dignity of risk

Because all you can see from the outside is what we show and what we say, people are very easily tricked into thinking we’re doing okay. When we do this ourselves, they call it lying; when they teach us to do it, they call it therapy. All they can see is the same: a smiling face. crossed legs. someone who speaks up just enough, articulate and intelligent but without needs or identity. They call it recovery.

*

They look at your body and all they can see is sadness and fear. You wrote it there, years ago, for yourself, to try to scream to the world: I am sad, I am afraid. This is not what they see. They do not see anything–they feel the emotions I broadcasted to the world. They feel the sadness, voices dripping with pity I never asked for. They feel the fear, shying away, groping eyes unsure. Never bothered to ask me what I think, what I feel about it, instead projecting their own views onto you: it must be so hard with a nightmare of a body, it’s really no wonder you think you’re ugly. Nevermind that I don’t think I’m ugly. Quiet, girl, don’t you know that it’s only what other people think you think that matters? won’t you just let us fix you? it’s for your own good, just let us help, let us give us your sympathy for those scars.

They see what they think is wrong with me and try to fix it. I tell them, no, you’re making it worse. I tell them I don’t care if I have a body made of monsters, I beg them to fix what’s underneath. I tell them, I’m not a girl, I thought you were going to teach me how not to be quiet, how to care what I think, how to be free. They don’t listen. They never do.

They recommend scar creams.

*

I am monitored. The eyes feel like they’re in the air, pressing in on you from every direction, an oppressive atmosphere heavier than the worst humidity. I do not know how to say this. I am not allowed rope or sharp objects; my pills are doled out in small packets, twice a day, so I can’t overdose. Fear and pity, fear and pity, permeate the atmosphere. Danger to herself is whispered in hushed voices. The unspoken question hangs in the air as everyone’s emotions vacillate: Is she the monster or is she the victim? When I shower, my mom knocks on the bathroom every five minutes, ear to the door to make sure I do not stick my fingers down my throat while the rushing water hides the gags. They ensure I do not get even the smallest of self-destructive comforts.

It is supposed to help. That is what everybody says, that this is supposed to help. It’s for my own good. I can’t hurt myself like this.

I am once again working very hard to be neither. My training to be perfect student, daughter, friend is shown off as I become the perfect client. Compliant, that’s always the highest compliment that can be given. Compliant, meaning yielding, bending, pliant, submissive. Not assertive, not strong, not honest, not authentic.

I untie the noose hidden in my room, as per the contract, but I keep my razor blades, even though I don’t use them. A small resilience. A statement: noncompliant.

*

It is always in absolutes: Don’t do that to yourself. You’re not allowed. You’re worth more. Abstinence-only.

I want to tell them: How did you decide this? How did you decide what counts and what doesn’t, what’s normal and what makes you crazy, what is enabled fully and what is stigmatized, driven underground? It sure as hell isn’t our feelings about it–I’ve seen too many people, quietly miserable, hurting themselves with exercise or smoking or high heels or diets or alcohol or working while sick or even compliance to believe that. It’s how it looks to the observers. It’s the sorrowful silence when they see my body, the disgust at the vomit trailing down my chin when I wash up. It is the extreme, the primal: drugs and sex, blood and bones. That’s what gets attention, what gets you the heralded label of crazy. There are the things that you are required to do, and there are the things you are forbidden to do, and some of it feels pretty goddamn arbitrary from the inside but I’m not allowed to notice that.

They declare their ultimatums, and they have guaranteed one thing: that we will not trust them with our freedom, that we will not go to them for help. If we do hurt ourselves, or have sex, or do drugs, we will not know how to do it safely. They do not give us condoms, or replace rusty razor blades with clean ones, or tell us to gargle baking soda instead of brushing our teeth after vomiting. They do not do needle exchange programs or buy us extra-large bandages and burn cream. They tell us, as if it were easy: Stop. Don’t. Say no.

There is the unspoken threat: We will do whatever we need to to make this happen. We will take away your privacy and your freedom as much as we need to, so that we can make sure you’re never a danger to yourself. It’s all for you, really. Nevermind that I am begging for my freedom. Don’t you know, they say, that you are our prisoner? Don’t you know that we are doing this all selflessly, for your own good?

*

Because that’s what looks good. It looks like you’re not allowing dangerous behavior. Not, god forbid, enabling. It signals to the world: no scars here, no messy and imperfect freaks, no outbursts. Just a quiet, intelligent girl who doesn’t know how to say I want anymore. Doesn’t matter that you feel worse. You look better. No more behaviors. So you’re doing better.

(This is how they tell you, insidious as love, “your feelings don’t matter.”)

Dangerous behavior is everywhere. Humans invented roller coasters and skydiving and extreme sports. To control me with concerns for my own safety is to push things under the surface, to let them fester in the silence and distance that seems like it stretches on and on. If I do not have the freedom to say yes I have no choice to say no, to recover and grow and be kind to myself. If I do not have the freedom to say yes I cannot own my desires unashamed, cannot fight for my autonomy and rights. My own desires and boundaries are overwritten–too crazy to think for herself, to know what she wants, got to think for her (“not a her,” i say, quieter this time. barely audible). The ultimate control. Strip me of my personhood, my individuality, my bad decisions and the pieces of my identity that are jagged and sharp and inconvenient, and fill in the blank pieces with compliance.

