In the fall of 1991, we began to meet. We knew each other through past theatrical and artistic ventures. We shared possible themes, searching for our voices, looking for connections among our experiences. We talked, we argued, we cried, we listened, we dreamed and imagined and wrote. We emerged with a series of true stories. These are our stories.
One night at rehearsal, Kim and Esther talked about their friend who fondly described the bloodhut, a place where women gathered and were waited upon and cared for; a place where women, set aside from normal time and life, could talk freely. According to Native American belief, the Bloodhut is also where women receive sacred visions. The Bloodhhut became our metaphor.
We believe that proclaiming our stories is a powerful and healing act. We have worked in a collaborative process without the singular direction of one person. Our vision is richer and stronger because of this. We know that when we speak the truth about ourselves, the circle of understanding around us grows.
I come to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I come to watch. I come to write. I come to rest. And an old man and woman are talking about who’s fat and who isn’t on the veranda and speculating on why. Now the old woman points out another woman on the veranda with what she calls a big butt. And thank God the man says, “It just fascinates you, doesn’t it?
At nine years old I was on diet pills. I kneel on the floor next to my bed, hand on my heart, trying to slow it down, trying to silence the tick-tick-tick inside me. What happens to a nine-year-old heart on speed? And when does the body forget the torture of years?
We were Sandy and Cindy as long as I can remember. Two years apart in age, we were inseperable. Sandy was petite and dark. I was big and blonde with wide green eyes. On my birthdays, her family came over to celebrate. The bright blinding light of home movies and two little chairs set in the middle of the room. Sandy and I sit in them while I open my presents — little garnet rings and needlework kits.
Afterwards at dinner, Sandy slyly places anything she doesn’t like on my plate.
We have another, more private game. Whenever we go swimming together or napping together, we play some sort of question and answer game. One day, we are naked sitting in front of my vanity table with the huge round mirror. Whenever one of us gets a question wrong, we have to show our naked bottom to the other in the mirror. My bottom is round and pink. Sandy’s is thin and hollow and today she has a large bruise on it. I think that Sandy’s bottom isn’t much to look at and that she is definitely getting the good view. It was the last time I remember liking my bottom. I was four.
I lost 87 and a half pounds on Weight Watchers, the first time. I was 20. At that time, Weight Watchers, which is owned by Heinz, suggested their dieters eat fish 3 to 5 times a week. I wasn’t much of cook at the time, so it was tunafish for me. And since I really wanted to lose weight, I ate tunafish every day — at least once a day. Tuna with low-fat mayonnasse. Hot tuna with peas. Flaked tuna on dry toast. Tuna straight out of the can. For nine months. 270 cans of tunafish. Is it any wonder that the smell of tunafish now makes me sick?
For awhile I became a certified aerobics instructor. “Fat and fit” was my motto. I was going to inspire other fat women. But these fat women who came to my class would ask, “How long had I been exercising?” and “if I’ve been exercising for that long, how come . . .?”
Exactly. How come?
Three summers ago when I was home in Michigan, my mother got out some old photos. Now, both my parents are fat. Both my sisters are fat. 5 out of 6 aunts are, 2 out of 6 uncles are fat, 4 out of 9 cousins are fat (3 are skinny; they’re adopted), 3 of my grandparents were fat, so why was I surprised to see my great-grandmother in black and white photo standing in front of her Michigan farm, strong and proud and most decidedly fat? I felt vindicated, freed, proud as I looked at this photo of my great grandmother, yet I heard my mother’s voice saying, “See? The fat comes at you from both sides of the family. You didn’t have a chance.” But yes, mother, I do, just as great-grandma did. I will live life in this body with vitality and strength and gentleness. I have a chance.
There’s that word: FAT. Not unlike the word CAT or RAT or VAT for that matter. The F-sound like in flower or fuck or fortune or fun. Not a bad sound-FFF. Although my friend John says all F-words are funny. FAT. A funny word. It’s a short word, not unlike tall or black or thin. It’s an adjective that describes a noun. Like: “The fat feather floated over the telephone.” Or: “The fat moon rose over the tall mountain next to the thin tree.” Of course, FAT is also a noun as in “She can have three fats a day,” or “This is what a pound of fat looks like.” In our world, fat is also an insult, as in, “Hey fatso” or as I cross the street with my bicycle, a man leans out of his truck and shouts, “No wonder your bike has fat tires!” How I wanted to give him a fat lip.
“Warm, sensuous, full-figured blonde . . . ” the ad began. I got lots of responses. Men, I soon discovered, had a different idea of what full- figured meant than those of us who have used those euphemisms for years. Euphemisms like “chubby,” “Rubenesque,” “overweight” — (I always want to ask, over whose weight?) — the list goes on.
