Worth It

The “mutual friend” I mentioned in my last post has a medical condition that has affected zir hormones to the point where ze is “chemically intersex.” Ze identifies as “on the spectrum” for both gender and sexual orientation, “not completely cis and not completely straight.” Ze has shared some of zir experiences with others, but does everything in zir power to present as the gender ze was assigned at birth, and as straight. Ze wants to come out, but can’t because ze would be rejected by zir family, church, and community; ze can’t afford to take that risk right now.

Last night this friend shared details of zir condition with me that ze hasn’t been able to share with anyone else, because I’m the only person ze feels comfortable enough with. We talked about the bond we share, how we can understand each other in ways other people can’t, because we’re both somewhere in between male and female, straight and gay. We both know what it’s like to live in a world where everyone wants to put us into one of two boxes, and neither box fits; to be free of those boxes is a constant, painful, terrifying struggle. There is so much pressure to just try and find some way to fit in the box we were each assigned, let it close in around us and smother us. My friend’s struggle is currently to fit in zir box; it is the only way ze can live. As tempting as that may be at times – and believe me, it is very tempting, almost every day – stubbornly, persistently, and repeatedly breaking out of my box is the only way I can live.

I take comfort in knowing ze sees, respects, and can relate to my struggle. And ze told me last night that, since I have the courage to be out, ze can vicariously experience the freedom that brings through me. It gives zir comfort, and hope, and the strength to continue zir own struggle. That is worth every moment of fear, frustration, and uncertainty.

I’m making a difference, just by being myself.

Building Confidence Through Experience

I’ve been meaning to get back into blogging for a while now. There’s so much, I’m really not sure where to start. And there’s always the intimidation of a blank page… I’ve gone to start a new post many times, then backed out.

Nearly every time, this saved draft has come up. I’ve tried deleting it – I wrote it in early June for crying out loud! – but still it remains. I read it this morning and nearly cried at the end. I’ve come so far since writing this. I’m gonna go ahead and let it speak for itself:

Continue reading

Still Abusive

TW: full text of a conversation with my mother, in which her responses are abusive (gaslighting)

It started with an online swimsuit sale. I’m not sure why my mother decided I need a new swimsuit – I think the ones I have are fine – but she “strongly encouraged” me to take advantage of the sale… and have her buy the items for me so she can get “points” (credit card reward program?). I haven’t completely overwritten my programming, so I agreed to do the online shopping in her apartment, even though I knew I should have known better.

Clothes shopping has always been triggering for me, and swimsuit shopping is the worst. I’ve been working hard to love my body the way it is, but the internalized fatphobia and body size-related insecurity that tortured me my whole life springs up anew when I simply cannot find clothing in my size.

And then there’s the whole being non-binary thing. At least with everyday clothes it’s possible to do some gender-bending: no one needs to know I wear “men’s” boxer-briefs and an undershirt instead of a bra. T-shirts are considered unisex. Socks and shoes – who cares?! So far I haven’t ventured into trying to find “men’s” pants that might fit me, mostly because they’re simply not designed for hips that are considerably larger than the attached waist. But finding a pair of jeans shaped to my body feels so good, I can keep wearing “women’s” pants without too much dysphoria. For now.

Swimsuits are very gendered. Just the fact that men are expected to run around bare-chested and women have to cover up sends my brain into a dysphoric frenzy. Ideally I would love to just swim naked – I had the opportunity to do that once and it was glorious! No gender performance, just diverse bodies. Everything floats when it’s not tied down by a swimsuit. I loved the sensation. I felt so free!

So I’m swimsuit shopping online with my mother. She’s sitting at the computer with me mostly behind her, looking at what she thinks I’ll like. Fortunately, we agreed that the “women’s” swim shorts this company offers are far superior to typical “women’s” swimsuit bottoms… but she was going to get a shorter length than I wanted (so I had to argue with her about that) and the ones I wanted were out of stock in my size (of course). I convinced her to add the swim leggings (way more coverage than I’d like, but still better than the alternatives). And I don’t remember if we added a couple pairs of “men’s” swim trunks together or I added them myself later, but either way they’ve been ordered. Maybe they’ll even fit! (A bit of a long shot, since the measurements are smaller than my hips.)

Then we started looking at tops. I would have been happy with a simple “shelf bra” tankini thing. They all have underwire or soft cups. Ugh. We get in an argument about it. I’m concerned because with a tankini one has to consider both chest (“bust”) and hip measurements, and mine are too different to have one size fit both properly. I think everything I own is too big on the bust and too small on the hips – I just try not to worry about it. We have another fight, I get her to let me sit at the computer and look at stuff myself, without having to try and convince her to click on each item for me. Nada.

I decided to look at bikini tops, thinking it might solve the hip-bust ratio problem. Bad idea. They’re all basically bras. I don’t know what I was expecting – maybe something more like a sports bra at least? But no, my dysphoria went through the roof. I eventually found and selected a couple “men’s” rash guards, which as far as I can tell are essentially fitted t-shirts designed for swimming?

Again, way more coverage than I wanted, but probably a million times more comfortable than the weird boob-obsessed gendered performance nonsense Mom probably would have bought for me.

