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[amazon_link asins=’B071ZZQPJN’ template=’ProductAdRight’ store=’ourqueerstories-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’649c66a7-8cda-11e7-b959-010f999c96d0′]Trigger Warning as requested by author:
This book will certainly contain and possibly also contain the following trigger warnings:
- Discussions of transphobia/transmisogyny, cissexism, cisnormativity, and Transgender Exclusive Radical Feminists/Sex Work Exclusive Radical Feminists (TERFs/SWERFs)
- Misgendering and deadnaming
- Discussions of homophobia/biphobia
- Discussions of ableism (mental health/physical disability/chronic illness) and ignorant things said by abled people and/or neurotypicals
- Discussions of colonialist violence, genocide, cultural assimilation/erasure
- Emotional abuse
- Self-harm, panic attacks, misophonia, excoriation disorder
- Body and/or social dysphoria
- Bad experiences with the mental health and/or medical fields
I suppose if you’re cis (or just think you are), you want to know how people come to this type of conclusion about ourselves.
After all, it’s not like we live in a world or culture where it’s any at all “normal” for people to question their assigned gender at birth (AGAB) at any point in their lives. The way it goes in most of the world, you’re born, the doctor takes one glance down there, and goes: “Penis? Boy. Vagina? Girl.” (And if you’re intersex, you are coercively assigned one or the other and then expected to live with it for the rest of your life, whether you like it or not.)
I imagine that if aliens arrived from another planet and talked to Giorgio Tsoukalos first instead of me, they would receive the following introduction: “Welcome to Planet Earth. On this planet, we have two genders, male and female, and thanks, I do have nice hair, don’t I?”
However, if they met me, after I had calmed down and gotten through with asking them probably banal questions about if one actually can survive inside a black hole and see oneself in the past a la Interstellar, if the answer to the meaning of the universe is indeed “42,” and so on and so forth, I would have this to say: “Welcome to Planet Earth. On this planet, despite them telling us what our gender is at birth, we should have the right to assign it to ourselves instead. I think it’s awfully unfair and rather violent to force something as important as gender onto a baby that cannot yet understand what gender is or speak, don’t you? Now tell me about parallel universes. I want to go to the one where Michael Jackson is still alive and is possibly single?”
That’s just it, though. We live in a world where these antiquated concepts of genitals signifying gender still exists. When a baby, with no means of consent, is born, it is given a gender based upon one glance by a “professional” that believes, according to cissexism, that that flap of tissue called a penis or that enclave of beautifully layered flesh (wow, do I sound really gay) called a vagina determines one’s gender… for the rest of that person’s life. There is no questioning it. In modern society, you’re whatever the doctor says you are, and if you wake up one day and realize that that doctor was wrong, and decide to say so out loud, you’ll be met with a choir of denials, admonitions, shock, fear, and just general negativity. You could receive that classic concern troll message that “you’re just confused.” People would try to calmly convince you that you’re wrong about your own mind, your own body, and your own life. Then would come the parade of other “professionals” telling you that it’s just a phase, or you’re delusional, or, worst of all, “we can fix that.”
The reason I keep putting the word professionals in quotes like that is because, as an MSW, we by and large push the concept of self-determination and the idea that every person has dignity and worth as a human being. Also, we frown upon the habit of some in the medical and/or psychology or psychiatry field to view transgender identities or experimentation with gender labels as some type of pathology, to the point where the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is actively advocating for the removal of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5. Leelah’s Law, based upon the horrifying case of a teenage transgender girl from Akron, Ohio, whose family pushed into “conversion therapy” to “cure” her of her gender dysphoria is now going through the White House and Congress with hopes of outlawing the practice. Yes, it goes without saying that attempting to erase someone’s identity, gay, transgender, or otherwise, should be considered inexcusable because it inflicts potential permanent psychological and emotional trauma upon anyone, let alone a child. It’s abuse. But some, unfortunately, don’t see it that way. The majority of us in social work (and, indeed, the majority of most modern, decent people) frowns upon the idea of letting homophobia and/or transphobia run so rampant that quacks calling themselves “therapists” can prey upon the idea that this “deviant lifestyle” can be eradicated. Also, being as I believe in Buddhism and have taken the bodhisattva vow to do no harm to any living creature, the very mention of it makes me want to gouge out my own eyes.
