Mid-Year Check In

At the beginning of this year, I wrote a post about my love of new beginnings and my resolutions for 2016. I was not too lofty in my goals; I attempted to make them as attainable as possible. As regular readers of this blog know, my year didn’t exactly turn out the way I had expected. My fiancée died very suddenly in January, and my life took some very interesting twists and turns in the months since. I began writing this on July first, the exact midpoint of the year. Here’s how my resolutions have held up against the scourge of real life.

  1. Gender Stuff. My first resolution was to figure out my gender, to choose a name, and to be more adamant about enforcing my pronouns. This is one of the resolutions that I deviated the most from in the wake of my partner’s death. I have come to terms with the fact that I have no gender and that that fact is okay. I have been using my birth name in most situations recently. I am, for the most part, okay with this. I have not been enforcing my pronouns, but taking a more laissez-faire attitude toward them. I allow people to switch between he, she, and ze pronouns as they see fit. It’s been working for me. Perhaps these things are less important to me than I once thought they were. I’m not certain yet, and the year is still fairly young. We’ll see what happens come December.
  2. The death of my partner also harbored the death of my ability to write full time without worry for financial stability. I have been searching for a job for the greater part of the past six months. I have not had much success. The immediate aftermath of my partner’s death was a heavy weight on my soul, and I did not feel much like writing or being creative at all. My work stymied severely. It’s starting to pick back up now, and I’m taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo this month, and I hope that it will be something that rekindles my writing habits and makes them more consistent. I also applied, sort of on a lark, to become a writing intern for one of my favorite pop culture blogs, Film School Rejects. I got the internship and I’m flexing my writing muscles in ways that they really have not been forced to flex before. You can find my work on that front at filmschoolrejects.com.
  3. Health/Weight Loss The death of my fiancé has really affected me globally. For the longest time after he died, I couldn’t bring myself to eat. Food tasted like ashes and felt like rubber. I would eat one meal a day, maximum. I lost a significant amount of body fat. I started exercising because the endorphins really did help me feel better. The shape of my body has changed so much over the past few months. I have never, ever felt more confident about my body and my own attractiveness and fitness. It’s incredible.
  4. Sociality Grief really puts a damper on the desire to be social. I spent a lot of time by myself. I alienated most of my friends because I just didn’t have the energy to spend time with anyone. My best friend sort of nudged me toward being around more often. We became very close again, even though we’d drifted apart during my relationship with my fiancé. She’s been encouraging me to spend more time with other people. She’s encouraged me to meet new people. She encouraged me to make an OkCupid profile, just to remember how to meet people. I still feel sort of guilty about it, maintaining a profile on a dating website. I feel guilty for the fact that I’ve met someone that I enjoy being around even though it is not super serious and is very new. Sociality is something I forgot I was very good at. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about it. I never know the right time to tell people that I’m a widow/er. I’m still learning, but I’m getting better all the time.
  5. Spirituality I, of course, went through some intense spiritual soul-searching in the wake of my fiance’s death. I have gotten back into witchcraft on a regular basis. I spend more time praying, both to my pagan gods and in a Catholic Church, than I have in years. I wouldn’t say I’m where I want to be, but I have made progress there as well.

I’d say that despite the horrible beginning that this year brought me, things are starting to look up. I’m still making progress toward my goals. Grit and determination can heal all wounds.

Rest In Peace: Eulogies For Strangers

Grief is such a personal emotion. It is one that we feel when we lose something that is precious to us: a person, a relationship, a home, a job, etc. On its first face, it seems strange that we collectively feel very deep, very real grief at the death of a beloved celebrity. The vast majority of mourners have never seen these people in the flesh, let alone met them. Let alone gotten to know them. Still, the feelings remain intensely palpable.

Actors, musicians, sports stars, TV personalities, and celebrities of all stripes evoke these feelings in us. There is something about how these people chose to share their lives with the general public so freely. I think with artists, the connection between artist and stranger is strengthened because that artist has allowed us to peer, if only for a second, into their soul.

This year has been particularly hard on artists. It’s only April, but the world has been in mourning more times this year than any year I can remember. I have lost three of my heroes. The world has lost two queer-of-center artists, for whom my heart aches the most: David Bowie and Prince. The world has lost one of my favorite actors of all time as well in Alan Rickman.

I have always been a very self-isolating person. I’m an introvert. I’m a writer. I enjoy many of the things I enjoy in solitude. When I listen to music or watch a film, I dedicate my full attention to it. I allow the art to envelop and seep into me. I allow art to find empty corners in my heart, my soul, and my personality. I allow the art to live in those nooks and crannies. I carry those artists  with me for the rest of my life.

