Let’s Talk About Postoperative Depression

[TW: Depression, Pain]

The final weeks leading up to my surgery date in May and June were filled with anxiety. Crippling anxiety that made me want to shut down and retreat from the world at the exact time when I needed to go out and kick some ass in order to get my passport and last remaining funds in the short amount of time I had. Obviously, you already know I managed to scrape everything together at the last minute thanks to donations, support, and especially help and hand-holding from Dirty Nerdy. While I waited to board my plane to Thailand with my money secured, my passport in hand, my medical papers squared away, and all the other extremely exhausting hurdles cleared, I sat in my terminal watching planes land and take off and cried. Uncontrollably. Probably for at least half an hour.

I had just finished about an hour long conversation with my paternal grandma, who I haven’t had the best contact with. And it’s probably the most “normal” conversation I’ve had with her for at least a decade. I wished her a happy birthday, I told her I would keep her and everyone else updated during my trip so they would know I was safe, I talked about the Chinese dancers that were putting on a show at the airport, and plenty of other mundane pleasantries. Neither of us said anything about it, but I’m fairly certain we both thought about my dad, whose funeral I attended only a few weeks ago.

I thought about how amazing it was to crowdsource my vagina, and all the awesome people who donated to make this trip happen. Many of whom I had never known or met. I thought about my fiance, my sister, and Dirty Nerdy, without whom I would have just shut down. I thought a lot about relationships. I thought a lot about how, in less than a few days, my body would finally be whole for the first time in my life. I thought about how this goal has been something I’ve wanted for as long as I’ve known it’s possible, and how bewildering it was to finally accomplish. I wondered about what my life’s next chapter would be like now that this one was finally coming to a close. I thought of all this and more while listening to “Let it Go” on my headphones, and I wept.

As for my month in Thailand, well you can find all about that on These Three Episodes of Shethinkers. But one detail that bears mentioning is how homesick I felt. At least, I assumed that’s what it was. The first week in my hotel after surgery was the hardest. I was in pain, got dizzy from the short trip between my bed and the bathroom, could only eat crackers and Sprite without having severe stomach problems, and I was alone. I clung to my Harry Potter fandom to keep me going, as I have in other difficult times of my life. The audiobooks reminded me of so many memories with my mom and sister, and searching for fan theories and other little details to consider reminded me of Dirty Nerdy. I called my fiance and Dirty Nerdy almost every day until I ran out of minutes. I slept all day and stayed up all night so I could stay on social media with all my friends.

My few moments of human interaction were the once-a-day ten-minute visits from the nurses, and my physically exhausting trips around the corner for food. I’m still extremely thankful for my favorite nurse, Noi, who held my hand, gave me messages, and rubbed my back and legs. I think she understood that skin-to-skin contact was something patients needed, especially in a strange place and a strange situation. Between Noi and my fellow vagina sister/neighbor, who I met my last week in Thailand, I was able to weather the storm of loneliness. As I packed my bags and prepared for the long, long (and painful) trip home, I thought my mood would finally be back to what I was used to.

But even though I was home with my loved ones, in my own country, with my native food, in my own house, with my fur babies and everything else I had missed I still felt…off. I still cried a lot, but couldn’t figure out why. Nothing really held my interest. Even during my happier moments, like snuggling with my puppy, or cooking tacos for the first time in like six weeks, or seeing everyone I had missed, my emotions felt muted. Subdued. I just chalked this up to being off hormones for so long (close to two months by this point) and just the general “well your life has changed a lot at a quick pace, give it time” that people mentioned when I would express concerns.

Now, without getting into details, my personal life as well as many of my friends’ personal lives, has kind of been thrown up in the air. Finances have been extremely tight because we still have to pay off the loans for this surgery. I fluctuate between dull, chronic pain that’s easy to ignore if I’m distracted, and very high levels of pain that make me want to scream (though thankfully these are becoming less common). And to top it all off, I still have a hard time accomplishing even fairly simple tasks like going to the grocery store, riding in a car for a couple hours, or going for a hair cut without becoming exhausted, irritable, and in pain. Even writing this, which we can all agree doesn’t require much physically, is probably going to exhaust me mentally for the rest of the day. I know I’m not a fun person to be around right now, but I don’t really have anything to do about it other than just shut down and keep my interactions to a minimum. I’ve been seeing my therapist again for the first time in years, and she informed me of postoperative depression. And I don’t mean “post-SRS depression because I regret having SRS” (I don’t), I mean all surgeries/operations have a risk of depression.

Some theorize it’s the anesthesia causing a chemical reaction in the brain. Some theorize it’s the sudden limited ability during recovery. Some theorize it’s the confrontation with death and mortality. The point is, whenever I saw the statistics for “post-SRS regret” that TERFs and other haters like to throw around, I just shrugged them off as being bad statisticians and faulty premises. But now I see that they’re just dishonest representations of depression all people have a chance of experiencing after any surgery. And that pisses me the fuck off. Which is great, because anger is one of the most clear emotions I can feel right now while I’m trying to sort my life out and get a handle on my mental and physical health again.

I mention all of this not so I can gain sympathy, but because I’m sure fans of Shethinkers and people in my life have noticed that there’s something “off” about me lately. And I want you to know that I’m getting professional help as well as loving care for this, but it might take me longer than I hoped to get back to the “real me” again. But again, I and others in my life are doing everything to make that happen. I also mention it because I want others to be aware that this is a “risk” of surgery that I was never made aware of. Probably because it’s always seen as a unique-to-SRS issue rather than a “hey, all people who have surgery have this risk” issue. I think this needs to be part of the conversation about transitioning. It should be part of post-operative care. It’s something to prepare for if and when you ever go under the knife for whatever reason. Take care of yourself, and allow the people in your life to take care of you too.

I’m going to do my best to follow my own advice.

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JTR: You “Engage The T” and I’ll Show You the Horns

Editor’s Note: While Dirty Nerdy is well known for her Justified Ginger Rage, Dori has been observed occasionally flying into a Justified Tranny Rage. Especially when some asshole tries to cis-splain down to her about how to be an activist for her own rights. May we present a JTR of  “Engaging the T” by Andrew Sullivan


There are few topics I feel nervous to write about on this blog, as you might have surmised over the years. But one of them is the question of transgender people. It’s a fascinating topic, but remains so completely fraught and riddled with p.c. neurosis that no writer wants to unleash the hounds of furious, touchy trans activism.

Translation: “I’m a fearless man who is unafraid to offer my manly opinions. But those damn trans activists are scary. Good thing I’m in a position of privilege where I can speculate about their movement and motivations without actually engaging with any of them personally. After all, it’s not like I’m at risk of being a victim of cissexism or misogyny. So of course I’m in a position to tell trans people how to progress their own movement.”

