i want to talk a bit about love and what it means to me on this day for lovers.

love, to me, is inherent to the structure of this universe. hell, even the multiverse potentially, but this universe for sure. i say this because we are able to exist here. the laws of physics arranged themselves into a ruleset that allows the formation of complex life. to my mind that is evidence that our universe is at least capable of love, if not composed of it entirely. and if we are made of the same stuff as the stars, as the universe, are we not also meant to love and be loved by each other? are we not also meant to link ourselves together into constellations of care?

love is the dark matter that holds us together. evil is that which turns us away from love, away from each other. there is no epic battle between anthropomorphized god-creatures that we must choose sides in. there is only the choice to come together and love each other or embrace the systems that are keeping us apart.

when i look at the world as it is currently constructed, i feel a deep sense of mourning. we have been forced so far away from the truth of love. the truth that we are here because we are loved. these systems that we live under—capitalism, white supremacy, colonialism, ableism, imperialism, cisheteropatriarchy—are designed to institutionalize evil, to make us forget we are born loved. to make us hate each other and ourselves. they convince us that we must learn to love ourselves despite all odds, or that we must seek love from a partner or a friend, and that we are only worthy of that love if we’ve attained a certain level of social acceptability or popularity or enlightenment. but universal love is accessible to all of us, all the time. it is in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the plants and animals we consume for food. we are here because this universe loved us enough to shape itself into something we can inhabit.

in my own spiritual practice i call the universe god, and in a sense that is correct. the universe is so much more powerful than i am, so much more intricate and unknowable, that it might as well be a god. but what i am really invoking with my reference to deity is the idea that love is a force, that the universe itself is a force, and that if we can tap into its love energy we can make magic happen. when we organize together and dream together and work every day at loving each other we are making magic happen. we are counteracting the forces of evil that drive us into our silos of individualism and achievement.

it is from those same silos of individualism and achievement that we are encouraged to love ourselves. self-love is a capitalist substitute for universal love. it is impossible to feel loved consistently in a world built to separate our souls from our minds and bodies, but self-love tells you that you must somehow overcome all the structures set up to separate you from your ability to tap into divinity on your own. that if you only love yourself enough none of it will matter, and if you cannot love yourself you must spend the rest of your life learning how. but universal love tells you that this is all wrong. universal love reminds you that what prevents you from loving is not your flawed psyche, or a lack of will, but the systems of oppression that were constructed to keep you mired in hate.

universal love asks you to look at the earth, at your mere existence on it, and use this as evidence that you are loved.

this philosophy is not dependent on a belief in divinity or magic. if you aren’t about the woo, i understand. but you are reading this, and you are alive. outside of all the bullshit of the human world, life is a gift. it is a result of a specific set of circumstances that may or may not have occurred outside of our universe. i choose to see this confluence of randomness as evidence of love in action.

i believe love is the strongest force in the universe, stronger than gravity or nuclear attraction or even change. when we are tapped into a sense of universal love we are capable of so much. we are capable of dismantling capitalism and colonialism, halting climate change, transforming the world into a place where we can all feel loved and cared for. we can articulate our needs and support others in getting their own met, without shame and bitterness. we can see beyond our immediate crises and into a future where we aren’t making decisions based on the lesser of two evils.

my own magic is centered on harnessing universal love, on bringing people into a mental space where they can realize their divinity and go forward knowing they are loved. and most importantly, knowing they are capable of focusing that love into a transformative force for social change.

on this day of commercial romance and beyond, i encourage you to root yourself in such love. with every single breath.

like all journeys in life, the path to becoming is never linear. bumps in the road can make me shrink to protect against their impact. but here, near the end of the decade, i am leaning into the largeness of myself. i am remembering that vulnerability and authenticity are also protective.

#

this decade began for me with a small death. the marriage i was in ended after nearly ten years, and i had been laid off the year before. with long-term unemployment made feasible due to the governmental generosity extended after the housing crisis, i had time to think and fornicate and make little moves towards becoming myself more fully. i became a writer-writer, you know, the kind that gets paid. i spent summers on the beach sunning my fat body, celebrating my gloriousness, loving queer friends and femmes, going to conferences and parties. i could visualize my future from there: writing a book, touring the west coast, visiting friends in the east and touring there, dedicating the rest of my life to doing nothing but what i was born to do.

but instead–or rather, first–i had to dedicate my life to recovering my self.

i began withdrawing from all my psychiatric medications in the second year of the decade, a process that would take the next six years. during that time i dated a bunch, got another job, went back to college, met my current partner, saw my first article in print, lost another job, got pregnant and incredibly sick and had my first abortion, had the house we were staying in go into foreclosure, moved into a new apartment, grew my own food for a year, became more disabled, became more radical, and became more of my artist self. and somehow, i did all that while weathering the severe emotional and cognitive shifts that came with removing those substances from my neurochemistry.

in the last year of the decade, i graduated from ucla with a degree in sociology. i’ve been unemployed ever since. it has been trying, but it has also afforded me the reflection time necessary to finish the transformation that began in 2010.

#

the last two years of this decade were the first i’ve spent without psychiatric medication influencing my neurochemistry in 23 years. i feel whole, a strange sensation for someone whose self has been so defined by the places where it was broken. i might still be a little broken, but i am not lost.

part of coming into my wholeness has been recognizing the places where i have cut myself away to become more acceptable to someone else, and reclaiming those parts. my marriage ended because our way of being together hadn’t been truly satisfying for years, in part because i cut away too much of myself. its ending opened the door for me to understand why i had allowed that destruction of self to occur. the journey towards understanding it has taken me backward through childhood and adolescent trauma i thought had been resolved and forward into ceaselessly advocating for my whole ass, grown human being intimacy needs. i have told my partner some really scary, really vulnerable things about my gender and my sexuality and my trauma and how all those things are wrapped up, things that i feared might end our relationship. i have leaped forward in asking for changes in our relationship structure with nothing but my faith in his love–and in my ability to be okay alone if i need to be–to guide me.

i am surely being rewarded for the pain i endured at the hands of men, for the universe to send me this man as a gift, this human so kind and open in heart, so willing to shift and grow and change with me.

#

out of necessity, this decade i’ve cultivated an ongoing practice of radical self-love and ferociously transformative justice-making, and i have been reborn in the process. my tether to the divine has been strengthened. i am re-infused with purpose, reconnected to my sensuality. i am so excited for 2020, for my fortieth birthday and beyond, for writing books and touring and fucking and loving on all the magnificence in the universe. for building something durable and rich with my partner. for growing and learning and spending time with plants and animals and feral people. for magick. for letting go of every single thing that doesn’t serve the divine, everything that pushes us further away from loving each other and ourselves and the universe.

happy 2020 y’all! it’s gonna be amazing, you’ll see.

i am on a makeshift writer’s retreat at our out-of-town friends’ home in the mountains of glendale, california. last night, wind gusted against the house, kept me up half-wondering if someone was trying to break in. this afternoon, the rain stopped, and tonight, the wind has calmed down some, but it is still freezing. 50 degrees and breezy. blessedly, they have central heat, which i have cranked up past the point of financial/environmental sustainability because they love me and i know they would want me to be warm, and i love myself and i know that one night with one house doing the most as far as emitting co2 isn’t going to tip the planet past the point of no return. i mean, we’re probably there already.

