Control & Support Groups

I have been fairly pissed the past couple of weeks, because for some strange unknown reason, the manager at my club just stopped scheduling me. I’ve worked there almost two years! The first week was the week that made me most mad- it was my regular shift I signed up for, and I have a really limited availability since I work during the week. I was frustrated all week about it, and primarily because my manager just did not communicate with me about why I wasn’t scheduled. He just didn’t tell me anything about it. If it was a mistake, that’s fine- tell me. If there’s a reason, that’s fine- tell me. No communication is just immature, unprofessional, and disrespectful. And then this past weekend, I sent in my shift request late and it was for a shift that I never work, so I expected not to be scheduled. Still, when I wasn’t, I was frustrated.

But it finally gave me a kick in the pants to move beyond my comfort zone and go audition at other places. I auditioned at one new place this past week, and it was exhilarating to be in a new space with new people. I’d like to audition at a few other places and ride the energy of exploring new places. I am such a creature of routine that it usually takes me getting pretty upset or frustrated with something before I try to change it. So here’s to some change!

And I realized why it got under my skin so badly. It reminded me of my experience with school this past year, and someone else controlling how and when and where I use my body. My professor told me, in essence, I needed to choose between education and stripping. And the manager at my regular club told me, by not scheduling me, that I was not going to strip at his club. The lack of agency I felt was overwhelming. Now that I recognize that that was the underlying drive and feeling, I have been more relaxed, knowing I can find another place to dance if need be.

Similar to the constraining feelings of control- this piece on Stripper Economics was recently published by the Portland Mercury, and delves a little bit into the independent contractor versus employee issue. It’s a little flat, but decent coverage of how the work environment is in Portland clubs. It doesn’t seem like the reporter talked to many dancers, which is unfortunate.

In other sex work-related news, I am starting a sex worker support group through SWOC and my work. I am stoked about it! I have had some interesting conversations with various people about it, and I am really excited to have my first one in just over a week. If you’re in the Portland area, 18+, and currently working in the sex industry, feel free to get in touch if you’d like to attend.

This is Belle Knox’s most recent article; it’s fabulous. I love the term “whorearchy.” The sentiments she discusses are spot-on and exactly what I’ve felt the past couple years working in the industry myself. It’s also something I am wary of as I begin the support group: I want to make sure workers of all stripes feel included and respected within the group. Ideally I want the group to be a space of understanding and solidarity. Hopefully that’s what it becomes.

Life is Fun in the Sun

My life updates!

-I’m almost done with counseling for my BDD. It’s made a difference. Lots of other things have improved my symptoms the past month, too… like, having J home more, having a new fun workout to do, having some good social time, and feeling like our house projects are coming along.

-I had a lovely massage on Saturday, and then we had a fabulous time at Sesso this past weekend. And then we hosted an awesome party with like 40 people yesterday. Next time, I think I’ll opt to invite a few less people so that I connect with more people. I kind of just walked around, smiling at everyone there! Which is fun, too, but I think I probably looked a little overwhelmed or frazzled or scattered (which I was all of those things at different times). But we got to use our new fire pit and roast s’mores and eat way too many chips. And I loved introducing new friends to old friends and watching connections happen.

-My best friend and her BF and their two puppies from CA are visiting this weekend! I haven’t seen her since October! I am so excited!

-My CA girlfriend and her BF are (hopefully!) visiting the following weekend and going backpacking with us! I want some wilderness time, and having it with such open-hearted, goofy, and loving people sounds so fun.

-We have a trip planned to go visit family in a couple of weeks, and I am so looking forward to getting out of Portland for a few days.

-And, ready for this?? Our three year plan is to: MOVE TO HAWAII. There, I said it! Now y’all can hold us accountable. It’s happening.

-Tomorrow it will be 95 in Portland. Ninety-five. I’m pretty sure my kombucha is going to turn to vinegar in a day from how warm it will get in our house.

What’s new in your world?

I’m 5 Again

Going through counseling for body dysmorphic disorder is, recently, making me feel like I am 5 years old again. Perhaps because my BDD is mild-medium severe, the treatment isn’t super intensive. The “homework” I’ve done has certainly exacerbated my symptoms at times, but a lot of what my counselor has assigned me to do looks like your basic self esteem work (with some specific behavior abatement and exposure work, too).

For instance, some of my recent homework has been to:

-Make a list of things I like about myself, and put that list in the bathroom at home and on my desk at work.