And that’s the first thing to note here, I’d say. Any minority – especially a tiny one like gays or transgender people – has, at some point, to explain itself to the big, wide world. That’s not entirely fair but it’s unavoidable if you want a change in attitudes or an increase in understanding. And my view is that there is no need to be defensive about it.

You want to be educated? Lucky for you we live in the internet age and you literally have answers right at your fingertips. Here, let me help you with that. We’re past the point of educating, we’re taking a more active roll. And some cis people find that frightening. Criticism of cissexism and transantagonism from the trans community is not “being defensive”, that’s just calling out oppression and trying to make it stop.

Most people are just completely ignorant, and have never met or engaged a trans person, and so their misconceptions and misunderstandings are inevitable and not self-evidently a matter of bigotry or prejudice. I think we should be understanding of this, as open as we can be, and answer the kinds of questions some might feel inappropriate or offensive. That’s the basis for dialogue, empathy and progress.

How are cis people ever going to unlearn cissexist bullshit unless trans people call it out? Intent might be a factor in how I address something problematic, but it will not magically make transantagonist language and attitudes acceptable.

But this has not, alas, been the way in which the transgender movement has largely sought to engage the wider world (with some exceptions). Kevin Williamson notes how Laverne Cox, appearing as a trans person on the cover of Time, nonetheless refused to answer a question about whether she had had her genitals reassigned as too “invasive.” Sorry, Laverne. But if you’re out there explaining yourself, you’ve gotta explain all of it.

No. No. No. NO. NO! A trans woman merely existing does not justify your invasive questions about her body. By this logic, Katie Couric should be able to question every cis male actor about his dick size. After all, why be open about any aspect of your identity unless you’re willing to explain every objectifying and invasive detail about your body? If you really want to fucking know how transitioning works, I can remind you about the internet again.

And the elaborate and neurotic fixation on language – will writing “transgender” rather than “transgendered” reveal my inner bigot? – is now so neurotic even RuPaul has been cast aside as politically incorrect.

Yes, writing transgendered rather than transgender, when it is clear you have been informed as to why that’s problematic, does reveal your inner bigot. Also, RuPaul is a gay cis man. Why on earth should he be immune from being called a cissexist asshole by trans women? Oh, or are you about to continue revealing your ignorance?

The insistence that the question of transgender people is essentially the same as that of gay people – when they are quite clearly distinct populations with very different challenges – is also why we have the umbrella term “LGBT”.

Goddamn, that is a poorly constructed sentence. But I guess your readers might mistake your inability to clearly express an idea with “good writing”. Luckily, Dirty Nerdy tried to translate it for me. Basically you’re making the common GGGG argument that trans people are “too different” to warrant inclusion in the queer community. Perhaps even implying that our inclusion does more harm than good for the GGGG movement.

JTR2

Except, you know, we kind of kick-started the modern queer rights movement. You see, even back then we were not in the same position to assimilate into “straight culture” in the way white affluent cis gay men can. So we started a fucking riot. A riot that went on to benefit the queer community at large. Tell me again how trans women being too radical hurts a movement?

And so Kevin Williamson is not wrong, I think, to note the way in which politics has eclipsed the English language here and that language itself has become enmeshed in a rigid ideology:

“The obsession with policing language on the theory that language mystically shapes reality is itself ancient — see the Old Testament — and sympathetic magic proceeds along similar lines, using imitation and related techniques as a means of controlling reality.”

Yo, imma quote a known cissexist to support my claim. But I’m totes not a transphobe.

But Williamson is just as wrong in his brutal, even callous, denunciation of transgender people as acting out “delusions”. And he’s wrong not because he politically incorrect, but because he’s empirically off-base. He too is creating his own reality.

See, totes not a transphobe! Even though I’m saying trans activists are equally terrible to someone who engages in the type of dehumanization that results in the murder of trans people every year.

For Williamson, it seems, you can only have one sex and it is dictated by your genitals. End of story. Naturally, he doesn’t address the question of what biological sex is when you are born with indeterminate genitals that are not self-evidently male or female. The intersex are a small minority – from 0.1 to 1.7 percent, depending on your definition – but in a country of 300 million, that adds up. And the experience of those people – especially those have been genitally mutilated to appear as one sex, while feeling themselves to be the other – is a vital part of understanding what gender and sex are.

Kevin may not like this – but it’s complicated.

Not only have I produced a straw transphobe for me to fight in order to illustrate my totally-not-transantagonist attitudes, but I’m going to disprove his reliance on biological determinism by…relying on biological determinism. And implying that the trans community and the intersex community are interchangeable. See, I’m you’re ally!
JTR1
We can see crucial differences between male and female brains, for example, and they do not always correspond to male and female genitals. Since by far the most important sexual organ is the brain, the possibilities of ambiguity are legion. And this is not a matter of pomo language games.
Wow, you found a way to endorse biological determinism as a justification for trans identities (Pro tip: We don’t need your justifications. We already exist.), but you also managed to be racist with maybe a hint of classism (since you’re implying that language can only be changed by some members of society and not others). I’m just gonna let you keep digging this hole you seem so intent on.
The experience of a conflict between self-understood gender and assigned gender is real, and a source of great anguish. That human anguish is what we should seek to mitigate, it seems to me, rather than compound as Williamson does.

Oh yes, please cisplain to me what it’s like to experience gender dysphoria. And how language that reduces me and my trans sisters into a punchline is by no means harmful.

And as J. Brian Lowder notes, the insistence of many transgendered people on the need to permanently reconcile their physical bodies with their mental states is in some ways a rather conservative impulse. There’s a reason that Iran’s theocrats allow for sex-change operations but not gay relationships.

Oh look, quoting more cis men instead of the actual intended targets of trans slurs: trans women. I guess it was too hard to find out what our opinions are about it, even though we’re somehow hurting the movement by being too vocal.

The transgender desire not to be trans-gender but to be one gender physically and mentally is actually quite an affront to queer theorists for whom all gender and sex are social constructions. Many of these people want testosterone and estrogen and surgery to end their divided selves. And it doesn’t get more crudely biological and not-social than that.

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. Come closer. Cloooooser.

YOU CAN BE A GENDER MINORITY AND A SEXUAL MINORITY! AT THE SAME TIME!!!!

I know that might shock you, but trust me, I’m a trans, poly, bi woman. You’d probably say that’s too confusing for the straight mainstream. Good thing I don’t really give a fuck about the straight mainstream. Which is strange, because I’m a trans woman who is perceived by everyone as a cis woman, which according to you means I shouldn’t even be concerned about the queer community.

