Seeing footage of the Aids epidemic and ensuing homophobia around the time I was born gives such a deep context to my mother's response to me dating someone of the same gender. "I really fucked up, didn't I?" she said to me with haunted eyes. Since so many of our friends and coworkers at the time were LGBTQ, I was shocked to see something so dark and hypocritical rise up in her. Who is she really, how much of her day to day was just pretend? Maybe the more I know about history, the more I can understand about the human that made me, the more I can unravel about her intentions and her fears.
During my figure modeling career, I ended up in a classroom taught by an intense older Russian man, who was so exacting and specific that his students rarely spoke, so intent on giving him something he considered acceptable. He would tell stories of his previous life in his homeland, about subsisting on the network of the black market, a thick spider web of tricks and tools to circumvent rations and rules. Once he described being in an American grocery store for the first time, the utter shock of choices suddenly available, of shelves overflowing with products, something completely foreign in his younger, 40 year old self. That same person I was dating still, the one that had caused such an unexpected revelation about my mother to manifest. One of those days, headed to his class, my partner dropped me off at the curb outside. The entire car ride there she had been screaming at me that I was a slut for taking my clothes off in front of people, that she was disgusted by me for how I was making my living after graduating from college. For the next three hours, I was the perfect model, still as a statue, but could not stop the tears rolling down my face. Even the teacher was silent, until a break, when he came to ask me if I was alright. There was nowhere I would have wanted to be but there, all of me exposed. In those classrooms, though I am merely an object for learning, the ability to see the truth of what lies before us, free for a moment from its prison of contexts, devoid of sexuality, is the ultimate goal and one of few places where I felt the closest to myself. They were there to draw a human being, and that is something I could give them.
When I was a freshman in college I started dating a man twice my age that I had met in class, a fellow student. He said to me once, with a hint of derision in his voice 'Oh YOU are always going to need a man to take care of you.' I think about that moment often, like when I'm sitting on a forklift, or when I've stepped back to watch an ocean of men I'm supervising on a build. I can hear that same undertone when I'm in bed and a man has positioned himself over me and I've already sunk so far inside of myself, he couldn't make me feel him no matter how hard he might try. That same man told me it hurt his feelings that I didn't refer to him as my boyfriend while we were together. He was the first person I had engaged with sexually on more than one occasion, and months into our relationship when I mentioned something about an orgasm, he reacted suddenly, surprised. 'You have orgasms?' he asked. I was too young and inexperienced to know how to respond.
It takes so little to make someone feel invisible. Especially when they grew up feeling that way. It is amazing to me how a lifetime of careless comments can stack up inside of a person, how moments these people may have instantly forgotten might rattle around in another human being for the rest of their lives.
On the subway awhile ago, I watched a large unkempt man greedily eyeing me. He started at my legs and I watched his eyes travel up my body almost as tangible as a touch - until he got to my face. I don't remember why I was upset, but tears rolled down my cheeks in a constant stream, and he could tell that I had seen his path of attention. His face changed, his whole demeanor shifted. I felt myself transform from sexual object to human being in his gaze as he turned his face respectfully away, and glanced with thoughtful worry at my face a few times before we arrived at my stop and I stepped out of his awareness.
In a developmental movement class a few weeks ago, it was just me and an instructor. As I came upfrom my side to my belly with the support of my arms wrapping towards each other, there was an intense moment of sweetness in the lack of muscular involvement between my shoulder blades. A freedom, a sense of spaciousness, that felt so good I was surprised and almost immediately ashamed of feeling in the presence of another person. I thought about that yesterday while cleaning my room, surrounded by a bunch of figure drawings I was sorting through, choosing which ones to keep. It suddenly hit me that some people draw for the pleasure of it, something that I had never quite felt, or maybe let myself feel. Art for me was almost always a product of intense pain, or someone else's desires as a constraint for me to work around, probably a deeply rooted way of engaging with the world that goes back farther than I can quite understand. Both my mother and my therapist have tried to make points to me about my inability to receive, whether in the medium of gifts or sexually, but I think it is both deeper and subtler than that. My therapist also clearly found that my mother treated me like an object, so my mother's anger at my unwillingness to receive anything from her is intimately tied up in her way of engaging with me. It feels like I intercept and absorb a constant flood of information from the world around me, like sometimes I have no ability to shut out the amount of things being recieved.
Moments of places I've lived have been flooding my senses the past few days. The smell of salt and the piercing blue sky of Sarasota, except I can't tell if its an image from my earliest years, growing up on the beach, or from when I went back decades later for college. The smell of musty coolness in my Grandmother's kitchen, full of Rooster and Apple paraphernalia from her days as a school teacher. We spent our summers there, all of the cousins, wild and free with almost no supervision. Her collections seemed related to us back then, the room full of Care Bears, her Jacuzzi bathtub, unused in decades was filled with beanie babies, and recently I've heard she sleeps amidst stacks of romance novels and kewpie dolls, that angels sit on every surface. My little sister also possesses this fierce desire to collect things, something that manifested pretty early in her life. Last night I had a kind of night-terror, something that happened to me a lot as a child, but only has happened a few times since moving away from my childhood home. Lying awake, it will look as if the shadows are shifting, and gaping dark shapes will seem filled with the potential for something to step out of them. I distracted myself from the flickering shadows and managed to find sleep, unlike anxiety ridden nights of my youth.
Now that I have remembered my emotional attachment to that bear, I understand how the ball they hand us in the developmental movement classes can represent something we desire, it had been such a foreign concept prior to today. I have thought about that ball and that bear overlapping in my physical responsiveness, and every time it crosses my mind I suddenly can't see through my tears and I am filled with almost debilitating intense feelings in the center of my body. With a developmental workshop coming up this next weekend, I am terrified that I will be unable to participate because I am drowning in an ocean of my own tears, helplessly regurgitating the offhand and careless comments, the bricks in my being formed in a thousand careless moments.
The only way out is through.
I’m building a body
From balsam and ash
I’m building a body with
No god attached
I’m building a body
From blueprints in Braille
I’m building a body
Where our design has failed
There’s a book full of plans
At the feet of poor Atlas
Titled ‘For Man’
But the architects Only drew blanks
Now there’s nowhere to go
But go back, go back, Go back, go back