Me too.

This is the hardest thing to post. I remember when I first came to terms with it, and when I did again. Most heartbreaking, I remember when I had to change my mantra from ‘it’s over, you’re ok, it won’t happen again’ to ‘its over, you’re ok, you can get through this.’ Its hard to let yourself realize that this is what happened to you.

You were sexually harassed, assaulted, or raped. You had your autonomy taken from you in the most intimate way possible. The worst part is there’s a good chance that the person who did it doesn’t even know they’ve done anything wrong. We’re trained to believe its our fault, we’re gaslighted by our abusers, our friends, our family, our society.

They are taught that it is ok, they are taught that you can get away with it. They are taught that it’s not their problem. Every femme has to deal with this problem, BIPOC and LGBT folk are disproportionately affected by this problem. It happens to all of our sisters.

So many people see feminism as a theory. People are able to subscribe to the idea without having to actually do anything. You know what to say and how to pass but you contribute nothing. (I’m looking at you, feminist fuckboys.)

Feminism is not a theory, it is a practice, it is a life. You have to live your daily lives constantly questioning what you’ve been taught is ok. It is a huge process of un-learning. Is the way I’m treating this person oppressive? Is there a power dynamic that I’m not paying attention too? Is there something I’m profiting from that I’m not acknowledging? Is there emotional labour I could be doing to unpack this?

Its not easy and its not always fun. Sometimes you have to come to terms with your own issues. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it means your learning. The people who are actually bad people are the one’s who can’t be bothered to try or to care.

To all my femmes out there today, be part of this campaign, use your voice. If you can’t, I understand that. If its too hard, I don’t blame you, sometimes it is just too hard. Take care of yourself today, remind yourself that your experience is true and your feelings are valid and you are worth the time and the energy that that takes. You are beautiful and you have so much to offer. You are so strong for making it this far.

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To the Women Marching on Washington

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Today is the day that the United States will inaugurate the 45th president. People are outraged, and rightfully so; the majority of their voting population voted for someone who has assaulted, harassed and demeaned women on a myriad of occasions.

Tonight, many women will march on Washington to send this message:

Women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us. – Mission Statement of the Women’s March

I cannot go (I’m a world away and I can’t even go to the Kansai peace vigil because I’m working tonight.) But there are many of you who can go, and who will. This is so important, but I’m writing to you to ask you something equally important. Please be critical of your involvement, and recognise your privilege to be able to be involved. Also, please don’t let this be a one time show of support. If there is one thing we have to learn form this election is that its all nice and well to talk the talk, but in the following years America will need our continued support.

First, on being critical of your involvement. Activism is such a privilege. So many of us – especially people like myself – white, cis-gendered, straight – passing, reasonably able bodied (read: invisible disabilities), and middle-class. I have all the trade marks of someone who can go to this march, without much thought or stress. Please keep this in mind when you look around you. Please click that link for an incredible opinion piece by Jamilah Lemieux where she discusses that ‘I don’t know that I serve my own mental health needs by putting my body on the line to feign solidarity with women who by and large didn’t have my back prior to November.’

Be aware of what the people around you are giving up or risking to be there. Most people there either have time off work or are taking time off work. Many of those women will bring their children or need child care. The women of colour standing around you will hold many different fears including but not limited to the racist policing system and rampant Islamophobia. Some women will not be there as their disabilities will not allow them too, whether this be a physical barrier or a metaphoric one. Some women may not be passing as women when you see them for fear of the violence that often comes with not fitting societies binary. While the space they are going to is a safe one, travelling to and from may not be a place where everyone will give them permission to be their truest selves.

When you are at the march, pause each time you feel like you are about to pass judgement. If our Mother Earth can allow all these beautiful souls to co-exist then certainly you can too. But also pause when you judge who is not there, as there are so many factors that could lead to that decision even if someone does really want to support the movement.

Lastly, I beg of you not to let this be one good deed to start the year. Don’t let this be an act to assuage the guilt that as a white woman you are part of the demographic of which 53% voted this man in. There are so many other ways you can help. This list showcasing just a few of the ways. Anyone who calls themselves a feminist, especially a feminist and an American voter, needs to seriously question how we let such a misogynist be the leader of the United States.