Which means that there are also divisions within the trans world between those who might be able to pass completely as another gender, after reassignment surgery, and those whose visual ambiguity or androgyny will remain. Lowder quotes a trans artist thus:

If you don’t wish to own [tranny] or any other word used to describe you other than “male” or “female” then I hope you are privileged enough to have been born with an appearance that will allow you to disappear into the passing world or that you or your generous, supportive family are able to afford the procedures which will make it possible for you to pass within the gender binary system you are catering your demands to. If you’re capable of doing that then GO ON AND DISAPPEAR INTO THE PASSING WORLD!

Oh good, you have at least listened to trans people enough to know that this is a complicated issue within our own community. Just like other slurs that hurt members of oppressed minorities, variations of “Reclaim” vs. “Abolish” attitudes toward the word tranny can be found all throughout our community. And that’s okay because IT’S OUR FUCKING COMMUNITY! Tranny is a slur targeted toward trans people. Even though I was called a faggot growing up, that slur is targeted toward gay men, neither of which describe me. So the slur doesn’t hurt me the same way that it hurts a gay man. Which is why I don’t go around calling people a faggot and then telling gay men to “get over it”.

This is the perennial question of a minority’s anxiety about sell-outs – whether it be expressed in the fights over how light-skinned some African-Americans are or how “masculine” gay men are or how feminine lesbians appear. In other words, this is a very complicated and sensitive area. But if we are to make progress in understanding  – and Williamson’s piece shows how far we have yet to go – we have to let go of these insecurities and defensiveness and accept that no question about the transgendered is too dumb or too bigoted to answer.

Is the transgender movement mature enough to accept this and move forward? I guess we’ll soon find out.

JTR3I’m mature enough to tell you to go fuck yourself, because nobody invited you to this discussion. If tranny is “just a word”, then why are you and other gay men putting up such a fight over it? I don’t think it has anything to do with your freeze peach or teaching trans people to have a “thicker skin”. No, I think why so many cis gay men are so committed to being able to use a transphobic slur is because they’re upset that trans people are no longer happy sitting on the sidelines and waiting for the rest of the queer community to fight for our rights. Yes, we are your siblings in this queer family but for too long we have been treated like the un-wanted step-child and we’re tired of it. So get over it and deal with it.

Rainbow Reading – 10 Great LGBT Kids’ Books

While LGBT media representation is improving every day, it’s still pretty hard to find anything in children’s media that actually discusses LGBT kids, not LGBT parents. (Most likely because society sexualizes LGBT identities more than cis/het identities. ) But one area where parents can find good representation is in print. In no particular order, here’s some awesome LGBT kids books I recommend.

RainbowReading11. Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away With Another Spoon

Not only is the artwork in this coloring book lively and fun, but it’s inclusive of all LGBT identities as well as people with disabilities, race, and other intersectionalities. And unlike other similar LGBT coloring books, this one is obviously made with children, not adults, as the target audience.

2. Be Who You Are

This is the story of a young trans girl transitioning and what social complications she and her family navigate during that time. This includes helping her little brother understand and arranging things with her school. But it has a happy ending and is great for trans kids or just explaining what being trans is like to kids.

3. And Tango Makes Three

This book is just adorable, because it’s about two boy penguins getting a chance to adopt an egg and become a family. How can you not love that?

4. It’s Okay to be Different

Pretty much all of Todd Parr’s books are colorful and inclusive of all types of families and identities. But It’s Okay to Be Different has an especially important message for LGBT kids. I would also recommend his Families Series of books.

5. Backwards Day

A book about a young trans boy who eagerly looks forward to Backwards Day because he gets to live as a boy without any questions asked. Until one day he doesn’t turn into a boy on Backwards Day, which makes him depressed. Until the next day, when he wakes up as a boy and stays that way. Pretty cute and colorful too.

RainbowReading26. William’s Doll

Not LGBT-specific, per se, but certainly relevant. William wants a doll, and everyone gives him everything except a doll. It’s William’s grandma who gives him what he actually wants, and scolds the others for being negative toward him. It’s a cute story and a good message for all boys, not just queer ones.

7. King & King

A fairy tale about a gay king who doesn’t want to marry a princess. This one is really adorable with interesting artwork and a happy ending. There’s even a sequel where the two kings try to have a baby. One of the better books for boys who like boys.

8. Goblinheart

Goblinheart is a great metaphor for trans identities, as one goblin wishes to be a fairy instead and goes on a quest to make it happen.

9. The Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans

Multiple fairy tales that have incidental characters. The most notable is a story of a Duke who tries to saw families must have a man and a woman in them, and the children who mock his laws until he repeals them.

10. It’s Perfectly Normal Series

Again, this is a book series that all kids should have. There are three different ones for different ages and all discuss sex, pregnancy, sexuality, and other factors in a non-judgmental, informative way. The illustrations are also very inclusive of ability, sex, gender, race, size, and other identities.

I hope this list was helpful for you. I’ll try to remember to add a few more later. Hopefully with the increased LGBT kids books we’ll see LGBT characters in children’s media too. Until then, read away!

RainbowReading

Let Trans Artists Tell Trans Tales

(Originally published on Skepchick!)

In the past year or two, society has seen a big shift in how trans people, and trans women specifically, are portrayed in the media. Where it was once mildly permissible to have cis actors tell trans stories because, at least we were getting something, now a cis actor playing a trans character is becoming more and more controversial. Because no matter how dedicated the portrayal is, how sincere the actor is in wanting to “get it right”, how genuinely the creators want to help the transgender community, or how much it moves their primarily cis audience, they will always get something wrong, and often they’ll get a lot of things wrong. It’s almost a running gag in the trans community at this point. I’ve had many a “trashy trans movie night” where we get together to watch Transamerica or Boys Don’t Cry and tear it to shreds over popcorn and alcohol. Where we were once happy with whatever table scraps we could get, over the last decade we’ve been creating our own art that accurately depicts our lives. We now have a slew of well known, outspoken trans activists and artists like Janet Mock, Fallon Fox, Laura Jane Grace, Carmen Carrera, Lana Wachowski, Jenna Talackova, Candis Cayne, and (my personal hero) Laverne Cox.

Which means we are no longer satisfied letting cis people tell our stories for us.

WeExist

The most common “defense” of a cis actor playing a trans character goes something like this, “So what are you saying, they shouldn’t cast an actor as an inmate unless they’ve been to prison? They shouldn’t cast an out gay actor to play a straight character?”

