The Width of Becoming (Learning How to Love The Shape of My Face)

{Beyond The Honeymoon}

content note: self-harm, psychoanalyzing themes of self-harm

“Is it that sometimes the pain inside has to come to the surface, and when you see evidence of the pain inside you finally know you’re really here? Then, when you watch the wound heal, it’s comforting… isn’t it?”

I’ve never cut myself but I’ve had many close relationships with people who cut. My first romantic relationship was with someone who had self inflicted “tattoos” up and down both arms and that was not the first or last person I shared intimacy with, who cut. In a similar vein,  I spent much of 2014 pining over people I thought I wasn’t good enough for. It was not simply about having crushes. It was an exercise in self-injury. I would create long lists of reasons why I didn’t measure up and then sit with them until it was too painful and cry into my hair. I am not the kind of person who throws things when I get angry. I throw my own insides around until they feel like they could break clean through the skin. It isn’t comforting in the traditional sense, but it let’s me know I’m still here. I get lost in my own hurt and my own head. I spend too much time alone. Sometimes I feel like I’m not really real. And I learned early on that inflicting pain is a good tool for reminding. I think we all do it on some level, until we learn that the only thing that cuts deeper than pain is love. And that cut is a necessary opening, but it doesn’t hurt. It pokes straight through and holds us together. It bleeds us to free us. I recently watched The movie, Secretary for the first time in 10 years and remembered why I relate so much to spilled blood. I sat there, curious and crying during the scene where E. Edward Gray asks Lee to stop cutting. She agrees, as if looking at him for the first time. She opens up and it’s as though she finally has a reason to do something different, to feel something else. I waded through my own patterns to try to understand what that must be like. I went deep into the body of my own pain and tried to imagine a love, or a truth or a power dynamic that could feed me so full, I’d no longer have a need to hurt myself. I don’t know what it’s like to feel that real or hold my heart that high, but I can imagine. I thought back to my nearly six year on again/off again relationship and wondered if it was really that different from Lee and E. Edward Gray. In both cases; there was an element of pain that provided pleasure, in both cases the question of whether or not it was consensual floated around, and in both cases, there was a need to push boundaries as a means to maintain the attraction. I will say that from the truth down to my toes, I didn’t know what I was doing back then. I initiated all the break-ups and I was in charge of all the make-ups. It was scary then and it scares me now. But there was no malicious intent. I fought with every inch of my bones for that relationship, but it kept fighting me back. When I suggested we stop for good, there was pawing and praying and pulling at my pant leg. There was no real acknowledgment about the power dynamic or the sexual aspect, but our sex was skin tearing, when we’d get back together. And my anxiety level was dangerously high but my adrenaline was through the roof. I was an addict. Even though the taste of our love lived on my tongue, I was also navigating the critical, angry, drunken storm that came with it. There was not one reason why we essentially broke up. There was a colony of reasons and a litany of do-overs that left us both sick and stuck inside our bloody skin.

