Mental illness is like fingernails down the chalkboard of my skull

The scrape of fingernails rattles through my brain as my mental illness claws its way around the inside of my skull. I wince and turn away, towards the television and I throw every particle of my being into focusing on the blinking colours and movement on the screen. I turn the volume up to drown out the plaintive caterwauling inside my brain.

I often look back on my life and wonder where it went wrong for me. Truthfully, it probably wasn’t any one situation, but a combination of genetics and an unstable childhood. Regardless of what happened or what didn’t, this is life and like many other people suffering with mental illness I just make do with what I’ve got.

Mental illness is seeing other adults, your husband or your parents, having hushed conversations about how best to deal with you. Other people proclaim to know how best to take care of you, removing your own agency and your own autonomy. It is a powerless feeling to feel your eyeballs at the back of your skull seemingly staring through your whole head as if it were a tunnel. Sound is strange and feels like it is coming from a long way away as people smile at you like a child and ask if you’re sure you’ve taken your medication today.

Mental illness is sitting in a room with a box of tissues on your lap as a group of stony faced psychiatrists listen to you wailing for five minutes before slapping a diagnosis on you. Mental illness is so, so many tissues. So many swollen eyelids from nights spent crying into the dark. Its sitting in a psychiatric emergency waiting room for 3 days before getting a bed, and a shaky smile as you hold out the box of tissues to another patient crying in the chair opposite. It’s the feeling of sitting at a computer, staring at the keyboard as it feels like you zoom backwards away from your hands on the keys, getting further and further away from your limbs.

There is comfort in feeling like you’re being taken care of, I suppose, but mostly it feels dehumanising to have your adult loved ones talk about you to each other as if you were a child. You feel transported back to when you’re seven years old and being treated like you’re not even there, not even able to be involved in discussions about your own life and experiences. Your mother reads a book all about your illness, and tells everyone about you and your illness, and yet fails to see herself reflected in the pages.

I’m high functioning now, and I haven’t been inpatient at a psychiatric institution for over a decade. My mental illness is still there, dragging its fingernails down the inside of my skull, and I do my best to talk louder to drown out the sound. Sometimes it’s all you can do.

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Radical Feminists can suck my strap-on, and pay for the privilege of it.

I’ve been a feminist for a while now. My values have changed a lot as I seek to be more inclusive in my activism, but generally “feminist” was a word that covered the majority of things I felt my politics were about. Feminism was important to me in my journey through life and as an activist. Then I started doing sex work.

Unfortunately, lots of radical feminists have opinions I don’t agree with. Many of these disagreeable opinions revolve around a white feminist ideal, that brown people in “third world” countries are making bad decisions, and it’s up to them, the white feminist saviour, to come to their rescue, that sex work is violence and should be banned. Uh, ew? So basically I think Muslim women can wear whatever the fuck they want, also its for activists in Africa to fight against FGM not white saviours, and also trans women are women. Oh, and also sex work is real work and should be totally decriminalised. These points of view make me unwilling to share my space with white thin radical feminists.

See, some of my feminist sex worker friends have been ejected from feminist groups and collectives because of what they for a living. I have found myself increasingly wary in feminist groups or around other feminists because there is a chance they will find my work deplorable or disgusting. You’re kicking us out of spaces we have a right to exist in, and you refuse to listen to our experiences. I’m sick of being silenced and denied access to spaces because of what we choose to do for a living.

Last week my article “Doing Porn Helped Me Love My Fat Body” went live on Offbeat Home & Life. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience, and I felt supported by the Offbeat Empire team as they prepared it for publishing. While the commentary on my post was mostly positive, one comment thread on Facebook really irked me. It was questioned what I meant by “porn”, because pornography is a “loaded” (teehee) term that may alienate some people. It was implied that certain types of porn are more acceptable than others, such as “feminist, ladylike” porn, softcore erotica, etc, and if –that– was what I meant then I shouldn’t use the term “porn” because… sensibilities of readership, I guess? I had to state, quite frankly, that I put things in my vagina on film for money, and that I mean porn porn, not classy ladylike erotica.

It pisses me off, you know? It really fucking gets my goat that as feminists we’re still saying what is or isn’t okay for women to enjoy or participate in. There was a pearl-clutching comment about “bad porn” that includes “100 guy cream pies”, and look honestly if the pay is good and there are snacks available on set are good I am here to film that 100 guy cream pie, with no shame or loss of dignity whatsoever, and I will enjoy counting my money on the way to the bank. It is my right as a woman to decide what I am okay with doing, what things I enjoy, and what I want to do for work. It is not up to SWERFs to point fingers at me and tell me I am being a bad woman, a bad feminist, because I’m a sex worker.

