The Fear Girls

Category: Author: Chloe

Big-Girl Pants

 By Chloe Crossman

I grew up in a house that was never silent. My parents, two brothers, big sister and I squished together between its walls as we played musical bedrooms, trying to accommodate the constantly changing problems of four children of different ages and genders sharing rooms as we charged headfirst into our various, turbulent developmental stages. “Alone” was not a word I used with much frequency, aside from expressing my desire for peace and quiet. There was no small amount of fighting, and here and there we shed tears and the occasional bit of blood, but we loved one another and we made the chaos work. Needless to say, I moved out as soon as I was of age. I spent a few years hopping between apartments and boyfriends until I found myself living in a particularly gross and crowded series of houses with a particularly bad boyfriend and his largely awful group of friends, of which there were many. It was not until I got to be 24 that I finally moved into this small, clean, sweet-smelling little apartment with my best friend. We have separate bedrooms, separate schedules, and she has a boyfriend and I do not. All of this is new to me, and for the first time in my life I sometimes come home to an empty house.

When we first moved in, I thought I knew what lonely felt like. It wasn’t until recently, however, that I really found the definition. Lonely is sitting on top of my suitcase at a train station in London, five thousand miles away from home, hungry, tired and without a tuppence to rub together. Lonely is the feeling of walking the streets of Paris, completely cut off from verbal communication for lack of speaking the language. Lonely is perching atop a barstool in Edinburgh, Scotland, sipping at a glass of whiskey and almost welcoming the sleazy advances of strangers, if only for conversation. And despite the moments of sadness and panic that can accompany this feeling, lonely turned out to be an amazing and refreshing experience.

As a graduation present for dragging myself to the finish line at the California College of the Arts last year, my parents rewarded me with the most incredible and unexpected gift: a two week vacation to Europe, all by my little, lonesome self. I was thrilled, overjoyed, grateful, and completely scared out of my mind at the prospect. I had traveled before, but never alone, and never to any location where I didn’t have a constant translator if I needed one. I would be heading to France first, followed by a brief layover in England, then a week in Scotland, and finally heading back to Paris for a connecting flight home. The thought of all of those trains, planes and Metro rides had me shaking, mostly with excitement but not without a great deal of serious trepidation. When I was a little girl and I approached some new, scary horizon, my mother would tell me, “Okay, honey, it’s time to put on your big-girl pants and just do this.” So put them on I did, and away I went.

I arrived in Paris after 16 hours of travel, the beginning of which was spent with a miserable hangover and a stressful farewell breakfast with my parents at which my mother succeeded in panicking more than I was. I somehow navigated the enormous airport and found the terminal for my train to Rennes, boarded it, and collapsed into a ball in my seat. Two stops along the way, a man approached me and, in rapid-fire French, began pointing at me and my seat and then back to his own ticket. “I’m so sorry,” I said, “I don’t speak French.” He switched to English, reluctantly, and explained that I was, apparently, sitting in his seat. He got the the conductor, people stared, the two of them examined my ticket and passport. It turned out my ticket had been booked for the previous day, so I shelled out €60 for a new seat in first class (all that was available) and rode in peace to the train station in Rennes.

I cannot put into words how grateful I was to see my friend, Hayley, waiting for me at the platform. For the past five years or so, Hayley has been living in France, and this was the impetus for my decision to go there, despite being completely ignorant of the language and culture. To top it off, she just gave birth a few months ago to a gorgeous little baby girl, whom I was dying to meet. So we hugged, hopped on a bus, and headed to her hometown of Bruz, where I spent the first leg of my trip. When we arrived at her house, I was ready to collapse, but I kept it together long enough to hold this tiny, little, new human being that up until then had yet to really feel like a reality to me. It was incredible. In my arms was this bundle of cloth and flesh and tiny appendages, with features that were unmistakably Hayley’s. I should mention here that Hayley and I both have hippie mothers, and our hippie mothers took a hippie, prenatal swim class way back in 1986 when they were pregnant with us. That is how long I’ve known her. We’ve pooped our pants next to each other, thrown tantrums, had crushes on boys, had our hearts broken, had our first hangovers, went through unimaginably awkward teenage phases, moved out of our parents’ houses, and now she’s a mother. It was something else, and I thought about all of the years that had passed since our mothers first held us in their arms as I looked over baby Annabelle’s sleeping face.

