5 Reasons Why My Gender is Complicated

Ladies, gentlemen, and all genders in between: I have glorious news!

After years of dysphoria, lots of therapy, and jumping through insurances’ hoops, I have been approved!

For what, you ask? For surgery- Top Surgery! Finally, twenty years after developing this painful and unwieldy chest that never felt like it was mine, as of yesterday (for you, I’m writing this on Sunday- Greetings, from the past!) will be rid of them. Good bye boobs, and good riddance.

After years of stressing about what my gender is, or should be, I have come to the realization that gender is complicated, and mine (and yours!) will never be the same as anyone else’s.

So I give to you some of the reasons why gender is complicated.

1. Gender is a social construct: So gender seems like a pretty straightforward thing, right? From a young age, we’re told that girls wear pink and play with dolls, and boys wear blue and earn $0.18 more per dollar. But for me, it’s not that easy. Honestly, I didn’t even think about it until puberty, when everyone suddenly had opinions about what I should be like. I was a girl, because people said I was-that’s it. Each society gets to define what gender is, and while most western societies only have two: Boy and Girl, other societies have more. I’m not particularly interested in stressing about gender, I am me, and it doesn’t matter what my body looks like. I was Nonbinary with boobs, and I am now without them. I’m Meesh, and I’m just trying to make my body fit my spirit.

2. There’s a lot of gender vocab: Trans, cis, nonbinary, demi boy, demi girl, gender fluid, genderqueer, neutrois. These are just some of the language used to talk about gender these days, and it’s great! Because it’s so important to have an identity that fits you. It can make things complicated, because new terms are being developed, and a lot of them aren’t standardized. For example, nonbinary is a very broad term- it’s definition means that it includes anything outside of the gender binary, aka, anything that isn’t male or female. In fact, if you look at all the terms that come after it, they all fall under the nonbinary umbrella. That means that people who are nonbinary can identity incredibly differently. Nothing wrong with that, just another complication.

3. Body dysmorphia vs gender dysphoria: I come from an Eating Disorder background, where body dysmorphia runs rampant. Most people with eating disorders experience this to some degree- when they look in the mirror, they can’t see their body for how it is. They see fat even when they’re underweight. This phenomenon is surprisingly similar to gender dysphoria. When I look in the mirror and see breasts and feminine curves, I feel anxious and detached. Both body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria make me hate my body, and it can be hard to tell which one is causing my distress. Do I had my curves because they make me feel fat, or because they make me look like a girl? Being able to tell the difference is vital for my mental health, but trying to figure out which is which is complicated.

4. Them/them/theirs: Oh pronouns. How can something that seems so simple get so complicated so fast? Traditionally, the English language only has two pronouns: she and he. And when the majority of people only identified as one of two genders, the pronouns worked fine. But now that we know that there are many genders, he and she just aren’t going to cut it. But what will the new pronouns be? Can we just make shit up? The answer is yes, we can totally make shit up, which is how we got pronouns like xe, sie, and zir. The other option is to borrow an already existing pronoun, in this case, they. I use they/them/their pronouns, mostly because they’re easy to explain, not because I’m drawn to them, or because they fit me perfectly. The grammar snob in my hates my pronouns, it screams that you can’t hit a plural pronoun for a singular person. I agree, but since I can’t stand being called ‘she’, ‘they’ will have to suffice for now.

5. Neither here nor there: Once upon a time, there were only two gender identities, Cis, and Trans. You either identified with the gender that was assigned to you at birth (Cisgender), or you didn’t (Transgender). In recent years, we’ve begun to understand that there is a lot more to gender than the trans/cis binary. That there are genders that exist in between them, or in some cases, completely outside of them. This is a fantastic development for people like me, who thought that even though they felt uncomfortable in their bodies, that they must be Cis, because the Trans label just didn’t fit. As fantastic as this is, it can leave NBs like me in a crappy place- it’s easy to feel like we don’t belong anywhere. Many people, myself included, want to feel like there are other people like us, who share our experiences, and can be a resource to us. Actually, that’s a lot like the Autism community too, isn’t it? I guess most minority groups have a lot in common. Feeling like I don’t belong in Trans spaces, or in Cis spaces, can be really lonely. I’m lucky to have 2 other NB people in my life, but even so, sometimes I just want slide easily into a clearly marked box.

