Content note: This post contains graphic descriptions of emotional abuse and mentions physical abuse. Proceed with caution.
Often people describe abuse as occurring primarily in cycles (including specifically with the pronouns this way):
He is effusively loving
Then, he resents her being a separate person from him
Tension builds up
He explodes and hits her
Then he’s all ~remorseful~ and swears he’ll never do it again
Then he is effusively loving again
and the cycle continues
That’s definitely a real thing. But it’s not the only pattern (and even when it is, it happens in gender configurations other than male abusers and female victims, and it’s not always between romantic partners.) There are many, many patterns of abuse and they’re not all discussed very much.
Here’s another pattern (not the only other pattern):
The abusive person will be demeaning and effusively loving at the same time
They will do something degrading and something genuinely positive simultaneously
There won’t be a discernible cyclical pattern because both parts happen at the same time
This can be very, very disorienting to the victim, who might be tricked into seeing their abuser as loving, considerate, and insightful, and themself as not living up to their abuser’s love
Daniel: I love you so much. I brought you your favorite flowers. Not everyone would be so understanding of your irrational need for flowers.
Daniel hugs Debra
Debra hugs back
Debra feels awful about herself, and feels good about Daniel
Susan: Hey, the fair’s in town. Let’s go!
Susan: I made you a jacket to wear.
Bill: That’s beautiful! Thank you!
They drive to the fair, and it’s warm out, so Bill decides to leave the jacket in the car
Susan: Where’s your jacket? Don’t you know that it hurts my feelings when you reject my gifts? I just wanted to have a nice time with you.
Susan: I guess it’s not your fault. I know you’ve never been in a successful relationship before. We all have stuff to work on.
Bill then tearfully apologizes and promises to work on it.
tl;drIf someone is hurting you and it doesn’t seem to be happening in cycles, you are not alone. Abuse doesn’t always happen in a cycle of overt abuse and effusive love. Sometimes abuse is more mixed and constant. Scroll up for one example of a different pattern.
So I get that tone policing is a real and damaging thing, but I really want there to be more of a conversation about how for many of us who grew up being shouted at, discomfort with shouting and insults isn’t about being uncomfortable hearing about someone’s oppression; it’s about being uncomfortable with shouting and insults. And like, you get to shout if that’s what you want/need to do, and I get to set a boundary around *myself*, which is that I cannot deal with shouting, and I’m in pain when I see people getting insulted and shouted at, and I don’t want to be around it.
And I know a lot of people would probably just be like “no you’re just saying that to get off the hook from caring about people’s oppression” and you know what? That’s completely wrong, but I won’t try to argue with it, because I still get to have my boundaries. I shouldn’t have to give you the details of some of the shit my dad said to me before our relationship improved into what it is now. I don’t have to justify or give evidence to prove that I have reasons to be really not ok with yelling. It’s my boundary. Period.
Maybe there is a space we can carve out here, a space in which it’s tone-policing to say “I don’t like this tone and therefore you should never use it” but not tone-policing to say, “I can’t handle yelling/insults and my boundary is to not be in a space where it’s happening, so if you are unable/unwilling to not yell/insult, I will have to leave.”
But ultimately the truth is that I care a lot more about my boundaries and self-care than I care about what other people think of me. Yes, obviously, I do care what people think and it does hurt me when others dislike me or get angry at me, even when I think they’re in the wrong; I just care about my boundaries more. I am not going to be in spaces where I or other people are being yelled at or insulted.
“In this series you will see one woman, an average young professional, depicted in routine daily situations. The concept of male entitlement is represented by male arms and hands performing a variety of actions that are overwhelmingly intrusive on her body and her life. In each situation she maintains a blank expression, a visual choice that demonstrates how conditioned we as women have become to accept this atmosphere as excusable and even normal.”
Sometimes people use being mean to sound right. (Intentionally or unintentionally).
When you’re afraid of someone, it can feel dangerous to disagree with them. (Sometimes the danger is real, sometimes it isn’t.)
