Tuesday

Trump wins the presidency.

My body is in rebellion
I am excreting things:
blood + pus + mucus; ingrown hairs
making their way up and out.
Everything out. I am shedding this hard-won self
in the face of banal and crushing opposition.

This is day zero.

I rinse the dishes,
wipe down the stove with a
stiff blue sponge. Lean on the counter.
We congregate in small circles, looking at each other.
Waiting. Saucer eyes, splotchy necks.

Didi brought cake which we eat
with our hands, feral kids
with fingers in our mouths.
I want to feed it to all of you.
I want to push this love I have for you past
the muscles of your throat and to wrap it around
your insides,
safe in there
where no one can get to it.

We take turns touching one another,
making rounds, and one after another
I notice how small we all are
how finite in my arms.

Trump says:
she called to congratulate me
and we wail. There is no air for our grief.

We hold and are held.
I have never heard you cry before.

How will you answer to us, Mr. President?

You must know that we will survive you.

We are queer and we are legion. We are not going away.
Our slippery magnetic force was forged in flames hotter than you can even imagine.
We have seen worse than you, and flowered. 

Not Sorrys from Alison and Kate - Week of 9/19

I’m not sorry for taking on leadership roles with my peers, and I’m not sorry if you think I’m bossy

I’m not sorry that I won’t “volunteer my time” talking about something I am an expert about

I’m not sorry that I am starting the day watching an episode of Garfunkel and Oates even though I have so many things to do, because I know it will make me feel better about being in the world.

I’m not sorry for saying “no” to a collaboration I knew would stress me out

I’m not sorry that I can’t hang out

I’m not sorry that I don’t have the energy to figure out the kinder way to talk to you right now

I’m not sorry for doing what feels good.

I’m not sorry for talking about queer sex all the time

I’m not sorry for expecting and enjoying praise when I do a bang-up job

Not Sorrys from Alison and Kate - Week of 9/12

I’m not sorry that I’m still learning how to take care of myself around social media.

I’m not sorry I blocked you.

I’m not sorry the best part of my day rn is walking my dog at 6am.

I’m not sorry for taking selfies.

I’m not sorry I’d rather read than do most other things.

I’m not sorry I’m cranky.

I’m not sorry that I did 4 homesteading projects instead of write my thesis. It’s been a stressful week.

I’m not sorry I’m enraged that an undergrad took non-consensual pictures of me during lecture and I’m not sorry that I will take up time next week addressing it.

Not Sorrys from Alison and Kate - Week of 9/5

I’m not sorry for being snarky.

I’m not sorry that I listen to pop music.

I’m not sorry that I make esoteric art.

I’m not sorry that I’m learning to teach as I teach.

I’m not sorry that I am not legibly disabled to you and am therefore challenging your ideas about what disability might be. I'm not sorry if that makes your life more complicated.

I'm not sorry that I refused help and rolled my eyes when some dude was trying to be reeeeeeeally nice and helpful.

I’m not sorry for sexting at work.

I’m not sorry that I always, always screen my calls.

I’m not sorry that I’ve probably creeped on you on the Internet.

I’m not sorry that I will always support the work of other women and femmes who keep creating things in the face of fuckery and opposition.

I’m not sorry that I change my mind.

I’m not sorry that I love sex.

Not Sorrys from Alison and Kate - Week of 8/29

I’m not sorry that I listen to my music very loud.

I’m not sorry that I let my car run on empty, a lot.

I’m not sorry that I prioritize relationships- intimate and friendly- over most other things.

I’m not sorry for being a gym teacher with armpit hair.

I’m not sorry for not engaging in paternalistic small talk with strangers on the bus.

I’m not sorry for thinking a lot of art is terrible.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Unapologetically yours,

Alison and Kate

The secret to dancing

 

Last night I went to a queer dance club in Boston with my dear friend Rose. Rose is the kind of unabashed, soulful dancer that makes me want to dance in every beautiful way I know how. When Rose went to the bathroom, a young person approached me: 

“May I dance with you?”
“Sure.”
“I don’t know if I can keep up with you. Maybe you can give me some tips.”

But we just kept dancing. Rose came back, and she disappeared. And then I realized the only dance tip that matters: 

The secret is to take up space.

I ran into her later and let her in on my little snippet of advice.
"Like.... this? Just... like a lot of space?" She started dancing.
You got it. Find the space that you can. Unapologetically. Largely.

So in case you too need a little advice for dancing, or for living in this world, imagine a little queer angel whispering to you:

"The secret is to take up space."

-Alison 

 

The community as home

I was out of the country last week and sat with my partner in a coffeeshop on Sunday night. It was one of our brief periods with wifi, and we found and read article after article, Facebook statuses and twitter feeds, dazed by the disorientation that comes from realizing that in such a brief time, we had missed so much. So much time had passed that our communities had endured this great sadness while it was still unbeknownst to us. 

