Light of My Life, Fire of My Loins

I read Lolita at a young age. I found a PDF online, as I knew I would not be approved to check the book out at my local public library.

Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, originally published in 1955, is unreliably narrated by a man with the pseudonym Humbert Humbert, who is infatuated with his 12-year-old soon to be stepdaughter Dolores Haze. The novel is not circumspect of the taboo sexual relationship between Humbert and Dolores. I was practically reading erotica before I knew what exactly that was. 

I recently repurchased Nabokov’s novel with intentions of re-reading it, hopefully with a more critical lens than my 14-year-old self. Especially after an article about Dominique Swain appeared my social media feed. The story of the then child actress who played Dolores in the 97’ rendition of the film Lolita resonated with me. Swain was fifteen during the time she auditioned for the 14-year-old role. Meanwhile, the actor who played Humbert Humbert, whom she had to film sex scenes with, was forty-seven. Brooklyn writer Lacy Warner wrote about her admiration for Swain’s nymph-like semblance and the way it manifested within herself in her teen years, writing “I didn’t understand anything about seduction — and I shouldn’t have had to — but I did think the way to a man’s heart was in the costume of a nymphet.” This is something I had also internalized. 

Re-reading Lolita as a young adult this time was flagrant for me. I saw a lot of myself in Lo during the first reading, but felt more feelings of shame and sensibility during the second. Lo’s yearning for independence alongside her incumbent desire to appease a father-like figure in her life was familiar to me.

Furthermore, I too was a capricious, volatile, needy teen that was helmed in discovering my sensuality. I got my period at eleven, which is relatively early — but not obscene for a prepubescent girl. Soon after, I began to develop boobs, and then pubic hair made its debut. For my next endeavor as a tween– I begged my mom to let me shave my legs, the whole shebang. By fourteen, my boobs were bigger than those of my then 19-year-old sister.

I remember shaving my bikini area the first time around this age, too, and having the few inevitable razor bumps, but feeling cute nonetheless. Although very much a child, some would say that I had the “body of an adult.” Being told such things was always weird to me as my boobs didn’t magically grant me a later curfew or the right to vote, so what exactly about them made me an adult?

By fifteen, my body began to be maneuvered as a site to be gawked at by men — particularly older men. Their Lolita complex seemed to be more apparent than my presumed innocence as a child. I noticed the way men began to undress me with their eyes, looking at me in a way that was, at the time, new to me. I’d be lying if I said it rubbed me the wrong way then — feeling desired and sensual felt gratifying. I didn’t get all too much attention from the boys at school, and like many young girls, I succumbed to wanting that validation from men we are conditioned to believe we need.

Although the sense of rebellion, knowing that it was ‘taboo’ and most people wouldn’t ‘get it’ made me apprehensive, but I was assured that I was in my prime and thus it was normal for older men to desire me. I had received so many “you’re so mature for your age” comments from older men, both online and offline, that I had started to believe it myself. 

I only just recently realized that I was never mature for my age. Not particularly immature, however, I definitely didn’t have the emotional intelligence or rationale of someone in their early twenties, or whatever age these men implied I acted to justify their preying on me. If anything, these men were immature for their age, but certainly not oblivious to the power they held over me and how to use it to fulfill their needs — not unlike Humbert Humbert.

Looking back, I wish I could shake my younger self for being flattered by this attention. I had to grow up fast because of this paradigm of prepubescent girls being hyper sexualized —  the Lolita complex — and presumably the nymphomania surrounding child pornography. I was, and still am at nineteen, naive. I wish I could say I was one in a million in sending explicit photos of my underage self to men ten to twenty years my senior, but I know I was not. This behavior — that I can now acknowledge was unacceptable — was very much normalized by both my peers and the men in my vicinity.

The lens I began to view my body through and the ways in which I surrendered to desirability politics, infantilizing myself for the attention of older men is something I am still unlearning today.

Sometimes I feel uneasy posting risqué pictures now, despite being of the age of consent, because of the type of attention I may attract. I’ve internalized feelings of shame about the way I expressed my sexuality as a minor, and often blamed myself for such attention I garnered and having been preyed on by older men. I still get men admiring my “baby face” then proceeding to try to solicit sex from me. I only recently became comfortable with not always shaving down there, as I had grown up being taught men like hairless — men like childlike.

