Archive for the ‘self examination’ Tag

Assumptions

Wow, sometimes I think I might be prescient. I started writing this last Saturday, following a train of thought that has been nagging at the back of my brain on and off for a while now. A couple of things have happened in the three days since I started writing that seem to confirm all my thoughts on this topic. Weird how the brain works sometimes.

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Everyone assumes things, big and small, right and wrong, from time to time. There are some overt assumptions given as a starting point in certain situations that everyone involved agrees to be true. But often when we speak about assumptions it is in the context of blind assumptions, those thoughts that set a baseline, coloring our actions and outlook on a given topic, person or activity, without much basis for that thought or opinion. Those kinds of beliefs can be tricky to navigate and hard to challenge and change, especially when they are about ourselves.

Lately, I have been encountering assumptions that I have about myself in odd, unexpected ways. For the most part, I think that’s a good thing. Being aware of what we think about ourselves helps us examine our path and can help us make good choices (or bad) and take us in new and exciting directions. It can also make us retrench in those beliefs, habits, practices that we find comfortable and true, often regardless of other knock-on effects of keeping those things in tact.

At times, I feel that this constant self-examination, endless striving to improve, to be and remain positive, to challenge every shortcoming, is just another treadmill of “not good enough”. It feels like all this self awareness, personal growth and discovery work is more about destruction than construction. Some days it feels like there’s nothing good enough in me and I’ll have to completely remake my entire being in order to get to a place where I can look at myself in the mirror (both physical and metaphorical) and be content that the person looking back is acceptable.

This self assumption of inadequacy is insidious. It lurks in places you don’t ever expect to find assumptions. There are plenty of overt, obvious places where it is easily recognizable. These are predictable and annoying, sometimes hard to cut loose, but they don’t have much camouflage and are capable of being tackled head-on. The cynic in me sometimes thinks these are intentional distractions, ruses placed by the subconscious to divert attention from the deeper places where this assumption truly lives, to make it nearly impossible to root out and eradicate. If all our energy is focused on the surface assumptions, then the roots have time to go deep and unchallenged.

A place I’ve recently confronted this assumption – that I am not and will never be good enough – is superficially obvious, but there’s a taproot from the obvious surface to the hidden depths that I didn’t expect. And that unexpectedness makes me question if it’s really an irrational assumption or just the plain truth that I have to accept.

The surface bit is easy: I encounter disapproval/rejection/reprimand and I immediately assume I’m in the wrong or not up to standard, so that treatment must be deserved and I need to change and improve to be worthy of better treatment.

Now, clearly, there are times when everyone falls short and that self-castigating assumption is accurate. Being a mature adult means taking accountability for our mistakes and flaws and committing to do or be better. This is a healthy response to confronting personal shortcomings.

But the deeper bit is harder to articulate. It’s part “I’m working really hard to improve X quality/personal trait yet am not seeing expected results” and part “damn, I thought I’d mastered that one, but I guess not”. I guess what it boils down to is that frequency matters, more so than personal effort. Basically, if criticism is repeated, especially when it comes from different sources, then I gotta think that it’s not my irrational insecurities, but fact.

That’s painful on a lot of levels, but mostly it hurts to know that my inner saboteur was right all along. It’s painful and embarrassing to discover that I was a fool to take comfort in the easy platitudes of well-meaning acquaintances who urged me to believe myself to be good and smart and worthy, when my brain was telling me where I was falling short of all of those standards.

So what do you do when the illusion is revealed and all your comfortable self beliefs are debunked by cold fact?

I suppose the healthiest response is to redirect all that self-improvement energy to a more realistic, achievable goal. When your inadequacy has been proven to be reality, get to work on becoming adequate. Seems fairly straightforward. But so much in life that seems simple is not. Bootstrapping yourself to the finish line from square one is really f’ing hard and exhausting. Especially when the leaden weight of failure is still hanging around your neck.

So the real question is how do you take that leaden noose off your neck?

Let me know when you find out, won’t you?

Multitudes

The other day, I was chatting with a friend, one of the few people I work with who is a friend more than a colleague. She is a straight, cis woman an a true ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. Her support and unconditional acceptance of me have made it safe and comfortable for me to talk openly with her about my gender identity in a way that I don’t with most others. So while we were laughing together about some meaningless absurdity that I no longer recall, I flippantly commented that whatever thing we were laughing at (I think some extreme fashion accessory) would “lose me my Butch card” if I wore it. We laughed and the conversation moved on. But a little later she asked me more seriously what “Butch” meant to me, if it was more than my fashion style.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to describe what “Butch” means to me, to define the concept authoritatively. And since this conversation with my friend, I’ve seen multiple posts and articles online and overheard several other conversations among others that attempt to do this, some for themselves, others for the world at large. I didn’t attempt an answer for my friend, merely saying that it was a big topic and maybe we should try to cover that sometime when we weren’t at work.