I’m experiencing waves of sadness and anger, exhaustion and grief about the massacre of queer, black and Latinx people in Orlando. I saw a picture that one of my sister’s friends had re-posted of her at Boston Pride from last year and fell apart. I thought of a dear young relative who is only just coming out. I thought of the way that fear moves in this country and reverberates throughout the world. I thought of queer spaces that have brought me life, and our elders who fought tirelessly for these spaces. I thought of the queer and Latinx erasure, the Islamophobia that would be wrapped into it all, and the way that ableist language—crazy, insane, deranged, ill—would saturate even “well-intentioned” statements, and how I would cringe every single time, regardless of intention.

The thing that continues to move me to unapologetic anger, however, is the advice that I have been passively receiving about the importance of “staying safe.” I heard it from well-intentioned people in my life, and saw it on Facebook statuses of people I barely know anymore. I felt it, unspoken, in conversations that just felt too short, and in things being implied, yet left unsaid. I saw people urging others not to attend Pride activities, to “stay safe.” To gather in small groups, not to “create targets.” Safety is an illusion, but one thing I know is that asking people to “stay safe” by staying out of groups, not seeking community in deeply sad times, is not safe. It’s instilling public fear. 

Queer community is where I’ve found home. Home has never been a place for me, but a vibration, a person or group of people, a feeling. What’s more, I’ve found home in this body, which may or may not be a “target.” I have found home among other disabled people and queer people with beautiful, “dangerous,” “target” bodies all around the world, and I will never be sorry. 

I don't know what “safety” means, but I know that for many marginalized people—trans people, people of color, disabled people—safety does not exist. I also know that so many people still endure each day without it. I’m not sorry that I’m disgusted when people tell me to “stay safe” as if it's real, and because I know they actually mean to stay quiet, stay invisible, be afraid, to deny my privilege.

I’m not sorry that I’ve created a life where community might mean less “safety,” where home is in this body that I make more “dangerous” each time I come out as queer or disabled, through my words or behavior, and stand with other, or more marginalized bodies. I am not sorry that I refuse to give in to an illusion of “safety” to pacify people with perhaps well-meaning, yet entirely misguided and offensive opinions. There was a time when I was less proud. It did not feel more safe.

I'm not sorry for noticing when bars, marches, and protests are inaccessible to certain people, and for talking about who may be missing from these events because ableism, racism, transphobia, and Islamophobia are still alive in marginalized spaces. I’m not sorry for talking about the way that the media and the government manufacture fear and the way our society eats it up and uses religion, guns, mental health, and the “all of us” rhetoric to keep distance from the ways that we are complicit in all of this.

I dearly hope you seek community where you are moved to find it. I hope you gather, and discover new ways to be proud and unapologetic, and embody this in the way that it works for you. I hope that healing and comfort come into you in the ways that you need it to. I want to hold space for you. I want us to hold each other.

Fiercely, and with love,
Alison

 

Sanctuary

Grief is a funny thing. I pulled my car over this morning, eyes blurry with tears for 49 people I do not know and for a community to which I belong but whose many depths and corners I can never hope to touch. What is it in us that allows us to grieve the unknown?

There is already so much wrong with what is being said about the attack in Orlando. Better writers and thinkers than myself have addressed these issues more thoroughly, but briefly:

1)our grief is no excuse for racism; 2)conservatives: how dare you attempt to co-opt our queer grief for your own insidious ends (xenophobia, violence, political gain); 3)how many more times will we hear the phrase “worst mass shooting in U.S. history” before we make concrete changes to gun control legislation which will end this sick competition?; 4) what happened in Orlando was a hate crime, designed to sow fear and oppression. Anti-queer, anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ fear and hatred is alive and well in this country.

My grief unfolds in stages- slowly in trickles of quiet moments throughout the workday, then all at once at home, standing at the kitchen counter doubled-over with the weight of this nebulous sadness. How can I quantify or explain how it feels to know that the site of some of the deepest joys of my adult life- a dance floor filled with queers- will be marked with fear and claustrophobia from here on out? I think back to the freedom I have felt in these spaces over the years: the space for becoming, the inhabiting of my body. The ease of anonymous community. All things I struggle with in my real life (knowing myself, being present in my body, feeling easily connected to others). There have been shitty, drunken, messy nights at queer parties, absolutely- but even the worst of these nights unfolded in an environment of safety and belonging.

There is a scene in season two of Transparent (a show not without its flaws), when Ali, the youngest of the Pfefferman clan, walks into a queer party for the first time after acknowledging her own queerness. Bodies press together, joyful laughing faces swim up out of the crowd into sharp focus, and we are in Ali’s head as her eyes alight on the curve of an arm, the thrilling line of lips about to whisper into an upturned ear. The crowd is gorgeous in its anonymity and its specificity- each detail is glorious and the whole feels like a dream. Ali is flooded with joy, excitement, belonging. She is intrigued. She’s at home. It’ the truest representation of my experience of queer spaces that I’ve ever seen captured on film. Those Friday night homecomings will continue to be my church, but they will now be marked with fear.

The Not Sorry Project is enough a part of my life these days that I filter new experiences through its lens. In thinking and reading about Orlando over the last few days, I have circled back to one quote again and again. From Jeremy Kaatz, via Twitter: ‘If you can’t wrap your head around a bar or club as a sanctuary, you’ve probably never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public.’ Those few characters beautifully sum up my sadness around this event, which has deepened in the ensuing silence and/or ignorance shown by much of the rest of the world in response. It also succinctly encapsulates the message of the Project: if you can’t wrap your head around why someone might need to declare what they are not sorry for, you’ve probably never been made to feel that who or how you are is something you need to apologize for.

