What’s between your legs? And why does it matter?!

A conversation happened today in which the subject of the events going on in the US was being discussed. I was present but not part of the discussion but when a remark was made that we didn’t need to worry , up here in Canada, and especially here in this city because, after all… there weren’t really that many gays. As a matter of fact, this person said, she didn’t even know anyone who was gay. Well, hold on there…now I was part of the discussion, thank you very much.

After outing myself and being open that I have many friends and chosen family who live in the states and that they have very real and very founded fears for themselves and their lives, not to mention the potential ramifications on their employment and basic human rights, I explained that it wasn’t something that was just an issue in the states. That as a gay woman, in an openly lesbian relationship with another woman, safety IS something that is a consideration, even in Canada.

I was told bluntly that, as a “straight looking feminine woman” I don’t look like a “real gay person” and therefore, I don’t have any reason to be afraid for what is happening in the US since the election. Sadly, this is not the first time – or the last probably – that this sentiment is voiced.

As a Femme dyke, I know that I am very often misread as being straight. I also know that I am always quick to openly correct someone when that assumption is made known. One reason for that is for that exact point – because I don’t look like what some uninformed or unexposed people would expect a gay person to look like. So, in my little way, in my predominantly safe area of the world that we live in, I try to do what I can to expose people.  It’s often frustrating and feels like one step forward two steps back as I see a stranger being dismissive or worse yet, seeing someone who has been working to understand and accept suddenly come out with a remark that is born of long standing beliefs that are, clearly, not as changed as I had hoped.

Later in the day, a small remark from a co-worker about someone who may or may not “be a man” sparked a remark back from me that asked the question “what makes a person a man or a woman. If they say they’re a man, then they’re a man”.

I was frustrated and upset from the earlier conversation and would normally have let this go but not today. So here’s my little roller coaster of “nope, not dropping this one today”, it’s time for a bit of a rant…

*disclaimer, this is in no way comprehensive, it covers just what I ranted about today in person with my co-worker, notably, masculine/feminine and the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation*

What defines a person’s gender? Or their sexual orientation? Or their self identity? Or, or, or….? Spoiler alert, aka the short answer: Not you.

The terms masculine and feminine are not gender specific. They are simply terms that are used to categorize certain traits, mannerisms and characteristics of behaviour and appearance or presentation. Yet they are so often used in such a limited, and limiting way that it’s harmful.

We are taught from as far back as we can recall that a person is labelled as a boy or a girl because of what they are born with between their legs. Along with whatever parts are visible is the expectation of how they will dress, behave and what what roles in society they will fit into. All based on genitals. That’s a lot to live up to based on physical presentation. So what if what a person is, who they are, is not what society says they should be, based on what is between their legs and on their chest?

What do you do with the little girl who wants to ride dirt bikes and play ice hockey instead of ringette? Or the little boy who loves to match his socks to his shirts and draws intricate doodles of flowers. Both of these examples by the way are of children that I knew when my kids were in school, and in both cases, it was the parents who were far more judgemental than the other kids.

Ok you say, some people are gay and that’s ok. Ah, but what if these little kids aren’t gay? What if they are what they are in their expression of themselves and it has nothing to do with who they will be sexually and/or romantically attracted to when they grow up? A person’s gender identity and their sexual orientation are not the same thing.

How do you classify a masculine woman; one who identifies as a woman, has the commonly accepted physical aspects of female (pssst, I mean a vagina) but who is more masculine than feminine in her dress and mannerisms.

How do you classify a feminine man; one that has a penis – so he must be a man (because that is, of course, how you determine these things after all) but his mannerisms and way of dressing or acting would be more commonly called feminine?

Then add in the aspect of sexuality and sexuality orientation.

What if that masculine woman isn’t a lesbian like you thought she would be when you slotted her into that category in your mind? Because all women who dress and act more “like a man” must be lesbians. Just like that woman that you see in feminine dress and make up must be straight. Maybe, maybe not – on both accounts. Oh but what if that pretty, feminine woman has a penis? She might, or she might not. How would you know, and why would it make a difference to what you see her as. What matters is how she sees herself and how she lives her life.

