Moderately Fucked Avenue

My Dysphoria has been very bad lately. Winding it’s fingers around my every word and thought and shaking until everything is mash and muddle. 

I am getting to a place again where I really need low dose T and top surgery or a nonbinary radical reduction to function in this sick and broken flesh house emotionally. Unfortunately those things are inaccessible to me due to finances, executive dysfunction/neurodiversity, and disability. 

So I’m stuck not passing at all. To be clear I know my body is a transmasculine body because it is my body and I am transmasculine, buuuuutttttt very few people can see *me* underneath how they interpret my gender presentation, even other queer and trans people, honestly even other nonbinary people, myself included, often struggle with separating our understanding of gender now from the concept of immutable gender/sex/gender presentation that we were raised with. 

As a culture we just aren’t quite there yet. It takes a lot of work and bandwidth even for nonbinary trans people to do the internal work we need to do, to avoid ascribing gender roles to secondary sex characteristics and gender presentations.

 Which unfortunately in my case, for a lot of reasons, including but not limited to disability,chronic illness,  age, and body shape means most people see me as 85% middle aged (girlwoman) mom and 15% might be a lesbian or something™. It forces me into a socially isolated space in which I have to step into these wrong assumptions about me to exist at all. 

Not existing isn’t really an option. 

Being forced to exist twisted into someone else’s shape is harmful in the short or long term. My mind and body rail, twist, and wail at the constant indignity and implied gaslighting. it’s an exhausting cycle that sometimes I am able to navigate and sometimes I am really not. 

Right now is one of those times of not, I’m sure I will get there eventually. I’m sure eventually the words will loosen up, unstick from their mire and play willingly for me. I hope. I try to stay patient and positive or something. 

ha! 
…Or something. 

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A History of Sorts

Or a reflection on my relationship with body hair

I’m not sure when exactly I became aware of my body hair. I do know that by 6 or 8 I was regularly shamed for having legs that were too hairy, by both female peers and their mothers. I had so many conversations with supposedly concerned women and girls who felt it really important to tell me how hairy I was, how ugly it made me, how boys would mock me and men would never love me, how it was a clear sign of yet another way that I was “weird” and other. I would sit in the sunlight and stare at the fuzzy blonde halo on my legs with a quiet desperation. 

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By third or fourth grade I started asking my mother if I could shave but she always laughed it off because I was too young and she didn’t have any leg hair to speak of so she didn’t think I would either. “But mom,” I’d wail, “my legs are already more hairy than yours!” She always told me I was exaggerating or being melodramatic. 

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My mother who had her own complex relationship with body hair, had barely any blonde hair on her legs, but still shaved pretty regularly. She would sit in the bath tub and talk to me about the miserable necessity of shaving your armpits, dissecting the femininity and ugliness of her own armpits as she went. At the same time she told me about 60’s era feminism, bra burning, and hippie women who didn’t wear underwear or shave. She always spoke with admiration but always ended each lecture explaining to me why I should choose to shave. When she drank too much she had a tendency to take off her clothes. Her friends, via shaming her and lecturing me, always hammered home the point that not shaving might be a theoretically fine choice but in the real world only sloppy, trashy women or unrealistic and naive idealists didn’t shave. 

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By highschool I had become mostly desensitized to it, or so I thought. I had a vague nebulous sense of shame and anxiety associated with my body hair, but that was basically my default setting at that time so it didn’t seem unusual. At fifteen I got basically adopted by the punk and stoner kids who seemed to be more accepting of me and my different way of being than most people. It was a welcome relief but still confusing in many different ways. 