We will continue to make and claim space for your not sorrys. We will continue to call out racism, homophobia, transphobia, ISLAMOPHOBIA, and hatred of all kinds. We will continue to fuck shit up. We will continue to love loudly and proudly. Thank you for your support, friends. Holding each of you in our hearts.

Kate

 

Explaining the Not Sorry Project to my dad

“Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me

A pattern is emerging: the dads in my life seem to find The Not Sorry Project confusing. Though they are less forthright with this criticism, I’m pretty well convinced that they find it angry and abrasive, too. In response to the submission that states “I’m not sorry I didn’t shut the door when I peed,” a friend's father says: Why would you want to say that out loud?; after reading my post about reclaiming my dyke identity ("Visibility and Invisibility"), my dad is concerned not with my experience of erasure, but that I am publicizing inappropriately sexual facts about myself on the Internet. He has also told me that he finds what he calls the “negative” lens of the Project perplexing; it’s hard for him to grasp the very idea of proclaiming a Not Sorry, and here’s why: he has never really had to. 

The issue here, as it so often is, is privilege. The particular privilege that I am debating with my father, and with folks like the author of a recent piece about the Project on TrendHunter which proposes that some Not Sorrys are “arguably less valid” than others, is the privilege of not having to constantly legitimize our bodies, emotions, and desires. Rebecca Solnit, in her fantastic essay “Grandmother Spider,” quoted above, speaks specifically about the ways that women are denied space for their voices and corporeal selves, but this concept could and should be extended to include the experiences of other marginalized groups as well. (The hundreds of submissions that we have received since we launched the project in mid-January also speak to a more universal experience of this phenomenon.) The point is: many of us are told that certain fundamental pieces of ourselves are bad/wrong/unworthy, and this effectively amounts to erasure. We are erased by others and eventually we take on the work of erasing ourselves. We spend years, lifetimes even, trying to regain some of those pieces, through the grueling, unglamorous, and often lonely work of cultivating self-love in a society that profits from self-hatred.  (See Alison's powerful piece from earlier this month, "Resisting the Body Negative Empire," for more on this.) As we start to reclaim the pieces of ourselves that were ours to begin with, we are told that we are too much. Too angry, too assertive, too confident. These themes come up over and over again in your submissions, and this problematic sentiment- that some of us need to apologize for who and how we are- is why we started the Not Sorry Project in the first place.  

Because they are white, and male, and host to a slew of other privileges, space for The Dads’ ideas, whims, and emotions often comes pre-claimed. It is and has always been readily given, so much so that they seem to find the idea of claiming space almost fundamentally unintelligible. It's hard for folks who have not been constantly told that they need to apologize for the most basic pieces of their identity to understand why some of us need specific space to reject those narratives. I can’t necessarily fault The Dads for this gendered barrier to perception- patriarchy is just holding up it’s end of the bargain- but their inability to grasp why it might feel so vital for me to loudly, visibly claim space is frustrating to say the least. The existence of this barrier also means that when I talk with my dad about the Project, we are having two separate conversations: he can only read my assertion that I’m “not sorry for being a dyke” as an affront, as misplaced, overly sexualized indignation. He wonders why I am so angry: Gay marriage is legal these days! He has never felt the need to assert his sexual identity because it has always been a given, and his understanding of the specific micro- and macro-aggressions that I face on the daily as a queer woman is superficial at best.  There’s a feedback loop, and it’s been painful to realize that I might not be able to reach across it and make my dad get it. This is especially disheartening not just because I love him, but because in so many ways my dad is one of the good ones: a tremendously kind, loving human who brought me up to think critically about race, gender, and sexuality. I have the drive to articulate my Not Sorrys because he taught me to trust the power of my own voice. Now that I'm running with that, he seems to be feeling left out. Ultimately though, having my dad "get it" is not the point. The Not Sorry Project is not for him, or for anyone who needs convincing about it’s basic premise: that we all deserve the space we need to be our messy, glorious selves.

Resisting the Body Negative Empire

 

My self-care resolution to myself is to (when possible) no longer support environments and people in authority positions that make body negative comments. So far, this has mostly been in places of “physical activity,” and “wellness." I’ve dropped yoga classes, dance classes, therapists, doctors, and community spaces this way. The more time I spend doing this, the more I realize how difficult it is to find spaces that are body positive, and the more I also realize that this is more than self-care—it’s political, and it’s about solidarity and coalition.

The following examples are mostly related to body size and shape, though for different people and contexts, “body negative” can take the form of fatphobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, and ableism. 

When I say “body negative,” I’m talking about comments like,

"We have to get ready for bikini season,"

"You used to be a… ya know… ok-looking girl, but now you’re really a pretty girl,"

"Are you losing the l-b's? Looks good!"

I'm talking about doctors who say, "Why don't you just journal about it?"

Trainers who say, “Those lower abs can be really…problematic.”