What if that man who is so feminine, and who you assume must be a gay man, isn’t? What if he’s a straight man who is, just simply, more feminine that what you think a straight man should be like? Oh but wait, what if he has a vagina? But then again how would you know, and what would it matter.

So many what if’s! So many varieties and options and possibilities! What if you just accepted a person as just that: a person. My sexual orientation has nothing to do with how I interact with someone in day to day life. Neither does my self identity of gender. Unless we are looking to hookup or date, it just doesn’t matter. It’s really that simple.

You may now unbuckle and get off the roller coaster. The tilt-a-whirl is just around the corner, I’ll meet you there for the next ride 😉

Advertisements

Do What You Can

It was 5 years ago this week, last Sunday to be exact, that I had a note given to me by my son, Willie. It was in response to an argument we had had that evening and in that argument I had said to him “What is going on with you?!” You see, he hadn’t been himself for months. Many months. He had  been moody and sleeping most of the time when he wasn’t at school (which he had also started to skip – which was unheard of before). He snapped at his brothers more than the usual bickering that was fairly common-place in a house of 4 boys. He had been mostly communicating through grunts or eye rolls or silence and even that was escalating to slammed doors and him storming out of the house. Standard “teenage” behaviour but it just didn’t sit right with me. On this evening in particular, he had responded to a simple question – about something so trivial that I don’t even remember what it is – with a completely out of control reaction. His voice was shaking by the end of his tirade and my son was close to tears and standing in front of me, clenching his fists and fighting to not breakdown. I uttered the phrase that I did because, honestly, I was at a loss as to what he was going through and I knew that it wasn’t something as easy to explain away as him being 15 years old and full of hormones.

His response was quiet. He stood in front of me and said simply “I can’t tell you.” So I said what the first thing that popped into my head. I told him to write me a note; write it down instead of telling me face to face. I told him that it was okay if he couldn’t talk to me but that he had to let me know what was up. He just nodded and walked away to his room. No slammed door, no stomping, he just walked away.

A few minutes later he came out with a piece of paper in his hand and he walked into the kitchen and placed it on the counter. He looked at me as he walked past me again and told me it was there and I could read it – or not – he didn’t care… and back to his room he went. As soon as his door closed I was up and in the kitchen and had the paper in my hand. It was a concise and bluntly worded note to me. You know the phrase about blood running cold? That note did that. As a mother, to read it, scared me. I wasn’t sure what I expected; maybe a nasty rant about how annoying I was to him or how controlling or strict I was or how much he hated the rules of the house… I don’t know what I thought I would see, but it wasn’t what I saw. Instead, it was a clear and simple request for help.

In it, he said, amongst other things,  that he was sure that he had a mental illness but he didn’t know what kind. He said that he was suicidal and had been for a long time – that it wasn’t just a phase. He said more, and he ended with asking for help. He said, literally, “I need help”.

5 years ago, I believed that I could find him the help that he needed. I believed that there were resources that would be easily accessible and that those resources would be able to help my son get better and that it would all be ok. I had, after all, just recently gone through a medical issue with my oldest son. Just the year before, Willie’s oldest brother had developed a large tumour in his neck. We went from the walk in clinic to being fast-tracked in the ER to seeing an oncologist within 24 hours. Biopsies and surgery ensued and all was good. Not great, there were glitches here and there and I had to advocate more than once for him and be a bit pushy but we navigated it and he got the care he needed. The end result was a larger than anticipated scar after surgery and being told that the pathology report was the best kind of “we don’t know for sure but we are certain it’s most likely not malignant” that we could hope for. 6 years down the road now and he’s doing great and there is no cause to think that Christumour (our pet name for his lump) will ever come back. All good.

So, when Willie came to me with what was, essentially, a medical issue that needed to be dealt with, I thought that I would go to the doctor, bringing the note with me like some sort of written version of a snapshot of “what IS this?” ailment and that we would be sent to someone and voila! He would get care and treatment and it may not be easy or quick or without glitches, but that it would happen.