I think I’ve always been attracted to the idea of chasing, as courting or foreplay. I think I’ve always liked the challenge that comes with a little chase and I’ve always liked being chased. I don’t know if it’s because my dad is from Bed Stuy and my mom is from rural Vermont, but I’ve always been attracted to unlikely couples as a relationship style. I like when people are surprised about who I’m attracted to. I like when they don’t get it. A therapist once asked if I read a lot of trashy romance novels growing up. I didn’t- not a one. Still, I can remember identifying with Diane Court’s character in Say Anything, even though I was a little girl. I’ve always liked being placed up high. I’ve always been attracted to Lloyd Dobbler-types. I’ve wondered if it’s a way to satisfy the complicated parts of myself. I’ve wondered if it’s a way to balance me out. And I think complicated attractions are the best kind. I love learning about myself through my crushes and my loves. They help me understand what I need. I know when I get carried away and feel obsessive about a crush, it’s because I’m not focused on myself. It’s because I’m not feeding my needs. But I think a certain amount of chasing and chased is hot, as long as there’s a solid understanding about being caught. And as long as that’s the whole point. If I could break through the walls of any of my beliefs, it would be the one that taught me I deserved to chase love and never catch up with it. It would be the lie that said love was something you had to prove. It would be the damage that was done to my heart as a little girl, that followed me through my most important relationships as an adult. I know these things don’t unravel overnight. I know I have to untangle the threads, and I do. And I learn more with every pull through. I learn when I heal and I learn with each day that I push through. I learn through the experiences the Universe gifts me. So my eyes were wide open this past Fall, when I met somebody who told a story that broke through the lies on me. He spoke fondly of an interesting relationship he had with a woman some years ago and I couldn’t help but notice the culture of order and the focus on organization in their dynamic. They met up for dates the same day each week and he looked nostalgic when he talked about what they did on these dates. I listened with the awareness of all of my being, thinking about the superficial cultural similarities between this relationship and my on again/off again coming of age. But I knew it wasn’t the same. I knew what he talked about was something pure, asked for, clearly sectioned and intentionally traced. For a moment, I felt like I belonged in a similar shape. My eyes got damp and wide, “were you in service to her?” “Yes.” “Why did it end?” “I was falling in love with her.” I think that that weekend was a breaking point for my hands and legs. I felt alive and aware in a way that opened up my whole mouth. I released the shame in my limbs bottled up from all those years. I was not wrong for coming back and then leaving. I was just trying to learn my love. I hoped through the length of my bones that things would be different every time- and they were, but not in a way that was sustainable. And the make-up period was worth it, whether it was two days or two months. And I didn’t do it alone. I can’t be blamed for the sex and the mess that two people made and made last. But now I wonder how things would’ve been different if we’d have set up our relationship in a way that made pleasure and pain or dominance and submission intentional. The truth is, we wouldn’t have and we couldn’t have- not back then. Neither one of us had the language or the honesty or the culture of consent. Still, after that day when I heard this story of a consensual power dynamic, I thought for a long time about whether or not that was something I really wanted. I ate the seeds out of the fruit of the idea, while I bit into the pits and swallowed the juice of the thought of it. I guess I never really knew that people existed who genuinely liked to meet other people’s needs in that kind of way. I suppose I hadn’t really thought about it. If I am honest, I think I thought of service relationships in terms of a more physical dynamic- and of course, they can be whatever they are and they don’t need to be linear. But I don’t think I realized the opportunity for an emotional power play that could exist in a way that is beautiful and romantic. I had never really thought about it intelligently, but I dropped to my knees that day and stared at my face. What if I had a need to be catered to or a desire to be demanding sometimes and that was okay? What if my back and forth relationship was a way for my higher self to encourage me to seek out my true needs? What if there was a way to have pleasure and pain on purpose? I paused and pondered and took a lot of time exploring how this idea felt to me. I talked about it with friends and fantasized about what it might taste like inside my lips. I wondered if this could be a missing piece. I wondered if this could be the thing that might fill me so full, it could replace my need to hurt myself. I wondered if this could make me feel alive.

The idea of having a love that’s complex but also safe and intentional, is what threw me up against my own wall and grabbed me,  like two hands full of the best sex. I think the thought caught me and carried me and helped me hold the width of my own face. I opened up and realized that I don’t have to settle for something difficult. I realized that complex doesn’t have to mean painful; I realized there are all kinds of people, connections and agreements in this world and I have a right to find the right one. All I have to do is imagine it. So, after many conversations traveling straight up and through my bones and trickling down my face, I decided service relationships were probably not for me. It is possible that I may one day explore some aspect of consensual power play, but as I listened to a friend talk about her own relationship, I realized that I probably didn’t want anything like that. It’s not because it isn’t beautiful or amazing or a perfectly healthy choice for many people. It’s because the part of it that was attractive to me, was about the idea of somebody actually listening to me, when I talk about what I need. It was about the potential of somebody trying to make me happy, in a different kind of way. It was about being seen and heard. And I think what I really want, at the tip of my toes; is somebody who will know how to do that naturally and instinctively, without being asked or told to, somebody who will fit right in my arms. And who knows, maybe there will be some power play. Maybe there always has been some and I’ve never named it that. Maybe we will create our cultures of love and sex and holding, together. Maybe I deserve to have a wider hold and a longer lens than I’ve ever had. Maybe I’ve been practicing giving out the deepest, dopest, largest love my whole life. Maybe I just want to finally get that back.

