Archive for the ‘becoming’ Tag

Contemplations

I wrote this a couple days ago, after a particularly rough bout of ambush emotions. I’ve let it sit and after some sleep and a re-read, I have decided it’s not entirely cringe-worthy and over-emotional, so I’m publishing it. But be warned: it isn’t the most logical or inspired thing I’ve ever posted.

— oOo —

There are times when I regard my brain as a foreign entity, as if it weren’t really a part of me, as if “me” is separate and distinct from my brain. I guess that’s the essence of the mind/brain debate. Does consciousness exist apart from cognition? Does the biological organ of the brain exist separately from the consciousness? Is consciousness the soul? These are unknowable facts, in my estimation. But what I do know as fact, as lived experience, is that my brain occasionally begins to work in ways that I do not recognize nor understand, leaving me feeling as if it exists separately from who I understand myself to be.

That’s often frustrating and sometimes scary. I cringe putting that admission in writing because I’m conscious of the fact that many will think me crazy, deranged, defective for thinking my brain and my self are severable in any way. But that’s the best way I know how to describe the experience of recognizing a thought pattern playing out in my brain and simultaneously feeling as if I’m separate, observing that pattern progress from outside of it because I feel no connection to that thought’s genesis and feel powerless to terminate it.

Lately, I’ve been actively thinking about a bunch of different concepts that intersect in my life in ways both predictable and surprising. There’s no way for me to encapsulate all of these thoughts in a blog post and no one, even me, would want to slog through it if I could. But a few of the connections and intersecting concepts are intriguing and might benefit from a public airing just to get them out of my head for a minute.

None of this is neat or tidy. None of it is resolved…maybe not even resolvable. It’s all a part of the messy, complicated, sometimes painful process of personal growth. My answers, to the extent any are forthcoming, are likely to be different from your answers on the same concepts and intersections. So, treat this as the thought experiment that it is and try not to get too caught up in problem-solving; rather, enjoy the journey of mere contemplation.

Three of the big concepts that have visited my cranial foreign office recently:

1.Apathy. Specifically, I have wrestled with how damaging apathy or indifference can be to interpersonal relationships, comparing (perhaps unfairly) the type and quality of that damage to that suffered from active abuse or intentional conduct of another ilk. Contrasting these impacts might be reasonable in some circumstances, but not in others. A big hurdle to taming this intellectual puzzle are the complicating factors, such as the nature of the relationship being examined, the relative power among the people in that relationship, any dimensions of privilege and marginalization that the participants occupy, and the personal characteristics of the people relevant to this relationship dynamic. That’s a ton of variables to control for in calculating the outcome of an analysis of the level of impact a participant experiences from the apathy or indifference of the other participants in the relevant relationship.

2.Authenticity. What role does validation of outside observers play in a person’s ability to live authentically in any given identity or presentation? If no one else within my inner circle of relationships (friends, family, colleagues, community) validates the identity or aspect of identity that I embody, am I likely to succeed in living that truth? Is this more complex than mere peer pressure? Is It more layered and nuanced than simply getting a nod or pat on the back as assurance that we’re “doing it right“? Does the community at large within the relevant demographic being evaluated as authentic feel the impact of an individual member’s failure to authentically embody that identity as a result of not being validated in that identity? What about if lack of authenticity is a result of something else?

3.Effort. This one is even more nebulous and hard to describe. My thoughts have been full of questions about effort, trying to quantify “enough” and “too much”, trying to ascribe qualitative value to types of effort, and trying to illuminate the points at which type and quantity and quality collide. This is all in relation to the questions on apathy and authenticity.

The ultimate culmination of all this thinking and puzzling and challenging and ideating isn’t clear. Is my brain trying to work out some therapeutic dosage of effort that promotes healthy authenticity and combats apathy, like some kind of emotional-political wonder drug? Or is this foreign entity trying to define the discrete boundaries of the emotional geographies of each of these concepts, charting the points at which borders combine? Or perhaps this is all just a lot of mental distraction to keep me from moving beyond the constraints and conditioned responses that my upbringing instilled?

I have no certain answers. But one thing that is certain is that my brain is not idle.

What “Butch” Means To Me

I ended my last post with the statement “I am butch and that’s enough.” Building on the theme, I thought I’d share a conversation I had with a friend a few months ago. At the time of this discussion, my friend was helping me to explore my inner assumptions about myself. Working on reining in the whinging insecurities. She asked me this question, I think, as a challenge to my assumptions about my outward appearance. It’s a good question. My unedited (except for spelling), top-of-mind answer is below.

