I had expected that going to London was going to be somewhat difficult. It had been years since I last visited, after all, and when I last left I was engaged in a rather tumultuous relationship that had been breaking apart and coming back together... well, almost since it began, if I'm truly honest with myself. But I took my meds, and I steeled my nerves, and told myself that I would be fine. I did the workaholic thing of making sure that I would have little free time to panic in, and scheduled 4 more workshops on top of the one I was flying out to do.
Making sure you have no self care time is, in its own way, a type of laziness. I've learned that my body will insist on self care whether I like it or not, and not making that a priority means I have to deal with the procrastination later.
About a week before the flight I began to get teary and cling to the apartment, to the cat, to my partner. "I don't want to go!" I'd wail. "I don't want to be an adult and do adult things and deal with these feelings! I'm not ready! It still hurts!" I put off packing til the last minute, stressed about little things.
But this time, there was one thing I wasn't stressed about.
For those who've known me for any length of time, I have a very difficult time typically with separation. This is because the last couple of relationships I've been in, when I've flown to another country, things have gone Terribly Wrong. Boundaries have been smashed to pieces. Cheating has occurred. All relationship drama has gone up exponentially as soon as I get on the plane, leading me to have a Pavlov's dog type reaction to seeing a airline host/ess showing me the emergency exits. Now, of course, I have medication for that, which helps somewhat to stem the tide of dread that comes from past trauma.
But actually, even though I had things in place anticipating those fears... I found myself not needing them. I was ok, for once. And I've realized it's because I trust my partner. We have our struggles, absolutely, and we argue, but fights are unexpected now, a surprise, rather than something for days ending in Y. I'm not jumpy like I used to be, worrying I'm going to tread wrong and set off relationship landmines. I didn't feel afraid, still don't feel afraid, that he won't be there when I get home, because I know he will be. And that's very, very new, and its own sort of scary.
I'm a feral cat, really, when it comes to coupledom. I've had some bad times and now spend a fair amount of time hissing under cars. While I've now grown to a point where I feel comfortable, even safe, being petted, staying indoors, being taken care of, I still have this sharply honed desire to run away at any sign of trouble. My partner knows my history and is remarkably patient with me, allowing me to run back under the bed and hiss at him, even lash out; he takes a step back, gives me space, lets me tentatively sniff his hand and decide when I feel safe to come out and be with him again. Learning to trust is an arduous process, and my experiences in London have taught me to appreciate how compassionate he is with me while I evolve.
Meanwhile, I landed in London, and after an hour and a half very polite discussion with border control (apparently now that I have a legit job and a flat and am only here for two weeks, they didn't know if I should be let in... but when I had no money and was an illegal prostitute and was staying for 6 months at a time, that was fine), I managed to meet up with a friend and get fed. Oh, that first Pimm's, that first sandwich! Heaven. I remembered things I missed about London. I talked to this friend's father, an immigrant to London, for hours, fascinated by our discussions of power and politics and privilege. Eventually I made it to my host's flat, a journalist I admire quite a bit, who had tea and made delicious black pudding sandwiches, and crashed out.
I woke up to an email from my ex-fiance. The one I had spent hours figuring out plans around the city and places to avoid so I could dodge his movements while I was here, because I didn't feel ready to see him. When we split, I told him I didn't want to hear from him again until he was ready to take ownership for his behaviour, as I had been painfully doing with my own, on here, in therapy and with my community. Now here I was confronted with a request for a truce- he wished me a pleasant stay, said he expected the chances we'd not run into each other were small, said he'd appreciate mutual civility if we bumped into each other.
And he sent this to my host.
I genuinely don't think he meant for this to come across the way it did. I really think he thought he was expending an olive branch and letting me know he didn't want me to feel unsafe- but instead, I felt like he had done what he had done during much of our relationship... ignored my boundary to satisfy his need for validation, and he had contacted my host to gain some control over the situation (and seem like a "nice guy"). It creeped me out, instead, made me worry that I hadn't done enough research (I knew we'd be at one concert together, but what else? I had checked so thoroughly!) , made me wonder who had told him where I would be staying. It made me think about him, which I didn't want to do. And it angered me, because if he wanted a truce, why was I doing all the work?
