personal, psychology, self care

Shelter-in-Place Day 63: hair-trigger

I’ve really broken my pattern, recently. In some ways this is good: I’ve gotten back to redeveloping a site that — well — needs it, after having been apathetic about it for months. But as for working creatively — for the past two or so days, I’ve just been recovering from staying up all night between May 14 and 15 (see my last entry).

I wouldn’t be surprised if what was going on there was mania (or at least hypomania). Some other family members and I have been experiencing a parade of psychiatric symptoms since the onset of lockdown. The good thing is, we’re aware it’s happening. So…the sudden decrease in motivation (relative to a burst in both creativity and motivation which could both have been manic symptoms, and not normalcy) may be something I just have to ride out.

A different thing? I’m considering cutting off my hair (again). I know it’s pretty, but I haven’t been taking care of it. Right now I’m trying to balance keeping my scalp clean and healthy, and keeping my hair looking nice…and it’s tiring. Neither one of the goals are being achieved.

I haven’t been using dandruff shampoo because, 1) it has sulfates in it (sulfates make my hair hard and dry, and have to be dissolved with a vinegar rinse — which obviously, stinks); 2) a potential side effect of its use (which I’ve learned to expect, over years of medications) is “temporary hair loss”. WHAT. I spend years growing out my hair and now the dandruff treatment may cause it to fall out? Oh, but it’s only temporary. It’s not like it will never grow back. It’s not like bald spots are worse than the dandruff, right?

The dandruff itself might just be symptomatic of not washing my hair enough, or of not enough oxygen reaching my scalp. I’ve had the same thing (nearly the same exact thing) going on with my face when I haven’t been taking care of myself and washing and exfoliating enough. (Lockdown grossness, but it’s true.)

Not to mention that I don’t even want to comb my hair these days, because that means I’ll have to wash it again to regain my curl pattern…and it takes an absurdly long amount of time to wash this hair, even when I leave in oil, and forgo conditioning. To get my hair all the way clean, I basically have to strip it of all the oil, and that leads to hardness, fragility and breakage. Then breakage leads to snarls and tangles, which lead to more breakage. Because my hair is thick and curly, it’s then also very difficult to successfully redistribute natural oil throughout (I can’t, for example, use a brush: it doesn’t penetrate). It’s why I almost always comb my hair in the shower now, instead of doing it dry.

If I cut my hair short, it would be shiny and well-conditioned (while using less product), and I could take care of my scalp and take short daily showers (instead of long showers after periods of inadequate hygiene — which are encouraged by the fact that no shower cap will fit over my hair, even if I twist it down [and twisting it down tends to rip it out]). The biggest drawback to this, besides my head being colder (likely necessitating hats for some time), and middle-aged and old men messing with me (like I should care what they think, it’s not like they have a chance anyway), is that I’ll likely need to take showers in the morning, in order to reset the orientation of my follicles after having slept on my hair. (Of course, with everything going on, I’m probably also going to need to take showers when I get home, as well.)

Then there’s the amount of time it takes to regrow this stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if my hair moves from side to side more than it grows downward. Luckily…my curl pattern has finally matured, so maybe I could actually see some texture in it this time (as versus when I was a teen and cut my hair close, and most of what it did was stand on end). The fall-back position is just slicking it back, Mystique-style, which isn’t that far from always pulling it back in a ponytail or bun.

I also have some nice styling oils and co-wash products which I didn’t have access to, as a kid; and a diffuser to dry my hair, before I go in to work. In addition…I don’t have to trim it ultra-short. I’ve found out what it does at a long length…it’s possible that I could cut it to maybe two to three inches (as versus half an inch), and keep some curl and play in it, especially if I dry it with the diffuser.

As long as the curls are stuck together (as when I comb my hair in the shower or style with my fingers), I don’t have a huge problem with volume. It’s as soon as I comb it, that things happen. The curls separate, and then I’ve got an Afro on my hands. Of course…that’s what I dealt with for most of my childhood, just pulled back. I had a terrible time with trying to keep that stuff orderly, and probably failed, most of the time. It wasn’t until I cut my hair off that I realized I could style it without controlling it. (It wasn’t until I cut my hair off, for that matter, that I realized I actually grew hair from my temples: it was formerly all ripped out.)

The other drawback of cutting my hair short is that it draws attention to the fact that my throat is fuller than I would like. This wasn’t an issue for me the first time I cut my hair off — I was a rail — but this is twenty years later, after medication-induced weight gain. Of course, if I cut my hair short, I could shower more often, which means I could exercise with fewer drawbacks.

M says that I wouldn’t be happy with short hair. I don’t know why, but she says to think on it. Of course, she was also the person who said I wouldn’t like cutting my hair short for years when I wanted to cut it, as a teen (and now can’t remember that she told me I couldn’t cut it until I was 16, then 18; when I turned 18, then she wanted to stop me again). I think she’s more attached to my hair than I am, and I don’t know why. Have never known, why. But I know that in this family, I’m known for my hair. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve been hesitant to even consider testosterone: male-pattern baldness. Indicating a loss of identity.

In the meantime…I’ve got to do something about my scalp hygiene and the dryness of my strands. I’m thinking of going back to using a co-wash for a while, and seeing how that turns out. If I did it frequently, it’s possible I could keep my hair clean (and combed, and orderly), while at the same time not-dry…and not taking up most of an hour’s worth of running water (this still really angers me). Of course, though, this also necessitates drying at least my roots after getting out of the shower (it takes a while, but if I don’t do it, I risk getting sick and/or having mildew and mold growth in my hair).

Yeah, this is my decision, isn’t it.

Maybe I should wait and go to an actual salon to get my hair cut, instead of relying on M to do it…

culture, philosophy, portfolio, psychology

Sometimes I Wonder If This Means Anything

Recently, I’ve had the time to think about what it means to be a person who is nonbinary-identified, who otherwise appears to most to be a “woman.” That is, what is the difference between, “me” as “myself,” and “me” as, “woman,” when to the untrained eye, we’re indistinguishable?

Well, perhaps not indistinguishable, but a general sense of civil politeness dictates not to draw attention to that aspect of reality, as divergence is seen as a fault. The differences don’t show up until you’ve known me for a little while and notice that my behavior and thought process is, to a sensitive yet civil person, “slightly different”; to a person who expects conformity, “slightly off.”

