I Used to Be

So, it’s time again for a wild assortment of half-formed thoughts. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about change, growth, and the things that we, as people, hold onto or let go of in our quest to become the idyllic self that we wish to be. Whether it’s changing your attitude, learning new perspectives, or finding new approaches to everyday life, we always seem to feel like we’re on the cusp of something great, but often forget to look back on the things we’ve already accomplished on our journey.

I used to be someone who got deeply upset when new slang words were added to the dictionary. It boggled my mind that these “made up” words could be inscribed into what was, in many ways, like a holy text to me. I’ve let this go in several ways; the first and easiest was to remind myself that a dictionary isn’t supposed to be a guide book, but a chronicle. On a long enough timeline, every word we know was “made up” at some point. Dictionaries exist to keep record of language and its use, not to dictate it to us. Changing this part of myself has allowed me to be happier, as silly as it seems, because there’s one less perceived slight pulling at me.

I used to be someone who couldn’t stand it when people didn’t like the things I did, or when they cared deeply about things that just seemed stupid to me. It made me angry to think that people could be so obsessed with what seemed like trivial things, when there were “better” alternatives. This was one of the easiest to learn to let go of as my circle of friends widened and I began to have a broader, more varied group of opinions to pull from. The biggest portion of this, though, wasn’t about anyone else; it was about allowing myself to accept that other people find their happiness in different places. It’s pretty simple, looking back.

I used to be someone who didn’t believe in much, and found those who did to be baffling and, at times, infuriating. When you’re struggling yourself, and you see people coping by clinging to things that bring you no comfort, it’s easy to end up feeling an animosity; it’s easy to want to sever those ties that they have, and help them “open their eyes” to the reality. This is one I still struggle with, from time to time, but that I’ve largely been able to let go. It ties in to the same concept as allowing others to do what makes them happy. Something that doesn’t help me can certainly help others, and learning to allow those around me to bear their burdens in their own way has gone a long way in allowing me to more easily carry my own, and help to share the load when any of us are struggling.

I used to be someone who thought their best days were behind. I thought that I’d had my chance at something good, and missed it, and that was it. Now, I’ve got a great, loving family and I’ve never been happier. Yes, we still struggle. Finances, raising kids, learning to take on the world together; these aren’t simple tasks. It’s not supposed to be easy, but I’ve stopped hoping for things to go right and learned to appreciate that, even at the lowest points of this, I’ve got the people by my side who matter the most to me, and there’s no reason we won’t rise again each time we feel ourselves fall. Maybe the best days are behind me, but I don’t really think so, and even if they are, the ones ahead are still good enough that I can hardly wait to get there.

I used to be someone who laughed at jokes rooted in racism, sexism, and other not-so-funny subject matter. It was a shock-value thing, I’d tell myself, and the humor came from how blatantly obvious the untruth behind it was. Now, though, I’m much more aware of the impact these sorts of things have on us all; not just the way they can hurt those that are the “butt” of the jokes, but the way they warp our own perspective. Telling a joke that relies on racism to be funny may seem harmless when you’re sure of yourself and your position, but it’s still an unnecessary poison. That’s not to say that I think these aren’t things that can still have a place in comedy, but I do feel that it’s important to be aware of it in a way that I previously wasn’t, and “for laughs” is a piss-poor justification for putting certain concepts to speech.

I used to be someone who felt able to express femininity because I was “secure in my own masculinity”. This is, perhaps, the most drastic lie I’ve ever told myself, but it took a good thirty years of telling it to find the falsehood. Looking back on this one, I was a hot mess of internalized misogyny and self-repression, and it took a ton of learning, reading, listening, and thinking to get to where I am now. I won’t say I’ve resolved this one, because there’s still a lot of mental struggle on a daily basis on this one; that said, I’ve at least become aware of and more comfortable with myself and my womanhood. Suffice it to say, the learning process continues and I don’t think it ever really stops.