We need to tackle racist attitudes that prevent women from engaging in a more intersectional kind of feminism. We need to tackle homophobic and transphobic ideas that deem who is given permission to love who they love and be who they are. We need to tackle sexual-moralist ideas that divide women into ‘the virgin’ and ‘the whore’ and create stigma against sex workers, single mothers, and women who have premarital or non-heteronormative sex.

We have a long road ahead, I’m asking us all to march on through tonight towards a better future together.

This is why I drink…

I’m currently committed to a break from drinking. I was warned when I first arrived in Japan that it’s far too easy to become an alcoholic. Here you can buy alcohol in any convenient store, grocery store, as well as other stores entirely devoted to alcohol and restaurants as per usual. When you combine that with the infuriating pervasiveness of misogyny in this country, I was driven to drink. We make light of this with meme’s like “This is why I drink,” but the reality of it is that as femmes, we’re living in a world that hasn’t been made to make space for us, never mind accept us.

Kristi Coulter wrote an amazing piece titled “Giving up alcohol opened my eyes to the infuriating truth about why women drink”. She describes the daily bombardment of harassment and assault women receive and how this is often quelled by alcohol. From mansplaining, to sexual harassment, to mommy shaming, as she puts it so poignantly ‘there’s no acceptable way to be a woman’. Drinking is one of the many ways that women choose to assuage this guilt placed on us. She goes on to talk about how drinking is marketed as self care in many ways. If a woman works hard, she deserves a drink. Coulter wrote that her and her friends sat around tables clinking glasses and saying things like “we’ve earned this.”

She also talks about a more sinister side effect, though its not clear if the cause of this is living in a patriarchy or drinking. The realities we live in are so incredibly fake. We smile through the wage gap, the lack of emotional and domestic labour done by our partners, the realities of sexual assault and rape that women face every day. By doing all of this, accepting these unacceptable realities, we lose our ability to trust our own instincts.

While alcohol is heralded by many women and femme identifying people as a way to cope with the bitter realities, it also brings on a whole slew of nasty stereotypes that further complicate our lived experiences. The stereotypes that are paired with femmes who drink are almost always negative. The miserable housewife, the sex worker who drinks the pain away, the person dealing with abuse or other trauma through drinking or other substance use. All of these carry an aspect of victimisation, an air of pity and a continued removal of power and autonomy over their chosen coping mechanisms.

There is an article by Caty Simon titled ‘Here’s what real sex-workers say about that ‘hookers-using-drugs-to-numb-the-pain’ trope’. Simon opens with the fact that multiple studies and anecdotal testimonies from sex workers themselves refute this narrative time and time again. It seems to be impossible for people who don’t know the profession to believe that any sex worker could possibly have chosen the career for themselves.

Yes, some sex workers over use alcohol and other substances. More often than not these problems pre-date their careers in sex work. Others explain how they use less than they used to because of their jobs. One respondent in the article spoke about how, if she admits to using, people can forgive her for going into sex work, something they see as wholly unforgivable. Her choice of career, her choice to use what and in what quantities, is all erased by the victim narrative.

Many of the people in the article talked about how the flexibility of the career worked better for them than traditional jobs. Most of them chose sex work as a better alternative than the roles prescribed to femmes by society. They chose something ‘unacceptable’ and they are shamed for this. This is not to say that this is the reality for everyone in the field, but it does dismiss the trope as we know it.

We begin to see a pattern here. Society provides an inhospitable climate for femmes, femmes get fed up, femmes assuage their anger with drugs and alcohol, femmes have their autonomy erased with tropes.

The scariest part about this removal of autonomy, is that sometimes they transfer into reality. Alcohol is a friend of many, but it also can be used as a weapon against us. I’d like to use an anecdote to really prove this point.

I was at a bar with some friends the other night, eating pizza and having a few drinks. As we were getting our bills a guy at the bar turned to us and offered to buy us drinks. We declined, saying we had trains to catch and places to be. He couldn’t for the life of him take this as a final answer. We split up the bill and got out our cash, a few stayed behind finishing the last of our drinks. Him badgering us this entire time, spotted with comments of ‘that’s cold hearted’ and other nasty remarks with each decline we offered. One of the girls finally cracked and said ‘sure, I’ll take a half pint.’ His response to that (the important part here) was to the bartender “I’ll get two double mojito’s” and then to us “With me its double or nothing.”

