Toxic Masculinity

My name is Brit and I am a Survivor.

I am a sex and love addict too. I came into SIA through SLAA, when my inventories were neither freeing me from survivalism, nor addressing my core shame: that I am the product of rape.

I am the product of the multiple rapes of my fifteen-year-old mother by a group of American tourists to Crete who bought her virginity from a sex trafficker there who called himself King Minos. One of these men took pity on her and helped her to escape, to stow away on a ship that took her around Africa, across the Pacific, and then to the Port of Los Angeles.

I like to think that I get my freckles and my green eyes and my curly hair from that one among my mother’s rapists: the one who also helped her to get free.

My mother died in childbirth. The nurses she told her story to gave me her name: Britomartis, also the name of Crete’s goddess of the mountains, of fishing, and of the hunt.[1]

I was raised in the foster system. I learned to charm and hustle and shift, to become the child each parent wanted in house after house after house. And I am as queer as a three-dollar bill. A gold star lesbian. Though not without some sexual trauma of my own.

I started saving money and getting tattoos when I was fifteen. I got this minotaur tattoo on the inside of my right forearm, for the fantasy of murdering my mother’s trafficker. And, as you can see, the iconography of feminine power and of revenge have been inked into my skin, the labrys and the butterfly too, connecting all the freckles that came into my DNA that terrible night in my mother’s short life.

Women really thought these tattoos were hot back in the 80s and 90s when I was running and gunning and hustling. Yeah, it was a lot of fun for a while. It felt good to be wanted, to watch a woman risk everything to have me? I remember one time this gorgeous woman–I pushed her up against her car and kissed her and she gasped with lust.

I was a drug for them. And I chased that high for years.

But I never gave myself a chance to be loved. I objectified myself. And I hid.

I was never really there, never for long enough to be seen through the blue on my skin.

I got to SLAA in the late 90s. (I don’t know how I would have survived this age of swipe-sex.) I had to confront the fantasy that drove me from one relationship to the next.

And then, I had to face my sweetest fantasy. The fantasy of revenge in all its gory details. This had grown so big, it encompassed most men, who I saw as predators and as rabid beasts that needed to be put down.

At the same time, I had to confront my own masculinity.

I too was taught to see women as objects and as conquests. This was hard to admit. Had I always waited for consent? Did I honor the women I dated and pursued and even spent years with? Did I truly consider their hearts, their boundaries, their bodies, their visions for us?

I had to inventory my participation in this and in all the intersecting isms that I had internalized.

I could drive down a beautiful road and get turned on at my power to see, to speed along its curves, to make it part of my story, and to recognize it as a place where I could project my identity.

Even the land was my other.

In my survivalism, I justified harm. I was unconscious of my affect on people, on my planet. Fucking A, this was survival! This was a homophobic, misogynistic society and I was a big proud queer. A vampire. Above the rest of you.

I couldn’t feel Earth or what we were doing to it. I couldn’t feel anything.

And that was the point.

It took a while to see how I had harmed myself. For example, I had certain ideas about how performing masculinity was about making women feel desired–by abandoning my own limits and boundaries too.

I had no integrity.

I lost myself shifting to fit what I imagined were their fantasies.

I remember this time, I had taken this beautiful, brilliant, imaginative woman to dinner. We were standing on a corner at a red light. I was waiting for her to succumb to my charms, not looking at her, not touching her. She put her hand on my shoulder. She slid her hand down my arm and took my hand.

I froze.

I didn’t take her up on it. I didn’t squeeze back. I had no game.

And she dropped my hand.

Then she broke up with me.

It was like she had sensed my emptiness.

So, of course I put years into trying to make her love me. I ran all over her boundaries. Of course she lashed out at me—that’s what I thought I deserved. I lost myself doing it.

I shrank.

That’s what finally got me in the rooms.

Now, I understand that my purpose is to help other people suffering the pains of growing up. I get to help other people who come from generational trauma, collective and historical trauma. I get to be present with you and your stories. I get to feel my heart reach out to you. I get to feel my body, my pain, my rage, my grief, my loneliness.

I know that shame is a lie. When I stand with you, I learn to stand with myself.

I find compassion for myself too.

Gradually, I learned to give myself the love I used to hustle for–and never receive. I look at my own shit and I ask for help to change.

