[VIDEO BLOG] Unapologetically Me
Content Warning: Body/Gender Dysphoria, Child Abuse, Adult Abuse, Grooming, Bullying, Harassment, Disability/Mental Health Issues
FYI: It took me four days and 12+ hours of redos to record this.
Today is Sunday, April 18th.
I’m Jin Wicked, and this is “Obsessively Ambitious,” the video portion of my personal blog. I hope this finds you well.
It has been about half a year since I talked to you. A long time. Depression really sunk its claws back into me last fall, and I just did not have the spoons to dress up and put myself on camera for these last few months.
And I still don’t, honestly, but I want to talk to you today anyway. I feel like it is very important that the things I have had to say recently come from my mouth, instead of words on a screen. Then they can accuse me of libel and slander.
Please excuse me for writing this in advance to make things a bit easier on me.
Since late in 2019, I had been having chronic pain and other problems that eventually lead to a hysterectomy at the beginning of this year. That went well, and after I recovered, I had – as you can probably see – a double-mastectomy. I still can’t lift much, but after a minor setback, I’m starting to move and do things more normally again. I’m looking forward to getting back into the gym.
My mother died of breast cancer at age 59. I was her daytime caregiver for the last few months of her life, and it was an experience that left me scarred in some ways that will never fully heal. My family breast cancer risk is quite high, and the level of monitoring recommended was not doable for me. I got the whole lump-ultrasound-biopsy scare on my one and only mammogram. Once was enough.
And while I have always “performed” being a woman because I thought it was what I was supposed to do, inside I have always seen myself as more of an “it” than a “she,” or even a “he.” I hated having breasts, I hated what they reminded me of every time I looked in the mirror, and it feels pretty incredible to have the internal and external images of myself actually be in sync with each other.
At 41 years old, I finally feel like I belong in my own body.
In early 2019, I figured out that I have ADHD, and I started medication for that. It has been very helpful for me. But the more I continued to make progress in some areas, the more other problem areas began to stand out.
And it was near the end of 2020 when I finally connected the dots and figured out that I am on the autism spectrum, making an entire lifetime of confusion and struggle suddenly make a whole lot more fucking sense.
I have been “camouflaging” and trying to be something I am not all my life.
It is exhausting. I am exhausted.
Because I have spent so much of life consciously training myself to be accepted by, and meet the social expectations of neurotypical people, my autism diagnosis set off a lengthy process of figuring out which parts of “me” are really me.
It has also lead me to a place of self-acceptance where I don’t feel like I “need” Jin Wicked anymore. My diagnosis gave me permission to finally just be myself. I can improve my communication skills, I can hide my tics and stims, I can learn to compensate for mind-blindness, but I will never be neurotypical. No one is going to hand me a “Congratulations, you’re normal!” trophy if I sell a certain number of books or reach a certain number of Facebook followers. I’m not broken. I just am. So in some ways, I feel like the dog that caught the car. I found the answers I have been searching for since I was a child, and I asked myself – now what? And the answer that finally came was to write. I need to put my memories in order, and write my autobiography. I have to write; drawing is too slow.
And when I started to write, I had this horrifying realization, as my own words stared back at me – from about the age of three onward, I have been bouncing around like a pinball from trauma to trauma. I have been doing the best I could to “be good” and be what other people wanted, while nearly all the adults who were supposed to care for me failed to help or even made things worse.
I started getting my ass kicked by my parents as soon as I could speak fluently, and that’s been the story of my life since. Abuse, bullying, judgment, and nothing I did ever really being good enough. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. The times and places I have felt truly safe and able to be myself have been few and far between. Those who have wholeheartedly accepted me are lifesavers.
Parents: you can’t beat or discipline developmental disorders out of a child.
When I first set out on this path of trying to make sense of my past and figure out who I am, in 2014, I reconnected with a lot of people I had not spoken to in years. One of them was a man named Cory Strode, fifteen years older than me, who had entrenched himself as an “unconditionally loving” caretaker, guide, and mentor-type figure in my life. For years he was my main source of advice.
Which sounds like a noble thing, but if you are genuinely trying to help a young person that you know is emotionally, mentally, psychologically, and physically vulnerable – you should absolutely not have, or desire, sex with that person.
That is a predatory relationship dynamic at its core. And no healthy adult man should want a partner he has to parent. Who finds that attractive?
Cory Strode, does “loving each other” include devaluing and smearing a woman who worked, unpaid, on a comic with you for two years, to mutual friends?
