The Full-Length Mirror

If any of y’all are not in a good mental place to read about body issues, eating disorders, etc. right now, go ahead and skip this one. I say this because I generally can’t handle reading any sort of diet/weight loss/body negative talk because it sets off my own issues something fierce, so this is an out for anyone else who has the same reaction. ❤

A while back, maybe sometime last summer, I was in Dolores Park on a sunny day, and a guy sitting a little in front of me caught my eye. He turned to talk to his friend and as he I saw his face, my first thought was “he’s really attractive,” which is pretty normal for me as I am perpetually admiring attractive folks in a non-creepy sort of way. I think I even pointed him out to my partner as I often will when I see cute folks around me. But my second (and unspoken) thought when I looked at him was “oh, he looks a lot like me.” Our body shapes looked similar, and if I were blonde and my beard were a little fuller, I would have been a near body-double for that dude.

It took a moment for that to sink in. I can idly look at someone like me and think “hey, he’s cute” but I still can’t always handle looking at myself in a full-length mirror. I am the master of the classic “fat bodies are great, my body is gross” bit of doublethink that I know a lot of people struggle with.

[As an Aside on Fatness, this is something I’m still wrestling with a bit – I’ve been kinda dipping my toe into the fat-positive/body-positive scene for several years but never really sure if it was a place for me, both for gender and size reasons. But hey, I’ve randomly gained more weight recently (one reason for a lot of my body panic is that I can’t always connect weight fluctuations to changes I’m making so it feels very out of my control) and I think I might be able to say “hey I’m fat” at this point. There’s no official dividing line of Fatness vs. Non-Fatness that I know of. But maybe I’m on the other side of it? I’m still not entirely sure where I belong.]

Last fall, I finally took the step of talking to someone about what I’ve just been calling my “fucked up food issues” and what she called restrictive eating that qualified as an eating disorder. It was really intense and tough to talk about my feelings and behaviors around food in the level of detail I knew I needed to in order to make progress – I’ve hinted at and talked about some of this to a few people at various times, but I don’t ever tell the whole story, and I had to make myself do that.

And that shit’s tough, for real. I don’t want anyone to know that I don’t always feel like I deserve to eat even when I’m hungry, that sometimes I’m furious at myself for even being hungry when I just ate a while ago, that sometimes I have such a hard time knowing what’s ok to eat that I don’t really eat enough during the day. That while I’m thankful I didn’t manage to be anorexic when I was ten (and that “pro-ana” and other ED encouragement communities didn’t exist then, because if they had I might have managed to do it), I can’t read narratives about eating disorders without a sneaky voice in me saying “maybe you could make it work this time.” Because I know it’s bullshit, all of it, and that I shouldn’t think any of it, and if I don’t tell anyone about those maybe I can pretend I’m not so terrible to myself.

Having someone say “this is an eating disorder” was a huge help in itself. Being able to put a name on my problem, and acknowledge that it really was a problem-problem and not just some frustrating habit, was scary for sure but it was also comforting. It meant I needed to take it seriously, that I deserved to find ways to be better to myself.

One thing Michelle suggested was an exercise of just spending time looking at myself in a mirror, clothed or not, to get used to what my body looks like. The idea is to be able to get in a neutral state, where I can just say “ok this is what I’m seeing” in an objective way. And to be honest, I never felt brave enough to do this. I did buy a cheap mirror, the kind you hang in a dorm room, but all I used it for was checking my posture when doing yoga and PT stretches. No contemplation or neutral observation. I have developed a skill for looking in a mirror without always seeing the real shape of my clothes or my body, which also means I sometimes don’t know if clothes fit at all and need outside opinions. It’s often just too intense to really look at my body so closely.

But I have picked up another habit; starting early this year, I took inspiration from some of my friends and started taking and sharing more pictures of myself. I love seeing my friends’ selfies because of their wonderful faces, and it’s nice to see them living their lives or modeling new sweaters or what have you, so it seemed like a good idea to try it for myself. I specifically started this habit with the idea of getting better at seeing myself and sharing pictures with friends even if I don’t always like what I see.

And it’s been nice! I do like my face and generally that’s most of what’s visible. I enjoy being able to show off my favorite adornments, big interesting earrings and nail polish. It’s pretty easy to look good when I’m posting headshots. And sure, it’s great to have friends make sweet comments on my pictures! I like to do that for other people and I certainly enjoy it myself. If that’s vanity then ok, I’m fine with being vain.

like most humans, I possess a body

But the big obstacle has been pulling back a little to let more of myself into the photo. I’ve posted one or two with part of my torso, and there was one full-body picture I took when I wanted to show off the amazing minty-green shorts that can also be seen here, but I specifically felt safe doing it because I was wearing a loose shirt and the lighting around my torso wasn’t great. I keep wanting to be braver, and sometimes I’ll even wrangle the mirror so I can take full-body pictures, but I  get this sick feeling, a pit of dread in my stomach, when I think about sharing them, like my body is a secret I can’t tell anyone. It seems ridiculous to me – I don’t expect anyone to be a jerk! And of course I know, in the part of me I’ve managed to drain the poison out of, that my body is fine.