Long story short, in my honest opinion, the whole idea of forcing gender onto people, or trying to make them “conform” to society’s perception of their gender, is fucked up.
I have gone through a lot to come to these conclusions. I would rather this book not completely focus on my life because that would make me feel conceited. Despite being non-binary, pansexual, Buddhist, therian, mentally ill and physically disabled, somewhere on the autism spectrum, and pretty well sure I have ESP and can talk to the dead, I’m not that interesting of a person to dedicate an entire book on. But I will give up a bit of my life because it fits into the context and larger purpose of what I am trying to accomplish.
I was born under a different name that, as of the time of this writing, I have not sought to learn, nor do I have the desire to. Whoever I was or wherever I came from are not as important to me as where I am going. I know simply that I was a tiny, redheaded bouncing baby assigned female at birth (AFAB), born to a similarly redheaded woman, who at some point put me up for adoption. Nor do I hold anything against her. Coming to realize my struggles with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and a plethora of chronic medical conditions and physical handicaps, could very well have been hers, as well, and were passed down to a child she ultimately could not care for, has reduced my feelings of abandonment greatly. Somehow, I ended up in foster care, under the care of a man and woman in rural Upstate New York, with ten other children. During my time there, I allegedly fell down a flight of stairs. My adoptive family is convinced that this negligence very well led to most of my physical problems. I’m not one to argue. There’s nothing like a good tumble on an infant’s body to cause uneven legs, a coccyx that never fused properly, and gross motor delays.
I knew from a very young age that, simply put, I was weird. Strange. Different. I didn’t fit in anywhere. My family quickly discovered two things: my muscles weren’t working properly, and I was one smart little shit. I began Early Intervention schooling and special education, while at the same time being able to read and comprehend the newspaper at the age of eighteen months. The other kids in kindergarten didn’t care, though. I was sitting at “the retard table,” I couldn’t tie my own shoes, and I had to go to occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy every day. I was a freak.
Sometime around then was also when I tried telling everyone that I wasn’t a girl. Just like the kids (and, more recently, ableist internet trolls) tried to tell me that being “gifted” did not change the fact that I was “retarded,” nobody listened to me tell them that I did not feel like a girl. I was given Barbie dolls and rejected them. I was put in dresses and ripped them off. I was given the name Stephanie, which would have been Lauren Elizabeth had my father not intervened.
The things I liked from a very young age were traditionally masculine. I would endlessly watch and re-watch Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Jurassic Park, Batman: The Animated Series, and slasher movies featuring the likes of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. I expressed a desire to learn how to skateboard. I did not want to play with dolls, but rather snakes, bugs, monsters, superheroes, cars, and Mighty Max. I was obsessed with the paranormal and cryptozoology, and would watch specials on UFOs, ghosts, Bigfoot, and mysterious places with breathless excitement. I also loved real-life crime dramas, and suckered my mom into letting me stay up late to watch Dateline, 48 Hours, and America’s Most Wanted. I was a fantasy buff, but not of the Disney variety but rather Tolkien and Bradbury. At recess, I would chase other kids screaming and growling, portraying a velociraptor, gryphon, or any other large, science fiction monster that craved human flesh. My favorite celebrities were actors like Michael J. Fox, John Lithgow, and Denzel Washington; and when it came to music, no one else could hold a candle to the King of Pop. (And I remain to be a devout moonwalker to this day.)
After years of daily physical therapy, by the second grade, I was deemed adept enough with my gross motor control to ascend steps independently. I was then transferred from a staircase-free elementary school to one with multiple floors. It was a mistake. I came into second grade knowing not a soul. I was mincemeat.