If you’re afraid to disagree with someone, you might find yourself coming up with a lot of arguments in favor of their position, and feeling like they’re more credible than they really are.
It can be worth noticing you’re afraid, and thinking through whether you’d still agree with them if you weren’t afraid.
Susan (in a mean, not-quite yelling tone): Implausible hounds are real! I can’t believe anyone thinks they’re not. I’m glad all my friends get it.
Susan’s friend Bob isn’t sure whether or not implausible hounds exist, but doesn’t want to get yelled at, doesn’t want Susan to stop respecting him, and doesn’t want to be a bad friend
So Bob might ignore his doubts about implausible hounds and try to convince himself that they definitely exist by ignoring all the arguments he can think of that implausible hounds are implausible.
This can happen subconsciously, so it’s worth trying to notice when it’s happening:
If someone is saying something forcefully
And you find yourself agreeing
And you feel really bad about agreeing
Or you feel really bad about doubting them
It’s worth asking yourself whether you’re agreeing out of fear, and whether you’d agree with them if you weren’t afraid
This can happen for other reasons; sometimes learning a new thing can feel bad (eg: if you realize you were being a jerk). It’s worth considering whether you’re agreeing out of fear, and also worth being open to the possibility that you’re agreeing because you’re actually convinced. It always takes thought to figure out which it is.
tl;dr When people are mean or scary; it can make their arguments seem better than they really are. If you’re afraid, feeling awful after agreeing with something, or feeling awful about doubting someone, it’s a sign that you might be agreeing out of fear rather than having been persuaded. When that happens, it’s worth pausing to think through things and figure out whether you’re agreeing out of fear, or agreeing because you’ve actually been persuaded.
Whatever your chosen niche within sex work, two things can be said with more or less absolute certainty:
1) There will be clients who ask or demand things that cross your boundaries.
2) Your income will have its downward slopes, and they will not always be connected to factors within your control.
And sometimes these things will occur simultaneously. Which means that you have to weigh your boundaries against the potential payoffs, both of that one session, and any future sessions you could miss out on by saying no.
There’s no one right answer to these moments, that’s part of why they suck. Sometimes the best way to take care of yourself is to suck it up and do the thing (whatever it is), and sometimes it’s better to cheerily wave bye-bye-don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out, and there’s not a clear rubric for which one it is going to be this time, for you specifically.
But doing sex work for a comparatively long time has taught me one particularly useful thing for these uncertain moments: clients leave all the time. Your best regular, the one who tells you you reinvigorated his life, who sees you eight times a month, who tips like money is going out of style, they all can fuck off at any time. And if and when they do, the explanation (were you ever to get it) will nine times out of ten have exactly jack shit to do with service you provided.
Clients leave because they move or change jobs, because their schedules or tastes shift, because they’re superstitious or whimsical or just plain forgetful. For any reason you can imagine or no reason at all (usually the latter). And so, while it’s absolutely true that your boundaries will shift (in every direction! this is not a linear experience!) over time, it can be helpful to remember that, if you are considering doing something just because you want to make your client stay, remember that you can’t. And if you decide not to do the thing, and they fuck off, remember that they probably would have anyhow, whether this week or next.
There will always be more clients. And they’ll leave too. You are capable and you will be fine.
“And this trope of “You are a terrible person if you block or ban or mute people” is one of the most common forms of Internet harassment — especially for women. It’s extra insidious because, to people who aren’t clued in to the reality of being a feminist woman on the Internet, it can sound very reasonable. The mere fact of having boundaries, the mere fact of making decisions about who we are and aren’t willing to engage with, gets us framed as close-minded, non-skeptical, censorious, fascist bitches. When it’s aimed at women, this “How dare you block or ban or mute!” trope basically means, “You have no right to have boundaries. It is your job to listen, patiently and politely, for as long as people want to talk. Men have the floor, and women are the audience. You are a woman, and that means you’re a public commodity, and you have to give access to yourself to anyone who wants it. Quit whining, and engage with every asshole who wants to engage with you.””
