Cultist doodlings

I’ve been doing some pastel drawings around an idea I had the other day, something about cultists and ice cream.  Anyway, this is the first page of a longer story.  Figuring out how I want to depict it is interesting, between various traditional media and digital effects.  Here’s the finished first page.

Wifi Prayer 1

Working with pastels helps me get to a more simplified form of whatever I have in my head – just the places the light touches, the fewest possible strokes to use while retaining all the information.  I’m trying to work down to a style I can do quickly and easily, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get there.  I’m growing less and less certain that it’s even necessary, ultimately, but the goal is teaching me a lot, so whatever.

Wifi Prayer B&W

After the pastels I went back and tried to draw the same scene using only a black marker – trying to work out how I could use the shadows and negative space to get all the shapes in, even while making it clear that the room’s mostly dark.  That came out a lot better than I expected; markers are a lot less forgiving than pastels, but it’s also easier to achieve a gritty kind of feel that I like for this project particularly.  To get the same feel with pastels I’m having to layer in charcoal pencil.  So it’s been very instructive!

 

 

One of the stages along the simplification route ended up with this more abstract angle on it which I also like.

Wifi Prayer AbstractI’ve got two more pastel pages to mess with in Photoshop and then I have to get my hands dirty again.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

In Defense of Making a Mess

I made a big mess of my desk this weekend playing with pastels.  Pastels are wonderful because they’re so damn forgiving while being incredibly imprecise.  If you make a mistake, just go over it with a different color, or smudge it into something else.  I think, against all reason, this is what a pathological perfectionist like me needs from a medium.  Bob Ross would say that art is about happy little accidents, and if you draw or paint or happen to be the kind of traumatized that makes you watch a lot of Bob Ross to calm the howling animals in your brain, you know what he’s talking about.

I can’t draw

There are people who can grab a scrap of paper and a pen and dash off a clean five-minute sketch that will blow your mind.  I am not one of those people, but I grew up surrounded by those people.  My living room walls are covered with my mom’s art, screenprints of giant pies over hallucinogenic patterns, photocopied pages from zines she pasted together in the 80s, shreds of tissue paper painted with contorted human figures, dark collages of book pages, cut-out letters, and splattered acrylic that cracks and flakes onto the carpet with each passing year.  My stepdad is a sculptor and potter and painter; I grew up with paintings of his that were bigger than me, canvases eight feet to a side that I imagined could crush me if they ever toppled off the wall.  My father was in a rock band when I was a kid, and his grim, restless devotion to staking out time for his art regardless of the consequences made a deep impression on me.  So I grew up saying, “Oh no, I can’t draw.”

Then I met a few more people, and realized that there’s a level of “can’t draw” that should shut me up saying that forever.  I realized that what I call “can’t draw” is actually “a pretty enviable natural talent with no practice.”  I realized that the reason the people around me were good was because they spent every free moment they could spare working on what they made, screwing up, making messes and figuring out how to salvage the work from the mess.  This is… hard for a perfectionist to hear, and it’s harder when you’re a child.

There’s something inside you that deserves to take up space out here

I’m not going to say that artists don’t make good parents, because I think that’s unfair and untrue, but I do think that artists have to work consciously to be good parents, especially around the subject of art, because artists are by definition egotistical.  We have to be.  The very idea that a stranger should give a shit what you think, what you see – to assert that as hard and continuously as you must, to declare that your vision is worth the time and money you’ll put in and the time and money you’re asking from your audience in return, you have to believe it yourself.  You have to be able to fall back on the private certainty that even when you make mistakes in getting it out, there’s still something inside you that deserves to take up space out here.  You have to be certain that what you’re doing matters, and that even if it only matters to you, that’s enough.

That is not what I was taught, unfortunately.  I was taught to be seen and not heard, taught that even when asked to participate, I was to be as unobtrusive as possible, while displaying lavish gratitude for being allowed to remain in the room.  To quote David Sedaris, a writer of funny essays about his abusive family that my family bonded over in between abusing one another: “My parents did not live in a child’s house, we lived in theirs.  Our artwork did not hang on the refrigerator, or anywhere near it, because our parents recognized it for what it was – crap.”

Don’t drag a bunch of shit out

I was about five when I saw my parents reading and drawing and talking in the living room, and I wanted to sit with them and draw too.  Not to interrupt, I knew better, I would just listen, just be part of the happy artist family creating side-by-side.  I brought out my markers and my notebook to draw in, only to be told, “Don’t go dragging a lot of shit out here.”  It became a favorite line.  Whenever I was caught exiting my room with more than one object in my hands, I heard, “Don’t drag a bunch of shit out here.”  The message was clear: our art is real and deserves to take up space, deserves to make a mess, deserves to inconvenience others.  Your art is shit and we had better not see it in the public areas.  I’m trying to remember the houses I grew up in, whether you would have known my parents had a kid if you’d just walked in the front door and looked around, and I don’t think so.  There was no evidence for my existence outside of my room, and that was called “keeping the house clean.”

Do you understand, child?  You are a mess.  Your art is a mess.  It is never acceptable to make a mess, even just for the duration of an art session, even if you intend to clean it up.  Don’t drag a bunch of shit out here.  This space belongs to our art, which is real, and our mess, which is necessary.

You know what?

Fuck that.

I’m here to make a mess.

I’m here to make a big mess, the kind you’ll spend centuries cleaning up.  I’m here to make mistakes, the kind that’ll scar me for life.  I’m here to make art, and it’s going to be bloody, and it’s going to stain, and I’m not here to apologize.  I’m not the kind who can throw out a clean ballpoint caricature that you could sell for twenty dollars, and the guy who can do that couldn’t do it ten years ago either – ten years ago he was swearing because the side of his hand was stained blue from all the time he spent scribbling.  Ten years ago he filled a trashcan with a whole ream of paper and didn’t draw a single thing worth saving.  He made such a huge mess, for so fucking long, that he took down whole forests with his mistakes.  And now he’s at Comic Con or his publisher’s office, staring at the clean, polished prints of his work, and he doesn’t recognize them… because all he can remember is the mess he made.  The mess that somehow brought him here.

This is my desk while I was working with the pastels this weekend.  Normally I do my drawing over on the couch by the window, because the light’s good and it’s an excuse to get out of my chair and keep my ass from putting down roots in the cushion.  But I was mixing media here, trying to find a good way to lay linework over pastels (charcoal pencil, turns out!), and I needed the hard surface, so I sat at my desk.