I told him I expected accountability if he really wanted a truce, but otherwise, not to contact me again, because he didn't get to ask me any favours. And there was no response. I didn't expect one, really, but I was still disappointed. The truce, apparently, was only valid if I took all the risks... and I am no longer willing to do that.
I lost a lot of friends in that breakup. I lost a lot of social spaces that don't feel safe anymore, and I gave them to him. I imagine in part his male privilege shielded him, because I doubt it even occurred to him to be fearful we'd run into each other- I doubt he took steps to ensure that didn't happen. Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing in how I handled it all- I wonder if I made too much of a fuss, or too little. I know many people made decisions on whether to stay friends with him or me based on very little information, and I chose not to give them details because I wanted to give him space to evolve. I still hope he does, I suppose. But I'm a feral cat, and I don't imagine I'll ever get close enough to find out again.
I've been teaching workshops, meanwhile, which have given me bursts of confidence even while I've had to shake my head clear of all the fog that comes from walking streets cloudy with memories. There are things I love about London, and teaching is one of them- I dearly miss connecting with people and opening them up to new ideas, or being a part of conversations that start new projects. Seeing the birth of Consent Culture in London excited me immensely, especially difficult discussions about how it relates to institutionalized consent, and making these discussions safe, non-tokenized spaces for people of colour, both discussions I think are incredibly important and valid. Seeing it break into possible working groups around sexual education and outreach, alternative communities, and institutionalized consent (or lack thereof) makes me feel like maybe we can actually *do* something. I know I get accused of doing this so I can be a rock star, or famous (and really, any supposed fame isn't worth the threats, the invasions of privacy, the panic attacks or the nightmares you get doing work where fighting rape culture features prominently, believe me) but I genuinely want to see shifts in the culture we live in, and I know I need a lot of amazing people to help do that. Knowing they exist, and having them around a table discussing how to make that happen, was truly delightful.
But it was also just as powerful teaching sex tips to women who wanted to spice up their relationship, as it turned out. These women were eager to learn new things- in fact, the one complaint I got was that I was too tame, which delights me, because now I know that next time I can skip the blow jobs and hand jobs and go straight to anal play on men, or sex in public, or sharing porn, things I wanted to cover and didn't have time for! The class went on for longer than advertised (a full hour, in fact!) and the women were riveted. That's a type of activism too, and one I think I sometimes forget when I'm too focused on my activist communities. Bringing my activism to my sexual education is just as important, if not more so- teaching people about how to graciously accept no, and discussing the pressure on women to say yes when they don't mean it in order to pacify and why that's a social issue, while also making them laugh? That's huge as well, and if I can weave that into some blow job tips, even better, right?
I went to a concert, and my ex was there, and it didn't matter. It didn't matter in part because I was with amazing friends, and we had VIP tickets up in the balcony, and so bumping into him was incredibly unlikely (and didn't happen)- but it also didn't matter because *I was with amazing friends*. I had support. I was able to talk about how I felt, and was able to relax, because I didn't have to hide anything. It was a relief.
I saw my girlfriend, and realized during our date I had inadvertently taken us to a somewhat triggering place (a first date spot). But again, it didn't matter, because we created new memories- memories of chatting with my sweetie, seeing her for the first time in years, us smiling at each other and drinking a cocktail that neither of us was sure we could finish. Something painful can be replaced with love. Memories may be there, but like cities, they can be built on top of, and they can evolve.
I forget, sometimes, that I have confidence. That I have power. That my vulnerability, too, is part of that power. London has been hard for me- I'm not entirely sure I was ready to come back. But I am incredibly grateful for the people here, who have hugged me, who have listened, who have given me strength and given me space to cry. I wasn't sure if I'd get to London and feel completely alone... but in some ways, there are little pieces of my hearthome, all over this city, in the people I love, will always love, who love me back, no matter how long I've been away or what I've done. They've watched me evolve and held me through it all, and I am honoured to know them.
London, as hard as it's been, has taught me how blessed I am, that growth can be painful but it's growing my roots, grounding me, and my branches, into the clouds.