Queer with a Capital Q! Part I

The pushing of normative values

on a Queer with a Capital Q!

Causes them to shrink

to be small

to think

I shouldn’t be here

Taking up space

in your normative world

 

Taking up space

in your normative world

is dangerous

unsafe

my creative expressions

cause you to hate

So I hid

in my lair and…

 

I don’t align with systems

I see past your rigid thinking

I do not understand:

Facebook

Target

Talking about the weather

I dye my hair purple

And you say it’s a midlife crisis

(normative ageist bullshit)

In reality it’s a vibrant burst of

Here I am!

Refusing to be what you want me to be

Refusing to stuff myself into a box

of hetero

of homo (oh yes, look in the mirror)

normativity

 

I’m a Queer with a Capital Q!

I don’t do anything on your timeline

I do it on mine

Which sometimes follows a calendar

but mostly not

I do not subscribe to the path of the white man

laid out for us so sweetly by

our founding oppressors

They may have succeeded in taming you

but they won’t get to me

Queer with a Capital Q!

I keep moving (shhhh)

and I have no need to own a house

or make car payments

or ignore genocide, racism, and white supremacy

Lucidity keeps me from

drinking the Koolaid

 

So though I shrank in your presence

And hid in my lair

I’m coming out (again) now

With fucking amazing purple hair

To claim the non-normative

To take up space

To play the song of Capital Q!

If enough of us stand

and scream

and dance

and trailblaze our own paths

At least we will see

other Qs

as we swim upstream and

try not to drown

I will head nod to you

You will head nod to me

And onward we’ll go

Fuck normativity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love For My Big Giant Calves

Hello World, I am re-posting this piece today because I am teaching a class on body autonomy to some undergraduate students and was reminded of the ways in which I try to love my body unconditionally. Unconditional body love is not something I have achieved, but it is something towards which I strive. Writing letters to my body, body-love dances, and nourishing my body are ways that I try to undo years of body hate, body shame, and body sabotage. This is just one more way that I try to queer up the world: Instead of trying to beat our bodies into some “ideal” shape as prescribed by our ill culture, why not celebrate all the ways we are different? It’s hard enough just BEING IN a body! Let’s be gentle with them today. 

While teaching dance to a group of children, I became quite hot and pulled the bottoms of my dance pants up over my thighs, thereby exposing my calves. I do this frequently in both classes and rehearsals, but had a novel experience today when a 10-year old stopped dancing, pointed at my calf and said “WHAT IS THAT?” I looked down thinking I might see blood or a giant bruise that I did not know about. I just saw my leg. She walked closer to me and said “THAT!” pointing again at my calf. “This?” I asked, tapping my gastrocnemius which I must admit is rather bulging. “Yes,” she said. “What is that?”

“It’s my calf,” I replied. “It’s muscle.”

By this point, the other children in the room had all walked over to get a good look at their teacher’s deformity. Here are some of the comments that ensued:

“I’ve never seen a muscle that big.”

“WOW! That is INTENSE!”

“Are you sure it’s supposed to look like that?”

“That doesn’t actually look healthy.”

Sigh.

I have been the target of “My god, your calves are huge” comments for as long as I can remember. Considering the fact that I have been jumping around in dance studios since the age of 4, it’s no wonder that my muscles are large… AND I am genetically predisposed to have monstrous calves (although no one else in my family has them, so go figure). I think I came out of the womb looking like my legs had swallowed melons.

When I was 13 years old, I was practicing a presentation with some friends in the hallway at my middle school, wearing a new pair of leggings. Some boys passed by, pointed at my legs and called me “Popeye.” I cried in the bathroom for the rest of the afternoon.

At 19 years old, I was crossing the street in New York City one summer night, wearing a pair of shorts. A man crossing in the other direction, stopped mid-stride in the middle of the street and said “HOLY GOD, YOU COULD PLAY FOR THE NBA WITH THOSE CALVES.” I didn’t eat for weeks.