2019-05-18 12.48.20

For the first twenty minutes or so I fretted, in the back of my mind, about the pastel dust I was repeatedly blowing off the page onto the desk.  I saw the colored fingerprints I left on my keyboard and mouse while I worked, and I cringed.  I imagined my wife coming into the room, imagined her scolding me for the mess.  She’s never done that, not once… but I can imagine her doing it in vivid detail.  I’m an artist.  My brain is excellent at inventing villains who tell me to give up.

But there were moments – these pure, arresting moments – when it wasn’t simply that I was no longer bothered by the mess, no longer worried about cleaning it up… no, I felt its necessity, its essential role in the process.  My first finger is black with pastel residue, so that when I brush away dust from my page, it leaves dark streaks there.  A mistake.  Then comes in another finger, this one golden from smudging another part of the picture, and it softens the dark streaks, gives them depth and dimension, and suddenly there’s something there that wasn’t there before.  A ghost in the paint.  A happy little accident.

I try to enhance it, not by selecting another pastel but by dragging my fingers over the desk, picking up undifferentiated dust and debris and probably some skin cells and then going after the paper like a toddler, all ten fingers clawing and stroking and shoving the color where I want it to go.  I feel like a caveman – thoughtless, seeing only the lights in my head, I seize the most colorful thing in my vicinity and crush it in my fist, watch its neon-bright blood pour between my fingers, slap my palm on the wall to make it splatter.  Nothing but this.  No money, no fame, no love, no possible future could be brighter than this, could be more important than making this mess and immersing myself in it.  Even the art that results – you know as well as I do that it’ll be a fragile, tenebrous shadow of the thrashing, violently colorful vision in my head.

how can I get that perfect blue out of your eyes

No one will ever see what I really wanted them to see, and that’s part of the misery of being an artist – that we must always be cursed to know how far what we made is from what we imagined.  But… in a way, this is also the only reason to make art.  Not the followers, not the mails, not the likes, not the reposts, not even the finished product, because the finished product doesn’t capture that vision, can’t ever quite satiate that need to get it out.  It’s the feeling of sinking my fingers into clay, into paint, into earth.  It’s the scrawling, feathery symbols I draw when I spill the pencil box.  It’s that moment when I’m so immersed in my work that when someone comes along and says, “Hey, you’re making a pretty big mess there, are you gonna clean that up when you’re done?” I stare at them in feral silence, thinking, “How can I get that perfect blue out of your eyes and onto this paper?”  Maybe they can see it in my face.  Maybe that’s why they fuck off so fast.

Getting your hands dirty is the only thing that matters.  The doing, not what you’ve got when you’re done, however much or little it is.  The villain in your head starts to rant, shouts, “You’re making a mess, and for what?  You made a mistake – now it’s ruined.  You made something imperfect – so you’re worthless.  You took too long, and you wasted our time.”  And what I’m trying to say is this:

The mess deserves to be here.  It lives here.  It works here.

The doubt does not.

 

 

You Know Me – I walked past your sign to my abortion

I guess now we’re passing around abortion stories on Facebook.  I don’t know, man, I’m barely keeping up with social media here, I just got a Gram and that’s very confusing.  Too old for this shit.  I’ve been too old for this shit since I was ten.
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But I endorse the aim.  I am indeed ashamed of the choice I made, as I was taught to be.  If shame were going to shut me up, though, it should have already.  I got a little long talking about this on the Book of Face, and now I’d like to get a little bit longer, because there’s a kind of prologue to this story that I’ve never told anyone.
When I was 20 I was very lucky to have Planned Parenthood and my unflappable mother, who could scream the house down over my tone of voice but received the call every mother dreads with equanimity, saying calmly, “Okay.  What do you want to do?”  There wasn’t a lot of consideration to be done, and she knew it as well as I did.  I was working at a daycare center at the time, and I took two buses to get there in the morning. At the end of the bus ride, I stepped down onto a corner claimed by an older woman with a truly grotesque anti-abortion sign, one of those with pictures of dead babies on it. She screamed into traffic every morning, Monday through Friday, through every season in Tucson, Arizona. Her brain must have been baking in her skull.
I walked past her for several weeks after taking a pregnancy test and before ending the pregnancy. I didn’t get in her face. I was scared, and ashamed. I felt stupid, criminally irresponsible, murderous. Everything she said I was. I felt that way every day until my mom took me to Planned Parenthood, where they were kind and softspoken, and they did something cold and painful downstairs while I stared at the clouds painted on the flourescent light fixture.
Afterward I sat in a little room filled with egg-shaped chairs. They brought me weak lemonade and crackers, and nothing has ever tasted so good or so necessary. I was alone for a few minutes before they brought in someone else, sat her in the chair next to mine. I couldn’t see her, but I heard them give her the same gentle instructions they gave me: “Eat a little of this. Here’s an electric blanket – hold it against your stomach, it’ll help the pain a bit. The bathroom is there if you need it. You can stay here as long as you like, and when you’re ready to go, the door out to the waiting room is right there.”
I stayed about twenty minutes. For the first five, it was silent in that room, just me and the other woman sipping lemonade in our separate little eggs. Then she started to cry, quietly, her face buried in a cushion just like the one pressed against my temple. Her tears freed mine. We both cried for a long time. We didn’t speak. I never saw her face.
I heard her get up and leave through the waiting room door. I went out a minute later. Mom took me back to her place and put on movies while I swallowed gutwrenching nausea. We watched Batman Begins and the Peter Jackson King Kong remake. I don’t remember King Kong at all. I assume there was a monkey in it. The next day I went back to my broken-down apartment where the door didn’t close and the power was off one month in three, and the day after that I went back to work at the daycare center, past the woman with her dead baby sign, still screaming. I still felt ashamed. That never changed. It was never easy and it never got better, and I was very, very lucky to be able to access the help I needed.
Here’s the part I haven’t mentioned before, because I don’t know how to feel about it.  Before I worked at the daycare center, I had a work-study job with the newspaper at my community college.  I wanted to be a journalist, for a little while, before both me and journalism took a few bad years straight in the face.  Then I got pregnant, and for two months I was very unreliable – I didn’t make it in on time, and when I was there, I spent half my shift in the bathroom drooling bile.  Fortunately I couldn’t afford to eat breakfast, so it was just bile.
I think they knew, somehow.  I was the only one in the office most of the time, so I don’t think they could have seen me, but… I think they knew.  When they called me in to fire me, they sat me down on the other side of a pressboard table and said, “Is there anything you can tell us that’s been affecting your work performance?”
I looked at the carpet.  I couldn’t understand why they were asking.  The idea that I might be fired at this moment wasn’t surprising to me – I deserved to be fired.  Why on earth would it matter why I wasn’t doing my job?  I shied away, as I always did, from telling the adults around me what I was dealing with.  Because I was ashamed, because my pain and my failure was my fault.  Because what would happen if I told them, if I paraded this private agony to keep my job, and it worked?  I would have to face them knowing, face whatever they might think, and when the pregnancy ended with no legitimizing infant to wash away my sins, I’d have to tell them what I had chosen.  I couldn’t do it.
At the time it felt like integrity, maybe.  Maybe it was just cowardice, obedience.  I wanted to be good.  I was trying to do penance, trying to take the punishment I deserved for my stupidity.  I told them I had nothing to say.  They fired me.  A few weeks later I started work at the daycare center.  I met the woman with the gory sign, and twenty or so three-year-olds I adored more than their parents seemed to, sometimes.  I worked there almost exactly a year before I got fired – for smelling bad, because we still lived in the apartment with the broken door, and the power had been cut off in the middle of June, and I couldn’t afford to wash my clothes.
I went home and made sort-of-hashbrowns out of grated potatoes and flour and fried them in oil – gas stove still worked.  Flour’s a dollar, potatoes five bucks the ten-pound sack.  Canola oil three bucks for the bottle, reuse it a few times before throwing it out.  I put a candle in a stack of potato mess and brought it to my boyfriend sitting on the futon in the living room, where we were sleeping because it was the coolest room in the house owing to its convenient broken window.  I sang him happy birthday.
There was never another scare, even though it was another eight years with that boyfriend and I didn’t have access to birth control for six of them.  I learned that lesson if nothing else.  I still want to have a baby, maybe, if I can.  It feels less likely to be possible or practical every day.  I remember writing on my blog at the time: “What if this is the only chance I’ll ever get to have a kid?”
I still don’t know.  I made the best choice I could at the time.  I was lucky to be given a  choice.

