‘For you I take a holy risk to love as I must,
love is the law, the only law that matters’
-Reclaiming witchcraft chant by Ravyn Stanfield
I went to the beach yesterday, and swam for the first time in years. I’d loved swimming once, but body dysphoria and abuse had robbed me of the pleasure. I was fat and strange and bullied for it as a child. I was very young when I grew large breasts and the feel of spandex swimclothes was insufferable to my autistic sensitivities. In bathers all I could feel were other people’s eyes all over me and my chest, worsened by their sticky words. People threw me in pools and even tried to drown me. During my school’s compulsory swimming program I began telling my male teachers I had my period. The women I told I had the flu, because they’d know I wasn’t menstruating for a month straight. When that excuse wore thin, I’d ‘forgotten’ my towel and gear. They didn’t believe me and gave me detentions. Detention meant nothing to me; I’d sit at the back of the classroom and read every Friday afternoon. I didn’t have anywhere better to be.
Yesterday, a friend suggested we go to a pool, or the beach. I said I didn’t want to go to the pool for fear of disease. Although the both of us are prone to ear infections, public pools fill me with more than just germaphobia; a visceral disgust. Rafts of snot and used bandaids and laughter that made me want to rip off my own skin with my bare hands. Chlorine bloodshot eyes hiding tears.
But it was gloriously warm yesterday, and the sea was fresh and calm, so I said yes to the beach. It’s hard to learn to say yes to what you want and no to what you don’t, and knowing the difference. To have people take you seriously when you change your mind. I wore an old t-shirt and boxers because I don’t own anything else. I’m fat again now but flat-chested and tattooed and stubbornly body neutral. There were other people there, enjoying the warmth and the sun, but they were tourists. The liminal; this is my realm. I was able to ignore the occasional odd looks of judgmental teenagers, dismissing it as a folly of youth. I swam.
It was a baptismal experience. Two of my greatest loves, my parents, the sun and the sea. A rebirth into a better version of me. The first time I ever took my shirt off in public was at the beach. This wasn’t a true first, a reclamation or victory, but it was a Rubicon. One of many.
I made an offhand comment to my friend about how people have lost touch with the world around them, too absorbed into the constructed, manufactured reality of the human. That we no longer have the ability to read the winds by looking at the clouds or tell the date by the stars. My friend couldn’t accept the beach was natural, a pristine sandbank extending so far from the shore, believing the sand to be imported. To him, the sand was too real, like a postmodern dream. There’s a walking trail where one can see how dramatically the shape of the coast has changed by comparing it to Impressionist paintings of the Heidelberg School of the late 19th century, shifted about by the waves in the natural bowl created by the very narrow opening to the bay. The Boonwurrung land that I love and through love wish to know.
He told me rain had been forecast-it was raining over the bay at that moment, far in the distance, but I knew the clouds wouldn’t make landfall judging by their size, shape, and the speed of the wind. They didn’t that evening, at least nowhere near me.
Not long after, we both spotted an insect floating on the surface of the glassy green water. It was a bee, and I immediately wanted to see if it was still alive. My friend was worried for me, that I shouldn’t use my bare hands to pick her up. I did anyway. I knew she wouldn’t sting me. She didn’t. Cradled against the wind in my palm, she immediately began grooming the salty water from her legs.
I’ve never been stung in my life, partly through luck, occupation, and love. As a child I never had a forest to run wild in, so I’d spend hours observing insects in our yard instead. I loved cicadas, dragonflies, mantises, beetles, bees and case moths best.
I carried the bee the long way back to shore and gently nudged her off my hand in the shade with some flowers nearby. My thoughts and statements are often punctuated by what others may consider coincidence such as this, but I know it’s a dialogue. We’re in a constant conversation with the world around us. To ignore it is the source of a well of deep emptiness that results in a drive toward apocalyptic self-destruction. Anything to escape the pain. Pay attention, it was telling me, disconnected from my body and the natural world, suffering. The entire biosphere of our world is as one organism, one community. Listen. It’s speaking truth to power.
Today I spent most of the day lying in bed feeling surly, tired and hurting. The day the marriage equality plebiscite results were released. It was a win, but the cost was too high, the percentage too low, the outlook too grim. Then I heard thunder and rushed outside to feel the first few drops of rain on my skin and relief from the oppressive heat and stress and uncertainty I’d been holding on to. It hit me like a wave. I could feel the love and strength and relief of the queer ancestors and we wept together. I opened all my windows to let them in, to wash away the tension.
There is still sand in my hair. Small victories.