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marked by canines.

Photography by Adam Coleman

I came out of the womb in a birthing squat.

My pen is the fruit of my life’s labor — the written story.

To blow the lid off my own life and expose, whether through fiction, poetry, or essay, is the only way I know how not to feel alone when the going gets bad.

2023 was a year that ravaged me. It presented me with the unique challenge of learning, piece by piece, both the ecstasy of love bombing and the decimation that comes after it in an abusive relationship. An abusive queer relationship. My tongue still stumbles to speak of it. The bloody guilt of it. To ring the bell and say abuse does not discriminate, it exists even within the warm womb of queer culture.

The fear of speaking out against a member of my own queer community, a space I protect vehemently, felt silencing. And I found little resources which felt specific to me. We do ourselves a disservice by failing to speak on the matter of it. Where are we to turn when we ourselves become ensnared by it — the never-saw-it-coming abusive queer relationship?

As Emma Rose Byham writes in her book, Was it Even Abuse, “Lesbian and bisexual women are less likely to come forward about intimate partner abuse. Not only is abuse itself a hidden experience, but there’s a fear that openly discussing abuse in same-sex relationships will generate further negative views when they already face societal prejudices. This is an additional barrier that extends across the LGBTQIA+ community in seeking support after experiencing abuse.”

Emotional and psychological abuse is slow, exacting, over time obliterating all grasp on reality. I know no other way to write, than to write my whole self in. I have only the well of my own experience to work with. How can one write their life in when they can’t get a grip on the reality of what their life is?

Exposure therapy is all there is for an artist. It is all we are ever doing — exposing ourselves. And from the only source we have — our own lens. I feel called to offer the writing of my life as both data and hope in 2024.

As I begin the new year, I remember that all art is political and that I must use my lens to offer information, resources, and community by sharing stories through my own unique point of view. I am a queer, non-binary child of a Cuban immigrant, a late bloomer, a lover, an artist, a human, a student, a pet-parent, I work in entertainment. If I don’t start writing from the seat of my own experience and truth now, then when? It’s time I use the gift of my unique lens.

I enter 2024 with a mission to reach the people who need the company of my stories the most. If my story is all I have, I will own it, ring its bell, wring it for every ounce of lesson, and reflect it back for someone else to mine for the places in which we connect. I will not deny the opportunity to remind us, both me and you, that we are but puny flawed naked angels, who come to this planet in skin suits, nude and screaming, briefly breathing before departing.

In the in-between there’s living. Some days or weeks or years will feel more lucky, light, or heavy. We all feel our own joy and suffering 100 percent. If I don’t expose my own version of this dance we all came to earth to take, then I rob myself of knowing the dots by which you and I connect.

And in the end, isn’t that our ultimate life’s work — to connect?

Years ago, I sat around on the rug with two friends and a pile of tarot cards, my reader-of-cards friend looked at me, a wine-drunk wink, and nodded to the lover-friend sitting beside me as I pulled the True Love card.

Lover-friend’s mouth fell open and a laugh escaped.

“Who me? Us? I think JP’s true love is their art,” they said.

I began writing, in a Hello Kitty notebook, at age 10. Since then, it has always been my mode of processing the world around me. It takes a precedence in my life. I know no other way to write, than to write my whole self in. The well of my own experience is all I have to work with. One could say the absence of my pen in my hand, means the absence of me. Anyone who attempts to take this from me, does not truly love or see me. Lover-friend knew this.

In 2023, something highly unusual happened for me.

I put down my pen.

In the throes of a fast moving, new, and increasingly abusive romantic relationship, my pen stoped spilling ink.

My life had become consumed by a person I was afraid of, couldn’t please, yet couldn’t figure out how to leave. In 2023 I learned the true definition of a trauma bond. And it was with the first queer person I had shared authentic and satisfying sexual chemistry with. Fuel on an already confusing experience. Kicking a trauma bond, especially in cases of people who share extraordinary physical chemistry, is like kicking heroine.

I white knuckled it. In time I kicked it entirely. I could now name the abuse that was happening but struggled to find resources that could help me as the literature available was primarily heteronormative, often speaking of the abuser as a man, victims as battered women. I wasn’t battered, and my partner wasn’t a man, but I did feel enormously helpless and threatened. There are few resources on psychological abuse in relationships between lesbians.

As I come up for air, four months out of the relationship that ravaged me, I find myself with my pen back in my hand, feeling challenged and inspired to dedicate a large sum of my writing this year, to sharing the stories of my own life, as a resource to others — more bravely and candidly than I ever have. I want to use this platform, in addition to writing poetry and fiction, as an opportunity to share honestly on my experiences in queer relationships, navigating trauma, and learning to live more authentically in a world where social media has skewed our own realities and can add to our own damagings. I’m feeling called to use my unique voice more consciously as I write this year and to truly connect with readers who may benefit from reading my words.

