Gender: social personas vs personal identity

[Originally written c.2014 – & no I have no idea what I had read on the internet that had irked me so]

I’m afraid I’d quite like to make a long-winded ramble/rant.

…I know its been said before, and far more eloquently, but I believe its a point that can’t be made too often and I do keep reading things on the net that seem to miss the point.

Social gender is the convention used to differentiate individuals according to their clothing, demeanour, recreational preferences and role – it is broadly aligned to biological differences but the details are culturally and historically contingent (the simplistic examples being that Ancient Greek men thought trousers were feminine, pink has been considered a masculine colour and a number of societies do not use a binary system).
I believe it is important to recognise that the existence (and mutation) of social gender roles seems to be universal, and that it allows a convenient short-hand that can help distinguish people and teach children about personalities and social roles but also that it can be destructive, restrictive and inaccurate.
By contrast personal identity is the clothing, demeanour, recreational preferences and role adopted at any given time by an individual. It also encompasses the labels that individual applies to themself, including the gender they assign (or disclude or invent)  to/for themself -regardless of their apparent physical or genetic make-up or their adoption of local social customs for their chosen gender [also true for sexual/romantic orientation etc etc]. It also covers the kind of body that person feels is appropriate to them, from something as simple as whether they have tattoos to as fraught as whether they change their genitals and everything it between including weight. Broadly speaking personal identity when it comes to ones actions should not (though often is) be denied by any other individual or society.
[We do make exceptions (in terms of rejecting identity claims) for people complaining of discrimination based on a racial/cultural identity they either have no biological connection to or no evidence of a social connection/commitment to (e.g. adoption by or long-term integration within) and I forsee trouble in terms of biological essentialism in this area for gender… We also tend to make exceptions based on whether actions cause ‘harm’ but deciding what constitutes harm is an especially difficult and contentious topic]

I believe that there is nothing wrong with having  socially normal expectations. The idea of a persona to copy, adopt, adapt, build on, exaggerate and satirise is very valuable for many people.
I do, however, also believe that actually thinking any given individual fits that role is wrong. I do not disbelieve that certain genetic configurations are statistically more likely to be better at certain things (e.g. types of running) than others but statistics make sod all difference to individuals. It may be true that statistically men are physically stronger than women but that doesn’t mean that woman A is therefore weaker than man B or that their physical strengths determine what they enjoy doing. It is especially important that statistical probability and normalised roles are not allowed to dictate what someone can and cannot do; particularly if that role is thrust upon by virtue of their biology and not their choice. Furthermore, not only should we allow/encourage people to explore multiple roles and personas but we should be prepared to not let their apparent biology frame our judgement of them. A biological male in drag might be enjoying the clothes for their own sake, or the sensation of enacting female social persona, or wish to permanently adopt a female social role or wish to have a biologically female body – and we have no way of knowing without talking to that individual and nor should it matter.

And that is the reason all this is important – I have read a few things recently about trans individuals which argue that (for example) because some girls (who biologically present as XX) like traditionally (socially agreed) boyish things it is better to use their energies to encourage all biologically XX  people to acknowledge they might like masculine activities than it is to acknowledge that some people find their sense of their own body does not match with what is physically evident or that the wish to enact a male role neither requires you to want the ‘matching’ biology nor requires you to fulfil one variety of that social role for ever more.
Many traditionally butch lesbians take on a masculine-looking social role without wishing to change their biological sex and may in fact stridently champion their ownership of cunts and that is, and must be acknowledged as, different to adopting a gender neutral stance when raising children which does not equate their interests with their genitalia and it is also different to someone assigned female at birth who wishes to be recognised as a man but may still not want to adopt all the masculine traits society offers.
What I mean is just because we might want to change the way that society views gender  – or that we want roles to be unrestrictive – doesn’t mean we should be dismissive of the fact that they can be useful not just for those who naturally conform but also for those who want to experiment with something outside of their assigned role. We also need to acknowledge that some people have a very strong connection to a particular identity (regardless of biology or own ‘approval’ of that identity) and some people don’t have a strong feelings about it and still others shift in their connections to identity.
If it ain’t your body or body or your identity -shut up &  listen to the actual person.