The problem with the first example is confusing identity with attribute. Being trans (or gay or bisexual or any other invisible minority) is a core identity. Identity is an essential part of the character that cannot be changed by the plot, rather than something the character acquires over time through circumstances. Attribute is a detail about a character that has been accumulated over their lives through circumstance or consequence, attributes can be altered as a result of the plot. To continue with our poor example, an inmate released from prison ceases to be an inmate. Now they have a new attribute, ex-con, and learning to navigate this new attribute could be the start of their character arc. A trans woman, on the other hand, cannot cease to be a trans woman through any plot device. She could de-transition and go back in the closet, she could start out in the closet and transition in the story, but she always has been and always will be a trans woman. This is a distinction that is often lost on creators who do not have that same core identity as their character, which is why people who actually have that identity need to be involved in the creative process. Otherwise, you will inevitably resort to stereotypes which will misinform your well-meaning audience.

And it’s that well-meaning audience that makes this so problematic. The majority of cis people who watch these movies are not terrible people. They are not transphobes. They want to be educated about trans people so they don’t do shitty things to trans people. They probably care about queer rights, but might not know any trans people. So they reach out to the media to inform them. And it sucks when they’ve been genuinely moved by something, only to find out that the trans community is not happy with it. So often, rather than acknowledge the problems trans people are pointing out with the film, they get defensive. Because they don’t want to be embarrassed, which is a typical response all of us engage in, but something that ultimately causes more harm to the community you were trying to help with your portrayal. They’ve gone from being curious and well-meaning to viewing the trans community as hostile and ungrateful (which is a product of privilege but that’s a rant for another day). It’s how I initially felt about movies with mentally ill or disabled characters I enjoyed, until my education and interactions with disabled people corrected my misconceptions. Owning my mistakes is embarrassing, but it has hopefully made me a better person.

So what about the second bad example of a gay actor playing a straight character? Well the problem with this comparison is that invisible majority identities (straight, cis, able, etc.) are almost never essential to the plot of those characters. When is the last time you saw a movie where a character came out as straight? Or even mentioned they were straight except as a heterosexist response to a non-straight character? (“Whoa, bro, I’m straight!”) And I’ve never even seen a movie that used the term cis to describe anyone. Instead, we are intended to resort to heteronormativity and cisnormativity about those characters unless they specifically identify as not-hetero or not-cis. There is also bisexual erasure to consider. Most assume a character is either gay or straight, depending on their gender and the gender of who they are currently attracted to in the story. So most people see Barney Stinson (the disgusting womanizer from How I Met Your Mother) as a straight character played by an out gay actor, Neil Patrick Harris, because the character’s sexual orientation and gender history are never explicitly discussed (as far as I know, I can’t stand this show). In reality, Barney could just as easily be bisexual, pansexual, and/or a trans man and it would not change his character or the plot.

UnimpressedQueerBane

Even without the problematic assumptions that all characters are het and cis unless specified, complaining about an actor of an invisible outgroup portraying a character of an assumed (but for the sake of argument, also explicitly stated) ingroup, misses an important aspect of being a member of an outgroup. The culture, media, education system, and everything else expect you to be knowledgeable about ingroups, regardless of whether you are a member of that group or not. However, members of ingroups are not expected, or maybe even given the opportunity, to be knowledgeable about outgroups. In other words, queer children grow up learning nearly exclusively about straight culture. They are expected to be straight and cis, and often become victims if they do not sufficiently learn how to “act” straight and cis. And this is a skill they will continue to use in certain situations regardless of whether they’re “out” or not. It’s a survival technique that all members of outgroups are pressured to learn. Women learn how to “act” masculine to succeed in the male-dominated business world. People of Color learn to “act” white in order to be respected by white people. We have spent a significant amount of time and resources in our lives learning how to “blend in” or at least navigate around the ingroups we do not belong to, because we must do so in order to function. Which is why a cis actor cannot even hope to know as much about trans people as trans actors already know about cis people, no matter how “method” they are or how much research they do. We’ve been studying you guys practically since birth.

 

The next objection is the easiest to cast aside. “But how are they supposed to find a trans actress who can play the role?! It’s not like they’re as easy to find as a cis actor.” First of all, not my problem. If you want to tell our stories, then you need to involve us. End of discussion. Second of all, it’s the goddamn internet age. Even if we’re ignoring the increasing number of trans actors and actresses who are having a huge influence right now, you’re seriously telling me that major Hollywood studios don’t have the resources to put out a fucking Craigslist ad or find a casting agent in L.A. or N.Y.C. who specialize in queer clients? No, what typically happens is they do less than the bare minimum so they can cover their asses by claiming they tried, then they cast a big-name cis actor so the movie gets publicity and the actor can gets some Oscar Bait.

OscarBait

Media and Culture are mirrors of one another. If you want to change the culture, you change the media’s portrayal of it. If you want to change the media, you change the culture it exists in. The reason why so many trans activists are investing in how we are portrayed in the media all goes back to that well-meaning cis audience. We acknowledge more and more cis people are trying their best to be good allies, and we want to have a say in what media tells them about who we are and what we need, so we can change the transphobic culture we are currently living in. So we’re speaking up, coming out, and no longer allowing others to silence us. We are entering a new era in trans visibility in our society where trans women are putting a stop to harmful tropes and narratives on daytime television, holding journalists accountable for sensationalizing our love life, and not allowing gay celebrities to use trans slurs without consequence. We are gaining more power, more rights, and more allies, consequently we are losing our patience when issues are continually addressed by us but continually ignored by mainstream media.

But most importantly, we want to change the media because we want to see ourselves in it, just like everyone else wants to see their own lives reflected. Although I had seen documentaries and movies about trans women, like many people I had never seen a trans actress playing a trans character until I watched Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black. The story was so authentic, so real, and so engaging that it now makes attempts from cis actors look embarrassing in comparison. And listening to Against Me’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues is one of the most moving experiences I’ve had with music. Seeing our own lives reflected in the work of artists who have similar identities of our own lets us know we aren’t alone in the world. So even a baby trans girl living in the rural South surrounded by cissexist churches can visualize her future out, public, successful life respected by society. And that is something no cis artist, no matter their intention or talent, can provide as authentically as a trans artist.

 

Trigger Warnings Are Not New

Can we all just stop acting like trigger warnings are outrageously complicated? I keep seeing scare-tactic articles from main-stream and feminist blogs trying to have a Very Serious Discussion about whether trigger warnings are warranted or have “gone too far”. And you know what? I’m not even going to dignify this “debate” by pointing out why trigger warnings are simply a reasonable accommodation for people who have been through traumatic events. There are already shit-tons of articles about it. Instead, I want to talk about how trigger warnings have already existed long before the terminology, they just went unnoticed by people who didn’t need them.

