Hi guys. I started writing this during the fallout after the UCSB shooting and the #yesallwomen hashtag. I had a really rough go of it during that time -- which I'll touch on later -- in that the world in which we live started to feel deeply unsafe. It still does, but the feeling is more like background noise now, and I'm happy to say that since I've moved to LA I'm surrounded by a lot of good people, many of whom I can count on to look out for me in the way that decent human beings sometimes do for one another.
Due to the bad mental space I was in at the time, I never quite finished this post, and then quite soon after that I was overwhelmed with the logistical realities of moving to a new city, so this never got put up. I'm posting it today but I wanted to give some context around when it was written. Thanks to all who were supportive of myself and other women on social media during that time, and to those who weren't, well, move along, there is nothing for you here.
The theme of "safety" keeps coming up for me lately. In my previous blog entry, I lamented a lack of co-regulation in my past relationships and voiced a wish for future partners who would demonstrate an active investment in my being okay, even if it mainly stems from their self-interest in making sure I'm able to continue showing up to provide pleasure, as is my calling.
Moving out west and away from New York has had some interesting side effects, most of which were intended but have nonetheless shown up in ways that are still surprising: I wished to move out west to soften, to re-sensitize, to slough off the hardened shell that the bitter Lord-of-the-Fliesesque struggle of New York forces one to don. (Anyone who knows anything about New York knows the entire conversation there in the past few years has turned to its unlivability and to moving out of it -- most famously stated perhaps by Moby and Patti Smith, and obviously by the classic post from The Onion.) And as my body detoxes from that environment, as in any detox, a lot of ugly stuff rises to the surface. A lot of hurts that I hadn't fully processed are now starting to show up, screaming to be healed. And so in the process of feeling like my body is literally under attack, besieged by ghosts that I didn't quite manage to banish the first time, I am turning my attention for the first time in years to the issue of self-preservation. (I still run up walls and jump off buildings though, have no fear.)
This weekend, a 22-year-old man in California waged a premeditated attack on his roommates and several innocent bystanders in the streets of Isla Vista because, he said, he felt angry that no women were giving him the love, attention, and sex he felt he deserved. The debates since have raged, with the important throughline rising to the top that this was no anomaly of mental illness, despite what mental illnesses the shooter may have suffered -- this was a hate crime of misogynist extremism. In order to point out what most women know and what an unfortunate percentage of men seem to remain oblivious to, activists on twitter began the #YesAllWomen hashtag, a response to the infuriating "not all men" chorus to say that while, yes, not all men are like that and nobody ever said they were, pretty much all women have been the victim of misogynistic entitlement in the form of rape, assault, harassment, violence, threats, stalking, abuse, or intimidation at some point in their lives.
Reading the news, reading the hashtag posts, and sharing my own experiences was deeply triggering for me, to the point where I missed two nights of work because I couldn't stop crying. (To give you an idea of the usual control I have over my emotional displays, lest you perhaps hatefully classify me as histrionic, and even more hatefully so as a result of my gender, the last time I cried was over the Zimmerman verdict ten months ago). But even worse was getting involved in discussions with guys online who wrote to me to reply that they didn't think some of those things were that bad, that their hurt feelings over their gender being targeted was a bigger issue than my gender's physical safety being targeted, that I'm a public figure who posts her lingerie modeling photos and I shouldn't be surprised or upset that I get unwanted attention, that getting stalked outside my home could have been interpreted as manly and sweet and if my stalker had brought roses then maybe he would have won me over and we'd be dating now (no seriously, I'm not kidding, someone said that).
That, for me, is where the realest danger lies. I've been able to survive and/or fight off physical attacks (knocks on wood), as awful as they are. What frightens me most is the idea that I might start to fall in love with a man, and that just as I'm starting to open up to him I might relate one of these stories to him one day, and that he might look at me and furrow his brow, and tell me that my experiences aren't that bad. That not all men are like that.
Two good things came out of these conversations:
One, I was able to identify and block a lot of douchebags who came out of the woodwork to argue with me over this, and my mental health will be a lot better for not having those people on my feed.
