Stop Rocking My Shame Boat: Women, Shame, and Sexuality

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A few months ago, a friend suggested that I write something about shame. I’ve resisted doing so until now because a.) shame is an enormous topic b.) it sucks and c.) it permeates pretty much every facet of my life, so WHERE WOULD I EVEN BEGIN???!!!

(Caps aren’t appropriate for professional writing, Leif.)

(Fuck you, subconscious parenthetical voice.)

I’ve spent most of my life walking around in a weighted shame blanket — and not the useful kind of weighted blanket, but the kind that keeps you feeling small and worthless and afraid of your own light. I feel shame over my body, over the offensive thoughts that whirl around my head, and over that time at art camp when I stomped on someone’s paper mache mask because I thought it was a deflated balloon and then got yelled at by a counselor in a Minnie Mouse sweatshirt. Oh yes, my shame reaches that far back. Writing memoir doesn’t do me any favors. I spend most of my time sorting through bad memories. Sometimes this helps me put recent wounds into context, other times it just hurts.

(Why would you choose to punish yourself like that?)

(I’m not sure. It’s compulsive.)

Shame, for me, is most often associated with sexuality. This in itself is a massive topic that makes me want to reach for a bag of M&Ms or a pack of cigarettes because it’s uncomfortable and I don’t want to deal with it. But I’m already dealing with it… poorly. I’m usually dealing with it by repeating these unfortunate mantras in my head: “Leif, you are inherently flawed.” “Leif, you are a sex addict.” “Leif, you are gross and desperate and clingy and dirty and you might as well face the music and retreat to the cave you’re destined to live in.”

A few months ago, I told my partner (now ex) that I wanted to be in an open relationship. He said, “You know what people are gonna say about us? You know how they’re going to look at me if you just start sleeping around?”

Shame, shame, shame.

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Once again, this got too painful to write about and I just finished stuffing a bunch of raspberries in my mouth. This morning, I stood at the kitchen counter and tried to eliminate my growing self-hatred by devouring fistful after fistful of Honey Nut Cheerios. I’ve battled eating disorders for 13+ years, which I’ll get to in a later post. For now, just know that all of this intersects.

My Honey Nut Cheerio rampage started after I decided, once again, that I must be a sex addict in need of another chastity belt. I’m an extremist. When someone suggests that “hey, maybe you should be single for, like, more than three days,” I hear, “hey, you are sick and everyone can see it and you don’t deserve to have sex or to be loved because you can’t handle it. YOU MAKE A MESS OF EVERYTHING.”

Maybe it’s true. I don’t want it to be true. I don’t want my sexuality to be a pathology. I don’t want to admit that I still recognize myself in the words I wrote this time last year.

From “Corsica Pt. 2: Why Sad Girl Loves Bad Boy and Other Childish Things:”

Here’s the pattern: I begrudgingly enter a situation where I’m in very close quarters with other people. I’m tame for a few days — I’m happy, hyper, alluring, whatever. Now, this can go two different ways. If a boy is involved, my sole focus will be on his existence. He may be fooled at first. He may see me as interesting, sensual, and unwaveringly happy… and then my truth starts to boil over and drown the flame. He’ll pick his clothes up off the bedroom floor, turn the light on, and leave me naked on my knees, begging. Or, if he happens to embrace my insanity and love me regardless, I’ll throw garlic at his face, drive a stake through his heart, and flee.”

And from “Rome Pt. 2/Prague Pt. 1: Leif and the Lost Boys:”

“I’m pretty sure I’m addicted to men. But not the good men. No, the good men terrify me. I’m addicted to the addicts, the alcoholics, the emotionally abusive, the eternally confused, the self-loathing, narcissistic, nihilistic boys for whom I come second. Or last. Or never.

I am addicted to the boys who don’t want me, who ignore me, who say “I love you,” then “get the fuck away from me.” I want the broken boys. I want the emotionally wounded boys who emotionally wound me as a result. I want to repeat the patterns I’m familiar with — the constant oscillation between chaos and stability, the unpredictability.”

It hurts to look at this and realize that these patterns continue to repeat. I know it’s a product of trauma, but knowing that doesn’t change my past actions. If anything, it just makes the situation feel more futile. I’m afraid there’s no hope of me changing — that I’m doomed to a life of unhealthy relationships and obsessions over men who treat me like garbagio.

