Kathryn

“I no longer believe in a higher power than myself.”

Name?

Kathryn.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Melbourne and have lived here all my life, but I’m not sure that I’ve done much ‘growing up’.

Were you brought up religiously/secularly/other?

My family wasn’t religious when I was growing up but I was exposed to religion at school, and I did believe in some idea of a god. Somewhere along the way, though, it started feeling ridiculous to pray to this god every night, so I stopped. In some ways, I miss having that kind of faith, but I no longer believe in a higher power than myself, and I definitely don’t want to cling to any delusions of an afterlife.

Was there turbulence throughout your childhood/adolescence?

A great deal! But most of it was internal; I’ve lived with mental illness for most of my life, and my family did not (and still does not) have a good understanding of how to help me. I missed a lot of school and was very isolated from other people my own age. I was suicidal and very unwell, and the only thing my parents could do about it was seek professional advice and hospitalise me periodically. My relationship with my mother has always been complicated, and it was around this time that I started to feel real resentment towards her. She would call me a monster and, after every therapy session, would ask if I felt better yet! As if there was some kind of instant balm that would make me healthy again. She would also constantly remind me of the fees and costs of all the psychiatric treatment, which made me feel like I was a burden in every possible sense.

Were you ever embarrassed about your development/puberty? If so, why?

I recall being embarrassed about certain things that I didn’t know how to deal with, like acne and the sudden greasiness of my hair, but it didn’t last very long. I don’t think the physical aspects of puberty were as embarrassing as the emotional and social changes that went along with it. It wasn’t so much the appearance of body hair itself that was inherently embarrassing in any way, it was that I was suddenly expected to shave it off! During that time, I often felt ill-prepared for many things; other people had mothers and sisters who could teach them to buy deodorant and skinny jeans, but I had to scramble to learn all those things for myself. The shame associated with puberty was much worse than puberty itself.

Your sexuality?

I can be attracted to anyone, but not everyone.

When did you become aware of your gender?

I never had much of a problem with gender when I was a child; while I was undoubtedly exposed to a lot of social conditioning that pivoted around the fact that everyone perceived me as a girl, I never really felt it myself. I lived with my grandparents when I was younger, which isn’t uncommon in Chinese families, and my grandfather made it very clear to me what I could and couldn’t do as a girl. He was also disappointed that, at the time, my parents hadn’t produced a grandson for him, so he tried to raise me like a boy. Even so, it wasn’t until I was 14 that I first started feeling alienated from my body because of my gender.

When did you become aware of your own sexuality? Were there any key moments?

I think I’ve always been queer; I can’t imagine a time when I wasn’t.

"Sometimes, I feel like I’m still waiting for my life to begin"

“Sometimes, I feel like I’m still waiting for my life to begin.” -Kathryn

What, if any, are the obstacles you’ve overcome on your path to womanhood?

Puberty is probably meant to be some kind of entryway into ‘womanhood’ but, for me, it was the time I began to hate the narrowness of my shoulders, and the width of my hips in relation to the size of my waist. Many of the clothes that my mother bought for me suddenly felt like they didn’t fit properly, like they were suffocating me or floating on me in a strange way. It was around this time that I started buying my own clothes: boxy blazers to add width to my shoulders and disguise the shape of my waist and hips, and big boots to help me feel powerful and grounded. I had an uneasy relationship with my breasts; sometimes I would want them to be bigger, just so I could ‘properly’ be a girl, but other times I wished they didn’t exist, because they looked so wrong on me. These feelings went away when I was around 16, so I thought it was a phase. I discovered feminism – specifically, I became very obsessed with the identity of ‘femme’ as individual empowerment, and so I spent two years thinking that I was somehow very empowered because I was taking control of my own femininity and choosing it for myself. But that still didn’t satisfy me. I became very aware of how I was being read. Even if I chose to put on a short skirt and make-up, I still couldn’t help the fact that men would look at me in a certain way. And I hate being looked at by men. It makes me feel very unstable and unsafe.