Keep in mind that this is my understanding of me, thus my understanding of “butch”. This will be utterly unrecognizable as “butch” to someone else. That’s ok. I try never to speak for anyone else. This is my definition of the me I am today, and the me I hope to make better as time goes by.

———-

“What does being butch mean to you?”

“Several things: demeanor, appearance, attitude and outlook.

Most important to me is being who I must be, expectations be damned. I work very hard at carrying myself with dignity, without falling into arrogance. Paying attention to those I’m with, letting them know by the care I take of them when we’re together that I value them. These combine, in my mind, to form an outward demeanor of competence, reliability, and self reliance.

Appearance is a by-product of that demeanor, my natural inclinations, size and chance. I promised myself long ago that I would never again suffer the indignity of being dressed as a fraud. I choose clothes and mannerisms that rest easily on my skin. I care very little if social convention approves or not.

That attitude carries through my personality. Although I care deeply, worry much, obsess too much, it’s mostly about how I make other people feel by my words & actions, not by my identity or appearance. If I am comfortable in my identity, others’ fear of it doesn’t matter. (Except those closest to me always matter more.) I can handle rejection, but feeling like a fake inside myself is unacceptable.

And, as whinging as I’ve been this week, you won’t believe this, but I’m mostly an optimist. I strive daily to look for the best, see good first, celebrate what makes each of us unique. I smile & laugh easily and like it. I don’t want others to feel badly, so I try to exude an optimism about life, even when I’m at my most vulnerable.”

Enough Is A Myth

Please excuse the rant. Sometimes I have to vent, even at situations I help to create or perpetuate. This post is a lesson I’m trying to internalize. I hope it is helpful to you, too.

———-

Not good enough
Not smart enough
Not thin enough
Not pretty enough

Seems like all women get these messages fired at their heads constantly, beginning nearly from infancy. They come from both without and within. Culture, peer groups, authority figures, and just about every form of media (books, movies, music, magazines, even the news) all seem to deliver and reinforce the idea that there is a perfect woman, an ideal standard that, unless you live up to that standard, you are less than, not good enough.

I’m no less susceptible to this thinking than anyone else. Only on top of all those external sources of pressure and criticism, I have become skilled at the art of self-sabotage, adding to the list above: Not butch enough

Even among our own community, it seems, the concept of an ideal standard persists. But just who sets the standard and what it’s parameters are, elude even those who seek to compare others to it. And, really, in something so personal as gender identity and expression, who truly believes that there can be only one model of perfection?

The perfect butch, the ideal dyke, the ultimate lesbian is a unicorn. And “enough” as a qualification in relation to that supposed ideal is as much a myth as the unicorn itself.

Of course, everyone desires to be better, improve themselves in some aspect or another of their personal make-up. That drive to do more, be better, refine and build on our skills and attributes, is a primal instinct and a component of innate competitiveness. It’s natural and understandable, even desirable in healthy expression and moderation.

But to impose an artificial standard of excellence on any fundamental aspect that forms a person’s identity does violence to that person’s freedom of self-direction. The most basic measure of sentience (intelligence), in my view, is the ability to identify and define ones self. And the most fundamental freedom a human can have is to exercise that ability as often and in as great variety and with as much creativity as that person chooses to apply.

By imposing artificial limits or requirements on a person’s expression of identity, you restrict that person’s fundamental freedom. That’s discrimination as brutal and arbitrary as any perpetrated by government action, modern or historical.

Imagine a government deciding that [insert minority group here] are not eligible to receive [insert right/benefit here], merely on the basis of that minority status, even though such rights or benefits are derived from tax payer dollars. To wit:

Blacks aren’t free men/women
Women aren’t eligible to vote
Gays aren’t eligible to marry

Sound familiar? We all are outraged by such arbitrary and capricious exercise of power and privilege to deprive others of basic freedoms. Why then are we complicit in that same discrimination on the basis of gender identity and it’s expression?

It is true that reasonable debate can be had about almost any topic the human mind can invent. But reason so seldom comes into this. I see on the Internet (blogs, comments, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) commentary seeking to define precisely what is butch/not butch, femme/not femme and everything in between. You’d be shocked at how much of it is NOT intended to be a joke, too. Add to these each person’s own internal critic bashing their own identity/expression against the imaginary ideal, and it’s a wonder our whole society isn’t perpetually garbed in sackcloth and ashes.

