Power In Your Hands

Me, as a forbidding faerie queen

Me, as a forbidding faerie queen

Halloween was always a thrilling time for me, both as a child and as an adult. It’s not that I was that into being scared; scary things were actually way too intense for me when I was little. And candy was nice, but given the weird scares of the 1980s, I wasn’t allowed to eat most of the candy I collected anyway. No: what really drew me was the opportunity to dress up and be someone different.

Costuming has always been powerful for me, especially as an actor. A different set of clothes, hair, makeup, shoes – it can all serve to change how you stand, walk, move, even think. The interaction between the body and the things we wrap it in is a source of constant fascination, changing our relationship to gender, age, place, season, cultural identity, time, and self.

If you think that’s a bit strong, think of how different you feel when you are sitting on the couch at home in your PJs, versus how you feel when you put on a suit, or dress up for church, or go out dancing on a Saturday night, or go to visit an elderly parent, or prepare to work on your car, or go hiking. If you’ve ever worn period clothing, you know how much a corset, or a loose tunic or robe, or a frock coat, or a flapper dress, can change how you stand, move, bend and carry yourself. Cross-dressing or deliberately queering gender through clothing has an effect on the wearer, as well as an effect on the viewer, depending on the culture in which it is done, the level of tolerance of the people involved, and the context. Today, a guy in my office won the costume contest dressed as Princess Leia – not, I think, because he looked silly, but because he looked so good without hiding any of his masculinity, and pulled it off proudly. Were he to show up dressed similarly on any other day, the context would have shifted, and the office would have a different response.

While it may be true that our “true selves” are inside us, what we express outwardly both reflects that internal state, and can shift it in minor and major ways. Halloween and other events like it – Carnival in various parts of the world, Purim in Judaism, and so on – offer people a chance to be something they are not, without any real consequences. As a result, it can offer a rare opportunity for people to explore something that they would like to be, or would like to play with being.

Even if you don’t go out to parties, or trick or treating, take some time this holiday to mess around with your outward appearance. What happens to your state of mind and the feeling in your body when you wear something you wouldn’t ordinarily wear? What becomes possible that wasn’t before?

I stumbled across this entire series a few days ago. The first part is about how women often experience sexism. This second part, below, is about how boys and men are affected.

While I powerfully related to the part about women’s experiences, the part about men’s really touched me. From my time in high school, when I took it upon myself to defend my gay best friend from relentless bullying, through today, where I work with so many men who have spent their lives in a culture that has made them feel they must live up to unrealistic ideals of masculinity, and, like so many women, are trying to find their own value in the bodies and minds and hearts that they have.

The artist is Rasenth at Tumblr.

Because why not?

Hello, lovely readers! Yesterday was the first day of spring.  And with spring in the air, folks’ thoughts tend to turn to friskiness.

As a person who helps those who are struggling with body, sexuality and gender issues, one of the things that is clear is that there are not nearly enough images in the media of people demonstrating something other than standard, mainstream sexuality. While images of gay couples are becoming more and more common, the vast, vast majority of images in the media that depict sexuality show people who are white, able-bodied, straight, thin, and performing traditional masculinity or femininity based on their biological sex only.

With that in mind, and with the caveat that clicking these links will take you very firmly into Not Safe For Work territory, I wanted to share two links that I discovered this week that made me want to celebrate.

First, a Buzzfeed link, of all things.  Last week, this collection of boudoir images caught my eye. Not because I particularly enjoy looking at boudoir images: they are usually the most vapid and objectifying form of traditional feminine sexuality that I can imagine.  But these, advertised only as “impossibly sexy,” also contain a multitude of body types and skin colors, without making any mention of either. This mainstream presentation of larger women – and smaller ones! – as equally sexy was lovely to see, and sparked a conversation elsewhere.

In the course of that conversation, another friend pointed me to a Tumblr (this one is really not safe for work) containing words, images, and thoughts about all different kinds of sexuality and gender: queer, disabled, trans, asexual, cross-dressing, happily kinky – basically the whole gamut.  Named Sex Is Not The Enemy, the Tumblr seeks to bust open what people think about what is sexy, and more importantly, to bring sexuality – which is, after all, a huge part of what it means to be human – out of the shadows and shame and into the light – for everyone.