But that feeling is there now, I promise, no matter how unreasonable it is. I’m sure I’ll hit publish and instantly think “noooo, this is too much, it’s too personal and weird to talk about this, plus why did you put a picture of your potato-self in there???” and I’ll have to deal with that.

This post feels a little disjointed to me, and maybe way too personal, because this isn’t something I’m used to talking about in much detail, and I have no idea how much of myself is too much to share, here. I still feel like maybe I shouldn’t say I have an eating disorder and talk about the recovery process because my experience isn’t “real” enough. But I’ve spent months knowing that I want to say these things, and months putting it off because it feels embarrassing and too raw and kind of like those dreams where you realize halfway through your day that you’ve been walking around with no pants on. After a good while of doing a lot better in terms of dealing with my body and feeling like I’m allowed to eat food, I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, and being a little more publicly open about what’s going on seems like a good idea.

I want to be able to let people see me – all of me – without feeling sick beforehand. I want to admire folks that look like me and be able to say “he’s pretty hot JUST LIKE ME, YEP” instead of doing mental gymnastics to explain why my body is wrong and gross despite being just like someone else’s 100% awesome body. I want to eat a fucking snack when I’m hungry and not worry that I don’t deserve it.

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More pronoun troubles

I mentioned earlier that my mom doesn’t have a great track record of using the right pronouns for me, even nine years (almost to the day) after I started asking others to make that change. Before her brief visit in the spring, I was worried I’d have to deal with that again, but happily she didn’t slip up at all when she was here.

However!

I just came back from a roughly week-long family vacation with my partner, my parents, and my brother and sister-in-law. It was a lot of fun, as we all get along well, but a few days in I realized my mom had slipped up on my pronouns several times. It really hit me on a hike Thursday afternoon and I slipped behind a bit while I cried a little and felt like a useless lump and a Bad Trans Person.

Because here’s the thing: I just can’t bring myself to talk to her about it. I know I should. I have always had a hard time confronting people in the moment, but now that I’m home I should be writing her an email to say “hey, after all these years this really hurts, can we talk about it?” And I haven’t done it yet, plus I’m pretty sure I’m just not going to. It makes me feel like a coward, probably because it’s fucking cowardly to avoid the issue for so long.

My mom’s a private person, and I know she doesn’t talk about personal things to others very often. A couple of years ago, she told me that my old band director from high school (who she sees fairly often and subs for, as she’s a music teacher) still doesn’t know me by anything other than my old name and pronouns as she feels like it would be awkward or weird to bring it up. So he asks how [birth name] is, and my mom apparently says “she’s doing fine.”

It makes me wonder how many other people in her life she’s avoided the issue with. What does she even call me when she’s talking to my dad?

I came out to my parents in an awkward and painful way – I was at a family reunion in July 2005 and my dad cornered me alone and badgered me until I came out to him. I literally said “I have stuff to talk to you and Mom about, but I’m not ready, and I don’t want to do it like this” while crying but he pushed and pushed until I broke down and tried to explain things to him. But of course, since I was off-guard and upset, my explanation was probably pretty jumbled. I tried to talk about being genderqueer, not being particularly male-identified but wanting the changes that come with testosterone, etc. and I think that was confusing for him.

He insisted that he tell all this to my mom the next day as they drove home, instead of waiting for me to call her after the trip or talk with her before they left, and while I wasn’t ok with that situation I had no fight left in me. I really don’t know what he said to her about me, and I’m still upset when I think about how that all happened. I am unsure exactly how he presented my gender identity to her.

It became easier, as time went on, to just be a guy for them. I tried this in general, the first few years after I started medical transition, just because physical changes came slowly and I felt like I had to change my clothing and mannerisms a bit to coax the general public into seeing me at all how I hoped they would. I’ve not tried to talk to them about genderqueerness, or the thin like I walk between “trans guy” and “ugh, I am really not male-identified at all,” and for the most part that’s ok, I think? My gender confuses me a lot of the time, and I’m comfortable giving them a more simplified version.

But as I’ve become a little freer in my gender presentation lately, I worry if it’s having an impact on how they’re seeing me, and on my mom’s language problems. As important as nail polish is to me, I agonized over painting my nails for the trip this past week. I think I’d had toenail polish on once before when they were around, but not, to my recollection, fingernail polish. I eventually decided it was silly to worry so much and went for it, but when my mom kept saying “she” did this and that about me… I became a lot more self-conscious about it. I’m going to see them again this weekend for a quick trip and I’m pretty sure I’ll keep my nails naked while I’m there, this time.

