Monday, March 30, 2009

Journey to the Underworld

The recent conversations I've been having at feministing, along with some thinking I've been doing on my own, have brought up some stuff I usually don't like to talk about.  Some truths are hard to face head on, I guess; it can be easier to leave the demons lurking below the surface.  The thing is, though, that sometimes they reach out and grab at you when you're not paying attention.

For as long as I can remember I've known that I was different.  I would volunteer to be tied up in childhood games, at night when I went to sleep I would cocoon myself tightly in the blankets until I could hardly move.  I remember playing some sort of damsel in distress game with the girl who lived across the street and failing miserably to grasp the concept.  We had been kidnapped (or something) by the "Bad Guy" and were now being held captive.  I remember my thoughts being something along the lines of an eager, "so is he going to do something horrible with us?" to which the response was, "no the prince will rescue us first"  (my reaction to the revelation that we didn't want to be captives was to suggest we just escape ourselves instead of waiting around to be rescued).  

For nearly as long as I can remember being different I can remember knowing that this difference was Bad and Wrong.  I knew this so surely that I tried to squash the difference, and I hated myself when I couldn't.  It would squeeze its way out, filling my mind with thoughts that disgusted and excited me all at once.  And the fact that they excited me disgusted me even more.  

This fusion of budding sexuality, shame, and guilt surged within me for several years before sucking me into the nightmare that, looking back, seems like a logical result of my painful insecurity and self-loathing.

I was sixteen, at a new high school, horribly shy and alone.  "Hook a loop of fear-paralysation into a mind frantically denying its need to surrender, bait a touch-starved, curious adolescent with affection from a pretty older boy, and watch a psyche fragment into a perfect rape victim and a panicked, impotent observer. Respectful and loving submission was unavailable, unthinkable, unallowable, so all I had was deer-in-the-headlights capitulation, where my sexual drives and my terror and his unceasing pressure conspired to shove me into a closet in my head."   I froze - couldn't speak, couldn't move.  I think he was oblivious rather than malicious, but maybe that's just what I tell myself in order to retain some shred of sanity.  I have never forgiven myself for my inability to respond, or for what came after.  At the end, when I could speak again, the only words that came were the ones he wanted to hear, not the agonized scream that lived deep inside me for years before I finally let it out.  After all, he was nice enough about it, he just never noticed I was gone.

A good girl, a normal girl, would have said no or pushed him away, it would have been rape.  But I didn't, because I couldn't, so it was just sex.  Because really, if there wasn't something wrong with me, if I wasn't such a terribly sick freak, it never would have happened.  And so I stayed.  For five years.  

It wasn't all bad, but most of it was.  And it got worse as time passed, became explicitly rape.  I learned how to say no, and how to push back.  One day, four years later, the wall just snapped.  I threw him halfway across the room.  I never let him touch me again, even though it was a few more months before I left without ever looking back.  I learned how to fight for myself.  And somehow, by learning how to articulate and defend what I did not want, I managed to come to terms with what I did.  

So don't (anyone, ever) tell me that my submission is like abuse or my partner is an abuser.  Don't be surprised if I bare my teeth when you suggest that I can't make that distinction.  I've been to that hell, I shed my humanity to the gate-keepers along the way.  And then I came back. 

With me I brought back clarity of vision.  Believe me when I say I can see the difference.


  1. Yes. This. I'm so sorry you know this too, so well.

    I don't know if you speak mythology, but ... some wisdom costs an eye and a while hanging upside down. It'd be nicer to be wise without having to pay the price for it, maybe, but that doesn't mean we didn't have to pay the toll.

  2. ... though I missed the Inanna reference in the second to last paragraph on the first readthrough.

  3. Odin is good too.

    And as for the price, well, it make the lessons memorable. If wisdom came too easily we might be more likely to forget.

  4. Not to gloss over the horror, but your description of your childhood adventures made me smile. I know what that's like! There was a half-hour animated special in the 80s for a typical toy-drive cartoon that didn't get picked up for a series called Charmkins, and part of the story was the big bad guy captured the pretty ballerina and put her in a cage and if she had to dance for him "OR ELSE".

    Or else what? He never did say, but there was a whole song about all the things it was worse than...


    And of course, that show was watched by many little boys and girls and of course it was part of the cultural backdrop that we're exposed to that supposedly explains why you and I didn't care so much about the rescuers... but it doesn't explain why I at the age of (checks IMDB)... three, appaently... was already enthralled by this in a way that other little kids weren't.

    Three. Patriarchy works fast, don't it?

  5. Nice to know you can relate.

    I never understood that, if it's just Patriarchy why weren't all little girls like us? It also doesn't really explain how I managed to be brainwashed by Patriarchy while growing up (with almost no TV) in what is essentially a feminist paradise.

    The most infuriating thing about that Feministing disaster is that I know Becstar has read this and probably everything else on this blog. She already knows that I feel that her position is not only wrong, it's dangerous. It leads to very bad things for that carefree little girl, I just can't really bear to argue with her about it anymore.

  6. I think the key to understanding Becstar is really in the quote from your conversation where she says she doesn't see why the man who abused her can go on and do the same thing with a sub and have it be legitimized. There's no difference in her head me saying "It's alright if you tie me up and do things to me." and me saying "It was alright for you to tie Becstar up and do things to her." She can talk about what she imagines the consequences for society are all she wants, but I think for her it's really personal.