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.

***

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

No guilt-trip, just good times

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”

His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)

His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)

Original publication date: MONDAY NOVEMBER 30TH, 2009. Republished with kind permission from John Williams.

His Sin, Her Soul
By Natalia Antonova

Reviewed:
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

The luster of scandal wore off Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita a while ago. Anyone reading the testimony of Roman Polanski’s teenage victim on The Smoking Gun must have little capacity to be shocked by Humbert Humbert’s fictional crimes. I’m willing to bet that for the modern reader, the only shocking thing about Lolita is how the writing transforms the subject matter into a thing of startling beauty, and how effortlessly Nabokov avoids prurience in order to create something more chilling.

But while the scandal of it may have faded, the book’s vocabulary continues to live a life of its own. When a young girl is called a Lolita, we imagine a knowingly hyper-sexualized child, one who wears too much of her older sister’s make-up and lets her underwear peek out as she wanders into the peripheral vision of some man. If “Lolita” isn’t always code for “she was asking for it,” it’s at least a suggestion of some impropriety or mitigating factor, an indication that an older man’s younger victim wasn’t exactly a gentle-faced virgin — or she certainly didn’t look like it, Your Honor.

In light of this cultural appropriation, I wasn’t surprised when a fairly good friend asked me why on earth I — a stridently vocal survivor of sexual abuse, someone who screams her head off every time someone shrugs that “boys will be boys” — would profess so much admiration for Nabokov’s most famous book. Don’t I realize that Lolita the book and Lolita the term feed off one another in the public sphere? And that even if it were possible to separate it from the hiss of cultural static that has amplified around it over the years, Lolita is still a book that takes an extremely ugly story and makes it extremely gorgeous? Implicit in these inquiries was the real question, of course, which emerged after my replies failed to satisfy: “How can you stand reading it, with everything you say you have been through?” Continue reading “His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)”

Young women, stay away from Hugo Schwyzer

Older women too.

Middle-aged women, this is about you as well.

Men of all ages. Children. Other intelligent life-forms out there.

Everyone, just stay away from Hugo Schwyzer, OK?

Took me long enough to see what a dangerous, unhinged man he is, but I’ve finally seen it.

I sincerely apologize to those of you who have been saying it for years – many of your comments I had missed, others I just chalked up to a two-sided conflict of sorts. You know, people fighting on the Internet, the usual stuff. I never bothered to look closer. I have never imagined that he had been purposefully targeting his critics online, WOC bloggers in particular. Of course, having lived abroad for years now, I’ve had many other things on my mind instead of the feminist blogosphere – but it is also my old stomping ground, and honestly, the fact that we, all of us, let him run there unchecked means that we failed.

I sincerely regret linking Schwyzer approvingly in the past and being chummy with him on Facebook. I had bought into the notion that now that he had his beautiful wife and children in his life, the man HAD to have changed. Who would honestly screw a thing like that up? Stupid of me, I know.

I know a thing or two about what happens when scary men are allowed to run unchecked, which is why I’m saying it now:

People, stay away.

I have an “Idiots on Parade” category for posts on this blog. The idiot, in this instance, is me.

This one’s about rape again. Rape of children, in fact. So you’ve been warned.

“I cried as if I was his daughter,
As I felt my insides being slaughtered.”

– Jasmine Mans

(hat-tip to Renee on this one.)

Is there a bigger betrayal than a parent raping a child? We talk about Caesar and Brutus quite a bit, but a parent raping their child? You might want to invent an entirely new circle of hell for that one, Dante. Just saying…

I remember a time I was terrified of my father. It wasn’t because he was doing anything wrong , it was because I had been abused, at that point, for about a year now by another relative, and began associating all men with what happened to me. My father would go to kiss me on the cheek after a day at work, and I would feel as if I was about to puke up my own stomach then run away screaming.

It’s bad enough when some asshole creeps into your bed at night, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to have your own father do it. That’s a new dimension of stark raving horror.

I once corresponded with a woman who found out that her husband was raping their daughters. When confronted with the fact, he offered up this priceless reply: “Well, if you had spent more time pleasing me sexually, I would have never had to turn to them.”

The girls were about 9, 12 and 14 years old, respectively.

What struck me about the response, aside from the aforementioned stark raving horror of it, is how the wife was to blame, of course. “Bitch, you didn’t like it rough, so I got our fourth-grader to take it like I want it instead.” I mean, seriously. Of course, this Beezlebub in human form just had to be a freaking boy-scout in real life. His entire office, like, cried, when he got his prison sentence. I don’t necessarily really blame them for crying, though. If anything, that entire fiasco proved that it could be anyone who can do something like this.

I have a lot of friends who have children. Sometimes, we end up having conversations that basically amount to – “Natalia, how can I make sure that what happened to you doesn’t happen to my own kid?” Continue reading “This one’s about rape again. Rape of children, in fact. So you’ve been warned.”