A Holiday Message to my Trans Siblings and Queer Cousins

Dear sibs and cousins,

In this time of darkness and cold (everywhere in the continental USA except parts of Florida and Texas), I just want you to know that you are loved. You are worthy. “You fulfill your purpose just by being” as a former professor of mine once said.

I know that this time of year can be quite difficult, especially for those of us used to large family gatherings and loving environments. Many of us must enter one (or more) of these gatherings, hiding some aspect of who we are in order to gain access. Many of us are denied access entirely for living our truth. Many of us remember fondly (or not so fondly) going to the house of an extended family member and rituals of presents, food, gratitude, love.

And for all of us, even those who do not have those memories, I hold such a depth of love in my heart.

I have nothing that I can truly say to make this time of year easier. All I can say, sibs and cuz, is that I see you as you are. I acknowledge the wonder in me of who you are. I hold love for you and the person who you are.

Never forget that through the bonds of kinship-by-circumstance, you have a sibling or a cousin who is firmly in your corner and who firmly loves you for your complexities.

Happy Channukah (or whatever holiday you prefer or just happy ‘the days are starting to get longer now’),

~Fluffy

Posted in Gender, Identity, Orientation, queer, QUILTBAG | Leave a comment

Bereshit – בראשית

Introduction:

I’ve decided to start a sort of “Torah Study” regular entry. Every Saturday (or close to it) I’ll sit down and read the Torah portion, or Parsha, for that week in the original Hebrew with the aid of a dictionary. Afterward, I’ll write down my thoughts. Some weeks may have more than others. I will try to remember to tag and categorize them all properly so that it’s easy to see them all if that’s of interest. Please remember: I’m no rabbi or religious authority. These are my thoughts, based on my readings.

Note:

For my readers who may not be familiar with it, I use the term Hashem here as a stand-in for “God.” Literally, Hashem means “the name.” In Judaism there’s a loosely (depending on your denomination I suppose; orthodox folks hold it in much higher regard than I do) held belief that it is impossible for us to know, let alone pronounce, the true “name of God” and to try is a sort of sacrilege. Anyone remember the third commandment? Likewise, in prayer we use the moniker “Adonai,” or “my lord,” as a stand-in for parts that display yud-hay-vav-hay (יהוה), which is the present masculine form of the verb “to be” (there is no neutral form in Hebrew). Many Christians will recognize the anglicized pronunciation of this word (“Yahweh” or “Jehova”) as “the God Jews worship!”, however, as I’ve been told by multiple rabbis it is less of a name for Hashem and more of a callback to when Hashem met Moses and said “I am that which I am.” That said, because this was the layperson’s (non-clergy-member) “name of god”  we don’t use it nowadays out of respect, though there were instances that suggest that Hashem didn’t bar ALL use of this moniker with the third commandment, just “incorrect” use. This theological background is also part of why modern Hebrew simply doesn’t use the present form of the verb “to be” and instead implies it in conversation.

I will also use singular They pronouns. I’m queer. Get used to it.

Without any further ado:

Bereshit – בראשית

This week’s Torah portion is the very first, bereshit “in the beginning.” Almost everyone I’ve ever met knows the story. In the beginning, there was nothing and Hashem set out to create, well, everything. They did so in six days, accomplishing specific tasks, and on the seventh day rested because They’d finished the scope of the work that they set out to complete. Finally, they consecrated the seventh day as a day of rest forevermore.

Right?

Well. That retelling is sweet, but I found what were some surprising differences from the side-by-side English translation I used after reading it in the original Hebrew.

Continue reading

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Bipolar Disorder is not a Pendulum

I did something herculean today: I did all of the work I needed to do and then some. To most people this is nothing. They don’t feel accomplished by doing the bare minimum. For someone with bipolar disorder, the bare minimum can grow into a monstrous task that threatens to overwhelm us, often without warning. I sometimes worry about making commitments too far in advance because I regularly go into states where I find it difficult to feed myself, let alone deliver a multi-page report on top of all of my regular work.

One of the hardest parts of bipolar disorder is that when a mood swing hits, I almost never know what I’m going to get. For the first time in a while, I landed on across-the-board depression. Typically I experience hypomania or positive-affect depression.

Bipolar disorder is not a pendulum, manic to depressed, but a giant wheel of fortune. Depending on your current situation in life some slices may be larger than others. Some medications completely remove certain slices entirely. Others will affect their size. There are things every bipolar person can do to ensure that the best option is as big as possible. After a long enough time playing the game intentionally, you can even get a feel for how to spin the wheel to ensure you land on a more desirable option.

But even if you get good at “playing the wheel,” you’re going to spin it wrong sometimes. There’s an element of chance that your skills, your medications, your introspection will all escape and you’ll land on what’s worst for you.

And what’s worst does depend on the individual in question! I prefer to be depressed; my emotions are more manageable in depression, and I have more consistency of productivity. On the flip side, I know folks who much prefer mania in general; they enjoy the fast pace and strong emotion.

But that wheel is fickle, dear reader. And sometimes what we prefer is the smallest slice available. Often the point of therapy becomes increasing the size of that slice as much as possible, as consistently as possible through various means.