5 years later and I hate to admit it but I don’t believe that anymore. I don’t believe that the “glitches” we ran into were anomalies or that we just had bad luck with finding or accessing resources. It’s a long story and maybe someday I’ll put it all together and try to make sense of it but the short version is that I’ve come, not to bitterness, but to reality about the mental health care system that we have.

I see a lot written and promoted about changing “the system” and about increasing resources or access to resources for people who are dealing with mental health issues. The more I see, the more I am aware that it hasn’t changed and that, in all likelihood, it won;t.

I’ve struggled over the past few months with a sense of despair almost in coming to terms with this. Partly because I did what every person who loses someone does. I thought that living with grief would be easier, better, I don’t know what, if Willie’s death “meant something” or if something came of it that would make it at least not be in vain. The standard reaction that happens that is the attempt to not have a death just be what it is; reality and a part of life.

The fact is that, on a large scale – the scale that we all want to see change -, there won’t ever be the changes that are needed to really make a difference. Part of that is due to the fact that mental illness isn’t treatable like a physical illness. Rarely is there anything like a conclusive test that can ascertain what is “wrong” and even more rare is it that medical professionals have any sort of proven treatment protocol that they can prescribe. Part of it is due though to the sheer size of the system – both the way it is and the way it is needed to be. Frustrating but true. Reality bites. Not liking how badly it sucks doesn’t change it from sucking.

So instead of being dragged down even further than this time of year is already dragging me by this reality, I turn to the idea that was presented to me a couple of years ago. At a mental health resource day that I was invited to attend, one of the youth mental health workers gave me this advice (I’m paraphrasing here…) Honey, all we are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We may not be able to stop it from going down but we can make it a bit better, however we can, while it happens. While saving the ship that is mental healthcare is beyond what each of us can do, we can each make an impact on someone, sometime, somehow.

Do what you can; be kind, be a shoulder for someone who needs one to lean on, reach out , or reach back to someone grasping for help, be an ear for someone to bend to lighten their load a bit if they need it, be an advocate, be what you can to someone who needs someone. I am trying to focus on making a difference where I can and not thinking about where I can’t.

Just One Picture

Can a person who is hurting and living with grief still laugh and feel joyful? Absolutely. Can that person cry and feel like never getting out of bed again? Absolutely.

Why is it that it’s encouraged and supported to relive and carry with us “good” memories but we are quietly (or not so quietly) nudged to let go and move on from the “bad” ones.

Take pictures of that awesome vacation and the hikes and the milestones that everyone is smiling at. Remember those times in your life blah blah blah.

But grief…loss…death? Oh dear, it’s bad to hold onto that. Don’t dwell on it. Let it go and move on with your life. Don’t let that shape how you see life now. Put it behind you and live your life.

Well guess what? All of those amazing experiences and those happy times are inside of me and helped make me who I am today – and so are all of the not so happy times in my life. Joy and hurt can exist in the same body and mind. At the same time.

Why is it ok for me to talk about a great family vacation and laugh as I remember the ridiculous events and the fun, but when I talk about how it felt to leave my son behind in an emergency psych unit, I get told that bringing it up will just make the grief last longer? Life is made up of laughter AND tears. Trust me on this one, not feeling hurt doesn’t mean that all you feel is joy. If you have lost – or pushed away – the ability to feel hurt, than what’s left is not just joy. It’s apathy and emptiness. As bad as grief can be and as badly as it can hurt, I’ll keep letting myself feel it because it means that I can also feel the swing side of it. There was too long after Willie died that I was numb. I’ve learned over the last two years that starting to feel “good” things again – happiness, love, sensuality and silliness – meant letting in the “bad” that I had been hiding away. I can’t move forward without bringing it all  with me.

Like a picture that hangs on the wall, grief is just there in my life. It isn’t the only picture on my wall and it isn’t all that my life is, like it was at first, but I know now that it will always be there.