*

It’ll make you better. The first step towards recovery is just following directions. Don’t be so hesitant–don’t you want help? You’re lucky. You’ll be grateful someday.

I know. I know. I should’ve known better than to think you’d listen.

*

I wish I could be free from the fear of this essay being used against me. Of a therapist reading it, getting on me about the razor blades. Of it being used as evidence of my insanity, as proof that I don’t deserve freedom.
I’m not. I’m so, so afraid. Fear and sadness. Fear and sadness. But this time it’s not because of what things look like–no. If it happens it will be cloaked in sugar and kindness. I will be the one in the wrong: bad girl. if you’d have just let us do what was best for you, this never would have happened. if you’d have just been more quiet.

a failed martyr

I do not know how to start this post except for this:

I have been suicidal for most of my life.

I still am, some days.

When I was younger than I am now, I saw this as beautiful. Before I was even legally old enough to be on tumblr, I ran one of those tumblr depression blogs, black-and-white, sad quotes, pictures of my cuts, the whole nine yards. It’s been deleted, so don’t ask me for it. I dreamed about death being as soft and gentle as sleep. I fantasized about slowly wasting away until I disappeared. I wasn’t going to grow up; I was going to be Tragically Beautiful, Died Young, eternally a shy twelve-year-old with a messy ponytail and good grades and a sad backstory. A fairy, a waif, a whisper of a tragic yet inspirational story. Of course, being this way took a lot of work; but that didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that it had to look effortless, or else the illusion would be dropped. And I did know, on some level, that it was an illusion (why else would I have the crippling sense of inadequacy that I did at failing to live up to this image? why else would i not shower for a month until i was looking decidedly un-beautiful? more to the point, why else would I still have a pulse?), and I learned a few years later that it was impossible, but it is only in recent months that I have begun to give it up as an ideal.

See, the ideal of martyrdom is beautiful. You are single-minded, radiant, giving yourself up fully, saying: here i am, do as you will, set me on fire or tear my heart from my chest or drape me on a cross, and i will be a saint forevermore. It is a transformation from the altogether messy and wretchedly human plane to the elevation of idea, symbol, archetype. You are strong, content, brave. It is forever. Yours is not a life; it is a story, and this is its ending, the narrative resolving with you as the selfless tragic heroine.

But it doesn’t quite work that way. Your burn gets infected, and you ask your therapist for a bandage and neosporin, and the pus is decidedly not romantic, even with a capital R. It is so easy, so tempting to idealize wasting away to nothing; harder to glamorize half-digested cookie dough clinging to your fingertips while skype calling your best friend. Sometimes “I want to die” is less a dramatic climax and more just a part of a life that also involves things like “laughing with friends” and “not wanting to die” and “doing homework” and “kissing girls” and “watching mythbusters”. Sometimes life is just… life.

Of course, at the time this would have seemed unbearably ordinary. I didn’t want to live to be normal. I wanted my life to be Dramatic, a Grand Epic. I kept trying to shove my life into stories and narratives, even when it didn’t fit, and I blamed my life for that (just have to end it before you can mess it up too much) instead of blaming the boxes. I didn’t want a small-scale life with a few friends when instead I could be worrying about grander things like ‘philosophy’ and ‘what a sad story it is of Corrupted Innocence that a 12-year-old is writing funeral plans’.

(This is to be distinguished from the definition of “normal” which is, like, “neurotypical cishet vs weird freak”; I have, if anything, I have moved farther away from “normal” in the sense of “neurotypical cishet”, mostly because “coming out and figuring out the gritty details of family and school as a queer-ass crazy” is one of those things that don’t fit well into most Grand Stories out there. Also, it is very sad that I was writing funeral plans at twelve; however, the fact that I was focusing on “wow this is such a tragic story, it’s going to be so beautiful when I die” instead of “hey maybe instead of doing this I could talk to my friends or accept my mom’s offers of getting me help” is kind of fucked.)

Here are the facts: While other kids dreamed of being a veterinarian or a fashion designer or a teacher, I dreamed of being dead. And there is a very real sadness to that, a wistfulness, a tragedy, even a grandeur in a way (stories about death: generally considered more deep and meaningful than stories about life as a chef), and when you are eight years old and suicidally depressed and you read far too many fantasy stories because nobody will talk to you, it is not exactly like you should be blamed for any of this, and doing so only adds into the And Society Rejected Me angle of your tragedy. And now you are fifteen and trying to choose a college and your brain short-circuits because you are still having difficulty seeing yourself as a person with a future and you are trying to unlearn this disaster of a life you have forced yourself into but it feels like losing the only purpose or dream you have ever had, and you sit down and you start to write.

There is a sort of appeal to stories like Amanda Todd, Leelah Alcorn, Phoebe Prince. A save-the-world story and a tragedy, all wrapped into one. It is really no wonder teen suicides are so contagious–one is publicized and several follow in their stead–because they are kids, canonized by society by their death, and which sad kid on the other side of the screen doesn’t want to be a saint?