A few weeks ago, my grandmother looked at my calves and said “goodness, are your legs swollen?” When I replied, “no Granny, those are just my calves” (which I have had to say on many occasions), she became flustered and shocked and finally replied “well I certainly do not have big calves. I have always had slim legs.” Good job, Granny. She then proceeded to tell members of my family that they really needed to get a good look at my calf muscles.

After my students’ initial dismay at the size of my legs today, I redirected them to the task at hand: Discovering how their bodies needed to move during our warm-up. However, I saw several of them dancing around the room while still trying to get a good look at my bulbous legs. I admit, my face felt hot for a moment. A part of me wanted to tug my pants back down over my lower legs but I thought “No, I will not be ashamed of my body.” And I danced with my students with my giant calves exposed. I also made comments like “All the better to jump with!” And “Don’t you know these calves carry me up mountains?” And (gulp) “I love my huge legs. They are prized parts of my body.”

I can honestly say these things at this point in my life, but not without effort. Just a few years ago, this interaction would have sent me to the gym for hours and hours of extra cardio. I would have gone on a special “calf-reducing” diet in the hopes of shrinking the offending muscles (neither of which would have worked, mind you). I have been on every diet known to the human species. In my adult life I have weighed 105lbs, 140lbs and everything in between. And while the rest of my body might grow or shrink, my calves have mostly maintained their shape.

Now, in my mid-thirties, my students cannot focus on their dance lesson because they are distracted by the size of my calves. While I am not thrilled with this particular theme in my life, I refuse to feel body shame. So I am here to say I LOVE MY BIG GIANT CALVES! They take me hiking up mountains. They ride my bike all over town. They dance and dance and dance and dance which is my heart, my passion, and my reason for being. They do not succumb to societal pressure to be small. They are big, loud, and queer! They do not apologize and neither shall I. My muscular legs are downright awesome and I celebrate them. AND, when I age and my muscles start to atrophy I will be happy to have a surplus that will help me remain strong and mobile well into my 90’s… and maybe even my 100’s. So there.

 

The Flow of Gender Fluidity

It is with a sheepish expression that I return to this blog, one year after my last post. It seemed that in April of 2015 I suddenly ran out of things to say (or that’s what I told myself). In actuality, the subject about which I write started to pierce my shield and my words hit my own heart and mind, causing extreme amounts of discomfort. It was easy to write about gender from my closet, but when I realized I needed to fully come out of that confined space and own my own non-binary gender identity, I found I couldn’t pontificate on the subject any further. So I took 12 months to let people in my life know that I’m not actually a woman and waited to see what the impact of this revelation would be. Here are some of the reactions I have heard from various peoples:

“Makes sense.”

“Are you sure?”

“I don’t know what you mean, but I know I love you.”

“This seems like it’s just another one of your phases.”

“Are you sure this isn’t just related to your body image issues?”

“That identity isn’t real to me.”

“Your pronouns are grammatically incorrect.”

“You just look too much like a woman to be trans.”

It was a long year. I didn’t really think about the discrimination and hate I would inevitably face as an OUT trans person, I just knew I couldn’t pretend to be a cis woman any longer. At first I thought I might be agender. Then I tried out gender queer. Then I switched to pan-gender. For a couple of months I identified as apangenderqueerfluid (that was fun to explain to people), but after all of these explorations I finally realized that I am GENDER FLUID and how on earth did it take me so long to see that?

I am aware that I have lived a thousand lives in my twenties and thirties. My friend who questioned whether or not this was “just another one of my phases” had good reason. I have embodied everything from baby dyke to raver girl to Hollywood starlet to tomboy… to whatever I am now. As I reflected on my life and all of these identities it suddenly made so much sense that my entire being is fluid (not just my gender!). My sexuality has been fluid, my career path has been fluid, my spirituality has been fluid, of course my gender is fluid…I’m a fluid package! I am learning to embrace and love this aspect of my identity, though it is challenging to be such a watery creature in a world that really loves stability.

