Category Archives: personal

On Insecurity

I think insecurity gets a bit of a bad rap. 

The first case that comes to mind for me is toxic masculinity, and it’s true that I can fall into it too. We see behaviors of toxic masculinity – things like excessive aggressiveness, suppressing emotions (or the idea that the only ok emotion for men is anger), feeling entitled to sex, etc etc etc – as being ultimately rooted in insecurity. And while I’m sure the roots of toxic masculinity are more complex than that, it’s at least partially true. I’m sure most, if not all, of us have seen examples of a man who is insecure in his masculinity feel that masculinity be threatened in some way, and respond by descending further into toxic behaviors. 

It’s pretty common for a general response to be an eye roll and a comment about their fragile masculinity or whatever – that is, their insecurity. I’ve done it myself. 

But I think I want to stop doing that, because it’s demonizing the wrong thing. I have put real work into separating feelings from behaviors, and it’s clear here in another place where I need to be better about it. 

Being that I am a human being, I’ve had any number of insecurities in my life. That’s honestly pretty damn normal. Who the hell isn’t insecure about something? And yet I also regularly see people demonize people who “are insecure.” I’m pretty sure the thought behind it is an assumption that the feeling of insecurity will automatically translate into toxic behavior

So let me just state it – you can be insecure about something and still avoid toxic behavior. 

My own history of this is a tad mixed. There are definitely times and points of insecurity that I’ve had that I did get pretty defensive about, and my behavior wasn’t always ideal. I’ve really worked on that – both on the feelings of insecurity and the behaviors. More recently I’ve struggled with insecurity around my gender and masculinity in general. Those feelings never translated into toxic behaviors. 

It’s never wrong to have a feeling. Feelings are never bad or wrong or incorrect or anything. They’re just feelings. They happen. I don’t ever want to judge someone for having a feeling. It’s a person’s actions that I am concerned about. And we have control over our actions. We have choices. 

Here’s the thing – I think this concept that insecurity is A Bad Thing leads to people feeling ashamed for having insecurities. This can make it particularly difficult for a person to willingly feel that insecurity, to sit with it and maybe even deal with it. Instead we shove the feeling away, because it’s “bad.” Of course, shoving feelings away doesn’t actually work particularly well, and then we get those behaviors we don’t want! 

This was one of the first things I had to address when I really started working out how to deal with the areas I feel insecure about. I had to give myself permission to FEEL those feelings. I have to embrace them, be aware of them, know myself well enough to know what is tender. Only then can I make sure my behaviors stay kind. Only then can I do the work to heal those insecurities. Only then can I become more secure in myself. 

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Gender: An Opinion

I want to talk a bit about how I view gender. With pictures! 

First, the requisite prelude: gender is a social construct. To be clear, gender is still entirely REAL. People would still experience gender in some way, shape, or form if there was no society in which to experience it. However, the society in which we are raised and live plays a huge role in how we conceptualize that experience. To elaborate on this, I’m going to use some illustrations to help me.

This is my representation of gender absent societal influence. Each dot represents a possible experience of gender. The dots exist entirely on their own, but right now they lack a context or conceptualization.

Now let’s look at what gender might look like in “traditional” western society.

It’s the exact same dots (literally. I used layers!). But we have a gender overlay that divides the dots into two groups – men and women. It surely works for the vast majority of people, but there is an issue or two. A few dots in the middle don’t fall neatly into either category. And possibly some individuals existing very close to the line might not feel quite right in their assigned category.

This one is my personal conceptualization of gender. “Et al.” is me just broadly lumping non-binary genders together. The boundaries of “man” and “woman” are made rough and murky on purpose – I think that harsh lines always end up leaving some people existing on those edges, unsure of where they fit or feeling like they don’t fit anywhere. So I fix that problem by just not having harsh boundaries. Personally, I would say my gender exists in the lighter area right on the edge of “man.” Sort of a murky area where, yeah, I’m basically a man, but the division between my gender and non-binary genders is pretty weak. 

