An Identity Piece: Queen George, St. Theresa, and the Body of Agony
A note to readers: We’ve mentioned before that we might host some creative pieces on the site. I thought, since our first posts have delved so much into the idea of the personal, that now might be a good time to introduce something about what my alter ego, George, means to me. The piece covers the topics of identity, embodiment, and sexual assault. Although there’s not a lot of overtly violent imagery, I wanted to give a little trigger warning for assault survivors here, before I head on.
I’m tempted to apologize for doing this before I even begin. Somehow, including a creative piece feels even more navel-gazing to me than talking about my own traumas in prose. But I want this out there; I’m hoping that people who need it will find something to identify with in this piece. Or will learn a bit about the sorts of gymnastics that go on in the mind of someone who’s been through an assault.
Introduction: A Few Facts
1. Our history together: Sharon became fascinated with George the year she was raped for the first time. Or maybe it was the year she became an anorectic. Either way, it had something to do with bodies and control. So I guess in that sense this alias was born out of some kind of necessity, some sense of immediate need. But sometimes I’m not sure whether George helped – at least not until she gained a name, and Sharon learned how to use her.
2. Her history through time: George has lived in many people. She was a writer once, in England. And she was an artist and a crossdresser in France. She is the controlled and the controlling part of many an otherwise wild and incomprehensible woman. She is the introvert and the darkness behind a bright face. Even when she is on display she is in hiding.
3. Some reasons, if there can be any: I (the academic I) read George Eliot as a graduate student. Middlemarch, to be exact. It is long, just like other Victorian novels, and you may never have read it. It is about an alias too, in a way. And it is about bodies and desires, and also about controlling and releasing. It is about George – both mine and Eliot’s – and about Saint Theresa of Avila. I had to teach the book once, to some undergrads. This was harder than I ever imagined, because George and I had become too close to separate.
Section One: We Find Each Other
Sharon had never noticed she was two until the day she found herself under attack. She and herself had lived together imperceptibly for a long time, walked through the rain day after day in perfect harmony. But then one day there was in incident. There was a boy, and something happened, something awful. Sharon stood on his doorstep as one, then fell onto her back and heard herself rip into two.
The second half was George. She was created, recognized, in the very moment that Sharon was being destroyed.
Before they were broken from each other, the two had already been in conflict. Sharon had always been a klutz, a flighty weightless creature who had never paid attention to movement or control. She liked to write, to tell stories, and to talk too much and too loudly. She was selfish, George thought, because she never had control over herself. She was too brash, too easy, too light, too loose. Sharon had always wanted to be a dancer, but George knew better. Ballet was not the work of wild girls, of women who were always distracted, always excited. It was about knowledge and control, which George understood. She knew how to clench and hold, how to stay still and how to leap only when it was appropriate.
Appropriate. What a ridiculous notion
in public still
controlled and cautious
she is grounded
but only by the possibility
George understood the controlled and beautiful rhythm of tension and release.
what you become
when there is no one
to hold you
Sharon had hated George for a long time – had been angry with her without even realizing she was there. She had tried to make the weight that held her down disappear…
The loss of the body is no freedom, nor is the loss of control – particularly if control is what makes you, what holds you together, even as it makes you disappear…
Section Two: The Agony of the Ecstasy
Sharon imagines Saint Theresa. She reads about her in a book by another George. She imagines her in ecstasy.
She clenches her fists at the moment of release – why?
Because she cannot let go.
She had always wanted to be beyond the body,
but only on her own terms.
George understands this – understands control and release.
This is why when she lay on her back on the porch in the daytime
In those last moments she was still holding her fists together, tight, fighting.
She paid attention to the way that everything felt
to the way the heat and sweat hung about her body
to the way that the concrete was hot still from the early sun and burned its way into her back.
And even though Sharon would not look into the face of the body above her – would try to pretend he wasn’t there at all, George made sure to notice every inch of skin that pressed against the surface of her body.
every jabbing, tearing skin
She did all she could to ground herself, to remain the woman who always knew
how everything should feel,
how muscles should bend and flex.
This body, it was hers.
Sharon has trouble writing this, completing this, even thinking this way. Because she has trouble not being straightforward – it seems that she is skirting issues, avoiding the things that really brought her to this discussion. She has always been direct, confessional. She likes to use the “I”, to let people know who she is and what has happened to her. But maybe this is a mistake. Because maybe that easy category, that singular body of “I”, covers the tension that has always built her – the tension that is in constant fluid motion under her skin, that builds the parameters of her life.
If I (the academic) were writing a paper, I would say that this is all about tension. But maybe George would say it is about release, and when to use it.
Now I understand why dichotomies are frightening.
George is angry. She makes marks on a page that are heavy, dark, and unmistakable. So heavy that they cannot move, just as she cannot move anymore.
I would like to have danced with you then, George. Spun you around the floor to show you how light you were
But Sharon dreamed you were heavy and useless. She tried to starve you away, to make you disappear for the pain you caused her. You remembered, George, when she wanted to forget and to play light. You kept her awake at night because you had broken down, been broken into, and yet you still insisted on staying intact.
Would St. Theresa’s body have lain there limp and dead, after the ecstasy was over? I suppose so. We suppose so.
But this is never how we see her. She is always clenched and tight, yet yileding. Her toes are curled, her fists are balled, and her eyes are frightened. Or maybe fright is ecstasy, and we are reading incorrectly. Or maybe she is both.
And that is where George and I find her, in a sculpture by Bernini,
and still we do not know which one to believe