There are things that you think you cannot live through. Cliff Pervocacy calls it, on his blog, The Worst Thing In The World. You do anything you can to avoid it. It is terribly melodramatic and incredibly terrifying, because you honestly believe that you will not survive if it happens. It’s not quite that rational, though; it’s more a feeling than a thought. A desperation, a need. An “I will do anything it takes.” It might be the end of a relationship. It might be falling into a pit of snakes. For me, almost everything is like The Worst Thing In The World; when I’m depressed, even just surviving another day can be The Worst Thing In The World.

So, my point is, I’ve had a lot of practice with trying to avoid things I think I cannot live through. I’ve also had a lot of practice with living through things I think I cannot live through. And by this point, I’ve discovered that life is, in fact, livable. The Worst Thing In The World happens, and you do not know how to deal with it so you cut or puke or have sex or cry yourself to sleep or scream at your best friend, and “the next morning I woke up and had to pee.” Life carries on, and not just the grand and glamorous and romantic parts of it. Because those aren’t the important parts of it. The important parts are the parts that show that you’re alive, goddamnit.

There is an important distinction, to me, between two kinds of self-harm. One is “it makes me feel better, and that’s good.” The other is “it makes me feel worse, and that’s good.” The first is a last-ditch survival attempt, even in the most ironic and contradictory way, using self-destruction as self-preservation. The second is self-flagellation, the idea that There Is A Correct World Out There And It Is The One Where I Am In Pain.

Of course, both can be melodramatic, both can be awful and confusing and crushing and just plain painful. But in my life, at least, I slowly morphed from holding onto my own destruction as a lifeline, to idealizing it as simply being, not the lifeline of a terrified child, but as the Correct Thing (aesthetically, morally, instinctually, intellectually, whatever, doesn’t matter).

I am learning this distinction, today. I celebrate the first–play with matches if you think you have to play with matches, just stay alive–while at the same time trying to destroy the second, trying to teach myself that no, in fact, there is no correct world out there, there is no right thing to do or grand plan to follow, there is just your life. Go out and live it (whether that means eating too much candy on halloween or cutting deep between your ribs or both).

One is a grasp upwards, trying to survive when you want to die; the other is an intentional fall, trying to survive when you want to live. Stay alive, keep staying alive, and keep going when you can.

Of course, this is terrifying. The idea that there is no One Right World, that there is no path out there for you to follow, no guide, no judge, no grand epic or destined plan, there is just you, and you are 15 and alone in a giant world and you don’t exactly have a great track record at the whole existence thing.

But terrifying things happen, and then you wake up the next morning in a terrifying world, and you are still alive, and you still have to pee. Life goes on. It is not good, not yet, not for me, but it is so much better, and that matters.

I may be a failed martyr, but I’m getting better at being a person.

abnormal psychology

too much.

i am five years old and i am psychotic for the first time, words spilling out of my mouth, rambling on and on, letters uneven, some backwards, when i write: and then i cryed and my unicorn teers heled stefiny

the other kids whisper, they laugh. i am too young to connect the dots, between the way they look at me and the way my books get pushed off my desk day after day, the way i sit alone at recess (distracting myself by singing gibberish words of Divine Importance), the way they find insults scrawled onto a desk in the back. i do not draw connections, not yet, between the way my teacher hisses “quiet hands” like a threat and the way i get yelled at for getting distracted by ant colonies during phys ed and the way i never quite learned how to whisper and the way nobody seems to want to talk to me. i know, somehow, that i’m doing something wrong, or else that other people are–but what?

i am confused. i am blindfolded, walking in circles, hopelessly lost, trying my hardest with no results, over and over again.

i thought that, as soon as i could just figure out what was happening, why this was happening, i would be able to fix things. i could just be less weird, or i could just distance myself from the people hurting me, and then everything would be okay.

i didn’t know, not yet, that finding out why would, in many ways, make everything so, so much worse. even if i did know, i had a blind curiosity and naivete at the time that would have propelled me straight into the trainwreck anyway.

looking back, it seems inevitable. this world was not built for a crazy girl.

 

 

too much.

i am 11 years old and i have figured it out. i am too loud, can’t whisper; gotta stop talking. too distractible; so, stop paying attention to anything, stop thinking, let my mind go blank and far away while my mouth parrots the right words. other people don’t like me; so, i have to get away from them, don’t talk to them. i fidget too much, hands twirling in the air, mouth always chewing on cloth or hair or paper; i try to stop fidgeting, fail; discover it is more acceptable to chew skin and fingernails, start doing that, let my fingertips get rubbed pink raw and stained reddish brown because at least i won’t be as weird anymore. i am lumbering, clumsy; my voice in chorus is a loud alto. gotta fix that. i starve myself, walk on my tiptoes, sing as quietly and high as i can. i start existing as we, but keep it hidden, keep up the performance. i am a girl, i am nothing, i am certainly not people.

(did i know then that i would, four years later, struggle with standing up and losing my breath, or get told when auditioning for a solo that they can’t hear me and be overwhelmed with shame because i’m singing as loud as i can, or try to gather up the courage inside me to tell my mom who i am and then chicken out again and again and wish i didn’t, or hate the way my voice gets me ma’am-ed? no. of course not. all i knew is that i was too much, and i needed to get rid of it, and if that meant i had to get rid of myself then by god i was going to try. i didn’t consider what would happen if i wanted my self back, if i wanted to take up space or exist in this world, because i thought i never would. i didn’t think i would ever want anything again. want is selfish, want is repulsive, want is disgusting.)

and it makes sense–it’s not an unreasonable position. far from it, it’s the logical continuation, the obvious extension of what everyone had been telling me. they tell me, “be quieter, be more ladylike,” so i train my voice. simple. easy.