So here we are! You, reading on your screen, and me, propped up on the couch and dozing on painkillers. It’s a little weird to be putting this together before hand (although here in the past, I am still on the couch).

I may not be able to respond for a week or two, but I’ll still ask the question. Is there anything about you that is Complicated? How do you handle it?

If you read this far down, send some virtual good vibes my way!

6 Ways I Survive Haircuts

So here I am, waiting for a haircut. And you may not know this, but letting someone cut my hair is a god damn miracle, because for many years (read decades), I wouldn’t let anyone except Jess cut my hair.

But a few years ago, I started investigating if I could make a real haircut work, and it took some time and some tweaking, but I can proudly say that I get my hair cut regularly, and, AND I survive it.

So here’s a few quick things I do to keep myself sane, and then I’m off to get trimmed.

Wish me luck!

1. Plan the day: So I think the number one most important thing for me is to keep my haircut day clear. No other appointments, no other stress, basically keeping myself as un-stimulated as possible, to make up for the inevitable overload. So I keep my day low-key. Watch a favorite show, eat my safe foods, cuddle with the cats. I want to keep myself as fresh as possible for my appointment.

2. Schedule Smart: My stylist knows me really well now, and when I make appointments, she schedules me when her schedule is mostly free. So I’m not in a room with 6 others people and clippers and blow dryers blaring. It’s just her, me, and maybe a couple other people. Going to smaller salon also helps with this, because they’re not trying to get people in and out as quick as possible, like a chain does.

3. Get to know a stylist: I am so lucky. I found my stylist because my wife went to her, and they got talking and Jess learned that my stylist (L) had an autistic sister in law, and she offered to see if we could make it work. Now I realize that not all stylist can know someone with autism, but finding someone who can listen and work with you makes a whole lot of different. L knows that I don’t like small talk, so we only talk about the cut. She turns the chair away from the mirror for me. She asks good questions about what I want. I know I lucked out, and it usually takes some stylist shopping, but it makes a huge difference.

4. Sensory sensory sensory: The absolute worst part of the haircut process for me is the many ways that I can get sensory overload. There are things that I do now to keep things as doing as possible. Here is a short but hopefully complete list. Washing my hair in room temperature water, and having strategic towels to keep water out of my eyes and ears. When touching is necessary, firm pressure at all times. No snip snip of shears, long deliberate cuts that don’t sound hellish. No blow dryers ever. Extra thorough efforts to get hair off my neck, so I can make it home to shower. I’m sure there are more, but these are my important ones

5. Be prepared: I still make sure that I’m prepared for a haircut appointment like I am for anything else. So for me, that means stim toys, ear plugs, and miscellaneous things like wipes, snacks, and something to read. You never know when someone will be running late and you’ll have to wait, or when you’ll be more overwhelmed than you predicted. Lastly, if you can go with a buddy, absolutely do. Having someone safe and familiar around is calming, and if necessary they can help you communicate and advocate for you if necessary.

6. The Cheat: This is cheating slightly I think, because most salons don’t have a shop dog, but I am greatly helped by this tiny bundle of love!

So it’s haircut time, with any luck I’ll make it through, and my hair will finally be out of my face. Wish me luck!

Great Expectations?

 

 

I feel like I’ve hit a bit of a wall lately when it comes to contributing to my community. It’s not that I don’t want to participate. It’s more like every time I try to, I freeze. This isn’t exactly surprising for me, and I’ll tell you why. We all know about the Fight of Flight response. What they don’t tell you until you hit Advanced Mental Health Status is that there’s a third ‘F’, and that ‘F’ is Freeze. I am a freezer. Not the kind that keeps your popsicles solid, no, I am that gazelle in the African Savannah who hears the lion coming and decides that the best course of action is to stand perfectly still and that that the lion think’s they’re dead. Let me tell you right now, as a gazelle, it doesn’t usually work.