But before I met my husband, Tom, I still used euphemisms and “full- figured” was one of them. Seventeen men responded to my ad in the Tucson Weekly. I met nearly all of them. Many were surprised by my size and were politely uninterested and I never saw them again. Some I dated over a period of months. The most amazing experience was with a man who suggested we meet at TGIFridays. I should have taken a clue from that. When we met, he said, “You said you were overweight, but I didn’t know you meant that overweight.” I burst into tears cursing that I’d bought what was to be our first and last round of drinks, and we sat down to talk about “it.” Pretty soon, he was consoling me, saying, “It’s okay. I used to be a cocaine dealer.” Wait a minute. It’s okay that I’m fat because he used to be a cocaine dealer? Since when did being fat become a crime?
In all of these encounters, I learned three things:
- 1. Never use euphemisms.
- 2. Rejection has nothing to do with who I am.
- 3. Never go to TGIFridays.
I have a long history with gay men. Probably longer than I realize. When I was in college, I began to think of my body as a kind of opening — a closet door, as it were — that gay men would pass through right before they discovered they were gay. Perhaps the Goddess was using me for her purposes. I thought it was because I was fat. They were turning gay because I was fat.
I know better now. I know that these men — all 7 of them — were gay long before they met me. They chose me as a lover not because they were afraid of other women, not because I represented a kind of mother-womb, not because I was a fag hag. They chose me because we had so much in common. Because we longed for the same thing. Because deep inside we were ashamed of who we were.
Not long ago I watched my dear friend John get dressed for a party. He stood in front of a mirror for half an hour taking his belt off and on, rolling his cuffs up and down, sucking in his stomach, trying out different poses. And I suddenly realized that all the beautiful gay men I’ve known with their impeccable dress and three showers a day, smoking to avoid eating, were trying as hard as I was to deny their bodies and their bodies’ appetites, trying to create an image which was as false as it was thin.
How can we advocate for gay rights, for women’s rights, for any rights until we acknowledge the diversity that comes in human form and we stop trying to look like some ideal which doesn’t even exist?
The nutritionist is 5’10”, maybe 120 pounds with silk dress cinched at the waist with a silver buckle. She tells me what to eat and why and every other week I return and she weighs me and we look at how well I filled in my weekly menu chart, and we devise new strategies for those weak moments — at parties, after a stressful day at work, when friends from out of town want to go to a Mexican restaurant. I lose weight. For six months, I lose weight. 40 pounds. Losing weight slowly is best. Moderate exercise spaced throughout the week is best. If you’re hungry at 4 pm, take some non-fat crackers and non-fat yogurt to work for a snack. No eating after 7 pm. If 1400 calories a day isn’t working, we’ll go down to 1200. If 1200 isn’t working we’ll go down to 1000. Are you measuring your portions? What’s this candy bar on Wednesday afternoon? You didn’t fill out your whole chart. Come in once a week now that things are slipping. You know, I can’t continue to see you if you’re not losing weight. Intergroup and your doctor need to see progress.
I was gaining weight. One year after the nutritionist stopped seeing me, I had gained 60 pounds. 20 more than when I started. And I was not alone. 95% of all people who diet regain what they lose, the statistic goes. And I bet the other 5% weren’t fat to begin with.
Diets with friends. The knowing nod of the friend. The accomplice. “If we do this together, we’ll stick to it.” We eat cottage cheese, we take powdered drinks, we pop pills, we cut celery. We know our bodies are wrong. We exchange lists and charts and tips. And we secretly together hate ourselves. We know each other’s pain. We know each other’s hatred.
As the years continue, our dieting, our dying, our killing becomes more sophisticated. We make long lists of reasons why we eat. We attend lectures. We see therapists. We analyze our “Problem.” We spend billions of dollars every year. All the while the hate is fed. While the hate is fed, we starve.
I am so angry. Angry that this bullshit I’ve listened to my whole life was ever even said to me:
Cindy, I care about you. If only you’d lose weight . . . BULLSHIT.
Cindy, you have such a pretty face, if only . . . BULLSHIT.
Cindy, you have so much talent, if only . . . BULLSHIT.
Cindy, if only for your health . . . BULLSHIT.
Being pulled aside by well-meaning friends, approached by strangers in the grocery store, counseled by teachers, lectured by relatives, talked to by theatre directors, “How much weight could you lose by opening night?”
I am an actress. Whatever else I may be in the world, I am an actress. I probably would have been a great classical actress. I lost 100 pounds to play Blanche DuBois. The reviewer in the city paper said I was too hefty for the part. What do you do when you have the soul of Juliet in what others perceive as the body of her nurse? There are a few successful fat actresses. But they are, by and large, comic figures. I am not. Perhaps in classical Greece or in the time of Sarah Bernardt, the great tragic actress who was fat — perhaps then I would have made it. Here and now, I don’t even try.