Why I Don’t Answer the Phone

I got into a conversation today about why abuse survivors feel like a burden on others.  This feeling has led me to a pretty suicidal realm at times, because it dovetails all too neatly with my other neuroses, but most people with trauma feel this way to some extent.

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This is the meme that started the discussion.

Some of it is projection – we tend to assume that people think like we do, unless we actively work to look beyond that.  So if we’re unhappy with ourselves, we assume that dissatisfaction is universal.  The bad qualities we perceive in ourselves must be tattooed on our foreheads, and the fact that these people tolerate us just shows how amazing they are by comparison.

I think there’s a larger factor here, though, and it’s that people raised by narcissists learn an adversarial game of love.  I believe that until you unlearn this game, you can’t gain energy from loving company, can’t be empowered and soothed by the company of the people you love – it will always be taxing to some degree.

an adversarial game of love

Part of being a kid is getting saddled with your parents’ values.  This just comes with the package – your parents can’t avoid expressing what they believe subconsciously, even if they’re careful about what they say and do in your presence.  So until you’re at a point where you can begin to question these things – and remember that trauma stunts emotional development, pushing that point further and further away with every blow – these things are just part of how you see the world.  These are your “received values.”

When you’re raised by a narcissist, you receive the values through a megaphone, because a narcissist makes the outside world responsible for their self-worth.  What does a narcissist value?  Only one thing: supply, or emotional sustenance.  It’s not quite the same thing as when you spend time with a friend and you feel better – that, hopefully, is a symbiotic thing, you and your friend supporting one another and giving one another energy in different ways that aren’t deleterious to either of you.

Narcissistic supply, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be positive.  Supply is provided any time the narcissist can feel that they are central to others’ lives.  Their centrality, the extent to which they feel important and focused on, is the extent to which they feel worthy.  If they’re feeling neglected, they will act out to increase the flow of supply, of attention and emotional energy, directed their way, whether this means asserting dominance, provoking others, or demanding their love and devotion.

you are valuable to the extent that you forget who you are

So the narcissist wants supply.  Their emotional state, their relationships, their worldview and view of themselves as a person are all dependent on the level of that supply gauge.  Which means that if you’re a narcissist’s child, what your parent taught you is that you are valuable to the extent you provide supply.  To the extent you make your parent feel central to your life and identity, you are loved.  In a very literal way, you are valuable to the extent that you forget who you are.

The problem with this – well, another one – is that narcissistic supply isn’t the same thing as emotional support.  It’s like living on nothing but popcorn.  It fills you up, but it’s mostly air – you’ll need more in ten minutes.  So you might learn to supply your abuser with what they need, but as soon as it becomes routine – or the wind shifts – the demands will change.  This makes every interaction an adversarial game: can you divine the way the wind’s blowing, and assume the appropriate position in time, or will you make a mistake?  In a way, it doesn’t matter – either outcome provides narcissistic supply.  Either they get you to scramble and attend to their needs, or they get to excoriate you for not doing so.  Either one reinforces their starring role in your life.

manipulate me for my comfort, but don’t you care let me catch you at it

So if you grow up being told that this is love, how is interacting going to feel to you?  Interaction isn’t a source of solace, or support – it’s like being in the room with a hungry animal, something unpredictable that you must nonetheless predict in order to be safe.  And when you try out the dubious skills you’ve learned on people outside the family, they call you passive-aggressive and manipulative.  That’s how it works.  That’s the narcissist’s edict: Manipulate me for my comfort, but don’t you dare let me catch you at it.

You learn a lot from this, growing up.  A lot of things that later you’ll have to unlearn, things like:

  • All interactions involve layer upon layer of emotional sparring that you will be punished for winning or losing.
  • All interactions are one person trying to get supply from the other, trying to drain their emotional energy.  At best, every conversation is a negotiation.
  • Your value to others is the amount of selfless energy you can provide them.
  • No one is ever being dishonest or emotionally manipulative except you. We have no idea where you learned that.
  • No one is interested in anything but themselves.
  • As a result, every second you spend expressing yourself in another person’s presence, rather than reflecting on and attending to them, is a drag and a drain.
  • Your inability to manage this situation with eagerness and enthusiasm is a disease that we need to cure for you to be normal and therefore loved.