I posit that this proclivity to judgement on such a personalized issue is due in part to the myth that gender identity is pure choice and therefore capable of standardization. (Gender is proposed as choice, versus homosexuality, which is innate.) That leads folks to compare each other to the supposed standard and the advent of “enough” as the measure of success or failure (along with “really” and “true” and other terms of gradation; i. e. that look is really butch, she’s a true femme, soft versus hard butch, etc.).

Believe me, though I’ve encountered more of this from my own internal dialogue than outside criticism, the school of thought definitely exists.

But I’ve had enough (excuse the pun).

I’ve concluded for myself, for my life, that ‘enough’ is a myth. Instead, I choose a strict binary (oh, irony!), yes or no ruling when it comes to my exercise of the freedom of self-direction. Either it [insert identity attribute here] is or is not a part of my identity and it’s expression. And since mine is the only opinion on my identity that matters, there is no such thing as whether I’m ‘me’ enough.

I am butch and that’s enough.

Moments of Shame and Triumph

When I’m stressed, lonely, sad, my inner saboteur throws a wild party, dancing around in circles inside my reasoning mind. While my defenses are down, doubt creeps in. My head gets stuck playing back, distorted, dark and unhealthily twisted, the moments in my life that made me feel the smallest. These are the most shame-filled moments I’ve known and the reliving tears at my peace of mind.

But then my reason and intelligence return. I get a grip on myself and start thinking it through. It doesn’t do me or anyone any favors to simply dismiss these thoughts, feelings, memories without examining why they’re still there, or at least acknowledging that I still feel them and need to deal with them.

So here’s an exercise I’ve learned to do as these insecurities threaten to choke my happiness: acknowledge the dark thought and balance it with light.

Believe me, I’m still a work in progress. But actively answering back to my demons helps me overcome them when I’m at my lowest. I hope you find some value in this, as well.

———-

Moments of -Shame and >Triumph

-Be a good girl: Stop rocking the boat

>You are good and kind and sweet; Your questioning is healthy.

-Stand in my shadow; Listen, don’t speak

>Let your light shine! Speak your mind, your opinion has value.

-Keep trying, do it over again; You still don’t know enough

>Practice, refine, but keep on going. You know what you know and are a life-long learner. Enough is a myth.

-Be smart, since you’ll never be pretty

>You are smart. That’s not a consolation prize.

-Work hard, since you’ll never be brilliant

>Hard work and intelligence aren’t mutually exclusive.

-Get help from someone better, since you’ll never be enough

>Smart people ask for help, especially from experts; that doesn’t equate to failure.

-Keep small, don’t stand out: You’re big and loud and far too much

>It’s ok to be yourself, even if that means you’re different and stand out from the crowd.

-Fade into the crowd; Your individuality isn’t wanted

>You are a unique individual and have value in your own right.

-Bad, wrong, ugly, fat; You’ll never fit their mold

>No matter your scars or shortcomings, you are good and more than the sum of your mistakes.

-Listen to me; You can’t trust yourself

>Listen to all input, evaluate it carefully, then make your own choice. You are your own woman.

-Do as I say or else you’ll fail

>Failure is possible, but if you make your own decisions, your failure is your own and not a gnawing doubt forever.

-You might as well quit; You cannot win

>I agree with Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”
>You are many things, but a quitter isn’t one of them.

-Wrong color, wrong ethnic origins; You don’t belong

>Be proud of your heritage, but stand on your achievements; don’t measure your value solely by your ethnicity, genetics or the accomplishments of your ancestors.

-Go away, you aren’t wanted

>Be whole in yourself and you are never alone or unwanted.

-Here, I’ll do that instead; Your best is never good enough

>Don’t quit because someone is better at it than you are. Do the work to get better, then continue to excel.

-Hide your face, look away; Only the pretty deserve attention

>Your worth is not in your appearance.

-Why do you even try; Nothing you do will be enough

>Self-elimination out of fear of failure is itself the failure.

-Don’t look in the mirror; You are hideous

>There will always be someone better looking. Be the best person you can be and the beauty of your spirit will shine through, regardless of the outside wrapper.

-Straighten up and act right; You’re an embarrassment

>Behave as your personal integrity requires. Never compromise that, regardless of others’ discomfort.

-I’ll take what I want from you; You have no power to stop me

>You have the power of self-direction. You are not powerless, even if someone is stronger. A stone from a sling slew a giant with a sword. You can take your power back.

-You can’t do that; You’re just a girl

>You can! You are a powerful, intelligent woman with the ability to do anything you set your mind to do.

