I’ve been having these headaches. Over the years but getting more frequent now, last months, last weeks, more and more frequent. Tension headaches? Mineral deficiency? Social media based stress? Mine, after all, is a pretty nice life. That might be a part of the problem. Denying grief or ill-feeling, “I have no right to complain,” right, but acknowledging suffering or pain in yourself isn’t complaining. How do you let it go when you won’t admit it’s there? When you’re not supposed to admit it’s there? When you believe so deeply, in spite of all your good learnin’ and your positive yet funny yet nihilistic yet hopeful memes about self care and tough love and soft hands and open heart and pop culture puns, that to feel poorly, inside, outside, is to have failed. When that’s the prevailing message. Even the people admitting they aren’t okay (and gosh, a lot of them are coming out of the woodwork) have to do it in a funny way to be successful. Professionally successful, socially successful.
So. I have these headaches. Today it won’t go away. I got a massage, a fine and healing massage and afterwards the headache just flooded over me. Poor backbrain, child brain, still learning, still wondering after all this time, trying to match up experiential evidence to determine if we don’t get punished for trying to fix ourselves, for trying to not hurt.
Came home and ate (I do not want to eat. Summer is hard for that. I forget how valuable appetite is until it goes away). Headache. Stretches. Ow. TV. Ow. Dishes? Ow. Cat petting? Lovely but still, ow ow ow.
So, if you know me in person, you know that I have large breasts. I’m an E. I’ve hated them since the day they showed up (it felt like overnight) when I was eleven. Not fair, not fair. Yesterday I was a person, today I am a target, a target inhibited by its own bullseye, less able to run, less able to fight those now determined to hunt me. Cannot wear the same clothes, cannot make the same jokes, cannot walk all easy through my neighborhood. Lessons down the living room, if she will not stop sneaking out her window to wander through the night, and we have tried to stop her, by God she will learn to walk like a predator, like a man.
I liked that part. Big arms, chin out, tuck your tailbone and keep your hips stiff, let your torso sway like a ship. Smell like violence.
But somewhere along the way, I lost that smell. I started to want people to like me. I started to be afraid. I think the two go hand in hand.
If you want people to like you, you are already preparing to edit yourself. The desire erodes. Not everybody. Some people are protected by their own natures. But many kids, weird and happy and excited and embarrassing, are ready-made to have the legs cut out from under them.
What was I talking about? Breasts. I’m standing in my empty house (an empty house and a solo car trip are the only places I know where I can really figure things out), hurting hurting ow ow, and I think of my corset. My fine plain sturdy corset that was made for me by a friend of a friend for just this occasion. Because, you see, with a boned corset laced not very tight, the weight of my breasts is supported by my hips, rather than neck and shoulders and pectorals. And o don’t they tell me about it when I’ve spent ten minutes twisting and craning (with the headache, ow ow, don’t move like that. but I must, dear, to reach relief) to lace the damn thing up. And then. Spasms. But they’re great, I love my spasms, thank you and please come again. They are a release. They are being let up for air. But. The headache isn’t gone. I lie on the hallway floor and cry for awhile (you see, I really do need to live alone in order to process things, if I can’t perch on the back of my couch like a vulture and such, I’ll never be able to figure out why I turned out like I did) and the headache stays. There’s a firm auntie in my head telling me to get up and do something about this, stop making quicksand in your head and take a stand. Is she a wicked auntie? An obsessive punishing voice? I cannot tell. I get up and put on shoes, trap the cat and walk to a cafe. Caffeine can put a headache to rest better than anything I know. But I experience some relief before I get there. As I walk, I am noticing that even though my breasts are thoroughly supported, I am clenching my pectorals. Hard. And as I gently(ish) watch them, it comes to me that I am always doing this, that this is just the way my body feels. It’s not necessary, it’s just something I do. So why do I do it? Well.
Since I am practicing relaxing them, it is much easier to notice that every time another person passes me, on foot or in a car, and it seems like they’re looking at me, the pecs instantly clench. I keep watching and keep relaxing them. Over and over again. And I have enough interactions that I begin to see that my physical reaction to wanting someone to like me/not think I’m weird (good luck for a crying woman in a sensible corset) and my physical reaction to anticipating a catcall/harassment are exactly the same. It breaks my heart just to fucking write that.
Defense. My pecs are running defense for a tender and enthusiastic heart that is still in shock from adolescence and the utterly pointless cruelty of other people testing their power out on a new player. And some of the power plays they had to defend me from were (are) sexual. A lot of interactions in my life have had a sexual bent because I happen to be formed the way I am. To defend both from the shocked glares of little old ladies and Christian families in supermarkets (13, didn’t wear a bra to go buy pickle chips) and from the aggression of adult men, in cars, at the bus stop, waiting in line, at a museum, trying to cross the street, playing hopscotch, running, jumping jacks, jump rope, dancing, moving, breathing heavily. I wonder if I don’t do sports the way I used to because of that. You can always feel the eyes on you.
So. I’ve been trying to clench myself into safety for 17 years. Trying not to let my breasts move too much, trying to be a good girl, because my body yells to the world that I’m not. And I’m not safe. I won’t ever be safe from either criticism or being harassed, because it actually has nothing to do with me! It’s about them! This cringing coin of like me/don’t hurt me is a false currency that buys you nothing but self suppression. They will never give you that ice cream cone, tell you you’re finally a good girl. You will never be more than your body (whatever its shape, and I know mine is not the only shape that gets tormented) to them, because they do not care to see you. You are a flat character in an index of prey to them. So let it go, let your chest relax, and your butt, let that pleasant half smile fall off your face into the garbage where it belongs. Sit and frown horribly at the trees in your corset and your tear tracks and your dirty neck and nobody, nobody has to like you. And that’s enough for today.