But the question and topic have been running around in my head ever since, and I have some thoughts on it. The subject seems to hold a particular fascination for people.  As with so much in the human experience, this identity captivates people most because of the mystery, ambiguity surrounding it. Humans crave to know a thing. And when we can’t easily encapsulate it in a tidy description, the mystery grows and our thirst to know escalates.

The trouble is, all who are “Butch” are individual; we aren’t a monolith with uniform surfaces and symmetrical dimensions. Each unique person brings their own flavor and flair to this identity. There are commonalities, sure. And there are shared experiences among many who wear this name. But no one true definition will work for all.

“Butch” is as much the way we move through the world experiencing the highs and lows as any human of any identity, but engaging with those experiences from the vantage point of one who occupies multiple dimensions at once. Many of us enjoy male privilege to varying degrees due to the odd confluence of our outward appearance and the assumptions of careless observers who automatically file us away as “men” or “male” in their heads based on our clothes or hair alone. This privilege, however slight and fleeting, colors our view of the other identities we occupy.

For me, ‘passing’ as male up to a third of the time (by my rough, unscientific estimation) has tempered my understanding of being a woman, a queer, and a Latina. Other women of my acquaintance who are also queer Latinas, but are more feminine-presenting, for example, have experienced significantly more discrimination and non-acceptance in traditionally male-dominated situations (i.e. job interviews, professional advancement) than I have, though we are equally matched in qualifications. However, these same feminine queer Latinas are fare more successful in more female-identified roles or circumstances (i.e. socializing, attraction politics, fund-raising, etc.)

This unscientific observation of a very limited population of my own acquaintances is not an adequate foundation on which to base an all-encompassing thesis of the “Butch” experience. I offer it as an illustration of one dimension of how the surface of this identity may influence the deeper, more nuanced components of life as a queer Butch woman.

Ultimately, there is no one right answer for everyone to describe what it means to be “Butch”. There is only one answer for each Butch – the one that that Butch gives or makes for her/their/his self at any given moment.

When I speak of “Butch” identity, I speak of a queer identity that I wear in my very essence.  It unites energy and intention and attraction and the soul-deep knowledge of a place between the strata of sex and sexuality and gender and gender expression foreign to those who have never struggled with this in-between. It unites these ephemeral things with a physical aesthetic built from more than hair and clothing styles, but also from a unique embodiment of masculinity, chivalry and gentility. I speak for myself alone. But I know others for whom this will resonate. I also know others for whom this is not even close to their experience of “Butch”. Understand this before reading further.

 

Ok, ready? Good.

 

My answer for what “Butch is includes an affinity for bow ties and Oxford ankle boots, a quiet confidence in my skill as a professional, and a soft, generous heart that longs to be important to someone who cherishes that gentility and chivalry.  It includes a fierce desire to nurture and grow an emotional bond with an intelligent, ambitious, humorous and kind woman looking for those same qualities in a “Butch” package unlikely to ever meet any standard for superficial attractiveness.

My definition of “Butch” encompasses an appreciation for physical femininity, curves and delicacy and loveliness that are not confined to any one body type or size, but made evident by her confident embrace of her own nature. It responds to the presence of this feminine energy wherever it occurs, regardless if it is packaged in the form of a girlish figure in a pretty sun dress or the image of a powerful body doing manual labor in rough work clothes, or in a soft, round body in nothing but the rumpled folds of a bed sheet on a lazy Sunday morning.

The “Butch” I embody shows regard for the one I’m with in small gestures of care-taking; held doors, fetched drinks, smiles and soft touches. It acknowledges that she can do it all without assistance, but offers help for the joy of being helpful to she whose regard I seek. My “Butch” energy seeks to empower, not impose, to lift and hold, not constrain.

My definition of “Butch” includes some less-lovely characteristics, like shy awkwardness, body insecurity and a tendency to self-criticize. But my “Butch” self also is committed to self-knowledge and self-improvement, constantly reaching for a better way to engage with people and emotions and concepts that shape our world.

There is no neat, one-line answer to what “Butch” is to me or to anyone. It is more than my clothes, more than my sexual attraction, more than my impulse to care-taking, more than my snark and wit and vocabulary.  It is all of that and all of what that is not.

“Butch” is complex and nuanced and messy.

“Butch” is multitudes in one.