IMG_20140520_145228_394-Objectively describe body parts, starting first with those that I am mostly satisfied with and working up to describing those that I am less or not at all satisfied with.

My counselor has encouraged me to recruit J into my homework (ask him what he likes about you!). I’ve been encouraged to strip more, to dance naked at Sesso more and wear less clothing– all of which are counter intuitive, but the counter intuitiveness is what exposure therapy is all about. “You’re weight matters a whole lot less than you think,” she keeps telling me. “People do not notice as much as you think.” I’m still not totally sure, but I’m trying to repeat those lines as my new mantra (it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter). Reading my positive qualities list is having a positive effect, I think: when I zone out at work, I’m at least reading positive self talk, instead of focusing on my stomach which feels too fat or what food I should or shouldn’t eat later in the day.

I’m working on my self confidence, which is something I had long dismissed as the work for a little kid- shouldn’t I have learned all of this already in life? And if I should have, I probably did, right? So I don’t need to work on it now? What I am realizing, is that self confidence takes maintenance, and needs to be built into my self care. Making clear associations between how I take care of myself and my other self care activities is important, too (feeling good that I go to counseling as a way to do personal work, feeling good doing the work that I do as a form of helping others, feeling good getting a hair cut as a way to take care of my hair, etc.). Maybe some people do just “have self confidence,” but I am finding out that I need to consciously work on feeling confident and happy with myself.

What things do you like about yourself?

Feeling Like a Fraud

This post has been brewing subconsciously and consciously for quite some time, so here goes.

I love talking about relationship diversity- it’s something I am really passionate about. I love talking with other people who are new to ethical nonmonogamy about “it all”: jealousy, cultural influences and norms, family of origin influences, compersion, boundaries and rules, communication skills, personality differences, identities, preferences, kinks, porn, feminism, and more. I could do it for hours and hours. I feel like I am supporting and contributing to an important cause, something that is changing our society for the better, and I feel proud to be part of the wave. I obviously love writing about ethically nonmonogamous/polyamorous relationships and all of their triumphs and pitfalls.

What I don’t love recently (the past six to twelve months) is another feeling that has come alongside all of the pleasant ones: that I am a fake.

I should specify: I don’t feel like an “ethical nonmonogamous fake.” J and I have had sexy fun times throughout this past year, and they’ve all been swell, as far as I can remember. Friends with benefits relationships and fuck buddy relationships are satisfying and fun and largely void of yucky emotions for me.

I feel like a “poly fake.” Though, calling myself a “poly fake” isn’t quite right, because I feel like I am capable of holding another relationship of depth and intensity and caring, and giving that relationship the time and energy and love it needs. And although not pertinent to my fakeness or not, J is obviously capable of supporting me in that.

What I question is my ability to ever be “good enough” at poly so that J can also truly experience having another relationship. I know how I felt and acted three years ago and two years ago and a year ago, and while my understanding of myself and my triggers and emotions has deepened significantly, I don’t know if I have had enough practice for getting skills under my belt to where I can actually sit with gross feelings and not bother J with them so much that he can actually function in another relationship.

I don’t know how he feels about this, truly. I don’t know if he’ll read this, and completely agree. I don’t know if he’ll read this, and remember past events differently than me.

I have said numerous times that I have made a commitment to him and to our relationship, and with that comes a commitment toward working through gross things in part so that I grow as a person and in part so that he has the relationship he wants and deserves. I come back to that commitment often, and I worry about whether it’s good enough.

Am I enough? With my shortcomings and past mistakes and past hurts? Is my striving toward independence and separation in our relationship enough?

I brought up this struggle in my women’s group recently. The response I received from most of the women there was a “levels” approach: have you taken things slowly enough? Have you asked for specific boundaries and worked up to more challenging situations? You’ll make it to the next level eventually!

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I appreciated my one dear friend’s response: maybe there are no “levels.” We’re not playing a “poly video game” in which you have to “win” each level in order to proceed. Maybe there is no hierarchy of “poly”ness. There’s just you, and your comfort levels, and your path.

I weigh those different approaches in myself, and I know that for me it’s both: I like to proceed slowly, to know that I get to have a say in how my comfort levels are tried and tested, to know that my partner(s) will respect my discomforts and work with me to grow. I also know that as of yet, I am not some expansive blossoming flower of pure flowing love, able to completely and freely give up a relationship if it needs to go away. I know myself, and I know my sticky spots; I have lots of them. I also know I am afraid of having my fears go away completely: what would that life look like and feel like?

