Sunday, July 02, 2017

Disregarding Purity to Chase Intimacy, or My Weird (lack of a) Sex Life

My most intimate moment with a man happened to me on top of an active volcano.

That sounds amazing, but trust me, this is actually a pretty embarrassing story. On a scale of zero to cringe, this was about...a million. And I know that many of you out there are rooting for me, but don't get too excited; there was no sex.

Because 1AM summertime twilight over a slimy steam room in a hut attached to a pit toilet on top of a glacier that covers a volcano is neither the time nor the place for sex. For me, anyway, and no judgment if this sounds like your perfect romantic evening. It just...wasn't doing it for me. Not then, anyway. 

Over the past several months, I have had many Icelandic culture lessons. And now, I just kind of feel like those several months were essentially preparing me for this moment, a moment of close-quarters showering and steam bathing and standing, not once but twice, bare-ass naked in the snow with some guy. Naked as the days we were born, which were approximately twenty years apart, so. Perhaps another reason this wasn't working for me, but not necessarily so. Sorry, mom. 

But anyway, there we were, because I had agreed to accompany him to the sauna thinking, apparently stupidly, that we were, like, just going to go to the sauna and not have some weird forced existential experience. I don't blame the guy. He wanted me to feel it, really feel the cold and the sunlight and the tranquility on the mountain. The sunset layers were dreamy, and this was one of our first clear nights up there so we could see all the way up to the north. He wanted to show me that this was the place from whence my data came, and this is what was necessary for me to understand. 

If you have known me for five seconds, then you probably know that I am intensely spiritual. Standing naked on a glacier, with icy air washing over my bare skin, basking in the golds and pinks of the remaining light and the deep lavenders of the shadows, is exactly the sort of thing I am super into. I can praise the good Lord for that. I can hold space for myself there. I can reflect and rejoice in such a circumstance. 

But, like...not then. Not when I had absolutely no idea what was going on, or what he was talking about half the time, or what drunken sagely wisdom he was attempting to pass down to me in a surprisingly fatherly way. I wasn't open to actively participating in the conversation because I wasn't particularly comfortable. Not uncomfortable, mostly curious as to where this was going, but not comfortable either. Not familiar with this uncharted territory. I don't love being dragged outside, naked, without explanation. I don't like showering with somebody in a cramped cubicle when it seems rather extremely unnecessary. I don't have deep conversations with tipsy people if I am not equally as tipsy. And as public nudity is still an incredibly new thing for me, I wasn't sure what the game was. Were we, or were we not..? 

Nudity is not sexual here. It isn't. I would score zero points with an Icelander for trying to sexualize a trip to the sauna. So I just pretty much figured that any weird sexual tension was probably coming from me, since I hail from the Land of the Shamed and Home of the Constantly Sexualized, but I wasn't a hundred percent sure. So, I later consulted another Nordic person, and when she was just about as unclear as I was, I figured that my insecurities were probably well-founded. I mean, of course they are, but I do find it interesting to live in a culture that actively frowns upon sexualizing non-sexual experiences. I was curious, and not unsafe; I was fine. Very confused, but fine. Although, I guess Icelanders usually do respect your space while you're showering after the sauna, but all's well that ends.

I am as God made me, but I am also a product of my environment. I come from a culture where assumed virginity is packaged neatly with singleness, and presented as some sort of virtue wrapped up within the glimmer of purity culture; a gift to be shared under a legally binding contract between a man and a woman. But as myself and my peers grow irritated with gender roles dividing everything from toys to acceptable behavior to children's clothing, I've begun to dig deeper. I've started to notice holes in purity culture, and have pretty much decided that purity culture, at its root, is exactly the same thing as rape culture.

Allow me to explain.

Nope, it's too much. Allow me to summarize.

Purity culture assigns your self worth to your ability to control your body. Rape culture makes it okay for somebody else to control your body.

Purity culture reminds you that you are inherently dirty. Rape culture delights in telling you that you are inherently dirty. 

Purity culture reminds you that you are damaged and worthless without this virtue. Rape culture reminds you that you deserve to be damaged because you are worthless. 

Purity culture pretends to hold men and women equally responsible for their behavior, but demands submission from women at the end of the day. Rape culture unabashedly blames survivors; most of whom are women. 

Purity culture ignores any power of decision. Rape culture takes the decision away.

Purity culture holds sex as the highest achievement. Rape culture uses sex as the ultimate power.

Purity culture raises victims and protects perpetrators. Rape culture shames victims and praises perpetrators.

Purity culture values silence over justice. Rape culture depends on valuing silence over justice.

Purity culture leads to rape culture. 

