Tag Archives: personal

On Complicity

Abstract painting of Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp for On Complicity by Malin James

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp

TW: Rape, Assault, Public Shaming

A Quick Note: It’s important to say that my sympathy for Chrissie Hynde extends only so far as the statements she made regarding her own sexual assault. She lost me when she started making comments about women “enticing rapists” by “wearing something that says, ‘Come and fuck me.’”

Last October, Chrissie Hynde published an autobiography detailing her life as the lead singer of The Pretenders. What set Reckless apart from other rock memoirs was that it included Hynde’s account of her rape and assault by a gang of bikers at the age of twenty-one. Although her tone is matter-of-fact to the point of detachment, it’s clear that this was a violent act. And yet, in a number of follow-up interviews, Hynde repeatedly claims “full responsibility” for her assault. That’s when things got interesting.

The outcry against what was seen as Hynde’s self-imposed victim blaming was immediate and intense. Unfortunately, rather than clarify her stance by explaining that claiming complicity in her own assault did not extend to a victim’s complicity in general, Hynde doubled down. That’s where all hope of discourse got lost.

Complicity is a complicated issue. In fact, it shares its Latin root with complicated. (Isn’t that cool? <End geekery>) The problem with Hynde was that her media presence blurred the line between taking responsibility for yourself and asking for it, which is dangerous, especially when a celebrity is doing the blurring. It was a great opportunity for discussion but, unfortunately, the many, many, many ways in which people cope with trauma were lost in the coverage. That’s important because Hynde’s claim of “full responsibility” is one of them.

Coping mechanisms exist for a reason. While they’re rarely healthy in the long-term, in the short-term, they can make the difference between surviving or giving up. Acknowledging one’s complicity can be empowering, but it can also be seriously damaging. What’s even worse is that it can do both simultaneously. Because of that, it’s easy to misinterpret complicity and, even worse, to misapply it. So, let’s talk about complicity. How does it function, for good and for ill?

At it’s most basic, complicity is a way of making something that isn’t okay, okay.

Remember when you were a kid, and you wanted pie but your mom said no? You might have said something like Fine. I don’t want pie anyway. That “fine” is a form of complicity. In this case, you abdicated your desire for pie because you weren’t getting any. BUT I’ll bet your desire for pie didn’t disappear just because you denied it. That cross-section between what you say and how you feel is where complicity gets tricky. At what point does complicity override the reality of the narrative? Put another way, when do you actually stop wanting the pie, just because you said “fine”?

That’s complicity in a nutshell—everything from the moment you say “fine” to when you honestly stop wanting pie. In my experience, it can happen either in real time or in hindsight. For fun and fairness, I’ll use me as an example. Here is what complicity might look like in real time:

When I was 24, I met this man. I wanted him so much I couldn’t see straight. That’s important—I couldn’t see straight. My perception was totally warped by how much I wanted him, so every time a red flag popped up, I ignored it and told myself that it was okay (ie: Fine. I don’t want pie.).

As his demands became more demanding, I worked harder and harder to justify his behavior because I wanted his approval and I loved him (and because the sex was amazing). That’s where my complicity lies—in all the little ways that I chose to stay, even though I knew the relationship was hurting me.

Am I responsible for the fact that he was a sociopathic fuck? No. I’m not. Am I responsible for having justified myself into staying multiple times? Yes. I am responsible for that—just as I’m responsible for having finally chosen to leave.

My complicity in that relationship is linked to my conscious understanding and the choices that I made based on that understanding. Yes, he manipulated me. But I also manipulated myself, which means that, objectively speaking, I was complicit in his manipulation, albeit to a very limited degree.

It’s the opposite of how I feel about the sexual abuse I experienced when I was four. Unlike what happened when I was an adult, I am in NO WAY responsible for my abuse as a child. No understanding. No choice. No complicity. You can’t have complicity without agency—even if it’s the agency you claim after the fact. Which brings me to complicity in hindsight.

Let’s go back to the situation with my ex.

After I left the relationship, I felt horrible—guilty, weak, powerless, vulnerable–every single emotion that had triggered me for years. Needless to say, it was a very difficult time. In fact, it was so difficult that I couldn’t bear to be in my own skin. That’s when complicity in hindsight set in.

