The Riots and the Narrative

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that Wednesday’s riots weren’t about hockey. And this is old hat by now but I’ll mention it anyhow, just to set up what follows: other cities have riots about things that matter. Egypt’s recent collective action resisted the weight of political oppression; LA’s 1992 riots were the tipping point of structural racism and violence against American black folks. In short, riots happen because people can’t take it anymore.

I’ll back up a moment. You’ll agree that a central sentiment in the wake of Wednesday’s events has been, This isn’t the Vancouver I know. Those hooligans are highlighted as bad apples and considered different from the rest of Vancouver. In contrast, Vancouver’s true spirit – a good, kind city that voluntarily rallies to repair the damage – is asserted in millions of Facebook status updates, as well as editorials, water cooler chats, and messages from elected officials.

Vancouver (and Canada) have a national identity of welcoming, multicultural, generous, egalitarian, and beautiful. This sense of self is told and told again and gains legitimacy with each telling. We appear in lists of the world’s most livable cities, and herald BC as the Best Place on Earth. These ‘stupid kids’ who incited the violence last week are considered an anomaly and an embarrassment, and as we’ve said every thirty seconds over the past four days, we’re sorry on their behalf.

I won’t bother convincing you here that Vancouver and Canada are plagued with extreme social inequalities.* But imagine for a moment that there had been a riot in Vancouver about say, the grossly disproportionate number of Aboriginal people living with inhumane housing conditions in Vancouver. Imagine if there had been a riot about the absolute epidemic of sexual assault against Canadian women (1 in 4). Roll with me here: if either of those riots had occurred, Canadian people would scoff. Talk of government handouts and the number of women attending university would be uproarious. But look at how bad things are in Other Countries! Do you know how people live in Africa? and Women can do whatever they want now, don’t you know what it Used To Be Like!  

In short, my point is that Canada’s national narrative leaves no room for real social action against inequality. Anger about oppression gets minimized, silenced, and scorned; the plaintiff is considered entitled, ungrateful, and quickly compared to some other scenario in a way that shuts down any honest acknowledgement about privilege. And yet the anger remains. And as all of us with counsellors know, if you don’t express your anger it will find some other way to get out. In this case, the hockey game was a politically neutral air vent to release some of the pressure that’s been building. Riots in other places are about real social issues because their cultural narrative allows for it. No one is telling LA they should shut up and be grateful for minority tax credits. Inequality of opportunity, consumer alienation, sexual violence, racial oppression, silenced colonialism, and political disenfranchisement in The Most Livable City on Earth leads to an irreconcilable violent impulse.

The way out is to allow for real, validating criticisms. For the love of god, stop saying how wonderful Vancouver is. Listen to the people who have been left behind. Or frankly they’re going to incite riots.

*If you need convincing, email me and I’ll send you some citations for research on inequality in Canada based on race, class, gender and sexuality, disability, and most of all our colonial legacy.

I Had a Terrible Dream Last Night

I was in our house, except it was suburban and looked different and later became someone else’s house. I sat in front of A.’s computer and was about to look up a bus schedule when his chat window popped up with a video chat call from this woman he knows, J. The reception wasn’t very good so she couldn’t see me or hear my voice, so she didn’t know I wasn’t A.

J. started taking her clothes off and touching her nipples. She was licking herself like a cat. ‘Oh no,’ I thought. ‘I love cats. This is going to ruin cats for me.’

In the dream I knew that A. had recently gone to see J. perform in a play. I muffled my voice, already disguised with the bad internet connection, and asked about the play while she was naked and touching herself. She said that she usually doesn’t take her clothes off in the play, but she did that night because I (A.) was there.

Twice! I was shaking with anger. I had been suspicious of her all along and felt vindicated and betrayed. At that moment A. walked in. I yelled incomprehensible mounds of anguish and shock, aware that my meditation instructor last night had said that mindfulness is the opposite of panic.

His voice was cutting, saying it was not a big deal, and he walked out of the house. I followed him out. At this point in the dream the house transformed into J.’s, and she was walking up the driveway to come home. I punched her in the stomach and she collapsed on the ground. Everyone (suddenly there were others) crowded around her to see if she was okay, myself included. I felt uncertain and guilty, defensive for punching her.

A. was furious about my violent outburst and went back inside to lay down on what was now her bed, in the same room his computer was in previously. He lay with his back to me and wouldn’t speak to me. I powerlessly tried to get him to leave with me, to come home, but he refused.

Here I woke up, sad and confused. The phone rang. It was my mom, asking if I wanted some avocados, she had extra and they would go bad.

Mindfulness: 2nd Edition, or, Not Working Yet

I went to my second ever meditation class tonight. Naturally I wanted to tell you all about it.

I have a disruptive, petulant habit of rehearsing conversations in my head. This narcissistic tendency is exactly what meditation classes are supposed to combat: be present, in the moment, that sort of thing.

