Red Magazine

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I was asked to illustrate the cover of Red, a magazine for RhED who provide resources for sex workers, and then interviewed inside about my art, politics, identity and personal connections to sex work. It was interesting how much imposter syndrome I had, wondering how much of a right I have to speak or make art about these profoundly intersectional issues but I’m actually grateful it brought these questions up for me as I think they’re important ones for art makers to ask ourselves. Anyway, I’m too chicken to read my interview inside but it looks utterly beautiful so if you find a copy, g’wan and check it out!

Edit. Looks like you can actually view the article online here: https://tinyurl.com/ycwdmsj2

 

The Sound of The Rain

Night is quiet in quarantine. I didn’t realise how loud it used to be. Now just the gentle sound of autumn rain and the drip drop of overflowing roofs and gutters full of brown, decaying leaves.

It’s a mild night, almost warm – actually, come to think of it, isn’t it too warm for this time of year? I time travel to ten years ago when I first moved to this country and try to remember autumn then. Wasn’t it colder? And in the winter I remember frost in the morning. Do we still get frost in the morning? Are we getting enough rain for this time of year? Will we get enough next year? Ten years from now? Twenty?

Yesterday, I was on my knees in the garden when I became awestruck by the diversity of life in our backyard.  Looking down at the lawn, it was like an aerial view of a jungle, tangled plants that we might call weeds if we chose to and snails, butterflies, praying mantis, spiders and flies. I hate that being renters means that we have to regularly mow this eco system to the ground and my stomach sickens when I think about monoculture lawns where people eradicate dandelions and everything except one sort of grass, the sort that looks like plastic and sometimes is. I hate that astro turf is more socially acceptable than an overgrown lawn where bees might forage. Why aren’t we letting our lawns go wild? Our tidying and taming of nature is genocide and suicide. Why?

I wonder how long the trees in the yard will last before future water shortages cause them to dehydrate and die? Introduced species, they are, oak trees and the likes, the stuff brought over by homesick colonisers who took their desire for the comfortable and familiar and named it “civilization”. What will this place look like in ten years? Will this precious little pocket of life have been sold, bulldozed and replaced by another Mc Mansion made of plaster and painted beige? Where will I be? Where will my loved ones be? Was that article I read right? Will the ocean’s eco-systems have collapsed? Will the water continue to heat and rise and slow to sludge? Will any child anywhere know the planet as I did? Abundant and green?

I time travel back to almost 30 years ago and I’m on our little hobby farm in Aotearoa, New Zealand. I’m 5 or 6 years old and the world is immense, endless wilderness. Our backyard here is tangled vines, flowers, bugs, berries, old tyres full of water and mosquito larvae. I ramble about carrying pet chickens, followed by a dog or cat and with snails on my face because I like the feeling of their trails of slime and I like my parent’s reaction to my living accessories. By myself I explore 5 acres of land with dreams and swamp full of koura, pukeko and once, a rainbow trout that had swum upstream all the way from Lake Rotorua. Every spring I catch tadpoles which I keep in an old outdoor bathtub or indoor aquarium so that I might watch them grow legs, their tails vanish, their transformation over time from fat tadpole to tiny frog. I remember the feeling of a small, silky skinned amphibian in my hand, like a strange green jewel.

One day, I’m about 7 years old, with two little black dogs and my toddler brother, we are at the stream normally abundant with tadpoles and frogs but this year we only catch one. One. I’m upset and frustrated… where are they? And then my little brother stumbles and knocks over the glass jar so the water and solitary tadpole tumbles out and is lost somewhere down the grassy bank. I search in vain for the tiny creature but after some time I have to accept that it is probably doomed to a fate of slowly dying out of the water. I scream at my brother and hit him so that he starts to cry and the guilt is still with me now, my responsibility for the tadpole’s death and my brother’s tears.

My father suggests that the old lady next door, the one who has two giant St Bernard dogs, has been feeding the pukeko too much and so their population has increased and they’ve eaten all the frogs. In any case, I never see another frog on our farm and years later, I will read about how sensitive frogs are to pollution and I wonder about agricultural runoff in the stream.