So, it was pretty cool that this company/site had these options. And Mom was pretty cool about “letting” – god, I’m an adult, who they hell is she to decide what I’m “allowed” to wear or buy? – me get mostly “men’s” swimwear.

But look at me, writing over 700 words about swimsuit shopping! Throughout our interaction she kept saying little things that were bothering me: “You really need to give yourself more time to get places.” “I went in your apartment and thought ‘I just have to help them out,’ so I did your dishes.” “I don’t know how you’ve been handling your finances.”

That last one was the last straw. I used to keep my checkbook perfectly balanced. I used to have my own income, so I could save money every month and otherwise be a financially-responsible adult. But I don’t have my own income, and I haven’t figured out how to consistently track finances for two people (especially since Fox is the one who makes all our money and spends most of it). I’ve been reduced to checking our bank account balance once a month, to make sure we have enough in there to pay our credit card bill. I’m not happy with the situation; it feels wrong; I’m embarrassed by it. But between my mental health issues, the work I’ve been doing in therapy, volunteering full-time for the Bernie Sanders campaign (which I love), and being primary caregiver to our pet rats, I consider it an accomplishment that I manage to pay the credit card bills on time. And eat, occasionally. That requires constant vigilance.

So I walked out. “Please don’t walk out on me.” I barely even looked at her. I’d fallen mute. I couldn’t say or do anything. My legs just carried me out the door and down the stairs and into my apartment.

A little while later she was leaving the house, so I hugged her and apologized and told her I love her. She told me that she wasn’t pushing the bra-like tankini innards on me because of gender, but because she likes to have support for her anatomy. “You want some support,” she said to me. “No, you want some support,” I told her. “That doesn’t mean it’s what I want.” I escape the conversation – mostly because she needs to leave. Everything seems peachy.

She even called on her way wherever she was going to say she’s proud of me for all the work I’m doing on the campaign.

Wednesday.

On Wednesday she posted one of those image-with-text meme-like things on my Facebook wall:

I am not your friend. I am your parent. I will stalk you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare, & hunt you down when needed – because I love you.

I got very angry, hid it from my timeline, and proceeded to send her multiple text messages:

Posting threats on my Facebook wall is not going to improve our relationship – quite the opposite. You and dad and your in-laws and other family members already drove me insane; that’s why I’ve needed to work my ass off in therapy for the past 6 years.

You’re not my friend, you’re my parent – so ACT LIKE ONE. Get the therapy you need to be able to do it properly. Stop using me as your therapist. I’m not your friend or your therapist I’m your adult child. Respect that I’m an adult and respect my boundaries. Help me in the ways I ask you to; give me the advice I ask for; listen to me and support me! And think about how what you say might impact me before you say it.

I’m grateful for everything you do for me and I understand that it’s not easy. But enough is enough. If you think it’s okay to stalk me and knowingly do things to “drive me insane” then you need to make some effort to learn how to parent responsibly.

“I do these harmful things because I love you” is what abusers say.

The rest of the conversation proceeded in a rather alarming fashion (from my point of view) during which she did not apologize.

M: “I do not abuse you. You are taking things too seriously.”
Z:  “No, YOU are not taking me seriously enough. You never have.”
M: “Stalk you?”
Z:
M: “Not a threat. I thought it was cute. And told you that I love you. Something parents always say. We make many sacrifices for our children. We should talk later. Take things lighter. Love you.”

I freaked out and called Wakana. She got so upset with my mom, I had to ask her to stop yelling. She told me about a million times that I was not overreacting, I was having a healthy response, I need to separate emotionally from my mother, and I should unfriend my mother on Facebook. So that’s what I did, and that’s the text I sent Mom.

The next text I got from Mom was telling me I needed to move my car. We haven’t spoken since. No apology.

I’m not talking to her until she apologizes to me.

In the meantime, I got a nice short androgynous haircut that I love and everyone has complimented me on. I have a street to canvass and volunteers to call this afternoon. I’ll be working in the campaign office for a handful of hours this evening. And then we begin our GOTV (get out the vote) efforts in earnest. 9am-9pm Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. And, I imagine, the full time polls are open Tuesday. I signed up to be part of the voter protection team on Tuesday, so I will either be doing that or juggling it with work in the campaign office. It’s finals week on steroids. Crunch time.

If you can help us out go to map.berniesanders.com for local events and/or berniepb.com to phonebank. If your state’s primary is on Tuesday, visit canivote.org to look up your polling place and/or other useful information.

This is what’s been keeping me going. I need Bernie to win on Tuesday.

I’m not a sidhe, I’m a dragon

I’ve been out of sorts since last Thursday. Mom and I went to visit with her brother’s family for the weekend; overall we had a very good time, but it took a lot out of me. We went to my cousin’s baby shower, a giant social gathering where I didn’t know most of the people and there weren’t assigned seats. I felt myself freezing up and becoming overwhelmed by anxiety. Somehow the anxiety took me by surprise; I guess since the depression is (mostly) better, I expected to feel less anxious, too? Thank goodness my (other) cousin introduced me to people. I got to meet 2 musicians and talk with them about music therapy – that was a lot of fun!