And here we are.  If this is what a conversation feels like to you, even with people you care about, why would you want to interact at all?  Why wouldn’t you count the cost of it every second when you do?  Why wouldn’t you be certain those around you are doing the same, and why wouldn’t you, each and every time, come up short in that calculation?  You always have before.

do what the narcissist can’t

To get out of this life-sucking trap, where every notification makes you twitch and every phone call gives you a sick feeling of fear and shame as you stare at the phone, still not answering...  To get out of this state, you have to do what the narcissist can’t: you have to find self-worth that doesn’t rely on another person to survive.  I think self-worth, strangely enough, is a thing you build from the edges in, like a puzzle.  It’s going to be a very long time before you can envision the face of the person you’d like to be, the person who doesn’t live in this trap, the person who can love and be loved without counting the cost.

But you don’t have to envision their face.  Start with the edges.  Learn who that person is by watching their effect on the world.  You can’t help acting out your values, any more than your parents could, and I think you’ll find that yours are not simply the ones you were given, no matter how much effort was spent to indoctrinate you.  I think you’ll find that when you felt supported, when you felt safe, when you were able to act instead of react… your choices reflected the person you want to be.  What does that person seem to value?  How do they treat people?  Do they make others responsible for their pain, or do they strive to give more than they take, even if they don’t always succeed?

I’m going to bet that person is worthy of love.  I bet if you saw another person making the choices you’ve made, you wouldn’t even question whether that person was worthy.  Start from that value – you are worthy of love.  No one can diminish your value, and no one can increase it.  You are not required to bleed for those you love.  That’s not what we preach here.

love isn’t something you give or take… it’s something you do

Love can be painful, it can be stressful, but it is not adversarial.  They say all relationships are work, and they kick that one around the internet arguing whether it should or shouldn’t be so.  I’m gonna clarify it by generalizing like hell: everything in the world is work, unless you’re a sponge.  When the person next to you has the same goal in mind and is helping, work goes fast and doesn’t feel like work.  When the person next to you isn’t helping, or is working in a different direction, it will feel like every slogging, unproductive step is on you.

It’s not, though.  Love isn’t something you give or take – it’s something you do.  Do it for yourself first, and then if someone ain’t doing it for you, don’t do it back.

AFS #1: Should I tell my fiancée I’m trans?

So we’re currently at the ignoble stage where, in order to have anything to talk about, I’m appropriating questions from real columnists, like a mail thief who then shows up at your door to critique your marriage.  I think Prudie nailed it in responding to this question, and I think the practical advice is right-on.  Talk to your partner, for your own mental health, and get you someone else to talk to about it also.  I’m not here to disagree – I just wanted to talk about some of the underlying thoughts you may be experiencing right now.

Here’s the question, and Prudie’s response.

This is a familiar story to me.  When I was about 15, my parents sent me to a therapist.  It wasn’t explained to me precisely why, so when the therapist asked about my hobbies, I talked about Zelda and Starfox and D&D.  I also mentioned my best friend, and how important she was to me.  Almost at once, I was forced to insist that our relationship wasn’t sexual, that I was not a lesbian.  I had this conversation with my very progressive family pretty often too.  It wasn’t that they had any issue with me being gay – quite the opposite, in fact; my mother routinely ended arguments with my stepfather by turning to me and snarling, “Marry a woman!”

agony and uncertainty was where they started

It was that to them it was both fascinating – something they wanted to know about, and constantly – and yet also trivial enough to mock.  And to me it was frightening, and invasive, and diminishing to what I saw as the “purity” of my relationship with my friend.  It was dysphoric, is what it was, only I didn’t know that at the time.  I’d grown up surrounded by gay people, but because it wasn’t remarked upon in my family, none of the pain and confusion we can feel in the closet was mentioned to me.  I only saw the happy, open adults these people had become.  I had no idea that my agony and uncertainty was where they started.  I didn’t trust my family enough – for other reasons – to tell them what I felt, and when the therapist immediately started in with the same prurient curiosity, insisting that a close friendship just couldn’t be that close without something gay going on, not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-that… I didn’t trust her either.

This is where my life divided.  I tell myself stories about it sometimes, like the stories you’re telling in your dreams right now.  In one story, someone explains to me that trans is a thing you can be, and that I do not have to look like my family’s idea of a lady to be worthy.  I register the fact that the person I always imagine myself growing up to be is a man.  In that story, I imagine, maybe I transition, and maybe I’m someone’s husband and that makes me happy.  Or however that ends up going.  Transition is no guarantee of eternal happiness – it would just have been a different life.

In the other story, the one that’s more detailed but less narratively satisfying because it actually happened, I don’t know until much, much later that the pain I feel is not normal, that it’s not just me being fundamentally deficient the way my parents tell me I am.  In this story, I do not tell anyone that I don’t recognize my own face in the mirror, and so no one explains to me that I should.  In this story, I spend the next fifteen years trying to become the woman I am supposed to be, the woman I don’t recognize.  The “lady” my grandmother wants to see.  The daughter my family could love.  I am told that if I obey, I will be safe, and so I do.  I obey the pain away.  I obey myself away.

 

 

I was a good girl.  Just like I imagine you’ve been a good guy, a good boyfriend, a good son.  So much unspoken weight is in that, not just the words but the promise and the threat: stick to the script and you can stay.  Do what we expect, and you’ll be taken care of.  Follow in our footsteps and you’ll always be safe.  It’s understandable, to a certain extent, that our loved ones feel that way – their path is the only one they know, and they turned out okay, right?  There’s only one life they can be certain is livable, and it’s the one they’re living.

But you can’t live in anyone else’s flesh prison, and the life they’ve found livable may be toxic to you in a way no one else can understand.  I got to 30 before the disconnection from myself nearly killed me.  My body felt like a space suit, loose, bulky and clumsy, with me screaming and lost somewhere inside, far away from the faceplate.  I couldn’t see forward – every life I could imagine ahead of me felt the same, that same grinding, choked, claustrophobic feeling, that same hopeless, worthless girl starring in every frame.  That girl I didn’t recognize.  I didn’t want any of those lives, and I couldn’t imagine any others.  I didn’t want to live at all if it had to feel like that.

nothing will ever feel real… as long as the person starring in your life is not you

If you can’t get out of bed, I think it’s a decent chance you feel some of these things too.  So I want to tell you that it doesn’t have to feel like that, and also to listen to those feelings.  I don’t say this because I’m unhappy with the disheveled machine ghost I’ve become, far from it – in a fucked-up way that I spend 90% of this blog trying to articulate, I value the life I’ve had.  I just know that nothing, not love, not success, not wealth, not the desires you don’t tell anyone – nothing will ever feel real and no success will make you feel enough as long as the person starring in your life is not you.