But I have this new friend, S., that I’ve been going to these meditations with. He introduced me to the idea in a discussion about our eerily similar neuroses and I began attending the sessions with him the following week. We get along well, he’s a very nice person, etc., and last week I suggested we go for a coffee or drink after this week’s class. So all weekend I’ve been worrying that I won’t have anything to say when we sit down for a glass of wine. I’ve been making knee-jerk mental lists of conversations we can have, immediately scolding myself afterwards for giving in to my anxiety.

I also wanted to ask the instructor some questions related to my post last week – about validation and pain, but I settled on asking him if he could recommend a book for highly critical people becoming involved in meditation.

These two interactions were set to occur immediately following the meditations session and let me tell you, I compulsively rehearsed them both the entire time. I would think about my breath for two seconds, and back to mentally introducing myself to the instructor. Feel the air on my face skin for a moment, and worry about how much detail I would provide to S. in explaining my conflict between mindfulness and self-destructive impulses. I think I missed the point.

And then, as if it couldn’t get worse, a young man (whose posture, I noticed, was not correct and he was looking around the room when we were supposed to have our eyes closed. True that my eyes were not closed either but at least I wasn’t looking around the room.) asked the instructor three times why he’s in a wheelchair. And let me be clear, it was not a Q and A session. We were all quiet and focused and had been for 20 minutes at his first attempt, and out of nowhere he blurts out that he wants to know how he got in that thing. The somber instructor replied with appropriate boundaries, but then the young man asked two more times! The nerve!

Needless to say this made me extremely uncomfortable. My skin just crawled. I wanted to soothe the awkwardness so badly. I wanted to say, Well it sure is hot in here, or at the very least meet someone’s eye who would share the moment with me. S.’s eyes were closed, I checked. But instead I took this as an opportunity to stay with the bad feelings. The idea is to experience every feeling; don’t self-talk it away, don’t turn your back on it, don’t shame it quiet, just walk through it and notice how it feels. So I did. And it felt awful.

In the end, as usual, I had no problem finding things to say to my new friend and there was no issues talking to the instructor about books. It’s all just chitter-chatter in my debilitated, inconsequential mind. So far this has really only served to increase my paralyzing self-analysis and hasn’t actually affected my life at all. But I remain hopeful.

Mindfulness and Invalidation

I went to my first ever meditation class tonight. It was really good. I’m going to go back next week. I won’t go into too much detail right now because I really need to go to bed and I’ve been staring at my computer for so long today already.

Mindfulness is all about acceptance. You aren’t supposed to judge your feelings, you’re just supposed to notice them. Be aware that they’re around, and choose to feel something more positive, like the air hitting your nostrils for example.

I can see how this is good in theory, and seriously, the guy leading the class is really, really calm. Doubtless he is also profoundly accepting. But in practice I have a hard time with it. For two reasons.

First – and this one’s a little easier than the second – acceptance can be a slippery slope into complacency. I don’t think that point really requires further explanation.

Second, I feel really resistant to becoming an accepting person because I worry that it will lead others to invalidate my pain. This may seem silly to a reader who’s always been validated in their lives, but I grew up in a house where every strong feeling I had was minimized, neutralized, disbelieved, and sacrificed for the sake of social niceties. As a result of course I had a few boundary problems, and bled at people to make them take me seriously.

You can see how acceptance is in conflict with this deeply sown need for validation. I want to be accepting, I do. But I’m worried I’ll disappear if people don’t believe that I’ve suffered. I feel like I need to have ever-ready evidence of it. How fucked up is that?

The guy leading the class is in a wheelchair; his suffering is highly visible so maybe that’s why acceptance works for him. I don’t look fucked up anymore, I look like a healthy non-profit person with a graduate degree, which is exactly what I am now. No one’s intimidated by me, nor do they feel sorry for me. I remind no one of a wounded bird.

And maybe the other people in the class have a strong sense of self, I don’t know. Probably not though.

So at present I kind of don’t believe in mindfulness, for these and other reasons. But more than being afraid it doesn’t work, I’m afraid it will work. So far I’ve only been to one session, and like I said, I’m going back next week so I’ll keep you posted.

The Authenticity Project

When I first met my partner, he thought of my body as more precious than I did. I told him sex work stories and he would get quiet and later angry, and I truly didn’t understand why. It wasn’t a I-can’t-believe-you-could-do-that-to-yourself high road moralism, it was a that-was-actually-you intimacy disruption. It’s a nuanced distinction, I agree, but an important one.

That era of our relationship – the time between when we met and I learned not to talk about past sexual encounters, professional or otherwise – was about six weeks. It has become mythologized to us now, retold and snowballed to represent particular things about me.

I stopped talking about sex work memories for the wrong reasons. The right reasons came later, over time, after the fact. I stopped because they were met with hostility and the reaction I wanted was – if we’re being truthful – sexy attention. It was my image on purpose, I was like a minstrel show. It never occurred to me that distanced, dangling sexuality was anything but attractive.  I wanted him to think of me as a hooker because I thought it would make him want me. He’d think (I supposed), People paid 200 dollars an hour to be with her! Therefore she must be so hot/mysterious/desirable.