You are not your child’s voice. Even if they can’t speak. Even if you understand some of their communication. Even if you fight hard battles to get others to respect and support them.
Even if you need to say things on their behalf that they’re not able to say. Even if you’re currently the only effective advocate they have.
No matter how much you care about your child, no matter how much you get right, you’re not them. They have a perspective of their own, and they disagree with you on some things. (Because they’re people, and no two people agree on everything.)
You are not your child's voice. You can only speak from your own perspective. You are not them. And you’ll be a more effective and respectful advocate if you keep this in mind.
“When people show you their boundaries (“I can’t do this for you”) you feel rejected…part of your struggle is to set boundaries to your own love. Only when you are able to set your own boundaries will you be able to acknowledge, respect and even be grateful for the boundaries of others.”
“Compassion requires that we have good personal boundaries—that is, that we are able to advocate for and defend our own needs. If you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and view them with kindness and understanding even if their needs are contradictory to your own, but you can’t assert or advocate for your own needs, you risk allowing them to take advantage of you, or becoming codependent. Compassion lies in viewing someone in the best possible light, understanding their needs, looking upon them with kindness—all without allowing them to manipulate, control, or abuse you. You have to be able to understand and even value someone else’s perspective without becoming a doormat.”
Boundaries: what does it mean to be, ‘involved’? And why, ‘we can’t both stare’.
In TSoT Mycroft disscuses with Sherlock the issue that he’s, ‘involved’, in John’s life. The simplest reading of this is that he cares. He’s allowed himself to care. Allowing yourself to care isn’t just about the feeling that you love someone or that you wish them well, it’s also about intimacy: the intimacy of dropping your boundaries around them.
During the pregnancy deduction on the dance floor, we see Sherlock at his most intimate and vulnerable. This is when John and himself look at each other, ironically, in the most intimate and meaningful way that we’ve ever seen. Amongst the flashing lights, it’s all laid bare: Sherlock has him deep in his heart, so deep that he’s happy for him that he’s with someone else. So deep that his love has become entirely selfless, in that moment, he only cares about John. About his happiness, about his future.
As this moment draws to a close we see Sherlock look pensive and realise that’s what Mycroft meant when he said, ‘involved’. It wasn’t just about feelings, it wasn’t just about being in John’s life, it was about vulnerability, it was about having no walls up around someone. Immediately after this realisation we see Sherlock, ‘pull himself together’, and say, ‘dance!’, separating himself from John and Mary. They have all just shared a very intimate moment and for the first time, ever, Sherlock has realised, truly realised his place in that triangle.
It may seem odd that Mary says, ‘what about you?’, right then, but really it’s not. They are three friends, on a happy occasion, who’ve just shared an intimate moment together, what’s the reason for John and Mary to suddenly saunter off and dance without him? If we observe the dance floor, the ratio of couples dancing together to groups of friends dancing together is pretty even; there are even some guests doing a conga line. In fact, the first people on the dance floor are three girls all holding hands. Three friends, dancing. Why does John and Mary’s, ‘coupledom’, mean so much, all of a sudden? Because Sherlock has realised what he’s been doing since he met John: he’s let him into to his heart and enjoyed being close to him, without ever really considering what they are to each other.
John, feeling the melancholy of this final intimacy, responds to Sherlock’s cue seamlessly: ‘we can’t all three dance’. Ironically, even at this time of departure, they are on the same page. John needs this boundary, right then, as much as Sherlock does. He cannot dance casually in a group with his wife and best friend, simply because he’s just truly been hit with the weight of how much Sherlock’s not really his, ‘mate’, after all. In both senses of the word. He’s not his friend and he’s not his boyfriend. And for the first time ever, that really hurts. That ambiguity, in which they’ve lived since the beginning, is no longer tenable.
This is why in HLV Sherlock is so different, because he’s trying to put up a boundary where there never was one.
During Sherlock’s vow, his face has never looked more open (up until this point).