For some reason people – especially my mom – feel the need to talk about me in third person when I’m literally right next to them, even if they’re talking to me. I don’t get it. All I heard all weekend was “she,” a wall of it with razor sharp spikes flying right at me. When Mom and her siblings talk, there is no getting a word in… and I really really hate interrupting people to correct them on their pronoun use. I’ve learned that people don’t like being corrected on how they’re saying something, they want you to hear what they’re saying and respond appropriately. That makes it harder for me to stand up for myself.

illustrations of a masculine-presenting person being crowded out by feminine words (e.g.

cartoon by sleepyllama

If I thought I felt nervous at the baby shower, it was nothing compared to how anxious I get about trying to tell people I’m non-binary and “prefer” gender-neutral pronouns: they/them/their or ze/zir. My throat tightens and my jaw clenches, making it physically impossible for me to say anything.

Worse, there’s no opening for it in most social situations. I mean I guess when people ask me how I’ve been I can say, “Great! I’ve come to accept my non-binary gender identity and I’ve decided that I want people to refer to me using gender-neutral pronouns.” But other than that, it’s hard to figure out when and how to bring it up. People are used to assuming – from their perspective, “knowing” – a person’s gender based on appearance. It’s not something people usually talk about.

I wish I could have this conversation!
(image by Tony Toggles)

Between the baby shower and another cousin bringing his 2 young children to visit, there were a lot of interactions going on based on binary gender. Fox wasn’t invited to the baby shower, but people were surprised he didn’t come to hang out at the house with the other men. (If I’d wanted to hang out at the house with the men, there probably would have been some confusion and “encouragement” to go to the shower.) When we got back, the women assured the men that the “games” we played at the shower “wouldn’t have interested” them. I think guys are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves how interested they are in unscrambling words, thinking about things related to babies, and watching people open presents.

We don’t know what sex organs the new baby has yet, so there’s talk about “whether it’ll be a boy or a girl” and “if it’s a boy this; if it’s a girl, that.”

2-tier cake with the text

found on pinterest

Referring to my cousin’s two-year-old child, my aunt actually said, “He’s a boy, so he’ll need to toughen up.” We have no way of knowing how this child will identify by the time he’s an adult. Regardless of whether he’s a boy/man, gender norms that require him to be “tough” only hurt him and increase the likelihood that he might hurt others.

My aunt, uncle, cousins, and mom are awesome, friendly, kindhearted people. I went out of my way to spend a weekend with them – clearly I must like them, at least a little bit. Yet I didn’t feel safe asking them to change the ways in which they think and talk about me, even – especially! – when it was causing me emotional distress. My “coming out” would be too at odds with everything they were expressing about gender.

I’m not sure how I expected them to respond. Asking me to explain myself? Reasserting the gender they’ve assigned to me? I don’t think they’d be physically violent – but maybe annoyed? Saying they don’t understand? I tend to expect people to say they’ll try to use my pronouns but they might make mistakes; what’s important to me is that they’re willing to try.

image by Solomon Fletcher – shared here because it’s true of me, too

I tried to talk to Mom about it. I asked her to use my name instead of pronouns, as a sort of compromise. She said “I’m just talking, I’m not really thinking about it.” That hurt a lot, because to me it felt like she was prioritizing her ability to “babble” (her word, not mine) over respecting me as a person.

Then on Tuesday she started talking to me when she knew I had to leave for an appointment, wouldn’t leave me alone so I could finish getting ready, and almost made me late! I was furious with her and did my best to avoid her for over a day. I’ve been shutting out the world, feeling very grumpy. I felt so bad I couldn’t even go to a meeting for trans* people of all genders (at which I wouldn’t have known anyone). There were multiple factors (including concern about my safety) but the bottom line was I didn’t want to meet new people and otherwise be social, nor did I have the energy. I’m very disappointed because I really need a community right now and I’d rescheduled my music therapy session so I could go.

On Thursday Mom lured me out of hiding by offering me food. We talked a bit and agreed to respect each other more. She asked me to make more of an effort to respond when she tries to talk to me and to show appreciation for the help she gives me. And I was able to tell her that I need her not only to respect and use my pronouns, but to be an ally. During the conversation she talked to me about me (?) and used the wrong pronoun no less than 5 times.

“Ze,” I corrected, and she apologized.

Transgender Tuesday: Pronouns

I recently discovered Nonbinary.org, a site with tons of great information about non-binary gender. Allowing me to explore the Wiki is like letting a group of kids loose in the biggest, bestest playground ever! (Well… I was a kid in the 80s and 90s, when we’d run and climb all over the place.) There are over 14 different non-binary gender identities; the one I identify with most, genderfluid, has at least 75 variations. (On this particular site; most likely not an exhaustive list.) I love reading about various ways people experience and describe their genders! I find it fascinating and refreshing.

One page I find particularly useful is “Pronouns.” It includes a list of 80 different English pronoun sets, most of which are gender-neutral. “They” has been used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun to refer to people for a thousand years. People have been creating and proposing other gender-neutral pronoun sets since the mid-1800s. Many of the pronouns were originally created by authors for use in their stories set in societies with more or less than two genders. IMHO the list is worth perusing just to discover new worlds to explore books to read.

The page also has information about how to choose pronouns for oneself and announce them to others. It’s not easy for me to request that people use my pronouns and to correct them when they misgender me, so this is a valuable resource. I might look into acquiring a pronoun badge.