Mom and I have a pretty good relationship, as far as I can tell; while we don’t talk a lot about gender stuff we are able to have pretty personal conversations, especially as her mom’s health is getting worse and she’s trying to deal with that. When I moved across the country she talked a lot to me about her own loneliness and struggles to find friends when we all moved to Tennessee when I was in elementary school. We go antiquing and hiking together and have a good time.

I thin I’m afraid she’s secretly really not at all ok with who I am now, and that if I tried to bring it up I’d learn that for sure. It’s hard to feel like she accepts me when this keeps happening, even though in all other ways she seems to be supportive. But it’s been nine years. I had a friend who I mostly cut out of my life when he kept fucking up my pronouns a year or two after I came out. I don’t think I’d tolerate this from anyone else, after so long.

Somehow it seems easier to keep quiet, though, and I’m upset with myself that this is the case right now.

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Bailing on Pride

It’s SF Pride this weekend! And while I really wish I were excited about it, the feeling’s just not there.

I haven’t attended a ton of Pride-related events in years past, to be fair. It isn’t like I’m turning my back on a grand tradition of partying it up at the official celebrations and afterparties. But it’s the idea of it that I miss, that I wish I’d experienced and could look forward to. There’s some feeling of belonging or acceptance that I assume happens at these events, that a lot of folks enjoy and look forward to, that just doesn’t occur for me. There seems to be a similar pattern to my experiences in Big Queer Spaces.

My first Pride event was a dyke march on my college campus I was invited to by some classmates. I think they were trying to be friendly as they believed I was a newly-out lesbian. My first tiny steps towards changing my appearance and presentation, as I was starting to sort out my gender-feelings, read as “baby butch” to a large number of folks I met during that time, apparently. (This led to a lot of personal confusion as I figured that since I appreciated butch aesthetics that maybe I was or should be butch too? Which… is not at all the case.) I felt un-confident and awkward enough as a newbie-queer that I didn’t know how to correct people if it didn’t directly come up, so in many cases that assumption went unchallenged.

It turned out that I didn’t know anyone at the event other than those classmates, who I wasn’t particularly close to, and felt a little lost until a sweet gay couple chatted with me a bit before and during the march itself. But the entire time, I kept thinking “why am I here?” I was just starting to figure out how my queerness worked, my gender was still a big ball of mystery I hadn’t quite unraveled, and despite the fact that one of the march’s chants was about genderqueerness, I didn’t quite feel like I was supposed to be there.

I know that feeling awkward and not having friends in a space contributes to this! Of course it does! But as a less-awkward person these days, with some local friends to go to events with, I can still get that feeling.

I’ve come to realize that even the SF Trans March, which I think is a great event and am very excited about in principle, just isn’t for me. I have enough friends who attend that the three years I’ve gone I’ve been able to be social, and that’s an improvement over that lonely dyke march, but somehow I still feel like I’m hovering at the edge of this huge community I don’t know how to be a part of. I don’t how to feel like a member of any larger community when I’m not engaging in community events, but last year at the march I was painfully aware, almost the entire time, that I just didn’t feel very comfortable there. It felt like it should be my space, because yeah – it should! But I just felt awkward and out of place. So while some part of my brain says “you have to show up to feel like a part of anything,” maybe I’m just looking in the wrong place.

My one experience with the official Pride celebration was last year, when I thought I’d peek in to get a feel for it. This was on Sunday afternoon, when the party had been going on for a day and a half already, and what I saw when I got to Pride was trash overflowing from bins and covering the ground, cheap rainbow crap being sold in every other booth, and huge signs for that year’s beer and vodka sponsors. Maybe I was in the wrong spot, but it felt like a big street fair with poor sanitation planning, not anything explicitly queer.

I want some sort of local queer or trans community, I really do. But I’m having a hard time with that, despite the fact that I live in fucking San Francisco, where one might assume it wouldn’t be that difficult. I have queer friends here, for sure! But (and this is true of most of my buddies in the area, straighties included) those friends aren’t really in one social circle that forms its own community. It’s a bit spread out, so somehow I can have trans and queer friends here but still feel lonely and isolated a lot of the time.

I don’t feel like enough of a man, and certainly not enough of a San Francisco Brand Gay Man (TM), to be in gay spaces. I barely feel like enough of one to be in spaces for trans men, and spaces I have ventured into haven’t really been a great fit for me. As my gender identity has been more squishy and uncertain lately, I’m not sure that any sort of male spaces are really where I want to be, but there’s no way I’d feel comfortable in or presume to enter women-only spaces, either, so it leaves me feeling a little lonely. If there’s a Weird, Jellyfishy Gender Club in the city somewhere, I am not aware of it.