I love being an active part of my communities- and there are a lot. My friends used to refer to me as the Uber Minority, which makes me sound like some sort of awesome Transformer type robot. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and it more means that people kind of tilt their heads when they first meet me. They know that there’s something different about me, but they can’t tell what it is. Sometimes they try and guess, which depending on my mood, can be a lot of fun. Given my combination of identities, no one ever guesses perfectly right, and honestly, if they did, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I’d probably off up some sort of prize. Probably a Tangle, as I have a bunch, and always have one on my person. Not my fuzzy Tangle though. Hopefully they’d appreciate their prize.

A lot of communities mean a lot of opportunities to interact. There’s National Eating Disorders Month, Autism Acceptance Month, and Pride Month, just to name a few. All of these usually make me really enthusiastic about being active on Tumblr and Instagram, and even here on this blog. But it doesn’t be a surprise to you that every opportunity that’s come up this year has made me freeze. Activity on all of my accounts dropped off suddenly, and I hate it so much.

I’ve been trying to work my way back up. Luckily, I had submissions I could use on my Tumblr blog (check it out!), and was at least still comfortable liking things on Instagram- things with minimal interaction, and that didn’t require me to put myself out there. Because let’s face it, I’m a bit of a coward.

At least that’s what it feels like. If I think about it without beating myself up, it’s more like I’m a perfectionist- a perfection that when combined with my intense need to be a good advocate and a good disabled person, freezes me in my tracks.

But that’s an awful lot of pressure to put on myself, isn’t it? I can say it, I’m not sure that I really mean it. So let my put it all out there. It is not my job to represent every person in my community. It is not my responsibility be witty and eloquent so strangers will pay attention to what I have to say. I IT IS OK for me to explore my identities publicly, IT IS OK to share my opinions, and IT IS OK to say things that others in my community disagree with (as long as I am respectful).

I can take chances, make mistakes, and get messy and the world will not end!

Doesn’t all that sound great? How awesome the world would be if we were all able to go through life unafraid of trying, even if there was a chance of failing. Clearly easily said than done. But if therapy had taught me nothing, it’s that baby steps are always the way to go. So:

I will keep to my Tumblr post schedule (but not kick myself if I miss a day)

I will keep writing (even if the end product doesn’t get posted here)

I will have fun posting things to Instagram (and stick around to see what my friends are posting too)

I will participate (and I’ll try to remember why I enjoy participating so much)

And lastly I won’t get down on myself when things aren’t perfect.

 

4 Travel Bag Essentials

Welcome me back from vacation! I mean, if you call a 5 day church conference a vacation, which I certainly do.

Ok, maybe vacation is a bit of a stretch, but I did leave my home city, had new experiences, and hung out with friends and family, which I consider some of the key proponents of a vacation. Did I mention that I had a great time?

One of the hardest things about going out of town for me is knowing what to pack. I find it hard sometimes to strike a balance between bring everything I might need if the apocalypse were to occur, and want to be able to carry everything on my person.

And while my anxiety induced list-making might not be the healthiest coping skill, it has taught me how to pare things down to some “essential” categories. 

1. Sensory Busting: My apartment is an ecosystem, a sensitively balanced space centered around my senses. It fits my sensory needs perfected the majority of the time, and when it doesn’t, say for example on the 4th of July (damn fireworks!), I can bring it back into tune quickly. My home environment is nearly perfect. The rest of the world is….not. Which is why it is so important to pack enough tools to regulate whatever foreign environment you’ve found yourself in. So you start easy- stim toys. All your favorites, plus an extra or two. Next stim, things that manipulate your environment. Include ear plugs, headphones (noise cancelling if you’ve got ’em!), and blue light glasses to cut down the glare of fluorescent lights. Lastly, comfort things. Weighted objects, your favorite stuffed animal, and comfort movies. All things that will make away from home seem more like home.