I’ve been using ze, zir, zir, zirs, zirself – as in: “I love hanging out with Ziya. Ze always laughs at my jokes. I can’t wait to see zir. Wow, zir hair has gotten long! It’s okay that I forgot my umbrella, I can duck under zirs. Sometimes my dear friend can be too hard on zirself.”

Interestingly enough, that exact combination isn’t listed on the site. If I want to conform (I don’t have to) I can simply change “ze” to “zie.” (“Zie always laughs at my jokes.”)

Or, I can switch to ze, em, zeir, zeirs, zeirself – “I love hanging out with Ziya. Ze always laughs at my jokes. I can’t wait to see em. Wow, zeir hair has gotten long! It’s okay that I forgot my umbrella, I can duck under zeirs. Sometimes my dear friend can be too hard on zeirself.”

I’m not too crazy about that. Sure, I get to keep “ze,” but I think I prefer “zir” to “zeir.” Maybe “zier” would work (initially a typo, but hey, why not!?) – except that it’s a name. I like the addition of “em,” but in that mix it seems to come out of nowhere. I have an irrational hatred of “zem.” There are other sets that use the “em” sound though, such as:

  • ey, em, eir, eirs, emself
  • le, lem, les, les, lesself
  • ne, nem, nir, nirs, nemself
  • they, them, their, theirs, themself

There’s also “per” – per, per, per, pers, perself. I love this set because it’s simple and refers to the word “person,” which is what I want to be identified as. I’m not a man or a woman, I’m a person. Whatever group you’re talking about isn’t (only) comprised of men and women, it’s a group of people! We have such nice, inclusive language – “person” and “people” – why oh why don’t officials use it?

Finally (on my short list) there’s id, idre, ids, ids, idself – “I love hanging out with Ziya. Id always laughs at my jokes. I can’t wait to see idre. Wow, ids hair has gotten long! It’s okay that I forgot my umbrella, I can duck under ids. Sometimes my dear friend can be too hard on idself.”

I’m madly in love with “idre,” but I can take or leave the rest. I prefer “ze” and “zir.” Maybe “Idre” would make a good name? I don’t know.

The point is, we can do this!!! There’s a very long list of pronouns anyone can choose from – and I imagine additions would be more than welcome. I’m also pretty sure the pronoun police won’t come after us if we mix and match. Hopefully. Don’t quote me on it; if they do come after you I’m not liable.

If you want to try out different pronoun sets, check out the Pronoun Dressing Room. You can select a set from the “Pronoun Closet” and edit individual pronouns (e.g. changing “zie” to “ze”). Your chosen name, pronouns, and preferred noun (e.g. “person”) are then inserted seamlessly into select passages from classic fiction, which you can read. It helped me come up with a custom set that fits perfectly – at least with my current mood…

Being a Good Client

I’ve noticed a pattern: I spend a significant portion of my sessions with Wakana celebrating the progress I’ve made so far. On Wednesday I spent a third of our time together raving about my new, androgynous haircut; telling her I was able to separate myself from the agitation my mom was expressing; and taking about times I’ve been assertive. At one point I felt dangerously close to suggesting that maybe we’re reaching the end of our work together and should start talking about termination.

The thing is, I’ve been exhausted. Under my excitement, energy, and good news, a deep weariness was waiting; as soon as I relaxed, it would devour me. I felt it, resisted it, but couldn’t deny it.

She found a way in when I shared the insecurity that was keeping me from joining a new social group: I’m afraid I won’t be accepted as I am. I verbally connected it to childhood experiences; this was no gain in insight but a defensive, almost academic wall I constructed with each word I said. “Keep it intellectual. Don’t feel.”

Wakana is a music therapist. She’s all about the feels.

Somehow she got me to talk about what’s going on for me now: whenever I’m in a social situation, I feel like I have to adapt to the norms and expectations of whomever I’m interacting with. If I don’t know what those are going to be, I feel very anxious. If I can avoid the situation, I probably will.

The whole adapting to social norms thing is just reality to some extent, but I think I take it to a bit of an extreme. I hide who I am, presenting myself as a sweet, quiet, perhaps a bit reserved, easygoing person who is happy to listen and will comply with most requests. I let people touch my arms and shoulders even though I hate it. I smile and avoid interrupting people and don’t tell them when what they’re saying is factually inaccurate or logically flawed … or I just plain disagree with it. I feign interest in topics I couldn’t care less about and fade into the shadows when I can’t find an opening in the conversation. I’m basically the opposite of how I am on this blog. (The more comfortable I am with a group, the less likely I am to fall into this pattern.)

Getting my new haircut was an act of rebellion against most of what my mother trained me to be. And yet, the pictures she took of me the day I got it are identical to every other picture she’s ever taken of me: I look like a demure pre-teen.

Practically everyone I interact with projects their interpretation/expectation of my gender onto me and uses the wrong pronouns, even if I’ve “come out” to them. The exceptions are Fox and Banji. Fox is generally awesome at using the correct pronouns, but he goes with the gendered terms that require the least explanation when in public. Banji respects my preferences by avoiding pronouns. I appreciate their efforts. Also, the LGBTQIA+ organization on campus includes pronouns in introductions, so it provides an opportunity to be authentic without singling myself out as “different” or “other.”