I realised that even when I thought I was dressing for myself, to an extent, I was still dressing for other people. In a way, we’re always dressing for others; no matter how we decide to present ourselves, presentation hinges on how we’re read by others. I broke up with the man I was dating and began to prioritise my own safety. At first, it looked like I was reverting back to my 14-year-old self with very boyish silhouettes, looser styles. I bought a binder. I cut my hair. But that wasn’t enough for me when I was 14, and it definitely wasn’t enough for me at age 19 either. I’m still figuring out my gender, and my relationship with womanhood is very, very fraught. Some days, I just want out; I don’t want to be in this body, this body that is so clearly marked by all these identities that weigh me down so heavily. But other days, I think that I like my body. It doesn’t always work for me, or with me, but it’s the one I have, and I can do so much with it. Right now, it’s not so important to me to be read as a woman, or as a man, or even as someone who fucks with gender; for now, I just want to feel safe and comfortable inside my own skin.

Puberty is probably meant to be some kind of entryway into ‘womanhood’, but for me, it was the time I began to hate the narrowness of my shoulders, and the width of my hips in relation to the size of my waist.

Have you ever been embarrassed, burdened or ashamed of your sexuality? If so, why?

I didn’t realise that it was something to be ashamed of until I went to high school. I was a scholarship kid at a Presbyterian girls’ school, and students would spread rumours of so-and-so being a lesbian as a means of bullying that person. It was then that I learned that queerness was a bad thing, an embarrassing thing, something shameful, something to be hidden. I didn’t want to fall victim to that same bullying. I was terrified there was something fundamental about me that marked me out as queer, as different. But I never hated myself for my sexuality – even if other people thought it was something I should hide, I didn’t feel that I should change in any way. I still haven’t ‘come out’ but, in a way, I come out all the time, as many things. I’m pretty fine with my sexuality, for the most part, although I realise it is a source of discrimination and oppression for me and my community. But finding that community was so important.

just because we’re all women, doesn’t mean that we share the same privileges and oppressions.

“Just because we’re all women, doesn’t mean that we share the same privileges and oppressions.” – Kathryn

What is the image you think you project every day?

Sometimes people tell me that when they first meet me, they think I’m intimidating, which is so far from the truth! I can’t say that I don’t intentionally project and control my image, but I’m also not too fussed if people see the bad or embarrassing things. I’m very open, both online and in person. I mean, I tweet constantly about my bowel movements and my obsession with slash fanfiction! No shame. Well – no, I do experience some shame, but I like for that shame to come from myself. I think that if people can’t handle me when I’m being embarrassing and weird, then they’re probably not suited to being in my life at all. I don’t have the energy to be perfectly coiffed and cool all the time.

How would you describe your personal experience, existing in the way you do, each day?

Exhausting but occasionally fulfilling. Sometimes, I feel like I’m still waiting for my life to begin. Because of health reasons, I have very limited energy to do the things that are important to me, so that means I’ve had to figure out what actually is important to me! I get tired very easily, and I have a hard time getting up and doing things, but when I do, it’s mostly worth it, because it’s usually something that is good for me.

Whoever you are – I hope you are doing okay. Take care. You deserve all the good things in the world.

What is the image you would like to project?

I share a lot of myself, but it’s like a scavenger hunt – I don’t want anyone to ever know all of me, but I don’t mind that all of me is out there to be known. I hope people know that I am very vulnerable and fragile, but also a survivor, resilient. That I have a lot of love to give. Most importantly, I hope people think that I have great hair.

What do you think the image other people perceive is?

Talkative, anxious, hysterical? Fiercely trying to prove myself. Often late. Angry and political. ‘Reverse racist’. A bit of a mess.

What is your political stance on women’s reproductive rights?

If it’s your body then you should have total autonomy of choice over what goes on with it. Society is way too keen to police and control women’s bodies, and I think that’s fucked.

Are you pro-life or pro-choice?

Pro-choice.

What are your feelings about contraceptives? Their availability, cost, stigma, usage?