Highlights for me: a picture of a beautiful, proud, post-mastectomy naked woman; a set of paired photographs of people of varying body types posing to look beautiful, then posing unflatteringly on purpose; this adorable shot of an old gay couple (one of them is 100!) celebrating the anniversary of Stonewall.

A note that many of these images are far more graphic than the ones I’ve described, and may be in danger of changing the way you think about how people love.  You have been warned.

Happy Spring, everyone.

 

Because why not?

Hello, lovely readers! Yesterday was the first day of spring.  And with spring in the air, folks’ thoughts tend to turn to friskiness.

As a person who helps those who are struggling with body, sexuality and gender issues, one of the things that is clear is that there are not nearly enough images in the media of people demonstrating something other than standard, mainstream sexuality. While images of gay couples are becoming more and more common, the vast, vast majority of images in the media that depict sexuality show people who are white, able-bodied, straight, thin, and performing traditional masculinity or femininity based on their biological sex only.

With that in mind, and with the caveat that clicking these links will take you very firmly into Not Safe For Work territory, I wanted to share two links that I discovered this week that made me want to celebrate.

First, a Buzzfeed link, of all things.  Last week, this collection of boudoir images caught my eye. Not because I particularly enjoy looking at boudoir images: they are usually the most vapid and objectifying form of traditional feminine sexuality that I can imagine.  But these, advertised only as “impossibly sexy,” also contain a multitude of body types and skin colors, without making any mention of either. This mainstream presentation of larger women – and smaller ones! – as equally sexy was lovely to see, and sparked a conversation elsewhere.

In the course of that conversation, another friend pointed me to a Tumblr (this one is really not safe for work) containing words, images, and thoughts about all different kinds of sexuality and gender: queer, disabled, trans, asexual, cross-dressing, happily kinky – basically the whole gamut.  Named Sex Is Not The Enemy, the Tumblr seeks to bust open what people think about what is sexy, and more importantly, to bring sexuality – which is, after all, a huge part of what it means to be human – out of the shadows and shame and into the light – for everyone.

Highlights for me: a picture of a beautiful, proud, post-mastectomy naked woman; a set of paired photographs of people of varying body types posing to look beautiful, then posing unflatteringly on purpose; this adorable shot of an old gay couple (one of them is 100!) celebrating the anniversary of Stonewall.

A note that many of these images are far more graphic than the ones I’ve described, and may be in danger of changing the way you think about how people love.  You have been warned.

Happy Spring, everyone.

 

This week I stumbled across two posts about gender that really resonated with me.  Gender is a tangled and complex subject, and there are people who can speak far more eloquently about trans issues, the intersection of gender and sexuality, and breaking the gender mold than I can.  But I wanted to highlight these two articles, as they spoke to body identity, trauma, support, and strength.

The first made the rounds among my female friends who are into Crossfit and kettlebell training: This One’s For The Butch Girls.  In it, a fitness instructor visits a Pilates class to learn about it, and is treated in the following way:

After pointing me to my machine, the instructor turned back to the other students and said, ‘That one’s for the butch girls.’

Excuse me? Now, I get that not every woman wants to look muscular…This doesn’t mean I’m a lesbian. This doesn’t, in fact, mean anything about who I am as a human being or my identity in the world. 

So, it comes back once again to this idea of strength versus femininity. Of strength being in opposition to what it means to be a woman – that is, in opposition to some sort of archaic sense of what it is to ‘be a woman.’ Does being strong mean you are man-like? Does being man-like make you a lesbian? What if I’m a lesbian, but I’m not strong? Seriously. I’m being ridiculous because this whole train of thought is ridiculous. None of these concepts has any impact upon or anything to do with each other.

The article goes on to encourage women to find places – or make them, if necessary – where how they work out, or how muscular they are or aren’t, won’t be automatically judged in a particular way.  “Where you can lift weights and grunt. Where you can wear pink and rip your shins open. Where you can paint your nails, do your hair, and have calves that make men green with envy. Even a place where you can be as ‘butch’ as you want to be.”

The idea of there being limitless possibilities for gender expression is one that I hold sacred, and one that I’ve spoken about here before.  So this article spoke to me, as a woman who has weight trained for some time but was never much of an athlete, and one who has started rock climbing and loves it.  (Now there’s a place where female muscle is respected.)