This face that has shown so much tension, so much guardedness, makes this gesture of complete romantic surrender, right there, in front of everyone. On the dance floor, this will all hit Sherlock. It’s like he will realise that he’s not wearing any trousers and he hasn’t been, for a long time. He got carried away with sentiment. He failed to realise that he was not one of the people getting married. He was a central player in their Wedding Dance, but now, suddenly, he can’t be part of some casual dancing? This is why he must leave: he’s already said enough, shown enough, he must now put up some boundary; for himself, for John and for Mary.
Remember at Angelo’s when Sherlock says, ‘we can’t both stare’? I think this is, in a way, one of the themes of their relationship. You know how they frustrate us by always looking lovingly at the other, when the other can’t see? Well, if they take turns looking at the other, then they can deny their connection and continue with their dropped boundaries. As we saw so didactically illustrated with the Sheriarty kiss, if you both stare and there’s something between you, what comes next is, inevitably, a kiss. At least on tv. But, often, in real life, too. (Not that this would happen to Sherlock with Moriarty, of course. Just that we see this theme, there. The act of looking, leads to kissing when there’s something romantic there for each to see in the other.)
In every episode they share at least one moment that’s like a kiss: they face each other, rather closely, and it seems that either of them could close that gap and kiss the other. But, these mockups sometimes have mutual intimacy, like during the drugs bust, but oftentimes have a kind of one-sided quality about them. If only one of you is really being intimate then it’s safer and the inevitable kiss can be put off one more day.
One the dance floor, at John’s wedding, they finally, ‘both stare’.
They finally look at each other in a total mutual intimacy and the context burns them both. This is why John must waltz away with Mary even though the song is not a waltz. This is why Sherlock can’t dance with them. Because he’s just realised that he’s danced with them this whole time and this whole time he was not part of the couple.
This is Sherlock, basically, kicking himself out of his own wedding. He has insinuated himself, woven himself into, every aspect of the wedding and suddenly he realises that he must stop. In part because he realises just how deeply involved he really is. As his role as third wheel becomes crystal clear, he immediately retreats and attempts to reestablish his independence.
But, it’s much too late for that: without him John falls apart. Without John, he falls apart. But, the haughtiness that Sherlock shows with John and Janine at Baker Street and at Magnussen’s, before getting shot, is his version of, ‘just friends’. This is Sherlock trying to insulate himself from their crushing intimacy. He pushes John away even as he, ‘recruits’, him to go on an adventure. This is the way we see that Sherlock is kidding himself and failing miserably at his new boundaries. Everything he is doing is a thinly veiled attempt at getting even further under John’s skin. Attempting to put a boundary only stops him from being kind and all his negative feelings come pouring out. All the jealousy and despondency he’s had to repress for John, for John to have his ideal wedding, and his ideal future, ‘with Mary’, now come pouring out.
Am I off base that I am made kind of uncomfortable by feminist blogs that post a ton of sexualized images of women. I know queer women can't have the male gaze or whatever, but when i read a series of posts that by some feminst lady that wouldn't be out of place on your average shitty dude tumblr, I feel kind of weird about it. Just because something isn't the male gaze, does that mean it isn't objectifying?
Women are capable of enacting and perpetuating misogyny against women (both themselves and other people). One of the ways this can happen is by appropriating sexualized images out of context, or sexualizing images of other people non-consensually, and obviously that is shitty and patriarchy reinforcing regardless of the gender or sexuality of the person clicking “publish.”
You put this in my inbox, though, so the first thing that jumps to mind when I hear people complaining about women posting sexualized images of women is cammers and clipsellers promoting themselves and one another, which is (quite clearly, I hope) not an instance of this. Contrary to popular belief, recognizing that only the individual themself is an appropriate arbiter of consent, including consent in light of payment — and therefore ponying the fuck up is not inherently an act of objectification, but potentially very emphatically the opposite. If we want to talk about how patriarchy creates a sense of availability and entitlement to women’s bodies, then the choice of sex workers of all genders to say “my consent, among other factors, comes with a clear, material price tag” is a strike against entitlement, not for it.
So yes, objectification can take place outside of the male gaze. But not all sexualization is objectification.