My counselor today, after talking to me about how my body image disorder is exacerbated by being around more naked people as a result of our open relationship, asked me how I deal with anxiety when J is dating other people. And she asked me, rhetorically, if it was healthy to do something that causes me so much anxiety. Immediately I withdrew from her, because the question reeked of poly-misunderstanding and phobia. Good grief! I am here to face anxiety related to my body! How can I not use a similar approach for to my relationships?? So that was not super helpful.

I guess this post is just my continuous self-reflection: my comfort levels change slowly, and that’s okay. I’m trying to focus on relaxing, working on my self-confidence and letting go of personal insecurities, and being grateful for how life changes. I don’t need to feel like a fraud, but I guess welcoming those feelings will help me move through them.

More Speed Dating

I went to another speed dating event for queer women. I almost didn’t because of body image anxiety. I was also disappointed when I found out that a particular person of interest wouldn’t be there (the person I met there last time who I felt such a connection to), and that they aren’t making new connections right now. But I went, largely because my counselor gave me such strong encouragement to. Knowing that I would have two close friends there also propelled me to go.

I went with little to no expectations for the evening. I thought I’d leave after a couple of hours so I could get ready for my day at work and talk to J before he went to bed. I thought I would just hang out quietly and observe and leave.

Instead, while I did observe quietly, I talked a little bit more this time to new folks. It started off a little slow again, and there was a long meditation and grounding exercise which again left me feeling a little antsy (I just wanted to be in my own bubble and do my own thing and talk to those that I felt drawn to), although it did seem to set up the space in a loving and connected way. We were encouraged to pick out pieces of fabric to symbolize our situations: Colorful for curious about and open to connecting with women. Coral for ‘I have a boyfriend and am looking to play with women.’ Salmon for ‘I have a boyfriend and am looking for a girlfriend.’ Red for ‘I am looking for a woman lover/partner/beloved.’ Blue for ‘I am gender fluid.’ I took both the salmon and red and tied them around my wrist. There was a lot of salmon-colored fabric floating around the room although everything was represented.

I even did the eye-gazing activity: we were asked to sit quietly and just look into someone’s eyes for one minute and then again with a new person, for about six or seven people total. That kind of activity is incredibly difficult for me to do. I feel uncomfortable and deeply vulnerable and intimate, and that is a hard place for me to be in with people I have just met. The activity made my rawness feel even more raw, and when my good friend was talking to me afterwards I told her about my recent BDD epiphany and she hugged me and it put me over the edge. I started to cry. What is happening to me?? Why can’t I control this? But my friend just hugged me and we went into another room and she “snuggled the crap out of me” as she so lovingly put it until I felt better and ready to join the group again. I felt myself opening up from a very deep place, and I think I am starting to understand what so many of the women there have expressed- that being with and around women is a very healing experience.

Now the group was playing Jenga- we had spent the first chunk of time writing truths and dares on each side of a Jenga block. It was quite fun, and there was actually a really good variety of truths and dares (not like the last sexy Jenga I participated in, in which, unknowingly and inadvertently, a bunch of us suggested giving and receiving lap dances. It was like a lap dance party! Ha. Still super fun, but just not a lot of variety in things to do.).

What is your favorite fantasy? Where do you like to be touched? Pick someone to give you a massage. Close your eyes and let the group pick someone to give you an anonymous kiss. Hug someone for 30 seconds. Describe you first kiss. When did you know you were attracted to women? What kind of underwear are you wearing? Pick someone to spank you. Describe your best orgasm.

My first truth was something like: Describe your fullest and most empowering you.

“How do I answer that?” I wondered aloud. No one really knew. “Well, the first thing that popped into my head was the fact that I feel really strong and in the ‘flow’ when I dance. I’m a stripper in my off-time, and I just absolutely love it.” I felt totally comfortable disclosing it and felt grounded doing so. I don’t even really know what people’s reactions were to it, and I didn’t care at all.

I later gave another friend a shoulder rub while I described my first kiss.

A little later I ended up sitting next to a woman I had had my eye on. She has large beautiful eyes and a pretty smile and a loud laugh- lots of things I adore. She was also putting out a lot of “curious” energy, like she wanted to sample everyone and everything. We started to hold hands and cuddle, and later started making out.

A song by The Weeknd came on (I can’t remember which), and one of my friends immediately looks at me and says “Oh! You dance to this! That’s one of my favorite memories.” Someone turned it up and some people started dancing. It’s such a sexy song. My new friend and I made out more, and then stood up.

“Do you like peanuts? Are you allergic?”

I was confused. Is this a set-up for a joke?

