Archive for the ‘who am I’ Tag

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.

What’s in a name?

Prefatory note: This post started as a short, cute anecdote about nicknames. But the mysterious paths in my brain led me, by the end of it, to an entirely different place than I expected. It rambles a bit, so I hope you don’t get too lost on the way.

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As you can tell from earlier posts, identity, defining it and living it authentically, is on my mind, running very close to the surface all the time. I’ve no idea why, can’t pinpoint the exact day or time it started. As someone once said (in a movie, I think), it seems I was in the middle before I knew I had begun!

There’s so much to think about, explore, embrace in the umbrella of identity. One of the key facets of it is the fact that we each get to define our own. But, for me personally, it’s in the acceptance of my identity choices by people who are important to me that identity solidifies and becomes real.

Very central to this is the idea of belonging. Identity and belonging are two sides of the same coin. Feeling as if you belong in a place, a group, a label, is essential to wearing any identity. Belonging transforms that conscious choice if claiming an identity into reality more thoroughly than any single marker of identity can. Anyone can put on “drag”, the trappings of any given identity. But only when you feel confident in your belonging there, when you know, not just hope, that you are in the right place, do you step into belonging.

One sure way of knowing you belong in a physical place is by looking at the the keys you carry for that place, whether a metal key, a plastic card, or some other token of access. When you have the freedom to come and go in a physical space by virtue of the access or keys you carry, you know you belong there.

The same thing applies to people. I think of names as keys. When you are given a person’s name and invited to use it, you belong there, with them, in their space. It’s a privilege. This is especially true with nicknames, diminutives, endearments. The familiarity required to bestow and use a nickname or endearment for someone is like having a key to that person’s inner self. A friend described it as “an acknowledgement that you see someone well enough to pick up on a foible or trait and turn it into an endearment.”

Telling the story about my grandfather the other day, remembering just how he talked and all the quirky phrases he used to describe or refer to people, really got me to thinking about this. Names and labels are such powerful things. Beyond the meaning of the words themselves (which is often profound in itself), the wealth of emotion, context and sense of belonging that surrounds each name or phrase is astounding. I’m often delighted by the sense of rightness that comes with an aptly placed name.

Is there any greater warm-fuzzy than when the right person calls you by a certain name, uses a special endearment reserved just for you? Is there any more awkward, uncomfortable feeling than when someone presumes to use a diminutive or familiar form of your name without your invitation, or uses it in the wrong setting setting?

All this rambling is just to say this: “I’m gay.” I choose to own that truth that chose me. It’s not a name or endearment, and is a label only in the sense that the phrase is a verbal construct that is convenient to describe a very important facet of myself. But gay is so much more than that! It’s my identity. I belong here. It’s not a hope, aspiration, fear or dreaded surprise. Not anymore. I know it. I own it. For me, this acknowledgement inside myself is an essential first step to making it true in the whole of my life.

I’m not done. There’s all the work in the world left to do: coming out in real life, stepping into authenticity, living it the rest of my days. But the key to that future is this acknowledgement inside myself today.

Favorite Childhood Memory

I was chatting with a friend this afternoon, feeling meh about the upcoming work week. To change the mood, we started telling stories from our childhoods. This is my absolute favorite childhood memory. Telling it to my friend brought it back so vividly, that I thought I’d share it here. Enjoy…

My favorite memory from early childhood was Easter Sunday when I was 4. Easter where I grew up is nearly always cold & snowy. But this Easter was clear, warmer, and starting to thaw. After church my mom sent me outside (typical, else I was under foot), but neglected to change me out of the hated Easter dress.

I promptly found the biggest mud puddle I could and spent a blissful unsupervised half our running & jumping in the mud, making as big a mess as possible. My Mary Janes stuck at some point, so I took them off, plopped down in the middle of the puddle, and started a round of mud pies.

In the middle of it, my grandfather, a southern gent of impeccable dress & bearing, stopped by the house. My mother called to me to come inside, but didn’t really look out the door, just hollered. So, up I got, shook myself like a mutt, and trotted into the house.

