Friday, December 27, 2013

Pretty in Pink: JQ Clothing and the Diversity of Beauty

Dress and bangle from JQ Clothing; Tights and earrings: Reitmans; Belt: boutique; Ring: Effy; Boots: Ecco; Faux fur coat, purse, and brooch: vintage
This day was the grand reopening of JQ Clothing, formerly known as The Jean Queen. They'd already painted their wall a hot pink, and now they were having a five hour party to celebrate. 


So I bedecked myself in a dress and bracelet that I had bought there in the past, and headed down, in my crippled sort of a way...

... wearing my prized faux fur and wintery brooch, both of which I bought when I was getting my MA in Toronto, a stupidly cold city in the winter.

If JQ Clothing has a "philosophy," one part of it is definitely to encourage and embrace flamboyance and the sheer fun and playfulness of dressing up.

It's a particular favourite amongst drag queens, whether they be born male...

... or female.

So I knew I wouldn't be overdressed for these Saturday afternoon festivities. 

If anything, compared to those around me, I was a little mousy. You know, like a wallflower...

...with my natural hair...

... incredibly understated, bland, mainstream outfit (snicker) ...

... and minimal makeup.

I certainly think I couldn't begin to compete with the flash of this woman. To me, she was unquestionably the star of the show, the belle of the ball, the cherry on top of the cake. 

Shall I continue?

She wanted me to tell you all that she's in her eighties and has great grandchildren. She was very proud of this fact. She knows that she's a remarkable woman.

The nature of her relationship with this man remained a fun mystery to me and I liked that. I also really liked his style, with his jaunty hat and easy swing.

I think a man of his age is certainly old enough to be comfortable dancing amongst garter belts and... what is that thing on the bottom left?

There was a lot of dancing.

When I was there, the dancing was to the blues. For the first time in years, I heard one of the funniest blues songs I know: "I Got My Mojo Working But It Just Won't Work On You." It's pretty self-explanatory, right?

JQ Clothing is also a favourite amongst those who like retro styles which sure do twirl nicely when the wearer is dancing.

I actually have this same red belt. I wore it with a fabulous retro red polka dot dress that I also got here. You can see it in all its glory here

I did feel sad to have to sit in the corner. Being disabled sucks. It just does.

But I was very touched to be immediately offered a chair when I walked in the door. That's the thing about my neighbourhood: I'm known. On more than one occasion, I've gone into JQ Clothing and just asked to sit down for a bit to rest. I know I'm welcome.

I won't lie. It makes me sad to be less able bodied than a woman twice my age. I'm happy for her that she can dance but I'm really sad that I can't.

I felt like Baby sitting in the corner of the dance hall in Dirty Dancing. 

I loved that movie as a teen and it inspired me to even further pursue my love of dancing. I practiced on my own pretty much every day for many years. I could do back bends without even using my hands. I could do the splits and kiss my knee at the same time. I could hold another woman on my thighs while I bent down in what weight lifters call a squat.

I was frequently mistaken for a professional dancer.

Patrick Swayze said, "Nobody puts baby in a corner," and, when I was anywhere near a dance floor, no-one put me in a corner either. Instead, they pulled me front and centre.

But everything has changed with my disability. My abusers put me in corner, thirty years after their abuse.

Now I need to be in a corner. It's safer there and less painful because nobody will accidentally hurt me by jostling me or bumping into me. If I'm in a corner, I can stay out just a little bit longer.

But I'm not happy about it. Do not get me wrong.

But at least I wasn't invisible in that corner. People knew me, knew why I sat where I sat, and I felt included in the festivities. 

They saw me flashing my hot tights at Beau and they laughed. So did I.

This woman was pivotal in helping me learn to love my body as it is now, not as it once was. She used to work at JQ Clothing and taught me how to dress my new curves, not to minimize or hide them, but to play them up and show them off.

She helped me learn that a curvy girl's waist is her best asset, and her breasts are things of great beauty. She inspired my outfit in Girl Convict in an All Girl Prison (which is a pretty funny post, if I do say so myself).