“Butch” is my gender and my being.

“Butch” is me.

No More Apologies

Earlier this week I saw a post on Facebook that kicked me right in the feels and the thinks.  I don’t have permission to re-post the full post here, but I will give this description and small excerpt to set the context of my ravings below.  The original poster is a college professor and someone whose writing in various media and platforms has revealed to me her acute intelligence, passion, compassion and genuine concern for all humans, and LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized humans in particular. Speaking of some of her women students, she posted about the heartbreak she feels at the volume of these students who have been conditioned to constantly apologize for their thoughts…even their existence.  This bit of her post particularly resonated with me:

“…brilliant young women who have been so often told that they cannot trust their own minds, that they are poor thinkers, that they are not bright enough, that they had better keep their mouths shut and their heads down, who end up in my office apologizing profusely and repeatedly for having a thought, for having too many thoughts to organize them intuitively, for having a thought too advanced for their vocabulary but not for their conceptual capacities…”

There was at least one commentator on this post that denied having been conditioned in this way.  I’m happy for that person. But the vast majority of responses were from female-identified people for whom, like me, this impulse is so ingrained that it took conscious, intentional effort to post a comment that didn’t include an apology – whether for piling on, or having their own take on the phenomenon, or for simply having the gall to post at all. Several who responded wrote of their conditioned guilt response to their “taking up space”.

My thoughts on this whole topic exploded to such a degree inside my head that it was impossible to do them justice in a comment-sized installment. But they’ve been present all week, sometimes very quietly way back in the back of my head, sometimes very loudly in the very front of my brain, pushing aside the thoughts and words I’m supposed to be thinking and speaking about entirely different topics.

So it was, with these untamed thoughts swirling, ever present in my head and in my mood, I reached the late afternoon on Friday of an extremely trying week full of work frustration.  After an afternoon of battling dragons for budget resources to save my team from burn-out after being constantly asked to do more and more with less and less, I was already on-tilt and in a less-than-optimal frame of mind to deal with any more idiocy for this company this week.  Then I checked my email.

What I found sent me on a a down-hill slide straight into a rage that felt very much like foaming-at-the mouth lunacy.  The trigger was a snide, unprofessional, strident whinge and petulant demand from a person who holds a senior leadership position (but who has demonstrated exactly zero actual leadership in the more than five years I’ve been burdened to work with him), condemning an administrative person on my staff for erroneously messaging that this person’s deal had been de-prioritized in favor of other deals at the direction of senior leadership.

Had the email been sent to me alone, I still would have been pissed off at the language of the message and the fact that it was an email at all, instead of a phone call, but I most likely would have simply acknowledged and corrected the error and moved on.  But since this tool felt the need to direct his insulting commentary and demand to a host of individuals whose rank and influence I cannot, for the sake of my team, ignore, I was forced to respond.

Although I am intelligent and have an above-average vocabulary and a decent degree of self-possession, I was not able to control my impulses enough cool down before responding to the same broad audience and additional recipients whom I felt needed to ‘get some on ’em, too’.  Although my response was, admittedly, terse and clearly conveyed my extreme irritation, I was successful in keeping it both short and professional.

Then, as so often happens, I belatedly considered the fall-out.  By electronically snapping off the pencil-necked idiot’s bloated head, I risked the incident being flagged up the chain to our executive leaders, including my boss.  Not wishing to have him be blind-sided by questions or complaints from his fellow execs, I quickly forwarded my missive to him as a heads-up.  I then went next door to his office and inquired if he was proficient at criminal defense, in case I ended up murdering that jackass.

My boss is a smart, compassionate man who has demonstrated great respect for me and a knack for talking me down off the ledge when I go off like this.  He laughed and said he’d have a hard time keeping from strangling that jerk if he were in my shoes.  We then talked it through and, after I received his reassurance that he had my back, I started to leave, making a parting comment that included an apology  for my emotional reaction and for making my problem his issue.

Since that kind of comment is not uncommon from me, he was not surprised by it, but he refused to accept it.  He looked me directly in the eye, called me by name, and said something so true that it stunned me.  He said: “I think your feelings when you do that [apologize for my reaction] are actually regret at having always to be the adult in the room.”

That really is it.  While I get angry at the mistreatment of my team and that anger does fuel my responses a lot of the time, the rage that gives birth to the types of outbursts that cause me to warn my boss about potential blow-back comes from always being held to a higher standard while others seemingly  breeze-by on the barest minimum of effort.  I and my team are content to be held to fiduciary standards applicable to legal professionals in matters of of our legal practice – when giving legal advice and opinions or representing our clients.  But when we’re expected to be perfect, provide instantaneous and error-free business services, to do the thinking for everyone else, and do it all with a smile while being met with everything from disinterest to sneering contempt from those making these demands, even the best-tempered among us grow weary and can snap.

