Be still my heart

This solitary isolation mode I’ve voluntarily agreed to, in the interests of public safety, isn’t so bad. Sure, it was a shock at first. Now, I’m finding more to add to the Happy Jar. This was going to be a chatty, long-winded affair, and because it’s late and I’m tired I’ll convert it to point form.

Zoom turns out to be a much more enjoyable and reliable experience than Skype. It’s perfect for psychologist appointments and group chats, for a start. Who knows how much more fun I can have if I can remember to wear the appropriate set of spectacles and find the app settings.

I’ve rediscovered the joy of organising and editing photos. Let’s just say they need organising if I’m to keep what’s left of my hair. Tonight I downloaded trial versions of ACDSee for Windows and Mac. So far so good.

I’ve set my laptop to display a never-ending slideshow of my favourite photos. Revisiting happy moments and favourite locations in this way, even while ironing, lifts my spirits.

My home is gradually becoming cleaner than it’s been for … a while.

I actually WANT to exercise, due to the lack of incidental walking. My home is SMALL.

I WANT to organise and declutter – basically because there’s no running away from the mess, haha.

I’ve been reminded of how many people I know, despite my socially-avoidant ways, and how sweet they are.

Australia just received a new season of Ozark on Netflix, and, best of all, I’ve discovered Mae Martin.

Gently managing anxiety

Even the word, anxiety, gives me anxiety. Ha.

Then the phrase beloved of psychologists, managing your anxiety, gives me the urge to kick random objects. So there’s that.

Yet here I am, needing to revise everything I’ve ever learned about how to stay balanced in a time of disruption. This morning I started to spiral.

I was going to make two lists: what helped and what didn’t. However, listing what didn’t help sounds like a recipe for a repeat of the earlier spiral. So, no.

What helped:

A stomp around the block, and exchanging greetings with random strangers at safe distances. Some were walking dogs. All called me “mate” or “buddy”. Bonus! Uniformed police, sitting in a parked car, paid me no nevermind. (No idea where I picked that phrase up from.)

Exchanging emails with an empathetic friend. Feeling seen and heard means the world when I’m alone among people who are swimming in their own distress.

Being arty. Drawing pictures of how I feel, reflecting on them, and noticing when my mood shifts.

Listing what makes a positive difference.

The usual slow breathing, slow music, singing, and not acting on unhelpful/angry thoughts.

To sum up: Exercise, plus feeling seen and heard and cared about. Now I’m in a better space to resume reaching out and expressing care and appreciation for others.

What’s your favourite music at the moment?

And here we are

Keeping Calm and Carrying On

I’m aiming for calm. A support worker didn’t visit and I hope they’re ok. (We can’t phone each other directly and the central switchboard is swamped, so I gave up.) Although my life is mostly domestic, I have to admit that this unexpected absence has thrown me. I’d counted on at least walking around the block with them, at a suitable distance from each other. Without that, and without contact from them, I’m thrown.

Being agoraphobic means I’m already home a lot. Having support to get out and about a bit is important for my sense of wellbeing. If this is going to be my new normal, I’m going to need to reorganise myself, alongside everyone else who’s suddenly in isolation. For this moment though, I’m just going to acknowledge my feelings. They’re saggy. I’ll draw a picture with crayons, then we’re done with that.

Ok, done. My disability application for priority grocery deliveries went through ok, so that’s good. The grocery delivery order is completed as well. What a relief! If I can’t get out to shop, I’m reliant on others. If they’re unavailable, there have to be other options. Again, I can’t be the only one in this situation.

It’s weird. I’m accustomed to being the only weirdo stuck at home while others carry on with their money making, shopping, socialising, travel and whatnot. And there’s still an element of that, but more are at home and any social contact I have is from an unsociable distance. No more hugs! The only touch I get is from my velcro cat, and as lovely as she is, come on, that’s not the same. An ex-partner used to keep her distance when I had a coldsore on my lip, and I felt like a leper. Is anyone else feeling like a leper, even if not yet infected with The Virus?