Several people have asked if I want surgery or hormones and I have been thinking about it. Having a lower voice would be super rad and I suspect that a lot of my past body hate is correlated with my gender questions, but I also recognize that having a fluid identity makes permanent changes more scary. I’m not able to move towards something stable that will feel better than where I’m at now. If I have surgery or take hormones, what happens in five years when I’m feeling uber feminine again? I can already feel myself flowing in a new direction these days; there is a back-and-forth and up-and-down and skirting of masculine, feminine, gender queer, and all sorts of configurations of those things.

I don’t really expect non-fluid people to remotely understand that concept… it’s hard to understand from inside the flow! All I know is that my identity flows; it is a dance. It’s a dance with myself, with my environment, within relationships, and within spirit. I flow like a stream or a current of air and even I’m not sure where I will end up. There is nothing wrong with this. It has taken three decades, but I know now that the flow is OK.

Two Dogs, Gourmet Nachos, and Dancing in the Living Room

Sometimes I move through the world with a sword drawn, shouting about injustices and forcing everyone I meet to feel things through the bodies of the marginalized, even for just a moment.

Other times I move quietly; sword at my side, eyes turned to the mountains or the sunrise. I feel defeated and concerned that change will never occur. Unable to educate one more person who defends their privileged position while simultaneously telling me they “get it.” During these times, I am tired. Too tired to speak or write; battling the urge to flee into the wilderness, find my tree ancestors and never return.

I have not posted anything for a bit. My eyes and ears have been focused on the wild places; my thoughts turned inward. This morning, as I hiked with my two dogs up an icy, slippery trail, I pondered my lack of interest in writing. I have spent many days in the last month telling myself to write. I started drafts. There are always issues, wounds, and events that bring on righteous indignation about which I could write, but lately I have been asking myself, “what’s the point?” The people who need to see and hear are not reading my blog. I dug my heals into the frozen earth and pushed myself up the mountain, ruminating on my existential crisis. Who is reading my blog? My fellow gender variant and queer trailblazers! I heard a small avalanche in the distance as the sun warmed the snow, causing it to slip from its rocky bed and thought, “what can I offer my community?”

So rather than preach to the choir, this post shall outline how I attempt to remain whole, healthy, vibrant, and vital in the face of discrimination, ignorance, hate, and injustice. Maybe these words will act as a cozy, queer* blanket for other people who face injustice on a daily basis.

Ways To Stay Sane When the World is Such a Mess:

  • Eat really, really good food: Seriously. I buy the best locally sourced, organic food I can find. I spend time looking at recipes and trying out new things to cook. I thank all of my food before I eat it. A warrior needs sustenance. We can’t fight if we aren’t fed and we can’t get nourishment from processed chemicals. Gourmet nachos are the way to go.
    • Note: I am privileged enough to be in a position to buy really, really good food. I hope that one day local fresh food will be affordable to all people. I am so sorry that it is not.
  • Share above really, really good food: I like to feed people. I make feasts, I invite people over, and I feed them. It is so satisfying. It makes me feel connected and I get to have time with good people. I’m lucky because even if people can’t come over I can always feed my spouse! I made a chocolate cake after work the other day (double layer, round, huge and delicious) and the two of us ate the whole thing (not in one sitting). I also sent some over to my neighbor. Goodness.
  • Body love!: I am worried that people will think I’m nuts when I share this, but it helps me so much. I try to spend mindful time telling my body how much I love and value it. I write letters to body parts that I used to hate and thank them for existing. I stare at myself naked in the mirror and whisper, “So beautiful! An exquisite rendering of the human form!” I remind myself there is no wrong way to have a body. 
    • Note: I do not have Body Dysmorphia or Gender Dysphoria. I understand that engaging in this type of activity could be counterproductive or harmful for some people. It helps me, but is not universal. 
  • Time in the wild: I cannot live without connection to earth and wild places. I believe that all people need connection with nature, but our consumerist, indoor culture is great at severing us from the earth. May I suggest bare feet in soil? Arms wrapped around a tree? Watching the sunrise or sunset? Nature offers solace and comfort in the face of environmental destruction, discrimination, and hate crimes.
  • Dance! Dance! Dance!: I would be a sobbing mess, face down on the floor, if I did not dance as a way to resource myself. When I start to feel way too full of anger, sadness, despondence, or hopelessness, I get my groove on. Sometimes that is in a formal class, but more often it is in my living room. I dance the pain; I dance it and feel it and transform it through movement until it gives way to something else. Movement is life. It works.
  • Live your creative self: I also wholeheartedly believe in creative expression of all kinds. It matters not if that expression is oil painting, song composition, quilt-making, or writing. It could even be finger painting, sing-a-longs in the hot tub, dancing with your partner in your bathrobes, or building snow creatures. Someone built an igloo in our neighborhood park last week! If we stifle our creative selves, we block energy and lose vitality. We cannot be warriors if we feel blah.
  • Find your community: For me, this means hanging out with my fellow queers*. It is so refreshing to have some time with people who I don’t have to educate! We do call each other out on privileged blind spots, but I am grateful for that. I never want to stagnate and I hope that I am always examining my privilege. More often though, we just get to laugh and relax in an environment that isn’t threatening (until the board games come out, then it’s every queer for xemself!).

