When Self-Care Doesn't Cut It

YOU CAN LOOK BUT DON'T YOU TOUCH A self-portrait of the author as a young piece of ass.

YOU CAN LOOK BUT DON'T YOU TOUCH A self-portrait of the author as a young piece of ass.

**This piece is a modified version of the editor's letter in issue 5.**

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about self-love lately, and the ways we show that we care about ourselves and how that manifests, especially in light of the Self-Care™ branded content I just saw in my NewsFeed™. Wow! Who knew I couldn’t love myself just because I hadn’t learned how to properly moisturize!? Thanks, Unilever!

 

Earlier this fall I had something of a self-care #FAIL. I was tabling at an event as zinesters do and the guy across from me asked if I wanted to do a trade. I said OK, “What do you want to give me?” which, in hindsight, seems like not the best phrasing and to which he replied “Aside from a blowjob?” It was hot out, unseasonably warm, and I’d been wearing progressively less and less and as we stood there it dawned on me that he’d been thinking about blowing me for awhile. And I let the words just sort of hang there, staring at them with an awkward smile, even though I was thinking, “Huh, that’s gross.” Gross because he seemed to take it for granted that my sexuality was on the table, gross because I didn’t know him like that, gross because I didn’t want to.

 

What should I have said, in an ideal world? Does that even count as an advance? It’s just a statement about where he thinks my penis should be. “Hey, I just met you and this might seem crazy, but meet me in the bathroom for a blowjob, baby.” I peered deeply into the books he was selling as if they might offer a way out, wondering how I could make the situation less awkward so as to not offend him. (wHy DidN’T I LeArN HoW To MoIsTurIze!?) Maybe someone else would’ve been like, “That can be arranged,” and suddenly porny music would come on and they’d march behind his booth with their pants around their ankles. But I am an awkward oversized baby, so I traded some of my shit for his shit, even though I didn’t really want it, effectively pity-fucking him with merch.

 

So, I’ve been thinking about the ways people take up space and the ways people remake and redefine the paths others have to follow. I’ve had gay men tell me that there is no such thing as “sexual harassment” in gay culture/spaces; that “it’s different” for gay men. (Also, It Gets Better, didn’t you know??) In reality, it’s not that sexual harassment doesn’t exist for certain people, but that some men in gay culture occupy a position within an existing framework that enables them to write off harassment as someone else’s problem. (I would argue that this is actually not the case, and that a culture tolerant of harassment affects everyone adversely, whether you understand it to or not.)

 

The ways we exert power and pressure are varied and nuanced and for the most part don’t involve anyone physically pressuring or exerting power over another person. It’s toxic masculinity and rape culture being the foundation upon which all of modern American Life™ is built and then someone comes in and exploits that to their personal advantage, unchecked. The value systems that perpetuate in a dominant culture like, for instance, the straight culture that brought us “I love my curvy wife” guy, The Bachelor and, oh right, Donald Trump rear their ugly heads in a queered context. (Hello to Peter Thiel, Mitchell Sunderland, Milo What’s-His-Face.) Working towards entitlement can’t be our common goal; equality isn’t the privilege of getting away with things or not being held accountable for your actions.

 

I say all this because I think sometimes these little things go unexamined. Not micro-aggressions, per se, but ways of taking up space in the world that frustrate and divert energy. Maybe you’re not the supervillain in the Bond movie, but the henchman who steps in front of an escape route, arms crossed somberly in front of you, no acknowledgment made, none necessary. (I say “you” because it made the sentence easier to understand, nothing personal!)

 

I say all this because I’m still learning how to not perceive it as the end of the world if someone doesn’t like me, to not try to smile and laugh through every uncomfortable situation, to simply have a voice and not be afraid of hearing it speak up and speak out even though I am small and wearing booty shorts. I say all this because it’s exhausting to feel alone and unprotected, even if for a split second. Which is why I turn to Nivea™ brand moisturizer with Aloe Vera! It creates a barrier between—*dies*

 
EssaysSean SantiagoCulture