The moment passed long ago, but despair, defeatism, cynicism, and the amnesia and assumptions from which they often arise have not dispersed, even as the most wildly, unimaginably magnificent things came to pass. There is a lot of evidence for the defense… Progressive, populist, and grassroots constituencies have had many victories. Popular power has continued to be a profound force for change. And the changes we’ve undergone, both wonderful and terrible, are astonishing.
This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen. It’s also a nightmarish time. Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both.
~ From this fantastic article.
I just read this article: ‘If the land is sick, you are sick’: An Aboriginal approach to mental health in times of drought.
It made me think…
We were camping in outback NSW recently and the signs of drought were everywhere. The last time I’d been there, the land was abundant with strange and fascinating wildlife, lizards, butterflies, birds and plants I’d never seen before. Now it was just dust and underneath the worryingly dried out trees, I found the picked over corpses of baby kangaroos and baby emus.
I felt the reality of the climate crisis, I saw that we are truly losing these incredible treasures to the devastating affects of global warming. I thought about how Aboriginal Australians have been on this land for over 50,000 years, I thought of the book “Dark Emu” which demonstrates overwhelming evidence of how they had sophisticated agricultural practices that once made this land a fertile and abundant place and how in such a devastatingly short place of time, colonialism and Western agriculture devastated the land.
Not only were their people raped and murdered, not only was their culture silenced but the carefully tilled soil on their land was stomped down into compacted clay by the hooves of imported livestock, the grasses they made bread with were devoured… in a horrifically short space of time, colonialism and cultural imperialism transformed their verdant, fertile lands into something that was so much less.
And it keeps happening. They keep losing their lands because of our ancestors and because of us. Because of our mismanagement of the land our ancestors stole.
There has been a national crisis of Aboriginal suicides, over this summer, eight Aboriginal children took their own lives. Eight. Eight children killed themselves. Doesn’t this just make your heart break? Doesn’t this make your want to break down in full body sobbing? What drives children to such hopeless despair that they take an action that ends their own lives?
As I walked around the outback, there was dust, bones and silence. Too much silence. The climate crisis is not only taking it’s toll on the beautiful natural world around us but also the people least responsible for it happening. Taking action, demanding better from our politicians, our business leaders and ourselves… it’s our responsibility not just for the sake our our natural world and ourselves, but something we must admit that is a dark debt we owe as part of our colonial inheritance.
I love this country. I’ve lived here my entire adult life and I feel it in my bloodstream as much as my home of Aotearoa New Zealand, I also acutely feel my privilege and the understanding that for Indigenous and underprivileged people around the world, the affects of climate change are already here and they are utterly devastating.
Who likes affordable art? YOU LIKE AFFORDABLE ART! I’ve just put a bunch of little drawings up for sale on my store:
Get ’em while they’re there! Prices are shit-hot, I only use quality artist’s materials and shipping is free in Australia and reasonable elsewhere! If this sale of little drawings is successful, I’ll absolutely do more of this in future! It’s actually SUPER difficult to promote my work as many platforms are becoming increasingly intolerant of work with any sort of sexual content and I’m really hoping to find a way to find a way to make a modest living off my art so if anyone felt inclined to spread the word, it’d be immensely appreciated! Oh and prices are $USD.
A sexually progressive one, I’m the sexually obsessive one. Insatiable, I once wanked for six hours straight and only stopped because I passed out no kidding passed out light flickered and flashed and I was out cold with my magic wand still humming. I’ve murdered a lot of Hitachis in my lifetime, buzzing until they burn. But cumming is fleeting and orgasm only provides a dim sort of satisfaction… better are beatings. Fists pounding my flesh have a satisfying heft and slow torturous torment makes me temporarily forget this eternal gnawing need. Ugh this need oh fuck this need. Eternal. Gnawing. Need.
I think I’ve only begged for mercy maybe once or twice and was always disappointed when I received it. Like the begging is just part of the process as my mind shuts off and I become a frantic, terrified, furious, screaming, screeching animal leaking liquids and struggling stupidly.
I’m always the one wanting more the hurt me harder masochist martyr. My fantasy world’s relentless and my fixations are like ruminations, rat running on a wheel, junkie twitch twitching and waiting for their next hit. I’ve always been the one who wanted too much too often. The sick bitch who can’t be pleased. The exciting novelty that soon becomes too much work. I’m too much work.
“We don’t have to do that kinky stuff you like all the time right?” an old boyfriend once asked “Just from time to time?” and then he asked me to wear that bikini he liked, put headphones around my ears, a blindfold over my eyes and he wanked over top of me while my mind wandered elsewhere. That was his thing, one of his things. He never struggled to ask for his things … but mine were work, extra credit, the stuff of special occasions. Favours he was doing for me.
My need for a hand around my throat is not a special occasion. My need to have my Dom spit on my face and drag me along the ground is not a sprinkle of spice in the bedroom. Breathplay is not foreplay and these bruises are not an optional extra. Kink is not the cherry on the top of a sex sundae, kink IS sex. This is me.
I need this. It’s my lifeblood. I’m a Buddhist and I don’t believe in clinging, I don’t believe in attaching ourselves so much to identities or people or things that they become cages we confine ourselves to. I’m wary of self-imposed psychological traps. So maybe I don’t really believe I need this. But it feels as close to need as anything emotional can. So I need this. I need it because it’s sex to me. I need it because it’s love to me.
I’ve always been the one who needed it most. So I’ve always kept quiet about the depths of my desires and obsessions. Even when I had my first Dom, he didn’t want to beat me much, the sight of my bruised body displeased him, he liked his whore to be immaculate, a thing to display to other men. I think mostly he just wanted an arse to fuck with an appetiser of humiliation and degradation. I think mostly he was just a control freak.
