Bevin's Blog I'm blogging the relentless pursuit of my joy

2012-03-05

Get Me Embodied: Bevin’s Story of Disembodiment

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.

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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.

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Afrotitty at JFREJ Purim.

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.

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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.

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Playing mamarazzi with Damien and JPG at Purim. I love that I have the opportunity to talk about this kind of stuff at the kitchen table.

2011-09-28

Book Recommendation: Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels

“I think the reason I trusted her was simply because I thought she was beautiful. I was too young and stupid to realize that being pretty did not make you anything more than pretty.”–Justin Vivian Bond, Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels

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I have an addition to the Femme Book Club List! The ultra Femme-friendly title
Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels
by Femme icon Justin Vivian Bond.

I love a book that easily fits into my purse. I often find Femme-friendly titles in form and content from the Feminist Press. V’s autobiography is short–136 pages. I read it in little spurts during 10 minute subway rides hither an yon and found it delightful, but fast readers could easily devour it in one sitting.*

V wrote the book with the intention of keeping it short. “I made the book brief and the language simple so that harried mothers and nervous children could read it in a hurry and pass it on.”

The story is great, highlights of a transgender childhood full of gender policing and sex shaming by adults really concerned about their children fitting in, homophobic lovers, finding outlets in music and close friendships with girls.

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Photo by Amos Mac. I found myself hearing V’s glamorous throaty voice cooing the words while I read them. I actually sometimes unconsciously use that voice when I’m trying to make a very dramatic and important point.

V also addresses mental illness in friends, which is something I think most teenagers experience but rarely talk about. It is really weird and scary when your friends disappear from school or are institutionalized for their mental illnesses, and there is such stigma and so many false stereotypes attached to it. As their friend all you want to do is love them and help them feel okay, and at that point adults seem fairly useless.

We see some awesome Femme moments and quotes. “[T]here is a big difference between acting like a woman and feeling like one.” [p. 125] (My shaky hand put a big star next to this on the subway when I read it.)

I think most folks who grew up as misfits will relate to Vivian’s developing a quick wit and ability to make people laugh in order for them not to target V.

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Snapshot of mine from the Feminist Press party in May. Nath-Ann, Justin Vivian Bond and I forget the name of the other cute companion in the DJ booth.

Vivian doesn’t scrimp on sexuality, we are privy to a lot of physical exploration, which I think is really important reading for folks planning to or hoping to parent teenagers. I think anyone who had the experience of growing up an outsider will enjoy this book and any and all parents should have this as required reading whether they are ready to admit their kid is a weirdo or not.**

So, buy this book from the Feminist Press website for only $10.17! Or from your local bookseller! Make them order lots of copies!

Also, while you’re reading the book listen to Justin Vivian Bond’s new release “Dendrophile.” It’s only $9.99 for an MP3 download. Two great tastes that taste great together!

*Slow readers represent!
**Sometimes I wonder if/when I become a parent what will happen if my kid is a normal.

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