Pride may not be for me, but I don’t want to be dismissive of it at all! I know it’s important for lots of folks, and I don’t want to minimize the impact at all. It’s just hard, when everything’s rainbow-y over here (more so than usual, even) and friends in other cities are doing Pride events that make me think “I wish I could go there instead,” to not feel extra incompetent at community-building.

 

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WisCon panel roundup

As much as I enjoyed Wiscon last year, this time it was even better. I think coming in with a little bit of experience helped me set my expectations better, plus I knew more folks at the con this year. I managed to finish a shawl I’d been knitting, self-identify as “femme-curious” out loud for the first time, make some new friends, and speak on two panels without making a fool of myself.

First up was the Teaching Consent in Sex Ed panel, the one I was really looking forward to. I did spend some time Friday and Saturday morning nervously blurting out “I hope I don’t mess up on this panel coming up!” to just about every friend I talked to, but when the time came I felt pretty chill. Our moderator ducked out at the last minute, but someone else on the panel had moderated before and got us started. I was the only current sex educator on the panel; the others were parents, one of whom had done sex ed in the 80s but felt like he was saying things to his kids he didn’t approve of once he really thought about it.

The audience wasn’t huge but neither was the room, so it worked out. There were enough people that we had several good questions to address, but mostly the format was folks on the panel bringing up points they found important (I was able to go down most of my list of things I wanted to discuss) and then having other panelists & audience members branch off from there, and about halfway through we were open to questions as well.

It’s a little hard to have a discussion specifically about consent in sex ed without touching on more general issues – one of my points is that you can’t have consent without informed consent and so young people need to know the facts about what sex is, safer sex and birth control, etc. in order to make good choices around consent in relationships. I had some ideas on how to start teaching consent and bodily autonomy to younger children, but this is where the other panelists and audience were great; it’s not my area of expertise and I was glad to hear the thoughts of folks who work with or are parenting children.

So, yes! It felt like a success! I didn’t talk too much or act nervous, I learned some things and I hope the audience did too, and I left the panel feeling good about my part in it. I was also a little relieved that I am not personally responsible for a small child! Parent comments and questions were great in that panel and while I did have some ideas, I also realize that lack of experience with the under-13 set probably limits my helpfulness there.

When when I went back to my hotel room to relax a bit before dinner, though, I found out about the Isla Vista shootings, which put a huge damper on pretty much everything. I think if I’d seen that news before the panel, or if the panel had been on Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday, I would have focused a lot more on teaching young men that women do not exist to provide sex and that the entire MRA worldview is 100% poisonous garbage. Clearly I think those are important things to cover anyway, but holy fuck do we need to focus on that a bit extra right now.

The other panel I was on was a bit of a surprise; I volunteered to be on it just a few days before the con. It was a “queer alphabet” panel discussing the various umbrella terms and acronyms (LGBT+, QUILTBAG, GSM, queer, etc.), and the mod mentioned on tumblr that she really would like a trans person on the panel so I figured I may as well help out. At first I thought “eh, do I have a lot of opinions on this?” but it turned out I really do.

This panel experience turned out to be a helpful exercise in “being diplomatic when feeling frustrated or particularly strongly about something” as there were moments I needed that skill for sure! One person on the panel hit my Annoyance Button to the point that at one point I couldn’t tell if I really was irritated at everything he said or if I had just been irritated enough times that I was determined to continue. He wasn’t Actively Terrible, at least! Just rubbed me the wrong way on several statements. I got some sympathetic eye contact from an audience member the one time I had to gently facepalm while he was talking; I believe that was when he attributed low levels of bisexual/trans representation to the relatively lower number of such individuals when compared to gays and lesbians. Everyone else up there with me was pretty rad, though, and I think we all had useful points to make.

One of the questions we discussed was “does the A in LGBTQIA stand for ‘ally’ or ‘asexual’?” I had no idea that including “ally” in any queer acronym was even an option. I very firmly believe that part of being an ally isn’t taking up a lot of space in the group you’re trying to support and that when talking about things like employment rights, anti-discrimination laws, and media representation, “ally” doesn’t make sense in that acronym space. It was a bit of a bummer that apparently the audience had enough to say about this issue that we spent (what I thought was) waaaay too much time on the Trials of Straight Allies for a queer panel, though. Especially when some ace folks in the audience specifically said how much they appreciated that asexuality was included in the alphabet soup more often. I didn’t quite have the guts to say “the fact that we’re centering the discussion on ally experiences during a panel about queer folks kind of proves my point why I don’t think they belong in the acronym” but I thought it very loudly.

I realize I’ve mentioned frustrations, but I did enjoy the panel quite a bit! Even comments I didn’t agree with were still interesting and fun to engage with, for the most part, and it was a fun challenge to prepare for a panel on short notice. Plus I figure it’s good experience as I’d love to be on more panels at future cons.