2. Weird Hygiene: Even in my home environment, hygiene is a struggle for me. I can sum it up as: I hate being wet, shampoo feels funny, and toothpaste has a weird texture. And for the most part, it doesn’t matter all that much. I don’t leave the house all that often, and I hit the biracial hair jackpot, and it doesn’t require that much washing. Still, packing bathroom stuff takes some extra brain power, because not only do you need your standard hygiene kit: toothbrush/toothpaste, deodorant, body wash, contact solution, but there are sneaky, extra things you need to pack. Like sunscreen! I don’t usually spend enough time outside to need it, but in a new place in the middle of summer, I wouldn’t be caught without it! I also don’t go anywhere new without wipes. They have so many uses- if my hands get sticky, if my deodorant runs out, or even if my shaky hands spill a latte down my front. This is one of those categories that I think it’s ok to over-pack a bit. You definitely don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you need something, but don’t have it.

3. Clothes Math: Picture it: I’m in my hotel room, ready to get dressed. I pull out my suitcase and realize that for 7 days of travelling, I’ve packed 8 pairs of socks, and only 2 shirts. This is, as you can imagine, highly problematic. I’m very lucky to be married to an A+ packer, so nothing this drastic has happened to me, but I’ve also never packed exactly the right amount of clothes that I’ll need for a trip. So, things that are important to pack: pants, shirts, socks, underwear, pajamas. But will I actually wear multiple pairs of pajamas? Where do sweatshirts fall into this? I know I think that I’ll change my socks every day, but that rarely happens. Shirts are changed every day, but pants aren’t. So many clothing rules! I’ve found that a few simple equations work for me, although I’ll still never leave the house without Jess double checking my math. So here they are: shirts = # of days away. Pants(or shorts or skirts)= .5* #number of days away. Socks & underwear = .5* # of days away. 2 sweatshirts of different weights. If summer, 1 vest. 2 pairs of pajama pants. Pajama shirts = pajama pants + 1. Worst case scenario, you wear something a little longer. And if you’ve referenced the previous bullet point, you’ll have plenty of deodorant and wipes, so no one will even know!

4. Amusement: Sometimes the only way I can handles being out in the world and off my route is through good old fashion distraction. This conference I was at last week was in a massive convention center, with more than 3000 attendees, and if I hadn’t been able to find a dark corner every once and a while, I would have lost my tiny autistic mind. Now I know this about myself, and remembered to pack accordingly. I think I did pretty well in abiding by the not over-packing rule in every category except one, which I’ll get to in a moment. I packed my game boy, and a variety of games (included by not limited to: kingdom hearts, Minecraft, and Pokémon). I packed some small, two-player board games, which ended up working out great. Jess and I managed to grab some coffee and found a quiet area and played some of our favorites. Both of these things were not only distracting but calming- they were like little bits of my routine away from home. Now back to the over-packing. I have a kindle. It has about 50 books on it. It’s light and portable and it totally should have been enough…But I still packed 2 paperbacks just in case…and bought 2 more while I was there…I have a book problem, please don’t judge me.   

Well there we are, I think I’ve covered all of my packing essentials! This is based off  the rough draft of my pre-pre-pre packing list, which ended up working out pretty well for me. I was pretty successful, except for the fact that I wore the same socks 5 days in a row, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

Can you think of any packing essentials that I missed? That will blow my mind and totally change the was that I pack? Let me know! Blow my world!

5 Reasons I Love Musical Theatre

It’s summer in St. Louis, or at least the 95 degree temperatures make it feel that way, and summer here means lots of cool outdoor events. One of my favorites is seeing shows at The St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre, otherwise known as The MUNY. They put on shows all summer, a new show every week, and if you’re willing to sit in the nosebleed seats, it’s even free!

This year the lineup is Jerome Robbinns’ Broadway, The Wiz, Singin’ in the Rain, Jersey Boys, Annie, Gypsy, and Meet Me in St. Louis- not a bad lineup!