I also find it important to point out that my conceptualization of gender is still heavily influenced by the society in which I live. It comes from a combination of the man/woman binary concept of gender I grew up with, plus my time spend in queer communities, plus my friendships with non-binary people, plus my own gender journey, and probably more. The point is, it’s a construct. And while it’s the one I use and prefer, it would be incredibly arrogant for me to declare it the “correct” construct. It is simply A construct. 

Other societies have other constructs. For instance, the Bugis society in Indonesia, which has five(ish) genders. Their gender construct might look something like this:

Here we have five distinct boxes that correspond to their genders. Now, the Wikipedia entry on the Bugis concept of gender says: “Oroané are comparable to cisgender men, makkunrai to cisgender women, calalai to transgender men, and calabai to transgender women” This is an easy shorthand way for a westerner with a western concept of gender to get a basic grasp of how the Bugis view gender. But it is not an entirely accurate view. 

A while back I read the book “Challenging Gender Norms: Five Genders Among Bugis in Indonesia (Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology)” by Sharyn Graham Davies. Unfortunately, my copy of the book is currently in a box somewhere so I’m not going to be able to cite it as well as I would like. In any case, the author spent (I believe) a year among the Bugis in Indonesia, learning first-hand how they experience their genders. And she did, in fact, ask some calabai if they viewed themselves as women or wanted to be women. The answer was an emphatic NO! They are NOT WOMEN! They are calabai, which is its own gender, not to be conflated with womanhood. So we may say they are “comparable to” trans women, but that is as far as it goes. To do any more (and possibly even that) is to impose western society’s construct of gender onto a society that has a very different construct. 

Also an important note – I even did a little of that right here in the name of ease of writing. To say the Bugis society has five genders is not accurate, as the Bissu is not technically considered a gender. Bissu is, instead, a meta-gender, considered to embody the four genders into one person. According to “Challenging Gender Norms” the distinction is important within Bugis society.

Other societies have different framings of gender. I have definitely heard of many different ways societies conceptualize gender, and I can’t think of any time I have heard of a society without gender at all. Gender is pervasive, because it is real. And because we are human and categorizing is just one of the things we do, we find various ways to categorize experiences of gender in order to make sense of ourselves. As part of our stories of ourselves

As a final thing – sometimes I see people claim that there would be no trans people if we lived in some kind of magical society without gender. I truly do not believe that would be the case. My physical dysphoria has been very real and very intense in my life. I didn’t get top surgery because of some idea that “boys don’t have breasts.” I got top surgery because having chest lumps was so intensely distressing that major surgery was a good choice for me. Even without the societal concept of gender overlaying those dots, I would still experience dysphoria and be trans. 

Because gender is real. And also a social construct. It’s both.

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Hypervigilance

I want to talk a bit about hypervigilance and how it impacts me.

First of all, let’s get the definition part out of the way. Webmd says that hypervigilance is: “the elevated state of constantly assessing potential threats around you” It’s basically being on high-alert all the time, instead of just when something alarms you. 

I can remember when I first heard of hypervigilance. Someone was talking about this state of constantly looking at people and surroundings, analyzing all potential threats and trying to take in all information possible all the time in order to be as aware as possible of everything, and how utterly exhausting it is. I found it very strange, because that really described me, but surely I wasn’t hypervigilant! I mean, yes, I’m constantly watching and scanning and analyzing and all that, and yes, it’s entirely exhausting and seriously limits how much I can do, but there must be a different reason for me. I concluded that it must be related to my being autistic and moved on with my life.

… Yeah, I’m hypervigilant. And yes, it’s a result of trauma. 

I find it to be a weird, mixed thing. For instance, my friends have a tendency to describe me as “very thoughtful.” That thoughtfulness comes from constant observation, taking mental notes, and then remembering things at appropriate times. Little things, like knowing THIS person will want an extra towel, and THAT person prefers a specific pizza brand. It tends to seem perfectly natural to me to always be remembering all these little details about people and acting on them without prompting, but apparently not everyone agrees. 