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I remember sitting during lunch talking to two tiny, thin, white, allistic, probably lower middle-class, feminine, punk rock girls about the fact that they didn’t shave their armpits or legs and being amazed that no one ever said anything to them. They had unobtrusive thin and blondish body hair that everyone but the most jockiest jocks either didn’t notice or didn’t care about. That was amazing. It was the first time that I realized that many different things go into how people can respond to the same thing. My larger stature, size, poverty, “oddness,” and hair color, and queerness gender presentation meant I got more negative reactions than they said they did. It doesn’t stop there either race, visible disability, attractiveness by European beauty standards, and body size are among many more aspects of a person’s identity that impacts how much they will be punished for straying from social norms. 

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By this time I had taken to shaving my legs about once every two or three weeks, when the hairs tickled in the wind. The same punk and “alternative” girls who talked about all the punk rock or grunge goddesses and how they didn’t shave or perform perfunctory feminine coded hygiene, would inevitably upon seeing my dark half grown leg hair or armpit stubble, talk to me about shaving. 

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“Don’t you shave your legs? I couldn’t stand that, it would just make me feel gross. But that’s cool, you are brave, my boyfriend would hate that though. Haha.”

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oh. ummmm. Thanks?

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My first serious boyfriend convinced me that I should shave my pubic hair. He told me that all the bad ass, gorgeous, local girls that I was both intimidated by and crushed out on definitely shaved, that it would make it easier for him to “go down on” me, that if I shaved it meant I was an empowered strongwilled woman who didn’t give a fuck about out dated gender norms and expectations. I was 16 and new to relationships so didn’t realize what a line he was feeding me. 

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Throughout my late teens, twenties, and even early to mid thirties my body hair routine was a balancing act of what bothered me less. Executive dysfunction and unrealized dysphoria made it difficult for me to shave as often as women “are supposed to.” But if I went too long between shaving the negative pushback from peers, family, and strangers started making me feel more and more ashamed to be performing “woman” wrong. Since longer hair anywhere on me was an overwhelming and tickly sensory experience I just kept shaving oftenish without much reflection on why I was making the choice. 

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At 27 while pregnant with my second child, I realized I was transgender. Pregnancy had always been an emotionally fraught time for me though it was difficult for me to name why. My pregnant body, and even specifically my vulva, which could not be shaved after five months was routinely shamed for being disgusting, wet, swollen atrocities by my then husband, family, fellow pregnant women, and other mothers. I accidentally cut my vulva trying to shave while six months pregnant so that my then husband could have sex with me without “all that gross hair haha.” Because pregnant vulvas are extremely blood engorged I bled so much from the not terrible cut that the water turned brown enough that the same husband thought I needed to go to the ER until the bleeding slowed down. 

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Realizing I was not a woman was a powerful moment of clarity for me but my relationship with shaving was still not done. By this time I was firmly attached to the sensory experience of being shaved. Even openly declaring myself a femme trans man, partners and friends seemed most comfortable when I was more shaved than not, even as they verbally supported my potentially not shaving. So I continued on not really examining my relationship to my body hair. 

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I spent most of my early thirties working in an office as a single parent and only sort of out as trans. I told people, but minimized myself to ease my office experience. Slowly over years of office work, pressure from superiors and implications of promotions that would help me take care of my children I slowly slid into a super geeky femme gender presentation and shaved weekly to keep up appearances. 

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Two years ago I had to quit that job, my health had gotten so bad that I was no longer able to keep up there. My gender presentation took an immediate steady slide back to my default more soft masculine presentation…and still I didn’t quit shaving periodically. If you asked I would tell you that it was for sensory reasons that I shaved, and that as true but not entirely true. 

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Last year I finally decided to try and grow out my body hair (but not my head hair, I can only handle so much hair touching my skin). The first three months were sensory hell, my legs tickled constantly, it was too much. My nervous system was screaming at me. So much so that I even shaved once more only to discover that now shaved was sensory hell as well. Yay? Yayyyy….