Should I add a bright side? Of course there have to be bright sides. A friend just emailed a link to a local business that now offers free delivery of healthy meals – enough to feed six. Very reasonably priced. If I had a freezer large enough, I’d probably opt into that. If I think of someone else who could benefit, I’ll gift them a meal. It’s great that people are thinking of creative solutions. One neighbour is leaving a bowl of chop suey on my letterbox tonight. She loves cooking and entertaining and is feeding multiple neighbours today. Bless her cotton socks.

The local library, now closed for several weeks at least, has ceased charging fines for overdue books. Definite upside. And although the internet is struggling with increased local demand, I still have internet and power and hot and cold running water, which is not always a given. I’m thinking now of Kiwi friends and of post-earthquake living. THAT was grim. Thinking of Croatia right now. One Kiwi mate told me that the increase in overall anxiety within their community affected them in unexpected ways. My mate relaxed, and put it down to no longer being the only anxious person in the village. Suddenly they felt ‘normal’ and felt they belonged.

Later: Heard about ViralKindness tonight. And received an apology for the support worker’s absence. Ate my chop suey and am trying to figure out what to do next. Unsettled. Have already made all my check-in calls. Will likely write my fingers off.

If you’re struggling, you’re not alone and we’ll get through this together. Take good care of yourself. Send smoke signals occasionally if you don’t feel up to writing or calling. You’re loved.

Sweet social support

This week I’ve been struck by others’ consideration and sweetness. The people I interacted with reminded me that humanity can be awesome.

There was the business that placed a bucket of long stemmed flowers outside their door with a “free flowers” sign on it, hoping to ease others’ stress a fraction. The people I passed (at arms length) on the street who smiled at me. The stressed small business owner who was characteristically cheeky, knowing they’d make me blush and laugh. The psychologist who rang to give me the option of video consults. And my GP who took extra care to put me at ease and ensure we covered all the necessary points. (It was a rerun of the usual things, nothing new, and I left with a bonus influenza jab.)

My disability support workers are always sweet, and they didn’t let me down this week. We talked about how things were going and how we were handling the extra chaos. One had thought ahead about how they might help me manage my anxiety if we encountered the sort of nonsense we’d seen on the news. (We were fine.) Even my support co-ordinator rang to check in and ask whether I needed anything. I was doing well, and it was still reassuring. This is the sort of detail I haven’t expected and am extra appreciative of.

I’m finding it hard to express the extent of my appreciation for disability support people in general, and ‘my’ people in particular. After so long without the right kind of help, I was lucky to find them. I’m so thankful for their skills, genuine caring, and ability to be gracious under pressure.

This is all without mentioning friends and locals. I think I’d get offensively mushy if I talked of them right now. Haha. I know that others are dealing with their own fears and panic. We all have our own personal financial, work, childcare, or quarantine situations, and I hope you have people in your life who will be randomly or regularly kind.

The radio just played this song, which I mistook for a lullaby. Classic Paul Kelly depth and heart. This duet with Gurrumul is more the vibe I was after for the end of this post. Thanks for reading. Be careful out there.

That’s how I do it

Surprise! Today I’m back to my adventures in gender. Who knew?

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It’s hard to know what will trigger a person and therefore derail a perfectly good opportunity to come out to someone. Well, sometimes I have a clue and yet decide to use the correct terminology anyway, as a shorthand.

Buzz! Incorrect! Don’t try that again!

It was time to tell someone close to me that I was male and not the female they knew me as. Seemingly out of the blue, they threw in a phrase that told me they had been thinking about it already, or had been primed by a mutual friend. Gathering my courage, I said I hadn’t known the right time to tell them I was transgender. I started to add that they’ve possibly noticed changes in me…

Immediately they were off on an ill-tempered rant about letters of the alphabet and how everyone is human and about the person who had introduced themself at a bus stop as bipolar, and the scourge of political correctness and that it’s ok to make mistakes… and they only stopped when they knocked something to the floor with an expansive gesture. Then we were talking about the item they’d knocked over, and I felt relieved.