My feelings are: ‘FUCK YES’, followed by ‘why is it so prohibitive to access them’, ‘why do they cost so fucking much’, ‘why is it embarrassing to use them’, and ‘who the fuck invented the dental dam and why do they think that a cola-flavoured one will distract me from the fact that there’s a sheet of latex between someone’s mouth and my cunt’.

What are your feelings about casual sex?

I’m all for it; most of my sexual encounters have been quite casual, and I think there’s a lot of stigma around that. I feel that as long as you’re safe, consensual, respectful, and you’re both into it, then it’s fine! I think the only time it becomes a problem for me is when my partner and I have different expectations and we haven’t communicated that to one another; for example, I want something more, but they just want it to be casual, or they’re vegan, and I want bacon for breakfast the next day.

Are you in a relationship(s)?

I’m not currently romantically involved with anyone but I am sometimes tangentially involved in other people’s relationships as a guest in their sex life. I’ve been in a series of exclusive relationships since high school, so right now I’m just happy to have a good time and do my own thing.

What are your feelings about marriage?

I think it’s a total sham unless you’re doing it for legal perks; the institution of marriage seems absurd to me and I don’t understand why it’s proof of love or devotion in a relationship. It’s archaic and inherently misogynistic and totally not for me.

What are your most positive relationships with other women?

My sister is the most important person in my life; she’s kept me alive and sane and is the most compassionate and perceptive person I know. I love her wholeheartedly and would protect her with my life, and I really wouldn’t have survived without her. She’s a beautiful human and she teaches me every day to be a better person. All of my closest friendships are with people who are not men; it’s been the best choice I’ve ever made.

What are your negative?

My mother. I’ve always said that she taught me who I wanted to be, i.e. everything that she’s not. I think we’ve had our reconciliation and our relationship is lot less stressful than it was when I was younger, but I’ll never forget the trauma that I endured under her care, and I think it’s definitely marked me for life. I’ve also learned that ‘feminism’ is a very fraught label, and many feminist-identifying women, especially white cis women, have often been the most hurtful and oppressive.

What does the word ‘woman’ mean to you?

So many things, but also nothing at all. I guess if you identify as a woman, then you’re a woman.

What are your feelings on monogamy?

Impossible for me. I don’t think that we should need a soulmate or an other half to complete us; we must complete ourselves, and be complemented and supported by as many others as we need and want. I refuse to rely on any one person for my happiness and wellbeing. I have so much love to give, and I don’t want it to be limited in any way.

On polyamory?

There’s no one person who can give you everything you need, and we need to stop thinking that this is a desirable possibility. I rely and depend on so many different friends and lovers who all provide me with different things, and it doesn’t mean that I love any one of them any less than another.

Do you feel your choice to participate or not participate in consensual sex is at all affected by societal influence?

I used to; people think that Asian girls are either nymphomaniacs or sexless and demure. I used to pander to those stereotypes because it meant that men would find me more desirable. But now I no longer feel like anyone is entitled to my body. I’m a survivor of more than one experience of sexual assault and I don’t owe anyone anything.

Being a sexual person does not mean anyone is entitled to me; people think if you’re comfortable with sex then that must mean you’re a slut and that you’ll have sex with everyone.

How do you feel about products marketed to women?

Really damaging. Capitalism is fucked, and so is compulsory femininity.

How do you feel about feminine hygiene products’ portrayal in the media?

Totally absurd! There’s no need to glamourise or cover up the reality of menstruation; it’s just a thing that happens, and no ad featuring invisible panty liners and a woman in a gold silk gown is going to revolutionise the feeling of stuff coming out of my uterus.

Were you always aware of what your body could do sexually & mechanically?

More or less. I began masturbating at quite a young age and I knew how to find my own pleasure. I’ve learned a lot more about the possibilities of my body through kink, so I’m still occasionally surprised by what my body can do.

Do you feel your sexual education was sufficient?

At school? Not at all. Maybe it’s because I missed a lot of school and didn’t get to put a condom on a banana, but most of my sexual education came from my own experiences.

If not, what would you have done to make it so?