My days in Bruz were lovely, though it took awhile for me to adjust to the crying schedule of a newborn. We spent our time taking walks, playing with Annabelle, eating yummy home-cooked food that her husband, Jeff, made for us, and going to bed at a reasonable hour (something I rarely do at home). We took a day trip into Rennes to eat galettes, drink fizzy fruit drinks, and catch up, realizing that it had been almost ten years since the two of us had been able to spend so much one-on-one time together. I talked about my life back in California, working at the tattoo shop, my endlessly difficult love life, and nights out at bars and art galleries. Hayley talked about being a wife and mother, about trying to make ends meet, about breast pumps and diapers and Annabelle’s love of pooping and farting. On my third day, I experience this firsthand: as I held her in my lap, that tiny, angelic face looked up at me and smiled as I felt a rumble. She was gleeful for having pooped, and I loved her for it. When it came time for me to journey on, I was sad to leave, and I felt a sharp twinge of homesickness as I waved goodbye to Hayley and her family, and boarded my train to Paris.

Paris is incredible. Everywhere one turns, there’s something worth looking at. I stayed near the Bastille, which turned out to be perfect for me as there were a ton of vintage shops, bars, and fun stores all around. My hotel was very close to the Seine, which I used as an easy landmark to follow everyday when I walked to various points of interest. The Metro system also proved to be incredibly easy to navigate, which is good, because Parisians are incredibly, unapologetically rude. There is an overwhelming attitude among the locals that if you are not from Paris, you are a hillbilly, even if your French is perfect (mine is non-existent), or even if you know more or less where you’re going but just needed a point in the right direction (I had no idea where I was half the time). By day one to the end of day three I was longing for simple conversation, and for human contact, but I kept myself fairly well distracted by visiting as many cultural points as possible. The most amazing thing I saw while in Paris, by the way, was the Catacombs, where the bits and pieces of roughly six million human skeletons make up the walls of a series of underground tunnels. And it’s hard to explain, but there was something magical about walking for miles in an enormous city, surrounded by people, and not knowing anyone, and not knowing what anyone was saying. I sat on the Metro, watching the sights of Paris flash by, and let myself drown in the ambient noise of conversations in French that could have been about anything but became nothing more than the lilting sounds of a foreign and beautiful tongue. At night, however, in my hotel room, all alone, I missed hearing my roommate come home late from the bar, I missed hearing the beep of my cell phone as it received a text message, and I was beginning to seriously miss human contact. I was lonely. I would’ve paid for a hug if I knew how to ask for one.

The morning that I left Paris to head to the United Kingdom, something went horribly awry. By some miscommunication between my credit card company and my hotel, the room had not been prepaid. It was 5 ᴀᴍ, Paris time, which made getting ahold of a human being in the United States impossible, so I was forced to put all €680 on my debit card, effectively wiping out all of the money in my bank account, spending money included. As I hauled my heavy suitcase down the dark morning streets of Paris to the train station, I cried silently to myself, knowing it would be at least 48 hours before I could have money wired to me in Scotland. I heard my mom in my head saying “Big-girl pants, honey, time to put on the big-girl pants.”

My day in London was awful. All you really need to know about it was that I spent the majority of my time there in the back of a seedy cafe, sneaking bites of food off of plates left behind by strangers, drinking cup after cup of crappy coffee, and smoking an endless chain of rolled cigarettes. By the time I dragged myself into the hotel lobby in Edinburgh, it had been nearly 30 hours since I’d had a proper meal, and my lungs felt as though I’d been inhaling sand. In the morning I started anew. I found a Starbucks up the street and managed to get in contact with my mom, who wired me money, and while I waited for it to come through, I walked around the city. It just so happened that I was there for the last weekend of the Fringe Festival, one of the world’s largest art, music, and general entertainment festivals. All around me were mimes, street musicians, comedians, dancers, and puppeteers. My funds came through just in time to go have a pint, which turned into many as I caught the last bit of a comedy show.

