Slaying Dragons

It’s been a helluva summer.

I’m grateful now to see the last week in August ahead, and more grateful for the change in weather. The windows are closed today and I’m wearing a flannel over a t-shirt for the first time in a while, after some of the hottest, wettest weeks I can remember. We don’t have air conditioning, so heat and humidity mean sleepless nights and listless days, which gets stressful over time.

I can usually handle seasonal stress like that. We’ve never gotten an air conditioner because I always say, “It’s only bad for a handful of days every year. I can survive.” (Living upstairs, I’m the one who deals with the most stifling heat.) This summer, though, it’s not what my nervous system needed. After figuring out I’d have to reboot my career, after my mom being all kinds of under-the-weather in July, after a flat tire and road trips and family visits, I’m just abuzz with all kinds of unpleasant sensations.

I just read a little article about anxiety that’s all, “Everyone feels jittery sometimes! It’s normal! Just make sure you eat well and continue to exercise!”  Tell that to my indigestion that’s been giving me chest pains for the past three weeks. Tell that to my flip-flopping heart that was flip-flopping all over while posting Maria Catt gifsets today. Tell that to the muscle in my calf I seemed to have strained trying to keep my leg from shaking yesterday, while showing my mom a Youtube video on my phone balanced on my thigh. I never could have held it steady in my hands.

The problem is, all summer I’ve been slaying dragons. All summer I’ve been coming up against my fears – coming up against the closet door – and throwing a shoulder against it. Posting these blogs, posting on tumblr – posting more and more of my authentic truth on my main tumblr, under my real name – buzzing off 2/3rds of my hair, sharing a ridiculous video of me playing the ukulele, spitting out the words “She’s stunning” in front of my more conservative family members, trying to talk, trying to be truthful, trying to be fully myself. Every time I make one of these moves my body reacts; one of the first blogs I wrote here was all about this reaction. Every little push is another battle with real physical costs. I am exhausted. I feel sick and weak and unwell and my anxieties feed off that further and tell me I must be dying, but I keep facing those dragons anyway.

Because you know what? It’s working.

On Saturday we had a family picnic, the first we’ve had in a long time, with a good number of people and kids sitting around a picnic table under a tree in the yard. Beautiful sunny day, iced tea, tasty salads, ongoing conversation about people’s lives and jobs and so forth. For the first time I can remember, I sat comfortably, not editing my posture, but indulging in my natural “lesbian slump”. When I spoke, I wasn’t nervous, and spoke naturally, with my real unedited inflections. I told the kids what to do when I needed to tell them what to do. I made jokes. I shrugged things off.

For the first time I can remember I wasn’t self-conscious in front of other people.

I’ve spent this summer surrounding myself with positive influences, with people and ideas that inspire me and make me happy, pumping myself full of them in a way I’d never let myself before. Others had always warned me off, scoffed or laughed or asked me if I thought that was really wise or perhaps ridiculous or come on you can’t be serious. This summer I said fuck’em and slayed that dragon and did it anyway, indulged like a madwoman. I don’t know if that’s some kind of therapy, but it should be.

And I’ve spent this summer revisiting my past, daring to go back and process events never processed before, things that seemed too unpleasant or uncomfortable to dissect. Along the way I revisited my journals that I’ve kept since I was fourteen, and I’ll tell you something, nothing is more harrowing or enlightening than rereading the past in first person. So much joy. So much pain. So much survival and simple continuation, the turning over of time until now.

So comforting, in a way. So comforting, in fact, that I found I could let so much of it go.

A week or so ago I came across a Myers-Brigg Personality Type testing site I hadn’t seen before, and idly stepped through the questions on my phone after dinner. Way back in 1998, a guy my mom was seeing introduced us to the personality types and had us take the great big long questionnaire, and I initially tested as an INTJ. Part of me was a bit proud of being a “rare type” but the description always seemed lonely and clinical to me, with descriptions like “The Architect” or “The Mastermind.” All that Thinking and Judging, all alone, no less. As the years passed I kept taking further tests, checking to see if that really was me, because I always thought there must be more, something else, something to reflect all I held inside. But I was always still an INTJ.