I couldn’t stand the thought of my own helplessness, so I internalized a perverse sense of control by twisting my limited, real-time complicity into a massive sense of self-recrimination. As a result, my internal rhetoric hardened. It shifted from I’m powerless to I’m an idiot; I was dumb enough to stay; I’d played with fire, what did I expect?

This kind of thinking is toxic, but it calmed the panic and cut the feedback loop. And it gave me the sense of power that I desperately needed, even if it was false; even if I was hurting myself with it. What I needed was control over the narrative and, for good or for ill, claiming total complicity did that.

It’s important to underscore something here. Accepting my limited complicity for the choices I made isn’t the same thing as flaying myself with the lie of total complicity (something I did for years). That’s important because it’s the difference between taking responsibility for your choices and abusing yourself. If the devil is in the details, that’s the devil that got missed in the discussion of Chrissie Hynde.

Complicity, like coping, is determined by the individual. If evaluated honestly, it can deepen your understanding and (possibly) help you prevent a similar trauma from happening again. If claimed without perspective, it can do a lot of harm. Complicity is, in every respect, a gray area, one in which self-blame and delusion are horribly destructive, but where clarity is an equally valuable gift. It’s a hard balance to find, and even harder to keep.

At a time when victimization and victim blaming have entered our cultural discourse, it would be good to see less emphasis on the black and white, and more focus on the gray. While it goes against the nature of sound bites and click bait, the anatomy of trauma, and of how people cope with it, require more than a quick flash of outrage before the next headline hits.

Sinful Sunday: Cunt

“An ancient title of respect for women, the word “cunt” long ago veered off this noble path.”

– From Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, by Inga Muscio

Apparent 3/4 nude of author holding the book Cunt over her cunt.

I read this book a lifetime ago when I barely knew my own anatomy. Re-reading it now, I’m struck by how deeply it affected my thinking on feminism, semantics and the female body politic.

I love the word cunt. It’s strong and forthright. It stands straight with its shoulders back. It takes your measure and meets your eye. It’s the opposite of an apology. It’s the kind of word that owns itself, and asks you to do the same.

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Sinful Sunday

Sinful Sunday: Room with a View

There are two architectural elements that fascinate me. Windows and staircases are so full of narrative (and real life) possibility, that I could literally scroll through images for hours, weaving scenarios and situations for each one, which is why I was so happy about this month’s prompt.

Windows lend themselves to the imagination and, as much as I love looking into them as I walk down the street, I also love looking out of them. I imagine who might see me and what they might think. Or who might be behind me, photographing my body surrounded by light. I imagine what might happen when the photographs are done but I’m still in the window, waiting….

Sinful Sunday picture for windows prompt inspired by Room with a View

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Sinful Sunday

Sinful Sunday: Boxing Day

I love Christmas and always have, but I also love the day after. Boxing Day is the afterglow after weeks of anticipation. It’s a chance to sit quietly and think, or write, or read one of the million books I was given (I always get a million books for Christmas, and I’m always ridiculously happy about it).
The build up and excitement of the holidays is wonderful but, just as with sex, so is lying in bed afterwards, enjoying the slow unwinding that brings in the New Year.

Author reading in red chair on Boxing Day

NB:  The book I’m reading is called Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black. I am definitely Team Unicorn.

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Sinful Sunday

Woman in Repose

Woman with arched back lying on a dark bed

Woman in Repose by Steve Harris

The past few months have been challenging. A series of difficult things destabilized what had been a very stable foundation. It was a bit like playing Jenga. Each thing that happened removed a pin from my tower, until I was leaning and listing everywhere – nowhere near falling, but structurally unsound.

As a result, it’s  fair to say that I haven’t been myself. The people in my life have had to deal with me being unusually emotional and term bound while I struggled with a limited sense of perspective. I’ve been anxious, reactionary and far more taxed (and taxing) than I ever want to be. It’s a state of mind that made me want to unzip my skin and divorce my body from my brain until I got a handle on things. And that’s essentially, what I did. The result was a general disinterest in sex and, to a greater degree, D/s.

There are labels I use for myself, and others that I don’t even though they could superficially apply. The primary example of this is “Domme”. I never refer to myself as a Domme even though I am sexually dominant. (To be honest, I’m dominant in general though I try to keep that checked. I’d rather be accessible than in control…unless there’s a reason to be in control).