Despite everything I’ve noted, however, there is still a serious preference in clinical psychology to consider bipolar disorder a bipolar scale. “It’s in the very name,” after all! But the talk of a base-ten system for emotions with a baseline of zero being the end goal is a dangerous dilution. It makes the bipolar experience seem manageable and means that the clinician doesn’t have to think as carefully about the condition. The reality is that chasing that “zero-base-line” often makes things worse and can make simply surviving as bipolar difficult.

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this before, but there are at least two levels to the experience of bipolar disorder: the emotional or affective side, and the physical side. While most people understand bipolar disorder to be either one or the other, it is a combination of those and often more. You don’t just “feel sad,” you can get physical symptoms of exhaustion. You don’t just “feel happy,” you can get physical symptoms of anxiousness. And these things can happen regardless of how you feel emotionally.

The term hypomania refers to the experience of an emotional depression and a physical mania. Hypermania relates to both emotional and physical mania. Depression refers to both emotional and physical depression. They don’t really have a term for emotional mania and physical depression, so I use “high affect depression” which works better than nothing.

There are, of course, multiple types of bipolar disorder; all of them experience mood swings, but the extent to which they experience mania dictates type. Type I refers to people who have experienced at least one mania in their lifetime. Type II refers to individuals who haven’t experienced a manic episode. Cyclothymia is a related mood disorder; it’s essentially the mood swings without either of the physical states (so mainly the affective side of bipolar disorder absent the physical side). Additionally, there is the moniker “rapid cycling” which can be tacked onto Type I or Type II; generally, this means that the physical side of the mood swings happens at least four (often more) times per year.

More recently they’ve added the type “Mixed Bipolar.” This is my type. At first glance, this type suggests that someone can experience depression and mania at the same time or (more regularly) in rapid succession. Most discerning readers, I know you’re now wondering “but wait, you said before this is a function of all bipolar types,” but I want you to think deeper. Mixed bipolar, as a type, indicates that someone can experience a hyper and depressed mood, or a hyper and depressed physical state at the same time or in rapid succession.

I find it useful to conceptualize my experience of bipolar disorder with four tiers; the affective, the physical, the microswing/mood, and finally the macroswing/pattern. These all intersect, of course, but the microswing level is how quickly and often my actual mood changes (as opposed to my current emotion) while my macroswing looks at how much overall energy it takes to exist (as opposed to how much I have access to).

Think of the affective/microswing and pattern/macroswing dichotomies as cost vs. tax. No matter what I’m paying both, but the tax is calculated differently (and is more steady) than the cost. I can sometimes be tricky and avoid paying the tax… but it might come back to bite me in the butt come tax season (when that macroswing shifts). I’ll give an example:

Before Friday, I was in what I conceptualize as a hypomanic depressed mania. To break that down: I had a low affect, mania, depressed mood, and high physical energy. Typically for folks that conceptualize this on a two-tier system, that’s what hypomania is. However, in the past, I’ve had hypomanic hypermania, or a low affect mania, elevated mood, and high physical energy. The main difference between these states is that while my affect is still generally low and negative, my internal sense of emotions is tempestuous and cycles quickly. That is, while I still generally seem “sad” because I don’t express emotion as quickly or visibly, I may experience anger, sadness, joy, and then depression again in very quick succession without acting on any of them.

And then Friday came around. I spun the wheel, like I do every morning, and watched in horror as the arrow bounced on a peg. It could have landed on what works best for me, that hypomanic depressed mania, or on full blown depressive depressed depression (what I call D3). A part of myself shriveled up inside as it tossed over to D3. All of this work, I thought, my exams next week, I cried. I found it difficult to get out of bed, to go and do even the simplest things.

And here I am, today having spun the same wheel with what looks like an ever increasing slice of D3. Because that’s how it works for me; I get comfortable in one state and my mood swings are sudden and often without warning. They don’t just happen overnight; sometimes I’m called up from the audience at random. Sometimes I’ve done something special to earn (trigger) it.

But despite it all, I managed to do work today and be proud of it. I managed to look this great big monster in the eye and say “alright. IF this is how it’s going to be, then we need to have a talk” and negotiate. I’ve managed to ensure that I’ll be able to survive.

Please, dear reader, understand how miraculous that is. Understand how lucky, not special, I am. Love the people in your life with bipolar disorder even if they lose that fight. It may not look like much to you, but every battle that I win is a minor miracle.

And never forget, I’m not battling my illness, I’m not battling my brain or my body, I’m not even battling the world. I’m battling society’s expectations that I function like a person without bipolar disorder. And that, dear reader, is fucking metal.

Posted in Identity, Personal Psychology, Psychology, Writing | Leave a comment

Feeling Single Sucks

Maybe it’s selection bias, but I’ve read so many articles on how difficult being single is that it almost feels like a fun cliche. I can feel the editor salivating at the prospect of all of the hits from single people who will agree, and partnered people quick to remind us single folks it’s our fault or that being partnered is hard too.