We saw our first show of the season yesterday, and it reminded me how much I love live shows. So here are all the things that my autistic heart loves about musical theatre

  1. It’s Sensory Friendly: At least when it comes to performances. I don’t know about you, but I need earplugs to make it through movie theatre previews most days. (in fact, the movie Dunkirk was so painfully loud, I swore off movies until it was out of theatres). Concerts are also loud, although they can be loud in a good way, and often have lighting effects that make me kind of nauseous. Live theatre is great because it’s not prohibitively loud, unnecessarily bright, and more and more often sensory friendly shows are being offered! The only negative sensory thing I experience is having to sit still for a couple of hours- and I can’t really complain about that.
  2. Orchestral Music Gives Me Goosebumps: For most of my life, I was unaware that not everyone gets intense goosebumps and tingles when they listen to classical music. And I was astounded. I couldn’t imagine an existence where Vivaldi didn’t send chills up and down my spine, or where the score from Jurassic Park didn’t give me full body tingles. I always thought when people said that a piece “moved them to tears”, they were describing how. damn. good. music makes their body feel. For me, this sensation is the best type of body stim, and musicals are basically just 2 hours of stimmy bliss.
  3. The Themes are Universal: Relating to people can be tough. Sometimes when I’m in social situations, I find myself just smiling and nodding along- mostly because I’m either confused about other people’s experiences, or I just can’t relate. Real life is hard, but musicals are easy. They are about human things that everyone has felt before. Feeling oppressed? Les Mis. Feeling Misunderstood? Wicked. Family Troubles? Lion King. Mental Health Issues? Dear Evan Hanson. Cats? Cats! Sometimes it’s really just to just sit back and relax- without having to interpret the world.
  4. The Characters Literally Sing Their Feelings at You: That’s right, I said it. No figuring out facial expression or body language, no sorting out metaphors, and absolutely no dealing with the consequences of guessing wrong. I love knowing exactly what the characters are thinking and feeling because it lets me immerse myself into the story- something that doesn’t happen too often in real life. Can you imagine: you’re in a complicated situation, and you’re trying to figure out if you’ve said or done something wrong, and all of a sudden, the other person breaks into song? YOU DIDN’T VALIDATE MY FEELINGS EARLIER AND I FEEL LIKE YOU DON’T CAAAAAAAARE! It would certain make life more interesting!
  5. All the Feels: Sometimes I have trouble identifying my emotions. Am I upset? Am I overwhelmed? Am I sad? And I know for me, not knowing how I’m feeling can lead to a build up of emotions, and I will eventually explain. Figuratively, of course. So, at regular intervals, I find that I just need a good cry. I don’t even have to by crying about my life and my problems- musicals let me cry about other people’s problems. Key examples include: Do You Hear the People Sing (Les Mis), Wait for It (Hamilton), For Good (Wicked), and Goodbye Love (Rent). There are many more. Seussical, which is a funny show based on the works of Dr. Seuss has a song that makes me cry. Maybe I’m too emotional, but at least I’ve got an outlet, right?

So there you go! Now that you know how I’ll be spending my summer nights, I think it’s only fair that I know about your plans. Tell me what you’re looking forward to doing this summer, even if it’s just saying at home and enjoying your air conditioner!

I’m a Quitter

It’s official. As of Saturday, I will officially be a non-smoker.

I’ve been smoking on and off since I was 16, and while I’ve quit before, it’s never lasted more than few years. I think a big reason for that is because smoking becomes such a satisfying routine.

A goodness knows that I thrive on routines.

So I’ve been thinking about quitting for a while now, but I’ve been having trouble doing the actual, you know, quitting part. I’ve been slowly decreasing the number of cigarettes that I smoke a day, but I’ve hit a bit of a wall. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to quit, but I was having what I think of as motivation issues.

Until last Saturday, that is. Since then, I’ve had tons of motivation.

I’m having surgery in July, and since it involves grafts, the surgeon requires me to not smoke. Fun fact: smokers have a 20% more chance of graft rejection than nonsmokers, which is good enough motivation for me to push through the discomfort and just quit.

Back to the routines. I smoke at specific times of day, every day. The act of smoking is so closely tied with things like eating meals and leaving the house that I have trouble separating the two. These sorts of activities are transitional, and that’s an Executive Dysfunction thing that I really struggle with.