Before I came out, I was suicidal, because I couldn’t envision any future where I was happy.  No matter how flawless the vision, no matter how happy the ending, I wasn’t in it.  That girl wasn’t me.  Her victories meant nothing, and her sorrows seemed imposed, the result of trying to cut off every part of herself that made someone else uncomfortable.  So much of what that girl feared, needed, found challenging or impossible… I can’t even see now.  The message I was given, and you’ve been given, was, “You must fold and crush the person you are until you become someone who can be happy where we’ve put you.”  But that’s not true.  The demand can be sidestepped when you see that it’s based on a lie that many families, corporations, and governments would like you to believe: “Happiness is only possible through me and my way.”  That’s not true either.

I’ve got a different message for you, while you’re being scolded from on high.  “If you’re not happy where you are, as you are… move.  You don’t need another reason.”

that’s a spicy bean

And that’s the final point I wanted to make.  I don’t mean “move” as in “don’t get married, sell your house and run off and transition and then join Cirque du Soleil or something” (although I would watch that movie).  No.  When I say “move,” I mean just that – make a move.  Take literally any step toward something you want.  A little one or a big one.  Any one.  Gamble even just a few minutes of your time on the possibility that what you think matters, that what you feel is right, that even if you’re wrong about the things you might enjoy or want, no one else is a better authority on you than you are, and your life is about trying things to see if you like them and want more.  That’s literally what life is.  “What’s this thing?  Put it in my mouth to see what it is.  Ow, it stung my lip.  That’s a spicy bean, I don’t think I like it.”  That’s all of life.  Here’s a thing – like it?  Want more?  There’s more over there, go get it.  And you are the first and last judge of what things you want more of in your life.  You might take in data from people around you to inform that decision, to tell you more about what might occur and which of those consequences you want, etc., but you are the only one who gets to decide, because you’re the only one who has to live with it forever.

So make one small change.  Talk to someone.  Start wearing a different coat.  Get yourself some earbuds so you can listen to music for a minute when you get stressed out at work, and actually do that.  Take a class on something your family thought was stupid, or go browse the memes on r/egg_irl and see if anything feels familiar.  Remind yourself that exploring this idea will not instantly result in the life you have crumbling to pieces.  Try to resist the feeling that this is an either-or, an irrevocable all-or-nothing decision between the life you have and being true to yourself.  It feels like that, because you don’t know what might happen, so you’re imagining the worst possible outcome.  But it’s not.  This is a long, complicated, hard process if you transition, and gender questioning is a long, complicated, hard process whether or not you ever do that, and it looks different for everyone.  All you need now is someone to talk to about how you might like it to look for you.

looking for reasons is looking for permission

And do it today.  Right now.  (Let me finish here first, it’s rude to run off when I’m pontificating.)  You will always, always find a way to convince yourself it’s not time yet, or it’s not worth it, or it’s too risky.  Looking for reasons is looking for permission.  You want something unequivocal that will take the choice out of your hands, convince you of the right move, and you’re never going to get it.  You will, however, assemble a thousand data points that convince you to stay in bed, so afraid to lose what crumbs of comfort and joy you have that you’re willing to pass up even the chance at not living on starvation rations.

You don’t need anyone’s permission to explore and express who you are – not your fiancée’s, not your family’s, not Prudie’s, and not mine.  You’ve been trying so goddamn hard, for so fucking long, to be what they wanted you to be, and the person who’s done that isn’t bad or wrong.  You don’t have to sacrifice everything he is to be the woman you truly are, because I’m willing to bet that woman is a LOT like the man your fiancée agreed to marry.  I bet that woman is every bit as considerate, as conscientious, as kind and as loving as you are in a man’s body.

The only real difference between that man and that woman, apart from a few years of medical nonsense and stress… is that the woman thinks YOU being YOU is worth literally any risk at all.  The voices that brought you here, the ones that are telling you to shut up and swallow this… they think that “not rocking the boat” is worth sacrificing every single bit of you.  When you’re questioning whether something you would be doing for yourself is “worth it,” remember that you’re really asking, “Am I worth it?”  To you, expressing yourself honestly should be worth literally any risk, any cost.  Start believing it now.  Then make your move.

 

Advice for Sluts

So… it may have become clear to you by now that I get around.  I’ve spent the past 30 years falling into beds with weapons-grade weirdos and navigating back out of them while drunk off my ass.  It turns out that I’ve encountered a lot of folks and situations that people seem to find… unique.  I’ve managed not to hurt any of them so badly that they won’t speak to me now, which feels like some kind of an accomplishment.  I’ve striven all my life to be an ethical slut.  I’ve often been clumsy, sometimes callous, but I hope I’ve never been cruel.

It’s come to my attention, also, that we’re short on advice that addresses sluts like me – the polyamorous and yet somehow lonely, the queer and nonbinary and transfolk who still feel invisible, the asexual people wishing cuddling was a sport, the kinky dorks who love porn but hate the slurs in the titles, the working-class Doms buying sex toys at Wal-mart… anybody out there rubbing (or not rubbing) their bits together in ways not approved by the manufacturer.  The puritanical attitude most of us were raised in permits no questions about this shit, and the ongoing tyranny of advertising means that we may not discuss any topic that would set off the ads poorly… like redecorating your living room to match the magazine.

But I’ve got nothing to lose and all the time in the world.  I’ve lived on the internet since it was built, I’ve seen every depth of human depravity you can not unsee, and nothing you’ve ever done will shock me.  And I seem to be given to ranting about other people’s issues at totally unnecessary length.  So I want to help you, if I can.

  • Are you a sub wondering if your Dom is treating you right?
  • Are you mentally ill AND poor AND queer and wondering how to even live?
  • Do you have an STD and need a suave way to disclose that to dates?
  • Do you need a translation of that weird person’s weird behavior?
  • Are you poly and not sure how to share that with your kids?
  • Are you struggling to deal with your spouse coming out?
  • Do you think you might be trans but haven’t experienced dysphoria?
  • Are you a transwoman frustrated with the paucity of porn out there that doesn’t insult or objectify you?
  • Do you just want to know what the fuck TERF means?

I can help you.

It’s okay to ask.

