Internal impostor

This has been one of those weeks where I’ve had to fight my internal impostor syndrome hard. There has been a lot of that nagging voice in my head telling me that I’m not really trans, that I’m just a pretentious dude trying to be more feminist by rejecting masculinity and wearing a dress. I’m not sure where it is coming from but I suppose I am just internalizing what I assume that people must be saying about me.

It is so exhausting being stared at EVERYWHERE I go. I know that not everyone is judging me but it sure feels like it. And there are definitely people who are. Yesterday I was walking down a busy street next to traffic and a guy in a truck was shamelessly videotaping me, probably to post in some online haters forum to make fun of me. It is really disheartening to know that there is no escape from that hypervisibility. It’s not like there is some end point where I am going to “pass” and not get stares anymore. This is my reality as long as I have energy to continue existing. Sometimes I wish that I was just a trans woman so I could shell out the thousands of dollars and be done with it.

I’m too far out of the closet now to go back and forward just means more of this never ending public gaze. It would be easier to handle if I could get rid of the damn voice in my head telling me I’m not who I know I am. I don’t need more people telling me it is just a phase or treating me like I’m just confused. I don’t do this for kicks, I do it because it is the only way I know how to be even close to comfortable and authentically present myself.

I’m trying to cheer myself up with playlists by some awesome trans artists like Jacob Tobia and Alok Vaid-Menon and thinking about the Trans Pride Festival tonight. But all I keep coming back to is this horrible feeling in my gut that this game I’m playing with gender is going to have to come to an end someday and I will have to return to reality. But the idea of having to face the world as a man again is even more terrifying than the idea of this future of scrutiny. *Sigh* I guess that’s the sign that I really am genderqueer.

When does this get easier?

Street Harassment

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about this and I wanted to calm down before I did. Something happened last week that really shook me up.

I went to collect the mail on our quiet suburban street, in a dress, like I have done hundreds of times before. I used to be on guard when we moved to this suburb last year, but somewhere along the way, I became comfortable. That day last week, I was a in a really good mood and enjoying the unseasonably nice weather as I walked to our mailbox. I was jarred back into reality by hearing a guy across the street (my own neighbor) start yelling transphobic and homophobic slurs at me and walking towards me threateningly. I tried to appear calm by walking away and ignoring him, but as soon as I was out of sight I was nervously glancing over my shoulder as I walked home.

I’ve had my fair share of street harassment before, but something about it being in my own neighborhood at a place I can’t easily avoid really shook me. It took me several days to really be functional again and I’m still scared of walking down my own driveway. For the first couple days all I could think about was how to get revenge. I was so close to ordering an anonymous glitter penis sent to him. But luckily my partners convinced me that I need to think more strategically and about the safety of our household if I escalated like that. So I chose not to do anything active other than ordering some pepper spray to carry with me. 

Now that I’m calmed down I’m still afraid but I feel a little more able to handle something if it happens. I’m a big person and with the threat of mace I’m not too worried. Mostly sad that I have to be on guard like that in my own neighborhood. I wish I understood what inspires hate like that to someone you didn’t need to interact with. I’m thankful I have good support in my life when things like this happen. I just wish I didn’t need to rely on it so often.

Be Yourself

All of this resonates with me so much. But particularly this:

“A question as simple as “what’s your name?” shouldn’t stir up a storm inside every time it’s asked. Something as basic as peeing in public shouldn’t be extreme anxiety-inducing. Gender is not something you should feel, grating at your insides, every waking moment. Gender should be like the air you breathe: essential, yet unnoticed the majority of the time.”

I have a long way to go still in feeling like my authentic self but the more steps I take, the less mental energy my gender has to take up in my daily thoughts. Every waking moment isn’t filled with questions and anxieties even though there are still a lot of them left.

Neutrois Nonsense

One of the most commonly repeated phrases / acknowledgments / pieces of advice / soundbites of justification that we hear as transgender people is “Be Yourself.” As I’ve transitioned, I’ve uttered these words in a meager attempt at explaining the hugely positive impact this gender journey has had on my life:
– I am my authentic self
– I feel more comfortable
– I can finally just be myself

But how do you know who “Yourself” is when that is exactly what you’re searching for?

