This piece contains discussions of sexual violence, emotional abuse and a (violent) representation of the psychological processes experienced by someone suffering from PTSD as a result of sexual and relational experiences. The piece is designed to communicate and investigate one woman’s subjective experience of dealing with these things and as such may be difficult for some people to watch and read, and may trigger traumatic memories.
The nature of this piece, both the video art piece and the essay are that they are deeply personal. While I hope that people of all genders, backgrounds and personal histories might empathise with the experiences described in this piece, it is not designed to represent anyone’s experiences other than my own.
This piece describes the artists physiological processes around sexual arousal while suffering from PTSD.
Sound design by Indira Force.
I am the female eunuch
Because I crave to be
I want to destroy
My own sexuality
Because it is
and I cannot separate what is real from what is made up anymore
I am in the place that I have been heading all my life. It is dark, I am afraid and isolated and somewhere deep inside myself I feel, have always felt, that this is exactly what I deserve. Being here is evidence of my own weakness, evidence that I am not strong enough to live in this world. This is how I engage with people sexually and it has subsumed my sexual identity.
For a few years now my identity has been hot-cis-white-girl. Doing an excellent job at a Lana Del-Rey impersonation: Also desperately seeking my own destruction and, in a sense, finding it.
I am wrecked, broken and totally dysfunctional. Words echo around the inside of my head, taunting me. They say: what happened was not even that bad; you should not be suffering so much. You are too weak to live in this world.
I have become the female eunuch.
I sublimate, I masturbate, I turn the other cheek on my own desires. These desires now permeate my being with fear – fear of myself and fear for myself. My friends will not understand or accept me if I am sexual; I have evidence of this now. My lovers will abandon me, curse my name and become cruel; I have evidence of this now. I will be hurt for being too sexual, and treated as if it is my own fault; I have evidence of this now. These were once latent fears that hid in the fabric of patriarchal society and rape culture. My fears once were just the over inflated paranoia of a too-serious feminist, that people around me found ridiculous. Now they are real, and yet seemingly no less ridiculous to those around me.
I see now, am starting to see now, how I have always been heading in this direction. How the fragility that permeates my identity has been built into me by the world that I live in.
Even in childhood I remember how rape culture influenced the development of my sexuality. Cartoon images of damsels in distress and sexualized playground bullying. The cartoon damsels were beautiful bound and writhing, a perfect image of femininity in that moment. The bullying from the age of 5 told me that I was a slut, a whore and that I should hate myself for it.
From an early age, my sexual development followed logically on from the images of female sexuality that I found in the media. At the young age which I began to develop sexual feelings, to experience sexual thoughts, I knew that I was too young, that it was wrong for me to have these thoughts and feelings.
I navigated this by building fantasy’s around surrender, situations that were out of my control. I did not fully understand it at the time, but my early sexuality developed around fantasy’s of control and domination. Even violence.
So my earliest masturbatory fantasies were rape fantasies. This was also a result of the fact that I knew that I was doing something wrong. That as a girl – particularly as a young girl – I was not supposed to be sexual. But if I imagined a situation where I was not consenting that was ok. I was sexualized against my will and therefore I felt I was not transgressing any social barriers.
The Madonna / whore dichotomy means that the only way that a woman can remain respectable and be sexual at the same time is through rape – through sex without full consent. I would argue that the same dichotomy is largely responsible for the fact that so much of the sex that we see, in really any form of media, is violent and non-consensual. Men as well as women, (not all, but both) want this ideal of sex – the Madonna and the whore all at once, and really the only way to achieve this is by force. Thus the Madonna / Whore dichotomy creates a fantasized ideal of sex as non-consensual, or as rape.
I was a slut in high school, a mantel that I wore proudly, defying, rebelling, daring others to buy into the sexist double standards. To shun me. This helped me to find friends that did not condone slut shaming, and allowed me to build myself up into believing that I was impervious to the prejudice of society against women’s sexuality.
I have always enjoyed sex with an Sado-Masachistic dynamic to it, and have harbored a deep desire for consensual / non consensual. I have long held a fascination to know what it would be like to play out a full rape fantasy. But I have always struggled to communicate these desires to my partners. This has lead to some difficult dynamics. In one relationship these desires leaked into our relationship around the edges, resulting in a lot of fun exploration, but also in one (accidental) for-real non-consensual sexual experience, and my first experience with PTSD. Other relationships have been vanilla, and sexually frustrating.