But what I really find myself thinking about is how that hypervigilance intersects with the fact that I am autistic. For instance – those details. Being detail-oriented is also a trait of autism. I suspect that my hypervigilance is working with my autism to enhance my ability to be constantly aware of the details of things around me. 

I have also turned my hypervigilance into a tool to help me compensate for some of the social impacts of autism. As is typical with autism, I am not so great at picking up on social cues, nor do I have a solid grasp of how to interpret what I do pick up on. I’ve had people tell me that I shouldn’t analyze so much and just go with the flow. The problem is that I am completely blind to this “flow” thing people talk about. So no, I absolutely cannot “go with the flow.” The best you’ll get is a bunch of (metaphorical) social flailing in which I can’t seem to stop smacking people. I’ll stick with my over-analyzing habits, thanks.

So constantly analyzing social situations for literally everything also helps me consciously pick up on social cues that allistic (non-autistic) people feel intuitively. 

Of course, this is a double-edged sword, because of course it is. Being autistic also means that group situations are stressful and exhausting for me. The social dynamics of a group are complicated and extremely difficult to keep up with. 

Being hypervigilant in a group is also extra exhausting. There is a LOT going on. I feel an intense need to focus on every person individually and simultaneously so that I know what they are doing and what they are feeling and if I might be in danger at any given moment. Plus those social dynamics. Plus watching the environment we are in. 

So autism and hypervigilance also become a one-two punch making group socializing beyond exhausting. 

But being able to use it as a tool also means that giving it up would set me very far back in my social skills and development. Even my therapist has admitted that it’s possible that I will need to keep it. Yeah, the ultimate goal/hope is that I will be able to heal from my childhood trauma, but this particular trauma response might need to stay, even with the extra exhaustion it brings. 

I have no solid conclusion here; this really was mostly a small exploration of one little aspect of what I’m working on in therapy. I will say – you know how autistic people will tell you that our autism touches EVERYTHING in our lives? Yeah, this is an example of just that. 

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a trauma response

I mentioned recently that one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is trauma, so I’m going to try writing about that and see how it goes. I mean… ok, I’ve already written about it a lot, but that was journaling. I’m going to try to write about it in a sharing kind of way, which is very different. 

So apparently I have complex trauma from Bad Things in my childhood. Things like emotional parentification, emotional abuse, physical abuse… etc. This is very strange and scary to put out there publicly. I don’t even talk to my friends about this, but I guess I’m going to try to tell an internet full of strangers. That’s cool, right? Sure. Yeah. 

Now, writing about this in a ‘put this on my blog’ kind of way means picking one particular thing to talk about. And, well, I think I have A Thing. It’s a pattern of thought that I have that’s come up recently in therapy. 

See, I am very afraid of admitting that something someone did hurt me. Anything. Ever. If someone does something and I feel hurt by it, actually saying so, bringing it up to talk about, any of that is TERRIFYING. I absolutely hate doing it. 

“What are you afraid will happen?” you may ask. Well, I’m glad you asked. I will elaborate. Here is roughly the response I expect to receive:

“Oh, I hurt you? Oh no! I feel terrible for hurting you! It feels so bad! You are hurting me by telling me that I hurt you! You are bad for hurting me! How dare you! Now I am angry with you!”

Now, no one currently in my life does this. It has been literal decades since anyone has had the power to punish me for this. Sadly, even in my adult life I’ve had (other) people in my life who did crap like that, but they are no longer in my life. It’s been years. Nonetheless, I find I remain forever vigilant, waiting for this to happen. 

Apparently this is a trauma response. Both in the vigilance itself, and in the fact that it sticks with me all the time. Like, it has nothing to do with whether or not a person has any likelihood of behaving that way. The level of trust I have with someone is simply irrelevant. 