But I wasn’t prepared for the punch in the gut the next article gave me.  The Girl Who Said She Was a Boy is by a blogger who has raised five children with disabilities.  I’m grateful she liked one of my posts this week and therefore alerted me to her sensitive and funny writing on this topic.  Her foster daughter, at age 7, started insisting that she was a boy.  She wanted to dress, cut her hair, and be identified as a boy, and her mother – particularly once she adopted her – supported her in this.  At the doctor’s office at age 10, “she blurted out to him that she was a boy and that she did not have the right part. She begged him to “sew a penis” on her.  He was very comforting and reassuring, and said she was fine the way she was for now and when she was older she could make that decision.”

I was already impressed at this point at the supportiveness of the mother, and the sensitivity of the doctor.  But I wasn’t ready for what happened next, as I was prepared for this to be the story of a transgender child.

At 11, her mother cautiously began to introduce her to what it would mean for her when puberty came.  To her surprise, Marie, was excited about the prospect, and very inquisitive.   And then, the truth emerged.

“She shyly admitted to me that she was happy to be a girl.  She told me she only SAID she was a boy because men ‘hurt girls’ and she didn’t want to be hurt any more. She said ‘the men’ never hurt her brother, so she decided if she was a boy she was safe.”

In a world still reeling from Friday’s events, I find myself wondering when it will finally be safe to be a girl.  Or to be a woman, in all the ways that one can be one.  A woman becomes strong, and she is seen as less-than, as not womanly.  A little girl wants to be a boy, because being a girl means pain.  The catch-22 of femininity still has us profoundly in its grasp.  Don’t be too strong or you’ll be threatening.  Don’t be too weak or you’ll be threatened.

What might happen if more of the world saw the human body as the sacred property of the human being, not to be tampered with, undermined, ridiculed or destroyed?

A question I mean to put in my upcoming marketing materials, which the fabulous Julie Connor helped me crystallize the other day:

People who are exploring questions of gender, sexuality, or relationship styles…How would it feel to live comfortably, securely and proudly in your body for who you are?

I think that pretty much says it about how I want to be helping people.

Make an appointment with me here.

Someone very close to me is a game designer, and has taught me a lot about this fast-evolving world and its possibilities.  This morning he sent me this article, about transgender gamers and their experiences in online video games.  (As usual, I strongly advise not reading the comments, which are rage-inducing.)  Many things moved me about the article, but some really hit home in terms of what I see as a central trans issue: feeling at home – and safe – in your body.

“Sexual maturation is scary and confusing enough for most people,” says writer Sophie Prell, “imagine living in a world where expressing yourself opens the door to beatings, shaming, or in some cases death.”  Issues of safety – of primary importance to any person’s well-being – hit transgender individuals particularly hard: they are many times more likely to face housing discrimination, to attempt suicide, and to experience physical violence and even death.  Going out into the world when your gender identity and physical appearance don’t match most people’s conceptions, then, can be a recipe for disaster.

Dani Landers, the MtF creator of a new game Prell profiles in the article, cites the tendency of doctors to encourage transgender people to dress as their desired gender for a year and go out into the world, without any hormone treatments or other assistance.  “So basically, they go out into society and are forced to be men in dresses – by society’s standards – and that’s not really something that most will allow,” says Landers.  “You can’t just go to the store and be obviously a guy, pretending to be a woman, you’re not passing at all, so it’s not really a way for people to explore. It’s a way for them to explore being a freak out in the street, but that’s not really what people want. They want to blend in and be happy, and express themselves how they want without judgment.”

For a person whose body does not match how they feel on the inside, this can be a terrible bind to be in, and does not allow for feeling safe and at home in one’s own skin.  Of course, the ultimate goal – especially reading this from an RSM standpoint – is for transgender individuals to come to comfort, acceptance, and love within their bodies, and to have spaces where it is safe and welcoming to be who they are.  But there can be a long space in-between where such things are not possible.  “There are many transgender gamers out there,” says Prell, “and many of the responses I received cited games as a primary source of safety, support, and exploration as they transitioned…MMOs in particular offer transgender people a chance to not only create a character in the gender they identify as, but also allow that character to interact with other people.”