Family or friends who say, “You’re so cute these days!!!—have you lost weight?”

I could go on and on. 

I am endlessly shocked that anyone thinks that backhanded "compliments" are appropriate, or even compliments at all (they're not). These kinds of comments contribute to a culture of shame and apology, and I'm so angry about it.

I'm angry that these kinds of environments make us feel that we have to apologize for the space we take up, that we do not have a place in the world, that we will be more valued if we get in better shape or change certain physical attributes about ourselves. I hate that these systems of shame are operating as mechanisms of “motivation.” I'm angry that we often feel that we have to apologize for the way that we are. Body negativity is so engrained in our culture that most of us don't realize how problematic these comments are—in fact, sometimes they’re masked as “compliments” and “inspiration” or just "the truth." Even if that person you’re speaking to thinks of your body negative comment as somehow positive (“I’m so happy you noticed!”), someone else might be triggered by overhearing this interaction. And that’s reason enough not to say it. And then there’s the way that we subconsciously internalize all of it and end up knowingly or unknowingly contributing to a culture that values some bodies over other bodies.

In case you missed it:

The fitness of a body does not make someone more deserving--of a cupcake, of a date, of a loving partner, of friends, of a job, of healthcare, or of real medical advice and treatment. That shouldn't be a revelation, but I've been taking in a lot of information lately that indicates otherwise.

There are structural issues in place that keep this valuation of some bodies over other bodies firmly rooted in society and also cause people to continue to replicate these harmful social structures.

It's difficult to alter your idea of success of beauty.

It's difficult not to feed into the system.

It's difficult to even see the system at work because it's enormous and it's swallowing us whole. 

And it’s so much more complicated than the size or shape of bodies. It's the same system that values white and light-skinned bodies, non-disabled bodies, gender-conforming bodies, “healthy” bodies, “happy” minds, sanity, alertness, youth. If you feel overwhelmed by this, it's because it's really. fucking. overwhelming.

I'm lost in the depths of how endless it is, but I'm trying to take a step forward even if that step feels negligible sometimes. I'm trying to find the end of any small thread and follow it out. I'm trying to trust that addressing structural issues and voicing them into the world, even to a single person, does something important. I'm trying to trust that a single statement against the hegemonic body negative norm can add to the collective consciousness. And I’ve noticed that the more I do this, or even think about it, the more comfortable I feel in my own skin. I’m reading your beautiful Not Sorry posts and following your lead that says, "I will not apologize for the space that my body takes up in the world," "I'm not sorry for being a yoga teacher who ate fried chicken for lunch," "I'm not sorry for rejecting the narrative that there isn't enough room for me," “I’m not sorry that I ate that cookie,” "I'm not sorry for having a disability," “I’m not sorry for loving the sound of my own voice,” “I’m not sorry I have this really great facial hair,” "I'm not sorry that my recovery has taken longer than you thought it would." Thank you for every one of these comments and so many more.

I will continue to remind myself and others that it’s unacceptable to talk about someone's body and place value on it. I will continue to ask why it’s considered appropriate to value some bodies over other bodies and to project narratives onto people. And then I will also ask people to stop projecting narratives onto other people and their bodies. I will do this in situations that I feel it is safe to do this. I will do this because I’m often in a position of privilege where I can do this.* I will do this because it's important coalitional work and I know that I deserve to be in spaces that are body positive and unapologetic. We all do.

*I want to acknowledge that it is not an option for people to speak up about this for many different reasons, including safety and personal comfort. As a person of privilege in many of these situations, and someone who often feels safe in confrontational interactions, I have made it my own practice to speak up when I feel safe and comfortable with it. Other times, I simply decide that I will not go back to that space, that person, that class. Other times, I take care of myself in other ways. It’s all about context. It’s all valid.

-Alison

Apologies and my sister

 

My sister submits posts to the blog all the time. Sometimes they are anonymous, and sometimes her name is attached to them. I usually tell people that she’s kind of like me, but far wittier and extroverted, loves people, is amazing with social media, and has an incredible jawline. So, like, we’re actually pretty different. But we’re probably more on-the-same-page than we ever have been. I love that she reads and participates in my First Blog Project. I think it’s especially great because she’s the human that I’ve spent the most time apologizing/not apologizing to, and I feel sometimes that it’s like we’ve circled back.

We fought all the time as children. We were really mean to each other. We were often forced to apologize to each other. When that happened, usually one of us would apologize to the other, who accused, “SHE DOESN’T MEAN IT!” Sometimes it was true. 

We had phases of apology. Once, someone told us, “You know, I’m sorry means that you’ll never do it again,” which we quickly adopted into the apology ritual.

“I’m sorry.”

“That means you’ll never do it again. Are you going to do it again?”

“No.”

I had a phase that I refused to apologize for anything, even when I was in the wrong.

We had the silent treatment phase that we would usually enact until someone broke down and apologized, or our parents got frustrated and reprimanded us, and then we ended up siding with each other instead of them. I’m not sure if that was their intention, but it worked.

My favorite phase was the one where we wrote apology notes and slid them under the other’s door, or taped them to the mirror in our shared bathroom. They were usually written on colorful paper and scrawled in magic marker. We drew silly pictures on them and used nicknames that made each other laugh to break the tension.