Engagement in the above activities does not guarantee a happy happy joy joy mental state all of the time. Rather, the above self-care routines simply support my continued desire to exist. Sometimes I am blissed out, ecstatic, joyful, and happy, but at other times I am sad beyond all reason. I think if one is remotely awake in the 21st century, then one is sometimes sad. Besides, emotions are fleeting. Nothing is permanent. Beyond the doldrums are the sillies which roll back to the doldrums which move towards the sillies. Whoa, I just felt that wave I created. We live the tides of the oceans and there must be a reason for that.

IMG_1458

Each day that I wake, I will praise, I will praise.
Each day that I wake, I give thanks, I give thanks.
Each day that I wake, I will praise, I will praise.
Each day that I wake, I give thanks, I give thanks.

-Nahko and Medicine for the People

It Is NOT OKAY To Call Yourself A Helping Professional and Have Your Head Up Your Ass When It Comes To Diversity

I am angry. Again. I am angry because I have heard numerous stories in the last couple of weeks about people serving in the helping professions (therapists, doctors, health coaches etc…) who have no idea what it means to be queer* or marginalized and are HARMING their clients because of this ignorance.

The first rule of therapy is “Do no harm.” Rule #1 is not “help others,” precisely because one person’s idea of helping could actually harm the object of the help.

Example: I see an elderly person crossing the street and I assume they are not super mobile and decide I am going to be a hero and help them. I dash to their side, grab their elbow, and support them as we both cross the street. I do not hear the elder person’s quiet protests because I am so focused on getting them to the other side. Once we have “safely” landed on the opposite curb, I release their elbow and feel proud of myself for serving my elders. Only at this point do I make eye contact and truly connect with the person. I see fear and confusion in their eyes. They say something to me in another language and hug their arm to their side, tears in their eyes. How can I know that this person is the survivor of a war and terrified of strangers? Did I ever consider the fact that my spiky hair and tattoos, which are benign enough in my social circle, scream “thug” to this elder? The elder person did not think I was helping them, they thought I was after their wallet! Now they are terrified and confused and worried I am going to harm them further.

Get it?

I could give more examples about therapists who question the validity of a queer* teenager’s identity; supporting the parents in thinking it might be a phase or the result of a trauma. Or leaders of a therapeutic organization who discriminate against a trans* employee then act contrite, claiming they could never discriminate against anyone because, after all, they are part of a helping profession.

WAKE UP PEOPLE!

I can forgive this extreme ignorance in people who are not helping professionals. I am happy to support the education of the human race and speak out again and again about the queer* experience and queer* rights. But I cannot forgive those of us who have advanced training in psychology, who are supposed to be offering support and healing to others. We are supposed to educate ourselves on a regular basis, for crying out loud! We have to pay attention to current research and take continuing education credits supposedly so we do not harm the people with whom we work. We should be seeking out the voices of marginalized groups and not just listening to cisgender, heterosexual, white people. There is no excuse for trained professionals to allow an unlicensed, unregistered “therapist” to work with young girls, touching them unnecessarily and showing blatant favoritism for the slender white girls.

