundreds of other people from around the country.  While others had this immense feeling of well, oneness, and awakening, I felt something that has been virtually inaccessible to me for the past several years: my own light.  I get glimpses of it from time to time, it shines through brightly only to fade silently into the twilight of my own fears and anxieties. While I have been a healer to others over the years, able to see the invisible energy centers twirling and dancing within, I’ve never been able to see my own.  Until the meditation today. 

Today I sat in the silence of my own truth and was able to see why I’ve grown so distant from myself, why it has been so hard for me to trust…not just others, but in particular myself and my own skills.  Here is what I saw:  Read the rest of this entry

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