No one seemed to understand my sensory difficulties. Certain sounds made me extremely anxious or angry, something I now know to be called misophonia. I could not be touched. I was asthmatic, and certain smells, such as perfume, set me off coughing uncontrollably. In addition, no one seemed to understand how I could have been in special education and be smart. I proved to be very intelligent, in fact—I quickly absorbed the material and then wanted something else to do. My mother likes to tell me how a teacher tried to convince her that I had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. She took my concerns to my pediatrician, who erupted in laughter. “She doesn’t have that, she’s just bored.”
There’s a weird paradox that happens when you’re one of the smartest kids in the class and your peers are jealous of that. Everyone can see that you possess a superior intellect, but they insist that you’re stupid. Seeing as I was in special education at one point, it stuck. I was undermined constantly. To make matters worse, since no one (including the teacher) understood my neurodiversity, I was deemed “weird,” as well.
Then came the therianthropy.
To those uninitiated with therianthropy (and I don’t want to delve too deeply, as it’s the subject of my next book), it is the idea that one possesses an animal soul within a human body. At some point in time, in a previous incarnation, perhaps, you were a non-human being. This is related to being otherkin, in how transgender and non-binary are related: the “umbrella” is otherkin, and therian lies underneath, as a subset of possible identities. There is a great debate at how otherkin, otherhearted, and therian individuals relate to and possibly undermine the transgender community and its authenticity and credibility; again, that’s for the other book. Bottom line is, in fifth grade, I was a cat, and no one could convince me otherwise. I was only human in the daytime; at night, I shifted into my true, feline form, and went out killing small animals for food and spying on my classmates. To further cement the conclusion into my own mind, and hopefully replicate said results in my classmates’ and teacher’s minds, I began walking on tiptoe, knowing, anatomically, that is actually how cats walk.
As many in the therian and/or otherkin community will attest, being kin is a great transitionary method, on the way to being trans or non-binary, to see how people typically react in not so great ways. Not saying that’s how things work with everyone, and you can be both, as I am. But saying “I now identify as” anything, whether it be agender or catkin, usually leaves “average” (read: cisgender heterosexual) people scratching their heads.
“So you just woke up one day and decided… you’re a cat?”
“But you still look human.”
“I’m a cat inside, and I’ll become one later, anyways.”
“I transform into one only at certain times. Someday, I might turn into a cat and then never change back. I haven’t decided yet.”
And then come the concern trolls.
“Sweetie, you’re not a cat. Please, you need to stop this. It’s unhealthy.”
The parallels are obvious. Again, I know of the controversy, but that’s for another discussion. I needed to tell you because it fits in with the context of my journey.
During this time, I was also insistent that I was seeing gryphons in the woods in my backyard.
I know what you’re thinking, and I won’t push this one like I will the therianthropy. It could have just been my imagination. It could have been hints of childhood psychosis. Or it could have been a legitimate glimpse into another dimension, upon an interdimensional being, which simply chose the form of a mythological, man-created creature in order to soften the blow on my human mind. You might laugh, but read anything by Linda Godfrey, why don’t you? The theory is out there that the cryptids known as dogmen, frequently seen throughout the United States, might actually be interdimensional beings in corporeal disguise. (Yes, I’m just as obsessed with cryptozoology as I was way back when, and that probably won’t change, so skeptics, shut your mouths and keep reading, capiche?)
This was just it for my classmates. I began known as “the freak of nature.”
This, as you may understand, was also the beginning of my parents’ desperate attempts at trying to make me conform for the sake of my emotional health, ironically producing the opposite effect.
My excoriation disorder (skin picking) began around this time. I also began to suffer from depression caused by the bullies.