It’s important to learn about consent and gender and sexuality and safer sex practices. There are just some things that you don’t want to learn through trial and error. Even just talking about sex! I never learned how to talk about sex or my desires. I didn’t know how to establish boundaries and limits. These were all things I had to learn for myself, and sometimes only after incredible trauma.

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“I hope people know that I am very vulnerable and fragile, but also a survivor, resilient.” -Kathryn

Where do you feel unsafe as a woman?

Everywhere outside of my home, or my friends’ homes.

Where is somewhere you can exist without fear?

If I’m surrounded by people I know and trust, then I generally feel very safe and protected, but everywhere else is fucking scary.

Do women treat you differently than men?

Yes, but sometimes it’s not just about being a woman. I experience racial oppression and queerphobia from women too. Most of my intimate friends identify as either women or non-binary, and I don’t have many close male friends. But at the same time, it’s hard to forget that I can also suffer ill-treatment from other women too. Just because we’re all women doesn’t mean we share the same privileges and oppressions.

In what ways does being a woman make you vulnerable or exposed?

The ways that I am read by others make me so; I don’t think there’s anything inherent to my gender identity that should make me feel vulnerable or exposed, but it’s the way others see me that makes this a fact of my life.

Would you consider yourself a feminist?

Yes.

How do you define feminism?

As opposing systemic oppression against women, keeping in mind that there is no essential experience of womanhood, and that there are intersecting oppressions that cannot be extricated from one another.

Do you think the world’s perception of women limits them or benefits?

Very limiting. Any perceived benefit is qualified by the fact that you’re only benefiting within existing structures of oppression.

What is your relationship to sex?

We’ve been going steady since I was young. We’ve had our ups and downs but for the most part, I think I’m ready to commit to this relationship for the rest of my life.

How do you define sex?

10/10 would bang.

What does a sexual relationship mean to you?

Communicating and laughing and learning with your partners. Respecting limits. Challenging boundaries. Being honest with your desires. Not taking things too seriously. Being safe. Having fun. Lots of teamwork and collaboration. It’s definitely a group effort.

Do you feel comfortable communicating your sexual needs to a partner?

I used to feel really awkward and ashamed about voicing my desires, but now I’m probably too frank about it. I don’t mean to treat sexual encounters like a laugh, but I’m really not a fan of high-strung romance and intense sensuality; those things can be really hot, and I enjoy that sometimes, but mostly I want things to be easygoing and comfortable. Discovering kink has also taught me a lot about communicating my needs – negotiating scenes means you can’t avoid saying what you want out of something.

Have you found a balance of fulfillment with your partners?

I’m getting there. I think I’m definitely a lot better at finding this balance, and discovering my own needs. I have a better relationship with my body and my desires. I used to focus too much on what the other person would find sexy, and would go to great lengths to ‘perform’, but sucking in your stomach and perfecting your orgasm face doesn’t really make sex very enjoyable.

Do you feel that YOUR desires are marginalized in the bedroom or are less important, if so why do you think that is?

I used to concentrate on getting the other person to orgasm, but now I don’t really see the orgasm as the point of sex. The way I have sex now is very reciprocal. I like things to be done to me, and most of my partners are into doing things to me. It works for everyone.

Are you fearful of being openly sexual for fear of judgement?

In some situations, yes. Some of my closest friends are very open about sex, and it’s something that I can talk about quite comfortably. I know that not everyone will see my sexuality that way, but I don’t really care about those people and their opinion of me.

Have you ever been in a position where your sexuality was used against you?

Men can be very sexually aggressive towards me because they either think or know that I am open about my sexuality. Being a sexual person does not mean anyone is entitled to me; people think if you’re comfortable with sex then that must mean you’re a slut and that you’ll have sex with everyone. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a slut, of course, but I just happen to be a very discriminating one.

Have you ever been physically or verbally threatened because of your appearance?

Often. I get a lot of verbal abuse because of my race and men seem fond of physically intimidating me.

When you imagine sex, what is the visual/feeling you associate with it?

Being full, being weighed down. Being grounded. Being outside of my own head.

Is sex empowering for you?