I cannot say this enough. Purity culture leads, directly leads, to rape culture. The way we have raised our children (we being a collective) makes them submissive, vulnerable; the ways by which we refuse to take responsibility for this baffles me. Every time we make an excuse for somebody's inexcusable behavior, we show our kids that their safety is not a priority. Every time we say that "boys will be boys," we hold our boys to sickeningly low expectations. Every time we cover abuse with the blood of Christ, we wash our hands with the blood of our kids. Every. Time. 

I can't be a part of this. This ship has pretty much sailed, but I guess I'll just say for the record that I am officially done with purity culture. I have not lost my moral compass; this is my moral compass. Purity culture is a twisted and perverse version of rape culture, and it is a dangerous thing to teach. Now, I am certainly not saying that choosing to wait until marriage is a bad choice; arguably it likely saves a lot of heartbreak and loss, it demonstrates a command of priorities, and it is ultimately selfless. It's a beautiful thing to share with one person. But the way we frame sex absolutely makes those who have made a different decision, or those who have had that decision taken from them, feel subhuman. I'm done with it, completely done.

The undercurrents of shame and trauma in my life have essentially set the stage for a lack of sexual intimacy in my life, but I am not here in the spirit of pointing fingers. It's just how I turned out; more or less sexually independent. I'm not satisfied with it, but I'm not...well. I guess I'm a little heartbroken about it, but I am looking forward to growing and becoming better at being two rather than just being one all the time. 

But, being here is the healthiest thing I've ever done. My Icelandic therapist gets upset with me when I tell her that I'm afraid of being behind, that I haven't grown enough...because there is no behind, there is no enough. I feel these insecurities because I have the preposterous idea that everybody else has figured it out, and I haven't. In reality, everybody is fumbling through this. And in Iceland where it is okay to make mistakes and figure things out your own way, it is okay to be sexual, it is okay to not be sexual, and it is okay to find yourself completely nude, standing on a glacier with your mentor, without any boundaries being crossed.

Things get less shameful when we stop making them so shameful. 

Huh. Who would've thought?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

That Kind of Growth

I missed an appointment with my therapist because I found out that I was able to go up on a field excursion to Vatnajökull last week, so I let the ice and the Icelanders be my substitute therapist for the time being. It was rad, because we all noticed how everything from down the glacier melted away (literally and figuratively) and the only things that mattered just then were situated on top of Grímsfjall with us. But now, we're back in the land of signals and deadlines, and I have some things to think about.

Specifically, how to balance the dichotomous void between living the healthiest life I've ever lived, and keeping my empathy for the people in my life who remain in the trenches through no fault of their own, of course. I don't know how to do this; rather, I'm anxious about vicarious anxiety. Because of all the things that contribute to my traumatic stress, a considerable amount of it is vicarious and that is kryptonite for a self-sacrificial empath.

One of the things that has kept me unhealthy in the past, or rather has prevented me from taking advantage of all of my potential, is the fact that I absolutely refuse to deny myself my roots. Because denying my roots is denying my story, which is fundamentally a betrayal of self and an ignorant sway away from acknowledging the things that had to be accomplished, destroyed, upwelled, replaced in order to grow. 

But then, there's some sagely bit about not being able to move onto the next chapter of my life if I insist upon re-reading the previous ones, and I re-read my chapters like clockwork every night before bed. 

I always will, because I don't want to forget. If I forget, I forget myself and I'm tempted to smooth my rough edges and sweeten the bitter words I've spoken, the sour tantrums I've thrown, the dry throated threats I've made. Sweet things are nice to remember, but they really require a balance of salt. They aren't the whole truth.

The whole truth is the healing truth, and once we stop romanticizing everybody's healing processes and understand that the process is instead a difficult thing to which we need to square up, I've found grace for that.

Grace and growth, I guess. Growth in the sense that not everything is such a huge deal all the time. Not every day. Growth as a calm, collected, calculated widening of my horizons. Growth that will yield its own seeds someday. Growth that changes and evolves and adapts. Growth that moves me upward and upheaves the structures I have fastened around myself that aren't necessary anymore. Growth that points my eyes forward instead of rolling them backward. Growth that does more than sustain me, but strengthens me.

That kind of growth.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Heart and the Hips

What do you do when your heart is full but also cracked? You know, like when your chest caves in at the empty spaces but still fills itself with lava sometimes, and you're not sure whether it's a growing pain or a searing burn or, somehow, both?

I don't know. I just kind of feel like I have a lot of love to give, ya know? More importantly, a lot of love to share. The bubbly kind, the kind that makes me shy.

