„Another femme’s beauty is not the absence of your own“

Our Emotional Labor Queen on jealousy, femme-on-femme-hate and ugliness.

We live in a society that talks emotional labor and care work down. In a patriarchal society like ours, emotionality, softness, vulnerability, insecurity and anxiety are signs of weakness. People who are open about their feelings get labelled as immature, attention-seeking or simply effeminate. This is why communicating fears and helping out each other can be considered as a radical act in a world that turns too fast to take care of each other. Even during teenage years, advice columns in magazines had been ridiculed and made fun of (but secretly read with curiosity). Being grown-up does not mean that you have stopped growing, learning and un-learning. It does not mean that you do know everything and that you are immune against making mistakes. To embrace feelings and emotional care, Missy Magazine is happy to work with advice-columnist Cleo Kempe-Towers alias Emotional Labor Queen. (For information about sending in your questions, see below.)

ELQ

(Image description: Columnist Cleo is waving and smiling while standing in a ray of light. Their selfie is framed by an imagine with pink roses and texts. The texts say: Emotional Labor Queen: thanks 4 nothing, thanks 4 nothing.)

Dear Emotional Labor Queen,

I’m a bit ashamed of writing this, but I’ve got a problem and here it is: I’ve been dating this wonderful person for a few months, we haven’t defined what our relationship is but we eat together, sleep together, and go food shopping together. I’ve also got a key to their flat, so it’s more than casual.
Anyway, against my will, the past month I’ve been insanely jealous. The worst part is, I’m only jealous when my partner talks to other femmes. I know, it’s terrible, and I know that it’s wrong. I really really try to trust my partner, I really do. But when we are out at parties, or just out in general, and they talk to other girls, well, I just can’t stand it. It feels as if a gigantic stone enters my stomach and I instantly start to compare myself to whoever hot babe they are talking to.
Please help, I hate feeling like this, and I really don’t want to be the kind of femme that bashes other girls or femmes. What can I do?

Xx,
Anonymous

ps. I live in Berlin as well

Dear anonymous,

it’s not terrible, it’s not wrong, and you’re not alone.
In a queer community like the one in Berlin, where masculinity is praised and seen as „radical“ and „more queer“ and where femme is seen as „mainstream“ and perhaps not even queer at all, it is absolutely crucial to keep the monster of internalized misogyny in check. Has it eaten? Is it sleeping? It doesn’t matter what it says; it’s not true, it’s not true, it’s not true.

As in any type of relationship, romantic or not, direct communication is usually the answer. Talk to your partner about your insecurities, if they are without femme experience, tell them about the stone in your stomach. Be brave about verbalizing what you are scared of so that they can have a chance of understanding what you are going through. 
I am unsure of the source but there’s a great quote that goes „another woman’s beauty is not the absence of your own,“ so let me tell you this, and promise to listen hard:

another femme’s beauty is not the absence of your own.

And this, sweet darling, is the absolute truth. You have to believe it, and not like something you believe in the back of your head like gravity or recycling, you have to actively believe it, choose to believe it every day and somewhere along the way it’s going to land as a truth in your stomach and it’s going to replace the stone of anxiety.

Patriarchy has made us believe that there is only room for one girl/woman/femme/feminine energy and that whoever else comes along must be a threat of some kind. Other femmes are not the threat, patriarchy is the threat. Let me repeat: other femmes are not the threat. Other femmes are not the threat. Other femmes are not the threat. Patriarchy is the threat.

As a femme identified person who has struggled a lot with feelings of worth, jealousy, gender identity, belonging, and other existential matters, the one thing that has helped me the most is to seek a femme community. Talk to other femmes, make femme friends, share experiences, build trust with other femmes, and find femme solidarity. Your partner can’t fix this for you, this is your life, and you have to be responsible for whether you are going to let that little green demon called jealousy hover above you or not. We are all jealous at times, but when we have tools to deal with our emotions, life gets a lot easier, and a lot more fun. Have faith in your own femme magic.
Stay strong, femme friend of mine. I feel your pain, and I feel your struggle.
Head high, darling, and in solidarity, always.

Rose quartz blessings

X ELQ X


 

Dear Emotional Labor Queen,

I’m not really sure where else to turn, and I’m starting to become desperate. I have tried to talk to my friends about it, doctors, even my mother, but no one seems to understand. In all honesty, I’m not even sure you’ll understand, but this is something that really bothers me and I need to get it out. I have acne, really, excruciating acne all over my face, on big parts of my back, and sometimes even on my legs. I hate my body, I mean, I like the body that is underneath all of the pimples, but I hate what my body looks like right now, and has looked like for the past year. I avoid mirrors, and it’s a painful procedure to put on makeup every morning. I hardly recognize myself anymore, I cannot believe that the person staring back at me is actually me, and that the face I once thought was beautiful now is utterly and completely destroyed. I have tried anti-acne medicine, which gave me an allergic reaction and made the acne worse. My hausarzt doesn’t really seem to understand that I’m on the verge of entering a crisis I’m not sure I can get myself out of.
I hate leaving the house in the morning because I cannot stand people looking at me, at my face, at my swollen, and I know it’s not correct, but ugly face. I’m trying to keep up the spirit but I am so devastated and lonely in this. Do you have any advice for me? Thank you in advance.