Trigger1

We’ve all watched a TV show that began with a “Viewer Discretion is Advised” disclaimer. And while I personally might think a warning about something like The Simpsons is a little goofy, it doesn’t harm me at all for them to give other viewers a heads up. I haven’t been inconvenienced by it, and by the time the episode is over, chances are good I’ll have forgotten all about it. And that’s my point. Trigger warnings (or advisory warnings or content notes or whatever you want to call them) don’t exist for the people who don’t need them. They exist  for the people who do need them.

Most forms of media have an industry-enforced and regulated rating system of some kind firmly established. Movies, television, comic books, and video games all have some kind of rating that can be found before viewing or purchasing, and most even have little details about what warrants that particular rating (although some would argue they need to be more specific, which I think is valid). So it’s no surprise that blogs developed their own form of ratings system. Most blog providers like WordPress or Blogger allow you to mark your content as “mature”, but the feminist blogosphere went one step further and began giving specific heads up when the content being discussed was something that might trigger traumatic experiences of their readers. But unlike the industry ratings mentioned, which have historically been imposed by only one organization founded by big-name publishers  and thus, carry some valid concerns about when ratings are a form of censorship to punish indie publishers, trigger warnings are voluntarily given by the creators of their blogs.

I've never seen a Very Serious Discussion about whether ESRB ratings have "gone too far".

I’ve never seen a Very Serious Discussion about whether ESRB ratings have “gone too far”.

And hey, confession time, I don’t always include a trigger warning on my blog posts. If I think my title sufficiently explains the topic at hand, I figure that’s a good enough heads up for my readers. But if one of my readers or friends says, “Hey, I think this needs a trigger warning,” then I apologize and put up a fucking trigger warning. It takes like two seconds for me to edit a post and add one. So why would I waste more time complaining and debating about it when it shouldn’t even bother me in the first place?

So now let’s talk about the latest scare going around, that trigger warnings are moving into the classroom. This is another one of those issues that mainstream media is making out to be new even though it’s been going on for quite some time. Every class I’ve ever taken, both at my feminist university and at my previous community college, has issued a trigger warning whenever an upcoming lecture was going to discuss abuse or rape. Because sadly, a significant proportion of women (who make up a slight majority of college students right now) have experienced abuse and/or rape first-hand and therefore, probably would appreciate a heads up about it.

I’ve been triggered before, and it is embarrassing and extremely vulnerable and not something I would ever want to happen in public if I could avoid it. And thankfully it has never happened from participating in a class with a trigger warning. Why? Because the fucking trigger warning gave me a heads-up so I wasn’t blind-sided!

“Oh, we’re going to discuss abuse next week? Alright, well I better build up my emotional constitution that day so I can handle it, because I want to be able to help others in that situation in the future.”

“Oh, we’re going to discuss rape tomorrow? I don’t think I can deal with that right now, so I’ll ask my friend ahead of time if I can copy her notes. Thank glob I don’t have to divulge personal information to my professor in order to not be viewed as an irresponsible student.”

One line in the syllabus, one nod from the professor before the next lecture. Not. Fucking. Difficult.

The only trigger warnings I notice are abuse, rape, and sometimes dieting/weight/body issues because those are relevant to me, but over time I have learned to include other common triggers through my interactions with others, such as suicide/depression, slurs/hate speech, pregnancy/birth, and drug use. And I think this is the root of what makes people get butthurt about trigger warnings they don’t need. In order to include trigger warnings that are not relevant to me, I have to think about how something I’m writing might affect someone negatively. And that involves checking my own privileges, which we all know makes people defensive and uncomfortable. But my discomfort from being wrong is minor compared to someone else being triggered. So I pull up my big girl panties and correct myself. Because that’s how we improve the world for everyone: admit when you’re wrong and correct your behavior.

Honestly to me, complaining about trigger warnings in classrooms or anywhere else is like complaining about wheelchair ramps or signs written in braille. It’s mean-spirited and a waste of time complaining about something that, obviously, does not concern you. So move on with your life and find something that’s actually worth debating and fighting over.

What, she gets her own interpreter? This is PC gone too far. I can hear the professor just fine!

What, she gets her own interpreter?! That’s outrageous! I can hear him just fine!

5 Lessons Learned From Mom

In honor of Mother’s Day, I want to talk about how awesome my mom is. No, seriously, my mom is one of the coolest people I’ve ever had in my life and I’m lucky enough to have known her for 28 years (if we’re counting gestation). Of course she’s not perfect and, like all of us, she has her flaws. But she’s a huge part of what makes me the hardworking feminist you’ve (hopefully) grown to love, so it’s only fair to give her credit where it’s due. So to prove to you Shethinkers that my mom is the bomb, I thought I would share some of the things she’s taught me. Because everyone deserves someone as cool as my mama!


 

“Everyone is doing the best they can with the tools they have.”

In short, people are good but the things they do can be bad.

ToolBox

Not everyone’s tool box at birth comes with the same tools, and if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail. I believe the vast majority of people have the best of intentions, but limited knowledge, resources, and opportunities can lead us into poor decisions. I believe most “evil” people are doing what they believe to be the right thing, and pretending otherwise only makes us blind to our own rationales for bad choices. False moral superiority just isn’t my style.

“Oh, that makes sense.”

2nd best response to a loved one coming out as trans.

Absolute best goes to Grandma, my mom’s mom, “I don’t give a shit if you’re purple, why haven’t you called?”

PflagMom

My mother grew up in a Brooklyn apartment below a cross-dressing sex-worker named Bernie. So I grew up believing New York was a magical place where queer folks could be free and nobody would bat an eye at them, and my visit to NYC did not disappoint me. But even though NYC is still my dream city, my mom helped me realize a life lived freely isn’t exclusive to a 10xxx zip code. All the work I do for the LGBT community is so that some day, every kid will get the same kind of acceptance as I got from my family.

“Write like Hemingway. Say more with less.”

If you ask me to critique your writing, I will destroy “that”s, “very”s, and over-used phrases with a vengeance.

HemingwayMeme

Hemingway is my mom’s favorite writer, not mine, but  you’ve got to admire the man for not wasting your time. The longer my writing is, the more ruthless I am toward my own bullshit. As a college student, I’ve adopted this same philosophy to all of my school work. I work smart, not hard, and I try to be as efficient with my very limited time as possible. If someone in my group is trying to make things more complicated than they need to be, I will call them out and put a stop to that nonsense. Because the art of editing taught me another important lesson: You’re first idea will probably suck.

“There are two kinds of people in this world: People who masturbate and people who lie.”

If I ever write a book about sex, this is going to be the title.