 

[Addendum July 2017:
On a personal level I have never felt any strong connection to female social roles (some are alien, some I feel actively rejected by and some are ok) and only a mild connection to some male social roles but I am lucky enough that I have little or no dysphoria relating to my biology & am even sometimes happy with my body plus I am financially stable so I am able to wear almost anything and create my own identity as I go along.

Reading back through the above it is clear I was struggling to articulate something about race and about cultural appropriation – there is currently no evidence for “racial dysphoria” and cultural appropriation is a worryingly imperialistic issue but I don’t know that it is always going to be that simple.]

 

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Cravings [CN: Self Harm]

[Content Note: Frank and graphic discussion of self harm]

 

Funny how some things never quite leave you.

Its an old addiction but I’ve got it under control… more or less

Its maybe 20 years since I first hurt myself to ease the pain on the inside and the earliest self-imposed scar is over 15 years old

I’d love to tell you that it had been years since I last deliberately hurt myself.
I mean, yes, its been a while since I last actually picked up the razor – maybe even years – but I couldn’t tell you exactly how long that was, maybe its less, a lot less. And perhaps it is at best a couple of months since i punched a wall just to feel the pain and no more since i dragged a kitchen knife over my skin just to feel the sting but its not regular.
Sometimes it really is 6 months or more between the slips. Sometimes I even think its gone away.

It hasn’t.

At best, if I never hurt myself again I will always have these scars – the scars I may one day describe to my child as the marks of a struggle I fought with myself. Or perhaps as a symptom of an illness they know I fight every day.

But what i want is to open the skin and feel the pain. The sharp tear and long ache. The hot sticky mess and the sweet sweet release.
I dream about it, I think about it on the bus. I visualise it in the quiet moments and lust after it in the anguished aeons of despair and I even revel in its soft embrace in moments of happiness.

If you have never felt the pull of addiction I don’t think you can really know how it consumes you – and though this is no heroin it perhaps gives me an inkling of that want and need
It doesn’t rule or ruin my life. I am not a slave to my addiction, choosing it over more important things, battering myself and other people for an ever greater hit.
Most people will never notice my cravings.
But every now and then I give in. Still.
Still I want.
Still it feels like a need.

 

 

.

 

Is it normal…

Still on the topic of gender – Small has female external sex characteristics and as such we have, until Small is old enough to make the decision for themselves, chosen to identify her as female-gendered as well (since the majority of people match gender and sex) so why if She is normally she.. does my brain occsionally absent-mindedly refer to her as He.

On a different parenting note – currently Small sleeps in a moses basket beside me and feeds 2 or 3 times a night; despite sensible precautions and anxiety management inevitably the 1st time I wake after feeding her I panic about where she is, often wondering if I dropped or squashed her but also paranoid she is somewhere else entirely, before remembering putting her down and being able to hear her breathing.

Seriously, someone make small talk with me for more than 5 minutes about something that is not Baby…

Dressing our Daughter in Pink & other modern parenting dilemmas

Back in a time before Baby, I had a lot of opinions about parenting.

One of the things I developed a fairly strong opinion on in the run up to starting a family was gender-neutral parenting. What modern ‘liberal’ free-thinking middle-class woman hasn’t thought about how to give children positive messages about the fluidity of gender and enable them to make informed choices in their life which are  unconstrained by social conceptions of gender even if they are eventually conforming? I am keen to make sure traits and preferences are not gender-coded; that all clothing  and job choices are seen as valid options. I want blue and pink to just be colours, fairies & dinosaurs to be fun. But what if we overdo it, I worry that our little family is not equipped to demonstrate and articulate expressions of traditional femininity  – girly isn’t really our thing…
Then I look at the reality that snuck up on us.
A lot of the clothes we have for baby are second-hand or are gifts from relatives. Financially, it is daft for us to even contemplate not taking the help we have been offered. So pink it is.
Plus it turns out not only do some people just love buying girly stuff, only those with female shaped (and coded) babies been happy to donate clothing and actually it is surprisingly hard to buy things other than in very gendered blue or pink (ie no blue flowers or pink robots or green well anything)
But as I watch relatives and complete strangers flail around desparately trying to gender our child if they cannot see blue or pink cues I realise that this is not a battle that can even be fought just with accessories – perhaps it is more important that Small realises that even when they have to dress to conform for safety or other reasons that doesn’t restrict the way they fee lor their intrinsic worth.

