“A Woman In Trouble” – Part III

“A Woman In Trouble” – Part III

This is the third in a three-part installment on the work of David Lynch and its relationship to feminism, just in time for the long-awaited release of season 3 of Twin Peaks, now slated for 2017.


My favorite work of Lynch’s, Eraserhead, is perhaps his most enigmatic. The film, which reads like a nightmare, deals with the feelings of dread and inadequacy surrounding new-found fatherhood. This is Lynch at his most raw. The malformed baby the protagonist Henry (played by Jack Nance) must learn to care for is fragile, terrifying, and exceeds the skill set of its parent. To fail to provide means its death – a fear common to all parents who are just learning to sustain a life that is not their own. Henry’s masculinity in general is put to task as the Lady in the Radiator squashes large, globular sperms with her high heels in a playful, mischievous way as the viewer-as-Henry helplessly looks on. Henry’s longing for his neighbor juxtaposed against his own shyness and duties as a father communicate a subordinate, introverted masculinity. The fact that this is Lynch’s first feature length film makes the above all the more impressive – rather than hiding behind the camera, Lynch is putting himself on display to be examined.

I would also argue that the “gaze” of Lynch’s work isn’t always clear. Sweet and intimate friendships like Donna and Laura’s and Shelly and Norma’s in TP came well before Garfunkel and Oates or Broad City. Indeed, Ronette, Laura, and Theresa Banks share a kind of camaraderie as sex workers that humanizes them and exemplifies the special kind of friendship that can develop among women in this profession. Mulholland Drive’s Betty/Diane and Rita/Camilla serve as a sort of Hitchcockian hapless victim/rescuer dyad which evolves into a romantic and sexual relationship, in much the same way viewers are habituated to expect with heterosexual pairings. This allows for a subversive twist on the typically straight film noir genre. While it’s possible to argue that this choice was made for the titillation of male, heterosexual viewers, I can say that as a young queer person viewing this in a theater with my mom, it was nothing short of… Well, let’s just say awkward as hell.

Here again, though, it cannot go without noting that Naomi Watts has been publicly vocal about her discomfort with some of the scenes in the film, particularly the masturbation sequence. As a feminist and someone who has directed and starred in erotic films, the comfort of my performers is always at the forefront of my mind, and it gives me pause as to the nature of Lynch’s on-set director/performer dynamics. It would be intellectually and ethically dishonest to say I don’t find this potentially problematic. Being the one “behind the camera” brings with it all sorts of privileges, namely that you are in charge of image creation. You decide what the performers do, how they are framed, lit, etc. Being in front of the camera is a considerably more vulnerable position, and if I ever had the chance, I’d

Those who decide they cannot support Lynch due to his depiction of women have my understanding and support, even though I remain a devoted fan. This brings me back to where we started… My new friend at the bar. After I realized my words had little sway over someone who had never seen anything of his, and I was possibly getting into the territory of talking her out of it, I decided to back down and enjoy the rest of my drink. But this conversation had given me the chance to reflect, and to begin to articulate feelings about and artist I’ve admired for so long, but have had little success in describing.

I for one know I’m looking forward to what’s in store for those of us who’ve waited patiently these long 25 years to be reunited with the weirdest small town in television history. Twin Peaks has forever changed the face of American TV, and it will be interesting to see how it fares with new audiences having their first bites of that cherry pie so good it’ll kill ya.

Photo credit: luisalvaradob.tumblr.com


“Everytime I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray” – Part II

“Everytime I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray” – Part II

This is Part II in a piece on abuse in non-monogamous relationships.

Calling all poly configurations “toxic” or “abusive” that simply aren’t part of our practice is not only othering, it also serves to water down the meaning of the word “abuse.” As a survivor or intimate partner violence and sexual violence, I don’t like “abuse” or “red flag” being bandied around when the word “mistake” might work just fine. Maybe you fancy someone and want them to enter into your already established relationship, with the understanding that they just can’t hold the place in your heart that your primary does. This might hurt the other person, but I wouldn’t call that abuse. Sometimes people get hurt feelings in relationships. It happens all the time. But there is a sea of difference between “abuse” and a “mistake.” We’re all responsible for doing the least amount of harm to one another that we can, but no relationship is ever 100% safe and no love is ever perfect. Sometimes we have to try a few different relationship configurations to see what works best for us and for the other people in our lives. In my own case, I’ve tried out many relationship structures and am currently intentionally monogamous.

This brings me, finally, to another point… In a Huffington Post article on toxic friendships, the author points out that sometimes labeling a person toxic can have negative ramifications. Instead we might say the situation is toxic. Perhaps the people involved are lovely, but everyone needs different things. We also all make mistakes. It might not feel great to be labeled “toxic” or “abusive” for simply entering into a relationship structure that is in many cases still taboo and frowned-upon, and for which there are very few guidebooks (and fewer still positive media representations) and not knowing how to do the “right” thing. In small communities, a scarlet “A” might even carry very serious ramifications for a person’s future relationship prospects, and this can be damning if it is unwarranted.

