Feels good

Recently I’ve been doing some thinking about what labels I identify with in terms of gender and sexuality, which was sparked after reading The ABC’s of LGBT+ by Ashley Mardell. I’ve made it this far in my life without really questioning my gender or looking too hard at my sexuality, but since coming out of a relationship that’s lead to a lot more freedom and self-development, I feel like I need to get to know myself.

Labels aren’t something that I’ve ever really strongly connected to or questioned growing up- the biggest label I gave to myself throughout high school was identifying as bisexual, and more recently since starting university polyamory was thrown in the mix. But I guess this was because I was pretty certain who I was at that point- a woman who was into guys and girls, what more is there to say? (Oh my naivety…)

At the moment I don’t really feel a strong urge to ‘find my label’, but I think it’s useful for me personally given my set of circumstances. I’m only really starting to date for the first time in my life and I want to be more certain in what I want from other people, and I’m starting to explore more how I view myself and where I sit in society. I’m at a stage where I’m questioning myself a lot and figuring out who I am (which is linked to learning about the world outside the one I experience), and one way for me to do this is through finding what labels I identify with and why. These factors lead me to reading The ABC’s of LGBT+.

Since September of last year I’ve been regularly attending LGBT+ meetups, and I feel like it’s a place where I fit in. I feel more accepted and welcome, no questions asked. But apart from this, I’ve never really learned much about the LGBT+ community and what it actually comprises. Going to the society kind of gave me an introduction to the world of LGBT+, but reading Ash’s book has really expanded my view on what the LGBT+ community comprises and has given me a much broader view on gender, sexuality, and personal identity (and based on this I intend to read much more into queer history and feminism!) 

By reading the book it really highlighted to me how so many aspects of my life have been/are depicted by gender binary expectations; socially, sexually, and aesthetically. From thinking about what society’s definition of a woman is and the choices I make in my everyday life, I realised that non-binary is a word that I connect to. Although I am a cisgender woman, I find that I am not entirely defined by being female/feminine. I go through phases in which I like to dress more femininely, androgynously, and sometimes slightly masculinely. It varies. In the past this has confused me and made me question myself and my genuinity, at points when I was feeling low my mind tended to call myself flaky. But now I know that this is perfectly fine, and that as well as society pushing the rigid gender binary system, there are other people who feel the way that I do. This makes me feel less alone, and less able to internally criticise myself for being me. And I was able to find this through learning the right vocabulary, through learning words that translated my feelings into meaning. I’d never heard/understood terms like non-binary, genderfluid, or genderqueer before, but after learning what they mean it has made me feel so much better about myself. And although I don’t feel a strong draw to a specific label at the time being, just knowing they are there gives me a sense of ease. As I grow and develop as a person I may well drift into feeling more connected to some of these terms, and I feel more okay with being fluid in a way I’ve always been.

It’s interesting to think about how gender doesn’t really play a part when we are children and we do what we want purely because we want to, not because we’re influenced by how we are conditioned to think we should be acting. I think back to when, as a young child, I used to wear trousers with a chain hanging off the side one day, and dresses on others. How I was playing with dolls one minute and dinosaurs the next. Role playing as boys and girls in the play ground. And then I think to when, in high school, I never wanted to wear skirts, yet felt uncomfortable because many other girls did and I felt like I was doing something wrong. How all the other girls wore makeup and I never had the desire to, and  how I felt that somehow this made me less attractive and less desireable by doing so. How I felt attractions towards both guys and girls, and wildly confused because it was only ever taught to me that attraction could be between a man and a woman. I only started feeling uncomfortable in myself when I became aware that there might be a way that I was supposed to act or look. These are things that are all completely normal, yet they caused me a lot of unnecessary worry and stress because I was completely unaware that things could differ from the expectations of the gender binary.

Moving onto sexuality, this is an area I’ve been slightly more aware of than gender. At the very least I was taught that sexuality is a thing during school, as opposed to not being taught about gender at all. I’ve known since high school that I have the capacity to be attracted to both men and women, and I just kind of accepted bisexuality as the thing that I experienced.  I still feel pretty similar today actually, although since learning more about different genders and gender identification I now prefer the label pansexual, as I am not put off anyone based on what their genitals are (although the degree of attraction I experience towards different genders is not equal, there are other factors involved I think [But I don’t want to delve into that too deeply because it’s not something that’s important for me to define {I’m getting too far away from the point here and using too many brackets/parentheses}]). Anyway, so there haven’t been any recent revelations here. It does make me feel annoyed that I wasn’t educated to the full extent I could have been in terms of non-heterosexual sex, and even then it didn’t cover all bases. But that’s an issue that’s related to garbage sex education and well as exclusion of non-hetero sex.

I think that labels can be pretty useful to explain yourself to other people in an efficient way so they can quickly get what the deal is. I kind of want to find labels in order to help me describe myself to myself first, though. Because once I have the language to understand and describe what’s going on with me, then I can tell other people what my deal is with or without the use of labels, using the right language in the most appropriate situations. I think this will also help to give myself affirmation in that what I’m experiencing is absolutely okay and that others experience it too. Labels aren’t always useful, but they can be good. So the plan for me is to try out some different ones in terms of gender, stick with what others I’m comfortable with for now, and maybe get rid of them later if I’m not! I’m also pretty excited to see where gender studies go in the future and see how such a fluid subject will evolve. But for now, if anyone asks me, I’m gonna tell them that I’m a non-binary, pansexual, gender-questioning, polyamorous individual that uses she/her pronouns. Whew, that’s a mouthful. Feels good to say though.

