When I was first involved with fat activism and radical queer body positive communities I heard the term “disembodied” thrown around a lot without really understanding what it meant. I understood unlearning body shame, body self-hatred, body disempowerment but I didn’t understand the distinction from disembodiment.
I started asking around and my working definition of disembodied is not being present in your body–checked out. While you literally have a body there is such an intense mental, emotional, spiritual and/or physical disconnect with your body that you are not aware of it. I’ve heard some folks describe it as literally being out of your body, like your perspective is above and separate from your body, especially during trauma or triggered trauma.
Me and my pal Aleza at the Jews for Racial and Economic Justice Purim Ball. The theme was aptly “bodies”.
Disembodiment is an intensely personal experience that stems from systemic causes, as explained by my erudite roommate Damien Luxe, who wrote about her embodiment through the gym in a previous post and is working on a performance piece about embodiment for Heels on Wheels Glitter Road Show.
It can be caused by a lot of things, including intense body shame, gender trouble, abuse, trauma, sexual assault, other assaults, depression, dysphoria, anxiety and a whole host of mental health issues, and many many other reasons. Our bodies are constantly under attack in the media and in our culture and especially women’s bodies and the bodies of other oppressed folks. Basically, it’s really hard to have a body in this culture and there are a lot of ways in which people deal with that, including checking out of their bodies completely.
Disembodiment is a survival mechanism for bodies under siege.
Becoming embodied once more is a practice and a life’s work. It’s not the kind of aha moment where suddenly you click your heels three times and you’re back in your body. You develop tools and exercises to put you in touch with your body. Sometimes things happen, as with all grief and trauma, that might bring you back into that space of disembodiment or trigger a desire to check-out. And you can reach into your tool bag and do something to help you settle back into your corporeal place.
It never occurred to me that I had been disembodied as a youth. I’ll save the details for my memoir, but my experience as a teen was being very depressed, suicidal and constantly under attack and shame about my body. I hid my queerness and any other weirdness I could, but the result was that by the time I was in college I was entirely checked out of my body. I had a traumatic death in my family when I was 19 and the way I dealt with that and all other traumas was to power through it and forget it ever happened.
So when I came out of my shell, got into my body and started to learn to love myself, I just moved into my new life and didn’t look back. I remembered the shame and the hiding and the green corduroy overalls but I didn’t think about what my experience in my body was like.
I was a late bloomer and in college I was intimate with exactly one person, my first girlfriend. We didn’t even have sex. I mean, thank the goddess we didn’t have sex. (Of course, I had a lot of shame about being a late bloomer then, too.) Two years ago I reconnected with that first girlfriend and the experience of being physically intimate with the same person I had been intimate with in college sent me into a flurry of remembering. I remembered the experience of being 19 and not in my body. Of feeling desire mentally but not really feeling it physically. Of kissing and checking out so I wouldn’t feel the shame of my body.
Hana Malia and Glenn Marla performing as “headless fatties” enacting the fat shaming obesity prevention subway ads in NYC right now. Their theatrical work My Wife’s Ass is incredible and they now have a page on facebook.
And I remembered more. I didn’t look in mirrors because I didn’t want to see myself. I didn’t look at my body when I showered. I just denied its existence because it was such a site of failure. I just didn’t feel it.
It was remarkable to have a name for what I had gone through. I didn’t feel worthy of having a body because it could never be the “perfect” body and I just couldn’t get into it.
What got me out of the disembodiment is a life’s work. I found my body performing, getting on stage and creating art for audiences, moving my body and experiencing it as an empowering artistic tool. I found my body by dressing to express who I was and not who I thought I should be (androgynous lesbian realness) or trying to hide in baggy clothes. Empowering my physical appearance and expressing myself on the outside. I now find my body in lots of different ways. Walking at least 20 minutes a day is a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual exercise for me. Looking, really looking, at my body. Dancing, feeling free in the motion. Loving the parts that I still need to be gentle with. Reminding myself that part of my spiritual journey here on Earth is using this body and this vessel. Learning how to express and receive desire. Doing yoga, going to the gym, and being present during those activities. Stopping my mind and letting my body do the feeling.
I am super into talking about embodiment and disembodiment these days, making art about it and I am writing a new workshop on embodiment, and am hoping to get some of my incredible friends to share their experiences on the blog and the Lesbian Tea Basket.
Stay tuned tomorrow for a great book review about embodiment and sexuality.