JQ Clothing has always encouraged women to love their bodies as they are, not as we're told they should be. They eschew following "rules" about how to dress different body types.

And they make sure to carry clothes for, as they call them, "curvy chicks," though I'd call this lovely lady "statuesque" as well.


Diversity in beauty is key and it is evident from the photos that this was a diverse crowd.

When this cute brother and sister seem to be well-placed in the kids' section, you know there is a diversity of ages present, including lots of older people.

They were all into 80s retro and digging it. I hadn't seen a hair cut like this lad's in years and years and I got a real kick out of it...

... just as I was getting a kick out of my retro/vintage faux fur. 

It's all about fun in fashion, not conformism or blending in.

And, on that note, I shall bit you good night.

(Spy Girl wanted us all to share shiny outfits this week on 52 Pick-Me-Up so I shared the black sequined dress of the belle of the ball. And I always link up with Not Dead Yet's Visible Mondays when I can.)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

When Christmas is a Trigger: Enduring the Holidays with PTSD

(Note: This post contains some graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse and may be triggering. If you were sexually abused, you might want to read Healing from Sexual Abuse: 26 Things that Work for Me.)

I was severely and horrifically sexually abused throughout my entire childhood. I cannot remember a time without sexual abuse in my life. And I can remember being under two years old.

With sexual abuse so early and so constant, I cannot give many specific dates for specific incidences of abuse. But I can give you one.



I'm five in this photo. I remember that flannel nightgown with the little creatures on it. It was very warm and cozy and my doll had a nightgown to match.

This teddy bear was a gift that Christmas and, as you can see, I loved him. But, to the confusion of some of those around me, I never took to sleeping with him.

That night, the family member who gave me this bear came up to "say goodnight." He molested me instead.

That word, "molest", sounds almost benign, like "bother" or "annoy" and so I tend not to use it to refer to the nasty sexual things adults do to children. To me, it's all rape.

What does "molest" mean in this case? He penetrated me with his fingers so deeply that, after he left, I lost control of my bowels. I was so ashamed of what I had done, I cleaned it up myself and never told anyone.

Who would I tell? Almost everyone around me was sexually abusive, and those who weren't were useless. That same year, I went to my doctor with what was then called venereal disease. He didn't report it. He didn't ask me if anything was wrong. He just told me to keep myself cleaner "down there."

I was five.

Smother told me to lie and tell people I had a bladder infection because "they wouldn't understand" the truth.

So who would I tell?

After that Christmas, I became very prone to getting sick on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. In this photo, I'm about eight. I can still remember how bad my headache was that day, like a spike into my eye. I've been getting bad headaches since I was about three. Stress will do that, though, like the word "molest," "stress" seems a mere euphemism for what I endured.

I cannot count the number of Christmas Eves that I've spent sweating, shaking, and throwing up, not just as a child, but right on through my adulthood. Wouldn't you?

The affects of abuse do not end when the abuse does.

Want to hear an added irony? This was the first and only Barbie I ever owned. I had not been allowed to own a Barbie because, get this, they over-sexualized women! The little girl being repeatedly raped is protected from the sexualization of women and girls by being forbidden to have a Barbie. Holy hypocrisy, Batman! It's not really funny, but one must develop a morbid humour to survive a life like mine.

Look at wee little me in that little pink nightie. Yes, I really am eight here. I was a very small child, so small that the rapes eventually injured my back so severely that I am now, in early middle age, disabled and in chronic pain.

That nightie was synthetic, as so many things were in the 70s. I had it with me when I was taken up to a remote location in the mountains for a sort of "party" or "ceremony" in which children, including me, were horribly gang raped. At night, I was freezing cold and huddled close to the wood stove in this nightie. The stove melted a hole in it.

I was so ashamed of having stood too close to the stove, that I tried not to let anyone know how those that hole got into my nightie.