I have a recurring dream. I am on a table and a thin silver knife trims all the fat off my thighs and hips. The knife traces a slender path and the skin is quickly folded over before my spirit can leave. I never wake from this table or stand or move. I am unable to move. The knife continues to trace over the new lines of my body and the fat is neatly removed.
I have many friends who are fat-phobic — who love me and respect me and are fat-phobic. People who would never tell a racist joke tell the one about the fat guy. These friends sit in the chairs of my house and talk about how they don’t like these ten pounds or how so-and-so let himself go and is now fat. They sit in the chairs of my house and say this. I lower my eyes and change the subject. When I don’t change the subject and say, instead, “If you think you’re fat, what does that make me?” They quickly respond “Oh, no. You are fine. That’s fine for you,” indicating that it’s okay for me to let myself go. They do not realize the shape of hate in their condescension.
Last fall I went to the Arizona Theatre Company to see “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” I had no idea what to expect. All of the promotional photographs were of the two thin cast members. The other three members of the cast were fat. When the two fat women came on stage and began to sing and swing and dance and be sexy all over the place, I began to cry. Sitting on the steps of the balcony in a packed house, I wept to see such beauty, such possibility.
I love to swim. I love to swim in the turquoise blue of warm water. My sister who is really my twin, sits on the beach and reads while I jump over waves with her daughters, my nieces. She is afraid to let anyone see her fat legs, so she hides on the beach where people can see her fat legs covered with thick cloth. I love to swim.
So, I went to a waterpark with these same nieces in Pennsylvania, and went down a huge curving slide. As I slid, I went dangerously close to the edges, not realizing that these slides are not built for my size. My life flashed before me as I bounced into the air and thought of the crowd surrounding my fat and broken body underneath the long slide. When I splashed into the pool at the bottom, a woman asked if I was all right. Stinging with embarrassment, I talked with my nieces later. They said all the kids said, “Wow. Look at her go!” with admiration and longing for my speed.
I love to swim, so I went to a second waterpark with these same nieces here in Tucson. This time, not wanting anyone to admire my speed, I paddled around in a kind of parent pool looking for spots of shade. As I floated — one of the most wonderful advantages of being fat — my 8- year-old niece came crying to me. She was standing in line at a slide when another kid called her “fat” in that ugly way. I held her, crooning to her that I know. I know. I hold her floating in the water, watching the water bead on her perfect body.
I sleep in the nude. Considering I come from a family where we used two towels after a bath, one for the top half and one for the bottom half (because it was dirty), this sleeping in the nude is quite radical. It means touching the folds and rolls of my body. Of waking with only sheets around me. Of travelling to the bathroom naked and catching my body, my body in the mirror. Slowly I begin to know my body. I begin to trust the desire Tom has for this body, my body. I begin to know that this is my body. This is my fat body. This is my own body. And she is perfect.
Lying down my breasts are
full enough and point to the ceiling.
My stomach is admirably flat
and my thighs paint
a line of muscle to my abdomen.
Lying down in the dark
I am a pen and ink of sensuality.
I believe that you can’t feel my
imperfections in the blackness.
I choose to believe that your
hands are not as sensitive
or critical as my discerning eyes.
Lying down in the dark
I am a poem much more overwhelming
Economics! Economics! Economics!
That’s it — that’s why I put it on the line –
I tried it all before — every job that comes to mind!
In just two weeks the rent would be due
— And what about necessities, utilities, food?
With fifteen dollars to my name, I felt I had to play the game.
I put my fear upon the shelf and went to see for myself.
Money, money, money, money … MONEY!
Here’s the rules of the game if you want to play:
Two-inch heels, at the least, and some lingerie.
Dancing two songs at a time when you’re on the stage
— And you better do it right ’cause it’s your only wage –
Unless you strike it rich with a solo show
— That’s more private, in a booth –
But you’re always safe, in truth!
Because there’s always glass between him and you
with a slot for him to pass the money through.
Now this is how it works when you’re dancing for the jerks.
(I mean the customers, ya know –
the guys who come to see the show)
They go into a stall, drop a token in the slot:
They see onto the stage — they check out what you got!
For song one: take off your top.
For song two: your bottoms drop.
And make sure you always smile –
Cash makes it worthwhile!
It’s a peep show
You’re dealin’ with some creeps so
let ’em take a peek!
You’ll get the cash you seek.
My dancin’ name is Krystl. I would prefer not to see anyone I know here at my new job. It is strange; I don’t know how I’m able to do this.
