real life

One more piece of the puzzle…

[TW: this post talks about my relationship with my abuser, and his behaviours within it; coercion and vaguely sexual grossness are discussed]

I’m honestly surprised that this has come up again in my brain, but here we are. It’s been a long time since I’ve had particularly negative emotional/traumatized reactions to thinking about my past abusive relationship (which ended nearly a decade ago now), but I’m apparently still finding new pieces that help hang the narrative together.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing about this newest mini-revelation here, other that the fact that processing the ongoing impact of this abuse, and documenting my process of recovery/rebuilding my own narrative around it this has always been one of the functions of this blog for me. I hope these sorts of posts are useful to others, too.

A quick (trigger-filled; approach with care – posts with explicit content have content notes about that at the top) reading list of the times I’ve written about this in the past, if you need to be caught up on the context here:

Early, mostly abstract/general thoughts, coming to understand that I did in fact experience abuse, and that it wasn’t my fault:
Things I have Trouble Reconciling/
The ‘asking for it” narrative

Understanding that my brain was messed up by my experiences:
“Abuse-logic”
Abuse-logic and memory
Writing about abuse, thinking about abuse

Getting to the meat of it: in which I discuss my experiences in more specifics:
In which I talk about my personal experiences of sexual coercion
The things I did while in an abusive relationship (but no, really ,what the fuck was that even?)
Why does my brain do this? the difficulty of recognizing first-person experiences of abuse and mental illness

And most recently, in a similar(ish) vein from this post:
Every now and then, something new shakes loose

…ok, no wait, also this one. Which I apparently failed to tag as “abuse”, but was the one I was specifically looking for as relevant to what I have to say today:
“Rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power”… except when it really is just about sex

This post is a partial rebuttal, or at least a re-contextualization of the above.

The thing is, my abusive ex’s bullying of me wasn’t limited to sex (it never really is, is it?) Today I just want to tell an illustrative story and talk through some of the implications that I found myself wondering about last night, for no apparent reason.

So, I saw the first Saw movie when it was in theatres. I think this was before I was dating the abusive ex, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m not going to look up the release dates of the movies in this series to figure out exactly which ones happened when, because it doesn’t really matter, and I don’t care to refresh my memory of which one is which.

There are… a lot of things I could say about this series as a whole, but my main point right now is, watching those movies is an intensely unpleasant experience. Of course, it’s supposed to be! this is not me criticizing the movies, at least not on that front. i just, after seeing the first one, I had no desire to watch the sequels. Not for me!

But my ex, he wanted to watch the sequels. Oh boy, did he. And he most definitely very specificially wanted to watch them with me. Because that’s what you do when you love someone, right? You do things together?

I can’t remember which one was in theatres at the time of this story, but it was the third or fourth one? In an any case, there was at least one that I had missed seeing in theatres, that I was going to have to catch up on in time for the latest theatrical one.

I didn’t want to, though. And I was definitely clear about that. And I was clear about why (see above), and even that it wasn’t that I thought they were bad. I just didn’t want to watch those movies.

Ok, obviously this story ends with me watching more of those movies. Because other people’s explicit boundaries are just challenges to be overcome, right?

But it’s somehow *even worse* than that?

So yeah. We argued. For literal hours. Eventually I caved, because watching the damn movie would be less painful than continuing that fucking conversation. And then we were in a position of getting ready to watch a movie that I knew was going to be emotionally harrowing when I was already extremely emotionally raw and worn out. Fun date night, y’all!

On our way from the movie rental place to his place, where we would be watching the movie, he… made it clear that he wanted us to be naked while we watched the movie?

Like, I think we literally just came out with “we should get naked”. I don’t anymore how this Maybe he said this once we were actually there and settling on to the couch? That would make slightly more sense to me, though it was a still a strange thing for him to say (like, even for him).

We often did watch things together naked, because we were watching them in bed or whatever, but it was extremely strange for him to explicitly request nudity when he wasn’t immediately gunning for sex – I literally can’t think of another time that happened.

It’s… telling? to me, then, that this is the time this request happened. I was not inclined to comply, for the record – the aforementioned emotional rawness and my anticipated discomfort with the movie itself meant my defenses were very much up.

But I was also too worn out to put up much more than a momentary resistance. We watched the movie naked.

I… don’t even know what else to say about this. What the fuck was any of that? Is there any reasonable explanation for his motivations here other than, “obviously he took a sadistic pleasure in making me as vulnerable as possible?”

I’m really sure he wouldn’t have seen it that way. He would framed it in terms of wanting “intimacy” of course. I no longer no whether he believed his own shit or not, though, really.

