My poem, defamation, is live in issue IX of High Shelf Press today. This is one of my favorite poems and I’m grateful to share it with some new readers. Go take a look!
One of my published pieces went live today! A huge thank you to Sheila-Na-Gig Under 30 for hosting my writing. Read it here.
One year ago on July 3, 2018, I came out publicly for the first time. Even though I felt ready and had been waiting for that moment for over a decade, I still felt terrified. I remember writing my coming out post on the couch in my living room and being unable to hit “publish.” Eventually, I had to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and click.
Life has been a tangle of messes since last July, only some of them related to queerness. I just finished my partial hospitalization mental health program and am trying to integrate back into my everyday routine. I feel a combination of devastation and rage every day while I watch children get caged, women dismissed, trans women killed, and black voices silenced. I constantly wonder if I’m doing enough to help us overcome all this darkness. I’ve endured some difficult family conflict through cycles of anger and silence. In some ways, living my life as an out queer person has been a drop in the ocean.
In other ways, though, the luxury of being myself in the midst of all this roughness has made it more manageable. Last fall, I experienced Pride for the first time as an out person (Pride in Atlanta is in October…it’s a long story). I made my partner take pictures of me on every corner and wore every rainbow, sparkly thing I could fit on my body. I knew the queer community was bearing it’s own struggles – inclusion of trans voices, inclusion of POC, rallying around a central goal post-marriage-equality. But it was all to sparkly and new to me for any of that to tarnish the rainbows in my eyes. I was queer and you couldn’t shut me up. It was beautiful.
In the wake of my coming out, I received message upon message from other closeted people from every corner of my life. People I hadn’t spoken to in weeks or years contacted me to say, “Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone.” My own long and arduous journey to being comfortable with my bisexuality was brought to mind as I talked with people who were still struggling to hold queerness and Christianity at the same time. It made me feel like, even though I was a baby queer, I still had valuable things to say to my community.
The past year, though, has also challenged my self worth in profound ways. In February, I the General Conference live stream at work day after day, waiting for my church to decide its fate. In the end, the United Methodist Church chose exclusion over love. As I watched the final count of votes project onto the screen, I fell to the floor in my kitchen, sobbing. I had given hours and years of my time and thousands of dollars to an institution that I believed could support me in making the world a better place. But instead of acceptance, what I received in return was pain and rejection. Many of my queer Methodist friends and allies remain in the church, and I am so grateful for their continued work to change this broken system from the inside. Right now, though, I am too tired and hurt to give any more energy to an institution that refuses to ordain me and the people I love. Right now, I can’t fight anymore. I am angry. I need a place where my personhood will not be up for debate. I haven’t found that home yet, but I know it’s out there.
Being out for a year has been a roller coaster, but I am most thankful for the small things. My freedom to post memes about bisexuality on Twitter, the bi flag in my pencil cup at work, my t-shirt that says “Jesus was Bi.” I don’t have to pretend to be an ally anymore. I am free to stand up and say, “These things apply to me. This community is mine too.” While my life is not nearly as risky or revolutionary, I feel a kinship this season with Marsha P. Johnson and her contemporaries – tired of being told who to be and where to stand, in pain but able to fight injustice, imperfect but willing to throw up my hands and say “I’m here and you can’t get rid of me.”
*tw: mental illness, hospitalization, suicide, self harm, sexual assault*
At the end of May, I spent a week in an inpatient psychiatric hospital. While I don’t feel comfortable sharing the specifics of what led me to be admitted, I was admitted involuntarily, meaning I did not walk in off the street and decide I needed care. Instead, I had reached my saturation point for handling life’s variables and healthcare providers determined I would be safest in a hospital setting. I never thought I would need to be hospitalized, but in retrospect, I’m suprised it took me this long. I can now see warning signs in myself all over the place, but I wasn’t listening to them.
Late on the Monday night before Memorial Day, I sobbed in the car as my roommate drove me to the emergency room. I texted my boss and my therapist and called my partner, but I remember very little after that. I spent the night in Emory University’s ER, attempting to watch Sex in the City and drifting in and out of conciousness as we waited for the rotating psychiatrist to come and evaluate me. Around 5:30am, my partner left to go home and rest. Around 6:30am, the psychiatrist finally arrived. I talked with him for a few minutes, answering questions about what brought me to the ER, my medical and psychiatric history, and how I was feeling. Not long after, the attending nurse told me I was being taken to a psychiatric hospital. They assured me they would find one that would accept my insurance. I was loaded onto a stretcher and into an ambulance with no specific idea about where I was headed. I was terrified and exhausted, and I slept the whole ride.
