Mime

The gold flakes off those memories
You see the gray stone underneath
You pick up the glitter, paint it into
hearts on your palms,
diamond teardrops under your eyes,
watch as some of it, weightless
falls into the wash basin

then you laugh,
uncontrollably, stupidly
in the mirror, she giggles back

you can’t stop laughing
at the weightlessness of it

the unbearable lightness of his words
the unbearable lightness of his commitment
the unbearable lightness of it all

you smile and mouth “no”

You do it again, and again and again
until your jaw aches
until your jaw stops aching
until your jaw only knows how to say no
until your face changes its shape forever like
your mother said it would

“What is real?” He answered.
The words fell from his lips.
Three gold flakes that weighed nothing.

“I knew you were going to say that,” you said.

But this is what you wanted to say to him:
“You don’t know the weight of the word no,
the way it anchors  in the sea,
holds a ship in place in liquid.”

Or:
“So it wasn’t real. This wasn’t real.”

Or:
“Wow you’re a bigger idiot than I thought”

Or:
“How unimpressively light. How unimaginatively opaque.”

you step into the shower after giggling
ponder the potbelly you are slowly developing which
you love too in a strange way; you
are in a moment where heavy things are
things you like, where you enjoy
the feeling of gravity in a fall
where you land on your firm feet with knees bent.

You close your eyes. You think of meeting him again, the
boy made of gold flakes.
You imagine him walking through the cafe door.
You imagine exhaling and watching
as he turns to gold dust on the doorstep.

In the shower,
you watch the gold flakes glitter
against the porcelain like
sparkly urine, watch them
circle the drain and disappear.

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OtherSide

Introduction:
This piece is one in a chronological series.
Feel free to find the others here, and to browse through any companion piece, set in the same universe.
 Witches
1. Three Frenemies 2. Fall Coven Meet 3. BeingLovedAgain 4. The Fourth Witch
6. The Three Questions 
7. Seed 8. Garden Graveyard Heart 9. The Cook
10. River Witch 11. Rage
12. Reincarnation 14. Hate
15. Rage and Her Spells of Power
Goddesses

5.  Memory Elephant 12. Reincarnation  13. Memory and Mudbaths
16. OtherSide
Companion Pieces

May 22 – Part 1  Stone Lady  Paper Boots  Dredge    Half Yours, Half His    Flower Seller
When You Must End Love    Talk   Scorpio Rising    Pretty Men, Stone Lady
From The Olive Pit to Gratitude  Reliability dead girl Soft Witch


I walk up to the riverbank and see his bare foot first, toe wiggling in the wind.

It has been some time since I crossed the river on foot, since Rage disappeared under the river. I’ve walked up and down the riverbank on the other side many times now, but this is the first time I heard the music calling me.

Faint notes on a wooden flute sing in the air, getting stronger as I approach. When I walk up, I see the top of his curly head bent over the instrument. He’s sitting with one leg out, the other bent as he leans over, nimble fingers dancing along the instrument. A tell-tale tassle hangs from the end, and his dark hair is falling in his eyes. He stops suddenly, sensing me around, and glances up at me with smiling eyes, lips still pursed in an almost-kiss.

“It’s for embouchure,” he says, grinning. I wonder for a second if he read my mind like the witches so often do. I’m immediately irritated in the way I tend to be around pretty men.

His smile widens.

So he can read my mind, I guess.

“Hi,” I say, a little stiffly.

“Hey,” he says, putting the flute down. I try not to stare at his unbuttoned shirt, white and bright in the sunlight. “I was wondering when you’d show up!” He says,  giving me a mischievous grin. Perfect teeth gleam at me in a smile seconds before his face scrunches up into a sneeze. “I think it’s the dandelions,” he says, rubbing his nose. He is dark like a midnight sun.

“I didn’t know you could have allergies,” I say, laughing. He leans over gracefully, rummaging in his bag, and I can’t help but notice that small lock of hair fall into his eyes again. He automatically brushes it away. He’s annoyingly charming, I think. Then again, that’s always been my type.

“Here,” he says, pulling out a small bottle of Benadryl. He rotates it in front of my face, and shakes it as if to make a point. “Carry Benadryl, save a life,” he says seriously.