In my practice, I help people increase their body awareness, communicate with their bodies, listen to them, and learn to both give and receive support.  I believe that this work can be profoundly helpful for those who feel betrayed by their bodies, or separated from them, or like they don’t match who they are on the inside.  At the same time, I am grateful to be living in an age where there are other possibilities for imagining, modeling, and experiencing oneself in a different body: outside of the constraints, judgments and threats of society as we know it.  “You may not be able to wear a dress to the store without worrying about physical violence,” the article concludes, “but anyone can play a female or male character in a game, or even experiment with same-sex relationships without fear of violence.”  I would add that one could experiment with gender presentations all across the spectrum in games, and that such experimentation and modeling is healthy for feeling out what it would be like, in one’s own body, to be and to be seen in a given way.

There is a slight danger here, I imagine, of losing oneself in the gaming world: spending too much of your time essentially in your head, divorced from the body you are in fact living in.  But I think that if you combined exploration like this with something like RSM, which encourages a constant communication with the body, you could cultivate a more loving relationship with the body as it changes, and become more at home within it.

As always, your comments welcome.

This week I stumbled across two posts about gender that really resonated with me.  Gender is a tangled and complex subject, and there are people who can speak far more eloquently about trans issues, the intersection of gender and sexuality, and breaking the gender mold than I can.  But I wanted to highlight these two articles, as they spoke to body identity, trauma, support, and strength.

The first made the rounds among my female friends who are into Crossfit and kettlebell training: This One’s For The Butch Girls.  In it, a fitness instructor visits a Pilates class to learn about it, and is treated in the following way:

After pointing me to my machine, the instructor turned back to the other students and said, ‘That one’s for the butch girls.’

Excuse me? Now, I get that not every woman wants to look muscular…This doesn’t mean I’m a lesbian. This doesn’t, in fact, mean anything about who I am as a human being or my identity in the world. 

So, it comes back once again to this idea of strength versus femininity. Of strength being in opposition to what it means to be a woman – that is, in opposition to some sort of archaic sense of what it is to ‘be a woman.’ Does being strong mean you are man-like? Does being man-like make you a lesbian? What if I’m a lesbian, but I’m not strong? Seriously. I’m being ridiculous because this whole train of thought is ridiculous. None of these concepts has any impact upon or anything to do with each other.

The article goes on to encourage women to find places – or make them, if necessary – where how they work out, or how muscular they are or aren’t, won’t be automatically judged in a particular way.  “Where you can lift weights and grunt. Where you can wear pink and rip your shins open. Where you can paint your nails, do your hair, and have calves that make men green with envy. Even a place where you can be as ‘butch’ as you want to be.”

The idea of there being limitless possibilities for gender expression is one that I hold sacred, and one that I’ve spoken about here before.  So this article spoke to me, as a woman who has weight trained for some time but was never much of an athlete, and one who has started rock climbing and loves it.  (Now there’s a place where female muscle is respected.)

But I wasn’t prepared for the punch in the gut the next article gave me.  The Girl Who Said She Was a Boy is by a blogger who has raised five children with disabilities.  I’m grateful she liked one of my posts this week and therefore alerted me to her sensitive and funny writing on this topic.  Her foster daughter, at age 7, started insisting that she was a boy.  She wanted to dress, cut her hair, and be identified as a boy, and her mother – particularly once she adopted her – supported her in this.  At the doctor’s office at age 10, “she blurted out to him that she was a boy and that she did not have the right part. She begged him to “sew a penis” on her.  He was very comforting and reassuring, and said she was fine the way she was for now and when she was older she could make that decision.”

I was already impressed at this point at the supportiveness of the mother, and the sensitivity of the doctor.  But I wasn’t ready for what happened next, as I was prepared for this to be the story of a transgender child.

At 11, her mother cautiously began to introduce her to what it would mean for her when puberty came.  To her surprise, Marie, was excited about the prospect, and very inquisitive.   And then, the truth emerged.

“She shyly admitted to me that she was happy to be a girl.  She told me she only SAID she was a boy because men ‘hurt girls’ and she didn’t want to be hurt any more. She said ‘the men’ never hurt her brother, so she decided if she was a boy she was safe.”