I made the conscious decision not to correct people the last couple times they used the wrong pronouns because I felt too anxious about it. However, the reduction in anxiety came at a high price. Such a basic part of my identity that most people take for granted, and I feel like it’s invisible – even with the hair!!! It’s exhausting.

(My pronouns are ze and zir. As in: “Ze wrote in zir blog that people regularly misgender zir.”)

Wakana finally seems to accept it; when I realized that it was a huge relief.

She beckoned me to the piano so we could vocally venture forth into the unknown. She asked what modality I wanted; I asked for Major. I sang a pretty melody about… something related to being myself or being assertive or whatever. Wakana’s accompaniment diminished, her head dropped, and then she stopped playing all together. It looked like she’d fallen asleep.

I poked her shoulder and said, “c’mon, it’s not that boring!”

That’s when she asked if I was feeling very tired, and I admitted that yes, I was. She was picking up on that so strongly she fell into a trance – and not for the first time during our sessions. I attributed my chronic fatigue to undiagnosed sleep apnea, but she said she thinks it’s because I’m repressing my emotions.

She got me to admit I was mad at my mom for telling me how I should style my hair and which picture I should use as my profile pic on Facebook! We banged on the keyboard and yelled things like “I’m not you!” and “leave me alone!” It was very intense.

I finally broke down crying. “I don’t want to be left alone. I want to be accepted as I am.” I sang about walking my own path and wanting someone to walk with me for a time – but without pulling me onto their path or invading mine.

Wakana yelled some more but then it hit me: I was treating her the same way I treated my mother. All the stuff about how far I’ve come in therapy… Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made a lot of progress and I’m proud of it! All the time I spent talking about it was an effort to assure her that she is a good therapist… while simultaneously keeping her at a distance. I was hiding my vulnerability. This happened as I sang, “I don’t need you to accept my emotions because I accept them.”

In a flood of tears I finally confessed: “I haven’t been doing better. I’ve been feeling sad and lonely and exhausted and I’ve been spending a lot of time playing The Sims 3. I didn’t want to tell you because you get so angry when I do; I didn’t want to hear it!”

She said I shouldn’t have waited until the end of the session to bring this up. I didn’t tell her, but I needed the work we did in the session to enable me to bring it up.

She conceded that perhaps it’s unfair of her to get so angry when I say I’ve been playing The Sims 3; she asked me to write down the themes that have emerged in my game so we can work with them.

She also said: “depression isn’t feeling sad. Depression is not feeling at all. You need to stop repressing your emotions and dissociating. It’s okay to feel sad; let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling and express it.”

I said I hate the cold emptiness of depression and would rather feel sad… but I also despise being sad for no reason. And crying. Ugh. I hate crying.

… but not quite as much as I hate being chronically exhausted.

Transgender Tuesday: Closets

content note: brief description of thoughts about self-harm

I’ve been very depressed lately. I was woken up on Wednesday by the phone call informing me that my request for periodontal treatment had been denied. When I called to make my appeal, the person neutralized my language so “I’m in a lot of pain” became “I’m experiencing discomfort.” I felt powerless to advocate for myself because no matter what I said, she could submit whatever she wanted on my behalf and I wouldn’t even know. (I hadn’t yet received the letter with information on submitting a written appeal.)

I walked into Wakana’s office later that day, outwardly very calm and personable – but inwardly ready to explode! I told her I was scared of how calm I was and urged her to insert earplugs before allowing me to play on the drums and cymbal. We were all set up to make music when I told her I felt like cutting myself because I didn’t know how else to express the anger: I couldn’t kill people, I’d regret breaking things, but my skin would eventually heal. I said I wanted to get a tattoo in the spot I always think about cutting on; then I’d be less tempted to cut because I wouldn’t want to risk messing up the tattoo.

She said she thought I needed to make a statement… and that my feelings had little to do with my tooth. We talked for a while before I expressed my (ongoing) frustration with Mom: “I’m trying to have a healthy relationship with her, but she keeps hurting me! Even when I think things are going well between us, she always says or does something to hurt me. I can’t take it anymore!”

She told me, “Saying ‘can’t’ makes you a victim. Try saying ‘I won’t take it anymore.'” I tried it and felt a lot more powerful. Whether I allow my mother to continue abusing me is a choice; I can continue to take it – but I am unwilling to accept the consequences of that choice. I don’t want to take it anymore, so I won’t.

The consequences of that choice are terrifying. I was finally straightforward and honest with her on Sunday; I told her how I feel when she goes on and on talking about trivial matters, doesn’t listen to me, asks me to do random things for her she could do on her own, dumps all her emotional garbage on me, doesn’t respect my boundaries when I try to end a conversation. (Well, maybe I didn’t talk about all those things. I wanted to list my major complaints here.) She actually said, “So I’m a horrible person!” and hung up on me! Then she called me back. I told her she’s a wonderful person, and I want her to stop doing all this other crap so I can spend time with who she is beneath it all. She said I was wrong for telling her she could use the computer at the library (hers had just died), she didn’t raise me to be like that, if it were anybody else I’d be falling over myself to help them, etc. She said she thinks the problem is she’s doing too much for me and she’s going to cut me off and I have to pay rent and…

I realized why I let her do all this shit to me. If I don’t, I’m a horrible person and I might end up homeless, without a car, unable to afford therapy, etc. The next thing I knew, Fox had found a new computer for her online and I had agreed to accompany her when she went to the store to buy it. I spent the whole day with her yesterday, first getting the computer, then running a couple errands she hadn’t told me about before I was trapped in her car, then helping her set up the new computer. I was tired, cranky, and starving, but I remained pleasant and even got Fox to help after a long day at work. When it was time to go our separate ways, I said “I love you. Good night” and gave her a hug. She said “Good nigh… we need to…” I repeated “I love you, good night.” and left. Boundaries.