As always, dear reader, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Being single is pretty rad. Regardless of if you’re poly (a friend’s ridiculously high-quality blog on navigating poly relationships, communities, landscapes, etc.), monogamous, or otherwise it can be a helluva fun adventure. You don’t have to be strong or support another person through times that are difficult for them. You don’t have to make someone else’s problems your own. You can hog the bed. You can treat yourself to an extra drink or dessert instead of going halfsies on a date. You can be entirely beholden to no one; no sinks on your time and no responsibilities to making someone else’s life decent or better by your behavior. Self-care becomes less an imperative and more a matter of course.

I think there’s a false equivalency that we all fall back on, this idea that we don’t fill our lives when we are single. There’s just some empty hole that we put away in the corner and ignore, like a missing piece of furniture. Surely, we shouldn’t be dedicating that time and energy to finding a replacement piece. Goodness knows, the right coffee table only comes along when you’re not looking for them. But also, if you don’t put yourself out there and visit some furniture stores, maybe browse around amazon, how will it find you? You can’t acknowledge that hole of time and space; you must live your best life you can with it sitting there in the corner.

The truth, however, is that we fill that space with a different piece of furniture or art (family/friends, cycling, rewatching past seasons of The Mindy Project and iZombie and crying, etc.) or we look to replace what was there before (a new relationship). By directing energy into other aspects, we are constantly reminded of our singleness. By directing energy into finding partners? Even more so.

Being single is pretty awesome. Feeling single sucks.

And this is the distinction that’s important.

I’ve been functionally single for some few years now; I’ve gone on a few dates with some people, but mostly I’ve spent the time hooking up or having lackluster first dates that end in a mutual ghosting. I’ve filled a lot of space with other things. I volunteered/studied overseas for five months, I’ve been teaching, I’ve been in performing ensembles and doing research and academic writing. For a while I filled that space up completely; I didn’t leave space for other people and unsurprisingly ended up being emotionally and physically unavailable for potentially significant situations. On the flip side, I’ve been very hurt by making myself available and being rejected continuously.

And both of these situations make me feel single. Not lonely, though I’ll admit to feeling that regularly in conjunction, but single. It’s a distinct feeling that we don’t have a word for, or at least not one that I’ve come across.

It’s not just being alone, but being told (implicitly, explicitly, accidentally) that we’re not worthy of dating. It’s being told to “wait” until our lives are more capable of handling a partner; meanwhile, other folks in our situation are dating or even getting married. It’s being told that it’s totally worth fucking us but not dating us. It’s being treated like an experiment for someone else’s sexuality and having them balk at the notion you’re looking for something with an emotional connection. It’s being told “I’m looking for what you are” and then having that person completely ghost, evanescing into the ether. It’s being approached by total strangers who will tell you the reasons why they would never date you, unprompted (yes, really). It’s being told “I can’t believe you’re single, you’re such a catch!” by well-meaning family and friends. It’s being given advice from people who have never been single for much longer than a year since they were teenagers or people who haven’t been single since before the smartphone was invented. It’s being told that you must love yourself (research says: this has no discernable bearing on your ability to find partners or to have good relationships) by someone who struggles with crippling self-esteem which they get support for from awesome partners. It’s seeing the eye-rolls when you discuss how lonely you are or how much you wish you had a partner or more. It’s hearing “being in a relationship is hard too…” said, followed by all of the problems you’d love to have.

And these are messages and experiences that many single people bump into while single for a long while, particularly if their dating pool is consistently shrunk due to things like queerness, fatness, transness, ugliness/unattractiveness, poly, poorness, ability et cetera. Don’t mistake it; these are value judgements from ourselves as well as from others.

Society has ingrained within us (even the poly people in the back) that being single is all well and good, but being incapable of not being single is abhorrent. Abominable. Disgusting. Horrific. [Insert your adjective here]. Our entire system of life is set up with the assumption that we will have children (and, hence, a partner because who is a single parent besides, uh, lots of parents) who will take care of us as we age, or at least a partner with whom we can save up with for old age. It’s more than just “it’s better not to be single,” it’s “how will I literally survive if I remain single?”

This puts a lot of existential terror on the prospect. That’s part of why being single sucks so much; it’s an “objective” measure of “failing” at life and what’s your prize? Derision, judgment, debt, and death.

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Is This Thing On?

Friday I went to see the new Ghostbusters flick. While it’s absolutely fantastic (seriously, I loved it; if this had been the original I would have been obsessed with the movies as a kid instead of thinking they were boring), what made my brain start churning was something I saw before the movie began. The trailer for Florence Foster Jenkins (WHICH I’M TOTALLY GOING TO SEE). Specifically the end of the trailer.

Every voice deserves to be heard.

And it hit me like a ton of bricks.

So much of my life is a pursuit of acknowledgement. I write to be read. I perform to be seen.

I don’t want to be famous. I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want to be well known.

I want to be heard.

Living within my complexities it’s almost funny. At the surface level, so many people see a cis white man and so what they assume of me is that I am heard, I am heeded, I am believed. I open my mouth to speak in feminist or activist circles and note the eye rolls. I find my input readily discarded in many instances (and note that I’m often correct in my assessments or predicted outcomes); not always, but often enough. It is believed that I am heard enough because people who look like me so often are. In reality, I speak when I am sure and those same complexities of who I am means that I am so rarely sure. I’m unsure of whether it’s my place to speak, I’m unsure of whether I’ll be heard, I’m unsure of whether I’m right (even in situations where I have solid expertise).