(it’s not easy. i tell everyone it is easy. i try, as hard as i can, to make it look easy. it is the hardest thing i have ever done. but since i was able to tell you i was fine, then it must be true.)

if you pretend, for long enough, that you do not want, that you do not crave anything, that you do not even need anything to live–not love, not food, not communication, not blood, not even air–eventually you come to fear your own desires. but however much you teach yourself to fear yourself, you never disappear. you can train your body to panic and scream and tear itself to shreds, but you can never stop your mind from wanting.

 

 

too much.

that was her excuse when i tried to tell the guidance counselor what was going on.

i believed her.

 

 

too much.

i am a teenager and i am queer. i am a teenager and i am queer and i want touch and pain and intimacy. i know i am dirty/gross/wrong/bad/evil/predatory/objectifying/sinful. i know, at this point, that i cannot just make myself stop. monster, i call myself, voice vengeful. irreparable evil. original sin.

 

 

too much.

i learned my lessons well. i have been taken to the hospital three times by now but each time i managed to be articulate and smart and relatable enough to avoid getting kept there for longer than an hour or two. i am quiet, i am polite, i am very good at acting normal–no matter what.

i am still not good at being normal, because i am not normal, and i know at this point that i never will be, that all of my efforts are for nothing.

everyone else looks at me and sees a tiny, quiet girl, voice high and whispery–two inches shorter than she should be, growth stunted by malnutrition, but two inches taller than the doctors told me i would be after a year and a half of my starvation diet, wearing a hoodie, black to hide stains from being a chronically messy and chaotic person, hood pulled up to hide from the world–and they cannot see how someone like me could want like i do.

they cannot see how this is overcompensation, trying to keep my exterior quiet and neat because i’m afraid of people seeing my interior, my interior that is too weird and too crazy and too overbearing and too messy and too needy; always, always in excess.

i learned my lesson early: if/when they do see, they recoil. freak. they tell me: stop that. get small again. get quiet. that’s what you’re supposed to be. so i listen. i am a very good listener. very obedient. well-trained.

my weakness has always been caring too much.

 

 

too much.

i do not know how to handle a friendship that is not overflowing, bursting at the seams with feeling. when i try, i make accidental, careless wounds; a misspoken word, a yelled confession, a clumsy trip that pulls them down with me. i do not mean to hurt anyone, but beneath all my guards i am a feral cat, full of claws and teeth and fear. and then i hurt someone, and in that moment i know that i was right. monster. stay in hiding next time.

and so i do.

“but you didn’t do anything wrong” not this time. not this time. but i have. i will. won’t we all? and maybe you don’t think i did anything wrong but there are so many differences of opinion about that, really

“why do you feel bad? it’s just thoughts” thoughts are enough to me. i can train my face and hands and voice, but i can never stop my thoughts. the thoughts are the bad part, really, they’re the part that bleed through accidentally when my emotions get too strong and my mask slips. (thought-action fusion, they write. magical thinking)

i try. i try. i try. but my friends and i, we are screaming. we are wild.

 

 

too much.

(forgive me father for i have sinned.)

my self-flagellation took on a religious fervor. there are two reasons for destroying yourself: as punishment, and as relief. what started as an overflow for when i could not help but spill slowly but surely became its own punishment and its own reward, desire and pain and self-hatred, all in one. unable to talk, at war with myself, my body became my battleground, each battle both lost and won at once. my bodily fluids, a source of shame from the moment i was first called crybaby, the only way i can reliably communicate when words seem impossibly far away, intermingle, spilling over the bathroom floor, my blood and pus and vomit mixing with my tears and cum.

(the three populations at highest risk for self-harm: young women with a history of trauma. prisoners. captive animals.)

 

 

too much.

the third time i went to the hospital, i was psychotic again. the body was catatonic, utterly still, undemanding, yielding to the force of others; and yet my still, compliant body said what years and years of a compliant mouth never could. when i was there, i was not in danger, not like i had been so many times in the past.

i did not know how to ask them: where were you when i needed you? why do you care more about my lack of response then you did about my pain? why do you direct your ire towards the girl with a mind on fire, excited or pacing or frozen and distant, and then smile and nod when she learns to hide? why do you worry now, and not when i have the knife in my hand, not when i am sobbing, not when i am starving, not when i am withdrawn and suicidal and destructive? do you even worry, or do you just look at my still frame with the same condescending hiss at the disruption to the class that you did when i was five? why do you only care about this girl is too much and approve of this girl is destroying herself in her quest to be less? why am i fifteen years old and trying to grow but too afraid of being too weird? why do you only care about what you see in me and never think to care about who i actually am?

why did you encourage her to destroy herself, and then bring her to the hospital when she obeyed?

i did not ask them this. i willed my mouth to be good. i told them a half-truth: a history of seizures, a cocktail of medications.

they sent me home.

on animality

[Note: This is a heavily intellectualized version of how I feel; it focuses on animality-as-narrative and animalperson-as-identity, not the actual, embodied experience of being an animal-person, which is impossible for me to put into words due to my experience of it as an inherently wordless. Mel Baggs and Akhila have described it much better than I think I am able to; I recommend reading their writing if you want to know how I perceive the world as an animal-person instead of how I feel about the narrative of “animal-person” applied to my life. This is tentative and exploratory; I do not know right now if animal person is, in fact, my primary identity, or if it’s one of many, but this is my first essay to seriously explore this narrative, and writing it was very meaning-filled and cathartic for me, so it may be. Who knows? Well, we’ll see, I guess. ^-^]

 

 

I love animals.

