Hoarding

I am a hoarder. There, I said it.

My apartment isn’t just “a mess,” it’s really, really bad. Like probably a health and safety hazard bad. And by probably I mean almost definitely. If nothing else, I keep getting sick – and I don’t think I can blame that entirely on protesting in the cold, while being precipitated upon…

But I digress.

There’s a path through the apartment: You can walk through the front door, down the hallway, into the kitchen, around the kitchen table, and out the back door.

From the hallway you can enter the bedroom and access the near side of the bed. Around the foot of the bed is a bit hazardous, and you can’t walk on the far side at all. I’ve stopped using the armoire on that side for practical clothing storage, instead I use the bed. (Fox sleeps on a futon in the living room, his choice.)

From the hallway you can enter the living room and access Fox’s futon, the TV, my desk, and my piano (if you’re brave). You can access all the important things in the kitchen, but you can’t sit at or really use the table. You can also enter the bathroom, which, umm … I don’t remember the last time I cleaned anything other than the toilet.

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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:

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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.

GenderQueer Confessions: I can relate to so many of these!

I was looking for inspiration for a “Transgender Tuesday” post (explanation here) when I found GenderQueer Confessions on Tumblr. It’s a safe place for people anywhere on the gender spectrum to post their own thoughts, feelings, observations, or experiences related to gender, as well as to ask questions about being gender queer. I don’t necessarily relate to or agree with every post, but I feel a great deal of catharsis as I read several of them. I like to look at the Archive to see more posts at once and more easily find the ones that speak to me. It’s confirmation that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

The biggest thing I’m struggling with is determining the extent to which I want to assert my gender queer identity. I’m pretty sure I’m not cis because I felt extremely uncomfortable trying to explore that possibility in writing on this blog. It would require me to disclose my sex, something that influences how other people identify and interact with me and expect me to act in my everyday life – the very effect I want to escape here. But everyone, from strangers to my closest loved ones, seem to assume that I am cis.

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. We have shared experiences we can’t really explain to people who don’t have our “equipment.” We also share in our inability to fully understand certain experiences of people with “equipment” we don’t have. We are treated the same way by society. We have the same political interests much of the time.

I just find that the Word we use to refer to ourselves is not adequate to express Who I Am, and sometimes it feels downright wrong. I want something broader. Something that “reaches across the aisle,” something I can define (and redefine at whim). I don’t want to be put in a box. I don’t want to imply that I hold values that seem alien to me. 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 want the freedom to be myself, without others’ expectations limiting my self-expression.

So far, I am gender non-conforming in appearance through things I don’t do to express the gender I was assigned at birth. My clothes and hair do tend to conform, though not to an extreme. 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). Attire seems a less threatening thing to change, though I’m concerned about what people might think if they catch me buying non-gender-conforming clothes. Changing my hairstyle feels more threatening because it would be harder to reverse and I can’t really know how it will look until I’ve already invested time, energy, and money into it. I’m concerned about giving up something that has value to me if I change my hairstyle, even if my current style tends to contribute to people misgendering me.

My mannerisms, body language, social responses, etc. vary along the gender spectrum depending on my mood, the situation I’m in, and the cues I’m getting from other people. My mom and my friends seem to have picked up on and are accepting of this, even though they insist on using cisgendered pronouns and relational terms. Sometimes it bothers me more than others, but there’s almost always a feeling like there’s something a bit … off. It’s a better description or referent than the binary alternative, but it’s never right.

Should I just be happy with what I have? Or should I make them learn a whole new set of pronouns (ze, zir, hir) and adapt to using them to refer to me? How will this affect my relationships with other members of my families? (my family of origin, Banji’s family, and Fox’s family) Is it even truly what I want?

As a feminist, would it be better to identify as the gender I was assigned at birth and work within the binary to shatter stereotypes, expand the range of expression and behavior considered acceptable for both genders, and end inequality?

Or do I help that cause more by living and modeling an alternative – being a person who is not defined by social expectations based on hir genitals and secondary sex characteristics? Does it change anything if I refuse to be placed in a box, even if it is only for labeling purposes?

It’s so hard and I feel so alone. I need to find community. And as I struggle, I can hold on to the confessions that let me know that somewhere, there is someone else thinking, feeling, and experiencing the same things:

Is there anyone else who can relate to these things? How have you coped?
I could really use some advice.