If A Person, no matter who, hurts me, and then tries to talk about it, my first, instinctual response is to minimize everything. Oh, it’s fine, no big deal, I’m not bothered, don’t worry about it! What’s worse is that at first, I kind of even believe it. It can take days for me to fully process what happened and fully sort out if it was actually no big deal, or if it was, in fact, a Very Big Deal that I really am hurt over. 

And, like, then what? I probably already said it’s no big deal. Even if I didn’t, am I supposed to just TELL THEM that they did a thing that hurt me? That’s absurd! Better to just tuck it away somewhere and not bother them. Because otherwise they might get mad at me.

Otherwise I might be bad.

I don’t want to be bad.

Apparently not being bad means making myself small, and this is just one of many ways that I do that. 

So I find this leads into other topics it might be worth talking about sometime. For instance, I’ve been learning about hypervigilance. Apparently that’s another thing that I do. Or my eternal worry about being bad. Or how I make myself small. Hm. Possibly there is a lot here for me to talk about. I guess we’ll see. 

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Just me being uncertain.

A few blog thoughts I want to share.

I’ve been finding myself struggling to write. When I first started my blog I had just been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (it was still in the DSM at the time). Autism was very heavily on my mind and continued to be for quite a few years. But as it turns out, things change over the course of a decade. I still think about autism, but not nearly to the degree that I used to.

Now I think about gender and trauma, as those are the things currently very heavy on my mind. So I’m struggling with what to do with my blog. The fact is, I really like to write. I write for myself a lot – all kinds of journaling that never get shared with anyone. I also like sharing my thoughts, hence the blog. So… do I go ahead and let my blog shift? Do I start a new blog intended to be more general, for various ideas I ponder and want to explore?

I’m just not sure. Any thoughts from my readers?

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I am a Story

I have a ramble about stories and storytelling wandering around in my head, but I’m not sure how to start it. I guess I’ll just do my best. 

I have been doing therapy work around unpacking and processing childhood trauma. One of the ways I conceptualize this process is that I am re-writing the story of myself. My entire concept of myself is of stories – I don’t think there is a huge difference (if any) between the concept of “me” and the story of me. I am the story I tell about myself. We are all the stories we tell about ourselves. 

Jumping a bit (and this is relevant, I swear) – let’s look at the concept of history. When I was young I thought “history” was simply events that happened in the past. But that’s not accurate at all. History is the STORY we tell about the past. Yes, it is about events, but it is also our ideas of which events were important. Who was the good guy, who was the bad guy, how did this event or that event impact who we are now. People who complain about “revisionist history” are missing the point. ALL history is revisionist. As societies grow and change, as our concepts of right and wrong shift and alter, the way we look at history changes as well. This is good and correct – it SHOULD change as we do. So the stories of history change as well, even while the framework of the actual events stays the same. 

The stories of ourselves are similar. I look into my past and I choose which events are Important enough to be part of the story that I tell, while other events fall to the wayside. As I grow and change, so too does my story. A villain may become a hero; a hero may become a villain. A memory that used to be connected to shame may change and become connected to pride. The events of my past do not change, but the way I understand the events does. 

I firmly believe that this is what stories are supposed to do – all stories. We tell and retell our stories – of ourselves, of our society, of our past, of our myths, of our beliefs, of our ideas, on and on and on – and over time those stories change and change again. 

My current favorite example is the Greek story of Persephone and Hades. The story that survives to us is a story of kidnapping, betrayal, and trickery. Within that story, Persephone has little to no agency and is largely a victim. Well, I have been seeing people retelling that story, giving Persephone agency and choice. A story of her falling in love with darkness and choosing to live with Hades. I have also seen people get very angry about this, because that is not the story! Stop adulterating the story! While it’s true that the original story (that we know of, who knows if the story we have is the “original”) is not like that, I actually LOVE the way people are retelling it. I don’t see it as forgetting the original story or romanticizing abuse – I see it that somehow this ancient story is still alive. It still speaks to people, and so we retell it in a way that shows what we love, what we value, what we need in our heroes, how we imagine our dreams ending. 

