Fires, grief and human connection

I’m aware that I’ve not updated people on the bushfires and that’s for multiple reasons. I’m in no danger, I’m not a reliable source of general information, and I basically shut down around that subject. As much as I want to research and participate meaningfully, my mind says no. Have to admit that I’ve been judging myself for all of this, because numbness/denial is no solution and feelings tend to sneak out sideways regardless. But my professional support people are on holidays.

Anyway today I received an email from the Australian River Restoration Centre, which is always a pleasure for me. They’re a fine mix of human wisdom and ecological know-how. Somehow their emails soothe and inspire me.

Today’s email provided a link to a podcast which has already brought a few tears and comfort. I’m grateful anew for these people. And I recommend the podcast to you if you are grieving, or fearful about climate change, bushfires, or other ecological issues. It’s just over eight minutes long. Enjoy.

Least discomfort zone

When people said, “get out of your comfort zone,” I was confused. They were assuming the existence of comfort in my life.

Instead, there were varying degrees of anxiety, discomfort and exhaustion. So when the therapist gave me CBT homework, I increased my levels of those. I was praised. Then I learned some ‘distress tolerance’ techniques and practised those. I achieved personal bests in levels of least discomfort.

Finally, I slowly transitioned to male. Or to living as male as humanly possible in this day and age. Now there’s the feeling of having been been restored to factory settings. There’s a sense of pause, of reassessment, of finally valuing myself.

My greatest surprise is discovering a newly minted Comfort Zone. I hope you understand that I’m in no rush to leave. I will, of course, but that Zone and I have a lot of catching up to do.

Pity

This is one I am hesitant to post. Normally I’d rather appreciate others than express frustration and disappointment and resentment. But if I bottle this stuff up, it will still be there and will obstruct the flow of those more enjoyable sentiments/posts. I’d prefer it to be a shorter post as well, but here we are.

Mother-loving expletives. Why is it always the mother in the expletive? But I digress.

***

Pity achieves nothing except to annoy the sh*t out of me. My being trans shouldn’t make me an object of pity in anyone’s eyes. Nor should my depression and anxiety, for that matter. Compassion is welcome, but pity feels disgusting. I’m sick of being told I’m ‘brave’ by people who refuse to step up and treat me with respect. They are among the very people who make my life uncomfortable. So that they can keep pitying me, perhaps? Ugh.

The other day I corrected someone’s pronouns for me – first time ever. In general I’m very gentle with those around me, for multiple reasons. ‘Do unto others’ is uppermost, along with a willingness to acknowledge the steep learning curve for those with no trans experience. Unfortunately I’ve paired these with a desire for peace at almost any price, and a general lack of confidence in others. I’ve been overly accommodating, and shot myself in the foot.

You may have heard of ‘spoons’ in terms of energy? Well, I lack spoons to deal with others’ prejudice or wilful ignorance. If someone wants to learn and asks me directly for information, that’s another thing entirely. Those are spoons well spent.

But the other day I was stressed and angry and forgot to be endlessly patient. I was busy mutilating my garden to accommodate tradespeople, and my soul hurt. When a couple of people approached and referred to me as ‘she’, I curtly corrected them. They had the information, they should have known better, and I didn’t feel any guilt for my shortness. Amazing really, for me.

Anyway it made me wonder what it might take for others to get with the program, and what it might take for me to be more assertive, day to day. I don’t want to keep correcting people and I don’t want to be angry. It’s exhausting and pointless.

How many cis people does it take to change a lightbulb? The lightbulb has already changed. Keep up.

What people tend to forget is that they are not the only person I feel obliged to be patient with. I’m amazed by how often it happens. “Sorry, I’m trying!” Yes, I get that. But how slow are you? I don’t usually think of you as slow. Now I’m wondering whether you were ever used as a juggling ball as a baby. If I were a rock icon who changed their name for the sake of frivolity, you’d be on it in a second. What do you think this tells me about you?

A long distance friend was compassionately asking whether I thought my family of origin would ever learn to use my chosen name, and I appreciated the question. I know this cis friend has their own family issues. I said that my family last saw me about six years ago, pre-everything. When I started the long transition process, I wrote to explain everything, then we discussed it over the phone. They’ve heard my voice change over time and seen my new birth certificate. They’ve finally stopped sending me gendered gifts, but using my new name is a different hurdle. It’s started to sh*t me.

I’ve been amusing myself with my wittily scathing letters, all unsent, due to the above-mentioned reasons for sparing them/us any further unpleasantness. I’m letting them get away with disrespecting me, and what’s in that for me? Martyrdom, conserving my spoons, and if I’m completely honest, a sense of superiority – because I know that I would not treat another trans person like this.