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“Only classy ladylike cunts allowed in feminism” – RadFems, probably

It shits me that as adults we’re shamed for making money doing porn, or as full service escorts, or by not having sex at all with anyone at any time, or by wearing items of clothing that are important to us, or making choices about our own bodies. We’re adults, and we don’t need pearl-clutching white feminists wagging their fingers at us because we’re not doing things they approve of, things that are more becoming of women. Brown women do not need white RadFems whitesplaining shit to them. This is no fucking better than the society we left behind, for fuck’s sake.

I’m sick of SWERFs, TERFs, and other genres of RadFems. I’m sick of them mansplaining shit to us, of letting their toxic ideologies infiltrate in watered-down versions into general feminist ideals. I’m sick of the RadFems of old who are now just irrelevant, offensive dinosaurs vomiting their ignorance across the media (you know exactly who I mean, I’m sure). There is no space for intolerance, ignorance, or policing of how others live their lives in our feminist movement, and indeed I think their rhetoric is unfeminist.

I’m taking back my feminism, continuing to stick things in my vagina for money, and generally being a crass unladylike example of politics. Just the way I like it.

Doing porn helped me love and respect my fat body

Like many other people who are fat children who become fat teenagers before being fat adults, I learned from a young age that my body was never meant to be desirable or sexy. From people fucking me in secret, to being ashamed to walk with me hand-in-hand in public, to asking me out on a date as a dare or a joke. These views on fat bodies were reinforced by my family, my peers, old partners, and the media. But I’m not here to talk to you about how shitty society is to fat people, I am here to tell you how being a fat porn performer positively changed how I view my body and its worthiness, sexiness, and desirability.

See, when I was a young adult I never imagined myself having sex, not even in my fantasies. My body just never featured at all. I was disembodied or I imagined myself with a new, thin body. I just couldn’t fantasize about having sex with someone while also making my fat body part of that sexual fantasy. I suffered a lot of dysphoria about my body and how I inhabited it, how it looked and existed in the world, there was a strong disconnect between my brain and my body, especially in regards to sexuality.

_DSC8983It took years of work to slowly unpack and challenge all the social conditioning that made me believe I was unworthy, and to really bridge this connection between brain and body. I began critically thinking about the things I believed about my body and what it was capable of. I got angry about furniture not being rated to hold my weight, or about being discriminated against by medical professionals… but the one thing I didn’t shake was my belief that my body wasn’t good enough for sex. I believed my body couldn’t be sexy or desirable. Fat bodies are never portrayed in the media as being sexy in a way which is positive or empowering, so there is simply very little representation for fat people as sexual beings.

In January I became a sex worker making indie amateur pornography. I took a deep breath, hit record, and filmed some videos of myself. It was difficult and confronting. It was even more confronting when I had to open the footage and watch it while editing it to make it suitable for release. I found myself tabbing out of the window, so embarrassed and ashamed to watch videos of myself masturbating because I felt bad about how I looked. Yet, with each video it got easier.

I made 10… 20… 30 videos. I edited them, I watched them from start to finish, I even kind of got turned on watching videos of myself. I sold the videos. I got compliments from my sex working peers, and also from my customers.  My husband started taking photos of my naked body in various poses to use as promotional photo sets. I was surprised by the eager look on his face as he snapped photos of my body in every conceivable position, pose, point-of-view. He told me I was beautiful, and it was the first time I ever believed him.

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I felt differently when I looked at my body in the mirror. I felt differently when I watched and edited my porn, or when I looked at my nude photos. I appreciated the way my breasts hung naturally, or the shimmer of my stretch marks, or the folds in my fat as I sat down. I even appreciated the way my body jiggled and quaked with each step I took. I felt differently about people seeing my nude body, and I felt differently about looking at my own nude body.

Doing sex work is hard for a lot of reasons, but I cannot deny the overwhelmingly positive affect it has had on me and my relationship to my body. I no longer feel disembodied, but absolutely present in myself and my body. I respect my body, and I demand respect from others when they speak about it. I am proud of my fat body, and its partially thanks to porn. Thanks porn, I owe ya one!

Neutrality is Ignorance giving itself a pat on the back

I grew up in a very rural location on large farms in outback Australia. My parents are under-educated, poor, and completely ignorant of current events. Both of them lack the critical thinking it takes to examine the media that is presented to them, often taking things at face value and being misled. This was passed onto me as a child and I grew up isolated and ignorant, in more ways than just my ignorance of current events. I believed in Santa Claus much longer than other children and didn’t know what puberty or periods were until I was almost upon it, and this perceived immaturity led to much embarrassment at school when exposed to my worldlier peers.