They were two very different panels, for sure, but both were positive experiences and I’m glad I got over my initial nervousness. I’m already looking forward to next year.

(Bonus fun fact: before the sex ed panel, I had a dream in which Scott Thompson from the Kids in the Hall took it over and used that time to show art films of trees. I stood up to him and had to convince my fellow panelists to join forces and convince him to let us run the panel as scheduled, but by the time we kicked him out we only had a half-hour left before it was over.)

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WisCon Excitement

Last year I finally made it to WisCon, which I’d been hoping to do for quite a while. It was a great weekend; I had more interesting conversations during and after panels than I’ve had at any other convention, I felt like it was a pretty welcoming space, and I met some great people there who I’ve kept up with on twitter and am really excited to see again this year. Because of course I’m going back. I think my partner and I both agreed that we needed to return this year on the flight home the last day.

I appreciated the range of panel topics; I was able to nerd out at panels about Deep Space 9, human/alien relationships, and sexism in fandom, and attend some fantastic political/social justice-y panels as well. Maybe the most emotionally intense one was a panel on inclusion in the fat acceptance movement, but I was most excited to go to the sex ed panel since it’s something I have MANY opinions on and my volunteer work gives me a pretty good idea of what people are (and more often, aren’t) learning in sex ed curricula.

It was very informative; I was able to to learn specific details about how abstinence-based sex ed works and the (very limited) ways parents can push back against it. I left the room feeling more angry about abstinence-based education than before (I was not previously aware that many states do not even specify that any sex education must be “medically accurate,” which is mind-boggling), but it was still good to be better-informed.

At that time I thought “next year if there’s another sex ed panel, assuming I’m still doing Scarleteen work I might ask to be on it.” This year there is, and I did! The official panel description is:

Sex Education for Kids: Consent Mechanics

It can be hard to know exactly when talk to your kids about sex and what to say. Let’s talk about what we’ve tried, how well it worked, and what lessons we’ve learned in the process. The Positive Consent model is different from how things were taught thirty years ago; how can we learn to model and teach it outside the “birds-and-bees” lecture?

I have never been on a panel of any sort, so I’m a little nervous; I made myself put my name in the first day signups opened so I couldn’t chicken out at the last minute. I think I’ve put in enough time at Scarleteen that I feel ready to present myself as some level of expert, or at least someone who’s thought quite a bit about consent and how to incorporate that into sex ed.

Because I’m a huge nerd with a lot of ideas, I started an outline of things I’d love to bring up if I have the time that very afternoon. I can be over-talky when I’m excited about a topic, so my goal is to have well-organized notes I can refer to that can help me be more concise so I’m not stepping on other panelists’ toes. If we don’t get to all of my ideas that’s fine, but it’s fun to come up with my ideal list of subjects I’d enjoy talking about if time permits. I’ll make a post after the con with my thoughts and anything else that comes up during the panel.

I’m confirmed for this panel, which is exciting, and I also volunteered for a Rape Culture 101 panel that needed more panelists; so far I haven’t heard back about that one. I was a bit hesitant about volunteering, even though I know I have a lot to say on that topic and consider myself pretty well-informed on rape & sexual assault issues, but after a few people encouraged me I went ahead and did it. If I’m already a bit intimidated by being on one panel, another one shouldn’t be too much scarier, right? I think it’s a good idea in general to push myself to do things I find intimidating, so this is a great opportunity.

For any of y’all who may be at the con, please come say hi at the Sex Ed panel Saturday at 2:30 and possibly the Rape Culture 101 panel at 8:30am (bring coffee!) Saturday.

Now comes the hardest part: writing up a bio for the program. Those are tough!

 

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Pronoun mishaps

I think I’ve mentioned here before that my mom, despite being really supportive of me and mostly transitioning over to introducing me as her son, using the correct name for me for years now, etc. still has occasional trouble with my pronouns. It makes me wonder what language she uses for me when I’m not around, if nearly nine years of practice hasn’t otherwise sunk in. Anyone else in my life who hadn’t been able to make the switch would have been cut out or at least given the slow fade long ago, but I haven’t been able to talk to my mom about this, even though it does hurt when it happens.

She was in town for a brief visit earlier this week, and before she came I was trying to gear myself up for a conversation if she slipped up again, because I’m tired of not saying anything even though that’s easier. But it turned out, happily, that she didn’t make that mistake during the visit. Maybe she’ll get my pronouns wrong again in the future, but at least it didn’t happen this time, and that’s a small victory.

I’ve mentioned to a couple of friends recently that pronoun mishaps rarely happen in my daily life; the beard helps with people I meet for the first time (that’s why I grew the damn thing in the first place, so good job beard), and pretty much anyone in my life either never knew me when folks used female pronouns for me or made the switch long ago. A lot of Scarleteen users assume all the volunteers are women so I get a lot of “thanks ma’am” on our direct services, but that isn’t really a commentary on me as much as a reflection of their assumptions.