But the C.D. system sets the pulse, and the dancing is what I come here to do. — And I do it because
I NEED MONEY
and I’ve been unable to land any other jobs. No one else has ever hired me the very day I applied. — The lady who hired me has a bachelor’s degree in music and psychology. I have a degree in theatre.
First night on the job, I wear a black camisole and black panties. Gigi says to me, “Honey, you’re too covered up, you won’t make any money.” But she’s wrong! I make $15 that night. The next night I wear a T-bar and a lace boustier: I make $80 that night — that’s because I score my first solo show.
These are weird. Men actually pay money to masturbate while looking through a glass at a naked woman. They pay $10 for every 5 minutes, and of course the more they pay, the better the show.
There are rules. (And I am glad of that.)
In Arizona it is illegal for a dancer to touch her nipples or pubic area. Also, she may NOT insert anything into any orifice of her body.
That means no chewing gum, either.
You have to be creative to fill the time.
On my side of the glass is an over-sized mattress on a platform. And a timer. The walls are mirrored.
On the customer’s side is an ashtray, a wastebasket, and a box of kleenex. We can talk through a small panel of holes in the glass, just below the tip-slot.
After the show’s over, the dancer changes the sheets on the mattress, and cleans the customer’s side of the booth. So often, you see a lady in spike heels and lingerie: donning a pair of plastic gloves, thrusting a roll of paper towels under her arm, marching bravely — ammonia bottle in hand:
going to clean the customer’s semen from the glass.
We lovingly call it: SPOOGE…..
Money, money, money, money…
The rest of my earnings come from the enclosed stage. Gigi says to me, “Honey, if you’re sweatin’ you’re workin’ too hard…” But I don’t mind sweating because I’ve always loved dancing! I like getting paid for it. Of course, a lot of the customers are just here to look at pussy.
That is a word that previously referred to a cat, and NOT my vagina. …But I’m learning to adapt to the jargon.
The customers are all different. There are regulars who come in several times a week, know all the girls’ names, have their particular favorites… like Pen-Light-Man: he always chooses the fourth stall facing the stage, drops a few tokens, drops his trousers, and holds a pen-light over his penis… We are not aroused.
I like the little red-haired man. Very courteous. He bought a $30 solo show from me — after making sure I was unmarried (he didn’t want to feel disloyal, he said), then halfway through the show, he started a conversation and we talked about self-discovery books until the time went off. Why is such a man paying women to talk to him?
Some of the men are just lonely. I try to remember that. — To me, a man looks vulnerable with his trousers at his ankles.
But some of the customers are just pigs, let’s face it.
I came off the stage one night to find the D.J. kicking a guy out for pissing in the booth.
Once I had a $40 solo show, and the guy asked me to talk dirty to him… I couldn’t do it — but I worked my way out of it — I said, “It would really turn me on to hear you talk dirty!” Well, what would you do? You wouldn’t work there in the first place? Well, I don’t know a better way to raise this much cash in a day.
Once a customer said to me, “Ever seen one this big?”
I hated to break it to him.
I’ve learned that a man’s eyes can be a lot scarier than his dick.
The bald man in the tan jacket: smoking his cigarette while stroking his shaft — watches me, then lets the lights go on so I can see his face as he narrows his eyes and flicks his tongue and makes kissing and moaning sounds… This man is paying my rent.
What is erotic?
Sounds like, “neurotic…” Let me tell you about my co-workers…
I’ve met some wonderful, bold, colorful women. Several have been dancing for years. But there is only one answer when you ask any of them (and I’ve asked all of them): Why are you here?
Money, money, money, money…
Once a dancer ran off the stage and threw the tokens at the man who’d put them through the slot instead of money, screaming, “HOW’M I SUPPOSED TO FEED MY KIDS WITH THIS?!”
The job gets stressful. The place can crawl with frustration. I mean, for one thing, your naked body is on display for strangers. You feel like you’re under a microscope. It’s no wonder several of these women have eating disorders …and other problems. …A lot of these women have been abused — one girl came in here with cigarette burns on her breasts! …So drugs and alcohol medicate the pain and fuel the bravado … which you need for this job. Then you find yourself in competition with the other women for the daily dollars.
Incidentally, menstrual periods can be a nuisance, but we strippers have a way of dealing: use tampons, but cut the string first. It becomes a very private joke. The customers never suspect.
You know, when you spend time with a group of women — all in your underwear — an interesting camaraderie can develop. I once conducted a survey: I asked each woman how she felt about men.
Only one woman said she hates men.
Inevitably, she makes the most money every night. I’m talking $300 a night! She wears a blond wig, has a Barbie-doll figure.
One night this lady had a solo show and the customer purposely ejaculated through the holes in the glass. It got on her back and in her hair. She told me, “Krystl, these men would just as soon piss on you as come on you.”