Sixth grade brought the beginning of my gender questioning, as well as wondering about my sexuality. God, I wish I’d had Tumblr back then. Nobody in school (up to this point, and I’m praying this starts to change) teaches you that you can be anything other than cisgender and heterosexual (and for the purposes of this book, this will henceforth be shortened to “cishet,” with apologies to anti-SJWs). Being forced to change in front of other girls was a nightmare. One, I was an early developer, and growing breasts was ruining everything. I was worried about being sexualized. I was worried I would lose my “tomboy” persona. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I just hated the idea of having anything on my chest, which I now understand as body dysphoria. I decided the best way to combat this was wear boy’s button down shirts, and that did work, for a while. But under no circumstances did I want to be seen in a bra. Not only was it (gasp) seeing my breasts, but it was girls seeing them. The female gym teachers were perplexed. “They’re just other girls.” Even as we suspected they were lesbians themselves (the other kids did, I didn’t, I was an only child without older siblings to explain what being gay meant, or what the words “horny” or “thong” meant, either) they could not fathom why a “female” student would be shy changing around members of “her own gender.”
Middle school is hard on everyone, but if you’re confused about your gender and/or sexuality, it gets worse. I wanted to sit with boys and play card games with boys, not date boys. I sort of had a crush on one friend, but it was a “sort of” crush, not anything giving me butterflies. Butterflies came from girls. Excitement came from boobs. My own boobs were unwanted and a reminder of how I could never really belong at the boy’s table, much as I wanted to.
My only friends were fellow outcasts.
Joe, the chubby kid who drew Dragon Ball Z characters really, really well, but didn’t do so well at his school subjects.
RJ, the class clown who defended me from bullies, student and teacher alike.
Nick, aka “Tarzan,” made fun of for choosing to wear his hair long.
There were a few female friends, too, but ones I wasn’t attracted to. Vanessa had also been in special ed, so we were both called “retards,” and Alicia had to wear a helmet after a concussion, and had bad hygiene. But then there was Julie, a friend of theirs, who was incredibly hot, but who had a boyfriend by high school.
The girls who weren’t my friends dictated by gender to me ad nauseum.
“Girls aren’t supposed to play Yu-Gi-Oh cards.”
“Girls aren’t supposed to go see Lord of the Rings.”
“Girls are supposed to like boys and make-up.”
I was called a prude because I didn’t have a boyfriend. I was called a dyke because I was friends with boys but didn’t want to date them, and because my female friends weren’t trying to set me up with anyone because they knew I wasn’t into it.
I began to fixate on things to make my life less painful. That, unfortunately, only made the bullying worse.
I get it now. Having autism, or something like it, makes someone fixate on things, and in an attempt to open up and relate to other people, you will reach for those things to talk about. People don’t understand why, so they get annoyed at you for fixating on those things and incessantly talking about them. My friends wanted to know why I couldn’t branch off. My family got angry at me for “dwelling” on certain subjects. Other students kept viewing me as a broken record, a loser, a weirdo, someone who would rather read the dictionary or draw anime than go on dates or dances. I was still gifted, too, excelling in my subjects and “brownnosing” with my teachers (which meant being friendly with them instead of rolling my eyes at their excitement for learning and not just bolting for the door at the bell). I wasn’t well liked in my gifted class, either, however, because I still had my quirks and I was smarter than the teacher on a number of subjects she attempted to teach.
Things took a nosedive my freshman year of high school. My only outlets for my social struggles and increasing problems at home were my fixations and band. My latest fixation was American Idol Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken, who was enjoying a burgeoning pop career rather than a floundering political one at the time. When I say fixated, I mean fixated: it was love, lust, and obsession. Problem was, everyone seemed to have made up their minds that the man was gay. I was wasting my time. I had to stop talking about it, because nobody wanted to hear about “Gay Clay.” Eventually, my father angrily told me to “stop obsessing over that faggot.” My friends in band were understanding. They saw that I was struggling to understand myself. I had Danielle, my fellow alto saxophonist and anime lover, who was a year ahead of me, to turn to.
But pretty soon, she wasn’t enough.
My first experience with self-harm came after I was (wrongly) accused to losing sheet music by the band teacher. I had kept it safely in the spare room of my house for several days, before lending it to a girl who happened to be the superintendent’s daughter. She had lost it, not me. But of course, as school bureaucracies function, never blame the big wig’s kid. I was distraught. I am not sure if it’s an autism thing to hold someone in almost godly respect when they never reciprocate even an iota, or if it was just my personality. Either way, I was being accused of one of the worst band offenses by my idol, and I just could not take it. Shortly after packing my instrument away, I sat at a table in a kind of hang out area of the school and scratched the skin of my left-hand knuckles away with my fingernails, just enough to leave several bloody wounds. I told my mother they had come from reaching into my tiny locker and getting scraped by a jagged piece of metal, which had happened before. But as the year went on, I kept doing it, and my lies weren’t working.