What is authentic?

For many, “being ourselves” is something we’ve never truly experienced, least not before transition. We often report feeling as if we’ve been wearing masks our entire lives, pretending to be someone we are not.

It is clear who we are not, but do we know what lies beneath the mask? Who would we be if we were to stop pretending?

We’ve…

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Resourcing myself

This winter was really rough for me. I wrote about my depression a little bit but mostly I didn’t have the mental energy to write a lot here since November. The short version is that the combination of the bleak political situation with the record rain and dark, long days we’ve had in Seattle forced me to confront the fact that my depression isn’t just situational. There are definitely things that make it worse but it’s clear that it is a bigger problem than just something wrong in my relationships or at work. My personal life is objectively better than it ever has been and yet I barely had the energy to get through the day most of the time.

But I did what I’m best at – I used my resources and courage to look for solutions. And luckily, I didn’t just look for a simple quick fix. It took a combination of a lot of factors to bring me out of it. I’m recording them here partly for my own sake so if/when this happens again I can recall what worked, but also to hopefully inspire others to take some steps towards radical self care.

First off, I have been seeing a great therapist since the beginning of last year who has helped me find ways to break patterns of anxiety and recognize my triggers early enough to help get out of the cycles. But even the best self soothing and awareness only seems to work for me when I’m dealing with the “normal” amount of mental health challenges for me. When I add the layer of depression on top of my anxiety, ADD, and PTSD, I get stuck.

So I found myself a psychiatrist (well technically an ARNP) and started working on finding the right antidepressant for brain. The first try with Lexapro was disastrous – I had a bunch of side effects including worsening anxiety. And even with the second try, Zoloft, it took a long time to find the right dose. But now things seem to have leveled out and I can tell there is a huge difference in my ability to self manage my mental health.

Another important factor was (re)engaging heavily in my core relationship building. Being depressed can take a heavy toll on the people around you and I know I was much more irritable for a long time and my libido was way out of wack. Things aren’t perfect but now I can confidently say I’m feeling a sense of secure attachment and I can see the growth and evolution of my relationships instead of stagnation. I have two romantic relationships that have passed the two year mark and I’ve built a chosen family around myself that can weather a lot of change.

One aspect I didn’t anticipate being such an important key was my physical health. I tend to be pretty good about going to the doctor but I had stopped going to the chiropractor last year due to money and schedules. My back and neck clearly weren’t ready for that though because as I was trying to track my mood for medications, I noticed an unusual pattern. My anxiety was peaking shortly after I arrived at work and again at the end of the day. It turns out that was when my neck pain was worst and it was so bad that it was breaking down my ability to manage my mental health. So I found a new chiropractor who I’ve been seeing weekly and it is making a world of difference.

Finally, at my therapist’s encouragement, I took steps to bring things back into my life that ignite my creativity and passion. I am starting a trans acapella group and even though we haven’t met yet, I can tell the excitement of that is giving my mental health a big boost.

The weather and longer days are of course helping too but between all these factors, I am radically better than I have been in months. My energy has returned, I don’t need to constantly take time every day for pain management, and I can be myself finally. This in turn gives me motivation to do more things that I love like open myself back up to new dating opportunities and see friends more. The positive feedback loop of well managed mental heath sure takes a long time to get going but I’m glad it has finally kicked in.

Acting on your dreams

For several months now I’ve had a dream of starting an all-trans singing group. A place where nonbinary people can fit in and transitioning voices can be supported. I can’t remember exactly how I got the idea but I think the seed was planted by a post in my local Facebook Queer Exchange over a year ago asking about queer/trans choirs. I had already done some searching and realized that there weren’t any small acapella groups that felt like a good fit for me and I don’t fit well in choirs with binary categories (as wonderful as the Seattle Men’s and Women’s choruses are).