Which brings me to my next point – stories are things that we TELL. Stories are for sharing. This includes the stories that we create about ourselves. We all share our stories of ourselves any time we connect with another person. Yes, it can be literally telling stories of Important Events in our lives, but also in our songs, our fictional stories, our beliefs, our hopes – everything of who we are is part of our story. 

And like any other story, it is told collaboratively. People are telling their stories of Persephone to each other, and in each telling it changes. It becomes what people want and need it to be, and collectively people come together to create a story together. When an author writes a book, they share drafts of it, take the feedback and input, and make adjustments. Even with one author, the work has a strong collaborative element. 

Humans are interconnected and interdependent. So are our stories. We tell them to and with each other. Every person in my life has contributed to my story. Every person in your life has contributed to yours. The society in which I live shapes my story. The values I grew up with, even if I eventually discarded many of them, shape the Story of Me. 

Which means that if I choose to rewrite part of my story, that needs to be done collaboratively too. My story has always featured my own weakness and failure. I am trying to change it into perhaps a story of strength and survival, but the basic fact is that I can’t make those changes alone. The version of my story that was written when I was young got its start before I even took ownership of my story. Before I was even able to create my own story at all. I was handed a story of my own inadequacies when I was far too young to even realize it was possible to choose a different story. 

So that is what I am trying to do. And while yes, I am the author, like any author it is not a task I can undertake alone. Why would I even want to? 

Stories are important.

Stories are collaborative.

Stories change.

Stories are Us.

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I am working on being impulsive

I’ve written about this in the past, years ago, but I don’t feel like rummaging through my old posts to link them. Suffice to say – I’ve been working on this for a long time. 

Normally when I see people writing on the topic of impulsive actions, it’s about how to curb them. I’m lucky enough to be the opposite – I am not impulsive at all. Ever. Or at least, I didn’t used to be. I’m working on it. 

I don’t think I’ve ever read or heard anything about encouraging people to be MORE impulsive. The general societal idea seems to be that impulsiveness – especially if it crosses some invisible boundary into *too much* impulsiveness – is a bad thing. Except impulsive behavior is part of a larger category of behavior that very much IS valued by neurotypical society. It includes things like being spontaneous and adapting to last minute changes in plans. Basically, it’s a category of doing-things-that-were-not-planned. I’m sure absolutely no one will be surprised when I say that this category of behavior is a weakness of mine.

Sudden changes in plans are truly TERRIBLE for me. I have managed to develop some techniques that help me cope so I at least CAN function when plans change without warning, but I will never be a person who can happily just “go with the flow” (whatever that means). 

I am not spontaneous. Ever. I don’t want to be.  Right now I’m just leaving this one alone. I know it limits how much I can participate in neurotypical society, but I honestly just don’t care. Why would I want to participate if it involves doing something so unpleasant? Ugh. No thanks. I’ll plan everything I do, thanks.

Of course, that is closely linked to impulsivity, and that is something I AM working on. And yes, sometimes the line between the two is very very blurry. 

Years ago when I first started working on practicing being impulsive, I decided to try to make an impulse purchase at the grocery store. This was remarkably difficult, but I did manage it. I’m not sure how much it still counts as “impulsive” when I’m agonizing over my decision for at least 10 minutes, but still. Anyway, I got a sweet snack.

Can you guess what happened after that?

I made that particular snack part of my weekly shopping trip. Yep. Leave it to me to plan my impulsiveness. 

Eventually I figured out that if getting Snack was part of my weekly plan, that meant it wasn’t an impulse purchase. Whoops!