“No,” I smiled. “I love peanut butter.”

Her face lit up. “What about coconut?”

“Oh! I absolutely love coconut. Everywhere, everything.”

She smiled more. “Okay, okay! Come with me.”

She led me to a couch after grabbing her purse and a spoon from the kitchen. She’s got coconut peanut butter. How adorable.

She pulled out a jar of exactly that. “This stuff is amazing. It’s from Hawaii.” She scooped a little out and fed it to me. It was the most delicious peanut butter I have ever tasted. It melted in my mouth. I fed her some and we kissed some more. She got a couple of strawberries for us and we continued kissing.

We started talking and sharing our open and queer stories and selves. She was lovely and sweet and we exchanged numbers. I don’t expect it to go anywhere, but it may. All I know is that if I had left when I planned on leaving, I would have not been able to explore the chemistry between us. I felt both exhausted and wired when I got home at 12:30am, three hours later than I thought I would be home. It took my a while to calm down and I know I will be processing the experience for a little while.

I thank my counselor and her firm encouragement, and my two friends who were so encouraging and supportive and loving and unconditionally there for me last night. I thank J for deeply knowing me and appreciating me and encouraging me to go and have fun. I thank myself, too, for putting myself out there and staying through the discomfort and anxiety.

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Delusions

“You have some pretty severe delusional thoughts.”

RWS_Tarot_12_Hanged_ManI shifted in my seat. No one has ever said that to me. Maybe, I thought. I’m pretty sure I know what I’m talking aboutThis new counselor doesn’t even know me.

Then again, having delusional thoughts is a major characterization of BDD. I’m about 90% convinced that my weight gain is super noticeable and makes me way less attractive and desirable, and that other people take notice and don’t want to socialize with me. I’ve convinced myself well over my life that having “extra weight” on my body is a pretty big deal. It is taking a lot for me to do the social events this week that I put on my calendar. But my counselor was adamant that I should do my best to socialize and be with people, and to make sure to continue dancing, in order to lessen my anxiety. It’s part of exposure therapy.

I’m still convinced that if “I just lost 5 pounds” that I’ll feel better and that “all of my problems would be solved.” That self-talk is constant. Even though I also know somewhere in my brain that even when I weigh a little less and have a slightly different shape, I am still hyper-vigilant, stressed out, and insecure about my body.

Never has my low self esteem and confidence been so apparent to me. Never have I felt as raw as I have been the past couple of weeks.

Documenting my thought processes and behaviors related to my body over the past week and a half has brought everything to the surface, revealing how extreme my body image stuff is. I’m also now more aware that this BDD thing has been my root issue for a long time, and that it just becomes worse when I experience other life stressors. The past few months have exacerbated my BDD, and I am at least grateful I have the chance now to work on it more systematically. In addition to my new counselor, I am trying acupuncture. I went last weekend, and have felt remarkably better since. I’m looking forward to my next appointment. I was impressed with the difference in how my body physically felt afterwards, and how long it has lasted.

I’ve also experienced how difficult it is to talk about it with other people. Besides my new counselor and J, I don’t feel like I have many people (if anyone) I can talk to about it. No one yet really gets it, as far as I am concerned. My best friend from high school gave me the classic “But you’re so beautiful! I just don’t get it!” talk (after I explained some more about BDD she understood a little better). I feel so stressed out thinking that there are people who will notice I’ve gained weight. I can get myself to the place of thinking that I’ve gained so little weight that no one will notice, but to think that people will notice makes me feel nuts.

“You’re a beautiful woman. I wish you had more confidence in yourself.”

I’ve never had a counselor say that to me either. I almost cried.

Word Gets Around

It is so gratifying to know that people talk to each other, and that my story of school and stripping has gotten around. I received an email from a former fellow student who heard about my story through another student and put two and two together, and wanted to make sure I was okay and offered to give me any support I needed. They and I had had only one class together, but I had disclosed my stripping experience to them and felt really supported by them. It was really nice to hear from them and to know that they found the courage to reach out to me.

And then, I met someone through the sex worker outreach coalition who is starting the exact program at the school that I just withdrew from. So of course we had to talk about it all. Since she is a former sex worker, she is also trying to decide how much disclosure she feels safe making in her new program and moving forward in her career. (No surprises: she feels pretty darn unsafe in disclosing her past work experiences)

Hearing her get fired up on my behalf, and on behalf of all workers, was gratifying and intensely pleasurable. It gave me chills.

Social network + solidarity = one happy Katie

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