on belonging

One of the hardest parts of being born female is this matter of belonging.

As a girl, I saw that my mother–for good or for bad–belonged to her tribe of sisters; and to all of us children; and most demandingly of all–to my father.

HE, on the other hand, (like all he’s) seemed to belong to himself, to his work in the world.

And so, I set my sights on his horizon, only to discover, ever so slowly, that his choice wasn’t available to me…

At 15, I fell in love, and at 16, I offered up the gift of my body, and then it became my lover’s, increasingly so, demandingly so, guiltingly so, not only sexually, but also with regard to appearance, just as my father had evaluated my mother’s appearance and mine until the very last remark I can recall, just after I became a mother myself, the second time:

“You look good babe, but you need to lose some weight and get some sun.”

We were standing outside the hospital where he worked.
My mother, his ex, lay riddled with cancer inside.
The baby in my arms was 3 weeks old.
I was still bleeding.
I smiled.

I so wanted to “look good” to my father, but I felt pulled to surrender my body to these babies, this fleshy/messy/earthy life of womanhood, and so I did, until one day, my husband asked, when I passed him on the path to the outside shower:

“Would you mind shaving there?”

He explained his awkward request, recalling the sight of a much older cousin at the beach with hair poking out of her bikini bottom and down her legs when he had been a teen.

At thirty-five, he still recoiled at the memory.

I said: No.

If not for the pimples and the pain and how quickly the hair grew back and rubbed between my legs, I might have accommodated his discomfort.

It’s a risk this saying, No, isn’t it? At home. In the office. On a date. Among sisters.And specifically in a romantic relationship.

It’s always risk this being less beautiful than you are able, less attractive than those around you, less willing, less accommodating…

The threat of rejection is woven into our landscape, unspoken.

“Never let yourself go,” my father told me as a young woman. “When your husband arrives home from work, you want to look good.”

“…And don’t be too smart, or too demanding, or too (fill-in-the-blank)…”

And so, I was afraid.
I am still afraid
Only the voice of belonging to self grows louder and louder, overiding the other voices, the ones who still shout:

You are mine.

“Aren’t you afraid he’ll have an affair?” a friend asks when I admit how many weeks we’ve gone without sex.

Like winter into spring, the hormonal changes rock back and forth, so that sometimes it’s less painful and more pleasurable, and I could be sure to “keep” my husband, until the crescendo of Menopause, when the pain became unbearable like it had that first time–at 16–my head arched back, biting my lip, so that I might be desirable first and foremost.

It’s been more than 2 months now, and not without desire, but desire doused with fear. Not fear of pain. I was a home birther. Fear of despair, of no longer being… what?… I’m not sure…

I could take hormones, fool my body into thinking I was younger, like those who dye away the gray, but just like labor and menstrual cramps, I want to be present to what it is to be me in each moment, even aging, and isn’t this physical separation from the man I love and long for offering me something too?

I was never much for foreplay. I preferred it hard and fast, but as I’ve aged, I’ve opened myself up to more and more surrender, less forcing, more delight and awakening and slower unfoldings—in every part of my life.

He is exceedingly patient and kind and without demands, like those I once tolerated from him, back when I was nursing babies all night long, afraid of being left alone, afraid of being one of those wives.

In this new space between us, I am afraid that we will dissolve, and yet I am also finding something precious, recovering something precious, claiming something precious.


To myself.

When I listen and tend, my body is such a friend.

He draws me a bath afterward to soak my tender tissues.

I soften in the water, less anxious about the changes wreaking havoc in me; and when the water drains, I look down to see my pubic hair, full and bushy with the humidity, a dark crescent moon, smiling over creamy fleshy rising toward my belly.

“Remember when you asked me to shave?”

He shakes his heads, disappointed in the man he once was.

“I think it looks so pretty now,” I say, mostly to myself, remembering how I once took scissors to the hair between my legs because it wasn’t supposed to be there. Even men do it now I hear. (I should feel vindicated; Instead, I’m sad.)

After a week of vacation, I am softening into his arms again, but I am also pulling back, uncertain if I was ready to share my body.

When his fingers graze the side of my breast with the permission renewed after love-making, I see myself flip him over and press both my hands around his throat.

I am shocked by this violent vision, and curious too, and even amused–I am half his size.

I’m not sure if it’s Menopause or #45 or #metoo or Climate Change that has unearthed so much anger inside, not only for all the ways my body was claimed by others but for all the ways the body feminine–including Earth Mother–is raped, pillaged, sold, purchased, scorned.

It will be some time before he can touch me so freely again, maybe after these wild bodily transformations have subsided, or maybe never again, unless I have explicitly invited him in, an access pass which must be renewed, and is always, in all ways, worth the wait because a woman sovereign is desirable beyond praise.