When I don’t go out of my way to prove or show in any way that I’m not a woman, that is…when I’m talking about sewing and beadwork and librarianship…what is there to distinguish me from the backdrop? (By the way…this article is my own, not in any way representative of my profession.)

Activities assigned a gender by culture do not imply the gender identity of the person doing the activity

Because I participate in pastimes that have been culturally allotted to me because of my assumed gender, that doesn’t mean that assumption of my gender is correct. To skip ahead slightly, if cryptically: I identify as nonbinary because it liberates me from being trapped in the game.

How do I know I’m not a woman?

For one thing, I don’t.

I can’t compare my experience to experience I’ve never had.

For another thing, how does anyone else know if they’re a woman? Without referring to tautologies, that is, such as the most common assumption I seem to find: that sex = gender. That sex, in short, creates gender.

I would look at this from the other end, however, and ask one to consider the possibility that people are targeted for gendered psychological conditioning which differs on the basis of their known (or assumed) sex. That, over the long term, encourages (but does not cause) the development of societally-conforming gender expressions; even though this may cause quite a large amount of distress for the person being conditioned.

Accepting the identity of “woman”, in short, does damage to who I am at core, because I have internalized concepts of womanhood which are particularly damaging and oppressive to me as an apparently female person, who is interacted with, and expected to respond as, a woman (or “girl”) because of it. The response expected can differ widely from the reality.

But you know what? That’s sexism.

In particular, the level of societal violence (emotional, interrelational, and physical) directed at people who are, as I once openly was, “gender-nonconforming”, is something that severely negatively impacted my mental health. The fact that I knew it was being demanded I conform — to be something I wasn’t; to live someone else’s life who didn’t exist, to pretend I was her for everyone else — in order to stop the torture, didn’t help.

From the time I was about 19 or 20, once I knew about gender variance, and that it happened to more people than myself, I had been considering the option of physical gender transition. Right now there are only so many options for that, however; fewer still which will not result in additional societal violence.

As a person who doesn’t have a man’s identity, I won’t be able to transition to male and expect anything better than what I have now. In fact, I’d expect worse. There are differences I’d like to have in this body — unfortunately, the window of opportunity for that (for example, to have a larger frame, to have a flat chest without surgery, to be a fully functional male who didn’t have to take hormones) has either passed, or never existed. Some of the actual possibilities could only have been attained with intervention before or during puberty. In my case, that was in the 1990’s.

Wasn’t happening.

History

If I think on it, my gender nonconformity goes back through my childhood, at least to kindergarten. There were rules to being a (supposed) boy or (supposed) girl that first showed their faces, there. Like not playing actively if one were female, or being targeted for random unwanted kisses (from one particular boy) if one were female. I didn’t know and didn’t care, and that made me something of an outcast — though, of course, I thought the problem was everybody else, not myself.

That pattern has marked my existence since then, though I didn’t have an awareness of it until the sexual harassment kicked in fully at 14. I still have a hard time considering myself to be, “normal.” I have a hard time thinking things are good just because they’re popular, and with the idea of exposing myself to all kinds of media, when I know that some of that media is actively violent towards people like myself.

I think I was perhaps 16 or 17 before I started thinking maybe there was something to the harassment that was thrown at me, and that I could have been, as I was being labeled, a gender-nonconforming female who loved women (two culturally linked but separate things which were both taboo in the institution of high school; I’m uncertain I can say the actual word on this platform, as it is still hate speech). I tried to “reclaim” the label, by actively identifying with it. The theory was that if I built a positive identity around the term, it could no longer be used to hurt me.

That got me only so far, as externally-imposed slurs tend not to leave a lot of space open for identity development. However, it gave me space to break some of the walls of my box, unapologetically, and with minimal loss. Even at that time, I knew there was something wrong — but I didn’t know what it was. This was the period in which I first experienced clinical depression; but I only consented to pharmacological treatment for that after I realized that maybe the thing making me sad was something I couldn’t fix. I can’t fix the world by myself. But avoiding suicide gives me a little more time to try.

It wouldn’t be until I removed myself from that situation (taking my meds with me, of course) that I would learn that I had a choice over who I would be, and become.

Fast-forward: I’m likely around 19 years old, away from my parents — and the community that has seen me grow up — for the first time. I realize, from meeting some people, that it’s possible to alter one’s gender expression, and that I’m not stuck with the name and pronouns given to me at birth; or the roles placed on me by others.

The concept of identities being like clothing in a wardrobe is introduced to me. I realize I don’t have to be what others have told me I am; that I can change out of the leather jacket I’ve been carrying with me, into something that may be more suited. Something that may make me happier.

Woman/Not-Woman: Does It Matter?

It wouldn’t be until far later, in my 30’s, that someone would tell me that they kept hearing me say I was not a woman, but they never heard me say I was a man.

“Man”, never really fit, except within groups where I knew people knew what I meant by it, and within which I tempered the identity by acknowledging my female history. It wasn’t a portable identity, at least not if I paid attention to people complaining about “their” identities being, “watered down.” (Yes, there is exclusion right there; the idea that we couldn’t share the same word for ourselves because we were different. This was before the emergences of the genderqueer and nonbinary communities…and possibly the catalyst for their formation.) I wouldn’t learn that it would be tough for me as male, though, until I was about 25, and had tried living as one — with various interspersions of behavior that I considered distinctly, “unmanly.”

I don’t know where these ideas about men and women came from. But I suspect they’re learned.

The thing is: my society emphasizes two (and only two) genders. If a person isn’t one, the next step, often, is to believe that one then must be the other. However…that’s not where my journey took me. “Not-woman” is not the same thing as “man”. “Woman” is not the same thing as “not-man.” One is a positive assertion: many variations on one truth. The other is a negation: infinity-minus-one possible options for truth remaining.

I’m thinking that we’ve had a tendency to think the terms are equivalent, though (much as “not-woman” got linked with “lesbian” for me in high school), because of our particular historical and cultural locus. Most people repeat concepts in this sense without knowing where the concepts came from or why they think what they do, but ideas in this sense are inherited from the past, and sometimes they’re outdated to an embarrassing extent.