If I ever write a book about sex, this is going to be the title.

My mom was a sex-positive feminist long before it was cool. She gave me my first box of condoms, my first vibrator, and did not try to police my relationships as a teenager except for the occasional reminder to be safe and smart about my decisions. And hey, what do you know, I didn’t become sexually active until later in life, just like all the research on comprehensive sex-education shows! In my interactions with the LGBT youth I mentor, I take my mom’s same approach to answering any and all sexual questions: If they’re already asking, that means they’re already interested, might as well make sure they’re informed.

“I will unleash my Yankee Bitch if I have to.”

Trust me, you do not want to see the Yankee Bitch.

BitchesGetStuffDone

This is a skill passed down from woman to woman in our family, only to be used in emergencies when some douche  just won’t fucking listen to you, usually because you’re a woman. I don’t think I’ve needed to unleash the Yankee Bitch in quite some time, but I always have it in my back pocket, ready to go at a moment’s notice. In our family, “bitch” was simply a woman who got shit done and didn’t particularly care how what you thought about her, so long as you got in line. And sometimes, only a bitch can get shit done.


 

There’s so much more awesome shit my mom taught me than this, but come on, I can’t give away all the family secrets. What would I write about next Mother’s Day? And while we’re on the subject, I’d also like to give my soon-to-be mother-in-law a shout out too. I’ve only known her for four years and our relationship started out rocky, but she raised the man I love and we surprisingly have a lot more in common than either of us might have realized. Also, my former step-mom and I helped each other survive some weird shit, and that kind of experience can’t be forgotten. Bonus thanks to my grandmothers, aunts, and other awesome women who helped raise me.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas, mamas-to-be, mamas of fur babies, and women who guide and teach the next generation. What moms do changes lives, and so long as they’re trying their best, I believe it can change lives for the better.


 

Don’t forget to tune in for the Secular Shethinkers “Single Moms” episode, broadcasting May 11th at 9pm Central!

Female Friendships We Love to Ship

There are very few queer women in mainstream media. And usually when we do exist, we tend to get unhappy endings or wind up dead somehow. Thus “shipping” was born, also known as “slash” or “femslash” in fandom circles. While this may seem like a relatively new fangirl hobby that has only existed since the internet, the existence of Queer Theory disproves that.

The truth is, queer folks have been projecting ourselves and our relationships onto seemingly straight relationships for as long as there have been books, television, or movies. But before I get into why these ships are awesome, I want to talk about hetero and cissexual assumptions. Whenever the conversation of femslash comes up, inevitably there will be at least one hetcis fan who cries out “But they can’t be queer! Because reasons!”

Look dude (or dudette), just about any “reason” you can come up with for why a fictional character is hetcis, a queer person has experienced before. I’ve met a cis woman who dealt with transphobic slurs in middle school, just like I did. I have explicitly told a queer person who came on to me in high school, “No way, I’m straight!” only to later swallow my words when I grew up. I have adamantly denied my true identities on multiple occasions of my life. I’ve dated men and women while I perceived as male or female. Are you picking up what I’m throwing down yet?

The sexuality or gender identity of a fictional character is not the same as the sexuality or gender identity of an actual human being. Real humans’ identities are innate parts of who they are and should be respected whenever they inform you. Fictional characters’ identities are almost never explicitly stated unless they are queer (such as Dumbledore being gay). This is a product of the (mostly cis and het) writers who created them. In our heteronormative society, characters are considered to be straight and cis until “proven” queer because hetcis identities are seen as “normal”. Not only is this a shitty attitude to have, but it leads to stereotyping and the erasure of less-than-obvious identities like bisexual folks in hetero relationships or trans folks who are granted cis privilege (both of which apply to me, so I tend to get a little touchy about this sort of thing).

Making a character queer doesn’t change anything fundamental about the character. And if you think that’s true, you must have some unhealthy ideas about who queer people are, what we’re capable of doing, and what kinds of stories we’re allowed to be in. So get over yourself, and have a sense of humor about your fandom. After all, it’s just a show/comic/video game.

ShipMarcelinePB

1. Adventure Time – Bubbeline

I adore the Marceline and Princess Bubblegum ship. Hell, I went out with a girl once (almost) solely based on her tattoo of Maceline and PB gettin’ it on. The episode What Was Missing is particularly interesting, as PB’s most treasured possession is a shirt of Marceline’s that she wears to bed every night. And Marceline’s song “I’m Just Your Problem” reads like the standard Either-come-out-or-I’m-done-with-you dyke drama that many of us are all-too-familiar with. Frankly, I think they’d be a good match because they can balance one another out. Princess Bubblegum can be a little too high-strung for her own good, so Marcie would be great at getting her to cut loose and have fun. And Marceline strikes me as someone who needs some affection and structure in her life, so PB would be great for that. And thanks co-writer Jesse Moynihan, Bubbeline is practically, if not explicitly, canon.

ShipHarleyIvy

2. Batman – Harley and Ivy

Let’s face it, Harley Quinn and Joker are not a healthy relationship. He’s abusive, he takes advantage of her, he blames her for all of his failures, and is constantly kicking her out and taking her back. But then, Bruce Timm gave us Harley and Ivy, and the hope for Harley Quinn to be in a healthy and productive relationship (and one of comic book’s more popular ships) was born! There are several obvious nods to Thelma & Louise in their relationship. But in the Gotham Universe, “Let’s keep going” doesn’t result in them dying rather than give in to patriarchy. Because nobody really dies in comic books. They make a much better team than either of them alone, and each of them build up the self-esteem of the other, as all healthy relationships should. Not to mention, Ivy gave Harley a serum to make her immune to her own and several other poisons, so there is no mind control or anything else non-consensual going on here. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini seem to love the Harley and Ivy ship as much as we do, and they’re Harley’s creators, so that practically makes it canon. The only thing that makes me uncomfortable about this ship is there is so much Male Gaze to put up with. It almost takes all the fun out of it. But as long as I just watch the animated series and read the comics while avoiding the fan community entirely, I can still be happy.

ShipDariaJane

3. Daria – Daria and Jane

Dirty Nerdy and I have already professed our love for the Daria/Jane ship on the show, but that’s no reason why I can’t write about it while sober.  First, let’s get the obvious objection out of the way: Jane’s interaction with the predatory bisexual woman (grr, stereotypes) in Is It Fall Yet? Yeah, Jane explicitly states that she’s straight.  But so have Dirty Nerdy and I when we weren’t ready to come out yet, so let’s not let that stop our fun.  Besides, given that Daria and Jane are a high school kids in the 90s, it’s pretty unlikely for them to be out to themselves or anyone yet. All that being said, Daria and Jane are already the best relationship each of them have in their lives. Hell, their friendship even survived the betrayal of that whole Tom mess. They’re freakin’ friends, but hopefully they’ll be freakin’ girlfriends once they get to college. At least, that’s our epilogue.