But this one… he’s different. A match made in some sick sort of heaven. He likes to hurt me and he never seems to want to back down or slow down but for his wisdom about taking this one step at a time which I respect him so deeply for and which is why my trust for him in this strangely sacred space continues to grow.
And so I slowly reveal to him how deeply these needs are embedded into my self. I show a little more every time, forever afraid that I’ll ask too much and need too much and want too much so that I’ll overwhelm him with how much I am and how much this is.
I’ve never known a need as intense as mine and perhaps I never will because mine feels insatiable and endless. But then the way his eyes go when he looks at me, like a predator fixated on prey, the way his muscles go rigid and my ears start to ring and the world melts away and the hours are wobbly… he’s here with me. It’s not just me anymore. He’s here and he sees me and he wants me.
And maybe that’s the thing is that I’ve never been the prey before. I’ve never truly felt powerless in the face of someone else’s desire, but for times with others when things went wrong and consent was blurry. Or I have sometimes played at powerlessness because the idea of it turned me on so deeply. But sometimes with him, my thoughts fall away, the ground falls away and I’m… I’m not alone. And maybe I’m prey. And maybe I’m not too much. Maybe he really does want this as much as I do. Maybe he wants me. Not something else. This. Not someone else. Me.
I fantasise about him stalking me and enslaving me and it’s all this fantasy of power and prey and and property that’s about safety and being wanted and of this lasting a really long time. Because I can’t imagine I’ll ever get enough and I hope he feels the same. I’m obsessed an addict a needy creepy weirdo and I hope I’m never too much for him.
Positive social change results mostly from connecting more deeply to the people around you than rising above them, from coordinated rather than solo action. Among the virtues that matter are those traditionally considered feminine rather than masculine, more nerd than jock: listening, respect, patience, negotiation, strategic planning, storytelling. But we like our lone and exceptional heroes, and the drama of violence and virtue of muscle, or at least that’s what we get, over and over, and in the course of getting them we don’t get much of a picture of how change happens and what our role in it might be, or how ordinary people matter. “Unhappy the land that needs heroes” is a line of Bertold Brecht’s I’ve gone to dozens of times, but now I’m more inclined to think, pity the land that thinks it needs a hero, or doesn’t know it has lots and what they look like.
Rebecca Solnit is a powerful writer on the environment, feminist, art and politics among other things. Go read this piece she has written, it is so beautiful and important that it brought me to tears.
There once was a time when we thought that nature’s gifts were endless, boundless, for us. The taking and taming of land was our birthright and animals were just things for us to use, consume, abuse. Much of those attitudes remain with us today.
When I say “we” and “us” I refer to the white colonialist history of which I am connected to by blood and by privilege. Lately I’ve been challenging myself to engage in concepts of white supremacy and to understand the intersections between this and the current climate crisis. Though it would be offensive and patronising to idealise indigenous cultures, there certainly is evidence of other people historically having a much more harmonious, sustainable and integrated connection to the land on which they lived off.
In a book I am currently reading, “Dark Emu, Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture” Bruce Pascoe makes a very compelling and well substantiated argument for the fact that indigenous Australians had elaborate and highly successful agricultural practices in precolonial times which used the land much more successfully and effectively than the imported European practices. In fact, when Australia was colonised, the cattle which was brought over quickly wrought havoc on the land and in a very short amount of time, turned fertile soil into the arid, hash stuff that we tend to more associate with much of outback Australia.
Clearly our current agricultural practices are not sustainable, it is well documented and reported that huge changes to farming and to our diets are vital if we are to effectively combat the climate crisis. Books like Dark Emu point to the fact that agriculture doesn’t necessarily have to devastate an environment and in fact should be better customised to fit varying environments. How different the Australia diet would be if we ate murnong, witchetty grubs and kangaroo as primary food sources. How different our suburbia would look if instead of willow trees and roses, we had stuck to the native flora that provide habitat and food for local fauna.
In the book “Active Hope – How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy” the authors speak of “The Great Turning”;
“In the Agricultural Revolution of ten thousand years ago, the domestication of plants and animals led to a radical shift in the way people lived. In the Industrial Revolution that began just a few hundred years ago, a similar dramatic transition took place. These weren’t just changes in the small details of people’s lives. The whole basis of society was transformed, including people’s relationship with one another and with Earth.
Right now a shift of comparable scope and magnitude is occurring. It’s been called the Ecological Revolution, the Sustainability Revolution, even the Necessary Revolution. We call it the Great Turning and see it as the essential adventure of our time. It involves the transition from a doomed economy of industrial growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the recovery of our world. This transition is already well under way.”
I find this concept to be heartening, empowering and hopeful. I believe that it is vital to our survival on the planet and evolution as a species that we are currently questioning dominant structures of patriarchy, capitalism, consumerism, cultural imperialism, white supremacy and so forth. I believe that a shift towards compassion, intersectionality, interconnectedness, environmentalism and an emphasis on listening to previously silenced voices is crucial for us to engage with our planet and each other in ways that are kinder, wiser, better. All these things are vital components towards a much-needed paradigm shift. A Great Turning.
I am relatively new to grappling with these concepts and so am conscious that I may come across as naive, yet something already seems clear to me; As we combat the climate crisis, we must not only acknowledge that the people most affected by it will be those most vulnerable and impoverished but the reasons for the crisis are also deeply entwined with the profoundly unhealthy, inhumane and unsustainable value systems within dominating cultures. To imagine a better world, we must listen to previously silenced voices and rediscover ways in which people previously lived for thousands of years in a significantly more harmonious relationship with the natural world which they inhabited.
