January is about halfway done! Wow.
This post will be a mid-month check in on my January resolutions, and more importantly a deep dive into my brainspace. I am going to try to be vulnerable and put some important personal material out into the universe. Aspects of my identity have become a huge part of my efforts to be more mindful over the past couple of years. I will use my new, very public, focus on mindfulness to push myself even further. First, the resolutions.
My overall success rate on my resolutions is 50%. I have worked out more often in the past few weeks than I had been working out before, but I have fallen short of my goal of working out four times a week. I remain optimistic for the rest of the month. I was doing well at first, but a family emergency put a halt to my plans. I was more than happy to interrupt my workout schedule in order to be there for my family, and I always will be. I am going to try to stick to my workout plan for the next two weeks with the help of the Only Human podcast from WNYC and The Hospital for Special Surgery (which has taken wonderful care of my sisters on separate occasions). This podcast is launching “Stick To It!”, a project from Dan Ariely and the Duke Center for Advanced Hindsight to make workout regimens more enjoyable, and easier to stick to. Learn more about Only Human here, and “Stick To It!” here. I doubt it will be as easy as saying no to alcohol, but I am ready for the challenge.
Staying sober has not only been easy, it has been wonderful! There have been many situations where I would normally would have drank including: a dinner party, a comedy show, a birthday celebration, a day-long video and photo shoot/social event, a reunion with a good friend, and even a wedding. Not only do I feel physically fantastic, I feel a renewed sense of social confidence. I thought that the wedding would be the biggest challenge, but I don’t think anyone even noticed that I wasn’t drinking. I still tore up the dance floor, and was just as social as I would have been with some liquid courage. When this month is over, I will certainly resume drinking. My hope moving forward is that I will simply be more mindful about which situations I choose to drink in.
Now, onto the meatier bits. For a long time now I have been thinking deeply about various aspects of my identity and how I outwardly express and/or repress them. I have taken some huge steps this month in developing these aspects more fully. Before I get into it, I need to disclaim that it is not easy for me to put these things out there. I don’t generally like putting matters of identity into words because I am frustrated by language. To state with certainty that someone is one thing or the other is extremely constricting, and feels contrary to our humanness. Oscar Wilde put it best with his quote from Picture Of Dorian Gray, “to define is to limit.” Regardless, I am using this as an exercise in vulnerability, which is something that I struggle with.
Part of this motivation comes from one of my favorite TED talks by Brené Brown, which reminds us that vulnerability and relinquishing control are imperative to our happiness. She asserts that we cannot selectively numb emotions; we cannot numb feelings of shame, discomfort, sadness and other similar emotions without also numbing all of the best emotions like joy, excitement and love. I know that the next big step for me in my identity exploration is allowing myself to be fully vulnerable about who I am. This is a difficult topic to discuss, because I am worried about alienating myself from people in my life. I worry that my relationships with friends, family, coworkers, etc. will change because the way that I identify is different than the ways that they have identified or come to know me. I have faith that the important relationships will last, and I am grateful for them. I also know that I am worthy of love and understanding, regardless of how I identify. If you need a reminder about the importance of vulnerability or your deservedness to be loved and understood, watch Brené Brown’s TED talk here:
My favorite word to describe my identity is “queer.” I love this word because it is an umbrella term; a relative non-definition. There are many people that use queer as a term to define their sexual or gender identity, yet many dictionary definitions fall short of including the colloquial use of the term. My favorite definition comes from the Urban Dictionary:
The idea of a “self-affirming umbrella term” appeals to me and all of my language issues. “Queer” allows me space to continue to develop without feeling like I have failed a former version of myself by abandoning the labels I had previously subscribed to. Much of this pressure to define myself, I know, comes from the society that I live in. Sexual and gender norms unapologetically permeate our culture. These norms are increasingly less pervasive, which is exciting, but history is not easily forgotten. My personal history is a large part of why my journey of self discovery has been a long, private one.
For as long as I can remember I have felt different than people, specifically other girls/women around me. One of the most important ways that I have expressed this difference is through my hair. In kindergarten, I decided that I wanted a mohawk which I was going to dye green, purple and orange. For some strange reason that I couldn’t fathom, my parents wouldn’t allow it. They did, however, let me get a buzz cut. If I couldn’t have a mohawk, I didn’t want hair at all. I rocked this buzz cut or a moderately grown out, shaggy version for the rest of elementary school. My cousin recently recounted a childhood memory where she asked me if I wanted to be a boy, and was blown away when I said yes. I was frequently mistaken for a boy, especially when I would go to the park on West 4th street and play handball, shirtless, with my dad. I was even once mistaken for a boy by my elementary school principal who stopped me on my way into the girls bathroom to tell me that I was going into the wrong one. I politely corrected her, and wish the interaction had ended there. I did not, however, appreciate her apology later that day in front of my peers.