It’s triggering for me to remember the details too deeply, what few I have left after a decade of time, but I can tell you, the fight I was having with my father was nuclear. I was having a massive panic attack. These still happen from time to time. I can remember clearly his threats to harm our cat, kill him, in fact. I hate to repeat these things as I do not want to paint the man as an abusive monster, even as he sometimes approaches that moniker. He’s an abuse survivor that never learned the means to cope. He was taught old fashioned sexist ideals that make him believe his “daughter” is his property, and is a child no matter if she is 16 or 26. I can’t recall the source of the argument, but it was a horrendous and traumatizing one. I was left alone, still panicking, and had begun to strike my face repeatedly. My mother found me black and blue. Understandably horrified, she had wanted to take me to the hospital. My father, freed from his anger and once more level-headed, told her to hold me from school the next day and take me to my pediatrician instead. My mother was always severely overprotective of me, and still is. It could be that she struggled to have biological children and when I finally came into her world, she felt obligated to keep me safe at all costs. It could have been from the enmeshment left over from the relationship with her mother, who also participated in overprotecting me. It could have just been her generalized anxiety disorder. Whatever the reason, she had been so taken aback by my self-harm that she had wanted to drive me immediately to the emergency room, and was only deterred from this from my father insisting I did not need to be under psychiatric care. I wish she had, in retrospect. I might have gotten the right diagnosis and medication a lot sooner that way.
At any rate, I was seen by my beloved pediatrician, who then referred me to a psychologist. Here’s another hindsight is 20/20 moment: I remember my mentioning of my crush at the time, a dashing young man who also played alto sax in band. When I neglected to mention he was male, and the psychologist asked “boy or girl,” I defensively reacted, “boy, of course.” I should have been honest. He had been one of my only male crushes in school.
Following this visit, I was referred, again, to a psychiatrist who put me on Abilify. Yes, you read that right: I was sixteen and put on anti-depressants. I have had a professional psychopharmacologist recoil in horror mentioning this fact. It didn’t help, anyhow—I was simply made extremely lethargic and threw up all the time, and paradoxically gained weight. I stopped taking them when I began driver’s ed.
I was referred to a different psychologist soon, and I loved her. I had a crush on her, in fact. My parents stopped that when I would come out of every visit crying. They did not understand the function of therapy, and still don’t. They think therapists are for crazy people, or else people with problems that need fixed, and these problems will be fixed after a certain amount of time. Except OCD, anxiety, and autism cannot be cured. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but triggering my anxiety, giving me a panic attack, and then causing me to pick my skin compulsively to relieve myself until my fingers are covered in bloody open wounds, is not something that a talk therapist can wrap up within an insurance-covered number of sessions. I still struggle with making them understand this, and what it’s like to have these mental illnesses and neurobiological differences. It’s a Sisyphusian struggle, believe me, but they mean well and just come from a generation that would rather lock away its differently abled or differently brained than understand them.
Then came college. And then the next shock came.
I didn’t actually come out as bisexual (later I would revise it to pansexual) to my parents until 2009, because due to their past comments on Clay Aiken, and due to being conditioned by my high school peers that being gay was something worthy of ridicule and derision, I figured I would be in for it if I revealed any hint of queerness. But as happened with my gender (I promise I’m getting there) later in my young adulthood, it was a sucker-punch to the gut to have my love and lust for women staring me in the face.
It was staring me in the face because she was staring me in the face: my first college roommate. (I won’t give names, but if she reads this, she’ll know.)
By conventional beauty standards, she was no babe, but to me, she was a goddess. Acne-riddled, soft-spoken, an artist, Wiccan, a D&D dungeon master, unsure of her own sexuality (asexual, she surmised at the time), she had it all. I was instantly in love, and instantly scared to death of what it meant.