My hips feel tight. And then I get stuck wondering why they feel tight; they're smaller than I ever think they are until I notice, but maybe it's something else. It could be from kicking around on a rock wall the other day, strung up by a rope in a canyon with snow-capped mountains surrounding me, 300 degrees, the remaining 60 degrees taken up by an Arctic fjord. Or, maybe I hold some of my trauma in my hips; something I hadn't considered until basically today. 

I've been trying to pry myself open lately. And now I want these hips open.

Open these hips, open this heart.

A month ago, I was told that I've been stubborn (duh) but that I'm deeply loved despite that; except, please don't love me despite me. Love me to love me, or maybe just don't at all. But I was also told that the key to these open hips, open heart, open air panoramic secrets is a better, deeper, more intimate prayer life. Like, the brave kinds of prayers that you pray in the dark when you're too scared to open your eyes but still feel like surviving anyway.

It sounds like a gimmick I guess, but I get it and I believe it and I think that she was right, the person who told me these things, gave me these words. Because she holds water and loads of things heavier than that, and I know exactly from whom she takes her directions.

She's a good steward. I want to be a good steward, too. Of me, of my body, of my love.

I generally have an incredibly difficult time connecting with my body, but I've been getting stronger so I can feel things that I couldn't feel before, and that lends itself to a mandatory connection. I've been listening, and that's where it starts. Tell me what you need, dear body, because I'm listening now. I can hear you, now, when you ask for something and I am getting you ready to receive what you need. 

I am.

I always feel like my healing process will be (is) this incredibly dramatic, theatrical show just because of who I am as a person. I make it into this big thing, resolving to try this and that, talking my way through every step, sharing every moment and giving myself every potential situational outcome in my own head. Surrounding myself with my community, calling in reinforcements, covering myself in lavender oil and trying not to panic. Taking my meds, going to my therapist, managing the side effects of my meds and wondering whether or not I can ever go off of them or if I'd still die without them. Wondering if I'll ever be completely freed from the fog inside of my head, wondering where that fog comes from in the first place. The disease, or the treatment? Who am I; the disease, or the treatment? 

On my dip days, I'm a hot disaster in a new-moon phase. I do not really try to hide it, but I wonder if it has caused me to collapse inside of myself a bit such that I can only see my attempts to understand what I need, instead of the needs of people who wish to partner with me during this. Because I've been aware, hyper-aware, of my needs as they fluctuate and have been doing my best to meet those needs and grow as a result. It's working, it is, but it won't be enough. It isn't enough.

Like I said, I have a lot of love to share.

And loving me, all of me being loved all the way, will be the bravest adventure I'll ever have.

Photo Cred: Brendan Benson & the drone. Climbing a 5-7 top rope somewhere along Þverá, south of Akureyri, ÍS

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Naked in Public, and Other Thoughts

There have been a great many things to consider, lately. Heading soon into my eighth month living in Iceland, this has kind of become my life now and my home now and there is this huge, massive chasm between being on holiday here and having a kennitala and a legal address in 101 RVK. And the fact that I have over a year left leaves a sweet taste in my mouth as I wonder what kind of person I'll be if, when I'm ready to move on. 

So until then, here's my seven month summary of life in everybody's favorite (sub)arctic island.

...thinking very important expatriate thoughts in my natural habitat

1. I can't eat "American" food anymore.

Like, I know that we have prime access to perfectly healthy foods in the US (outside of food deserts) so calm down. This is not about that.

Andi came to Iceland and brought me a gigantic bag of M&Ms (which I will never not be able to eat) but she also brought 5 delicious boxes of Kraft Mac n' Cheese. Swoon. 

I know that this is only "food" by the loosest of standards, but everybody loves a good box of mac every so often. As down-home delightful as those cheesy noodles were, though, they just like...sat in my tummy like a rock. And didn't really go away. And I've been eating plastic carbs all week and now I'm bloaty and sore. 

Not surprised, but it means that my body has changed.

For the better, obviously.

Like, my tolerance for fillers and pseudofood and other such junk has drastically declined, and I'm not mad about it, but I am kind of surprised. I don't eat less chocolate or ice cream or hot dogs (arguably way more hot dogs, I mean, come on) or snacks than usual, but they must be...different somehow.

I am, though, sad about the dwindling likelihood that I can once again dominate the world when I'm back in the States this August and inevitably end up at Asian Buffet with my dad. I'll have to train for weeks. 

Oh well. I guess I'm not that upset. 