The St Bernards died, my little black dogs died, the old lady must be gone by now and my parents sold the property 10 years ago now and only recently did I really allow myself to feel the heartache of that. Late one night while I was suicidal in New York, I experienced my first real feelings of homesickness and the understanding of just how much was now completely in the past. And now, while we are all in lockdown waiting for the plague to pass, that homesickness is acute again. I’m homesick but actually also timesick. I’m longing for a time when tadpoles were everywhere, nature seemed to be thriving and life was endless. Timesick for back when a sunny day was only a wonderful thing, not poisoned with premonitions of drought, famine, plagues and pestilence.

I’m here. Now. Lying in bed in this rental property in a rich Melbourne suburb where I feel completely out of place. I try to tune out from my spiralling thoughts and fears for a moment and into the simplicity of the sound of rain. Can I listen to the rain, just for a moment, without thinking about death?

I imagine the water as it falls from the sky and soaks into the earth and suddenly I want to feel my feet on the cold, wet dirt. I get out of bed and walk out the front door in only my underwear and as I step outside, the security light comes on and abruptly I am exposed to the neighbourhood.  But it is late and dark and only one car passes swiftly by. I stand still and watch water sparkle in the streetlight, wet leaves and mud are cold on my feet and the rain is cleansing. After a time, the security light goes off and, slowly so as not to activate the light again, I raise my arms to my sides and this is how I stay until my hair is soaked and my body is chilled all the way through.

Twice Shy

I’ve been thinking about the long-lasting effects of emotional abuse and my own story in context of that. For the last few years since it happened, I’ve worked on developing a better kindness towards myself, realizing how deeply I am inclined to be invalidating towards my own emotions and experiences. I’ve been unpacking some of my childhood trauma, having recently read Pete Walker’s incredible book on CPTSD and realizing how my experiences in the formative years of my life left me with some fawning type behaviors, specifically, a habit of not listening to my emotional needs, putting those of others above my own. I also discovered how powerful my inner critic was, so that instead of having defenses against the emotional abuse I experienced, I felt every word my ex said as “truth”.

Honestly, there are still days where those words of his still sting and my partner, Wes, pointed out that since that time I have a new way of beating myself up, the words “I’m a worthless piece of shit” became a regular refrain inside my head and I often have had to request reassurance from my two partners that I am not, in fact, a worthless piece of shit. However, my partners comforting me is a temporary salve, to truly heal I am unlearning habits built over a lifetime and coming to find a healthy adult voice in myself who is less critical and more nurturing.

That said, learning to be better towards oneself and unpacking trauma isn’t the sort of thing where you do it once and everything is fixed. It’s a process and an ongoing project, potentially without a specific end but a slow unravelling, a gradual changing of old habits, rewiring of deep neural pathways so the result is a slow sort of transforming, over time, into not exactly someone else but definitely a self who is kinder so that you come to hold your memories and emotions in a different way, a way that is more compassionate and containing the wisdom that only comes with time and hindsight.

But then as time and life bring new experiences, there is also the discovery that old wounds have created new problems, problems you may not even realise are there, so thoroughly have they incorporated into your sense of self.

Dani and I have been partners for approximately two years now and for the past half year, Wes, Dani and I have lived in the same rental property that is only ten minutes down the road from Wes’s other partner. Learning to live with a new partner has not been without its challenges but overall, things have been profoundly harmonious. My connection with Dani is growing in importance, as has Wes’s with his partner so we no longer use the term “primary partners” as the relationships have grown in equal importance, all vital, each with its own unique and irreplaceable value. I couldn’t imagine my life without either of them, they are the loves of my life. I’m pretty damn happy and grateful for this abundance of love and so I cannot help but feel a connection to the concept of polyamorous family utopia. For all the challenges life has thrown our way – and there have been many – we are so lucky.

Though Dani and I have only been together for two short years, I already feel it to be a lifetime partnership with the sort of certainty that is rare for me. Of course we all grow and change but there is a depth to our connection that is not just due to our D/s dynamic, but the immensity of our ability to understand one another in the realms of art, emotions, values, dreamscapes… in fact, looking at this blog, I realize how infrequently I’ve written recently and I believe that’s because for awhile now, my storytelling has happened while lying in bed in Dani’s arms, the late night conversations where you rediscover the stories of your past through new eyes and so your self-perception starts to shift. I like who I am when I’m with Dani, I genuinely like who I am.