Fuck our healing crystals
blood diamonds with dark histories
of human labour exploitation
and environmental degradation
Fuck our feminist slogans
on t-shirts sewn by aching fingers
of women trapped in slave positions
Fuck our body positive platitudes
while bodies of hundreds are held on islands
waiting to be processed and kept like cattle
while their will to live completely crumbles
Fuck treating ourselves at cafes
on feasts of flesh of tortured chickens
their lives worse than any horror story
hideous suffering ending brutal and gory
Fuck our privilege
Fuck our silence
Fuck our complacency
Fuck our complicity
Fuck our selfishness
Fuck our excuses
Fuck our low expectations of ourselves
Fuck our whole goddamn system
Let’s burn it to the fucking ground
Let’s start again and be better this time
Do I sound like I’m joking?
Let’s burn it to the fucking ground
Let’s start again
I’m really not joking.
We’re better than this.
We must be better than this.
Some memories spoil other memories. My last memories of you have tarnished all the ones that came before. Even after all this time, the recollections that should be fond are quickly followed by that sick feeling I had when I was so utterly alone, broken and vulnerable with you lying right beside me.
I don’t think of you as much as I used to but when I do, it is not a pleasure. The problem with completely breaking the deepest sort of trust is that it destroys one’s faith in all the kind things that were said and done prior, so that they seem to be tricks, lies, a thin and false veneer over something profoundly ugly. The problem with trust is that it takes a long time to build but only a moment to destroy.
I always thought I’d remember you as one of the great loves of my life, instead my strongest memory is the pure disgust in your eyes as you looked at me like a roach that you wanted to crush underfoot.
Emotional violence thrives in silence and so I feel compelled to tell my own little story, though it feels so small and so insignificant compared to what many endure. A microcosmic moment of emotional abuse that gives me an empathetic point of connection when I hear the far more harrowing tales of others.
I’m afraid to write this. Afraid of responses from other people that suggest I overreacted, that I’m oversensitive. Afraid of being told, by others, that I am playing victim. Basically, I am afraid of other people saying the same things that he did. I am afraid of feeling confused and stupid and small again. And I’m afraid he’ll read this. Because this isn’t for him.
In the early days, I did want him to read my words. I wanted to tell this story out of anger, to get revenge, and at that point, I did not trust the motivations behind my writing this. Nowadays, I am tired of this part of my history and very much ready to move on from it so the idea of writing about this makes me feel weary. However, as time passes and I learn the intimate details of the emotionally abusive relationships so many people experience, I am realising how much shame and self-blame we collectively hold on to for the ways in which we have been treated. It’s painful, isolating, incredibly damaging stuff and so I suppose I hope that by telling my own tiny tale of being in an emotionally abusive relationship, it might help other people recognise violence occurring within their own dynamics.
I am afraid of my small story taking away from people’s far more horrible experiences. I do not want to pretend mine was nearly as traumatic as what some have been through, I only wish to add to the stories about what is unacceptable in a relationship because I think our idea of abuse needs more nuance so that perhaps people will be able to see red flags earlier, not only realising it is abuse when things are horrifically bad or that abuse only occurs in traditional relationship structures. I also fear that people will use my alternative sexuality, relationships, lifestyle and flaws to read into this as somehow being my fault but… fuck that noise.
I will do my best to make this coherent but not overly edit it lest this entire exercise becomes too exhausting. Here goes something.
I should perhaps start by mentioning that I am polyamorous. In early 2017, where this story mostly takes place, I had a husband with whom I had been for almost ten years and a girlfriend of just under a year. I am also a sexually submissive masochist and had a Dom, who this story mostly revolves around.
We had been in a D/s relationship for the year of 2013, when I was 27 and he was 36 (I think.) I was the submissive, he was the dominant. It was my first D/s relationship and it was passionate, intimate, intense during the short times we were together and profoundly lonely when we were apart. During that time I had fallen madly in love with him but the feelings were not returned, I was not his first submissive and so, perhaps, I was something less special to him. One night towards the end of 2013, overwhelmed by my feelings, I asked him if he thought he could ever love me to which his reply was “no” and indicated his general feelings of being closed to romantic prospects. I fell asleep crying and the next morning, I woke up utterly miserable so I wrote a note “so long and thanks for all the fish” and then I cried all the way home. Unrequited love is a profoundly painful experience and so, while I had the strength to do so, I broke up with him over email, knowing that I couldn’t do it face to face because I really, deeply did not want to. I told him to get in touch if he ever felt that he could see to loving me.
His reply broke my heart; “Well, this is sad news indeed. So long beautiful girl, you were the best thing about 2013.” I knew for certain then that he did not love me because the hardest decision I’d ever made in my life was merely sad for him. It wasn’t his fault, he couldn’t help how he felt, but the feeling was acutely painful.
I spent the next couple of years pining after him, not a day went by where he wasn’t on my mind. I had other loves and other adventures but my heart was still stuck on him so that when he emailed me at the end of 2015, I had two years of hope stockpiled under my ribcage. And we started talking, and we started bonding, and this time it was different. I knew how much of a cliché this was, but I swore he had changed. In fact, it truly seemed as if he had, he’d put in a lot of work after all. He’d been getting therapy and doing work on himself and the closed off person I’d once known was communicating, was open, was looking at me when I spoke. I felt seen.
Over the next several months, we began to open to one another and quickly, my love began to deepen. One night, in a burst of intense emotion and vulnerable fear that I was once again foolishly putting myself through the horrific pain of unrequited love, I wrote him, demanding that he let me know how he was feeling, demanding that if he loved me, he should “man up” and tell me that he loved me. Not one of my finer moments but I had spent two years trying to forget him and now I was falling ever deeper. I needed to know.