Admittedly, I still adhere to a sort of nymphet Lolita like style. I own a fair share of frilly socks and baby doll dresses. I still struggle to navigate relationships with the older men I find myself prone to. It’s difficult to decipher these men’s intentions —  if I consented, is it still wrong?

Read Lolita, but read it without solipsism.  

 

 Gif by Emi Li. Photos (in order of appearance) by Alyssa Llorando and Willow Gray.

 

I Hate You — Don’t Leave Me

Navigating relationships and intimacy with borderline personality disorder.

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I often feel “empty.” 

My emotions shift very quickly, and I often experience extreme sadness, anger, and anxiety. I’m constantly afraid that the people I care about the most will abandon or leave me.

I would describe most of my romantic relationships as intense yet unstable — the way I feel about the people in my life can dramatically change from one moment to the next, and I don’t always understand why. When I’m feeling insecure in a relationship, I tend to lash out or make impulsive gestures in hopes of keeping the other person close to me.

These are just a few ways borderline personality disorder has manifested within my relationships throughout my life.

Although I’m only nineteen, I consider myself an intimacy aficionado. I have been in quite a few romantic relationships — some long, some short, some unrequited, some not — and I would say the only common denominator in my love life has been my personality disorder. I read a Vice article once that referred to women as wonderful torturers of ourselves. Although loving comes easy for me — trust, stability, assurance, and security certainly do not. 

 

What is borderline personality disorder?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental illness that revolves around an intense fear of abandonment and instability and impacts the way you feel about yourself, others, your relationships with others, and everything in between.

The cause(s) of BPD can be linked to genetics and hereditary predisposition, brain abnormalities, and trauma, although this is not an exhaustive list. Typically, you must display five or more of a long list of criterium to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. These symptoms may include identity disturbance, frantic efforts to avoid abandonment (both real or imagined), instability, and intense interpersonal relationships, suicidal behavior, and chronic feelings of emptiness, among others.

 

Loving while Borderline…

My fear of abandonment has forced me to require more reassurance than the average person. Even with adequate reassurance from a partner, trust can be frail.

I’m constantly anticipating that my partner will leave me or that they feel differently, which has often pushed loved ones away. My feelings of inadequacy took a toll on them and our relationship. I cannot always explain why I so vividly imagine loved ones leaving me and acting in my worst interest.

My impulsive behavior and unstable sense of self has put me in situations where I have felt obligated to be promiscuous and hypersexual in order to obtain love and care. Hypersexuality as a result of my personality disorder has also led people to take advantage of me — and blame myself for it in the same breath.

I still sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between love, lust, and impulse. On the opposite side of the spectrum, sometimes I have total aversion towards sex. I can feel sexually repressed due to trauma, trust issues, unstable self image, and acute feelings of shame. This physical repulsion has also been a site of complication in more than one of my relationships.

Ultimately, each day and each partner is the luck of the draw in terms of how I will be feeling and what irrationality my brain will orchestrate.  

 

Living while Borderline…

Dialectical behavior therapy [DBT] has been one avenue of treatments that has helped in equipping myself with skills to manage my emotions, self soothe, and navigate relationships.

DBT is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that works to promote a balance in thinking — a way to see seemingly opposite perspectives at the same time. I think of it as understanding that the glass is both half empty and half full. Although mindfulness has always seemed pin-headed to me, allowing myself to feel, use strengthening statements, and understand that things don’t have to be black or white, but can rather just be, has been benevolent in my self discovery and relationships.

Note that I say I live with borderline personality disorder rather than suffer from it.

I have decided to no longer pathologize who I am and the way I am, even if I am sometimes not too sure of either of those things. Being borderline has often made me susceptible to self stigmatization; I’ve believed that I’m manipulative, dangerous, and unable to be in healthy, loving relationships. But this is not necessarily true. If anything, being borderline has offered me ways to be intuitive, compassionate, and empathetic.

My inner turmoil has granted me the privilege of being able to relate to others through lived experience. My heightened sensitivity allows me to be hyper-aware of the emotions of those around me. My intuition allows me to understand and navigate situations that may be unfamiliar.

In terms of intimacy, being borderline has come with a self awareness toolkit that has taught me what I need in relationships in order to have them be both healthy and mutually fulfilling for me and a partner: Reassurance. Patience. Compassion. Understanding. Mutuality. Flexibility. Boundaries.

 

For more information on borderline personality disorder, click here

 

Art by Ezra Covalt, photos (in order of appearance) by Cheyenne Morschl-Vill and Sweet Suezy.