not as much physical writing has been accomplished as i might have liked, but so much psychic writing has been accomplished. reflection and solitude are crucial for me to access the sacredness within myself that allows me to create. i love our home, but it is small, and it requires care, so it can sometimes be difficult to cultivate long periods of time in which i can just sit and reflect and journal and then write about what i have learned, or translate that lesson into art. particularly when i am depressed or vulnerable to become it, i need hours and hours of consecutive, simultaneous alone and quiet time before the emotions and experiences that trouble me can be documented and moved through. that’s pretty hard to come by, so i am eternally grateful to our friends for lending me their home, and i am eternally grateful to my partner for taking care of the chores at ours and handling the eventual clean-up here.

this ritual is an oldie but a goodie, dressed up with some oils or herbs. use whatever you have available to make it smell good, cultivate the appropriate energies, and/or attract beneficent entities. the plant helpers you select should promote psychic healing, connecting to spirit/divine, clearing unhelpful energy, and accessing your intuition.

you will need:

paper (preferably brown but i used white printer paper cause they ain’t got brown)
pen/pencil
essential oils or herbs (they have the fancy doterra essential oils here so i used those cause luxury lent with love has got to attract abundance)
the oils i used were star anise oil, lavender oil, cinnamon bark oil, rosemary oil, and sandalwood oil.

for 2020, let go of twenty attitudes, beliefs, practices, and/or values that no longer serve you, or that never did.

write each item down on a slip of paper. fold them up and throw them into a bowl. drip essential oils on them until you concoct a fragrance to your liking. (mine was heavy on the cinnamon, lavender, and anise.) use a spoon and stir it up so the oil gets on all the paper. if you’re working with whole or ground herbs, shake the bowl a bit.

take the bowl outside and dump the contents onto a pyre or other firesafe surface/receptacle. light that motherfucker up.

as it burns, imagine yourself lighter. imagine each of those beliefs, values, practices, behaviors, etc. vanishing into the welcoming and forgiving vacuum of space, once again becoming part of the universe. a part of the universe far, far away from you.

remind yourself of your power. remind yourself you are loved, you are love. promise yourself you will reach for the heavens and never settle for the earth alone. but also promise yourself you will stay grounded. that you will press bare feet into the dirt even as your head floats among the clouds.

gather the ashes and bury them in the earth.

thank your body, thank the land, thank your ancestors, thank the divine. àse, amen. peace.

may your 2020 be heavy with prosperity, community, and joy. and may you find something of value in whatever darkness comes.

image showing degree conferral from UCLA: bachelor of arts, sociology, magna cum laudeSociety—other people, systems, institutions, culture—has so much more power over our lives than the average person gives it credit for. Acknowledging its outsized influence is devastating at first, incompatible as it is with a vision of the individual as master of their own destiny, culpable in failure and deserving in success. But there is a freedom in relinquishing our illusions of control. If I am not charge of my destiny, if my class or race or assigned gender or national origin are stronger determinants of my fate than my individual decisions, it matters less what choices I make. I can make the choices society prescribes for me, or I can choose a different path.

A little less than six years ago, I fled back to school hoping that when I finished, I would be able to avoid the stress and disappointment of looking for a job without a college degree. I had just been laid off from my job as a technical support specialist and was already attending community college part time, so it seemed fortuitous, especially since my partner and were talking about me quitting my job and going back to school full time once he found a teaching job. I made the leap and enrolled in a full load of classes at my local community college.

(Society told me going back to school was a respectable choice, the right choice. I should have graduated from college a long time ago, according to chrononormative* standards, anyway, and won’t a college degree give you a leg up in the job market? They can never take your degree away from you, they say, and promise it will all be worth it, all the struggling and debt and biting your tongue.)

There was no way for me to know five years ago that I would be graduating into a job market even more unfriendly to folks like me than I had avoided by entering college in the first place. No way for me to know that I would be made more disabled by my time in academia; definitely no way for me to know that the world as I understood it would effectively be ending in slow motion, that overt and aggressive fascism and white supremacy would be in power all over the world, that the naively hopeful environmental trajectory I thought we were on would be replaced by dire warnings of our dwindling opportunity to halt the inevitable collapse.

But—this is actually an okay place to be, for me. Even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Even if sometimes it hurts so bad I wish I could sink into the molten outer core of the earth. Systems are failing, nakedly, obviously. That means there is no way for me to blame myself. There is no way for me to be exceptional enough to overcome an actual apocalypse. If I learned anything from studying sociology, I learned that.

At last, finally, and in the end, I understand: It’s not me, it’s society.

###

I once believed that higher education was a refuge for the bookish and bright. Being the kind of learner that prefers to absorb a subject through obsessively researching as much as I can on it, I found only misery in elementary and high school. I felt trapped, forced to learn in a regimented way, forced to adhere to conventions set by long-dead colonizers and bootlickers and other types interested in turning children into compliant cogs in a surplus-generating machine. College, I thought, would be different, would be more open to the kaleidoscope of brains humanity contains. Despite having attended college on and off since I was sixteen, I didn’t have enough long-term experience with it to dispel my idealistic beliefs. I was always too crazy to attend class regularly, always withdrawing mid-semester to deal with some emotional upheaval, some mental collapse. And I was so drugged up and indoctrinated into various mainstream viewpoints that I probably wouldn’t have noticed the reality of it all even if I had managed to spend any length of time at school.

This time around, though, I noticed. I noticed all the ways higher education operates to exclude folks like me, all the ways it demands exceptionalism in the face of its own mediocrity, all the ways it perpetuates a status quo of ableism, capitalism, cisheteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and imperialism. And as I got further into my upper division major work—sociology—I noticed even more. It became too much to bear too many times to count. The small ironies piled up like so much oppressive detritus, my daily commute a recounting of historical and present-day trauma, my thoughts a running tally of injustices: I am currently driving on a freeway system built by displacing poor people of color, past houses big enough to hold every single houseless person I meet on the way, to a campus more concerned with the appearance of diversity than materially improving the lives of its Black or disabled or queer or immigrant students, to learn about the impact of housing discrimination on intergenerational wealth in whites versus Black folks.

I channeled my anger, my outrage and existential despair, let it flavor impassioned papers and pointed presentations, but it felt hollow, was hollow. It meant nothing, and I knew it. I had to endure the slights, had to make do when my disability accommodations were phased out, had to push myself beyond the point of burnout to finish my degree. Because in my mind, if I didn’t, I’d just spent five years and however many tens of thousands of dollars to have my dreams crushed without even getting a receipt. As much as I wanted to be the kind of bitch that says you know what, I’m good and forges their own degreeless path in life—as much as I had effectively been that bitch for the first part of my adult life out of necessity—I felt obligated to finish, not only for myself but for the loved ones who were sacrificing to help me get through school.

To stay motivated, I told myself that I’d find a job quickly once I finished school. I knew this was a fiction, but it was a necessary one—more than once, the specter of graduating and still being unable to find a job almost convinced me to drop out. I pretended as if this degree really would allow me to navigate the job market with ease, picking and choosing from a panoply of well-paying jobs with full benefits, leapfrogging over my un-degreed competition. But even if that were the case, I was using every last bit of my energetic reserves to reach a finish line that had shifted since I started the race, leaving me in no condition to leapfrog over anything. I spent the first few weeks after graduation pretending it was just another summer, trying to recharge a little before I started my job search.

