by Anis Gisele
The last time someone touched me without my consent, I was at a sweat lodge. We were supposed to part ways by shaking hands with every person and thanking them for their presence. One man my age had been overestimating his rights with me— moving in too close, interrupting me, at one point reaching from behind to cup my bare shoulder, saying, “Oh… is that a mosquito bite?”
When time came for me to shake his hand, he grinned and said, “Actually, I’m going to give you a hug.” And he did.
I have an anger problem. My mind won’t recognize my body is upset until after the fact. It’s my Delayed On-Set Anger Disorder. So, while in the moment I just stood there, like an indulgent cocker spaniel, and let him hug me, the next day I was pissed.
Is it because I am female-bodied? Small? Eastern Asian/Filipina? People feel entitled to say and do the strangest things to me.
I sit behind the front desk at a gym. I get commentary on my weight like the pounds are scoreboard stats, anything from “I would never work out if I were as skinny as you” to “Maybe you should work out harder— I see a little double chin.”
“She’s my new little flower. My new flower in the garden,” a seriously mistaken man told my male co-worker, gesturing towards me. He didn’t address me. He just laid claim.
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Whom do I belong to in this body? I am lunged for on the streets. Sometimes curbside Casanovas think they’ll score if they offer a little linguistic elegance: “Kunichiwa, baby! Ni hao ma!” (The language you’re looking for is Tagalog, pal.) When I wear baggy sweats and no feminine markers, it is made clear I am transgressing when some former Romeo shoves past me and says, “Watch it, dude.”
At the sweat lodge, my friend commented she was really happy with the gender ratio, and I blurted out, “Really? I feel outnumbered!”
She laughed. “It’s because you spend every day with the Bentsters [queers who are part of Seattle’s Bent writing community]. Every [straight-identified cis] man’s energy is multiplied by three!”
It’s true. I don’t take it for granted that I run in these compassionate and evolved queer circles.
In the heteronormative world, when a gym member or co-worker places his hand on the small of my back, with the intent of making his interest known, it is an assertion that I am property. A waxed, plucked, and oiled hull. A silly girl (She’ll smile for you). A hairless, meatless husk.
With the bulk of my post-pubescence spent pushing advances away, I never learned how to ask for touch I do want. When, on the bus, a great, white-haired woman flops down, like a pile of dryer-fresh laundry, on the seat next to me, I feel the sudden, bizarre need to bury my face in her ample neck, her armpit, the layers of flesh draped softly over her waist. I file this impulse as a symptom of my touch-starvation. And I do want to be touched. I want someone young and warm and honest to share a bed with, to feel the meat of their thighs cinched around my hipbones.
It is only now that I have begun to see this as normal: I am queer; I am of color; I am spinning, like a loose wheel, with this need to simultaneously lash out at the world and bring it in closer.
Nowadays, for my own psychological protection, I only work out at a boxing gym four blocks away from where I work— one that allows me my boundaries and my aggression. I first went on a whim, on a night I felt hideously lonely, bad-at-dating, and boring. As my friend was dropping me off, she looked at me skeptically and said, “Text me to come back for you if you change your mind. Will you be the only woman in there?” I made a face at the thought but told her I was committed to walking in and staying.
The first two women I saw were the coaches, both wearing deep violet T-shirts with the word DYKE in white print clear across the chest. I thought, Yes. There are my kind of women in here. Women who seem capable of both pounding me flat and pulling me close. Women who don’t feel entitled to any measure of physical intimacy with me nor assume that I exist in a constant mental state of trust and personal safety.
If there is a definition of freedom, boxing holds it closer to light for me. The overwhelming burn, the immediacy of every muscle, the smack of contact when you swing a tight hook, the drenched fabric on your chest and back. The experience of yourself thirsty, breathless, and uncertain. The experience of not feeling that dehumanizing gaze, the gaze that considers how your legs would look spread wide on a dirty mattress, that envies your flat stomach (which you— in the past— have had to starve yourself down to), or that wonders what ethnicity you are and if every person with any thread to that continent is as skinny as you.
I don’t know how to ask for or explain what I want, and as I’m learning, I want to intentionally choose spaces where I don’t have to. One class, I was trying (unsuccessfully) to give grief to a heavy bag when one of the coaches, the older, broad-shouldered woman, said quietly, “Anis, is it okay if I touch you?” In a boxing gym. Someone asks if they can touch me, in a boxing gym. I wheezed out a yes, and she very gently placed one hand on my shoulder and one hand on my glove to show me how to extend my arm.
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Anis Gisele is a puddle-jumper boot-swinging candy-swapper— and the Gentlest Hammer you will ever meet. When people told her she needed to shut up, she started writing. A lot. She owes an impossible debt of gratitude to strong queers, radical artists, and chosen family.
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