I make the distinction between dominant and Domme because, while I enjoy playing with power, I can just as easily not and be very satisfied. The label “Domme” comes with implications that I feel don’t quite apply because my dominance isn’t formalized, nor do I want it to be. My recent situational reticence with D/s underscored that distinction for me in a very concrete way.

Side note: Drawing this distinction deserves its own post, so forgive the broad brush I’m using now.

While I love playing games, I’m equally happy to meet my partners without a power dynamic in play. What keeps me from being even remotely switchy is the fact that I won’t submit sexually to anyone. Ever. My aversion to sexual submission is serious enough that I couldn’t do it for love or money. There are reasons for this, but I’m going to save those for a separate post.

I’d be lying if I said that I don’t enjoy gentle cruelties or imposing my will on consenting partners. I’d be lying if I said that there isn’t a carnivorous part of me that gets off on taking control. But I’d also be lying if I said that that particular kind of assertion is an integral part of who I am. It’s something that I do, not something that I am (unlike my resistance to submission, which is a fundamental part of my personality). That’s why I love sex with an equally dominant partner just as much (and often even more) as D/s play. 

The result of dealing with what I’ve been dealing with is that I haven’t really wanted to play in a D/s sense. I haven’t wanted to control, create or weave scenarios. So much of my energy was going to keeping myself under control, that the idea of taking external control in a play context was exhausting. Unfortunately, I didn’t consciously realize any of this at the time, though I wish I had. I was pushing myself in ways that I shouldn’t have.

In hindsight, I can see that what I needed was something else – good sex, balanced dynamics and, perhaps most lowering, a sense of safety so that I could get out of my head and back into my body. I’ve been sexually reticent and, though not passive (because I’m almost never passive), I’ve definitely been more cautious and reserved – what a friend of mine would call a woman in repose.

While I was in London, Exhibit A and I went for a short run. Afterwards we talked about how, after you’ve been injured, you tend to go more carefully and not push yourself as hard. It’s an understandable thing but, at a certain point, that self-protective instinct can get in your way. Then again, sometimes it’s what you need, even if only for a short time…the hope is always that you’ll return to running at speed.

To circle back to where I started, certain facets of my sexuality and personality have been feeling fairly injured of late – facets that are tied to my relationship with sexual dominance. In a sense, I needed to rest those muscles – the ones I use in D/s – because D/s is not my home base. Sex is. I needed to get re-grounded in sex while those other parts of me rested. I needed to feel, not think or plan. I needed to be spontaneous and basic, so I didn’t go out on available limbs or explore interesting possibilities. I played it safe because, as with running after an injury, I needed to respect my boundaries and get the lay of my land again.

I didn’t realize it until I wrote this, but sex was, and is, the key to that for me. Good, connected, uninhibited, back-to-basics sex with someone I trust.  And now, on the tail end of what turned out to be a pretty difficult patch, I’m happy to say that I’m in better shape than I thought I was. The muscles that needed resting are stretching and waking up. I’m feeling like myself again, and it feels awfully good. I really am happiest on my feet.

On Virginity, or A Case For Not Throwing It Away

Image of a man and woman sitting on a fence. His hand is going up her skirt while she looks away.

A Voyage of Discovery by Jack Vettriano

I would love to say that the loss of my maidenhead* was a magical experience. I’d love to say that it set a healthy tone for the whole of my sexual career. In reality, it went more like this:

I was nineteen and deeply frustrated. I’d had boyfriends but none who would go past second base with me, (I dated a couple of Irish Catholics. Confession was a thing). I was sexually aware to the point of discomfort, but I’d never gotten close to do anything about the live wires beneath my skin. I was massively frustrated and burdened with this thing that I didn’t want anymore. So, one night I decided to get it over with.

I met the guy through an acquaintance. I knew him just enough about him to feel relatively sure that he wasn’t going to kill me and dump my body in a lake. I say “the guy” because I don’t remember his name…Jason maybe? I’m not sure. I was sober, so I assume that I must’ve blocked it out. In fact, I’m fairly certain I did – not because anything terrible happened, but because, even at the time, I knew I was making a subtle but serious mistake. It was the start of a pattern that would do me no favors. But more on that in a second. For now, let’s stay with “the guy”….