However! This week I’m pretty sure I was mispronouned at least semi-deliberately; the person in question isn’t someone I know well or see often but has known the proper language to use for years now. The fact that this person is a jerk isn’t the point here, though; what was interesting was how it felt to overhear his comment. I was startled, but then it just seemed amusing; I felt it was more of a commentary on his sad life than a reflection of my failings as a person.

Yeah, it hurts when my mom uses “she” for me, years after I’ve asked her not to. Some douchebag I don’t like misgenders me? Not my problem.

It makes me think, though, how hard it felt to enforce my preferred language in the days when not many people in my life were using it, even after I’d told them. I have a huge amount of respect for trans folks who are able to interrupt others with the proper name or pronoun when the wrong one’s used, who remind friends over and over again when they mess up, who don’t just give up after a certain point.

Because honestly, that’s what I did, in a lot of situations. I tried to correct people in the moment, as soon as I heard a mistake, but often I’d find it so jarring or frustrating that my body would freeze up for a second, and the moment would be lost. And when some friends continued to use the wrong language for me after a few rounds of corrections, I just…gave up on correcting them. I wasn’t very confident in those days and assumed that a general failure to respect my request meant I just wasn’t passing well enough and I should stop expecting anything until I did.

And yes, I fucking hate hate hate the term “passing” now, but it was The Big Goal for a while. Even though I wasn’t sure I actually was a man, I at least wanted to be read as not-a-woman, and most people really only consider two options so if I wanted to avoid being seen as one thing I had to go with the other. I didn’t know any other way to get friends, co-workers, and customers to use language I was comfortable with other than convincing them, somehow, that I deserved it. And the more people messed up around me, the less I was sure I deserved it.

It’s a luxury, now, to hear someone deliberately being rude to me and be able to shrug it off. Some of that comes from being more confident, some of it’s a lack of regard for this particular person’s opinions, and a lot of it is the fact that it is a rare occurrence at this point. When it happened several times a day for years, it was much harder to deal with.

This is why I get angry when people talk about how hard it is to adjust to a different name or pronoun set for a loved one. Sometimes it might be a challenge, sure! But like any other tough thing, you practice it if it’s important to you and it’ll become easier fairly quickly. It took me a while to get the hang of not using gendered pronouns at all for my partner; before I really got on the singular-they train I often arranged sentences to avoid pronouns altogether, which is an interesting challenge that resulted in some very stilted-sounding sentences. But I did practice, because it was important to someone I cared about, and now it’s not even something I have to think about when I’m talking.

There are people who will wave off mistakes and say they don’t care, and maybe they don’t! But I did that too and was lying every time. I just didn’t feel confident enough to admit how hurt I was. Even an honest slip of the tongue was painful, but mistakes coming from people who clearly weren’t making an effort were like a slap in the face.

This week’s incident was more of an annoying poke than a slap, thankfully.

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A Self-Love Valentine

I tend to have a pretty easy time loving other people. I can sometimes be slow to make friends, but I have a deep and fierce love for them once that connection is established. I want to protect, support, and hug my friends and loved ones as much as possible.

If I were a dog, I’d be something big, floppy, and doofy like a golden retriever, bouncing all over and trying to express my affection in the biggest, tail-waggiest ways possible. Hopefully, that gives y’all an idea of the sort of friend-thusiasm I bring to the picture. And with so many of my loved ones not local at the moment, my Big Friend Love Feelings are extra big right now, all puffed up by distance and longing.

I have a much, much harder time showing love – or even, at times, basic kindness – to myself. I realize this isn’t a problem only I have; plenty of folks who are absolute champs at loving others have a hard time focusing that love on themselves. But it’s become clear lately, as I’m finally aware of and working to claw myself out of a pretty scary depression-pit, that I’m sorely out of practice on this front. I am overflowing with compliments I want to pay to my friends, ones I believe are true with every fiber of my being, but I know I’d be skeptical of many of them if they were turned around and applied to me.

So! Here’s a scary yet probably useful exercise: a list of things I can honestly say I 100% love about myself:

  • I can make some damn tasty candy & baked goods
  • I am a world-class excellent smoocher (having a partner tell me “years later you’re still the best kisser I’ve encountered,” and having that pronouncement stand up to repeat testing, is still one of the best compliments I’ve ever received)
  • I’m good at silly voices!
  • My legs are huge and muscly, good for climbing hills and walking long distances
  • I have a cute face
  • I am cheerfully enthusiastic not just about my friends but about my interests/fandoms/favorite everythings
  • NAIL POLISH
  • I take pretty good pictures

It’s hard to say so many good things about myself! But I won’t apologize for them, even if I’m internally squirming and feeling incredibly awkward about it (spoiler alert: I am). I’m out of practice, but no time like the present to get back into the habit of being good to myself, right?