My point in all of this is that poly is complicated. I realize this is the understatement of the history of relationship philosophy, but no “one way” exists that it a good fit for everyone. Shaming folks for wanting to have a third who will sleep with both of them, or labeling all hierarchical poly relationships as abusive doesn’t expand relationship possibilities, it only restricts them.

In closing, abuse and toxicity is something we all need to determine for ourselves — for me it’s one of those “I know it when I see it” kind of things. It’s difficult to unilaterally define any polyamory practice as toxic, but we all need to learn to trust when we feel a situation isn’t healthy for us. And if someone is acting in a way that is clearly disrespectful for controlling, by all means get the hell out of it and never look back. If you suspect something is toxic, it probably is. If something feels like abuse, it probably is. Remember that just because someone says they’re poly, it doesn’t mean they’re not abusive. It doesn’t mean they don’t have a LOT of work to do to deal with their own jealousy and possessive tendencies. Many of the same kinds of abuse that show up in monogamous relationships show up in polyamorous ones, as well. Gaslighting still exists, for instance, but with the potential to be carried out by more than one person. Finally, while I do think we all need to tread lightly before we apply a label to anyone, if someone has seriously violated clear boundaries or made you or a loved one feel unsafe, do feel free to tell others about it to prevent them from also possibly falling victim. In BDSM/kink, queer and trans, and poly communities, we tend to find ourselves running in very small circles, and while it’s not fair for anyone to be branded unjustly, I firmly believe in looking out for one another.

Photo credit: This person’s awesome etsy page

“A Woman In Trouble” – Part II

“A Woman In Trouble” – Part II

This is the second in a three-part installment on the work of David Lynch and its relationship to feminism, just in time for the long-awaited release of season 3 of Twin Peaks, now slated for 2017.


CW: Discussion of sexual assault, IPV

One thing I’ve learned over the years about Lynch’s works is that they’re not an easy watch (See: preceding reference to racism, sexism, ableism, and transphobia).  On TP, characters of color, such as Josie Packard and Tommy “Hawk” Hill (yep, that’s really his name) speak in stilted English, or adhere to vague animist traditions that don’t refer to an actual, specific culture (Tommy’s tribal heritage is never named). Johnny and Audrey Horne suffers from unnamed intellectual and emotional disabilities which manifest in a mishmash of symptoms (he beats his head against a dollhouse when he learns of Laura Palmer’s murder; she is depicted as a hypersexualized coquette, yet simultaneously naïve and emotionally disturbed). David Duchovny’s character, DEA agent Denise Bryson, has received plenty of flack for being insensitive to the trans community.

And then there’s the violence. All of the violence. I feel like I need to offer a content warning before I even begin to explain the depth and intensity of the sexual violence, incest, intimate partner violence, and psychic/emotional trauma that are woven into the very fabric of the show. Most of the horrific violence is perpetrated against women; indeed the central whodunit of the show revolves around the rape and murder of a small town’s beloved teenage girl. Yet, as I explained to my less than impressed new friend at the bar, it has never felt gratuitous to me. Really. As I explained to her, I trust where Lynch takes his audience and why. The first few episodes of TP show how distraught everyone in the community is over this crime. Laura Palmer is a human being. Unlike CSI or Law and Order: SVU, she isn’t simply one in a parade of desecrated bodies discovered by a wisecracking team of investigators completely numb to the atrocity of it all. Indeed, her death shakes an entire community who has known her since her birth.

The violence visited upon Shelly Johnson at the hands of her husband Leo are nothing short of traumatizing, particularly for those of us who have lived through the misery of such relationships. The first time the viewer sees Ronette Pulaski, she is crossing a bridge back into Twin Peaks, bruised, bloodied, and in a state of shock after a night of unspeakable abuse. For the sake of those who haven’t seen the series, I won’t give away the identity of Laura’s murderer, but all I can say is take care of yourself when/if you get around to watching the prequel, Fire Walk with Me. Yet amid all of these haunting stories and gruesome images emerges a strange sense of “empathy with” rather than “sympathy for” the survivors and victims.

This brings me to perhaps one of the most nebulous and fascinating parts of Lynch’s work. I consistently fail to be able to fully articulate this to another person when I discuss my love for his oeuvre but I’ll give it a try… Lynch is an absolute genius when it comes to capturing and relaying a feeling. Indeed, TP’s major themes rely on trusting one’s gut, paying attention to feelings, and refraining from relying entirely on the logical and objective. Agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) is both the hegemonic ideal of urbane, white masculinity and driven largely by his ability to tap into his intuition.

