It's a necessity for me to publish work about Jennifer L. Reimer as her death nears a one year anniversary. I am very, very cautious about who I choose to publish regarding her. I knew her for three years and lived with her every day for several months - I know how difficult she was and her friends reflect both the dark and light parts of her. Sharon isn't just a friend but a fan. She has read through Jen's website and her writing and actually understands it. Her analysis of Jennifer, as someone who actually understands the enigma and doesn't try to tarnish what they don't understand, reminds me how privileged I was to be her final lover and to have had her as a partner. She tells me she has a lot of fans in feminist circles still. I'm glad to publish this work, her memorial of my fiancé, my love, Jennifer.
Also, Sharon doesn't really spell it out but Jen's mother died of a form of uterine cancer. It was extremely difficult for her to produce children and her and her sister were miracles that resulted from a lot of prolonged effort. The loss of her mother dominated Jen's thoughts and writing a lot. - Michael Powell-Deschamps
There are misty places that cross the crescent moon through ancient stained glass
There are misty places that cross the crescent moon through ancient stained glass
windows, like a weak cloud or a trail of smoke. That crossing is the borderline. Jennifer
L. Reimer lived and died there. She was the borderline. I am the borderline. There are
many more borderlines who intersect there, like diverse identities that society will not
let us forget, deep in the ending day. The place is both inescapable and unreachable.
Jennifer’s writing and her readers find each other there in intervals, continually trying to
describe and understand its nature.
patient movement. She was not well known in the more visible circles. She didn’t hang
with the Mad in America crowd (when MIA was still about consumers, survivors and ex-
patients rather than M.D.s, Ph.D.s and other “professionals”). Jennifer had her own
thing, Practice of Madness Magazine, more of a zine than a blog, more about young
people who make what they need if they can’t find it, as opposed to Harvard educated
illuminati who seek to somehow legitimize madness by drowning its essence in the main
stream. What I know for sure is that her identity is inextricably entwined with mine, and
with that of at least thousands of others like me, whatever words they use to identify
themselves. She had her own thing; She was her own thing. There are many, many
more of her, of me, of us, though largely we are unseen, even in the radical fringes of
the movement that would claim to legitimize us. More are created every day as twin
machines of psychiatry and pharmacy gather momentum and penetrate more deeply
into our youth, moving from the college campuses to the high schools to the low grades
where screening for ADHD may soon become as routine as the MMR vaccination.
presence in visible aspects of the movement proper, yet, I identify only marginally with
that peer group. I share some of their degrees and some of their ordinary clinical skill
sets. At my core, though, I am angry, profane, unrecovered, addicted, self-destructive,
hyper-sexual, brilliant in ways that many prefer to shatter and viciously rebellious toward
those who ask me to be otherwise. Anti-psychiatry, a term that brings on cold sweats
in moderate reformers of the mental health system, does not being to describe my
absolute opposition the the existence of the institution. And I have the fucking nerve
to believe I still have value. It was in the places inhabited by those most broken and
radicalized like myself that I first found Jennifer and those who read her religiously.
Jennifer’s favorite of her own pieces was Girl X. This piece is about many things:
A before and an after. “It’s funny, my first memory isn’t of my mom’s blue sweater
turning slowly black with blood, that’s my second memory. My first memory is of the
happiness before that baby died, or riding my tricycle as fast as I could in the mid
evening cerulean blue light, the clouds turning slowly pink and orange, racing down a
newly paved bike path in our newly paved suburb.”
Otherness. “I suppose I should consider myself lucky, since I probably avoided years
of bullying by managing to be intimidating just by being myself. Being different scares
people. Out of the ordinary. Not normal. Am I actually to be feared? For what,
Women and their complicated relationships to each other. “First and foremost they
compete for guys--attention from guys, the ability to claim ownership over guys, and to
have sex with guys, from which they get no pleasure but that of a status bump.”
Brokenness. My father and uncles were smoking hillbillies who viewed all women,
from little girls to great grandmothers as their cooks, waitresses, laundry maids and
cum dumpsters. Iowa was brutally beautiful in the summer, with the lush greens of
fruit orchards, vivid purple and orange brights of flowering weeds and cerulean skies
filled with white clouds and the occasional, astounding for the 1970’s, sonic boom of
an aircraft breaking the sound barrier. There was also red everywhere. Blood flowing
from the animals whose throats were regularly slit before they were placed in front of
me at dinnertime with a stern admonishment to, “Eat what is put in front of you.” “You
worthless, filthy, little cunt” has been added to this phrase by the voices in my head
sometime over the last half century.
Jennifer references X as her generation, different from the Y generation of her younger
sister, born after her mother’s multiple reproductive losses. She and I are somewhat
contemporaries of Generation X. This is one reason I chose to honor her with X in
the title of this retrospective. And, X represents so much more. In mathematics, X is
the unknown quantity. I have always felt very much like an unknown quantity, again
and again the enigma I mention above. The self as an unknown quantity is rampant in
the many readers of Jennifer’s work with whom I have had dialog. Often, bodies and
genders don’t relate to each other in the a sense that mainstream culture can readily
grasp. Brains. What to say about the brains? Much has been said and written about
Mental illness is hereditary.
There is a chemical imbalance.