2. I am still not used to living in a peaceful country and everyone is over it.

Every time I bring this up with an American, they get it. Every time I bring this up with a Nordic person, they do not. Why must I always expect tragedy such that when tragedy befalls, I think I'm ready? For what do I think I'm preparing? Why don't I just calm down? Nobody needs my frantic alertness or my surplus of compassion. Well, nobody besides myself. But I'd rather give it to somebody else. And everybody else is pretty much fine, and pretty much over my more-bloody-than-rosy worldview.

Especially my friends whom I am constantly watching, like, text me when you get home.

Text me when you get home.

Text. Me. When. You. Get. Home.

Hey, instead of not texting me when you get home, you could try texting me when you get home.

Otherwise I will assume that you're dead, and will prepare myself to search for your body in the swamp. And the thing is, I really don't think that it's all that paranoid to think so.

Well, maybe in Reykjavík. But it only takes one second of becoming complacent, dropping your guard, putting weak faith in the presumed security of a given location for that security to go away. You will never, ever, ever convince me otherwise. 

So, yeah. I know you can walk home by your own damn self like a grown-ass adult, but you are also grown enough to text me when you get home.

3. I have been naked in public a lot, and I kind of love it.

Not in the ~feminist utopia~ sense that a lot of you probably picture Iceland to be (it isn't.) But because an enormous part of Icelandic culture is deeply rooted in access to geothermal hot pots, visiting public pools is essential. And to have public pools that aren't full of hot grimy wastewater, you have to clean yourself before entering. And to clean yourself well, you can't be wearing anything while you do it.

Simple, really.

Although it's pretty blatantly obvious when you think about it, I hadn't truly internalized the depth to which the United States sexualizes bodies from an incredibly young age. Like, why? Stop doing that, pervy grease-ball United States. Stop it. It's unnecessary. And it leads to all sorts of problems and abuse and shame and then everybody acts all surprised when actually, the root of the problem has been right in front of our noses since the days we were born.

Since nudity is not a big deal in Iceland, and really it's just about keeping public pools clean enough to use, bodies are not overtly sexualized here. That has been refreshing for me, and very body positive. Sex is actually kind of an interesting topic here; sometimes it's casual and sometimes it's extremely exclusive. Starting a family at a relatively young age is pretty commonplace, and the entire structure of the way this country is run centers on access to childcare and work day/school day flexibility to make sure the kids are picked up on time. Family is important here; everyone is pretty much related anyway, so it's easy to see why that is!

4. Graduate school has been easier than high school and it's really weird.

Last time I was in graduate school, I worked incredibly hard and felt awful about myself. Currently in graduate school, the amount of effort necessary to get by is essentially zero, and I feel like a queen.

I like this, and I don't.

I like it because I'm in virtually no danger of burning out and have a solid support system here, but I don't like it because when things do not meet a certain threshold of challenge, I lose interest and fail to absorb or learn or excel.

Luckily, this is graduate school, not high school. I have the opportunity to take charge of at least half of my degree, the half that involves my research project. In this half, I can truly grow and learn and self-lead. 

See, I like it when I can see growth, and I can. So I'm holding on to that for now, and working on accepting the fact that this is what a non-hostile work environment, more or less, looks like. Note that I am not meaning to confuse a non-hostile work environment with administrative competency, but that, as they say, is a horse of a different color. 

There is enormous room for improvement anywhere, but I think I can figure out how to come out on top here. And that's incredible, for grad school. 

5. The extraordinary has become my new ordinary, and I'm trying not to let it ruin me.

Yes, geothermal rivers in the middle of rolling basaltic hills are an hour's drive away. Yes, I can go glacier hiking if I want to. Yes, my everyday mountainous view from Reykjavík is spectacular. Yes, the northern lights here are tricolor undulations that will knock you straight to your knees.

This place is so full of natural wonders it's incredible that the entire island isn't a federally protected park. 

I mean, besides the fact that we kind of need some of those natural wonders to heat our homes, but ya know. Take the good with the bad; the free heat with the sulphur smell and the impending threat of volcanic eruption and glacial flooding. 

Reykjavík is one of my favorite places ever, but it tends to close in on a person. The darkness does, too, so I'm glad that we're nearing midnight-sun season! It's so important to get out of town as often as the opportunities arise, because once you do, you can find the most amazing things! I hope I never grow out of my sense of wonder, even if I've seen Gullfoss for the millionth time or the continental fissures and moss-covered lava fields for the zillionth. 

I'm just going to let it amaze me every time. Even if there is a perfectly valid explanation for that volcanic crater being right there, or that hot spring. I still think it's the cat's pajamas and I always, always will.

So, come visit me. Visit me so that I can show you these things and experience them all over again. Visit me so that I can tell you about all of the strange things that come with living here; all the strange, wonderful, beautiful things. See it, feel it, taste it with me.