“You’re not funny,” I say, the corner of my lips twitching. “I came to talk to you about something specific,” I say. He leans against the tree, hands holding the trunk behind him, tilting his chin at me, as if to say “go on.”

“I don’t think I have a question yet,” I say, thinking about a million thoughts.

“I’m not a jin, you know,” He laughs. “You get more than three!”

“I mean I don’t know where to start,” I say.

“Start anywhere.”

“How long does it take to fall in love?” I ask.

“Less than a second,” he says glibly, “Next question?”

“How long should I wait to fall in love?” I ask.

“Why wait at all to love?” He responds impishly, immediately.

“You’re impossible,” I say, crossly.

“I love you,” He says easily and truthfully.

I say nothing, but my eyebrows snap up. “Say it back,” he teases. “You know you want to.”

“NO,” I snap. “I will not. I just met you!”

“That’s a terrible lie,” he says, staring at me.  “We both know you’ve known me forever.”

He breaks his gaze and we both stare across the river. It is wide today, like a lake. Deep and still. Reflections of mountains hang underneath the surface. But it’s only daylight here. It is not like the riverbank on the other side, where the sun and moon hang together in the sky.

“Why do you make it so hard?” He asks.

“Make what hard?”

“Everything. It… doesn’t have to be so hard,” he says, softly. I feel a knot in my chest. I’m sure it’s holding my heart together in one piece. I feel it tie itself  tighter and feel him sigh as he leans back against the tree trunk. He makes a soft tcch sound. “Come on,” it seems to say. “You don’t have to do that,” it seems to say.

“You’re the first boy here,” I say stiffly.

“That’s quite rude,” he says. “Considering I’m not really a boy. Or at least, I’m not just a boy. And also, it’s rude to change a topic so stupidly and transparently. Whatever happened to your conversation skills?”

“Don’t call me stupid,” I say immediately.

“Well then don’t be – oh fine, I’m sorry,” he says.

After a beat, I say, “I’m sorry for calling you a boy. Tell me about the midnight sun and the afternoon moon. What do they mean? On the other side of the riverbank, the sun and the moon hang together in the sky over the river.”

“Ah! And you’re still crap at changing the subject, but at least it’s an interesting topic change,” he says, picking up his flute again.

I stare at him as he starts playing. He plays for some time. I try to ask him the question again but he raises a finger while playing and shakes his head seriously. Shh, I’m practising, his finger seems to be saying.

“I thought I could ask you anything,” I say crossly.

He pauses his music, and looks up at me, embouchure intact. Without removing the flute from his lips, he says, winking, “You can. But when did I say I’d answer?”

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Rage and Her Spells Of Power

Introduction:
This piece is one in a chronological series.
Feel free to find the others here, and to browse through any companion piece, set in the same universe.
 Witches
1. Three Frenemies 2. Fall Coven Meet 3. BeingLovedAgain 4. The Fourth Witch
6. The Three Questions 
7. Seed 8. Garden Graveyard Heart 9. The Cook
10. River Witch 11. Rage
12. Reincarnation 14. Hate
15. Rage and Her Spells of Power
Goddesses

5.  Memory Elephant 12. Reincarnation  13. Memory and Mudbaths
Companion Pieces
May 22 – Part 1  Stone Lady  Paper Boots  Dredge    Half Yours, Half His    Flower Seller
When You Must End Love    Talk   Scorpio Rising    Pretty Men, Stone Lady
From The Olive Pit to Gratitude  Reliability dead girl Soft Witch

//”Exciting times we’re living in,” she says through her lips, closed around a cigarette butt.  She cups her hand around it, touches the end of it with a finger. Flame. Of course the witch named Rage would be able to start fires in a forest. I see her smirk through her cupped hands.

“Very funny. You’re really fucking some shit up, you know that?” I say, staring across the water. Rage sits next to me, taking a long drag on a cigarette. She balances her arm across a knee and looks at me, breathes smoke deliberately into my face.

“You know I’m not everyone’s Rage, right?” she says, casually flicking the ashy end of the cigarette. They land in the grass beside her. She stares at me directly. “I’m just yours.”

“That’s really bad for your lungs, ” I say.

“Honey,” She laughs. “I’m really bad for your lungs. Ha! ha haha!”//

This is an excerpt. For the full text, visit Rest for Resistance!