But then I fell in love with a man who loved to push boundaries. No longer play, no longer pretend but for-real domination and control. It was completely intoxicating and I lost myself in it. I continued, through his public displays of control, which simultaneously made me feel drunk, turned on and made me feel genuinely uncomfortable, unsafe even. I pretended to ignore his violent past, although it sat like a fog over our entire relationship. It sat in the fights. It sat in the rough sex and the bruises. I wondered why neither of his exes spoke to him any more. I wondered if that one time that he had told me about hitting his ex was really only the ‘one’ time. I continued through the subtle and not so subtle lies, manipulations and twisting of reality.
I continued through arguments where my perspective was ignored, or invalidated, until I could no longer express myself, out of fear.
I would like to drop into the mind of my past self to articulate the experiences I now have words for.
There are so many things that I would have said to him if I only had the right words. I would say: You treat me like a whore; as if your having more money than me entitles you to have all the control in the relationship. You act as if the material wealth that you bring to the relationship means that you are buying my time, and that therefore you owe me no emotional-intimacy. You act like my asking for emotional intimacy or commitment is somehow transgressing a contract, and as if you have the right to be angry with me for expressing my needs and desires.
The invalidation of my perspective twisted my brain until the internal landscape of my mind became treacherous. Finally, he did not have to criticize my perspective any more because I was incapable of expressing it. Incapable of even navigating my own mental and emotional landscape. This last part is the thing that I struggle more than anything else to forgive myself for. For letting my grasp of reality become twisted and allowing my own mind to become an unsafe space.
It is not just this though; it is a series of unfortunate events stretching back though the entire of human history and through my own life. The end result is that I have a death-wish wrapped into my sexuality, twisted into the very core of it.
At the end of my bad relationship (labels bounce around the inside of my mind, bad, abusive, destructive, toxic, unfortunate, badly matched)
At the end of my bad relationship a very close friend of mine looked at me in a way that I will never forget and said ‘I’m worried about you’.
I could not console her because I did not know that I was safe. I put myself into that situation and I still do not know how to stop myself from doing it again. This, more than anything, is the fear that perpetuates my PTSD now. I feel a hand on my neck, and the trauma triggers, not because of him and what he did, but because of me and the desires that lie inside me.
The knowledge I can no longer ignore is that the logical conclusion of following my desire for domination – for absolute and total domination – is to be killed at the hands of my lover.
~In the moment of death, no other moment exists, no moment exists more fully – that I experienced with him. He owns completely everything that I am in the act of destruction. And in that moment all of my extremist feminist paranoia is vindicated. And I can stop. Nothing exists, and the pain that permeates the world does not matter any more, it is all over and I no longer bare any responsibility. Most of all I no longer bare the responsibility for my own evil, controversial, problematic and dangerous sexuality. I am released –as through orgasm – all tension gone.~
Eventually I realized that the pain and anxiety this man was causing me was not worth it. I stopped, I said goodbye and started to attempt to heal.
There is a Solange song that I’ve been listening to recently that taps into the fight that I would have with myself for the next 6 months, after this relationship ended. For me the most prominent lines are:
I tried to drink it away,
I tried to work it away,
I tried to sleep it away.
Work it Away
In a state of chaos
Our emotions fly past us
I stand at the center of a hurricane
Only as much as necessary to survive
We tell ourselves that we are doing well
I tell myself that I am doing well
I am functioning so fucking well
(considering the circumstances)
I am doing so much
Achieving so fucking much
(considering the circumstances)
Eventually the noise
Of the hurricane
Stains my mind,
So that once the wind
I don’t know how to function well anymore
(in normal circumstances)
the relationship between my mind and my emotions is
I don’t remember what this relationship
(in ideal circumstances?)
feel under normal circumstances
The state of chaos is gone
Yet the tension remains
I remain ready for danger
I remain reactive
I become toxic
Knots lock and grind
For so long that they begin to rot and fester
I am solid
Unaffected by the storm
I am shattered
Destroyed by the storm
I will not
Ease the tension
Or everything could fall apart
now I know
I know that it is real
But ever present
I will not stop
I cannot slow down
I am too smart for that
(I am so fucking smart)
And I will not fall into the trap of complacency
Like everyone else does.