He called me. He was furious. He was disgusted that I would tell him to “man up” and not control my emotions, he was angry that I wasn’t giving him time. He had been feeling closer to me, like things were going so well and now he was questioning whether he wanted to be in a relationship with someone who acted on the impulse of their emotions. Shaking, I apologised, I told him he was right, I listened to his angry words for a while and gradually, he calmed down. I felt stupid, I believed he was right. I needed to better control my behaviour in response to my emotions – that’s exactly what I was told all the time when I was a child.
In retrospect, I see his angry response that was devoid of any compassion for my feelings (of which he was well aware) as a red flag but at the time, I only felt remorse for my own behaviour. At the time, I was only grateful that I had not ruined things.
About a month later, while we were both inebriated and hanging out with a friend of his, he finally told me he loved me. I could see that he meant it and I felt a sort of joy that is difficult to describe. At last! He loved me!
I feel tremendously revealed writing out these details of this relationship, how pathetic I felt in my obsession with him, how deeply gratifying it felt to be finally loved by him, like a dream come true. I feel how foolish I might seem from the outside. But this doesn’t consider the genuine connection we had, this devalues the way we would laugh so much together, the way we lay in bed reading books to one another, the youtube vortexes we went down, the adventures we went on, the special places we took one another, the camping trips, the visits to his grandmother where we had singalongs, the wild, passionate, filthy sex and the profound intimacy of BDSM. To judge how much I loved him fails to consider the way we cried in one another’s arms, the secrets we told one another and the way he would, towards the end of our relationship, whisper “babe, you’ve changed my life.”
I wore a collar he had purchased for me and became his property, a deeply meaningful act of love and trust within a D/s relationship.
“Babe,” he would whisper “I need you.”
“You’re the love of my life.”
My mental health was not in a good place back then, many years of battling with my chronic pain and disability in my arms had me feeling overwhelmed, helpless and deeply depressed. Suicidal ideation was my constant companion and yes, I felt the bitterness of envy towards the freedom experienced by others. So when, over dinner one night at the end of 2016, he told me that later that year, he was flying to visit China and then New York, I burst into tears.
Embarrassed about my emotional outburst (I often felt self-conscious about being “too emotional” around him as this something he had often accused me of being, while conversely stating that my depth of feeling was what he loved about me) I attempted to explain myself. When I was younger and my disability was not yet an issue, I set myself the admittedly arbitrary goal of having an exhibition in New York by the time I was 30. Instead, I was already past that age and at that time my arm pain was becoming so bad that I was wondering if I might have to give up visual arts completely. So the fact that he was able to fly himself around the world, particularly to New York, just made me feel so heartbroken and bitterly jealous because of the current state of my own life. It was not my intention to make him feel bad, it was simply that the contrast between our lives felt stark. And yes, comparison is the thief of joy but like I said, at that time, my mental health was not in a good place.
A week or two later, I received a call from him. He said that he didn’t like spending money on other people but that that he wanted to get over this hang-up and he would like me to come with him to China and New York. My heart was racing; I had not expected this and something about the offer made me feel apprehensive. I suggested to him that we should both take some time to think about the offer, he insisted that he had already thought about it but I asked for some time to think it through, I very much wanted to say “yes” but needed some time.
In the end, I said “yes” to going to New York with him but not China, as I was launching a web series during that time and as it had been my only recent accomplishment and often a big reason for my wanting to live – some sort of purpose and meaning to hold on to. He was excited and so was I, though I was also preoccupied with the launch of our web series and still feeling a little apprehensive, in ways I couldn’t quite define about the upcoming trip and so perhaps I disappointed him by not matching his enthusiasm, excitement and planning. During this time, I dimly perceived some sort of coldness and distance from him, but told myself I was being paranoid and besides, I was preoccupied with the launch of the web series.
Then, suddenly, it was the end of April and I was waiting at an airport in China to join him on a connecting flight to New York. I had my Lonely Planet guide filled with bookmarks and underlined parts, a sturdy new suitcase, black walking shoes and just over $1000 that I had made from sex work which is legal in Australia. It wasn’t a lot but given my disability severely limiting my employment options and general capabilities, I felt tentatively excited that I had recently been brave enough to give sex work a try and had managed to make a bit of money to help out during our two week holiday. I had mentioned to him that I’d do some work so I would have some cash to help out, I felt good to be able to make that offer as I had not had my own income in some time. I was nervous but excited, we had never spent this much time together yet we’d already had so many incredible adventures and this was set to be our biggest one yet. I was deeply, passionately in love with this man and projected him deep into my future, imagined us watching one another grow old together. My other partners knew and got along with him, it all felt like a polyamorous utopia.
And then we arrived in New York.
I really don’t want to write about my time in New York, I don’t enjoy thinking about it and in fact all this time later, it’s still hard for me to look at footage of the city without getting an echo of the sick feeling I had in my stomach almost the entire time we were there. For my own sake, I’m going to break this into some of the standout memories. Some of them have little to do with him, more to do with my chronic pain and depression at the time.
It is day one and we are sitting in a diner in the fancy part of town where he has gotten us lodging. The cost of what I expected to be a cheap breakfast is shocking to me and I anxiously express my fears about money and suggest that we go to supermarkets and cook together. He expresses that he too is worried about the cost of things in the city as he was hoping to return from the holiday with some savings but that his favourite part of travelling is to eat out and he doesn’t want to miss that experience so he suggests that I just cook for myself and we can eat separately.