What I know is that trying to think of myself as a woman has done concrete psychological damage to me. Because I don’t fit. I’m not a woman — regardless of the shape of my body. Not-man and not-woman (at least, not as this current culture defines “man” and “woman”) leaves infinity-minus-two possible outcomes for me. Not all of them require medical transition or intentional alteration of presentation. Or, “masculinity.”

If one tries to think of oneself as something one is not, chances are that one is going to be riddled with senses of inadequacy. All the time.

When I try to think of myself as a woman, I expect myself to grapple from an inside position with messages about what women are and/or should be, which rarely ever fit. Which makes me angry, as I presume other “women” like “myself” also find those messages and concepts not to fit.

But is that the case? If so, the world really is a dystopia.

And then again, I see myself conforming for the sake of the approval of others. Trying to be someone who doesn’t exist, so I can stop being hurt and excluded. Only now, I’m the person hurting myself. No one else has to torture me: I’ve taken over that job. And I’m getting the perks of fitting in, knowing full well that the external torture and isolation and exclusion may resume if I let down my facade.

Other people then also expect me to conform to messages about what women are and should be — but they (almost) always do that, except when I let people know that my appearance does not infer my identity. On a baseline, people expect me to be able to relate on a level of commonality that I don’t share. Because right now, I’m a husk of a person. I’ve abandoned myself to take on a role that my heart isn’t in, for the purposes of pleasing others and smoothing social relations.

Boundaries. Somewhere in there, I’ve got to stand up for myself, or I’ll never be able to attain an authentic life. And my life isn’t for the pleasure of other people. It’s mine.

Somewhere in there, I got tired of this. Rebelling against compulsory “femininity” versus conforming to compulsory “femininity”; whereas if I thought of myself as male, even as a gentle one, I realized that what to do with this, isn’t even a question. If I discard the concept of “woman” as outside of myself; as meaningless in my domain; I no longer have to rebel, or conform. The concept no longer holds sway over me; my life is no longer led and controlled by the whims of other people. Let the people who don’t understand fall on their faces. Catering to their illusions isn’t my job.

Risk and Flow

It would not be true for me to say that relative levels of risk and emotional safety haven’t played a role in choosing between life options. At first, I began exploring things that were allotted to me because I appeared female, because I knew they might not be allotted to me anymore in the then-near future. I was trying to find anything good about my situation, before I might change it.

Yes, I’m talking about physical — chemical and surgical — transition. In my situation, the treatments were offered on a harm-reduction basis. It has not been unusual for people to attain things like hormones and surgeries illegally, out of desperation to escape their situations. If I was going to alter myself, it would be better to do it through a compassionate health care system than through the black market.

In effect, I was exercising what is known in sociology as, “agency.” Sociology is basically the study of power constraints on groups of people, and how ordinary people find ways to struggle and survive, despite them. In early college, I took up Sociology as my major, though I wouldn’t stay in it. I was told it was, “the study of groups of people.” That’s an oversimplification.

Sociology arose, most markedly to my mind, after WWII: as people tried to make sense of the Holocaust. Notes online, however, say it began much earlier due to the French and Industrial Revolutions. In my view, Sociology is the study of how power dynamics and methods of social control form among people and how culture is — at times — complicit in, or even driving, that.

Agency may be, in this discussion, said to encompass ways of individual or group existence alongside social control; defying it, without being destroyed by it.

So there are reasons — I would say at their base, coercive ones — for certain things to be considered either “men’s” or “women’s” work. Coercive, because one runs into barriers if they try to do work which has not been allotted to them by their social station.

I’m not a person who likes to fight. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how long staying neutral is, or can be, an option. These are not usual times. And, as I am learning, my voice can make a difference. This is still a democracy, after all.

There is something that just came to my mind…I’m not certain I’ll be able to communicate clearly enough to really explain it, especially as it has to do with what is known in the West as Philosophical Daoism (or Philosophical Taoism). I learned about this after having studied Chinese Buddhism. I was trying to figure out where the Buddhism ended and Daoism began. One could write books on this, though unfortunately I have pretty much no reading ability in any Chinese dialect, so research would be difficult (even if possible).

It has to do with the concept of water. Or, Water, if you prefer. The element.

Water always seeks the lowest point, the place where it can settle no further. It is stopped by barriers like dikes, and flows where it is given space to flow. But in floods, it can overwhelm and cross those dikes. In tsunamis and typhoons it can destroy towns. It’s a gentle thing that carves mountains. Crushes and splits stone. Comes down in drops and forms oceans.

It is also something which we depend on for life; without which, there would be no life.

I don’t aim to be a fighter. I aim to be like Water.

To know this is useful; to know this is also slightly frightening, because I know that I also will always have to deal with that drip, drip, drip…building up, building pressure, pushing against boundaries and walls, finding cracks, threatening to spill out. Always.

As for whether I’ve recently overflowed (I wonder if the Japanese term あふれる [afureru: to overflow; I don’t know the correct kanji] is related to this)…it’s hard to say. I hadn’t thought of the one recent instance in those terms until I wrote them, here.

There is also the difference between the “soft” martial arts and the “hard” martial arts, which may aid one in understanding what I mean. Hard martial arts, like karate, are force-against-force. In a battle between two martial artists each using force against force, considering all else equal, the bigger and stronger one will win. In a situation where one is going up against a stronger opponent…it doesn’t make sense to fight force-against-force. I’ve always had to be faster, smarter, choosing my battles. Choosing my questions, finding weaknesses, finding my strengths.

So even though I can’t say that my environment had no hand in shaping the person I am now, I can say is that what you see of me now is genuine — even if, under other circumstances, under different constraints, I may have grown in an entirely different direction.

That’s what it means to be full of potentialities.

That’s also what it means to be human.

“Women’s Work”

One of the difficulties of living in this transitional era is what to do with older identities, aspirations taught to us by our foremothers, made for eras which no longer exist. In my attempt to see if there were anything left for me in being female, I was in some respects immersed in pastimes which — in years gone by — I suspect must have been done by people who were stay-at-home mothers or homemakers, or otherwise supported monetarily from outside (as is the case with me and my parents). I can’t imagine their being able to survive any other way.

Implied in this is marriage to a person who can give one children, and financial support thereby. Also implied is the willingness to be impregnated, and to keep and care for the child(ren). It’s not a given that everyone wants that.