-You have no right to be happy; You haven’t earned it

>You have as much right as any other person to seek happiness. You don’t have to earn happiness–make it, seek it, find it in yourself and then share it with the ones you love.

Intention vs. Expectation

Fair warning: this one rambles a bit…

Despite the old adage that good intentions pave the road to hell, and the analogous corporate-speak parable that ‘hope is not a strategy’, intention and desire for a particular outcome have powerful meaning in my life. If nothing else, having an intent, a meaning behind my actions and words, helps me in my quest for authenticity and spiritual wholeness.

But, intent divorced from action is worthless.

I think a part of that feeling of being a fraud that I’ve blogged about in earlier posts is rooted in a feeling of not doing enough…a feeling that if I don’t hurry up and do something, say something to specific people in my immediate daily circle, then my intention to come out and be authentic will die, leaving me forever a deceiver of myself and those I care most about.

Yet I sometimes feel cheated at this assumed obligation to come out. The petulant teenager that still lives within me rebels at having to disclose something so personal when others in this life don’t have to. Why is it required for gay people to declare themselves when straight people don’t? (Don’t worry, I won’t get off topic onto the issue of apparent/supposed privilege. My point is simply that gay = different from the accepted “norm”, so gay people are treated as less than. I get it. But I don’t have to like it.)

I object to the expectation of action or disclosure that ostensibly legitimizes the declared status of gay, but in actuality perpetuates the disparate treatment. By requiring this intimate disclosure, the individual is forced into a position of vulnerability vis-a-vis the mainstream culture, further reinforcing the separation of the heterosexual from the homosexual classes.

So, I’m caught in the middle between self-imposed intention to live authentically, and societally-imposed expectation in order to achieve legitimacy. Never mind that the intent appears to coincide with the expectation. The fact that there is an expectation is confining.

Not to mention the fact that there isn’t a single expectation, but a whole load of shifting, barbed, venomous expectations, that seem to send out runner vines to wrap around my freedom and self-direction, choking them off. And don’t forget the looming threat of crushing rejection that is a very real possible result of choosing to/complying with the expectation to come out.

It all just seems a hopelessly unsolvable riddle.

Or, maybe that’s a load of crap to rationalize the mixed rebellion and trepidation I experience at the prospect of vulnerability and the change that goes along with it. Because, fundamentally, that’s what this journey is: a roller coaster of vulnerability, fear and change.

A friend once told me that my personal world view was like a person standing in a cell, looking out through the bars, judging my experience by the steel in my hands, but not recognizing that if I turned around I’d find there was no wall behind me holding me in. In other words, my prison is of my own making and I have the means to free myself from the confinement.

Even if we accept this metaphor as true for certain aspects of my life and being, there is a difference between having the keys to my own cell and being free. And it’s not just the basic question of choice. Rather, when I choose that freedom and self-direction, I will be directly affecting the comfort, ease, peace of mind of those I love and live with.

So, what’s the upshot of all of this? Honestly? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m coming to an inflection point. I can feel circumstances converging on a point where the choice to come out or not (or the illusion of that choice to which I still cling) will be taken from me. Because life marches on and either I go with it or get trampled by it. And, as I’ve said, I’m not into trampling. Expectation and intention notwithstanding, if I don’t do something, the universe will do it for me…and maybe not in a way that works or is comfortable for me.

Bottom line: I need to find a way, and quickly, to unite my intention with action and overcome my umbrage at the feeling of expectation foisted on me to do that very thing. Said another way, I gotta get over myself and get on with it!

Catch-up Blogging

This is not an apology, it is a fact: my life has been one high-tension, fast-paced, emotion-filled bundle of blessings and challenges for the last six weeks. As a result, my blogging came to a screeching halt. Something had to give, or my sanity would have.

But fear not! I love this blog and the exercise in self examination that most posts turn out to be. So, I’m back (for today, anyway) to hit some highlights (in no particular order):

– Roller derby totally ROCKS! I got to attend my first match in person not long ago. I bought floor seats, got to shake hands with the teams as they passed my seat before & after the matches…awesome! Definitely going back!

