Introducing…Public Apologies

I owe apologies — some to people who’ve moved or died or who never want to speak to me again ever, or whose names I didn’t quite catch. Saying sorry for our mistakes/mishaps/dick moves/crimes against humanity is good for the soul, so welcome to the first edition of Phonaesthetica’s Public Apologies!

i sorry

Dear Physicians and Nursing Staff Employed at UCSD Medical Center Hillcrest, San Diego, in April of 2001,

I’m sorry for eating too much marijuana and turning up in your ER insisting I was having a massive stroke.

In my defense, I did have all the symptoms — dizziness, disorientation, loss of coordination, sudden and severe headache, etc. Plus memory loss, i.e. I woke up on the floor and didn’t have the backstory. Also — and this was key — I’d forgotten about swallowing a heaping tablespoon of pot the night before.

I had attended a little kickback in North Park (where, as you know, most of the dykes live because Hillcrest is $$$. Drive past the North Park sign and! suddenly! rents are reasonable!) At the party, there was a girl with the unfortunate name of Tiffanii, on whom I had a little crush even though she used that terrible perfume that smells like rose farts. Tiffanii gave me a back rub and let me lean against her legs. This had never happened to me with a girl before (I was floating around the edges of the dyke community back then, trying to get a fix on sexual-identity-related issues  and giving off an insane bi-curious vibe in the process. I felt like I had the shelving but not the cans of corn, if you get my drift).

Anyway, I wasn’t thinking too clearly when someone brought out the pipe. I was 26 and smoking pot was another thing I hadn’t done before, plus I didn’t want to drive home smelling like it — police! arrest! Midnight Express! — so someone suggested swallowing a little bit instead. OK! I said, but failed to clarify vis a vis dosing, and by that time no one was watching me anymore. So I gulped a tablespoon down with water. Nothing happened. Nothing happened for the rest of the party — Tiffanii went to make out with some guy — so I swallowed a little more. Nothing happened when I got home, and nothing happened until I woke up at 7 a.m.  with a numb face, raging spins, and no ability to think in words. I army-crawled Hamburger Hill-style to the kitchen phone (no cell yet) and called my doctor to tell her to meet me at the ER because I was having a massive stroke and probably even a brain bleed.

You know the rest, Doctors and Nursing Staff Employed at UCSD Medical Center Hillcrest, San Diego, in April of 2001. You quietly recognized me immediately, and why? Well, because I had been in your ER two days previous, researching a magazine story titled “24 Hours In The ER.” I’d interviewed all of you, with my little reporter’s notebook and pencil and serious face. You let me watch a nephrectomy. I fainted when you pulled the kidney out and the anesthesiologist caught me before I hit the floor, whereupon you hooked me up to a bloop-bloop-bloop monitor and gave me a little green can of apple juice. So, you know. Memorable enough.

Anyway, after an hour lying on a gurney in the ER hallway, I suddenly remembered: THE POT. I ATE THE POT. I AM NOT HAVING A STROKE AT ALL. I didn’t know what to do! Was I allowed to just get up off the gurney and walk out? What was I going to say? Where were my pants? I lay there and listened to the ER melee (Saturday morning being a surprisingly popular time for San Diegans to stab one another).

I was terrified you’d remember me — in my mind there was an actual chance you might not — so I pulled the sheet up over my face and pretended to be a corpse. Lying corpse-still helped cure the dizziness and I fell asleep, and then suddenly a hot gay male nurse was pulling the sheet down, handing me my pants, and saying something about taking a little Dramamine and going home. So I took some, and I went.

I’m a teacher now, Physicians and Nursing Staff Employed at UCSD Medical Center Hillcrest, San Diego, in April of 2001 — and years ago I had to cover a Health class at a teen rehab facility. Thanks to you, I successfully conveyed (without condoning drug use in any way) an important fact about drugs, which is this:  If, when high, you hear yourself say: “This stuff isn’t kicking in,” DON’T TAKE ANY MORE RIGHT THEN. WAIT ANOTHER HOUR. MAYBE TWO.

And I never ate marijuana again, except for that one time with the brownies. Which, I understand, is a far better way to go about it.

Thanks again.

My bad,


“Shared girlhood,” red herrings, and the creation of the Third Wave

Here be an excellent takedown and analysis of the myth of “the myth of shared girlhood. “


Have you heard the one about the “shared girlhood”?


The “myth of shared girlhood” is an idea that has been developed recently by intersectional feminists to explain why it’s wrong for radical feminists to want women-only events that exclude people who were born male.  According to the doctrine of the myth of shared girlhood, there’s nothing that really makes anyone female, because there’s no one universal defining experience of girlhood.