My relations with my own reproductive potential have never been easy. But neither have been my relations with anyone else’s. I’ve never given myself a chance to get pregnant. After having written the rest of this, I’m no longer surprised at having some level of discomfort around reproduction. But my dysphoria is minor, as I’m able to use birth control, in addition to abstinence — which may in fact have run on long enough to become celibacy.

Since I was in high school and realized that marriage to a man was likely not to be comfortable for me (given how few males I was attracted to at all, and the fact that the ones I was attracted to had a tendency to be gay or transgender), I’ve channeled my creative urges into the making of, “things”; objects; writings; not children. Instead of raising a child as my legacy, I’ve realized there are other methods of having an impact on society.

The issue — my main issue, at this point — is finding a way to stay alive while staying creative. To find a way of feeding both my desire to create, and my physical needs, at the same time. The system, as it’s set up…is there a method of independently supporting oneself while staying out of poverty, and still taking the time to do “women’s work”? I’m not certain. But then, I live in one of the most expensive places possible, in this country.

Then there is the fact that “women’s work” in the public sphere — nursing, teaching, clerical, childcare, librarianship — presuppose a level of social intelligence (and inclination to be social) that I just don’t have. The only one I can think of that doesn’t, that I know of, is housekeeping — but I’m not about to go there. Germ phobia, remember?

But that’s sexism, again.

I’m not entirely sure what to do about this. I’m a person who was raised to become a woman who is not; who has to enter territory long held by men in order to survive. That’s not easy for me.

む (Mu)

When I began writing this post, the idea of, “myself as a nonbinary person,” and, “myself as a woman,” were looking too close to call. The difference seemed like splitting hairs. To the extent that both nonbinary and woman identities are cultural constructions and not inherently existent in and of themselves, that’s still true. Hence, the question, “am I a woman?” could be answered in the single Zen term, む (or, “mu”).

The answer of “mu” to a koan, or riddle, means that the foundations of the question are formulated so that no right answer can be given. The example I’ve seen is the question: “have you stopped beating your wife?” when you have no wife; or you do have a wife, but you don’t beat her. The presuppositions of the question are faulty in such a way that to answer either, “yes, I have stopped beating my wife,” or, “no, I haven’t stopped beating my wife,” would be false.

Hence: む. Neither, “yes, I am a woman,” nor, “no, I am not a woman,” are wholly satisfactory, because the term, “woman,” is mutable and has no inherent reality. (Neither does, “man,” or, “nonbinary,” for that matter. They’re all terms which, on some level, most of us just loosely agree have similar-enough meanings to be able to get a rough idea of what the other person means when we say them.)

Of course, that doesn’t mean, in a different sense, that no women exist. But I like the opt-in model, based on authentic thinking and deep reflection; better than the mass-assignment model, based on surface appearances or biological statistics.

From the outside, it doesn’t matter on a large scale (likely to anyone except other nonbinary people) whether I’m called a woman or a nonbinary person — although I will get tripped up when I’m referred to as “that woman” (it has happened)! What matters to me most is how I think of myself, because that’s all I have direct control over. It’s much more important that I give myself permission to think freely about my own gender, than it is that other people agree with me about it or support me in it. (Though support is nice, when it’s asked for and given. When it’s not asked for…there may be a reason.)

At this point, however, I’ve realized things are much more complex than I’ve given them credit for.

To a greater or lesser extent, I believe that all of us have been subject to conditioning, based on the way we’ve looked; on our physicality, or on what little is known about us. But that’s not the total picture. There are patterns we have which aren’t immediately visible based on how we look, or which can be predicted by an image. Nevertheless, they are real. Going back over my history, showed me that.

My experiences as a child, youth, and young adult, are not something that everyone would have been vulnerable to in the same way. As an adult, I’m still not typical…even if my experience is more common or relatable than I imagine. And it is easy to imagine…easier, now…that I am actually truly “normal” even in my diversity. That people the world over have experienced what it’s like not to fit in, for one reason or another.

People are not always what they seem. I’m proof of that.

And that should give me hope.

color, personal, psychology, writing

Writing with a purpose

I’ve gotten to the point where it’s hard to look at my blog and see that it hasn’t been updated for days. Some of that work is going offline — a lot of it, actually — but still…I feel isolated without my writings. It’s not like I can carry all my journals and pens around with me everywhere, though. In addition to the bulk, I don’t want to lose it. But I’m one of those freaks who thinks information is valuable.

I’m kind of wondering if I should start writing about risky things (intimacy, sexuality, gender variance, emotional pain, trauma, fears), in order to jump-start the content portion of my writing. I’m thinking that I keep concentrating on my handwriting and the form of my words, just to keep writing about anything, and because it isn’t emotionally vulnerable. I started off this post that way, and eventually wandered off into gender topics…

That is, I think I’m avoiding vulnerability, and that’s why it’s difficult to read fiction (I recently started reading Middlesex, 16 years after I bought it, which later incited crying from some childhood memory) or paint (which may force me to acknowledge an inconvenient gender and sexuality) or write (which will allow me to express parts of myself I’m not comfortable with and which don’t fit into my self-concept).

Of course, I can see someone about this, at the end of the month.

It’s just weird, though: getting to the age where taking risks is actually…risky (like, “can affect my livelihood”), is a different thing than being young and not knowing any better. I suppose if I’m lucky, I’ll make it to the age where I can be one of the cool old ladies who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

From what I can tell…at work, it is being acknowledged that I’m different and that it’s OK to be different. I kind of straddle the line between butch lesbian and queer transgender male (not necessarily man-identified: and note, I am using the term “queer” in the U.S. reclaimed and subcultural sense [meaning not-cisgender and/or not-heterosexual] — not any pejorative sense with which it is used elsewhere in the world), which…well, it’s the only time in my life that I’ve been able to really not-hide that. Also, not-define it, which means not-over-defining it, meaning that I get that leeway to be who I am and show who I am, instead of trying to put it into words which inherently do violence to my being.

I’d learned not to talk about this stuff, online. I used to, but that was back when I didn’t have a community or support system. I do realize I could transition, you know, take testosterone. But there are more drawbacks than positives to that. If I were 23 again and didn’t think I was going to live to 30, so I would only be living with bi-weekly injections for 7 years, it might be an option. But the clear point is that I don’t consider myself a man or a woman (though I’m probably closer to the latter than the former). I’ve also passed the date by which I thought I would be gone, and am busy building the rest of my life.