-H

If you’re confused/questioning your gender identity or sexuality, or just want to know more about LGBTQIA+ then I’d highly recommend The ABC’s of LGBT+. It serves as a great starting point to give you the right vocabulary to find out more. If you can’t get the book, you have the whole internet! Start exploring!!

This is fine

Hey there peeps! So as I’ve already established the reason I’m here is to talk about my life in a way that’s constructive, and hopefully gives a takeaway point. What I want to talk about today is a problem that I’ve been facing on and off for the past few years that’s related to anxiety. Keep in mind that this is just my experience and it cannot be broadly applied to everyone who has to deal with anxiety! But maybe you’ll find yourself doing something similar in other situations.

I don’t know any names to refer to this by, so here I’m going to refer to it as stacking. What this means is that I can experience a situation  or thought that brings me anxiety, and instead of going through that anxiety and overcoming it, it sets a new baseline. This means the next time I experience anxiety it gets stacked on top of the last one, which can lead to lots of stress. I’m absolutely certain that other people have experienced something similar at some point in their lives, it’s a ‘the straw that broke the donkey’s back’ kinda situation. Look, I especially made some graphs to illustrate it:

  1. How I’d ideally experience anxiety
    normal

    An event/thought happens which causes anxiety. It could vary in how long it lasts, or how much anxiety it causes, but it’s only temporary.

  2. How I experience anxiety when stacking
    stacking

    An event/thought happens which causes anxiety, and every time another thing happens the anxiety is added on top. This way it’s a lot easier to reach high stress levels.

  3. How I feel when anxious
    aghh

    Regardless of how anxious I feel, I always feel that internal panic and dread.

So this is something I’m actually going through at the moment. On Monday I was feeling pretty good, but now it’s Friday and I’ve accumulated lots of anxiety over the week. My mind has picked at things and proposed many questions to me. Most of them are along the lines of “Hey you know this thing? What if it doesn’t work out?”, “So this thing you have to do, why aren’t you doing it now?”, and “Oh look at this thing you’re doing, surely you’re not good enough”. Clearly there is some overlap with other areas such as self confidence, and it’s tailored to what’s going on in my life at the moment. And that’s why it can be so difficult to deal with, it’s personal. Anxiety makes you question your decisions in the most personal ways possible, and it usually has the biggest effects when you’re going through some other feelings/events at the same time. This is why it’s important to take into consideration what other factors could be contributing at any one time. These can sometimes be obvious, for example you might have a big workload, or have just gone through a breakup, but in other cases it can be a bit harder. And when it’s harder to see if there’s an underlying cause/contributor to anxiety I find that it’s easy to let it sit there and progress into stacking. In order to deal with this the first step it to actually realise that things are building up, and once you’ve realised that, you can start to look into what’s going on in that big tangle of anxiety. I find it helpful to think about the questions my anxious mind is asking me, and work backwards from there. So I’m actually at this stage at the moment, and I’m going to go through my thoughts and aim for a positive outcome:

  • The anxious thought: “You’re never going to get a job in the field, you have no experience and you’re not good enough”. The cause: anxiety around uncertainty after graduating. Can I do something about it? Yes. Action: focus on looking for experience, this is the next step after graduation.
  • The anxious thought: “You don’t have any friends, and nobody wants to talk to you”. The cause: anxiety around the thought of being alone, low self confidence, having gone through a recent break up. Can I do something about it? Yes. Action: reach out and make more friends, talk more to existing friends, focus on doing things that you enjoy you build up your self confidence.
  • The anxious thought: “You’re being irresponsible every time you spend money on yourself, you don’t deserve it and you’re only going to get into money troubles”. The cause: having recently spent some money on myself, having grown up with the idea that money is only for the absolute essentials, not keeping a strict budget. Can I do something about it? Yes. Action: re-evaluate my budget and see what extra money is free to spend.

Just doing this right now has given me some instant relief, and I feel like I’m unstacking. Instead of feeling like I’m under a crushing pile of undoable tasks, I have an action plan to work on and I feel more in control of the situation. Feeling anxious a lot of the time for me stems from worries, so evaluating the anxiety when certain thoughts come across my mind can help me trail back to the underlying worries. Putting them under pressure makes them crack when they don’t hold any ground. I tend to find that my worries are actually quite useful, like above, they can help point me in the right direction. That being said, worrying and feeling anxious still sucks ass. And I know that even though I’ve tackled some of these worries, I will still feel anxious in the future, worried or not. And that’s okay. When that happens, I’m going to try and not criticise myself and give myself a little time to recompose. I find it’s helpful to try and have a positive inner voice (when possible), which gets easier to use with more practice. Next time I feel like someone is staring at me in public, I’m going to consciously think “Oh hello there! Are you looking at me? Because I bet I can look at you harder, I would totally beat you in a staring contest. Or can you not handle my dashingly good looks?”. This helps me to recover from anxiety faster, or in some lucky cases avoid it altogether! It’s hard work though, and it takes a lot of mental effort. But practicing using a positive inner voice makes it a little easier over time. Personally, I like to give my inner voice a lot of sass. Heck, if you wanted you could have Alan Rickman as an inner voice.

 

To summarise: don’t beat yourself up, be kind to yourself, and hone your inner voice.

– H

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Comic by KC Green