I talked about abuse and made you uncomfortable? Good.

I talked about abuse and made you uncomfortable? Good.

“People mistake vulnerability for intimacy. It’s not just annoying, it’s damaging.” — these words from my friend and Anti-Nihilist Institute co-founder Anna Lind-Guzik have been knocking around in my head lately for a reason.

Vulnerability is a useful tool of connecting to one’s audience. This isn’t just true of confessional writing. When I began to open up about leaving Russia/an abusive relationship, I did so with an explicit goal in mind: Draw attention to the problem, and show people how abuse *really* works.

It was also obviously important for me to emotionally connect with my audience and friends in general. Pain becomes more manageable when you feel less alone. All of this is normal — mundane, even.

I wasn’t surprised by the amount of odd, insensitive, prying and condescending messages I received. A lot of them came from men who have trouble processing vulnerability — in all of its forms — and prefer to think of it as mildly distasteful/not respectable.

When a certain type of man thinks of you as not worthy of respect, he may write you off, or he may also attempt to hit on you/crowd you in a demeaning way. Because a man like this reads “vulnerability” as “she has no boundaries.”

Certain women also mistake vulnerability for a lack of boundaries, but they more frequently attempt to aggressively mentor the person they deem as having a lack of boundaries. Heaps of unsolicited advice, carefully worded to remind the individual of their lower/more ignorant status in relation to the self-appointed mentor, are the norm in this situation.

While it’s not surprising, this process has nevertheless been fascinating for me to observe, due to the fact that the Anti-Nihilist Institute is an organization that promotes emotional intelligence, not only because feelings get hurt and relationships are damaged when people refuse to be smart about emotion, but because real life issues get obscured in the process.

People who misread my tweets and posts about abuse missed important points, such as: Abuse is literally everywhere. It frequently doesn’t look like abuse from the outside. A victim can and will take cute Instagram photos with her abuser, for example (in fact, the abuser will insist on them —making sure that things look “normal” is important). Cues can be subtle. Trauma bonding is real. Bonding is real in general — nobody is abusive 100% of the time. Abusers can be charming, caring, and supportive when they’re not busy abusing someone. Making excuses for what’s happening is common. Bluntly telling someone, “Just leave him, girl,” will often have the opposite effect. Leaving can be so very dangerous. Patience and understanding are key to helping someone leave.

When we talk about abuse, we don’t just risk public ridicule. We risk breaking down the wall we have built between ourselves and the people who abused us. We risk revenge. We don’t want medals, but we do want the risks we take to be worth it.

I am better, much better now, than I used to be. These last few months didn’t just teach about survival, they taught me about what great friends I have. How lucky I am to have my country to go back to — the States is still beautiful, even under a cloud of Trumpism, even with all of the crap we have to deal with back here, and we have much left to lose. And I know know much more about my own resilience and, above all else, capacity to love. No matter what.

That’s the other part about vulnerability that people frequently fail to understand. Being vulnerable is not just about opening up to other people — it’s about opening up to yourself. Knowing yourself. Knowing what you are actually capable of.

So now that abuse is on the agenda again thanks to the likes of Rob Porter, please consider it not just as a subject you cluck your tongue at before turning away. Consider it as part of a narrative that many, many people — including your friends and neighbors — are living through. Consider the reality of it and the horror of it and how that horror can, with lots of patience and hard work, be slowly overcome.

Reality is, in many ways, a story we tell ourselves. True stories go beyond respectability politics, and keeping up appearances, and even beyond bravery. True stories take their roots in the fabric of life, in the universal latticework. They reach deep inside you and yes, they can cause discomfort and hurt, especially when they are about a topic such as abuse. But there is more than wisdom on the other side of the discomfort — there is also greater peace and understanding. If you let yourself be led there, if you trust the narrative. It can be daunting — but please do try it sometime.

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The existence of this blog is made possible by the fact that you are good-looking and generous.