Taking testosterone means coming out to everyone, and changing in front of everyone. And I won’t even be a man at the end, because that depends on the psyche, not the body. I could see doing it if I were transsexual, but I’m not. And it still won’t give me what I want. I just want to be fully male; I don’t want to be in-between, and I don’t want a feminized mind in a body that makes people expect me to be a man. Nor do I want my body torn up by surgery, because the options I have leave a lot to be desired.

The option I have — if I want to be fully myself — is to take testosterone and be seen as an openly gender-nonbinary trans* male. The thing is, “nonbinary” is only understood by a small fraction of the population, right now. There is even hostility within the trans* community towards nonbinary people (some trans* people who consider themselves fully men or fully women resent us for existing both because they can’t understand us, and because they see it as making things harder for them), so that also takes away a source of support.

I’ve been doing some experiments with color and handwriting as relates to my pens. I’ve found that I have to give myself permission to like things (like colors) that are seen as traditionally feminine. When I told M this, she shot back with incredulity: “You mean you don’t like things just because you see them as feminine?” I had to clarify that the case was more that I had been pushing those things away because I didn’t like how I was treated when I was associated with them. But I found I liked some of those things, anyway. And so I was giving myself permission to acknowledge it. (Also part of this thought stream, but one which I’m not sure I ever got to voice to her: I was acknowledging that I questioned whether cis women [as versus, say, men] ever had to give themselves permission to be feminine; this could be construed as evidence against my being cis.)

She seemed to accept that.

What I’m learning from M is that I think she’s gender-blind. She told me that there was no masculine or feminine except in my mind. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. I’m also pretty sure that what she says doesn’t override what I think just because of her relation to me. In the ink-color experiments…there are some colors which have been designed to be gendered either masculine or feminine. Like literally, designed to evoke that point. Intentionally. I can tell. I don’t know that she can (or at least, that she can acknowledge that she can).

But what I’ve found is that I like the brighter colors better, roughly speaking. There are some that are terrible regardless of gender (by, for example, being unreadable); but the colors I thought I wouldn’t like, now look better than some of the alternatives. Particularly, Pilot’s Tsukushi — a dirt-brown color — I’ve found that I basically hate. I got it because I wanted to see what it would look like or feel like to write in a more subdued or neutral tone. I assumed it was aimed at men, whereas another color — Murasaki-Shikibu — obviously was aimed at women, both from its hue (an intense violet) and its naming (for a female author of the Heian era, the latter of which is noted as a brief time of peace in Japan’s history, and widely [among Japanese] considered feminine).

I also have been on a pink and red kick, because as long as I’m female, that means that the pink and red are allotted to me via my culture and ethnic background. For me, being seen as a female person (女の人) in Japanese culture is different than being seen as a “girl” in popular U.S. culture (which often feels dehumanizing and infantilizing to me). It’s like I prefer being referred to as a, “daughter,” than as a, “son,” but bristle at “girl,” and sometimes feel the need to qualify, “woman.” (“If you just mean by that, ‘adult female,’ then yes, I am an adult female [without implying anything about what an adult female is or should be].”) “Boy,” and, “man,” aren’t even on the table anymore.

If you had looked at me fifteen years ago, I would have been way more conflicted about liking pink. I would have been more conflicted all around, really. I also would have had a lot of shame around being gender-nonbinary, because I had known very few nonbinary people. At the time, I wanted to be a man. I now know that isn’t going to happen, simply because if it could happen, it likely would already be happening. Some things I just have to make peace with. And, you know, it helps to root out some of that internalized misogyny, too.

I wouldn’t call what I have been doing, with the inks and pens, calligraphy. It really isn’t fancy; I haven’t designed it that way. But I have at least three different handwriting styles that I can see, which appear depending on whatever writing instrument I’m holding. I have, that is, a different script depending on whether I’m using a Fine or Extra-Fine nib, a Flex nib, or a Broad or Stub nib. I might also have a different hand with a gel pen, though that struck me as a surprise when I saw how I was writing (about a month ago). Having different hands with different tools might be apparent just from logic, but I didn’t realize until last night how heavily the tools influenced my letter-forms. (Might there be something to be said for context-sensitive adaptation?)

In addition, for some inks, I’ve needed to find the right paper. There is a cross-grid notebook I have; like a dot-grid, but with little crosses instead of dots or lines. These crosses are distracting with my normal (Fine to Medium and Flex nib) pens, but they really fall into the background with a broad or stub nib. As well, the paper doesn’t absorb the ink from the Murasaki-Shikibu-loaded stub nib pen, so the color remains vibrant.

I’m running low on time, here. In another entry, or in the future, maybe, in my notes — I should get back to the question of whether I’m actually asexual or just celibate. The truth is that I don’t know, however:

There’s just a lot of stuff that comes up when you’re female and people think you are sexually active (and not with a man), which can be sidestepped when you aren’t, and have no intention to be. But maybe I need to look at issues of guilt around being harangued as, “lesbian,” as a youth (like any of those kids knew what they were talking about — I doubt even most adults know anything about the content of their hate speech). That is…it’s very easy for someone who is female and attracted to women, to be made to feel like a predator because they’re attracted to someone who is a woman…whereas, if one is male, it’s supposed to be a good thing, I’m thinking. Even if it actually is predatory (or otherwise stupid) behavior.

That kind of polarization is one of the things I grappled with as a very young adult, who was beginning to realize that gender diversity existed. I haven’t dealt with that so much, recently. However…the question of whether I’ve identified as asexual (and lived as celibate) because of not wanting to be seen as a disgusting creep, is one worth exploring. Maybe not here, just yet; but, still.

I mean, I seriously know what it’s like to have men whom I’m in no way interested in or attracted to, try to force their way into my life. If I reverse that, maybe I can see why some people have responded as they have, to me. Only, it’s like one in 15 will actually even have the potential to be interested, if I’m remembering that figure correctly…

Then, there’s the question of how much the exterior really matters…

beading, craft, creativity, design, jewelry design, psychology, self care

Process over product?

Or, “process,” over, “hoarding,” maybe?

