My Future as Female

This year I let a man…
1) Undermine my musical success and happiness and keep me from pursuing dreams of further education by deferring applications to spend another year with him
2) Jeopardize my health because I was in a state of constant confusion, depression, and anxiety about my relationship. This unhealthy emotional state manifested physically as a relapse into an eating disorder it had taken me 10 years to slowly eradicate.
3) Most detrimentally, I let him convince others and myself that I was crazy. Making someone doubt their own sanity and reality is one of the most damaging things one person can do to another.

Since everything came to light a couple months ago, I have been sifting through the detritus of everything that happened to try and understand how I got here. In no way am I suggesting I am to blame for what happened. While I was not a perfect girlfriend, no one deserves to be cheated on, lied to, and gaslit for 11 months. This blog post is an open channel into my mind and how it has been processing and exploring the world we live in which allowed me to value and trust a man’s word and portrayal of reality more than my own.

Since I have no career to jeopardize and no significant other to embarrass… I especially have nothing to lose by being honest and vulnerable about everything. This year, I’ve personally seen how secrecy can poison minds and communities. Maybe this is too far in the opposite direction, but it’s good for me to write and available for you in case you’ve struggled with being cheated on, eating disorders, or being female in a society that is either consciously or subconsciously driven by males. It is a confession of sorts about how the quest to be desirable by men has personally complicated my own body image, identity, and female friendships and I also write about my first conflicting, weird, and ultimately empowering experience visiting a strip club, and the joy I’ve found in that cliche of “being in a relationship with yourself.” Being hurt so much this year made me want to crawl in a hole and never talk to anyone again, but it seems I only know how to face outward with my wounds. So if you’ve been hurt or have been hurting, this is especially for you- maybe we can heal each other with our love, understanding, and shared experience.

1. Desire

for as long as I can remember, desire has been tied up with identity. As a young female who was bullied by (yes, other females) but especially males in school, I learned to value physical appearance, the approval of others, and the desirability of men before I had a chance to learn what I might want to value in myself or others. This is why whenever any male shows interest in me, I’m willing to be with them despite logical awareness of incompatibilities/impossibilities and unfortunately, I’m desperate to maintain their interest. This quality when I was younger meant that I was so busy trying to be different people or at least different versions of myself, I had no identity of my own. I couldn’t develop or build myself according to my own values because I didn’t even know what I valued. The last, I would say, 6 years of my life have been a search for self-awareness to live for myself instead of for attention, especially male. It’s difficult- we’ve all seen people who are suddenly “onstage”, exaggerate their laughter, or put on a show once they’re around people of the opposite sex. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s probably inherent to human behavior to an extent, but for me, at a certain point, it became a sacrifice of my integrity and identity.

2. Strip Clubs

This last week, a group of close friends and I decided we would check out a burlesque bar solely because it was a block away, and why not? It was an uncomfortable, thought-provoking, and ultimately empowering experience. One so enjoyable, we went back again with more friends a few nights later. Because I’m a female, I didn’t personally feel exploitative, but I might have felt more conflicted if I were a male.

The women who worked there were incredible contortionists who impressed me with their controlled athleticism, grace, and flexibility. Most amazing to me was how each one exuded their own individual aura and personality within a second of being onstage. As a violin performer myself, their ability to immediately convey narrative with stage presence was inspiring.
Watching the wide range of body types and what they were capable of doing was revelatory. This is probably common sense to many, but I learned that sexiness and desirability has very little to do with size, and everything to do with how you feel about and enjoy your own body. And this was the most personally empowering idea- there exists an Objective sexiness that doesn’t necessarily have to do with desire. I found myself more objectively attracted to the larger women, which is surprising for someone who has struggled with wanting to be stick-thin for much of her life. I’ve spent so much bending my body to be this vague ideal of desirability to men without ever thinking to ask…what am I attracted to? Finally, in my late 20’s, I’ve found what I’m drawn to in the female body and for once… I’m going to try and have a body I would be attracted to.