Today I woke up hating the world. I always wake up hating the world. I’m tired of waking up hating the world. I couldn’t get myself to go to the LGBTQIA+ groups on campus. I was too focused on my fight for something remotely resembling adequate healthcare. I’m too busy training to be my own lawyer to get dressed, drive places, talk to other human beings, eat, or do schoolwork.

I hate it. All of it. I want to see it burn.

The above has nothing to do with being transgender, except that I was misgendered in every single interaction that involved another person. (Except Fox and Banji.) At my piano midterm on Thursday I had 3 people using the wrong pronouns to talk what a pleasure I am to work with. (if only that had helped my grade!) Even in interactions that didn’t involve another person, I was asking an imaginary witness questions that required me to describe myself as the gender I was assigned at birth. It’s inescapable!

People don’t seem to see or hear me, they see and hear whatever fits with their expectations (or what’s convenient for them).

The Whole Truth of Coming Out of the Closet – In Comic Form explains the concept of closets quite well: “Closets are created by social and structural expectations about who we are supposed to be, and the consequences of defying that.” It shows how coming out is not a straightforward process, nor is it the same for everyone. There are some links after the comic that are great further reading.

It inspired me to draw this:

putting someone in the gender closet based on secondary sex characteristics - original artwork by Ziya

putting someone in the gender closet based on their appearance

The most important point – from my perspective at least – is that people don’t go into the closet. We don’t start out with everyone seeing and accepting us as we are, then decide (for whatever reason) that we’re going to hide some aspect(s) of our identity/identities. Other people build closets around us.

Sometimes even after we’ve come out to them.

Transgender Tuesday: Links and Spoons

Last week I shared some of the uncertainty I’ve been feeling about my transgender, non-binary gender identity. I’ve read a couple of articles since then that I think everyone should read. They’ve helped me feel more confident that I am what I say I am, regardless of how others treat me or what they might want me to do.

I’ve experienced some harmful effects of the 10 Myths About Non-Binary People It’s Time to Unlearn, especially the myth that we don’t exist. People have taken my gender less seriously or come up with their own explanations of it under the false belief (#2) that I’m “just” confused: for me it’s not so much confusion as that gender is complicated and I’m still working things out; even if I were confused that doesn’t justify disrespect.

Mom hits me with #3 “You are a new concept” and #7 “Your pronouns are ridiculous” all the effin time. She’d try and convince me that her generation is completely incapable of learning new things or adapting to new social realities. That seems highly unlikely to me, considering how much has changed in the past 60 years. The last time she told me using my pronouns is difficult, I told her I understand and just need her to try. Things seemed to be going well… until much later when she made a scathing remark about me spending money on therapy. (You know, the thing that’s slowly freeing me from generations of emotional neglect and abuse.) She’s since apologized but… It’s a process. I just keep telling myself it’s a process.

Sam Dylan Finch’s piece, 8 Things Non-Binary People Need to Know, was exactly what I needed to read; I could swear he wrote it in response to my post from last week! I wanted to quote and/or expand on specific parts that I can relate to strongly, really needed to hear, or find particularly meaningful… but if I did that I’d end up re-posting the whole thing!

I think it’s important that he included #4 “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Mental health is a very important issue for everyone and especially non-binary people. Talking to Wakana about my gender identity can be difficult (and frustrating) but I think, in time, it will help me benefit so much more from therapy.

Speaking of mental health, I’m learning to have much better respect for and adapt to my need to budget emotional energy, or spoons. I’ve been feeling very anxious about my piano midterm on Thursday (2 days! AAAAHHHH!!!). I have plans to meet with a classmate today and practice interventions, I have to pick Mom up from the airport this evening, and there are the 2 LGBTQ+ groups I’ve been meaning to join… Long before I went to bed last night, I was already feeling the all-too-familiar dread.

This morning I realized it’s going to be a very busy day and I probably shouldn’t try to do everything I had planned. I practiced some self management: I wrote down everything I have planned for today and prioritized. The meeting with my classmate and picking Mom up have to happen. I should try to catch my instructor during office hours and practice piano some more tonight.

The LGBTQ+ groups are technically optional. I was feeling very anxious about the one I haven’t been to at all yet because it’s brand new and it would be the first thing in my day. In the past I’ve found myself unable to get ready on time for such things, getting extremely stressed out, and not going after all. I just can’t afford to drop that many spoons. So, today, I decided to skip the stress and anxiety and wait to join that new group next week, when (hopefully) I’ll have less important and emotionally-charged things to worry about.

