trigger warning for IV drug use. take care of yerself!

We’re talking about syringes in class, the different types, their uses, the basic components: barrel, plunger, tip. I slip in and out of focus. I remember watching her cook and shoot up. She ground up the tablets first, then mixed them carefully with bottled water (Evian, like the model she could have been), put a lighter under the spoon, stirred till it all cohesed and bubbled. Maybe there was more. The shag carpet smells like the inside of a vacuum bag, like home. Aaron* ties her off and his mom comes in. “Are you using the bent spoon? Don’t burn all my nice spoons.”

He isn’t, but insists he is. Tap, tap. Tap, tap. He taps her vein until it bulges, an army drab river under alabaster pale. I can’t watch the needle piercing flesh, the flush of blood before push. Ulric reaches out and grabs my hand, as much for comfort as to break the spell. “I can’t do it either. I’d rather drink a beer, anyways,” he says.

We lay facedown on the crusty carpet. As Aaron ties off for his shot, Ulric noses over to me, puts an arm around my back, and presses his lips behind my ear. He grazes the flesh and makes for my mouth, misses. Ell sighs and my head shoots up. “How do you feel?” I ask, curious as much as wary.

“Good.” Her eyes are big, sparkly-manic, ice blue fascination. I press Ulric’s hand and get up. Aaron staunches his clumsy shot with a rag.

“C’mon, let’s go. We should get some beer,” I pretend to know exactly how we would go about it.

In the parking lot of the Safeway downtown, two twenty-something guys with greasy scalps and patchy beards sway, leering at Ell and I, clearly resenting our companions. “Twenty bucks, Black Label. All the way from Canada to your underage hands.” Ell slapps the money into an open palm.

“High alcohol content,” offers Ulric approvingly. “Like a lager.”

The beer tastes tinny and sweet, worse warm than cold, and we only drink it warm. I don’t drink more than two, more anxious to hold my own than to prove my capacity. The night air seems like enough, the novelty of roaming streets less rural than my own. 3 years ago when I moved here I thought it such a small town, but I’ve up and moved to an even smaller one, and now I can observe this town as a novelty, an adventure.

Somehow Ulric and I end up in his bed, messy limbs and malt liquor sweat. We have sex but neither of us comes. I am unconcerned, the sex is more perfunctory than interesting, at least for me. He offers to go down on me, but seems relieved when I decline. We sleep, toss and turn unfamiliarly. In the morning we go again. At least it doesn’t hurt. It’s over fast, and he’s happy to use a condom before sheepishly confessing he can’t really keep it up right now, either.

Ulric and I, we keep in touch for a while, long enough for a few phone calls, halfhearted and awkward. We meet Ell in Seattle for a show, drink malt liquor in the alley, chain smoke and make small talk, but I can’t convince myself that we are either of us interested in picking up where we left off. His mohawk is up, a foot and a half of soft brown fan dividing the scalp above his baby face. He has the chunky build of a toddler. A driver honks and calls out, “Sweet hawk!” as we share a cigarette.

He turns to face traffic and his hair lingers on my face. I touch my cheek in wonder. “It’s so soft,” I marvel. “How do you get it to stay up?”

“Egg whites, mostly. A little glue and Aquanet. It takes me two hours!” he reveals proudly. This boy who has already dropped out of high school at 15, relegated to a lifetime of work at his father’s dog grooming shop, cares that much about his own hair. Between his bondage pants, patched vest, and studded jacket, it is the one feature of his ensemble that is made from his body, an accomplishment he has both grown and crafted. He’s a nice boy, I think, momentarily tender. He catches my eye and half-grins, half-snarls. “C’mon, let’s get into the pit.”

The tiny venue can scarcely afford the band space for bodies and instruments, let alone audience members, but somehow we fall all together in sweat and stink. The bassist leans into us and is held up, then knocked into the drums, knocks over half the kit, and still they play on. It’s a good night.

I hear from Ell that he got back together with his ex and she gave him the itch**. I ask Ulric about it and he laughs. “Fuck. Well, I deserved that one, didn’t I? Stupid shit, got what was coming to me. Thinking I was so mighty with Ell and Aaron all the time.”