When an artist dies, their fan base mourns as if they were close, personal friends. We celebrate their lives and work. We mourn them in any way that we can. We struggle to do something positive in their memory, just as we would for a recently deceased friend.

The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince passed away on April 21, 2016. His formal cause of death is not yet known, but sources indicate that an acute overdose on the painkiller Percocet.

Prince was a revolutionary performer. He was prolific. He played several instruments and wrote music not only for himself but several other performers. He allegedly possessed a vault in his Minnesota estate containing enough unreleased music to quench the thirst of his fans for years to come. His musical style was all his own. A smooth combination of soul, funk, rhythm and blues, and pop, there was something for everyone in his repertoire. He was also a fashion icon, embodying an androgyny once reserved only for women and David Bowie.

Prince redefined what it was to be a black man in the United States. He found a way to strip away the layers of machismo forced into the black psyche by the brute force of colonialism and slavery. As he sang in “I Would Die 4 U,” “I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/I’m something you will never understand.”

Prince was considered something of a diva. He had a very particular way of looking at things and incredibly high standards for himself and those around him. This too was a testament to his integrity to his art and against those who would attempt to dim his starfire. He fought against the exploitation of record labels and refused projects that could have made money for personal discomfort.

Prince was one of my great role models. He effectively decoupled gender and sexuality in a way that made sense to me. He was one of the most talented musicians and composers of his generation, maybe ever. He was spiritual in a carnal way, one not tied down to the constraints of virginality. He took shit from nobody and largely kept his private life private.

It would be disingenuous to say that Prince did not grow in relevance to me after his death. He died from nearly the same ailment that killed my fiancé just three months before Prince died. Painkillers, both abused and taken as directed, are scourges on this planet. As someone who broke the hold of opiates on myself, losing two of my heroes in a matter of weeks to these drugs put things into perspective for me. As much as it hurts to live with both my fiancé and Prince. It could have just as easily been me.

Listen to some music. Make some art. Have sex. Go feel something. It’s the best and only way to honor Prince’s memory.

2016 Sucks

If you’ll recall, I wrote an incredibly optimistic post about the New Year. I outlined all of my resolutions. I talked about how much I loved the symbolism of a brand spanking new year that’s just ready for one to shove themselves through the various doors of opportunity. It would appear that 2016 does not have my interests in mind. Not so far, anyway.

I’ve been gone from this blog for a considerable amount of time—admittedly, as I am wont to do from time to time—but this time there is a very clear reason. I very unexpectedly lost my fiancé, my partner, the love of my life. That has thrown my equilibrium into absolute chaos.

I had high hopes and possibly unrealistic dreams. My fiancé was medically unlucky. He endured multiple surgeries and exponential complications from those surgeries. Through all of his ill health, though, he was the eternal optimist. He always believed that there would come a day that he wouldn’t need his cane, that he wouldn’t be in pain anymore, and that he would live to a ripe old age. He was brilliant. He had the softest heart and the most generous spirit of any person I have ever or am likely to ever meet. We had such dreams. He had applied for Italian citizenship through his grandmother’s having been born there. We were the godparents of three really amazing kids. We were planning on having a munchkin or two of our own. We were supposed to move to Sicily in 2017. We were supposed to get married at the hotel of his adoptive family. We were going to have a dual-citizen child. For the first time in my life, I was happy. I had found a queer activist and intellectual who understood and accepted my layered and nuanced queer identity. For the first time in my life, I was considering very normative life paths like marriage and parenthood. I was considering completely uprooting my life and moving to another continent. But, perhaps most surprisingly, I was happy about it.

My partner and I spent almost all of our time together. We talked about everything. We spoke about politics, queer theory, life, space, science fiction, raunchy sex dreams, fears, aspirations, cats, and the mysteries of the universe with more or less equal vigor. Our relationship was very intense intellectually, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. As an introvert, it overwhelmed me sometimes, but I was happy and that was all that mattered to me.

Jamie changed my life. He cultivated and brought out my best self. Without him, I would never have had the courage to come out. I probably would not have graduated from college with such high marks. Hell, there’s a high likelihood that I wouldn’t even be alive if Jamie hadn’t entered my life. My life is never going to be the same without him.

His family, from whom he was estranged, tried to cause problems with me at his wake and funeral, which took three weeks to even plan. They accused me of being complicit in his death. I resent that. I love him more than anything this world has ever offered. I was supposed to grow old with him.

One particular member of his family showed up at my house a few days after the funeral, which spooked me. I had to move with some lightning speed. I’m now living ten minutes away, in one of my best friend’s basement.

