note: this text discusses/mentions bullying, abuse, and sexual trauma.
I started it over a year ago, in a sense. I made a simple sketch to visualize an idea born of frustration and spite. A very obviously sexual sketch; I was going for a less surreal and more explicit scene.
That sketch was discarded as I was almost immediately unhappy with it, but I fully intended to try again at some point. I wanted to get this out of my system.
'Coeval' is a personal piece. It is a symbolic portrayal of the relationship I had with many of my childhood peers, but also the emotional violence I see, while not directed at me, directed at people like me on a regular basis.
At the core of it, there is my experience of being pushed aside, silenced, made into something less than a person. For me, it was subtle, and took years to even realize had really happened. Here, I confront it.
It makes me angry that I can consider myself fortunate that I never was physically abused, or outright insulted to my face. Years later I've dealt with social anxiety and depression that at least in part were caused by my experiences with my childhood peers; and I got away easy.
Of all the little things, the actions that hurt the most came from 'fellow' girls. The ones who on the surface were my friends, but ultimately isolated me from their company, or who only came to me for company as a last resort. No one ever said outright that they don't want to be around me. Instead, I was almost always the last one without a partner for a group project. The last one to be picked when choosing teams in PE. As we got older, I was invited to fewer and fewer birthday parties (and to my knowledge, I was the only one publicly confronted and criticized for limiting the number of people I invited to mine). As a child, I was never anyone's first choice of companion. I was at, or at the very least near, the bottom of the pecking order in my primary—and most of the time, only—peer group. What makes it all the more messy, the one whose words and actions hurt the most is also the one whom I considered my best friend for years. Few want to acknowledge that it's the people closest to us that can cause the most pain, or how such experiences will inevitably affect all similarly close relationships from that point onward.
I remember trying to fit in, to be friendly, to follow the unwritten rules of the group. To be palatable and smooth out every bit of me that garnered a reaction. I felt stifled, so I hid myself. The loneliness hurt. It still does, as here is a major reason I struggle with connecting to people.
I often felt that people only were interested in my company when they wanted something from me.
For much of my formative years, experience taught me that asserting myself as a person with my own wants and ideas brought me ridicule and disdain, particularly from girls and women. That being alone and ignored hurt less than being paid attention to.
I was never beaten, or outright verbally attacked. I was given looks. People would say or do things that at a surface level were friendly, but felt like jokes at my expense, or like I was being poked with a stick to see how I would react. Over time it gradually shifted to people acting like I was not there. Hell, I suffered a concussion once, and not a single classmate present checked in on me during or after the ordeal. (disclaimer: The school nurse said it was likely a mild concussion, but I did hit my head hard enough to black out for a moment, and had a headache for the rest of the day. Funtimes.)
Years after I left it all behind, social settings, particularly unfamiliar ones, are a source of anxiety. Trusting people is difficult; any kind of interpersonal relationships are a struggle to form and maintain. And I am terrified of rejection. I'm much better than I was, but no doubt this is something that will follow me in some capacity to my grave.
'Coeval' is a self-indulgent piece.
I like exploring seemingly conflicting themes and elements. The conjunction of eroticism and horror is one such combination that draws me in, both aspects speaking to a carnal part of a person, and together, they create something intoxicating.
For a myriad of reasons, such themes are not for everyone, I am well aware of that. But for me, and I know this is true for others as well, it brings catharsis I can't find elsewhere.
When I was most lonely and hurt, fiction was my escape from reality. Lighthearted stories lifted my spirits, and dark, messy stories about hurt people healing and finding comfort in each other made me feel less broken. They affirmed hope that no matter how bad it gets, there's a way up, that there will be someone who understands and cares.
At a point, I was introduced to the idea of sexualizing one's trauma, particularly sexual trauma, as a means to cope with and process what has happened. I was fascinated with the idea, but didn't think of it as something applicable to myself. Not until I realized the connection between my childhood experiences and and my fascination with fictitious depictions of women as perpetrators of violence.
For most of my life, my average experience with a boy/man was neutral. I was not on their radar, so they mostly ignored me. But with girls and women, the bad experiences stand out, and genuine friendships have been a rare experience.
I crave for female antagonists. Alas, they awfully often boil down to misogynistic tropes or gender essentialist stereotypes; or they receive only a fraction of the care and nuance male counterparts get. Account in personal tastes in genres and character archetypes, and you're left with a headache.
The idea of a woman's intimacy being dangerous or painful is something that has been sitting in the back of my mind for a long time. Years ago, I drafted a short comic heavily focused on that theme. That snippet of a story never came to fruition, largely due to it being something I was not ready to share, but also because I feared the reception.
I am not a well-known person by any standard, and as such, have evaded targeted malice for my more niche or taboo work. But I've seen the attitudes directed at many others who share and explore the painful parts of their past through fiction. It is not pretty.
Still, I am of the mind that this kind of art has a place. it is not meant for everyone, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't exist.
My piece is about me, and for me. It is merely shared with you. And just as the depiction is violence is a visual stand-in for the emotional and psychological hurt placed on me, the sensual intimacy is a twisted exaggeration of the at times genuine kinship I felt with my peers. It is important.
'Coeval' is about claiming something as mine. I dictate the narrative here, not anyone else. What people choose to see in it is ultimately irrelevant.
'Coeval' is mine. But if it speaks to you, that is good.