I began this post way too late to really be coherent, but after I had a jewelry design + construction session. I worked out a set of earrings in Onyx, Copper, and Hematite; and in trying to work out another set, formed the focal point of a necklace in Smoky Quartz, Citrine, and gold-plate.

Some other things have happened since then. I was contacted by HR, and now have some time set up to go back into work for training. I also was able to purchase some shoes which, hopefully, will help combat the tendency of my feet to hurt, these days. I’ll be wearing them around the house to see how my feet tolerate them.

I also have been notified that it seems I’m having a hard time coping with anxiety. So…it was possible that I would need to reschedule an appointment because of a surprise training session, but my appointment has been delayed at least twice already, making it now about four weeks past the time I initially agreed to return. I think it’s important that I not allow that to be pushed back any more.

It’s possible that making the jewelry helps take my mind off of other things that are going on in my life. I wasn’t in a great place, emotionally, when I made the earrings last night. There’s a certain energy that goes with them, which I didn’t find to be best for me today, when I was putting myself together this morning.

In particular, yesterday I had a lot of anger over a situation which occurred and — although I didn’t see it in quite these terms — others say it sounds like I was triggered, and continued to “seethe” afterward. So, what I made yesterday, looks “hard” to me, today.

Getting out of the “hard woman” role is one of the reasons I decided to stop comparing myself to women and aligning myself with feminine gender terms. Because if you’re a woman, it’s possible to be a hard woman…and if you’re a man, it’s possible to be a soft man. But if you’re female, and you look female, and want to be a soft man…it’s next to impossible to be seen that way. And when you’re not recognized that way, it’s very hard to maintain that identity.

And then I get angry, and I’m back into reinforcing “hard woman” territory, again. I don’t like being angry, or feeling forced into a role.

So then you get into identity erasure, and on top of that, not being given a chance to speak because of gender dynamics combined with racial dynamics. The bad thing about this is that at this point, I’m dealing with anger, regardless of whether I’m a man or a woman or other. And as I’ve learned, being seen as angry and black at the same time is not a combination that makes my life easier.

My issue…as it stands, is that I tend to get angry and stay angry over things that I see to be injustices, or systemic social patterns that I see to be wrong…which I may be more informed on, than most. I’m informed enough on it to know that focusing on it will likely lead to an early death from heart concerns or cancer. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the problem when you want to fix it, and think that if you think about it enough, you could understand and fix it. Often, though, the stress just ends up killing people.

I mean, I come from a background where people allow each other space to speak. I come from a background where “Step Forward/Step Back” is a basic ground rule of discussion. “Step Forward” invites people who are otherwise silent to contribute to the conversation. “Step Back” asks people who are dominating the conversation to quiet down and allow other people to speak — even if there are silences.

It’s a way to address the effects of power inequalities in spaces where group members experience differing power levels or cultural norms of conversation. Otherwise, it’s known that those who are accustomed to higher levels of power may take over and direct the conversation, often even talking over other people to maintain control. This silences others, perpetuates the current power dynamic, and deprives the group of the generativity it could experience if everyone were contributing.

The obvious argument is, “contribute if you want to contribute,” but that assumes that I’m comfortable with my contribution conflicting with or destroying the current dynamic, in which I’m a lower-powered member.

Anyhow. Aside from witnessing another episode of, “let’s watch the status quo in action,” I was able to put together the beginning of a necklace. It features a couple of Citrine beads I got in high school and never used, because the drill holes were so uneven that they wouldn’t even take a 24-gauge wire. I do have a bead reamer, though, so I held the beads under cool running tap water and twirled the reamer with gentle pressure (backing it out when it jammed, so I wouldn’t snap it off) until I could actually see that the hole widened enough to take a wire.

No, I didn’t intend to be gross about that. (I edited before posting.) Quiet, you. :P

Anyhow…it was easier than I anticipated, and left a cleaner drill hole than I anticipated. Another reason to ream a drill hole under running water is that it captures free particles of silicon dioxide, which I would expect to be hazardous to the lungs unless contained in something like water.

I’m thinking of using a wire-wrapping technique to wrap a teardrop-shaped cabochon of Smoky Quartz with Rutile inclusions. I’m not entirely sure right now, how I would do it; I just know that it’s possible. Maybe I should get some square wire to practice on, and, you know, see if I am better off making the earrings. :)

I also don’t quite know where I’ll find more Citrine…at least, in non-spherical shapes. The two specimens I have now, I bought loose — because, if I’m recalling correctly, they cost around $4 or $5 each. The entire strand was just an exorbitant price, for a teen (remember, I bought these in high school).

What’s weird is that both Smoky Quartz and Citrine are commonly colored by heating and/or irradiation, which…it’s just weird to me. Don’t mind me. They’re supposed to not be radioactive at point of sale, which I can just hope is true.

Anyhow, right now it’s mid-October, so the Bead Show will be here in about a month — if I can save up enough money to wait to buy a gorgeous Citrine strand, then. That, in turn, depends on how much I work, or am allowed to work (or how much I sell! I’m not overly attached to either of my last pieces, but I do need to document them — including cost of production).

What I’ve found is that I do really love making things, but I’m not too attached to the little pieces of jewelry I have after I’m done making them. One of my friends was telling me that she was addicted to the process of making, but then has all these things that pile up after she’s done, that she has to get rid of. I’m kind of feeling like that. Certainly, at the time I began this post, that’s how I was feeling. I mean, what I made is nice — but I can do better, and I will. And I want to see that. And…income from selling what I’ve made will help me see that.

I also got a gaiwan today (a little teacup-brewer). It isn’t as pretty as I would like, but it is a porcelain gaiwan, I can upend it comfortably, and it didn’t come with a Prop 65 Warning on carcinogens. At this point, I don’t know how much more I can ask for…

jewelry, personal, psychology

Recap, and envisioning my future self.

Okay, so…that bit of time when I was up until after midnight this last Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, and had to wake early Wednesday? I’m still feeling the aftereffects. (Of course, it is only Thursday. The days seem to be going slower for me, recently.)

I fell asleep by accident at 8 PM last night (Wednesday), then woke up at 3:30 AM (today, Thursday) from the local fox screaming in the backyard. (It’s probably a girl; we read that vixens scream to attract mates.) At that time, I realized I had missed my 9 PM medication…by 6.5 hours…and got up to take it. I also had to eat a little bit to avoid becoming sick from the meds — plantain chips. (It must have worked, as I didn’t get nauseous, and I wasn’t nauseous when I woke up.)