I always have.

 

I can add so many words to this, but that is what it boils down to. Above everything else–above aromantic and headmate and crazy and girl–I am an animal person.

 

This is a story about being therian. This is a story about being an animal rights activist. This is a story about losing my way. This is a story about falling down, down, down the rabbit hole, and getting out, and this is a story about choosing to go back.

 

 

I have never felt completely ‘human’, and I have always connected very much to animals.

 

When I was three, people would ask me what I want to be when I grew up and I would tell them “a cow”, “a polar bear”, “a cat”.

 

I grew up believing I was secretly half-cat (and this would later be labeled a delusion; while the belief went away, the feeling never faded).

 

I discovered santa wasn’t real in fourth grade, when I wrote, Dear Santa (parents dont read this!!!!) I don’t want anything this year just please let me tranform into a cat for christmas or else I’ll know you’re fake and not really magic!! and I woke up the next morning with a pile of gifts and a body I couldn’t stand.

 

When I played “pretend”, I pretended to be anything but human for as long as it was socially acceptable to do so. I would see myself in the mirror and sometimes it would be fine and sometimes there would be a disconnect–where’s my fur? Where are my ears? Where is my tail? (and this would later be labeled as dissociation and dysphoria, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real)

 

Not only that, sometimes my first response to things is ‘normal’, and sometimes it is to hiss, to purr, to arch my back, to mimic the birdcall to chase the rabbit to run from the car.

 

I feel my fur, my tail, my ears, overlaying my human body. Seeing a margay for the first time was like looking in a second mirror. In all the ways that matter to me, I am a margay.

 

And I was abused for it. She told me, “you are a cat,” and I agreed, and she twisted it around into just a game and you’re not a human so I can hurt you and you’re weaker than me so I can hurt you and but you’re delusional for believing me.

 

 

I have never felt completely ‘human’, and I have always connected very much to animals.

 

When I was five, I was nominated as a semifinalist for an award for helping animals.

 

When I was eight, I understood the distinction between empathy and sympathy by saying “empathy is what I feel about animals, sympathy is what I feel for humans.” I ran a fully active online animal rights group and argued eight people into becoming vegan or vegetarian.

 

I have always known that people hurt animals (and that people hurt me, and that I was an animal, and that these things aren’t connected to me but they’re connected in the minds of the people doing the hurting). There is a reason that dehumanization is seen as cruel and oppressive. Once you see a person as an animal, you stop caring about them, because you don’t care about animals. (The same thing happens, equally obviously, to disabled people and children–it is strange, how easily “not as intelligent in the ways that we care about, different senses and perceptions, weaker than us, or not strong in the right ways, too different” becomes bad, becomes repugnant, becomes cruelty that you are complicit in despite turning up your nose at)

 

 

When I was twelve, I cared, but I was suicidal, and I couldn’t do anything anymore except for cry and cut myself and wonder why can’t I help them anymore, why am I bad like this, why don’t I care enough, why can’t I just die already.

 

 

Talking about animal rights with my friends is always a strange experience, because I am the only one who agrees with it, and yet they are all animal-lovers who are repulsed by cruelty.

 

The difference is that they are also repulsed by people pointing out their complicity in the cruelty. The difference is that I know I can hold guilt without dying. Society doesn’t want you to know that, your brain doesn’t want you to know that, your entire being–dare I say your humanity?–screams at the idea of guilt, but it’s true. Shame is what they try to give you, and that is what you cannot live with.

 

 

Let me ask you: where is your criteria for who matters?

Do pigs matter? Do dogs matter? Do toddlers matter?

(They are similar in the ways that matter: they can all feel things and communicate their feelings, although none can use language; they can all learn; they all experience happiness; they all experience pain and sadness; they play games, they love, they cry. And yet we have decided, as a society: pigs are the dirt of the earth; dogs are sweet and lovely, but are generally not extensively mourned; three-year olds are by far the most important, as long as acknowledging them doesn’t make us confront any of that uncomfortable guilt that comes with acknowledging the developing world.)

 

Do dolphins matter? Do schizophrenic people matter? Do elephants matter? Do I matter?

(We are not all similar, yet you see the point: we feel pain differently, we feel happiness differently, but we do feel. we communicate, even if you can’t understand us. we love; we are happy; we are sad; we feel pain and pleasure. we are capable of horrible things and wonderful ones; not all of us are considered human.)

 

 

The effective altruism movement gave me anxiety and scrupulosity spirals for months, almost re-awakening my eating disorder, curled up into a ball of but eating is basically murder because the money that gave me one meal could have bought 10 meals for children in the developing world.