A manic episode lent me the optimism to apply for a dozen or so jobs and write sparkling cover letters to each. The inevitable fibro flare and depression that followed forced me to acknowledge the truth of 2019’s job market hellscape. Several of the $15/hr-and-under positions I applied to expected me to do free labor in the form of aptitude tests and their ilk. (For some jobs, I did these, because I felt the position/salary would be worth it, and the tests weren’t too egregious. On others, I declined.) Out of the positions to which I applied, only one has even opened my resume—I’ve received no response from that employer at the time of writing, two weeks later. One job I was particularly excited about, one whose qualifications I greatly exceeded and whose hours and duties perfectly matched my needs, had over a thousand applicants at last update. A few jobs have “moved to the next stage in their hiring process” without my resume even being acknowledged.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to be jobless for a while, if traditional employment is the way I insist on making my living. I can write about it now, find the silver lining in my misfortune, because it’s been a couple weeks and I’m high as fuck. But realizing that I just spent five years under some of the most extreme stress of my life to basically end up worse off than I started broke me for about a week. My always-tenuous commitment to staying in corporeal form dwindled to nonexistence more than once, but I happily do not own anything capable of killing me in a guaranteed manner, so I’m still here.

(Kidding, kind of. As long as the people who love me are here on this planet, I’m staying in solidarity. But things did get pretty pale in my head.)

I cannot Black excellence my way out of being on earth as worlds crumble around me. I cannot young, Black, and gifted my way into insulating myself from climate collapse, into financial security, into overcoming a system built to oppress and exploit folks like me before leaving us to become casualties of their disregard for life. All I can be is open to learning how to live in different ways, how to ride the waves of change such that I can keep my head above water, keep what’s important in sight. And if I can’t keep my head above water, I can learn to take bigger breaths before I go under.

If I could travel through time, I would impart this wisdom to 34-year-old me on the eve of their decision to go back to school. I would whisper in her ear: Do not give in to fear. Leap. You will find you have wings. I don’t know that I would fly, that things would turn out any better if I threw myself into professional writing in 2014 instead of seeking the comfort of official validation, but I might have avoided destroying my health in order to get it. I really thought I needed the legitimacy of a degree. I didn’t. Turns out what I needed was to finally internalize the idea that it’s not me, it’s society. For accomplishing that, at least, perhaps going back to school was worth it. For what it did to my emotional and physical well-being, decidedly, it was not.

###

It’s the end of the world—at least, it’s the beginning of the end of a way of living based in colonialism, ableism, white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, and cisheteropatriarchy—and that means we don’t have to do things the same way anymore. We never did, but we have even less incentive now that doing things the way we were told to do them has been so starkly revealed as a path to destruction and separation from god, god being that spark of the divine we each hold within us, the glue that binds us to each other and the planet and all beings across the universe. The way of living that tells me that I must depend on a boss or a landlord or a mayor or a president to manage my work, my housing, my community, my people, is the same way of living that has cleaved Indigenous land from Indigenous humans, the same way of living that is rendering the planet uninhabitable for large human populations, the same way of living that I will reject every single day until it has been banished from this earth.

We must reject ways of living that perpetuate systems of oppression if we are to have hope of humanity surviving the catastrophic change that is underway. But since systems of oppression also shape the ways of living we have available to us, this rejection will come with pain and sacrifice, especially for those of us who are subjugated under the same systems. I know this, I been known this, been known revolutionary change is full of what we are taught to perceive as negative emotions and experiences, but that there is growth contained within them. If a little pain, a little discomfort on my part, on our part, could propagate through the system all the way up to the institutional level, could destabilize the systems that oppress us, wouldn’t it be worth it? Especially when—in my experience, at least—pain can be a catalyst for awakening, and a pleasure unto itself.

For me, the desire to be traditionally employed is partially rooted in a genuine concern that my disability might prevent me from being able to manage freelance or self-employed life. Putting the responsibility for finding streams of income on myself and not on some professional who ostensibly knows what they’re doing is a terrifying prospect when I consider how few days out of a month I feel well enough to work on projects. At the same time, I do get shit done despite how I feel. I don’t have to feel good about something in the moment for it to be worthwhile. In fact, the most worthwhile things I’ve done have often been ordeals to get through.

That’s not to say that everything worthwhile must be painful, or that suffering is necessarily productive—I would never endorse that idea. Sometimes, though, the only way we get out of a destructive situation is for it to become untenable, uncomfortable, painful. Sometimes pain is a friend nudging you: Are you safe here?  Is this what you really need? I’ve been trying to understand what this pain is trying to tell me, this discomfiting space I’m in where I don’t know when I’ll find work, how I’m going to support myself, where I’m going in life when it comes to career.

Before I got my sociology degree, I might have blamed myself for my inability to find a job. I might have taken the metaphorical whip to my own back, expected that I would be able to make up the gap between economic expectation and reality by hustling, killing myself to meet a capitalist ideal of productivity and employability. Now, I know. It’s not me, it’s society. Trying to be middle class, trying to live up to hegemonic ideals of success, is destructive. What I am feeling is in part the shame of not being able to consume the same disproportionate amount of resources as my parents did, the anguish of believing hard work gets you anywhere, the guilt of having held that ideology against the poor and the houseless and other unfortunate souls I probably thought myself better than, the humiliation of having that ideology thrown back in my face when I cannot succeed under the same terms.

(And when I say I, I mean we. None of us are safe here, and this is the opposite of what we need.)

This job market, this disappointment post-graduation, is painful for me to confront. It’s a bit of the same pain I felt when I came to understand that higher education was not a great equalizer but merely a mechanism to perpetuate the status quo, the same pain I feel when I hear people defend throwing families in cages because they violated some law, the same pain I feel when I see folks saying we can’t take radical action on climate change or abolish prisons or dismantle capitalism because it will cost too much or be unfair to folks who paid off their loans or their debt to society or whatever milquetoast excuse the centrists are offering that day. We insist on adhering to the tenets of a way of life that is killing us. I adhered to them by going back to school, even though I had literally no reason to, was receiving no real benefit besides the false sense of security that comes from doing the right thing. If we just work hard enough. If we get a degree. If we are exceptional. If we go high when they go low, if we open a business in a disadvantaged community for three years, if we are silent as the waves of change crash upon us, as the inexorable tide of exploitation pulls us under, we might become one of the lucky ones.

The past is the past. I made my choice, I went back to school, I graduated. But now, I intend to break away, take a different path than the one society prescribes for me. A scarier path, but maybe a more realistic path. A path that I forge myself, with guidance from others who have navigated this chaos longer than I have, successfully. I want to write full-time, or as full-time as my bodymind allows. It isn’t my first choice to make writing my primary source of income—it is partially a function of the reality of the job market—and I may end up needing to find part-time work to supplement my income after all. The more I think about it, though, the more I believe that making writing my full-time job is at least something worthwhile for me to attempt. Writing is where I see myself doing the most good on this planet, and despite the awful state of publishing, I think I have a chance—however tiny—at my version of success. It will be hard. It will involve a lot of rejection and crying jags and questioning whether I ought to just peace myself out and avoid all the misery. It could also be the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. The way I find community. The way I build community and leave a legacy of work for the folks who live after I’m gone. I have nothing to lose, anyway. We have nothing to lose but a world that would see us in chains again.

It’s not you, it’s society. And society is in shambles. What would you do if there was nothing holding you back, if you had nothing left to lose, if everything you thought you knew turned out to be a lie? What will you do now, at the beginning of the end of this world?


* Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Duke University Press. 2010.

everything from then on out was going through the motions.
everything from going to work every day to saving for the future to breathing was
a charade performed as defense against the inevitable
a tired eye closed to the light of the oncoming train
a battered heart numb to the cries of the victimized child
a weary soul creaking under the weight of the world
and choosing the path of least resistance.
yet we could not cease going through the motions,
could not stop the motion of the machine grinding towards us
with the threat of growling bellies and chattering teeth.
a few of us figured out that we could stop the motion of the earth
blot out the sun with the moon
compel every human into the street
if we imagined it together.
but most of us were too tired from work
to work on aligning the stars for revolution.
so we waited,
and plotted,
and planned B
all the while praying
for the rest to get as tired
as we were.