Then this test came along, and suddenly, it had changed. Just one letter – INFJ – but what a difference to suddenly be “The Advocate”. What a difference to be FEELING instead of thinking. I went around the Internet taking alternative versions of the test (as spontaneously and authentically as I could!) and it kept coming up INFJ. The profiles all spoke of emotions, of feelings, of sensitivity, of compassion and connection with humanity. They all spoke of a person I always felt I held within, too scared to show, locked away sometimes even from myself.

I realized I’ve spent my life thinking about how to feel. Buddhism tells us to stop thinking and just be, but though I’ve spent almost three years on and off the meditation cushion, I couldn’t just do it. I couldn’t just be myself. There was so much else I had to do. So much to let go of. So much to embrace. So many dragons to slay.

A friend once told me I was scary on the outside but a soft marshmallow on the inside. I balked. I have always been a fighter, I told her. I have always been slaying dragons and standing up again and trying to survive in my armor with my sword oh I am a knight surging forward. I held that image of myself in my head so hard I didn’t even know what I was anymore beneath that ideal.

Because the truth of the matter is, that soft marshmallow has been locked in a breadbox for a very long time, simply dreaming of riding out in armor to slay dragons. It was way too scary to imagine actually exposing myself to the light of day.

What I learned this summer is that even soft marshmallows can face their fears and slay dragons. Maybe it hurts every time, but at least I know it’s actually me hurting and actually me fighting, and actually me standing up again and feeling so much, learning so much, experiencing so much in the aftermath of every battle. Learning that you don’t have to be tough to survive. Learning that some triumphs can come from an offense of compassion instead of a defense of anger. Learning that it’s better to be a soft marshmallow and feel and experience all of this, if that’s what I really am.

We can change, sometimes slowly, sometimes painfully, but ultimately delightfully.

Even if it’s exhausting and we feel we need to sleep for days.

The nights are getting cooler. The sun a little lower in the sky. My mom is doing better, and I don’t have to be afraid to be myself anymore.

What is the Deal with Female Gender Performance (really???)

This is a blog full of questions and thoughts and feelings. I smashed it out right in WordPress and almost decided not to post it, because it always seems like such a superficial topic. Let’s not split hairs, let’s not divide women, etc. But I have questions and thoughts and feelings about these things. I sincerely encourage discussion in the comments.

What is not a question at all is that Katie Ledecky is a stunning, amazing, often breathtaking young woman.

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Besides all that (and the staggering quality of her swimming, of course) she is utterly adorable.

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That smile, man. Honestly, what kind of sublime, joyful water creature are you?

Ledecky of U.S. reacts after settingnew world record during women's 1500m freestyle heat during Aquatics World Championships in Kazan

 

But the other night, while waiting to watch her race, NBC throws up this profile picture of her with all her stats or whatever:

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And I’m like, wait. What? Where has that Katie gone? Who is that? I kind of see a resemblance but… but…

This has been a thorn in my side ever since I first figured out I was attracted to women, and I think part of the reason why it took me so long to figure it out. When I see a woman I find attractive (we all have our preferences) in her natural state, I cannot stop looking at her. I cannot stop looking at her. Like just this intense enjoyment of her natural features, her expressions, her humanity. But as soon as the makeup goes on and the hair is “styled” nine times out of ten I find myself scrabbling to find that woman I admire again. And a part of me doesn’t even want to look at her anymore. It’s like with the application of a few salon products she’s lost to me.

It seems like a tremendously overreactive response to the very things that are supposed to accentuate a woman’s natural beauty. And it bothers me, because I feel like I’m probably missing out on a lot of interesting women because I can’t get past the way that look dissuades me.