Aside from how the characters are crafted, Lynch’s work manages to transport the viewer into worlds that feel like they’re a real slice of the director’s subconscious in a way few directors dare to do. Rather than sprawling and domineering, most of Lynch’s films occupy an intimate, even claustrophobic landscape. Interpersonal relationship dynamics and private fears are splashed across the big screen for all to see. Like the robust works of Jackson Pollock, the supposedly masculine strokes speak to a more chaotic and panicked interior; inner turmoil is at the forefront, cranked to a scream rather than sequestered to their typical whisper.

Tune in next week for Part III, wherein we wrap up our discussion!

Photo credit: WomenWriteAboutComics.com

“Everytime I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray” – Part I

“Everytime I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray” – Part I

I was initially excited when I came across an Everyday Feminism article about abuse in polyamorous relationships in my facebook feed. Finally! Someone is talking about the kinds of abuse that can come to a head in relationships that don’t fit the typical dyad framework! This is something that has been so integral to the work I’ve done over the last few years facilitating polyamory meetup groups and workshops, yet is largely ignored by a lot of “mainstream” discussions. These kinds of issues can be particularly tricky to diagnose, particularly because a lot of mental healthcare providers and family counselors aren’t poly-competent.

However, as I read the post, I began to frown at my phone’s tiny screen… One of the “warning flags” the article highlights could potentially be a feature of a negotiated, healthy polyamorous practice:

“Requiring the secondary to be romantically or sexually involved with both people – or break up entirely.”

Counter to the article’s advice, having a committed triad in which members all sleep with one another isn’t necessarily a sign of abuse. If one of the stipulations of a couple’s opening up (or a triad’s coming together) is that they find someone with whom they can be mutually intimate, and this is discussed, disclosed, and otherwise made clear from the get-go, that isn’t necessarily a “red flag.” Hell, this could be true for a larger group/relationship — a small group might decide they are only interested in sleeping with members of the group, and expect other members to do the same.

This article aside, I’ve seen other misconceptions about the “right” way to do poly come to the surface, and I find it equally disturbing to label them as “abuse.”

One example is the difference between hierarchical and non-hierarchical poly. There is a good deal to be said for doing away with hierarchical poly, if it fits with what those involved want and need, and many people feel more at home with non-hierarchical poly or relationship anarchy (and a multitude of other practices). However, some people may decide they do want to be part of a more organized structure and find it more elucidating to know where they stand in relation to others.

Yet, having been a part of many discussions on the topic, many claim hierarchical poly is abusive or outmoded in and of itself. This ignores the fact that some may prefer to be a secondary in a poly relationship — if you already have a primary, or if you value your “you” time, or you have a really busy schedule, you might not have the time and/or spoons to take on the responsibility and commitment of a relationship that requires a lot of emotional heavy lifting. You might find it more comfortable to walk into a situation where a couple is already pre-established and they both want to lavish you with attention, but you don’t necessarily want to be the one who has to pick up the kids from soccer practice or figure out how to balance the household budget. Of course all people are obligated to be kind to their partners, and ignoring anyone’s emotional needs is absolutely a red flag. Secondaries are sometimes treated like appendages rather than whole people. This is where something like the Guide for Secondaries or passages from The Ethical Slut can be useful!

But what about abuse? How do we know when to draw the line?

Tune in next week for Part II of this post on ethical non-monogamy!

Photo credit: This person’s awesome etsy page

“And a time to every purpose under heaven…”

“And a time to every purpose under heaven…”

Milestones are pretty arbitrary. Turning 30 doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things, change much of anything. My mom told me at one point that it was in her thirties that the pace of her life started to slow down. I’ve been looking forward to that for the last few years, and I’m not sure if it’s truly on the horizon. In the next six months or so I plan to move to a bigger city and, in the next year, start grad school. (You know, nbd.)

Still, I feel that the last few years have given me the chance to figure out more of what this adulting thing is all about. A huge part of that has been learning how to navigate relationships in a more honest, intentional, and accountable way. After having a few major relationships in my life shift dramatically or come to a cessation, I’ve learned about my own behavior and what behaviors of others I can and can’t tolerate. Barbara Carrellas recently posted on facebook about the importance of distinguishing between “making healthy judgments (which keep humans alive) and being judgmental.” This is something I’m only learning to trust myself to do. If I feel even a little bit of judgment creep in, I feel very guilty. I’m trying to unlearn this, and instead embrace that it’s okay to listen to my instincts.

For instance…

If something feels fucked up, it probably is. If something happens to me that’s fucked up, it’s okay to say so. If I need something from someone or from a situation, it’s okay to ask for that.