But he often has expressed to me, over time, how he sometimes felt there was someone else in our relationship and that someone else was my ex. I couldn’t quite understand what Dani meant and frankly felt a little defensive, yes I would bring up my experiences with my ex on a regular basis but this was because I’m a talker and I like to use words as a means of unpacking my emotions and behaviours so that I might gain greater clarity. In truth though, I was also seeking reassurance that Dani is different, that the way he sees me is different to how my ex saw me, that I could trust my experience and judgements. It’s been frustrating for me though, in so many ways I feel as if I am “over” my ex to the point where I’m sick of thinking about him and sick of talking about him, it has often been the case, now, where my only feelings I have towards him now are frustration and anger. Get the fuck out of my mind. But it’s not that. Not really.

Recently I had a breakthrough in understanding the reasons for why things were so traumatic with my ex. One of these reasons is the suddenness of his appalling treatment of me. Yes, in hindsight there were red flags and moments of bad behavior on his part, yet those two weeks in New York were a shock and a profound trauma because in fact his behavior did change dramatically when we were overseas together. Perhaps the intensity of being elsewhere overwhelmed him, he was, as he told me several times, regretting bringing me overseas with him as travel was “his thing” and I wasn’t doing his thing the way he wanted me to. In any case, the loving partner I’d believed him to be was replaced with this critical, angry, moody man who I was unable to please and was actually afraid of. The whole holiday had such a feeling of nightmarish altered reality that it wasn’t until last night, several years later, that I was able to really grasp how that whole fucking holiday was traumatic for me. Not a few isolated incidents, but the entire experience of being so profoundly emotionally violated, destabilised and routinely criticised while away from my support networks. Even the good bits were not as vibrant as I painted them to be – I was simply overemphasizing them as they were buoys that I clung to so as not to drown.

After returning home, my trust in love and my own judgement was so thoroughly shaken that I even found myself having complete breakdowns when Wes so much as changed his tone of voice a little. Wes and I had been together for over a decade and the man only has a track record of being a wonderfully supportive, kind and giving person, yet I had become afraid that his love for me contained resentment just below the surface, resentment which could bubble up and explode at any moment. Someone once described my ex’s treatment of me as “emotional rape” and something about that resonated with me so much that I even went so far as to email my ex while I was intoxicated and tell him this is what he’d done. (Yes, I know, don’t ever email your ex when you’re drunk. I know. I have few regrets in life but that’s one of them.) In any case, whatever you’d call the experience, it was profoundly traumatic and as anyone who has been through trauma tends to do, I had developed a flinch.

What I hadn’t realised was that I had also constructed defensive barriers deep within myself. Some of these blocks were obvious – for the first six months after ending things with my ex, I couldn’t orgasm without breaking down crying. But some defense mechanisms have gone so deep that I haven’t even known they are there until they’ve crumbled and fallen away. Like a week ago when Dani and I entered a new phase of our D/s dynamic and I felt what I can only describe in physical terms as if my ribs opened like a gateway and there it all was; was my heart, my guts, the internal stuff of me exposed, vulnerable and painful. It wasn’t a bad thing, in fact it was beautiful and I realized then what Dani has meant when he spoke of my ex being the third person in our relationship because for all that I’ve been deeply in love with Dani and shown so much of myself to him, there was a protective layer in front of my heart that I couldn’t even see.

A regular feeling I’ve had towards my ex has been frustrated, impotent rage. A desire to scream at him and somehow make him pay for what happened because I felt so strongly as if I lost something during that time and perhaps I’d never get it back. In fact, I’d lost it so completely that I didn’t even know what it was. It made me feel insane and I’ve had this despairing fury howling in my heart and a compassion towards every person who ever felt that someone else’s violence stole something from them. I would look at photos of myself before New York and I would swear I looked so much younger. I had, in my heart, a sort of hardness that I didn’t want there, a callous had formed and it was blocking… something. I felt old.

The other night with Dani, I felt a softening and an opening and he felt it too. If I had to put one word to that feeling, I might call it “trust”. Trust like a child loves their parents, trust like I loved everyone until I discovered that love can be weaponized and used against you. It wasn’t just trust in Dani, though, it was trust in myself, in my heart, in my judgement about choosing who to give myself to.