Then I brushed my teeth and got back in bed, to wake up at 9 AM for the live meeting of my current course. That was relatively difficult to get through; I went back to bed at 9:50 after it ended, skipping produce shopping for today.

So…I think that will have to wait until tomorrow, to avoid being on the road during rush hour. We did go out, though I basically had to eat two meals to stay up. The only way I am staying up right now is that I drank a caffeinated soda. I’m also eating some chocolate, which is likely not a coincidence.

I still haven’t written about last weekend, though…I wonder if I wrote anything by hand? I know I did, some. Any names mentioned here would have to be altered or omitted for confidentiality reasons…but basically, my dad’s cousin had a family gathering, and I got to meet family whom I had met maybe once before. There’s a lot of history that precedes me here; some that precedes my father; it’s not proper for the blog, but whose family history is…?

In any case, it was nice to meet people, though I kind of wish I had been more up to the task of being social. Because I’m a shy person by nature, I did do a little tatting at brunch to withdraw a bit. I am amazed at how many people know what tatting is! It’s sweet when they find you and recognize what you’re doing. <3

I’m also starting to really love tatting, or at least the fact that it’s extremely portable, and calming. I find that I can listen and be aware of my environment at the same time as I’m paying attention to what my hands are doing. Having my attention nominally on my handwork, though…it means that I’m not expected to talk.

I guess it’s kind of like the smartphone in the hands of the kid sitting next to me; it gives the impression that one is occupied, though I find that tatting doesn’t take up as much cognitive attention (as versus fine motor attention) as the phone does. I gave him some visual cues to signal that I could talk, but he was absorbed in his phone. I assumed that he didn’t want to talk as much or moreso than myself, so I left him alone.

So…after that, we headed off to Monterey. I still have most of a bag of candies from there (okay, about 60% now)…it’s kind of hard to visit Monterey and not come home with salt water taffy. The time we spent down there, we were with one of my aunts. It was nice to talk with her one-on-one, though I wish I had said more than I did. I just happen to be a listening kind of person, I guess.

Also, we visited the aquarium, which was interesting and cute. There were two high points for me: one were the birds (including the aviary [where I saw someone unsuccessfully try to entice a Snowy Plover into his hand: the plover just looked at him, about eight inches out of reach] and the Pigeon Guillemots in a separate exhibit); the other was the diving beetle exhibit!

Okay, so the two Pigeon Guillemots whom we saw in an exhibit were playing with the people looking at them by acting cute (trying to swim up to us, even though the glass obviously blocked them). I’m thinking they had learned that if they interacted with people (even people behind glass), they could get us to do things. :) They went away when I looked up to try and figure out what they were. I think they thought I was signaling disinterest (they couldn’t see the sign I was looking at), though I was really just a little embarrassed by how cute they were (and that I couldn’t give them any fish).

The diving beetles, though…that was just amazing. It was crazy seeing all the little beetles swimming around underwater! They have two paddle-like legs, and a bubble of air under their shells, and they just…swim. It’s amazing. I’ve never seen diving beetles before! (They were at the end of the Viva Baja exhibit.)

So…the places we stayed were also really nice, although I think there was some covert racial bias we encountered outside of the hotels. It’s hard to tell if it was that, or just a couple of instances of poor service.

So I don’t forget myself, I should mention that I visited a gallery/boutique on Cannery Row where I was able to purchase a black ceramic ring with a metallic polish. It reminds me very much of a hematite ring I had (and loved) in high school, and kept until it finally got a stress fracture. I found out later that hematite isn’t the greatest material for rings, as rings have to be hard-wearing, and hematite is vulnerable to stress fractures from rapid temperature changes, and also to fractures from shock (say, by putting one’s hand down on a table).

It doesn’t take a lot to crack hematite. It reminds me of another stone, fluorite, though fluorite is orders of magnitude more fragile than hematite (I’ve chipped it just by trying to bend a wire I’ve strung it onto). Opal is another one of those stones that is extremely easy to damage…it has acquired a reputation for bad luck because it’s so difficult to set.

Anyhow, the ring itself is really nice. The ceramic itself is a very hard, strong, and durable ceramic called a, “gem ceramic,” made from zircon. The last time I wore it to work, I found a shiny black chip trapped under the ring, and realized upon examining the ring for damage that the chip had to have come off of the paint from the shelving cart I had been handling.

I was just really amazed at the fact that my purchase decision was so easy — in lieu of getting a graduation ring, I got this. It has, however, also made me want to expand my earlobe piercings again. I stopped and let my piercings shrink down because I wasn’t sure I would want to go to large-gauge jewelry. However, at this point…this ring really matches the aesthetic I was going for. I’ve also worn plenty of my own jewelry, and I think it’s really okay that I wear jewelry which is different from the jewelry that I make. It’s a style decision.

Right now, I’m thinking that I’m okay with going up to 10 gauge, and with purchasing earrings at that size (as versus making them). Of course, at the moment, I’m closer to 20 gauge — standard earwire girth. It will take months to safely expand my piercings again, but I’m up to it. When I originally got pierced, it was at 14 gauge, I was young, and I told myself that I wouldn’t go up in gauge until I was very sure I wanted to.

Hey, it’s been about 15 years, and I’m pretty sure I’m good with it, now! Also, if I’m going to be a Librarian or Information Professional, I pretty much don’t have to worry about bias instigated by my jewelry. A lot of younger people wear this style, though it started (here, at least) with Generation X. I’m from the generation that followed.

So recently…I’ve been able to get more of a handle on dealing with my own style. For instance…I’ve decided to keep my hair long, and to wear it with its natural curl. I’ve found that if I clip my hair back, it puts less strain on my scalp than it does when I wear my hair pulled back. We have also been visiting some beauty supply stores, and I’ve found a type of shampoo and conditioner (by “Shea Moisture”) that is gentle enough to use frequently. It does seem to be a very good thing for me to use sulfate-free shampoo.

