I am a sea anemone. I don’t look strong. I don’t look threatening. But with a hammer, I can beat a couch to pieces gleefully. Quickly. I can wrestle a (very) large unruly dog to the floor. I can move the cast iron hospital bed that my grandfather was born in as if it were made of aluminum. The matress and box springs too. I can push my car a little ways. I can lift my husband off of the ground, even though he outweighs me by a good 40 lbs.
I don’t exercise regularly. I have always been useless at weight lifting. I’m not a fighter. I don’t think I am extraordinary. I had a shitty boyfriend once tell me he expected me to be much less muscular when we first started making out.
I perform femininity to a degree that makes most people fairly comfortable, although my stubborn unwillingness to “soften up” for approval has gotten me plenty of exhausting trouble.
I’ve always thought of myself as sort of princess butch. I can love femininity and masculinity and androgyny and it’s all my fucking smorgasbord.
Except for the violence in my body. The longing for violence which sings and hums and twists in me. Not a desire to dominate. Just to posses myself bodily. To draw an un-assailable boundary between my body and the world with my own strength of arm and shoulder. I don’t lose my temper often, and I’m more apt to express my anger through tears than explosive rage. I know the contours of that kind of rage too well to want to enact it in my own life.
But when I pick up a hammer. When I set my shoulders and move my car and feel that I could, with the unexpected suddenness of a disturbed tarantula draw a clear and painful boundary between my body as a public space and my body as my own, my castle, my possession, my experience, my vehicle, myself, not to be touched, not to be catcalled, not be despised but respected.
This is definitely a masculine thing. This rightness in defending ones body. In ones body being only ones body. Not open to random touches. Not open to public commentary. Contained, bounded.
If there is violence in womens bodies it must be sexualized. The stories of the patriarchy demand that it be acknowledged always, always, that a woman’s truest power is her sexuality, her beauty her allure– her vulnerability, she can never really be strong in the way that a lion is strong. In the way that a bison is strong. She can never have a body that is completely bounded, such that anyone who challenges that boundary is treated like the people who try to pet the elk in state parks— what the hell did they think would happen?The guy who won’t leave the other guy alone. What the hell did he think would happen?
My body, cis-woman, biologically female, performed as feminine, is unsettling if it is not actively nurturing. Nurturelessness is as violent as I am allowed to be. My body is coded as caring, it is read as softness, as a collection of openings, as an amalgam of vulnerabilities.
My anger is supposed to be cute. I am supposed to need protection. Help with the heavy lifting. Someone who can perform violence appropriately is supposed to take over the defense of my castle. Because it is not really my body. It is his. If someone visits violence upon it, this is a reasonable excuse for him to be angry, to retaliate. Because it is reasonable and appropriate for him to defend his property.
Because the violence in my body is supposed to be too small to be mentionable. Laughable. A knock kneed fawn on spun glass legs amongst the many wolves.
I am not the contemptuous stillness of a female tarantula waiting and able. I am not violently able, for ever and ever amen.
But then, what do I do with these things I have done? That when I was 18 and they told me to, I helped them put stray dogs to sleep at the vet clinic where I worked, holding them still as they thrashed and fought and struggled, ashamed and sorry but able.
That my experience of the violence in my body is not sexy, is not sexual. That my sexuality is not power in the sense that it is the entirety of my power in the world.
That the violence in my body is not distinct, can never be distinct from my cis-het-bio-performed femininity.
That the violence in my body is not unnatural. That the violence in my body can be a pleasure, distinct from, and quite different from sexual pleasure. Or athletic pleasure. It is not merely that I can move this way or lift that way, it is the implication of what I can do.
When I put up my crappy little back yard rabbit wire and steel post fence, I didn’t have a post pounder (hows that for sexualized violence?) so I simply pounded the posts into the ground with a chunk of wood, and my woman friend simply couldn’t. I can heave and carry things that some of my other women friends cannot. How do I read myself, without owning the violence in my body?
I don’t know. I remind myself that all of us, to one degree or another have some violence in our bodies, even it is in our minds. I’m working on navigating the territory between wanting safety and peace for all people, and wanting it to be socially acceptable for me to kidney punch the gropers and harassers.
I’m working on negotiating the places where I want to protect people I perceive as weaker, realizing that protection can be oppression, can be another way of dispossessing someone from their own right to exist wholly as themselves. Bounded. Unassailable. Not a collection of weaknesses.