Seems like a strange thing, this sense of superiority. Back in the 90s, I observed that queers often displayed such an attitude toward straights. Many queers knew how to treat their partners as equals, free of gender roles and constraints. They knew how to negotiate satisfying and consensual sexual experiences. They were witty, creative and charming and willing to step outside of convention in order to be true to themselves. Taking pride in their superior skills seemed a nice way to counteract the daily disrespect and stigma encountered in the straight world.

***

I don’t want to be the angry friend or the distressed family member. I don’t want to be pitied or told I’m brave. All I ask is to be treated with respect. In this case, basic respect means using my updated name and pronouns. Really, it’s baseline respect. Kindergarten level simple.

***

Cis people could put themselves in my shoes and consider how they feel when others misname or misgender them. Once or twice might be ok. If it happened every day, and only by people close to them, how would they feel? If I misnamed and/or misgendered them every time we met, and endlessly apologised (or not), could I really call myself a friend? Would they speculate about my sanity? Would they want me in their life?

This is what I want to say to some people who don’t know about this blog: “It’s now over five years since I changed my name, and my patience is worn thin. I’m not out to everyone, so if I’m out to you, and you want to remain in my life, try harder. My disclosure was a sign of my trust and respect. For goodness sake show me that you (still) deserve that.”

My pronouns are they/them, or he/him. If your brain explodes, I’ll help you reassemble it (or create an artwork from the pieces).

Understanding vs Respect

Many moons ago I worked with some lovely people in a residential care situation. I appreciated their playful, joyful, humorous and relaxed attitude to life. I loved the people we were caring for. What I didn’t appreciate was one person’s relentless desire to tell me who and what I should be.

When I say, ‘person,’ I mean ‘man’. While I appreciated other aspects of his personality, I couldn’t cope with his incessant mansplaining and personal comments. Which explains why I didn’t stay long in that job, as much as I loved the work and was appreciated by others. Other men, asked to step in and mediate, considered it a personality clash. They couldn’t see his gendered expectations of my appearance, behaviour and attitudes. They couldn’t see this man’s sexism, let alone the basic inappropriateness of most things he said.

G*d help me if I ever become someone like him.

He commented on my abundant leg hair. “No hairier than yours,” I said, astonished by the personal comment. He insinuated that I needed more sex in my life, to relax me. I didn’t bother responding. When I produced tools to mend household objects, he expressed surprise and disapproval.

We all had lodgings at different parts of the building. We all disappeared for short periods – to use the bathroom, make a quick phone call, etc. But one day he walked right into my place, when he needed something that only I could help with. It wasn’t urgent, but in his mind only he had the right to privacy. I don’t think he’d ever encountered boundaries before. Or heard of them.

One day our clash was particularly heated and he exclaimed that he didn’t understand me at all. “That’s ok,” I said. “You don’t HAVE to understand me, just RESPECT me.”

I think of this occasionally when people say that trans people are just too hard to understand. You don’t have to understand, sweetie, just show some basic respect. It’s not rocket science.

One year of blogging

In two weeks it will be a year since I started this blog. I didn’t know what to expect, beyond putting my words out here and coping with the resulting panic attacks. I didn’t know who would respond, or why, or how.

People have been way more kind than expected, and that’s blown me away. It’s become easier to respond to others’ comments, although I was deer-in-the-headlights freaked out at first. I can even press ‘publish’ on posts without obsessively checking for mistakes. Some may groan at the resulting typos and grammar offences, but for me it’s progress. It’s been a fun year.

So what’s next? This blogging adventure was to help overcome my fear of publishing (a book). The book still isn’t finished, and blogging sometimes distracts me from working on it. My self discipline isn’t what it used to be. Does that mean I should shelve the blog? No. Something needs to shift, though. Still figuring that out.

Bushfires (I'm safe)

I’ve chosen a water picture to counteract the effects of horrifying bushfire imagery.

It’s probably human nature to relate news to your own situation, your own history. That’s what I tell myself when I catch myself remembering Black Saturday (2009) while watching the news. And when I have any experiences related to towns mentioned, I think about those.

I’m safe. I keep telling myself that as I hyperventilate in this smoky air. I’m not prone to asthma. I am not in the path of any fire. I’m simply breathing the smoke and panicking for no reason. Hence the headphones playing slow music, the mug of calming herbal tea, and the words on this screen. I’m safe.

I can’t comprehend the size of these fires. They’re beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. My mind keeps going blank whenever I sit to write. Horrified by the loss of human and wildlife habitats, and the loss of life. Empathising with the terror.

I want to be useful. Authorities have stated that the most useful donations at this time are cash, rather than food or clothing. They no longer have staff available to organise warehouses of goods. It diverts people from actively fighting the fires. Money on the other hand is easier to manage. It also makes it possible for people to support local businesses.