The next night I went on the ghost tour, which took us into the Edinburgh vaults. Rest assured, these are not a happy place. I have never in my life felt as uncomfortable as I did in there. When I got out, it was dark and I was in need of whiskey, so I headed back to the pub I had been to the night before in the hopes of seeing something funny and lighthearted. Boy did I ever. The pub in question was a place called The Banshee’s Labyrinth, touted as being the most haunted bar in all of Scotland, where I happened upon a room in which a man was singing funny songs with his guitar. His name was Paul B. Edwards, and he was just what I needed. At the end of his stellar show, he was kind enough to give me a copy of his CD and even treat me to a delicious cocktail known as the “Ghostbuster,” which is kind of like a White Russian’s naughty uncle. I sincerely urge any and all of you to check him out on Youtube. After his show, he directed me to go sit in on another performer, The Monkey Poet, who was doing a show that consisted of hilariously lewd poetry and strikingly smart political commentary. It was also magnificent, he is also very easy to find on Youtube, and I highly recommend that you do.

By the time I started on my long, long trip home, I was incredibly, overwhelmingly lonely. I wanted nothing more than to get back to my little apartment and surround myself with people I knew. I missed my family, I missed my friends, I missed my co-workers, I even kind of missed the crazy people on Telegraph Avenue that try to bum cigarettes off of me every day. When my plane touched down in San Francisco and I turned my cell phone on for the first time in over two weeks, I was not even annoyed at the number of drama-laden text messages that filled my inbox, or the emails from my student loan services. On the drive home, I was almost relieved to see the billboards for immense McDonalds burgers and crummy sitcoms. I need some amount of this chaos to feel normal, and I felt starved for it. It was not until my friends began asking about my trip that I felt a longing to be away again. I recounted everything, the good and the bad, and wished that they all could have been there with me. I’ve been home for nearly a month now, and the novelty of being back has lost some of its luster. But I will return to Europe, maybe this time with a friend or two, so that the next time, when I have to put on my Big-Girl Pants, I won’t have to go it alone.

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How The Girl Got Her Kinks

 By Chloe Crossman

It’s a funny thing, the way we human beings discover our sexuality; it is a multi-tiered event, beginning in infancy and spanning across varying amounts of time, brought on by different events, sights, and feelings. There is the first time that a child witnesses two adults in the act of lovemaking, perhaps in a racy movie scene, perhaps by walking in on their parents. Such an event is followed, most often, with some sort of explanation, ranging from the old stand-by: “Mommy and Daddy were just hugging,” to the more elaborate: “Well, when two grown-ups love each other very much…” Then, of course, there is the first time that a child realizes that if they touch certain parts of their body in a certain way, it feels especially nice; until they are old enough to understand that this is called “masturbating,” and it is a private activity, this sort of self-touching can happen anywhere from the playground at preschool to the produce aisle of the grocery store. A little later down this road of sexual discovery, the child will experience their first “crush,” which typically focuses on a particular classmate or peer, and involves things like sharing cookies, throwing rocks, and, in some cases, a little light smooching. Sometimes this crush is on a fictional character, or a popular musician, or a movie star—or perhaps some wonderful and amazing combination therein, like, say, David Bowie and his codpiece-laden wardrobe in Labyrinth. These experiences are universal; whether they talk about it or not, every single person on Earth experiences such types of things in some way or another.

So then, I ask, when and how does an individual’s unique sexual identity begin to form? It is my contention that, to a large extent, we are each born with a certain amount of this part of us already thriving. It is this intrinsic piece of our specific selves that shapes the way we grow into distinct, sexual beings; this is the piece that means some little boys will always tend to like girls with freckles, and some little girls will happen to be quite fond of other little girls, and one particular little girl will feel tingly when she sees a certain British pop star dancing around in tight pants with puppets. As we grow older, we begin to realize more and more of our personal, sexual proclivities; we begin to understand them, name them, and, hopefully, embrace them. These are the interesting bits, and the bits that we don’t tend to talk about as frequently, especially when our tendencies go against what most of society deems “normal”.

