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.
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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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!)
- I am blunt. I sometimes ask people if they want to fuck, using those exact words.
- 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.
- Sometimes I have sex with women.
- Sometimes I feel like an exhibitionist.
- Masturbation still makes me uncomfortable.
- I like one night stands.
- I like casual sex.
- I like lots of sex with lots of people.
- Sometimes I come on really strong.
- Sometimes I cum really strong.
- I love flirtation with my whole, entire heart.
- I like having sex with my friends. I would like to have more sex with more friends.
- I like pursuing. I sometimes, occasionally, like being pursued.
- I think it’s hot when people are straightforward about what they want.
- I think it’s fun to not play games.
- I think it’s possible to like lots of sex with lots of people without being a sex addict.
- I think it’s possible to have a complicated relationship to sex without being a sex addict.
- I think it’s okay to fall on your ass sometimes.
- I think I’m tired of being considered broken/defective /dirty/desperate/clingy/crazy.
- I think you’re pretty hot.
- 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.