Things have been very chaotic over the past several weeks. They will probably continue to be chaotic for the near future. I am grieving. I am a twenty-two-year-old widow(er). My grief is bizarre. It is confusing. It is causing me to feel things that make me feel other, conflicting things. It comes in waves and flashes. The smallest memory can have me in tears. Or feeling nothing. Or feeling very inappropriate sexual tension with one of my partner’s friends. My grief makes me horny, it makes me numb, it makes me very sad, it makes me dysphoric. It is quite possible that, as I found him dead next to me one morning with one of his arms still wrapped around my body, as I was the only person who tried to revive him, that I have PTSD. I won’t know until I finish grieving. I’m afraid I never will.

I am doing my best to move forward. I am doing my best to create a new routine for myself. I am doing a bad job of it. I moved into my friends’ house. There’s a lot of chaos. I’m running low on patience and I often feel as if I am drowning in the weight of the world’s problems. Things have been a struggle, but I am doing my best to put the pieces of my life, my heart, and my world back together in some semblance of a way that might suit me.

I applied for a fellowship that will, if I’m accepted, pay for me to get my Masters in Education and place me in an in-need New York City public school. I view this as a rather positive first step. Everything in my life right now warrants reevaluation. This blog will undoubtedly become an outlet for those reevaluations and frustrating internal conflicts. I hope not to impose on you for too long. I hope to return to my queer and politicking blogging as soon as I can. Until then, please bear with me.

I love you all, carpe diem, c’est la vie, and let’s do this.

(We Wish You…) And A Sappy New Year

I know intellectually that the difference between December 31st of one year to January 1st of the next is so miniscule as to be useless. There really isn’t anything profound about the beginning of a new year. Years themselves are the creation of humans. Time is meaningless. I know this.

As much as I know this, I still believe in the magic of a New Year. I can’t help but to feel drawn to the illusion of the tabula rasa that ripping open a new calendar creates. I look for any excuse to make a wish, be it 11:11 or my birthday or a bit of rogue space junk streaking through our sky. Am I a hopeless sentimental sap? Yes. I have no shame.

Every New Year, I spend a lot of time, both before and after that shiny crystal ball drops from the top of One Times Square thinking introspectively about my life. I think about the things I have done that I do not particularly like. I think about the things I wish I could be doing. I’m a big fan and a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. I usually don’t see them to their fruition, but sometimes I do. Much like gifts in the season we’ve just completed, it’s the thought that counts. Probably.

I think that writing down and sharing New Year’s Resolutions helps to keep me true to the path. I think I just have so much pride that I feel almost ashamed if I don’t accomplish something that I’ve told other people that I would do. The jury is still out on whether or not it actually makes me more likely to succeed, as shame is something I’m dealing with pretty much constantly. But anyway.

I think the biggest and most complicated resolution I’ve made for myself this year is the strengthening and solidifying of my gender. Over the past several years, I have experienced a near-crippling dysphoria and social anxiety about my gender and presentation. When I first came out as transgender in February of 2014, my knowledge of issues and rhetoric pertaining to gender was quite limited. I was only aware of one way that someone like me (read: AFAB) could be transgender. I knew that I was not a woman. I knew that the bodily discomfort I had experienced since my early days of puberty was gender dysphoria. I threw myself body and soul into the trans man experience. I changed the way I dressed. I shaved off all of my hair. I changed the name I used on a day to day basis. I changed my pronouns. I read all of the trans man blog posts, magazine articles, and memoirs as I could get my hands on. I used the men’s restroom. I bought and wore a binder every day, even as my back ached and my dysphoria persisted.

The deeper into the trans man community that I trekked, the more self-conscious I felt. The trans men in my life are among the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The struggle that trans men face on a daily basis is one that goes far too often unnoticed, but it is not my struggle. I could not see myself in the narratives painted by trans men. I could see similar veins among our life stories, especially among those who shared with me multiple demographic markers, but the actual, visceral gender narrative was somehow different.

It would be quite an egregious understatement to say that I am a little more knowledgeable about gender issues these days. I began studying queer theory and gender theory with a vigor that can only be produced by academics trying to understand themselves. I am intimately familiar with the various theories about the nature and experience of gender. I could give lectures on the gender spectrum theories, the social constructionist theories, and the innate theories. I now know that the “truth” about gender, whatever that may be exactly is essentially irrelevant, as the lived experience of gender does not care about what I say of its origins.