It’s true that there is no universal experience of femaleness.  Not one.  For anything you can come up with–even things that are experienced by huge, huge percentages of women–some women, on an individual basis, don’t meet those qualifications.

According to the “myth of shared girlhood” analysis, this means that organization based around femaleness is inherently improper, and that since trans* individuals have shared some experiences that some women have had, they should be considered no different than any other…

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Remember; resist, do not comply.*

i don't get it

I watched this monstrosity go up outside the downtown library in the summer of 1990. It was the summer I wore teal Hammer pants with tiny wild animal graphics; the summer before I could drive; the Third Summer Of Not Eating. There used to be grass here, not brick, so I lay a few feet away as the workmen pounded and hoisted. I wondered what it was supposed to be.

“It’s art,” intoned a homeless woman sharing the grass with me, as though she could read my thoughts. Which maybe she could. “It’s alien art.” She raised her bottle and took a swig.

1990 was the hottest summer on record here. A hundred and seventeen degrees and I had lost “home alone privileges” because the therapy wasn’t working too well. Why couldn’t I mix chocolate Slim-Fast with water and chase it with a Dulcolax? What was wrong with swimming 500 laps in the pool?

The world doesn’t need another eating-disorder narrative. We’re all stocked up on manic-languorous accounts of little fingertips tracing bone and jabbing uvula. The only important things I can say go like this: You start out having it and it ends up having you. It keeps you MUCH longer than you want to stay. It’s a religion in which you are the deity. It’s the loneliest church in the world.

I was 15 then and I’m 38 now, and the monstrosity outside the library still stands. The cultural jabs re: how I should look and the measure of my overall power and worth have changed since 1990. Only the cruelty is the same. “Forty-year-old woman” is a synonym for many things, yes? But I have a secret weapon against the terror of aging (not to mention fitspo) that a woman who didn’t spend years learning how not to starve and puke; a woman who didn’t discover radical feminist theory might lack. I understand that:

1. The game is rigged;


2. You don’t have to play.

There’s visceral relief mixed in with the horror when you realize: Women are all objects. Young, old, fat, thin, powerful, vulnerable, conventionally attractive or odd-looking — generally speaking, in most of the world, that’s the dominant message. Read the news. Read more and more. Think in full paragraphs. Every minute you throw some new/improved version of yourself into the fire and wait for oracular approval is a minute wasted. It’s like reading an endless scroll of YouTube comments: You cannot come away unhurt. And you’ll look up to find it’s 23 years later.

Don’t waste that kind of time. Don’t watch the shows. Don’t look at the photos. Don’t participate in conversations about “thigh gap” or how old is too old to have a baby. As far as you’re able, disturb the narrative. Of course, none of us are exceptions and none of us can opt out totally, but Margaret Cho said it best:

“…one day I just said, ‘Hey, what if this is it? What if this is just what I look like and nothing I do changes that? So how much time would I save if I stopped taking that extra second every time I look in the mirror to call myself a big fat fuck? How much time would I save if I just let myself walk by a plate-glass window without sucking in my gut and throwing back my shoulders? How much time would I save?’ And it turns out I save about 97 minutes a week. I can take a pottery class.”

With a device that in 1990 was still science fiction, I took this photo in front of the library today. The sculpture is the same, all spidery red gloss and pigeon spikes. It is here, and I am gone.


*Andrea Dworkin (but you knew that already).

psycho killer, qu’est-ce que c’est?

I have a wealthy, successful relative who complains about “having to pay to support the mentally ill.” Irony: It’s not like I’ve got a copy of his brain scan, but were I a betting woman, I’d take out whatever was in my wallet and lay it right down on SOCIOPATH.

Sociopaths aren’t rare. They’re not always particularly splashy, either. It’s not like all you have to do is look for stray clown makeup smears. They’re hiding in plain sight. They’re one out of every twenty-five people.

I’ve got several sociopaths on the fringes of my life and you’ve probably got at least a couple hovering around yours, so it pays to know how they roll. Once you recognize the signs, you stop taking things less personally in general (that woman who cut me off at 85 miles an hour could be a sociopath) and shimmy away with jazz hands when necessary (I’m never going to be in a room alone with that guy at work).

Most sociopaths are regular-seeming people, which falls right in line with our wish to believe that they are. No one wants to look at their brother or workmate  or — God forbid — spouse, and think, Hey, you with the fishy stare and the suspiciously overblown tales of adventure! You gots a piece missing! Sociopaths go to Trader Joe’s and compare the sugar content of different coconut milks. They loan lawnmowers to their neighbors. They can be uproariously funny and charming. Their only defining characteristic; the thing that makes them different from us, is a total lack of conscience. They were born without one, just like some people were born without toes or fingers — or born with a damaged one, after which an array of social/environmental factors = done deal.