Seeing my granddad in his favorite chair as soon as I hit the living room, I made a bee-line for him. He was wearing a beautiful dove-grey western suit, looking like Hank Williams, complete with ostrich boots and Stetson hung on the back of the chair. Before my mother could collar me, I flung myself into his lap, mud from head to toe, grinning like a fiend.

Both my mother and grandmother shrieked and moved to yank me off him. He threw back his head, laughing like a crazy man, ran a finger thru the mud on my cheek and painted it on his own face, all the while, crushing me in a bear hug made of heaven.

When my mother went to pick me up, he said, “Baby girl, caint you see I’m holdin’ my darlin’ chil’?” (That’s realy how he talked.) “This suit don’t mean a damn thing, if I caint hang on to this li’l bit when I want to.”

He asked me then what I’d been doing to look like a wild thing. I happily told him that “Momma asked me to go outside, so I thought I might as well enjoy myself.” Laughing out loud, he said he guessed I looked like I did enjoy myself.

“Yessir”, I said. “Momma made me wear this thing to the church house, where folks could see me! But she said to go play, so I did. I had to tame it down some, so’s I could stand it!”

My mother was mortified, of course, and fretted over his ruined suit. But he said he was proud of those mud stains. Said they proved he had someone to love and that he was loved. He flatly refused to let my mom have it cleaned.

That was the last time I got to spend with him. He went back home the next day and was killed in an industrial accident not long afterward. But I still hang onto that memory of his unflinching acceptance of this wild thing. Makes me grin like a fiend to this day!

I will…

[Author’s note: Writing is my way of processing. Sometimes, like now, it’s raw, unpolished, unedited. I need to get this out of me, so I can start living it. This is good, positive growth.]

I can do this. I will be brave. I will not cry. I will not fail. I can do this.

I will not betray your gift of beauty by covering it with guilt. I will not regret any moment.

I will not be sad. How can I be sorry for myself, knowing what I do now? Trusted with your secrets, I will hold them safe and cherish the gift.

I will smile through the fear, uncertainty, doubt. I will hold tight the beauty we shared and live in the lightness.

I will fake it ’til I make it. I will be brave so you will not regret. I will be well, so you can be, too.

I will hear the beauty you spoke to me–hear and believe. I will own it, so you will know you did not waste your breath. I will become the fruit of your labor.

I will soldier on. I will not falter. I will prove myself equal to this task.

I will open my heart to beauty. I will not scar.

I am strong enough. I am brave.

Labels, labels everywhere

Literally everywhere. Signs, labels, brands on everything we see. They serve an obvious and valuable purpose in helping us define the boundaries, compartments of our world, and communicate effectively with one another. Like trademarks (specialized labels themselves), labels help us gauge quality, identify source (of origin/manufacture), and reduce complex items or concepts to their essential components. They also help us distinguish between individual examples of any given thing (Coke vs. Pepsi; abrasive vs. astringent; Spring leaf vs. Autumn leaf; chunky vs. smooth peanut butter, etc.).

Not so obvious are the labels attached to people. Some are easy to guess (Black, Caucasian, adult, child, etc.), but ‘self-evident’ categories of people are more misleading and misunderstood than is commonly thought (male, female, straight, queer, professional, amateur, healthy, unhealthy, able, disabled, etc.).

Still, we use labels to describe ourselves and the others around us. The results are largely mixed; a label aptly applied may be refreshing to one, insulting to another. The only sure label (if there is such a thing) is the label one selects for oneself. But even that is ever-changing and often fluid or context-specific. Too often, labels are equated with the entirety of one’s identity. But labels are tools to describe a thing (or person), not the thing or identity itself.

So, if labels are needed, yet dynamic, how can they be relied upon as a tool for self expression? First, no system is perfect and therefore must be regarded with a healthy skepticism and used cautiously. Second, communication is always hard work and never as effective when relying on a short-cut as when employing complete expression. But, even if there is no perfect label, and no proverbial standard lexicon, labels still form a conceptual vocabulary for communicating identity. This essential language is the gateway to achieving understanding among people from every walk of life. By repetition, constant experimentation and communication with the intent to inform, educate, humanity continually adds to this language of identity and discovery.