Two, a poster on Facebook responded by asking me the following question:
It's an overwhelming issue, one that makes my brain fizzle out and just want to give up on trying to help anything or anyone - the layers and complexities run deep and there's 10,000 different progressivist ideological groups out there claiming the best way to fix the problems. So, before our heads explode, why don't we say "fuck saving the world" - what can we, little individual people, actually DO in our own small circles of influence to help? That's what I want to know... and it's not always easy to know. No one of any sex, gender, or orientation likes to have their problems dismissed - to function as normal human beings, we have to be validated and supported by those closest to us and to believe what we are doing the same and better for them, if not the whole world. Seriously, Arden... where does it start? Now there's an article I'd love to see from you, because you'd have something well-thought out, sensitive, and pragmatic to say!
Well, I do have something to say about that, actually. I'm not going to prescribe this for everyone and every relationship, but in moving out of New York and having some time to decompress and look back on the things in my past that have hurt me, the things I absolutely do not want to repeat under any circumstances whatsoever, I have started to come up with a pretty decent picture of what I need to feel safe. Maybe you need some of the same things too. Maybe your lovers do. Maybe you will share this list with each other and talk about it. Maybe you want to date me, and you will read this list and figure out how to do it better. At any rate it will give you a far better chance of success than altering my photos so you can see my vag and then stalking me outside my house.
Things I Need To Feel Safe With Someone I'm Dating:
1. Empathize with my experiences.
If I say that something made me feel scared, whether it's something in the distant past, or something that happened today, or even something that you did, sit with me and empathize with that fear. Maybe you think I am overreacting. Maybe I am, but maybe that reaction comes from something else that happened before, something I am afraid of happening again. For example: my abusive father made a lot of noise and pounded on things when he was angry and dangerous. The first time my mom introduced me to my stepdad at a restaurant, my stepdad banged on the table in a joking way of complaining that the food hadn't arrived yet. I jumped out of my seat. It scared the shit out of me. But while he was surprised at my reaction, he understood and didn't judge me for it.
This isn't about blame. If I'm scared, nobody has to be right or wrong, and it is certainly not the time to get defensive. But you do need to acknowledge and validate when something upsets me, and have a mature conversation about that, which may include either adjusting your behavior, finding a way to soothe and help me re-program my trigger so it doesn't go off like that at something harmless, or maybe just kindly reminding me that you're not the scary person you just made me remember.
2. Don't shame me out of anger or sadness.
Growing up, if I cried over my father's abuse, he would start yelling louder, telling me my tears were fake and that I was crying for sympathy. Fast forward to the formative longterm relationship of my early twenties: if I cried or got angry, my boyfriend stringently accused me of being crazy, selfish, overdramatic. (Hello, gaslighting!) Don't do this. Chances are you won't have to deal with this in me today, because I was so shamed out of emotional displays that nowadays my go-to manner of dealing with a negative emotion is to sit and quietly articulate it in a calm monotone. (Of course, my last boyfriend shamed me for this and said I sounded like a robot. Can't fucking win!)
Honestly for as awful as those early relationships were, I am kind of grateful in a twisted way because they helped me learn to use my words for high-stress situations. Regardless, if the person you love is feeling angry or sad, that's not the time to try to make them feel worse. Anger and sadness are valid emotions, and if analyzed properly, they can be great clues to solving problems in relationships.
3. Have your financial shit handled.
Most people who read my blog have heard me reference the ex-boyfriend who still owes me over $20k for paying his legal fees and the ex-roommate/BFF who stole $15k from me because she couldn't pay her rent. If I start dating someone now and they're financially unstable, that sets off red flags for me. Sure, we can fuck around and have fun, but I can't get emotionally invested in you if I am not absolutely confident that you're not one day going to turn and grab onto me for your survival. I've lost a lot of money and a lot of trust that way.
The cool thing is, if I feel safe with you, then I will probably still spoil the shit out of you, materially and otherwise, but that has to be something that you appreciate because I am doing it for you, not something you enjoy because you couldn't afford it on your own.
To be honest, this really should fall under the heading "Take Fucking Care of Yourself So I Can Take Care of You in a Way That's Erotic, Not in a Way That Makes Me Feel Like Your Mom," but the financial part hits home for me in a way that's personal. I've taken some flak for speaking out about both how I can't date broke men and how that has nothing to do with my wanting any of a lover's money for myself, and I don't see what's so hard to understand about it. A lot of the responses I've gotten basically purvey an immediate correlation of "I don't date guys who struggle financially" to "I'm a gold digger." I want a partner who can take care of himself so I don't have to worry about him; I can buy my own damn Louboutins. If you can't understand that difference, then we're probably not right for each other.