I used to be someone who probably wasn’t a very good person, really. I’ve always considered myself to be decent, but on the path to where I am, I’ve learned more than I even knew there was to learn about. Maybe I’m still not a very good person, but the least we can do is to try, to learn, and to focus on the things within ourselves that we can change. I’ll never be perfect, but I can certainly strive to be better than I am. I’ve already made it this far, and I’m proud of the progress. The road that lies ahead will be all that much easier to walk when I can remind myself how far I’ve come since I began.

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Ugly Crying

Before last night, I couldn’t tell you the last time that I properly broke down in a good, old-fashioned ugly sobbing cry. Thanks to the alcohol that bolstered already-high emotions, I’m considering myself fortunate that I can even remember last night’s, to be honest. Still, though, I think that letting loose and allowing yourself to simply unleash from time to time is important. Whether it’s bottled-up negativity and pain or, like mine, a well of overwhelming gratitude that spills out over everything, being in touch with and true to your own feelings is something that I think all humans could stand to do a bit more often.

I’m terrible at this, myself. I keep nearly everything inside, choosing only a few people and a few moments to really put emotion on display in any meaningful way. It’s something I’ve meant to work on, but struggle still to do. Much of this, likely, stems from the fact that so many of my internal struggles are ones of self-doubt and introspective arguments. Of course, there’s a likely chance that many of these could be pretty easily resolved if, rather than twisting myself silently in knots over them, I’d actually open up and talk to those close to me about them; that’s neither here nor there, though, and is something that I’ll just have to continue trying to get a handle on. Maybe I’m just not used to being in a place where my emotions are actually relevant to others, or meaningful enough to share.

The root of much of my ineffective turmoil should come as no surprise to those who’ve known me for any length of time, or have followed along my musings here on the blog. In case it’s unclear, I’ll recap. Some years ago, without having discussed the topic with anyone, I used this platform to announce to the world at large that, despite the biological equipment that life felt fit to give me, I identify as female. The outpouring of support I got from close friends, total strangers, family, and – most importantly – from my wife was incredible, and is something I’ll never forget. Since then, though, I’ve continued to struggle on a near-daily basis with my own identity and where I see a fit for myself within it.

While the world we live in now is decidedly more open and honest on these sorts of topics, my gender identity is still something I don’t talk about much outside of this space. While a certain degree of this is my own trepidation regarding society’s take on the idea, it’s really my own self-doubt and internally-restrictive reasoning that holds me back. I often struggle with wondering just how feminine I’m really allowed to be, how much of that identity I’m truly free to embrace. Complicating this, of course, are the two wonderful children who call me “daddy”, and all of the various considerations that I make on their behalf. I am overwhelming concerned about doing anything that would make life difficult for them, and I doubt that’s going to change anytime soon, if ever.

On the other side of this same struggle is the amazing woman that I am dumbfoundedly fortunate enough to call my wife. Her unconditional love and support for me through this turbulent journey is probably the only reason I was ever able to put voice to my own identity at all, and the fact that she knows me more than I could ever hope to know myself brings us to the aforementioned outpouring of emotional backlog that sparked this post. You see, it turns out that while I’ve been silently stewing over these things in my own mind, she has also been stewing about many of the same things — but not from a perspective of confusion or struggle, but wondering when I would truly open up on the subject and address it in a way that’s perhaps a little more practical than screaming into the void of the internet.

While I’ve been turning my own thoughts over and inward and around themselves to ask just how “me” I’m allowed to be, she’s been waiting for me to simply start doing it. While I’ve been hesitating about whether this is even anything that I should ever really discuss in the open, she’s been wondering what name I’d take for myself when I allowed my identity to shine through. While I’ve been trying to puzzle out what it means for me, she’s been talking to her own coworkers about her wife, and explaining me in words that I probably wouldn’t ever really find on my own when they ask questions or want to understand. I’ve been tearing myself up, over and over, wondering if I’m truly able to exist as the person that I see myself as, and all the while there’s been someone standing by my side just waiting patiently for her partner to emerge from herself.