It’s a simple, good life. I get to be a part of this community. I get to help re-envision the world.

I begin by changing myself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This story came from a tarot reading–I am developing each character in 2020 through such readings on my channel, Metal Dog Tarot. Here is the link to Brit’s reading.


[1] https://pantheon.org/articles/b/britomartis.html

Daddy Issues

The tarot reader had it right on the first guess.

I can’t help but see that the missing cup in this 8 of cups is offered here, by the Knight. And yet someone walked away from that love offer. There was self-harm too or winning, but at what price? The 5 of swords.

The readers words grated on Camilla.

But the reader had been confused too. Because she saw Camilla refusing the advice of the reading.

You’ll end up all alone, cutting everyone away, telling yourself you are complete. But this old resentment, this clinging to this 3 of swords. A heart is stabbed 3 times: betrayal, abandonment, neglect. This feeling you have been wronged. 7 of Swords.

Jesus, Camilla had tried to let it go. There had been therapists, anger management trainings, martial arts, now a tarot reader for fuck’s sake.

Camilla took a hot, shuddering breath before the cupboard of ointments and thread and gauze and tools.

Then, placing the needle loaded with local anesthesia on the tray, she turned to her patient, a girlish woman, platinum haired, lithe. Miserable. The woman needed stitches from a self inflicted cut to her thigh.

“Now Gallia,” said Camilla. “What do we have here?”

Gallia said nothing. Camilla could see the fine scars up and down Gallia’s thigh. The new angry ones, the black healing ones, the fine white web of a history of self-harm.

No, self punishment was not Camilla’s story. Hers was winning horribly. Hers was cutting people out. Hers was carrying the truth with ferocity.

The fucking reader had been right.

“No shame.” Camilla was matter of fact. “I have seen worse. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a vet. Veterinarian.”

Camilla knew the kind of sensitive animal lovers who had the intelligence and grit to become vets had not planned on the level of isolation, loss, and pain in that profession. Veterinarians had a surprisingly high suicide rate.

She met Gallia’s icicle eyes and felt a strange drop inside. Then looked quickly down to the knotting of the stitch.

“You are lucky to have such beautiful hair,” Camilla was good at small talk. “Is that your natural color?

Gallia put her hands to her pale cropped hair. “I love your color.”

“Bottled gold. It’s dark underneath.” In fact, she guessed, Gallia could certainly see the roots, the new grey coming in in streaks. For now, it was tied up into a rushed knot, off kilter from her helmet, and then wind blown from the parking lot.

“It’s not that I had to put a cat to sleep.” Gallia volunteered.

“Oh,” Camilla said openly.

“It’s. I don’t know exactly. But some days. I cannot see the point. I can’t feel. There’s no color.”

“Hmmm.” Camilla deftly bandaged the stitched wound, the tape holding Gallia there, holding her firmly together. Or Camilla hoped as much.

“I am so alone,” Gallia said.

Camilla patted her on the knee.

“I know that feeling,” Camilla said. “I am glad you told me. You know, you don’t have to do it alone.”

Camilla stopped, questioned herself. She meant it.

Gallia put her hand on Camilla’s forearm. “I feel like I know you already. You know? From before–”

Camilla had had the same thought when she had met Gallia’s icicle eyes.

She had thought of stars.

“I do this thing. SIA. I am sure you would be welcome.”

Gallia, airy and steady and intense, said, “Okay.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This story came from a tarot reading–I am developing each character in 2020 through such readings on my channel, Metal Dog Tarot. Here are the links to Camilla’s reading and the extended.

Manel – Astronomer, Leo

Manny walked into Lyudmila’s office the day she learned that Tamara had died.

It was 2001.

“Manny Zaki.”

Lyudmila looked up at the tall, lithe person offering their hand across the desk. She had just placed the receiver into the cradle and in a practiced motion, reached down, opened her bottom drawer, and pulled one of the cheap highball glasses she kept there. She put the glass on the desk and half stood to shake Manny’s hand. It was warm, smooth, golden.

“Hello Manny,” she said. “Will you have a drink with me? I have just had some sad news.”

Many,” the name came out, translation across two accents.

“Egypt,” Manny said, anticipating the usual question.