    Excerpt from journal of an anonymous Appendage of the Queer Disabled Black Femme Tactical Liberation Body, Third Division (Western Turtle Island). [Archival comments: ….. So, this is written ten years BEFORE the Reckoning. Quantum-temporal collective manifestation or visionary madness? We still don’t understand exactly what the QDBFTLB harnessed to bring us this world, no matter what we might like to think. This begs further research. – taf]
[In the first installment of this series, I talked about my politics in general and how the connections between systems of oppression and my personal experience have become incredibly salient to me. Here I want to talk about how that awakening impacted my attitude towards my various disabilities and how I navigate the world with them.]

I’ve experienced the world in the way I do for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I was fourteen that I was officially diagnosed with depression and later bipolar disorder (along with assorted goodies like dissociative identity disorder and panic disorder and PTSD and and and). I’m off psychiatric medication, and for the most part I don’t find my panoply of diagnoses useful anymore, but they were a part of my journey at one point.

It was also around this time–maybe a little before, maybe a little after, my memory of my childhood is hazy–that I was diagnosed with two other disabling conditions: irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia. I’ve had digestive struggles since I was very young. I can recall missing a lot of school due to stomachaches that were almost certainly a result of internalized stress and trauma. The fibromyalgia did not manifest itself until I was in my teens, but it came on strong when it did. I needed to use a cane to walk for a long time. (Along with all this, I had extremely debilitating menstrual pain that seemed to take up a majority of the month, I developed PCOS as a consequence of being treated with valproic acid during puberty, and I had various other issues crop up–like sleep disorders and RLS–due to the psych meds.)

My teenage years were mental and physical hell, some of it a byproduct of my not possessing the framework to understand the societal underpinnings of why I was experiencing the things I was, some of it a direct result of my divergent mind and body. I was taught to blame my hellish existence solely on my mind and body. The treatments I was given focused on correcting supposed imbalances in my brain or building tolerance in my body to things I felt I shouldn’t have to tolerate. I eventually got balanced enough or good enough at pushing past the pain that I could get off disability and get a job and tolerate injustice for a paycheck. And I thought I was as close to cured as I could possibly be; I was approximating normal, at least.

When my life fell apart and I along with it, I again sought cure. I thought psychiatric medication was the reason for all my disability, and if I could just get that out of my system, cleanse my system with enough detox and healthy living, I wouldn’t be in constant pain, wouldn’t feel like I needed to curl up in bed after a couple hours awake, wouldn’t feel every single worry in my muscles and joints or every single piece of food pass through my digestive tract.

(That wasn’t the case, either. I’m still very much in pain, very much beholden to my body’s need to eliminate fully every morning before I’m able to comfortably start my day, and very much inhibited by overwhelming fatigue on most days.)

Here’s the thing: until 2017 or so, I’m pretty sure I saw my disability as something I could overcome. Much like all the other characteristics I talked about–my race, my gender, my body size–I saw my disability as something conquerable if I was just exceptional enough. I’m not saying I would have ever verbalized this, and I certainly didn’t think it about other folks. But internalization runs deep, is insidious. Uprooting hegemonic thought patterns takes a lifetime, because they are forever changing and adapting as you change and adapt.

It took withdrawing from psych meds and confronting the continual presence of my disabilities to force me to reckon with their permanence. This reckoning is ongoing. I still sometimes find myself looking back at some mythical time before I became disabled, or looking forward to a time when I might be some shade of healthy, that is to say, less sick. And when I envision me as my best self, too often it’s a vision of myself being productive and able-bodied enough to perform activities like running or cleaning my entire house. The goal is to get to a place where my best self isn’t molded by ableist values. I want to make plans for the future that don’t center on the pain abating or my moods stabilizing.

I’ve realized that up until recently, I was attempting to do one of three things to my disabilities: cure, control, or contain. When cure seemed out of the question, I sought containment through rebellion and self-destruction or control through meds and adopting abled culture; when containment and control became untenable, I set my sights on cure through withdrawing from psych meds and convincing myself my disability was an artifact of their effects. Cure, control, contain is the model for cancer treatment, deadly and alien as we know it, and I knew my disabilities similarly. I hadn’t considered that they were inseparable parts of me, and might have something to offer other than suffering and eventual death.

That these parts of me are disfavored by white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy is not a reflection of their true worth. The parts of me that achieve academically or generate income or do sports aren’t better than the parts of me that were too depressed to finish an assignment on time or that were on SSI or that couldn’t walk without a cane. I don’t need to isolate and berate the so-called deficient parts of me to protect the virtuous parts. All together they make me who I am, and I am glorious because of my disability, not in spite of it.

Now I have the language, the frame through which to extricate the struggles I experience due to ableism and the struggles I experience due to physical or psychological pain. I no longer look at my mind and body as something to be overcome. I’m learning to interact with my bodymindsoul in a tender way, to listen and consider and ask for consent, and not to judge or reprimand when I can’t perform in some way that ableist society has demanded. I’m lowering my expectations, because I wasn’t put on this earth to be productive, and I don’t see the point in playing along. What society has to offer me in exchange for breaking myself at its feet isn’t worth the blood spilled.

My disabilities are foundational to how I navigate the world. Having limited energy shapes my view of what is truly necessary to spend one’s time on, and thus dictates my priorities–growing love and nourishing spirit. My mental illnesses have shaped my understanding of the nature of reality: the relative abundance of sorrow and the rarity of true joy, and how important it is to protect the latter when it crops up. If it weren’t for these supposed impediments, I would likely have spent my life pursuing goals set for me by society rather than building a life guided by transformative love principles and seeking pleasure.

I truly believe my disabilities have something to teach me about how to live wholly in this world, something precious. I need only agree to stop trying to fit them in an ableist box, stop trying to make them small or acceptable or part of an inspirational narrative of overcoming that ties up neat in a bow with me as the cured crazy person at the end.

I don’t remember the first time I was raped, but I know it happened.

I don’t recall when the memory was lost. I can’t answer #WhyIDidntReport.

I do recall remembering exactly what happened, in re-traumatizingly clear detail, two years later: in the middle of an assembly at school on reporting sexual abuse. And then, I did report. Loudly. In the form of a high-pitched yet guttural scream that seemed to have gathered strength from the time the memory sat dormant in my brain.

Around me, other children–other girls, as far as my ten year old self could tell–had also begun to cry (although none quite so spectacularly as I, unfortunately for my social life). The administration at my private Christian school created an after-school support group for all of us. It lasted for six months or so before either they or we decided it wasn’t worth the effort, wasn’t worth re-dredging up our memories over and over with no real resolution. So eventually I forgot, again. At least, I thought I did. But I never really forgot.

I went through a tumultuous adolescence marked with mental instability, self-destructive behavior, and questionable relationships with men and masculine-identified folks. Standard survivor fare; I won’t bore you with those details. What I will say about that time is that I never fully recovered the memory again. I recovered more of it. For instance, during a particularly intense overnight therapy session at a residential treatment facility when I was sixteen, I remembered again where the rape took place, and I remembered penetration. But still, the full awareness of it was, mercifully, kept from me by my psyche.