ShipKayleeInara

4. Firefly – Kaylee and Inara

We already know that Inara is bisexual from the War Stories episode, and Kaylee hasn’t been shy about enjoying sex since she met Captain Mal in the middle of tryst. So it’s not surprising the two women who are open and unashamed about their sex lives would hit it off and become friends. Inara is sweet on Kaylee, telling her fun stories about her clients and playing with her hair. Which is great, because Kaylee’s kind of a tomboy in the “I like being pretty but I don’t have the time nor the job to do it” kind of way. And Kaylee is completely nonjudgmental about Inara’s life as a sex worker. When Inara goes off to see a client, Kaylee just wishes her, “Have good sex!” So there’s zero jealousy too, so I imagine them having a FWB relationship. Given that Kaylee is carrying a torch for the dense doctor, this helps deal with sexual tension until Inara leaves the ship. Hence why Kaylee is so frustrated by the end of Serenity. Inara keeps her happy while she waits for Simon to wise up, and Kaylee gives Inara a healthy sexual relationship that isn’t about “owning” her. It’s a win-win.

ShipLeslieAnn

5. Parks and Recreation – Leslie and Ann

Confession: I don’t really ship Leslie and Ann, but only because the Leslie and Ben ship is equally adorable. I know, I know, damn bisexuals screw everything up. But I can totally make the argument that Leslie and Ann are a ship. Except, I don’t have to make the argument, because even the actresses who play them joke about it. Regardless of the nature of their relationship, Leslie and Ann have a great one. They support one another, they don’t judge, and they’re unapologetically feminist. Or at least, Leslie is. Leslie’s over-the-top Type A personality gives Ann a kick in the butt to get things done. And Ann’s “how about we calm down and rejoin reality” personality keeps Leslie grounded. Together, they get amazing things done. And it’s awesome to see women building each other up instead of tearing each other down. Whether they’re sexually involved or not, makes no difference to me.

ShipLaraSam

6. Tomb Raider – Lara and Sam

I don’t care about the history of sexism and Male Gaze and other men-ruin-everything* shit that Lara Croft has gone through. She’s the first female character I remember playing in a video game and she will always have a special place for my heart. Which is why I was so glad that the latest incarnation got rid of the oversized breasts and focused on a good story with good gameplay. And to top it all off, you get to rescue your girlfriend, Sam. The cutscenes between Lara and Sam are freakin’ adorable, and Lara pushes herself much harder to rescue Sam than she does for any of the other shipmates. Plus anything that turns the “damsel in distress” trope on its head in a clever way is always welcomed by me. Although the game doesn’t spell it out, it’s as “official” as the writer was allowed to make it. But in a way, I’m glad that it was subtext and not overt, because it helps avoid a lot of that creepy men-ruin-everything* shit that I mentioned earlier. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist, but it could have been a hell of a lot worse had they come right out and said, “Yeah, Lara and Sam are lesbians.”

*Yeah, I get it. “Not all men“. Please restrain yourself from stating the obvious.


Damn! I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface but this post is already getting super long. Consider this Part 1 of a series, my Shethinkers. ;-)

What are your favorite queer ships? Post about them below or email us at secularshethinkers@gmail.com


 

ShipBonusMystique

Bonus! Mystique is Trans

When little preteen Dori started putting together the obvious queer subtext of X-men, it didn’t take her long to realize that Mystique’s mutation was what every trans girl wished for. It seems like most (if not all) mutant’s origin stories involve dealing with a traumatic event during puberty, when mutations manifest in a kick-ass-but-problematic-way. Then a bald dude shows up at your house, tells you there’s a whole school full of weirdos just like you, and then whisks you away to a place of acceptance. Basically the ultimate fantasy for every kid who know they were “different” but had not yet figured out they were queer. So at various traumatic points in my adolescence I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could just change my body at will and disappear?” And for me, that’s exactly how Mystique got her powers to shapeshift.

I don’t care what has been revealed about her past, and I don’t care what she looks like when her powers are taken away in X-Men 3 (besides, do we really want to acknowledge the existence of that movie?), to me Mystique will always be a trans woman. At the very least she’s a transgender/gender-variant character of some kind, because she’s constantly changing genders and appearance to suit how she feels or for the enjoyment of her lovers (I have similar thoughts about Tonks from Harry Potter for similar reasons). And if you don’t think that’s all kinds of awesome, you can get out of my face.

The Next Chapter

     There is a psychological concept called Narrative Identity that deeply appeals to me as a writer. The basic idea being we shape our identity through the way we organize our life story. In other words, how we characterize our past, present, and future is just as important as the actual events themselves. This is not really a new concept, just a new way of conceptualizing how cognition affects us. It fits rather nicely with other forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but as I already mentioned I find it attractive because I tend to think of my life in terms of chapters.
     I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I should write an autobiography. And while I consider myself a “never say never” kind of gal, the trans woman tell-all autobiography just feels a bit played out for me. But like all good stories, my life has been filled with complicated heroes and villains, tragedy and comedy, magic and treachery, surprise plot twists, and moments of courage from myself and others. There’s the “Christianity as a Closet” chapter, the “Bullied and Raped” chapter, the “Denial is a Helluva Thing” chapter, the “Comic Books and Kindness” chapter, the “Coming Out and College” chapter, and so on. I am lucky enough that every new chapter of my life has been better than the one before it, but that doesn’t stop the closing of each chapter from bringing some melancholy. The excitement winds down to its inevitable conclusion, leaving our hero anxious for her next adventure. And this particular moment of my life is the closing of yet another chapter.
     I’ve had some radical changes in the last year and there are still more yet to come. Office politics have pushed me out of the youth center I dedicated my last four years to, but I have a very promising position lined up with another organization that could potentially give me the ability to help even more LGBT youth than I previously was. I’ll be graduating with my Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology in just a few more months, only to continue forward with graduate school and internships. My romantic relationship is evolving as Chris and I prepare ourselves for the next step of marriage and (hopefully) family which is soon to come. My physical transition is coming to it’s final destination in just three short months, which is both exhilarating and terrifying all at once. In just about every aspect of my life, I am “between” what once was and what is soon to come.
     While there are times where I am extremely frustrated or anxious about this current state of affairs, it helps for me to look back on past transitional periods in my life. Change is inevitable and, truthfully,what keeps life fulfilling and interesting. This latest chapter has been filled with characters and lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I’m grateful that some will continue with me on my journey. So I cope with waiting for the next chapter to begin in the same way that I cope with waiting for the second season of Orange is the New Black to come out, or how I waited for the next Harry Potter book to be published. I look back on the things that I loved about the past installments and eagerly speculate about what might happen next.
     Here’s looking forward to the next chapter of life. Whether your’s is a best seller, trashy paperback, or steeped in academia, I hope you’re next chapter is better than the one before it.