That understanding of gender has made me very intellectually comfortable identifying as genderqueer. I like the ambiguity that the identity brings, especially in such a binary world that relies on hollow stereotypes to understand individuals. Ambiguity is the space in which I am comfortable. Intellectually.

As I mentioned before, intellectualism can only get us so far in any discussion of gender. Lived experience is something else entirely. This world, especially here in the West, refuses to accept or acknowledge the existence of genders beyond the male/female binary. As is the case with most presentation and exhibition of gender, there are no stereotypes that can be drawn from to ensure that one will be read by others as genderqueer.

I have struggled with this. Knowing that no stranger on the street will ever read me as genderqueer has caused me a great deal of anxiety about being in public. I am tired of being uncomfortable in the world around me. So what if there is no stereotypes for me to play with? That is not limiting. That is freeing. I am free to be whom and what I am.

I have resolved that in 2016, I will discover ways to be myself and make my gender known. I have resolved to finally settle on a name (contenders still in the running are: Ezri, Cameron, Tesla, and Rowan). I have resolved to use my chosen pronouns, ze/zir/zem regularly and without shame.

 

My second most important resolution is to write more. I have been given to opportunity to write as much as I can, to publish and not worry about my financial health. I have resolved to write as much as I can, aiming for at least 800 written words per day. I am hoping that I can, in the next twelve months, really find my voice. I have a voice, but I am not sure that this voice is my final form. Sometimes, especially on this blog, I feel that my writing style is just as awkward as I am in real life. Perhaps that’s endearing. I don’t know.

 

Another resolution involves my health. I know that I am a little bit overweight. I know that keeping extra pounds on me makes me look more feminine (I’ve got DDs and birthing hips, extra weight just accentuates it). Seeing as I have struggled with eating disorders at various times throughout my life, I know what the warning signs and trigger points are for me and my illness. I know that balance and moderation is the key to many things in this life. I have resolved to be more moderate and more careful about what I put into my body to nourish me and to try every day to practice yoga and do Pilates to build my own strength and hopefully lose a couple of pounds.

 

A fourth resolution I have made for myself is to become more social. The social anxiety I described earlier in this post is something that has been holding me back for quite some time. I hope to remove that rather unsavory element from my heart and to become more comfortable interacting with others. I know that more sociality will improve my mental health. I know that it will help me to become a more effective activist and advocate for the causes and communities I hold most dear.

 

My fifth and final resolution for 2016 is to engage and enrich my spiritual experience. I was born and raised Catholic. I was confirmed, taking the name of Genesius, in 2011, but I only did so to appease my devout mother and grandmother. I lost my faith in the Catholic dogma around age ten. Ever since then, I have been searching for a spiritual path that would lead me to some level of spiritual fulfilment. I have done research on many, many religions in my life. I have yet to find the one in which my own fulfilment lies. I am a witch, albeit a secular one right now, but I have been erratic in my practice. I have resolved to throw myself into study of various pagan faiths as well as Hinduism and the yogic teachings.

 

Like I mentioned before, I have no way of knowing whether or not I will be able to achieve all of these things, but I will try my damndest. I am not willing to settle for a life of mediocrity. What about all of you? Are you making New Year’s Resolutions? Why or why not? Have you ever completed a Resolution before? If you are working toward one (or many) I wish you the best of luck. Leave your thoughts, dissents, or words of encouragement in the comments below.

Thanksgiving 2015

I hate Thanksgiving. I always have. It’s a lot of work with cooking, cleaning, and entertaining people you don’t particularly like. It’s a holiday based in genocide and co-opted by consumerism. Someone always gets out of hand and causes some kind of drama.

My partner and I hosted Thanksgiving the other night for some of our friends. It went pretty well, but the unwritten rules of Thanksgiving always apply. I was so busy cooking, serving, and shampooing wine out of the carpet that I almost forgot to take literally the very name of the holiday.

I am grateful for a great many things. I am grateful for my health. I am grateful for my partner, that he is mine, that he exists, and that he has continued to cheat death. I am grateful that I have a place to live, and I am grateful that it is lovely. I am grateful that I have food to eat, not least of which was the feast we served. I am grateful that I have clothing. I am grateful for my freedom and my democracy. I am grateful for my family and my friends. I am grateful for good books, good sci-fi, good wine, and academic discourse on gender. There are a great many other things to be sure, but that is a list too long for the purposes of this blog.

Remember during this holiday season, full of pretty lights, expensive toys, judgmental families, and so much stress, that you have a lot to be grateful for. This life is by no means easy, and it sucks a lot of the time, but be grateful for those parts, however many or few there may be—that don’t.

