Personality Disorders

Because I am simultaneously overly intellectual and always looking for ways to put off doing my homework, I was looking at the DSM-IV, the psychological diagnostic manual, today. I was reading about personality disorders, the kinds of disorders that involve consistent and pervasive "maladaptive" behaviors, just to see what it is that doctors think makes a person crazy.

Now, I'm not a big fan of mental health "diagnosis." I think we know so little about the human brain and even less about the human psyche and to try and make a definitive diagnosis is foolish and often harmful. It's too easy for those kinds of things to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Despite the potential for diagnosis to help in treating psychological symptoms (note I say symptoms not illnesses), I have a real problem with it.

That said, there are ten types of personality disorders; what they are isn't particularly important for my point. The interesting thing, though, is that as I was reading them, I realized that I'd seen at least one Law and Order episode that dealt with each. Or read a book where the main character was or had to heavily interact with someone who behaved as the diagnostic manual was describing.

We are fascinated with mental illness. We glorify people who have these "disorders" because we find them more interesting than those who don't. We want to hear about the latest crazy thing that someone did. We read books about people whose mothers were bipolar or whose father was antisocial. All literature, almost, is about the strange and unusual.

I wonder what effect this has on our mental health community. We are constantly trying to "treat" people who behave in "maladaptive" ways even as we like them better than people who don't. I don't know, it's a strange paradox. I don't know that I can make any conclusions about it, but it's strange nonetheless.

Why I Only Go to Gay Clubs

I never go to straight nightclubs. I hate the way men react to me in a club where it is "understood" that most people there are looking to hook up or at least would be complimented by lewd groping and suggestions.

The last straight club I went to was called Liquid. My friend T and I got all dressed up; I was wearing a short skirt and a low top with a vest over it. We were both showing some skin. We both looked good. We froze outside in the line to get in, paying for our desire to look pretty. We paid in full for that desire, though, once we got inside.

Within seconds of walking in, three different men had slid their hands over my ass. Two had "bumped" into me and quietly said some kind of "Hey, baby" in my ear while their shoulders and arms rubbed against my back. T and I went off to a corner to dance, and even the bouncer there kept shining his flashlight onto us because T's skirt was riding up when she forgot to hold it.

A couple of guys came up to dance with me, which was fine at first. But of course, since I'd given them permission to dance with me, they thought it would be okay to grab me, to control my body. I was pulled against their cocks. I could feel them hard and rubbing against me. I had to constantly move their hands back to my waist, or my hips. There was no possibility of simply dancing together; it had to be a free lap dance on the floor, a tool for their arousal.

I got separated from T at one point. She went to the bathroom without telling me where she'd gone, leaving me surrounded by staring guys. I was walking quickly through the crowd trying to find her when a twenty-something man grabbed my arm as I passed and pulled me hard into him. "Want to dance?" I moved away and continued on, but for the five minutes we were separated I felt more strange hands on my body than I'd felt for the past year. It was disgusting.

When I was younger, I was flattered by this kind of attention. I didn't really think of myself as attractive, and it seemed important and wonderful when any guy would think I was. It was your typical high school self-consciousness, a girl desperate for attention and sexual expression, no matter what form they took. But now I feel so differently.

Men should not assume they have the privilege to touch me whenever they want. It should not matter what I'm wearing, or where I'm hanging out. I understand, in this context, what entitlement means. They really do seem to feel that they have the right to put their hands on me, that it shouldn't be a big deal. I become a bitch if I try to stop them.

I'm even more sensitive to this since I've become a stripper. I am trained at my job to keep men from touching me at all, if I can help it. I notice each and every touch because when I'm working, one touch will inevitably lead to an attempt at another.

I find that even in gay clubs, I feel uncomfortable sometimes. A while ago I got angry when I wore a backless shirt and a straight man ran his hands down my bare back as he walked by. I felt uncomfortable last week when a male flight attendant put his hand firmly on my shoulder every time he wanted my attention. I guess that's what I get for sitting aisle in the back.