Adjusting to this feeling of radical softness is going to take time and I’m currently feeling pretty vulnerable. That said, I also know that over these past few years, I have learned to be much better to myself, much more capable of setting and asserting boundaries, much more compassionate towards myself and subsequently far more resilient. Perhaps it is these boundaries that have allowed me to re-access my softness, perhaps love like this should take time and of course that’s true but it isn’t just that. It’s…

The best comparison I can draw is when we’ve adopted cats who have had anxiety around people that has caused them to react in fear to sudden movements, sounds, strangers and such. Over the years of living with us, our cats have learned that they are safe, they have consistency, security and cuddles on a daily basis and so they have become calmer, more loving and more bonded to us. We’re all the same us animals, once bitten twice shy. Trauma puts your nervous system into high alert and truly believing you are safe, enough so that your nervous system can relax and your body can soften and open… this takes time and gentle, compassionate, consistent love.

I feel such a tender sadness towards myself who’s been on high alert for so long and an ever deepening alarm at the global and hidden pandemic that is abuse and domestic violence. I think about the profound trauma being done to so many people on a daily basis, I think about the relative size of my own trauma and how long it’s taken to heal from that and my heart sinks. I can’t stop thinking about this article about why calls to domestic violence hotlines are plummeting during coronavirus and I’m so terrified for all the women and children who are trapped, isolated and with nowhere to go. I think about how we are tribal animals and about how safety comes in strong community ties and the danger lies in isolation. Lately I’m thinking a lot about that.

My experience has taught me not to confuse healing with being “fixed”, I don’t ever expect to be exactly the same but I’ve been incorporating my experiences into my identity in ways that are feeling increasingly harmonious and right now I’d just feeling so lucky to be in a place of relative safety, where I can nurture my softness and open, ever deeper, to love.

The Last Thing of Me

My heart cannot cope with the concept of impermanence and so when the blossoms of spring melt off their branches, it hurts. Endings are natural but so is pain.

We’re still in springtime, you and I. Or at least I hope we are, I hope that winter’s so far away that it will remain abstract and conceptual for a long while yet. We’re building memories that I am hoarding, photos, words, trinkets, songs stockpiled and containing the dream that someday we will be old together, faded people sitting with our chosen family on faded furniture, poring through digital scrapbooks containing imagery of so many years that we cannot possibly recall it all.

My heart grapples with the concept of uncertainty and so when I wonder if the climate crisis will leave us with a future, or if perhaps something less apocalyptic but more personal such as accident, sickness or suicide might take you from me… I want to follow you around with vitamins, a high-vis vest and my constant, protective vigilance to keep you out of peril.

My heart struggles with concepts of abandonment and so I am often preoccupied with the feeling that your self-hate is my most dangerous competition and that if I don’t keep you happy enough, feeling loved enough, you might forget your importance to me and leave me alone with a love that has nowhere to place itself.

When I lie in your arms, I breathe you in like a thirsty woman drinks and sink my teeth into your flesh like maybe if I consume pieces of you, you’ll never be away from me. I want your nails digging into me, I want the marks of your violence like graffiti on my skin, I want your cock inside me constantly and your cum stored in my holes so that I can carry as much of you as possible for as long as possible.

My mind travels to you constantly, wherever you are. I wait at night for you to come home. You make me wish there was such thing as forever but I am forced to settle on being joyous and present in every microscopic moment that I have with you. I want to share everything that we can while we can.

I’ve fallen for you so deeply now that I feel with immense certainty that I will love you until my heart stops and my blood goes still and perhaps as I float out of existence, the last thing of me will be my love for you.

CPTSD

I’ve only recently begun to truly accept and comprehend the traumas of my childhood and through this comes a new understanding of the mood swings that I’ve always experienced through my life which perhaps could be better explained as implicit or emotional flashbacks. I am in the midst of one currently and I feel… a bit shite.

Too personal to write about here (yes, even too personal for me) my childhood experiences, which I thought I had left well in the past, are with me today in many forms that have caused me a great deal of undue pain and toxic shame. They are deeply related to my problems with suicidal ideation and mental anguish.

To work past them, I have to feel my way through them. It’s hard work. I’m doing ok. My partners, Wes and Dani, have been deeply supportive and kind through this process. I’m loved and I’m ok.

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So far this book is incredibly helpful and insightful. I’ve been having a lot of “Aha!” moments, though I have to read little bits at a time or I become overwhelmed.