3. Eating disorders

I started having eating disorders around the time I was 13. I can’t even remember how it started, but growing up, there was just always this subconsciously understood idea and supporting imagery pervading all media that skinnier was better. I won’t bore you with all the details, but here is some of the most alarming behavior from when I was 14-24 years old to give you an idea- at my lightest, I was 90 pounds, I once went an entire month having eaten only one full meal, and I ran about 35- 40 miles a week to stave off weight and punish myself for eating. Only in the last 3 years did I feel more healed… I consistently ate 3 meals a day with minimal guilt and I stopped running altogether. I missed running because I love it so much, but I knew it was healthier for me mentally to take a break from doing something that had such baggage for me.

This time last summer, my now ex-boyfriend stopped talking to me after almost 2 years together. He stopped texting, responding every so often with vague excuses of being busy. Now I know that he and another girl had at that time already professed their love to each other.

I was heartbroken and confused by his silence and I didn’t know anything about the start of their relationship until a couple months ago, almost a full year later. I was in LA at at the time and I was staying up until 4am waiting for him to text, and waking up at 6am to see if he had texted. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t sleep, and I stopped eating.

(side note: I’m so grateful to my Sunset friends who took care of me that summer- they gave me “huglets,” listened to me, and lovingly dealt with the puddle of person I had become.)

I went back to Houston lighter and everyone said. Wow, you look great! And with that “positive” reinforcement- the intense need and desire to maintain any desirability from my youth came back full-force. I kept not eating, hoping my then-boyfriend would be more attracted to me, because maybe that was the problem. This got so bad that during many performances this last year at Rice, my arms were often completely numb from malnourishment. My violin teacher would ask me every lesson if I was ok, if I was eating, but I couldn’t say anything beyond “I’m trying.” And then, after all of this came to light a couple months ago, I still didn’t want to eat because I felt hopelessly worthless and it was a passive way to give up on myself. I wanted to show that I could reject my body too, I wanted to become the nothing I felt.

almost Recovery-
This last week at Sunset Chamberfest in LA, we had a beach day. It was almost exactly a year from when the relapse began, and it was a little sad to be back at the same place knowing everything that happened in between. Remembering that time made me feel unloved and insecure about my body but I didn’t want to let that keep me from enjoying the one time a year I get to be at the beach. We got to Santa Monica and I overcame the initial awkwardness of shedding my clothing for a bathing suit and ran away from my (amazing and nonjudgemental) friends as fast as I could so they could see as little as possible. (Now I am learning my body is something to be protected, not something to protect others’ eyes from seeing.)
I had an incredible and reflective time running and swimming in the water.

In the ocean, I became the nothing I felt, but in the presence of something so much greater.

I fell in love there, with the ocean. My body became secondary to myself, one little speck in the expanse of all that sea, and I was freed. Trudging back to my friends in my two-piece I didn’t care what they thought of my body anymore, because I didn’t care about my body. All I really knew was how amazing it was that I HAD a body, one that I could use to run and play in the water. The joy I felt from being in the ocean translated to a feeling of being beautiful, and I hadn’t felt beautiful for a long time.

Between going to the strip club and the beach, my ideas of self and body-image have changed a lot in the last couple weeks. I’m still processing, but at the forefront of my mind is the realization that for many years, I have denied myself or at least limited the the pleasure of food and the joy of my body. I’ve constantly put a cap on my enjoyment of life to fulfill the perceived desires of a vague general male population, desires that ultimately are not my own.