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Love in the Time of Queer Death

***I publish from time to time through Nuance, a publication featuring writings by first gen, second gen immigrant youth in Toronto. Nuance is a platform hosted on Medium. Recently, Medium reached out to Nuance  to feature the following piece on their homepage.  🙂 What an honour! I was touched to hear about it, and I hope folks enjoy the writing.***

//The language of abuse and its internal circulation within queer communities has been one of the most difficult things to name. We are afraid of boundaries in queer communities. We are afraid because so many of us have been rejected from families in little ways and large ways. We are afraid that any boundary is a rejection and not an opportunity for growth of friendship.

And we are convinced rejection is abuse, but it’s not. Rejection is a boundary. It is a necessary corollary to accepting anyone and anything in our lives. Our “yes” has no meaning if we cannot say “no” freely.//
The above is an excerpt. Full Text of Love in the Time of Queer Death here

Love in the Time of Queer Death art

Art by Beena Mistry @ http://www.beenamistry.com/

 

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[Excerpt] Chapter 1: Reckoning

Trying something new. Feedback welcome.

Some people just don’t know what’s good for them. Do you know what I mean? Like, take Tara. She’d be hot if she tried. Or not even hot, just likeable.  But Tara doesn’t know how to try. Actually that’s not true either – she tries. Too hard. She wants to be liked, desperately – in the way that everyone can tell and everyone despises. It’s desperate. It’s needy. It’s asking to be ignored.  It’s like she feels shame about it but not enough of it to change any damn thing. There’s a stubbornness to her hard little unsmiling mouth. She has friends that she knows are not her real friends. She hangs out with them anyway, but she runs away crying sometimes. Her friends who are not her friends snicker at the lunch table. No one checks in on her.

Man, I fucking hate girls like Tara, I think viciously, watching her nibble her nail like it’s an after-school snack.  She’s waiting at the bus stand.

I stand in front of her and lean down a bit. “Boo,” I say and she pauses, mid-nibble. This is my favourite game. I do it to Martin and Lisa twice a month, at least. Why? Who the fuck cares why. In this place I can do whatever I want. But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because I like that they respond. I like that they remember because it feels good to be remembered. If I can’t move on, neither can they. It’s only been a few months. It’s only been… fuck I don’t know. Time is totally fucked up when you’re like this.

“Boo,” Tara says.

I smirk.

When they planted the tree in the school, that bitch Tara didn’t show up like the others did. Lisa cried. It hurt a little to see Martin with his grubby little paws all over her.  “Shh,” he whispered. “Shh.” She leaned into his shoulder and melodramatically wiped her snot on his sleeve. Her perfect hair fell over her perfect heart-shaped face. “Shh,” Martin kept saying, patting her head like she was a poodle.

“What the fuck, man,” I said in disbelief. Obviously he said nothing. Obviously I got angrier.  That was the first time, actually. I leaned in real close and screamed “What the fuck?!” in his face. He flinched.

“You ok?” Lisa said.

“No,” I said automatically. “No I am not fucking ok. I’m dead.”

“Yeah,” Martin said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Yeah I think a piece of dirt or mulch or something hit me.”

“Piece of shit,” I said, glaring at him. “You fucking piece of shit – my body’s not even cold yet.” Though, actually it was. It turns out bodies get cold pretty quickly after death. So. What a stupid turn of phrase. I wish I sounded tough or mean, but my voice totally cracked like a prepubescent kid who had less of a moustache than Tara –  because Lisa was holding his hand. Like, this tight grip. I don’t think she’d ever held my hand like that. I don’t even have a jaw but I swear to God, in that moment, it tightened. It’s just grief. Grief does stupid things.

“Lisa,” I said. “Lisa, come on. Look at me.” And she did. She always does to be honest. Months later, now, the novelty’s worn off. It’s a game now. I get her to look up, to remember, to take note. But that day by the tree I wanted… fuck if I know. But I reached over and brushed her hair so that it wasn’t over her eyes and it worked. Sort of. Her eyes widened as a small gust of wind pushed her hair back. Her eyes teared up again. Shit. There must be something fucking wrong with me but I enjoyed that a little bit – just because it meant she was still mine, you know? Yeah, hold her hand you prick Martin, she still knows me. She still feels me. I can still touch her.

She still loves me.