I wonder who’s really in control here. Most of the women say they’re in control — it’s their show, their body. But I see the dollar in control, and that comes from the men.
Gigi says, “I’ll sell ’em a peek…ya gotta sell it: ice to the Eskimos or titties in their face for a minute…” I know what she means…you have to play the game…feed the fantasy — and you have to play a game with yourself to play the game with them.
But I wonder: Why do these men prefer this transaction to a relationship?
I’ve been unable to sleep at night since I started this job. When I close my eyes, I see the strange images from work. I’m not comfortable with this job, but I’ve done so many other different jobs — till I burned out on each one — and none of them paid this kind of — –
At least the rent’s paid, bills are paid; there’s gas in the car and food in the fridge…and I’ve seen every dollar of it pass through the slot. But at this point I’m in constant physical pain. My lower back, my rotators are badly strained.
The art of dancing is getting lost because of the required grinding and pretending to fit the most superficial image of femininity! My anger does not enhance my earnings: nobody likes an angry stripper.
So Gigi says to me, “You’re an actress…when you come in here, Krystl takes over. The only time Lori and Krystl meet is to handle finances.”
That’s a fine plan. But it’s Lori’s face beneath the drag-queen make-up, and Lori’s body within the flimsy lingerie. Lori’s sensitive skin endures the daily razor to keep Lori’s pubic hair within the boundary of the T- bar which is stretched against the crack of Lori’s ass.
And I see Lori’s eyes in the mirrors that surround me.
Lori looks tired. Lori thinks: “Men are looking at my vagina for a buck…”
A very old man buys a solo show from me. I’m quite sure it’s an uninspired performance; the minutes seem like hours to me. Afterward he says, “Thanks for reminding me what it’s all about.”
I say, “Mister, it is not about this.”
He slides an extra $20 through the glass.
One night I’m home, not sleeping, and a vision comes to me. I see a little girl in a little dress, dancing in a grassy field.
Suddenly the scene changes and she’s dancing on the stage at work — the little girl is bending over, about to assume the most degrading position — where your face isn’t visible, only your pussy —
and I am shocked.
I know the little girl is me, and I know I belong in the grassy field. I quit that night.
You know, I had never seen my own body or my own genitalia so clearly as I did in those mirrors — I really saw it — an actual reflection of my vagina as I danced and moved.
And you know, it does resemble a flower.
What I remember most about my family is women who moved things. I don’t mean things as in a pencil, or you move that box there. Women who moved lives. Who still move my life. What I remember most about the women in my family is this: backs of hidden sinew bearing the weight and the stories behind the red, red heartbreaking lips.
Story: 1948. My grandmother.
If I can’t have you no one will, he said, as he pulled the gun from the glove box. I imagine she felt her heart lurch in her chest and like she was going to float away. I imagine she didn’t quite believe it, but she did because she struggled with him and I wonder how long it seemed as she reached to turn the gun around, to resist this 285 lb. man who had raised his hand to her and let it fall on her cream colored, dark light flesh so many times. I feel, but I don’t know, that she must have believed that if she was going to die she could at least fight, and she was thinking of her children, my mother and my aunt and what would become of them when she didn’t return from the drive to discuss with daddy the fact that she never would go back to him. What, I wonder, did she feel as the gun went off and the bullet passed into him, not where he had intended at all. Relief? Remorse? Madness? Did she bolt from the car to find help or had help arrived? When they did, why did they, take her, arrest her, put her in jail?
They put her in jail because she fought back and the bullet pierced his jealous heart. She was stunned into silence in a cell as she waited and was brought to trial and found not guilty, SELF DEFENSE. Wasn’t it obvious? It was not her gun, not her car, not her idea to drive to discuss the fact that NO she would not come back to him. Not with promises to the stars.
See, I heard when the story was given round at first, out of shame, that my grandfather died of a heart attack. I heard that he was so big he could carry his two daughters one on each arm as he walked his family home from the restaurant they owned. I heard he drank a quart or two of milk with his eggs or waffles or bacon and biscuits and gravy each morning.
Later I heard of how my mother, perhaps sixteen, already dating my father, a wild charming boy from a respectable family, my mother faced her father in the driveway. In front of my now cowering, unable to rise, bloodied and bruised grandmother. Faced him holding a rake, tines on the defense, like the claws of a large metal cat. She spit out the words “I’ll kill you if you touch her again, I’ll kill you myself,” till he backed away with perhaps fear or maybe just not wanting it so badly in the driveway, backed to one side of the drive where the pecan tree had dropped its overripe fruit to stain the concrete and crunch like bones under his shoes. And I hear their voices. My grandmother silent but for the heaving of her chest as she tries to breathe with broken ribs through blood and saliva. And my aunt, the pretty one, already throwing up each day, after each meal, to maintain the slim beauty that would be her ticket out of hell, can only weep to one side. My mother’s voice, sharp with rage, her eyes steeled to a point protecting her mother as she would later her children.