Anyway. Now it’s several years later and I’m trying again. I’m actually doing much better this time! This time around I make a point to NOT deliberate more than a few seconds on what I’m grabbing, and I vary what I get from week to week. It’s generally a salty snack of some type (look, I still need SOME structure, ok?), but which one will vary depending on what’s in stock, what I happen to spot, and what I “feel like.” Ok, that last one is a bit mysterious to me, but I’m still trying to use it. Do I “feel like” having some doritos? Or maybe some pringles? Maybe the fritos just look reeeaaally good one day. 

I’ve only been doing this for a few months, so this new attempt is, well, pretty new. I was SO damn proud of myself when I managed to be impulsive twice in two weeks. 

Now, I said I have no desire to be spontaneous, but maybe that’s kiiiind of not true. Some of my impulse practice is, I think, crossing that line into spontaneity. Sometimes I think “hey, it might be nice to go to the ice cream shop and get some ice cream!” And then! I do it! WOW! 

As for HOW I’m managing this incredibly difficult task – part of it is definitely support I’m getting from my nesting partner. They know I’m no good at being impulsive, so they provide emotional support and encouragement when I grab that bag of chips. I also arrange structure AROUND impulsiveness. My partner and I go grocery shopping on the same day every week, at roughly the same time. We have a specific pattern we follow. So I feel like I have firm footing, so to speak, when I try to do something less than planned. 

Those ice cream outings? They are always at about the same time in the evening every time. It’s always to the same ice cream shop. I always get the same flavor of ice cream. 

I will always need a lot of structure in my life. But it really helps to know that I get to make my own structure, in the form that works best for me. And I can create structure even around unstructured things – I can create boundaries around them so I don’t just feel unmoored and out of control. 

In the end, that’s really what I’m practicing when I practice being impulsive. It is highly impractical (and possibly outright impossible) to plan and structure every single thing in my life and every single thing I do. I used to try, and would seriously fall apart when those plans went awry. So I build my plans with contingency plans, and contingency to the contingency plans, and flowcharts, and plans that are more about working within some pre-defined structure than an exact itinerary, and I am working on making spaces for No Plan. 

And I’m actually doing it!

I am very proud of myself.

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I went and got a massage

Art from here.

So I recently posted a brief ramble about self care. In it, I mentioned that I’ve been having pain due to rather significant muscle tension, and that it might be in my best interest to get a massage. While some people treat that form of self-care as something froo-froo-y and silly, it’s actually a difficult thing for me to do. I’m really not a big fan of strangers touching me.* As in, I actively avoid shaking hands with people I meet if I can possibly help it. I don’t want to touch anyone (or have them touch me) in ANY way until I know them and am comfortable around them. A massage involves a complete stranger TOUCHING me. AAAALLLL over. 

In any case, I did get a massage because I was hurting so much it was impacting my ability to function. And yes, it was DEFINITELY uncomfortable for me. I chose to cope with that discomfort by leaning into it and embracing it. Trying to avoid the feeling or make it go away wouldn’t work, and almost certainly would cause an increase in tension. You know, the exact opposite of what I wanted. Accepting that it was uncomfortable and my discomfort was ok actually helped me to relax. 

After I had scheduled my appointment, I spent hours wondering exactly how much to tell my massage therapist. Do I admit that I’m nervous? Do I disclose that I am autistic? Do I explain that I am averse to touch? I really struggled with how much to tell. In the end, the decision was kind of made for me – turns out English was not her first language, and while she spoke it perfectly fine, I have some trouble understanding accents that I am not familiar with. So I admitted that I was nervous but left everything else out. 

She was very sweet about it and made it clear that her job was to give me as relaxing an experience as possible. So that helped. 

The only other issue was that it is incredibly difficult for me to ask for anything. At all. In any way. So while she said that if I wanted her to go firmer or more gently all I needed to do is ask, I mostly didn’t. Even when I wanted her to change something. Because I would need to ASK! Which is HORRIFYING! Ok, that’s just a me-thing, but I’m mentioning it anyway. 

For some people (possibly many people) going out and paying for a massage is nothing more than a pleasurable indulgence. For me, it’s a challenge that requires a Big Reason to justify doing it. I happened to have a Big Reason, so I gave it a try.