It’s true, I’m a person who can claim an alphabet letter. A person who has never participated in a Pride march and whose idea of hell is to be the focus of a roomful of people. I like to blend, because of past assaults. Ideally I’d like to be invisible. So coming out to people I like is done after careful consideration and a fair splash of courage. Not the liquid sort, as it messes with my meds.

I made my excuses and left, shaken, not knowing what to say next.

This person just returned to my door to give me something they found during a decluttering session, as they knew I’d appreciate it. They’re a generous, kind, funny and all round lovely person, which is why I’d decided to let them further into my psyche/life. I guess I just didn’t approach it the way they needed it to go. Now we know that the word, ‘transgender’ sets them off.

I’ve found that a lot of people react to jargon. I do too. Acronyms, business-speak, bureaucratic double talk and spin doctor poppycock, it’s all bunkum to me. Even seemingly innocuous words are catalysts. The other night I recalled a craft workshop where I refused to make hexagonal boxes because I had a bee in my beret about metaphorical boxes and labels for people. I was so painfully aware of not fitting into the boxes others had made for me, and so wary of claiming labels that might box me further in, I kind of went off on a rant on the poor teacher. No doubt she backed away warily, just as I did earlier today with the person I tried to come out to and broach the topic of pronouns with.

(Speaking of pronouns, this person doesn’t use ‘they/them’ pronouns in everyday life. I’m using ‘they/them’ pronouns in this story to preserve their identity, in case they or anyone close to them stumbles across this post. Stranger things have happened.)

It was no skin off that craft teacher’s nose if I didn’t make a box. But I am very careful about going places with anyone who might make my agoraphobic experiences even more uncomfortable. That includes those who might refer to me as “she” as I approach a male-gendered public inconvenience.

No doubt I’ll try broaching the pronoun thing again. No doubt next time I’ll avoid all mention of labels and instead keep the subject light and jokey, so that they can hear me. I feel a bit like a Park Ranger doing landscape interpretation for visitors. This is how we don’t destroy the rock art. This is how we preserve biodiversity. This is how we help trans people feel welcome and included (and keep us alive and well). There’s a lot of invisible work behind our survival. And when we speak, it’s not about showing off or being a pain in the buttocks. If I got nothing else accomplished today, I hope I’ve made that point clear here.

Hidden memories of disgust

CW: non-detailed mention of genitalia.

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In earlier posts I’ve mentioned a lack of memories of transmasculine people. Thanks to a few posts by fellow bloggers, I’m suddenly remembering. And I’m embarrassed by my own disgust and I have to be honest about it. There’s no other way forward. 

Forgive the messiness of this. Emotion and memory are messy enough, but I’m thinking aloud and aware simultaneously of my inner process and all the poppycock gifted to me by others. The straights, the queers, the fearful, the traumatised. 

I have to admit that I laughed a lot as I finally came to terms with being a trans guy. I’d had a lot of fun stirring others with my “all white men look the same to me – who are you again?” and my “oh I don’t read books by men any more, they’re so passé.” I’d delighted in getting sports betting fanatics off my back during the dreaded men’s football season by saying, “all footballers are rapists.” It was so effective as a conversation stopper. And then when I came out I added yet another tired old white guy to the tally – just what the world craved! 

Sometimes feminists do enjoy badmouthing men. Not all men, haha, but boy, a lot of us deserve it. There’s just no getting around the stats for murder, rape and general mayhem. It can be a source of pride to say women are biologically superior, that if women ruled the world we’d all be happier, and that testosterone is the source of all evil. 

A lot is tongue in cheek. A lot is a way to discharge ongoing tensions involved in dealing with outdated and unacceptable attitudes on a daily basis. And sometimes trauma crystallises into self-protective and toxic rhetoric of its own. 

When I came out to my family in the 90s as a lesbian, my mother asked me why I hated men. “I don’t,” I said, “Some of my best friends are men. I just don’t want to have sex with them.” “Any more,” I would have added, if she wasn’t so focussed on me becoming a virgin bride one day. Other people automatically assumed I’d been hurt by men. Some assumed that I’d been molested as a child. For goodness sake, said one therapist, if that were the cause, there’d be darn few heterosexual women at all. 