Sociopaths don’t experience shame or remorse. They can’t love. The  deficiencies in a sociopath’s neocortex and primitive limbic system — the execs in charge of emotion and socialization — are organic and permanent.

My relative complains about “supporting” the mentally ill because he has no empathy. He cannot imagine himself in someone else’s place. To him, the mentally ill are unworthy of care, and he’s able to say this bluntly in front of family members who themselves suffer from mental illness. He’s able to say other things, too, like, “You should quit teaching in a public school with all those Indians and Mexicans.” If anyone else said that, I’d file it under “racist asshole,” but there’s an extra layer here: His brain is not like ours. I could turn to him and go, “WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS WEIRD AND WRONG. PLEASE STOP SAYING THESE WEIRD, WRONG THINGS” — but it wouldn’t faze him, because there’s a piece missing. And you know who doesn’t notice? The women in our family, all of whom are excellent observers of character. They love him too much to admit what he is. They don’t want to think in full paragraphs.

Whatever sociopaths do, they do in order to get something they want. To a sociopath, you are one of three things:

1. A target (you have something he wants — money, influence, sex; or he just enjoys making you jump)

2. An obstacle (you’re in the way of something he wants — power, recognition)

3. Background noise.

Say “sociopath” and most people think PSYCHO KILLER, QU’EST-CE QUE C’EST, but most sociopaths don’t want to kill anyone. There’s nothing in it for them. They usually want the things the rest of us do, plus a few predatory extras. That’s why sociopaths are over-represented in business (and how Westerners admire the driven corporate powerhouse!) but you’ll also find them in the “helping professions” — education, nursing — because not all sociopaths have the connections, the skill, or the wherewithal to make big bank and/or dominate large numbers of people. Instead, they prefer to cause chaos and mayhem in individual lives. Remember that cold-eyed teacher who enjoyed humiliating children? The sexually aggressive  date who was “just doing what men do”? The couples counselor* who told you, as you cried over a broken relationship, “There are three kinds of women: Controlling, more controlling, and most controlling, and you’re in the last group”?

Sociopaths know that a total lack of conscience/inability to love falls outside the realm of the normal, so they learn to mimic human emotions. Love, mostly. Their skill at mimicking love poses a particular problem for regular people. Happily for lesbians, female sociopaths are rarer — but then, it’s possible that no one wants to see them. It might be easier for a psychiatrist to diagnose a less-scary personality disorder than to call a woman conscienceless. Because that shit is unnatural. Women have to have empathy, right? Without it, they couldn’t be responsible for taking care of everyone else’s feelings!

After that last interaction with my relative, I went reading around and compiled the top 10 sociopathic bad-news signs (so you don’t have to). Do you have someone in your life who:

1.Takes impulsive risks for the thrill of it? Not bungee jumping or joining a klezmer band, but risks that put her (or your) property or safety in danger?

2. Is easily bored and needs constant, increasing levels of stimulation (sexual and otherwise)?

3. Lies for the fun of lying, and is completely shameless when caught?

4. Talks a lot, but without depth — mostly just glib, witty, superficial conversation?

5. Brags about how everything he’s accomplished/how much money he makes/important people he knows? Does he tell a lot of stories in which he is the hero, and other people seem to be window dressing or props? (I call this the One True Human Syndrome).

6. Can establish the illusion of deep intimacy at the beginning of a relationship? Does she claim to understand and love you more deeply than anyone else ever has or could? Do you feel like she sees into your soul? Like there’s something “magic” about her? (Remember, there’s all different sorts of magic. Hers involves the ability to assess your weaknesses, strengths, insecurities and needs, and then to craft her persona accordingly in order to use you for her benefit).

7. Behaves with a sense of entitlement, as though the rules are for regular people and don’t apply to him?

8. Can’t keep a job, an address, a commitment? (see above).

9. Tries to make you feel sorry for him in order to keep you engaged? Pity is a great manipulative tool used by those with no empathy as a weapon against those with it.

10. Can justify any and all of his own behavior, because nothing is ever his fault?

Most importantly, do you have a person in your life who just plain makes you feel bad whenever he’s around? Does something just feel…not right? Trust that feel. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Don’t sweat the exact diagnosis. Your limbic system is perfectly functional and will not lie to you. Disengage. Run run run run run run away.


*I was one of her clients.


Here be the books:

Babiak, Paul and Hare, Robert. Snakes in Suits: When Sociopaths Go To Work. HarperBusiness, 2007.

Blair, James. The Psychopath: Emotion and the Brain. Wiley-Blackwell, 2005.

Ronson, Jon. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. Riverhead, 2011

Schouter, Ronald and Silver, James. Almost a Psychopath. Hazelden, 2012.

Stout, Martha.  The Sociopath Next Door. Three Rivers Press, 2006.