Asking questions about these things is scary, particularly because people the larger culture oppresses are often not interested – rightly so – in educating those with more privilege.  Many transfolk do not want to explain to you why misgendering hurts, they just want you to stop it.  But part of my privilege is a certain detachment from, well, everything, due to being a machine ghost, and I believe that if you’re asking a question in good faith, if you really want to understand, it doesn’t matter if you can’t keep up with the latest acceptable words.  Ask what you want to know, and if I can’t answer you, I can at least tell you how to phrase your question in a way that won’t get you curb-stomped by a queen in platform boots.

If you’re a weirdo, or a slut, or a queer, or confused by any weirdos, sluts, or queers, I can help.

My demographics/qualifications, such as they are, if you find them useful in contextualizing (or dismissing!) my advice:

Continue reading “Advice for Sluts”

My, How You’ve Grown

I’ve been reading this fantastic book, “The Family That Couldn’t Sleep”, about the history of prion research and fatal familial insomnia.  It’s incredible; I’ve been taking every excuse to babble about it all week.  The author’s approach is so compassionate and yet comprehensive – there are a lot of not-so-great people who nevertheless do important work in the field of prion research, and D.T. Max presents their crimes evenly alongside their discoveries, neither excusing them nor allowing their crimes to obviate their contributions.  It’s terrifying and inspiring and dense with super strange facts that will make you a Cool Guy among the “morbid history nerd” demographic.

But this isn’t a book review, because apparently my elders would prefer I chose more uplifting reading material – my grandmother came in to say, “Sigh. Life in general is so much more! As you “season” with age, you’ll see.”

Reader, I did an acrobatic pirouette off the handle.

I haven’t been subjected to that “when you’re older you’ll understand” bullshit in a good long while, because at 32, most people seem willing to sell me booze and engage with my ideas as if I were some kind of adult.  It’s true that we’re always children to our families, there’s no possibility of ever entirely discarding the trappings of that relationship, but I think it’s possible to honor a shared past without inhabiting it, to love the child we remember without erasing the adult we see.  It just requires a conscious effort to look for more than what we expect, to look at a person for their identity rather than their role.

it’s just a phase

Because that’s it, isn’t it?  We slot people into roles in our lives as appropriate – mother, father, partner, boss – and then we try to optimize our relationship according to society’s instructions for interacting with that role.  We look at our family and compare it to other families we see, and consider ours more or less successful based on how well it matches up to the cookie-cutter.  We catch our child misbehaving and crowdsource the answer, looking for how kids that age are supposed to behave.  Is this normal?  Is it a phase?

That word, phase – do people still say that shit to their kids?  “Oh, it’s just a phase, you’ll get over it. You won’t care about that in six months.  No, don’t spend too much money on that, she’s only going through a phase.” Really think about what that says for a second.  You’re saying to your child, “You have no expertise on your own feelings or desires. This thing that feels very important to you is not important, and the degree to which you lack understanding of that is the degree of your immaturity in my eyes.  It would be best to crush your enjoyment of that thing immediately and waste no more of anyone’s time liking something you might dislike in the future.”

the apex of human understanding

Note that “growing up” is always seen as synonymous with “agreeing with me.”  There is no world in which a child grows up, acquires experience and perspective, and still disagrees with you.  Your worldview is the apex of human understanding, and all life is a grim slog toward the enlightenment you’ve already achieved.  All of this is implicit when someone says, “When you get older, you’ll see.”

Trouble with that is, if you look at the world this way, you will only ever see yourself.  That’s all you’re interested in. It’s all you’re looking for, so it’s all you’ll find. You’ve told the people you love that what matters to them is only real if it also matters to you.  That what they are is only worthy if it matches what you were looking for.  Someone you love came to you and said, “Hey, this thing is super cool, and it fills me with the sublime joy of discovery and makes me want to learn more.”  And you said, “That’s not the kind of thing I figured you’d be into. Stop sharing your discoveries with me until you mature into someone who likes what I like.”

Is that the relationship you want to have with your family?

your irresponsible brother Dave

Aren’t you at all worried that you’re missing out?  Don’t you ever wonder who that person is? Not the role they’re in – not “your granddaughter” or “your partner” or “your irresponsible brother Dave,” but the actual person hidden behind the role you talk to when they pick up the phone.  Maybe actually talk to Dave, for the first time in years.  Dave’s forty-three – have you been calling him irresponsible since he was eight years old?  Does that not seem like bizarre behavior, to not update your opinion of a person for thirty years?  If you met forty-three-year-old Dave in a bar or a park, would the two of you get along? Would you even talk?

I think the sad truth is that a lot of people wouldn’t choose their family for friends if they’d been given a choice.  And it’s not because we don’t have things in common – shared space and shared time creates commonalities, and so does any attempt to shape your loved ones to resemble yourself.  One way or another, we usually have a lot in common with our families.

What we don’t have is any reason to seek out their company, a lot of the time.  The jokes about family time being as taxing as it is rewarding are pretty universal – why is that?  Why do most people not quite like being around their families?  A lot of those jokes rely upon this idea of having to perform, to live up to what the family expects of you.  Here we are again… “family” is conditional upon your ability to conceal what you are, to go through the motions, to avoid the missing stair.

someone who loves you might hurt you on purpose

Any long-term relationship is susceptible to this.  The older a relationship is, the more opportunity there is to create habits that wear into wounds.  You started joking about Dave being irresponsible when he was eight, and he laughed then, and so you kept it up.  Dave kept laughing because Dave didn’t have any power – if it bothered him, he didn’t have any safe opportunity or framework to say, “That joke actually does hurt me.  Could we stop joking about that and joke about literally anything else, please?” He’s hopefully never before been confronted with the idea that someone who loves you might hurt you on purpose.  That’s a brutal revelation, one that a child has trouble absorbing, and so he tries to ignore it. Dave keeps laughing.  If he conceals that it hurts, they won’t be hurting him on purpose.  If I don’t call it rape, I can pretend I wasn’t raped.  Faking it is less painful. It keeps hurting, but over time Dave gets inured to it. He doesn’t even hear the jokes anymore.  He doesn’t see his family much either. Not for any particular reason, they don’t do anything really bad. They’re just… not as good to him as his friends are.  And somehow that’s called “family.”