*all names changed

*gonorrhea, thank god for small favors

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Dear reader: this writing is about BDSM, surviving relationship violence, catharsis, and trauma. These are really hard topics to write about, and so you may find reading it triggering. Please take care of yourself and read at your own discretion. Click away if needed–you can always read this when you’re in a safer space. If you ever wanna talk about this stuff, gimme a holler, ok? Love and light, RD

The woman I used to call my girlfriend, who I now call my Miss stands before me. She crackles with powerful energy even while her face twitches between seriousness and mischievous glee. I am trembling. This has not happened before. We have played before, I have played before with other people, but not like this. In the past my primary relationship to BDSM (even when I was bottoming) was as a switchy top. I held all the cards, all the power.

The past year has brought a lot of changes to our lives: broken hearts, dreams deferred or altered, friendships and relationships starting and ending, redefining home, travels, being laid low by illness…just to name a few. Shortly after I was assaulted, I was invited on a bike ride by a friend. While news travels fast, people can assume a lot at times, so I asked, “Can you please make sure that [the manarchist] won’t be there?” Turns out someone else had invited him, in a spurt of good faith they had assumed it was someone else by the same name who had assaulted me. After all, [the manarchist] is such a nice guy! (I mean, he is when he is, but that’s another story, right?) I walked outside past the orchard and let loose a howl. I can’t remember if it was audible or not, but I felt it, and hot tears threaded my face in messy columns. Miss followed me into the yard. Of all the words that passed, most prophetically she told me “RD, you need to learn how to be laid low and trust that others will carry you.”

I am not so good at being laid low, or even sitting still. Like my mother, who watches movies in 20 minute spurts while she does the ironing, I feel like I have to be productive at every. single. moment. of the day. I have recently begun a new effort to admit that I am as a matter of fact, human, and to take care of myself physically and emotionally.  My body has a lot of bad memories stored up right now, and I am trying to work through them so that I can let go. Many of these memories are things that happened years ago, but recent events post-Manarchist (and all the little triggers that followed…) have jarred loose that trauma again. I think the trick of surviving trauma is not climbing over it like it is a hill and saying oh yes, I am so over that now, it is the act of getting up every day and being brave enough to live in my body, sometimes even being able to trust other people enough to share my body with them.

But we were talking about BDSM, weren’t we? There is an incredible surrender that takes place in the D/s (Dominant/submissive) relationship that I have never really encountered before. On some level it is the kind of relationship that I wish I had with my parents as a kid (ooh, that sounds spooky-weird, but hear me out!). I am being groomed for greatness. When I screw up, my Miss punishes me, and then, the real magic: I am forgiven. I trust her enough to give myself over to her discipline. I trust myself enough to make that choice. I am her boi.

I love pain, and I am a natural masochist. I remember as a child making lines in my legs with my nails, scrawling flesh calligraphy, on a road trip. My mother glimpsed it from over the seat and gasped in horror. what are you doing, RD? I think I said, “making lines!” For all the chaos of my possessions, I find numbers and geometry soothing (the knitting instinct is strong with this one). It’s the order of the thing, see? And, too: the powerfullness of knowing my body will miraculously heal. Maybe that’s childlike, that I still wonder at that–bruises one day, and gone the next. I can take a lot of pain if it’s pain that I like.

But taking pain from my Miss is different because it is, at essence, discipline. It is not solely for the pleasure of being launched into space (we call it “sub space”) after being whacked around for the while, then returning to earth dizzy and rushed–this pain is visceral and difficult. Not permanent damage-causing visceral, but the kind of pain that makes me cry, or want to. And there’s the fear of: can I take this? I want so badly to be able to take this. I want to please her. I want her to giggle deliciously afterwards, to touch me and feel the heat rising off of my bruised body, to tell me I have been good.

These things are so different, abuse and trauma, BDSM and catharsis, but for me they are a complicated twining. When we play I remember in some sense what it was for someone to use my body for purposes I did not consent to (an outlet for their rage, their sex, etc), because I consent to this play, now. I have a safe word and if I invoke its powerful spell, we stop.