I try and stand up for myself in these situations, but the feedback I get from that is even more negative than the touches themselves. So I avoid situations and places where I know it's likely to happen. I am trapped, as it were, in the queer clubs. Much as I love them, it doesn't seem fair that I should have to avoid straight people just so I have control over who touches my body. It's just another sign that sexism is very, very much alive.

Looking Back: A Goodbye

I’ve never seen him cry before. Even now he tries to choke it back, hide it. He never could handle weakness, in himself or in me. I can't quite be strong enough for him.

I don't know how to respond. He doesn't talk like this. I want so desperately to soothe him, but I have even less of an idea of what’s coming than he does. I'm getting out of here, in just a few hours. Out of this stale basement room, where there's no light and no air. I hope that I'll finally be able to breathe after the life I’ve been trapped in for months, but it’s so unknown. I could just as easily be jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Plus, I won’t have M.

He clutches at me. Normally I call it the koala move. He is my Koala Ninja, lurking around and pouncing on me with tight marsupial embraces. Now, though, I wouldn’t call it cute. He holds on so tight that I can barely move, like he won't let go. He will let go, though, in the morning, and I love him so much for that.

Tonight is the first time we have been in a bed alone, the first time my parents have let him stay with me. It feels like the last. The last night. The last night? Last.

I cry, too, but the tears are unashamed and so, so wet on my cheeks.

“We can do it. I know we can.”

3,000 miles. Of course we can make it. We can make it. We are too close for this distance to pull us more than literally apart.

I touch his lips with mine, gently. I can't stop his tears, but I can hold his self with my mouth. His long, long hair is soft against my hands, except where it's wet from the tears. I love his hair. It’s grown on me in the last nine months. I will miss the comfort of running my hands through it.

And I will miss this. I will miss the way he is twirling that same piece of my hair as we kiss. I will miss the way he tenses when I kiss his neck. I will miss the way he touches my back, now that I’ve turned around to point it towards him. I will miss the way he’s not afraid to be the big spoon, cradling me from behind as though I were smaller and precious and he could take care of me. I will miss his kisses on the back of my neck.

I've got to feel everything now. I have to let the sensations stick to me, let them live in my skin. I won't be touched for a long time. The only thing I'll feel against me is air.

I know some part of each of us thinks that the distance and our flaws will rip us apart. We stroke and touch. The sensations have a weight that less desperate love making rarely finds, falling on our bodies like concrete cries.

He lies behind me—spooning—and he holds me and enters from behind. We move together, a dance of comfort and habit and loss, and he holds the vibrator to me. I can feel it on the outside, and I know he can feel it on the inside, and he makes a noise I’ve never heard from him before. So full of longing and feeling, but now I have to leave. Such a union, and now I have to go.

I hold him inside me and around me and we come together and come together and come together and come, and then lie there and fall asleep. Together, in my own bed. Pretending, so we can sleep, that this won’t be the last time.


"Hi, M." 200 minutes on my cell phone so far. It's only been three weeks.

"Hey, you."

"God, it's so much better here."

Naming a Movement

I recently reread Manifesta by Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner. In it, the authors try to define third wave feminism in order to give it credit as a movement and inspire young women to continue their activism.

One of the things the women bring up is the fact that the American media perennially asks whether or not feminism is dead. This frames feminism in terms of a movement that is defunct. We are continually trying to defend it, instead of proactively working towards our goals. We don't receive credit or even attention for the things we are doing to continue the fight for equality between the sexes.

Now, I agree with the authors of Manifesta that a lot of the reason for this is the mainstream media's bias against feminism. I also wonder, though, if our own definitions of feminism as a term and a movement contribute to the idea that it has died.

When the first wave "ended," there was a lull between the liberalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the radicalism of the 1960s and '70s. Women were still doing things, of course; Alice Paul was fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, Margaret Sanger was promoting reproductive rights, and so many other women were continuing to strive for equality.

At that point, though, the term "feminism" had not yet become popular. The stated purpose of the women's rights movement up to that point had been to gain legal rights for women. The women who worked towards this goal were called "suffragists" not "feminists." There was no concretely defined Movement for the Rights of Women to vilify, backlash against, or declare dead. It was just a group of activists doing their thang.