The word family whitewashes a lot of behavior that no one in their right mind would put up with from a friend or a partner.  We’re looking for the family we expect to see, the one media shows us, and when we don’t see it, we pretend to see it.  We play the role and the role becomes who we are.

our teeth are loving

That’s how a family gets to a point of taking pride in their dysfunction.  “We’re not like those lame, boring families that are nice to each other.  Other people can’t understand this thing we have, but you know our teeth are loving, this is just the only way we know to express our emotions.  You’re special for getting it.  Outsiders don’t get it.” This is how we immortalize abuse as family tradition. We convey the impression that in order to be “in the club,” in order to belong, those lower in status must submit to whatever treatment trickles down from on high.  More than submit to it – celebrate it. Being part of the family means laughing when we make a joke at your expense; can’t you take a joke, don’t you have a sense of humor?

These patterns don’t start as malice, that’s the problem.  We don’t start out trying to bulldoze the people around us.  We just don’t take it seriously when it happens, and so it keeps happening.  When we trivialize what someone’s experiencing – “it’s a phase, you’ll understand better when you’re older” – we teach them that their pain is not important.  So they stop telling us about it.

If we don’t create opportunities in our relationships for open communication that sets aside power and status disparities, we can’t ever have genuine, functional relationships with anyone.  Power, status – it’s not comfortable to use words like that with our loved ones, and we’d like to believe our families don’t work like that. But power disparity exists, and ignoring it is just a way of absolving ourselves of responsibility, believing that the word “family” is sufficient to keep the family together.  It’s not necessary to work on and improve those relationships the way one would with a friend, because “we’ll always be family.” Okay, but if family doesn’t mean “a group of people who love each other and look after each other’s welfare”… what exactly will we always be? We’ll always be connected by blood, but if that’s all that’s required, why does it matter if we spend time together?  You want family to mean something when it absolves you, but not when it requires you to do emotional work.

any part of this person you ground down

What if you made it a habit, with all the people you love – friends, partners, family, anyone you plan to keep around for a while – to check in?  Not in a “hey, how’s tricks” kind of way – you’re going to have to give them a framework to answer you, because we’re not used to being this honest with each other, and you’ve probably given them at least one reason to believe you won’t react well to anything less than a glowing review.  But there are a lot of ways to get at what you want to know, and what you want to know is if there’s any part of this person you ground down to make them fit into the family.

Try any and all of the following, as appropriate to your situation and relationship:

  • “Hey, I want you to feel like you can tell me the truth about what you’re experiencing and feeling – is there anything I can do or not do to make you feel safer in doing that?”
  • “What have you been really interested in lately that we haven’t talked about?  You’re getting into culinary taxidermy? Well that sounds terrifying to me, but we don’t have to like the same things for me to love you, so please, tell me what you like about it!”
  • “We go to church/play board games on Family Night/eat at Hooters every week, and we’ve been doing that for a long time, I just wanted to see if that’s still sparking joy for everybody.  Oh, you say you never liked eating at Hooters?  Well I definitely won’t say ‘why didn’t you mention that earlier’, because we don’t always know how we feel about things right away and conveying that uncertainty across a power disparity is very difficult, and I don’t want to punish you for answering my question honestly.  Instead, let’s try another place, and those of us who like Hooters can go tomorrow night.”
  • “Hey, I noticed when I made that joke that your laugh was a little halfhearted.  If I say something that makes you uncomfortable, please don’t feel like you have to laugh it off – please tell me instead, so I can not do that in the future, because I’d rather we both be having fun when we hang out.”
  • “Remember that thing I asked you to work on?  Keeping up with the dishes/not picking your nose in front of the dog/not yelling at me when I ask a question?  I wanted to say it’s been a lot better lately – you’ve been working on it and it shows, so thank you.”
  • “What are some things you’d like to do in life?  Let’s approach those NOT from the perspective of me showing you how to scale down your dream until it fits neatly into your standard-issue soul-dead consumer life, but rather, let’s you and I figure out how to break down the existing paradigm to make whatever you’d like to do practical.  I promise not to mention money or college in any way during this conversation, because a lot of things can change in twenty years, and my understanding of what the workforce will require from you is probably already wildly out of date, and also your value and the value of what you care about is not determined by the amount of capitalist wealth you accrue, so you should pursue what you’re passionate about and we will make it work.”

Demonstrate, or have the common decency to occasionally feign, interest in your loved ones outside the sphere of your own interests.  Acknowledge progress, not just error.  Don’t measure others’ success in terms of similarity to you or your dreams.  Provide opportunities for safe communication.  Be aware of power disparities rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist, and be ready to swallow your pride if it gets in your way.  If you can’t hear good sense when it comes from the mouth of a child – or anyone you perceive as “lesser” – you aren’t worthy of any form of authority.  Don’t judge your children by how similar they are to you, or to other children, or to children from your day. That’s not useful info – why would you want your children to be similar to you?  They live in a completely different world and that will become more true every day.

Don’t look for your own reflection in the faces of those around you.  Listen to the person in front of you, right now. They’re giving you a lot of information – we all want to be seen, to be understood, and most of the time we’re broadcasting like neon lights, just wishing someone would ask us what we think or how we feel.  Each person is new, and they’re new every goddamn day. If you’re not paying attention, you’re going to miss it. If you spend all your time describing the person in front of you, rather than listening to them, they’re going to disappear.

Death and Other Distractions: Complex

Disconnected musings on suicidal depression and stumbling toward mental health

The stories in this series involve me being unusually frank and graphic about some fucked-up stuff, and therefore have the following blanket content warnings:

  • Child abuse
  • Self-harm and suicide
  • Violence
  • Drug abuse
  • Mental illness
  • Sexual assault and rape
  • A shit-ton of swears

Continue reading “Death and Other Distractions: Complex”

(the empty set)

You wanna talk about how you feel?

No.

Okay.  What do you wanna talk about?

 

She’s got an empty set tattooed on her hand

between thumb and forefinger on the left side, because she’s righthanded

So when she poured the ink from a Bic into a bottlecap

and dipped in a sewing needle

tip flame-bruised

It was her left hand flat on the plastic table

A zero with a slash through it –

In middle school this was how I wrote my zeroes

A handwriting quirk I tried out for two weeks

Until my math teacher gave me a D on a test

Marking every instance of 0 as if it were the empty set

I never did it again.

 

You wanna talk about how you feel today?

No.

Okay.  What do you wanna talk about?

 

Around her wrist – also on the left

in the same blurry ballpoint blue

It says

Vincit omnia veritas

Truth conquers all

Her hands never leave me

They were the first things I ever saw

 

You wanna talk about how you’re feeling?

Okay.