Now, I know – we all know around here – that makeup and hair styling and much of women’s fashion is designed to alter womens’ appearances towards the preferences of men. To make them look younger, more sexually approachable, more closely aligned with some kind of Perfect Model Beauty Standard only a handful of women in the entire world naturally express. I also personally believe that a great deal of that standard comes from the way women are made to appear in pornography – maybe much, much more than your average neighborhood 40-something wife and mother might consider while shopping at the Clairol counter. We all know that patriarchy, the male gaze, and capitalism are shoving all these products – based on this particular look – down women’s throats.

And we know because of all that, a bit of hair and makeup styling is sometimes essential, as Maria Catt and PurpleSageFem have both recently reminded us.

I also want to leave room for fashion and for personal grooming, including makeup and all kinds of hair styling/coloring/whatever, as a form of personal expression. It can all be used to create unique looks and if that’s what expresses your personality the best, then hey, I am all for it, men and women and everyone who identifies in-between.

What I am more concerned about is the near-ubiquitous acceptance and attraction to a very particular, standardized way for women to appear. For me, living in the US with a basic cable package, if I turn on my TV at any time during the day or night, for any length of time, 98% of women will strictly abide to this standard of appearance. The outliers will be a handful of contestants on reality shows, like chefs on Food Network, or a nice lesbian couple looking for a new house on HGTV.

Ellen Degeneres and Rachel Maddow, the most gender non-conforming celebrity women I can think of right now, both wear noticeable makeup. I have to say Ellen does a great job of downplaying it, however, despite being a spokesperson for CoverGirl. But hardly anywhere can you see a woman in her natural state.

With the Olympics we have an opportunity, at least now and then. Thank goodness! But then the network profiles the athlete, and in the case of several female athletes I’ve seen profiled so far, the first – the FIRST – point made in her biography is how really feminine she is and how she likes to go shopping and do her nails just like any other girl. Let’s not forget she’s only NOT wearing makeup to do her sport, right? And those muscles don’t make her any less of a girl!!!

Okay. I know, I know, the pervasive effects of gender roles under patriarchy. I know, I know. We live in a highly gendered society. But this is the question: If I am attracted to women in their natural state, and I know others – probably even (even!) men, I’m sure – are also attracted to women in their natural state, why is there utterly no room for that to be seen or expressed? Are there no women who can safely show their natural faces – none, anywhere? Is our world truly that small and oppressive?

This is what really worries me. And it spirals down to something else, which is the issue I’ve always had with the words “butch” and “femme”.  I know, I know, lesbian terms from the days when it was best to appear in public with one woman passing as a man and the other appearing as a woman. But times have changed, and I sincerely don’t believe that in most cases “butch” lesbians are performing a male role. I think these days most “butch” women are simply eschewing feminine gender roles and dressing comfortably, perhaps with a short hair style she prefers. If a woman buzzed her head but wore makeup and a dress she would be “femme”.  It’s not the buzzcut that makes the butch. It’s the total dropping of the feminine gender role.

So is Katie Ledecky “butch” in the pool but “femme” when doing a press interview on stage?

I know it is a precious term for many lesbians, but there are times when I want to do away with the word “butch.” We are all just women in our natural state. Sometimes, some of us put on makeup and feminine fashion. Sometimes, women in our natural state choose – or are pressured into – being femme.

(The problem with this blog is that I could go off on a tangent regarding transgender gender performance now, but you can all feel free to go off there in the comments instead. 😉 )

As a person who is primarily attracted to women in their natural state, it just boggles my mind – sincerely, in a frightening way – to think that there is a natural system of attraction that we could all rely on, that would leave women to be themselves in all their individual, unique glory (as men are allowed to be) but we are so overwhelmingly manipulated that we hardly ever get a glimpse of that possibility. Women do not have to wear makeup to be attractive. I say it again: WOMEN DO NOT HAVE TO WEAR MAKEUP TO BE ATTRACTIVE TO THE SAME OR THE OPPOSITE SEX. But we are so conditioned to believe women have to that we never see anything else. Sometimes, it seems like that alternative isn’t even an option.

At least not without some reassurance somewhere. Oh, look at this glamour shot. Oh remember, she likes to have her nails done, she’s just as girly as any other girl. Oh, doesn’t she look better with some makeup on. Oh, doesn’t she look better with her hair done. Oh, don’t we love seeing her dressed up to “go out”?

