10 Minute Writing: Adolescence

Children climb trees in our neighborhood. They’re so enticing, those almost-out-of-reach lowest branches, beckoning, stirring up a quickening to climb. One good, big jump, a well-placed kick off, a big reach, and the right grasp to pull the body up behind. From here, the branches are much closer together, making higher heights easily achievable.

It feels good to be high up in a tree, perching relaxed on a branch as any wild thing would. The neighborhood and the whole world with it look different from up here. It’s quieter and the feeling of adventure and potential for greatness permeate the air.

The time always comes to climb back down, but the descent is not as easy; it’s scary to jump down when there’s so far to fall. But there’s always a friend nearby to run and collect the tall, gentle father to pluck his stuck child from the trees, into his arms, and place them safely back on solid ground.

Above is the result of a 10 minute writing on the theme of Adolescence as given in the Creative Nonfiction Writing class I am taking through the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Written February 12, 2019.

There Is Love For Me

There is love for me
That fits my planes and angles
That moves with me as I curl and unfurl
There is love for me
That won’t get tangled in my hair
Or lose my scent across the desert
Or in the chill of winter air
Love that leaves room to grow and go and return
To ebb and flow and yearn
To love and love again
There is love that shows me to myself
With no want to change nor keep me
Love with sight to see into the strata of my being
There is love that lets my love wash over it
With no fear of being drowned
Love that my love amplifies like resonating sound
There is love that seeks and speaks to me
Near and far alike
That cares to share itself with me
And blossoms in my light
When sometimes I feel unloved and fated so to be
I tune into my own heart’s love where
There is love for me

April 2018

Taking a Gander at Notions of Gender

It’s always been pretty clear to me that gender and the associated ‘appropriate’ clothing, interests, and self-expressions are all made up; “men’s” clothing and “women’s” clothing are all pieces of cleverly shaped fabric that can be worn on any body they fit, makeup works on any skin regardless of that body’s genitalia; any person can be strong or weak, shy or assertive, honest or not; and the physical makeup of the body has very little to do with the personality of the being within it, outside of societal and cultural conditioning.

I grew up the youngest of three children with two older brothers. I wore their hand-me-downs, I played most of the same sports they did, and I put my barbies in my remote control cars to drive around playtown. I wore dresses and pants, painted my nails and played in the mud, spoke my mind and was sensitive.

By the time I got to middle school I shopped pretty equally in the ‘boy’s’ section and the ‘girl’s’ section evaluating each piece on its own merit — how did it function? Would it keep me warm in the winter or cool in the summer? Did I feel good wearing it? Could I throw it through a regular wash cycle and wear it without ironing it?

My parents didn’t object or really say anything about my clothing choices — at least that I can remember now — as long as the items weren’t over budget. Sure, my mom liked it when I did my eye makeup and put on a pretty outfit when we had family get togethers, but she also was an outspoken feminist who made it explicitly clear that I could do anything the boys could do. My dad probably teased me a bit about my fashion choices and my hair styles and colors, but all of it came from a loving place and wasn’t overtly gender-focused. Both of my parents really just wanted one thing for me: to be happy!

Looking back, if that weren’t the climate they created for me, if they had objected to my wearing pants from the ‘boy’s’ section or shaving my head on the basis of those choices being wrong for my gender, I’m pretty sure I would have gone through a gender identity crisis in my teen years. Since no such beliefs were imposed upon me, allowing me to just be myself, I didn’t really give it much thought outside of making choices to match my desire of expressing myself as I felt: like a balance between masculine and feminine, not fully conforming to either notion.

As my 18th birthday present, my parents paid for my airfare to travel with my beloved aunt to Southern California to visit her son, my cousin, and see the west coast for the first time. At the time I was sporting a purple mohawk, a lip ring and a nostril ring, and wearing a lot of sun dresses, short skirts, and eye makeup.

My cousin is a non-normie himself and commented on my aesthetic presentation positively, likening me to Tank Girl, and I clearly remember what I said about my fashion philosophy: “I like a balance; I like the juxtaposition of masculine and feminine. When my hair is more masculine and ‘out there’, I dress more traditionally feminine. When my hair is more feminine, I dress more masculine. I don’t want to fit too far into any one box.”

When I was 23, I took a really fantastic Communications class with about 30 students at a highly-ranked community college. The professor was a wonderful, classy, sharp middle-aged woman with inspirational energy. She masterfully fostered a space for open dialogue; she had us arrange our desks in a circle every class and encouraged student involvement as she lead us through conversations on interesting topics related to communication and the world we live in.

One thing that bothered me about her classes, though, is she often spoke to gendered norms as if they were inherent realities: women think this way and men think that way, women act this way and men act that way. It was a regular theme that I would challenge these notions from a place of personal experience: “Well, professor, you say that women are X and men are Y, but I am Y and not X.”