4. Female Friendships

I’m really not sure what I would have done this last year without my female friends. They supported me through all the drama and anxiety of my relationship, and put me back together when it ended. I have so many to thank and be grateful for… (I have so many wonderful male friends as well!) but especially Dorothy, Cassie, Miran, Hannah, and my cousin Katherine. They were truly goddesses for their generosity in time, love, and spirit.
Only in the last couple years have female friendships become something I value almost above any other relationship. The reason is this- in the recent Wonder Woman movie, there is a moment when Ares, the antagonist tries to pit her against another woman, and she chooses not to. It’s all Marvel’d up, and a moment of superhero badassery, but the message is clear. For centuries, men have pitted women against each other, trying to distract us from the real issues, and as a result, female friendships can often be fraught with complexity, hard to navigate, and there is often a competitive edge that stems from both parties feeling the need to be more desirable, successful, and/or attractive than the other. This either her/or me mentality ingrained in us at a young age makes it difficult to have genuine and vulnerable relationships with other women.
I’m lucky to have been in a serious quartet with another female 6 years ago. When you’re in a quartet, there isn’t really room for either/or…there is only team. We had to be really honest with each other about our playing in order to accomplish our shared goals and it felt natural to extend that honesty to other parts of our selves. Dorothy was the first female friend I loved completely without jealousy or comparison. I could appreciate, compliment, and love the positive things about her without them meaning anything negative about myself. This opened the door for me to have the same love for other women such as Miran, Cassie, and Hannah who are so beautiful, successful, and incredible, it would have been impossible not to be jealous of them before I learned how to be friends with women. One of the best things about being single is that I can appreciate these positive qualities in all the women around me without feeling threatened by them. And I feel that in any secure relationship, that feeling of being threatened should not exist.

In my last relationship, of course, I did not feel secure. I was constantly worried about this other girl- and even though I was right in the end, I couldn’t believe the extent to which I had been right… the extent to which we had both been lied to. What I’m sorry about is how much I hated this girl this last year. It hurt me physically to have such negative feelings for another woman because I know that is not who I am. We were both misrepresented to each other by him, so I don’t blame myself for it but I wish I had reached out to her with the full honesty of my pain sooner and had been more clear/vulnerable about the answers I needed when I reached out to hear her side of the story at the beginning of the school year. I made the classic mistake of trusting the guy over the girl, and so did she. We were in love though… what else could we do.
I hope this will be the last time I make this mistake.
Since all of this happened, I’ve heard other men talk about their crazy girlfriends or ex-girlfriends and instead of implicitly believing what they say is true, I reserve judgement about the girl. I am lucky to have amazing male friends in my life who make it impossible for me to generalize negatively about men, but there does exist a kind of male who only knows how to victimize himself and takes no responsibility for relationships which, by the way, are generally mutual and shared endeavors.

I had people coming up to me the last month of school literally saying, “Thank God you’re not crazy!”…to which I responded…thanks? But I was crazy. Crazy to stay, crazy to think it was okay to be that unhappy. But our society makes it seem like it’s better to be in a relationship, even an unhappy one, than single.

The other girl and I are friends now. We spent hours and days together in the aftermath, piecing together a truth denied to us. And without my existing friendships with other females, I’m not sure I would have been capable of that. I’m lucky for the friends I have because they opened the door for me to love and trust other females. As humans, we have all made mistakes and continue to make them…it’s a pity so many of the mistakes made by females are ones where we hurt each other in the search for a love and attention we are made to believe we need.

5. The Future is Female
I have a niece now. A beautiful, mischievous, bright bundle of pure joy. It has become so important to me to try and figure out the particulars of being female in this society in order to know how to be an aunt to her. She already has the most incredible, vibrant and thoughtful mother…but I know from my friendships that we all need more than just one great woman in our lives, we need many. I want her to be healthy and happy and educated. I don’t want her to deal with eating disorders like I have, to have her values defined by the male gaze as I have, and to have her identity and joy and opportunity robbed of her in any way as many women have.
It has been crazy to realize that everything I know, I only know half of, and it has become a necessity to fill that void with voices which recognize and built my place in the world. I’m reading essays, biographies, and memoirs by women to fill in the gaps of a history I’ve only ever learned from male authors taught by male teachers. I’ve read 21 books so far this year, and only 4 have been by males… maybe that’s not a huge disparity, but it is certainly different from my reading patterns before. Here are some books I recommend which have shaped my thoughts about all things female (also, they are just incredible, life-changing books):

