Last Year’s Rent

Let’s start with a few seemingly disconnected tidbits from my life: my friend recently sent me an Atlantic article about rethinking what we mean when we talk about capital-f Feminism; I can’t stop listening to the Rent soundtrack—it’s like I’ve reverted to my most extreme 2005 theater kid days and I’m not trying to make it stop; in the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time with women I admire and love but don’t get to see often; I still don’t know how to talk about the past year.

I haven’t talked about last year much here. Just the one time, actually. And it’s probably not lost on you that the way I wrote was detached and impersonal. I didn’t know how to talk about it then, and I don’t know how to talk about it now. But I can’t stop listening to Rent and thinking about how we examine a year of our lives.

It was this time last year that all the bad things really kicked into high gear. My whole life unraveled in a torrential whirl, and the thing I try to avoid talking about is that it left me completely unmoored. I lost myself entirely. Fundamental aspects of my life and identity shifted. I’m so different than I was before. I didn’t find my way back to myself. I veered off course and became someone completely different.

I think our impulse in these moments is to talk about how we Survived the Trauma because we’re Warriors and Better because of the Struggle. I’m tired of that narrative. I don’t think I’m better because these things happened to me. I don’t feel broken or fragile, but I don’t feel like this was an essential to my personal growth. Any good things to have come out of the past year could have come about a different way. Preferably a way that didn’t involve having my life threatened, sleeping on couches because staying at home wasn’t safe, talking to police and  detectives, learning about filing restraining orders and temporary protection orders. I’m not glad that any of those things happened to me. There’s not one single part of me that’s grateful for any of those experiences.

The past year was devastating. I hardly recognize the shell I became for several months last winter. I spent most of my time huddled in a bathtub, trying to grow accustomed to the painful tinnitus that pounded in my ear. I completely isolated myself because, even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t ask for or encourage any of it… it still felt like my fault. And I have a degree in Women’s Studies! I literally have a degree in learning to recognize these patterns, to understand how abuse happens, how getting you to think that it IS your fault is a tactic manipulators use to gain more control.

It didn’t help that every system put in place to stop these kind of abuses failed spectacularly. There was never any retribution for the perpetrator. There was never any justice for me or for the friend who also experienced it. Our whole lives were upended. We left our jobs. We spent unseemly sums of money paying people to help us sort out the physical and emotional fallout that degraded our bodies.

I don’t like to acknowledge exactly how much of a toll being a Victim took on me. I don’t want people to treat me like I’m fragile. I know I should have acknowledged my own fragility, and that I should be able to talk about the ways my life remains completely altered. Because my experiences aren’t unique. This kind of trauma has an unfortunately ubiquitous quality. I like to blame my bad luck, but I think the reality is that we live in a perniciously malicious society, where the negative percolates to the top. I try to believe that there’s more good than not, but it seems like bad actions are constantly rewarded.

One of the disappointing aspects of my experience was that it left me wary of participating in the same kind of activism I’d done before. Spaces that were once safe felt foreign and dangerous. When I read that Atlantic article, I’d already been thinking a lot about the ways that Feminism, like many movements catalyzed by our reactionary internet culture, has gone off the rails in truly unproductive ways. When I started this blog its title (it. was. a. joke.) was a light-hearted jab at my own mellow, goofy personality and the way passivity sustains harmful norms. Now… I’m not as comfortable with the name. I’m still trying to articulate how in the quest for justice and inclusion, radicalized facets have created more discord and polarization.

I can see the ways that this exact inability to converse contributed to how the past year of my life unfurled. The institutional structures that should have protected me didn’t. The discussion was so bogged down in politics that what could have been solved quickly and painlessly turned into one of the most traumatic and prolonged experiences of my life. How else can I explain why the same person (who had the most ability and responsibility to rectify the damage) was able to say, “You’re not safe. You should never be alone—these are truly dangerous threats.” And a short time later, “Well, we do need to let him express his personality. We can’t ask him to change who he is.” …I mean… really? ‘Stalker’ is a protected identity now??

But then I come back to women who are smart and graceful and funny, who change the world by being themselves, who remind me that I’m doing just fine by doing exactly what I’m doing, who gently let me know that removing myself from the conversation isn’t the path to healing. And that’s the kind of feminism that matters to me. I wouldn’t have survived the last year without it.

We have to keep critiquing and reflecting and evaluating the ways our movement is working and the ways it isn’t. There’s not an end goal—we’re never going to be done. But we have the opportunity to save lives, and that’s not something we should give up on. So I’m not going to change the name of this site, or delete it, even though I sometimes think about doing both. I’m not an authority, but I do have a stake in this work. We all do.

When I think about the last 525,600 minutes I don’t think of them as being seasons of love. (I’m not going to apologize for that. Did you really think I wasn’t going to bring that in??) I want to be very clear that I do not believe those platitudes. None of this made me a better person. None of this should have happened. It was like being on a rollercoaster that was so violent you vomited the whole time and needed a chiropractor after. You don’t get off of that feeling Better. Different, but not better.

One last thought in this discordant jumble: autumn has always been my favorite season. And it’s been hard to love it in the same way this year, because now I associate it with the start of one of the worst times of my life. But nobody gets to take an entire season from me. I’m still here and I’m still trying. And I’m still an Angry Feminist Killjoy, but not in the way you might think.

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