Well, now I know it meant just that: I had long since been interested in women, but I wasn’t fully gay, so I was bisexual.
I made an appointment with the school therapist after some quite uninformed women (ignorant, condescending bitches) who I thought were my friends upon a Clay Aiken message board, told me I couldn’t be bisexual and a virgin and was just “confused.” If they’re reading this: hey, Claymate Woodshed, you’re a bunch of homophobic old bats who never realized you were writing kinky erotica for a gay man the whole time! And I’m not confused, I’M FUCKING QUEER, FUCK YOU.
The therapist told me there was no harm in questioning my sexuality and left me with an appointment for the following week that I never followed up on.
For the duration of that year, I kept my little secret crush on my roommate alive and well, only to be heartbroken when she decided to transfer out. I was not long in my melancholy, however, because my occupational therapy (and later, social work) classmates were still single, still gorgeous, and even after being aware of my queer leanings, didn’t care. Ultimately, neither did my parents, and my anxiety about being disowned (like too many queer youth are) evaporated.
Now, let’s finally get to the gender thing.
College came and went. In the midst of it, I lost my beloved cat, Simba, a loss I am still attempting to reconcile. He was old, granted—it’s rare for a domestic feline to reach far into its second decade, and he was pushing fifteen—but he had been healthy and it had been too sudden. I had had that tiny orange, then eventually big, fat, lazy orange, ball of fluff in my life since the age of eight. As sometimes happens, I began getting pings that he wasn’t going to last much longer around May of 2011. I chalked it up to normal fears of being away from home, as at the time, I was in the process of applying for the PeaceCorps. But the feelings (and dreams), persisted, and they scared me. Sim was fine in his geriatric age, better since he had lost some weight, stopped eating so much ham, and wasn’t going out in the backyard anymore, and yet I had visions. He was on my parents’ bed, on my mother’s side, and he looked to be sleeping, but in fact, he was lifeless. Sure enough, my visions were true—my parents came up for the Columbus Day break and told me. I was distraught for several days. I still get emotional watching videos of him, nearly four years later. He wasn’t an animal, he was my child and one of my dearest friends.
In 2012, my second loss came. My grandmother, who had been living in a nursing home for the past four years with end-stage dementia, was finally going. It seems cruel to wish for someone to pass away, but if you’ve ever experienced a family member with dementia, you can empathize. Who she had been had vanished without a trace long before. At the time of her death, she was no longer speaking. Gone was the spitfire, resourceful country woman who had raised two children by her lonesome in the days and geographical area where everyone judged you for being a single mother. She had cleaned houses for a living, and doing so had ensured the well-being of my mother, her brother, and their children and grandchildren to come. She only stopped working once her health began to decline after open heart surgery to correct a birth defect. She only stopped being the sassiest, most opinionated woman I will ever hope to know as a proud feminist when she broke her hip and then suffered a stroke shortly after. I remember my parents getting the call on a Monday that she had mere hours to live. In reality, she lasted until Friday. As fate would have it, I will always remember the date of her passing due to the other tragedy that occurred on the other side of the country: On July 20, 2012, James Holmes walked into an Aurora, CO movie theater at its midnight showing of the Dark Knight Rises and opened fire. Roughly six hours later, Frances Benedict passed away.
Due to my challenges during childhood, I had spent a great deal of time with my grandparents. With both of my parents working full-time, it was up to Grandma and Grandpa to take me to all my therapy, doctor’s appointments, and frequently to Arby’s. I also spent a great deal of time at their house in Hallstead, PA, climbing trees, trying (and failing) to ride a bike, and rolling my Fischer-Price red car down the back hill to Grandma’s utmost horror. She also was a cat lover, and an animal lover in general. I never met her dachshund, Terry, and her mutt, Snoopy, but she welcomed “Fatty” (aka Simba) at her home anytime. Later, Simba had a playmate named Molly. We’re not sure of the fate of Molly, but she got out, and we suspect a hard Northeast winter of being exposed to the elements has also sent her over the rainbow bridge. When grieving, I like to think of my grandmother surrounded by her pets. And I make it a point to visit my grandfather frequently, as he’s been dealing with depression since losing his wife and his cat in short succession.