This, while creepy, is a very tame example. He had the decency to tell us it was a double so we could simply leave it on the table, untouched. There are all to many examples like this one. Maybe they buy doubles all night and don’t tell you, maybe they slip more alcohol into your drink while you aren’t looking, maybe they slip something much more sinister in your drink instead. Alcohol is the substance used most frequently in sexual assault.

There’s much more that could be said about alcohol being used to lubricate the friction between the polar opposite gender roles. Either trying to navigate our personal fit, or a relationship within or outside of these binaries.

Alcohol is our confidant, it is our medicine, it is our poison and it is a weapon. I’m not sure I’m going to give it up entirely, and I’m not necessarily advocating anyone else do it either (unless you believe you are an alcoholic but that’s a whole different story there.) However, I do think its incredibly important to think critically about the many aspects of our alcohol use and why we are driven to it.

Re: Marie Henein speaks to Peter Mansbridge

Marie Henein speaks to Peter Mansbridge regarding the Jian Ghomeshi trial

This interview came out shortly after the acquittal of Ghomeshi, a Canadian Broadcasting Company host who faced 7 counts of sexual assault. This case was incredibly controversial. As Henein says throughout the interview, nearly everyone within the country had an opinion on the case one way or another. High profile cases tend to have this polarizing effect. While I myself was outraged with the acquittal, it was for a whole host of reasons beyond what floated around the twitterverse. However, that isn’t what I want to talk about now. What I’d like to delve into is the details of this interview with Marie Henein, someone who found herself under fire throughout the case. I’d like to examine her comments on feminism, and sexual assault cases in the legal system.

I’d like to start with the fact that Henein is an incredible lawyer. Her fierce intelligence and incredible logic contribute to her ability to act impartially while in the court room. Even throughout the interview, something which she admits she does reluctantly, she maintains a level head and speaks with clarity and eloquence. When Mansbridge brings up the comments about her ‘betraying women’ or the idea that ‘there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women’ she doesn’t seem terribly bothered by it. In response to that they discuss the fact that if she were a man, the same comments would not have been flung at her. She even goes so far as to defend the rights of those who made these comments, saying she is glad that we live in a society where freedom of speech allows them to do so.

Henein represents a very particular brand of feminism. She claims the word during the interviewer, but in a way that seems old fashioned. As I’ve already mentioned, Henein is incredibly intelligent. She claims her logical thinking patterns and other things that make her a great lawyer as factors of her personality. For a long time, feminism fought for that particular brand of empowerment. Equality with men, the ability to own property, to have jobs of the same calibre, to be regarded as serious and logical. All of these things are valued in our society, a society that has been built by the patriarchy. There is no shame in wanting to be those things, in fact, they are accomplishments in many ways.

She also supports the legal system relentlessly. She claims that she lives in one of the best countries in the world with one of the best legal systems. A legal system that deeply adheres to its rules. This is all well and true. The Canadian legal system is fantastic. It grows and adapts with the culture. All that being said, it is a system that was developed by the same society that is the reason we have issues such as sexual assault. The patriarchy is equally responsible for an impartial legal system as it is for the irrational crimes that are sexual assault. Within the legal system, there are clear rights and wrongs, no room for gray areas and logic is of the highest value. How is it that we expect a system like this to deal with crimes like sexual assault, where there is nothing but gray and chaos and trauma.

I strongly believe that if we rely on the legal system to bring us justice, then we will never see justice for survivors. There is no logical way to recover from that kind of trauma. Once you lose all autonomy over your body, there is no way to ever completely get over it. Many turn to substance abuse or self harm. Others develop post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Some are left with horrific memories, others are left with physical scars and on going health conditions. There is no way a court settlement could ever resolve this. There is also no room for these kinds of victims within a system that expects plaintiffs to be level headed, infallibly logical and unemotional.