– I can’t decide if I’m fighting a losing battle with trying to come out to my brother and his wife, or not. They show me daily how much they love me. But just as I’m about to pull the trigger, one or both of them makes some slur or slam against gays in general, lesbians in particular. EVERY TIME. It’s uncanny. Maybe they’re trying to tell me (a) we know already, and (2) don’t tell us, because we can’t handle it. *sigh*

– Discovering what you like, how much you can handle in a romantic relationship is both thrilling and terrifying. But, one thing is certain: letting fear stop me from taking a chance would have been a tragic mistake many times more painful than the sadness experienced with an amicable breakup. In the words of @KeepCalm as seen recently on Twitter: “Sometimes you have to let go of something precious
in order to get something priceless.” And I would add that letting go doesn’t have to be a”goodbye forever”. If you are as lucky and blessed as I am, you’ll keep that precious gift in your life as a dear friend even as you develop the priceless relationship into something amazing.

– I recently re-discovered a tiny urban nature preserve in my town. It’s a beautiful arboretum with walking trails and quiet little corners in which to sit and enjoy the beauty of an intentional green space. An added bonus is that it is paid for and maintained by the local public power utility–corporate responsibility in action. And even better, because it’s an engineered green space, it’s a perfect place to have an out-door Skype date without feeling like a jerk for using tech in the middle of nature.

– It’s essentially Summer, but still barely Spring weather here in fly-over country. My fruitless pears bloomed recently, giving me another reason to smile for a couple of weeks. And giving a cardinal a reason to make a rare stop at ground level in my yard.

– Recently, I’ve had cause to be extremely grateful for friends who accept me, despite my scars. One dear friend in particular has made a profound impact on healing one deep wound of my past. With her permission, I’m sharing this snippet of verse that weakly expresses my gratitude for her gift of love and support:
a burden shared, a load of guilt and shame lifted
your open heart reaching out to mine
comfort, strength, courage, peace
these gifts of precious worth have made all the difference

– Finally, can I just say that four months, 120 days, is both an unbearable eternity and the blink of an eye. Patience isn’t my long suit. But, I can wait…I think I can…

– Aaaaaand, this just in: had a wonderful dinner with a dear friend & colleague tonight. We hadn’t seen each other in more than six months, but he immediately spotted a difference in me, a happiness and excitement he hadn’t seen before. So, when he demanded to know what’s up, I told him. I came out to a person in my own circle of in-real-life friends!! And he didn’t even blink, just smiled and told me he was happy for me and gave me a hug after dinner. Just accepted what I had to say without judgement and was happy for me. What an AMAZING feeling!!!! Whew. One down…the rest should be easier from here, right?

13 Years

Thirteen: in some cultures a lucky number, unlucky in others. I have never personally put much stock in the influence of numbers (or objects) on my good fortune. But I do still mark the significance of certain occurrences, such as anniversaries. Today marks the thirteenth year since I lost my mother to the ravages of Lupus and for many reasons, mostly sweet and happy, she’s been on my mind a lot lately. Today, especially, her smile and sharp wit fill my thoughts.

Thirteen years is a long time to be separated from someone before voicing certain thoughts, answering certain questions. But I think I’m finally ready to let go that pinching, bitter-sweet pain of loss and missed opportunity. I’m ready to just celebrate in every remembrance the amazing person I still dearly love. This is my long overdue homage to and celebration of her life, in the form of a letter to my mom.

——-

I don’t think there’s anything of mine or myself that I wouldn’t give for the chance to say these things to you in person, now that I’m grown enough to have words to bring the thoughts to life. But, failing that, I’ll speak to your spirit and mine here, in this virtual sanctuary where I’ve chosen to share my heart…

You were and are still my mind’s ideal of the well-mannered, tough-as-nails Southern gentlewoman. Though never a member of the economically privileged gentility that ruled the South with velvet-clad iron fists, you were everything I’ve come to associate with the slightly stereotypical, often characatured Southern Grande Dame. You united the traits of a modern Scarlett O’Hara crossed with a goodly dollop of Julia Sugarbaker and a sizable pinch of Oizer Boudreaux.* In short, you demonstrated daily all the qualities of a smart, strong, enduring, loving, fierce warrior-woman from a culture that prizes both sweet-mouthed politesse and hard-talking tough love.

This formidable woman was the mom I knew and still love. I always knew where I stood with you at a macro level, because you pulled no punches with your words or deeds. Everyone who knew you seemed to respect you, even when they didn’t particularly like you. This, more than anything else, informed my developing sense of justice and personal integrity. It was that same respect that made me strive to earn it back from you.

You were a white girl from a poor background in a place and time and culture steeped in bigotry and rigidly enforced lines of separation. Yet, once you allowed yourself to choose your own path, you loved where your heart took you, not where your society or family pushed you. Loving and marrying a brown man, a “damned foreigner”, who’d give you “nothing but black babies and heartbreak”, was an enormous act of courage and self direction. I admire that so much. This courage and the lessons you drilled into me on dignity and self control have shaped my character and fueled my professional development at every stage of my life. And the love you shared with Daddy taught me to love in turn.