 

Then I found ACE–then I discovered, you can save 14 animals for just one dollar.

 

And what I felt, it wasn’t anxiety, it wasn’t guilt and shame and fear, it was awe and wonder and empowerment, because I can save 14 animals!

 

It felt like, I have been working my entire life to save animals (to save people like me, because animals are people and I am an animal), and here it is, I can. I can do something to help them. I can do something to save them. And that’s how I understood–this is what the movement is. It’s not about guilt–it’s about the amazement and hope of I can save lives.

 

 

I read books and I want to scream. I want to claw away at my skin, with real claws, not blunt fingernails, tear it off. I see myself in the characters: the dissociation, the escapism, the desire and the need and the trying desperately to make the need go away because it doesn’t work, it will never work, all it does is mark you as not-normal, so you try to hide in yourself and make yourself disappear. You shut yourself up, repress and disconnect, in the name of selflessness, of protecting the people around you from you. And it doesn’t work. It never works. Or, it does, but when it works, it works too well and makes everything worse. It never makes you happy. But I don’t always see myself in the text of the situation, and I am afraid to talk about my identification, as if saying I relate, this is me, this is what I have done, will be perceived maliciously as if I am taking over, so I do not even comment on fanfiction and blog posts, just copy them into my journal o quotes.

 

This is what books do, for me, this is what they always have done: they make me imagine what it would be like to transform into a cat, for the first time in years since I have tamped down, hidden, repressed, that desire–no, that need. They talk about my feelings, the way that high schoolers who don’t look right, don’t feel right, the ways we all self-destruct and hide from our needs, the ways that nonhumans exist and think and feel, the ways that my brain glitches and cracks and screams and self-destruct, and none of it is quite right but it’s all I have, because I need stories. Books have made me delusional; books have saved my life. And sometimes when I read them, I see what I am missing, what I am missing because of the things I need that aren’t okay, aren’t allowed, aren’t even always possible.

 

I doodle cats on my homework before even realizing what I’m doing, and then I glance down absentmindedly, burst into tears because I cannot stand it, go home to gaze at the faces of kitten Pepper and cat Lion, and envy them so much for just existing as they are. I see their faces and I ache because I want it, I want what they have so effortlessly, I want to be able to purr and meow and walk on four legs and scratch and bite without training myself ever-so-carefully, practicing for weeks, days, years, trying to teach my human body how to do it, but also training my animal brain how to not-do it, how to smile carefully and use words and not act too weird where people might see me, and I want things that I cannot want (I want to be small, I want to have fur, I want to have large eyes and paws that can rotate 180 degrees to climb up trees and then back down, headfirst, I want to look in a mirror and feel a connect with who I see there).


 

I shave my legs for the first time for a chorus concert, trying not to cry, watching the closest thing I will ever have to fur fall to the floor in tiny, thin clumps.

 

I hide from my reflection. I want, desperately, more than anything in this entire universe, to become a cat. I never grew out of wanting to play-pretend, except that this doesn’t feel like playing pretend, it’s not a delusion with that sneaking back-of-my-mind knowledge that it’s not real. It’s immediate and important and necessary, I want to be a cat I need to be a cat, I need this more than I have ever needed anything in my entire life. I spent three years in an eating-disordered dreamworld of repressed hunger and need. It is hard to describe that gnawing starvation that turns into utter binging because you cannot control your hungers to someone who has not experienced it. And yet those needs are still secondary–more than food, more than water, I need two things: to not-be-alone, and to be a margay. And one of those is achievable, and one of them isn’t, and I don’t know how to come to terms with that.

 

 

Am I really an animal? I don’t think I’ll ever truly know. But this is what I do know: for two years (three?), I wasn’t dysphoric, laughed at my past self for being so silly as to believe that I was an animal, and those were the worst years of my life, those were the years where I counted out all the pills in the house and made funeral plans (give all my money to charity; hire my friends to sing; make me into a tree, because even in death i didn’t want to be human), cut and starved and cried myself to sleep every night. So this much is what I know: being allowed to be an animal–or, more accurately, an animal-person, because my experience of being animal is tied together in a million ways with the ways that animals are people who are treated like not-people and the ways that framing my life with models and narratives is a human thing and the way I speak in words and think in feelings, the way that I am not human not animal somewhere in-between–it feels like some of the weight lifts off my chest. Is it a delusion, a hallucination, a depersonalization, a metaphor taken too literally, an extension of a childhood spent psychotic? Who cares? This is what I know: when I bike fast enough, I feel my fur rippling in the wind, and for once everything in the world feels like it might be okay.

 

 

This is what being an animal-person means to me: it means that, even on a cocktail of antidepressants and antipsychotics and antianxiety medication, even with supportive family and friends, even with the best therapist I could ask for, even with writing as an outlet–I will still look down and feel a deep wrongness at my skin, I will still dissociate when I look in the mirror, I will still get random intrusive thoughts about needing to destroy my body, rip off chunks of flesh, claw my way out of the pit in my stomach and drop this body like a shell, I will still consider suicide because there is no other way out of this body that is so intrinsically not mine, this species that is destroying my kin with its ideas of superiority. It means that, when I have bad years, I cut and starve and puke and cry, panic and scream and rave and hallucinate. Being an animal-person means trauma.