In a world still reeling from Friday’s events, I find myself wondering when it will finally be safe to be a girl.  Or to be a woman, in all the ways that one can be one.  A woman becomes strong, and she is seen as less-than, as not womanly.  A little girl wants to be a boy, because being a girl means pain.  The catch-22 of femininity still has us profoundly in its grasp.  Don’t be too strong or you’ll be threatening.  Don’t be too weak or you’ll be threatened.

What might happen if more of the world saw the human body as the sacred property of the human being, not to be tampered with, undermined, ridiculed or destroyed?

This week I stumbled across two posts about gender that really resonated with me.  Gender is a tangled and complex subject, and there are people who can speak far more eloquently about trans issues, the intersection of gender and sexuality, and breaking the gender mold than I can.  But I wanted to highlight these two articles, as they spoke to body identity, trauma, support, and strength.

The first made the rounds among my female friends who are into Crossfit and kettlebell training: This One’s For The Butch Girls.  In it, a fitness instructor visits a Pilates class to learn about it, and is treated in the following way:

After pointing me to my machine, the instructor turned back to the other students and said, ‘That one’s for the butch girls.’

Excuse me? Now, I get that not every woman wants to look muscular…This doesn’t mean I’m a lesbian. This doesn’t, in fact, mean anything about who I am as a human being or my identity in the world. 

So, it comes back once again to this idea of strength versus femininity. Of strength being in opposition to what it means to be a woman – that is, in opposition to some sort of archaic sense of what it is to ‘be a woman.’ Does being strong mean you are man-like? Does being man-like make you a lesbian? What if I’m a lesbian, but I’m not strong? Seriously. I’m being ridiculous because this whole train of thought is ridiculous. None of these concepts has any impact upon or anything to do with each other.

The article goes on to encourage women to find places – or make them, if necessary – where how they work out, or how muscular they are or aren’t, won’t be automatically judged in a particular way.  “Where you can lift weights and grunt. Where you can wear pink and rip your shins open. Where you can paint your nails, do your hair, and have calves that make men green with envy. Even a place where you can be as ‘butch’ as you want to be.”

The idea of there being limitless possibilities for gender expression is one that I hold sacred, and one that I’ve spoken about here before.  So this article spoke to me, as a woman who has weight trained for some time but was never much of an athlete, and one who has started rock climbing and loves it.  (Now there’s a place where female muscle is respected.)

But I wasn’t prepared for the punch in the gut the next article gave me.  The Girl Who Said She Was a Boy is by a blogger who has raised five children with disabilities.  I’m grateful she liked one of my posts this week and therefore alerted me to her sensitive and funny writing on this topic.  Her foster daughter, at age 7, started insisting that she was a boy.  She wanted to dress, cut her hair, and be identified as a boy, and her mother – particularly once she adopted her – supported her in this.  At the doctor’s office at age 10, “she blurted out to him that she was a boy and that she did not have the right part. She begged him to “sew a penis” on her.  He was very comforting and reassuring, and said she was fine the way she was for now and when she was older she could make that decision.”

I was already impressed at this point at the supportiveness of the mother, and the sensitivity of the doctor.  But I wasn’t ready for what happened next, as I was prepared for this to be the story of a transgender child.

At 11, her mother cautiously began to introduce her to what it would mean for her when puberty came.  To her surprise, Marie, was excited about the prospect, and very inquisitive.   And then, the truth emerged.

“She shyly admitted to me that she was happy to be a girl.  She told me she only SAID she was a boy because men ‘hurt girls’ and she didn’t want to be hurt any more. She said ‘the men’ never hurt her brother, so she decided if she was a boy she was safe.”

In a world still reeling from Friday’s events, I find myself wondering when it will finally be safe to be a girl.  Or to be a woman, in all the ways that one can be one.  A woman becomes strong, and she is seen as less-than, as not womanly.  A little girl wants to be a boy, because being a girl means pain.  The catch-22 of femininity still has us profoundly in its grasp.  Don’t be too strong or you’ll be threatening.  Don’t be too weak or you’ll be threatened.

What might happen if more of the world saw the human body as the sacred property of the human being, not to be tampered with, undermined, ridiculed or destroyed?

 

I’ve been doing some relationship work lately with a talented therapist.  While she doesn’t necessarily get everything that we’re laying down, to use a very old phrase, she does do an amazing job of observing and calling out the ways we communicate (or don’t), and helping us zero in on what the problems actually are.