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After that it got a bit easier, these days it doesn’t bother me too much though my legs still feel too much for my taste. I have, more or less acclimated. Now that I am older, heavier, more clearly masculine presenting, and more overtly verbal about being nonbinary transmasculine no one really offers opinions on my body hair…but boy do they still look. Being unable to bind, chronic illness and pain weakening my body, always having a toddler on my hip, and not fitting into easy male stereotypes means I don’t ever pass anymore. From the disgusted looks I get these days, I take it I don’t look “right” in regards to what most people see womenhood as either. I don’t mind the confusion too much as a nonbinary person but I have noticed that increase in disgust did seem to coincide with when I decided to stop shaving for good. 

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I still don’t know what it all means exactly but I do have a long and storied history with hair. How about you?

Doing ‘Well’ when You are Chronically Ill

My health has been doing relatively well lately. That is to say, I am not in an illness or pain flare currently. But what does that even mean for me and others with chronic health or pain conditions? 

For me, it means I may feel “ok” as long as I am sitting and doing quiet non physical things. It also means that simple activities like sitting up from laying down, standing up, or walking from one room to another doesn’t give me an asthma attack. 

However even when my baseline health is slightly improved I still have to be careful. Just because I can walk slowly doesn’t mean that cleaning sprees or even small organizational tasks won’t cause me asthma attacks and pain flares. I know at this point that keeping a decent base line of health, that allows me any sort of quality of life requires I not push myself. Pushing myself only results in my ending up overextended, which in turn could result in a days, weeks, or even months long flare. 

What this usually means is that I have more emotional energy to worry and plan but not enough physical energy to do even one quarter of the things that need doing. Things that need doing because of my health. 

I day dream, worry, and plan a lot during these times, about things like getting a part time job (how long could i keep it before i got sick again? could i even get hired? could i find a job where I was sitting all day and not talking on the phone? what hours could I work? how would i avoid smokers and perfume wearers? how much worse would it make my next flare? would it cause a flare in a few months? weeks? days?), cleaning house in ways i haven’t been able to contribute in recent years, and making unrealistic lists of things i need to do now that I might have energy.

 I’m never able to get as much done as I had wanted. Even when I am feeling ok, my stamina and health just aren’t what they used to be. I try to balance guilt for not being able to do more and realistic expectations given my limitations. Ideally I would prefer not sliding into a pit of internalized ableism and self loathing because I am not doing more. So I work hard to maintain the best balance I can, no matter how exhausting it is.

Sometimes it even works. 

A Different Sort of Debilitating

I have anxiety. 

Often my anxiety is situational, because of concerns about money or lack thereof, my health, the kids, the world, the well-being and safety of my partners and friends, my ptsd being triggered, or one of a million other things in response to real life stress. Sometimes it seems likely to be hormonal and/or dysphoria related, and sometimes it is from sensory overload or Autistic burn out. 

When I was younger I was ashamed of and overwhelmed by my anxiety, as it resulted in my being afraid of anything and everything. Truly everything as far as I could understand it. As I have gotten older I have gotten more self confident, more emotionally stable, and more content with who I am as a person. Anxiety doesn’t cause me to shame spiral anymore but it is still pretty debilitating pretty often. 

During times that my anxiety takes hold, no matter the reason, my fight or flight fear response flares so hard I am frozen. Any sort of activity would usually help me break free, but literally any choice sends me down an anxiety loop of what ifs and escalated fear so deep even my brain freezes up. 

knock knock

who’s there? 

nobody.nothing.despair.


So here I sit, trying to soothe away the hammering of my heart,the adrenaline burn in my joints. Reminding myself that everything is currently as ok as it ever is, and there isn’t actually a saber tooth tiger over that next ridge waiting to pounce on me. 

everything is fine. everything is fine. 
I force one foot in front of the other if I am able, or rest if that is all that is possible, ride the storm out so that I may survive as intact as possible, to move freely on another day, maybe tomorrow, or the day after that. I remind myself it is ok to conserve my energy if it is needed, that I can rest before I am pulverized, that I don’t have to be bleeding to be worthy of rest, help, or healing. 