At the time I found the p*nis disgusting, and a lot of male attitudes and behaviour disgusting, and had discovered that I had a lot more fun with women. It was a relief to stop trying to be a good heterosexual woman and embrace my true nature instead. 

While questioning my own discomfort, my dysphoria, I discovered genderqueer erotica. For a while I inadvertently came out to librarians, as I requested everything available on the LGBTIQ list. What struck me most, among these erotic stories, was the total absence of v*lvas. I’m still astounded. When I read Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano, even this absence made a curious (unhealthy) sense. If you read Julia’s book, you’ll see what I mean.

As I’ve said before, each group has social dynamics and I kept bumping into people who had vested interests in conformity. Part of me craved the intellectual rest and security of submitting to others’ rules. I explored all kinds of factions and theories within queer culture. Then retreated to my own corner to sort through it all and decide what fit me best. 

I remember hushed discussions of trans people and of particularly butch women who seemed to be taking masculinity ‘too far.’ At the time I remember agreeing, silently, that men were bad and looking too much like a man was bad. I was frequently read as male myself, but that was ok. I found that I enjoyed the ambiguity and fluidity of sexuality and gender. 

Later, I feared taking my own masculine presentation ‘too far,’ and wondered where the line was.

I’m drawn to social psychology and sociology, being bewildered and bothered by much of society. It’s a comfort to think that someone might have useful insights. They’ve studied the nature of groups, for instance, and ways in which groups foster cohesion. Identifying a shared foe is one method, as amply illustrated by politicians who frequently scapegoat the vulnerable. Ignoring the fact that all (most?) of us contain our own unique mix of both oestrogen and testosterone, some groups choose to scapegoat one of those hormones, equating it with the worst of human nature – a scourge, or a weakness.

So it was with me at one point. I’d only needed to analyse one edition of one newspaper to form the view that men were the source of all evil. Testosterone was toxic and the p*nis a weapon of mass destruction. Most further news broadcasts reinforced this. Personal anecdotes from friends and acquaintances reinforced this. The idea of someone within the lesbian community ‘becoming a man’ or even looking ‘too much’ like a man was appalling. Disgusting. I was ok with trans women because hello! Women! But to go to the dark side? Oy.

So I empathise now with my older lesbian friends who find my transition shocking. I see their aversion and yes, their disgust, and their struggle to understand. I see some of them embrace trans women and mouth platitudes of inclusion while curling their lips at trans men and non-binary people. And while I’m hurt, I do save space in my heart for them. After all, it took me a long time to accept myself, and these friends can’t see inside my soul. 

I even make space in my heart for that vocal minority who seek to keep themselves safe  in changing rooms and public toilets by traumatising transgender people and placing them in unsafe situations. As all I’ve heard from them are expressions of fear and hatred, rather than a wish to resolve the situation to the benefit of all concerned, I can only guess at their motivations, their triggers. I’m guessing that p*nises are synonymous with weapons and trauma for them, regardless of the owner. If this is the case, then I empathise with the panic. Given that I experience my own panic attacks and phobias, I won’t question their sanity. 

But I do question their morality. We here in Australia have a (recent) history of indiscriminately killing anything that has offended us, plus any of their families and their friends. We kill sharks swimming and feeding in their own darn habitats, trees that stood innocently by a road used by drunken/suicidal/speeding drivers, and eagles that have a perfect right to kill their own meals. We don’t stop at one, but forcefully assert our assumed dominance. It’s stupid and wrong. Shaming, blaming and attacking trans and gender diverse people is wrong. Making innocent people pay for someone else’s transgressions is wrong.

Like the ridiculously polarised arguments between cyclists and motorised transport users, the solution lies in design. There are multiple design solutions already available, so enough hate already. Let’s move on. 

After reading a blogger’s personal list of things that disgust them, I recalled my own discomfort and disgust. And after reading Trans Narrative’s book review of We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan, I recalled earlier mindsets, lingo, and social contexts of the 1980s and 90s. And I remembered a photographic exhibition, Assume Nothing: Celebrating Gender Diversity, that I attended with my ex-partner in the early 2000s. I had been drawn to it so strongly, without knowing why. It was a lot longer before I figured it out and even later that I borrowed the (gorgeous) book by Rebecca Swan, from the library.