My mother decided then that no one would ever get her down or hold her back. My mother, beautiful like a swan later on the ice far away from her childhood, with me and my sister, long legs in black, blue coat ringed with white fur in silhouette against the black green trees and we are silent but for the clump clump and kshook kshook of our skates. And you Mother look down at me all beauty and tall and love, would I ever be that tall? And you rise against the black green trees in blue black clothes with red red lips over white teeth. Now I know the colors of bruises new and healing and of the blood and the bone.
Story: 1963. My Aunt/My Mother’s Sister.
I asked, Mother, may I have some of these pictures or get copies?
You said, darling take whatever you want — voice dipping low — I don’t need pictures. I have her here — elegant finger to your temple pointing out the invisible memory that is so clear behind your own eyes.
Here are the facts as I know them:
My aunt was 27-years-old. She was married to a man 20 years older, currently in process of divorcing him. She knew something he didn’t want her to say. She had something (a $35,000 trust fund for her children) that he wanted. She had been on a date with Ronnie Blankenship and had come home — Had probably been drinking — she was found nude in front of the living room bar — her head was bashed in — skull fractured — weapon: metal ashtray — weight: 3.2 lbs. — the house was set on fire — Ronnie Blankenship was found nude with smoke inhalation in the bedroom — my aunt died of smoke inhalation — she may or may not have lived had there been no fire — she may have been a vegetable had she lived — someone poured gasoline all over the house — the paperboy on his route saw the fire and reported it — my cousins were staying with a nanny.
My mother said to me — there is not a minute of a day that goes by that I don’t think of her — There is not a night before sleep that I don’t speak to her.
My mother’s sister was 27-years-old. She was beautiful. I did not get to talk to her. I was 3. I miss her.
(In celebration of the body and in honor of the passion and vibrancy communicated through it, this dance is dedicated to the women.)
Beginning with the fast low tone of the sacred Tarahumara drum, joined by the sharp Middle Eastern doumbek drums, and finally the crashing of the African shakare (shaker), the circle of sound is set. With a spinning leap into the center the dancing begins. Moving through the space, the stalking animal, the dervish, Our Lady of the Pelvis, slaps hand and foot to floor, charging in and out of rhythm. Placing on the altar an invocation of the body unfettered. Flirting with the drummers, praising the space, giving body to the face of Women.
I never feel smarter or more knowledgeable than when I learn something about myself. I rejoice in that learning, because each new learned thing allows me to sort through and understand memories that have remained a mystery to me. Memories from childhood or from last week. It wasn’t until I was about twenty that I finally understood why I always thought of my third grade friend, Mary, with such fondness. It wasn’t until then that I knew why I’d had a crush on Barb Jones in seventh and eighth grades. Other memories take longer to understand. They float around my head trying to find a home, but they lack that one learned thing that would link them together. So they resurface now and then to appear before me as clearly as if all that time, eighteen years, had never passed.
He is a man. I’ve been asked not to use his real name, but I always knew him by a false name: George. He is my mother’s lover, at our apartment a good deal of the time, because if my mother were to go out, she’d have to leave me alone, which was out of the question, or find a sitter, also out of the question, since she didn’t trust anyone with my life. I was and probably will always be the most important thing in her life.
So George. George sometimes ate with us, sometimes cooked for us which was nice if you like the kind of exotic food he cooked. My mom made stuff like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and my favorite, Swanson frozen dinner of Salsbury steak with corn and mashed potatoes and a brownie. I loved Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Swanson frozen dinners. He sat at our table and called to me.
“Come here baby, come up on my lap. How was school today, huh? What did you do today. Up on his lap I sit, thinking at nine years of age that I am too old for this. He kisses me on the cheek, holds me tight around the shoulders or waist. He comes into my room to kiss me goodnight and tells me how much he adores my mother. He always kisses me several times, on the cheek, on the nose, on my forehead, on my mouth. I watch him kiss my mother a lot, too. Or rather, I start to watch them kiss then I turn away. I never liked his kisses. Soon, I learned to pretend I was asleep when he came to my door.
One night, I woke up, as usual, hungry for sweets. I got up to get my usual ration of cookies to eat in bed, and as I slipped past my mother’s door hoping not to wake anyone, I see their silhouette against the light of the window. I hear murmurs. Then I’m in the kitchen, trying like hell to be quiet so I can get back to my room undetected. They would be so embarrassed, I think, to find I know what they are doing.
He calls to me. “Hey babe come on in here.”
Suddenly I am afraid. Very afraid. The thoughts flying through my head don’t even have a theme, they are simply the thoughts of a child who fears to be found out, to be found.