I felt a lot of shame. Those who hurt me did not.

Ah, now here's a nice flannel nightgown again, with little pink flowers. Very pretty. We always got to open our stockings before breakfast, while still in our sleepwear. These little family traditions are bitter to me now. How could they be otherwise?

By now, I'm about ten, and being sold to gangs of mostly men to satisfy their depraved sexual desires. Many of the rapes I endured, both by strangers and family members, occurred on this blue carpet, the one you see above. To this day, I cannot bear this colour blue. It makes me feel sick and frightened. Wouldn't you feel the same way?

This Christmas was a particularly horrid one.

You see, there was money not just in the pimping of children, but in child pornography. Right there on that blue carpet, under that very Christmas tree, my primary abuser, a female family member, cut my vagina with a razor blade while someone else took photos. 

Don't ask me why someone would do that. Don't ask me why someone would be turned on by that. I surely don't know. I just know it's evil and it hurt me in my body and in my soul.

Christmas is not my favourite holiday.

And so it went on. The abuse stopped when I was about sixteen. I now had a nice, womanly, hour-glass figure, so I was far too old and unappealing to sell to pedophiles. I was also beginning to be strong-willed enough and old enough to stand up for myself, though I'm sure that if there'd still been a market for me, my resistance would have been futile. 

I stayed home long enough to graduate from high school at seventeen with academic honours and then I took off. But, as with many abused children, all I knew of love was my family, so, for a few years, I did still go home for Christmas.

I remember after the Christmas in this photo thinking and even saying, "I'm tired of buying Christmas presents for my rapists."

Yes, I had been sick the night before this photos was taken.

I'm nineteen here. In a an attempt to make a break from my childhood, I'd cut off all my hair. Did it help? I don't know. A bit, maybe.

But here I am, sick on Christmas day again, with my hot water and dry toast.

Christmas had long since become a trigger for me. A trigger is something that, for whatever reason, brings someone with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) back into that place of trauma, so that she feels as if she is re-experiencing it. Often this is because that trigger somehow reminds her of the traumatic event or events.

Imagine Christmas as a trigger. Really imagine it. Christmas taking you back to the emotions, the smells, the physical sensations of the worst terrors of your life. 

Christmas is everywhere. Everywhere. The songs, the advertisements, the decorations, the radio and television programs, the well-wishes, the cards, the lights... all triggers, everywhere, from the beginning of November.

Notice the colour of the coffee cup? Notice that it's the same colour as the carpet upon which I was so often raped and tortured? It's a trigger for me too. It's also Smother's favourite colour.

Ah, and here I am at twenty, sick on Christmas day, unable to eat any of the goodies my girlfriend and I had gathered in our attempt to be Grownups.

I was so poor then, and so unaware of my own worth, that I took that little blue kitchen table because it was free, despite the fact that it was a trigger. But, kitchen table not withstanding, I really was trying to build my own life, a sense of myself outside of all that had happened to me. I'm still working on it.

I'll be honest: it wasn't until I was about forty that I finally understood that I needn't feel ashamed when something triggers me. Instead, I can just remove that thing from my life. It seems so simple.

Particular shades of blue are in my life as little as humanly possible now. (Though look around some day. How often do you see that colour, like, say, on your computer screen right now?) When Beau and I were first dating, I learned that his bedroom was my trigger blue and I told him so. He painted it for me before I even came for my first visit!

But, of course, how do you remove Christmas from your life? I'm half Jewish and, in my twenties, I studied Hebrew and Judaism and do consider myself Jewish now. I certainly didn't do this to avoid Christmas but it is a nice side benefit. 

But in a culture so saturated with Christianity, no matter how corrupted by capitalism, one simply cannot avoid Christmas. So I'm triggered every year, like clockwork. While the whole world seems to celebrate the sanctity of the family, I've got my head in a bucket; it all makes me puke -- literally. 

It has been getting better though. The more aware I become of the whole topic of triggers, the more I value myself, the better I tend to feel around unavoidable triggers.