I know he was selfish. I still can’t explain the rest of it, not really. But more and more, it’s hard to deny that he engaged in very real manipulative power plays and grooming tactics, that his campaigns to violate my boundaries went well beyond what could possibly be written off as him not understanding what we was doing. The weird clairvoyance of demanding nudity, on top of having already (verbally) beaten me into submission that day just, doesn’t fit into any part of any narrative that excuses his behaviours in any way.

It’s, yeah.

A lot of fucked up shit got done to my brain in that relationship. And it definitely wasn’t just accidental. I don’t know why I’ve held on to the idea that it at least kinda was, for so long, through so many other revelations and acceptances.

Blech.

Worn out

I’ve been feeling really worn down for… at least a couple of months now, if i’m honest with myself. I keep telling myself I’m just on the edge of being worn down, but that’s just silly. I’ve been here before, and I should know better.

The job I have right now (mercifully, it’s only temporary anyway) is definitely too much for me in some ways. It’s been a good experience, and great for my career, but some of the things that make up a large part of my day-to-day work right now are draining everything I have. I haven’t had the wherewithal to really maintain a good social life since the fall, and it’s definitely gotten worse lately.

A big part of what I’m doing right now at work is outreach to local schools. This is a great awesome thing that we do at the library; it lets us promote our services and programs directly to kids and teachers, and we also bring in resources that the kids don’t get access to at their schools. I also… dislike pretty much everything about it?

Classic school outreach, I like, actually. Going out to spend an hour or so with one or two classes on a specific topic is fun, and not that different from the regular programs I run (which I still love!) It breaks up my week and often means I get a bit of a walk in on the clock, which is nice.

What I’m doing right now is a larger initiative we call the “Maker Experience”. It’s a full-day affair, and it involves two library employees. We set up a bunch of different gadgets and gear in the school library and spend the day giving different iterations of the same talk to different groups of kids, before giving them some time to play with and explore some of our stuff. Sometimes the school doesn’t even bother to build in time for us to regroup in between sessions.

The kids always have fun, and the teachers are generally very pleased with the whole thing, but I’m honestly not actually that excited about the content or convinced it adds much value to their day. But that’s not even the hardest part for me.

Although this project has picked up a lot of its own momentum, and I’m not cold-calling teacher librarians to try to get them interested (they pretty much all come to me, at a rate that’s hard for me to manage as is), I do spend a lot of time liaising with strangers, (and spending my days in unfamiliar spaces). Trying to organize a date that works for the school and that the library can handle being down two employees for the full day is tough. Even tougher is that I’m spearheading this outreach for my area, to three different branches, and have to reach out to the appropriate managers as and when.

I’m usually training new support people each time, in part because we want to get as many people as possible trained in this outreach as we can – at some point, it won’t be necessary for me to be along on all of these visits, or that’s the goal anyway.

All of this is on top of the regular programs and in-branch duties I’m used to handling, by the way.

It’s… a lot, is what I’m saying.

Add to this that the one real symptom of pregnancy that I’m having is a need for more sleep than usual. But my schedule doesn’t have the wiggle room for me to get more sleep than I already get, so it’s been tough going. I’m on a sleep deficit most of the week, and desperately try to make it up on the weekends (and I alternate between one- and three-day weekends, so this can be really tough on my six-day work weeks).

So, my non-work life is suffering. I messed up and double-booked social things this week, and wound up flaking on something really important. And then I realized it’s the third or fourth social thing I’ve flaked on in this month alone. I literally don’t have the wherewithal right now to stay on top of my work stuff (which I miraculously do seem to be on top of, somehow!) and the rest of my life. Throw in all the extra doctor stuff, and the fact that I’m moving at the end of the month, and I really should have known better than to agree to do things this month, to be honest… Sorry friends, I really do love you all, but I have to interact with far too many people as it is these days.

It’s not going to be forever though. This position is only mine until mid-to-late July (though I suspect they’ll keep me on a little extra time, and not bother to transition me to my new permanent position right away, since by then my pregnancy leave will be imminent), and school outreach won’t be happening past the end of June in any case.

Better yet, we’re moving closer to where I work next month. What’s been a 2-hour transit commute each way for the last few years will become a 40-minute walk (or 15 minutes on transit plus a 15 minute walk, depending on how I feel). I’ll have time for that extra sleep soon!

In the meantime, I’m already counting down the days to my parental leave. It’s just five more months, and when I get back I’ll have already started accumulating honest-to-goodness paid vacation days, so I will hopefully never have to get this run-down again.

Oh yeah, did I mention I’ve been working full-time for 18 months now with no real access to vacation (contract work is just so fun!)? Because that’s probably a big part of this whole thing. Thank goodness the precarity has an expiration date.