LOOK, BRAIN, I HAVE ENOUGH TO FEEL ASHAMED ABOUT AS IT IS. I’m dragging around a tumultuous prostitution history, the remnants of three rapes, all the bullshit I got myself into as an alcoholic, childhood bullying, etc. On top of that, I’m supposed to feel shame about my body not adhering to societal standards (YOUR BOOBS AREN’T BIG ENOUGH FOR PORN. YOUR STOMACH SUGGESTS THAT YOU EAT FOOD. WHY CAN’T YOU FIT IN THIS PAIR OF PANTS THAT WAS CLEARLY DESIGNED FOR AN AMERICAN GIRL DOLL AND NOT A HUMAN BEING?!?!?!??!). I’m supposed to feel shame over the dozens of times I’ve been rejected. I’m supposed to be ashamed that I don’t have a 9 to 5. I’m supposed to be ashamed of my many mental health diagnoses. I should be ashamed of this stubborn wart on my toe. I be ashamed for being an addict and not having any self-control around mind-altering substances. I should be ashamed that I’ve needed treatment and 16 years of therapy and that I still have to take these goddamn motherfucking white pills every single fucking day just so I don’t throw plates at people’s heads.

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Guess what, Men’s Rights Activist / Vice reporter/ well-intentioned relative / Facebook friend who I’ve never met in real life, YOU DON’T GET TO ADD ANY MORE CARGO TO MY SHAME BOAT.

Any additional cargo, and I’ll sink. I’ve had three fairly massive breakdowns since the XO piece was published, some of which I’ve publicly alluded to, others not so much. The worst was in Milwaukee. While dissociating, I painted my face and arms red and slapped myself hard across the face and then stood in the shower trying to wash all the shame off. The next time was at Antioch, when my relationship with someone triggered memories of Emilien and Bo and Evan and all these other dudes whose rejections of me have led to obsessions and then insanity.

Wow, this is really uncomfortable.

How do I embrace the healthy parts of my sexuality and leave the rest behind? Can I be a “slut” without falling off the deep end? Can I handle rejection gracefully instead of continuing to buzz around the rejector, demanding that they tell me what I did wrong? I don’t know. But I’m also not about to take a year-long vow of abstinence because we all know how well that worked out last time. (I made it four months.) Plus, to me, that only feeds the shame cycle. That gives power to the notion that I am fatally flawed and I can’t afford to let that thought grow.

I’m trying, motherfuckers. I’m sorry I called you that.

Most of this shame stems from my inability to adhere to dominant notions of female sexuality. I don’t fit within the mold, whatever the fuck it is. From what I can tell, I’m usually the wrong player in the game. My woman self is supposed to wait for the man to pursue me. I’m supposed to act uninterested. I definitely shouldn’t be forward about what I want.

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Well, whoospie doo, I do every single thing I’m not supposed to. Sometimes that freaks people out. Sometimes it pushes them away. Sometimes, a lot of times, it challenges power dynamics that people would rather keep in place.

(Sidenote: I am talking about hetero relationships because this type of power play seems to be most common in male/female relations and because I tend to mostly have sex with male-identified people.)

Here are some headlines I found when I searched “women pursuing men” on Google. These are all from the FIRST PAGE of results:

“If You Want a Relationship, Let Men Pursue You”

“Why Women Shouldn’t Pursue Sex”

“3 Reasons Why You Should Not Pursue a Man”

“Are Men Turned Off By Women Pursuing Them?”

In Marie Claire’s article, “What Guys Really Think When You Pursue Them,” the dodo brain being interviewed says, “ I know all sorts of chasers who say, ‘I just want him to love me! This is so unfair; I can’t believe men are like this.’ Meanwhile, from the guy’s perspective, she transforms from the fun-loving, easy-to-be-around woman into Gollum from ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ I’ll tie it all up: When people chase, they drain the color and joy from their lives.”

So, lemme get this straight: The girl who pursues men is a chaser who, if she’s rejected, resembles Gollum, while the dude who pursues women is either made more of a man or is considered a member of the friend zone and, thus, someone we should feel sorry for.

Fuck this patriarchal, slut-shaming, women-hating BULLSHIT.

According to these Google results, female sexuality is supposed to fit within a neat little box that’s only to be opened when the right person asks (or when the wrong person with enough power / alpha bullshit forces it open). We’re supposed to wait silently until someone is interested enough to do us the favor of having sex with us.

Wow, what a fucking privilege.