I guard my wounds
I will not heal
I will not deny my wounds
I will harbor them
My wounds are now all that proves
How brave I am
(so fucking brave)
and my strength
I become weak
I am weak
I am exhausted
(this becomes normal life)
I forget the power
That I can draw from my emotions
From being healthy
Forget to use my anger
To demand respect
Forget my love
To build connections
Forget my joy
To create beauty
Just for beauty’s sake
(forget that this has value)
forget self love
which is a gift
to the rest of the world
tapping into the power that flows through all of life
And so I stand at war with myself.
Drink it away
Intoxication was supposed to heal the trauma (isn’t this a normal way to deal with a break up? To drink it away?) But it only perpetuated it – the same blind quest for self-annihilation. In the deep intoxication of drunkenness I am not myself any longer. I do not remember anything that happens clearly. So I escape myself, while I continue to isolate myself.
I am at a party. I am too drunk to get myself home. I ask my friend to sleep in his room. I tell him (or maybe I just told myself, its hard to remember) that I don’t mind hooking up, but I’m a bit frail at the moment, please be gentle with me. Please be kind to me. We have rough sex. I only remember a little bit but I remember that it was uncomfortable and not at all pleasurable. I remember wondering if there was any way for me to get myself out of this situation. I think no, just wait until it is over. I remember feeling a little afraid. I wake up and he is pawing at me. I try to ignore him thinking ‘please just let me sleep through the hangover a little longer’. He persists despite my obvious lack of interest, despite my attempts to put him off with body language and resistance to physical interaction with him. He ends up on top of me, forcing his balls into my face, trying to get them into my mouth while he jerks himself off. He is heavy and I am trapped. I want to leave; I really want to be anywhere else. He stops and says to himself ‘what the fuck am I doing’? I say ‘yeah I’m not super into it’ and go to the bathroom. I need to get out of the room. When I get back he asks me if I want a quickie. No. I leave. For the next week I have a bruise on my chest where his weight was pining me to the bed. It is not visible but any contact with the skin activates the bruise, and I bristle with the memory.
During this week I will go on a date with an old flame. As he kisses me, he will touch the bruise. As soon as this happens I want to be anywhere else. As soon as this happens I am tense and the thought of any kind of intimacy with the person who has just activated my wound is both terrifying and repugnant. I will not go on another date with the old flame.
Seeing this ‘friend’ will make me feel physically unwell. I see him when I am working and it shatters me. It shatters me largely because he, like my ex, was supposed to be an ally. A fellow feminist, a fellow activist, fighting the good fight. But in the end they have both treated me worse than most of the boys I have hooked up with who have no understanding of what feminism is or care to try and make the world a better place. This part fucks me up beyond just dating and sexuality because my work is integrally tied into my passion for activism and social change.
The date with my old flame represents quite accurately how my sexuality has functioned since. I am involved with men, kind men, men who I think might understand me quite well given the opportunity. It goes well until they trigger my trauma. Until they tap into the dark current that runs through my sexuality. As soon as this happens I only want to be elsewhere as quickly as possible.
The Female Eunuch
Finally the white noise has ripped me
My passion dulled
My fire whetted
I am disintegrated
(as I have wished to be)
I want nothing
Long for nothing
Once where I wanted everything
Desire still exists
Only in the theoretical
Only in my isolation
In practice it becomes
Until bad poems are my only outlet
Only way to connect with
To understand my own
I try to understand how I got here
It is a wall of white noise
Screaming at me
Rape culture, him, his fault, and the other one, what you wanted, you had it coming, inevitable, society, patriarchy, the world is fucked fucked fucked, (maybe you should give up), your own desires, all you can expect as a childless woman – and you have always known, your own fear, your own hatred, your own greed, your own self-loathing, your parents divorce, your fundamental ineptitude as a woman, his ineptitude, the inevitable ineptitude of all men to be able to love you, and his, and even the ineptitude of the one who you really believed loved you, gender inequality, slut shaming, the scars that slut shaming have left burned into you, the boys who bullied you as a child, your parents for moving country and changing all the rules on you while you were too young to understand, evolution for building us the way we are, his mother for teaching him badly, or not teaching him well, his father for dying, and possibly for being an asshole before that, agricultural society for creating women as property and the marriage contract, modern society for making relationships disposable and allowing my best relationship to end, Christianity, monotheism, privilege , the flexibility of women/ inflexibility of men, my community for their ingrained sexism, Trump and the incredibly painful fact that we’re so much worse off that I thought we were (this one stops me in my tracks every time, it hurts so goddam much)
I am exhausted
And left wondering
If any man
Is capable of having a relationship
Without slut shaming
About men who hate women
And their genuinely felt grievances
Some say that feeling makes it real
How many of these grievances I am guilty of perpetuating
Not ‘she took my job’
A total lack of empathy for the male experience
Blaming men for all the worlds ills
Hypocrisy in my dogged demand for gender equality
Denial or misinterpretation of the basic biological facts
And I am tired
I am the female eunuch
Afraid of my own power
Afraid of others falling short of my expectations
I once stood firm
Bold and revolutionary in my certainty
Now I know nothing
Now I am tired
My flight instinct kicks in and I am the female eunuch. My sexuality is repressed by my trauma.