All over the blogosphere, however, the debate rages over what labels are good, right, acceptable to apply to ourselves and each other, and whether they are needed or wanted in the first place. In the context of identity, self determination and authenticity, labels can be particularly incendiary and divisive.

In any given demographic, there will be those who, feel they typify one or more defining characteristics of their chosen group. When this belief in one’s own status as an archetype is over-emphasized, too often the result is the policing of use of labels associated with that identity by others who similarly identify. Conflict over who is/isn’t entitled to employ a particular label can result in fragmentation of the subculture associated with the label at issue. It’s a fascinating dynamic and I hope to continue my informal study of it throughout my lifetime.

Wow! that’s a lot of words on a topic I’m not really qualified to discuss. But a guest post today on the Butch Wonders blog really got me thinking about all of this. You should check it out.

Here are a few of the labels I apply to myself or are applied to me daily. What are some of your chosen/imposed labels?

Chosen: woman, attorney, sister, aunt, masculine, decisive, independent, smart, plain, strong, large, leader, deliberate, opinionated

Imposed: fat, introvert, nerd, trans*, weird

Easy Peesy

While out with the sis-in-law today (carrying the bags as she shopped), I got a lot of stares, quite a few ” Sirs”, and even overheard a few muttered epithets thrown in my direction. This is a common occurrence, as my appearance isn’t what people expect. And different often = bad or scary to some people. One comment in particular got to me: “Geez, why can’t she at least make an effort to look like a girl?” This made me think about how hard it is sometimes, being different.

“Do as I say.” “Listen to me.” “Obey.” “Life is easy, simple if you follow the rules.”

These and so many more platitudes and oversimplifications comprised the soundtrack of my youth. (Well, that and ” shut the door!” and “don’t sass me, missy!”). The theme being that I would have no questions, no strife, no unhappiness, if only I would conform.

God, how I longed to be able to do so!

But I was never a conforming child. Not in looks, mannerisms, preferences, thought processes. I was an odd duck from day one. Born late to unsuspecting parents and siblings who were all convinced the family-building phase was long finished, I began life on the wrong foot and never found the path to normal (wherever that is).

Some of my earliest memories include laments of my mother or brothers about my quirks, which were annoying or embarrassing to them. I vividly recall being sent home from Kindergarten with a note pinned to my shirt telling my mother that I was unprepared to be in school, as I couldn’t count or recite the alphabet. She immediately marched me back to school and demanded I demonstrate that, in fact, I could do all and more of what was expected. When questioned why I didn’t do so in class, I politely pointed out that I was not told to do so; rather, I was asked if I wished to do so and I didn’t at the time. (Literal and linear-minded even then.) I watched my mother’s face redden and her lips thin and her nostrils flair, and knew that I had again missed the ‘normal’ mark.

Even at 5, I knew I wasn’t like everyone else. I knew that I was somehow wrong, defective. And all my life growing up, as I heard those pleas for me to just do it normally, just be like so-and-so, I knew it was futile. I could never be normal.

I didn’t like what other girls liked. I didn’t want to eat or wear or play with the things other girls my age did. Every school clothes shopping trip, every Easter and Christmas portrait session, involved tears and threats of dire consequences if I didn’t “straighten up and act right” (which meant “put on the damn dress and quit crying about it”). By the time I was 12, my mother labeled me “her tomboy” in that defeated way mothers have and then gave up trying to force me into being and acting “like a lady”.

That didn’t stop me wanting to be what was expected, to be that perfect girl that would make my mom smile at her pretty clothes and prim manners and dainty features. I wanted that so badly I could taste it.

But even I could not deny that me in a dress was like putting a wig on a pig. I knew in my deepest heart that I could never become that girl, that woman. Beyond the clothes, I am the antithesis of ladylike. Big, lumbering, klutzy, rough-and-tumble, yes. Polite, considerate, fun loving, yes. Well behaved, studious, humble, yes. But genteel, refined, dainty, graceful, socially adept, comfortably outgoing and womanly? No and never.

