TW: ableism, disordered eating, rape survival, harassment, BDSM dynamics
So Saturday was not a good day for me. You already knew that. I already knew that. I should have stayed home, perhaps, but (also, as you know) concerts are the goals that keep me from straying to other paths, and I was needed there. That’s right. At least, I thought so.
So, last November I started voice lessons. I arranged them entirely on my own, and it was a thing that was mine. Nobody else had a say in it, nobody else knew about it, it was my thing. I had some silly idea that I would go in, sing, come home, and that would be that.
In my second week, the owner made me listen to a Youtube video of my teacher’s band. It’s not that I was unfamiliar with them, but the way they were presented to me then was that it was expected I would be both interested and that I would enjoy it. (I don’t, actually, but that’s a technical rant which doesn’t really belong at this point of this post). I dutifully went and purchased their EPs, only to be told off a few weeks later. Apparently, I should have just asked and gotten them for free, which is the only time ever a musician has decided to tell me not to pay for their music. (Weird, huh?)
Accidentally, I ended up at their next show – I’d bought my ticket before they were announced, because having a concert meant my parents would go home so that I wouldn’t be getting in at 1am and waking them up. (I’m devious like that, sometimes). In the next lesson, my teacher thanked me for going and told me how much it meant to everyone. Then he asked me if I was going to their next one.
This turned into a thing. I’ve been to all their shows since, and apparently I’m the only person who’s done so. It’s at the point where, last week, at the end of class, he asked me straight out if I had a ticket because he had a few spare if I still needed it, and he said he would see me there. Thus, I was expected. Needed, because he has social anxiety, and I have been getting the impression that having me there helps.
That’s not all. I took in a batch of muffins as a Christmas gift, and then leftover cake from a birthday, and now he has his own container and if I make something, he gets a third. The container comes back washed. He thanks me, because otherwise he wouldn’t have eaten that day. I’m needed; I take care of him.
A few times, because pretty much every male-identified person I ever meet does this at some point, he’s been open with me about personal problems. These are things that are not entirely, shall we say, public knowledge. He trusts me with these things. He wants me to know these things.
A few times, and lately, every week, he tells me how sad he would be if I left. He tells me he looks forward to my lesson. It’s the highlight of his week. No matter how down he is, seeing me makes him instantly happy.
Clearly, this is not a student/teacher relationship. There are no boundaries, except that he asks before he touches me, and I don’t ask him about personal things. (That is because I am terrible at reading physical cues, and the one time I asked him flat out what was wrong, because he looked like he’d spent three hours crying and hadn’t showered in a week, he said he’d just been busy. If I don’t ask, he talks more, apparently.) I only share with him what he needs to know, on my end, because unlike me, he doesn’t have a sense of confidentiality.
I know this because I was waiting in line at a concert, and some dude was harassing me. I tend to ignore that sort of harassment, because that’s the easiest way to shut it down – it’s the kind where a guy thinks he can just keep talking and eventually, the object of his intended affections will give in just to shut him up. Instead, someone else told him to shut up, then explained my medical condition, finishing with “she wants to talk to you but she can’t”, leading me to be harassed by this guy until I ended up leaving early, because he decided that I wanted to deal with him, just couldn’t express it, and it was his duty to look after me. Or something. When I got home, there was a Facebook friend request from the mansplainer and a message. “Don’t worry, he only told me because we’re friends outside of class, and he finds you interesting.” … I doubt that extended to him being able to recognise me, nor him being able to find me on Facebook.
I also know this because one time I knew he would ask me what I thought of a new album, so I wrote a review rather than try to find the words on the spot. He took it home and shared it with his housemates. In the review, I confessed to how some aspects of the storyline and lyrics made me uncomfortable, due to having being raped and that particular song being somewhat triggery.
So there’s that, too.
