Let’s talk about another taboo.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’ve talked before a little bit about my own dealings with depression, but I don’t think I ever really touched on one of the causes that kicks off the endless up-and-down cycles I go through with no end in sight. It comes down to simple biology. Not a genetic presupposition for depression, although it’s possible that’s a factor too. I’m talking about the basic biology be being female-bodied.

Being female-bodied in society has a lot of baggage already attached to it. Things are pretty messed up, to understate the state of things. Everyday in the news there’s new reasons and examples of how much life sucks for the female-bodied and female-passing, and it’s hard to ignore just how little we’re valued as equal people. The issue I’m talking about today is one of the first basic taboo subjects we’re all taught to avoid and ridicule from adolescence: our periods. The time of month we cry and bleed and hurt and rage, and around expected to either hide it or be teased about it.

For at least a quarter of every single month of the majority of my life, I can expect my own body to put me through a personal hell of physiological and psychological warfare. Every female-bodied person experiences this time of the month a little differently. For me, starting a little over a week from when the blood comes, I start feeling overwhelmed and helpless and stressed out. I get depressed, I can’t focus mentally, I cry at the slightest frustration or emotional response to anything, I just want to stay curled up in bed so I don’t have to face anyone while I feel raw and vulnerable and flayed open by my own mind. It’s impossible to my usual optimistic and cheerful self. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde; I become dark and cynical and sometimes suicidal, feeling hopeless and distracted and unable to cope with any kind of interactions.

This is every month, for one week out of every four. No matter what I do or try.

Recovering from this kind of mental flogging is bad enough, difficult and painful and slow. Usually I have about one good week a month, because I’m beat down by my own body and worn out trying to recover for that long every single month. On top of this, I also get beat up and worn down by the things which are usually called ‘cramps’, which in my opinion doesn’t even come close to describing the endless twisting aching stabbing pain which, lucky me, isn’t effected by any pain relief, over-the-counter or prescription. This is the kind of pain that makes me feel like I’m going to throw up all day because it runs so deep in my body, that makes life unbearable while it lasts, that leaves me faint and ill and pale and hunched over if I have to stand up or walk anywhere. This is the kind of pain I’m expected to work through without showing it, because it’s the pain of being female-bodied and comes every month and “everyone has to deal with it” so I shouldn’t expect special treatment. This is the kind of pain that usually lasts about 24-48 hours, and leaves me weak and shaky for a day or two more after it leaves. Every. Single. Month.

This is considered within the realms of “normal”. Oh sure, having some kind of weird immunity to painkillers isn’t typical, but that’s just a bit of random trivia to other people, a point on which to show a little extra sympathy while still telling me to tough it out and keep working, don’t slow down, we all go through this so why are you so weak as to ask for a day off?

There’s a lot of messed up expectations in society. Despite people not admitting it, the fact of that matter is that having a menstrual cycle is a lot like having a mental illness with physical symptoms, complete with a lot of the same stigmas, belittling jokes, and daily struggles. The difference is, there’s a lot of fight happening right now to increase awareness and understanding about a lot of mental illnesses, and effective or not, there’s at least some forms of support networks for a lot of them, too. Not so much so for the things I’ve been facing and fighting on my own, and I bet that a lot of other female-bodied people are, too. It’s a conversation that just isn’t happening, and I don’t think a lot of people are even aware it’s something that should be addressed, because it’s so deeply ingrained that periods are normal (yes, they are), and that there’s nothing to do about it except put up with it (wrong wrong wrong).

In a perfect world, female-bodied people who suffered through their cycles like I do would be given the support and help they need to take care of themselves during this time. They wouldn’t be forced to try and hide the impossible battles they faced. Instead, they would be encouraged to do whatever helped them survive it, up to and including simply not going to work when necessary, or being given options of different tasks they could actually perform during the times they were unable to fully cope with their normal duties. I don’t think of this as “special treatment”; I think of it as basic human compassion. If people with physical differences and people with mental differences are worth fighting for to get equal treatment, then so is over half the world population who happens to have both a quarter of their lives because of their biology.

Society has conditioned us all to accept that we don’t deserve consideration for the acts of our biology simply because it’s something we all experience to various degrees, and that giving in to it is weakness and we must hide it to be considered ‘equal’ to male-bodied people.

That’s utter nonsense.

Hopefully by now you can see how utterly nonsensical it is, and how very far from any kind of real equality it is. I don’t have answers on how to fight this battle, or advice on creating awareness and change, or channels for building support. All I have is this blog and my words and my outrage. All I have is the hope this is message will resonate and spread, and that somehow, eventually, the world might become a place where I don’t feel like life isn’t worth living because of having been born into this body that I mostly try to love.

Keep fighting. Maybe someday a real equality for everyone will be achieved. Until then, we can keep whispering the dream of it into the darkness, a prayer and a wish to attract the sun and a new day into this endless night terror.

Love,

GeGi.