So, I gave up any illusion of conformity. Instead, I resigned myself to being the odd one in any group and to hearing sighs of frustration from all feminine women (mother, relatives, shop keepers, nurses, etc.) who ever had to deal with my body, image, apparel or presentation.

As an adult, I’ve never looked back. I look like everything a woman isn’t. There is no femininity about my appearance, even when I wear a pink hoodie or purple tee shirt. I’ll always have a masculine appearance and energy that can’t be masked by fabric color, cut or trim.

Yet, this isn’t conscious bravery or rebellion against patriarchy. I simply am incapable of falsifying myself. As much as I have yearned to just fit in, I cannot compromise the integrity of my person, my truest self, for the sake of a societal norm. I feel a compulsion to present myself as naturally as possible, without artifice or guise. That leaves me looking plain on my best days, ugly on my worst, but always myself.

So, if conformity is the path to an easy life, I’m never going to know easy. That’s ok, I’m used to the hard way.

Sometimes I’m…

Continuing to examine who I am by describing myself. my thoughts, my feelings. It’s a strange experience, as I have lived most of my life taking myself, my identity for granted.

Side note: I’m aware that my posting pace is rapid and it may not afford myself or anyone else a chance to really digest what I have to say. That’s OK for now. I’m new at this, my blog is new and I need to get these things out of my head. I’m sure it will slow and grow more measured over time.

Today I’m thinking about who I am, not in single word descriptions, but in more complete thoughts.

Sometimes, I’m…

…a little bit obsessive. I think about things too much, over-think, over-analyze. It can be exhausting.

…too worried about what other people think of me, my choices, my personality. So much so that its stifling, at times.

…perfectly content to be alone and silent. The quiet is refreshing. Noise can make me nervous.

…afraid to ask for what I need or want, because I don’t want people to think me greedy, needy, lame.

…satisfied with everything and everyone in my life. Those golden moments are a rare gift.

…cringing at my own awkwardness and praying no one will look at me. When I feel I’m at my biggest, ugliest, nerdiest, most inept, I wish I were invisible.

…grateful for my big, ugly, awkward body because it shields me from the gaze of the shiny, popular world at large (that, some days, is still as real and painful as it was in high school). When they’re not jeering and throwing stones, no one sees us ugly ones.

…secretly pleased when someone calls me “Sir”.

…secretly crushed when someone turns that “Sir” into a slur, a cut, a hammer aimed at my head.

…not so sensitive to others’ thoughts. When I am at my most grounded, sure of myself and my position, I care very little if anyone agrees with, understands, or commiserates with me. But I always still seem to care if they like me, which often makes me feel weak.

…so sure I’m right and so persuasive with my argument that I win the other person over. I love that feeling. Not to gloat, but to confirm my conviction with their agreement. It’s dangerously intoxicating.

…such a geek that others wonder how I function in the real world. Somehow, that doesn’t bother me much.

…so happy to be helpful to someone that it doesn’t matter how hard, inconvenient or unpleasant the task. I get pleasure from being helpful, useful and available to my friends and colleagues.

…so tired that I miss nuances in conversations that later turn out to be vitally important. Being present, fully in the moment for the person you are with is a great gift of respect.

…so full of feelings that I fear I may burst. But, perversely, those are the moments when I’m most inarticulate. It’s maddening.

…buried so far into my own head that the real world becomes insignificant, trivial. That’s a very particular and ugly form of selfishness and I feel ashamed of it when it happens.

…very self-critical. It helps to keep me grounded, keep me from being insufferably arrogant. But it can spiral into destructiveness.

…pleased with my achievements. It makes me feel smart, successful when a milestone is reached and both myself and others recognize it.

…less than. Less than happy, less than good, less than I should be.

…exactly right. About my life, my job, my self.

…too or just or not. Too big, too loud, too ugly, too smug, too much. Just plain, just fat, just a girl, just another. Not right, not enough, not wanted.

…everything that’s good and right and needed.