You are off of your fucking medicine again.
Mental illness does not exist--it is all trauma based.
It’s not trauma based, but mental illness still does not exist.
Addiction. We share the addiction.
No one seems to be able to deal with the brain, so sloppy DSM attempts are made to
quantify it, subsequently and exponentially increasing the unknown quantity of the self.
X cubed. Whatever my politics, her politics, their politics, the unknown remains and
multiplies in the borderline where people still read and reproduce her work.
As a retrospective and not a bibliography, this piece will not completely recount the
entire body of Jennifer’s work. In order to place her in the the context of her meaning,
however, it would be completely remiss not to highlight her work on the topic of
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I expected to access Jennifer through her
academic articles. Her knowledge of Foucalt and Szasz connect me to her again,
and connect us both the the intricate web of survivors who have found broken pieces
of our truths in their deceased pages. She utilized Feminist theory brilliantly to indict
the profession of psychiatry for roughly assaulting women with this diagnosis when
they react in very understandable ways to horrifying stressors, including, foremost, the
internalized misogyny of our culture. Instead of her academic papers, though, I find
myself returning to her 2005 journal, which she titled “The Borderline Papers”.
“And I guess that’s what really scares me. The number of times my best laid plans
have been pulled off perfectly, and then torn to pieces by my own hands, at my own
free will. Or maybe not. Am I chemically programmed to destroy everything I create,
and then create something new out of the ruins? Or is it just a habit, another creation
of my own.” Jennifer wonders this in March of 2005. But I have asked myself this on a
thousand occasions since I first heard the term ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’. It has
been so completely linked to my self that I cannot remember when it was not.
Late last year, I am deep in the movement, sitting with activists whose names we
pronounce like the words hope and dignity among ourselves. The place is an
abandoned funeral home in upstate New York. It feels like I’ve died and come home.
We are mostly stoned to the moon that filters through the cracked stained glass
window above our heads. I’ve crushed the last of my Oxy in the bathroom where the
funeral director used to shower after embalming the body and am in a monogamous
relationship with a bottle of some exotic Moscato purchased somewhere on the road
and saved, unintentionally, for this occasion.
Another man visits us, calling my friend as he passes on I-90 to see if anyone is home.
He is a sometime activist, sitting in our protests and demos, obstructing the entrances
to various mental health facilities at times, but working for a middle class government
salary for mostly the balance of his life--one of those programs that is supposed
to “support” and “benefit” those with “mental health disorders”. With barely any
prompting, he begins to disclose the details of his last break up. “I really don’t believe
in diagnosis,” he begins. Those who are not familiar with the politics of anti psychiatry
may relate to this statement by recalling a time when you have heard someone begin a
rant with, “Of course I’m not prejudiced, but...”
“I don’t believe in diagnosis, but I do think that the borderline label does fit some
women.” He goes on to tick off the DSM criteria for the insult, and describe, in
excruciating detail, how his recent ex has exhibited every single one of them. This
man believes he is an activist. He thinks his presence behind a banner once or twice
a year represents me. He thinks it represents the individual, far from the reach of
the movement, who sent me their suicide note, mentioning Jennifer and other dead
contemporaries, telling me, and the world, “I say their names over and over.” That
person said her name like hope and dignity, but also like desperation. They sent it to
my email (discovered in the archived comment section of Mildly Dysthymic in America).
I wonder what my name meant when they sent their suicide note? I don’t know if I am
hope, dignity or desperation. I know that I am the borderline.
“I don’t believe in diagnosis, but I do think the borderline label fits some women. At
one point, my ex was outside my window taking down her pants and such. I think she
must have been having one of those psychotic breaks that happen to those kinds of
women over the stress of the break up. It was horrible for me. Don’t you agree that the
borderline label does fit some women like that?”
There was silence as a weak cloud or a wisp of smoke passed in front of the stained
glass moon. My friends, they looked at each other. None of us believes in diagnosis.
I pulled on my bottle of Moscoto, taking it deeper, feeling the absence of a better lover
like a knife through my womb with the tip sticking in the base of my spine. “I have that
diagnosis,” I said, without any passion or emotion at all.
The silence extended itself and I let myself forget what happened next, which has always
been the point.
One of the art collages Jennifer created in her last few weeks.
My own best laid plans had been torn to pieces for a few months, and have not yet re-
emerged as anything whole. It is arguable that this was done with my own hand, or
perhaps more accurately, with my own mouth. Was what came out truth? Was it self
destruction? It might be the same thing. I know that Jennifer’s work was the truth. I
know it spoke to me in the places that my once beloved movement could not reach,
outside of the sphere of influence of those men who sit behind banners a couple of
times a year and feel they speak for those who invoke the names of our dead like spells
in suicide notes sent off to strangers somewhere in the ether, in the names of hope and
dignity and desperation. I cry now that she speaks no more.
Many of Jennifer’s readers are younger than she, much younger than I. When one of
their own steps in front of a truck on a busy freeway in Ohio on a cold Sunday morning,
they do not say “rest in peace” or “rest in Heaven”. They don’t sit shiva and they don’t
pray the Psalms. They say “rest in power”. I’m phoning in tonight from the borderline.
Rest in power, Jennifer L. Reimer.