[I cannot find any of these notes, but know that they are darling, and that I looked through many old boxes in hopes of uncovering one. No luck.]

Even if most of our apologies or non-apologies were childish, I know I always thought about them a lot.

Those days, I really calculated whether I wanted to apologize or not. I tried to figure out if apologizing would be worth it. Would I “lose the fight” if I broke down and apologized? If I apologize, will she apologize back? Do I even mean it? 

And only now, I’m remembering how much I used to think about it. It makes me wonder when and where that knee-jerk “sorry” I mumble when I pass someone in the aisle at Walgreens comes from. 

-Alison

Here we are, back then:

Flexing new muscles

I was taught from an early age how to anticipate the needs of others and mold myself to meet them, which also means that I was raised to hitch my happiness and self worth to my ability to keep those around me happy.  At times this history feels like a gift- these skills that were instilled in me from the moment I was born make me a good listener, a good friend, and a perceptive person, and they make me good at my job as a social service provider. I can read people and social dynamics quickly and fluently.The problem is what comes after the read, or simultaneous to it: the impulse to change myself to accommodate the needs that I perceive. More often than not I make these changes subconsciously: shifting my body to more fully face the person that I am talking to, because I can sense that they need reassurance, or subtly changing my tone to be more gentle because the person I’m addressing seems taken aback by the force of my words.The content of each of these incidents is harmless, and viewed alone they are no cause for concern. It’s the quiet creep of a lifetime of these little moments that freaks me out. Billions of moments like these are why I often find myself, in my late 20s, bewildered by my lack of ability to parse out my genuine reaction from the one I believe I’m supposed to have.

Talking about what I am not sorry for is a way of articulating who I am in the face this alienation from my own feelings. As a wise human told me recently, figuring out who we are is a two-fold exercise: understanding what we do want, and understanding what we don’t want. Often the second part comes first- I am able to begin to recognize what I want to say “yes” to once I’m clear about what my hard “no’s” are. For me The Not Sorry Project is both processes at once. “I’m not sorry for loving butch women” is as much a statement about what I don’t want and will not make space for in my life- shame about my sexuality and the people that I choose to love- as it is a proclamation about what I do want: to openly and joyfully acknowledge a piece of myself in the face of potential shame and hatred.

Given that I've spent 27 years downplaying my genuine physical and emotional reactions to all kinds of situations, I am also finding undeniable pleasure in the act of asserting myself through my Not Sorrys. I’ve noticed lately that this firmness, this taking up of space, has started to inform my interpersonal interactions as well. My assertive muscles are getting stronger, and some days I'm a little drunk on this new ability to more fully inhabit my own body and mind. It feels like a step in the right direction.

Kate

 

Embodied apologies

I’ve become interested in what I’ll call the “embodied apology.” These are the moments where we make ourselves smaller, quieter, or move out of the way when we were never really IN the way. They are the moments where we narrow our shoulders on the train, look down so as not to appear too confident, or ask for help in a whisper. In her Not Sorry submission, Kate C. writes, “I will not apologize for the space that my body takes up in the world.” She writes about a man on the train, “Yet, you look at my face and feel you can dominate me with your body.” She describes her unapologetic body as, “A body that refuses to bow under the pressure of their entitled shoulders and hostile elbows.”

I love this image of the unapologetic body, refusing to bow under the pressure. I love it because I can feel it viscerally in myself. I can feel moments where I’ve fully embodied this same, unapologetic beauty; I can feel moments when I’ve kept my head up, looked at someone straight on, and continued traveling in my path.

I can also feel the places where "embodied unapologeticness" did not feel like an option. A part of my process of resisting apology is also knowing that it’s not just about me empowering myself, or all of us encouraging each other—there will always be moments that I don’t feel safe enough to speak up, or to refuse to apologize, and that this is an issue of structural inequality.

In an experience that I had at an “Integrative” “Wellness” center, I conducted a case study about how people in power co-opt blame and shame to limit choice. I was the subject. 

I will not focus on the details of what happened there. I am not interested in re-living it, and not interested in people cringing along with me or potentially being triggered by details. The only part that matters for the sake of the story is this: while I was naked on a massage table, I was blamed for not giving my full medical history, told I was “not tough enough,” ignored when I mentioned pain, was mocked, and was not taken seriously.

Intellectually, I knew that the experience was invasive. As soon as I entered that dark room, I knew I was going to have to start coping. I did the work to imagine that I wasn’t naked or vulnerable, that this massage therapist did not smell like stale cigarettes, and that the pain would subside. I listened to a clock tick away the seconds in an hour. I simultaneously put the blame on myself and tried to stop making myself regret—over and over—that I didn’t inquire more about this place and the people who work there before getting the deal—“what did you expect, Alison? It was a cheap Groupon.” I tried to forget that this is far more of an intimate experience I ever put myself in with men. I answered questions carefully. I tried to advocate for myself in moments of pain. I tried to protect my body and negotiated the circumstances in which I would—for sure—refuse to stay. But I stayed.