I spent much of 2023 entirely disassociated. I could not locate the material, the well from which I write — my feelings. Each time I sit down to reflect on my experiences, I access new fragments of memory I’d kept hidden, not only from my friends, family and therapist, but even from my very own mind.

In a smoke-screened sky, where where where is the air to breathe with?

My relationship had forced me out of touch with writing. What emotional truths could I possibly write in earnest, and without risking my own safety in sharing them?

If writing is the meal I understand and nourish my life through, abuse had been the boot which knocked out the very teeth with which I eat that life giving food.

I crawled to the end of 2023 dog-toothed, tired, but finally free. In these early weeks of January, 2024, the journalist, the storyteller, the artist in me, the kid who is never not with a journal in their hand, awakens. I want to understand. I write in attempt to comprehend, to investigate how a nut gets cracked. I write to find out who may reach out and hold up their hand and say, "me too."

Often an abuser was at one time the recipient of abuse. I seek the answer to the question, "How do we discontinue these cycles? What can we do?"

In the corner, I sit alone and pull my face off and really look at it. I run a finger down the bridge bone of my nose and wonder how did I get like this. Why did I take a chance on this. I write like I might find some semblance of understanding for who and how and why life is what it is. I write into the void and wait for an answer back.

If I fail to let my voice ring out, who, I ask you, will holler back?

I am a natural romantic, a believer in magic. It is my fatal flaw, and my most prized gift. I am a sucker for the magic trick, the spin of the imagination. 2023 was the year I fell for a con, a carnival trick.

I fell for a lover, who nearly every night, would recite the words of my own poem, a poem about falling in love slowly, to me in a whisper before drifting to sleep.

Bite by bite, piece by piece, marked by canines, lovers teeth.

I couldn’t have known, that through the feelings elicited by the words of my very own poem, our relationship would escalate, I’d fall in love with a trick of the hand, a mask, and with my very own love mirrored back to me. That these words would be used to keep me hopeful, as they proceeded to psychologically disempower and control me, striking the me from me, piece by calculated piece.

They left a shell of me.

It’s eerie to me now to read the final words of the poem I’d written, almost as if a prophecy.

Come here baby, nice and slow, come here and kick in my teeth.

But my pen, you see, it will forever resurrect me. There is nothing you can take from me, if at the end of the day, I still have my own story and my pen. My art remains the most faithful lover I have ever had. It has never abandoned me, and it has permitted me to begin again and again and again.

I will never not alchemize my life.

I will use myself until I am dead-spent.

I will use the story of my life, to make art, to try try try to understand the internal landscape of as many humans as I can.

I am but a dish laying my life bare before your microscope with the hope that a dope out there will save me a glance which says, I understand, I understand your brand of living. A nod that says, I have tripped on those landmines, too. I have eaten that fork-kind of meal with a spoon, just like you.

This is how I came out of the womb — forming sentences before I knew how to use a toilet. They may not be perfect, beautiful even, but they are true. True of my live and waking experience of life.

Sometimes we give and give and give and get nothing back. We miss the bus. The love is lost. We lose something precious — up in smoke — ashes. The risk wasn’t worth the cost. And that’s just the murderous bloody truth of it. It’s not always fair. And there really are some monsters out there. But there are places for connection too. Right here. See, we’re doing it now, I’m doing it with you.

I hold my head up high and I survive, not because I am a survivor, though I am, but because we all are. I am no stronger than anyone else. I survive, not because I am strong, but because, like everyone else, the only other options are grim. There is no choice but to begin, begin, begin.

All I can do is lay my puny life before you, sliced open for you to dissect, and hold hope in my palms like a prayer, that there in your chest, some of these words might be reverberating for you. Perhaps you will remember that we are not alone, no, we are not at all alone, not yet.

In 2023, I opened all the closets and rustled the skeletons. I coughed up the blood of misogyny withdrawal. I hammered away at the still bent flaws in my own feminism. I fell and failed in love, but resurrected. And I emerge more human. And I want to write the naked truth of it this year.

If you don’t sit with grief, it will still sit with you.

I want to put my grief to good use.

I have come to the table hungry and brave. I come here ready to break the bread of thought and write it down, running on piss and vinegar and honesty as I hit the ground. How can we reach the back row with our voice if we never open our mouths. I’m ready to hold my pen again. I’m ready to make a sound.


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