One of my most difficult dilemmas is parent naming.
Small has 2 mummies and a daddy. But should the mummies have different names to her? How should we introduce ourselves? How should I enforce making relatives give Mummy W appropriate recognition? What if neither of the mummies have ever been entirely comfortable with the idea of motherhood? What if Daddy is wrapped up in a very traditonal 2 parent model?
And this is the key area of difficulty what are the boundaries and responsibilities of 3 parents? And how can we make that work for a small human who has her own needs?

Glorious Holidays

Like most people with ongoing depression issues I struggle with the holidays and find this whole time of year overwhelming.

Unlike several members of my intimate circle (friends and family) I like spending the christmas hols with my parents and siblings  -our political differences are not so dramatic as to cause real hurt and we are quite good avoiding ‘issues’ where that seems to be required. Though they often don’t understand my choices we seem to have reached a happy détente and I feel no need to rock the boat so to speak.
Similarly, I am too far removed from office politics to give a shit about who I should kiss when or how I should frame our holiday schedules to make them make sense to monogamous folk.
And yet even having decided to not worry about whether people know about my intimate relationships or not, and whether or not that changes how I have to live my life – I am still stressed.

I am stressed not just because being open is not sufficient protection for the people I care about and they still have to deal with the judgements of others both on the basis of their decisions and mine – and yes some of our more poly sceptical friends our coming round to at least the “well I don’t approve but I can’t see anything obviously wrong with YOUR lives” view but its not quite making up for the “I’m not saying you can’t but you do know you are fucking up x’s life don’t you” camps… There are people I have known for years I just don’t know how to say to – “I get you care but back the fuck off because we are making this work by making our own rules and your constant whining/worrying is making it harder”… yes this makes it hard at this time of year when everyone is all about fucking hetero, mono family values but because actually its not as hard as just being expected to talk to people.

All the fucking parties. Organise this, make sure you have x,y,z together for when you see so-and-so…. leaving the house is a fucking struggle in spring when no one notices and you only have to get to the shops/see Mrs A./ go to your Dr.’s appt once a month or less but in december when everyone has a party and you need to do the shopping and getting a dr’s appt is a miracle, suddenly a week is a stack of unreasonable goals piled on almost impossible imaginary ideals.
And oh gods above they are all so cheery – if I believed what I heard at parties I’d know for sure that their relationships always got better and their jobs got more interesting

But that’s not what I feel as I curl up and battle back the tears before each time I venture outside, each time I wonder how to stop the shaking and hyperventilating to start a new conversation and everytime I want to apologise as someone starts to congratulate me on our new venture.

The desire to tear my skin apart is worse than it has been for nearly a year, my shoulder is hurting a lot again and I feel like a failure before we have even begun. Yay for self-fucking-confidence and all that shit.

Holidays & “Not Working”

I have just got back from a trip to Scotland with my beloveds.
We ambled gently in the autumn mists, fought and made-up, drank copious beer, laughed and enjoyed each others company as only a family can (there were even board games). Although we didn’t manage to do as much walking as I would have liked, it was beautiful countryside.

September is one of my favourite times to go away and we had started planning this in about January but this year has been a little different to expectations, not least because it is hard to feel like its a holiday when you are not going back to work afterwards – though to be fair both W & B have some of the busiest parts of their working years coming up.
I, however, am unemployed for the first time since I was 19. I have juggled other commitments but largely I worked every weekend and a more than a few weekdays that I could.  I don’t think I have even ever taken more than about a week sick leave, even when I was signed off sick from my PhD by my GP when the depression was really bad, even when I tore the cartilage in my knee… I didn’t take time off after my shoulder op either but by that time I knew it was coming to an end. So as you can imagine it is a very odd sensation to wake up with no obligation to ‘do’ anything except housework and no clear idea what the future holds.