If any of y’all want to lavish yourselves with compliments here, on twitter, or just secretly in a quiet corner of your home, GO FOR IT! You’re fabulous!

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Selective memory

Early last week, I received a puzzling friend request on Facebook from someone named Brannon. I didn’t recognize his last name, but the only person I know of by that name is the guy who, as my section leader, sexually harassed me during my first (and only) year in college marching band. I double-checked with a friend to be sure and yep, it was the same person.

The actual details of what I put up with from this guy are pretty hazy, both because it all happened in the fall of 2000 and because I felt so weird and uncomfortable with the situation that I tried to push it all out of my mind as much as possible. But there was a general cloud of sexual harassment and “how far can we push things with the younger female members” attitude that hung over a lot of the sax section parties that semester. This is when I identified & presented as a woman so I was in that targeted group; I don’t know if I was singled out or not, but I certainly got plenty of unwanted attention from this guy (and a junior who was assistant section leader, to a lesser extent). Some other first-year students were dating or interested in other section members, so now that I think about it, I wonder if they were considered “off-limits” in a way that I was not in those first few weeks of classes.

There was one party in which we went through one of those “purity tests” that used to be popular online; I don’t know that this would be terrible in all situations but it just seemed like a transparent excuse on the part of the older students to try to get the newbies to disclose our sexual history and for them to brag about their “conquests” to us. Sharing stories about sex with friends can be a lot of fun! Feeling pressured to share sexual stories and details when you’ve said you aren’t comfortable doing so is no fun at all.

That same night, I’d decided to wear a sweatshirt and no bra underneath, just to see if that could be comfortable. (I think I got the idea from a book I had read shortly before that night, although I don’t know now why I thought a sweatshirt would make going bra-less any less painful for largish-breasted me. Ow.) I thought the shirt was bulky enough that this wouldn’t be noticeable to anyone else. Instead, Brannon called attention to it the moment I arrived and he and others called me “European” for the rest of the night and from time to time after that. I guess that’s because European people don’t wear bras that much? I was too embarrassed at the time to examine the name-calling too closely, but I believe that was the reasoning behind it. That was my last attempt to leave the house without a bra on until I had chest reconstruction years later.

These parties were generally at Brannon’s apartment off-campus, and those of us who lived in the dorms on-campus would get people with cars to drive us. Chapel Hill didn’t have great public transit, so we couldn’t really get to and from these places without help. At the end of one of these parties, all the people with cars were too drunk to drive the first-year students back to campus, so we all had to stay at the apartment over night. Somehow I wound up sharing Brannon’s bed with him.

I have to admit now that I really don’t understand how this happened. I wasn’t romantically or sexually interested in him, and in fact found him intimidating. I know some other people were on a pull-out couch, but I don’t know how I wound up in his bedroom. Did I volunteer? Did he suggest it? Was it just the only other option once the couch was spoken for? Whatever the reason, I did sleep there. I honestly can’t remember much about what happened. I know he touched me a little, and that I was facing away from him and trying to ignore him as much as I could. I think he tried to talk to me, maybe talking me into something, and gave up by saying something like “you’re acting like a kid” or “you’re so young” before falling asleep.

Maybe it was only the fact that I was still seventeen – something I’m pretty sure he knew – that kept him from pressing further. I don’t know. I feel a little sick trying to remember anything more concrete about that night.

What made me furious, once I got over the initial shock of seeing his name, is that I bet he doesn’t even remember any of this, or that if he does, he just thinks of it as “joking around” or “harmless fun.” What consequences would he have ever faced from his behavior, to make him examine his actions? Why on earth would he even try to contact me? We weren’t friends, and I haven’t seen him since he graduated in 2001.

And sure, I just blocked him without responding to the friend request and went angrily about my day. I was able to get mad, feel grossed out, and then move on. But still, I’m angry that the burden of dealing with those feelings is still mine when I wasn’t the one who was doing anything wrong in the first place. That I felt so overwhelmed and powerless that I did my best to forget everything about the situation for years.

I’m also mad because he could have been much worse to me and still, our roles now would be the same: I’d be dealing with anger, shame, and confusion and he’d be cluelessly trying to friend me on social media more than a decade later.

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The Legion of Genders wants YOU!

This week a friend of mine shared with me this awful article on Catholic.org that straight-up says transgender folks have a “demonic” philosophy and compares us to mixed-breed dogs. I think if I had any sort of background in Catholicism, or still considered myself a Christian, this might have been really hurtful to read, but since I don’t see the Catholic church as any sort of authority or relevant force in my life, my initial reaction was just to laugh at it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still offensive and disturbing, but it’s so over the top in its hand-wringing panic that it’s hard for me not to be a little amused. The first line of the article sounds like it’s introducing a new superhero comic: “There is a new Legion among us in the form of transgender community, a legion of genders.” Can I please sign up to be a member of the Legion of Genders? Because that sounds like FUN TIMES. I’m pretty sure the outfits would be fantastic, and I figure a bunch of my friends would be members too, so there’s really no downside that I can see.