You were the first person to teach me, in words and experiences, that no one, not even you, is perfect. You taught me the value of learning from mistakes and helped me see that there can be joy even in failure. You taught me to assess the value of everything: time, money, effort, patience, deferred gratification, praise, criticism, intelligence, freedom and so many other things! But you also taught me that the calculus of value of things doesn’t translate to people, training me to love and respect and trust people as if their value was immeasurable, because it is.

For the vast majority of my life, you lived in constant pain. But your spirit was unbowed. When disease ravaged your body, you carried on despite its limitations. When asked by well meaning folks how you could possibly be so positive, cheerful, undaunted in the face of such hardship, your response always amazed me. Instead of a typically sentimental, mushy answer filled with vague images of religious faith or self-serving deprecation, you were pragmatic and direct: “What choice do I have? If I awake, my life is not over so I endure. Cheerfulness, happiness, patience are all tools to overcome despair and I choose joy over pain. Simple.” I heard that little speech countless times over the years and was always awed by the effect it had on your listener. This matter-of-fact approach to life has helped me conquer some of the most horrific dragons in my life.

You instilled in me a fierce sense of faith, hope, love, determination and work ethic that has colored every life decision I’ve ever made. Although I believe that who I am today is a person you would have never expected me to become, I firmly believe that the love and care and life lessons you showered on me in the years we had together are a large part of why I have the courage to take this journey of self discovery that occupies my soul of late. Even if you didn’t approve, could never understand who and what I am becoming, your every word and deed tells me that you would love me, all the same.

So, as I take these steps into the unknown, as fearful as I sometimes am, the one thing of which I am sure is that I have been equipped, by you, with the life tools to handle each thought, event, decision as it comes. Though I may go slowly, tread lightly around tough issues and negotiate a torturous path to my ultimate goal, I go with a confidence of achieving that goal that I got from you.

So, today and every day here after, I will be thankful for who and what you were, celebrating instead of mourning, and taking on the monsters in my closet with the quiver of emotional and intellectual arrows with which you armed me in a life lived to the full. Thank you, mom, you’re the fiercest femme I’ve ever known.

* For those who don’t recognize them, these fictional characters exemplify Southern femininity. See Gone With the Wind, the tv series Designing Women, and the movie Steele Magnolias.

New Experiences

So, as you can tell from a lot of my prior posts, I’m not out to anyone in my immediate, day-to-day circle of family and friends. That’s made this journey a bit difficult at times, because I’m so isolated in this new-found truth.

But with the help of one of my Twitter friends and the encouragement of a few other friends, I found a couple of resources in my local area to help me find the gay community here. The first few leads turned out to be duds, but I did make the effort. I’m proud of that, at least.

Never a quitter, however, I have doggedly pursued additional leads my friend helped me find. Last night it finally worked out and I went to my first LGBT Community Org event, a softball game.

Well, it was actually several games. This is a community sports league and the games were short–it looked like they only play to four innings. In any event, there was a Red vs White game in progress when I got to the park. I watched Black vs Green. And Blue vs Grey was starting when I left. Teams are mixed men and women.

The game in progress was funny. The Reds were clearly out-classed. Couldn’t get a hit to save them! But they all had great attitudes. Seemed like everyone was having fun.

I stood around, texting a friend and watching the game. Didn’t speak with anyone, but got a lot of looks and a few nods from some of the folks there.

One of the girls on the Red team had a girlfriend who was standing near me. When the game was over, the player and the spectator stood almost in front of me to share a great kiss. It was, for me, fascinating and genuinely, inexplicably, thrilling to watch for the first time two girls kiss in real life.

When that game was over, I sat on the bleachers on the third base line, where the Green team was in the dugout. Sitting on the farthest end of the lowest bleacher, I watched Green totally smoke Black, all the while texting to my friend, practically live-Tweeting the game and the crowd’s reactions. I even had to dodge a stray pop-fly at one point. Such a fun game!

I was really glad to have my friend on text, because I was completely alone there and felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating experience. My first time surrounded by gay people whom I knew to be gay. Sounds so silly, but it surprised me to feel so comfortable, and yet so apart, all at the same time. The comfortableness is what surprised me. I expected to feel awkward and apart, since I didn’t know anyone there. But once past that, it was comfortable and fun.