I do need to trim my ends, but I also found a styling aid that makes it much easier to comb. I’m considering — once I get my sleep stuff under control — taking a shower in the morning and washing my hair every day or two, so that I can wear it long and curly, without having slept on it first. I also finally have a decent hair dryer which I can use to target my roots, so I don’t get too cold, and so that I can avoid mildew growth. Hair care is the major reason for me to cut my hair short: I have a type of hair that is very high-maintenance (thick, wavy, and curly), and in the past, I didn’t want to be burdened with it. However, now I know that having it long is a choice, not a requirement.

I also now have enough makeup to practice, as well; though I need to wash my powder brush. There’s that, and the fact that I have to keep my body hair trimmed, if I want to wear sleeveless shirts and dresses. Then there’s the exercise which I want to get back to so that I can tighten my body up again and regain some leanness and hypertrophy (and energy). I really don’t have anything against being larger; it’s just the belly and the health drawbacks (and the specter of the weight gain from my medications not ceasing) that are causing me to work on myself.

I almost can’t believe how much identifying (and finding a community) as gender-nonbinary has freed up so much of my energy, and ceased so much of my angst about conforming or not conforming to standards as either a man or a woman. It’s enabled me to just release it, instead of being trapped in a two-gender dialogue between compulsory femininity and rebellion against compulsory femininity.

I used to hear trans* men say similar things (a great sense of freed-up energy and sense of well-being) about their lives after transition to male, though (which made me want to transition, before I realized I wasn’t them; thus, their solution wouldn’t work for me), so I want to emphasize that the happiness, liberation, and sense of calm comes with finding your authentic self, whoever you are, and finding your own way to engage with the world, over all the noise that tells you that you shouldn’t be you. It has nothing to do with the specific identity of the point you find to be happy at.

For me, getting to this point has had to do with finding what makes me happy, and negotiating out a way to do that, with the world — regardless of others’ opinions of whether or not what I’m doing is, “correct,” (against what standard?) or whether I’m being, “trans enough” — because, cis and trans are relative and culturally contextual terms. In my case, I know I’m going to stand out (firstly, because of my race), no matter what I do, and regardless of whether I want to. My thought is that I might as well aim to become a person I am proud to be: my authentic self; and then let things play out as they will. No regrets.

personal, self care

Hygiene, exercise, pride

I have meant to write in for the past couple of days, though in practicality, most of yesterday — after an emergency meeting and clothes and produce shopping — was lost to sleep. I still haven’t really begun this next section of my coursework, on Library of Congress Classification (LCC; a form of classification used mainly in Academic [College and University] Libraries)…but on the upshot, I’ve been taking care of myself better, now that the classes don’t hold my future on the line. That really is the silver lining to this.

Well…”silver lining.” These classes are optional. I shouldn’t stress myself out too much over them…especially since right now I’m seeing work in a Public Library as more within reach (as versus Academic). Or maybe I’m just saying that because learning LCC is HARD. The class I’m in puts it much more within reach than I would be on my own, but it still requires neuron growth. Neuron growth can be intimidating and uncomfortable, especially at the beginning of the process.

Instead of staying home to work on this, I went to the gym. I’m really glad I did. I see now why my prescribing doctor has wanted me to exercise: not only is it going to help me distinguish between “awake time” and “sleep time” (I was much more awake afterward than I would have been if I had stayed home to study), but I need to be getting activity in order to stop and reverse the weight gain caused by one of my medications. As well, the recent injury I’ve sustained is likely to be related to my current weight as versus the strength of my ligaments and tendons.

Today, then, I started with cardio and moved on to lunges and squats (a bit gentle, as I’m still healing), then to abs, and then I started spot-training my delts (shoulders), which was the only machine work I did today (I can lift 20 lbs. overhead; my deltoids are among the weakest muscles on me). I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve realized that it’s really OK for me to want to be buff again. It’s something I was discouraged from, a while back, and I’ve gotten to the point of realizing that the person who was discouraging me really had his own things going on that had nothing to do with me. There’s more to the story, of course, but not so much for public consumption.

Later that day, I went with someone to a makeup store, and got a foundation — which helps me feel better about my skin. Right before dinner, I took a shower and washed my hair (from the gym), and did a deep scrub on my face, followed up with an awesome moisturizer. That…is going a lot better, as well. I’ve realized how attractive it is to work out and be clean at the same time, and to maintain my self-care even when I don’t have to. It isn’t about other people, after all; it’s about me, and it’s becoming about how much I value myself.

That also means that I don’t have to be conventionally, “beautiful.” I can do what I want to, when and in the way that I want to.

So…I’m introducing myself to (or being introduced to) the concept of taking pride in my personal hygiene. I think it’s probably because I’ve recovered enough, and have enough spare time, to do more than the minimum to get by. I kind of wonder what it’s like to live with me while I really — for example — need a shower; and I don’t want to make my family have to tolerate that anymore. I want to be a person who is not a chore to be around, even with the people closest to me.

That much is said; more could be said about getting ready to face the day (basic hygiene — brushing teeth, washing face, showering, using deodorant) even when I’m not planning to go out of the house — or brushing and flossing, even when I know I don’t have to. People with my condition (separate of being gender-nonbinary) tend to have problems with self-care, and I am intending at this moment to break that stereotype. Of course, I haven’t yet started the routine…but I think it will be OK.

I want to use makeup again. And I’ve realized, that’s also OK.

Since school has ended…I’ve had the time and energy to put into things like being more social, and caring for my dwelling and my personal care. I did go to a meeting recently…expressly to be social, because outside of online and work and family, I don’t have much of a social life. That meeting is easier than most to deal with, because we basically all understand each other.

I actually had a kind of profound realization that I’m attracted to people who exhibit an unusual combination of gendered traits…and that there are people who very naturally exhibit (and aspire to) those mixtures. It’s possible that I haven’t had an intimate relationship (that I was involved in) for a very long time, because I am attracted to certain people, who both understand me, and whom…well, whom I can appreciate.

It’s different, that is, to be with someone who has no experience having a gender they are not seen to embody, as versus someone who can actually let me be me, and who can understand that what I look like doesn’t determine who I am; that even if others find my voice associated with women, that doesn’t mean I have to agree. Who understands that I don’t have to see myself as a man or a woman (or “boy” or “girl”) in order to exist, and to be worthy of respect and love. Actual love, not just being an object of fascination or possession or abuse.

Have I gone into this on this blog, before? I don’t think I have…