My queerness, my transness, even my Ashkenaz background and mental differences inform this.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s silly and self-indulgent, but I do think this is my main motivation right now. To be heard.

 

EDIT TO ADD: And that it’s my blogaversary just makes this even more poignant.

Posted in Identity, Personal Psychology, philosophy, queer, QUILTBAG, Writing | Leave a comment

Lady Dynamite, Laughing, and Being Bipolar

I have loved Maria Bamford since I was a kid and I first saw her standup on comedy central. The zaniness, the characters, the self-deprecation all rang true for me. That said, I’ve never been the type to follow through with a celebrity or act that I liked and to keep up with them, so when she sort of drew back from the public eye I never really noticed.

A short bit ago she released a show on Netflix, Lady Dynamite. This is… not a review of that show; however, I will say that I absolutely loved it, and I’ll be talking about some of the reasons why here. Lady Dynamite has gotten very positive reviews from critics, but as I sit and watch individuals review it negatively I wonder at it. Apparently some people can’t get behind the breaking of the fourth wall, the time jumps, the zaniness of all of the characters (even the ones playing themselves). These are some of the reasons why I love the show, why the comedy really jives with me, and why I’ve binge watched the entire thing twice and am watching slower a third time (it’s only been out about two weeks).

Lady Dynamite tells the semi-true story of Maria Bamford’s struggle with bipolar disorder in show business as a comedian and as I watched it I saw so much of my own struggles there. One of the best ways to put it is that I never know what sort of day I’m going to have; I am terrified of making plans in advance for this reason, what if I can’t handle the plans that day or what if I forget or get distracted? These are all things that other people relate to, but take them and turn them on their head; not only do I not know what sort of day I’m going to have, I have NO IDEA how I’m going to feel about it. I can go to bed absolutely jazzed and excited and wake up in tears and be unable to move from depression. I can be “stuck” to my chair for hours (or even days) and then suddenly pop up to go for a walk or vigorous exercise. I can be writing a paper at a good clip and then suddenly be incapable of moving my fingers to type with. Mood swings are unpredictable and encompass more than just how I “feel” about something or in general, but a physical quality that is often ignored in media representation of bipolar disorder.

Not so with Lady Dynamite. Maria’s team manages to encapsulate these physical pieces with subtle gags and specific techniques, many of which are the reasons why some folks are complaining about the show. To me, it’s clear that they’re complaining because it’s uncomfortable, and it’s uncomfortable because they’re being presented with a different perception of reality. A bipolar perception of reality.

I’m going to try to break it down into the things I’ve seen the most complaining about: self-deprecation, zaniness/craziness, time skips, fourth wall breaking. I can’t say that these were intentionally used to elicit these sorts of responses, or to metaphorically illustrate these things, but I believe they effectively did.

Self-deprecating humor

Being bipolar I often have a choice: take myself extremely seriously, or take everything very lightly. If I don’t accept some things about myself, I am set up for failure. I’ll talk more about time later, but if I don’t joke about the fact that I’m constantly late or super early then this becomes fuel and fodder for my darker mood swings. If I don’t joke and find humor in the fact that sometimes I literally cannot do some basic things because of my mood swing being too high (so I can’t focus) or too low (so I don’t have the energy), then I will obsess over these things and will find my moods cycling faster.

In one of the episodes Maria talks about her poor boundaries, and we see her again and again fail to assert those boundaries despite the best of intentions (and even practicing the assertion), then screaming into a sponge afterward. This hit so close to home for me; often I will have a plan to say or do something with a specific person and then when the moment comes do exactly the opposite. I don’t know why. It’s like my mind reboots and goes “ah, this thing we were practicing clearly we meant “do this” instead of “don’t do this” so let’s go” and suddenly I’m in a situation that I’ve never wanted to be in. When I am psyching myself up to these moments I begin to put so much effort and emphasis into it that I begin to cycle upwards, and we see this from Maria in the show; she clearly becomes manic, talking a mile a minute and making strange requests and roping strangers into her situation as the moment she’s prepared for gets ever closer.

And then there’s a dramatic drop in her mood afterward; this happens with me as well. How could I just go back on what I’ve been practicing/preparing to do, etc. etc., and this dark depression can last any random length of time.

Dear reader, my point in saying this is that if I find the whole thing funny, humorous, even in a tragic way, I can cushion that depression. I can cull my expectations and put a ceiling on that mania. I can exert some bit of control and order over my otherwise unpredictable and chaotic nature. This sort of humor is so important to me for my own coping. When I see its use in the show it hits so close to home; it’s a hindsight commentary on how Maria could have avoided it getting “this bad” and a reminder to me that without this sense of humor about being bipolar I will consume myself with guilt, shame, and disappointment.

Zaniness

What I see here is a lot of complaints that “life isn’t really like that” and that characters are too one-dimensional around this weird wacky quality.