Perhaps as a result of these experiences and a desire to fit in, I started wearing much more feminine clothing in high school. This new style lasted almost all the way until the end of my time in graduate school. Although I can’t imagine wearing a dress now, I was perfectly fine wearing them at the time. No one was questioning my identity, and it was easy. I also had my first relationship with a boy. This relationship was wonderful, and really helped me come out of my shell. Although I am now much more interested in dating women, my love for this person was not untrue. I am grateful for that relationship and all that it was, including another assertion of both my sexual and gender identities which had once been very much in question.
The next huge period of change came at the beginning of my junior year of college. I was once again rocking a buzz cut, although for a much different reason this time around. I shaved my head to raise money for an amazing non-profit organization called One Mission, a pediatric cancer foundation. I shaved my head for them twice, and have kept my hair short ever since. Although I shaved my head for reasons other than my self, it became an extremely important part of my identity once again. My return to short hair was a return to gender nonconformity, and was a harbinger of the things to come.
Shortly after I returned to school with the new hairdo, my relationship ended, as did my parents’. I immediately became cynical about love. It seemed like an impossible feat to find someone with whom you could be yourself, including your future self, and fully allow a partner space to do the same. In the wake of all of this change, I began another transformation. Shortly after all of the turmoil, I began my first relationship with a woman. It was something that felt much easier than it should have. Although I was nervous, I felt no shame about it, even when explaining it to my parents. I suppose I always knew that it might be a part of who I was, but it was finally confirmed, and it felt great. It also ripped through my cynicism and renewed my faith in love. That relationship has since ended, but once again it left me with a new, more complete and open understanding of who I am, and once again I am grateful.
My most recent transformation started shortly after I moved back to New York in August of 2014. This transformation began with a return to my old, tomboyish style. The last time I wore a skirt or dress was new years’ eve, 2014. Shortly after that evening, I packed all of my dresses and skirts into an old gym bag as a mindfulness exercise. They have since gone untouched. This year, in the first week of January, I brought the gym bag to my younger sisters. I had not touched those clothes in a year, so I was more than happy to give them up to people who would actually wear them. Despite my excitement to shed my old skins, I was left feeling almost naked. Although I knew that these more traditionally feminine outfits did not align with my evolving identity, it took me quite a while to find the clothes that felt right, and I think I finally have.
After packing up my dresses and skirts, I started to explore my clothing options. I began wearing button downs, ties, and even began buying clothing from the men’s section of stores which has been extremely fun and invigorating. I have also made some wonderful friends who have encouraged me in all my vulnerability through Initiative Space, a group that hosts networking events for queer women and queer women friends in New York. They have provided an opportunity for queer women to meet, network and delve into queer culture in a safe, organized space. I am extremely grateful to all of the friends I have made for their inspiration and support.
I have found another incredible group of folks through Kirrin Finch, a new sustainable clothing company that is focused on menswear inspired clothing for women. I have become involved with this amazing company after reconnecting with an important figure from my past. Kelly was one of the only queer role models in my life who was comfortable enough to be out and open with me when I was in high school. I am very grateful to her. She and her wife Laura are the founders of Kirrin Finch, and have introduced me to wonderful women all over the gender and sexual spectrums. The people I have met have encouraged me to explore and express who I am with all of the confidence and grace that they possess. They also understand the importance of clothing that does not betray identity. It is difficult for women to find menswear inspired clothing that fits well, and they are tackling the issue head on. Thank you Kelly, Laura, and everyone I have met at Kirrin Finch events. You inspire me.
With my short hair, and more masculine style I am once again occasionally mistaken for a boy. Most recently a doctor, looking at my family referred to me as a male. My sister was shocked, but I wasn’t. Maybe he could sense something from me that is harder to see if you’ve known me for a long time. Just like when I was a child, I really don’t mind the mistake. I even kind of enjoy it. To be clear, I don’t identify as transgender. I do, however, identify as genderqueer.
As a sign off, I would like to include a wonderful quote from a friend, a Stephen King quote, some important definitions to understand, as well as some of the amazing books I have recently read or re-read in my new identity explorations. I would love to field comments, suggestions (especially for more books to read), and questions if anyone has any.
Thank you, I love you.
“Gender is over!” - Kevin
“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them -- words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.” - Stephen King
Queer : “Originally pejorative for gay, now being reclaimed by some gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons as a self-affirming umbrella term. Caution: still extremely offensive when used as an epithet.” - urbandictionary.com
Pansexual : “Not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity.” - google.com
Genderqueer : “Denoting or relating to a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.” - google.com
Genderfluid: “Gender fluid is a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities.” - google.com
Transgender : “Noting or relating to a person whose gender identity does not correspond to that person’s biological sex assigned at birth.” - dictionary.com
Transsexual : “A person having a strong desire to assume the physical characteristics and gender role of the opposite sex/a person who has undergone hormone treatment and surgery to attain the physical characteristics of the opposite sex.” - dictionary.com
Cisgender : “Also, cisgendered. noting or relating to a person whose gender identity corresponds with that person’s biological sex assigned at birth.” - dictionary.com
Drag : “marked by or involving the wearing of clothing characteristically associated with the opposite sex.” - dictionary.com
Transvestite : “a person, especially a male, who assumes the dress and manner usually associated with the opposite sex.” - dictionary.com