The most aggravating discussion within this interview was the one that surrounded the ‘I/We believe survivors’ campaign. She states that we can’t believe people based on who they are, but we believe people in positions of power all the time. We give more weight to the testimony of doctors and police officers because they are seen as inherently more reliable precisely because of who they are. Why is it that we cannot believe a survivor about their own experience. Surely we can agree that no one knows better about the trauma than the victims themselves. Lady Gaga’s lyrics describe sexual trauma perfectly, “Till it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels… Till it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real.” This is also problematic due to the way society is biased. Men are generally seen as less emotional, more logical and thus more reliable. In the vast majority of sexual assault cases brought to court, the ‘he said, she said’ nature of the case means the female victim is seen as inherently unreliable. He gets the presumption of innocence while she is left with the burden of proof.

This trial, and this interview, bring up so many of the problems that the court system has in dealing with sexual assault. By the end of this interview, my biggest problem was that I was unable to disagree with Marie Henein. While I may not like her brand of feminism, or her decision to defend Ghomeshi, I still have a lot of respect for her as a lawyer. She did her job; what she didn’t do, what the system could never do, is bring justice to survivors of sexual assault. It is my belief that we need to look elsewhere for this kind of justice. We need to get better as a society at helping survivors, at preventing the problem in the first place, and at shaming perpetrators. I’m not sure exactly what justice looks like for survivors, I’m sure every single one has a different image of what it would mean for them.

We need to become better educated on what consent is and how to practice it. We need to get better at believing people about their trauma and at doing everything we can to help them live with it. We need to get better at putting the blame where it belongs, on the perpetrators of the crimes. People need to be held accountable. Both for actions that take away someone’s autonomy, but also at the lack of action that too often allows for this kind of thing to happen. Moving forward, we need to find a different way to seek justice. This system created the problem, it is up to us to subvert the system to find justice.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl

I am a manic pixie dream girl. Or at least, it appears I have been to many. I am weird and outgoing, I have been told many a time that I’m ‘not like other girls’. I have been called ‘the light of someone’s life’ more than I am comfortable with (read: any more than never.) If not within our relationship, then sometimes after its loss, I inspire change in the way some men live their lives.

I have been treated as a plot device in the story of many. Serving to fill the void left by a loss, to stroke the male ego or to alter paths and inspire. The problem with this is that I am not a two dimensional character, I am a real person. This tends to complicate things for people who want me to play a certain part. When I act outside of my given script I’m suddenly problematic, needy or crazy.

500 Days of Summer nails it pretty perfectly with this excerpt:

MCKENZIE 
So you got a boyfriend? 

SUMMER 
Nooo. 

Tom shoots daggers at McKenzie for that comment. McKenzie mouths “what?” Summers sees nothing. 

MCKENZIE 
Why not? 

SUMMER 
Don’t really want one. 

MCKENZIE 
Come on. I don’t believe that. 

SUMMER 
You don’t believe a woman could enjoy being free and independent? 

MCKENZIE 
Are you a lesbian? 

SUMMER 
No, I’m not a lesbian. I’m just not comfortable being somebody’s “girlfriend.” I don’t want to be anybody’s anything, you know? 

MCKENZIE 
I have no idea what you’re talking about. 

SUMMER 
It sounds selfish, I know, but . . . I just like being on my own. Relationships are messy and feelings get hurt. Who needs all that? We’re young. We’re in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I say, let’s have as much fun as we can have and leave the serious stuff for later. 

MCKENZIE 
Holy shit. You’re a dude. 

TOM 
(ignoring him) 
So then . . . what happens if you fall in love? 

Summer laughs at this.

Summer doesn’t believe in love, she doesn’t want a relationship, she doesn’t ascribe to the damsel in distress or the princess waiting for her prince. She is simply an independent woman who enjoys her life. She has dreams and goals that are external to a relationship – shocking, I know.

Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffanies has a similar story. Her cats name is ‘cat’ because she so strongly believes that the cat, like herself, should not belong to anyone. She lives under a new name in a new city. She is whole heartedly her own person, far from many characters of that age.

I identify with these characters. I frequently asked for people not to try and put claim to me or to fall in love with me. Not that I don’t believe in love, far from that. It just never seemed compatible with what I wanted in my life. People who said they loved me saw me as something to own, something that would bend to their script and I didn’t have time for any of that. I found myself frequently apologising for being precisely what I had promised to be.