More murmurs, my mother’s voice, slightly audible, “No.”
She appears in the kitchen. She glides, she is so gentle.
She spies the cookies on the napkin. She touches me softly somehow on the face or head. “Let’s get you back into bed.” He calls to her. Again I am terrified. I fear he will come out that door and there will be a confrontation, of what sort, I am uncertain. She ignores him. There is nothing I remember more strongly about that night than the importance I feel as she silently escorts me back down the hall to my room, past the now closed door. She tucks me safely in bed with my cookies, kisses me on the cheek and says, “Goodnight my baby, sleep tight.” She gently closes my door.
Years later, we sit, my mother and I, in a bar, getting silly on Planter’s Punch, and I ask her,
“Why did you stop seeing George?”
After she tells me he was kind of a jerk, that he drank too much, and was very likely connected with the Mafia, she says,
“One night he told me what he wanted more than anything. A threesome.”
I try to imagine my mother involved in a threesome. I ask,
“Well, what would he do, find someone off the streets or did he have someone in mind?”
She prepares herself for what she will say now, and I can see I’ve asked her one of those questions she hoped I would never ask.
“What he told me was, nothing would make him happier than a threesome with me and you.”
She told him then that they would no longer be seeing each other and that if he tried to see her or me she would kill him.
Soon all my memories of him made sense. More importantly all the feelings I had about him made sense. Why I never wanted to get up on his lap. Why his arms around me made me uncomfortable. Why I would pretend to be asleep when he came to my door. Why I hated the kisses he put on my cheek, on my nose, on my forehead, on my mouth, kisses that were always too wet.
My dad rolled queers.
“Me and the boys,” I imagine him saying, “Me and the boys, we waited outside of one of their watering holes — pushed ’em down, kicked ’em around, took their money and had us a little party.”
When I was nineteen, I fell in love with a woman. Before that I didn’t know what to call it. I called it magic. See, when I would get a crush on a girl in school she would always get a boyfriend about two weeks later. It wasn’t like I ever went up to the girls and said “hey, I love you,” most of them I didn’t even know very well — just something — I don’t know — I couldn’t stop looking and wanting to touch just a little. As this kept happening, I came up with my quasi-scientific, actually, magic theory that if I loved a girl her life would be so much better. A theory that got me into no small amount of trouble later.
Anyway. Magic. I fell in love with a woman — women.
My dad rolled queers.
Last year, 29 states set all time records for the number and rate of rape. Number: the amount of womyn who endure rape.
(She puts on a pair of fishnet stockings.)
In 1990, more womyn were raped than in any other year in United States history — exceeding 100,000 for the first time ever.
(She puts on a snakeskin leotard.)
Rate: the number of rapes per hour.
(She puts on a girdle.)
In 1989, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there were 10 rapes every hour. In 1990, according to the FBI, there were 12 rapes every hour — nearly 300 every day.
(She puts on a bra.)
Out of every 100 womyn, approximately 40 have been sexually abused.
(She puts on white silk panties.)
Rape means your body is penetrated without your consent by a penis
- or a finger
- or a pencil
- or a rifle
- or a bottle
- or a piece of glass
- or a knife
(She puts on a red slip.)
Acts of sexual violence are planned. What this means is that the perpetrator chooses someone and manipulates the situation to his advantage, whether this is days or moments prior to the attack.
(She puts on a black mini skirt.)
Most victims of sexual violence are attacked by someone they know and trust.
(She puts on a wide red vinyl belt.)
Among incest survivors, 33% are runaways.
(She puts on a black halter top.)
Among female drug addicts, 44% have been sexually abused.
(She puts on a black pump.)
Among female psychiatric impatients, 50% have been sexually abused.
(She traces red lipstick up her left inner arm.)
Among female prisoners, 100% have been sexually abused.
(She puts on black sandal.)
Therapy groups, support groups, and workshops are held addressing the following:
- Adult Survivors of Incest and Child Molestation.
- Healing from Rape
- Parents of Sexually Victimized Children
- Male Survivors of Incest, Child Molestation or Rape
- Survivors who are Physically Challenged
- Lesbian Survivors
- Multiple Personality Disorder Group
- Daughters and Sons United
- and Grief
- and Death
- and Love
(She removes the excess clothing.)
My mother’s story: It is 1964. I am 25 years old. I have two beautiful children: Audrey Joy, 3 years old and Jeffrey Allen 4 years old. I do my best to be a good mother. I read Parenting Magazines. Doctors say it is a good idea for fathers to bathe their little girls. I decide it is a good idea for my husband, father of my children, to bathe my daughter once a week. Saturday night — a night off for me from the bathing routine.
“Time to get ready for bed. Time for a bath.”