When I was nineteen I was raped again, and I remember everything about it. It destroyed me, psychologically, but it didn’t reveal the memory of what happened when I was eight. It did, however, induce all sorts of PTSD and dissociative identity issues that forced me to confront my unprocessed trauma. I went into intensive therapy with EMDR, a course that lasted for about seven years. I managed to reintegrate myself, despite not having access to the actual memory of what occurred when I was eight.

Even without details, I can see the shape of the memory. Bordering the gnawing, gaping gaps in the record, there are some clear lines. I remember my excitement over an older white boy thinking this ugly Black duckling was pretty. How good that felt after the years of bullying and torment I endured. How cool I thought I was when we hung out on the jungle gym and flipped other kids off. Him calling me at my house: me, giggling, my mom, hearing me, asking who I was talking to.

And I remember…a nonlinear empty space. (And something involving the lunch tables, something involving something of his inside something of mine. I don’t try to pin down specifics; I truly consider it a gift that I can’t recall what happened anymore.)

Then, I remember my head down in my folded arms after school, crying. A note from him in my third grade yearbook that I think said something about how ugly my hairy armpits were but I could never tell because I scratched it out immediately after I first read it. My grades dropping, my interest in life degrading; partially because I’m not a fan of standardized education, but mainly because my mind was occupied with blaming myself for whatever happened in that empty space. And later, of course, there is the aforementioned mental instability.

What have I learned from this culture about survivorhood and memory? From watching season after season of SVU, from watching now two women in my lifetime testify that a potential Supreme Court justice sexually assaulted them, from the Mike Tyson trial, the Cosby trial, the Very Special Episodes of various sitcoms and dramas? What is important, when you are raped, after a rape? Remember as much detail as you can. (Remember, even, what you were wearing.) Remember not to take a shower, so your body can remember what they left on you, and you can prove this has happened. Remember to try to leave some memory of yourself on them, a scratch, some DNA, some irrefutable scientific proof. And if you can’t? If you didn’t? If your brain’s split-second decision when it realized you were under threat was to shift you into a different state of consciousness while the trauma occurs so you cannot remember the trauma outside of that state? If instead of smells and sounds and sensations there’s just an ominous void where a part of your childhood should be?

What can you do when you’re doomed to know, but never remember?

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I am a survivor of childhood rape. In fact, I didn’t come to terms with it fully until I was raped again. Part of the reason I had difficulty in validating my experience has to do with the importance memory holds in legitimizing one’s status as a survivor, which in turn derives from a cisheteropatriarchal, white supremacist prioritization of the rational and material over the emotional and the spiritual.

When it comes to sharing experiences of rape, we love details; we love when someone’s juicy underbelly of trauma is served up raw for the re-devouring. Narrative structure is important, too. (Make sure it fits the range of acceptable assaults. Make sure you’re weren’t fucking them consensually first or laughing with them first or drinking with them first or flirting with them first. Make sure you’re white, nondisabled, cishet, thin, and attractive.) If you’ve got physical evidence, bruises, bleeding, we’ll of course take those, maybe rub some salt in those wounds for good measure. And you’ve always got to have the corroborating witnesses, preferably of the highest caliber (so not your drunk ex-BFF who’s consensually banging her boyfriend in an adjacent hotel bed and oblivious to your screams).

But when you just straight can’t remember? When your evidence consists solely of a promising life dashed upon the rocks and an empty space? There’s no empowerment to be found there. No statute of limitations to beat out. Neither our society’s system of justice nor the current pop cultural/political moment occurring around sexual assault readily accommodate the slippery nature of trauma memory.

I’m reminded of the difficulty I had in claiming a political identity as a survivor now, in this moment of #MeToo reckoning, with the development of newer hashtags such as #WhyIDidntReport. So many of our methods of personal resistance against rape culture focus on storytelling, splaying your experiential guts onto a screen of various sizes as a form of empowerment. I do absolutely support survivors who want to tell their stories. But as someone who doesn’t particularly want to feed more bodies to the prison industrial complex, and as someone who remembers the name of their rapist but no details in one instance and a bunch of details but no name in the other, I haven’t participated. What would I say? I keep looking out on my feeds to see if any of the stories resemble mine, an empty space; none so far yet.

The confirmation fight over Brett Kavanaugh was re-traumatizing for me, as it was for so many other survivors. In my case, it stirred up some latent feelings of inauthenticity. In Dr. Ford’s testimony, she leaned on the Western medical-scientific view of memory as primary in determining legitimacy as a survivor, basically stating that she knew she was assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh because of how traumatic memories encode themselves in the hippocampus. I know I was raped because of how the memory encoded itself into everything else in my life. Could I testify, if my childhood rapist were somehow nominated to some public position? Could I sit in front of that kangaroo court and try to plead my broken life against my rapist’s hippocampus?

(This is one reason why I’m an abolitionist. I don’t believe our current paradigm of justice can account for all the ways one can testify. My testimony is embodied, and so my vision of feminist justice involves a de-centering of narrative testimony, particularly when it comes to rape and sexual assault.)

Our (U.S.) society associates forms of knowledge gleaned outside a rational-scientific framework with femininity and Otherness, thus rendering them inferior in a cisheteropatriarchal white supremacist context. Our society is also a rape culture, and so no amount of remembering in perfect detail will ensure that a rapist is brought to what passes for justice here. So why should I, or you, dredge up our trauma on demand and offer it to an uncaring society with no guarantee of return on our investment? Why prop up the idea that a survivor’s memory is ever worth anything under heterosexist patriarchy?

Again, I don’t want to discourage survivors from telling their stories. I only want us to consider what we accomplish, who is excluded when we emphasize this tactic, and what ideas we’re reifying. Even in the best of circumstances memory can be unreliable, and constructing a homogeneous experience of survivorhood is impossible. There are survivors who remember every last detail, who know but cannot remember, whose memories are completely intact but organized nonlinearly, and whose understanding of themselves as having experienced sexual assault is shaped by the impression the event had on their life rather than any recollection of vivid details of the assault. Some of us contain all these and more. A feminist survivors’ movement must de-center the rational-scientific paradigm and consider all the ways we can know we were harmed, or risk perpetuating cisheteropatriarchal oppression.

[CW: suicide, r*pe, internalized fatmisia]

I come to this page with absolutely no idea how to say what I want to say. But I’m here, and I’m gonna try.

First: let me stop assuming that everyone who comes across my work is familiar with my backstory. I’ve realized of late that I write as if the reader has been on this journey with me; I make vague allusions to events but never really flesh them out except in my own head. To describe the journey I’ve been on for the past 9 years will require a lot more context than I’ve been inclined to provide in the past. This will be long, but maybe, satisfying. And aren’t those the best?

Second: let me stop being flip like I was right there. This is silt churning, catharsis. It needs a delicate hand and mind.


I’ve been “political” since I was a young femme. I first got into environmentalism when I was about six. I was heavy into whales and other sea life, and I loved plants and nature and nonhuman animals in general. (I loved human animals too, but I’m trying to highlight that humans are also just animals!) The ozone layer crisis (this was the early-to-mid 1980s) worried the hell out of me and I made my mom buy non-CFC hair spray that she hated because it took so long to wind up. I also put a brick in our toilet tank that I’m pretty sure was still there when we left that apartment.

I ended up starting an environmental club at school, and we brainstormed on what we could do to save the planet with our elementary selves. There was a bad drought here in California at the time and my mom’s bank was giving away these envelopes filled with stuff like water-storing crystals for plant soil and pink food coloring tablets to drop in your toilet so you’d know if it was running and wasting water. I took a TON of them (because no one was taking them anyway) and we handed them out on the street.