And that, I suppose, was the root of my emotional outpouring. After a highly-emotional day surrounded by a family wedding and fueled by the inhibition-releasing powers of alcohol, this is why I found myself collapsing into a heaving mess of tears; it was not a breakdown over my own self-inflicted doubts and fears, but an overwhelming relief and thankfulness. It was realizing that, while I may still beat myself up over trying to really find the best way to be and express who I am, that there is someone simply waiting for me to do it. More to the point, though, was the simple revelation that this wasn’t my struggle to go through alone. It had honestly not occurred to me that this was something that anyone else was thinking about regularly, that someone else was living through my own struggle and ready to help me with it.

Anyway, I guess the point of all of this is that it’s good to open up. While, of course, not everyone is likely to find such support so close at hand, it’s impossible to know unless you’re willing to take the initial step. I think society still trains most of us to keep our thoughts on many things to ourselves, and we forget that there is still a world out there simply waiting in the wings for us to come and live in it; not just exist in it by whatever path is the easiest, but to become unabashedly who we are and to truly embrace what we, as these people we keep hidden under our many masks, can bring to it. I’m still not through my own struggle, and I still have a great number of questions about my own future course, but at least now I know that as I find more of myself and new ways to express who I am, there’s someone who’ll be beside me and helping me when I stumble along the way.

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There’s been quite a bit of talk on my social media lately about kindness, humanity, activism, and how these things play off of — and against — each other. I’ve seen a number of people who I love and respect be hurt by the words and actions of others, and this isn’t an easy thing for me. I went to bed last night ruminating on some of this, and the word that kept ringing in my head above all else was simply ‘compassion’. This word, this concept, has become central to many aspects of my life recently, though it’s always been a part of it in a pretty significant way.

I was raised in the church. While there’s a lot of churches out there that focus on other aspects of their religion, most of the leaders I looked up to during my youth focused on a singular interpretation of what Christianity truly meant, and how best to reflect its ideals in our daily lives. Youth pastors, church elders, and my own parents instilled in me one great concept: that being a Christian is not about reading the Bible, it’s not about praying, it’s not about keeping yourself surrounded with those of the faith. The way I heard this phrased that stuck with me most was simply this: to lead a Christ-like life.

I’m not a part of the church anymore, having slowly separated from it during my late teens. I think the last time I attended a service was probably 15 years ago. Still, this concept was so ingrained in my upbringing that I don’t think I could ever really carve it out of myself. So, what was it that it meant to lead a Christ-like life? To me, it meant to model my very existence after this fellow described in the Bible by the name of Jesus. I don’t hold to many of the precepts of my religious beginning, but I still think this man — whoever you believe he may have been, or whatever else you think about those who claim to follow him — is a pretty good model for shaping a life worth living. At the core of that existence, if we strip away all but the lessons tied to his name in that book, is compassion.

A lot of people, I think, mistake compassion for saccharine kindness. Compassion can absolutely be this; it can be the softening of an impossibly hard blow, the mincing of words to make harsh realities more palatable. Doing this all the time, though, is far from compassionate. Covering up an ugly truth is not a kindness, but an almost-sinister deception. To lie in order to preserve feelings is not compassion. Being truly compassionate means that, sometimes, you’ll have to rip off the bandage and allow a wound to breathe. It means that you’re willing to help others confront ugliness, even when that ugliness is within themselves. Sometimes, it means being blunt.

This isn’t to say that there’s no room in a compassionate life for handling things gently. There are, of course, times where tact is needed in order to be kind. This, though, isn’t the same as just being “nice”. Being nice is often a byproduct of selfishness or narrow scope; we can adjust our frame to fit the world that we wish to see, and keep our words within a limited spectrum to avoid hurting others’ feelings. Being compassionate does not mean that you will never hurt someone that you care about; it means that you will be there to help them tend the wounds. It means being willing to set aside the comfortable existence of pretending that those wounds don’t exist, or should not be examined, in order to facilitate progress towards a more healthy whole.