What You Can Do

Since my graduation at the end of last month, I’ve been scrambling to find work. I haven’t been able to find any yet, and I’m growing more than a little disheartened. The work I’ve applied for has not yet been what I’m looking for. I want, more than anything, to be able to help my community thrive. Helping others, preventing others from sabotaging or injuring themselves, building up their confidence in a way that very few people ever did for me, makes me feel extremely fulfilled. It does not seem as if I’ll be able to land a job like that, at least not yet.

I was determined to find a way to continue helping people, even while working in a job I may not love yet. During college, I was lucky enough to have been elected to the presidency of an LGBTQ organization, which, while being very challenging, was extremely fulfilling. The lack of that fulfillment has been very difficult for me.

In the interim, I’ve joined a site called 7 Cups of Tea as an active listener. During the two or more hours I commit to the site every week, people come to me for help. Because my profile is obviously very queer, many come to ask me about being transgender, accidental gay encounters, and how to deal with the crippling pain of parental rejection. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s all anonymous too, which is both really great and sort of disappointing, considering I’d like to know where the people I help are from, how wide my impact has been. At the same time, I’ve been down that stalker road before.

7 Cups chats take place on the site’s instant messaging feature. The person seeking help, referred to as the “Member,” has a randomly generated username. They are instructed to refrain from giving out personal information, though many will use their first names. “Listeners” are allowed to break our anonymity at any time, we just cannot ask a Member to do the same. Listeners over the age of eighteen automatically only listen to others over the age of 18. Teens who sign up to be listeners only listen to teens. Different accreditation can be gained on the site to listen to everyone, but I feel most comfortable speaking only with adults. There are forums on the site for Listeners to discuss their feelings after particularly traumatic chat. There all kinds of really great mental health resource guides.

If you have a few extra hours a week to devote to listen to the problems of needy people online, I urge you to give 7Cups a try.

Pride Day 12: Queer Fairytales

As in all minority communities, the LGBT community has access to very few stories that represent our individual struggle in the world. We have very few major characters that we can identify with and love when queer characters are so-often presented in a negative light. While LGBT fiction and memoir are finally starting to pick up steam, we have historically had to change the nature of stories to add queer elements where they once did not exist, usually only in our own minds. I’d like to share one of the stories that I revere as my own queer fairytale.

My favorite film as a very small child was Disney’s reimagining of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Released in October of 1996, it was one of the first movies my parents took me to see in theaters. I was hooked. I owned a plush Quasimodo, the film on VHS, the soundtrack on CD, an Esmeralda Barbie doll, and a plush Jolly. Most of these objects did not survive into my adulthood, but that Quasimodo plush is on my bedside table and the soundtrack is saved—in mp3 format—on my cell phone.

I’ve seen the film a couple of times as an adult, most recently a couple of months ago after it was added to Netflix’s streaming library. The film has exceptional cinematic quality, both as a musical and as one of the most visually striking of Disney’s hand-drawn animations. It was, of course, a very odd choice as a novel-turned-film for Disney, but they found a very fascinating balance between the darkness of Hugo’s original nineteenth-century work and the innocence required of Disney.

Watching this film again as an adult made me realize just how much I could still identify with the character of Quasimodo. I was raised in a very strict Roman Catholic household in the southern part of the Midwest, where conservative politics was inextricably linked with a belief in God. I was forced to undergo full confirmation into the Catholic church, even after I had lost my religion as a queer person. I related to Quasimodo’s being trapped in the bell tower of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Quasi grows up in almost total isolation. His primary caretaker, Judge Frollo, represents traditionalism, the law, and oppression; he constantly reminds Quasimodo that he is a monster and unworthy of love. This experience and the feelings of despair that Quasimodo embodies are unfortunately very relatable to me as a queer person growing up in a conservative place.

Quasi also symbolizes an atypical form of masculinity that I find very appealing. His atypical masculinity comes at a cost, however, as he loses the love of Esmeralda to the more traditionally masculine Phoebus. Quasi’s masculinity is not founded on violence the way that many male characters in the film are. Quasimodo is gentle, loving, artistic, naive, and optimistic. He rarely uses force and routinely underestimates his own resolve. He is a protector, but one that refuses to demean those who society would place beneath him.

Quasimodo’s physical deformity can also be seen as allegorical to mental illness, something that is rampant in the queer community. His life trajectory would also indicate that he would also suffer from some amount of anxiety and depression, the way the two thirds of American adults are.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is, for me, a queer fairytale, as Quasimodo symbolizes so much and a more equal society is born in the aftermath of the climax.

What are some non-queer queer Fairytales that are meaningful to you?