I didn’t tell anyone I’d started classes for a month – not even my psychiatrist. When I told him, he was happy, and eased up on the pressure to get me into a speech pathologist (the one I was referred to was not behaving very well at the time anyway, so it was partly just giving up, I think – any speech pathologist who gets a client’s email from somewhere not the client or the referral and harasses them for days about not being able to talk because it makes scheduling appointments too hard probably should take a minute to think about their clientele). But now, every appointment, he wants to know how “the singing” is going. There’s an unspoken pressure – why can’t you talk yet? – in these questions. Apparently, I’m meant to just flick a switch and be able to go from singing to talking, by speaking on note. He was very glad, however, that out of everything, there was someone who I felt safe with, amid all the doctors being rude (pulling my hair, performing surgery without permission, lying to me, ignoring me, you know, how doctors are with chronic pain patients) and what I have to put up with from my family. But there is also another kind of pressure – if I quit, then I am doing nothing to reclaim my voice (a thing which he thinks is important and I do not – he also likes to think that “work took [my] voice away” as if this hasn’t been happening since I was eight) and he will force me into speech therapy.
I didn’t tell my parents until they came to visit and I had to find a way to be out of the house. I tried to handle it simply – I told my mum, alone, and asked her not to make a big deal of it. Within days, my dad wanted to be involved and dictate what I learned and how classes were conducted. I burst into tears and walked out. Mum yelled at him, so he hasn’t tried it since. After running very late a few times, I said I would not be Skyping with them on the same day as class. Except, I remember one time, my brother hadn’t emailed for three days, and my mum was two days into a panic attack, and so that turned into letting them know I got home out of the storm, and that turned into being on Skype after class, meaning I didn’t get my recovery time. I’m working on it. But. One of the reasons I had to quit dance was that I was expected home within half an hour, and every week, my mum expected me to tell her how class went, what we did, and it became an obligation. It wasn’t a space of my own. My mum started calling the school, leaving messages for me. And that was the least of my worries there, if you can believe that.
With shows, I just say I am expected. My dad doesn’t get it; he thinks it’s an excuse for them to get more money from me. My mum does get it – in society, in order to make things easier on ourselves, we participate in social things we do not want to in order to maintain social links. It is a nice thing to do. It is the socially expected thing to do – no matter what the personal cost.
There have been a few incidents at the school. The owner, acting as receptionist, thought it was helpful to make me talk before class. If I ignored him, he got other students to harass me until I acknowledged him, including letting them hit me. If I said I needed to just sit and meditate, he would go on about how he would turn the music down and get out of my way and why did I need to do that, instead of letting me just sit down, put my headphones back on, and knit. If I knit, I have to say what I’m making, and explain why I’m not making money from it. If I don’t knit, I scratch through my hand. I missed class because of the flat tyre incident, and I went in the next week with two weeks’ fees, and there was a new receptionist, who told me that the owner was taking a break and I only needed to pay the one week. The next week, she stopped me leaving and asked me to pay, but my teacher told me not to because it was an accident, and he had been told I wouldn’t be charged. The week after, I got home to find the owner had messaged me on Facebook (we’re not friends) asking me to pay. I blocked him, paid, and mentioned that it made me uncomfortable. My teacher laughed, and said he hated Facebook too, and how it makes people have to be available all the time. I told him I was afraid to miss class again, in case the owner came to my house. “He probably would, actually.” Well, that’s not very helpful, is it? So now if I wake up on Tuesday, or I don’t sleep at all, or I have a bad migraine or a cold, I tell myself I have to go, because I’m paying anyway, and I don’t want the owner to find another way to harass me.
Given that I essentially fired my neurologist over his insistence on scheduling appointments on Tuesday afternoon, a fact which he will not negotiate and I can’t budge on, because missing a week would open me up to harassment (which I would be paying for, despite paying a deposit to cover emergency absences), and which my psychiatrist supports in not budging on, that’s a pretty big thing.
So there’s a new receptionist, right? She is also a vocal teacher, and she hangs out in the lobby with one of her students, and they talk, loudly. I am very good at hearing things I am not meant to when people assume that not speaking means I am Deaf.