Because heaven forbid she go out as she is. Heaven forbid.

I know it’s misogyny. I know it’s patriarchy. I know it’s the veils women have been forced to wear since Roman times. I know it’s all of these things.

But is it really, really, that deeply, disturbingly pervasive?  So pervasive that (I have no doubts) a woman will read this and immediately begin defending her use of styling products to make herself look like every other woman in the world, not as a social necessity, but as an innate expression of herself?

Honey, I know you’re so much more beautiful than that.

I always thought it was me. I always thought I was weird or super-picky or just not getting it. I always doubted I could be truly attracted to women because I wasn’t attracted to that standardized performance of femininity at all. But now that I’m older and wiser and absolutely sure I am attracted to women, in their most basic, natural state…

It is terrifying, at times, to think of what we’re really up against.

The detransitioners are growing powerful — Purple Sage

http://guideonragingstars.tumblr.com/post/148691943070/detransition-desistance-and-disinformation-by

via The detransitioners are growing powerful — Purple Sage

What is impressing me most about so many of these voices is the depth of perspective and experience combined with such youth. The eloquence and intelligence, the calm rationality, and the plain determined courage. If women like Cari are powerful now, imagine their strength as it grows and matures. They are going to change the world.

I look forward to seeing that world. I look forward to seeing a world in which I never would have thought myself a failed version of a woman. I think they can do it. They have every support I can give them.

We need to call breast-binding what it really is

So well spoken. Thank you.

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Yesterday I shared a post on the rise of breast binding among school-age females in the UK. I’m not supposed to call them young women. They’re non-binary individuals or trans men and that, we are supposed to think, is what makes the binding okay. Whatever the risks – “compressed or broken ribs, punctured or collapsed lungs, back pain, compression of the spine, damaged breast tissue, damaged blood vessels, blood clots, inflamed ribs, and even heart attacks” – binding is justified because of the psychological benefits. There’s no other way, you see.

I look at arguments such as these and I literally want to scream.

I don’t disbelieve the accounts of pain and suffering. I don’t doubt the psychological distress of not wanting a breasts or a female body. I believe it all and empathise. Nonetheless, I find contemporary responses to this suffering unconscionable. Treating dysphoric young females as…

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Voices

“That’s just your personal experience. I get a very different story from the trans people I follow.”

This is what I have heard when I have tried to describe dysphoria as the mental health issue it actually is. This is the morass of popular allyship and anti-analytical activism that does little to actually help those caught up in gender dysphoria, due to the denial of the actual personal experiences – not just of one person, but of many. At times, it feels like you’re drowning in it, helpless, and not even your closest confidants dare break from the social herd and throw you a life preserver.

 

But a wave of voices is rising, and helping tremendously.

Maria Catt has made a video about her experiences.

 

Kat of destroyyourbinder followed suit.

 

Max of Born Wrong added another.

 

CrashChaosCats has been writing powerfully.

Equally remarkable, GuideOnRagingStars has put out a dysphoria survey on tumblr and has been posting responses. The Redefining Dysphoria tag on her blog now offers the experiences of a growing number of women who have all worked with dysphoria in a myriad of ways, all of them sharing a common narrative of being separated from their acceptance of femaleness through trauma, through mental health issues, and most often from the cruelties of a world oppressive to women of all ages.

This is not just singular, unique, personal experience. This is not one person’s perspective. This is a gathering of women finding the strength to speak their truth through all the forces against them, internal and external. This is us finding that strength through each other.

I cannot find words for how grateful I am to hear these voices.

If you feel you are alone and silenced, watch these videos, read these testimonies, and know you are not alone. Even if you cannot speak right now, others are speaking for you.

And if you are out there clinging to the popular trans narrative, that transition is the only answer, that gender is real, that we all need to be put in our proper boxes with our proper labels and just shut up about everything else – listen. The wave is rising, and with any luck, will wash us all to safer shores.