My boss went on to say: “You are [the adult in the room] and you do a great job at it, and are always professional. Don’t apologize for being right or for being frustrated.  You’re right and your feelings are valid.”

And that’s where my thoughts from earlier in the week collide with my work-induced frustration.  His words of kindness and validation had their desired effect, calming me and making me feel better about a crappy situation.  But they also triggered a dissonance that still niggles in my head, prompting this post.

Here’s my struggle:  I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t in terms of my reactions.

On the one hand, I felt compelled to apologize for having a reaction and for taking up time and space in my boss’ head because of my emotional response.  It didn’t matter that my response was proportionate, professionally worded, and appropriate to the stimulus.  It was emotion-based (anger, frustration, disappointment) and that automatically translated, in my culturally-conditioned brain, to “woman’s reaction” and “not worth his time”.

But on the other hand, when he validated my reaction and praised me for my handling of the matter, I immediately felt guilty for feeling reassured by it, and frustrated for needing his validation. Again, my impulse, instinct is to reject my reaction as unworthy.  This time the reaction comes from a forward-thinking, feminist mind-set that tells me I should be, and feel that I am, enough without the validation of a man or any other person in a position of authority.  I do believe that.  But there’s still the guilt and discontent.  That, too, is a culturally-conditioned response based on “female” emotion which I am conditioned to believe is worth less than “male” emotion and “male” logic.

Can’t win for losing.

As so often happens with my deeper thinking lately, I don’t have answers, only more questions.  I can’t end this post with it all tied up in a neat bow (or dapper bow tie). I’ll struggle with this for a long time, I’m sure.

But I know this:  No More Apologies.

From now on when I flame some unthinking, slug-brained Neanderthal of a supposed leader, I’m not going to apologize for it or for warning my boss that I’ve done it.  I’m just going to flame on and move on.

That’s my new mantra:

FLAME ON AND MOVE ON

Musing on Weariness (Not ‘Just Getting Old’)

I have been so busy, so focused on getting to a certain point in professional advancement, in being thought a success, in self improvement, that I may have missed a few important milestones on the way. I think my career tunnel vision has blinded me to an achievement that must’ve come years ago but I am noticing for the first time now. I have mixed feelings about it. I seem to have reached a stage of maturity in which I am reconciled to things I’ll never do or be, and am content to focus on what I am doing and being. Does that mean I’ve given up dreaming? Have I capitulated to inevitability? Have I quit on myself?

I read a snippet of something on the internet recently, a fragment of creative writing full of angst and grit and pretension. It’s the kind of thing written by someone with more depth of vocabulary than depth of experience. A piece of well-written prose that paints a picture entirely different from what the writer intended, because the writer can’t possibly imagine, in his utter lack of practical knowledge, the experience and emotion living in the words he chose. It’s as if he saw in his mind’s eye a grimy, sad, dusty, Mad Max landscape of dramatic and violent change, when the real view out the window of those words is the weathered, age-worn, tattered, remains of real lives exhausted during the slow decay of existence. Both views are full of sadness and regret, but the poignancy of the latter is lost in the clangorous note of unreality in the author’s description. 

The author describes a person who sees a problem in the world, who knows it’s cause, and after cursory attempt to rectify the evil in the world, decides that mankind is doomed and so we all may as well be resigned to our fate and lay down to die. That overly dramatic, angst-ridden capitulation screams of immaturity, of inexperience with actual defeat after laborious effort against strong opposition. 

Yet, does that criticism, which I admit smacks heavily of cynicism and world-weariness, brand me as the jaded voice of someone worn-out and devoid of vision, of dreams for the future? If I say the author doesn’t know what weariness after labor really is, I imply that I do know and am weary. Does that mean I’m advocating the very capitulation that I criticize the author for imagining?  

Don’t write this off as my feeling old. I don’t feel old. 

I feel compacted, pushed-in, dented, bruised. Yet, I continue my labors, both personal and professional. I keep going. Am I continuing my labor only out of habit and rote repetition, having lost the ideological fire that started my journey? If so, is it something I can reclaim? Do I want to reclaim it? 

This uncertainty is unsettling and I can’t even fully explain why it is so troubling. 

There is no quick answer, no comforting platitude that will soothe this ache. Only great effort of mind and deep search of the soul will yield any insight. That’s why the weariness of labor of any sort is so dangerous. It robs the energy for enlightenment. 

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