No guilt-trip, just good times

Uppity lady writer wanted bodily autonomy and respect. What happened next will not surprise you!

Uppity lady writer wanted bodily autonomy and respect. What happened next will not surprise you!

Today on Facebook I reposted a powerful essay by my friend Anna Lind-Guzik – the essay deals with sexual harassment and the awful feelings that presidential candidate Donald J. Trump evokes in many of us who know what it’s like to be preyed upon by men. I then posted a picture from a happy day on a nude beach.

The reaction from one of my followers was swift. I am pasting it here in full, without editing a word (for personal and professional reasons, I am omitting this man’s name). I have also written a response, and it is posted below.

Just saw you re-posting a long piece about sexual harasment is bad, and how Donald Trump is a scary man. Then you post a picture of yourself naked on a beach. I thought long and hard about writing a response. Simply put Natalia, I like & respected you for a long time. But when you write “don’t sexually harass me” and pos naked, I have to wonder, just what kind of a double standard you are trying to promote.. ‘Here I am, naked, but don’t grab and harass me’. Because I also follow your (very beautiful) Instagram, I know you also recently posted a picture of yourself with ample cleavage. I like that picture more, the nude beach one is not very flattering though you get bonus point for your nice tummy. I guess the question I have for both pictures is, What is your message? Trying to have it both ways? I like and respect your writing, would it be HARASMENT for me to say that your pictures make me hot and bothered making it difficult to appreciate you? Just thinking out loud and trying to add to the conversation. It seems You want people to vote for Hillary, and you want females to be respected, and then you act like one of those non-credible women that Trump is (I think, baselessly) accused of doing whatever to. It doesn’t make for a very strong message in my opinion. Because of my respect for your dignity I wanted to write this to you in private. But would appreciate your response.

Dear Man on the Internet (I’m leaving your name out of this, mostly out of respect for your family),

I made a rookie mistake. I assumed that my body is my own, and that I can do things that I like with it, and not be punished for it.

Posting about my disdain for harassment AND my love of frolicking on the nude beaches of southern Crete was hypocritical. I want “females to be respected,” after all, but how can I (or any other “female”) demand respect while simultaneously inhabiting a female body and doing what I want with it? These things are mutually exclusive, after all.

You are also absolutely right that it is “baseless” to accuse Donald J. Trump of inappropriate conduct. I mean, what’s the big deal about grabbing someone “by the pussy” and bragging about it? Those women really should have thought about it before leaving the house, pussies in tow.

Coincidentally, Trump’s wife Melania has also posed nude – but that’s OK, because she’s beautiful and, more importantly, married to a rich conman successful businessman. A rigid class hierarchy is an important function of our social order, and if you oppose that, you’re probably a dirty communist.  Continue reading “Uppity lady writer wanted bodily autonomy and respect. What happened next will not surprise you!”

Stephen Fry is right about trigger warnings – he’s especially right about self-pity

Stephen Fry is right about trigger warnings – he’s especially right about self-pity

People are calling Stephen Fry’s comments about sex abuse victims “an extraordinary attack,” because he had the temerity to suggest that trigger warnings on literature are bullshit and that self-pity is an ugly, self-defeating emotion.

He stated this bluntly and without the usual hand-wringing and tiptoeing that accompanies discussion of sex abuse in liberal circles. OH NO. WHAT AN EVIL JERK.

Here’s the thing though – he’s right. Trigger warnings amount to nothing but clumsy, amateur “therapy” that can have an adverse effect.

The truth is – and there is a wealth of literature and studies on the subject, really – triggers are random. You’re not going to precisely KNOW what it is that triggers you on a given day, that’s kind of the whole problem of being psychologically vulnerable.

Being triggered can actually be useful, because it helps you understand and potentially expand your boundaries. It can allow for a dynamic process of healing.

And environments that are meant to be safe spaces for victims of abuse work when there are professionals around, when the safe space is part of therapy.