The week before the incident, my teacher asked me to sing in the school’s yearly showcase. I agreed, and spent the week picking songs to go through with him, with notes about how I could adapt them for a solo performance. I am primarily a dancer, then an organist, then a singer, so it would have been easy to combine those to create a solo performance. I have all the equipment I would need for that.
The week after the incident, the new receptionist told her student, also a solo performer, that she couldn’t be in the show, because it was for bands only and the cut off was the week before. I expected, as I had already indicated that I was interested, that that wouldn’t affect me, but it did. The next I heard about the show was seeing rehearsal pictures on Facebook. One of my friends commented on the post, asking why I wasn’t included in the gallery – the owner ‘liked’ the comment. That was it.
I admit to being devastated. I haven’t shown it to anyone at the school, of course, though I have discussed it on Facebook, vaguely. When my teacher raised it with me, he expressed worry that I couldn’t handle it, because they do things differently. I have performed on stage at a 2,000-seat theatre, in a show of 400 people, with my condition. It was hard, because the other people in my sets harassed me about needing a proper corset instead of a fashion corset (they couldn’t breathe in their badly tied acrylic-boned corsets, so of course, wearing a steel-boned movement corset for 14 hours must be bad, right? Wrong. If not for corsets I couldn’t leave the house, because I can’t stand properly, carry anything, or walk more than two metres without one). They excluded me from rehearsals because not being able to talk was apparently me being rude, and they were generally shit people, of the yelling at me for having a panic attack variety. In a solo performance, that wouldn’t be an issue. I can arrange things around the show date to have requisite rest and recovery, and there is nothing (nothing!) more intensive than two performances in a day. A piddly little one song in a student showcase? I can do that. That choice was taken from me, though, and I don’t know why. I haven’t asked, because I don’t want to hear that they decided for me that I couldn’t – that would be discrimination, much more solid than what I’ve been through there, and I wouldn’t not be able to take action.
Of course, all this was compounded when tickets went on sale. The very first day they were available, I went to class, and the owner was there. I paid, was halfway to sitting down, and he held out a ticket to me. “Buy a ticket for our show!” he said.
I didn’t feel I could get out of it. I ended up using my emergency cash from my lyric folder to buy it, considering it an investment in not being harassed. That was the first time I found out for sure when the show was.
Funnily enough, in the midst of all this, I auditioned for and was cast in a dance production. They explicitly asked for diverse applicants, and I was up front about my limitations, and they cast me. It’s at the limit of what I can do, and I am very excited. (We will not talk about the other audition I attended, where the choreographer assaulted me and they took me out of the cast when I spoke up.) But I have a rigorous audition schedule, for which I had to give my availability months in advance, and naturally, I have ended up with rehearsal the day after the show. If I was in the show, or knew the day (for sure – I don’t count seeing the promotional materials in mock-up by accident as actual notification), I could have said I wasn’t available that day, but I didn’t know, so… I’m not going, no matter how many people invite me on Facebook. If I have to give an excuse, I intend to just say “I have to prioritise the show I am in”, and by the time I have to do that, I will have practiced it in my head enough that it might even come out.
See, after going to a show, I need a few days to recover. On Sunday, I could barely walk. I spent most of the day in bed, and even so, I managed to spill a drink I wasn’t even holding. My back is still sore, because while I did my best with the corset and I spent the last hour lying down on the floor, the fact that the IUD incident changed my body shape means that the corsets I have don’t fit as well, and offer me less support.
And that’s without the incidents which occurred at the show. The floor was dirty and slippery, so naturally, I sprained my ankle. I know from experience there’s no point trying to get treatment for it at a venue like that, so I just left my boot on, took the weight off, and hoped I caught it before it got worse. Currently, it’s bruised but not swollen, because I put ice gel on it when I got home and it’s been in a pressure bandage since. I am used to my ankles doing weird things – a ligament tear in high school healed badly, and one ankle won’t actually straighten, so I have my exercises and arnica gel, and I deal. Like most things, I deal.