While I watched the game, I watched the small crowd in the bleachers. I’ve always been a people watcher and forever fascinated with the endless variety of human expression. This little crowd was fun to watch. Some stereotypical mannerisms in some, though everyone seemed like fairly ordinary, regular people out having a good time. I don’t know why this should surprise me at all, but it sort of does.

The one outstanding sight, apart from the girls kissing, was the Drag Queen. S/he came sailing in during the first inning of the Green game, with a mini entourage. S/he was very pretty. Tan skin, long brown hair, very slim and delicate features. Despite being dressed casually, wearing a lace blouse, scarf, skinny jeans, and high heeled wedges, s/he looked every bit the glam queen s/he must be at her shows. The voice was the only give-away. Otherwise, she looked like any other hipster girl you’d see out and about. Loudly cheered and jeered the whole time. Absolutely hilarious. For one of hir mates, s/he kept yelling “all the way Mae” at his every at-bat, like in the movie, A League of Their Own. What a hoot! It was fun to get to witness hir joy of the game.

At the end of the game, as teams were changing, I met two of the Organization’s officers and one of the players on the Green team. All three were very nice young men. I think I was the only person there who wasn’t a part of one of the teams. It was fun to be welcomed and invited to return next week. I didn’t expect that.

I keep coming back to that…my surprise at finding this community to be filled with ordinary and extraordinary people quietly (or not) going about their activities just like everyone else. Why this even registers in my head, I cannot say. Perhaps I’m more biased than I believed of myself, or more naïve. Whatever the cause, I’m pleasantly surprised at finding an opportunity to meet some fascinating people who share some of my same interests and attributes…a peer group I never expected to be a part of.

All in all, it was a fun experience. I’ll go again next week and see if I can meet some more people…more of my own tribe.

Trapped

Ever have that feeling where someone you care about has given you a gift and is so excited for your reaction, because they *just know* you’ll love it and be so trilled to have it. Only you don’t really like it. You stopped liking that thing years ago and haven’t even spoken about it in so long you don’t remember the last time. And now this person you care for is looking at you with glowing eyes, a huge smile and sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for you to explode with joy and gratitude. Ever have that feeling?

It feels like being trapped.

You don’t want to hurt or disappoint them. After all, they love you and went out of their way for you, perhaps spent money on you, and are excited to make you happy.

Only you aren’t happy with that gift, or thought, or gesture, or whatever it is they’re physically or mentally or emotionally holding out to you so hopefully. It doesn’t fit you, your life, your personality, your identity. It is dissonant, awkward, out if joint. Broken.

If you said any of that to this loving hopeful, it would no doubt hurt them. Maybe even crush them, depending on the subject of the ‘gift’. And because you love them, you avoid doing hurtful, crushing things.

Of course, when its a cow print pin cushion, or a Brittany Spears CD, you can pretty easily smile and say thank you for their thoughtfulness and find a new home for it as quick as you can. With something relatively trivial, you might even risk letting them know, tactfully, that its not to your taste.

But what about when its something more significant? What about when the ‘gift’ of this person is more fundamental, esoteric, yet deeply important? What about when their constant companionship and care becomes a burden, rather than a boon? When that presence, which you’ve relied on as a fortress of belonging, suddenly feels like a prison?

What a miserable choice: (a) continue as is, swallowing your own preferences, wants and needs; (b) live a double life and risk hurting them all the more when it inevitably is discovered; or (c) let them know how you feel and risk destroying the beautiful, loving relationship you still value.

I’ve heard it said, and witnessed myself, that all change is disruptive to one degree or another. That’s its fundamental nature. People learn to adapt to the change or they don’t. I get that. What I’m struggling with is the piercing pain of knowing that the change I intentionally bring about, this disruption that I cause, is the source of intense pain and discomfort to the people I love the most.

Again, if its something that can be compromised, discussed, negotiated, approached logically or formulaically, I can handle it. This restaurant or that one? No problem. Spend thousands of dollars to replace windows in the house, or wait until next year? Easy discussion. Sell the house and move to Bosnia? Sure, lets chat.

All of those things affect not just me, but also those I live with or who are otherwise part of the discussion. When the decision is about balancing risks, weighing the competing interests of multiple players and finding a reasonable compromise is right in my wheel house. I put the ol’ lawyer hat on and go to town sorting the problem.

But when the change is all about me, my feelings, my preferences, my needs, its much harder to deal with. That guilt I’ve written about in prior posts rears its head again. When I begin to think about making changes that are really all about me, the guilt jumps up and does a happy dance in my head. That’s when my inner saboteur starts shouting: “How selfish!” “It’s always all about you, isn’t it?” “What makes you think you deserve that?” “How dare you put yourself, your selfish desires, over everyone else.”