In another consciousness plane, I say, “I’m going to leave now,” and pop up from the massage table. I put my clothes back on swiftly, without tripping over any cords or stumbling in the too-dark. I walk through the waiting room, make eye contact with no one, and open the main door, climb up the mall’s basement escalator, and out the revolving door into the midday sunny cold. I stop to get a cup of tea before catching the train, making small talk with the barista—I still have emotional energy to spare. That’s the version of the embodied unapology in this experience. Months later, I still feel what the embodied unapology could have felt like in that scenario, and sometimes regret not being able to fully realize it. That said, each time I go through that thought cycle, I have to remind myself of the other issues at stake, and the layers of structural inequality that make it so we cannot always just “get up and leave.”

I knew that in this moment, I could not simply get up and leave. Because in my head, that option did not exist without its complement; it didn’t exist without the option in which I say “I’m going to leave now,” and try to pop up off of the table, and the massage therapist tells me to stay still, shames me into thinking this was all in my head, uses force, or refuses to leave the room while I get dressed. And that’s what keeps me still.

So was it my choice to stay still? Reflecting on this moment, it feels more empowering to me to think about how structural inequality limited my ability to make that choice, and that made me, as Kate said, “bow under the pressure.” Although I hate that it’s true, I know that there’s depth and importance in thinking complexly about the moments that we still have to embody apologies to stay safe and to take care of ourselves. I’ve shifted my mindset from thinking about this experience as if I had full agency and choice in the matter. I’ve also shifted to thinking about how self-care can mean more than taking a bath and reading a book (although I love those things), but staying still and being uncomfortable. I've begun to think about the relationship between self-care and survival.

So with all of this, I am beginning to think about the spectrum of apology. Do we have a spectrum of choice—full agency pie vs. a small sliver of it? In this instance, I made choices to cope, to refuse to respond to certain questions, to write a scathing yelp review hours later. I am unapologetic about this. I had agency, but also fear. And I’m (mostly) unapologetic about this, too. Because there was nothing about this experience that doesn’t reflect a much larger, structural issue.

How do we show solidarity for one another in these moments that we cannot embody the unapology? How do we take each person where they are at, and trust that sometimes embodied apologies are mechanisms of survival? How do we respect the embodied apology as sometimes vital to safety, while also encouraging people to live out UNapology as proudly and frequently and fully as possible? What’s the spectrum of apology? I do not have the answers, but I think that asking the challenging questions and finding the paradoxes within them is the first step.

-Alison

 

Aspirations and Anonymity

Last week a friend and I were talking about the Not Sorry Project and she mentioned that she hadn't sent in a submission because she wasn't sure that she felt enough strength and conviction in the things she is not sorry for. She asked me how I had gotten to a place where I could feel so brazenly unapologetic about a whole host of identities and behaviors (full list here) and I realized that because the aspirational nature of my "not sorrys" is so clear to me, I have never explicitly stated that that's what they often are-ambitions, works-in-progress.

My statements of non-apology are no less true or valid for being aspirational. I fluctuate between knowing each declaration to be deeply true and seeing them as beacons for my better self. This is part of the process. Unlearning my 27 years of shame and discomfort cannot and will not happen overnight. As you start to think about what you will no longer apologize for, I encourage you to send us your most surely held not sorrys, the ones you live and feel down to the bone, as well as your most tentative, halting, unconfirmed ones. Exposing our refusal to apologize can feel like a vulnerable act- sometimes we want to proclaim it from the rooftops and sometimes we can barely whisper it to ourselves. To this end we have added an anonymous submission form under the Participate tab. You can now submit to the project completely anonymously. Submit a list or a single sentence. Submit once or once a day. Submit to see how the not sorry that's been rattling around in your brain all week feels when you put it out into the world, and then resubmit an hour later when you decide it needs tweaking.  Part of growing is the freedom to try things on for size. We have all been alienated from our bodies, emotions, and desires by the compulsory apology, and it will take time to uncover/recover what's been hidden in that process. I hope that this can be a space for some of that uncovering, in all it's flawed and messy glory.

Kate

That App/Plug-in/Extension (are those the same?) with a similar name but is not like this blog at all

 

You may have seen an article or social media shout-out about the gmail plug-in that highlights words like "just" and "sorry" in your emails to point out grammatical things that might be holding you back from sounding confident and direct. It’s called the “Just Not Sorry App” and is meant to make people speak more strongly, and like they know what they're talking about. "Don't use words that make you seem small and unimportant! Empower yourself!" it seems to say. My sister sent it to me and said, "Hey! It's like your project!" And then I got nervous that maybe some people think it IS like this project. But it's not. In fact, I think this app is problematic, as well as potentially harmful. I dislike it because it feels like scolding; I dislike it because women are not the only people who apologize, though recently they've been getting a lot of attention for it.


As I did some reading to learn about this app, I found articles praising this shiny new way to fix our language. Articles like, " 'Just Not Sorry' Gmail Plugin Points Out When You Diminish Yourself in Emails," from Bustle.com, and "New Chrome Extension Helps Women Stop Apologizing and Be More Direct In Emails," from themarysue.com, among many others seemed to think that this app could be the answer. (To be fair, there are also some good critiques of the app, and I encourage you to look those up as well.)