As I neared my 30s, closer to the age Cory was when I initially met him, I started to feel exploited by this man. I got angry, and we did not speak for years.
In 2014, in the midst of a breakdown, I thought to myself: maybe I was wrong. This person was good to me. He always told me how much he cared and wanted to help me. So I returned to this toxic relationship, and I ignored my body when my anxiety skyrocketed and being near him made me uncomfortable. I allowed him to tell me who I was, and what was wrong with me, because he presented himself as acting in my best interests. Cory treated me like an investment, and like a merit badge, not a person. He wanted to be the one to “take me under his wing,” and congratulate himself for my growth and successes. He called himself my best friend, while pushing beyond acceptable “friendship” boundaries and often making inappropriate comments about being attracted to me.
And when he finally crossed a line and left me feeling horribly violated and unsafe in my own home, I got the good ol’ devalue and discard. I never knew her! She’s crazy! She’s a narcissist! I didn’t want those fucking sour-ass grapes, anyway!
Cory Strode, does “loving each other” include victim-blaming and lying about your relationship history with a woman who you had sex with, when she was a vulnerable teenager, in 1999? And “helped” by moving her into your home?
Cory and his friends, including “Krayz” Joe Rider and the world-famous Archie colourist Stephanie Cofell, have bullied, mocked, threatened, and lied about me ever since. Except that I’m the one that has openly acknowledged my faults, and who has been actively working to improve myself for over six years. Weird.
It has taken me twenty years, and returning to that relationship, to finally acknowledge and accept how I have been unknowingly groomed, manipulated, and traumatized by Cory Strode’s actions and influence on all my adult life.
In the process of getting divorced, I met and was in a relationship for approximately nine months with a comics industry colleague named Douglas Paszkiewicz. I was physically attracted to him in a way I had only experienced once before in my life. My enthusiasm was probably too much, but I’m autistic. When I am excited about something, I only go “to 11.” I badly wanted someone that I creatively meshed with, someone I could be a huge nerd about inking with, someone I could table at conventions and share expenses with, and someone I could quietly “be alone together” with while we worked. Someone who liked to dig around in thrift shops, and who lived the same lifestyle. Someone that would be an equal partner instead of treating me like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. We had complementary strengths and weaknesses; he comes from an old school 90s way of doing things, and I am a creature of the Internet. He even lifts, bro! His work instantly impressed me with its cleverness and unique visuals. Our humour and our art styles blended well. It was perfect. Logical. Everything was there.
Except Douglas wanted the “man brings home the bacon, wife waiting at home in pearls, with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence” deal. Not the life he was living.
And for nine months, Douglas controlled me with countless “rules,” forbid me from talking about him or our relationship, undermined my confidence at every opportunity, and utterly destroyed me with his anger and hot-and-cold behaviour toward me. Some days he would tease me with what he knew I wanted. Some days I could barely get a response from him. Things that were all right one day would make him furious the next. Nothing remained the same long enough for me to adapt. Ironically, I probably would have fared better if I had simply “been myself” and mostly ignored him to do my own work, like would have happened eventually anyway. I was devastated, and driven mad by my inability to make sense of him and the circumstances that lead to our breakup.
I continued to write to him, a lot, long after he told me to stop. That was unacceptable and wrong of me. It was also a uniquely bad reaction to how I was treated. My brain kept rehashing arguments and all of the contradictory things he said. I could not make his actions make sense. I could not make his words make sense. I could not understand: why? WHY?! I had never been so confused.
Why pursue a relationship with someone you learned is an autobiographer the night you met, only to spit fire when they try to include you in their work?
Why pursue a relationship with someone you learned within the first week can’t have children, when you want children, just to watch them torment themself?
Given those two things, why make declarations of love you know you don’t actually mean, and make promises you have no intention of keeping?
He was so, so angry. And there were times when I could sense the pain inside him, where that anger sprang from. I recognized the struggle of constantly being at war with yourself; I know it very, very well. I wanted to give him comfort, and maybe a little peace, if I could. Sometimes the way he held me made me feel like I was a life preserver thrown to a drowning man. And I know now I am making this about me, and my feelings, but when I couldn’t absorb any more of his anger and finally left him “like he said I would,” I felt like a monster. In a life of doing hard things, it is one of the hardest I things I have ever done.
Only a few months later, my father committed suicide, Cory “cleaned up” my apartment, and I got sucked into Steve’s drama. I found out from my ex-husband that Douglas contacted one of my friends back in Houston, and frightened her by telling her that I want to have sex with her fiancé. I started tracking IP addresses I suspected were related to him on my sites. I sent him a couple of Christmas cards wishing him well. I bought artwork when I learned he needed money.