Does she? Turns out, when you’re dead, and a ghost, you still have a voice inside your nonexistent head.

Did she, ever? She never held your hand like that.  

After everyone had left, I sat by the tree for a bit. Cards everywhere. Flowers. Wreaths. Some kid I’d never talked to gave some tearful euology about how I was his inspiration for track. I rolled my eyes. Track. What a stupid metaphor for life. Run as fast as you can until you hit the finish line. Congrats! Death is the participation prize awarded to everyone who played Life.

So there I was, chilling with me and my cards. Being dead gives you lots of time to think. More on that later – because time is fucking wild when you’re dead. It just flies by. Or it freezes. Or it passes for some people and not for others. But there I was, trying to pick up Lisa’s card to read it  and knowing I couldn’t. See, there’s weird rules to this shit that I’m still working out. But basically, if it’s not a person, I can’t do shit. And – it doesn’t even work for all people. With the cards, I couldn’t even pick them up, read them, touch them – I couldn’t do a damn thing.

But Tara, what a royal cunt. She came by the tree after everyone else had left. It’s nice to be invisible; she couldn’t see me struggle to pick up the cards. I saw her small mean eyes. I saw her scan the slender trunk. She saw the cards. At one point, she looked like she was looking right at me, and she burst out laughing. I froze. She couldn’t…see me though. No one could. Could she?

“Go get your lip waxed, cunt” I yelled in her face. She didn’t react. I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to trying to pick up Lisa’s card, but I felt Tara move closer to the tree.

When she reached for them I flung my arm out in front of her.  “Where do you think you’re going?” She froze. They always freeze. But she really froze – she stood still and leaned forward tilting her head, like she was really listening.

I leaned in close like I was going to kiss her cheek, and said “Turn around. Now.”

When the punch landed, I almost couldn’t believe it. I felt it before I saw it coming, a sharp no air in my lungs feeling.   She’d whipped her puny fist out and lashed in the air to find me. I stumbled back, all the air knocked out of my lungs.

How the fuck did she hit me? I rubbed my stomach and shook it off. Ghost rules were weird. Maybe others could hit me too. It’s not like they have guided tours in purgatory – which is where I imagined I was.

You don’t have lungs, my own stupid snide voice echoed in my thoughts. You don’t  really have a stomach. Do you really even have thoughts? Aren’t you just a thought now, a memory?

“Shut up,” I said, heart pounding. “Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up – “

“Shut up,” Tara said, out loud. We both froze. That was the first time Tara repeated shit I said.

Tara looked up, startled. Furtively, she glanced around to see if anyone heard her talking to herself. No one was around. She looked at her fist, confusion in her face. I reached out and touched her neck to get a read on her pulse. It was through the roof. When I touched her throat, she stood very still, and slowly brought up her hand and put it over mine. She swallowed hard. To anyone else looking, they would have seen a girl with her hand around her own throat.

“What the fuck?” I breathed.

I tried to move my hand and found I couldn’t. Tara swallowed hard. I felt it. She felt it. She wouldn’t let go of her own throat. She wouldn’t let go of my hand. And she took a step forward, forcing me to come with her.

A step forward. A step closer to my cards. Before she did it, I had a feeling where I just knew. I closed my eyes and sat in the dirt, my hand passing through hers. Spooky.

“You fucking bitch,” I screamed, tears pouring down my face once she was crouching. She froze again, hand hesitating before she picked up one of the cards. But she was going to do it. I knew she was gonna do it. I had already seen her do it. I had seen Tara years from now. I had seen Tara’s actions seconds from now.

And there was nothing I could do to stop her.

Quickly, she read Lisa’s card, and put it back in its place.

And then she read every single one, her nailbitten hands opening every single one.

Who the fuck reads a dead dude’s cards?

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A Crucial Message to All Brown Women and Girls

crucialmessage(Art by Misbah Ahmed)

//“Stop admiring yourself!”