I hate that there is now an app to serve as a way to further police people who have been policed, and tofurther shame people who have already been shamed. Forced "encouragement" to change the way that we write is ridiculous, as well as impossible. Highlighting my not-good-enough speech/writing patterns will not help me feel better about myself. Forced empowerment doesn't exist. You know why I speak like this? From 26 years of being socialized and encultured to speak like this. And though I want to speak like I know what I'm talking about, and allow myself more power, etc, that's sure as hell going to be on my terms.

And you know what else is ridiculous? That this is an app FOR WOMEN. Your submissions are proof that this compulsory apologizing is not just a women's thing! After we started receiving these submissions, I learned more than ever that lots of kinds of people apologize compulsorily. It's not a “women's issue.”

"Oh yeah! Is your blog about that women-apologize-too-much thing? I've been hearing about that a lot."  
"No, it's not about that. Well, yes, I suppose you could think about it like that. Wait, NO IT’S ACTUALLY REALLY NOT!"
Ok, let me walk it back. Yes, some women apologize a lot. And also, lots of other people apologize a lot too. The process of resisting apology is wholly intersectional, and should be acknowledged as such. Resisting apology is about carving out space for marginalized voices, bodies, and minds.

I'm thinking about an early post from my friend Justin. He writes, "I've been disabled for all my life, and during most of that time I've found myself apologizing and being sorry to my friends and family for being disabled...I'm NOT SORRY I have a disability." Justin's specific experience is informed by his life as a disabled person, and also as many other aspects of his identity. Our experiences as whole people shape our worldview, the way we speak, and the way we think. And so when I apologize, I'm not just apologizing as a woman, but as MYSELF in all of my various aspects of identity.  If we consider apologies a "women's issue" we are a) losing an opportunity for coalition with other marginalized people, b) invisibilizing similar experiences of non-women people, and c) blaming women for the issue. And in doing all of this, we are d) not realizing what the structural issue is. The structural issue does not have to do with women, or queer people, or people of color, or disabled people. It has to do with the fact that people are made to feel that they are not worthy of taking up space and time, and that their existence matters less. We are told, and subconsciously internalize, that some people are more worthy of space, voice, power, and existence. And because of this, there are apologies swarming in email inboxes and buses and workplaces and in my own queercrip brain and maybe yours too.

I will continue to resist apology on my own time; I will resist when and how and why I feel like it. I will keep making choices. And most importantly, I will keep making connections.

-Alison

What I was trying to say

As of a week ago I am officially in my late twenties and my current self-project is to trust that the interpersonal boundaries that I crave are right and good and worthy of respect. Much of this involves trying to decode what I was actually trying to say every time I used a superfluous apology.  I have used “I’m sorry” to soften the blow of rejecting someone’s desire, to smooth out the edges of a refusal to change my mind, to coddle and caress and generally attempt to downplay the fact that sometimes people want different things. I have said “I’m sorry” when what I meant was “listen to me”, hoping that prostrating myself under an apology would make it easier to hear whatever the next clause was. I have said “I’m sorry” when what I meant was “stop yelling at me”; when what I meant was “I want this conversation to be over”; when what I meant was “I don’t know what else to say.” I have said I’m sorry because I was more scared of not being likable than of not being honest about my needs.

It has been powerful for me to begin to articulate, over the past few months, what I am defiantly NOT sorry about. This reclaiming of language is about taking up space in my own body and in the wider world, and it feels good. It feels like a step towards trusting myself. As I gain awareness of and confidence in the aspects of myself that I need not apologize for, I am also learning ways to express my needs and desires more clearly. Learning to have confidence in the sentiment that used to hide beneath my “I’m sorry’s”, and to start the conversation there.

Kate

Reclaiming vs. Reframing

 

The Not Sorry Project is certainly not about making sure no apology is uttered or felt again. Genuine, heartfelt apologies are important in many situations. In fact, I fully intend on feeling genuinely apologetic in my future about lots of things! In wanting to give voice to the non-apology, I realized that sometimes we learn about the apology, too.

Many people have said in the introductions to their posts or to me in conversation that the presence of so many apologies that are unfelt and/or unnecessary dilutes the meaning of what an apology is. It takes away from moments when we really, truly, want to say we’re sorry. It means that when you really are sorry, it’s difficult to express it. And this seems to have something to do with the way that many these posts express the non-apology AND the apology. Perhaps once we’re able to articulate what we’re not sorry about, there’s more clarity and space to sort out what we are sorry about. 

I’ve noticed some interesting word patterns in these posts. One is a reclaiming: “This is mine, and I’m never going to be sorry about this again!” The other is reframing: “I’m not sorry about this. But I am sorry about that.” I love that both frames have space in this project and in your submissions, and I love that both clear space to make room for something new to grow.

I like the idea of getting rid of what I am not sorry for to make room for what I am sorry for. I like being able to say, “Ok, I’m not sorry that I have to take care of myself, but I am sorry that I won’t be able to come to your party, because I want to support you and I appreciate that you're wanting to bring people together,” and I equally love throwing my hands up in the air and—“I’M NOT SORRY THAT BEYONCE FLAWLESS WILL BE FAR MORE ENJOYABLE THAN ANY TRAIN CONVERSATION WITH YOU, SMUG-LOOKING MAN I DON’T KNOW!”