I’d like to end by saying that it’s an interesting time to be a man. To be a trans man. To have lived experience in feminist and women-only environments, and to participate in conversations about toxic masculinity, gender equality, sustainability, and what it means to be a whole, happy and healthy human being. I’m learning so much and am grateful to have this outlet for my thoughts. Thank you for reading. 

Now, who on earth is that old white guy in the mirror?

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I had a lot of fun writing this. Along with the blog posts mentioned, I was inspired by Luke Turner’s beautifully honest memoir, Out of the Woods (2019) – wholeheartedly recommend that book, too.

(I truly found the list of things that evoke disgust to be interesting and thought provoking. Cannot locate it now, sadly.)

Sanding off each others’ edges

I’ve just finished reading a wonderful book about the therapeutic qualities of intentional community, and want to accomplish two things – to recommend this book to you and to reflect upon my own experiences in such communities.

Tobias Jones writes with such genuine affection and insight that I kept finding myself smiling. This book made me happy. Even the most challenging behaviours of his family’s guests are approached with curiosity and compassion. Even when he admits that he is run down, resentful and irritable, the writing is leavened with humour.

I should have started with a brief explantation of characters and plot, but my brain’s still sifting. Sorry! Francesca and Tobias Jones and their two small daughters opened up their home to become A Place of Refuge (the book’s title) for those who might need one. In effect, their house and woodland property in Somerset, England, became a commune called Windsor Hill Wood.

Over the years it evolved as they learned what worked and more importantly perhaps, what didn’t. The aim was to provide a place where people could step outside situations that weren’t working for them, and figure out their next steps. Among them were unwanted offspring, the divorced, addicted, lost, and, naturally, the grifters. All were welcomed (with conditions) and included in the daily routines and projects around the place. And everyone involved was challenged in one way or another. As my own father used to say, in large families you get your edges rubbed off. As Tobias says, everyone in community is forced to confront their own demons and flaws. There’s nowhere to hide.

I borrowed this book from the library on the recommendation of an old organic gardening friend who has long worked in community groups. She’s a founding member of a community garden and speaks often of managing conflicts, successfully or otherwise. She’s a wise elder to me and many others, and her recommendations always yield fruit of some sort. So I knew I’d benefit in some way. I just wasn’t prepared to enjoy the book quite so much.

As I read I kept being reminded of communities I’d been part of, long term and short, and of the dynamics and behaviours. I winced at memories of some of my own behaviours and laughed aloud in recognition of others. Even the place where I currently reside could be described as a small community, although not entirely intentional, nor commune-like. But some social dynamics and social benefits remain recognisable. It’s probably why I’ve not moved on, along with reasons of location and affordability.

In the past I enjoyed the Camphill-inspired ‘curative homes’ for people with disabilities. I appreciated the stabilising daily and seasonal rhythms, the wholesome food, and the odd mix of conservative and bohemian staff. Then there were the hippy communes that were utterly unlike those I’d been led to expect. Clothes optional yes, slacking and drugging, no. They were disciplined, creative and ahead of the curve in terms of tiny homes and eco living; super smart people who felt confined elsewhere. Some of my highest natural highs and most cringeworthy behaviours happened there. And then there were the share houses, the urban cult, the community gardens, mental health support groups and even the youth hostel in northern NSW where everyone was welcomed, had chores, and felt appreciated for their own special brand of humanity.

All of these experiences were watered by observations made in the book. Values and ideals that I rarely hear these days were outlined and examined and held up against his own experiences. I didn’t even know that I’d needed that. And blimey, he can write!

If it had been written by Francesca or a female participant, well, it would have that added perspective. In some ways it was a very white male book. He skipped over some crucial aspects that someone else might have elaborated on. That said, there was nothing that made me think, “oh dude, no.” And yes, I do say that often, lol.

So I now recommend A Place of Refuge by Tobias Jones, (2015) to you. I would love to hear what you think.