Photo credit: Dylan Hikes
CW: Blood, Gore, emotional outbursts
I was 12 years old when I learned to be afraid of my own anger. I was already afraid of the anger of others. That’s the only lesson violence can teach a child. But I’d never been afraid of myself until I got in a run of the mill fight with my mother and grandmother.
I don’t even remember what it was about, but at a certain point, I said my piece and threw the door open to go back into the house and sulk and deal with, once again, being left behind, being forgotten, being dismissed. Which is generally what all our fights were about for me.
Suddenly, sulking wasn’t enough. Having the last word wasn’t enough. I knew I’d be punished, maybe violently for my outburst and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I will not be ignored. I am rage, I am all these years of being silenced and hushed and damaged. I am big enough and strong enough and you throw me away at your peril.
I shoved the door open again to reignite the fight and I punched right through the glass. If I’d stayed still, I might have been fine, but I jerked my hand back, raking my own wrist across an exposed shard that was stuck in the window frame.
Suddenly, I was staring down at my literally bloodless skin; severed and bone-white with fear. Finally the blood came, welling up from everywhere at once filling the gash and overflowing my wrist, which I held steady as ever even when I could hear splattering on the floor below.
After that, there was therapy and more recovery groups. The adults talked about institutionalizing me, “for my rage.” Which was clearly out of control. For 12 years I’d taken their violence, verbal abuse, emotional manipulation and inappropriate sexual advances into myself and I’d held it there. For them, protecting them. Keeping their secrets.
Suddenly I saw how much worse it could be for me if even a little bit escaped. A sliver of their own medicine back to them had me on the brink of imprisonment. I knew kids who got shipped away. I knew that if I was invisible now, if I went unheard and unseen now, it could get so much worse.
This is the beginning of my journey to become good. To become someone no one will ever be afraid of again. Not because I didn’t want to cause anyone to feel what others had caused me to feel. I had no concept of the feeling of fear because I was boiled in it. But I did understand what fearful people did, what they were capable of. And that was a violence I could not fathom.
The parable of the wolves, sometimes attributed to the Cherokee, sometimes to the Chinese, sometimes (weirdly) to George Bernard Shaw is a horrible story. Usually told with a lot of appropriative fan-fair that fetishizes the wisdom of people of color even as it condescends to us and ignores our continued subjugation especially given that the story is about how we shouldn’t get angry when we have so much to be angry about.
Just in case you’re not familiar, or aren’t remembering it, the story is about two wolves. The white wolf is of course the good wolf, and the good wolf only wants peace. The black wolf is the bad wolf and this bad dark wolf only wants to fight. The owner of the wolves, who makes them fight each other (for some sick reason) says that the white wolf always wins because that’s the wolf he feeds. And the moral of the story is that we all have two wolves inside of ourselves, and in order to be good, we must starve the bad (black) wolf.
The analysis of this story and it’s use to perpetuate the false concept of white supremacy is a whole other blog post, which âpihtawikosisân has already written really well here, but let’s briefly bullet point the WTF moments:
- Arbitrary bullet point about how it’s fucked up to make the white wolf good and the black wolf bad
- If the white wolf wants peace, why do they fight?
- What kind of fucked up person makes their pet wolves fight each other?
- I’ve met starving dogs, they were hardly docile
- Which leads to the fact that of course the black wolf is fucking pissed, they’re STARVING
- I’d try to fight a white bitch who got everything for free while I got nothing, it’s common sense
- Black rage isn’t trivial
- Also the moral of the story is to… starve yourself?
- Basically you’re just carrying a starving wolf in your heart everywhere you go, trying to ignore it; that sounds uncomfortable
But at 12 years old, facing institutionalization for not keeping a proper lid on my feelings and already deep into anorexia, starving even more of me sounded like a great plan.
Rage, and fear of my own rage turned into the steam that powered me. Anxiety replaced fear as I mastered myself into starting a business at 14, putting myself through college while working two jobs, activism, education, honing my writing and generally doing everything I could to make myself useful, employable, consumable.
At the end of it all, I had a good product. A solid brand. A hero complex, and the means to communicate and defend that extremely well.
I never had people. People had me, but I was and still am so afraid to show anything but my most competent and easily digestible face (or at least what I thought was some approximation of that) lest they realize that I am the worthless trash I try so hard not to be.
The irony is that the very recovery groups I was forced into at 12 years old were there for me when I really had nowhere to turn. And over the years, the fear that had replaced my blood changed and turned into something else, and something else again.
Every time I shed one skin and move a little bit closer to an authentic experience of this life, I am tender for awhile.