“Pardon me?” Lyudmila had again bent to her bottom right drawer, for the second glass and then the fifth of vodka. She looked over her shoulder at Manny with her dark blue eyes and smiled her half smile.

This half smile, the attempt at humor in the deep, cool, eyes, all struck Manny with sorrow.

Manny sat down. Lyudmila poured.

“No thank you, but please, go ahead,” said Manny.

Many Zaki,” Lyudmila repeated, pushing two fingers in the glass across the desk. “You are one of my new grads. I remember. Your name, Zaki. It means “pious.” Odd name for a scientist.”

“No better way to know god than in looking at the stars.”

“You know Many? You are so right.” Lyudmila huffed out her nose, amused. “Tell me about yourself.”

Manny leaned back in their chair and began to tell Lyudmila about their dreams for their graduate study in astronomy. They reached up to their hair in a practiced fidget and let the knot loose, then smoothed and twisted and knotted as they talked. Lyudmila was supremely easy to talk to.

Then Manny stopped talking. They looked into Lyudmila’s dark stare. That half smile again. Damn.

“You have amazing hair,” said Lyudmila. She had sat in her heartache as Manny talked, having swallowed her drink quickly. Her vagus nerve she knew was responding to the organs of her body, to the sounds to her ears, the sad news that had come over the line, the low, clear sound of Manny’s voice, to the sight before her, the clear liquid, the person at her desk. Her eyes burned. Her vagus nerve did something to her throat. A lump. To her heart. It made her feel knifed.

The vodka burned down her. She poured another to sip. Though she wanted oblivion. She waited. Made herself suffer. She was good at that.

Her vagus nerve put butterflies in her stomach too. This gorgeous young person reminded her of youth, of her own earliest visions. And of something ancient too, something that went across the unknown, that zapped and lit up the electric connections.

When Manny again shook her hand and said goodbye. Lyudmila took that long, fast drink she had wanted. She also emptied the glass Manny had left untouched.

Oblivion did not come. It had not come for many years.

That was the beginning.

Lyudmila had defected in 1979. She and Niki were invited to Hawaii for a meeting of astronomers engaged with sending probes and flybys towards Venus. The Americans’ 1978 Pioneer Venus had collected data the Soviets wanted. She was to use her considerable charms to win access to it from one of the American scientists there.

She got the information. She and Niki conferred beneath the starry sky as they swam in the warm ocean.

“I don’t think they saw it,” she said. “I don’t believe they know what they have Niki. But it is a sign of life.”

Nikolai had returned home to their children. Lyudmila would not see them again for more than two decades, after the eastern block finally opened.

But there had always been in her that need to suffer. The world as it was designed caused this.

She stowed away on a ship. Her American scientist had arranged everything with his connections. And now, here she was, ultimately, a disappointment to the Americans, at a small public university in Northern Arizona. But free. Free to suffer. Free to look at the heavens. Free to feel Tamara there. Niki. The children. All out of reach. All tied securely by silk to the network, her nervous system.

In the morning she woke shocked at her heartcrimes. It felt like the fist of muscle in her chest was tied up. Several times a day, a silk cord yanked by some object, a perfume, a thought, a doubt.

Isolated in her convictions, she suffered.

And yet, she was not one to wear armor. Or to dread pain. Now Manny, dipping in her door. Lyudmila’s stomach lifting suddenly at the sight of a figure in the beige halls, far ahead, turning a corner. A familiar gait.

Ridiculous, Lyudmila chided herself. But it made her smile too.

They worked well together. Manny was quick and quietly brilliant, making leaps and connections across gaps Lyudmila had become resigned to never bridging, had not known she needed to.

For Lyudmila, these were years full of joy. Tortured by desire, but happy. Sometimes she felt the red bird blooming in her chest, a whole new world to greet each dawn for. She was too old now for acting on such thoughts she told herself.

She rushed to work, balancing her creamy, spiked coffee on the dashboard of her Subi, taking sips between lights in the navy pre-pink morning, eager for her calculations, after hours the night before behind the telescopes.

Everyday she knew that soon she would look up from her desk and see Manny leaning against her door jamb, a sheaf of papers, a pencil in their knotted hair to pull out and jot notes. The clean smell of the tumble of that dark, straight, shining hair. Manny’s gesture to push it back behind their ear. How it would fall again, lit with auburn from Lyudmila’s desk lamp.