Bipolar disorder has a way of making you rewrite what’s happening or happened to yourself; you experience reality very differently from more neurotypical people. I think it’s really important to remember that the perspective of the show, here, is Maria looking back or examining what’s happening to herself. Because of this that very one-dimensionality is cued so perfectly; it’s not that characters don’t have and contain an entire breadth of reality (and we even see that in snippets or when the fourth wall is broken), but that this recollection is both imperfect and inevitably modified to make it easier to cope with.

What to most people would be an average day at a restaurant and bar, for example, will take on these wild elements; I DO tend to characterize my bartenders and waitstaff and give them entire backstories and special elements of who they are… even going so far as to imagine them with wacky and inventive mustaches and personalities that they just do not have. Just like Maria seems to do in one episode.

What I’m trying to say here is that we cannot trust Maria’s perception of reality because it is inevitably altered. I cannot trust my initial perception of reality for the same reason; I generally need to take a step back and think about things more than other people. This is a great boon in some respects; I often get the compliment that I’m observant or that I can make really fast connections that other people don’t see initially. On the flip side, it means that I have an intense distrust of who I am and what I perceive; I am constantly seeking validation for these things which is a behavior we see from Maria constantly in the show.

And what’s a way that I deal with this reality? Humor.

If I can step back and laugh at my life, it helps me to really notice what I may be blowing out of proportion or what I may be forgetting altogether. This affects me no matter where my mood is at; even at the ever-coveted “baseline,” where I’m not in a wide mania or depression, I will still have these absolutely wacky days where things seem to all go wrong or really right and randomly. It’s pretty natural for neurotypical people to “color” days as bad or good but when a bipolar person falls into this behavior we go over the top; the universe is against us or propping us up on a pedestal that day. And the difference is that for neurotypical people? It happens and they go on with their life. For us? One day like this (even fallaciously remembered this way) and it can send us into a cycle for days that leaves us confused, and at war with ourselves.

I hesitate to use the word “crazy” or “craziness” here, not because of its negative implications, but because the truth is that yes my recollection of these events may be “crazy,” however that doesn’t accurately depict what’s going on. Still. This is the word that most people who are criticizing the show for this aspect keep using. Whether it’s Maria being randomly replaced with a lamb in part of a scene, or hiring a “loaf coach” to help her learn how to relax, needing to have sex before midnight, randomly looking into the camera and thanking a hair care products line, speaking nonsense in her “Diane voice” or any other aspect, these are all about how she recalls what happened, how she sees and is rewriting what she’s done. It’s less for us to laugh at the weirdness and more a really dark critique on the fact that she makes it weird because otherwise she may not be able to cope with what actually happened.

Time Skipping

I don’t recall if I’ve ever talked about my truly horrific relationship with time here before, dear readers, but let me do so now. I am consistently and constantly late or early. This goes with deadlines, appointments, dates, visits with friends, waking up, any number of things. This is not because I want to be or choose to be early or late. This is because my perception of time changes so wildly and randomly it is impossible for me to conceive of it in a linear fashion, let alone in a consistent fashion. If you ask me in a hypermania to measure the course of a minute you will likely find that I see a minute as anywhere between 25 to 40 seconds. In a hypomania, it becomes something more like 90 to 120 seconds. In a depression somewhere like 70-80 seconds. Even at baseline I still seem to measure between 40-50 seconds. If you have me listen to the same audio track in different moods I experience the tempo differently. I can’t go to movies when I’m hypomanic because I get so tired and drained by the experience; they just take so long!

Even further than just this experience of time literally changing based on mood, sometimes I “wake up” and it’s a few hours later. Sometimes I re-experience a memory randomly (often not attached to any triggers related to the memory) and lose time because I’m in the “past.” Especially during a hypermania I will do what’s called “hyperfocus” where the entire world disappears as I focus on one task, usually for upwards of four hours, forgetting to eat, sleep, drink, or even about appointments or other things that I have going on. Those hours become seconds to my biological clock. I “wake up” at the end of a hyperfocus and suddenly my body rushes me with all of these other stimuli, literal hours worth, and I’m overwhelmed.

These time jumps in the show so mirror that, I can’t help but be convinced that this was an intentional illustration of this phenomenon. At any point that a time skip forward, a flashback, or whatever seems to be nonsensical I can guarantee you that it hit home for me. If we remember, again, the positioning of the show as Maria’s recollection of it, this becomes more salient; for many bipolar folks (myself included) time isn’t experienced linearly. We experience it with these weird skips back and forth and the same activity taking up different amounts of time (despite a clock saying otherwise).

And if I didn’t laugh about this I would fall into a depression so heavy I might never be able to come out of it; I’d just cycle between depression and hypomania forever. And it’s so weird to me how others DON’T experience time this way that even the idea of it being jarring becomes a bit offensive before I remind myself that they aren’t bipolar.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

This is probably, to me, one of the aspects of the show I love the most. I have a very dry sense of humor in the first place, so self-aware and self-deprecating comedy makes me giggle on its own. Add in that it’s making fun of itself for being self-aware and self-deprecating and I’m gonna howl with laughter.

But this, as well, is being used as an illustration of a bipolar or otherwise neuroatypical experience. Often we will feel like we’re putting on a show, like our entire life is an entertainment piece and our entire purpose is to be entertaining damnit. Does this happen to neurotypical people? Sure, but it’s a different scale.