Here: I have come to power by allowing myself to be laid low.

Additional suggested reading:

    • Coming to Power (out-of-print), by SAMOIS collective
    • Melting Point, by Pat Califia
    • Macho Sluts, by Pat Califia

Hello reader! Another day, another potentially triggering subject. This is triggering for discussion of rape, abuse, and trauma. Please click away as you feel the need and take care of yourself, you’re worth it! Love and light, RD

“And can you put the bite back into the beast you’ve broken, tied and tamed?” – Blood Brothers

Surviving abuse and neglect as a kid meant learning how to separate mind and body, act like hunger was happening to somebody else, not me. Surviving rape meant learning how to just get through it, separate into my mind while somebody else fucked my body without my consent. There’s a lot of ways to survive, and I figure out as many as I can.

When somebody breaks an animal, they’re teaching the animal who is boss. I’m the pack leader, I’m the boss, my friend explains about her dogs and the training process. I don’t disagree with her approach–but people aren’t animals. Sure enough, though, abusers will try to break us to their wills. Abusive actions say My wants/needs/wishes are of sole importance, and yours don’t even exist without fulfilling them. For some survivors this creates a coping mechanism that I will refer to as depersonalization.

One of my primary abusers as a child (let’s call them “MD”, okay?) withheld food unless they determined that I had fulfilled their ever-changing requirements for accessing food, and even then they either ensured it was an unpleasant experience or would make themselves inaccessible so that I would have to wait until it was convenient (read: high metabolism + scarcity of food = days and nights of cramps/dizziness). I was 12 years old and rail thin, though up until then I had been lucky enough to have relatively secure and guilt-free access to healthy, plentiful food. I suspect that I should have been growing, but I stopped the year that I started living with MD. Ostensibly, their heavy-handed control over the food supply was to prevent the other two children in their care who were “fat” (seriously? it was baby fat!) from gorging themselves**.

Do you listen to your body? Do your HUNGER ON and HUNGER OFF switches work properly? If not, you’re certainly not alone. Recent scientific inquiry suggests that these signals are irrevocably screwed up for many USians, causing people to misconstrue or ignore these vital messages from the body. A lot of people would argue that this has to do with changing portion sizes and calorie-laden, nutrient-deficient foods, but I would also like to set aside the “obesity crisis” debate (which is frequently incredibly fat-phobic, ableist, and body-shaming) and focus on depersonalization’s roots, causes, and effects. I will focus more on the practice of re-integrating one’s self to the body in some later writing.

When MD refused me access to food, they were training me. My well-being comes before yours. I am the pack-leader, the boss, and you are just a dog, and you must learn to put my needs before yours. So I did. I learned how to depersonalize myself, ignore all the things my body was telling me, in order to fulfill the wishes of the pack-leader first. And thru further training from other abusive forces, I learned this lesson over and over again.

The distancing of my brain from my body is hard to illustrate but in vague examples–thinking that everything else is more important than taking care of my self, from body to psyche. I block out the pain of rotten teeth, forget to eat till I’m dizzy (tho I’m learning to hear my body when it says kale!), can only sleep to escape but struggle to sleep when I need to rest (everything else seems so much more important).  I was taught that my body was not important (this is why I was raped–my rapist’s will was more important than what me/my body did or didn’t want) and that my brain was the safest place to be (10 feet above my body at all times), so I try to stay there (which is part of what makes me so fucking anxious all the time, where do I put the body when I’m all brain?), tho I am learning ways to put them back together as appropriate.

Broken, tied, and tamed. Tamed animals are not meant to fend for themselves in the wild, they have been taught to subordinate to the will of the master. Who holds the reins now? It is in healing that I fumble and sometimes even find them.

*yeah, a teenager is a kid, okay? much as I hated to admit it then and hate to say it now, and it doesn’t mean teenagers can’t make decisions for themselves or don’t have to deal with fucking heavy adult shit.

**but hey, I gotta say here: shame and insecurity do not healthy consumptive habits make. This is true of anything, from food to love to drugs, y’all.