You don’t have to be bleeding to deserve rest, help, or healing either. Your struggle is real. Your hardship isn’t imagined just because it isn’t the narrative of the easy majority. 

We are both real, both valid, you and I. 

ground to the bone but existing. 

I am always learning to love me better, more sincerely. To embrace myself and let this flow over and around me in honesty and acceptance. Whatever that means on that day, in that moment.

 I love you too my friend, I can’t promise that it will all be ok, but I can promise I am here to listen if you need an ear. I am here to support you if you need a familiar hand to hold. 

Someday I will be able to breathe again

Taboo

I know society says I am not supposed to talk about my pain, anxiety, and struggle. It is only appropriate to suffer gracefully and in silence. 

conveniently. 

prettily if possible.

I should be inspiring or invisible. 

But I am not very good at either, so here we go. 

Let’s talk. 
I have chronic pain and fatigue. I have acute asthma/AERD. I have anxiety and depression, that could be situational. it’s hard to say….there are other things that impact my ability to cope but that is a long and tedious list so I will forgo that. 

It has become increasingly difficult for me to do anything at all over the last few years….and I do mean anything. Right now I am having an asthma attack because I got up off the couch, walked into the bedroom, sat down on the bed, and plugged my kindle in to charge and write. 

People tell me I am resilient these days, strong. It’s my most received compliment. But I am not strong, or resilient, or inspiring. I’m just a person struggling through this life. I get up every morning and do what I have to do, because it is what I have to do, not because I am stronger than anyone else…certainly not to inspire you. 

Those of us stuck in the trenches of chronic illness and disability don’t feel super human strong, resilient, or inspiring. We don’t want to be your lesson in fortitude. When we receive compliments for merely existing* it feels at the very least well intended but patronizing, and sometimes downright hurtful, tokenizing, or harmful.** 

Sometimes empty compliments like these seem to communicate “oh my, I find your life unimaginably horrible, I am so glad I do not have to live it. whooo.” As you can well imagine, that can be painful to hear. 

Chronically ill and Disabled people are all different, complex, talented, damaged, beautiful…we all have different gifts and weaknesses. Many, if not most of us would much rather be complimented for our work or skills, for the people we are, than for simply not believing death would be better then the lives we have. 

*h/t to Jena Gong for the verbiage 

** there are some types of invisible or mental illness in which it may be appropriate to tell a person that they are strong and resilient for continuing to be alive, and they should not be discounted or erased either. 

I’m Not Your Exception

CN: discussion of microaggressions, gendered expectations, transphobia, transmisogyny

There is a thing cis people often do when trans people come out to them. They say something like, “I just love you for you” which might sound good in theory, but allows the cis person in question to not have to confront any of their ideas about gender identity and presentation. This glossing over often becomes the order of business anytime the trans person is interacted with, so the cis person never has to do the work to realign any of their perceptions or ideas about that particular person’s identity or gender on a larger scale, at all. 
 “you are just you” they tell us, or “I don’t even see gender” thinking that this is the peak of acceptance and allyship. 

But gendered thinking is programmed into our culture, and if we aren’t actively breaking those subconsciously held ideas about what makes men, women, nonbinary people, and anyone else who they are, down, than we are indeed treating people in a gendered and potentially problematic way no matter how hard we try to ignore it. These implicit biases do negatively impact cis people as well, but are more directly harmful to trans people, especially multiply marginalized trans people, such as black trans women and femmes who are being murdered at terrifying rates because of the dangerous combination of transphobia, racism, and transmisogyny/femmephobia. 

The end result of this can and does play out even with our allies, who possibly subconsciously categorize us by how they as cis people view our adherence to binary gender rules that they haven’t done the work of examining. This means that the only trans people who get implicitly and correctly gendered with any consistency are binary trans people who “pass”. That when allies haven’t done the work of examining what “man” and “woman” mean to them, they may use the right pronouns, they might even use the correct labels but their gender coded treatment of us will still show that cognitive dissonance. 

