Lacuna: Who We Leave Out and the Empty Spaces Where We Find Ourselves by Abby PullenI found myself in the holes. The ones men don’t understand. They’re turned on by the idea of friction, but nothing confuses them more. My favorite poet, Sarah Kay, write she gave the first love of her life…
a shoulder, an elbow, the bend of [her] knee. [She] lent him [her] corners, [her] edges: the parts of [her] [she] could afford to offer, the parts of [her] [she] had long since given up trying to hide.
Our love was less innocent. More empty. We didn’t have edges or corners. We had absences. We were defined by our lack. To be clear: there were no penises in this interaction, just deep spaces–gaps between our bodies, ourselves, and who we should have been.
But lesbian sex has everything to do with any piece of artwork in this literary magazine. The cropping, the leaving out. As women, we are taught to take up less space; to be the ones to apologize when we get in the way. We shrink ourselves to be what the world wants. We are defined by the hollows.
I may have found myself in holes, but I lost male respect because of those same holes. Because gaps and holes are the means through which we had sex. No shaft, no stick with which to prod and prove my point, I have no authority; over anything including my body. Women are scissors, not rocks (or even paper) trained to accept it’s not real sex if there isn’t a dick. It’s not human if there is not a dick. But keep in mind, women are just an example. Sexuality is a metaphor for identity. We are told who to identify as and whom to exclude.
Physical cavities are not vacuums sucking in individual personality. I identify with any number of artificial but meaningful distinctions: a human, a chick, a friend, a cinephile, a kid, a philologist, an animal-lover, etc. But I do not subscribe to the roles: artist, rebel, Republican, brother, et cetera. Telling you what I am and telling you what I do not effectively have the same outcome: you think you know about me. But teaching me that I am not a man instead of that I am a woman are different acts. Again, only an example, but definition by negation is, in itself revealing.
Photographers do this. They crop pictures to make them pristine — to cut out trash cans, to remove blemishes any unsightly reality casting distracting light. The subject of a photo is not necessarily its focus. We should recognize the way in which the photos were cropped or framed and how limiting a shot can dramatically alter the viewer’s understanding.
Writers can be guilty of doing the same thing. They identify characters by who they are not. She is not a mother; she must be a disappointment to her family. He is not athletic he’s lame, and no one will love him until in waltzes the manic pixie dream girl lacking emotional depth and self-awareness. But she is there for his purpose. Her emptiness is a void for him to fill, subjected to the writer’s whims and the reader’s preconceptions.
What is not included, what is actively denied, is as much a part of the story of who we are as what is embraced. Not a feminist rant nor a commentary on lesbianism; but a call for what goes unrecognized. A suggestion to look at the complexity of identity, to see the entire person for who he is not and for what she does not have. The whole aspect of someone’s identity discarded from their bio. unacknowledged characteristics dependent on environment, upbringing, value systems, innate desire to rebel are not universal. I can only give you some instances in my own life.
Thus far, I have lived a very privileged life. I never faced any dramatic obstacles. Scheduling conflicts are the biggest things I ever had to overcome. But I am still a product of the world in which I grew up. I am who I am in great part because of how I was raised and the people who surrounded me. I am not wealthy, not poor, not brilliant, not stupid, not attractive, not hideous. But sometimes, I am what they tell me to be.
I am an emotional mess. My life is a series of tears shed and guilt felt. I constantly feel the need to make myself smaller to make others more comfortable. I do not allow myself to be intrusive, to let my emotions influence my relationships. At least that is my intention; however, it is done, it is almost entirely unsuccessful. I have an excess of feelings, an affliction I think to be atypical. So, to mediate the possibility of awkwardness or making someone else unhappy, I limit my emotional expression whenever possible.
I am not decisive. I am made smaller by my inability to make choices. I lose agency. I relinquish power without meaning to, because of this, my lack of self-determination has become a major aspect of my personality.
I suppose the crux of my meaning; I am as much defined by who I am not as by who I am. What I distance myself from is equally indicative of my values as what I claim. My purpose is shaped by zooming in on my desires — repeating the adjectives I want to be associated with me. These are tools I use to understand (or misunderstand) defines my identity. They are not limits, and they are not hindrances but taught to be ashamed of who I am not I hide who I am.
Brian Johnson of the Breakfast Club tells Mr. Vernon: “You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.” We are pressured to fit into predetermined boxes. Perceptions of the world are not circles and squares, identity is not always a choice and it may be impossible to shrug off social influence, but we don’t have to be what is expected. Multiple labels are complicated. A friend of mine identifies with both male and female pronouns. She didn’t restrict himself. He lets herself be who he is. It’s dismissive to not to honor her/his wishes simply because of breached boundaries. We must decide for ourselves. The world will only get us so far before we run into problems that we cannot overcome. We should let the world change us, but not define us at the expense of losing how we see ourselves whether as writers and photographers and lesbians.
When we take photographs, we chose what to show and we chose what to leave out. The subject of a photo may not be the photographer’s focus, but the image is no less significant. It may actually be all the more noteworthy. Pictures tell stories. Identities are stories. Incomplete pictures tell unfinished tales.
Jacques Lacan defines desire as lack. Identity stems from the shortages we are taught to see in ourselves. The absence of phallus in our anatomy or in our intercourse, the desire for wholeness to be completely who we are. I cannot feign to understand the depth of the psychological repercussions brought on the need to be accepted. It is why we embrace labels.? However, perhaps we are not actually looking to be acknowledged, understood, or received; we just want to fill the void made by being forced to brand ourselves with pronouns and definitions.
“I am an [insert chosen profession here] because we do the same things with our lives.”
“I am a Democrat because I like to align myself with like-minded people.”
“I am a survivor because I have gone through that experience and come out on the other side.”
“I am a sister because we come from the same family.”
“I am an intellectual because I belong to the smart portion of the population.”
And so on.
Identifiers documented, claimed, photographed, and written sometime a nip to remove our participation in a group we no longer want to associate with. Ultimately, products of culture that frequently dictate our feelings while ignoring our needs. When speaking about what matters, we end up omitting a part of who we are. But examining what we have become through limitation, we begin to seek wholeness, to fill the deep holes in our identities, to reframe our photos, rewrite our characters, and reinvent ourselves to resolve an internalized lack of consideration, understanding, and acceptance.
What matters is self-realization. Everyday is a process, deciding how to present ourselves to the world. Identity isn’t necessarily consistent, but it is engaging. It is an amalgam of personal and public.
Abby Pullen – “Lacuna: Who We Leave Out and the Empty Spaces Where We Find Ourselves.” I believe that it fits well with your idea that essays should “transform and transgress metanarratives of authority and power structures.”
A current undergraduate at Marshall University, Abbey is pursuing degrees in Latin and Classics. As a human being, she seeks friendship, photo booths, naps, and anything that can be described as “whimsical.”