When we arrived, I was unloaded along with my backpack I had somehow managed to bring along. Still in blue papery hospital scrubs, I sat scrunched up in an armchair alone in an intake room for what felt like hours, waiting to be processed into the hospital. Eventually, I was able to put my own clothes back on and use my phone to text a few people to tell them where I was. I wrote down important phone numbers so I would still have them after they could confiscate my phone. They took my bookbag as well, and it would be two days before I could get the rest of my things out of it. I was taken to a section of the hospital that I now know is primarily for people who are psychotic, delusional, aggressive, or paranoid. I didn’t fit any of these categories, but the women’s trauma unit I was eventually bound for was full, so I was stuck in holding until there was an open bed.
I walked around for three days in a complete fog. I’m sure the sleeping medications didn’t help, but as the reality of what was happening set in, I began to feel less and less in control of my body. I had panic attacks and cried constantly. I had no idea what was going on. I felt entirely alone. I wanted so badly to process what had happened but felt I had no one to talk to. I watched people get shots of sedatives to calm them after having raging outbursts. I watched one man try to escape twice in one day. I watched another walk around wearing only one shoe, in a psychotic daze for 48 hours until they corrected his medication and he became a completely stable person. I was scared and I had no clue how to move forward.
On day 3, I finally had visitation hours. Seeing my partner and my best friend was both jarring and comforting. They said they were surprised at how good I looked and seemed. Looking back, this is especially strange because of how out of control I felt. All of my defense mechanisms to keep my life together had finally failed. My perfectionism, my obsessive cleaning and organizing, my intellectualization of my problems, and my avoidance of conflict and difficult emotions had all worked for a long time. But the thing about defense mechanisms is that they work until they don’t. I avoided digging deeply into myself for so many decades that I started to believe I could forget that certain things had happened to me by simply not acknowledging them. (Spoiler: This does not work.) I was dishonest with myself and the people who love me about how I was really doing because I was ashamed of the pain I was actually feeling, and, at times, completely unaware of the pain I was actually feeling.
I started to unwrap all of this once I was moved from the chaotic holding unit to the women’s trauma unit. I was surrounded by women who shared my diagnoses and my life experiences. We never discussed specifics, but we just knew. It was such a relief to get hugs from other women after not having any physical contact for days in the other unit. I started to smile and laugh again. “This isn’t the psych ward!” we would yell across the table at each other, as we color pictures of mandalas and animals with dulling colored pencils. We laughed because there was no other way we could make it through. Because we were in the psych ward. And our reality pressed in from all sides as we walked around in our pants without drawstrings and shoes without laces. Our backs ached from mattresses without springs and our eyes were tired from the wellness checks every 15 minutes during the night to make sure we were breathing. It was an overwhelming week. It was a week I never thought I’d have. But it was real, and now it’s a part of my story.
Since being released, I’ve been participating in a partial hospitalization program for women’s trauma. It’s possibly the most difficult work I’ve ever done. I’m not quite ready to share my reflections on the work I’ve been doing in trauma therapy yet because it’s still so close and because I’m still doing it. But I wanted to at least share the beginning of this journey. I want to share this experience because I want to help normalize psychiatric care. Inpatient hospitalization programs are for everyone. If you feel out of control of your emotions, a situation, substance abuse, or your behaviors, admitting yourself to a program like the one I was in could be a helpful step. Inpatient programs help stabilize you in moments of crisis. Getting help before you’re in a full blown crisis is also a valid reason to seek hospitalization.
I’m getting better, but I can’t say I’m getting better every day because that would be a lie. Healing is not linear. I’m learning new ways to cope and some days I use those new coping skills effectively, but other days I don’t. I’m back at work part time, but I’m teaching my self to take it easy. I’m scared to integrate back into “real life”, but I know that I’ll be ready when it’s time. I’m still not sure what all I’m supposed to have learned from the psych ward, but I trust that I’m learning it.
*disclaimer: Polyamory is a valid and wonderful way to live in relationship. This post is not meant to shame polyamorous people or relationships. It is often assumed all bisexuals/pansexuals are polyamorous, and I’m writing to debunk that myth from my own experience.*
People get really confused about what it means to be bisexual. People get especially confused about what it means to be bisexual in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender.
“Aren’t you just straight now?”
“But you’re not, like, a practicing bisexual.”
“Are you still going to claim that label if you marry a man?”
There is so much to misunderstand. Many straight people I’ve encountered, especially those who don’t have any queer friends, assume that the only valid way to be bisexual is to be polyamorous. Some bi’s are polyamorous. Some bi’s are not. All of us are bi no matter who our patner(s) is(are).