One night at the observatory, Lyudmila told Manny about Venus. All of it. Tamara and Bernice and the red bird. And the phosphine gas from the 1978 Pioneer Venus probe, the alien life it suggested.

“I want to show you something,” she said. She entered some coordinates into the telescope consol and, as they waited for it to move there, she told Manny the whole story.

It was 2008.

Listening, laying in the chair beneath the lens, Manny realized they were holding their breath as Lyudmila talked. Lyudmila was not looking at Manny, just watching the roof as the great scope whined and whirred its slow way towards a spot just beyond Venus, to the gate Lyudmila’s calculations said would open there.

Manny was looking at Lyudmila out of the corner of their eye, indulging longer and longer moments to rest their cheekbone to the chairback in order to stare directly at their teacher as she spoke. This was the side of Lyudmila that smiled, the half-smile that began gloriously at the eyes, deep laugh lines that were so beautiful—

Lyudmila was talking and shaking her head side to side over her feeling for Tamara and at how brazen they had all been 38 years ago…38 years ago, the year Manny was born. As she shook her head, Lyudmila caught a glimpse of Manny from the corner of her eye. Manny was staring at her, brazenly now.

Lyudmila stopped talking.

With a small laugh of recognition and happiness, Lyudmila stared back. It was quiet for a long time.

“I have been meaning to ask you,” Lyudmila said. “How is it that you don’t drink?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This story came from a tarot reading–I am developing each character in 2020 through such readings on my channel, Metal Dog Tarot. Here is Manel’s reading:

The Venus Problem

How was it possible for us to process the raw materials for our multiversity on Venus of all places?! Acid rain. Temperatures as hot as an oven cleaning cycle after a series of volcanic eruptions had caused a runaway greenhouse effect. The resulting density of the atmosphere as great as that of 3000 feet under sea level. A slow rotation.[1]

This environment had crushed the Russian probe, Venera 7, when it made the first Venusian soft landing on December 15, 1970.

Venus, it has been theorized, lacks water on the surface, plate tectonics, and abundant life enough to correct the extremities of that environment and make it habitable. But in 2020, observers of Venus captured evidence of a gas in the planet’s atmosphere that suggested the presence of life.

A race to Venus began. We hoped we would be gone by the time this race was won—if Earthling societies were able to sustain such ambition for so long.

How did we solve the Venus problem?

The Venus solution lays in that first probe in 1970, the lucky Venera, Russian for Venus, morning star, Lucifer. The fallen angel. The intersections here of the goddess of love and the angel who refused to worship man are perfectly suited to the explanation we must offer.

On one side of the story, three astronomers in the Soviet Union met in graduate school and began to scan the skies and to document the existence of astral bodies, lesser planets or asteroids caught in the gravity of the solar system. Lyudmila Chernykh, born 1935 – died 2017. Nikolai Chernykh 1931 – 2004. And Tamara Smirnova 1935 – 2001.

In tarot, threes present us with collaboration, with betrayal, with reconciliation, with expectation. And in these passionate connections, the problem of torn loyalties presents itself, the challenge of third parties that take from two: lovers, work, children. Here is the place where two produce a third and the world is never the same. Defection, hybridity, all are in play as a third comes in.

Lyudmila was the kind of woman you did not expect to find behind a telescope. Tall, femme, brash and brilliant, she possessed the hearts and bodies of both Nikolai and Tamara. But 1958 was a dangerous time for the thing she had with Tamara and she married Nikolai.

It was understood by Niki that Lyudmila’s love for Tamara did not leave when he placed the ring on her hand. Tamara, calm, deep, with her dark humor and her charisma, her sleek, auburn head bent over her calculations, her steady shocking eyes when she looked up to meet Lyudmila’s. A gaze that still tumbled Lyudmila into the void where fire, water, and the very matter between the stars ruled her.

When Lyudmila chose Niki, Tamara went silent, cut through with her loss. But all three were assigned to the same project for the next 7 years and she found a way to work companionably with her married friends. They mapped the stars. Then Nikolai was drafted into the Venera project. Lyudmila left with him and Tamara went onward alone.