Amateur “safe spaces”, on the other hand, are frequently more stressful than your regular, bunch-of-normal-people-who’ll-occasionally-say-bullshit-to-you spaces. Why? First of all, because everybody’s worried about saying the wrong thing. Interaction is so thoroughly policed that it becomes a maze of potential wrong turns.

I experienced abuse as a child. It destroyed and remade me, and – yeah, it was a terrible thing. You can trust me on this.

But let’s say I had my choice of whom to hang out with: Option 1 is a group of college students who think that it is important to never! say! the wrong! thing! to people like me – and who would accuse me of being a self-hating sell-out should I disagree. Option 2 is some loudmouth who can push my buttons and even – dear God! – call me on my bullshit, i.e. treat me like a fellow human as opposed to a glass vase that will shatter if mishandled.

I’m going to go with Option 2. Option 1 is re-traumatizing.

This goes to Fry’s point about self-pity. Amateur “safe spaces” absolutely foster self-pity. Because the only real power they afford to members is the power to call someone out when they’ve been triggered. Agency depends on their status as victims. Agency = “You triggered me! You said something offensive! How dare you! Asshole!” You can’t exercise that kind of power if you’re generally committed to practicing self-care and living a better sort of life. And your energy doesn’t go towards untangling your own issues, it goes toward reminding everyone that DAMMIT, YOU HAVEN’T MOVED ON.

The notion that these amateur “safe spaces” are liberating is a lie. They just introduce a different hierarchy. The bigger “victim” you are, the more “rights” you get to have in policing others. Interaction as equals is impossible, because someone is always a bit more ravaged/in pain, and that person gets to shut down others. It is a poisonous dynamic. It harms people, because, again, status is derived from pain. Dealing with pain means losing status.  Continue reading “Stephen Fry is right about trigger warnings – he’s especially right about self-pity”

Why don’t you treat men this way? The false dichotomy of “mother vs. artist”

Why don’t you treat men this way? The false dichotomy of “mother vs. artist”

This post of on combining art and motherhood made the rounds this past winter. There were a lot of responses, public and private. Two of the more recent responses made me feel like revisiting the issue:

1. The Divided Heart is a more honest exploration of what it’s like to be a mother and an artist. I’m sorry, but I think you are over-compensating and it shows. For decades, women have been quite open about how combining great art and motherhood is almost always an impossibility. One blog post on the matter from someone who sold one play is not going to convince society.

2. All due respect, Natalie [sic], but people like you lure promising artists towards breeding, and the results are almost always disastrous. I wonder if you’ll change your mind when your kid is on the therapist’s couch, discussing the ways in which mum neglected him so she could make her Art, and he almost certainly will be.

So to address all that:

Who the hell are you to argue that women can be both mothers and great artists? You’re nobody! But it’s not about me.

The idea that you can’t reconcile being a mother with being great artist is, today, a peculiarly Western concept. In many other parts of the world, women just get on with it.

One of Russia’s greatest poets, Anna Akhmatova, was a mother. Nobody goes around wringing their hands on her behalf. One of Russia’s greatest painters, Zinaida Serebriakova, was a mother – and, once again, people really didn’t make a big deal out of it. Continue reading “Why don’t you treat men this way? The false dichotomy of “mother vs. artist””

Sixteen people to not hang out with in 2016

Sixteen people to not hang out with in 2016

Happy New Year!

I’ve been accused of being “too negative” around the blogosphere lately. “Cheer up, Natalia,” a bunch of you are saying. “Stop using indelicate words and hating on people quite as much.” I’m sure most of you have a point. But since none of you will read me if I’m going to go all zen and peace-love-and-incense-sticks on you this year (admit it. It’s true), here’s a definitive list of people you should resolve to avoid in 2016 (and all subsequent years too).  Continue reading “Sixteen people to not hang out with in 2016”