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Author Topic: The trouble with normal
The Definitive PoMo Username
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I was taking a self-defense course to work on my boundaries, on a friend's recommendation, and it brought up a lot of feelings for me. As I've worked through my rape, I've had the feeling that no one would respect my boundaries even if I articulated them, because prior to my rape I was badgered for sex for hours. My boundaries and refusals (silence, not making eye contact, etc.) were not respected.

I was crying a lot during one of our sessions because this boundary work brought this fear back for me, and someone else in the class noticed and we ended up talking about being victims of assault afterwards. I told her that I was really wary about dating men again because it felt really unsafe, and she told me I would find a guy who would take care of me. I think that response really jarred me, coming from another victim/survivor, especially since I wouldn't expect it.

In future sessions this person brought up her boyfriend in our conversations often, brought him around so I could meet him, and told me how she was going to meet his parents. I don't know why, but I was just really disturbed/alienated/disassociated by the whole thing and how normal he seemed, and how normal the ritual of going to meet his parents was, but I am also really aware of the fact that being disturbed by how normal her relationship stuff seems like, not a normal reaction (for lack of a better term). I'm not really sure what's going on for me here, or why it makes me so angry that her relationship is normal and perhaps she was presenting it to me as a way heterosexual relationships could be, but I wasn't ready to hear that because I'm still moving through my anger. Perhaps this also linked with her critiquing how I did certain moves in the class in a way I think was meant to be constructive, but ended up making me feel like I didn't have power in my body to defend myself using my physicality.

Maybe another part of my frustration with "normal" relationships at this point in time is that I know that you have to have certain privileges in order to even have access to a "normal" relationship. Because I'm black, my sexuality is never going to be positioned as normative, no matter what my (admittedly abnormal, and perfunctory) sexual history might be, and even before I throw class, location, etc. into the mix. Am I just displacing my anxieties about normalcy on her? Do I just have no referent to what "normal" is (hey, short-as-hell dating history!) and I'm just resenting her in turn? Is the way I'm critical of normativity in my politics to blame here? Am I even asking myself the right questions about this? What's going on here?

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Robin Lee
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Hi Definitive PoMo,

One thing that you didn't suggest here, but that I'm wondering reading what you've written, is whether part of this reaction might be to the idea of a partner as solution to feelings of not feeling safe. Do you think your classmate's suggestion that someone would come along to take care of you, in a space where you're learning to care for yourself, is part of what is jarring to you here?

As cliché as it sounds, there really is no normal. There's traditional--and yes, there's a tradition that heterosexual relationships follow a certain framework, such as going to meet the parents--but this tradition doesn't make the behavior any more or less normal. It can and does feel isolating, though, to not fit into any of those traditions, and to, as you've mentioned, have race and class differences that impact how one's sexuality and relationships are viewed.

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Robin

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Heather
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I would add that personally, especially after fifteen years of full-time work involving people's relationships, I have no idea what on earth "normal" is. Never really did before that, but afterwards? I really, really don't. There is just way too much variation for that word to be meaningful to me wheat comes to talking about relationships.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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The Definitive PoMo Username
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Robin Lee and Heather,

I'm inclined to agree with you both, and I think I find it reassuring that "normal" isn't really a thing (and it certainly shouldn't become another unattainable standard I create for myself).

Robin, I think your observation is spot-on, and maybe something I wasn't even conscious of feeling protective or territorial about. In a way, I did feel threatened by both her and her suggestions. I've always bristled at the suggestion that I need a partner for anything, but after my rape the suggestion is particularly offensive to me because I feel like it erases the space for my pain and my anger, both about the violation and how it really makes things feel impossible for me. Saying "it'll work out for you" feels like pablum to me, both in the sense that it just feels like a platitude people say that doesn't mean anything and isn't applicable to my situation, and just imposes a normative solution on my life as a "one-size-fits-all" sort of deal.

Maybe because of my non-normative history, such advice feels even more contrived to me. I've never had a "real" relationship (my longest relationship was an LDR with an older man), and the only person I liked enough to start to want to introduce to other people, like a quote-unquote "normal" person dumped me (mentioned in my 'baggage' thread) the moment something came along that was more convenient for him. I feel a lot of anxiety about this, that I'd never have a relationship long enough to reach any of those milestones. I don't think I want to closet that part of my life anymore, but people also have to actually want to be with you, right? So I feel like I have to keep playing on my desexualized image from my adolescence because that image works and I know how to inhabit it, even though it doesn't feel authentic to still be in that place.

Maybe I also feel defensive because this is also a conversation pattern my mom and I go down often. My mom somehow inexplicably thinks that after I watched my dad cheat on her and her anger/sadness/self-martyrdom about it, that marriage is somehow something I want myself. And I hate that she doesn't listen to my critiques about marriage. I've just always had a feeling I never wanted that to be the route my life goes, the reasons have just changed over the years. But you would think that after 18+ years of me saying "I don't want to get married" my mom would think it wasn't "just a phase?" Nope. I really hate the way "just a phase" is so quickly deployed to dismiss the real and legitimate concerns of young people. It's perhaps one of the most pervasive forms of ageism.

So, maybe some of my discomfort here is also a knee-jerk reaction to how similar that imposition of that narrative is to what happens in the dynamic with my mom. Maybe there is some awful part of me that thinks (oh, god) that she should know better than to trust cis men, but different things work for different people. For me, right now, I still need that anger, that rape-victim-anger, rich and hot and vital, to make sense of what happened.

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