This happened so often that when I encountered someone who treated me like a person, someone who recognised my own hopes and dreams, someone to share with rather than to be shaped by – this came as a shock for me. To me that’s rather sad. I had become so disillusioned with the idea of love that I didn’t think it possible to be empowered and in love at the same time. I have found only one person who seemed to be compatible for a real life fairy tale. Maybe that is the true definition of love.

I think this is why so many people are so disillusioned with relationships. If you identify as masculine you are taught that your role in love is the hunter, the possessive, the owner and maker of rules. If you identify as feminine you are taught to be the pursued, the passive, and the follower. Feminism has given other options to those who identify as primarily feminine. You can be the passive or you can be the empowered. The problem here is that there is nothing for people who identity outside of this binary, and this forces an adversarial dichotomy on those who are supposed to be falling for each other.

If we want to be happier in our relationships we need to break out of these adversarial dichotomies. Something much easier said than done. As for now I will join the ranks of the Summer’s and Holly Golightly’s. The people who do not want to belong to anyone. Please do not fall in love with me, for the patriarchy has trained your love to be possessive. I’m sorry for wielding my own autonomy, I know that’s problematic for your story line. But I am not, and will not be sorry for being exactly what I told you I would be.

Confessions of a Survivor

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Let me preface this blog with a trigger warning: I will be talking about my experiences with sexual violence. That being said, I hope you read this (if not now, then when you are feeling strong enough to deal with it) because I hope what I am about to write will help someone.

To almost everyone who knows me, I am a strong, confident woman. This is the survivor that has grown out of the shell of the victim I once was; and sometimes, still am. As any survivor knows, there are days where all you can do is mourn for the victim. Once you have been assaulted you lose a sense of autonomy and control over your body. In that moment where your no, your struggle or your complete lack of response goes unacknowledged, you lose so much of yourself to it. It takes years to gain back even the smallest sense of control. I used to repeat the mantra, “you are safe, you are in control, it won’t happen again”, the most shattering part of that mantra was having to change it to “you are safe, you are in control, you are going to be okay” because I couldn’t guarantee to myself, or to others that this would never happen to them again.

We live in a society where victims are not heard, if they speak up to begin with. In Ontario they estimate that 88% of sexual assaults go unreported. I am a part of this. I have never once discussed the crimes committed against me with any form of authority. If you look at cases like the flight attendant from WestJet or the fact that Kesha was denied the right to terminate a contract that forced her to work with a former abuser, you can understand why. There is such a stigma against victims of sexual assault, which is multiplied if that person is LGBTQ or a POC. Add to that fact that many of these victims already have a tense relationship with authority and you really have a recipe for disaster.

The last few weeks have been particularly hard for me. I’m living in a new place and so I’m creating a new social circle. In the process of doing this, there are moments where you are left raw and scared with no immediate supports who just get it. All the people who know my stories are upwards of 8000 km away with a 13 hour time difference. I have slowly begun to build up my network here, this has taken me reliving a lot of really horrific experiences. All that being said, it is something I am proud of myself for. I’ve come out on the other side with new allies, new people who have my back. For which I couldn’t be more thankful.

During times like these it is important to reach out for help. I emailed an old mentor asking for advice, I was lucky enough to have people here with me who listened, asked what I needed and never pushed for more than I was comfortable with sharing at the time. I video chatted with allies who have been with me through a lot of my healing, they told me how strong I had been and still could be. They encouraged me to make new allies who could help me in a similar way.

There are also two stories of hope that emerged in the time that I was struggling with. The first being the public story of Kesha and her abuser / producer. This case was incredibly public. Her courage is something I will never cease to commend. Kesha set an example that fighting the system that doesn’t believe victims is so difficult; but I hope in the end she feels it was worthwhile. The first verdict that was passed down was negative. She was not allowed to break her contract, effectively remaining enslaved to the man who had raped, manipulated and controlled her. There was public outcry over this, a show of support that goes to show how far popculture has come. The hashtag #freeKesha lit up the twittersphere, artists like Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift and Adele used their platforms to support Kesha. There was so much pressure surrounding the case that it has been reported that Sony plans to drop the producer before his contract is finished. This goes to show that our culture is slowly changing. While we may not yet be in a place where sexual assault is diminishing, survivors have shown resilience and alongside their allies, we have shown that we will not be stepping down from this fight. For a survivor/victim (a dichotomy I’m not sure I will ever leave behind) this is incredibly hopeful news.