This suggestion upsets me. I feel sad at the idea of eating separately but don’t want him to think I am clingy. I feel hurt that he, who has much more money than I do, would not want to help me out but I also feel ungrateful because after all, he flew me here in the first place. I stare out the window, my eyes welling up with tears which has always happened to me at the slightest hint of emotion and I tell myself not to be silly and ruin this holiday over something as insignificant as whether or not we eat meals together. Aren’t I lucky that he has flown me here? Hasn’t our relationship always been one of intimacy and independence? I resolve to have a good time.
I am lying in our Airbnb in Alphabet City, crying big gulping sobs. We only recently arrived at the Airbnb and he has gone out cycling to explore the area but I have had a bad pain flare and the combination of the burning of neuropathic pain with the intense hyper-stimulation of the city has me desperate to rest. I am feeling a deep sorrow that though I am on holiday, I have not been able to leave my pain back in Australia. I feel afraid that I am letting him down by not also exploring the city. I feel lonely and preoccupied with my health concerns, I want someone to hold me and tell me this pain isn’t my fault but I’ve never felt especially comfortable talking about it with him. I didn’t want him to see me crying too much, in any case, as I often felt he was frustrated with how frequently I tended to cry.
It is night time and we are walking along the water. We have just had a wonderful day being shown various sights by a dear and generous old friend of mine and now it is just him and I. He has requested that we do not talk for a while and I think it is wonderful that he can communicate that, though often he walks ahead of me so quickly that when I stop to take photos of the water, I realise he has walked off ahead of me and now I am alone in the night-time city. I have a feeling as if he doesn’t like me but tell myself not to be silly, I have a feeling of anxiety for being left by the dark water by myself but tell myself not to be a big baby. I run to catch up with him further down the path and he takes us to a bar.
At the bar we order two beers which he suggests I pay for, as he had shouted myself and my friend drinks earlier in the day. Earlier that day, I had also bought my friend lunch (as she was dear to me and had taken me out to a marvellous dinner the night previous) but now was feeling anxious about all the money I’d spent so when he suggested I pay, my financial anxieties came to the surface and, once again, tears welled up in my eyes. I paid for the drinks and we went to sit down.
I cannot recall what he said to me at this point but I do recall his anger as he spoke in a low voice about his frustration with me for worrying about money, yet spending all the money earlier on my friend and the various ways in which I’d been unlikeable and needy on this holiday until I snapped back “you’re the one who invited me on this holiday you asshole.”
I stormed out of the bar and down several streets. Shortly I calmed down and decided it would just be wise to head back to our Airbnb and give us both some space. So that he would not worry, I sent him an SMS saying that I was going to head back to our accommodation. “I have the keys” was his reply. “Ok,” I wrote “I’ll come back.” As I walked back to the bar, I thought to myself about how what had just happened wasn’t a big deal and that now I was calm, we could talk through our feelings and sort things out. Travelling was just emotionally fraught, all we needed to do was communicate and it’d be ok. He was sitting where I had left him and had drunk both our beers. He was silent and looked sullen as I sat down beside him and sheepishly said “hi…”
He looked at me with an expression I hadn’t seen before, his eyes were burning with disgust and loathing. “You are just an absolute piece of shit to me right now.” He said. What followed was the most brutal character assassination I have ever received. For what felt like two hours, though could have been ten minutes, he listed everything about me that pissed him off. I was ungrateful for the holiday, I had not come to China with him when I was lucky to have the opportunity, I was ungrateful for all the things he did for me because I was used to having people do things for me. I was hopelessly dependent which he blamed on the fact that I had been chronically ill in my childhood and was disabled in my adulthood, he believed that this had taught me a learned helplessness and that other people were perfectly capable of making a living despite their disability. He told me that travelling with me was frustrating and horrible, that he’d been thinking on taking me to another trip he had planned to Syria but now he was thanking God he knew not to do that. He told me that I was really hot and could make a killing as a sex worker but that I just hadn’t pursued it like I said I would and when I expressed that the work was hard on my pain and if I did it, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do any art whatsoever, he told me that this was just the real world and I had to grow up and deal with it. He said that if he had one ethical stance, it was self-sufficiency and I was pathetically dependent, childish and whinging. He said he’d never wanted a wife.
Honestly, his words are a blur but what I remember is the look on his face. It was a look as if I was a fly he wanted to swat. I remember the way his nose crinkled in disgust, as if I was a terrible smell. I remember the low, quiet growl of his voice and the way my body trembled. I remember experiencing a sick feeling of gratitude, at last someone who knew me had the guts to speak the truth. I was, indeed, a piece of shit. I remember the feeling of deep, humiliating, abject shame unlike anything I’ve felt before. I remember pleading with him to please stop talking to me this way because it felt in this moment that he no longer loved me. I remember imploring him that we could figure things out but I just needed to know if he loved me.
I guess it calmed down at some point. I don’t know. I remember him hugging me outside of the bar and whispering “I’m sorry babe”. I remember that when we got back to our Airbnb, I admitted, ashamed, that I was feeling terrible about myself and asked him to tell me why he loved me. I remember he held me and told me things such as how he loved my friends and how weird and hot I was but somehow the compliments had no sticking power.
I remember that night he held me down and fucked me while whispering the cruel, nasty, humiliating things that had always been a part of our D/s dynamic and which had always turned me on intensely. Except now it felt different and so I lay there, crying, until he came inside me. My crying was not an unusual part of our sex life, in fact it was something that we both sought out as it turned us on, but this felt different. I no longer felt emotionally safe. “I probably shouldn’t have done that tonight” he said as he held me. “I’m ok” I whispered back, through tears.
The next day I needed to be alone and for a while I wandered aimlessly. At some point I found myself at a train station. At some point I found myself standing too close to the tracks. I could hear a train coming and I could feel the vertigo, I could feel the pull, I thought of the relief that would come from halting my own existence and I felt my body tense in preparation to jump.