I tried to find work with a BSW, but everyone was looking for a master’s degree. I took a job through Americorps at a child advocacy center, moved into a crappy apartment in a crappy neighborhood, became overwhelmed, got fired within ten days of starting, had a panic attack, went to the hospital, got out, and then took a part-time job as a helper at a nursing home close to home. I applied to graduate school the following spring, got rapidly accepted, and began graduate classes that summer into fall. I had an internship at a transitional housing program, had a panic attack, this time drove to my grandfather’s, and then had to postpone my internship until the following fall. (That internship? It also ended, with another panic attack and another hospitalization.)
Just a bit more context, and then I’ll get to the damn point, already.
I was brought into a nonprofit who needed help engaging with the local community’s diverse populations. Rather than direct practice, which had been shown to give me nothing but anxiety, I was given administrative work, and flourished. I had two main tasks: bring in partnering agencies and organizations (and volunteers) that were less middle class and white, and two, teach the mostly middle-class and white staff and volunteers at the nonprofit some things about them. I set about writing five total cultural sensitivity “guide books.” I’m not sure if they ever used them, because at one point, in jest, my supervisor told me that “no one around here knows what white privilege means.”
I know this stuff because I am, as is said derisively in some circles, an SJW. That stands for social justice warrior. It is basically a new term applied to an old “problem,” i.e. people who can’t stand respecting diversity or diverse people and make us out to be the bad ones. I joined Twitter to try and contact the Jackson family; I ended up being, at present, one of the most notorious “SJWs” it has ever seen, other than the lovely person who wrote the forward to this book. My knowledge today was gained 25% in graduate school and 75% on Twitter and Tumblr, and it is expanding day by day. I will include a “gender master list” in a glossary in the back, which, by the time this is fully written and published, will probably still be incomplete.
I wrote these official cultural sensitivity guides for this nonprofit mostly based off of information from Twitter and Tumblr. I also used those 2 sites to help me locate other resources and easy-to-understand infographics. The LGBTQ guide’s process of composition proved to be life changing.
I remember sitting at the computer, looking at the list I had assembled of possible gender identities (certainly not exhaustive), and feeling a cold dread in the pit of my stomach.
These things speak to me, I thought.
I had transgender and non-binary friends on Twitter whom I regularly corresponded with. I had thought that I had gravitated towards the community out of their
being outcasts, regarded as weirdos and freaks, and that I could empathize. The more I read, however, the more things started making a terrifying sort of sense.
I put a question mark after “cis” in my bio, and so it began.
Within a few weeks, I admitted to myself, it was true, it was so, and I could no longer hide it: I was non-binary.
My lifelong feelings of not being a girl, but not feeling like a man: gender dysphoria.
My vexation over feeling pressured to feel more feminine, to measure up to my mom who is like Glenda the Good Witch, and never feeling like I fit in with girls
and feminine pursuits: gender dysphoria.
My incessant social anxiety: part autism, but also significantly caused by social gender dysphoria.
My fear of everyone seeing my cleavage in any way: body dysphoria.
My revulsion towards having breasts that I had had since adolescence (which had only grown as they had grown in size): body dysphoria.
My lack of complacency with being referred to as “she,” “her,” and “a woman/girl,” that I had just tucked away in the back of my mind and regarded as a fact of my life I couldn’t change: I did not have to put up with it.
I had always felt like… just me.
So I tried on agender, the identity of not feeling any connection with gender, along with demigirl, having a slight, almost negligible feeling of “female,” and those words finally felt correct. (I have since revised my label to agenderflux, which only means a fluctuation of intensity between the two.) I will also tell you, it’s very fun and interesting to experiment with pronouns. What cis people take for granted, enbies can feel is either a game or a curse.
All of these things might be very familiar to you, or may sound like an alien language.
Let’s back up and explain what all of this means.