I have a dream too…

Artist: Jen Norton

I have a dream

That no woman would choose abortion

Out of fear

Or shame

Or finances.

I have a dream

That each baby born would be celebrated.

Provided for.



I have a dream

That girls would grow up to love their bodies.

Their minds.

Their strength.

Their ability.

I have a dream

That each woman would

Claim her sexuality.

Share her body, only
by invitation.

Welcome a child, knowing
that her community
Would always support
the gift of life.

I have a dream

That every father would teach his daughter self-love.

His son, self-respect.

His family self-knowing.

I have  a dream

That every mother would teach her son self-disclosure.

Her daughter, self-care.

Her family, self-restraint.

I have a dream

That we would recognize the fabric of our connection

With each life.

With every family.

With all of the earth.

Among Women


I realized that it was time to thank my friend, but it was too profound a gratitude to toss out on the playground or across the picnic table. Perhaps I should write a card.  A pretty one. But each time I let the words flow inside my mind, they felt too confined, begging a larger canvas.

I recognized that the gift my friend bestowed upon me was meant to be shared, not between two women, but among them.

For years, I ran from my flesh. Attempted to straighten the curves of my hips with the palms of my hands as I dressed.  Lifted my heavy bosom, confined it in wires and seams; distracted the eye with strategic attention to color and lines and layers.

I aspired to be trim and soon enough, I was–so trim that I barely weighed 100 pounds–as a grown woman. I hadn’t starved myself, but I had been strict, without knowing it; and yet, I could never fully rid myself of my belly.

“Hold your stomach in,” my father said, whenever he photographed me and my sisters and our mother.

Despite this admonishments, I had never really understood that flesh was bad until that afternoon at the river place, on the dock, as two young mothers, mine and a friend’s, climbed into the row-boat, in their string bikinis, and patted the folds of their tight postpartum bellies, complaining.

As I came of age, I would prefer reclining positions to upright. Horizontal to vertical. Waist high slimming slacks and snug belts to anything else.

Until the baby grew inside. And I found myself softening into flesh, delighting in the discovery that there was no point in holding in a belly that was filled with a baby.

5 glorious months of release ensued.

I was a lucky one. Not one of those who could fit right back into their best jeans just days after the baby was born (like my stepmother’s sister), but one who was easily freed of unnecessary weight after a week or two of nursing.

Despite the rapid weight loss, nursing itself was an apprenticeship in fullness. The tidal rhythm of my body rocked me into surrender. My engorged breasts would have nothing to do with wires and seams, and my babies would nurse for years.

When my body was finally mine again, I slowly returned to myself. Rediscovered exercise. Reclaimed a waist. Bought new contraptions to reduce and lift my bosom. Purchased new belts.

And then came 50, and with its approach, not only a fullness in the belly that refused to budge, but the radical demand for freedom.

For flowing skirts.

For going bra-less.

I remember the first time that I noticed my flesh without judgement.  I was in one-legged, down dog, turning toward the back of the room, when I spotted something misshapen, hanging from my mid-section. I reached down to adjust my tank top only to discover that it was my own flesh flanking toward one side.

I tried to muster disgust, like my father’s, but all I could manage in my state of yogic bliss was curiosity: “Wow, that’s me?”

After the glow of consciousness subsided, I considered dieting, but I had given that up long ago; and I knew that I could no longer tolerate its rigid lines in my flowing, expanding life.

I considered more exercise, but lately all I wanted to do was to lie around. “I’m getting in touch with my inner Garfield,” I’d say; and part of me knew that I needed that after a lifetime of overdoing.

I considered relinquishing indulgences. But they had been hard-earned after so much constraint.

And so I surrendered. And in doing so, I came to appreciate a particular friend–one whom I had never heard complain about her own ample curves; and who hadn’t hidden them either; and who allowed them full expression.

When this woman’s youngest child came of age, I noticed that she began to drop weight quickly, and I complimented her on it one afternoon, but she dismissed it as a form of rudeness–because it implied that there was some way for her to be better than what she had been before.

Her response was revolutionary.
The revolution dragged on for years.
It brought to question so many things:

Why was trimmer better?
Who said?
To whom did the body belong?

Eventually, my own growing fullness wore me down, and I began to tentatively welcome it.  I allowed myself a belly and breasts. I freed them from the confines of my mind and restrictive clothing.

When I doubted myself, I recalled my remarkable friend; and for the first time, I began to truly love my own body–as is.

And is if that wasn’t radical enough, I did the most defiant thing of all: I released my belly.

And breathing into the softness there, I forgave my father his ignorance, my mother her complicity, and the world its absurdity.

(Thank you P’tricia!)