In the end, his name doesn’t matter because it wasn’t about him. It was about me and the fact that I was approaching twenty and the only virgin left in the city (not really but it felt like it). So, there we were in the back of his mom’s minivan in a mall parking lot. The foreplay was minimal and consisted mostly of my sucking his cock. After that, we moved to the back seat where I gave it up to the age old rhythm of my head whacking against his baby brother’s car seat.

I lost my virginity with less care than some people give to cutting their hair. At the time, I remember feeling a grim satisfaction, one that I now recognize as a defense mechanism. I knew even before he dropped me off (in the minivan) that I wasn’t going to see him again, even if I wanted to (I didn’t). The fact that I’d been a virgin had thrown him. I literally saw him panic the second his cock hit my hymen.

Holy shit! A virgin! They get hella clingy! Finish this and get out of there!

So, the grim satisfaction was both for a job well done (I was no longer a virgin – Ha! Take that, virginity!) but it was also because I needed to own what I’d just done. I knew that wasn’t how it could have been.  I knew it wasn’t a good start.

Now, looking back with roughly eighteen years of sexual experience to call on, I can see that I set a pattern for myself that night – one in which I disregarded the rounded whole of my needs in favor of satisfying temporary dissatisfactions. That pattern is pretty much broken now, but not without effort and a nice collection of regrets.

Should I have taken more time and given myself a positive, even loving, first time? Ideally speaking, of course. I should’ve. But the truth is that I was wired for sex and self-injury. I can’t pretend that a different decision would’ve saved me from years of mistakes. That said, if I had waited and not pushed, I might have developed a sense of myself sooner, and that would have made a difference. Who can say….

Virginity is not a magical thing, nor is it a marker of moral, spiritual or physical worth. The loss of it is, however, a pivotal event in a person’s life. Your first sexual experiences set a tone, even if only subconsciously. Would my sexual development have been different were it not for the minivan and the parking lot and the goddamn car seat? I don’t know. I honestly don’t. And that’s the thing that stays with me. I will never know.

I have wanted to write that phrase into something for ages and I missed the #EuphOff this time around.

NB: I drafted this over the weekend but wasn’t able to get it posted in time for Wicked Wednesday.  It’s still something I’m happy to have written though, so here it is – a little late, but hopefully better than never. Click this link to see all of the Wicked Wednesday posts on Virgin(ity) – there are some excellent pieces in there.

The FuckIt Post

Black and white vintage photography of a woman doing a belly flop.My brother, who is one of my favorite people ever, once said that taken separately, “fuck it” is just a couple of words, but run them together and they become a philosophy. FuckIt is not the fuck it you’ll find in Urban Dictionary. It has nothing to do with giving up or blowing something off. FuckIt is what lets you hit a dude twice your size at full speed. It wins wars and glory. It can also get you killed.

My brother is nothing if not wise, at least in the ways of FuckIt. Thanks to our dad (a veritable guru of FuckIt) it’s how we learned to engage the world. My brother was just clever enough to name it. Bastard.

Last Sunday, I posted a picture of myself sitting in a leather chair. In it, I am nude and very alert, ostensibly doing something that I love. The response to that picture was typical of the Sinful Sunday community – gracious, supportive and lovely in every way. The fact that I even considered posting it was due in large part to the warmth of the people who participate in that meme.

Though I did several versions of that image, the one that I finally posted is nearly untouched (save for cropping out half the room). It’s just me in the chair with the lighting from the window – the best I could do with my iPhone.

The fact that the image is unfiltered gave me pause as I was preparing the post. Filters are like veils and I like them – they reveal as much as they obscure. They’re a little bit like clothing in a way. Going without one for that post was oddly unsettling. It made me feel even more exposed than the nudity did. Ultimately though, I’m glad I used that one and not the filtered option. It made pressing publish a little harder to do.

That’s how FuckIt works for me. It’s the weight on the scale between action and inaction, comfort and risk. It pushes me through hesitation to the place where I truly commit.

Earlier this week, I got an email from a very good friend who was very supportive about the post. In her email, she mentioned something that made me think. She observed that while I seem comfortable with exhibitionism, she prefers to remain more guarded. As a (perhaps surprisingly) guarded person, I totally understand this, especially given that what drove me to post that image wasn’t exhibitionism (though I can see that being a motive at some point). What drove me was the impulse to push my own boundaries. I’m a FuckIt junkie. I like making myself uncomfortable so I can push myself through it.