In clinical psychology psychosis is a term that is used for when an individual loses touch with reality, generally as measured by neurotypical standards; it can be present and caused on its own, or comorbid with other mental differences. While many things may cause psychosis, we see it often in bipolar disorder as someone “cycles out” into a really deep depression or high mania.

So what I’m saying is that while neurotypical people often get a sense of ennui or that they’re dancing at the end of puppet strings for some sort of cosmic entertainment, it’s possible that a bipolar person actually incorporates this into their daily belief and existence; it’s possible that a bipolar person is hyper aware of what they conceive of as a “fact” and, even when alone, act to be as entertaining as possible. When Maria breaks the fourth wall, I don’t just see her doing something silly and being self-conscious about her show, I see her trying to take direction from these cosmic influences (in this case presented as her fellow actors, friends, and the audience) to create the best “product” (her show) that she can to entertain them in a meaningful way.

I’m not being very articulate about it; it’s a tough thing to explain especially because many people will claim to understand and stop listening to how it’s different than what they’re claiming to understand.

What I’m saying is that this belief isn’t translated only to when I’m super manic or depressed; it’s this tiny little seed that’s ever present. Even now as I’m writing this at my desk, just in case my purpose really is to entertain or be watched by some other entity, I’m sitting in a very specific way, I am cognizant of how I look, and even occasionally I’ll talk “to nothing” or to my computer screen. I do this not just because it’s a quirk, but because deep down some part of me really does believe that this is possibly the reason I’m here.

And if I don’t find humor in that, I’d find an existential crisis instead. So I put my chin up, grin, and laugh at myself and the absurdity of life, because I’d rather laugh with whatever’s on the other side of that fourth-dimensional wall than let it laugh at me.

Posted in Blog, Personal Psychology, Psychology | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The Fluffy Guide to Dating Profile Writing

Something I’ve noticed over the course of the last few years with profiles on dating and hook-up sites is that people are really horrible at creating a profile that sings. Part of this is because there’s no one that teaches you how or what to write, we don’t know whether we’re attracting partners or repelling bad matches, many people don’t read profiles and focus only on pictures. Most popular services, such as OKCupid, or PlentyofFish, do their best to give their user-base guidance in profile essays; most also provide some sort of gimmick (such as OKC’s mysterious algorithmic questions or PoF’s cissexist and heteronormative chemistry quizzes) to help users more easily make a “good” match, whatever that means.

What I’ve found, however, is that short of actual conversation with someone the profile essay really is the best way to get to understand them.

So I’m writing this guide; I’m going to talk about how to write your own profile, including formatting guidelines to create a brief but informative essay, using some psychology tricks along the way.

Remember while you’re reading this that many people, unfortunately trained over the years by bad profile writing, skip or only skim over profiles. There’s not much you can do to counteract this except for reading context clues from their messages whether or not they’ve read them. Because of this pictures are almost a necessity. While I do have some thoughts about appropriate picture use in profiles, I’m using my space here to talk about the essay specifically.

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Glitter as Spiritual Awakening

​Glitter. To some the scourge of a well-stocked arts and crafts armory. To others a delightful toy. To still others a precision art tool.

And to some? A spiritual gateway.

The soul of glitter is one that sings to me. The idea that I could sparkle, catch what little odd pieces of light that stray and reflect them back into the universe delights me. The fact that it stays with me.

I have always loved glitter.

When I was quite young for the first time I had an inkling glitter might be a bad thing. My art teacher was out, for an entire week, because she had gotten one piece of glitter in her eye. Upon her return she had to wear an eyepatch for weeks.

I refused to touch glitter for a few years then. It was a gradual seduction back to it, first acknowledging the fun sparkle, then suggesting it in a poster, eventually to wearing it on my hands in wonder, to choosing makeup that had sparkles.

Glitter has always entranced me. In depictions of divinity and holiness we consistently see the divine and holy sparkle, shine, and yes, even glitter. We know them to be holy or divine because they glitter; only they possess that quality.

If I were asked to paint the colors of my soul it would be a dark glitter on a field of a color I can only describe by metaphor: the sky at midnight after a midsummer’s storm. To all that view it directly it would seem dark and ominous, but catch it from the corner of your eye and it would be alive with light, alight with color.

This describes me.

Sometimes I think I’m a good actor. I often manage to convince people of many things without any real intention of it. The fact that people can have any sense of surprise when they discover I’m an introvert, that I’m queer, that I’m Jewish, or any number of other things is a testament to my ability to meld into the fabric of spacetime into a shadow-figment that creates what they expect to see.

Glitter makes this impossible.

People must confront the fact that I have glitter on my brow. They must confront the pieces of me that shine when they look upon me.

That’s what glitter does for me.

It makes me visible.

It makes me bright.

Can you see me now?

Posted in Blog, Identity, Introvert, Personal Psychology, philosophy, queer, QUILTBAG, Writing | Leave a comment

Not all who claim manhood are men. Not all who are men claim manhood.