But, ironically, this year, about a week before Christmas, Beau and I came down with a "real" flu, the viral kind, not the trigger kind. It was a doozy from which I am still recovering. I became so dehydrated that my already compromised back muscles ached unbearably and I ended up in the ER getting three bags of fluid pumped into me.

Oh, and do notice the lovely shade of blue of the hospital gown. I'm telling you: triggers are everywhere.

It all reminded me terribly of Christmases past.

This year, with this blog, I've decided to no longer censor myself so that those around me can remain comfortable. If my past is relevant to a conversation, I am not going to cause myself pain by swallowing the truth. I am not going to preserve others' saccharine views of the world at the expense of my own comfort and my own truth.

On a day that is supposed to be about the birth of a sacred child, I will not protect the world from the fact that some children are treated as anything but sacred.

This year, precisely because I do value the sanctity of childhood, I am trying the Christmas tree thing again. You see, I don't want my horrible childhood to rob Beau's sons of this holiday. Plus, of course, their cat would never forgive me if I deprived him of his annual plaything.

But it isn't easy.

So, if Christmas is a happy time for you, what can you do to help those for whom it is not? Well, for one thing, you can realize how bad it really can be for some. Expand your imagination past the parameters of your own experiences. If someone says her childhood was bad, imagine how bad. Believe her.

My story may be extreme, but I have heard worse, and I am not the only one to find Christmas hard because of genuine and horrible traumas inflicted on me by family. When you blithely ask people if they're spending Christmas with family, don't react with horror if they say no or seem uncomfortable. Don't treat them like selfish, childish pariahs if they say they have no contact with their families. They have their reasons and they're probably damned good ones.

Let their truths be absorbed into your own, not erased by it. 

And, if you're one of those for whom Christmas is hell or is even a trigger, hang in there. You are not alone. 

And this too shall pass.

If you were sexually abused, you might find this post helpful: Healing from Sexual Abuse -- 26 Things that Work for Me.

If you'd like to do something to help end child sexual abuse and child sex trafficking, please read my post, Getting Inspired.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Try to Catch the Sun: Bright Strategies for the Rainy City

Cape: London Fog: Blouse: fun 2 fun; Jeans: Reitmans; Boots: Ecco
In my grey, rainy city, brightness is at a premium in the winter months. I often quite like the greys, blues, and greens of this season here. But I still enjoy it when the sun does come out. And I still enjoy spicing it up the season with a little colour. It seems to me that this is common around here.

When I left home at seventeen, I traveled around for a bit and just kind of ended up in Toronto for a year. One of the things that really struck me about that city is that everyone wore dark, sombre colours -- greys, blacks, navies -- especially in the winter. I found this freakishly conservative. Who wouldn't want to brighten winter? I didn't really grasp that winter in other places is about endless days of sparkling snow under a light yellow sun and pale blue skies. It needed to be warmer, but it didn't really need to be brighter.

But it's different here. Lately, I've found myself gravitating toward orange. I think it goes well with my auburn-ish hair and general colouring. Plus it's just somehow an amusing, whimsical colour. I don't know why, but I can't take orange too seriously. 

It also reminds of the sun.

Now, you've seen this cape before so we won't dwell on it today.

Though it is a fabulous cape. I suppose it might look a bit better if it didn't absorb my hands the way it does. Beau says I look like a little kid playing dress-up when I wear it. 

What can I say? I'm short. That's never bothered me. I like being cute. I let my words and personality carry my authority for me; what I lack in stature, I think I make up for in bravado.

Earrings, brooch, and pinkie ring: vintage; Bangles: gift from Beau; Waves ring: Effy
But I digress, as usual. This post is mainly about sunshine and the fun bangles Beau got me for Chanukah. I was really quite touched that he'd made the effort to spend time looking at pretty things and picking what he thought I'd like. I think he did a good job. To me, the pink "stones" look like rose quartz moon stones, though such a thing does not actually exist. 