4. Practice safe sex.
This should be obvious but you'd be surprised how often a guy I'm with, who has been awesome at all points leading up to our first time fucking, then gets into bed with me and tries to stick in it without a condom. Sometimes the encounter can be saved by my saying, "Wait, there's something we need!" But sometimes even that gets met with an argument, such as, "Why?? I don't have anything! Do you?" (I don't. But I don't trust that you don't, and I don't trust that every other girl whose word you've taken for it doesn't.) That person becomes a person I will never fuck again.
But even worse sometimes is when it involves someone I really, really like, someone whose bare cock I really, really want to feel inside me, and maybe for some reason I lose my voice and don't speak up, because in the middle of sex we humans are not known for using our thinking brains so good. In those instances, it's my fault as much as anyone else's for not protecting myself and my partner, but I also want a partner who is going to protect me and himself. (Seriously, do you know how many band dudes I've dated? How do you not want to see my test results??) Especially because if I really like them, then I may want to fluid-bond with them at some point, and then I'll really need to trust that they're being safe with their other partners, because exposing me to someone else's ish without my consent is a dealbreaker. I get that not everyone is in the field of sex education like I am, and I get that the issue of STI transmission may not have been hammered into their brains as much as it has into mine. In fact, in certain circles I sometimes feel like the odd woman out. But an understanding of the importance of safer sex practices is what I need to feel safe.
5. Listen to my past experiences with an open mind.
I get that I'm pretty weird, okay? I spent four years as a professional dominatrix and lifestyle submissive to my boss, and that is a strange story for anyone to have. And while it's not a scenario that I would repeat exactly, it did teach me a lot about who I am and about the world around me, and I refuse to be ashamed of it. Moreover, I still hold true to my kink today, even if it has grown and matured some since then. So if I trust you enough to tell you my story, don't punish me for that by trying to make me feel bad about my choices.
Similarly, listen with an open mind when I talk to you about my sexuality. Again, I get that I am pretty weird, okay? You might not be down for all that. It's cool, not everyone is going to be a good match. Then again you might think it's awesome, who knows. But if I tell you I'm interested in playing with dominance and submission, that engaging in power play is a deep and intrinsic part of who I am, and if I tentatively ask you if you might have any interest in exploring that with me, don't reply with "All those fucking people think they're vampires."
6. Reassure me that everything's okay, even when you think I don't need it.
This one is difficult for me to talk about, guys. I have a terribly anxious attachment style that comes with a slightly irrational fear of abandonment. If the status quo is left alone for too long, my brain starts to make up stories about how time is whizzing by and I'm actually being left alone in the past (think that Jewel song).
Now, I get that this is my issue, and realizing that most of the time it's just my brain making up stories and not what's actually going on in reality has helped me manage this pretty effectively. Even when my crazed limbic brain takes over, I can generally figure out how to reach out to a partner and get the reassurance I need without coming off like a delusional harpy -- usually I just pretend they're me and I'm them, and I reach out to let them know that I'm thinking about them and I appreciate them, and then magically they reach back with the same sentiment. OMG, problem solved! A lot of people take for granted that their lovers just know how they feel about them without their having to say anything, and that's kind of a big mistake.
7. Help me be useful to you.
One of the things that best combats my aforementioned anxious attachment style is the feeling that I am uniquely useful to my partner, that there is something I offer them that no one else can, that I cannot be replaced. Kink is awesome for this! Seriously how many girls do you know who will let you beat them to a bloody pulp. That might not be what you're into, but if you are into it, you're probably not likely to run into another candidate at your local watering hole.
This is also likely where my service-oriented submission comes from. Feeling useful to a lover elicits such a strong, warm, deep and enveloping reaction in me that I can't imagine classifying it as anything but kink. I want to do for you the thing that no one else will do, that no one else has ever done, the thing you've always wanted that you've never felt safe enough to tell anyone else about.
Maybe one day I'll feel like I'm enough without all that, that I can be a valuable lover just by being, but right now to truly feel safe and loved and valued, I need to be doing. And I want a partner who understands, facilitates, and appreciates that in me (without exploiting or taking advantage of it, which is equally as important).
Just remember that while the word "safe" doesn't sound sexy, it is the surrounding structure of safety that allows us to let go and play most freely. When we don't have to worry about protecting ourselves, we can let our inner animal out to play, and that's when we and our partners are going to be at our most uninhibited, sexually and otherwise.
If you think I've missed anything, or if there's something you'd like to add that makes you feel safe, please write me in the comments below.