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Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

ComeOut1Today is the 25th annual National Coming Out Day, a day for every queer person to come out to somebody they care about (assuming they can safely do so).  As I’ve been out of my closet for at least half a decade now, the list of people I care about who don’t know I’m queer as a three dollar bill is fairly short, if not non-existent.  I guide and mentor queer youth for a living, and I’m training to be a counselor specifically for the queer community.  I’m out and loud and proud, baby!

I’m sure that plenty of you are the same in your lives.  Not just out of the closet but you burned the closet on your way out to make sure no one could force you back in.  So what do people like us do on National Coming Out Day?  Assuming we’re already out to the people we care about, I think the next step is to come out to the people who represent us.  I’m talking about our elected officials.  They need to be reminded that they represent all of their constituents, and many of those constituents are queer.  So I’ve included my letter to my elected officials below.  Feel free to copy, paste, and modify it as you see fit.  Below the letter you’ll find the means to finding out who represents you in congress so you can tell them you’re out, proud, and voting.

Dear [Elected Official],

My name is Dorian Mooneyham and I am a resident of [your district, city, state, etc.].  I am writing to your office today to wish you a Happy National Coming Out Day.  As you may know, this is a national holiday in which members of the LGBT community “come out” to people who are important in their lives.  As an elected official who represents me in political matters, you are one of those people important to my way of living.  So I would like to come out  to you now.

I’m Dorian Mooneyham, and I am a bisexual and transgender woman.

What does this mean to you, my elected official?

It means I expect my representative to be supportive of equality, something I expect for all demographics, not just LGBT.  I consider equality one of the lowest possible standards for humanity.  It’s a founding principle of our country, best summed up by the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Originally “all men” only applied to white, male, land-owners but we have thankfully expanded that to included men and women of all classes, all races, all creeds, and all religious affiliations.  No doubt each of the times we expanded that definition, there were those who cried that we were granting “special rights”, but the American people have always seen through that smoke screen eventually and wound up on the right side of history.  I’m asking you today to remember that many of your constituents do not have the same rights as others.

I myself am getting married to my fiancé in two years.  But because of my transgender status and the ambiguous nature of marriage equality in our country today, he and I are not even sure if it will be legally binding, despite the fact that we are a opposite sex couple.  Until sex discrimination is eliminated from marriage, we will be forced to take expensive, redundant, legal steps to make sure that we are each other’s medical proxy.  That we are the recipients of insurance and other financial matters if one of us should die.  That both of us will be considered legal guardians when we adopt children.

I also work with LGBT teenagers for a living as part of a large non-profit organization.  And I’m concerned about whether the bullying many of them face on a daily basis will be taken seriously in the legal sphere.  Whether transgender students will be able to use the bathroom that is safest for them.  Whether they will be able to secure a job or housing or education as they get older.  Whether they’ll be protected from harmful and ineffective “conversion therapy” that their parents might attempt to force them into.  Whether they will grow up in a country that accepts them as the productive, proud, outspoken, and passionate citizens they are destined to be, or if they will continue to live in this country as second class citizens.

LGBT citizens are productive and active members of American society.  We deserve the same respect and rights as all straight and cisgender citizens.  We are not asking to be treated any differently than anyone else, we only ask to be treated fairly.  Regardless of what your personal views of LGBT identities may be, the overriding theme of American history has been equality for all.  I only ask you to continue with that theme.

Sincerely,

Dorian Mooneyham

Click here to find out who your elected officials are.  Personally mine are Ted Cruz (Boo) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (Yay!).  Whoever you come out to today, I hope you have a wonderful and productive Coming Out Day.  Just in case you need some inspiration, I’ll let Harvey Milk take over from here:

 

27 Years

One of my kids (and birthday buddy) surprised me yesterday with a cake. And it was just as delicious as it looks.

One of my gaybies (and birthday buddy) surprised me yesterday with a cake. And it was just as delicious as it looks.

For the longest time in my life, birthdays were really difficult.  When I was still in the closet, I carried a huge weight of guilt on my shoulders about the lies and dishonesty I felt was necessary to hide the fact that I was female.  To have people express their love and good wishes on me at that time made me realize just how isolated I was.  That’s why, five years ago today, I came out on my 22nd birthday.  It was terrifying and embarrassing and humbling, but ultimately one of the most pivotal moments in my life.  In the following years I moved from being ashamed of who I was to being loud, proud, and unapologetic.  In those five short years I started working with LGBTQ youth, went back to school, made countless friends and connections, met the man I’m going to marry, entered into the public speaking circuit, and I’m now the editor for this wonderful website that I hope you enjoy.  I no longer dread birthdays.  Instead I view them as a day give thanks for the life I’ve lived and the people I share it with.

While the congratulatory Facebook posts pile onto my wall, I think of all the people I’ve met in those five short years.  All the queer kids I’ve worked with, all the godless heathens I’ve met, all the friends I’ve made, and all the minds I’ve changed just by being honest about who I am and how all of those people have made me into a better, happier person.  It’s awe-inspiring to think of what a difference a small amount of time and people can make.

For some reason, 30 seems much closer now that I’m 27.  I can see small signs of my age that are probably invisible to everyone else.  I have some faint smile lines around my eyes and mouth, my joints (especially my hips and knees) complain a lot more than they used to, I see the occasional gray hair, and many of the pop culture references made by my kids escape me.  But I would never lie about my age and I’m not ashamed about whatever signs people may or may not notice.  The lines, stretch marks, sun spots, and everything else are just badges for survival in the face of life.  I look at aging like leveling up at a game.  The older you get, the more you’ve accomplished.

As an atheist I don’t believe in an afterlife, and that means I have a very finite amount of time on this world to experience as much as life has to offer and make as much of a difference as I can.  On the one hand, I’m an insignificant speck of carbon whirling around on a rock that’s orbiting a star on the arm of a galaxy that’s still infinitesimal in the scale of the entire universe itself.  But I’m also a fiancee, a sister, a daughter, a friend, and role model who adores my fiance, sister, mother, friends, and kids.  It may not mean much in the universal scale, but it doesn’t need to.  My life is my own to share with who I wish, and the love and joy I’ve experienced is what makes all the difference in the journey.