How I Learned to Be Non-Compliant

This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics

I still have magazines in a box with all my favorite ’90s lady rock stars on the covers. My parents even drove my rural ass a couple of hours to the nearest bookstore (hey, Books-A-Million!) to buy an Alternative Press with Tori Amos on it, a Spin with Fiona Apple. (These are still my standards of beauty.)

One of my best bookish memories, even a formative reading experience, is reading The Bell Jar while listening to Ani DiFranco’s Up Up Up Up Up Up, both of which I bought on Valentine’s Day, 1999, about a month after the latter’s release.

For the most part, music spoke to me louder than books in my teens. I had too much homework to enjoy reading as much as I had when I was a younger kid. By the time I fought my way through algebra, just nope, I was done. Also, mostly I think, I considered myself a writer, a teen poet-slash-prodigy of sorts, and I was pretty sure too many books would distract me from my own words. Dilute my message. HA—although I do still write more when I’m reading less. Habits form early, I guess.

Ugh. I’ve digressed. I ALWAYS DO THIS.

As I so often am, I was talking about music, the “chick singer” voices that helped me find my own.

Tori was my heart, my feelings, my fears and doubts. “Silent All These Years” inspired me to talk about abuse and depression, to stop caring (as much, anyway) whether people believed me or what they thought about me. I shared maaaayyybeeee too much (hard to believe, I know). When my first Big Romantic Thing went bust, well, “This is cooling faster than I can” and “Is your place in heaven worth giving up these kisses?” were the lines I scrawled on my arms and in the margins of my English homework. The lyrics to “Horses” were the poetry I chose to dissect in my free-write journal. No excerpts because I burned that journal years and years ago.

Oh. Em. Gee.

meeting Tori, my glasses twin, last year

Ani was my gut. She spurred me to act on the feelings I was newly in touch with, to accept my complexities as part of being human, not just a “girl thing,” not just “drama” (for which I admittedly have quite a flair). Who couldn’t, at x-teen years old, relate to “Squint your eyes and look closer/ I’m not between you and your ambition/ I am a poster girl with no poster/ I am 32 flavors and then some”? My favorite, which I actually quoted more than once out loud, was “I am not a pretty girl/ That is not what I do.”

My love for both Tori and Ani—shared by so many women my age—gave me my first, much-needed course in what it meant (to me) to be a feminist: knowing and owning and not being afraid of your own feelings and opinions, and acting on them; not feeling the need to ask for permission to take up space, because, what, boys did?; and giving a big, un-subtle middle finger to the things that made me miserable. Fuck you, beauty standards; fuck you, boys, I’m not trying to be your dream girl; fuck you, person I loved who never, ever loved me and never, ever let that stop him from making me think he did. (Still bitter; fuck you, “get over it.”)

Basically, it meant being non-compliant or as near as I could manage as a rural teenage girl.

College was rough. I lost touch with myself, drank too much, and became cold and detached from my feelings and my own opinions. I lived for the praise of others and collapsed under the weight of it at the same time. Ditto my twenties, fuck you, twenties.

Turning 30 was a revelation. I started writing a novel that allowed a healing process to begin on some old, old pain. I got treated for my depression. I found my voice again and some of my old, ballsy fearlessness (another great Tori song!) came back.

Then there was Bitch Planet. The characters, sure. Even more, though, was the very idea of it, so kickass. The fact that Kelly Sue (welcome to our first-name basis) had the idea is amazing. Putting it out there for all of us, more than I could ever have hoped for; teen me, oh man, never could’ve dreamed that shit would ever be real.

I wish you could see that my hand is middle-finger-out here.

I wish you could see that my hand is middle-finger-out here.

Bitch Planet gave me something so important as I embarked on my early 30s, the same way music unlocked so many secrets for me in my early teens: a reminder that, as far as I can tell, non-compliance isn’t something we’re born with. It’s something we learn from a society that can be hostile and unwelcoming; then, we choose it, every day when we wake up. We put it on like eyeliner, like bright mothereffing red lipstick. That’s why I’m so stoked to be part of the amazing lady gang who carry this reminder on our skin (mine is on my forearm), a permanent emblem that reminds us who we are and carries us through those days when we just don’t feel strong enough.

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