Tracey Noelle Luz
I'M NOT SORRY FOR GOING AFTER WHAT I WANT.
Photo by Meredith Whitefield.
My parents announced they were getting divorced around the time I was 9 years old. During this time, my mother took my younger brother and I out of school so she could take us to the dentist. My dad chased us down in his car, forcing her to pull over at a 4 way intersection in Mount Olive, New Jersey. It’s a rural farm area, and at that time even less populated, so no one was around. He got her out of the car and proceeded to grab and smack her while my baby brother cried in the back seat.
My mom was taking us to the dentist because one night when she was at work, my dad told my sister and I that if we lived with her after the divorce, we would be poor and she would not be able to take care of us. He manipulated us into writing letters telling the judge that we wanted to live with him. She was trying to prove to the judge that she could and would take care of us.
I want to say here that my mother is one of the most incredible human beings on this planet, anyone who knows her will tell you that.
My father left when I was around 11 and moved to California. On the few occasions I called him saying I wanted to come and visit, he would say, “Save your pennies!” before hanging up the phone to go sailing with his new wife and daughter. He sent us postcards a couple of times. I stopped calling.
Compounding the acute pain of my father’s abandonment, was the premature arrival of my breasts, huge and amazing and completely inappropriate for a 12 year old body. People felt free to comment about them always, without reservation, and my breasts became the determining factor of my character and a public declaration of what I would and would not do with a man.
My introduction to puberty and young adulthood was without any clear boundaries separating sexual assault or sexual abuse or statutory rape from intimacy and sexual exploration.
I developed a consciousness that I was less, that I was “dirty” and “used up” and that the joy in the world around me was reserved for every and anyone else. It permeated every aspect of my life. I couldn’t make any decision based on how it would serve me without considering the rest of the world first. A healthier, more secure me would have worked to help others as well, but not to my own detriment and not to justify my right to exist on planet earth.
I knew that my experience was not the norm, and I believed I must have done something to deserve it. Healthy romantic love seemed like something for other people, for women who were richer. Prettier. Better. I couldn’t even fathom what a healthy relationship looked like between a man and a woman. My amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain, had been turned permanently on, freaking the fuck out, always on alert, trying to protect me from danger.
My spiritual advisor is, by definition, patient. “What do normal people do in relationships?” I ask him. “Well, there is no normal,” he says. “Ok, what does everybody else do?” I goad him. I know I’m expecting him not only to help me figure out how to undo all the psychological damage from being abused, but then I want him to fill up the empty space with what it must feel like to have a father who loved his daughter more than anything in the world. I’m like, tell me what that is and I’ll act accordingly. He recommends good books. He defers to the functioning of the brain. It is immensely helpful.
In my young life, I know it was my mother who saved me from the depths of self-loathing and self-hate, just by always letting me know I deserved better. By the time I was in college and could leave all those memories behind, I tried to push them away and reinvent myself. The more I pushed, the more that fear and resentment would resurface in subtle and not so subtle ways. The same patterns kept appearing in relationships until I subconsciously avoided them altogether.
When I reflect on it now, I see that the notion that I didn’t deserve better, and should be happy for the little I could get, whether it be related to career or love or whatever, all stems from having a father who was abusive and then absent, and the craving for male attention that literally left me defenseless in a society that holds women, regardless of age or experience or context, responsible for men’s sexual behavior.
Really confronting my experience and working through it, I can see how valuable my creativity and experience are, I can see how precious my time and attention are. I see the importance of taking care of yourself before embarking on huge, expensive, time consuming, emotionally taxing, world changing campaigns. Which means that not only am I going to pursue only healthy relationships with men who are worth my time, but I’m putting myself in a position financially and with regards to resources so I can kick the next 4 years’ ass. Because, now, more than ever, women need to be completely unapologetic and uncensored in our resistance to this fucking dummy in the White House and his idiot cabal of neo-fascists.
About the photo:
Since I’ve been thinking about UnApologetic, I had the tremendous opportunity to perform with some talented and experienced musicians in Jersey City, as Pounding 40z, a Bikini Kill cover band. We had two amazing shows, where I really got to explore so much of myself. Going back to Bikini Kill, a band I grew up with in the 90’s, I had so much admiration for Kathleen Hanna for being such a hard core revolutionary, a strong woman who could call out contradictions that impacted her directly, without eliminating her sexuality. I asked my amazing and talented friend, Meredith Whitefield, to photograph me in my bed so I could be in control of reclaiming my vulnerability.