I’m usually the type of person to just make things happen. I don’t exactly crave leadership but I’m also not afraid to step up when there is a void. But for some reason my brain kept getting in the way of this idea. I could find a million reasons not to do it right now – I’m getting married, I’m planning a family after that, I was moving, I would need a whole infrastructure with a director and accompanist, etc. But I really do miss singing and I know I’m getting rusty.

Last week I was in a workshop where the facilitator was speaking about the importance of doing the things that you love and fulfill you. And I know I’m not prioritizing that in my life right now as much as just trying to get through the basics of chores, self-care, relationship building, and wedding planning. When I brought it up with my therapist she really encouraged me to just scale down my dream to something that can happen now and jump in to see what happens.

I luckily already had a dinner planned with the friend I knew could help make this happen. And after explaining my idea they were ready to jump in with me! So now I’m in the process of gathering a group and I already have a dozen interested people! I’m really excited to see what comes from this.

If you’re in Seattle, are trans/nonbinary, and a trained singer who can read music, feel free to contact me if you are interested in joining.

Femme-inist

“I dream of femme-inist worlds and futures and pasts where everyone (regardless of their gender identification) can be understood as a victim of a profoundly (trans)misogynist, gender binarist, and patriarchal world — where we can understand these things as systems that we are all indoctrinated in and produced through, where we can move away from talking about “male socialization” to talking about “misogyny socialization,” and how we are capable of doing patriarchal harm to one another and how the task then is how we create/remember new/old/different ways of relating, treating, caring, and laboring for one another.” – Alok Vaid-Menon

Can I use “guys” “dude” or “man” as gender neutral?

I would say this is the number one question I get in contexts where I am out as nonbinary. People will often say things like “you guys,” “dude, it would be…”, or “thanks man” around me out of habit, quickly realize their potential faux pas, and clarify that they meant it in a gender neutral way. This is also a conversation I see in trans spaces a lot. So here’s my take on it.

Personally, and I must emphasize here that I do not speak for all trans or even AMAB nonbinary people, I have chosen to accept gendered terms like that as gender neutral in a context where they clearly would have said the same thing to a cisgender woman. Context is key though because there are definitely ways of saying them as an intentional form of misgendering or because you don’t see someones gender. So I can’t really give you a clear hard-and-fast rule on whether you should use them around me.

In general, I highly recommend trying to move away from using those words. While you may mean them in a gender neutral way, we all hopefully know by now that intent is not the same as impact. If you use them around many transgender people, they may get angry or upset, even if they don’t tell you. And that is a completely legitimate reaction to have. They are not being “overly sensitive” or “looking to get angry;” using traditionally gendered language around trans people can be a form of microaggression.

Microaggressions are like mosquito bites – individually they aren’t that bad, merely annoying. But if you get a bunch of them, the effect adds up quickly and can make you irritable, mad, or even dangerously ill. The same is often true for trans people and gendered language. They may have what seems to you to be a disproportionate reaction to something you unintentionally said. But what they are probably reacting to is the cumulative effect of the constant misgendering they get on a daily, if not hourly, basis. So many of us have to fight so hard to be seen for who we are and when things happen to remind us that we still aren’t seen as fully a woman or legitimately not a man (or the reverse), it can be very triggering.

Maybe it’s because I’ve only been fighting for public recognition of my gender for a couple years or maybe it is because I am trying to ignore my hurt feelings. But just because one nonbinary person says it is ok, doesn’t mean that you should keep doing it. Correcting your language is very very hard; I know that just as well as anyone. I am making an effort right now to be more aware of the ableism in my turns of phrase, not using words like “crazy” and “stupid,” but I am making very slow progress. Most of the time I don’t catch it until I’ve said it, at which point I try to correct without making a big deal about it.

You can do the same thing with traditionally gendered terms. Rather than waste your energy on trying to emphasize the evolution of language to explain why it is now gender neutral, simply correct yourself with a different phrase and move on. “You guys want to play a game? …I mean ya’ll?” Same thing with pronouns. Don’t launch into a huge apology, just correct mid-sentence if possible and keep talking.

Hopefully this PSA has been helpful.