It’s always present but I don’t always look at it or even really see it sometimes. Some days I go by and barely notice it. Other days, it’s all I can see on that wall. Its presence doesn’t affect what goes on in the room though. There are days that I cry and rage and scream there. There are other days that I laugh and make love and giggle in that room. Some days the room is quiet and mellow while some days the noise can be deafening.

My life is like that room. So much more than just one picture among the many that adorn its walls. It’s a combination of everything that’s there and all the things that will be brought in still as I experience and live my life. There’s always room for more.

Adding on and growing and with every new addition, it changes and becomes…. and is Life.

We all deal differently

We all deal with things differently. Going through the death of my son has shown me that in so many ways.

I was at a conference recently where I saw and reconnected with people who I haven’t seen in a long time. Some of them were colleagues that I haven’t seen in a year or two; not since I moved away in summer 2012.

After the death of my son, I never really went back to my job. I did briefly but it was a disaster. People not sure what to say to me or how to act around me. On my part, I was trying to be “ok” and not at all pulling that off. After a couple of miserable attempts at getting back to “normal” I made the decision to not return. So the end result was that I basically fell off the grid to most of the people who I had known for the last 20 years or so.

Coming face to face with a few of them last year at another conference was hard. It was 2013 and it was my first time back since I had moved. I spent that conference ducking most people. The first hour I was on site I ran into a couple of people. With one, I burst into tears as soon as I saw him and had a hell of a time regrouping myself; the other turned and almost tripped over herself trying to take off in the other direction and pretend we hadn’t made eye contact.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of that weekend with my head down, going from session to session as isolated as I could and getting off site as fast as possible at the end. Not exactly a great experience.

This year, very different, and interestingly so. A lot of healing and change has happened in the past year in me. Also, I was open to just let it come as it would this year.

I spent the first couple of hours this year very similar to last. I saw a number of colleagues and past friends in the first hour or so…and avoided them. Quickly changing direction to move to a different hallway… shifting my glance and making like I hadn’t seen them when I saw them turn towards me. For the most part, it worked. They were all ok with not coming in contact with me as well. Then the unavoidable happened. I walked almost face into one of my previous staff. No avoiding this and we both stared and said hello. Awkward chatter ensued and he seemed relieved when I said I was going a different way and would see him later. But the seal had been cut. I had done it. I had spoken to someone and I was ok.

It got easier after that…and a funny thing happened. I found that I started seeing that everyone deals differently indeed. Some people who I had known very well, who I would consider very close, were surprisingly distant and vague with me. Lots of chit-chat and “how are you” but very superficial and almost cold. It was apparent that it was a “please don’t tell me how you really have been… I don’t want to/can’t handle hearing the real honest answer”. So they got the standard reply of “doing good” and that’s that. Some mindless talk about catching up with who’s still working where etc and we would hug and say how great it was to see each other again and move on. This went on again and again with lots of people throughout the weekend.
On encounter in particular thought made me notice how different people are though… and how you can’t tell how someone is going to be.

A colleague who I hadn’t worked with in years but who I had known for a long time before that saw me across the entry area. I thought this would be a quick hello and great to see you and I’d be on my way. Her and I had been friends and work companions for almost 10 years at one point but we were never really close. I was stunned when she hugged me and asked, very plainly, how I was doing… saying in the same breath “I’ve been worried about you, losing Willie must have been horrible. I don’t know how you got through it”. Bang, right out there. No tiptoeing about or sad faces while she did the “how are you?”. Just a straight forward acknowledgement that life had dealt a shitty blow and there’s no point putting it any other way. It took me by surprise but also was a breath of fresh air. And a funny thing occurred. I answered her, openly and honestly. I teared up and wiped them away and kept talking through it… and it was all ok. We wound up walking and talking for almost half an hour until the next session. She was someone I ended up spending a few breaks and a lunch with that weekend, with other people too, but also alone and catching up.

She gave me the gift of seeing that the grief and the pain and what happened is just simply there. Not to hide from other people or to pretend it never happened. It’s just there. And it’s ok if it’s uncomfortable or if it hurts. Life’s like that. She talked about her son’s struggle with depression and how he’s doing ok now. Just simple, open conversation. Refreshing. And needed.