I really hate having to make that decision, especially since it interferes with my goals of being part of the LGBTQ+ community, getting support, and practicing being part of a group. But today it’s the best decision for me. I can use the anger it generates as energy to help myself get through this busy day.

The second group meets at a much better time for me and I feel more comfortable going to it. I’ve already had awkward one-on-one meetings with the facilitator; if there are other people there, it will probably be much better. Knowing that’s a possibility – I’m still free to make the choice that’s best for me when the time comes – feels good.

Transgender Tuesday

gender

Lately I’ve been questioning my gender identity, especially since I wrote about it the other day. The temptation to refer to myself as the gender I was assigned at birth, to allow others to use the labels and pronouns they attribute to me, and to give up on expressing my queer gender identity has been very strong. It doesn’t help that I’m invited to a gender-exclusive social gathering on Fox’s side of the family; just the fact that I’m considering attending raises the question of whether I have the right to call myself transgender.

There’s a voice in my head telling me I should “come out” already – to disclose which gender I was assigned at birth – but this blog is the one place where I’m relatively free from the social effects of gender. I feel like people relate to me as just another person, who doesn’t need to be labeled and treated a certain way based on secondary sex characteristics – which is exactly what I think everyday life should be like. If I don’t want to allow that in the one place where I have some control over such things, why should I do it anywhere?

Mostly it’s because I want to be accepted, to belong. I’m tired of feeling like an outsider. I expect that people are more likely to accept me if I conform to their gender expectations; identifying with the gender they insist on perceiving me as would make that so much easier!

genbenjan

But then I look back at some things I posted over 2 years ago, and realize that the ways I think about my gender haven’t changed:

For years I have felt my sense of my own gender change throughout a given day, depending on my current situation. … I think these “feelings” about my gender are a reflection of cultural understandings of masculinity and femininity that I have internalized. … In social situations I might adopt the gender role and expression most appropriate to fit in, though I find that difficult and uncomfortable when taken to either extreme. Alternatively, I might take on the gender role needed to balance what everyone else is doing: …

I am uncomfortable being referred to as the gender I was assigned at birth and that people still assign to me based on physical appearance, especially when that influences my behavior and/or how they treat me. It can have a negative effect on our ability to experience a genuine human connection as equals. I am also annoyed with having to disclose my “sex” in order to do register for services online or send emails to representatives in government. Why should I have to disclose information about my anatomy in order to express my opinions or use services on a website? (or do pretty much anything else?)

On being gender queer:

The biggest thing I’m struggling with is determining the extent to which I want to assert my gender queer identity. … To some extent I do identify with the gender I was assigned at birth because it corresponds to my biology. I love my body and don’t want to change it – most of the time. (If I could do so reversibly I totally would!) In some ways I can relate more strongly to others who share my biology than to those who do not, even if our gender identity and expression are not always the same. … I don’t want to be put in a box. … I don’t want to be socially and otherwise separated from people I can sometimes relate to better just because we have different biological “equipment.” … I’m trying to decide the extent to which I want to change my attire and/or hairstyle to be more androgynous (or, make them adaptable to the gender I want to express on a given day). … It’s so hard and I feel so alone. I need to find community.

All of the GenderQueer Confessions I linked to are still relevant.

What it all basically comes down to is: “My body is just a body. It doesn’t mean what you think it means.”

So far I’ve found this blog to be incredibly helpful for working through my mental health issues. I’m hopeful that it can be just as helpful for dealing with gender issues …

“Transgender Tuesdays” has a nice ring to it. The LGBTQ+ groups I’ve been meaning to join (since the beginning of the semester) meet on Tuesdays. So why not make a feature? I’ll share what I learn about being transgender, any resources I find, and my thoughts/experiences. I’ll also include others’ perspectives when I can; I’d love to have guest bloggers!

On Being Wrong

I’ve been feeling more depressed than usual since my tooth was extracted on Monday. I’m more socially withdrawn, sad a lot of the time, with low energy and motivation, and more muscle aches that aren’t immediately attributable to the physical effects of the extraction. The constant dull pain is grating on me, making me irritable and impatient. I had to drag myself to class on Wednesday, had trouble concentrating, and role-played the “very loud client who remains disengaged from the group” fairly well. I’ve spent a lot of time improvising on piano in preparation for my midterm; everything I play sounds sad, melancholy, dark, surreal, and/or angry – even scales! It makes coming up with an intervention other than “Let’s sing about the crappy situation you just described” very difficult.

(In my defense, singing about crappy situations can be extremely therapeutic. Not only does it allow expression of repressed or taboo emotions, it helps one look at the situation and oneself differently, assert oneself, and heal. It is safest to do with the assistance of a certified music therapist.)

The primary reason why my symptoms have worsened can be found in this line from my post on Monday:

The extraction “felt wrong on some fundamental level”

I think anyone would feel depressed if they were constantly being reminded of something they considered fundamentally wrong!