In October of 2018, after accepting several hundred dollars from me over the summer through his online store and Patreon, Douglas published a blog with my emails and text messages portraying me as a stalker. You are welcome to look it up for yourself if you like, and make your own judgment. I don’t care. He had to censor the messages he posted to make himself appear more sympathetic, and avoid disclosing any of the things he did to keep me so distraught for so long. Most of Douglas‘s choices do not make sense to me in the context of a person who saw me as an actual threat. But I believe Douglas was afraid of me. I don’t understand it, but I regret it. I’m sorry I hurt someone who hurts so much.
I have not contacted him or looked at his website since October of 2018.
Soon after Douglas‘s blog was posted, a Facebook page and WordPress site appeared, using stolen images from my real social media, trying to terrorize me and ruin my reputation. Douglas had to have been involved on some level. I know he knew about it, because Steve called him on the phone and asked him directly. I have proof that Cory’s friend Stephanie participated, and Cory was sharing it.
Cory Strode, does “loving each other” include deliberately spreading half-truths and lies in secret about a woman struggling to recover from trauma?
These people have consistently devalued and underestimated me, down to the arrogant assumption that I would not be able to identify them.
I was afraid for my physical safety. As soon as I could, I left my job at the time, which I have never financially recovered from. I had my locks changed. I filed police reports. I publicly ignored the pages, and I silently collected evidence.
These pages posted things meant to scare me, like ambiguously stating they had more stories to “expose” about me, or claiming to be in contact with my friends back in Houston, or that they were contacting conventions around the country about me. They contacted one of my clients with a neglected commission.
They mocked me for grieving my relationship with Douglas, as if I should feel shame for caring about someone. I am not ashamed of loving someone. Even if he didn’t want to be with me, I wanted Douglas to be fed and have a roof over his head. I wanted him to be okay. I wanted him to know that someone appreciated everything he puts into his work. Did I go about that in the correct way? No, I did not. Did he treat me well? No, he did not. I can regret my actions, but I will not view love as something to be ashamed of. Don’t put your hangups on me.
These pages made the mistake of posting things that I couldn’t be gaslit about, like accusing me of stalking my ex-husband. Let me call him up! “Hey, Matt, am I stalking you?” “No, why do you ask?” Not all divorces end in hatred, sorry.
Once I felt confident I was not in any physical danger, it all became funny and extremely pathetic. These people were cowards, hiding behind a bungled attempt to remain anonymous, projecting everything they hated about themselves onto me. They were advertising their own fears and insecurities on a 50ft billboard. None of it was about me at all. That was a watershed realization for me.
And then I felt an overwhelming sense of pity for them. How meaningless and miserable does your life have to be that you feel the need to run a stupid-looking “hate” page and hide your names like a bunch of chickenshit middle-schoolers? Even at my lowest, I have never felt the urge to do something that dumb. Calling me stupid, while leaving personal info in the images uploaded. Eventually, I quit looking at all. They kept the smear campaign up for about a year and a half.
Cory Strode, does “loving each other” include attempting to defame, discredit, and humiliate a woman you harmed so that you can avoid accountability?
In early 2020, I was finally ready to speak out, and I posted a blog about my relationship with Douglas. I named names, and posted screenshots of the abuse and harassment directed toward me. In late 2020, yet another effort was made to control and gaslight me. Cory’s friend Stephanie had a lawyer send me a demand letter threatening to sue. They accused me of fabricating the messages she sent me, along with the other evidence I gathered. They accused me of lying about things I know happened. Threaten all you want, but I’m done being bullied.
I feel bad for the lawyer. He seems like a genuinely good person.
I am an honest person. I have never disputed the validity of the messages from me that Douglas posted. I personally find him to be a bit paranoid, and I disagree with his conclusions. He seemed to often find malice where none actually existed. Not just with me, but others. Regardless, I learned to live with what I had done, and I never dreamed of purposefully harming him by denying reality.
I am on the autism spectrum. I am often too blunt or too honest, and make observations that people do not want to hear. I frequently stick my foot in my mouth, and say well-intentioned things in the worst way possible. But I’m aware I do this, I don’t get defensive about it, I’m always willing to explain myself, and I don’t say things to intentionally hurt people. I become fixated on ideas and topics I am excited about. That does not make me dangerous. I habitually “camouflage” to navigate a world of neurotypical people. That does not make me fake.