I recently had the absolutely wonderful fortune to spend five days in the woods of a very tall place in Pennsylvania, surrounded by queer men who are pagan (and some who don’t identify that way) in the pursuit of spiritual brotherhood. This festival was Coph Nia and this writing is about one facet of it.

The experience was fantastic, and while I can’t know for sure what my situation will be in a year my desire to go back next year is a direct result of the brotherhood we created, of the interconnectivity of very different lives and paths coming together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

When pressed to explain my own religious path I used to struggle. Recently I’ve nestled quite comfortably into “eclectic Jewish hedonism” as the moniker I use for what/how I practice. At the core I think of there being three foundational pillars to my spirituality: Judaism (as both a religion and Ashkenazi culture), polytheism (as I believe that Judaism is inherently a polytheistic religion that places a specific deity at its core), and hedonism (as I believe that pleasure, and the pursuit of it, is not only a biological imperative but a spiritual one). There are elements that sit on top of these pillars, but they form the very basis of who I am as a spiritual being.

My life is filled with serendipity and it is very easy for me to lose sight of this sometimes. I am constantly trying to do better and hold onto the ability to take a step back both dispassionately and connected to the present. Going to Coph Nia was a blessing for me; it was only possible because a friend had a spare free ticket with a meal plan. I was able to find and buy a tent that didn’t break my bank because a friend posted on social media that they were wondering about a deal they’d seen. I was able to pay for the gas because I drive an extremely fuel efficient car, came into possession (legally 😛 thanks) of a number of Shell gift cards, and would maybe get some kick back on fuel. I was able to buy materials I might need (food, medicine, *water*) because they were not only at Costco but on *sale*. My collaborator for what I’ve been working on was out of town and unreachable for this same time period (and I was able to finish everything required of me before I left; I’m waiting on feedback to continue now). I return now to a life where I am waiting desperately for my medicaid re-application, some form of cash flow to pick back up, and often find a lot of my existence turning into subsistence if I don’t watch carefully. It was a breath of life into what was quickly becoming a dull and grey painting of what life could be like if it evolved with the intention of snuffing itself out.

I mention these things because when I say that Coph Nia was a gift from the heavens placed on my head, I mean it. It’s a gift I’m still unwrapping slowly, savoring every moment and impression it’s left on my body. I’m going to be pondering the implications of it for the next few weeks.

Rather than belabor the mundane and explain just what physically happened (I went to this workshop, gave that workshop, participated in that ritual, went to this event, etc), I think it’d behoove me to speak more thoroughly on the implications of gender on the event and my experiences there. I’ll continue to write more on other aspects but following the break there is a fairly broad and (quite honestly for me) heart wrenching look into my experiences around my gender in gendered spaces and then Coph Nia.

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Posted in Blog, Gender, Identity, Orientation, Personal Psychology, queer, QUILTBAG, Religion, Sex, Twitter | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Internalized Heterosexism Kills the Queer Male

So started an open letter on my twitter last night.

[NOTE: I have edited this at 3pmEST on 5/30/15 as there were some sentences I just, er, didn’t finish! Woops.]

I’ve talked at length before about heterosexism in the queer male community. As a transgender non-binary person who still identifies very closely with gay male or queer male experience I have a strange outlook about it all.

Likewise I think some context for what brought this on might be welcome; that will be below all of the tweets and details.

So let me share these tweets.

Typically the issues that are raised by people who are trying to rationalize through their own internalized oppression come down to a few points:

  1. People who bareback “hunt” partners. The suggestion here is one of coercion, that the only reason they’re talking others into barebacking is not because, surprise, both people choose and want to bareback, but because they somehow trick partners into it. This can be anything from money, sweet talking/looks, or even “renegotiating” for it after sex has started and a partner’s more pliable. There’s a complete denial of the truth that some people CAN and DO assess the risks of barebacking and *choose* to do so with partners.
    1. Of course, important to note is that by denying that they also deny the simple truth and needs of sex education. I talk about this later.
  2. Everyone who does drugs lies. I can even understand where this stereotype comes from… but it’s a) patently false and b) frustratingly common. The simple truth is that, YES, while meth specifically and drugs in general can lead to erratic behavior (especially when you add into it addiction), people develop problems with these drugs because they use them to cope. The issues are in fixing what they’re coping over… which is typically a demonization of their sexuality. So. Y’know. Good on you for both contributing to the systemic issues that cause drug abuse and then the systemic demonization of drug abuse and addiction.
  3. Guys with HIV stealth and lie about it! Stealthing, for those who don’t know, is the practice of engaging in unprotected sex dishonestly, with a partner who believes you are having protected sex. There are a few different ways that men go about doing this (from puncturing holes in condoms to taking them off mid-intercourse), and many reasons. Typically the people suggesting this stereotype hold to the idea that the virus has somehow deranged men into wanting to infect as many people as possible.
    1. The truth is that those who DO stealth probably do so due to a combination of not being able to find (at least openly) willing bareback partners. Regardless, it’s a phenomenon we don’t know or understand well, yet… but its roots are surely in the vein of heternormativity that suggests bareback sex is wrong conflicting with their internal desires to do so, necessitating that they do so “stealthily” to avoid shame, guilt, and similar emotions.