The one thing that drives me a little nuts is that she insists on a lot of essentials around gender.  Were she my personal therapist, I probably would have fired her by now, because I feel there is some fundamental level on which she doesn’t understand other possibilities; she’s rather old-fashioned, and has been working with traditional hetero couples for long enough that it feels like she only has the broad brush to paint with.  But in many ways she’s been remarkably effective for us.

Still, it’s annoying.  I’ve also recently come across this in the posts of Scott Williams, whom, so far, I find fascinating and respect.  (Hi, Scott!)  He has a number of posts that discuss patterns he’s observed in gender differences, including this recent one, detailing the differences in capacity for emotional connection in men and women. To his credit, this one apologizes for engaging in generalizations, and also addresses the complaint I tend to have about my family therapist: she seems to think that gender differences are completely innate, whereas Scott discusses how we’re taught, not just by our parents and peers but by the popular media, about what it means to be a man or a woman.  “Women are typically vastly more in touch with their emotions,” he says, adding, “In fairness, however, I was never really taught to connect on an emotional level. My generation of males did not grow up to value emotional vulnerability. We work out our issues alone. We have caves. I grew up believing that emotionally sensitive guys were barely guys at all…I grew up wanting to shoot people, not cuddle.”

Now I don’t know how true this is for most younger men today.  I find myself in the privileged position of being surrounded by guys who are generally in touch with their emotions.  Some of them had excellent, well-rounded men as role models for being strong and sensitive; some of them went to liberal arts colleges, many of them are queer and therefore have worked out entirely different frameworks for looking at what gender is and how it works.  But I do wonder at the vast majority of folks, and to what degree they believe that this is simply how it is: men are from Mars, women are from Venus – because that is all they see in sitcoms, movies, men’s and women’s magazines, and in the relationships they observe and model from in their childhoods.

I think it’s all very well, and quite useful, to lean on some of the observed essentials in order to help men and women communicate better with one another; it’s useful to translate from Venusian to Martian and back when you’re got people who have been so subtly inculcated with their roles that they can’t connect like human beings.  More cynically, the age-old “battle of the sexes” is a profitable war to continue fighting, if you’re in advertising, marketing, or psychotherapy: here folks, are some Endless Problems that you will keep giving us money to help solve!

But how many people are willing to go the extra mile of making people look at what has made them this way, rather than just throwing up our hands and saying, “Watch kids on the playground: the boys are all running around shouting and playing wargames, and the girls are on the swingsets, talking.”  (My therapist actually said this to us.  Also, stopped me in my explanation of my husband’s avoidant behavior by saying, “In other words, he’s a guy.”)  Really?  That’s what you’ve got?  Blue and pink, it’s all innate, feminism is for nothing, gay boys are always effeminate and gay girls are always butch because they’re just reversing the roles…seriously?

I do believe that there are innate differences between men and women: there are biological differences, physical characteristics, hormonal signals that tend to promote and favor certain traits and behaviors over others.  I also personally know enough gay, lesbian, bi and trans people, not to mention genderqueer folk, to know that biological sex and gender are far from the same thing.  I further know that deciding that men are emotionally stunted (for example), or that women expect men to mind-read, is extremely limiting thinking.  It’s useful to teach men to mirror what women are saying when they talk about their emotions, and make it clear that they are hearing and acknowledging those emotions, instead of jumping to defensiveness or immediately attempting to solve the problem.  It’s useful to teach women that sometimes a man needs to be left alone to percolate on something before he can talk about it, and sometimes even then he’ll want to keep it to himself.  But it’s not useful to pretend that these differences in communication style and emotional availability are innate and unchangeable, that there are no other alternatives.

If we accept that women can be nurturing and also tough, and that men can be strong and also loving; if we commit to the idea that women can be executives or construction workers and men can be nurses or stay-at-home dads; if we cultivate wholenessin all of our clients, rather than reinforcing the shitty, dysfunctional ways they’ve leaned to barely cope with a screwed-up world…well, then we’re getting somewhere.

By the way, Scott – keep up the good work.  I do think that what you’re getting at is essentially true, and useful.  I just want to make sure we’re looking at the problem in a broader context.