I don’t often bounce off great writing as inspiration for blog posts. There’s enough stuff out there that frustrates me or makes me angry, so when stuff is good I tend to just share it and let it speak for itself. But today, I read Fat Girls Deserve Intimacy Too by Virgie Tovar and so many things fell into place for me that I decided to write a related post for this week’s Wicked Wednesday.
…our fights were largely about this third entity in our relationship: shame. More specifically, my near-lifetime experience of being told I wasn’t lovable because I’m fat. In this relationship I’ve learned that wanting love is the easy part for me. Feeling like I deserve love? That’s the hard part.
Ah, shame. I love it. I hate it. And I felt I knew exactly what Virgie was getting at here. It helps, of course, that she recognises that this isn’t uniquely a fat-phobic issue:
And that’s what’s so sinister about fatphobia (and racism, and sexism, and transphobia, and ableism). Long after the political educations are mastered, the language is on point, and we’ve stopped waking up every morning wishing we were someone, anyone else, it’s the ghosts that remain. That’s the thing about oppression — it creates isolation. Even when we’re ready to be in relationships, we’re often not equipped to actually experience — and accept — intimacy.
Four years ago, I was ready to be in a relationship. Or I thought I was. I’d had a lot of therapy. I thought I’d come to terms with my body issues. I recognised that I’d been fleeing intimate relationships with men because I was ashamed of my body and I wanted to change that.
And of course, I met the perfect guy to do that with.
In therapy this week, I cried as I told the therapist how I felt the boy was out of order for starting anything with me, given that he didn’t want anything serious, and the disability clearly, *clearly* made me vulnerable.
‘You’d have been so angry if he’d treated you differently to the way he treated other girls,’ she said, and I thought, Damn it, you’re right.
If someone looks at me weird or says something rude to me, I always see it or hear it and I have a massive (exhausting) anxiety/adrenaline rush/aggro response/comedown cycle. I feel like I have to fight to maintain dignity and humanity every single day.
I think we’ve seen a few of those ‘massive (exhausting) anxiety/adrenaline rush/aggro response/comedown cycle[s]’ around here, haven’t we?
To me, using words as big as dignity and humanity is something I have no right to do. I like to think I check my privilege pretty often. I have financial security, a family who love me, and a body that functions far better than it might have been expected to in my early years. But the truth is, I do have to fight to be shown dignity and humanity. It’s just that 99% of the time, it’s a fight I’m having with myself. Or, as Virgie puts it:
I dedicate a massive amount of emotional and spiritual resources to the fight to be seen as fully human — and the fight to see myself as fully human. I’ve lost relationships and countless opportunities to be close to people in the name of keeping my world small and manageable. Because that’s what traumatized people do.
Life with the boy was not small and manageable. It was thrillingly rollercoaster-like, and I loved that about it. I loved it, but I wasn’t at a place in my life where I was ready to handle it. My therapist always looks surprised when I say that I think open relationships can work well, but I do think that. I just don’t think they can work well for me.
The boy was always in a Catch-22 with me. I needed somebody to say the things that really I had to learn to be able to say to myself. I needed him to tell me I was hot (which he did, sometimes), but what I actually wanted was for him to second guess every time I wasn’t feeling it, and to say it then. Without me asking him to, because obviously that would undermine the whole exercise. I’d always side-eyed girls who said things like ‘other half’ or ‘he completes me,’ because I believed that I was strong and I would never allow myself to need someone that much. I was enough for me, which of course actually meant I had so little self-esteem that I thought I had to be, because I could never rely on anyone else. But in truth? I did want him to complete me. I wanted him to love the things I couldn’t love about myself.
The other day, I went to a seminar about special educational needs and learning difficulties. The problem, said the speaker, is that teachers feel that they have to know what will work best for a child with particular needs, when actually the best thing they can do is to ask the child. The child will know what works for them.
I liked the theory, but I was less certain it translated to the real world. ‘I don’t always know what works for me,’ I said to someone, a few days later. ‘I think it’s wrong to assume that people with disabilities have a more innate awareness of their needs than other people.’
‘I don’t think that’s the point,’ she said, quite rightly. ‘It’s not about expecting that child to have all the answers; it’s about handing them responsibility for their own learning and showing them that they can handle that responsibility.’
Or, in other words, it’s about treating them with ‘dignity and humanity every single day.’
As in most relationships, things went wrong between the boy and I because we both made mistakes and we had very different expectations of one another. I wasn’t, as Virgie says, ‘equipped to actually experience — and accept — intimacy.’
It’s complicated, as a disabled woman trying to reach that point, because so many other things come in to play. Your fertility window. The way that, when asked to give examples of sexism, women will say that they start to become invisible as they hit middle age. I need time to equip myself to handle intimacy and relationships, to be part of a couple and not expect the other person to be all the things I can’t be for myself. To be honest, it’s time I don’t feel I have.
And that scares me.
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