…happy. Despite this rather dreary list, that’s quite often how I feel.

Who Am I?

A couple of weeks back I saw a post on Victoria Oldham’s blog about things she liked. It was a list of seemingly unrelated words that described things in her life or about herself of which she was fond. It reminded me of a stream of consciousness exercise I had to do once in a college writing course. That was both fun and frustrating.

I liked the list idea so much that I’ve done something similar, but my list is about describing me. Since I’m using this blog as a tool in my journey of self discovery, this fits right in. So, this is my top-of-mind, stream of consciousness description of myself. I constrained myself to whatever resulted in 15 minutes and edited only for spelling.

I’d love to hear your thoughts; leave a comment and try a list of your own, either here or on your own blog.

Who Am I?

Strong, stoic, purposeful, steady, stalwart, warm, careful, watchful.
Tremulous, wary, hopeful, longing, wanting.
Pacific, deliberate, methodical, thoughtful.
Staccato, rhythmic, hungry, passionate.
Solid, steadfast, earnest, honorable.
Alone, selfless, searching, lost.
Alienated, separate, sanctified.
Nervous, pensive, cerebral, studious, contemplative, quiescent.
Double image, two-spirited, public self, private self.
Changing, restive, confused, fearful, private, withdrawn.
Questioning, learning, seeking truth.
Fevered, restless, tense, yearning.
Content, peaceful.
Pleasant, kind, tender, happy, funny, joyous.
Young, old, wise, naive, worldly, new.
Sheltered, serene, spoiled, industrious, creative, smart.
Big, masculine, plodding, meticulous, fervent, serious, careful.
Conservative, generous, tenacious, resilient, elastic, understanding.
Girl, unknown, anonymous.
Clean, untouched, inexperienced, innocent.
Sullied, soiled, rejected.
Last, least, ugly, crushed.
Hurt, wounded, broken, wrong.
Less than, not enough, too much.
Whole, well, resigned, solo.
Needed, useful, workhorse, productive.
Professional, masterful, knowledgeable, leadership, rank.
Mournful, lonesome, solemn, calm.
Fidgety, anxious, itchy, squirming.
Restful, still.
One, unique, original, sufficient, full.
Prideful, stubborn, sharp, linear.
Genuine, true, faithful, loving, caring, tender, compassionate.
Powerful, decisive, firm.
Silly, fun-loving, snarky, flip.
Listening, learning, teaching, growing.
Measured, pacing, structured, planning, organized, outlined, plotted, placed.
Organic, natural, asymmetrical, fluid.
Unstudied, easy, relaxed, casual.
Formal, precise, exacting.
Open-handed, open-minded, accepting, giving, ecumenical.
Decided, knowing, present, aware.
Oblivious, ingenuous, nascent, curious, puzzled.
Catalytic, charismatic, persuasive, smooth, confident.
Confused, bumbling, clumsy, thick.
Distracted, erratic, capricious.
Focused, definite, leading, fortified.
Self-aware, healing, dealing, managing, succeeding.
Glad, grateful, worshipful, prayerful.
Imaginative, eccentric, goofy, fun.
Serious, mindful, calculating.
Praising, encouraging, uplifting, supportive.
Happy, at ease, healthy, free.
Constrained, fiduciary, obligatory, oath.
Western, modern, technological, geek.
Medieval, old fashioned, passé.
Rural, provincial, pastoral, quaint.
Urban, angular, hard-edged, unbending, architectural.
Bland, neutral, blending, filler.
Bright, engaging, energetic, talkative.
Quiet, observant.
Economical, saving, planning.
Vibrant, evocative, challenging.
Whole, self-sufficient, authoritative, meaningful, knowledgeable.
Driven, goal-oriented, sound.
Loud, expansive, verbose, selfish.
Taking up space, too big, too bold, too loud, too opinionated, too sure, too much.
Self-satisfied, smirking, jerk.
Kind, good, humble, noble, pure.
Everything.
Nothing.
Brilliant.
Dull.
Somebody.
Nobody.
Everyman.
Myself.

Still searching for more…

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