It is also important for me to note that I do not think understanding the circumstances around these behaviors when/if they DO occur necessarily negates the responsibility of individuals. However we must not get confused by levels of system. The issue is that people holding to these stereotypes do so because of heteronormativity that says that drug use, bareback sex, and STIs (specifically HIV) are bad and evil. Meanwhile heterosexism denies the full breadth of diversity to non-heterosexual people; this means that the same internalized oppression that demonizes these things also puts them into the same class as the people who do or have them.

Cognitive dissonance then occurs which necessitates lashing out in order to relieve an internal sense of guilt, shame, or anger at being considered the “same” as someone who does something “evil.”

My words here are very general; the nuance necessarily depends on a more individual level. Generally, though, these are the overarching patterns.

Here’s I’m talking about the roots of what made this systemic. The people who engage in indiscriminate unprotected sex and who use (or abuse) drugs regularly have always been a minority in queer male history. Of course, between film and art and anything else that depicts that history you’d never think that and because these acts are so wildly against the dictates of cisheteronormative hegemony, they are both demonized and used to consolidate all queer men under that set of behaviors.

Unfortunately what that means is that those who are decidedly less “radical” in their actions and desires then feel attacked by public perception. They reject those who are like them in order to be better accepted by the oppressive group. All this does is isolate. If they instead dropped that “shame of affiliation” and reversed it onto that hegemony for even thinking to extend it they would find themselves less isolated.

In the past when criticizing those who hold these stereotypes that is what I get told. That I am proactively trying to guilt/shame men into having indiscriminate sex bareback while high on more meth than they can quantify. It’s a straw-man argument that they’re suggesting I’m making. I haven’t talked about their behaviors at all, simply their beliefs.

Regardless, the truth is that I AM looking at real and viable change when I talk about these things. Drugs are a problem in the queer male community not because they’re drugs and drugs are bad, but because people are abusing drugs and dying in an effort to cope with their lives. It’s irresponsible to suggest this isn’t true.

It’s also irresponsible to not note that the plague, the current HIV rate, and the rise of activities such as “stealthing” aren’t tied to drug use… because people who are demonized for their sexuality and desires will tend to find other ways to cope. Indiscriminate sex and drug abuse ARE two ways in which this happens in addition to disordered relationships with food (hello, that’s me), money, family, and more. Put simply, the reason drugs are a problem is because people who do drugs even recreationally and responsibly are seen as a problem and we’re not doing anything to combat the frankly appalling conditions of our lives that make them an easy coping mechanism instead of something done for fun.

Likewise, the only reason why indiscriminate sex should be a concern is because it’s indiscriminate and we have a culture of not talking about sex which then leads to us making decisions about our sex lives that are uninformed, uninvestigated, and quite dangerous. Were we to discuss sex education more completely, especially under the philosophies of risk awareness, acceptable risk, and clear consent whether we would see a drop in sexual activity or not is immaterial; we would at least see men and others making more informed sexual decisions.

And teaching about clear consent would both give people tools to recognize coercion, as well as to reify the fundamental agency of every person. The only people who would then “stealth” would be those who have been doing it all along (and if you think the behavior is new to this decade you are quite naive; queer men took notes from straight mens’ playbooks when condoms began to become normalized in queer male sex).

Again, I’m talking about how succumbing to the ‘monolith’ created by cisheteropatriarchy means reifying and participating in our own oppression.

(a note “I support you” in that first tweet, but character limits are rough, and a reminder that not all people in the queer male community identify with masculine terms like “brother,” hence “sibling”)

Just a rehash.

And here’s the context I promised:

When it comes to politics of sex and sexuality in the queer male community one heavy influence has always been (and likely always will be) pornography. Regardless of an individual’s thoughts/feelings on this it certainly does bring out some interesting issues. Recently there was an awards show known as the “Grabbys” where a certain porn blog that is iconic in that industry won an award. The owner of that blog, for the first time in history, accepted the award. It was also that owner’s first time “coming out” into the open as the owner of the blog. Another blogger (who was up for the same award as far as I can tell) took the opportunity to then document the other one’s  legal name, previous occupation, and more. This resulted in an uproar by the porn community (as he’s both done this before and it was unnecessarily punitive) including calls to boycott and remove his blog from affiliate links.

This is neither here nor there. The important bit is in this blogger’s reactions to those calling him out on the behavior and calling for boycotts. This blogger considers bareback pornography, men who bareback (even if they are on PrEP), and men who are HIV positive (even if they don’t bareback) morally reprehensible. He also considers men who do drugs (crystal meth specifically) similarly morally impaired. He’s pushed these ideas pretty heavily about some of the people in the porn industry and also in general.

I’m not saying that some of his points are without merits (especially about directors and such who are very coercive to their talent), but this fundamental idea that barebacking is WRONG or drugs are WRONG, when they’re literally a fabric of the history of being queer and male is offensive.

In the end what I think is important is for us to take the pressure off of each other and apply it where it’s really necessary: the hegemonic systems that want us to fight, police, and maim each other.

Posted in Argument, Identity, Orientation, Politics, queer, QUILTBAG, Sex, Twitter | Leave a comment