The second story is of a much more personal nature. Amidst all of the triggers and hard days that I was going through, I had a friend from home reach out to me. He explained to me that someone he knew I had a rocky relationship with (read: someone who has assaulted me, he didn’t know the full story at the time) had reached out to him seeking advice. This person and I had dated for a brief period of time last spring. I ended the relationship for a few reasons, he was always late which made me feel really insecure and he didn’t have space for any emotional labour when it came to the relationship, I was expected to work through all of my feelings alone.

He had also forced sexual acts upon me without asking, the same way an ex of mine had also done. When I tried to check in with him about this, he took my question as consent to have sex. When it was all over with, I was completely triggered in front of him. He went to the bathroom and returned to me curled in a ball, shuddering with sobs and waves of tears. He condoled me and asked me to explain. When I regained composure enough to explain what had happened, we had a conversation about it that ended in me condoling him for his behaviour.

This same person had gone to my friend asking to speak about concerns that had been brought up about him and his knowledge of consent. He was the kind of guy who prided himself in being a feminist. Hell, he even had a pillowcase that said “consent is sexy” (a reminder that clearly fell on deaf ears.) He is also known for being incredibly defensive of his ideals. If confronted in an online debate he will never back down from what he believes is right. For all of these reasons and for the fact that it was too close to home, I felt powerless to confront him. Much to my joy, he reached out to a mutual friend of ours and actually listened. They discussed consent and intention and reputation. My friend tells me that it honestly sounds like he is trying to change his ways. They will meet again to continue this conversation at a later date.

While I still harbour so much rage for this individual, I also feel so privileged to know that he is trying to change. I told my friend that while this was a good deed in and of itself (and very much within his character to do) it still felt like a personal gift to me. This friend thanked me for the trust to share my story, and responded in kind that he was glad he could make me feel cared for. These are the kind of allies I am privileged to have in my life.

The best advice I can give to anyone who considers themselves a victim or a survivor (its not always easy to claim the second title, as much as it may be empowering for some) is to surround yourself with people who believe you. They don’t have to understand, because I assure you only a select few will. Surround yourself with people who fight for your voice to be heard, people who listen to your stories and believe you whole heartedly, people who will hug you when you want and merely stand behind you when you can’t be touched.

Lastly, keep in your heart the belief that we are changing culture. In Ontario there is a new sexual-health education curriculum (which I have had the honour of teaching) that includes consent! In the USA we have people like Lady Gaga and Joe Biden fighting the good fight. Don’t let the awful things pull you down, you have survived this far, you can continue to fight. When all else fails, remember “you are safe now, you are in control, you are going to be okay”.

Physical Literacy as Body Positivity

How many of us reading this are completely comfortable in our own skin? Chances are that the large majority of readers are not. I bet its pretty easy to think of something about your body that you don’t like; for some of us there is a list more readily in mind than for others. I don’t want you to think about that right now though. Right now I want you to pretend like we live in the world that Alok Vaid-Menon is fighting for. A world where we aren’t so obsessed with our Western, Colonial, white supremacist, gender binary-ed beauty standard and its neat categories that you either pass or fail; a world where we are free to narrate our own bodies, where we don’t have to change or prove anything.

Right now I want you to think of at least 5 cool things that your body does. An easy one is the fact that you can read this. That takes small cones and rods in your eyes to register what you are seeing, nerves to transmit that information and for your brain to have an understanding of the language I am writing to you in. There, three things! When you think of all the physical processes that go into each and every movement we make through this world it can be pretty astounding. We could all spend a lot more time appreciating our own physiology.

I bet this isn’t a list you make often to yourself, especially not when reading most anything from the internet. The media shows ideals for each stereotype and anything beyond that is ignored, or better yet, erased. This is absurd given that there is such a glorious variety of body types, abilities and identities. It’s exhausting to constantly be criticizing yourself and trying to fit a mould. It takes up head space and energy I would much rather be spending on something, nay anything else.