I can do this.

Brief Thought: Humanity is just weird

Sometimes I am just struck by the absurdity of some of the things we take in stride/for granted in the world. For instance, one way I could describe (part of) my plans for tomorrow:

I’m getting a tattoo!

That’s a pretty clear and, while exciting to me, not entirely out of the ordinary thing to do, right?

But if I put it like this:

Tomorrow I have an appointment to pay a complete stranger a bunch of money to stick needles into my skin thousands of times over the course of a couple of hours, to change the colour of some of my skin.

…Like, wait, what? Literally how is this just a normal(ish) thing? What even is humanity? WHY ARE PEOPLE?

That’s all I’ve got for you today.

Fatherly Estrangement

I’ve been estranged from my father for over three years now, and somehow I’ve barely written about it at all. I actually just went back and checked, because I know I’ve started to write about this on many, many occasions, and I figured one of those times must have produced something worthy of posting, but beyond one brief reference to the estrangement, it seems I just… haven’t said anything about it here.

Here, where I have processed all of the most difficult things I’ve been through in my life, starting with processing the trauma from my abusive relationship, through the ups and downs of coming out as genderqueer in various contexts, figuring out that I’m demisexual, and most recently divorce.

And I’m thinking about it again now (getting engaged inevitably raised questions about how to handle wedding invitations – my estrangement from my father is complicated by the fact that my parents are still together, and my mother and I still want to have a good relationship with each other (and, somehow, we’ve actually been managing it so far)) and the spectre of familial pressure to reconcile with my father has re-entered my consciousness.

So, I’ve been thinking about writing about the whole mess, the reasons for the estrangement, the specific catalyzing events that caused us to stop speaking to each other, all of the things that have happened since then and the ways in which I have finally drawn a line in the sand and held that line against pressure from various sources.

There’s a lot to say about it, honestly, and I’m really proud of myself. But somehow when I sit down to write about it, I’m just not motivated to get it out. And I’m beginning to think that lack of motivation is a good thing.

I think that the reason I don’t feel the need to get this particular story down in words, to give it concrete form as I have so many other things, is simply that I know I’ve got this. It’s not complicated. I’m not running around in circles in my own head trying to untangle the knots left by his manipulativeness, because, even though I didn’t often write about it directly, I was doing that processing at the same time that I was working through my other experiences of abuse.

My memories and understandings of who my father is, and the way he treats the people close to him, are actually very clear. I don’t find myself doubting any of it. I don’t find myself forgetting or needing to remind myself of the reality of what it’s like to try to have a relationship with him.

I just know that he is toxic. I know that he is incapable of hearing or respecting boundaries. And I know that my mental health has been vastly improved by not having to tend to a relationship with him.

It’s not even difficult. I know it was a good move and I am very comfortable with it.

So, I don’t know. Maybe one day I will share some of the stories relating to this state of affairs. I’m sure it would be interesting to many of you, if not instructive in some ways. But that day is not today.

Because I have mental clarity on this entire situation, and that is just so good.

Marriage, Re-marriage, and how I’ve never been afraid of commitment

During that strange period between when my former partner and I had decided that we would be getting divorced and when we actually separated, I (obviously?) had a lot of conversations about marriage and divorce with various friends and relations.

In the midst of one rather long and freewheeling conversation, I had one friend mention that – while they liked the idea of marriage in some ways – they didn’t understand how people could ever make the decision to do it. Because, after all, how do you know it’s going to work out?

I didn’t manage to articulate an answer at the time, but at it’s heart, this question always seems to miss the point for me. Because, um, of course you don’t know for sure it’s going to work out. Whether or not it works out isn’t ever going to be entirely in your own control even, since there’s another person involved, plus just the unpredictability of life in general. And anyway, in my case even if I had thought I knew for sure when I got married, I was proven wrong in the end.

But I never thought that in the first place. I actually went in with a very clear awareness that we might not be married forever, that getting married was just one of many choices we were going to be making throughout our lives about our relationship and what togetherness looked like for us.

I went into that marriage not knowing where it would lead us. But I also went in knowing a whole lot of other, much more important things.

I knew it was what I wanted.

I knew that the idea of us being together for the rest of our lives, as married people, made me happy.

I knew I liked the idea of sharing our lives and growing old together.

In short, I knew that if it did work out, it would be great.

I knew that based on the information I had available at the time, I was making a good decision.

I knew that if I didn’t at least try to have this thing with this person, I would regret it.

And because of all of that, I also knew that if for some reason it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t regret having made the decision to try.

And even now, I know that it was the right decision.

I know because, when we were married, I never doubted that it was what I wanted. Every day, I knew I wanted to be with this person, for the rest of my life.