Oh, and it did help a whole lot. The problem isn’t fixed, but my muscle tension is far better than it was. What used to be significant pain is now simply minor discomfort. Now I need to decide if I want to go again in a few weeks to continue to take care of myself. It’s a tough decision.

*This reminds me of a story! It isn’t really relevant to the post, but I want to share it anyway. I was talking to a friend I once had, and at some point my touch aversion came up. I said that I hate any kind of social touch with strangers. He just rolled his eyes and informed me that everyone is like that – no one wants to have long, lingering hugs with strangers. I just blinked at him for a few seconds before stating that I was under the impression that most people are totally comfortable with shaking hands with strangers. Said friend replied that he hadn’t even thought of that as social touch. The conversation devolved from there. In any case, isn’t that such a thing? We try to explain something to an NT and they just minimize and generally don’t listen. It can be so frustrating sometimes.

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Do I “Deserve” To Exist?

Have you ever noticed that it seems we need to justify our existence?

And by “we” I mean everyone. Literally everyone. It’s just that some people seem to have a head start and find it easier to make that justification than others. 

Ok, I think it’s easiest to explain what I’m talking about by starting with minority representation in fiction. The “default character” is a white, straight, cis, fully abled, gainfully employed man. The more a character deviates from that starting line, the more people will demand that the deviation be explained and justified. Sometimes this is extreme – there won’t even be a woman or a character of color unless the plot demands it. But even when it isn’t so extreme, it’s always there to some degree. Disabled characters are incredibly rare in fiction, and even MORE rare when the story doesn’t demand it. The more a character deviates from the default, the more people find it outlandish. “What’s next, a deaf lesbian Lebanese character?” I have even seen people say that they are ok with diversity in fiction, but not “forced” diversity. Ok, how do they define “forced diversity”? Apparently that is any diversity in the story that isn’t justified by the plot. 

I’m not even kidding.

So of course, then you have people saying that hey, maybe you don’t need to justify the existence of varying types of characters. Deaf lesbian Lebanese women EXIST. Disabled people EXIST. People just ARE, no compelling plot reason required.

Buuuut… I want to take this a step or two further. See, the attitudes people have about diversity in fiction extend to their attitudes towards people in real life. Not only in terms of the various forms of bigotry (I mean, totally that too, there’s just more) but in terms of people needing to justify their existence. Just in general. All the time. 

The example that first got me thinking about writing this blog post was how “contributing to society” is considered synonymous with having a job that earns money. Do you have a job that makes money? Well no matter what it is you’re doing, you are contributing to society. Do you not earn money? Then you are NOT contributing to society, no matter what else you are doing. It’s an incredibly toxic concept, but it’s absolutely pervasive. 

It shows up in other places too, though. Like the concept of having to earn our basic survival needs. People will say that we must EARN our access to healthcare, earn the food we eat, earn the roof over our heads, earn the clothes we wear. These are all things that we need to survive. When people say that we must earn those things, what they are really saying – the idea that is behind their words – is that we must earn the right to exist. That we must justify our existence in this world by being “worthy” of existing.

As I’m pretty sure is obvious by now, I disagree. I REALLY disagree. I firmly believe that everyone should have access to the basic necessities of living. I believe that this is what society is for. I’m not looking to go into detail in this post, so I’ll just mention that there is increasing amounts of evidence that this attitude is also extremely economically practical. In the end, when the poorest among us does better, we ALL do better.

You can stop reading here if you want. I mean… ok, you can stop reading any time you want, obviously you don’t need my permission. What I mean is we got past the bit that’s about me being opinionated and now is the bit where I get more personal. 

See, I really, truly believe all those things I said above. I apply those beliefs to everyone…….

Except myself.

Apparently I have internalized the whole concept of needing to justify existence enough that I really feel like I need to justify MY existence.

And I feel like I’m not managing it. 