Within our society we have become very good at picking ourselves apart, but we’re still terrible at piecing ourselves back together. We aren’t taking care of ourselves the way we could be. This is problematic when it comes to our health (be it physical, mental or sexual.) When we dislike, distrust or feel disgust towards our bodies, certain things happen – we don’t take care of ourselves, we destroy ourselves, and we don’t stand up for ourselves and what we deserve.

In the language of health educators, we call the knowledge we have of our bodies ‘physical literacy’. Someone who is physically literate can move with confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in different environments. It benefits the development of the entire person through skills, knowledge and attitudes and can help prevent injuries. Plenty of this information can be learned in schools. Physical education is important for young people to become confident in their bodies abilities. Unfortunately there is a massive component of this missing in most cases, that component being sexual and reproductive health.

I got the bare basics, most of which was veiled with fear. While the education system is slowly changing, it is still leaving many people to fend for themselves. People in general, but especially women, are not taught to be in touch and at home in our own bodies. Any one who is outside of the gender binary or who doesn’t fit the neat moulds labelled ‘male’ and ‘female’ that produce all of the movie stars and models are left with something to loath and something to prove. There’s a constant battle to be masculine enough, feminine enough, beautiful enough. It’s been made much easier to destroy any image of self-confidence than it is to create a healthy relationship with your body.

If we are never taught the inner workings of our bodies how are we supposed to know what we find pleasurable, and what we don’t. Most importantly, how are we supposed to communicate these things we’ve never discovered. In Lee Hunter’s article ‘Desiring Consent’ the author puts it very plainly, ‘culture does not encourage us to communicate about our bodies and how we relate sexually to one another, much less about whether we are having healthy, fun, fulfilling sex.’

Even before we get to a place where we are negotiating consent and how we relate to others, our bodies can hold all sorts of surprises and scary things for those who aren’t prepared with knowledge. I’ve heard many people, both cis and trans describe the process of puberty as ‘my body betraying me’. This doesn’t necessarily mean hating the body you were born with outright and wanting a different one all together, it’s more that your body is betraying the long list that society drills into our brains of ways you must be perfect. Growing hair, crackling voices and new appendages sprouting from your chest can all be terrifying, especially if you’re not informed or aware of what to expect as puberty unfolds. Especially because for many, puberty is a departure from what is labelled as desirable.

As if all of this were not enough, our bodies can also be sights of trauma. Trauma, for the sake of what we are talking about here is anything you wish to define it as. The self loathing you feel because your body doesn’t fit an ideal that has been fed to you, the pain you carry from past abuse or assault, the physical pain that manifests from anxiety, your exhaustion that keeps you in bed all day because you don’t have the energy to go out in the world. All of our emotions, especially the hard ones, manifest within our bodies. Anxiety as an example, can cause nausea, weight loss or gain, hair loss, nervous habits such as nail biting, hair picking etc., physical pain in your jaw, shoulders, neck, back, hips etc. The list goes on an on of ways our bodies can self destruct without our knowledge or active participation. If you don’t like to associate your body with yourself, this can make these problems even more insurmountable.

The best piece of knowledge that you can be armed with is that your body is nobodies but your own. Accepting this means recognizing your journey as an individual who cannot be compared to others. It also allows the empowerment that comes with being the narrator of that journey. Each person is going to have different preferences for everything. You will learn that doing some things makes you feel great while others make you feel awful. Pay attention to the signals your body gives you when you eat, when you bathe, when you use different substances (medical or recreational) and when you engage physically with others (sexually or platonically).

There are entire rehab facilities, courses and books on how to change this, for some it will be harder than others. Self-love and body acceptance is crucial for our health. Being more physically literate can help your relationship with yourself, with others, your health and more. You, every single one of you, deserves to feel loved – this begins with an understanding that we are not perfect and an acceptance of that fact. This doesn’t mean you have to love every part of you. You will still harbour frustration towards certain parts or facts of your body. Instead of focusing on those, focus on the things that make you feel good, and what you can do to feel better. It has been proven many times, especially for women, queer and trans folks, that our medical system does not always help us. What a revolution we could have if we accepted our bodies enough to help ourselves.

(If you liked this and want more information, this blog could very easily become a series with all the information I found whilst pondering this. Let me know if that is something you’d be interested in!)