Last time the ground shifted in this way, I felt unmoored. I didn’t recognize myself. I was unsure of my own movements in a world where fear was not my constant companion. My life seemed foreign because it was. Going to college, finding a partner, being an employee, a friend. I constantly asked myself if I was going soft, getting weak in the face of the abundance that was kind touch, safe walls; the luxury of intellectual persuit.
My relationship with my rage has changed. Sometimes, I’m not ashamed of it. Sometimes I see it for the wound and the scab that it is. Desperately trying to protect that one small, precious part of me that nobody meets and nobody knows (or at least I think they don’t). It is the blood rushing to the surface, it is the mess that distracts from the gash. It holds me up, it is my fuel, it is my first friend. It’s the wolf I starve and despite this, it still serves me. Protects me.
One of my oldest beliefs is that I deserve to be hurt. Anybody who grew up in an abusive environment will tell you this. What your parents tell you, you believe on a level and for a length of time that no other information can blot out.
To that end, I always take the low paying job, I do the dirty work; shoulder to the wheel and nose to the grind stone. I take the hit, I am the target. I hide behind my strength. I laugh it off. I am a masochist, I love this pain.
At the same time, I’m no man’s victim. I am loud, I am brash, I don’t take shit. I would raise the ground and salt the earth before I surrender. Never again. Never silence again. Never subjugation again. Never. Never. Never.
Until it’s time to step directly into the path of a hurricane because somebody needs it done and I am strong.
Last summer, I quit a job because I couldn’t be that person in that way one more day. I could no longer spin straw into gold. I could no longer support a racist agenda of cultural genocide through gentrification, of taking from the poor in this city and giving to the rich. I could no longer justify working for this system with the excuse that my own body would be the roadblock that kept some back for my people. That I would be the damn. I wasn’t a damn. I was hardly a stick. So I quit.
And in my exhaustion, I threw away my tough-girl-takes-no-bullshit mask. I wrote a post explicitly saying I am agender and genderqueer and I went into the world with a new intention.
After 20 years, I finally finally contacted a therapist who specializes in anorexia and I’m dealing with things I have never looked at. Things I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid looking at.
No human will be my victim, not even myself. I’m tired of protecting myself emotionally and ending up with collateral damage because I’m on the defensive all the time. I’m tired of feeling like I have to chose between being competent and being honest.
In the two months that followed this decision I dealt with street harassment at a level I’ve never experienced, not even when I was riding the LA Metro alone as a 12 and 13 year old.
Men poured out of the woodwork to put me in my place. One guy paced my car up MLK, hanging out his window, screaming at me that I’m a cunt. One man literally chopped the air around my head, pretending he was going to hit me over and over after I politely asked him to leave me alone when he walked over to me and another woman and stood uncomfortably close to us, staring down at us.
Another man screamed “I’M NOT YOUR BRO YOU FAT DYKE” because I called him bro when I told him I didn’t have a light for his cigarette.
The only victory in this string of incidents was when a strange man was harassing a houseless woman I know and I used my tour guide microphone to shout him down. It took me, her and two other women yelling back at him before he finally ran away.
Like I said, this happens. Every time I realize that something that worked for me before (being tough) isn’t working for me anymore, I feel raw. Stripped of a defense I relied on, wound exposed. And when I feel like this, I usually find myself getting hurt.
I bought a kubaton, because as much as I love kindness, I’m still no man’s victim and I moved on with my life. Then I was on the train and someone who looked masculine at first glance said something to me while we were both getting off at the stop next to my house.
I took my ear phone out of my ear and stated at them. Ready for it. Ready to do what I had to do to make sure I never felt as intimidated, as small and scared as those other men had recently made me feel. I couldn’t take it anymore.
Then I realized several things. First of all, their masculinity was not the type I had perceived it to be. Second of all, they were smaller than me. Third of all the thing they had said was “Your dress is cute.” Which it was. And by the time I realized all this, they’d apologized to me and hurried away down the street. Clearly afraid of whatever the fuck I had going on with my face and my stance.
“Thank you!” I yelled after them in my nicest tone.
It felt really awful when that man called me a cunt and made me worry if he was going to run his car into mine. It felt really awful when that man screamed the word dyke in my face on a crowded street. It was even worse when that man kept fake-hitting me. I’m not interested in feeling like that again, and more importantly, I’m not interested in making other people feel like that. Or even a fraction of that.
The other day my friend Anya told me that when I first moved to Portland, I had a fondant of “don’t fuck with me.” At the time, I thought that sounded nice, like maybe I would like that back. Because if I’m not a tough girl (not a girl, not tough) what is there left to be? How do I exist in a world where I am neither aggressor nor victim?
What happens when I feed this wolf I starved, who stayed loyal to me despite my betrayal? What does a well fed, well loved protector look like?
What do I look like?