Non-Binary

Yeah, I’m thinking about gender and sexuality again. I feel like, at least in the everyday language of mainstream society, people just have to make a binary out of everything. Male or female, gay or straight, cis or trans.

It’s that last one that struck me during the past week. Even when people try to get past the gender binary by acknowledging the existence of trans people, they still tend to default to a binary: if you aren’t cis, you’re trans. But what happens if you’re neither? That’s where I am — my gender identity is neither the same nor the opposite (and doesn’t that concept itself reflect the binary all on its own?) of the sex I was assigned at birth due to my biology. It’s…overlapping.

And then, if I’m neither cis nor trans (or possibly both-and), does that make me straight or gay? I’ve always felt I was theoretically bisexual; I’ve never been in a romantic or sexual relationship with a woman, but I’ve always felt it was possible. (The bigger hurdle is starting a relationship with a new person of whatever gender, so I haven’t been in too many to begin with.) But even though I’ve only been with men, they’re not the “opposite” gender from me, because my gender doesn’t have an “opposite.” So what’s the word for that?

I realize that within the LGBTQ community, people bring a lot more nuance (and a lot more specialized vocabulary) to the conversation, but it seems hard to bring that nuance, that non-binary thinking, into the mainstream. And yet I don’t know how to approach queer spaces, either. I feel like there probably is a place for me there, but I also worry about stepping on other people’s toes, or maybe taking on a label that I don’t deserve to have. I actually do like the word “queer,” as well as “genderqueer,” because they strike me as descriptive but vague enough that maybe binaries can be avoided.

I am actually planning on going to part of a conference next weekend, the Five College Queer Gender and Sexuality Conference in Amherst, MA. So I’ll probably be writing more on this topic in the near future, as I reflect on how that goes. Should be interesting!

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Incurably Eclectic

This is a two-part update to my previous post, Making Things. The first update is: my Etsy shop, Incurably Eclectic, is now live! I had some previously-listed items that I had allowed to expire, so those were easy to start with, but I plan to add more variety in coming weeks. I really do like to make a lot of different things from many different materials, and on top of that I have ideas based on several different themes, so the overall effect will likely be very eclectic, indeed.

Right now my settings are such that I can only ship items within the United States, but if you are a reader of this blog and would like something shipped to another country, please contact me. I’m intimidated by international shipping options, but I have done it once or twice in the past, so I am sure we can work something out. I just wanted to give myself some time to figure it all out before opening things up to shipping everywhere.

The second update is that I have finally finished the chainmail dice bag I mentioned in that earlier post. It took ten hours and 1,455 rings to make, but I am very happy with the dense, fabric-like nature of the weave. I’m still going to have to find a bigger ring size that will let me make these in a more cost-effective manner, though; I want to find a balance between something that will work up quickly but also have a fairly dense weave that feels nice in your fingers.

Here are some pictures of the finished bag. Oh, and I’m also on Instagram with more pictures of my crafts, including Etsy listings. I’m incurablyeclectic there as well. 🙂

Stainless steel chainmail bag holding white and yellow diceStainless steel chainmail bag, empty and spread out on its sideStainless steel chainmail bag, cinched closed and shown from the top

Anxiety in Context

As part of my human services class, I wrote about the differences between an approach that attempts to help a person by understanding their problems in the context of their environment, versus one that focuses on something like childhood trauma as the root of their trouble. I used an example from my own life to illustrate the point I wanted to make, and given the content of that example, I thought the essay could pull double duty as my blog post for this week. 🙂

By focusing on the individual in context, we can take into account environmental factors that may be influencing a person’s internal state and related behavior. This approach locates the source of problems as being in the relationship between the individual and her environment. Potential solutions, therefore, will take into account environmental changes as well as personal changes, perhaps even extending up into changes in law or cultural expectations.

In contrast, a focus on personal history, such as childhood trauma, locates the source of problems as being within the individual herself, and seeks to address them on that level. Potential solutions will then revolve around personal changes within the individual herself, and not larger structural changes in society. It could be argued that considering the role of childhood trauma is taking the individual’s environment into account, but it is the environment of the past, and specific to that person’s history.

When I first started therapy, I was primarily seeking help with anxiety. Part of this manifested as high levels of social anxiety when interacting with other people. We discussed childhood experiences for quite some time, and I could definitely relate incidents of childhood bullying, betrayal, and ostracism to the anxiety I continued to feel in groups of people, or when meeting someone new for the first time. This located the problem within me, in my particular history and its reverberations.

Years later, however, I gained a different understanding of my social anxiety when I learned that I am autistic. Instead of this social anxiety arising specifically from past experiences, I saw it as arising from a life spent in a world that expected me to think and behave like everyone else, all while not knowing that I was autistic. In a way, this may still sound as if I am locating the problem within myself, specifically in my autism, but in truth the problem comes from the interaction between me and an environment that does not expect or understand neurodivergence.

This has become clearer to me as I gain more experience interacting with other autistic people. When my ways of thinking and acting are understood and accepted, I do not feel the same social anxiety that I do in other contexts. In other words, my social anxiety is a product of me being in a particular environment; if my environment changes to one with different social expectations, the anxiety goes away. Even just knowing that the problem is a transactional one makes a difference on those occasions where I can’t change the environment. Understanding where I might have difficulty allows me to change my approach, and also helps avoid excessive self-blame if things still go awry. I can see my anxiety as a bad environmental fit, rather than entirely a personal failing.

Keeping My Cool

Snow-covered hemlock trees with the morning sun behind them

I hate conflict. Really, seriously dislike it. I always end up feeling terrible after (and during) an argument, even if I feel that I was completely in the right. Part of it is that I always do want to consider other perspectives; I want to be fair, and hear the other side out. But what this feels like internally is this: I absorb the other person’s viewpoint, and really take in what they’re saying. It can even feel like I am adopting their point of view, “trying it on” to see if it makes sense to me. But then I end up getting defensive, because it feels like my own perspective is being overwritten, and I’m afraid of losing my own viewpoint. I feel like I have to claw my way back to my own thoughts and feelings, and that can be scary.

On top of that, I generally don’t feel like the other person is doing the same thing, so I end up feeling like I am losing ground, wavering in my conviction by even pausing to consider the other point of view. But I really do think this ability to take on other perspectives, to suspend judgment for a moment and really try to see where they’re coming from, is a strength, and that society would be a lot better off if more people did this. So it’s not that I want to close myself off and stay dogmatically attached to my own opinions — but I do want to avoid that feeling of defensiveness that arises.

What I try to come back to is this: people are free to disagree with me, and I am free to disagree with them. I don’t need to convince everyone to agree with me, and in the end it’s not possible to get everyone to agree on everything. This is freeing to remember, and allows me to step back from seeing an argument as a battle that can be won or lost, and instead think of it as an interaction that might show me something interesting.

I’m not always able to remember this, but when I do, it calms me down immensely. I am not responsible for single-handedly “fixing” the world, or for changing everyone’s minds. Even when the issue is something I consider extremely important, even vital for people’s well-being, this is still the case. Often it’s just not the time or place for a particular argument to be accepted, but I also know that very often people hear and dismiss things that they later come back and reconsider. So maybe I’m planting a seed that will bear fruit later — I may never know. The only thing I can control is how well I make my case; whether that changes the other person’s mind is up to them.