So, the struggle begins to find replacement activities! After much consulting and debating, I’ve got a plan that I think will work. I’m going to use both distraction and sensory replacement to keep myself honest. Enter my Gameboy and coffee flavored hard candy. Instead of smoking before meals, I’ll take 5-10 minutes and play a game (Mario-kart and Mario party, mostly) and suck on hard candies to fulfill the oral fixation.

I’m not sure how this is all going to go. It looks good on paper, but goodness knows that changing routines is far more difficult than it should be, at least for me.

Wish me luck, and please excuse any rant-y posts while I adjust to all the changes!

P.S. If you’ve ever quit smoking and you have any tips, please let me know!

4 Reasons Staycations Are Great for Autistics

The word “stay-cation” gives me a bit of a visceral reaction. Which is weird, because I usually like wordplay, especially of the rhyming variety. But for whatever reason, ‘stay-cation’ makes me cringe and promise myself that I’ll never take one.

Except that my in-laws came to visit this week, and they wanted to do all the cool but totally touristy stuff that St. Louis has to offer.

It was exhausting. I don’t understand how people can go from doing minimal movement in their day to day lives, to being able to walk miles upon miles and climb an infinite number of stairs.

Now granted, I would have been mentally and physically exhausted whether we were in St. Louis or Paris, and as the week went on, I came to realize that once I got past the name, stay-cations were made for me!

So here are a few reasons why taking your vacations at home are awesome:

  1. Minimal Travel: I don’t know about you, but while I love going places, I hate getting there. Travel gets difficult because it’s hard to predict. There could be an accident on the highway, your plane could be delayed. No matter how hard you try to plan out your stops, the rest area you were counting on could be closed. And here’s a slight bit of TMI for you- I’m not great at telling when I have to go to the bathroom, so when I have to go, I have to go NOW. So to sum it up, cars are uncomfortable, airports are loud, trains are crowded, and buses smell funny. Staying in your own city minimizes all of these issues, and frees up tons of energy for stuff that’s more fun!
  2. Familiar Food: Eating out once and a while is a lot of fun. I like getting to eat foods that I can’t easily make at home (like sushi and curly fries), but holy crap does eating out have diminishing returns. It goes from fun to tedious in the blink of an eye! This week was no exception. But something that I noticed was that familiar foods made eating out a bit less stressful. I could mostly stick to restaurants that I’d been to before, which added in familiarity. And be not being somewhere new, I could be sure that the dish I was ordering wouldn’t have any weird regional variations (who puts beets on burgers? I’m looking at you, Australia).
  3. Your Schedule isn’t Completely Messed Up: I thrive on my routine, and even if I’m having the time of my life on a vacation, not being able to do things at their scheduled times really takes a toll. You can do as much planning as you want, but it still won’t be quite the same. My cartoons before bed routine just isn’t as effective if it isn’t my bed. Enter the stay-cation. Being at home means that even if your days are all messed up, you can keep your mornings and nights pretty much the same! I’ve found that I’m in a lot better of a place if I can start with my morning routine and end with my bedtime one. It makes the chaotic middle part more tolerable. And as a bonus- you get to sleep in your own bed! (Also, you don’t have to fit 5 stuffed animals into your carryon)
  4. You Can Always Just Go Home: None of us wants to feel like we’re failing at things. It’s a crappy feeling, and for me it generally leads to me mentally kicking myself for no being able to do what “normal people” can do. But failure happens. To everyone. And no matter who you are, it sucks even worst on vacation, because you spent time and money traveling, just to not be able to enjoy yourself. That’s what’s so great about stay-cations: you’re close to home. So it’s not like you wasted a day of travel. Sometimes you just need to go home, take a break, and try again later. And there’s no shame in that.

Have you ever taken a stay-cation? What was the best part? If you haven’t, tell me one thing about where you live that’s worth seeing!

Bonus Stay-Cation Pictures

The Gateway Arch

Penguins at the St. Louis Zoo

Meramac Caverns