Best,

Anonymous

Dear anonymous,

there is no such thing as an ugly face. I know that you already know this, but I think you need to hear it again: there is no such thing as an ugly face. Your face is beautiful. I know you disagree so I’m going to say it again: Your face is beautiful.

Let me tell you a story about acne. When I was 23 years old I had to have acute surgery due to an inflammation of my left fallopian tube. Post surgery I developed a thick, shiny, fatty layer of acne. It covered my face like glaze on a cake. Simultaneously my body was under attack by a rash due to posttraumatic stress. Bright red, itchy dots covered all of my body; neck, arms, stomach, hands, legs, shins, feet, tutti. I scratched the dots until they bled, and every time I laughed or cried my pimples would painfully explode like volcanoes filled with pus, leaving nasty scars on my cheeks.

I had to go on regular check ups and would walk from my home in the mission, San Francisco, to the dermatologist practice in the haight, where the doctor would spend more time looking at my insurance papers than at me. Afterwards I’d eat a vegan duck sandwich from this place called „love and haight“, which was favorable, as they didn’t mind my slow sobbing as I reached for the mustard. Later on in my bed I’d look at my surgery scars, I’d look at my acne scars, and I’d look at my post traumatic stress scars and ask the goddess if she had given up on me. The feeling of disappointment was so overwhelming that my whole body turned into a boiling kettle of self-hate. And in the morning, when I woke up in the midst of blood spotted sheets, I remember using that same word to describe myself; ugly. What a toxic word it is.

Profilfoto Cleo Kempe-Towers

Cleo Kempe-Towers
Cleo Kempe Towers, also known as Emotional Labor Queen, is a visual artist and a writer with roots in the South of Sweden and Bay Area, California. Their work is based on power dynamics within patriarchy, ritualistic obssession, emotional labor, emotional dependency and femme survival. Emotional Labor Queen is an advice column where all of your deepest, secret, hard to ask questions will be answered. Send your question/problem/thought/conundrum/ethical query and preferably date of birth to emotional.labor.queen@gmail.com or on their blog http://emotional-labor-queen.tumblr.com.

You’re right, acne is most definitely a lonely business. Your friend with rosy apple cheeks is not going to understand what you are going through, and sadly, rosy apple cheeks all over often come with „suggestions“ to „help“ and it never helps. And it feels like they are saying: „It’s your fault“. But it’s not your fault, and it’s not a punishment, it is unfortunate circumstances and hormones and genetics.

One afternoon as I was crying my heart out, lying on the couch in my therapist’s office, covered with a „chain blanket“ (to make feel grounded), with a rose quartz in each hand, my therapist asked me: „What did you do to self-care today?“
This question startled me, as it had never occurred to me that I had any power over my mental health whatsoever. I too, thought of myself as „utterly and completely destroyed,“ but I was not. I am not. And you’re not.

I know what it’s like to not wanting to leave the house in the morning, I know what it’s like to spend two hours covering up every single pimple because it’s unforgivable to go outside not perfectly painted, I know what it’s like to blame oneself for what acne does, but it’s important to remember that what happens to you, does not define you. You are not your acne, and your acne is not you. When we are in crisis, and our bodies react, that is a warning to help us see that something is wrong. Psychological violence is not the answer to imbalance. I know that you are in pain, and I know that you are hurting, but you are not destroyed, you are not ugly, and there is help to get.
What I had to realize during my acne hell time was that this is the body that I have, and this is what it’s doing right now. I’m hating what’s happening to my body, but I do not hate my body.

As you are reading this, I want you to imagine that my hand reaches out to you, and I need you to take it, and I need you to be all in, because you are faced with the hard challenge of unconditional self-love. Meaning that you will love yourself no matter what. You don’t have to be perfect, and it’s ok to fail, but your acne is not a reason for you to bash yourself, to hate yourself, to call yourself names. This is going to be a constant, everyday work, everyday emotional labor of care, to develop a sustainable relationship with yourself.
Screw that doctor that doesn’t help you. I will send you, as a fellow acne experiencer, a list of non-chemical acne treatments that did wonders (yes really) for me.
Last, but not least, I want to remind you, sweet darling, that when anxiety creeps up on you, use your tool of self-care, remember that you have worth, that you are ok, that things will be ok, and ask yourself: Did I self-care today?


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