Though those words weren’t aimed at me, I heard my mother’s voice echo in this stranger’s mouth. It landed like a slap. The three of us, a desi mom who was around my age, her daughter who couldn’t have been more than 8, and I were standing in an elevator. It was one of those fancy affairs with mirrors and gold lining instead of wood panels. The little girl had been smiling at herself in the mirror, making different poses and grinning. Selfies without a camera, I thought. But when the mother snapped at her young daughter, the child’s eyes immediately fell tothe floor. She shuffled sideways and stood beside her mother. The smile on her face was completely erased.”//

To read the full text, visit here

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Things I learned from you – 4

  1. what is good for me
  2. who is good for me
  3. how to lock off motherfuckers who aren’t good for me
  4. that love can exist even for motherfuckers who aren’t good for me
  5. that if you’re not good for me you need to leave leave leave and stay gone
  6. that i can do better
  7. there’s no point in being scared of being too much or being too little – i am who i am and if people don’t like it they can fuck off to outer space actually
  8. valuing what i offer people because it’s damn good and if people can’t appreciate it they need to get gone
  9. that i have every right to ask for better
  10. that even if better doesn’t exist outside me, it always exists inside me
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A Year Later

A year ago (almost exactly a year ago – Jan 24th, it was a tuesday, look it up) I was dumped. I don’t even know what to call it actually – it was the unceremonious ending of a stupid thing that should never have happened, and lasted so brief that we could say the fetus zygote of a relationship was aborted.

The connection had been, from my perspective, fantastic. We had just decided to be exclusive. And then within a few days of that conversation, he changed his mind and said he wanted friendship instead. I sat there reeling in the cafe, trying to figure out why I felt like I’d been hit by a semi truck.

His explanation made sense: his family was seeking something different and you know, how would this ever work long term and it’s better to end it sooner before feelings develop too intensely so that we could still be friends. I nodded numbly, and he saw my face and he helplessly commented: “It’s already too late.”

I have never felt stupider about any relationship I’ve ever tried to embark on. I’ve never felt more ashamed, or like I’d been taken for a ride. I’ve never felt more like a dumbass. And I’ve also never felt more enraged. In the past, when stupid shit like this happens, I often ask myself where I went wrong, and landed on some superficial shit like “oh you reached out too much” or “oh you didn’t reach out enough” or “oh you know you weren’t perfect in xyz ways”. Rarely have I felt a pure kind of anger at the situation, at myself, at him. Rarely have I felt a vicious feeling like: “yes. good. This was fucking just desserts for a BULLSHIT thing I tried to do, and this is very much the universe laughing at me.”

“Everything we did was unnecessary and stupid” I would tell him, a month after the breakup. “I regret it.”

And I do. I regret meeting this person, investing my time and my feelings in him. I regret every moment that “felt good” because of how ultimately vapid and stupid our connection was.

Lesson 1: The consequence of not seeing someone clearly is immense pain because you set up an expectation of who they are in your own stupid little head and are constantly confused about why they do not meet those expectations. 

And that finally sunk in for me this year. This idiot dumped me in a week, and said he`d be friends. I was *at least* not stupid enough to say “yeah of course, I believe you, dear almost-boyfriend who dumped me in a week and with whom I’ve had crazy good makeout sessions with, that you will suddenly be a ‘good friend’.” But I WAS stupid enough to say “you know, sure, yeah we’ll see – I don’t  trust you yet, but you need to show me that you actually care about our friendship by reaching out… making an effort, trying, or else I’ll definitely think this was bullshit too.”

And it was a long, drawn out, painful set of months of bullshit. This was someone who very sincerely wanted friendship in the moment (I could feel that – they weren’t empty words and I quizzed him hard on it), and then showed me precisely how incapable he was of actually being a friend. “Let’s be friends!” was so much steaming bull feces over the next few months. Did he reach out? not really. Did he show he gave a damn? nope! And yeah maybe this “breakup” (lol) was really hard on him or some type of shit. Maybe he “didn’t know what he really wanted”.

But you know what: he hadn’t changed at all from when we were “dating”. Was he decent at getting in touch,communicating his feelings, recognizing his own vulnerabilities and weaknesses while we were dating? No. So why did I even offer room to see “growth” after I’d been dumped? Because, I had not internalized Lesson 1 and also because I had not learned that

Lesson 2: You don’t owe anyone that breaks your trust, your trust. Stop doing that. Have strict motherfucking boundaries for who you want to open up to and say “fuck off” to the rest. 