My schooling itself wasn’t brilliant, and classrooms and teachers were shared between at least 2 or 3 different grades at once. Teachers were stretched thin trying to teach grades 4, 5, and 6 all at once in the same room, and I confess I feel I didn’t learn much of anything. I didn’t even have sex education until I was in high school. We moved a lot, I changed schools a lot, and there were huge gaps in my education.

My ignorance spanned until I was in my early 20’s, long after I could blame it on a pisspoor rural education. I had no idea about current events, politics, social justice. I was ignorant, and made ignorant choices when faced with government elections. I didn’t know what I was doing and educating myself seemed like a huge insurmountable task.

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I can’t remember when or why I started to be more socially conscious, but somewhere along the line I started to pick up current events, and slowly but surely I began to get educated. The more educated I got, the more interested I was in learning more. I was ashamed of being ignorant in the past, and I didn’t want to remain that way. I started to fight back against social injustices I faced, and started to speak out against the social injustices others faced. It wasn’t good enough anymore for me to be ignorant, and I wanted to do my bit to spread education to the people around me by hitting that share button and by speaking up in a gathering.

I used to smoke, so I’d spend a portion of my day outside on the verandah smoking, and listening to the banter of my family inside. One day I overheard my husband and housemate talking about a game they had been playing, and one of them began to say the word “prostitute” and without a pause they stopped and corrected themselves with “sex worker”. Not long before that my husband came home from work in a bad mood because one of his workmates had tried to show him a meme image of a fat person wearing leggings. My husband had asked what was so funny about it, to the confusion of his workmate, and they had a brief discussion where my husband let his colleague know that he wouldn’t entertain fat hating rhetoric or jokes in his presence.

It was these two incidences that made me realise that by talking, and sharing, and having these conversations, it was wriggling its way into the minds of the people around me. I felt sometimes like talking about these things alienated me, but I realised that just because people weren’t “liking” or commenting on my posts didn’t mean they weren’t reading and learning and changing.

My father and I are now mostly estranged, but my mother lives with us. She is still ignorant, and declares she doesn’t want to know anything about current affairs or social injustice. She says she doesn’t need that negativity in her life. My mum has had a hard life, and my father abused her mightily, and I can understand why she puts up these walls to protect herself, but also I can’t help but feel disappointed in her unwillingness to remove her blinkers.

I am only one person, but I refuse to turn my back. I refuse to avert my eyes. I refuse to put my head in the sand. It can be uncomfortable, it can be confronting, but I have to turn and look at social injustice in the eye, because for many people in this world they do not have the luxury to turn away. So I look, and I learn, and I encourage the people around me to turn their faces towards the injustice, and I encourage them to use their privilege to boost the voices of others.

Man, we just have to do this. What good is our privilege and loud voices if we don’t use them to make change and do some fucking good in this world? We cannot choose silence.

 

The deaths of mentally ill people are never a blessing

I first started showing signs of mental illness in my mid-teens, and by the time I was 19 I had been hospitalised twice. It was a low time in my life, punctuated by horrible interpersonal relationships and a shitty living situation. I was a shitty person to the people around me (and myself), and when I went into hospital the second time there was a lot of popular opinion that I was beyond help and deserved the suffering I was experiencing, and that ultimately I deserved to die.

I cannot explain to you how it felt to lash outwards, then curl inwards and look into the depths of my pain and feel like a burden. I felt like I inconvenienced the people around me with my illness. It was too loud, too intense, too much. I felt ill equipped to deal with life, and I leaned heavily on my loved ones. I was so overwhelmingly ashamed and embarrassed of myself, and I felt like life would be so much easier for everyone if I simply was not alive any more.

A decade has crawled, leaped, and wriggled by and now I am a happily married woman with many successes to my name. My mental illness is ever present but under control, and I have learned that even though I am mentally ill I am still deserving of love, support, and respect.

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xoJane probs shouldn’t have published this tbh

On May 20 xoJane ran an essay by Amanda Lauren entitled “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing”. Wow, right? The gist of the piece is that this woman, Leah, tried to hook up with Lauren’s crush, but other than that didn’t have any boyfriends, and lived in an untidy house. All crimes worthy of capital punishment, I’m sure.

This article later had the by-line changed to Anonymous, before finally being pulled and replaced with an apology by xoJane, though the original article was captured by web.archive.org if you’ve got the spoons to go looking for it.

The story continues as Lauren begins stalking her ex-friend Leah, a mental illness sufferer, on Facebook because she was morbidly curious about the fact that Leah was a sex worker. She goes on to say that she has nothing against sex work (yeah, I bet), but that Leah simply couldn’t consent to performing sex work because of her mental illness. I’m sure Lauren is totally able to make those claims because she was stalking her on Facebook and was therefore an authority on Leah’s life. This is news to all of us mentally ill people who are doing sex work to support ourselves, and I’m sure in future we will all be sure to ask Lauren’s permission before continuing to be sex workers.