****************************************

During the early years after I first came out, somebody told me I looked like a dominatrix. I really didn’t know what to make of it, particularly since it was online and they had only seen a picture of my face. I felt sort of outside of myself and joked about it with my friends, saying how ridiculous it was. I laughed it off. Not too long after that, somebody said it again. This time, it was a woman who was interested in me, who worked as a dom herself. She asked it very plainly, as though it was either a run of the mill question or it was simply obvious because of the shape of my face. I pretended I didn’t know what she meant, but I did. I always knew that I was different. And I knew other people could see it on the edges of the flesh between my eyes and around my lips. It was my energy. It was my scent, my taste. Maybe the same scent and the same taste that caused me to think about power play in my love life.  But it was more about the way I moved and the length of my integrity than the way that I looked. And long before it was pointed out to me, I felt it in my bones. I knew I was a different kind. When it first came up, I thought people were trying to say I looked masculine because they didn’t have the analysis or the language to categorize it as anything else. In hindsight, I know that being outside of a delicate, narrow construct of femininity, does not make me masculine. But I also know some people believe it does. I know that many people believe that femininity and masculinity travel straight lines and believe those lines oppose each other. I know that many people are more comfortable being small and don’t know what to do about people who are bigger. I have certainly been accused of being too aggressive or assertive or not looking the right way. And in the rare circumstance that I talk about this with other people, they never know what I mean unless they’re also Black women who’ve also been accused. And I think this translates in different ways, depending on the particulars but I think people want to place Black women with lighter features and looser hair into a tighter, smaller box of femininity and they don’t know what to do, when we don’t fit. They don’t know what to say about their own constructions. I think people find juxtaposition with the way I occupy space physically and visually as a fat Black woman, with mixed heritage and features. I think the idea that Black women are inherently more masculine, is based on the same logic that shames people into eating disorders and tricks people into thinking that beauty is a one-dimensional thing that’s fixed, instead of fluid. I think Black women, in all our multi-faceted beauty are a more than not a because of. But I’ve lived in my skin long enough to know how people interpret larger bodies and lighter skin. I’ve been alive long enough to know how that translates on the same body at the same time. I think we could sit here and talk all day about what masculinity is or isn’t and what it means to project things onto people as a way to keep yourself small and your growth stunted. But I think what people are accessing when they read this on my face, is more of a knowing-ness. It’s the kind of knowing-ness that is powerful and scary to some and I think some people trace the lines of this power and the lines of my face as masculine, because they don’t know what else to call it. And they refuse to call it feminine because their ideas about femininity don’t stretch that far or reach that deep. Still, years later, I don’t think people who have genuinely mistaken me for a dominatrix, were locating me as masculine. I think they were some of the few people who actually got it. And I knew what they meant. They were reading an energy on me. But at the time, when I was drowning in my own unsure skin and my waves of insecurities, I felt certain that they were calling me masculine. And I acted surprised because I thought that any other reaction would be akin to saying they were right. At other times, people had intentionally and directly referred to me as masculine and they meant ugly. And I spent so many years being called ugly, by way of the actual word, that I would’ve done anything to be called something else. In many ways, I still live in fear of ugly. Somebody who I trust recently admitted to me that when I take pictures of myself, I look like I’m trying to look like someone else. He was right. He said I look more like me, when I’m not trying to look innocent and he was right about that too. I fear so much about the sharpness of my face, I sometimes go out of my way to try to look softer. I’ve been told so many lies about the cut of my face, I’ve tried to cut it clean off. I’ve tried to shape it into something else. I think the thing about masculinity in women, is that it’s wildly beautiful. I think it’s breath-taking and I’ve gasped at the scent of it. But when you are named that way, without identifying that way, it is cold and sharp. It hurts your face and stabs your good side. I think that I am old enough and wise enough now, to know the shape of my own face. I think I know how to trace my own heart. And I think the outline is beautiful. I think my silhouette shows a shadow that’s divinely powerful. Some days I try to tone myself down, cut down the sides of my shape. But when I’m full of honesty, I know I’m beautiful as I am. I know I’m a lot wider than the vision that blooms inside a lot of people’s left and right eyes, and that can be intimidating. But I am as warm as I am flavorful and I am sharp but I am soft too. And I just want to be seen in my entirety, while I’m being loved all over and held up high. I just want to be loved and fucked like I’m beautiful. I just want to believe my own truth.