Take, for instance, deriving sexual pleasure from pain and domination. It can be a difficult thing to explain, and sometimes an even more difficult thing to understand, even for the person in question; in this case, myself. I’ve done a lot of thinking, a lot of rationalizing, a lot of feeling ashamed, and quite a bit of questioning. How can I call myself a strong female when I enjoy being sexually dominated (in a mutually consenting, safe way) by a male partner? Is there something wrong with me? Am I some kind of sex pervert? To answer these questions, I revisited some of the aforementioned childhood stepping stones and examined how I have grown into the woman that I am today. It started with spanking.I have an incredibly vivid memory of the first time my mother read to me from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. On this particular day, she read me a story called “The Elephant’s Child,” which tells the tale of a little elephant who asked a lot of questions to a lot of different animals, all of whom were annoyed by this and proceeded to spank the daylights out of him with their various “hard, hard hoofs” and “scalesome, flailsome tails.” I can’t remember what the moral of the story was, but I do remember the feeling that came over me—warm and prickly and curious—and I remember thinking,You know, that doesn’t sound half bad. I re-read the story to myself many times, each time with the same result. Once, on a rare occasion that I found myself with some privacy, I pretended I was the naughty little elephant, and I smacked myself on the bum a few times with a hair brush. It wasn’t the same. One cannot really spank oneself, it turns out. A few years later, I watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and experienced a wave of excitement, and a strange feeling of understanding, as I watched the scene in which a castle full of women plead the good Sir Galahad to spank them all. Other people felt this way! I was relieved, and somehow I knew then that one day I would meet a partner who was not only willing, but eager, to do the spanking.

Years passed. I grew up and lost my virginity in an appropriately awkward and unsatisfying way. I had a few boyfriends, some of whom I had sex with, in the way that teenagers do—fumbling unskillfully with one another’s undergarments and private parts, gradually learning the basics. At seventeen I began dating a man a few years my senior who, naturally, had more experience than I did. He was the first person with whom I felt I was learning anything from when it came to sex; it was exciting, and I enjoyed the dynamic of power that it presented. I don’t remember if he asked, or if I did, or if it simply just happened, but at some point a few months into sleeping together, spanking stepped proudly onto the stage. It played a critical role in our sex life for the duration of our time together; for me, being spanked was much more stimulating than making out or touching, and knowing that he enjoyed it just as much as I did was equally thrilling. He even went as far as to craft his own paddle in the wood shop, a gesture that far outweighed a bouquet or card. It was exactly as I had hoped it would be: a mutually fulfilling activity. I never once felt abused or disrespected, I simply felt as though we were performing something for one another that was as natural and loving as a back massage.

A few years later, after I had become acquainted with, and begun to enjoy, things like hair pulling and light wrist restraining, I found myself with another man, with a new set of kinks. Here is where it gets tricky: I was introduced to choking and slapping during foreplay and intercourse. The first time, it caught me off guard, as I suppose it rightly should have. Still, though I was startled, I was not frightened or upset; the slap was firm, but not so much so that I could mistake it for an act of aggression. And for that matter, I enjoyed it—so much so that I asked him to do it again, and he obliged. Later that night we talked about it; we discussed boundaries and thresholds, talked about the distinct difference between allowing him to strike me during sex, as opposed to any other time. Again, as I was learning, honest communication was going to be the key when it came to navigating these new, electrifying waters.

But communicating my newfound taste for this type of sex play to my female friends proved to be much more difficult. By then I was a fiery tempered, strong willed young punk rock woman. My circle of friends and I aligned ourselves with the Riot Grrrl movement, fighting against the gender roles and inequalities imposed on women, even in the alternative scene in which we ran; we were tough girls, strong girls, women who didn’t take shit. Explaining to these friends that I had found a way to feel empowered by way of being dominated sexually was all but impossible. Their opinions ranged from outright disapproval, to moderate concern, to simply not being able to understand how on Earth what I was doing could possibly be pleasurable. It made me question myself, and in turn question why it was that feeling dominated felt so good. I was never abused, I was not raised in a brothel. My father is a good man, and my mother is a tough and intelligent woman. I had had my share of “tender” sex—the kind in romantic movies where people do things like stare into each other’s eyes and see how slowly they can bring one another to climax—but when it really came down to it, I generally just found this variety to be boring. Eventually, I just learned that most of my friends and I just simply could not relate; they liked Classic Vanilla, I liked Rocky Road.

More recently, I met another man with whom I was able to further explore. It was as though we sniffed one another out, somehow intuiting that the other would be the perfect person to discuss with, experiment with, and investigate this balance of power. With him, it transcended that which had come before—effortlessly combining the elements we each knew to be the most enjoyable for us, and weaving it into an intensely pleasurable experience, continually growing and morphing with each encounter. And it was in doing this that I began to finally come to terms with who I am and I what I enjoy, in a way that makes sense to me as a woman that would never tolerate or delight in being talked down to, disrespected, or controlled in day-to-day life. It is imperative that the boundary between sex life and normal life maintains a firm distinction; it is only within the perimeters of sexual intimacy that I enjoy any form of masochism. Above all else, there must be respect—without it, there can never truly be affection; without affection, the line between pleasure and pain ceases to blend comfortably, and becomes something malicious. It is the balance of power that truly defines a healthy, dominant and submissive relationship. I have found my power, and I enjoy it proudly.