Across the Pacific, a daughter was born to Gloria Bitterwater, a Tlingit medicine woman of the Eagle-Wolf moiety. When she turned 18, Bernice asked her mother again who her father was and her mother told her this time of a geologist, John Ralph, who had come to study volcanoes in the region. She had gone with him as guide and to protect the sacred places he wanted to look into. Gloria did not tell Bernice what happened. She said, and then, you came along.

It was John Ralph, still studying volcanoes who took Bernice to Siberia. This was where she, 19, met Tamara, then 33, high on an icy mountain where the telescope pointed to the stars, below which rested an ancient, sleeping volcano, which her birth father wanted to study.

Before Bernice Bitterwater left for the airport, Gloria took up her hand, which was brown and small and sure, just like her mother’s. The medicine woman put a pouch into Bernice’s palm and said, when you go there, look for the red bird, it is what is missing. And she called the pouch a word in Athabascan, one that Bernice, who spoke her native tongue (as well as English, Russian, French, and Greek), understood well.

Long ago, people had come across the ocean and they had brought this red bird, a kind of mushroom. The ancient people who became Tlingit had made it a part of their medicine. It had flourished deep in their mountains. But then, inexplicably, it had left. The ancient people tried but could not cross over to the land where it came from.

Bernice was to bring the red bird home with her from Siberia. She was to leave the pouch in Siberia in return.

But something else happened.

Bernice met Tamara. And like Lyudmila before her, the sight of Tamara’s dark head bent over her calculations, the raising of her gaze. From the very first moment Bernice met her, it was as though she was shot through with stars and joy.

Bernice found the red bird deep in that Siberian volcano. It was unmistakable. And she brought it home to Gloria Bitterwater and her people. But when she left Siberia and Tamara, she left the pouch with Tamara, including the small start of the red bird she had added. She said simply, here. She trusted her heart to show her that this was the part of Siberia she was meant to give the medicine to. She could always feel Tamara’s wound. She felt it against her own heart, where she too had been struck with love. She intuitively understood how she reminded Tamara of Lyudmila—for Bernice was also brash and brilliant and femme, in her own way. But in a way that shocked Tamara with memory and sent her spiraling into ancestral losses as well.

What is this? said Tamara. And Bernice answered the Athabascan word.

When Tamara looked into her eyes with a question, Bernice with her command of many languages struggled, wanting to meet that sweetness, that mutualness, that fire. It is not easy to translate she said. It means world. It means home. It means light.

Bernice went home.

Tamara put the pouch under her pillow, missing her lover’s body. And she began to dream.

Now Tamara was a scientist. But love makes even a scientist open in ways that bear no explanation. She had been touched and changed by love twice in her life, already, by the young age of 33

Let’s say, it took time. Let’s imagine the persistence of the dream, how repetitive, how she woke grasping for what she had learned she must do. Grabbing at pen and paper to jot the dream down before it slipped away, unaided as dreams are by the remembering parts of her brain, which had been resting while she slept, instead of grooving.

But one day, before it was too late. She took the pouch to her old friend Lyudmila and she said, this must go to the Morning Star on the Lucifer 7. Does that make sense?

And it did make a little bit of sense to Lyudmila, who had become a mother in the last few years. She looked into Tamara’s eyes and she felt the same old falling feeling. Lyudmila was never the kind to get hard or to put on armor. She was not one to remember or dread pain. She knew it had taken Tamara courage to come back. And she accepted without questioning the love gift of the pouch.

Nikolai was like Lyudmila in this way—he could never say no to the one he loved. And in 1970, as he prepared the probe for the journey to Venus, he slipped the little pouch into a nook. He knew how fine the calculations for a soft landing could be. He always wondered whether that pouch had made the Venera 7 the lucky one to land.

Lucky before it caved under the pressure of the atmosphere, that is. He smiled and he stroked his beard when he thought of this.

In the darkness of the Venera 7, the red bird birthed a small colony, integrating with the other medicine in the pouch, lighting the probe as it coursed through the void, feeling the dark matter, the map of the stars.

Little world, home, light. The mycelium burst forth onto Venus from the probe as it landed.

She flipped the antennae helplessly into the hot mud and it sent out a message back to Nikolai and the Russian astronomers:

Hot, hot, dry, no water here, said the mycelium, giving herself some forty years to prepare the way for us.


[1] https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/22856/why-is-the-atmospheric-pressure-on-venus-so-high [Accessed: 12/16/2020].