An image flashed in my head of my husband, Wes, having to have my gory, mangled corpse shipped back to Australia. I did not jump but the fact that I was only a split second’s decision away from doing so still sickens me with horror.
Instead I visited an incredible contemporary art exhibition. I was fascinating and thrilling and gave me enough energy to message my Dom and ask to talk about what had happened the night before. He agreed that we should but he told me tonight he first wanted to meet with a friend of his and he wanted me to meet her too, he wanted us to party together. I shouldn’t have agreed to that but I was honestly still afraid of letting him down as he’d already made it apparent that he felt I was ruining our holiday and so I did on the condition that we talked afterwards.
That night I joined him in a bar with his friend. An incredible pianist from New Orleans was playing and he was back to his old self, laughing and joking with his old friend. He put his arm around me lovingly and I was confused by the emotions I felt – relief that he still loved me and confusion when he had been so revolted by me just the night before. Now he seemed so proud of me, so in love. That night we got increasingly inebriated at his friend’s house and as I became more intoxicated, I found my mind wandering with a desperate feeling of rage and confusion. Why was this scene so normal? So light-hearted? Had I imagined how much he loathed me the night before? Was I overreacting? I felt so bewildered, it was a long night for me.
At last we got back to our Airbnb in the very early hours of the morning and I requested that we talk. As we spoke, he began to explain why he had been so angry at me which felt to me like justifications. Rapidly, he became frustrated and snapped at me for bringing this up so late at night. I went to sleep crying silently.
The rest of the holiday is a whirlwind of the sort of amazing adventures we always had but also many uncomfortable memories of him getting frustrated with and snapping at me for minor things. There are many microscopic stories I could tell but I’m weary about rehashing them all. I feel this anxiety that I should tell more of my story, every single detail to “prove” how horrible the holiday felt and “prove” that he was emotionally abusive but I don’t know that this would achieve anything more.
Something I recall is that over time we did “talk” about what happened but somehow the conversation ended up being about his frustration with me because he felt he was always spending a lot of money on me and I was ungrateful. I suggested I’d start cooking more things for him at home and he seemed satisfied with this. I felt awful but supposed he was right, just because I was disabled and unemployed, didn’t mean he should have to pay for everything. I told myself his criticisms of me were good opportunities for me to grow, that he only wanted me to be the best version of myself. He wanted me to grow up and so did I.
There was also a night when I became very drunk and after he snapped at me in front of a friend we had made, I stormed home with him walking a block behind me, occasionally calling out to me “I know you can hear me”. When we got home he said “I know you’re angry and want to talk but honestly I’m sick of this shit and can’t be fucked” at which point I flew into a rage at him for the way he had been treating me that holiday. I cannot recall what I said, though I do recall it being along the lines of calling him an emotional coward and behaving nastily to me. I regret getting drunk and angry and perhaps behaving in exactly the same way he had. Abuse is a contagious disease.
I do not think fondly of New York, though at the time I told myself I was in love with it and explored it ravenously. I have too many memories of wandering around all day, unable to bring myself to eat because I had a sick feeling in my stomach that wouldn’t go away and a whole lot of money fears. I have too many memories of crying on trains by myself. I have too many memories of overly assertive men hitting on me, of my not being accustomed to dealing with such men and of my Dom getting angry at me for being weak and not asserting myself so they would leave me alone. I have too many memories of being street harassed while I was feeling broken, vulnerable and suicidal. I’ve never been exposed to such relentless street harassment and I found it incredibly confronting.
In short, I was traumatised and that informs every memory of New York. Even all the good ones. This feeling of misery compounded my feeling that he was right – I was ungrateful and unable to care for myself.
I returned home an absolute mess and suffering from several breakdowns. My loved ones had me on suicide watch and I came uncomfortably close to the edge several times more.
Over the next couple of months, I continued to try to talk with him about what had happened but this only lead to new insults. That I was needy, that I played victim, that I would always hold this against him just like I was always throwing other misdeeds of him in his face, such as the time back in 2013 when, drunk and on the verge of a breakdown, he choked me when it was a hard limit of mine. He spoke of how amazing our holiday had been but how I only fixated on the negative things which was also typical of me. What I wanted from him was a promise that no such thing would ever happen again, what I got was him telling me that I was bad at dealing with confrontations and anger. He would tell me he hadn’t meant the things he said but then double down on them with lines about how I was “needy” and he had made the mistake of thinking I was “more self-actualised” than I was.
In the meantime, my therapist was telling me I’d been through trauma and my friends were using words like “emotional abuse” and “gaslighting”. Those words seemed too dramatic for what was going on with us and when I suggested it to him, he said “do you honestly believe I’m capable of the illegal act of abuse?” I told him I didn’t think he was an abuser but that his behaviour was abuse. I don’t know what the fuck I meant by that, I so often found myself trapped in debates with him where I came out feeling stupid and confused.
Eventually I told him we needed a break. I didn’t want that break, I was still so deeply in love with him but I could see no other way. He was angry, he told me that this was typical behaviour of mine, to not accept his apologies, to give up on what we had, that he had offered to get couples counselling with me and I had not researched it, that he now believed he loved me more than I loved him because he’d never give up on me but I was giving up on him.
Heart aching with the idea that he would think I didn’t love him, I confessed to him that I had nearly jumped in front of a train in New York but had been too ashamed to tell him. His face softened in shock and horror and he came over to hug me “I’m sorry babe” he whispered.
I told him I had to go. My very last memory of his was of him pouring a glass of wine and scowling as I softly shut his apartment door behind me. I officially ended the relationship over email several weeks later and began the process of healing. I haven’t seen him since and I hope I never have to.