 

Sometimes I think that the hands belong to someone else

I’ve been watching them all my life and

They’re always the same

(the empty set)

But they’re not always attached to the same woman

It’s her eyes that change

They came into my life after her hands

And still I don’t quite trust them.

Staring is rude

Confrontational

So I learned to stare at the floor

or that spot in the air two feet in front of your nose

the place daydreamers go

the vanishing point.

 

Her voice would wash over me and I’d look at her hands

My mother’s hands

The pillars of the world, crowding every frame

The tale of my creation under them like the forging of a weapon

A tool, a toy

“I wanted a friend, so I made one.”

I imagine those hands selecting my traits one by one

Every strength, every virtue, every talent plucked

like hairs from her head

All my beauty borrowed

All my power loaned

All my successes predestined and expected

“That’s good, honey.  Do better.”

Like the moon, a white face in her shade

to reflect her light.

 

Should a tool aspire to be a toy?

Does a weapon wish it had been a teapot instead?

So few of us know what we are for

So few of us find a sense of meaning

One should be grateful to have one’s purpose

clearly dictated so early in life

And I am.

I have never doubted what I am made for

I have never for a moment wondered if I am an accident

Though I have long suspected I am a mistake.

Bidden, “Reflect!”

So bidden, I tried.

By the only god I ever knew

By her limitless light

I swear I tried.

 

The light never dims, not with distance

And not with time

This is how I know

that her hands are still with me

Bookending my life

Brackets that make it a subset of her existence

What’s inside them?

(the empty set)

Not nothing, no

A specific nothing

Better than nothing

like a ham sandwich.

The empty set is the set of answers that are not answers

the tension between SHOULD and AM

the number of wishes you get.

 

But any emptiness makes music

and in the dark I’ve found

That the inside of me looks nothing like her.

There are more things in this hollow skull, Horatio

Than are dreamt of in her philosophy

When I shout, the brackets give back my voice

and every time it’s different

and we might have nothing but we have infinite nothing

An infinite resonating space

with infinite room for activities.

I’ve been thinking I might keep it empty

Just to hear the echoes

and over time, through echolocation

find out what this tool is really for.

 

Moral Mathematics

Learning to love getting hit in the face with a rake.

I got into a discussion lately about how to improve society on a one-to-one basis, in our daily lives, related to our perception of sexual assault accusations.  The question in its original form was this:

How do we convince people that sometimes people we look up to, befriend or even love are capable of something unforgivable, monstrous?

Without driving them away because from their perspective you are attacking their loved ones?

Without minimizing the harm that victims experience?

How, in effect, can we get people to accept and believe survivors rather than interrogating as their first response, without accusing them of being intolerant in the first place?

Is it possible to get people to confront their own casual hypocrisy and cruelty without making them feel bad?

And the problem is… no, it’s not.  Moral development is painful, because it involves looking back on your own actions and deciding whether they represent the person you want to be.  When they don’t – and they don’t, not always – it hurts.  If you truly accept that you behaved contrary to your own ideals, you will experience pain.  If it doesn’t hurt, it’s because you have not yet truly bought and owned that you were wrong.  And that’s natural!  No one wants to believe that they did something wrong, but we do make mistakes, and how we absorb that experience determines our quality.

When a person hears that their friend, or a celebrity they like, or the Goddamn President raped someone, that’s them getting smacked in the face by a rake wearing a goofy wig and a sign that says “You were WROOOOOOOONG.”  They were wrong about their perception of that person.  Wrong to like them, wrong perhaps even to love them.  Wrong to do all the things they did to help them.  That hurts, badly, and it should.

Then we get to decide what to do about that hurt.  A lot of people, again like our Goddamn President, react instinctively, defensively.  They want the hurting to stop, so they blame the person they see as the immediate source of the pain – the victim.  That’s how a missing stair is created; that’s how we get whole families, organizations, societies protecting rapists and predators because any attempt to speak up about what Brett does to girls at parties gets met with, “You’re just trying to start drama.  You’re just trying to destroy the career of a good man.  You’re hurting me, stop hurting me!”

But we don’t have to react that way.  We’re not simply our instincts, whatever pseudoscience the manosphere is peddling these days.  We actually do understand that pain is survivable, that intellectual confrontation is not the same as physical threat, that new ideas don’t need to be met like armed invaders.  We know that, but it takes a lot of effort and practice to remember it in an emotional moment while our amygdala is firing.  Think of the test Paul Atreides is put through in the first chapter of Dune.  He’s subjected to horrific pain, and if he flinches or pulls away, he will die.  The Reverend Mother tells him that the separation between men and beasts is that a man can choose to endure pain for a purpose.  So when we’re confronted with painful information – “Your boss/dad/friend raped someone” – we can endure that pain rather than throwing it back at the victim.  We can make a little decision matrix for ourselves – it’s like Pascal’s wager.  Pascal’s got your back, kids.

Problem: Amy says Brett raped her, he says he didn’t, I like them both and right now that’s all we know.

  1. If Amy is lying and I treat her as if she’s telling the truth, I will have to support her in seeking justice against Brett.  This will rapidly result in her being found out – false rape accusations are vanishingly rare and the vast majority of them do not even name a specific suspectPositive outcome.
  2. If Amy is lying and I treat her as if she’s lying, she’ll likely no longer be a friend, and the fallout of that situation may have other social consequences in our group.  Mixed outcome.
  3. If Amy is telling the truth and I treat her as if she’s telling the truth, I will have to support her in seeking justice against Brett.  This will hopefully result in some form of justice.  The immediate result is that Amy will have an ally in a very nasty situation where she may have no others, and long-term, she will likely be vastly better off for having had any support at all in her trauma.  Positive outcome.
  4. If Amy is telling the truth and I treat her as if she’s lying, I will both destroy our friendship and further abuse someone who has already been brutalized, while propagating a culture that creates this exact situation every day.  I will continue supporting and defending Brett while he (statistically) goes on to rape five more women.  Negative outcome.

The only rational choice is to treat Amy as if she’s telling the truth – it creates the highest probability for a positive outcome.  So a rational person would choose to believe Amy.  But when we’re hurting, we’re not rational – pain fires at the base of our brains, bypassing the prefrontal cortex entirely.  It takes practice and perspective to survive that moment calmly, to endure the pain long enough to decide how to respond instead of simply reacting.  Moral growth is a gom jabbar– it has to hurt if it’s to work, because the goal is to learn to think while hurting.  This is how we learn to be human.