I don’t really see it as a radical political act. It’s just pleasurable. I guess it can be kind of empowering to be having sex in the way I want to have sex, even though society is trying to prescribe something else.

Is sex embarrassing for you to discuss?

Not really. I don’t think I’d like to talk about sex with my old high school teachers, or my parents, but for the most part I’m pretty open about it. I am aware sometimes that people might not feel comfortable with talking about sex, and I respect that; I have friends who are asexual, and I try not to make assumptions about what other people are okay with. Just because I’m happy to talk about it freely, doesn’t mean I need to force it upon anyone. As long as they’re not judging me or thinking less of me, it’s totally fine.

Is there anyone in your world you undermine your principles for?

I pick my battles. Sometimes, you have to work with people who don’t share your politics. Sometimes, you don’t want to fight every single thing that comes your way. Sometimes, you just need to survive. But for the most part, I am uncompromising. I need to be able to look myself in the eye and know who I am. I need to be able to live with myself.

In which situations do you feel safe to speak your mind/stand up for yourself?

In situations where I feel that other people will support me and back me up. There are feminist communities and queer communities and people of colour communities that are really encouraging and affirming. They make it easier to speak up. But it can sometimes be like an echo chamber; I realise that I’m comfortable and safe with standing up for my beliefs because, to an extent, I know the people listening will share those values.

What do you seek through sex?

Stimulation, challenge, boundlessness.

How do you feel about the media’s portrayal of women?

It’s fucked.

Are you satisfied with the women you see depicted in film, television & advertising?

Not really. There are some good things being done in the media, and I think that representations of women are important in challenging a lot of things, but for the most part these are very limited. Even ‘feminist icons’ in the media can be racist and ableist and classist. We have a long way to go.

How do you think the world at large views women?

As neat little compartmentalised and discrete units that can be controlled to reinforce the status quo.

How do you maintain a sense of self?

By constantly creating it. I don’t know who ‘I’ am, or what my ‘self’ is. I’m just doing the best I can.

What is something you deeply love about yourself?

I’m very resilient and passionate.

Who are/what are your biggest motivators?

My sister, my friends, my mentors. Stories. Music. Past experiences.

Do you have people you look up to?

Many! My sister is totally my role model, which is kind of strange since she’s younger than I am. I’m an English major, so I look up to a lot of writers. I respect and admire the queer women of colour who emblemise so many of the things I have struggled with. I’ve found community with lovely people who have guided me and nurtured me and made it easier for me to be alive.

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I’m still figuring out my gender, and my relationship with womanhood is very, very fraught

How have you dealt with conflict?

By crying a lot and tweeting about it. I’m very passive aggressive but also very confrontational at the same time; I am intensely emotional and I need a lot of time to process. I’m not always mature in dealing with conflict, but I have a need to always deal with it; I hate leaving things unresolved. I need closure.

Have you ever been verbally abused or threatened because of your gender?

Yes, but my gender is inextricable from my race, so I often don’t know why I’m being abused or threatened.

If so, how did those in your life respond when you told them about it?

I don’t really talk about it. It doesn’t seem to do anything; it’s something that I have to endure most of the time anyway. Getting heckled and catcalled and rape threats just doesn’t seem worth sharing anymore. If I do need to vent about it, then my friends are really sympathetic and angry on my behalf. It’s really comforting when your loved ones look outraged and slam their first down and go, ‘That’s fucked. That’s so shit. I’m so sorry that happened to you.’ It’s good to know I don’t deserve it.

What are you feelings on motherhood?

Not for me. I also don’t think this idea of ‘motherhood’ is very constructive in raising children; there are lots of ways to have a family and I don’t think the onus should be on any one person.

What are you biggest fears?

Abandonment. Spiders. Humiliation. Heights. Loneliness. Deep space. Being sticky.

Your biggest regrets?

I try not to have regrets. Regretting my past means that I want to undo the things that made me the person I am today. Having regrets seems pretty pointless to me. Of course, I do still feel regret, but I try not to let it hinder my future.

Your greatest accomplishments?

Surviving.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Whoever you are – I hope you are doing okay. Take care. You deserve all the good things in the world.