Even in my work life, the theme of compassion has been at the core of my recent experience. The company I work for doesn’t just put the word on posters, but truly tries to get its employees to embrace it. I’ve had training sessions and meetings focused on examining the role of compassion within our lives, both at work and at home. The simple truth is that my job sometimes requires delivering news that can be devastating to others; we’re taught not just how to do this tactfully, but how to help people cope with the life impact of what we’re saying. Honestly, it’s been the easiest part of adapting to my “new” company culture since I began just over a year ago, and it’s the part that I try my best to carry home with me when I leave. I can’t allow myself to bear the burdens I’ve seen throughout the day, but I can reflect on the way that I’ve helped others bear them, and think about how to best ensure I continue to do this moving forward.

I awoke this morning to a private message on Twitter. A friend, someone who I deeply respect and feel is an example of the strength that I wish I saw in myself, felt the need to go out of her way to thank me for being who I am. This was an incredibly wonderful and moving thing to wake up to on its own, but it was her choice of words that drove it home in a way that made me feel like I’ve been doing a good job of being the person that I wish to be. I hope that she doesn’t mind my sharing a piece, not because I feel like being self-congratulatory, but because when someone reaches out to simply tell me that I show ‘ level of compassion that very few people have’, it truly and deeply moves me and is a big part of the reason that my late-night introspection became this behemoth of text today.

I suppose the point of this, and why I felt I should say it, is this: I want to believe that I am holding myself to the highest standards of compassionate conduct. I want to put this forward, because I want anyone who’s read it to call me out when I fall short. That’s what compassion is, after all; a willingness to take the uncomfortable step and tell someone that they aren’t being the person that they say they wish to be. It’s the act of helping each other grow as humans, and to accept the help that others offer us even when we’re unable to see the need in ourselves, and it is the act of setting aside yourself in order to listen, learn, and grow.

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It’s been a long while since I sat down here without a specific topic to focus on. The urge to whip up words usually comes from some outside stimulus that prompts a flurry of thoughts that end up needing let out. Tonight, though, I’m just here to write whatever comes to mind. I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about a great number of things. I’ve shared a lot of these thoughts both here and on Twitter, but there’s a ton of energy bouncing around in my brain lately. I can chalk some of up to an extended break from work. My mind gets restless when it doesn’t have a sustained, focused distraction to keep in occupied and in motion. One of the things I’ve been thinking about, in fact, is writing.

I’ve always had this notion that I’d like to write a book. I’ve let a few ideas run around my mind for various stretches of time; some of these sat there marinating for years before finally fading out, while others only stuck around for a few weeks. I’d like to I’ve got some kind of knack for writing, or maybe just for language. I’ve been told by several people that I’m better at it than I give myself credit for, and I think there’s been enough of this now that maybe it’s time I start respecting their opinion despite my misgivings. This still leaves me at an uncertain place, though. I don’t have any ideas left to mull over, or any from the past that I can really run with. Fiction, as much fun as it is to be absorbed into, just isn’t my wheelhouse.

I’m not sure what else there is. Most of my experience, and most of the things I’ve written that people seem to enjoy, are basically journal entries. They’re why I keep renewing this domain name, keep paying my hosting fees to hold onto my corner of the internet. That, and I’m pretty fond of the domain name itself. A blog is a far cry from a book, though, both in scope and in audience. After all, there’s a pretty big leap from spending a few minutes to scroll through a webpage at some point in your day to paying cash money for a thing to devote more serious time to, likely over an extended period.

Nobody wants to read the biography of some unknown author. Those sorts of things are reserved for the folks that people already have an interest in. The point of a biography isn’t as an introduction, it’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse at work that the reader already enjoys. Whether it’s a look back at a political career, an actor or director reminiscing on bygone projects, the self-told life story of a wealthy businessman — they’re an in-depth examination of things you’re already passively aware of. I suppose, though, that becoming rich or famous isn’t exactly the goal I’d have in mind, anyway (though being rich wouldn’t necessarily be the worst outcome).

The only other thought that springs to mind is, essentially, just a longform documentation of my opinions on a topic or selection of topics. The problem I run into here is that, outside of myself, I don’t think there are many topics I’m a particularly valid source of knowledge on. Not to say that I think I’m ignorant, but there aren’t exactly a lot of things that haven’t already been written about by much more qualified people.  That hasn’t, historically, been enough to stop droves of authors from offering their less-informed take on any of a number of things, but I’m not entirely sure that’d be something to shoot for. I don’t really feel like branding myself as some half-cocked pundit is the road I’d consider ideal.

