I have a very interesting relationship with shoes.
Now, this is a little odd because I have such an interesting relationship with my feet. I have giant feet - size 12, and wide - and they have their little quirks (like the bunion I've had since I was twelve and the pinkie toenail that splits in half all the time, inevitably catching on a sock in the morning to the tune of oooooowwwwwww....funny how something so tiny can cause so much pain, isn't it?). But despite all of these foot-related complications, I love my feet. They're tough, they're dependably, they take me where I want to go. They're ticklish, despite being pretty callused on the bottom from walking around barefoot constantly. I love pampering my feet - the soaking, the scrubbing, the pumice stone, the lotions and scrubs and gels and blah blah blah....I love it.
And then I love to put those impeccably groomed feet into some cute shoes. Sandals, mary janes, boots, loafers, mules, clogs, flip-flops, whatever. You name it, I own it. I am a shoe monger and a shoe whore, and I love it. My favorite shoes, though, are high heels. I adore how they look, and how I feel when I'm wearing them.
The other day someone brought it up, that I wear high heels a lot, and she couldn't imagine doing it - they're so uncomfortable and you wind up towering over everyone...this made me wonder why I wear them, why I like them so much. Is it because I do tower over everyone, which feels like a safe place to me? Do I hide behind that seeming strength?
It's possible. Maybe walking around in shoes that make me six foot tall gives me a feeling of control and some kind of superiority...but I think there's another reason. I think wearing high heels is a symbol of reclaiming my femininity.
This is a long story, I'll warn you. And not a pretty one.
So, as some of you may know, my first sexual experience happened very young. I used to think I was five or six, but as it turns out, I was only three. The experience is among my first memories. Because I was so young when it happened, my parents took the chance that I might not remember it, and that making a big deal about it would only make it more likely I would remember and have issues with it. Because of this, I grew up remembering every detail, and believing that no one in my family but my mother, who I can remember discussing it with, knew what had happened. In some ways, I think this made it easier for me to ignore it, to pretend it hadn't happened, hadn't affected me.
I thought I was the only one carrying around the memories...and I didn't want to be a dramaqueen, to seem like I was using that one event, that one tragedy, as an excuse for not dong anything, or for having whatever problems I might have as a result. I'd seen I don't know how many people throughout my childhood and adolescence tossing it out as an excuse for having relationship trouble, for having problems in school and at work, and just about anything else. "I can't...because I was abused." I heard that phrase and variations of it so often I wanted to be sick. I felt angry at people who spoke it, I felt disdain for those who would "play the victim" when I'd never let what had happened to me stop me from anything.
But, as so often happens when we are hurting, I was lying to myself. Not only did I let what had happened stop me from doing countless things, I literally cut out huge swaths of my life. I suppressed my femininity, because I was afraid of being a woman, because I was afraid someone might want me in that way, might want to use me or hurt me as I had been used and hurt before. I became one of those women who derided "girlie-girls" and anything frilly or ruffly or feminine. Not only did I not seek out romantic relationships, but I rebuffed any advances made toward me with every dirty trick and mean word that could be spawned from intelligence, sarcasm, and utter panic. I became so fiercely independent that I didn't want or need anyone else...and while certain other factors in my life certainly played into that trait, I'm pretty sure this one event was the biggest, most present spur.
So, all those stereotypical, wonderful expressions of womanhood...I denied myself. Physical affection, sexual or otherwise, was out of the question. Expressing emotion, wanting connection, seeking comfort, none of it existed for me. If I didn't need anyone else, if I didn't touch anyone else, no one could touch me, and no one could hurt me, and I wouldn't be confused and afraid and in pain again. And so, when my contemporaries were flirting and dating and fooling around and learning the lessons of sex and love that most people learn in high school and college, I was elsewhere. My sexuality, my womanhood, was not present in my life.
I can remember male and female friends being shocked that I hadn't had sex, or even desired it, in my early twenties. They couldn't imagine sex being a negligible part of life...and that probably should've been a clue, but it wasn't. I went out with a few people, a few random dates, tried my hand at flirting a few times at parties, even let some random drunk guy at a party kiss me once...and I couldn't figure out why I would always run away, why it never worked for me. It took an actual relationship with someone who hit me on that level - someone I was strongly attracted to, someone who was attracted to me - to shake things up and make me realize that there was a problem, and not a small one.
I started having flashbacks - sometimes in the middle of a kiss, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes in random places and times. Someone would call me "little girl" and I'd be shaking and almost in tears instantly. Someone would touch my shoulder, and I'd be across the room in fight or flight mode without understanding how or why. I couldn't visit a doctor without freaking out. I went for a massage and was shaking so hard we had to stop. The flashbacks were the catalyst.
I admitted something was wrong and started reading and thinking and processing. I wrote about it a lot, and one of my writings I posted on my website at the time. First, a friend found it, and we talked about it. That helped a little. Then, my mother found it, and we talked about it. Then, someone I was developing a romantic attachment to found it, and wrote a song about it, and I thought I was going to die. But I didn't, obviously, and although we never really talked about it, it was between us. And because he already knew my deepest, darkest secret, I felt I had nothing left to hide from him. So, when opportunity knocked, I opened the door.
In case the metaphor isn't clear, that means I slept with the guy in question. It was on my terms, and for all the issues he and I faced down the road, that's a gift for which I will always be grateful to him. The experience of sex as something fun and joyful and uncomplicated and pleasurable was a surprise to me, but it was a surprise that helped me realize that a lot of the fear I've been burying my head in for so long is a defense mechanism I no longer need. Now, I'm not saying he was the miracle cure for all my sex-related issues, but I now feel like my attitudes about sex, along with my desires and willingness to express and pursue them, are fairly healthy and I am comfortable with that.
Throughout this process, I've also been slowly but surely getting back in touch with the essential feminine part of myself. I've learned to love the fact that I have a woman's body, and that it works like a woman's body. I've (mostly) stopped judging "girlie-girl" stuff and have embraced those parts of ruffly, frilly femininity that feel right to me. I've learned that it's not only okay for me to be a woman, to be desireable and desired as a woman, that it's fucking awesome. I've come to a place where I realize that being female doesn't mean weakness or strength only at the cost of connection...it means strength in vulnerability, because it is infinitely more difficult (I find) to be vulnerable than it is to be safe, regardless of perceived strength.
For all these lessons, I still have a long way to go. Last night I had an opportunity to shed this pain, to share this story, to release it in the company of people I trust and care about...but I couldn't. I couldn't step into it around all the shame and guilt and fear I'm still carrying around with me, and I feel shame and guilt and fear because I couldn't step into it. I aspire to courage, but I am such a coward sometimes....and now I know I have work to do to overcome that.
So, maybe wearing high heels is my way of embracing being a woman without being vulnerable?
I've come so far. And I have so far to go.
Loud-mouthed liberal feminist. Anarchist knitter. Tequila-drinking artsy-smartsy fat chick. Bluesy folk-rock singer-songwriter. Rebel with too many causes. Quirky eclectic pagan poet. Paradoxical intuitive smartass. Sarcastic brainiac insomniac. You know, for starters.