I needed to see that some people will run, some will mask it and pretend everything is how it was, and some will face me head on and openly. It’s all ok, not one is good or bad, no right or wrong, just unique.

No one can tell me how to grieve… and no one can tell anyone else how to react to someone grieving. We all deal, differently

The Seeking Spirit

I came across a term today that struck me and inspired me to put to words something that has been on my mind for the last year or so.
“The asking animal”, a term used to describe the human animal. What it is that makes us different from the other animals that we share nature with. Got me thinking though… are we all “asking”, or as I phrase it, seeking?

There are those of us who are seekers. Those who hunger and thirst for the “why” and for so much more that the status quo in life. Those who aren’t content with just accepting. Those who see where they are, not as the destination, but as just part of the journey. Not to say that this is the same as being always looking for the next best thing or the greener grass just on the other side of the fence. I’m talking about seeking and journeying towards more intangible gains. The striving to understand, to grow and become “more”. To desire to expand and experience rather than to be complacent. The wanting to be a better Self, a more aware Self, a more realized and actualized Self.

There are those who simply exist and bumble along in their lives. Like someone who simply drifts in the canoe down the river while the oars rest in the bottom of the boat. Maybe enjoying the ride and even looking around and appreciating the view. Happy with the direction of travel but not in control of where they go or how they get there even. They never wonder if there is a different stream to travel; one that might offer an alternate environment. They never think to take time to rest in a nook, to get out of the current for a bit. They never pick up the oars. They never even think to, never mind act on the thought. They never think of the even more radical idea of getting out of the boat altogether and striking out on foot for the mountain in the distance. The live aimlessly and complacently with whatever comes their way.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the option of simply drifting isn’t for me. Seeking and growing is who I am and how I live my life. It goes beyond just acknowledging that I am in control of my reactions to what comes my way. It’s an awareness that , in most ways, I can orchestrate how my life is lived and experienced. I may not always have control over what comes my way, but the reality is that I, we, have more input than we think we do.

To seek, to yearn and be in a constant state of growth. This is who I am. Life took a bit of a veer off for me in my twenties as I stumbled through a bad marriage and trying to live as I “should” but about 15 years ago, I made a choice to change the way I was living. I embraced who and how I am. Embraced that the striving and constant yearning to seek is me…and that it’s how I need the people who I keep close to me to be as well.

This past couple of years, living with grief and pain and finally seeing that I am the builder of my life, again. Putting it back together again after it had been torn apart by loss. Part of that entailed rediscovering that my Self craves holding the rudder and oars of my vessel. That it’s who I am. That I am happiest when the people I hold dear to me not only accept but share this embodiment of living. Choosing to cultivate relationships with the people in my life as purposely as I need to craft the rest of my environment for my Self to live. Making choices in drawing closer to those who grow and feed my spirit through friendship, chosen family and loves. Persons who support me and nurture me and accept me, as I do for them. The joy of being with those who lift me up and who I delight in seeing thrive in their travels through life. Hard choices also being made to release from my life those who merely drift and whose path encumbers mine in an unhealthy and suffocating manner. Understanding that for some, the oars will never be used and it’s time to wish them well and watch them drift away.

It means being happy and content with what and where I am but knowing that to stagnate here and to stop yearning and growing and opening my mind and my heart is to die.

Freedom from fear

I want to be free. A simple thought and one that overwhelmed me today. Not just that though…an accompanying thought instantly flashed that what I want is to be free of the fears that bind me.

  

The irony is that I’m not a fearful person… I’ve worked hard in my life to live my life not guided or limited by my fears. A childhood of debilitating shyness – shyness that impacted my actions to the point of anxiety and terror at new situations and people – bringing me to a decision in my early twenties to make a conscious choice to do things in spite of my fears…many times because of my fears. My choice of career at the time -personal trainer and fitness instructor- was one that truly terrified me to even consider. Which was part of the reason I did it. I was tired of being ruled by my fears. Tired of not doing what I wanted because of my fears.