At some point I may choose to write about my reasons for leaving but suffice to say that there is only so long one can carry on in certain circumstances and I had reached the end of the line. For obvious reasons I am concerned about the future, financially (£120 a week isn’t much but its a) better than nothing  b) better than benefits) and emotionally but also oddly optimistic. Realistically, we managed on a lot less not that long ago and I believe we can again. I hope that I will have a chance to finish a few things round the house, to get some more reading done – for pleasure?! -take a few trips, submit a real academic article based on my thesis (i.e. stop procrastinating) and maybe even do some new research again, and perhaps eventually get a job on my own terms.
For the immediate future though I’m going to fret about the best ways to save money and revel in having evenings and weekends to myself!

Each to their own

In my early twenties there were 2 key mantras in my life “An thou harm none do as thou wilt” and “Safe, Sane & Consensual” – as I’ve got older I’ve learnt to appreciate some of the interpretative difficulties that both of those propositions face [too many and various for this time of night] but there remains a fundamental truth that they embody and which needs to be applied to every part of life including beer choice…
If no one is getting hurt, and you aren’t being coerced then it is entirely your choice what you feel like doing right now.
That means drink if you want to drink, or don’t touch alcohol on thursdays, or only have sex with black men between 4 and 7 on sundays or whatever.  And more than that it mean no one should be criticising you for your decision not to drink alcohol or to drink.. shock horror Fosters… or to sleep with midgets for money or count your sexual partners on your bedposts.
I might [read: do] think that Fosters is worse than Satan’s urine flavour-wise and I might suggest that is bad for a lot of people’s health but do you know what, in the end actually if you want to drink it that isn’t my decision to make.

When it comes to choice of beverage I see a lot of snobbery going on where people are judged according to their drinks choices and it upsets me (it especially upsets the me who both buys £20 bottles of beer and £1.10 tinnies..) because your favourite ain’t necessarily right for everyone (e.g. why privilege peaty whiskies over briny ones..) but  to be honest I am more more worried about the pressure we still put on people to drink alcohol, or more alcohol
One of the worst things I see in my profession are the people pushed by their social group into “just one more” – people pressured into consuming alcohol for the sake of social ease. It leads to people drinking and driving, it leads to people getting ill or upset and it is not safe!
Second, though not far behind that, on my pet hates  is people being ridiculed and stigmatised for their choice of drink – now [fair disclosure] part of the reason this bugs me is that invariably the guy being torn to shreds is being accused of being girly or gay for not wanting x drink (which ya’know as a queer gal is kinda irksome) and this kind of bullying is Not Cool and not only do I worry because it can lead to people not being as safe as they should be and inhibiting their choices because of the power of alcohol but also it rather bugs me that someone gets to feel like they know better about what someone should put in their body..because weird though it sounds [e.g.] ‘you need to drink vodka or you are weak’ isn’t just emotional bullying when it comes to the kind of coercion, the buying it anyway and pushing and pushing til they drink it is the kind of mentality that leads to rape…. its what you want (or i think you should want), its the socially acceptable thing to do, if you don’t you are boring, rubbish, not my friend….etc etc.

Its not ok.

It is not ok to tell someone what they want to drink because it is their body and their choice; they shouldbe able to make their own decisions, to enjoy it and want it and not be too damaged by it long term… and I think any mentality that says otherwise is dangerous.

The physical symptoms ..

[Content Warning: Post discusses depression, self-harm & suicidal ideation]

Its funny isn’t it how the ordinary indicators for depression don’t mean much to you as you slide into the pits when low-level depression and anxiety are the norm. I don’t really start noticing a magical downturn in mood or a particular pessimism creeping up and except for sudden irritability above and beyond hormonal shifts I’m not sure how this fits with DSM…

What I notice is:
The shift in sleeping pattern – I need more, a lot more (less than 12 hrs feels like torture), but I struggle to get comfortable and wake early and the nightmares creep in more and more…
Aches – I think its a sleep thing but every joint, every muscle that has ever plagued me makes itself known, I start getting headaches and stomach-pains; painkillers seem the only sensible option.
Fogginess – I can actually feel my inability to concentrate, the blank space between my internal thoughts and the next step, the failure to form words and a sense of being withdrawn from the world that may or may not result in long silences.
Clumsiness – I realise this might seem odd but when I am low my ability to judge distance apparently disappears, I start walking into door-frames, beds and beer barrels; and I start dropping things and tearing things. If I am covered in bruises and paper cuts and keep knocking over glasses and mugs chances are I am depressed.
Itchy Skin/Self harm – the straight-forward urges never go away (though sometimes there is longer between them) the temptation to dig the blade into my skin or cause pain eats at my psyche at the slightest moment of doubt, fear or stress (and trust me I haven’t gone a single day without thinking about it, especially while working, in over 15 years)  but as I start to slip it feels like there is glass underneath my skin that I need to get out, everything itches, and the desire to feel my own blood trickling over my skin jumps up at every unguarded moment.

