i Used a Picture of Me That i Thought Was Cute…

by: Soma (ellie june) Navidson


The past few months have been intense and overwhelming, full of joy and pain and growth and change, and i’ll get to all of that eventually. But right now, i’m trapped. i’m caught in a place where any action that i take will be fraught with consequences and where inaction, too, is a choice with ramifications.

i’m in a place where i’m really working to make surgery happen in my life. My partner and i are pulling together money and credit card debt to make it happen. I feel excited and terrified, and countless other emotions all at once. It truly is an enormous thing. But, right now,, this is not the point. i’d put up a link to a fundraiser site on my facebook and tumblr to try to pull in the last little bit needed to make this happen. i used a picture of me that i thought was cute; this was particularly important to me because of the ways in which a visible fundraiser would make me feel vulnerable.

Then, a day later, i got an email from an ex-partner that left me with a heavy handful of impossible options. They simply said, “you do not have my permission to use the photo i took of you at ______’s house for any reason including facebook and your surgery donation page. please remove it immediately.”

The room froze solid like cooling sugar; everything was crystalline hard. i experienced a deluge of emotions in an instant. First and foremost, i felt pain—that deep shooting kind that kicks in through your chest and vibrates in the marrow of your bones. i shook. How could this person, whom i had loved and had loved me, be anything but happy for me as i approach this thing that i truly need?

Then i felt doubt. This form of doubt was one that’s become all too familiar. This was that insidious, slimy form of doubt that sticks to your skin and burns, rendering fat and sending smoke into a tear-filled, stinging nose. i wondered if their entitlement was right. Did they own this image of me? Did they still have control over me in some way?

After months of wondering whether each time they’d hurt me was somehow my fault, after being pushed to question my experiential reality time and again, here i was:, hurting and doubting. My now partner noticed that something was wrong and asked what was happening. i couldn’t respond. i shook. i stuttered. i squealed because my body would not allow me to scream.

i waited to respond to the email. i needed time to think. i was awake all night having panic attacks, thinking about horrible moments in that relationship and remembering how controlling my ex had been. The next night i was at work and received another email; i work at a shelter for youth experiencing homelessness, if that gives you an idea of the time of day that this email came. Again, it was entitled, disrespectful, presumed my lack of agency, and seemed to me to be a pathetic grab at power months after the end of our relationship.

Among the disgustingness was the phrase “using the photo without credit or consent to promote yourself is not okay with me at all,” wherein they equate raising money for a surgery with self-promotion. This reduces my complicated relationship with my body and desire to alter it to simple narcissism.

In the same email, they mobilized state/capitalist authority to attempt to wrest control by claiming the picture as their “intellectual property” and asserting that my use of the picture was “a violation of the law.” Regardless of the truth of the law (which after a bit of research seems really vague, dependent on copyrights that are not held, and tacitly in my favor because the image is of me), my nominally radical ex utilized a threat of state domination to achieve their ends.

Threatening state intervention in this email did not feel unlike the time they grabbed my arm to keep me from walking away from them when they screamed at me. In both instances they chose to employ force, or an explicit threat of force, to position me where they wanted me. The implied ownership of my image seemed to me to map onto their frequently acting as if they felt they owned me (and/or my body). In many ways it reminded me of them putting their hands up my skirt in public, even after i’d asked them not to. Their desires about my body and image became somehow more important than my own agency.

Other bits of the email focused on their needs and assertions. The most hurtful piece is that these attempts to control ignore the enormous fact that i’m having surgery in a month. i’m excited. i’m scared as hell. i’m doing a lot of meditating on what it will feel like to wake up with an altered body. i’m hoping that my community will come visit me when i can’t leave the house because i’m healing. i’m wondering what it will be like when my partner touches me for the first time. i’m a whole bunch of things besides worrying about the absurd needs of someone who is no longer in my life for a reason.

Now, rather than dealing with the reality of surgery being a month away — which, after thinking it would be too expensive to ever be possible until very recently, is a huge gear shift and is taking a lot of emotional energy to render real — i have to think about how to respond to my ex, i have to quiver and shake in memory and disgust. i have to wonder what the most transformative response is; i have to respond because even doing nothing is a response.

Do i do nothing? Do i let them sit and wonder and hope they somehow transform?

Do i change the picture? Do i, again, relinquish my agency to this person’s demands?

Do i do a bunch of research, use my time for emotionally preparing for surgery, and respond simply with quotes of the law? Do i accept their implication that the state should somehow mediate our relationship?

Do i send them an email asking them if they want me to take it down because they are jealous, which seems clear because they unfriended my partner on facebook at the same time they sent the first email? Do i cater to their needs after leaving them because their needs took too much agency from me?

Do i send them a sweet email, as if they’d responded with respect or concern? Do i thank them for reaching out to congratulate me even though our relationship ended roughly, for acknowledging how hard and exciting this moment was, for the grace of their support? Do i hope that this will make them realize how they could have responded and elicit transformation?

Do i pick up my phone and call them? Do i tell them how fucking selfish it was for them to make me deal with this shit months after our breakup when they know that i’m in a difficult moment?

Or, do i recognize that other people may have had (or currently have) partners who engage in emotionally controlling behavior? Do i write a piece for them that acknowledges the real implications of our possibilities in difficult moments? Do i trace the narrow hallways of this experience and tap on the walls, so that people on the other side know that they are not alone?

After shivering and crying all night and living with an upset stomach the next day and then being affronted with another selfish email, i could feel steady air blow out my nose and echo off my top lip. i kissed my partner and smiled.  i talked to my kid at the dinner table and laughed. i called one of my best friends and heard their grounding perspective on surgery. i felt the wholeness of my life, remembered that this situation was not worth sacrificing being present with all the love i have around me. i wrote this piece and thought about how to respond.

i think i respond by soaring. i choose to recognize that the spears that have been cast into the ground around me form a roofless cage that i can rise above. i will do what i need to do to not only survive my particular points of oppression, but to remain able to love fiercely and dance with joy.

Note: This was originally published at (in)visibly queer, you can view the original here.

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