So here are links to some fundraising organisations. There are many others.

Humans:

Australian Red Cross Disaster Recovery and Relief

NSW Rural Fire Service

Victorian Bushfire Appeal

Pets and wildlife:

RSPCA Victoria – again, donations of money, not goods, are needed.

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

WIRES (NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service)

Click here to see what else you can do to help animals.

Heartfelt thanks to firefighters and support crew and wildlife carers and truckies. Shout out to Ash Barty and Courtney Barnett and Celeste Barber and everyone else who has donated and fundraised and generally boosted morale.

Feel free to add other links in the comments.

On bees and gentrification

Prompted by a glowing review here on WordPress, I borrowed a YA book from the library. It was about queer Black characters and it had bees in it. Colour me intrigued. 

Turns out it was a love letter to Black women and to standing up for your right to exist. It mentioned systemic oppression a few times and spelled it out for those who may not have heard of it.

I wish more psychologists had heard of systemic oppression. Just saying. 

Now I want to write a love letter to the author, Candice Montgomery. Even as I critiqued her characters, the pacing, the sidebars, and other things I had no right critiquing, I was in awe of this book.

My grandfather kept bees. He loved them and I’m just sorry that he lost his brain to alcohol-related dementia before he was able to teach us about them. All I have are a few photographs and memories of us in the backyard with the hive, the smoker and the space suit.

During a 1990s conservation training course, a friend of the leader offered to take a friend and I into the hills to see how his hives worked. We had a great time. He wasn’t a great teacher and afterwards thought we weren’t even interested, but I often think about that day. I read up on bees and fantasise of my own hives. It hasn’t come to anything yet. It will, though, once I get over my own hesitations.

This book, though. Wow. For me it is almost two books. The romance and the politics. For the entire first half, I felt like my brain was being pinballed around the room by the protagonist’s chaotic thoughts. They were there (in a new location) but not there. They couldn’t wait to leave home, but their thoughts were constantly drawn back. They had a decision to make and not enough support or information to make it. Initially, at least.

This was the point at which I searched for the blog that had led me to this book. Don’t think I even found it again, but I did find multiple other bloggers who were in love with the book. I admired each post and moved on to the next, only stopping when I found someone else who hadn’t really felt the emotional connection between this main character and the bees. 

Apart from the youthful language and unfamiliar Black cultural references and the chaotic internal life, this was the crux of my confusion – the bees. I was reading in order to be stretched, so stretching I was, but remained confused about these bees. I wanted to feel it. I wanted to love and care for those bees right alongside him. 

Realising now that I’ve been using ‘they/them’ pronouns out of habit, right up until that ‘him’. So yeah, the main character is 18-year old Torrey, a gay Black guy from an LA neighbourhood he’s happy to leave. Or is it his home life that he wants to leave?

You know I’m white and Australian, so although popular media here in Australia is liberally doused with USA culture, I don’t really have the background knowledge to join the dots with a lot of this story. And that’s ok, because it’s not written for me. I have to work for it and I respect the author even more for not making these concessions.

Is this a weird thing for me to say? I don’t know. Despite consuming Indigenous Australian TV shows such as Redfern Now, and every Indigenous and ‘multicultural’ movie I can get my hands on, I still know pitifully little about current realities.

I’ve been forced out of other locations due to gentrification. And I’m all too aware of my current predominately white and gentrified-to-the-point-of-ridiculousness neighbourhood. I mean how many hairdressers, gift shops and cafes do we really need? Our only grocer is small and targeted at hipsters, which is a PITA for a poor and frugal agoraphobe who wants to support small businesses. When this book’s characters spoke of gentrification, all I could think of is how this used to be a working class neighbourhood with shops that provided life’s basic necessities. And that’s only recent history, since white invasion. I’ve no idea what it looked like prior to 1850 or so.

The story also got me reflecting on the role of protest and politics in my own life. About how much I used to learn from turning up to protests and listening to people, back before the internet. Apart from community radio and books and magazines, this was how I learned. Ok, I travelled around Australia and across the ditch, but mostly met other white people. Hmm. Apart from that one remote Aboriginal community in WA, and a few Marae, I’ve not felt ‘other’ in a racial sense. Gender, yes. Class, yes. Not race. I can listen to others, but don’t have that visceral knowledge.

So yeah, it got me thinking about all sorts. And I finally understood the significance of those bees in his life. But mostly I was in awe of Candice Montgomery’s writing and of her ability to weave multiple (bulky) threads into a YA novel. It could so easily have been enough material for at least two. And I still have so much to learn.

Oh, and the friendships! So much love in those friendships! Not to mention the boyfriend. 😉

Thank you to all who recommended BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY, by Candice Montgomery. Brilliant.