I took a bath with my father. He’d dry me off. He’d wrap the towel around me. He’d rub different parts of my body, as you do when you’re drying yourself off.
Eight months. Different variations.
Fingers up me in the bathtub.
Fingers up me outside the bathtub.
Fingers up me in my bedroom while he helped me put on my pajamas.
In my fourth year of life I developed urinary tract infections and uncontrollable vomiting. During this same year, my mother decided she didn’t care what doctors in Parenting magazines said. She resumed bathing me on Saturday nights.
In my 26th year of life, I developed the ability to question my family about my past.
“Mom, why did you stop the bathing routine?”
Absentmindedly she responds, “Something just didn’t feel right to me.”
In my 6th year of life, I developed a chronic fear of being violently abused or killed.
Fear of dying in an elevator.
Fear of dying on a roller coaster.
Fear of dying in a car accident.
Fear of being killed by kidnappers.
Fear of being killed by a stranger who is lurking in a dark hallway of my house.
Fact: My father consistently threatened to kill me if I ever told anyone about the things he did to me.
Fact: Ten years ago, my father tried to kill my brother with a knife.
Fact: My father might want to kill me for telling these stories.
Fact: I save my life by telling these stories.
I was beaten by my father.
This means many things.
It means my father leaving a welt the size of his fist on my face.
It means his belt flying across my small body as I watched him lose all sense of control.
It means compulsive crying or horrifying silence.
I was raped.
This means many things.
It means my father’s mouth.
My father’s fingers.
It means vaginal infections at age 5.
Only wear clean cotton underwear.
A new washcloth every time I bathe.
Only use dermatologist’s recommended soaps.
It means my body banging against my bed as I tried to rock myself to sleep.
My father says it is impossible that any of this happened.
My father says he never touched me inappropriately.
My father says there was no bathing or bedtime routine in my family.
My father says he was never inappropriately violent.
My father says I live in the historical past.
My father denies my mother.
My father denies me.
My father is dying of cancer.
How we suffer.
We are crazy mad-women, worse than bitches, although some of us are that too.
We live in secret — Shhh — Don’t tell.
We are uncontrollably angry, throwing bricks through windows, tearing schoolmates to shreds.
We have no sexuality — not really.
We are uncontrollably promiscuous or uncontrollably frigid.
But we’re just out to save our life, our body, our spirit.
To save, to embrace, to love.
Last December, I was in San Francisco. I went to Muir Woods with my friend Paul. For awhile, we followed a paved path. But then we climbed over a wooden guardrail and hiked up into the hills.
We stopped at a clearing. I told Paul I wanted to climb further up, so I could spend time alone.
The hike up was very steep. The earth crumbled each time I took a step. I had to grab on to the trunks of trees to pull myself up.
I found a grove of four trees. Each one a different type of pine. I sat in the middle of them, in the dirt, and I took off all my clothes.
The sun sparkled through the needles. It was low in the sky and it hit my body.
I felt the rich black-brown dirt under me.
I felt the trees — huge, protecting.
I felt completely protected, completely safe, as if the inside of my body and the outside of my body were one — are one.
I felt the roots of my body connect with the roots of the Earth.
I lay down in the dirt and felt the Earth hold me and rock me.
In the bathroom at the dorm, stoned, I am bending, though I can barely bend for the fullness of my stomach. I am bending to the white bowl and pushing my first two fingers down my throat, like fucking my mouth, till I vomit and again and again and again until I am sure my stomach is empty and I can suck it back up under my ribs. Only this once — just so I won’t have blown my diet — and then the next day and the next. Humbled, I am, in front of the toilet puking in my own hand so no one will hear me. Trying to wash away the cloying smell of half- digested food. Again and again and again until I don’t have to suck my stomach back under my ribs — it’s just back there.
Then in fear of being found out, I cease to eat. Well, a carrot, half an apple a day and exercising, running in place, basketball every day. I am so thin. I am pure muscle. Muscle that my body can eat since I do not. Organs that my body can eat since I do not.
And what is this, this eating of our own flesh? Self cannibalization. Why? So we can be Madonna with our rotting teeth and brittle bones; hair loss, deadly dull eyes, the broken veins in our noses and cheeks, so rosy?
One day I stood up and said — NO MORE. I am a woman and I have hips and breasts and I am soft though I can be hard and I can hold out the darkness for you or I can swallow you into a darkness that will scare you to death. I am beautiful and I desire. I desire myself, my company. I am seeking a piece of soul and my journey has begun. It was never out there. It was never at the mall or in the movies. The princesses didn’t have it, the movie stars couldn’t give it. I am not my body or my possessions or my education. I am not my grandmother, my grandfather, my mother, my aunt, my father. I am simply … I am Home. Welcome Home.