I can’t justify or defend the space I take up in society, in my friend circles, hell sometimes even within my own home. I know, intellectually, that I shouldn’t HAVE to justify or defend my existence. While plenty of random strangers have acted like my existence isn’t worthwhile, those closest to me don’t act like that at all. In fact, they seem to like that I exist. 

And yet, it somehow doesn’t sink in. I don’t work. I don’t have a job. I’ve done other things, like transcribing for the National Archives or house/pet sitting for people or heck, even this blog, but I don’t earn money. 

And even though I don’t think this about literally anyone else, somewhere deep inside I think this makes me a burden. On everyone. 

The thing that’s saddest of all is that I am far from the only person who thinks this way about themself. We’re taught that we need to earn our right to exist. Even if it shouldn’t be that way, even if we don’t actually believe it, somewhere deep inside so many of us still think that about ourselves. 

Something needs to change.

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Just some memories

I am officially Not Young Anymore, which I think means I get to indulge in memories sometimes. I’ve been finding myself thinking about how important it is for adults to protect and take care of the children/teenagers in their care, which comes with a lot of memories of how the adults around me did not do that when I was young. Here are a few of them.

Actually, I want to start with one that did, in fact, involve an adult standing up for me. I was a teenager at the time, and it was the first time it had ever happened. It was in a church youth group bible study, and somehow it came up that another teen boy had a crush on me of some sort. This was, of course, astonishing to everyone and the general reaction by everyone else was absolute disgust. Other teens started loudly making fun of the boy with the crush – he had a crush on ME? EW! I was, you see, disgusting and horrible and overall hated by everyone my age. I simply looked at the table and stayed silent. I was pretty beaten down at that point in my life.

The teacher, however, was astonished and upset by the cruelty of the other teens. What are they doing? Why are they talking like that? They’re being so mean! The teens reacted with surprise at the idea that what they were doing was mean. What? But it’s ME they’re talking about! It isn’t as if they’re being mean to someone who matters. I agreed with them. The teacher did not.

At some point the conversation moved on, but this memory really sticks with me. The teen’s casual cruelty, the teacher’s astonishment, my own astonishment at this bizarre experience of an adult standing up for me against the cruelty of other people. I had actually tried to reassure him that it was ok – I mean, it is just me, and it’s not like I matter. My heart breaks for the child I was, truly believing that. 

Of course, I truly believed it because that’s what I had been taught, directly or indirectly, by every other adult in my life.

Another memory. Also of me as a teenager. It was towards the end of a class, the teacher had finished his lesson and the students were mostly just quietly chatting with each other, waiting for the bell to ring. Except, of course, for some of the boys behind me. They were throwing chewed gum into my hair. I, being completely beaten down, depressed, and fully believing in my own worthlessness, did nothing. As it turns out, the teacher was witnessing everything, but chose not to intervene. Instead he chose to pull me aside after the bell rang and scold me for failing to stand up for myself. It may surprise you to learn that the scolding did nothing at all to improve my self-esteem!

It also wasn’t the first time I had gotten scolded by a teacher for the apparent crime of being bullied. 

A previous time was in middle school after my first forced psychiatric stay. I was returning to my classes, and in one class apparently a student had claimed the desk I used to be at. So I sat in what I thought was my desk (because before I had been hospitalized, it was) when the other student demanded I move. I wasn’t quite as beaten down at that point, so I actually tried to stand up for myself. I refused to move. It was my desk. 

So the other student physically shoved me out of the desk and I went sprawling, along with my books. At which point the teacher pulls me out of the room to scold me. I learned some important lessons that day around the need for me to be silent, let myself be pushed around, and NOT standing up for myself. 

I went back into the classroom, managed to find an empty seat, and (unless it was absolutely required) never spoke in that class again.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m trying to get at here except – adults, please please PLEASE support the children and teens in your care. I needed support and didn’t get it, which meant an already incredibly difficult time in my life was even worse than it needed to be.

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Filed under personal, ramble