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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, sacrificing authenticity 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 cocoon. 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. 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 backhanded 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 are 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 anniversary of when 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. Because living authentically gives others permission to do so as well.

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 an 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 wash out 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.

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.*

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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/

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