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Advanced Sexuality 101.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

In last week’s Tuesday post I talked a bit about my gender identity. Thanks to some inspiration from one of my bloggy friends, I thought a good follow-up would be talking a little more on that, and start talking about sexuality. This is a huge subject to cover in one post, so I’m going to try for just a basic introduction to some of the more complex aspects this time. If you have any questions afterward feel free to ask in the comments!

To a majority of people, I think sexuality is still considered a bit of a yes/no, black/white, gay/straight subject. Hopefully quite a few people are aware of some of the middle ground — bisexuality — and see that it is a legitimate aspect of a spectrum. However, there’s a growing awareness that sexuality, like gender, can be much more complex and multifaceted in reality and practice.

Below is a useful chart for reference; I like this one because it contains enough categories that I think it starts to reflect a bit more accuracy with us more complex humans, yet it is still a fairly simple and accessible breakdown for those being introduced to this concept.

According to this chart’s categories and definitions, for instance, I would currently self-identity this way:

  • Gender Identity is genderqueer.
  • Romantic Attraction is lesbian.
  • Sexual Attraction is bisexual.
  • Sex is female.
  • Sexual Practice is grey asexual.

This is basically why I label my sexuality with the catch-all term “queer”, in case you wondered.

Now, I’ve already talked about being genderqueer in the prior post I mentioned. “Bisexual”, for me, is not about binary genders; it is saying “I like those with gender/sex like me, and I like those with gender/sex unlike me”. I prefer it to pan-sexual for personal reasons (nothing against those who prefer pan-sexual! I’ve used that label as well, and have zero problems with it. Labeling yourself is all about personal preference). I’m going to assume that “lesbian” and “female” probably don’t need explaining. If they do, then just ask me in the comments, or do a search on the internet, or look in the local library.

As for the last category, “grey asexual” is a term that can have different definitions depending on who you ask. Broadly speaking, it can be an umbrella-term for folks that aren’t quite sexual, but aren’t quite asexual either. The middle ground, so to speak. This one is a bit tricky for some people to understand, so I’ll get into it more further down. For now, just try to keep in mind that sexuality can be more than just an “on/off” thing for some of us.

I’m going to assume that thinking of sexuality and gender in these ways is new and unfamiliar for you. If it isn’t, awesome! I love awareness and diversity, so good for you! For the rest of you, I’m going to start getting into these categories a little more. This subject is about as huge as the number of people in the human race, since we’re all incredibly diverse and unique in many ways — so if I get something wrong, it’s because I can only speak for myself and my own understanding. Think of this as an introduction rather than the definitive word on the subject.

Obviously, a lot of people are probably not overly complex, and therefore might not think of some of these things being separate categories; not every chart separates romantic attraction, sexual attraction, and sexual practice, for instance. But that’s one of the reasons I love this particular chart. Those ARE separate things for some people, and defining our own sexuality to ourselves — much less coming out to other people — can get very confusing very quickly without the realization that we can have different answers for those aspects.

Much the same way my biology is female but my mind and personality are genderqueer, I experience physical attraction — “that person looks sexy”, etc — to all genders, but tend to only have romantic attraction — “I wanna spend time with that person”, etc — with non-male/female gender types. Oddly enough, I’ve been in more “dating” type relationships with men; I guess I seem to come off as a straight female unless I correct people all the time, and for a while it was easier from me to do as expected and ignore how I felt, due to unfortunate circumstances. But I usually didn’t feel quite right in those relationships, more like I was playing a part than just being me, and they rarely lasted very long.

As for sexual practice, I would personally like to break down this category further: Sexual Practice Identity and Sexual Practice Behavior. Like the separation of other categories, those can legitimately be different things for some people. It can cause confusion and distress for one’s self and others trying to deal with the seeming paradoxes caused by trying to definite them as one thing. Currently my answers would be the same for both, but there have been times when they were not. For instance, the last time I was in a relationship, my identity was still grey asexual, but my behavior wasn’t. That caused a lot of problems and stress for me, because at the time I didn’t know how to break it down into these categories to reconcile how I felt with how I acted.

Speaking of grey asexual, this would be a good time to get into another aspect of the sexuality spectrum. Hopefully most people are aware of the range between gay and straight, with bisexuality being in the middle. However, this is only one side of a sexuality pyramid. Asexuality — those who do not experience sexual attraction/desires — is the other tip. In that vast space between those points, are all the people in-between; those who rarely experience sexual feelings, those who only do under very particular circumstances, those who experience it very atypically, and so on. If you want more information about this, I suggest you check out AVEN’s website here, because it’s basically a whole other post to really get into it, and I’m just doing overviews at this point.

I call myself grey asexual to indicate that I’m somewhere in the middle of that pyramid/spectrum. In terms of Sexual Practice (both behavior and identity), I don’t consider myself completely asexual; yet I have very little interest at the moment in pursuing a physical relationship with anyone — and am only slightly less averse to the idea of a romantic non-physical relationship (those relationships would be called demisexual, by some definitions). As mentioned above, I have a history of feeling conflicted about physical relationships even when I do think I want them — so I’m pretty sure I would label myself grey asexual for my Sexual Practice Identity even when my Behavior did not indicate it.