You can see that tendency in my writing. As my boundaries have shifted, (and continue to shift) my posts have become more personal and my stories more reflective of curiosities and concerns. I can feel a boundary coming because it either turns me on, or gives me a sharp kick in the gut. That’s when I have to decide whether or not to push myself through it. And I have to admit that I love doing it – nudging up to no just before saying yes, but only if yes is the right answer. FuckIt is about action and choice. It’s the risk I choose for myself.

That’s because FuckIt only works if you weigh your odds. Dark alleys in bad neighborhoods aren’t the best place to say FuckIt, just as FuckIt! I’ll lie and have that affair! is not a responsible relationship choice. It all goes back to my brother’s point about FuckIt being equal parts glory and getting people killed.

But going back to Sunday’s post…. Though I’m selectively open on this blog, I’m actually a pretty private person. While I reveal a great deal of myself here, I do so within the boundaries I set (or push) for myself. That Sinful Sunday was a push, one I was able to do because I realized that, if you strip away everything, it’s just a picture of me in a chair. On a global scale, it’s just not that big a deal.

Coming to that conclusion made me feel calm when I hit publish. It gave me a sense of grounded satisfaction. That’s what a well-chosen FuckIt gives me – the satisfaction of bumping up against discomfort and of rolling on through it. That feels really good. In the end, it’s that satisfaction that I crave in all aspects of my life. Saying FuckIt is always a risk, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take, provided there’s a lake to land in when I jump off the cliff.

Sinful Sunday: The Classic

They say every woman needs a little black dress. This is mine. I brought it fifteen years ago when I first moved to L.A. and it’s been my go-to ever since. I’ve danced in this dress, had sex in this dress, been to the ballet, symphony and theater in this dress. This dress and I have gone to drinks, dinners, weddings, clubs, funerals, readings and even the odd breakfast (it even looks good when all you’ve got is chapstick and freshly fucked bed head).

I’ve lived a lot of life in this dress, and I hope to live quite a lot more. It’s a classic for a reason.

Black and white self portrait of Malin James in her little black dress

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Sinful Sunday

On Breaking Down

Picasso abstract nude. Image for On Being Broken - Malin James

Reclining Nude and Woman Washing Her Feet by Picasso (1944)

“We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” – Ernest Hemingway

I’ve never liked that Hemingway quote. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t like the idea of everyone being broken, or if it’s just a touch too pithy to give me a real sense of perspective. Whatever the reason, I’ve always felt a resistance to it. And yet, when it popped up as the Wicked Wednesday prompt this week, I couldn’t stop pulling it apart. Why don’t I like it? What was he saying? How are people broken and why would it be such a universal thing?

I don’t have answers to those questions. Maybe being broken is universal because we are transient, flawed creatures that are formed (and informed) by our environments.  What I mean is that we are affected. People are easily affected. And when you’re easily affected, it means you get touched, nudged, toppled, broken and rebuilt. It’s part of life.

I’ve been broken. I’ve been plenty broken. I was ragged with fault lines, all of which stemmed from a big one that I acquired early in life. The fault lines got bigger as I got older, widened by pressure I put on myself and the pressure of growing up. By the time I was in my early twenties, I was smoking too much, drinking too much and having a lot of casual sex with partners I don’t remember. Everything was a struggle, and the harder I struggled, the harder it got.

The strange thing is that I knew I was writing checks I couldn’t cash. I remember knowing that, sooner or later, the bill would come due and that when it did I was going to be screwed. I also remember, very distinctly, the grimy, helpless feeling of not being able to stop. I could feel myself breaking down, but rather than caution me, it made me go at it harder. I was inviting it. I wanted the thing that would run me off the rails. It came, but not in the form I expected.

When I was 24, I met J, the man I would eventually marry. I was already in a casual relationship, but J was different. He was very serious and he took me very seriously. Not far into dating him, I had a miscarriage. I didn’t know I was pregnant, nor did it occur to me that I might be because I was on the pill and I always used condoms. The timing of the miscarriage put the conception a month before I met J, which meant that the baby would have been my other partner’s. Without getting into details, it’s safe to say that, had I not miscarried, the situation would have been a nightmare. My other partner was lovely in many ways, but he was also a drug addict with bi-polar disorder and he wanted to have kids. Having a child with him was not an option, but he would have made terminating the pregnancy, (or giving the baby up), as difficult as humanly possible.