I fight this inner battle between being the selfless, responsible, conscientious person I was raised to be and the selfish, hedonistic, lazy person I was raised to believe myself to be if I walked any path other than the narrow, binary, societally-defined path set before me at an early age.

The weird thing is that I can easily refute the charges of hedonistic and lazy. I have no delusions that my work ethic and sense of solemn responsibility are in tact and functioning well. The saboteur’s tricks in that regard are wasted.

But selfishness, in all it’s myriad forms, is a stab to my heart. I have worked so hard all my life to live up to a standard of excellence defined, in large part, by how well I serve others’ needs. Love measured in service is a core tenet of the faith in which I was raised. And loving, honoring family above all others was at the heart of my parents’ every lesson. So, I have grown to equate selfishness as a sin above nearly all other possible sins.

So, on days when this journey of self discovery and the path out of the closet lead me to the brink of a decision or choice between my personal preferences, wants and needs, and those of my family and close friends, the dissonance spikes and I tend to retreat into my head a bit. I can find every reason under the sun (some reasonable and based in logic and fact, some wildly speculative) for not carrying on with this process, every argument that leads me away from the direction I’ve chosen. But the white noise of fear, uncertainty, doubt and dread in my brain seems to screen out the reasons, the arguments that support my chosen direction.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a nice, neat bow to wrap this post up in, leaving me and all of you with a warm, fuzzy feeling of happy ever after. Instead, I’m left feeling stuck, mired in doubt and hemmed in by the demands and expectations of my family and closest friends.

Trapped.

Learning To Be Cared For

Recently (30 March 2013, “Silencing the Critic”) I blogged about how difficult it is to graciously accept a compliment, due mainly to social conditioning. The small point I made in that post is how easily this self criticism can become destructive and habitual. Mine was just one of several posts on that topic in the days before and just after I published my blog entry. It seems that a lot of women in the blogosphere, including FemmeOutLoud on the Melange blog, struggle with this for a variety of reasons, including social conditioning and a belief that we somehow don’t deserve praise. In my experience, among women in general and, (anecdotally, subjectively, and completely un-scientifically) butch or masculine women in particular, there seems to be a pervasive compulsion to suppress the desire for, and reaction to, praise.

In dealing with a couple of personal matters over the weekend, it occurred to me that this reflexive self-deprecation has an insidious corollary in an inability to graciously accept the related, and far more vital, expressions of caring and love: empathy and sympathy.

Whether or not social conditioning plays a role in this aspect of the problem is unclear to me. But I do know that, in my own personal experience, reasons include that same “I don’t deserve” belief as was tied to the deflection of praise, as well as a tendency to interpret empathy as pity. I don’t think anyone wants to be thought pitiful or weak, nor does anyone want to burden others with baggage that engenders pity; I know I can’t abide pity directed toward me.

But in addition to these obvious issues, this weekend’s events also made it clear to me that there is something even more fundamental in my seeming compulsion to deflect expressions of love and care. Accepting these expressions of caring from the people who are most important to me is a form of vulnerability.

While caring and love generally flow naturally in close relationships, without need of a specific prompt, expressions of empathy and sympathy arise from the revelation of need: I have to open myself up to examination for others to see where it hurts, or I have to admit to myself that I have a need that I can’t fulfill on my own. That kind of exposure comes with the inherent risk of fresh hurt from the one to whom I give access to my open heart.

Compound this vulnerability with the implication of weakness intrinsic to admitting a need for help, comfort, support, (dare I say it?) love, and you have the perfect storm for creating a reticent, uncommunicative, stoic butch who doesn’t trust and unnecessarily carries a burden of guilt and shame, pushing away the very ones who can and want to help.

What a mess!

Luckily, the important people in my life are just as stubborn as I am and will not be pushed away so easily. And, luckily, I am not so stupid as to ignore a miraculous gift of unconditional acceptance and willing support when it lands in my lap. So it was that I learned an epic lesson in the healing power of friendship this Sunday. When faced with a situation fraught with emotion, when choking on the accumulated detritus of past hurts, friends (some of whom don’t even know they contributed to the solution) swooped in and rescued me. Although the healing is only just begun, I did learn this: asking for help isn’t weakness and empathy and sympathy aren’t pity.

To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite bloggers (ButchOnTap), “it’s butch to” accept the loving care of your friends.

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