I feel as if I want to make this story ten times longer to flesh out the nuances of my experience because it is not my wish to portray him as a monster, though for a while I had to believe he was to push him out of my heart. But he wasn’t, he was a creature who had had some deep wounds in his childhood which made him angry and in pain. He and I had a lot of beautiful moments together and if you had seen the way he loved his grandmother, you would see why I loved him. But this doesn’t excuse or negate how deeply wounding and painful his behaviour towards me was. Somebody once described it to me as “emotional rape” and that description gave me goosebumps as I realised how deeply I had been wounded.
Yes, along the spectrum of abusive relationships, ours was lower down but it was nonetheless a violence that he did to me. He took the trauma of my childhood, my health problems and the secret vulnerabilities I had trusted him with and weaponised them in a moment of anger. During that moment, his anger created in him a desire to destroy me and it almost worked.
To this day, I remain grateful to me two other partners who supported me during this time, I feel lucky that being polyamorous seemed to protect me from some of the dangers of emotional abuse because for every nasty thing he said about me, my other two partners were adamant that he was wrong and that his behaviour was not ok. They did not see my vulnerabilities as weakness and they vehemently disagreed with his criticisms. Because I was in a dark headspace, I wondered if they were wrong and he was the only one who could see the real me, the piece of shit me. But of course, that was the depression, low self-esteem and trauma speaking.
I do believe that if I had stayed with him, things could have gotten increasingly worse. I also believe I would have stayed with him longer if I’d not had the support of my other two lovers who were boosting me up and furiously angry at him. Even then I might have stayed with him – I was still wildly in love with him after all – had a dear friend not flown me to Sydney, taken me whale watching and shown me what it was like to be loved and cared for without shame or anger. I felt better when I was away from him… That was a revelation.
At the time that I was leaving, he was angry that I did not seek out couples counselling for us but honestly I was afraid. Afraid because he had such a way with words that I could imagine him convincing a couple’s counsellor that I was the one who needed to fix their behaviour and deep in my gut, I knew it wasn’t me who needed to alter their behaviour. As this article on the ways society gaslights abuse survivors states:
“The primary reason we don’t recommend couples counseling is that abuse is not a “relationship problem.” Couples counseling may imply that both partners contribute to the abusive behavior, when the choice to be abusive lies solely with the abusive partner. Focusing on communication or other relationship issues distracts from the abusive behavior, and may actually reinforce it in some cases. Additionally, a therapist may not be aware that abuse is present and inadvertently encourage the abuse to continue or escalate.”
It was not my job to get couples counselling for us and the fact that he made it my responsibility speaks to his inability to accept accountability for his own actions. This was the crux of my dissatisfaction with every conversation we had about what happened in New York – I wanted him to realise it was horrible, emotionally violent, abusive behaviour. I wanted him to be horrified with his actions and seeking counselling for himself. I wanted to be told he’d do everything he could to make sure it never happened again. I wanted his “sorry” to feel genuine and I wanted him to be patient in regaining my trust.
Instead, all I got was his anger and resentment that I wasn’t “letting it go.” All I ever got was conversations about the ways in which he was just expressing reasonable frustration with me. All I ever got was being told I was oversensitive, whingy, needy and unable to deal with anger. He never faced the violence of his behaviour and so I was left to do so on my own.
Leaving him was painful and for a very long time, I pined for him. This may seem hard to understand from the outside, given how nasty he was, but I was deeply in love with him. His words wouldn’t have hurt nearly as deeply if I hadn’t been so profoundly in love.
Thankfully, I was not destroyed by the experience. In fact, that trauma was a catalyst for many changes in my self-perception as I confronted the internalised ableism, self-loathing and childhood hurts that had made his words so brutally effective. He knew me well so he knew how to hurt me. So I was not destroyed but I do have new trust issues and triggers which I am working on overcoming with my psychologist and my loved ones.
But it did destroy our relationship. Not only did it end the relationship, but it discoloured every memory I have of it prior to New York. There are a few memories that still glow with brilliant beauty, but they are surrounded by grief, rage and aching sadness. And to be honest, nowadays the love I once had for him is dull and faded because part of me cannot trust the good times were true or genuine. Part of me wonders what kind of person could be so cruel to someone who they called “the love of my life”.
That cognitive dissonance has, at times, been profoundly difficult to sit with. Sometimes it’s easier to simply believe he was a narcissistic asshole. Maybe he was. Holding memories of us staring lovingly into one another’s eyes and sharing our secrets along with the memories of him looking at me with loathing and disgust… like I said, that cognitive dissonance has been difficult to sit with.
Ultimately I am not interested in painting him as a monster but I do believe his behaviour was monstrous and I hope by shedding light on the darkness, perhaps it will give other people who might read this the validation to realise when they are being emotionally abused. It’s not always obvious, in fact chances are it’s murky, confusing and mixed up with a deep love and connection you have with someone. And perhaps neither of you realise just how abusive the relationship has become because you both believe their abuse is just them being “honest” and “genuine”. That is what I believed.
I believe the idea that only monsters are abusive is a deeply dangerous idea because it simply isn’t true. The people who abuse us are often the people who love us and who we love in return. They are real, complex, nuanced humans who have light and beauty within them.
But this doesn’t make their behaviour ok. In many moments he treated me brilliantly but that in no way excuses the deep psychological violence he enacted on me, using me as an emotional punching bag when I was vulnerable and alone in a city he had insisted on flying me to.
On the very last day I ever saw him, he angrily told me that this was just going to become another of my stories where I am a victim. He told me I’d never let this go and that I’d whinge to all my friends about how abusive he was. That was his final parting blow and it worked. In my weaker moments, I wonder if he was right and I was just overreacting. It worked because I’m afraid to post this writing online in case the people who read this think the same things he did.