What I do not deal with is being harassed about it. I’m sure that this is going to sound perfectly minor to everyone, but. The show ended at 12:04. I know this, because when they said it was the last song, I tried to sit up and I couldn’t. This kind of paralysis passes, but I need to be careful, because it comes with clumsiness. By the time the song ended (remember this is not just metal, it is prog metal – minimum song length, 6:30), I had worked to sitting up. I was taking notes on my phone for a review (potentially, anyway), so I put that away (how I know the time!) and I got out my “May I please have a Coke?” note, put my purse in my pocket, made my keys easily accessible for the short limp back to the car (safety first, and a knife is much more conspicuous). This all took about a minute. A security man came and stood about ten centimetres from me and made a big sweeping ‘after you’ gesture. I couldn’t see his face, and by this time I had no comprehension of words, but I didn’t hear him talking.
I will not let you rush me, I thought. I put my knitting in my bag. I had taken an inside jacket, in case it was too hot for my rain jacket, but with him standing over me, I didn’t feel safe taking it off. He was very close. He leaned down and started waving his hand in my face. I still couldn’t see his face, or make out any words. I closed my eyes, and prayed for him to go away.
He went away. I used the wall to push myself up, and by that time, the blinds between the performance area and the bar area were almost down – instead of leaning on the wall to get out, I had to cross the floor, my knee buckling and my ankle twisting with each step. Then, I had to dodge people to get out the door. I saw my teacher at the merch table, he saw me, and I decided to go outside. I was afraid that if I didn’t leave, I would be in trouble. I had run out of the drink I had sneaked in, and I really needed one so I could have my meds, but I wasn’t even game enough to take my note to the bar and ask. Instead, I got outside, flopped onto the stairs, in the same spot I’d been for two hours before the show, and started to cry.
The time was 12:09. It was roughly six minutes after the show had ended. There are signs on the door: ‘no re-entry after 3am’.
My teacher came out a few minutes later. I wasn’t consciously waiting for him, but I had to decided to wait until he left to leave. He stopped in front of me, looked at me, and in a voice that sounded far away, said “I’ll talk to you on Tuesday?”
I nodded, and he went off to his friends. I sat for a bit longer, but I left after someone started patting my shoulder. I don’t know why – they were behind me. But it wasn’t safe to stay. I went to go the normal way to the car, around the back of the building and under the overpass to the pedestrian crossing, but my teacher was there, smoking and watching me. I didn’t want to go near them; I felt like I would interfere, somehow, so I went the other way. My tax return had come in that morning, and I had promised myself chips, so I drove up to an all-night fish and chip shop, where they know me because my brother used to live near there, and they make sure my food is safe. I had my treat, and I had food that I didn’t have to cook, for the first time in weeks. But, I was alone, and I’d dragged myself to the show, put myself through that, because I’d felt like I was expected, needed there.
It hurt, that I was crying and he didn’t even ask if I was okay.
I saw my psychiatrist last Monday. He is very insistent about me seeing a pain specialist. I am very insistent about not seeing a particular pain specialist, specifically, the one recommended by the gynaecologist who told me physio would cure my brain and that the IUD would fix all my problems because she had one. He has been talking about referring me for a year, and I honestly thought he’d sent off a referral last September, so I don’t know what’s going on. But I need a break from having to be at places and expected to do things and having nothing of my own. When I told him that, he asked what I would do if I had it. I told him I couldn’t have it – I had class, and my parents were coming to visit.
He asked what class.
I told him it was singing.
He hadn’t realised I was talking about vocal class, because apparently I’m normally excited and enthusiastic about it, and last week I wasn’t, and not just because I was flat and dissociated.
“Why haven’t you quit?” he said.
“Because it would make my teacher sad,” I typed. Until then it hadn’t occurred to me that I even could quit. The last time I was in a situation where I was so unhappy it was hurting me, everyone told me it was my fault anyway (dance), and that I should think of the money and just deal with it because I wouldn’t get another job and because it was just women’s problems and I was just being too sensitive (old work, and that is barely scratching the surface). I missed a lesson and I was harassed about it on Facebook. The next lesson, my teacher told me he missed me so much and it was the longest he’d gone without seeing me and it was hard.