My awakening to other issues that impacted my identity took place in popcorn fashion: staggered, bursting into view. At eleven I read about riot grrrl through the Prodigy message boards, and I became a feminist. At thirteen I began learning about Black liberation struggle and our African heritage; and at fifteen I admitted to myself (and my mother) that I was queer. I had been fat, to various degrees, since I was six or so, but didn’t connect the way I was treated because of it to any larger oppression until I was around fifteen as well, because it was around this time that I circled back around to riot grrrl and feminism. Riot grrrl led me to punk, which exposed me to anticapitalist ideas (but it wasn’t until this year that I actually read Marx).

(It should be noted here, that troubling these upper layers of ideology was a dark undercurrent of “pathology”. When I was eight I was raped by an older classmate, and became a survivor. When I was fourteen I attempted suicide for the first time, and became a survivor of a different type. I found feminism for the first time because of my experience with rape, and I found it again because of my experience with craziness.)

Riot grrrl and punk were kind of tarnished for me in the late 90s and early 2000s, around the time I was awakened to trans folks’ struggles. I made a really precious friendship during that period with a white trans woman who had some questions on race and who offered to answer my questions about gender in exchange. I’m still friends with her and I am so appreciative for that experiential skill-share. She and other queer and trans friends of mine were involved in the Camp Trans protests of the Michigan Womyns Music Festival because of their “womyn-born-womyn” policy. They would go around to different artists’ shows who played MWMF and draw attention to the issue. I was still recovering from my second suicide attempt and in some intensive therapy to process a second rape that was inflicted on me in 1999, so I was never able to participate in the protests (and I still feel shitty about it). But I stopped buying the music of all the bands that supported MichFest, which included one of my favorite bands at the time: Le Tigre. Hence my disillusionment with riot grrrl; Kathleen Hanna was a real idol of mine when I was a teenager and seeing her support a space that deemed my friends unwelcome hit me hard.

By the time I was twenty-five (2005) I had finished intensive trauma processing and was looking ready to enter the workforce (again, after a brief stint from nineteen to twenty). Once I entered the workforce again, my politics started to slowly bleed out the window. The more it looked like I was going to be able to be a productive member of society, maybe be able to have a career and an investment portfolio or whatever, the less I cared about radical shit. I never became a conservative or anything, but I definitely was trying to be normative. I was trying to fit in with the folks at my office, who were all obsessed with the milestones of life, with meeting societal expectations, but they didn’t know it. And neither did I, because my political awareness never actually ran that deep. I hadn’t made all the connections. I hadn’t rooted my understanding of these systems and their impact inside myself. I still thought that if I just tried hard enough, I could overcome. Because I was exceptional. Or at least, I could be, if I got my shit together.

I lived in this way for about four years, striving, considering myself middle class, considering myself on my way to something: acceptability, or respectability, or maybe even prosperity. But my body began to protest again, straining under the pressure of normality, a reminder. In 2008 I had a reproductive health scare and a lot of associated pain; in March of 2009 a doctor’s negligence in not treating my hypothyroidism led to my gallbladder needing to be removed. To top it off, I was laid off from my job a few months later.

And then, because disruption loves to cluster, my marriage unraveled. I was left alone with myself and what I had accepted as my life. That pain catalyzed me to really begin the work of decolonizing my mind. In response to years of repression, I spent a few summers on unemployment being queer and fat and Black and loving it. I also started to reconsider a lot of things about myself, starting with the origin story of my crazy. I still wasn’t making the deep connections yet, though. I acted as if I loved myself, as if I had begun to fully embrace all of my being, but that was just the confidence of others flaking off onto me. Once I was still and alone, I didn’t really know who I was.

(A year or so after my ex left is also when I started withdrawing from all the psych meds I had been on. Having been unemployed for a couple years, and coming into a full realization of how fucked the health insurance system in the U.S. is, I was really worried about being so dependent on it. Meds aren’t cheap, and the doctor visits to refill the meds are even more expensive. Plus, I disputed that I actually needed them, to be honest. Part of my newly reborn radical consciousness thought my craziness was a product of the meds, and that I didn’t have any debilitating problems before that. That’s not the case, but I’ve already talked about that elsewhere.)

The generosity of the government started to run out, so I folded myself back into acceptability and went back to work. I was eating well because I was trying to support my body through the withdrawal, and my mom had gotten breast cancer so we both went vegan together. As a result of these changes (and my increased activity level because I took a lot of walks to quell boredom at work), I lost a bunch of weight from 2012-2013. I also met my current partner. In spring of 2014, I went back to college for computer science. Again, I was sure I was on my way to something. It wasn’t as much about respectability this time, but it was definitely about prosperity. I really thought I was going to be financially stable, wealthy even.

Nah. I just got laid off again. And I got pregnant, and got awful all-day morning sickness that made me drop another twenty pounds. By the time I got an abortion, I weighed as much as last I did when I was ten years old. So that was wild.

(I think, though, that getting laid off that time was the last boot out of respectability I’m gonna take. I’m really not trying to go back.)

I ended up going back to school full time after that and that’s where I’ve been since. I now live with my partner in an apartment, because the big house my mom and I got went into foreclosure and we had to split. Having to actually manage a two person household, make sure rent and lights are paid, etc. has definitely radicalized me. There’s so much I probably knew was bullshit, but didn’t have to navigate until the last 3 years. Going back to school also helped me make more connections and understand how oppressions are related and perpetuated in a much more native way. And, honestly, this motherfucker who is currently President of the U.S. made me realize a few things about how useless civility and conflict avoidance are, and how norms are kind of bullshit. (I wanna write about that, but later.)

What brought all this up for me was that recently I started wearing sleeveless stuff again. Before this summer, I hadn’t worn anything sleeveless since 2011 or so. Back then I was writing about fat a lot, which led to me hanging out with a lot of amazing fat femmes. I felt bolstered by their beauty, and like I said before, their confidence was contagious. If you asked me in 2011 why I was wearing sleeveless shirts I’m sure I would have answered with something that was proudly body-positive, something quotable. It was a veneer, because I didn’t really know in my soul why. I’ve worked so long and hard to subjugate this body and contort it into proportions that society deems appropriate. I’ve done it as a punishment for my perceived fault in being raped, I’ve done it as a form of self-harm in order to soothe, and I’ve done it under the guise of health. Why would I not consent to hiding the evidence of my failure?

I told myself it was because my the skin on my arms is all wrinkly and crepey and hanging now since losing and regaining so much weight. I told myself I should have learned to love myself earlier so I wouldn’t have fucked up my skin with dieting. I told myself all the things that would convince me that this was my problem, that it was my fault, and I should take the L and wrap up my arms and probably my whole body and also just drop off the face of the planet because I was never meant to survive anyway.

But this summer is so fucking hot. And THAT is not totally my fault. In fact, I have spent my whole goddamned life ringing the alarm bell about environmental shit. That’s one thing I’ve never lost sight of. And the heat finally drove me to connect the dots and uncover my body again. I realized that if these capitalist motherfuckers are going to burn down the planet in their own quest for prosperity, I’m not going to consent to covering up my fat in this blinding heat, sweating it out in penance for not meeting a standard of beauty. That realization opened the literal floodgates. I’d already been spending the last year or so thinking about all the fuckshit I do to myself that makes my life worse in exchange for upholding the status quo. But my body hate and shame is deep rooted, entwined with shame about being a survivor of multiple rapes and assaults and as a result being sexually dysfunctional for the majority of my life, placing others’ pleasure and comfort ahead of my own. It took being off the meds for an extended time, I think, to catalyze this for me. Being able to think a bit more clearly, and also the benefit of age, has seared the connections between the way I treat myself and systems of oppression/social control into my mind. I can never go back.