If someone takes your trust and pisses on it, maybe don’t give them more of it to shit all over and then sob about it later. “But!” you wail, “I’m just so sad and I miss them so much!” No. This person did not exist. You made them up entirely. Even those great moments were probably a pass time for them where they could have been doing anything else. And, even if the moments were genuinely good, here’s the kicker: they may still be really bad for you due to showing ambivalence, lack of care, lack of support, lack of fucking decency for your needs. And this doesn’t make them a bad person, it just means:

Lesson 3:  Your needs, standards for care, love, friendship, support, communication matter. They don’t matter in a general sense because everything on the timeline of the universe is fucking insignificant, but they matter in terms of your stupid tiny life which, might I remind you, is ALL you have on this stupid little miserable planet. That’s it. Your life. And if someone cannot meet these standards – whatever they are, however you organize them, they need to fucking be garbage chuted out of your life. You can love them and they need to get gone. You can want the best for them, and you can do that from afar. Your life has to matter more than EVERYTHING else you come across.  Everything else is arbitrary as fuck – even life for many people is arbitrary so if you have the luxury of whining about relationships, know that you have the luxury of a life where your basic needs are met and you can fucking wallow for a year like me, your friendly neighbourhood dumbass. 

But, you blubber THROUGH A RIVER OF TEARS “how?! How can I possibly – I mean I just – we had such a good connection – and, I don’t know if I want them gone”

This person is a source of intense emotional strife in your life. They have done nothing to ease it. They have not shown even a minimum standard of care. They have literally done nothing.

“I’m really good at making you cry”, is what he said to me painfully on our last night, so  year ago.

“Yes. You are really fucking good at making me cry and I really didn’t deserve this” is what I should have said. And it is what I will say in future. You have to know at all times what your TERMS are. You HAVE to know what your terms of engagement – sexually, romantically, friendship-wise – are.  You HAVE to know that these terms of engagement depend ENTIRELY on what IS GOOD FOR YOU.

And only you get to decide that.

Lesson 4: Your standards for your relationships reflect what you are willing to let in and *exactly what you keep out*, and this little gated community of your heart is entirely reliant on what is good for you.

Except when it’s not. Ha ha! Because if you’re an emotionally traumatized person like me you will probably settle for way less than what you deserve, and you probably have no idea about what’s good for you.

But you have to learn. You have to learn what is actually good for you and people who, through no fault of their own, make you cry because your needs are so different or because trust has been shattered, or because of any other fucking reason – these are people who are not good for you.

And it’s no one’s fault. Sometimes. Sometimes it is no one’s fault at all. Sometimes, you’re left with some deep knowledge that a connection should never ever have been fostered, should never ever have been approached.

And relationships like these are just another stupid bitter lesson, bitter fruit, bitter pill, so take it swallow it, and don’t repeat the same mistake. Especially – ESPECIALLY – if you find yourself crying tears you didn’t think were possible months after the fact, and you hear yourself saying “I never want to meet someone like you again” or “I wish we had never ever met” – then you owe it to yourself to NEVER let in someone like that again.

And to cut that person off for good. Lock them off. Forever.

Anyone who makes you feel like shit about yourself isn’t worth any space in your life unless and until they make amends, or you feel less powerless about the situation and feel open to reconnecting because you may be able to offer each other something way in the future.

And the next time someone does not meet your standards for how you want to be treated, address it or lock them off immediately. Engaging in adult relationships means bringing authenticity to the table. Bringing vulnerability to the table means you:

Lesson 5: Say exactly what you mean and mean exactly what you say. And if you cannot do that, you have no business being in a relationship. If you feel “compelled to say yes because you can’t say no” – that’s not a relationship. That’s you prioritising someone else’s presence in your life more than you are prioritising what is MOTHERFUCKING GOOD FOR YOU.  If you feel you can only say no because you are afraid of having feelings for someone, take your bullshit self to a bachelor pad and rot there by yourself because you have no business implicating someone else’s feelings and journey by giving them mixed messages.