Given all of that, I should have been relieved when the doctor told me that I had been roughly 3 months pregnant but was not any more. I should have been relieved. But that was the thing that finally broke me. All of the fault lines caved at once and I had a proper breakdown. The depression and panic disorder that I’d been struggling with swamped me and I didn’t know what to do. I was in pieces, struggling with the compulsion to glue myself back together, but I couldn’t. The bits of a broken cup can’t sweep themselves up.

So, I went into therapy and J stayed with me. I’m not overstating it when I say that it was heroic of him. My structural integrity (emotionally speaking) had never been strong, but the breakdown dismantled it completely. As my recovery progressed, reasons that all of those cracks had developed became clear. It also became obvious that the abuse I put my body through was more than a way to escape. It was a way to punish myself.

I began to meditate, I started running, I stopped smoking, I controlled my drinking. I dusted off each piece and decided whether or not to keep it as part of my new whole. I laid aside a lot of old pieces in that process, which made room for new ones to grow in their place. In the end, if I hadn’t broken down so thoroughly, I never would have had a reason to help myself. And if I hadn’t had so much unwavering support, I don’t think I could have done it, even if I’d tried.

I had a very close call. I could easily have ended up in a dark place with a dramatically shortened life span. When I broke, it was the start of my becoming who I am and I’m grateful for it. What’s more, I know that I’m not alone in this sort of experience. You can’t get through life untouched. Some people just crack harder than others. Some people recover and some don’t.

Which is why I suspect I don’t like the Hemingway quote. It implies that everything will be all right for everyone. I applaud the idea that there is hope in being broken. I am an example for the fact that there is. But I got close enough to the edge to know that mending yourself isn’t a given. That being scarred but full of light is not a guarantee. It takes so much work, and support and LUCK, and some people never make it. Some people stay in pieces, lost the dark.

That feels important to acknowledge. That feels critical. Because you aren’t guaranteed a recovery, regardless of how  much you deserve it. People slip through the cracks. People, good people, are lost all the time. For those of us who came close to not coming out whole, the light Hemingway talks about is not a given, but a gift. It’s a gift, and I wish that everyone could feel it. Because too many people don’t.

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Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 10.36.51 AM

The Myth of One True Self

Portrait, Anais Nin

Portrait, Anais Nin

This post contains a nude image so I have the pleasure of telling you it’s  NSFW.

A few months ago, Ella Dawson wrote a post about sexual harassment. It’s an excellent piece and she makes a lot of good points, but the quote that stayed with me is this:

“It is easy to find me on Facebook, and my Twitter feed is lively and seems unpolished, even though it is heavily curated. It is easy to feel like you know me.”

I thought of that quote earlier this week as I followed a discussion on a Facebook page about masks and writing erotica. I was going to comment on the thread, but my response got longer as it went farther afield so, rather than hijack the thread, I’m writing this.

Masks are a useful metaphor, one we often use to simplify complicated things – like personalities. But there’s a trap in the metaphor. Take Batman for example. Which is Bruce Wayne’s true self? The billionaire or the masked avenger? Every modern franchise touches on that question in some way, but there is no definitive answer, because Bruce Wayne doesn’t have one true self. He has two, and he performs both with equal “trueness” depending on the situation.

The mask metaphor is seductive in its simplicity, but whether you use a mask (like a pseudonym / alternate identity) to explore your life / art more freely, or whether you feel that you find yourself in the wearing of a mask , the metaphor implies that we have one fundamentally true “self” over which less true “masks” can be laid.

It’s a really attractive idea, but it discounts two things:

1. Identities aren’t static, nor are they mutually exclusive. I became a mother when my daughter was born, but that didn’t erase my other identities (writer, wife, lover, friend, etc.), nor did it make those selves any less true. I can write frankly and graphically about sex and still be a engaged, stable parent. I perform all of my selves with equal truth (sometimes simultaneously) depending on which context I’m in. No one truth is truer than the others.