And, nevertheless, it didn’t work out. I still have feelings about that, because of course I do, it’s an emotional sort of thing. I spent a lot of years planning for and make decisions around building a life that is no longer an option, and that will never come to be.

That really sucks. It just really, really sucks.

But, all of this also means that now, more than ever, I trust myself to make good decisions about who I want to marry.

So, while experiences of divorce – whether it’s our parents’ or our own – most often make people more reluctant to make that leap again (or at all), everything that has gotten me to where I am now, planning my second marriage, just makes me more sure that I’m doing the right thing, for me.

Because I know what I’m getting myself into, and I know that it’s what I want.

I know I want to try to have this thing, with this person.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Life just keeps on coming

So, there is much going on with me, and for once it’s all good! I’m likely to have very little bandwidth for blogging for a while (unfortunate, I guess, since I had just been getting back into the habit of posting pretty regularly again), but here’s your update on why:

1) I have a fancy new job at my work. It’s just a contract for the next year, but I’m officially at (capital L) Librarian payscale for the first time, and my job is all about getting more STEAM (that’s STEM plus Arts, fyi) programming for kids happening in the library system I work for. It’s gonna be quite the ride. I’m gonna be busy, and my creative energies will be primarily directed toward (paid!!) work for once in my life!

2) I GOT ENGAGED!!! I’m getting married next September!!!! Which means I’m doing wedding planning stuff now. So there goes the rest of my energy :P

I’m sure I’ll still post now and then, and I am committed to getting the Shit Cis People Say alphabet done already (I am so darn close after all!!) but you’ll be hearing less from me again for a while.

I came out as non-binary at work! Part 3: In-person interactions

Did you miss the start of this story?
Part 1: How did I do it?
Part 2: Email reactions

In all honesty, this is the point at which I must admit that at some point in the last couple of years I may have slipped into a bizarro alternate wonderland universe of warm fuzzies, because I have no other explanation for just how easy this whole coming out thing has been for me.

Though this is partially because I front-loaded a bunch of affirmations and assurances into my coming out message itself, the thing that I am most amazed by is that since coming out I have not been asked to do a single iota of emotional labour around it.

I mean, when I decided I really did feel comfortable coming out at my work, it was because I figured that the level of potential push-back/invasive questions/insecurities about messing up that I’d have to deal with would be totally manageable. But I never imagined there would be none at all!

So, what did happen then?

The moment I walked into work on the Monday, now three days after coming out, the first person who saw me said: “Kasey! Thanks so much for the cookies! They were so great! I was going to bring in rainbow bagels [apparently this is a thing? But also, relevant context is that the cookies I brought in were rainbow-y] today, but I didn’t have time.”

Which, to me, this is just the sweetest way of making it clear that I belong and am loved? Just adorable, basically. I don’t even care that I didn’t get to experience rainbow bagels.

On top of this, when I eventually got around to checking my work mailbox, I also found a little hand-written note from the same (non-email-having) co-worker, which for the most part echoed many of the sentiments I had gotten in emails – she said she was glad that I felt comfortable enoguh to be open with them, let me know that she had previous knowledge/awareness of non-binary people via her daughter (who also works in our library system), and let me know she would do her best to watch her language, basically. It was a very nice thing to find!

Other than that, most people have just been business-as-usual with me (which is exactly what I would have asked for, to be honest.) One colleague who had offered a hug (that I accepted) in her email response literally jumped up the moment she saw me to deliver on it. Another person who hadn’t sent an email response thanked me in person for the email, basically said that she appreciated the reminder to continue working on the ways in which she uses gendered language, asked me if it had been hard for me to do, and said she’d appreciate recommendations to read more about non-binary people.

Because I have a pretty good sense of her literary tastes, I recommended she read Ivan Coyote’s most recent two books (Gender Failure (written with Rae Spoon) and Tomboy Survival Guide). She actually recognized the name, and we determined she’d seen Coyote perform in a storytelling festival at some point.

But I really want to get back to the italicized bit above! So, not only has no one asked anything of me (beyond accepting my explicit offer to provide resources), this one co-worker made herself available for me to emotionally process with her if necessary (which wasn’t needed, because holy wow this whole process has been so easy I can’t even, but was very much appreciated!) Another example of real allyship.

So, that’s my coming-out-at-work story! Somehow ‘changing’ my gender at work was less work than changing my name (both times I have done this in a workplace it was exhausting). I mean, different work contexts is a big part of that, but also who would have ever guessed it could work that way?

And this will be the end of the story for now! I may revisit to let you all know how pronouns go moving forward – most people do seem pretty interested in putting the effort to use ‘they’, even though I gave them an out. We’ll see how it goes!