Hah which brings me to my next point:

Lesson 6: There’s no such thing as mixed messages. If you’re confused, it’s a no. It is a “no this person does not care about you”. It is a “no, they are hoping you take a hint because yeah they don’t know how to tell you to fuck off”. It is a “no, they don’t really know what they want, but hope that you’ll be drying out like raw fish on their hook FOR ALL ETERNITY” while they figure their shit out, continue fishing, etc.
It is ALWAYS a no if you are confused because people will ALWAYS show you where you fall based in terms of their priorities. You will know because of their actions. And yeah you could argue “life circumstances… their own journey.. they may – ”

When you care about someone, think about how you behave with them. Do you give a headsup, communication wise? Do you show that you are still thinking of them even if circumstances are hard or difficult? Are you setting standards for other people in your life that are WAY BELOW the standards you set for yourself?

“But!” you say “But shouldn’t we just love people for who they are – and they’re doing their best and – ”

Lesson 7: Love people for who they are and, if in loving them, you feel like your insides are being sliced up because it’s SO PAINFUL that they DO NOTHING for you, or very little, or NOT ENOUGH, THEN LEAVE. Because love shouldn’t have to hurt. Because they deserve better than your shitty “I’m in pain loving you” love. and you deserve better than your “I’m in pain loving you” love. Accept that you are trash for each other’s well being in terms of any material actions, reasonable understanding of mutual care/connection, and that whatever you had was either not real, or not meant to last – take your pick, but whatever that “connection” is, it’s rotting so just burn it cleanly away already.

In closing, here is what i said to my “ex-nothing” in the cafe
“you killed something in me, between us.”

and here is his brilliant response:
“thanks for making me feel like I’ve ruined it for the other guys”
“the conversations were the best part – you’re so easy to talk to”

But actually, in retrospect, a year later, that was the motherfucking problem: I was, apparently, so easy to talk to that I let into my life people like him.

And you know what he’s not even that bad of a guy.

But the point is exactly that: he doesn’t have to be a monster, a rapist, a murderer, a horrifying waste of space, to still fall WAYYYYY short of my standards of good treatment.

And he fell short. He fell short multiple times. And I’m sure I fell short for him too.

So that’s good, now we know exactly what not to allow in our lives.

He’s not garbage and neither am I, but we were – are – trash to each other.

And hey, if you’re reading this – yeah you: Get a new fucking hobby.

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What My No Really Means

I find it interesting that while for most human interactions we leave room for growth, change, human misunderstandings, imperfection and fallibility, when it comes to sex, it is either completely “enthusiastic with ongoing consent” or rape. The flattening of a wide variety of human experience into this binary is dangerous, not solely because the conversation loses meaning and gravity, but because we cannot actually move from a rape culture to a nurturance culture if we cannot name with nuance and clarity the variety and range of sexual experiences one can have. If we cannot clearly name the unease we feel in reading grace’s account, we lose the opportunity to discuss how indeed ansari’s actions were still wrong, very common as a measure of pushing boundaries, *and how to address it in future and create a world where people of all genders stop doing that*. Naming everything as rape flattens the discussion, reduces complexity, and is an insistence on our part to read requests and harassment by men as commands in the bedroom not due to any force or threat….but just because they are men and are somehow wielding patriarchy in the bedroom.

Think of the dangers of this. We are implicitly saying then that only men have the power to rape. We are saying that women NEVER cross lines (which is not true – women do). Sometimes we twist this and say: “welll when women do it, they don’t have patriarchal power so…” So what. So. What. Are we saying that because women are not men, they cannot rape or sexually assault or cross boundaries? Are we so invested in a narrative of our own powerlessness that we believe we cannot and indeed, do not exert power over other people? Worse, are we not saying *negative perceptions* of masculine initiation is tantamount to rape? Think of the implications of this – do you know what cis men say about trans women? They say trans women raped them by trapping them by not disclosing their status. Do you know what white women have said for centuries about black men? That they are sexually threatening by *virtue of existing* – this was the basis for lynchings, for inscribing a violent patriarchy into a man rather than understanding that we – all of us – enact kyriarchal violence in complex ways.

Are we then slipping into the second wave feminist years? Are we then saying that every interaction with every man risks rape if the sexual encounter wasn’t 100% satisfying? Even if it was satisfying, clearly patriarchy still exists even though we enjoyed it and agreed to it so are we still saying all sex comes with a power differential ie: patriarchy and therefore all sex is Rape? Is this dworkin 2.0? Or are we even more absurdly saying that the power differential is somehow eliminated when we consent?