*sighs, leans back in seat, continues to jam in Beyonce-land* 

-Alison

Visibility and invisibility

I am not even a little bit sorry for how much I enjoy making straight people uncomfortable when I show up in their line of vision with my queer desire. I actively love forcing people to confront their unconscious assumption that I am straight. **Important to note here that I acknowledge the many privileges I have as a white, cis woman living in a large liberal city. This privilege allows these moments to feel exciting and useful rather than unsafe and terrifying.** Would things be less confusing for you if I took my hand off my girlfriend’s thigh while we sit next to you on this crowded train? Too fucking bad. These instances are also perhaps the only moments when being an object of (straight, cis) male attraction has felt to me like a useful advantage, a tool that I can use in dismantling heteronormativity in my own tiny way. You want me, gentleman at the bar with the pretentious glasses, but I want her. How does that sit with your fragile masculinity?

(The righteous strength and pleasure that I feel in moments like these is also why I love the word Dyke and identify with it loudly and often. Dykes aren’t consumable; we don’t exist for your pleasure; we aren’t safe; we don’t have pretty, sexy, porn-y sex that panders to your fantasies and provides ample protection for your ego. We are noisy, volatile, raucous and self-sufficient, and we have messy, dirty sex that leaves no room for you.) 

I have a more complicated relationship to this phenomenon of my invisibility being made visible when it happens within the queer community. The Queers I Have Known have seemed generally to be pleasantly surprised when they learn that I am a member of their ranks, either via explicit verbal declaration on my part or because my very butch partner showed up and put her arm around me. Pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless. Why can’t you see me, friends? Why is my feminine queerness a surprise to you? I fear that it’s because we’ve been taught that it’s safer not to see one another than to misjudge and attempt connection with someone who might do us harm. I fear that it’s because we’ve been denied from so many spaces that we didn’t know any better than to recreate the same gatekeeping practices within our chosen communities. I am sympathetic to this fear and I am guilty of this gatekeeping, but that does little to comfort me when I feel most invisible.

Kate

Negotiating Energy

There are very few times when I want to "go out” at night.

If you don’t know me very well, you might say “Oh, you’ll like it once you’re there.” If I’m feeling generous, I might fake it and say, “Yeah, maybe,” and proceed with planning my night in. Because the truth is, I probably won’t like it. I might go and regret it the whole time and pretend to be having a good time. I might resent the people who brought me but vow to have an honest conversation with them later about my limits and boundaries. I might enjoy it for a little while and then pay for it heavily tomorrow. Or I might go because I know it’s important, and spend the time either having a good time or doing damage control—shoving earplugs into my ears, taking a “smoke break” even though I don’t smoke, or spending a lot of time going through my bag because it’s a good way to avoid eye contact. But no matter what, I’ll be thinking about tomorrow.

People have lots of reasons for staying in, refusing to stay up late, not wanting to meet new people, or go to a show. And a lot of you aren’t sorry about it (YAY). And you don’t need to justify it or make excuses to anyone, because your time is yours. For me, though, realizing why my limits often felt so much lower than everyone else’s became a way of learning how to advocate for myself.

After many nights of pretending I was having a good time, leaving early, feeling anxious and then getting exhausted, feeling hung over the next day even though I hardly drank—and several therapy appointments—I started to understand the boundaries of myself and the way that I navigate the social world by negotiating energy. My social energy and my capacity for sensory input are far lower than that of most of my friends. I’m used to it, and now that I understand my mental and sensory health, I don’t shame myself about it anymore. I don’t let other people shame me for it either. I’m glad I know what and where those boundaries are, so that I can respect them and myself. I’m glad that I can tell people what I need and what I won’t do because certain social situations are inaccessible. 

Because sometimes going out at night means that I pay for it for days, and I just don’t have time for that shit.

For my reasons, and your reasons, and everyone else’s reasons, sometimes it takes a lot of energy to live in the world. And sometimes living in the world today means planning for living in the world tomorrow. I’m ok with that. I’m glad I’m in good company.

And I’m not sorry for staying in either.

Alison

 

Bodies

I read your submissions and see in the space that we are reclaiming all the many spaces that we have had taken from us. Space to feel anger, space to feel pride. Most poignantly for me today I see us reaching to reclaim our bodies, and I am touched-angered-saddened to see how universal the phenomenon of being alienated from our physical selves can be.

When I say “I’m not sorry that my body hair makes you uncomfortable,” I am also saying:

Fuck you for trying to put your discomfort on me. I have lived in that discomfort, wallowed and foundered in it, suffocated on it. I know it better and more intimately than you ever will. It is exponentially harder for me than it is for you to reject that judgement and yet I manage it. What is your excuse?

I am also saying:

You think because you have eyes you have a right to assess my body and I am here to tell you that you do not.

I am also saying:

This is a place in me that once was tender and raw and though it’s hardened over the surface is delicate.

My refusal to apologize for my body acts as a badge-hard-won, victorious- and as a shield.

Kate