But I was not overreacting. What happened in New York was a profound trauma that took a lot of time for me to heal from. I’m ok now, despite the occasional triggers and trust issues, I’m better than ok, but that will never make what happened ok.
Some things are never ok. And so I’m going to share this messy, complicated, small experience of mine because yes, this is one of my stories that I tell my friends but no, I’m not playing victim. I’m processing pain and shedding light on darkness.
He will never understand this and if he ever reads this, I imagine he’ll be angry and disgusted with me. But that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve realised his behaviour was inexcusable and his opinion of me was incorrect, unloving and cruel. That it has taken a long time for me to heal from his emotional violence is not due to my weakness… but his.
While the ice is melting
and our lands are burning
and our forests are dying
and our oceans are choking
the fight for hope
the fight for life
When we were young my love
our old age was assumed
now I look at your face my love
and my heart fills with fear
hold on to my hand my love
the only truth is change
hold on to this life my love
as long as we breathe… we try
As much as I possibly can, I am invested in avoiding the industries and cultures that cultivate dissatisfaction with one’s physicality and mortality.
When I was 16, I remember I had already absorbed the message that in this barely blossomed youth, I was at the peak of my desirability. I clearly remember feeling like it was all downhill from there and by 21, I was already becoming “less hot”. Holy fucking shit, what the actual fuck? This was before social media, this was before the easy availability of porn, Instagram and YouTube makeup tutorials. How must young women be feeling now? You could not pay me to be a teenage girl again, I feel an intense protectiveness towards the ones I encounter now and have to be careful not to let it affect my behaviour towards them in a fashion that might be patronising.
At 34 years old, I feel hotter and more connected to my body and sexuality that I ever did when I was younger, yet I know that I attract less attention from men than I did when I was a teenager. Though I am far more sexually active and confident than I was back then, I do not have the physical attributes of youth that increases the likelihood of street harassment, unsolicited messages and unwanted conversations with older men on public transport. I do not mourn the loss of those things, nor do I feel myself to be lacking in sexual opportunities (though as a kinky, submissive masochist with a penchant for violence, my pool of truly compatible lovers has always been on the narrow side) and in fact I am far more satisfied with my appearance than I was back when. Also, as a sidenote, as I age I receive significantly more attention from queer women, a fact which I am tremendously chuffed about!
But I am defensive of my confidence because I know how easily it is shaken. I only need to stumble across one of the many Instagram accounts of slender teenagers who have hundreds of thousands more followers than me simply for their pretty selfies and I am reminded of our culture’s obsession with youth and a specific sort of beauty. I only need to skim through a fashion magazine while I wait at the doctor’s office, or sit through the movie previews in a cinema where in 2019, women still have far fewer speaking roles let alone anything with substance… and I am reminded of what our broken culture values in women.
When I was younger, I was already painfully aware of how fleeting my cultural currency of desirability was and it left me feeling despondent and distrusting of the attentions and flattery that I received. During times when I later played into the world of youth obsessed appearances, this did some psychic damage. A couple of years back, I was the submissive to a Dom who ordered me to wear makeup and dress in more conventionally attractive ways and emotional masochist that I am, I accepted the challenge. However, this required my engagement in worlds I normally avoided, shops I had never entered before, tutorials on makeup to laboriously transform oneself into someone more youthful and I started to notice, more and more, what “hot” women looked like and how they cultivated this.
The results were an emotional mixed bag. On the one hand, it was actually thrilling to gain insight into the alchemical magic that is the ways in which clothing and lipstick can transform us into something seductive and more then human. Learning how to wield the war paint that is makeup was thrilling and as a queer femme I developed a long-lasting love for the powers of shimmering pigments and smoky framed eyes. Yet becoming familiar with what my Dom found attractive required an acute intimacy with mainstream male desire and it made me painfully aware of my aging with a sickening sense of myself as disposable. Within a culture that fetishizes female youth and beauty, we women have a very short self-life.
When my relationship with that Dom ended, I realised how relieved I was to no longer be required to expose myself to the brutality of an image-centric industry. Though I had discovered much about my sexuality and a certain sort of power in representing myself as hyper-feminine, the regular engagement with and concern for my appearance’s adherence to the heteronormative male gaze was ultimately a major cause of anxiety and compromised self-esteem. When one values and prioritises their art, their friendships, their sexual and romantic connections, their spiritual development and education… these are things that can only increase over time. But beauty, as defined by our narrow standards, is fleeting and the attempt to hold to it too tightly wreaks havoc on one’s mental health and sense of self.
There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look good, there is nothing wrong with teenagers putting on makeup, taking selfies and looking generally amazing on social media, a healthy dose of vanity and self-love is a lovely thing in my opinion. What makes me feel protective of these girls is when the only thing on their social media is those photos. If the attention they receive from the world is solely based on their looks and beauty, I cannot help but sense that this must fill them with a profound sense of anxiety and perhaps set them up for the aging process to only be traumatising. After all, if our value is heavily invested in our looks, what happens when time snatches our beauty away? And of course this only speaks of the experience of young women who are able to look conventionally attractive in the first place, many don’t and never will which further deepens my conviction that our obsession with female beauty is emotional violence against women. All women.
To age in comfort is a privilege and I am lucky to be able to keep myself within a bubble of community that values many things beyond physical appearance. I am lucky that the compliments I receive most regularly revolve around my honesty, my vulnerability, my open mindedness, my compassion and my art. This means that when lovers compliment me on my sexiness and beauty, I am able to receive some enjoyment from the compliments instead of only experiencing the fear of unavoidable loss as the years reveal themselves in the shifting landscapes of my face and body.