Why am I living in a world where if I say I am equal to a man in a bedroom, the first people to disagree with me are feminists? I anticipate their argument clearly: They would say I’ve internalized patriarchy and am lying to myself but I would argue I’ve resisted patriarchy and come out the other side where in personal encounters I am indeed equal and act from a place of complete ownership of my actions and demand that men do the same in owning theirs.

Agreeing to a sexual act because you feel threatened is not the same as agreeing to a sexual act because you’re uneasy with the request.

But look I get it: I wasn’t always able to do this. My journey took time. It took self compassion. It took a fine, fine balance of understanding my own agency and power in situations where I may have internalized the notion that I am helpless *when in fact I wasn’t*.

Because to be empowered means to have power , to act from a place of power, and to quote a tired cliche: with great power comes great responsibility.

And I am starting to really see that many feminists are not afraid of men. They are afraid of power. Not other people’s power! Their own. We have inculcated an idea in the left that a position of marginalization and lack of power confers moral superiority and defers responsibility to the self and to others – If to be empowered means to have responsibility, we have at points subconsciously or not, as a movement, chosen to not be empowered in order to avoid that responsibility to ourselves.

And if that hurts, it should. It’s normal to feel hurt by this not because it’s victim blaming but because it hurts to recognize and know that we can do better for ourselves and *haven’t yet*. It is our deepest selves crying out for more not from the world, but from ourselves. This is hard work. It is unfair work. And this is the real reason why misogyny and patriarchal violence is a question of power – because we have to do this work to be really and truly ok in this world.

Part of the unease and insistence that this was sexual assault on the part of many cisgender feminists I know and respect is that we never talk about the management of our own actions as women and how we have also internalized patriarchal standards of “giving in” to repeated harassment. I mean we talk about it as men pushing our boundaries and men needing to change, which I agree with. But we do not talk about “giving in”  as something we have power over, have control over, and which can change through an understanding of what we owe ourselves. We speak of harassment only from a place of fear and never with a critical mindset to undo, in the practice of our every-day lives, the socialization we have endured our whole lives to put other people’s desire – especially men’s sexual desire- ahead of our own needs for comfort and safety. Undoing our socialization as women means that we let go of *our* tendencies to manage men’s feelings. Undoing this socialization means we don’t make empty demands that they respect our no – we do not “plead” with a no, or beg with a no; we *assert* our no just as they *assert* sexual initiation. It means when they do not respect our no, the consequence is NOT that we “give in”! It means we fundamentally see no reason to give in! The consequence is that they are left WITHOUT us emotionally and sexually managing their sexual needs, because we have a right to our boundaries!

Just as men must do the work of stepping back and critically reflecting on how they make us uncomfortable, we must do the work of deconstructing all the ways we learned to say yes without ever learning to really say no.

And then we must say no. We must act on a no. We do this not from a a place of sexual gatekeeping but from a place of highest and deepest responsibility to ourselves, our bodies, our personal sense of comfort and boundaries that no one else defines and for which we seek no external validation for.

Moments like these call on us to also ask ourselves how can we hold ourselves compassionately through choices we make that we would like to resist making in future? How does desirability factor into the compromises we make on boundaries? How important indeed are our own boundaries to us?

I refuse and reject wholeheartedly the sentiment that men are responsible for managing my feelings in the bedroom; I would give no one that power. If we are constantly telling men: “please, stop asking us to manage your feelings. Please we don’t want this work”, it is time we *acted* on that and STOPPED investing in this way in their needs. It is time we learned that the flip side of men demanding we nurture them is that we constantly seem to *acquiesce* and we constantly seem to say EVERY time we acquiesce it is because we are threatened and this is not true. This is a dangerous lie because we harm ourselves with this lie. We reify our position of relative powerlessness and cling to it as a moral high ground, when it is in fact a disempowering position.

Men are not responsible for managing my feelings in the bedroom, but they are however wholly responsible for their actions and this is why there is a difference between *acquiescing* to sexual activity after being harassed vs being coerced. Coercion requires force and threats as part of the equation of power. Rape and sexual assault requires sexual violation of a physical boundary, a body, not just verbal pestering.

In asking men to be more responsible in their initiation of sexual activity, we too must be more assertive about our terms of sexual engagement and stand in our own confidence and sense of self worth.

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can’t

i think of you sometimes

and all that comes out in words are

i can’t do this

 

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