************************************

For years, I’ve felt like the mess that gets swept into the dust pan. I’ve believed that all I could do is pile into my own wreckage and cut people’s skin with my edges, like glass. Eventually, I started trying to make myself smaller and without realizing it, I began looking for somebody small to match. When I started this work, I knew I would be making more space for myself- I just didn’t know how small the mold was that I had been trying to fit. I think I was constructing a particular flavor of masculinity and a particular gender of person because I thought that’s what I needed in order to maintain the tiny box of femininity and the tiny box of woman I was trying to fit into. It is true that I’m attracted to a certain kind of energy and it is true that I am wild about masculinity. But I wanted so desperately to find a name for it. I wanted so desperately to call it “he.” I am very much attracted to “he” energy, but this journey has taken me down hills and larger openings and I have surprised myself by what I have found. I have opened my arms to a wider space and found myself staring back at me. I have always been afraid that truly loving someone outside of the mold I created would mean I had to compromise myself. I thought it would cause me to lose a piece of myself. So I constructed a box of a certain kind of masculinity in an attempt to preserve my femininity, my womanhood, and my access to normalcy. I think part of me thought that my queerness would only make sense if there was some sort of binary energy in my relationships- as if that would balance me out. As if existing in that dynamic would somehow prove or affirm something about me.  I’ve spent so many years trying to get into a box of beautiful and stay there. But that box is so small and I am so big. I looked back at my last piece in this series and realized how much I was constructing my own gender around someone else’s complement of it. I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with that, but I’ve noticed that it’s difficult for me to feel good about who I am, if who I need to be in order to feel beautiful and real is dependent on a binary energy or an “opposite” gender. At the beginning of this year, I developed a short-lived crush on somebody who isn’t masculine. It came out of nowhere and held my face in it’s hands on a cold night with my heart open and my surprise against the wall. My body was flush with the shock on my face. I felt like I was coming out for the first time. I remembered the poems I wrote when I first came out and the girls I was curious about when I was figuring things out. I started wondering what it meant that I was noticing somebody who is more fluid. I felt so open and so nervous, but something felt familiar. I remembered what it was like to feel queer in a way that was delicious and scary. I remembered how vulnerable it feels to like someone who wears make-up. I felt strange and delicate and soft. I didn’t know whether or not I liked it, but I wanted to know what it meant. I became cautious and pensive and split open between excited and gasping for air. Then two days later, I ran into my last crush and gasped at my knees buckling and my heart fluttering. It was divine timing. I had been asking the Universe for an explanation and my question was answered. I had fallen into the trap of trying to categorize my attractions as an either/or but I am wide and getting wider. My heart is as open as my body is warm. And what I know and have always known is that I have eyes for a lot of bodies, energies, and genders but I am overwhelmingly and unapologetically attracted to people who are read as masculine and who are more masculine than me. Since I’ve given myself permission to start dating again, I’ve been hit on by a few feminine women and to my surprise, I still felt and feel feminine. In many ways, it has made me feel more soft and vulnerable and pretty. I don’t think that’s what femininity is for everyone, but it is for me. And getting this kind of attention has been interesting and flattering, but it really only solidified things for me. I am primarily attracted to people whose gendered appearances speak a different language than mine. I think that can mean a lot of things and I don’t necessarily think women or feminine women all speak the same language. I don’t think any two genders are exactly the same and I don’t think gender is quantifiable in a way that can be translated in the same way at the same time for all of us. I think I know what femininity means to me and for me. I think I know how I want to be read in the world and I think I want to be with somebody who is read quite differently than me. I think I’m energetically fluid in a way that is more readily understood by my best friends and my partners. I think the people who have loved me and have been in love with me have known me in a way that can’t be read through the dresses I wear or the way my hair falls over my left eye. I think I’m attracted to a gendered energy that outwardly presents in a way that most people would identify as harder than me. I think my attraction will always be delicious and a little bit scary. If I am honest, I think my love is too- at least at first. But that’s only because we’ve been taught that love is supposed to have clean lines and attraction is supposed to be small and flat. I know my eyes and my heart are much more developed than that. I know my love can reach much wider. And I like people with long passion and sharp edges. I think I want my next partner to be in love with and proud of their fluidity. I overwhelmingly lean towards femininity and I don’t think gender necessarily has opposites but I want to be with somebody whose gender is more like the inverse of mine. I don’t think masculinity and femininity necessarily exist on a spectrum, but I want there to be some sort of complement of the two in my relationships. I’m not looking for somebody who is stiff or fixed. I want them to be moveable. If you’re out there and you’re reading this, you should know my femininity is fluid like the taste of my sex. But my woman is full and fixed and I have fought through my own skin to be proud of that. I just want somebody to see me. I just want to be known. I’m not one-dimensional and I may not feel the same in six years or six months. I just want somebody to grow with me. I don’t think gender translates well in words and I’m not sure if my ideal connection or mate can be verbally translated either. But I’m trying to flesh them out. I’m trying to find a language that translates in a way that can be understood outside of my head. I don’t think this is the end of the story or the longest length of my truest word. I’m just looking for somebody who can feel what I’m saying on a gut level. I just want somebody to teach themselves to me. Maybe we can learn together. Maybe we will create our own language of attraction. Maybe one day, we’ll be fluent.