All in all, I tend to approach all aspects of my sexuality — like my gender — as being quite fluid. I’m aware this view is pretty atypical from the majority. It can lead to a lot of confusion and uncertainty, for myself and others, but I find the fluid and multifaceted approach helps my own sanity more than it hurts anything else, and that’s the important thing. Everything I’ve talked about here is only as useful as it is helpful; if it doesn’t help you, don’t apply it to you. But by the same token, please keep it in mind when dealing with others, so you can be respectful of their identities and needs.

There’s a lot of information in this post, so I’m going to leave at that for now. I didn’t really get into everything, but it’s a start, and hopefully it will spark some interest in learning more about this fascinating subject! If you have any questions or would like me to do another follow-up on one of these topics, leave a comment…

Love,

GeGi.

“I contain multitudes.”

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’ve mentioned before that I am genderqueer. In case that interests any of you, I thought that today I’ll talk about it a little more.

When I was a kid, I never heard of any options outside the gender binary (male/female). I was female-bodied, so I figured that meant I was female. I grew up in the country, and I was either by myself or tagging after older kids a lot. My favorite game was coming up with fantasy scenarios — usually along the lines of my being an elf ranger with a stick for a sword and an imaginary bow, fighting orcs and having epic adventure quests. I was quiet and and uncomfortable around girls my age, because I couldn’t relate to them. They were interested in love stories and playing mommy and being mean towards other girls, and I wasn’t. I was more interested in trying to prove that I could be as good or better than boys at anything, being physically strong, and having fantasy adventures alone in the woods.

As I got older and the other girls started reaching the ‘boy-crazy’ phase, I related less and less. I swore to myself that I would NEVER become obsessed with make-up and skin and clothes and especially with boys. It all seemed like such a waste of time to me, when there were so many other interesting things to do and think about — like reading, and fantasy games, and archery lessons, and riding horses, and running around in the woods.

As I entered teenhood, I got more and more uncomfortable with my body. I wore baggy boyish clothes, because anything more feminine or revealing felt awkward and wrong. I spent more time online, looking for things that would help me understand why I had slowly stopped feeling the pride I had felt as a child in my body and gender. I started fantasizing about being a boy, and experimented with binding my chest. I imagined what I would have been like had I been born male. I started writing stories with male narration. Yet I didn’t quite feel comfortable with claiming a transgender identity. Being a girl still didn’t feel right, but I didn’t quite feel like a boy either. I started identifying with androgyny, and the idea of being “both” and “other” at the same time.

When I first came across the terms “genderqueer”  and “genderfluid”– the idea that gender is a spectrum and one’s position on it can be outside the usual categories, and can even change dependent solely on how one feels at any given moment — I knew I had finally found the answer I’d been so desperately looking for. It was freeing and liberating; suddenly I could let go of the guilt I felt at “failing” to be a girl, or at “failing” to be a transboy. I wasn’t either, and I didn’t have to choice between them. I could just choose to be ME, free of gender labels that didn’t fit anyway and had been feeling more and more like they were full of constraints and expectations.

Some days I want to be a bit girly. Some days I want to be a boy. Some days I’m still horribly uncomfortable in my own body, because it is so very female. Some days I don’t care. Mostly, I wish society in general knew that gender wasn’t always binary, so people would see me as my actual gender rather than just my female body.

I worry sometimes that telling people about all this will make them think that I hate or fear being female, or that I have “penis envy”, or some other completely error-filled assumption that helps them invalidate my feelings in their world-view. My response to these and similar claims: I believe those feelings are probably normal reactions in a society that creates a world where being female is a bad thing, and being male is a good thing, and it speaks vastly more about the problems with such a society than it does the invalidity of those feelings. I don’t know how much of what I feel about my personal gender is in reaction to living in an insidiously patriarchal culture. Even if the answer was “100%”, should that really make a difference? We don’t exist in a vacuum, so why should my influences make what I feel less valid? It’s still how I feel.

If we lived in a more equal society, I would hope that it would also be more equal towards a less binary view of things like gender and sexuality. I want to live in a society where the person I know I am is accepted as valid without explanation or defense, where discussion is surrounded by genuine interest instead of attacks, and I would be able to check the box that says “fluid”. All those things should be basic freedoms for all people.

At the end of the day, how I feel about ANYTHING when it comes to identity — gender and sexuality included — tends to be in constant flux. It’s part of being alive, at least for me. It’s part of my growth and change and exploration. Fluidity is part of my identity. I call myself genderqueer because that’s who I am. I know it the same way others know they are male or female.

Love,

GeGi.

Young People Push Back Against Gender Categories

Young People Push Back Against Gender Categories

My Mum sent me this link a while back, following a conversation we had about same topic. I finally got around to listening to it (I know, I know, I’m a terrible procrastinator), and was really impressed with the positive way they handled this subject for such a short segment.
As a self-identified queer and fluid person myself, I really loved hearing this on NPR, and wanted to share it.