“What changed?” my psychiatrist asked.
There was a specific incident – I can’t remember if I talked about it here, so I’mma go over it in case I haven’t. A few weeks ago, my teacher let me into the classroom early so I could sit in private (he’s good about letting me have space, unlike everyone else), while he had a break. The new receptionist ran in and started gushing about my hair.
“How long is it? It must be so long and nice for you to have a ponytail like that. I want hair like that but my hair won’t grow like that. How long have you been growing it? I know what we have to do. We have to get drunk so I can play with your hair.” And she ran back out.
I told my teacher when he came back. “Oh, that’s just her. She’s like that,” he said.
I keep going over it in my head. Until then, nobody else had come into the room with me in there – one of the other teachers occasionally needs to borrow a guitar, but he knocks, and my teacher hands it to him at the door. Basically, she said she wants to put me in a position where my ability to consent is compromised so that she can touch me in a way she clearly knows I wouldn’t allow if I was in a position to withhold consent. Basically, my teacher said that’s okay. My teacher knows I do not like being touched, because he has prevented people touching me in the past. He knows I have been raped and that I have issues with boundaries and consent.
But until my psychiatrist asked me, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could quit. There are consequences for me if I quit – harassment over fees, speech therapy, my parents (and my mum still goes on about whether I’m sure I wanted to quit dance and then does it up as ‘just making sure you’re sure!’ um, no. I quit and then you paid for lessons and made me go. I definitely want to quit, thank you).
I’ve been conditioned not to quit, because when things are harming me I am repeatedly told it is my fault and that I should just deal with it.
The entire point of writing things out in here is to expressly put the fault back where it belongs – with the people who cause these external things that affect me.
But here, there is an internal pattern as well, and it’s much more disturbing to me, and it’s something that doesn’t come under the range of things my psychiatrist is equipped to deal with, or that I can safely raise with my conservative Catholic parents, who still don’t believe that I am not a girl and neither is my brother (another issue entirely, that one).
Back when I had both time and spoons, I had a string of one-to-two month long relationships. They always ended badly, either with obsession on their part, discomfort on their part, inability to reach compromise about preferences, or just petering out because I don’t enjoy or desire sex. Or I actively cut them off because they only wanted sex. There was a pattern within these – there was always one around March/April, always one around October. For a few weeks, I would eat better, and then start binging, because comfort food is a thing after the way I was raised. Everything else would come second, even if I didn’t want it to. My mum would be telling me off, because she never likes anyone I’m involved with, and her voice would be in my head (another reason to keep her well away from things now). “I don’t like him, he seems like dinner and dessert between the sheets.” “I don’t like him, he sounds mean.” “You shouldn’t offer to cook for him, he’ll want it all the time.” Inevitably, the main reason I would choose to end things, if they got to that point, would be to shut her up, because being financially dependent on my parents means I can’t afford to alienate them. That’s not the pattern, that’s just a thing that happened independent of the pattern, that I was not equipped to deal with because of the pattern. I identify strongly as a submissive (which is possible while being asexual, and anyone who tells you otherwise is talking shit and should be re-educated), and in a relationship that manifests as putting their needs before mine. I tolerate vanilla sexual interaction because it is the only way they accept physical intimacy. I cook to make sure they eat and because it’s a way I can express affection non-sexually. I rearrange things to make myself available, because often it’s weird times. Weird food, too – it took years to wean myself of McDonalds after having a date there. I have to be a counsellor, a receptacle for everything they can’t share with anyone else, because while that tends to happen with everyone around me at some point, in relationships it is much more intense – I have had to talk someone through trauma from child abuse, help someone get through a depressive bipolar episode after he punched a hole in my house and sliced my collarbone open (then of course I had to lie about the scars). I helped one of the men who raped me through an insurance claim so that he would leave me alone. It stops being about me, and everything revolves around what I can give.