*************************************

I think romantic love has it’s own language and culture. Like gender, I think we create our own definitions of it and no two are the same. I think we create whole cities of love and occupy them spiritually with the data we’ve been collecting since we were old enough to feel. And I think life will keep exposing us to different kinds of people and different kinds of dynamics until we have a good grasp of what we need in order to feel full and fed, until we can really flesh it out. I think our task is to learn once and for all that we deserve to live out that love. I think many of us find ourselves in a culture of lack and focus on it so much that we begin to attract more of it. Initially, I think my love culture came from my family system, my relationship with my father, and the grade school crushes that didn’t crush back. I think I started to look for more of what had already happened so of course, I found it in my adult relationships. I think I’d convinced myself that love is attached to lack. And it’s been hard for me to imagine a love that fits and sticks. It’s been hard to imagine a love that would give, hold, and heart back. I think my biggest challenge is believing that the love I’ve collected data for is ready to mirror me back. I think it’s hard to believe it’s out there. I’ve suffered because the loves that were supposed to love all over me, have only loved on pieces of me. I’ve internalized this so much that I’ve become afraid to open up and show the all of me. But I’m ready to push myself. I’m so ready to allow myself. I know that I deserve it. And I’m ready to learn it. I think that love is a long, windy road that doesn’t actually stop. I’ve learned that love will let you know you’re still here, your heart is still beating and your breath is still breathing. I think that as long as you’re here, you’re still growing and no matter what is going on, you must love yourself enough to keep trying, keep going, keep living. If you’re getting up out of bed even one day a week, it is because of love. It may not be the love you’ve imagined for yourself. It may be a very small piece. But it is still love. And it is that piece that’s going to carry you through. I have asked myself a billion times what the thing is that makes me keep going, when it feels like there is no reason to go. I have looked at my own eyes in my own mirror and wondered what the point is. And I always come back to the same thing. I am made of love and I was made for love. I have not yet done what I came here to do. I have barely even begun. And despite what I have seen in my life or grieved in my life, I know that that is not it. I know the road is longer than that. I know that people surprise you, hold your truth in the back pocket of their hands and let you speak it, then fold it back against their heart line and vow to keep it. I know if you haven’t yet met anybody that can hold your heart and hold you down, then you are still looking. I know some people don’t want to highlight or focus on romantic love and there are valid reasons for it, but that is not my story. I know my story doesn’t end where she didn’t acknowledge me or he didn’t appreciate my worth. There are days when it’s hard to look in the mirror but I know my story is just beginning. I know my beauty is long and growing longer. I know my birth is just starting. I know there are people who find my honesty and my love startling. I know there are others who think it’s stunning. I just turned 34 and for the first time, I know that I’m stunning. I know my hope is wider than the heaps of hurt on my hands. I know my hands are strong and I can hold more than most people. And I don’t want to be taken advantage of because of that. I want to be held in the air and kissed and cuddled and cried over. I want tears to mean totality. I want the struggle to end between our lips and inside our taste. I want my name called, my hair pulled and my truth tucked into the same skin on the same body with the same brain and the same heart that heals when I recite poetry. I want to be the one that challenges, changes, and holds the heavy mess through the changes. I never wanted to be a dream girl, but I’m the total sum of amazing for at least one or two people. Maybe more. I want the same back. I want to hold hands and be held back. I want truth. I want vulnerability. I want the whole space and I want space for me. I want the space to grow and keep growing. I want everything I was made for and I won’t take anything less.

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2 Responses to The Width of Becoming (Learning How to Love The Shape of My Face)

  1. Melanie,
    I love the way you use words. You take me with you on this journey of self discovery remember things, feelings long forgotten. Learning to accept pain, no. Not accept but to revel in it unknowingly, is something that many of us do without ever realizing that it’s the pain that draws us near as much as the love we want.
    Thank you for sharing.

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