I have ADHD. I struggle with executive functions, like keeping my apartment clean, being on time for appointments, and prioritizing work. That does not make me dishonest or lazy. I am easily distracted, and have poor “working memory.” That does not mean I am uninterested. I often get lost in my own thoughts. That does not mean I do not care about yours. I need you to say what you mean, and explain yourself when I have trouble understanding. Sometimes I need to be told things more than once. Sometimes I echo things back to confirm I have heard you correctly. None of these mean I am not listening. I am trying, I promise.
I have OCD. I get stuck in Hellish cycles of destroying and remaking my own work over minuscule “flaws.” I get paralyzed in anticipation of these cycles. I hate touching prepared food with my hands, and I eat things like pizza – sometimes even sandwiches – with a knife and fork. I own ten pairs of identical pants, and I wear nearly the same outfit day-to-day. I bite my lips, chew on cables, and pick apart the stuffing in pillows. Everything I own has a particular (though not usually obvious to others) order. I hoard food when I can, after living through hurricanes on the Gulf coast and periods of going hungry. I keep emergency medical supplies and small tools with me. I repetitively check doors and locks because of traumas other people have inflicted on me. This often means checking and re-checking doors a dozen or more times, until I am behind schedule or late. These behaviours are odd, yes, but they mostly harm only myself.
I have Depression – mostly due to the anxiety, fatigue, and isolation caused by my other conditions. I have been fighting to maintain the will to live since I was a teenager. Most often, this has manifested as losing my appetite, forcing myself to eat, sleeping too much, and being unable to enjoy things. I’m not bitter, envious, or resentful about those that are better off than me. Happiness is not a zero sum game. But I have lost about 8lbs since November, not including 2lbs of breasts. Over the course of this pandemic, it feels like any naive hope I had that humanity would ultimately work together for its own benefit has been completely shattered. I have no idea how we will overcome existential threats like climate change, when we cannot even stop shooting each other for a single day. I have never sincerely wanted to harm another person, no matter how badly they hurt me. I don’t take any joy from the suffering of others. Depression does not make me psychotic.
I have PTSD. I had to push through feelings of being physically ill to write about my relationship with Cory. I had to fight the urge to throw up in order to scan and post his photos. I wrote what I wrote because the pain of holding everything back finally became greater than the pain of writing about, and possible consequences of telling, my story. This man was a fully-formed adult, with higher education in psychology, an ex-wife, and a child closer to my age than he was when he met me — a needy teenager with a background of abuse, undiagnosed developmental disorders, no adults I felt I could trust, and no life experience outside my parents’ home. He knew exactly how vulnerable I was. Despite claiming to care about me, he consistently prioritized gratifying his own ego, and thinking with his dick, over my actual well-being. I wasn’t “too crazy” for Cory when I looked up to him as a source of advice and guidance for almost all my adult life. I wasn’t “too crazy” for Cory until I gained enough genuine independence and maturity to say, “What you did to me? Not okay.” I’ve been with plenty of men I wasn’t actually into, and had plenty of sex I didn’t actually want, in my life but nobody — nobody — has made me feel fetishized, objectified, and dehumanized like Cory Strode.
Cory Strode, does “loving each other” include making up fake stories where you are the innocent hero, gaslighting and further traumatizing your victim?
None of my disabilities excuse the abuse and hatred directed toward me. I have lived a full and emotionally-rich life in spite of them. Most of my suffering has come not from my disabilities, but by how I have been treated by others.
I did not ask for, or make a choice, to be autistic. I have known something was “off” about me since I was a child, and I have spent my whole life trying to fix it or fit in. I am used to eating crow. I have developed a taste for crow; it’s easier for me to swallow than empty, candy-coated lies. Lies don’t nourish growth. Lies don’t nourish improvement. Lies don’t accomplish anything but comfort, and I don’t particularly enjoy being comfortable. I don’t owe people that harmed me my silence. I don’t owe anyone’s tissue-paper ego, fake public image, or desire to “just move on,” anything. I’m not perfect, but at least I’m genuine. I stand by my statements. I have been open about my personal struggles since I began drawing autobiographical comics in 2003. I have been doing my best to be a good person in a world I, more often than not, do not understand – a world that sometimes feels suffocating in its cruelty, hatred, and callousness.
It is exhausting. I am exhausted.
At the moment I am taking some time for myself to digest everything that has happened, posting mostly on Patreon while I recover, and continuing to work on both my autobiography and first art book. When I am eventually ready to put my hat back on, it will be because it is who I am, not who I am hiding.