When he didn’t react the way I wanted, I was so ashamed. I was undesirable and disgusting; my trick wasn’t working. It had always worked! In this case it was having the opposite effect and I panicked. So I abandoned the conduit I had built and no longer recounted instances or images. We had long, tiresome fights about what sex work meant to me. I felt humiliated and silenced, defensive.

My therapist told me around this time that I had “a limited sense of self.” I planted images of myself as a coked up party girl or a lingerie-clad brothel worker in my man’s mind because that was my identity as a desirable person. But it conflicted with who he expected me to be, which was a real person.

This is all becoming too much like a repentant whore narrative. Everyone deludes themselves, presents their identity in ways they think will favorably meet expectations. But anyways my point was just that if it were me now back two years ago, I wouldn’t have conjured those images before him because it’s distancing to do so. And distanced sexuality is jarring, inauthentic. This is all reasonably new for me, and in some ways maybe I’ve just replaced one idea of sexy expectations with another. In any case, this sense of self feels better and more whole.

Think Animal Kingdom

There are some rules I think we all need to get out in the open.

First let me just say that I really want a glass of wine right now but I want it in such a way that tells me I should not have it. So I’m eating lonesome cheese.

The rules are regarding your partner’s friendships with people of your partner’s preferred gender*. These rules should not be followed to arbitrarily and tyrannically, like curfews in ghettos at wartime, but should be considered for the spirit of safety and fairness. Because we want to. Because it’s better.

Okay, so I guess there really is only one rule. It is this:

If you are friends with someone and they have a partner, you must demonstrate to that partner that you are not a threat. It doesn’t matter how stable their relationship is. You must introduce yourself and be nice to them. Pay attention to them, be courteous. Make them feel like you respect/like them. Think of the animal kingdom, be a little bit submissive. You don’t have to go over the top but a small gesture goes a long way.

There’s no excuse for not following this rule. This rule is especially important if you are attractive, and there is even less excuse for not following it if this is the case, since you are used to being threatening. If you find yourself resistant to compliance, really ask yourself why. Ignorance is not valid; we’ve all been there, and we all know at least intuitively how to create (un)safe environments. But if you claim you weren’t aware of it, now I’ve told you, and don’t say you would have lived your life different if only you’d known this before.

*I’m trying not to be heterosexist. You get the idea: If you are a queer man and your partner is friends with another queer man, or if you are a straight woman and your male partner is friends with another straight woman, etc.

Beginning construction

I’ll tell you briefly the origin of this blog, but then I have to get back to work.

I have another blog, where I’ve been grappling with issues of disclosure and privacy. So over the last year or so I’ve been back and forth between vague honesty, defiant over-sharing, and constrained selectivity. Issues of searchability, linking to other sites, images, and my name were obsessively navigated and revised. After awhile I decided to stop imagining what my parents might think if they read what I was writing. I was sure they never read my blog anyhow.

But then, a series of dramatic events unfolded and I learned my family does read my blog. One family member demanded that I remove some information from it. Though it was none of their business, I did remove that information because it didn’t seem worth the battle. And now I feel like anything I write on there is up for approval and communal edits by my family. I cannot be reflective or honest knowing their narcissistic gaze is upon it.

You may be thinking, Why are you only worried about your family reading what you write? Aren’t you worried about friends, potential employers or other professional network situations? No, not really actually. These days I’m pretty okay about owning my issues and past with dignity, and I won’t be pursuing friendships or employment opportunities that would eschew me for having written about cocaine or sexual disassociation. Really it’s just my family I’m worried about. Constant need for approval no boundaries you get the idea.

So! Here is the new blog. My name or contact information is not on it, and it’s not linked to my real life at all. I’m not going to make a huge deal about ensuring absolute anonymity, like I’m not going to scramble my IP address or anything, but it should be more or less un-googleable, which makes me feel less oppressed by the potential for neurotic dramas.

Mostly on here I’m going to write about my experiences being a former hooker, drug addict, and all-around alienated and inappropriate person. I’ll write about being feminine, and feeling objectified in the world. I’ll probably write about lots of other things too but these days I’m pretty obsessed with my experiences in sex work and related situations.

Do you want to know why this blog is called Hey Charlie I’m Pregnant? It’s not because I’m pregnant and I don’t know anyone named Charlie. It’s the first line of the amazing Tom Waits song, Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis. I’m not adding a video because I can’t find a good one. Anyways he’s singing from the perspective of a woman who’s trying to get her shit together. She is going through all the motions of normal, functional womanhood but there’s a mournfulness and sentimentality in his voice because she feels like she doesn’t belong. She’s trying to bury the evidence but she feels her past so embodied in her present. I really identify with this song.