 

(To those of you who will read this and say that I’m batshit insane: yes, that’s the point, I’m glad you’re paying attention.

To those of you who will read this and conclude that I’m too crazy to matter, to be allowed to define my own story, write my own narrative, title this essay animality instead of schizophrenia: fuck you.)

 

This is what being an animal-person means to me: it means I have empathy, incredible empathy, for the plight of other people trapped in a world that doesn’t think of them as people, other nonhumans and other dysphorics and other neurodivergents and, yes, other animals; it means that I experience the world as a primarily sensory being, without the world filtered through words until I choose them to translate my experiences; it means I get huge amounts of joy from small pleasures like hands on tree bark and teeth biting into food, it means I get to experience the richness and vividness of life and pay attention to all of it, it means I can nuzzle and purr at my moirail and she will cuddle me and pet my fur, it means I can bond with her over wings and fur and being not-quite-human and trying to fit in and not always succeeding, it means I can foster kittens and connect with them and understand them, and it means I get to read and write and draw and sing and listen to stories. It means I can try to help, to make up, in some small way, for the wrongs not-quite-my species can create in this world. It means I get to experience the liminal space, not human not animal but something between the two, or maybe combining them, constantly shifting, transforming, intertwining, becoming something–someone–new, a perpetual motion machine of animality and humanity weaving together, understanding things instinctively that most humans and most animals will not, without the strange in-between experience that is my life.

 

(To those of you who will read this and say that none of those are really inherently animal things, or even animal-person things: I know. But to me, in my narrative, in my web of connections and love and being, they are. They may not be for other people, I’m not here to tell your story, I’m here to tell mine.)

 

This is what being an animal-person means to me: playing with an ocelot figurine in the bathtub every night when I am 3. giving away my birthday money to animal charities when I am 5. telling my friends I am a werecat, transforming at midnight at the full moon, when I am 7, and believing it myself because the alternative–humanity–is too painful. realizing when I am 9 that I am not in fact a cat in any meaningful way, but still wanting to be one, connecting more with my kittens than my friends, becoming suicidal, roleplaying warrior cats online where I can pretend to be a cat, going vegetarian even though meat makes me feel like myself because I can’t bear to hurt any other animals. discovering the word “therian” when I am 11, and instantly knowing, calling myself feline therian: ocelot–no, oncilla?–no, margay. i’m a margay, looking at a picture of a margay for the first time and writing bad poetry about what it’s like to see yourself, not just see your body but see your self, for the first time, recognizing yourself in a photograph 11 years later than you were supposed to. naming myself, Sofia, at age 13, realizing that I’m allowed to be a person. now, age 15, heart still too sensitive, writing this, this confused mess of here is what being an animal-person means to me.

 

(To those of you who will read this and say I’m young: I know. Perhaps someday I will be old, perhaps I will die before then. Perhaps things will change. But I will not refrain from writing just because I am young. I have always been young, so far. I am young and confused and crazy and animalistic, dehumanized, othered, and I am trying to learn to extend myself the same empathy, the same love that I extend to everyone else, and that starts with recognizing myself: my name is Sofia, and I am a margay, and that matters.)

 

In all the ways that matter, I have always been a person, and I have always been an animal.
(To those of you who might read this and recognize yourself: Hello.)

Watch Me I’m Flying

[I would like to issue a minor apology for the fact that almost all of this post is written in words and style that are distinctly Not Mine; this is something that I do not have the words to express yet without borrowing the words of others, and I would like to express my sincerest apologies for this; still, it is something I feel, and I appreciate that enough that I decided to post this.]

When I was a child, I was alone.

I was abused. My best friend tried to drown me. She would hit me, she developed a game out of “what’s the worst thing I can convince them to hallucinate”, she messed with my reality and told me I was fat and ugly, but the thing that traumatized me the most was not any of that. The thing that hurt me the most was the isolation. She had cut me off from the rest of my friends, and her favorite punishment for me was not the insults or the physical pain or even the reality manipulation and emotional abuse, it was the silent treatment, because nothing hurt me more than being alone.

When I was a child, I was alone.

I had started cutting and starving myself when I was ten; I was suicidal since I was eight. I asked my mom when I was eleven if I could check out Wintergirls or Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and she smiled condescendingly, told me that those books were too mature for me. She tried to protect me from the reality I was living; she cut me off from the idea of people like me. I didn’t tell anyone even a whisper until ninth grade, when I entered a relationship with the girl who showed me her scars, a relationship so dysfunctional it almost ended with a suicide pact, a relationship that made me the weirdest kind of happy because at least I wasn’t alone anymore.

When I first read Julia Bascom’s blog, two years ago, I cried, because here was someone like me, and she was alive, and she was writing about the things everyone turned their back on me for mentioning.

I stole a copy of Wintergirls from the library, hid it in my backpack and under my bed, and waited for everyone else to fall asleep before I read it.

I was almost hospitalized when I was 14, for having a psychotic break too obviously, and I blogged the entire time, and I was still so happy because I wasn’t hiding anymore. Because I wasn’t alone.