Y’all, can I just say that I hope the rest of the world wakes up faster than I did? How I be around this stuff, writing about this stuff, but not actually knowing this stuff in the core of my being? I still, still don’t feel like I have this wholehearted embrace of every part of my body, but I am resolute in my intention to sit with my discomfort. I have a reason, now. I know why I’m doing this. I’m a child of god and I deserve to live my life without the fetters that humanity has laid on me. I am glorious, even if I can’t see it through the blinders of socialization into white supremacist capitalist imperialist cisheteropatriarchy.


I invite you to join me as I work through this process of self-reflection & transformation. Next up: breaking down my attitudes about my disabilities & divesting from a cure/control/contain model.

I made a decision recently to extricate myself from a couple projects that I took on while I was on an upswing, and no longer have the energy to be a part of. When I did this, I knew I was doing what was necessary given my recent struggles. Still, I’ve been ruminating over the decision, flogging myself for having not lived up to some external ideal of productivity, and for having let people down in some way with my departures. Depression feeds off rumination, especially rumination over the manifold ways in which I am not free—and by indulging this rumination, I realized I am allowing myself to get uncomfortably close to the abyss. I decided that I needed to shift my focus away from society and consider my role as personal master, jailer, and oppressor.

This is not to say that I’m now dismissing the ways in which society binds me; rather, I want to embrace the ways in which I can free myself. I want to live as freely as possible, within the scope of my current ability, and I want to reject ideas that stifle freedom. I can’t ask more of the Universe than I’m willing to do. If I can’t cultivate freedom within myself, how can I help birth it into the world?

This is a proclamation of my intention to work towards self-emancipation. These statements counter messages I am told by society; messages I have internalized and let take residence in my psyche, that now manifest as insecurities. Now I bring those messages into the light, refute them, and start the slow process of rooting out my subconscious acceptance of them. In this process I’m speaking mainly to myself, but I also want to reach out to anyone else who might need a nudge towards freedom in one of these areas.

I am free to be wrong

Even if I should know the answer, sometimes I don’t. That’s fine. It’s fine to forget in the moment, to remember five minutes later, to never remember. It’s fine to have never known. Only by being wrong can I test the limits of my knowledge and expand them. It’s also fine to be wrong in my actions or speech towards someone else or towards myself, as long as I recognize my wrongness and make amends. Just avoid being loud and wrong if at all possible. No one is free to be loud and wrong.

Our/my fear of being wrong is probably ableist, anyway. Subconsciously I’m probably recoiling from looking foolish, or feeble, or intellectually weak. Freedom is a place where being wrong—but being honest about it and open to learning within your capabilities—is encouraged.

I am free to fuck up

Of course I’m going to try not to make mistakes, but I will. If I didn’t, that would mean I was habitually doing things I had done way too many times before. I am human. I make mistakes. I just try to learn from them. Sometimes I don’t, and that’s valid too. I enact and embody my freedom by rejecting our individualistic, achievement-obsessed culture’s devaluation of “stupid questions”, mistakes, and failure.

I am free to take too long

This is more on nonlinear time; I’m also thinking about nonlinear/nontraditional life trajectories and “nontraditional” brains here. I might take too long to get out of the house because I was crazy in the morning and so I’m late to school. I might take too long to get through school because I was crazy for a decade and so I’m late to graduation.

I am free to say no

By saying no to opportunities I feel lukewarm about, I dodge roadblocks that might impede my ability to make room within time to accomplish things I feel passionate about. By saying no to participating in actions I’d rather not, I reinforce my boundaries and solidify my sense of purpose. Too many of us do not have the ability to say “no” in manifold arenas of our lives. Where we can, we must. “No” is a freedom word. The word “no”, when propelled from the mouth at a right angle, vibrates at the exact same frequency as Harriet Tubman’s soul. Or so I’ve heard.

I am free to change my mind

Yes, I said “yes.” But I’m saying “no” now. Absent guilt. This, too, is an embodiment of freedom.

I am free to define my own values, and I am free to reject values that aren’t mine

I no longer have to play enforcer of societal standards and values. I can keep the values I agree with, discard those I don’t, and adopt a multitude that aren’t important to the society I live in. Because it’s in the interest of white supremacy and capitalism and patriarchy that I flog myself—

for not living up to an ideal of financial stability and respectability,

not being hyper-productive,

not being ashamed of my fatness, my queerness, my craziness, and my blackness,

not being willing to work twice as hard to get half as much,

not being willing to perpetually starve myself to obtain a socially acceptable body,

not being willing to humble my desire for a collectivist world at the feet of my need for long-term security,

not being willing to transfer the pain of seeing the world as it is into a misguided defense of the status quo

—and that is precisely why I can’t engage in it. Values derived from a white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy have traceable ties to my bondage, past present and future.

I am free to think of myself first as long as that doesn’t result in irreparable harm to someone else

Discomfort is going to occur for other people when I insist on firm boundaries or when I reclaim my energy and time. Discomfort is not irreparable harm, though. I have to recognize that although it is uncomfortable for both myself and whoever is on the other end of my self-protective act, ultimately I have to power through our discomfort and take the action that is best for me in the moment. No one is served by a miserable martyr.

I am free to survive thrive by whatever means are available to me in the current system

I want to live my best life, by any means necessary, and avoid hurting others in the process (at least as much as is possible in this world). Since I’ve rejected cultural values that aren’t mine, that also means I’ve rejected cultural values about what I am allowed to have access to as an oppressed person and how I’m expected to obtain material items. Corporations are now people, right?—and corporations are allowed to be financially irresponsible with no moral penalty. So I’m appropriating the right to financial amorality corporations enjoy.

I am free to make art that is shit

Without stabbing myself in the gut every time I look at it. Without wishing I had never made it. If I don’t make shit I’ll never make anything worthwhile, because I won’t know worthwhile from shit.

I am free to do something that someone else has already done as long as what I make is mine

Derivativity has to be authorized. My fear of retreading ground has killed so much inspiration. I know I have already written about things hundreds of people have written about, yet I use potential derivativity as an excuse to shoot down ideas. I should allow ideas to live their lives, give them shape, and see how they evolve. I can’t judge their originality until after they have matured. And even if I did make something completely derivative, that doesn’t discount its worth as an expression of creativity, only as an embodiment of originality. In my view, as long as what I create has honestly been synthesized in my own head, then it is creative, it is art. It might not be good, but I’m already free on that axis.

I am free to meander through life and not have a clear plan at all times

“Meander” isn’t necessarily a good way to describe why my life trajectory is skewed, but I feel like it’s describing my behavior recently. I made a shift in my plans for after I finish at UCLA, and I’ve been shaming myself for it occasionally, even though I know it’s in my best interest. The shift is further away from a guaranteed source of high income, and so I find myself reinforcing capitalist ideas about my self-worth being tied to my ability to generate profit for someone else (and in turn, generate some level of financial security for myself). Carving out a way to follow my passion is necessary for me to continue to exist in this world on any meaningful level—this I know. And I know the guilt I feel for taking so long to find my path is not intrinsic to me. It has wormed its way into my subconscious, but it isn’t my own.

I am free to be a “late bloomer”

Our culture, my culture at least, is obsessed with early achievement. We laud child prodigies and the “30 under 30” types. This has to be connected in some way with our culture’s inability to think long-term, our attitude towards our survival that sees burning out as preferable to fading away—or to constraining our consumption so that neither occurs. Briefly, I had a glimpse of prodigiousness as a child, and then it was gone, and it was just darkness for years. I’m coming back into the light, wary of its power but eager to take in its warmth. I cannot allow the sweetness of this moment to be soured by social expectations of age-appropriate achievement that aren’t even based in reality.