So yes. I’m feeling a bit low right now.
But ya’know lets call it hormones or worry about the future and lets say ‘this too shall pass’; lets not fret about it or make a big deal about it and lets say “it’ll be ok”. Because I’m fed up of inane therapy with 6 month waiting lists and I’m not sure I’m ready to take new drugs. Just don’t say “cheer up” or “don’t worry” and I’ll get somewhere again… like I always do.

On Anxiety

I never used to think of myself as the anxious sort. As a child, I had a few repetitive  nightmares but nothing that cowed me; I was never terrified of any particular thing – even when I was obsessed with the causes and effects of chemical warfare aged 8… When I was small, I would face any challenge, not undaunted, not without any sense of danger, but with no sense that I would ‘fail’. My parents worked hard to make sure that I never felt I had to conform to fashion or to gender stereotypes – in fact they actively encouraged be to be individual, different, to stand up for myself and to question authority and I was good at all those things. I think it made it harder to admit to being afraid.

When I first began to recognise that I had slipped into the rabbit hole of depression I still didn’t see anxiety – I was reckless with my personal safety and I thought of my inability to face my life as being simply a manifestation of being suicidal… looking back though I see how much the depression was entwined with fear. I thought that I was a failure, and since I was terrified of failing at anything I was tormented almost as much by the fear as by the overwhelming certainty of my own awfulness (& yes I still fight those feelings).

Only now do I see the beginnings of the anxiety that haunts me every day. The protections I put in place to face people each morning were there at 14 even before the idea of them dropping away plunged me into misery. It easy to see how each quick tot calmed the nerves; easy to see that leaving exams to sob and shake on my knees because I could no longer control the hyperventilation were early panic attacks; easy to see how my sense of isolation led to the failed attempts to walk into seminars… I have watched the words dance chaotically across the page in every exam I have taken since I was 15, as I slipped in and out of full consciousness whilst hyperventilating and couldn’t even admit I was afraid.

Sometime in my first few months at uni I realised I wasn’t just “stressed” & a bit “depressed” I was pathologically miserable and terrified of everything around me. I muddled through partly by being more afraid not to and mostly because of a rather wonderful girl. However, I was offered a job by someone I trusted & didn’t want to let down in my 2nd year of uni and I believe it has got me out of the house most weeks since even once he left. All through 2 years of undergrad & 2 years taught masters I had panic attacks on public transport and every time I went into certain shops and more significantly I had panic attacks before I left the house each time I did  and again before going into lectures or seminars, even leaving in the middle to freak out in the toilets whilst trying to contribute (greek translation I’m looking at you especially) but I went to work and played my part because they relied on me to do so and those moments of being forced to fight saw me through university.

So every sodding day I fight

Sometimes the walking out the house isn’t too bad and crowds of people are easy to ignore; sometimes the knots even unwind a little but often it takes me 30 mins to walk out the door just to walk the dog and I never know how to express myself. As well as the physical discomfort of anxiety (racing heart, shortness of breath, insomnia, shaking, sweating, nausea, headaches etc.) there is a sensation of permanently struggling to get one’s head above water, of inadequacy, uncertainty of being permanently scrutinised. I grit my teeth and know when I need to find a quiet space and glass of water to stop the shakes and the stuttering. I don’t have many panic attacks now – I am much better at controlling my breathing  at least – and I have both the CBT and mindfulness techniques for recognising illogical ideas, living in the moment and pushing myself to keep going. But knowing something isn’t true or isn’t harmful is not the same as stopping feeling like it is (logic is not enough to stop the whirring) and it doesn’t go away.

Turns out I’m pathologically anxious after all