It’s been so long (the last one fizzled because of the work situation, and because he wouldn’t negotiate pain play) that I didn’t even notice it happening. I took cake in, because I made a cake so that I would have food to eat after surgery without having to cook, and it was too much for me to eat it al. He liked it, so he got some of my mum’s birthday cake and some of my brother’s birthday cake and some of my dad’s birthday cake, and half the banana loaf from when I was anxiety baking…
He likes it when I dress up a certain way, and because to get out of the house and go into the mall, where so many bad things have happened to me, I have to dress up anyway, it’s no trouble to just emphasise certain things. It’s not like I plan outfits weeks in advance and match them to the songs we’re doing… oh wait, I do. He always comments on my clothes, even knowing that it causes flashbacks for me, and I keep hoping he won’t, but I dress up for him anyway.
He likes it when I pick songs in a theme. I did it once and now I spend hours on it every week, picking songs, arranging them in a sensible order, learning the words and practicing them so that the words come out. Because he likes it. He looks forward to it.
It’s been pretty obvious since the first lesson, where he talked at me about what I wanted from lessons and finally he just asked me to sing something and I broke down and belted out Skybird, that there wasn’t actually anything I could learn from him. Apparently, my technique is perfect, even though sometimes I can’t even make sounds and I don’t have enough spoons to practice because all my energy, all my talking spoons, go into one half an hour a week. For him. Everyone agrees it’s because my brain doesn’t have anything else to do, so everything is focused on making perfect pitch and musicality. “Are you interested in learning to scream?” he said. The next week, I took in a song, and I screamed, and he jumped, and he stopped asking if I wanted to learn, because that was perfect too.
There exist professional singers who still have lessons after ten, twenty years of performing; I don’t know if they go to classes just to be told “you’re perfect”. Probably not. But, he said if I switched to another teacher, he would be said. “Cut” he said, making me think of how it would feel if he cut me, and I said I wouldn’t ever do that.
It would hurt you too much.
It would hurt me too much.
Somehow, in all of this, I’ve ended up submissive to someone who doesn’t want a relationship, apparently doesn’t know how to react if he sees me crying, is too busy to see me outside class despite professing that he wants to, and can’t even follow through on a promise to message me with a song he wanted me to learn. From what I’ve been able to glean, his only relationship was with another man, so chances are he’s not interested in an afab genderfluid ace personthing.
The safest way for me, to look after myself, is to quit. Stop going to his shows, stop going to class, let them keep the deposit in exchange for not harassing me, take him and his friends off Facebook, and move on. I will probably be forced into speech therapy, because class is the only reason the psychiatrist stopped pushing it, and apparently this is the one thing that “conversion disorder patients tend to know what they need and it’s best just to let it heal on its own” doesn’t apply to. I would be happy not talking. Talking is overrated. Talking is hard. Talking takes so much energy it prevents me from doing other things. I don’t need classes on how to talk again. I feel like everyone’s obsessed with talking over the other things going on, like how I have had a migraine for six weeks and I can’t sleep longer than it takes for the pain meds to wear off.
But I’m submissive to him, so I can’t hurt him, and if I left it would hurt him, to the point where he would hurt himself.
I don’t know what to do with that. I feel like right now my entire life revolves around class, because I have to ration my energy just so to be able to perform in there, and I know that means he doesn’t see how bad things really are, or how much being there hurts me. It would be good for me to be rid of it, but I can’t hurt him.
Someone might say, well, if he knew it was hurting me, he would understand. Except he saw me hurting, and went off to smoke with his friends, and they went to a diner after. Either he thinks I can take care of myself and he doesn’t need to ask (but he decided not to put me in the show because he thought I couldn’t handle it), or he doesn’t care (but he asks every week how I am and if there’s anything I want to talk about) , or he didn’t notice (or didnt know what to do when he noticed, and he meant he’ll ask me on Tuesday where his mother isn’t there and his friends aren’t watching).
I don’t know what to do. My brain is blank. I’ve typed all this out and it’s still blank.
I don’t know what to do.
But I can’t hurt him.
Apparently, the thought of hurting him is the only thing that isn’t extreme physical pain that makes me cry.
But I still don’t know what to do.