Women who choose to challenge this and embrace modes of sexual expression that feel organic to them are seen as sick, damaged, dirty, slutty, crazy, etc. I have been called all of these things.

This is rape culture. This is a silent acceptance of Freud’s “hysterical woman” archetype. This is seriously hurting women.

Do I have a solution? Not a fully formed one, no. Things that have helped me come to terms with my own sexuality include The Ethical Slut, Guys We Fucked (the anti-slut shaming podcast), and likeminded friends. 

For y’all on the other end of this, please do the slutty ladies in your life a favor and stop demeaning/shaming/ridiculing them.

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Now, in an act of utter shamelessness, I’m going to tell you some things about sexuaIlity, sans disclaimers. (P.S. Mom, I know you’re subscribed to my blog, but I really think it’s time for you to stop reading this post. Thank you!)

  1. I am blunt. I sometimes ask people if they want to fuck, using those exact words.
  2. I like taking nudes and posting them on the Internet. I think it’s cool when other girls do this, too. I think it’s not so cool when people say things like, “wow, she’s trying so fucking hard” behind the backs of women who proudly reveal their bodies on the Internet.
  3. Sometimes I have sex with women.
  4. Sometimes I feel like an exhibitionist.
  5. Masturbation still makes me uncomfortable.
  6. I like one night stands.
  7. I like casual sex.
  8. I like lots of sex with lots of people.
  9. Sometimes I come on really strong.
  10. Sometimes I cum really strong.
  11. I love flirtation with my whole, entire heart.
  12. I like having sex with my friends. I would like to have more sex with more friends.
  13. I like pursuing. I sometimes, occasionally, like being pursued.
  14. I think it’s hot when people are straightforward about what they want.
  15. I think it’s fun to not play games.
  16. I think it’s possible to like lots of sex with lots of people without being a sex addict.
  17. I think it’s possible to have a complicated relationship to sex without being a sex addict.
  18. I think it’s okay to fall on your ass sometimes.
  19. I think I’m tired of being considered broken/defective /dirty/desperate/clingy/crazy.
  20. I think you’re pretty hot.
  21. I’m totally naked on a hammock in the woods right now.

That’s all I have for today. My dog probably needs to pee or something and I need to put clothes on and drive to town because all I have left to eat is plain yogurt and, bro, that’s only good for yeast infections.

By the way, please watch until the end of this music video because the dance this amazing human does is my anti-shame dance.

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21 thoughts on “Stop Rocking My Shame Boat: Women, Shame, and Sexuality

  1. Um. You are such a complete badass, motherfucking, inspiration machine. If adversity makes us stronger, then you, my friend, have been to hell and back. I hope you never stop speaking because every word you speak is a gift to all of us. Humans. It’s takes serious guts to look inward as you do so often. It takes serious bravery to expose what you see for all the world to see. Shame begets shame. Every time you feel ashamed and act in contradiction to that shame, however small, you do the world a service. By putting yourself out there, you’re showing us all that we too can put ourselves out there. Bra-fuckin-vo! When I have a daughter one day, I hope she’s just like you. The world needs many more people just like you.

  2. Once again, you are a powerful and beautiful human and soul (and I love your tattoos!!!). I have my own things to deal with and I cannot compare because we are all damn perfectionists to a fault, but I am a bit of an empath, so I can feel and see what you write and I would love nothing better than to embrace your most powerful healthy and positive thoughts and say, Up with all the life-affirming in THIS. I also am overwhelmed with the idea of giving you a giant hug to tell you, Keep going and trust your instincts. They are powerful and they have your best interests at heart. Following them and your heart is the key to your inner peace.

    The whole patriarchy and “rules of engagement” regarding pursued and pursuer was never explained to me at all and I have never understood it. The rules always seemed stupid and arbitrary, even before I was aware of the cursed patriarchy and I still do i very awkwardly. If you ever pursued me, I’d frankly be flattered with butterflies and blushes. Plus, I never was the one who followed the rules, either.

    Michael

  3. I just wrote a huge comment then deleted it, so i wrote a completely different one. I have to believe you read these comments, they hit you like a wave, the water dissipates and you move on. Maybe this wordpress is the realest fucking place in the world. Here you dissect self, it becomes public and “permanant”, the comments are the judgement and the unpublished comments are the secrets that whither you down.