I am monogamous. I don’t plan to ever have relationships with multiple people at once because it’s just not for me. I love my partner dearly, and I hope to spend the rest of our lives together. I’m not interested in forming relationships with anyone else. For me, it’s enough work to try to communicate with and love one person. Between maintaining my own mental health and doing the emotionally draining job of working at a social service agency, I don’t have the energy to put into multiple romantic relationships. For some, having multiple partners is freeing. For me, it would feel like a burden. Either way, my sexuality stands on its own.
If I am dating a man, I’m not suddenly straight. If I’m dating a woman, I’m not suddenly a lesbian. My sexual orientation is independent of my partner. Being bisexual/pansexual means that I hold the possibility of being attracted to people of any gender. Just like any straight woman loves to look at a good picture of Ryan Reynolds or David Beckham, I’m not immune to attraction because I’m in a relationship. People who are partnered still find other people attractive. If you’re married to a man, you are not only attracted to that one man ever in the history of the world. You’ve probably dated other men before. You’ve probably checked out the biceps on that guy at the gym. You probably saw Magic Mike. As a heterosexual person, you say “I’m attracted to men.” You don’t say, “I’m attracted to Steve,” as though you’ve never been attracted to another man in your entire life.
Being bisexual is exactly like that except the possibilities are more diverse. Maybe I find a leading lady in a movie attractive. Maybe I think the guy in line in front of me at Target is cute. These things have nothing to do with my commitment to my current partner. Anyone who tells you they’ve never found anyone else besides their partner attractive is straight up lying to you. Being bisexual means I get to lean over to my straight, male partner while we watch a TV show and say “she’s cute” while he nods back to me. It doesn’t mean I’m unable to commit to my partner. It just means there’s a greater diversity in who I might be attracted to.
I’ve struggled a lot lately to find monogamous bisexual role models. Again, this is not shade toward my beautiful, amazing, polyamorous bisexual friends. You keep doing you. But it can make me feel alone, like I’m the only bisexual who wants to be monogamous. It can make me feel like I’m doing it wrong. So, if you’re like me, the monogamous bisexual, let me say for all of us, there is no way to do your sexuality wrong. It’s your sexuality. You claim it however it works for you. For me, this means knowing that I’m attracted to people of all genders, that I identify as queer, but that I fully and deeply love my cis, male partner and only him. For others, it might mean loving multiple partners, for another it might mean dating a couple, for another it might mean being in an open marriage. Find out how your sexuality works best for you and your partner(s). Celebrate who you are and know that there is no wrong way to be you.
I rarely take vacations. On occasion, I’ll take a long weekend to go to the beach or a friend’s wedding, but the only time I’ve taken off more than two weekdays in a row was when I had the flu. So, clearly, time off is not my strongest form of self care. However, I recently came across the opportunity to go on a writing retreat with one of my grad school professors, and I immediately contacted my boss to confirm my time off before I could back out.
I spent four days at Lake Logan in the mountains of North Carolina with five other women, all at least a generation older than me, many of them mothers. It wasn’t shocking that I was spending the week with a group old enough to be my grandmothers, but what I learned from them was comforting in a way that was unexpected. I went on the retreat to write. I had been feeling stuck in my writing, both in terms of subject matter and because I had been struggling to make time for my writing. I wanted to take advantage of four days with no obligations to churn out a backlog of poems. I accomplished this, but I was offered so much more.
Each morning, we spent time writing together from a prompt, then sharing our writing and giving feedback. I’m a member of a long-standing writing cooperative, so this process was familiar to me. However, I’ve spent the past five years with more or less the same eyes reviewing my work, so the fresh eyes of these women were a blessing. They were not tired of hearing about the same three traumatic things that had happened to me, and this allowed me to find new wonder in my own story. Hearing the stories of strangers also allowed me to open up more space inside myself and shake loose some long-forgotten stories. I wrote about things I’d never written about before, mainly because I’d forgotten they had happened.
Each afternoon, we had time to ourselves. I usually spent my time hiking or doing yoga, napping, and reading. The silence was astounding. I live with two roommates and I work at a social service agency, so my life is not often quiet. At the lake, though, it was. I couldn’t distract myself from the hard things by re-watching Parks and Rec again because there wasn’t any cell phone service. I couldn’t avoid rest because there was nothing for me to clean and no roommate I could go to the next room to chat with. I was forced to sit alone, and it was hard. It forced me to introspect in a way I haven’t in a long time.
Each night, we sat around and drank wine and told stories. Hearing about the lives of women forty years my senior made me realize that I will never have my life together. These women are mothers, grandmothers, and retirees, but they are still figuring it all out. One woman recently decided to go back and get another graduate degree despite the fact that she will soon retire. A retired episcopal priest relayed to the group how confused she is about her identity now that she isn’t working. A woman from rural Georgia recounted her difficult relationships to us and the things she had learned. At my fingertips, I had a treasure trove of wisdom. And the wisdom, essentially, was nothing – that I will never really know what I’m doing and that’s ok. That with each stage of life I will continue to be confused and feel like I’m making things up. We are always learning as we go.
