22 April, 2007

Revolutionary Acts and Calculated Risks

Or, Notes From My Activist Self

I often say that happiness is a revolutionary act. My experiences in this world could have left me unable to take joy from anything. Many people who live with the scars of childhood abuse, or who struggle to cope with debilitating physical illness, or, honestly, who are unable to come to terms with their sexuality, kill themselves. Others numb themselves with addictions, or they cut themselves off from life to cling to the pain they have known. They are unable to move past what happened into the possibilities of their futures. To continue, not only to live, but to take joy in life... that is revolutionary.

Happiness is not just accepting those occasional moments of grace, when joy bursts through you unexpectedly. It requires work. To get real happiness, and not just the ability to put a smile on your face regardless of how you feel, you have to be at peace with yourself.

To do that, you have to come to a point of self-acceptance. And one aspect of self-acceptance is being willing to be seen by other people. Which leads to coming out.

I have been coming out for what seems to be my entire adult life. I came out as a pagan. I came out as a lesbian. I came out as a survivor of childhood abuse. I came out as a spanko. I came out as a person with an invisible physical disability. I came out as a person who grew up poor and on welfare. And then, when I thought I had finally gotten done with coming out, I faced coming out yet again, as a person with Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Am I out to everyone I see, about everything I am? Of course not. Sometimes coming out isn't relevant, and sometimes, while relevant, it's a risk I (or W. and I) are not willing to take.

However, as much as I can, I push my comfort levels to be as visible as I can be. It is always a calculated risk. I have grown accustomed to adding up the positives and negatives of a particular moment of coming out, and deciding whether to say something. Or not.

I believe that self-acceptance is vital in this process. If I whispered, ashamed, "I am _________," and then hurried away before someone could reject me... they would reject me.

I do my best, instead, to say confidently, "This is who I am. I accept myself." And then to be open to hearing the other person's response. To make it easier on myself, I choose the people I come out to carefully. I don't go up to someone preaching on the street and tell them about my deep pagan beliefs (okay, I don't often do that). I don't tell the person ranting about how "all those people using benefits cards should get jobs" about growing up on welfare. I am as out as I can be, but I take care of myself (myselves).

Even with people I know well, whom I trust, it can feel mind-numbingly terrifying to think of coming out. The point of a calculated risk is to weigh the difference between what I fear will happen, and what, on cooler reflection, I actually think will happen. I ask what I have to lose by saying one particular thing, at one particular moment, to one particular person.

When I am sure that, objectively, nothing that bad will happen, I take the perilous step of trusting someone with who I am.

Visibility is a revolutionary act. I come out, not only for my own comfort, but so that other people will need to hide less of themselves. I come out, not only to tell my own story, but to allow other people like me to know they are not alone. I come out, not only for others who are like me, but so that people who are not like us will learn that we are just as human as they are.

21 April, 2007

We told our therapists about spanking

And we are still in therapy. With the same therapists. And it's all right.

It started because my therapist had suggested to one of my teen parts that it was entirely okay to ask W. for help creating and enforcing limits. And since the three of us were going to meet to discuss the process, and to define rules and consequences, well, mentioning spanking seemed à propos.

W. was perfectly comfortable telling my therapist about spanking. It didn't seem to be an issue for her, she felt that it was an important thing to discuss, and that it was information my therapist could use. And it did seem like the right thing to do, rather than trying to be all evasive and sitting with the discomfort of knowing we were leaving out a huge chunk of how it is that rules and consequences work in our relationship.

So we told her. She did mention the obvious concern (re-traumatization), and I said simply that I was confident that spanking itself is not re-traumatizing. There are other issues at play, and there are many things I have to work through in therapy, but spanking is actually fairly peripheral.

However. W. stopped going to therapy last summer. At the time, she said it was because we were broke (we were) and that if only one of us was going to be in therapy, it should be me (I agreed). But, given W.'s procrastination in going back into therapy when we could afford it again, I guessed that there were more reasons she was not in therapy than just the money.

And there were. As it turns out, a big one was her discomfort telling her own therapist about spanking and discipline, combined with her desire to process through how she feels about her role in that.

But W. needs support she can best get in therapy. And she's got her own things to process that have somewhat less to do with me. She even agreed that she needs therapy. So she finally went back to see her therapist a week or so after we'd "confessed" our deep, dark secret to mine.

She told her therapist, and once again, it was fine. Her therapist didn't seem to think the spanking, per se, was an issue, so long as each of us is comfortable with our role.

I guess the lesson is, just because you're worried about what other people will think, it doesn't mean that they will respond badly. And I guess it's like any other kind of coming out. In my life, I've found that the difficulty is not in how people respond, but rather in getting myself to a point where I'm brave enough to tell them in the first place.

With one exception, W. and I have had incredibly positive experiences coming out as lesbians. I have found that the people in my life are caring and supportive when I tell them about any of the other boxes shoved into my mental "closet." I wonder, at times, whether our experiences are positive because we are fortunate in our community of friends and family, or because, on the whole, the world is a more accepting place than we give it credit for being.

But as we make our decisions about what to tell to which people, the hundreds of positive experiences we have had can often be outweighed by one bad experience. We balance the relief of openness against our dread of what might happen, what we have heard happened to other people, what has happened to us.

And so, even though most of the time, everything is all right, there is still a level of terror in coming out.

I think it's important to remember to tell the stories where everything went fine, to help other people feel more confident about making their own choices. So take this post as one more piece of evidence. You can tell your therapist, your non-kinky (to your knowledge) therapist, your therapist whom you found by calling (non-kinky) referral service, that you spank or are spanked, and even that you and your partner do this in the context of discipline. And thus far, the evidence has been that it's okay. If you already have a good working relationship with your therapist, chances are, this will not cause it to fall apart. (I am basing this on a sample of two. If you have other experiences to add, please feel free to comment.)