So that leaves me here, at a quarter past ten, pouring random thoughts into an electronic box and wondering where, if anywhere, I could begin. It’s incredibly difficult to take the first step on any journey, but it’s compounded by a lack of destination. At this point, I can’t even say that there’s a path to take. So I keep finding my way back here where I can just unload anything that I feel. It’s the best way I’ve found to organize my thoughts, and maybe just putting something here on this topic will spark something, will get some of the swirling out and allow me to find something I can write about. I’m not counting on it, but hey, a girl can dream.

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Today, social media is all atwitter (heh) with the unveiling of Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover. Personally, I couldn’t be more thrilled to see her getting this spotlight, and the majority of the conversation that I’ve seen spinning off of this across the internet has been very good and very positive. Still, it’s a conversation that always stirs up my mind a bit, since I still don’t have a real lock on where I fall in the grand spectrum of LGBTQ+ identity. Being that I identify as a gender other than the one assigned to me at birth, there’s likely some spot on that wave that fits me, I’ve just never found the part of it that I can identify and embrace. Part of this comes from a place of uncertainty, while other pieces of the puzzle come from my lack of personal preference and my desire to tread carefully on the experiences or lives of others.

For my own part, the idea of “trans*” has always seemed to imply an intent — or, at least, a desire — to become physically aligned with one’s gender identity. Having had some time to reflect, I’m not even sure that I know where that came from. While the easy answer is that I’ve simply assumed that the trans– prefix to be related to transition, this isn’t necessarily the right way of looking at it, either in actual examination of the word or of my own process in defining it. Of course, I’ve deconstructed my own thoughts here far too often to even put together a rational argument here; and that’s where this all bleeds into the much more important piece: none of this has anything to do with how I identify.

I was born a white dude. This, in itself, gives me an advantage in almost every area of life. While admitting that my gender identity isn’t the same as my outward expression or appearance, it’s easier for me to be — or feel — accepted for who I am simply as a byproduct of my starting position. Many trans/non-binary/etc folk simply do not get this edge, and that’s the hinge of most of my hesitation to say I am, or am not, anywhere on the list of defined identities. These people had to fight tooth and nail for their place, and struggle to this day; maybe they want to undergo reassignment, but can’t for economic reasons. Maybe they’re trapped in the social pressures of their outward appearance, and can’t step forward as easily as I did with their feelings. If I, from my place of privilege, attempt to put boundaries on what they wish to be called, then I’m stepping all over something that I have no right to — which, I think we can admit, is something there’s enough of from other light-skinned penis owners out there.

So this is where I admit that, while I don’t have a real preference for any of the labels I’ve seen, that’s entirely my own personal choice. Maybe I’m trans*, maybe I’m queer, maybe I’m somewhere between these. Maybe I truly belong within some other place in the myriad of names that exist for those who, whether or not they’re comfortable in their own skin, don’t feel it’s the truest expression of who they really are. Maybe there’s a name I haven’t yet heard that will speak to me when I do; god knows it would be nice to have some nicely packaged box to place myself in, if only for the convenience of explaining myself to others. But know this: as of now, I do not have a preferred category. I am not interested in making others refer to me by any particular set of pronouns. I am not concerned with what names or methods exist for these things, because ultimately, I am being the human that I want to be, and I feel loved and accepted for it.

For those out there who don’t — who can’t — share this feeling, I do not mean to erase your struggle or to make it seem unimportant. Far from it. I recognize that I came into this with an advantage that, for better or for worse, is not one I can lay down. Please know, if you feel marginalized: you are loved. If you feel like you cannot be yourself because outside forces prevent it: support is out there. If your friends, your coworkers, or your family do not make you feel accepted: there are those of us who care. There are people — many people — who would love to see the beautiful, unique person that you are, whoever they may be in contrast to the skin you’re wearing. Caitlyn Jenner’s story is so far removed from the experiences of so many people, but please see that her platform is a step in the right direction, a force that can drive the conversation that we, as humans together, should be having.

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