These days, we each are still working for our individual causes. Some work for pay equality, others for the end of violence against women, still more for freedom of gender expression. Men and women are working to promote sexual freedom and expression, while others are fighting to make pornography illegal for objectifying women. There are people everywhere trying to end sexual harassment, break through the glass ceiling, or be allowed to stay at home and take care of the kids without stigma. They are all called feminists.

We are so obsessed with this definition, with calling ourselves something. We want so badly to be a cohesive movement. We want to be a community. It's an understandable desire; lots of people working together for a common goal can accomplish more than a few working for different things. We can feel supported, surrounded by brothers and sisters. We feel like we're getting somewhere.

The problem, though, is that while we are all working towards a similar ultimate goal, feminists argue with each other all the time. Over almost everything. By trying to slap the same label on every person who wants equality between men and women, no matter what that looks like to them, we are limiting our ability to disagree. We are giving our opponents an easy way to attack us. Because being a feminist means so many things at once, it's easy for people who want to discredit those in the movement, to pick and choose unflattering parts of feminism to publicize. If a feminist anywhere does something unpopular or unreasonable, even if it's something most of us disagree with, we all suffer the consequences to our image.

We also don't allow ourselves time for a lull. So what if the movement is fragmented? So what if there is no Movement right now? We are still getting stuff done, just like the activists between 1920 and 1960. Why do we have to be called a wave? Maybe we should be saving that term (if we have to apply it at all) for the next time we all manage to rally around a specific cause, the next time we make a lot of progress in a short period of time. I think we should give ourselves time in between waves to just put our heads down and work.

I have my own issues with the word "feminist," which I can get into later, but I do accept the label for myself. It is the easiest way to describe what I do and what drives me. I care very deeply about equality between men and women, and at its very core that's what feminism stands for. I hope, though, that we can see greater acceptance of the diversity and complexity of what the word means to diverse and complex people. Perhaps that will mean embracing some other name for ourselves. Perhaps it means living without labels. I guess I'll have to wait and see.

On Being a Raging Lesbian

I write a sex column for my college newspaper. A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the proper use of condoms. I hear all the time about students who don't ever use condoms, or who do silly things like use one the first time they have sex with someone and then stop after that because "what's the point?" I wanted to talk about some of the difficulties people have using condoms and give students a few ideas about ways to address them.

I had recently started sleeping with a new guy, Z, who I have since been seeing a lot of. He was hanging out with a girl, a friend of his who he later slept with, the day my condom article came out in the paper. She was flipping through the paper and pointed out my article to him. "What does this chick know about condoms? I've heard she's, like, a raging lesbian."

Now, this is ironic because he, a guy, had just had sex with me the night before. She had no idea that we were connected in that way. He told me the story because he thought it was funny; we had used several condoms in the few days before the comment.

Now, this is not a girl I've ever met. I hadn't even seen her before he pointed her out to me in the dining hall a week and a half later. She doesn't run in my social circle; she doesn't know my friends. I had no idea, in fact, that she existed.

So it's weird that she thinks I'm a "raging lesbian." While the narcissist in me is delighted that strangers know and talk about me, the rest of me is puzzled and a little put off. It's hard to try and carve out an identity for myself. I want to be an activist. I want to be involved in the queer community. I want to be involved in the feminist movement.

But I suppose one consequence of this is that others will decide for themselves who I am. They'll label me, and I won't have any choice in the matter. In a lot of ways, my public identity will be decided for me, and a lot of the time it probably won't be positive. The things I'm working for are not exactly popular. They're controversial.

It's weird to have that start already. I'm still in college. I still think that most people here are or should be open-minded. Not so quick to judge. I suppose that's naive. I'm going to have to get used to the public identity that doesn't belong to me. I need to be solid in my own feelings about myself and sure of my personal identity so I can do my work, take the criticisms and snap judgments, and still feel like a person with my own life.

It's sad that it has to be that way, but I can take it as the way things are.
On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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