This photoshoot was an experience made up of dialectics for me. I am a gray-asexual, autistic, cis, monogamous, hetero woman, who has survived 5+ years of anorexia, major depressive disorder, self harm, and general anxiety disorder. To say that I have a complicated relationship with sexuality and my body is a major understatement. However I am also feminist, an intersectional social justice advocate, body positive, and sex positive. It feels right and good to be vulnerable and open with my body. Seeing the photos has been a process of both disgust and joy, because taking them was so much fun, but the dysphoria I feel when looking at my body is overwhelming.
More often than not I feel utterly disconnected from my body. A major part of my eating disorder was the conviction that my mind was my true self, and my body was simply a random vessel that I was stuck with, one that got in the way and behaved inexplicably. Every moment that I feel actually and truly embodied is radical for me. Unfortunately the first method that I found of feeling embodied was self harm.I’ve always liked the imagery of writing myself on my skin, marking this body as my own. Self harm was a way to brand myself, to claim the skin as my own, and to show others what it was like living inside the body.
Since I’ve become healthier, my tattoos have taken on that role. Each one is like a rope that ties my mind to my flesh and keeps me here. Each tattoo is a choice to make my body my own. I love them, and they are unquestionably my favorite thing about myself because they are a choice while the rest of my body is simply what I ended up with. It feels incredibly powerful to be intentional about what goes on my body. Life will always leave its marks on my body, and if I can choose the marks I leave, that is choosing who I am.
While I am cis, I have experienced an intense amount of body dysphoria and looking at these photos was an exercise in it. In my mind, my body is small, skinny, and strong. I still miss the weight that I was at when I was sick, even if I know that I am healthier now and know that I can be ok with where I am now. Every time I look at my body I hold both of those truths together: I feel disgusted by my current body and my current body is better than starving myself.
One of the only ways that I have found to fight against this negative self image is to harness my autistic sensory sensitivities. When my body is moving I feel joyful and powerful. My body becomes more than a chunk of flesh sitting at my computer (which is most days) and becomes a way to feel the water rushing over me, or to climb to the top of the tree, or to hear the rush of a waterfall. I actually fell off one of the trees into the creek, and the moment when the water touched my skin was the best moment of the shoot. It’s a beautiful, soft kind of pressure that cradles and buoys my body and makes me feel at home in myself. I want other people to see someone else struggling like this, having moments of comfort and acceptance coupled with moments of self hatred. It’s ok to struggle.
I also felt that it was important to represent my asexuality, which is why I spent a lot of the shoot as a narwhal. More often than not, I don’t feel comfortable being viewed as sexy. While I understand that for many people sex is great and I 100% support people’s right to have as much sex as they want, sex for me is a site of trauma and frustration. When I think of sex, more often than not I think of people who don’t listen when I say no, people who want more than I can give, disappointing people I love.
I am currently happily married, and my husband respects my asexuality, but sex is still difficult for us because I am so often dissociated from my body and find touch overwhelming. For me, sexiness comes most often in unexpected and hidden ways. It sneaks out when we’re laughing together, when I feel soft and unguarded, when my self consciousness has melted away (something that is rare). I am not ashamed of being on the asexual spectrum, but I don’t want to be frightened away from sexuality by fear. In our relationship right now, my partner has adjusted a lot to make me comfortable in my asexuality. I feel a push and pull to be more sexual because we have different needs, and I want it to be a mutual solution that works for both of us. I want to create more moments that create that ease in my body, so that I’m not struggling to feel embodied and safe and comfortable.
I want to be perfectly clear that while an allosexual/asexual relationship presents some challenges, our relationship is fucking fantastic. While sex is an area we struggle with, it’s one part of a relationship that is loving and supportive on both sides. It is still amazing to me that I am married to someone who gives me the space to sort out my own identity, communicates his needs and preferences to me, and works to find solutions. It is 100% possible to be in a happy allo/ace relationship.
I cannot finish this post without mentioning my scarring. I have scars all over my body, from a surgery scar on my pubis to self harm scarring down my legs, across my stomach, on my breasts, and on my arms. One of my earliest tattoos was the eating disorder recovery symbol over some of my scarring, which was an important reclamation, but these days my scars feel less like an enemy and more like a reminder. I am not ashamed of my mental illness, and I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done to myself. I have no desire to hide my scars, because I am not interested in hiding from my past. I will not forget how bad things can be when I am not vigilant in caring for myself. Of course as with the rest of my body there is a downside; they can feel so incredibly ugly because they are evidence of the worst moments in my life. They are moments of the times that I hated myself more than I have hated anything else. They are evidence of the times I wanted to give up. While I don’t want to pretend these things didn’t happen, it doesn’t always feel good to have the worst times of your life visible on your skin.
I struggle constantly to hold the past close without being held back by it, to recognize and embrace my neurodivergence without letting it limit me, and to accept my sexual identity without missing out on life.