Part of me remains convinced that “I had a perfectly healthy tooth pulled for no good reason” – even though that wasn’t the case at all. Multiple examinations revealed the tooth to be dead. The x-rays showed that there was a problem in that area. The dental professionals who examined me noted swelling in my gums and attributed it to that tooth. I saw the infection on its roots with my own eyes!  The tooth needed a root canal; I saw an endodontist who attempted the procedure but only succeeded in causing me more pain. Instead of risking a repeat experience, I chose a treatment that would be faster, easier, and possibly even more effective. At the moment I’m not happy with the results because I’m in even more pain. (I keep reminding myself that Mom regretted her knee replacement surgery when she was first recovering from it, but has since experienced improved quality of life and recommends the procedure to others.) Time will tell whether this has helped at all, or only caused more problems…

The point is, the belief that “I had a healthy tooth pulled for no reason” is irrational and factually incorrect. The tooth was not healthy, and I had justifiable reasons for getting it pulled. Extraction may not have been the recommended treatment or even the best treatment, but it was MY decision to make. Others may disagree with my decision, I may even regret my decision, but none of that makes it wrong.

I know this rationally but can’t shake the feeling that not only have I done something wrong, I am wrong. I was supposed to keep going back for endodontic treatment and thank the endodontist for hurting me, regardless of whether she was able to solve the problem that brought me to her in the first place. (Because that’s what she suggested, what Mom seemed to want, and what I agreed to at the time.) That I even thought to do anything other than conform to the protocol “you are a patient; you comply with whatever treatment your healthcare provider recommends” is proof that there is something wrong with me!

When I talked to Wakana about this on Wednesday, she asked if there was anyone in my life who taught me that I was wrong in some way. Thinking about it now, there are a lot of people whose behavior may have given rise to that belief: family members, peers, teachers and other school officials, mainstream media… but we ended up talking about our favorite topic: my mother.

I mentioned one way in which Mom has communicated to me that I am wrong: by telling me I’m like the “opposite” gender from the one I was assigned at birth, as an insult. She’s been doing it since I became a teenager. Wakana urged me to write about how that might have influenced the development of my queer gender identity. Part of me wants to comply and learn that I’m actually cisgender, which would make my life a million times easier. (I suspect it’s the same part that insists I gave up a “perfectly healthy” tooth.) Part of me thinks my desire to be cisgender purely so I can access the associated privilege is evidence that I am, indeed, transgender. Otherwise I would just identify as the gender I was assigned at birth, decide how I want to deal with some of my behaviors not conforming to my mother’s expectations, and move on with my life. Right?

I explored the topic somewhat and came to the conclusion that my mother’s expectations for the gender I was assigned at birth are limiting; I’m pretty sure her expectations for the “opposite” gender are just as limiting. I could not conform to them even if I were cisgender; if I’d somehow managed to do so she probably would have expressed disapproval anyway (of that or something else).

The problem isn’t my gender identity (which I’d really like people to accept), it’s that my mother doesn’t see me as a complete human being who is separate from her and has the right to make independent decisions. She sees everything I do through the lens of her expectations and me not meeting them. It often seems as though she goes out of her way to express disapproval, over whatever else she might be feeling. This problem originated long before my early teenage years, possibly when I was born!

Actually, I think she’s learning to see me as a separate person and respect my right to make independent decisions; our relationship has improved quite a bit since I’ve been in therapy. She hasn’t given me a hard time for deciding to have my tooth pulled; all the criticism of that decision has come from my own mind. The real problem is that I’ve internalized her (and others’) disapproval and feel on some fundamental level that it’s wrong for me to make my own decisions. I’ve internalized the belief that I must conform and go along with what other people seem to want from me.

Regarding my gender: I’m pretty sure I’ve always perceived the division of people into “men” and “women” as arbitrary. I know what the expectations for the two widely-recognized genders are – and I know that a lot of people are trying to weaken or even eradicate those expectations, so men and women can just be themselves (these people are called feminists). I know that a lot of men and women defy those expectations, to the point where one can’t use behaviors, interests, aptitudes, beliefs, or even biology to define “men” and “women” as two mutually-exclusive categories. As far as I can tell, the only universal difference is that all men identify as “men,” and all women identify as “women.” This isn’t to say that gender is a choice – if that were the case, I think we’d all be men and reap the numerous benefits. Gender is an inherent sense of self that may change over time but can’t be intentionally altered.

So, doing things that Mom associates with the “opposite” of the gender I was assigned at birth is not the basis of my queer gender identity. I could say “I am a [the gender I was assigned];” that would make things at lot easier for me, and everyone around me. No one would question it. I doubt anyone would even ask me to change my behavior to meet their expectations. I could be myself and use that label and let people refer to me using pronouns they already know…

But I’d be lying. I don’t identify as a “man” or a “woman,” I identify as a “person outside of the gender binary.” I am not a man, nor a woman; I am a person outside of the gender binary. I could allow you to categorize me as, well, whatever you’d like! for your comfort and convenience… but I can’t inherently identify with whatever you choose. It’s just not in my nature – any more than it’s in my mom’s nature to identify as a man or in Fox’s nature to identify as a woman. All I’m asking is for people to respect that.

Unfortunately, people are going to perceive and treat me the way they want, no matter what I do. They may express opinions about the decisions I make. This applies to so much more than gender and dental treatments; it’s just a universal fact of life. There comes a point where I just need to decide that I am what I am, that I make whatever imperfect decisions I make, and that other people’s perceptions of me are their business, not mine. Whatever they send my way need not impact how I perceive or treat myself.