Non-violent communication has been a huge help in teaching me how to effectively communicate with others, but after reading the link Barbara posted, (and others like it,) I find so much of myself reflected in the pieces about marginalized people and abuse survivors. Growing up around a lot of anger and dismissal, I still find it hard to enter into conversations where tensions might run high and conflict might get out of hand. This has been cemented by the abuse I’ve been through in various relationships, and it’s only through sharing my experiences and talking with others who have been through similar things that I have felt validated in expressing my own frustrations and needs.

However, this has been difficult for me when it comes to navigating situations where I’ve been hurt by people who are also people of marginalized identities, or who have also been through abuse or significant trauma. I feel as though they are so fragile that any harm I might do to them will only further traumatize them. In this situations, my own sense of empathy gets in the way. But it’s also okay for me to express when I need space from someone. It’s okay to not apologize and try to fix things when I know I’m not at fault. I can own up to my percentage of the bullshit in a given situation, but it’s also okay not to take on more than my fair share in the interest of being “the bigger person.”

For the coming year, I resolve to engage only in relationships that feel healthy. I want to extend this beyond friendships and family, but in job and housing situations as well. I’m setting a timeline for myself of six months. If a job still sucks, or a roommate situation, or a romantic or friendly relationship is more of a costly emotional strain than I can withstand, I won’t force myself to “stick it out.” I have had enough experience with interpersonal toxicity to know when something is beyond just “hard,” and has instead veered into toxic territory.

I’m resolving to put myself and my dreams first in a meaningful way.

I’m resolving to let myself set and defend healthy boundaries.

Happy birthday, you old so-and-so.

Photo credit: the author

“A Woman In Trouble” – Part I

“A Woman In Trouble” – Part I

This is the first in a three-part installment on the work of David Lynch and its relationship to feminism, just in time for the long-awaited release of season 3 Twin Peaks on Showtime slated for 2016… or 2017.


“No, but really –“ I assured her as I started to pick up my pace, “most of his films pass the Bechdel test, and in fact more often than not feature women working cooperatively rather than antagonistically. The vast majority have what I would consider the kind of ‘strong female lead’ that would put feminist poster boy Joss Whedon’s work to shame!” I took a sip of my Twin Peaks-themed cocktail (the One Armed Man) at the bar of a local eatery which has kept them on the menu for the last year or so. I’d been attempting to win over another patron who admitted she’d never seen the show.

I went on to wax philosophic about how Mulholland Drive flipped the traditional film noir trope of the troubled dame rescued by the gruff gumshoe on its head by foisting the naïve and bubbly Betty (played by Naomi Watts) into the lesbian savior role in the enigmatic 2001 thriller. I cited Laura Dern’s masterful and grossly underrated performance in Inland Empire, portraying multiple characters ranging from prim and constrained to rough and gritty to fearful and confused in a nearly 3-hour existential clusterfuck that taps into the darkest parts of the self. I offered that  90’s pop culture icon Laura Palmer, (played by Sheryl Lee) in her more-than-meets-the-eye, homecoming-queen-gone-bad messiness, reads quite a bit like the title character in Donnie Darko – the fated, sacrificial Christ figure – with a Courtney Love twist.

Her eyes started to glaze over. Maybe I was edging into hypomania. Maybe I just have a lot of feelings about David Lynch.

The will-they-or-won’t-they do-si-do surrounding the Twin Peaks revival slated for 2016 has left many a fan (your faithful narrator included) twisting in agony. Will Showtime pony up the dough to make the dream of so many TP dorks come alive? Will the third season, 25 years in the making, have to be housed on Amazon or Netflix, allowing us to barricade ourselves in and binge watch with a pot of damn fine coffee and cherry pie? Will we have to cringe through racist, sexist, ableist, and transphobic stereotypes (for believe me, there were many) as we did with the original series?

If being a devotee of Lynch’s for the past 16 years has taught me anything, it’s that he loves to keep his fans guessing. This is the part that I connect with the most. You see, I’ve always been a fan of magic tricks, but I never want to know how they’re done. I have no interest. For me, that takes away all the fun. I remember watching Lost Highway with friends in one of our parents’ basements as teens, and afterward we discussed at length just what the fuck had happened in that movie. We developed theories, some infused with elements of mythology (Bill Pullman’s character gets a headache and becomes another person? Sounds like how Zeus birthed Athena to me). Some of them led us to dead ends (wait, but that hadn’t happened at that point in the film – had it?). The discussion was just as enjoyable as watching the film itself. In Mulholland Drive, Naomi Watts’s character actually finds mysterious puzzle pieces that don’t reveal their purpose until the very end. And even then the viewer is left perplexed and uneasy. (I won’t spoil it for you, but I’m also not sure that I could.)

Tune in next week for Part II, wherein we discuss where the feminism part comes in!

Photo credit: TVLine.com