 

Each fear I found I conquered and left in the dust. Scared of heights… Zip lining in whistler turned that into a thirst for more,  more adventure, more that I was frightened of but would not only do, but love.

It’s not that I’m not still afraid and scared ,  but it doesn’t stop me. Feel the fear and do it anyways.

 

So my shock today when I had that thought that I want to feel free … And that I don’t feel that….because I’m afraid. It was as if my Self just simply shone a light on something I haven’t seen in the past couple of years…

 

The deeply internalized fear that has been so buried that the surprise hit me hard today.

 

A fear of feeling. If I allow myself to feel good and to have joy and love and passion then that means that I also am opening myself up to the potential to feel the pain of loss and the hurt of emptiness.

 

I lost my son and that pain sparked a fear beyond any that I could process. The fear that I would ever feel that pain again.

A fear so big that I wasn’t even aware it was there…affecting my actions and my choices these past 2 years.

A fear that fights with my nature and my Self on the most basic of levels.

 

My nature, my core Self is one of connection with others and my Self. Sincere, genuine and intimate connection. This fear of feeling pain has been, and is, causing a struggle and fight that is tearing me apart.

As the haze of the initial grief burns off leaving me finally starting to move forward I’m able to see clearer.

Able to see that in some altered rationale in my mind this fear has a hold that I don’t want it to have.

That the fear of feeling pain has translated to a course of action that has brought me where I am now. A constant dance of drawing near and pushing away. My core, my Self, yearns for that connection and wants to embrace what I need and want. My fear has caused me to pull back every time anyone gets close enough that I feel that connection. So a dance ensues… With the fear , unknown and without my awareness until now, adeptly carrying me expertly away from the click… Because the most assured way to not be hurt by loss is to not have anything to lose.

 

So here I sit today and I ponder and I confront… And a conscious decision is made and this fear, like all the others, will fall as well…because I want to be free… And that means free of this fear.

It means letting people in and not pushing them away or pulling myself back. It means that the fear that has stopped me from intimacy … The fear that I’ll feel… Has to be faced and overcome.

The freedom starts now even, before actions. With awareness and intentions that will fuel and drive actions.

 

Me, my Self and I

Me, my Self and I.

No, I’m not talking about multiple personalities or dissociative identity disorder or anything like that. I’m referring to how I relate to “Me”.

There’s the joke that it’s ok to talk to yourself… it’s not ok if you answer yourself ;). Yet, at the end of the day and at the root of it all is solitude and your Self. Regardless of anyone else’s influence or impact in your life, what matters and counts and is fundamental is your relationship with your Self.

You can be surrounded by people who give you validation and affirmations and lift you up but if you don’t have that coming from inside of you, it makes no difference and won’t give you what you need to be confident and comfortable with who you are, the way you live and the choices you make.

For me, that is a concept that it has taken me a lifetime – and a loss that has almost killed me – to start to internalize. After struggling with self-hatred and loathing for years, it’s a realization that it’s inside of me that I am finding the strength and the empowerment to love my Self.

Sometimes I need to let my Self have a day of tears and quiet and sleep … other times I need to accept and embrace and allow the laughter and the silliness and giddiness that overflows… sometimes its being surrounded by friends that makes me feel good… it’s the calm of a book and the couch… the raw sweat and heavy breath of a hard run… the fortitude to push through the edge of physical endurance … and the surrender of the softness found in the release of a stretch. All parts of a whole and all equal in importance to the fullness of my expression of Me.

My physical, mental and emotional Selves need solitude to grow and connect with each other and foster the strength that’s there… To be empowered to show the strength and the confidence that is so necessary to living the way that brings me joy. The strength and the confidence that is there, just buried underneath a lifetime of disconnect between Me, my Self and I.

It’s not a fractured view of Self but rather an understanding that it’s a team effort of one whole person together to live the life that I want and deserve.

This goes out to my Self… for my Self… I won’t give up on “Us”