‘Women’s Magazines’

 By Chloe Crossman

Nearly every woman I know will occasionally purchase what is known as a “woman’s magazine.” Some of us have subscriptions, eagerly awaiting the monthly arrival of those glossy, perfumed pages. Some of us buy them as a means to mindlessly pass an hour or two, perhaps feeling a twinge of embarrassment at the check-out stand as we fork over five dollars and anticipate reading all about “This Spring’s To-Die-For Wedges.” Myself, I fall into the latter category. To me, buying these publications is akin to devouring an enormous, freshly glazed apple fritter: it may be sinfully indulgent – perhaps so much so as to become nauseating – but once it’s over with, all I seem to be able to think about is the circumference of my thighs.

I’m not saying that this kind of behavior is something one should feel guilty about; much like cramming your face full of fried dough, picking up a Cosmopolitan or a Vogue here and there is just fine on occasion, so long as one is able to maintain a certain level of perspective while doing so. The reality of it is this: these magazines embody everything that we as intelligent, empowered women consciously fight against on a daily basis. They cater to the idea that women should value appearance over substance, please our partner before pleasing ourselves, and that the best way to achieve fulfillment in life is to make sure that our cleavage is displayed with just the right amount of visibility that we avoid being branded as “slutty” while maintaining enough sex appeal to keep us from being viewed as “butch.”

These are, of course, categories that women rarely intentionally apply to one another; rather, they are two ends of a spectrum that have been almost entirely crafted by men, and nurtured by the American media to a point that it becomes ingrained in our heads that we must remain steadfastly in the center, with just the right amount of blush on our cheeks. These contradicting dualities run rampant throughout women’s magazines. On one page, a bold headline proclaims that the author has discovered the very best new way to Trim That Excess Belly Fat By Swimsuit Season!, while another tells the story of a sad, young woman and her battle with Anorexia and Bulimia: Silent Killers. Towards the front, an article may detail the Top Ten Ways To Drive Your Man Wild, while in the back lies a piece on the importance of Putting Yourself First: A Woman’s Guide To Being Single…And FABULOUS! The articles are maddeningly incongruous, confusing and generally fail to serve much of a purpose beyond informing us what shade of nail polish will provide the proper balance of edgy and chic.

Within these same, slippery sheets of paper, we are bombarded with opinions, pictures, and examples of how to be perfectly, “effortlessly” feminine, all laid out in the authoritative form of printed media. As any woman knows, being conventionally feminine is anything but effortless. Hence, the advertisements for hair removal products, creams that claim to banish cellulite, and styling tools that promise to deliver sultry locks, free of frizz. What they are selling is unattainable; like it or not, beneath our perfumes, lotions, waxes, and dyes, we are the same, hairy, smelly, aging mammals as our male counterparts.

But it is not the average, twenty-something and up woman that is the most affected by these images and articles. It is the teenage girl who scans the page of Jeans To Fit Any Body Type yet fails to find her own, it is the middle schooler who finds a role model in the likes of the Kardashian sisters and their vapid, materialistic drivel, simply because they are portrayed as the definition of beauty, albeit completely void of character, and it is the young adolescent who sees food as an enemy, gobbling up any advice she can get on how to shed just a few pesky pounds, while keeping a mental note of every evil little calorie that she consumes. These are the girls that we all were, in some form or another, and that some of us still are.

There is no escaping the media and its influences, so instead we must remember to pace ourselves. Though it may at times be fun to turn the rational brain down for a while and amuse ourselves with color swatches and hair tutorials, these fluffy periodicals are the jelly donuts of literature; if we allow ourselves to consume them with too much frequency, we will become intellectually lethargic, driven by a need to refuel our damaged confidence with another dose of sugary garbage. In short, the next time you find yourself turning that first page, make sure you’ve fed your self esteem for the day, and remember that junk food is nothing without that grain of salt.