One morning in March, while it was still dark, I put an eight-by-eight-inch pan in the oven. Inside, it was layered: scratch-made gluten-free vegan shortbread; a mixture of freshly squeezed lemon, raspberry preserves, and fork-smashed blackberries; oat-pecan crumble on top. The fact that I bought the ingredients on a seeming whim at the grocery store the day before suggests to me that I knew somewhere in my body that something was going to work its way out soon—in flashbacks, searing stomach pains, all-day alarm. Knew that I was going to need, that next day, something beautiful and tangible and delicious that I could point to by 8 a.m., before it all started, and say: I did that.
Other measures I considered to mitigate my suffering throughout the day: Emailing a boyfriend from almost thirty years ago who married a woman with several houses in a country I’ve never visited to ask if I could move into one—extreme novelty being one of the most effective coping mechanisms I’ve found; jerking off, which sometimes successfully deflects or displaces but which that day I suspected might only pull me deeper into whatever memory I was circling—and I did, and it did, which is not necessarily bad (truth will out, after all); dying, which I know is technically suicidal ideation the moment it crosses my mind but if that’s the standard, it was possible I needed to accept that suicidal ideation is a chronic recurring condition I lived with rather than an unfortunate and treatable phase.
I had been trying to treat it. That day, in addition to baking, I meditated, did yoga, and wrote, one of my purest joys. Over the last ten years, I’ve done all that, and constant outpatient therapy, and, one time, inpatient therapy, and several times ayahuasca, and 5-meo-DMT, and flood doses of psilocybin and microdoses of psilocybin, and a flood dose of huachuma and microdoses of huachuma, and MDMA both with and without licensed therapists. I’ve seen at least three witches. For a while I frequented a eucalyptus-scented steam room. I quit drinking and smoking, and I lit candles and incense, and bought a superfun bike and an enjoyable car and placed offerings on an altar to my ancestors and dead best friend and talked to live friends and lived opposite a stunning hillside view. And I fell asleep each night whispering, out loud, the things I was grateful for, and I had good days and great fulfilling projects and overall, I did not know if I would ever enjoy being alive.
I hate to say it, as a trans person, especially one who has secured access to the best affirming medical care in the world. I hate to say it as a sex-abuse survivor because that’s how people think we are: pitiable. But it was a Wednesday, and around four o’clock I was having intrusive memories of an adult man touching my not-adult body and saying my wetness proved I wanted it, and so maybe pity is just what I need.
It is one detail.
It is just one detail.
Collectively, there are millions of details. There are nearly countless details in even just one second of rape. Someone lent me Chanel Miller’s Know My Name when it came out, but after a few tries I couldn’t read it, then gave it back because I couldn’t even look at it—at 368 pages, the weight and thickness of a memoir about one rape felt like a monument to the insurmountability of my own number, not countable on a hand, or a hundred people’s hands. Here’s another detail: his footfalls, heavy. I walk gingerly still. I keep my weight light off the floor, though I need the floor to steady, to keep clear of the trigger of this sound.
This all may sound, to some, like all the treatments and psychedelics didn’t work. If I’m being honest with myself it feels to me in hard moments, of which I have so many, like all the treatments and psychedelics didn’t work. I want to be the person in the fancy psychedelics trial who had treatment-resistant depression and then was Better. The truth is that I am Better: for a person of my intersecting identities to be alive at all, to be gay and trans and developmentally consistently traumatized and have made it to an age where I recently had to get reading glasses is a stunning, unqualified success. To be living sober was a statistical miracle. (To those who consider plant medicines “drugs” but pharmaceuticals “medicines,” get over this; it’s racist propaganda invented for oppressive governmental control.) The morning I baked and ate the raspberry crumble, I took a hit of cannabis indica, a very new and rare addition to my arsenal but that is what it takes to live and breathe in this body: a war chest.
Better just doesn’t look like I thought it would. I wanted it to be the case that I’d do enough body work and energy work and EMDR that I’d get…what? Chill? That I would calm down, in the way the patriarchy generally and my abuser in specific long instructed me to. I thought I’d become what they’ve always told me I should, that I’d become unbothered. That I’d live in a sea of misogyny and sexual violence and anti-transness and trans exploitation and trans ignorance and apathy and take it all without anger. The whole reason psychedelics are illegal is that powerful cis white men feared exactly the awareness and anger I’m in touch with now. I need a war chest because an adult man conducted his personal war on my young chest and nobody cared and legislators fight a whole host of wars on my trans body still, that being a care-worthy concern, what I am doing, have done, to myself.
Last winter, my daily cope was dipping salt-and-pepper Kettle chips in hummus made by a company called Hope. “It’s okay not to be okay,” the plastic seal under the lid said when I opened it. It doesn’t say, but I read it as: for now. For a bit. Is it okay not to “be okay” forever? Is it okay with me? To have my entire existence feel like a string of revolving and evolving coping mechanisms every day?
Intellectually, I know even Buddha said life sucked. He wasn’t, as far as I know, an incest survivor. I hit full days when I can’t do anything but watch TV. I do network chiropractic, regular chiropractic, NET. I’ve done Somatic Experiencing, the Strozzi method, Hakomi.
I wanted to get to a point where I don’t need copes. Where my bad days just don’t happen. “I’m okay with my crazy days,” my NET, or neuro emotional technique, chiropractor said the day before I made the raspberry bars; the way NET works, I was supposed to say it back, while he worked on the tension points where I hold, with musculoskeletal iron grip, the belief that it is absolutely not okay to have days where my entire body feels like it’s full of hornets, as I had twice the week before. It was a swarm of enraged it’s not right, it’s not fair, which even with the very little you know about my life you already know is absolutely true.
Does that feel good?, my dad used to ask, pressing on a particular part that on particular bodies is meant to. Even if it didn’t: it was clear there was only one acceptable answer.
Even if it didn’t. But it did.
THIS IS A thing I watched, over and over for a year and a half, not more than once a day and not every day but often enough to feel a little compulsive: a person with a vagina having this part touched until the person with the vagina came. I can only watch it if it’s real. So a lot of it was amateur, a couple in their own regular house on decidedly regular sheets or couches. Some of it was the extreme opposite of amateur, a professional male dom with a female-presenting person in a very professional level of bondage, a plethora of which is filmed in the hundred-year-old Moorish castle in the San Francisco neighborhood where I used to live, a former armory now housing the world’s largest BDSM porn producer. It helps me cope, the truth of these orgasms: it feels good to them, even though they’re trapped. Maybe even because they are. That the parts still work the same—it soothes me.