When I was a girl, I came late and without my assignment to the classroom Joane Katsiff kept in woodsy Pennsylvania. Back then, I was scared to open my mouth in case sounds might come out. I couldn’t seem to say or do anything normal. Strange longings and excitements beat in my chest, and I stayed up all night walking in the dark, and putting my fingers into candle flames. I ate my lunch alone in a bathroom stall. I didn’t know what kind of disease I had, only that it was one of isolation.
It’s easier to not be embarrassed by a body if you don’t consider it your own. In the hospital, my body became a body of work. I felt no shame about being undressed, because nothing was projected onto me. My body was a scientific body. A body of fact. It was unrelated to me.
I planted dozens of manuka (where that expensive honey comes from), kanuka, harakeke (flax) among other species as it rained ensuring I became a sufficiently muddy eco warrior woman that apparently pampers each tree too much. The earth is heavy and as I plant manuka in the rain I think about how it’s simple acts that have profound effects. This simple repetitive act is the slow regeneration of what has been lost through one of the world’s most pressing issues: deforestation.
But even following the June 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, I have encountered some pernicious examples of homophobia that shake my faith in progress, or at the very least, validate my fears of a conservative backlash following nationwide marriage equality.
Which leaves me with this question: where is the line between helping your child be a socially competent citizen who can have a tooth filled or a vaccination without a struggle and teaching your child (your girl) directly, or through example, that her pain is less important than her ability to withstand it? The answer is not in the way that I was taught to experience pain.
These beasties became a way to talk about the terror of growing up, and most of them also became symbols of female empowerment. A woman to be simultaneously terrified for and of. Victim and monster.
“She didn’t realize how difficult it would be to describe a ghost over the telephone”
This essay was a chance for us, individually and collectively, to speak back to some of those expectations and mandates placed on women.