2. Identity is behavioral. It’s something we perform for ourselves and for others. We engage our identities in a lot of different ways, but they all boil down to our behavior in different contexts. As our context changes, so does our behavior. Different facets of our personalties (i.e.: different selves) engage. It’s why a lover can “bring out the best in you”, or so called “nice people” can be jerks to waiters.

We give people access to different facets, or selves, through the actions and reactions we perform. But access to one facet doesn’t equal access all, nor does it mean that the facets we’re privy to are “truer” than those we aren’t. It also doesn’t mean that the hidden facets are any more authentic than those we see.

Part of what makes masks (and the implication one true self) seductive, is that the removing of a mask creates intimacy. While a private revelation is legitimately intimate, it’s important to remember that “unmasking” is a performance too. Despite the seductive intimacy, removing a mask simply means revealing something that was previously hidden. It doesn’t mean that the revealed thing is any “truer” than the things you consciously expose.

Which takes me back to Ella’s quote and the idea of curated truths.

Every time I dissect myself in an essay, I reveal something of who I am. That’s a choice I make because the intimacy it creates is important to me. I want to connect with the reader, and the only way to do that is to open myself up. But this doesn’t mean that the truths I expose in an essay, even the raw, difficult ones, aren’t fully curated. Every single facet I reveal gets exposed to support the narrative I need to communicate.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Malin Daguerretype

This is a picture of me. I was going to use it for Sinful Sunday’s vintage prompt, but I didn’t end up posting it (I just wasn’t ready). That said, the experience of choosing and editing the image was interesting. As a writer, I wrestle with the impulse to control how I’m read, and I had the same impulse with the photo – the impulse to pin down the selves (i.e.: facets, identities, narratives, masks) it reveals.

So, to make my point about unmasking, here are some of the true selves that I considered revealing in the abandoned post.

1. Emotionally Unguarded Me: This is a test shot. I didn’t realize it was being taken, so what you’re seeing is what I often look like when I’m not paying attention – distracted, preoccupied and a little bit sad. This is me at rest. Me at rest is a little intense.

2. Overly Concerned, Serious Me: I’ve never participated in Sinful Sunday (though I want to) and I rarely post photographs of my face online. There’s a good reason for that, but it makes me sound like an asshole. When I was younger, I was dismissed in academic or professional contexts because of the way I look. I learned to downplay my appearance so people would take me seriously. Posting a nude of myself, especially in the context of my work, is uncomfortable because it goes against that grain.

3. Me With Hang-Ups: As I worked with this image, I kept trying to crop out my face or my breasts, but no matter what I did, it always looked wrong. For some reason, the fact that this picture reveals how small my breasts are bothered me more when my face was in the shot. Likewise, the relative vulnerability on my face bothered me less when my breasts weren’t visible. Apparently, one at a time was okay, but face + breasts revealed too much…. Heh, heh. Looks like the joke’s on me.

Which brings me to the self I’m revealing (in addition to the others) in this post….

4. The Me Who Says Fuck It: Because what the hell, why not. I’ve just “unmasked” myself by using the un-cropped nude and revealing my mixed feelings about this image. In doing so, I’ve revealed more than my tits and my face. I’ve given you a glimpse of my inner life. It’s an honest glimpse but, like all the other glimpses cataloged in this blog, it’s a curated one. I selected the details and framed them to illustrate the myth of the one true self and support the post’s narrative.

The unmasking I just performed revealed true things, but it did not reveal everything. There is no single, definitive me to reveal, which means that there is nothing to shield me from misinterpretation. You could take what you’ve read and say that I’m full of shit. Or pretentious as fuck. Or a small breasted basket case. Or an ego driven slut. Or, or, or… Because I can’t hand you my one true self, there will always be a gap between what the world sees, and the whole of who I am.

It’s that gap that we try to fill, through communication and curation. We all try to control our narratives, whether we’re writing a post or chatting with a friend (“I’m great! Prison isn’t so bad after all!”). We curate ourselves to reveal the facets that will help us connect, while downplaying those that may compromise us within a given context.

In the end, we all wear masks – multiple masks – that serve or reveal our various true selves. For some of us, the lines that mark our identities are thick and bold. For others, the lines are blurred. But for all off us, the truth lies deep in the aggregate, not in the threads we pull.