The story comes to an end with Leah drowning in a bathtub, and Lauren’s commentary on how it was a blessing because “(s)he would have either been institutionalized or a major burden on her family”. Lauren goes on to say in another interview with Daily Dot that “Do you know the laws in America? You can’t just put away mentally ill people even if they need help. My goal in writing that essay was to bring light to the plight of the mentally ill.” It is worth noting that this piece says an awful lot more about Lauren’s failings as a decent human being than it does about Leah’s, a fact that obviously passed Lauren by as she penned it.

I know that reading these words affected me greatly, causing much reflection on how it felt to believe I was a burden on my loved ones, and I cannot imagine how her words would have affected people who currently experience these types of intrusive thoughts. Mentally ill people, you need to know that you don’t deserve to be “put away”, you are not a burden on the people around you, and you have inherent worth as a human being in this world.

Reading her piece, and the subsequent Daily Dot interview, it was more apparent than ever that mentally ill people do not need neurotypical and ableist commentary on our lives. We need the freedom to tell our own stories, without condescending, dangerous, and insulting commentary of the type that Lauren dishes out. We deserve respect, and the ability to have our voices shared and heard, especially on so-called feminist sites like xoJane.

If you’re mentally ill, please let me assure you one last time that you are a worthy person in this world, and your life is a blessing to the loved ones around you. People like Lauren exist, but their light in this world are far diminished by the radiance you exude. You have value, and potential, and worth. Don’t forget. I love you!

Sex Workers Can Be Artists Too

So, I’m a sex worker. I make amateur pornography and sell it on the internet. I’m also an artist, a housewife, and dabbler in random things I find interesting. I make art and sell it under my legal name, and some of the art is themed around sex work. Now I’m not actually really “out” in that I never sat down and said “Hello I’m a sex worker”, but I slip sex work into my biographies and wonder if anyone notices. One of those biographies is on my art store, where I sell that aforementioned art about sex work.

Today I discovered that a sex worker found this artwork and said they had a problem with civilians profiting from making art with sex work themes. It would have taken them two clicks to find my biography that said I was a sex worker on the store page, but they didn’t bother to look, instead they levelled their accusation at me in a space where I exist solely using my legal name. I responded to let them know that I am indeed a sex worker and hopefully that will be the last of it, though I am filled with fear that they will demand proof of my work therefore connecting my sex work name and my legal name.

Above and beyond this issue of outing, it bothered me that someone can see an artwork about sex work and assume a civilian did it, that there is no way a sex worker could be making and selling art. The sex workers I know are talented people with varied skills in a wide range of fields, and it would never occur to me to doubt one of them could be an artist, or a singer, or a writer, or any other “vanilla, civilian” identity.  It hurt for someone to assume that because I made art I couldn’t possibly also be a sex worker and having part of my identity erased felt invalidating.

It brings to mind the fact many of us will block people we believe are civilians, when ultimately we have no way of knowing if they are or aren’t. A friend of mine reminded me that her main tumblr was a “civilian” blog, and that her sex work blog was a side blog. She is not out on her main tumblr but follows many sex workers and knows when she “likes” posts it will show up from her “civilian” main blog. She knows this means some sex workers may decide she’s a civilian and block her, but she is not in a position to connect her legal name to her work.

This makes me wonder how many sex workers we’re excluding in our communities because they can’t risk coming out on their own blogs, in the view of their real-life friends. I feel terrible that scores of sex workers are unable to join our community because we’re inadvertently excluding them. We want to be safe, and they want to be safe, and in the process people are getting tossed out like the baby in the bath water.

Being a sex worker means that we are always weighing up the choices we make, especially on the internet. How much we reveal, how close we are to our legal names, talking about sex work using our legal names. Each decision we make may end up with us being outed against our will, and I’m sure most of us don’t expect to be outed by other sex workers… but that is nearly what happened to me today. A sex worker didn’t believe that I could be an artist and a sex worker, and it may lead to a connection being made between my two names. It is scary that a finger-pointing sex worker who assumed I was a civilian could possibly demand proof of my sex working identity. Hell, even writing this may lead people to my legal name. It is just one of the many risks I take as a sex worker.

The moral of my story is that sex workers can be artists (or whatever the fuck else we want to be), but also that sex workers can also be the thing we fear the most. Sex workers can invalidate other sex workers, they can out other sex workers, and they can exclude other sex workers from their spaces. Sex workers can also be fatphobic, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and generally shitty people. An awful lesson to learn, but learn I have… for better or worse.