It is NOT OK to hire a queer* employee then tell them that even though they identify as third gender, the company will need to refer to them as “woman” because they only have two gender boxes. It is even more NOT OK to ask the queer* employee to solve this problem! SOLVE IT YOURSELVES! This is why you have a human resources department… or do they have their heads up their asses too? Judging from the situation, I can make an educated guess that the answer is yes.

My heart is racing, my muscles are tense, and tears threaten to spill from my eyes. If I could turn this post into a “howler” so that it shrieked at everyone on the internet, I would do it. I am so sick of people refusing to do their work. We all have to examine our biases and blind spots or else we are doomed to repeat the same stupid mistakes for all eternity.

I am no exception. In an effort to be transparent and walk the talk, I will show you mine.

What are my biases?

I struggle with finding compassion for people who insist that anyone’s personal expression of identity is wrong. I am biased towards freedom of choice and independence in young people. I tend to feel overwhelming and disproportionate compassion and benevolence towards people of color (I am rather ashamed of this one and try to bring awareness to my unconscious actions when possible). I am prone to racial biases and recently caught myself wondering if the only black man in a group was a thief (the group was discussing stolen property). I am not proud of this, but I look at it. I take the ugly parts of myself out of the shadow bag that I carry around with me and I shine a light on them. Through this process, I learn where I need to grow and I learn that I need to ask lots of questions and not operate under assumptions.

I remember that first and foremost, I do no harm.

The Big Reveal: Does It Always Have To Be Awkward?

My spouse and I have both recently obtained new employment (yay). One of these days I might write about the tumultuous year following graduate school in which I could not get a job in my field for 18 months. My spouse got a job 10 days after graduation, but if you’ve been following my blog, you know that that job offer was rescinded after xe came out as trans. Xe didn’t find another job for 5 months! We have been asking the questions: Are our employment struggles a result of the economy? A result of being queer*? Or the result of our profession (we are therapists)? I suspect the combination of all those things made for a perfect storm called “I-can’t-get-a-job-despite-being-uber-qualified-and-undeniably-awesome!”

But all that changed last month when I landed job #1 and my spouse landed job #2! We have a job each! What?! After 3 years of graduate school where neither of us worked very much and another year of scary unemployment, one job each is certainly something to celebrate!

So here we are, in our new jobs, asking the question: When and how do we come out?

I have heard people say things like, “It isn’t anyone else’s business whether or not you’re queer*, therefore you don’t have to say anything” or “It shouldn’t have to be a big reveal. Just let people know as it comes up” or “Your work shouldn’t be about your sexuality and gender identity.”

True, true. All true. Except all of those statements leave me feeling rather yucky so I’m going to address them one by one.

1. It’s not anyone else’s business whether or not I’m queer

OK. But my colleagues talk about their personal lives. They refer to husbands and wives or talk about dating woes. My queerness* may not be their business, but I would like to participate in conversation with people on occasion. I do not want to hide my sexual orientation or my spouse’s gender identity. So do I just refer to my spouse as “xe” and wait for people to ask questions? Or do I refer to my spouse as “xe” and follow it up with “just FYI- my spouse is genderqueer and uses the gender neutral pronouns, ‘xe, xyr, xem?” I know not.

2. It shouldn’t have to be a big reveal, just let people know as it comes up

Well that is easier said than done. Even if I let people know “as it comes up,” it is STILL a big reveal. There is still an awkward moment of people either looking at my buzzed head and men’s department thrift store shirt with a “yeah-we-knew-that” look or they raise their eyebrows with surprise that they quickly try to mask, making said eyebrows dance on their foreheads like confused caterpillars, or they say something charming like “you know, I don’t care what anyone is. It’s all the same. We’re all just people.” I suppose all of the above responses are better than getting fired or reported to the authorities or taken out back and stoned, so I guess I should be grateful.