Elena Ferrante- The Neopolitan Quartet, The Days of Abandonment
Arundhati Roy- The God of Small Things
Virginia Woolf- A Room of One’s Own
Joan Didion- The White Album (particularly part III/ Women)

(I’m just going to link the first essay of this section here because it blew my mind as to the beginnings and faults of the Women’s Movement —

Rebecca Solnit- Men Explain Things To Me
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- We Should All Be Feminists, Americanah
Adrienne Rich- Poetry and Commitment
Carrie Brownstein- Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
Melissa Febos- Abandon Me
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek- Annie Dillard
Sheila Heti- How Should a Person Be?

The Future is Female, but we are the ones who must make it so.

6. Singledom

I have to admit, many of the happiest times I remember are alone. My first year at Rice, fully stretched out on my own bed having fallen asleep with a bit of cookie still in my mouth… movies I saw alone at the cinemateque in Cleveland… all the Woody Creek runs and Maroon Bells bike rides I took by myself in Aspen.
I think what I mean is, I am starting to realize how self-sufficient and complete I am.
I’ve often felt this pressure to be attached or in some romantic entanglement, but truthfully, I know myself best and am free to be myself best when I am alone. It’s kind of difficult to come to the conclusion that I am enough for myself, and I’m still trying to figure out why that is.
There is Plato’s idea of our completing each other, but there is also that idea that we don’t complete each other, but complement each other. The trap I fall for in that scenario is that I feel like I need to be a complete person, but that being complete by myself is a step of some sorts to being in a relationship. For the first time I can remember in probably 3 years, I feel completely detached… not just that I’m in no relationship or tenuous in-between, but there isn’t even any possibility I can latch onto or fantasize/idealize mentally. There’s no desire or pressure for attachment of any kind. And this frees me up so much…I feel incredibly thankful to not need to allot any brainpower to being attractive/desirable, being anxious about someone else’s feelings for me, etc. Now I can fully devote my time and attention to the things and people in the world I am interested in and concerned about. What a liberation, to not feel so self-absorbed and indulgent. Because honestly, that is how I feel when there is someone else in my life, especially someone who causes me to feel unsafe and insecure… I can’t stop thinking about them, about us, and as an extension, of myself. Now that I’m finally dealing with the root of my desire to be desired, maybe I won’t be that way in the future. An ideal relationship for me would be one where both parties don’t have to worry about one another or even think much about each other, but having an understood mutual love, can be freely absorbed in the passionate work which can benefit others in the world.

I’m not sure what defines a healthy relationship for anyone else, but I know that for me, any relationships I could have in the future would only be worth having if they bring me even more happiness, freedom, and peace of mind. And that vague term of “not settling” now means for me not letting another person rob me of the happiness, freedom, and peace of mind I have preciously and painfully gained.

And for now, I will be gentle with myself, I will stoke those fires which burn in my heart and mind, I will ask myself how I am and who I want to be and with myself, I will figure out how to get there.

We are only victims for as long as we choose to be and for as long as we remain uneducated about the true state of things. As soon as we start educating ourselves about our society, many of the patterns lose hold and we can recognize and change our reality. Now that I have started exploring the ways the patriarchy has influenced my body image, education, etc, I am healed. I am feeding myself, educating myself, and I’m able to acknowledge the many good men who do exist in my life and in the world.

My body is softer, my heart is stronger, and my mind is sharper.

If any of this has resonated with you, work hard to be authentic and supportive of other women and where we can, let’s change how young girls are growing up today. At the end of the day, I am so glad to be a woman, to be “that dark involvement with blood and birth and death” (Didion)

We are sacred,
Ling Ling

#MeToo #TheFutureIsFemale

2 thoughts on “My Future as Female

  1. Beautifully crafted thoughts, powerful ideas and experiences, delicately balanced in words. Thank you.

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