In This Body: Exclusion
Editor Fiona George, Editor's Choice, February 7th, 2017
"Some things in our life, we repeat over and over and over."
Our monthly column “In This Body” is comprised of true stories about sex, gender, the body, and love, written by Fiona George, for NAILED.
+ + +
I was standing outside in a long, slow line. The downtown venue was new and apparently hadn’t figured out how to deal with a crowd yet. I was alone. I didn’t bother to put on makeup or wash my hair, but I was wearing heels and a cashmere sweater. I hadn’t had anything to eat that day and it was almost nine at night.
I’d spent the largest part of my adolescence in a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast, and the show I was going to was a burlesque tribute to the movie. People in front and behind me in line were all dressed up, in drag or costumes from the movie. Their excitement was annoying. This movie was still special to them. It didn’t have five years of memories and an unhappy ending attached to it.
A day or two beforehand, a friend who I used to perform with went to one of the showings and posted a long and rose-tinted love letter to the time in his life spent in the local shadow cast. He even mentioned my ex, the unhappy ending to my Rocky days. He talked about the warm feeling of returning, about how the community took him in and how the past would always be there if he needed.
As much as I understood the feeling, it annoyed the living fuck out of me. No, I couldn’t hate him for having a less-shitty experience than I did, or for being able to have that kind of homecoming to the theater we’d performed in. And I couldn’t hate the audience I was waiting in line with for the kind of excitement Rocky Horror gave them.
But I fucking hated all of them.
My boyfriend was going to be performing as Brad. It’s why I dragged myself through a quadrant and a half of Portland to go to the show by myself instead of finding something to eat and taking a warm shower.
There was nostalgia in it, too. A kind I couldn’t find in what used to be my home theater. There have been a few times that I’ve gone to see my old cast perform since I left, since I cut my ex out from my life and Rocky Horror with him. Those times have pretty much been my personal hell. What I wanted was to come back and remember where I used to belong, to do the Time Warp and yell at the screen and inhabit who I used to be.
What I did was clutch to comfort objects—books or rocks or the people I came with. I got too drunk and made a big spectacle of existing just to prove that I could. That he couldn’t stop me from being there, if I wanted to.
But I didn’t want to. It picked my heart rate up, made my hands shake. It took days after going to start to feel unarmored, safe, comfortable.
The burlesque show was a way for me to feel that Rocky nostalgia without all the baggage, and I got to see my boyfriend running around onstage in tighty-whities and yell asshole at him every time he had a line of dialogue.
Some things in our life, we repeat over and over and over. When I was a kid, me and my sister and our cousin were close every summer until it was just my sister and our cousin who were close.
I became the verbal punching bag. Too overly excitable to be fun and cool. Too overeager to be liked, to stand up for myself. I think the last time I even wanted to be a part of that trio, our cousin came to visit us during the winter, or fall. I don’t remember the season exactly, but they came to see me play a soccer game in the rain. After the game, I got hit with a hell of a sore throat and got sicker and sicker.
I remember moving slowly when we went to the mall, and them making a point to leave me behind. Getting stuck in the back of the rental van because they called the front seats and they played that game where they acted like I didn’t exist and they couldn’t hear me when I talked.
It was one of the worst weekends of my life. The heavy sick in my throat, mounting fever, the isolation of trying trying so hard to be a part of their group.
They were the first friends to pull that shit on me, but that game followed me all through grade school and middle school, and I dropped out of high school before it followed me there. After dropping out, I found Rocky Horror.
“Dammit Janet.” “The Time Warp.” “Sweet Transvestite.” “Hot Patootie.” “Toucha-Toucha-Touch Me.” These songs, the performance of them, the glitter and fishnets of it all, had a big toothy smile stretched across my face.
My body had this muscle-memory instinct to start Time-Warping soon as the song started. I could feel a good kind of adrenaline like it was me about to get on stage. I felt all warm and fuzzy when my boyfriend came to say hi to me in his underwear during the intermission.
There’s a way that the silent treatment game followed me into Rocky. My ex was—still is—a beloved person in that community. After our breakup, things got really ugly, I began to call shit out when I started to see him for what he was. The mistreatment, manipulation, even words I have a hard time using like emotional abuse and rape. It was like I was saying nothing at all.
Like the words I was saying didn’t even exist.
When I decided I needed to cut off all contact with my ex—not try to be friends, not act civil in social situations—I cut myself totally out of that crowd, I quit the cast. Like when I stopped trying to squeeze into the friendship between my sister and my cousin. I got tired again, of my voice being ignored.
The wounds from the way my sister and my cousin treated me have followed me this far. They’ve led me into friendships with girls and women who’ve treated me just the same, they led me into a relationship with a man I always had to win approval from, they have caused me to walk away from friendships and social groups before they have the chance to abandon me.
My sister had been working hard to set boundaries with me about going out drinking together, since we had a lot of the same friends. There were some nights when she just didn’t want me there. It’s understandable, but it hurt.
It came to a head one night when me, and her, and a mutual friend of ours worked the same night. After I’d gotten off two hours earlier and had a few drinks, we all piled into my sister’s car to head home.
It hit me like drunk after a few fast shots, when I realized they were dropping me off before the two of them headed to the bar. Already on the light side of drunk, I couldn’t help crying. This is just like when we were kids.
I couldn’t handle being left behind again.
After the burlesque show, in the damp of a Portland parking lot. My boyfriend is dropping his costume off in his car. Some of the other performers invited him, and sort of me by extention, out for drinks after. But, he has to invite me too. It’s something I assumed, that he’d want me there.
And just like my sister sometimes needed space, our lives too intertwined in work and friend groups, his reasons also make sense. That it gives him anxiety to bring someone who doesn’t know a group, a group he barely even knows, to hang out with that group.
But it didn’t stop me from crying, again. From yelling. Not yelling-angry, but yelling-sad, yelling because I didn’t feel heard.
When you expect to be excluded, reasonable boundaries feel like exclusion. When you’ve come to learn that relationships are just waiting to be excluded, or alienating yourself before you are, any moment can become that moment.
What happened was he drove me home, dropped me off. I couldn’t keep myself from crying: the complete inability to control or express what I was feeling then. The way it felt like all the hurt feelings I’d harbored towards my sister, towards old friends, were built up beneath my rib cage.
The car was quiet enough my breath was the loudest thing, I tried to make it slow and steady.
+ + +
Header image courtesy of Monty Kaplan.
To view the previous installment of In This Body, “Sexless Identity,” go here.