But I will not be trapped in this place forever.
Now I am working on kicking in my fight instinct. I will fight for my sexuality. I will fight the patriarchy and rape culture and I will not let it define my sexuality. I will fight like the crazy insane bitch feminist that I am. And I will bring joy and love and levity into my own and other peoples lives.
I work on understanding my own sexuality better.
And Yet I still crave,
My own destruction,
Violence upon me,
I do not understand it,
I do not wish it,
A death wish?
Theories echo in my mind,
Societies hatred physically manifest,
Offering some relief to the identity of the paranoid feminist,
Feeling alive through the threat of death,
Self-flagellation for all of my imperfections,
Simple love for the pain,
The nature of female sexuality,
Adoring ones own humiliation.
I do not understand.
I need to understand.
Throughout all of this people tell me things adding to the din of conflicting voices that scream inside my mind.
One friend tells me that I need to take more time alone, I’ve been dating and seeing other people too much. Another tells me that I’m not trying hard enough, I need to get out there and really put myself into the relationships that I’m failing at. Boys variously tell me more or less the same thing. They say that not all men are the same – the implication or even direct statement being ‘I would never treat you badly/ like that’. But it does not matter, and of course I know this. It does not matter because I need to find peace inside myself, and external approval is irrelevant to this process.
I need a new identity. I need a new understanding of myself, within myself, and that I can share with others about who I am and what connecting sexually means to me. New in the very truest sense of the word. New in the biggest picture sense of the word. I need to be no longer the virgin or the whore. Or the virginal whore, or the matriarch, the Madonna.
I have a fleeting sense of what my sexual identity will look like when I am healthy: My identity is the joy that exists in the moment of a caress. It is sunshine, and the levity that we feel when it hits our skin. My identity is the ocean, soft and warm and gentle and bitter and dangerous all at once. But most of all my identity is the smile on my lovers face, and this is what I will fight for.
I am powerful
Pleasure sits inside me
It connects me
To the pulsing beat of the universe
Like a throbbing orgasm
Like the singular moment of all existence
All of time as one
This power can be harnessed
It can be shared
Or it can stay
Until I need it
Until intense desire floods me
In the presence of another
Until I am ready to
To create joy and beauty for their own sake
Until I am ready to be
Until I no longer believe that it will destroy me.
I want to make another video to post here. But currently clarity and inspiration escapes me. I am trapped in my ‘poor hot-cis-white-girl’ gender identity. This identity sits and waits to please, with submission sublimation and it’s o-so-pleasing nature. Perfect ass. Great tits. The subservience of true love that corrupts the mind.
I will not post another video until I have a new identity to show. A light to guide others out of the dark. As long as I do not post I am stuck in this blackness, more or less. I am the female eunuch. Waiting to be subsumed and destroyed by someone else’s desires. Until then it is up to you, whoever you are, to show me the way.
Content created by R. Archer,
with the help of And Pasley (editor) and Indira Force (video sound design) and good advice from some wonderful friends. I would like to thank everyone in my wonderful community who has supported me to find the strength to move through the trauma and be healthy enough to write a piece like this. Cups of tea, cuddles, hugs, loving words and honest words, long conversations and listening, and a million other small and large gestures that make up love, family and friendship have made all the difference.