For example, I have seen repeatedly, nonpassing transmasculine folks being automatically lumped into women only space, or allowed and encouraged to behave in a very misogynistic way that is only accepted specifically because they are still basically perceived as non threatening “woman”…which will suddenly change and no longer be encouraged when and if they begin “passing”. Inevitably if we trans folks say something about how uncomfortable we are with this implicit gendering, we are usually told, “oh I don’t mean you, you’re fine!” 

 That exception made for us, never feels like a compliment, it feels like the cis person in question doesn’t really take our gender seriously, it’s a verbal head pat. Now for me as a white, transmasculine person, this type of behavior is frustrating and hurtful, it means I get dismissed as cute, snoodly, funny aderble boy lite™. 

For transfeminine people, especially nonpassing or non traditionally pretty (by European standards) transfeminine folks this is down right dangerous. It is why trans women and femmes are often/usually considered potential threats or predators. It is why even supposed allies say they “understand why terfs feel that way though it’s wrong”, or think that trans women benefit from male privilege. These implicit biases play out in ways that directly result in the villainization and murder of trans feminine folks.

Instead of making their trans friends exceptions to their internalized rules of what gender identity and presentation is, allies need to be working harder to rewrite those internalized rules entirely, in the mean time working harder to pay attention to how they think of and treat the trans people in their lives, what the subtext of their treatment really means, and the impact they have both with their direct friendships and in the wider world. 

Perpetually Spoon Deficient

or, it’s more than just limited energy 

I have been living with negative spoons for so long now, I barely remember what it is like to have them.* 
I have been so exhausted and overwhelmed for so long, the tax accumulating in myriad ways, until eventually I’ve gone so far past a straightforward shortage of spoons, that as the spoon deficits stack up, as each new thing drains me further, I end up with zero total spoons. Which basically means I have to borrow against future spoons just to survive, to take care of my kids, to feed myself. 

When you have to balance future health, current health, and life reality because they can not all exist in the same space at the same time, something has to give. I’m still alive, I have shit to do so something has to give. 

So I keep borrowing future spoons, because I have no other choice, knowing full well that I am only digging myself a deeper and deeper pit to crawl out of, if indeed I am ever able to rest enough to start recovering. Which always seems questionable when I am in the thick of it. How can I ever know if I will be able to conserve enough energy to ever get back to just breaking even when anything or everything tears me down even more. 

even when I have more spoons, they can be stacked or tied up for long periods of time. 

If I start out with 15 spoons a day I struggle to not overtax myself by overdoing it but is workable, barely. Then one of my chronic illnesses flare, which takes away five spoons a day. So now I am down to ten spoons a day, can I manage to do less daily? maybe. Then an increase in life stress and increased financial stress decreases my spoons by another five spoons. Now I am at a dire five spoons a day. I have spent months and months in which I could only do one single thing a day, no matter how seemingly small or inconsequential to most. One single thing a day outside of child care and feeding myself enough.  Any life emergency means I will have to borrow against future spoons…and something will happen. Crisis tend to pop up when you are poor, over exhaustion is inevitable when something as small as a toddler having a bad day or a night or two of insomnia will/can/has put me out of balance and extremely vulnerable for increased spoon deficit. At that point any tiny little thing has to be borrowed future spoons. Then slowly that deficit grows, each thing that comes up causing a deeper and deeper deficit. Eventually even daily life stuff has to be borrowed  for. The larger the deficit, the longer it will take me to recuperate; if I can get to a place where recovering spoons is even possible. When my health gets relatively (for me) better, an extra five spoons a day is helpful but doesn’t come close to covering the deficit even if a bad health flare was what initiated the downward spiral in the first place. 

My spoon balance looks like the national debt at this point. 

Hopefully I can get to a plateau soon so that I may in theory, if life ever decides to give us a break, maybe I can start that recuperation cycle again. 

one can only hope

Spoon Theory was created by Christine Miserandino