Each of us expressed feeling tired of conforming, tired of doing what was expected. The other women told me I would care less and less what other people thought of me as I got older. At one point, someone exclaimed, “I’m so tired of being nice! I’m so fucking tired of being nice!” And I thought, yeah…same. Forty years from now I won’t care if I was nice. I will care if I sought healing, had hard conversations, chose adventures, and stood up for myself. I’m still learning how to do these things, but the women on this retreat made me feel as though I was ahead of the curve. “At least you’re dealing with your demons now,” they told me. “It took us years to get here.” So, for now, I will continue writing, not really knowing what I’m doing, but knowing that no one else does either.
On our last morning, perhaps my favorite woman on the retreat gifted me a gold necklace with a small circle charm hanging from the chain. “When I look at you, I feel like things have come full circle for me,” she said, “so I want you to have this.” Each time I wear it, I think of her and her small service dog who loved to lick my hands, and I know that I am headed somewhere important, even if I’m not quite sure where that will be.
I had never been pulled over before. I try, generally, to follow traffic rules and drive safely, but I’m probably not that much better at driving than most people. I refuse to text and drive but I’m definitely guilty of speeding to get where I’m going because I hate wasting time. I used be a timid, conservative driver, but then I moved to Atlanta and it was all downhill. In Atlanta, I’ve learned how to honk and throw my hands up exasperatedly. Somehow, though, I’ve managed to avoid getting pulled over, and I have my white skin to thank, at least in part. White people don’t get pulled over by police for “looking suspicious.” Partially, I’m lucky to have avoided traffic cameras at red lights and overzealous cops, but also, I’m white in a society that favors white people.
However, this past weekend, as I returned from a writing retreat in North Carolina (blog post coming soon!), I found myself completely zoned out, unaware of the speed limit and gliding absentmindedly through the mountains of North Georgia. I looked in my rearview mirror to find a cop tailing me, and I panicked a bit, wondering how long he’d been following me. I slowed down a bit and got into the right lane. A minute later though, he put on his lights and merged behind me. I sighed, said a few choice words, and slowed to the shoulder.
I always thought I would cry when I got pulled over. I hate breaking the rules, but I hate getting in trouble for breaking the rules even more. Maybe it’s a tribute to my five years of weekly therapy, but I found myself relatively calm upon being pulled over for the first time. As I waited for the police officer to come to the window of my car, though, the faces of all the black men who have been shot in similar traffic stops flashed through my mind. Next to me, I had a backpack, full of books and my computer from my retreat. I rifled through it to find my wallet, thinking that, if I were a black man, this would be an incredibly dangerous action, my hands and the contents of my bag hidden.
It was a strange moment, anxiously thinking of all the ways black people are unsafe around police while also knowing those things wouldn’t happen to me. When the officer asked for my proof of insurance, I had to open my center console to find it. Again, I thought, what suspicions would this rouse in this police officer’s mind if I were black? Is this the moment when I would be shot, just for trying to comply and find my insurance card?
The police officer took my license and returned to his car to run it. I sat comforted, knowing that I had no prior traffic violations and no pending criminal or civil issues. If I were black, though, I might have found myself panicking, remembering a matter for which I had been unjustly or disproportionately charged. As a white middle-upper class woman, I am highly unlikely to be arrested. I’ve been to protests. I’ve yelled in the street, blocking traffic and demanding human rights. I’ve trespassed, stolen street signs, hung out in parks after dark, and other adolescent debauchery. But even if I had been caught by a police officer in any of those moments, I most likely would’ve been free to go with a slap on the wrist. And that’s exactly what happened in this traffic stop.
The officer returned my license to me, and, as he did so, he asked, “When was your last race?” It took me a minute to realize what he meant, but as I remembered my 26.2 and 13.1 bumper stickers, I told him I had run a half marathon in November. “Well, that’s farther than I can run!” he joked. I probably came off entirely aloof because of how shocked I was at his attempt at comradery. I knew this would never happen to a black person. After our awkward exchange, he simply told me to keep my speed under control and drive carefully. That was it. No ticket, no nothing. I felt a mixture of relief and guilt that it had been that easy. All I had to do was be a cute white girl willing to make small talk, and I was home free.
As I continued south down US-23, my mind reeled. The faces of Tamir Rice, Freddie Grey, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, and Philando Castile swirled around in my head. I was no better than these men, but here I was, alive and well, driving away from a routine traffic stop without consequence.