Much of what is clearly meant to be shocking and upsetting to the reader sounds pretty positive to me:

The more important reality is not our sex, but our gender, which is something one decides for one’s self. … And all these decisions are equally good.

…the body is, rather, the raw material we have to use however we see fit.  We are not answerable to God, or to society, or to anyone else but ourselves, for the use of our body.

…whether one wants to have the gender of a man, or the gender of [a] woman, or in between (a bizarre gender called bigender or genderqueer), or anywhere within that wide continuum is one’s choice.

Maybe not all the wording I would have chosen, but sure! That all sounds great to me, and I don’t see how any of this is immoral or or unnatural. But nope, apparently by holding these beliefs, I am now akin to a labradoodle.

A demonic labradoodle. Doesn’t that produce an entertaining mental image?

I don’t want to downplay the actual harm I think this sort of article can inflict, especially to those who are Catholic. It seems like a perfect way to instill self-hatred in trans folks and a lack of compassion and acceptance in their families and loved ones. As I don’t see this author in particular or the church in general as any sort of actual authority in my life, it’s easy for me to laugh this nonsense off, but I realize it’s harder for many people, and my heart goes out to them. They’re welcome to join me in the Legion of Genders, though, and help decorate our Fortress of Sparkletude.

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Never Enough

I’m still enjoying my volunteer work with Scarleteen! It hasn’t quite been a year since I started volunteering but I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot; I’ve written a few advice columns and have been able to work with a lot of users. I still find myself getting frustrated by all of the pregnancy risk questions we get, but ultimately I blame poor education (especially abstinence-only programs that provide flat-out FALSE information) more than the young people who are receiving that education.

Often I find it most challenging to work with users who’ve been raped or sexually assaulted. I’m always glad when people get in touch with us because as horrible as it is that they have been assaulted, I’m glad people are reaching out for help when that happens, and I also feel like it’s a chance to use some of the training I got from the OCRCC in Chapel Hill before I moved away.

But I sometimes dread these interactions because I feel like it’s SO important for me to get things right when I’m talking to survivors. I want to give them space to make choices for themselves while offering help or resources they may not know to ask for. Often their circumstances are such that there aren’t a lot of great options open to them, or they don’t feel very supported in their daily lives. There’s only so much I as a stranger on the internet can do for them. Of course I know that, and I don’t actually expect myself to make everything magically better. It’s just that it hurts to know that I can’t.

One user’s been struggling to deal with a recent traumatic rape with the added complication that her family isn’t being particularly sensitive to her needs or desires; when she’s talking to ST volunteers I feel like I just see her apologizing over and over again for how she’s feeling, for “disrupting” her family by asking for support she needs, and for hating her attacker.

Possibly the worst part for me to see is how affected she seems to be by the standard victim-blaming narrative around rape survivors; she expresses a lot of doubt about how the incident might have been her fault, maybe she secretly wanted it, etc. And I just want to cry and cry when I see this sort of thing. I know all I can do is let her know it’s ok to be angry, that she isn’t to blame, and try to help her access better support if I can. But I never feel like I can do enough. And when I hear users internalizing and saying the sort of horrible, baseless, victim-blaming bullshit about rape and assault that I’d expect to hear from Republican candidates in an election year, it just breaks my heart.

I spoke with someone yesterday who accessed the chat service a few weeks back; she’s trying to find resources while stuck at a boarding school that blocks out “adult” sites (which of course ST is classified as, despite that making no sense). She’s worried that both school officials and her own family would blame her for her assault and that she’d be punished for it, and has almost no privacy or freedom of movement at school, so there isn’t a lot I can do for her.

I think I figured out the school based on her area and I won’t pretend I don’t have fantasies of lighting the entire place on fire with magical, rage-induced fire breath. Whether or not it’s true that this school would retract a student’s scholarship as punishment for being raped, the fact that she’s so afraid it would happen that she’s terrified to talk to anyone about it means the school has already failed by not letting the student body know they can feel safe talking about assault with faculty.

I had a little more time to talk with this user than I had the first time she came into chat, and while I still feel like I didn’t have many helpful ideas, I think we were able to come up with a few options this time. And she did thank me at the end, even though I honestly wanted to apologize for not being able to do more. I know it’s best to focus on what I can do to help users, which is often quite a bit! And certainly if someone leaves a discussion feeling hopeful enough to let me know I was able to help, that’s really all I can ask for.

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