3. Your work shouldn’t be about your gender and sexuality, it should be about your clients and students

Yup. I agree that my personal life should not be the focus of my work, but I also strongly feel that people need to see positive queer* role models in the world. If I do not explicitly come out, I will most likely be assumed to be straight. Or worse, I will be assumed to be queer* but hiding it. My queerness* is not something I want or need to hide. I am proud to be queer* and I feel that the people I serve and the people with whom I work need to know they are in relationship with a queer* person. Otherwise we’re not moving forward. We’re hiding behind excuses.

So this all brings me back to the sticky point of how to tell the professional world that I am queer*. I have mostly been waiting for moments when it arises in a relatively organic way. It’s still awkward, but it seems to work-ish.

Sometimes I get really upset at the inequities in the world… no, more than upset. Sometimes I cry into my Americano, sometimes I rage and yell a call for action, sometimes I refuse to back down but stand my ground in the face of hate and discrimination.

Today, I am wearing the most amazing lavender corduroy pants and I choose to laugh at the closet from which I must repeatedly come out.

Sometimes lavender pants and laughter are the best medicine.

 

 

 

 

Just Because You Don’t Recognize It Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Discrimination

If you haven’t read my post, “Oh, So Discrimination Is OK As Long As It Is About Gender and Not Race. Got It,” then you should check it out. It was my first post about a pending gender discrimination lawsuit in Oregon, involving my spouse. The defendants at New Vision Wilderness currently maintain that they did not discriminate against anyone. In fact, they keep describing everything that they feel did occur including disorganization within the company, miscommunication, and oh yeah, discrimination. They do not get it. The owners of the company maintain that one of their policies requires transgender people to hide their gender from clients and that they couldn’t hire my spouse because xe “refused” to hide xyr gender (which also isn’t true, but they have told so many falsehoods at this point I no longer get bogged down by them).

Let me break this down for you.

Company A has a policy stating that employees will not reveal any personal information about themselves to clients. This is a therapeutic modality, ostensibly designed to support clients in therapy to overcome their challenges without being influenced by their therapist’s interests or personality.

OK. I think that’s kind of a bogus therapy model but I will allow Company A the freedom to incorporate it.

So cisgender Sara is hired as a therapist. She starts working in the field and clients refer to Sara with feminine pronouns (she/her). Because she has long hair, wears clothes styled for women, and speaks in a higher pitch than men, clients assume she is female and identifies as a woman. Her gender is known despite the “non-disclosure policy” of Company A.

Then cisgender Stan is hired as a therapist. He starts working in the field and clients refer to Stan with masculine pronouns (he/his/him). Because he has short hair, a beard, wears clothes styled for men, and speaks in a lower pitch then women, clients assume he is male and identifies as a man. His gender is known despite the “non-disclosure policy” of Company A.

Then transgender Tornado is hired. Before xe starts working in the field, xe is told xe cannot use xyr pronouns because clients might be confused and besides it goes against Company A’s “non-disclosure policy.” Xe is only allowed to work if xe allows clients and staff to erroneously refer to xem with feminine pronouns and be misgendered as female even though xe has a shaved head, wears clothes styled for men and women, and speaks in a pitch that is… well, xyr pitch. Unfortunately, transgender Tornado didn’t even get this far because the job offer was rescinded after xe came out as trans*.

So it’s OK for cisgender Sara and cisgender Stan to be “out” as cisgender, but it’s not OK for transgender Tornado to be “out” as transgender.

THAT IS DISCRIMINATION, MY FRIENDS! And it should not be excused by ignorance.

Here’s the thing: Human beings are not perfect. We screw up. We have biases and judgments and we hurt each other. But one would hope that when such biases, judgments, and hurts are pointed out; when a mirror is held up to our actions and reflects discrimination, we can see how we screwed up and we atone for our actions. When we are unable to do this, we perpetuate inequality. We perpetuate hate.

Stop the hate. Spread the love.