 

In these small ways

I am making space for abundance in my life,

I am cultivating a dialogue with my demons

that acknowledges my role in nursing them,

and I am instantiating freedom in small plots

where otherwise it did not grow.

Even before I stopped taking medication, I stopped going to therapy. I didn’t have a therapist through most of the withdrawal process; only at the very beginning did I seek out a psychologist because I thought it would be safe. But I just found myself arguing with her, as we had such different worldviews and experiences. I could never get her to understand that given my history and my positionality, my extreme emotions were rational and evidence-based. I know there are radical therapists out there, but I just don’t have the time to find one by trial and error, and my insurance situation is such that I can only go to Medi-Cal approved providers or UCLA doctors. I did go to a psychiatrist and a psychiatric nurse practitioner while I was going through withdrawal because I still needed that script and because I figured they might have some knowledge worth sharing. Once I was done with the meds, though, I found no help in continuing to visit a mental health provider. I know therapy is, maybe, supposed to be a place to have your views challenged, but I don’t think therapy should be a place where your essential humanity is challenged. Most therapists are viewing me through the medical model or a similar paradigm, and likely have varying degrees of allegiance to the status quo. This is evident in their disbelief of my experience.

Before I went back to school, my desire to disengage from the mental health enterprise was not an issue. I didn’t see myself needing to verify for anyone that I’ve got the crazy. I figured that in a work scenario, I would continue to—like most people–use clever little white lies to get the breathing room I needed for myself. When I first started back at community college, I dodged needing to request accommodations for my crazy when it came to assignments, accessing services, and the like by leaning on financial and temporal support from my mom and my boyfriend. Their help allowed me to arrange my life as such that I could focus solely on school. That combined with my school being on the semester system rather than the quarter system (meaning we had 16 weeks to complete one course rather than 10) provided me enough cushion time to perform my self-care activities and fall apart when necessary, but still do the homework, meet deadlines, and get high marks.

the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house, but they WILL build a kick ass shed miles away, in the woods.
the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, but they WILL build a kick ass shack miles away, in the woods.

I first realized I would have to notify the system that I was, indeed, a person who has historically been labeled “mentally ill” by practitioners at the end of last spring, when I was investigating how to get to UCLA. For some reason, simply living off-campus doesn’t entitle you to the ability to buy a parking permit. You have to go through this bureaucratic process that involves applying for the permit several months prior to the start of the quarter—with the potential to not be approved—and paying for it regardless of whether or not financial aid has disbursed. At community college, permits were cheap and plentiful; they issued them without regard for lot capacity. I spent a lot of time circling, but at least I didn’t feel like I had to fight to get a permit at all.

To get a permit the “normal” way for fall quarter last year, I would have had to apply for the permit in May or June and pay for it in August. I didn’t even know for sure that I would be driving there alone (rather than carpooling or using the vanpool) until August, because I wasn’t able to register for classes and thus couldn’t know what my schedule would be. And I sure didn’t have almost $300 in August, since that’s the month Rob doesn’t get paid and I don’t get any financial aid until the end of September. For a couple months, I was wracked with anxiety over the prospect of having no way to get to school, and I realized that I shouldn’t have to deal with this. No one should have to deal with this. No one should be going through this big step, going from community college to university—a step notorious for being a stumbling block for many students—and also having to deal with uncertainty on such a huge issue as transportation. Living 30 miles away should get you access to a permit, period. So, I decided to use the fact that my anxiety has been labeled pathological to make my life a bit easier. I got a letter from my last doctor vouching for my disability, and I applied for a permit via the Center for Accessible Education (CAE). CAE allows you to get a pre-approved application pretty much anytime during the quarter, so as long as you can get the money together, you can get a permit. But, I had to consent to be labeled in order to secure this luxury for myself. I had to admit on paper that I couldn’t navigate the obstacles the school erected in my path without an unacceptable level of suffering.

CAE also offers other services—and professors will grant you accommodations like more assignment time—if you submit to their more in-depth application process. At first, I thought I would just need the parking, but lately, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t make it easier on myself and just allow my diagnosis to serve me. UCLA is on the quarter system, so everything is accelerated, and it’s far, so getting there and back drains my soul. I’ve found that here, circumstances are such that I need to leverage my diagnosis to secure breathing room and refuge from unrealistic demands. The idea of expending valuable energy on the application process and potentially having to defend my choice not to take medication is intensely unappealing, however. What I really wish is that universities would stop simply accepting the inequality in society and perpetuating it, and start modeling what a better world could look like. Part of this might involve not forcing differently abled/neurodivergent/neuroatypical etc. people to engage with or submit to the medical system in order to prove their suffering would be increased without accommodations, especially when doctors are the source of that suffering for so many. A better path would be to simply disengage from capitalism and the culture of individual achievement and hyper-productivity it has produced. But since universities themselves are metamorphosing into profit-making enterprises, I suppose that might be asking too much. What’s really frustrating, and borders on gaslighting, is that the rhetoric the administration and faculty deploy around being more inclusive and supportive of nontraditional and historically underrepresented students does not reflect the structural reality. From jump, I have noticed obstacles that make it more difficult for students who don’t live on campus, who have jobs or kids or just the desire to not completely destroy their health over trying to meet the extracurricular and academic demands of being a “successful student”.

Part of me wants to try to change this system while I’m in it, to help whoever comes after me. I realize, though, that I just don’t have the energy to expend changing an institution I’m not even sure needs to exist in the first place. I don’t know that these sites of formal education are the best way of disseminating knowledge through a populace. I don’t think they are; I don’t feel like they are, but I’m willing to be wrong. As mechanisms for producing more individuals to fill socially acceptable occupations, universities don’t have a place in my ideal world. In my experience, formalized education processes out creativity and true contemplation in favor of a kind of diversified groupthink that passes for critical thinking. I would like to see a much more individualized educational system that allows learning to happen naturally. I don’t think we all need to know the same things. I do think we should all know certain things—a true history of world societies, economics, and exploitation for example—but I don’t think we’re currently teaching those things in school when we need to be, which is at the elementary level. In any case, my survival strategy for the remainder of my stay in the educational system has to be conservation of energy. I will leverage my diagnosis when need be to counter any structural obstacles both at the institutional and the social level that cause me unneeded suffering, but I won’t seek to transform the institution itself.

These are the trade-offs we make every day as revolutionary-minded crazy folk. We consciously choose when we engage with labeling and when we disengage; we decide when to deploy it in order to mitigate some of the harm structural inequality and access barriers cause, and when to reject it when it degrades our humanity. Hell, these are the trade-offs we make every day as black women, as queer and trans people, as people of color and other oppressed folks. Systems of oppression all have release spouts, features that allow oppressed people within them to use the system against itself in small ways. For example, as a queer femme cis woman, I could potentially leverage sexism and patriarchy to get a free meal on a first date if I was broke and starving (and single!). But no one should be starving in a world of abundance. My pseudo-privilege doesn’t negate the immense and disproportionate harm patriarchy does to cis women versus cis men, and it doesn’t negate the fact that the harm I would be attempting to mitigate was inflicted by an unjust social structure. I see the “accommodations” I can access similarly, in that I am addressing a harm that derives from our society’s embrace of hyper-productivity and white supremacist capitalism. It doesn’t negate that harm, but it makes it just a little bit easier to live with.

In this moment, that has to be enough.