    Why this comment anonymous person…

    People. Give. A shit. It’s us that doesn’t give a shit about people. How much of the day do you or I spend thinking about ourselves and not those around us? How much time do you spend commenting on other people’s blogs compared to how much you sit around hitting refresh while waiting for your view-count to rise?

    I’m not trying to be mean.

    But let’s be honest. Michael up there is probably a great guy. To me he sounds like a lame sheep — interpret that as you will. Nonetheless I bet ol’ Michael is a great guy. Probably involved in his comrade’s lives, probably did well in school and probably believes he doesnt fucking matter.

    He’s right, what matters is all the things that we think don’t matter. We lock on to these moments in time trying to change their effect on us so intensely that ten great things just missed us. Ten things that we didnt think mattered could have been everything. Maybe Michael is everything? Keep doing what you’re doing but go out and live your life simultaneously. 5 years from now there is going to be ONE thing that matters — what is that one thing to you?

    • Yep, I do read comments. I approve and respond to most of them. I don’t approve violent or vicious things, but that’s about it.

      What is the point of what you just wrote? I honestly have no idea what you’re trying to tell me… that I have an ego? Yep. We all do. This is my place to write what I want to write. It’s my place to heal and try to help others heal in the process.

      Who are you? Why are you reading this? What are you trying to say to me?

    • In response to @capital_steez, a few points that may or may not have anything to do with this post: Depends on the era, undergrad was good, not so good and great depending on the class and grad is excellent so far with a hiatus that is about to end. If I am a lame sheep, I am a lame sheep who has a low tolerance for BS and authority (Ask my parents.) but I do care about my friends comrades and strangers that don’t stay strange for long. But enough of that.

      Here are a few personal truths I must admit. People still interpret me by turns as either interesting or weird in good ways or bad ways. That will never change. But that’s their issue, not mine. The ones that react positively usually stick around.

      What was going on in my head at the time I wrote my response, in addition to empathy and [disgust for patriarchy], was that this piece was half therapeutic processing and the other half was mostly a list of 21 positive affirmations (with the last two that I can relate to with my hammock-as-bed).

      If that was an incorrect interpretation, someone please correct me. I hope I was correct because positive affirmations, dammit.

  4. Speaking as a girl who has always struggled to even understand sexuality in my own head, let alone what the hell the world wanted as far as sexuality went. I applaud you! You are so strong and you are a major inspiration to me! Thank you for taking this topic and blowing it wide open. I love to read your posts and this is no exception. Keep being you. Because the person you are is phenomenal.

  5. I love this! I hung onto every word. You’re a fantastic writer and I admire how open you are. Love the pictures too! The words that were marked on your body were so brutal and painful. Keep staying positive, through it all.

  6. You know what I think of you; all your beauty is in your breakdown, to pull a well used cliche and available song choices. I love you for who you are girl, throw away all the crap society gives you, they’re full of shit. Fuck and love whomever you want and however often. You’ll find yourself every day. I also want to learn that dance. I’ll work on it for December. You give people wings 🙂

    I think there are too many people who care about what others think, all of us included. Freedom is always in not caring about others’ opinions of ourselves and leaving our own judgement behind on others. If that makes any sense. Live and let live but no one listens to Sir Paul anymore.

  7. Leife, you are beautiful, you soar and you fly, not even in your dreams, but here in the flesh, and you will eventually learn that you are not crashing but evolving. You writing is inspiring even if many of us are not as brave enough to rip open our souls, but we’ll eventually get there.

  8. Kudos to you for having BALLS. 😀 😀

    You are an inspiration!! Even though you were writing about feeling ashamed, words I would use to describe you after reading would be: shameless, fierce, and outstanding.
    Love your uniqueness and keep on rocking!!!

  9. Screw people and their fucking stereotypes.

    I have a wife that worked at a high school. Couple years back, a group of boys got busted for child porn; they and a matching group of girls were trading personal masturbation videos via phone. Now, the boys got busted, and charged; but the girls just got suspensions. And you know what my wife’s reaction was? She expected it from the boys, but just expressed how disappointed she was in the girls. Like they’re not supposed to have sexual desires, urges, and a libido? Like girls can’t have hormones and want to explore their boundaries?

    I wish that my parents had taken the time to have a conversation with me about sex, reproduction, and feeling good about myself. Instead, I was shamed and called a homosexual for touching myself….and wound up marrying the first girl I slept with.

    I tell all three of my children to have sex. Just use protection, and try to be sober when you make the decision to sleep with someone.

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