I was watching a musical, a couple months ago, and it hit me just how afraid I am of the future–I’ve spent my life assuming that I didn’t have a future, because I was going to kill myself (goodbye cruel world hope you enjoyed your stay) when I was twelve (and then, when I passed that, I decided on 16), and that would be that, so I would never have to worry about how I’d end up or what I’d be as an adult because I would just never grow up. But now, I’m older, and I don’t think I want to die anymore. I was (am) terrified of growing up and still being me–of growing up and still being crazy.

I’ve discovered, though, that teenagers can grow up, even those of us who are gay and crazy and trans. We don’t all die. We can survive. I’ve learned that there is a we out there, and it started with Julia Bascom:

“At some point, and I’ve told this story so many times and it never stops making me want to cry, I started hearing about other disabled people. People who were older than me, people who weren’t about this thing is going to kill me one of these days, people who weren’t about living with, living with, living with, not dying from disease, people who were disabled and alive and not sick, not dying, but raising hell and building lives and screaming, screaming, screaming when we were being killed.

People who used words like we.”

And it was amazing, because she wrote about how she learned that there were other disabled people out there, and that meant that I got to learn too, that there are other disabled people, they exist, they use words like “we” and say that we’re not sick or dying, we are here, we are existing, and I don’t have to be alone anymore.

And that opened the door for me–a door to Mel Baggs and RENT and Ozymandius and Next to Normal and stimmyabby and Mad Pride and the Icarus Project and the Hearing Voices Network and tumblr #actually tags, and so many others, a door that led to people like me who said things like we, a door that led to a community–there are gay people, there are trans people, there are crazy people and disabled people and we have always existed, and here we are, screaming, because now we will be heard, because I am writing this in hopes that someone will read it and know that you’re not alone anymore.

History was always my least favorite subject, but learning that I had a history too, it all seemed so amazing, so deeply essential. They never taught it to me in school, I had to search for it. But it’s there.

As Thing of Things wrote, in their post “We Have Always Existed“:

 

Changelings are autistic children. There is art that looks like children with Down’s Syndrome. Socrates heard voices. Henry Cavendish may well have been autistic. Soldiers for thousands of years have experienced PTSD. The demon-possessed. Prophets. Acedia. The fool capering across a Shakespearean stage or a royal court. The village idiot. Asylums. CBT is Stoicism wearing a sciencey hat. Mindfulness therapies are Buddhism wearing a sciencey hat.

I cried when I read it–

There is a black-and-white picture out there, of two women, psychiatric survivors in a world that did not want them: paranoid, fighting back. It is from 1976: we have been fighting this battle since before I was born. It is not over. But it is so much better. And we aren’t alone anymore.

See, that is the thing about being who I am: it is, inherently, rebellious. There are entire branches of psychiatry and people who have dedicated their life’s work to claiming DID isn’t real and multiple people in one body isn’t a thing and alters are just parts, not real people, and all it takes for all of that to come tumbling down is for me to say that I’m real.

Living in a society like I do, where being even the smallest amount of different is a punishable offense (even though there is nobody that is perfectly normal; being in high school means that almost everyone around me is quietly unhappy and scared, while trying their best to be perfect, and never asking why it has to be this way) and being too different gets you killed (Mike Brown, Leelah Alcorn, 300 mentally ill people shot by police each year). The ones with voices, after all, get their tongues cut out.

Yet… not always. Gay pride was started when we were hurt by the police one time too many and we rioted, for days, and now we celebrate it each year, and since then a lot of us have died but some of us have lived, and things aren’t better yet, but last year they said I could get married. It is a bitter lie that we all die–there are, right now, #RealLiveTransAdults, and not just that–there are real live mentally ill adults and real live gay adults and real live aromantic adults and real live multiple adults and real live schizophrenic adults, and I can read things they have written and they can talk to me. They’re out there. Girls like me, we can grow up, we can live. I know that, now. I still can’t believe it, not yet, but I know it, and that’s half the way there.

I’ve never been to a protest or a pride. The extent of my activism is reading blogs online and flapping so hard my back screams at me, and claiming my existence. And yet, that is a kind of rebellion too–because rebellion is not always throwing stones and screaming voices and holding signs and starting fires. Sometimes, rebellion is much, much smaller. In friendships and jokes and tumblr posts and essays, in hashtags and holding hands and sharing our stories. In existing, unapologetic, unashamed, and saying you can exist too. It’s a lie that everyone who is different is doomed: we are here, we can live, we can exist, we always have, and when they say that we’re going to die (that the world hates us and that the best we can hope for is to hide and deny ourselves and try our best to pass and hope nobody notices), they are the ones who are killing us.

The most rebellious thing I’ve ever done was staring myself in the mirror, unflinching, saying “I don’t want to be normal” and meaning it.

Rebellion is a rejection of society, and there is nothing society hates more than someone who’s different and open about it. Society hates people who are brazen, unashamed, refusing to be smaller, to minimize, to smile when people misgender you, to keep your hands in your lap and your mouth shut. To be proud of being different is the most rebellious thing people have ever done. There is a reason that solidarity and empathy are so discouraged–because if you look too hard, you might find out that we’re all different people, and you might be relieved and happy because you’re not alone. And you’re not supposed to know that. You’re supposed to think that you’re alone in your differences, so that you will be afraid of them.

When just existing is defiance, being proud is brave. When we are supposed to be hidden, being open is strong.

We’re here. We’re alive. We exist.

We’re not alone anymore.