My objections in that class weren’t to prove my masculinity, but to challenge the underlying assumptions. If it is true that women are this way by nature and men are that way by nature, but my nature aligns with the masculine more often than the feminine, then either I’m not a woman or the assumptions are wrong — or, as I ultimately settled on: both!

My “well, but” comments came frequently enough in class that there eventually came a moment where the professor responded with a slightly frustrated, “Okay, Mel, we get it: you’re a man!” At the time I actually sort of liked that response; I think it felt good to be acknowledged as not-a-woman. But I’m not a man, either, and to put me in that category seemed to me to be sidestepping the obvious contradiction of how I actually am and the expectations of how I ‘should’ be in this vaginaed, breasted body.

I didn’t use these words then because it wasn’t part of the conversation happening, and I didn’t feel any need to break out of outside-imposed identities to clarify myself, but it’s true now and it was true then: I do not have a gender identity.

So what does that mean? It means I don’t feel like or identify as a man or as a woman — I identify as a person. The notions of what a woman is do not accurately portray me, and the notions of what a man is do not accurately portray me, and I think the whole concept of gender is broken.

Since I have never felt restricted in my self-expression to begin with, not much has changed for me personally through my recognition of my lack of gender identity, but in today’s climate it is feeling increasingly important to me that I add my voice to the push back against traditional views of gender, which foster oppression and divisiveness within our society.

I believe words are extremely powerful in shaping our realities, and this belief evokes in me a feeling of reverence and motivation to be very careful with how I use them. I’m also completely in love with words, fascinated by their etymological origins and the varying connotations among synonyms, as well as how their usage interacts with the human psyche and thus affects our shared reality.

For me, the process of picking just the right words to convey just the right feeling or experience, crafting my words carefully to say only what I mean and not what I don’t, is both very pleasurable and very important.

For many years, I have been practicing genderless vocabulary, making an effort to use non-gendered terms whenever possible, e.g. “that person” instead of “him/her.” But there are times when a pronoun is helpful, and when it comes to pronouns to refer to myself, nothing quite feels right: she/her at this point feels disingenuous, incorrect, and passively reinforcing of societal norms, so they’re out. He/him feels better because it acknowledges my non-woman-ness, but also isn’t correct, so they’re out too. Since we don’t yet have a ‘neuter’ singular pronoun in the English language, that leaves: they/them.

The grammar nerd in me initially rejected they/them on the basis of my being one singular person, but the more I’ve reflected on my internal experience of myself and the nature of my personality, the more I’ve come to realize that I feel much more like a multiplicity, a conglomerate of multiple perspectives, values, and motivations than one static thing anyway. So, for now at least, they/them it is!

There’s plenty more to say on this topic, but for now I would like to wrap it up by addressing two important points:

On Other People’s Gender Identities:
Just because I believe gender to be a construct DOES NOT mean that I think other people’s personal gender identities are wrong or fake. Someone’s identity is unique to that person and is a communicative tool to symbolize and express that person’s ideas of themselves, their values, and how they wish to relate to the world around them.

I think that’s all great and am in full support of each person making their own choices about their own self expression, whatever it may be! As always, my opinions and perspectives are my own and I cannot speak for anyone else.

On How I Would Want Someone To Handle ‘Mis-Gendering’ Me:
Please, please don’t be overcome with guilt and lay on the apologies — that does not feel good to me to be on the receiving end of! This stuff is new and can be complicated, even for me. I still find myself using genderizing language in reference to myself from time to time — language expression is weird and old habits take time to change!

At first the labels didn’t feel very important to me personally, which is a big part of why I haven’t been very outspoken about my genderlessness previously; to me, the gender conversation is important to shifting, as a collective, out of harmful cultural beliefs into those that are non-violent and do not create a climate that is oppressive and dangerous for many non-gender-conforming individuals. I appreciate someone giving it thought and care and will not feel attacked when the words are not meant to be hurtful.

As more time has elapsed since I first ‘came out’ on social media, however, I am finding it matters more and more to me: when a friend who is in the know uses nothing but ‘she/her’ pronouns for me over a year later, it hurts my feelings. It also puts me in strange positions when I hang out with that person and a group of others — when my friend is “she-ing” me, it’s an additional barrier to me speaking up and saying “hey, actually, I’m a they not a she!”

It may seem obvious, but I did not realize that by doing this investigation into myself and determining the words that best suit me, I am now in a position of having to ‘come out’ to new people… which, so far, I have mostly avoided doing outside of the internet. Hopefully soon I’ll find the way to speak up for myself that works for me.

Okay friends, that’s all from me on this topic for now!

Well wishes,

Originally written February 2018. Light editing March 2019.