Tribes

Kristen MacKenzieKristen MacKenzie lives on Vashon Island in a quiet cabin where the shelves are filled with herbs for medicine-making, the floor is open for dancing, and the table faces the ocean, waiting for a writer to pick up the pen. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Rawboned Journal, GALA Magazine and Extract(s) Daily Dose of Lit.

I went to Provincetown last week searching for my tribe.

Coming out in March of 2013, my declaration was met with mostly open-minded acceptance. I live on a rural island with a higher than average number of gay people, next to a big city where anything goes. Yet because of my job and my own disinclination toward social activities, I spend the bulk of my time alone. My only window into this new world I’d become a part of was through books: Jeanette Winterson, Emma Donoghue, Nicola Griffiths, and the poets, Marilyn Hacker and Mary Oliver.

When I read Mary Oliver’s poetry about the natural beauty of her home in Provincetown, I immediately started saving up for a ticket to go see it for myself. Discovering that the largest lesbian festival was held there annually clinched it. I requested a week off, booked the tickets and began anticipating.

Flash forward one year.

I’m standing on Commercial Street in my skinny jeans and my funky Seattle garage t-shirt, my newly purchased thumb ring trying to slide off my right hand. The street, the shops, the shore, the sun, they’re all exactly as I imagined. On every side of me is my tribe, these women with whom I have an unspoken connection, a link to the part of me that is newest and of which I’m most proud.

I have never felt so alone.

At the time of my coming out, someone forwarded my then husband a link to a helpful webpage: “How to tell if your wife is a dyke.” The first sign? “Has she stopped working out and begun to sit on the couch every night wearing oversized clothing and watching “The L-Word?”

As I looked around me I saw that what I’d thought had been an unkind joke was perhaps not. The reality was even more unkind.

I went back to my rented condo and changed into my regular wardrobe staples, yoga pants and running shoes and hit the trails, the health food store, the yoga studio, searching for like-minded women I knew must be out there. My yoga class consisted of myself and a very fit older man. The trails were empty. The health food store gave no more reassurance than the comfort of finding my old favorites from home, buckwheat cereal and goat’s milk yogurt.

When I attended Felice Newman and Constance Clare-Newman’s conversation about intimacy that night, the small room bulged with couples eager to learn how to maintain a strong sexual connection. The presenters were warm, accepting and intelligent. The message was the same as I has heard elsewhere, spoken or unspoken: love yourself, respect your bodies.

I spent the hour with my fingernails digging into my palms to keep from standing up and asking the question that had begun to eat at me with every plus-sized body that bumped past me on the street or squeezed into the door of the local diner.

“How can a person say they love themselves and respect their body when they’re clearly abusing and neglecting it every time they make unhealthy food choices or click the TV remote one more time?”

But I said nothing. I went back to place I was staying and asked Google, why are so many lesbians overweight? It spit back studies and blog posts, and a percentage that sounded low to me: 75% of lesbians are overweight. One blog post soundly rejected the study based on its grossly inadequate research and cited other bloggers humorous retorts: “90% of lesbians are also vegan so how are these broads getting so fat on tofu and nutritional yeast?”

The figures on the street didn’t lie though. Healthy, fit lesbians may exist, but they did not appear to be in Provincetown for Women’s Week.

Arriving back at home in Seattle, my straight male workout partner and longtime friend sat with me at our favorite vegan restaurant and listened sympathetically to me rant over steaming bowls of curried butternut squash soup with crusty sourdough bread on the side.

I am not ignorant of the reasons for choosing to overeat, to stop working out, or for neglecting other forms of self-care. I’m painfully aware of how food can be the only comfort that may be available for some, how obesity can be a shield against further assault, and how unworthy of a healthy, happy lifestyle a person in recovery (or denial) may feel. It is not as easy as simply eating healthier food and exercising more. I know this.

And yet, each day I wake up with the same past behind me: abuse, addiction, denial, self-hatred. I wake up in a body that I love and have chosen each day to honor as the only home I will ever truly inhabit. The choice to love myself opened the door to seeing where I was not choosing to ask for what I need. I continue to see and I continue to commit myself to choosing.

It’s quiet back here at home. My books are stacked where I left them, the spines shining in the light of the morning sun peeking past the clouds. These are my silent tribe, telling me their stories as they always do. When I go to yoga Thursday night with my workout partner, I want to look at each person sitting next to me on their mats. These are my tribe too, even if I didn’t know it. They are, because I choose them.

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