I paired them with scroll work gold and diamond rings, a scroll work vintage brooch, and cut gold earrings that sparkle when they catch the light. Beau's younger son, who loves going through my jewelry (with my supervision, I admit), took a fancy to these earrings because, as he says, the cuts in them look like diamonds.

I picked my other jewelry to go with the bangles and I based my outfit on them too.

So let's get rid of the fabulous cape, fluff my hair, and get ready for my closeup. 

The bangles somehow reminded me of something an ancient Greek woman would with her flowing, loose dress, so thought I'd pair them with a loose blouse, with fluttering sleeves and a ruffle tie. 

The polka dots echo the round, bezel set, pink and rhinestone stones in the bangles. In turn, the warm caramel of my boots echoes the orange polka dots on the blouse. 

I wore this shirt on my very first date with Beau. He says he didn't like it then but says now it's growing on him. Growing up as conservatively as he did, I don't think he really got the whimsy of my style back then. Now he has fun seeing what I choose to wear each day.

Beau kept snapping photos when I wasn't ready and I kept telling him to stop and wait. "But you look best when you're not posing," he said. When picking photos for this post, I realized that he was right. Interesting. I think there's a little lesson for all of us in that: we look our best when we stop worrying about how we look.

Now, back to the topic of sunshine, or the lack thereof. Look at the above photo. In the winter in my chosen home, this is what passes for a clear blue sky and sends the residents rushing outside to enjoy "such a nice day." Who knows when it will be so bright and sunny again? We take advantage of it while we can.

We also have pretty odd definitions of rain. We seldom say it's raining, even when outsiders would swear that it is. Instead, we say things like, "It's thinking about raining," "It's spitting a bit," or, "The fog is kind of coming down today."

We only admit it's raining when it's actually pouring, hard and fast. Those are the days when we contemplate carrying umbrellas. Mostly though, we just bring hats with us "in case it rains." You can see my little grey pageboy cap in my hand in a few of these photos.

See how brightly the sun shines on our sun starved faces? Okay, not so much.

So we grab our warm, sunny colours when and where we can: in caramel coloured boots and late autumn leaves ...

... in the oranges of a wild looking dog's fur, the dog so careful to avoid eye contact (and therefore avoid showing dominance) that I'm quite sure she is part wolf ...

... in the copper of a wall...

... or in the tortoise shell fur of the cat who likes to hang out in the local whatnot store. Little Morgan is now 24, and no longer deigns to even move when you pet her. But she chooses every day to walk here from her house so, despite appearances, she must enjoy the affection. Her tiny purr gives that away.

She's completely deaf and maybe a bit blind, but her nose seems to work still and she will sometimes sniff my finger to see who's petting her. She will also raise her head for a treat -- and people often bring her treats.

So we have our ways of finding substitutes for sunshine, but, if the sun does come out, we enjoy it quickly, before it goes away.

Perhaps you missed that little gleam over Beau's shoulder? That's sunshine. Relish it quickly.

See look: a clear, sunny day. Nary a cloud in sight. Sort of.

When the sun hit this brightly for a few, shadowy minutes, the people at the table next to me exclaimed, "Look at the sun! We should go for a walk in it." But, before they'd had a chance to finish their little Italian coffees, they'd missed their chance.

But man oh man what flattering light it was! No wonder it's used a lot in photo shoots. Advertisers almost always use this light in the "after" shots in their "before and after" comparison photos.

Heck, it doesn't just erase wrinkles, fine lines, blemishes, and pores; it erases noses and eyebrows too! Talk about age-defying.

Soon enough the sun was gone for good, set early, as it does in northern climes.

Beau was photo bombing my pictures and being the general good that he is.

And another Super Bright Sunny and only slightly rainy day was over.

(I'm pretty darned fond of these boots and bangles, so I'm joining the footwear fest over at The Citizen Rosebud's monthly Shoe Shine, the dress-up fun at Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet, and the shiny shindig at Spy Girl.)