Progress

Sometimes, progress is obvious and happens quickly. Other times, it can feel like it’s not happening at all. This week has largely been one of those other times.

FAWM marches on, and I have been writing – I’m up to 12 songs and it’s the 14th of the month. This week it’s been harder, though. I’ve had trouble waking up early to write. Still, I’ve written some keepers, and that’s exciting. Here are a few of the songs I’m proudest of so far:

Work has been frustrating, not because of anything specific to my job, but because my brain has been extremely foggy this week. I haven’t gotten much done, because I can’t keep my train of thought on the rails long enough to see things through. I feel stuck, and it’s not a pleasant feeling.

I am looking forward to the weekend. A friend of ours is coming down from Minnesota to hang out for a couple of days. I’m looking forward to some low-key hangouts and pizza.

I’m writing this post on Thursday morning from my armchair at home, rather than from the bus. I have been feeling increasingly crummy every day this week, and this morning I finally woke up feeling definitively sick, so I’m going to work from home and keep my germs to myself.

So, this is going to be a short post today, because my brain is pretty foggy. Usually when I’m feeling like I have nothing to talk about, I go for some sort of list post. So…let’s go with three things I’m grateful for today:

  1. I can work from home. My boss told me I could just take an actual sick day if I wanted to, and I know that I technically can…but I’m almost out of sick time and I have to save my vacation time for Christmas travel. I’m glad to be in a position where it’s possible to do my job remotely when my body doesn’t feel up to commuting.
  2. Things are going better with my family. We’ve worked through the most recent round of hurt and seem to be closer to being on the same page, which feels nice.
  3. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here yet, but thanks to the adjustments that were made to my med regimen over the summer, my anxiety is much better controlled. So much so, in fact, that I’m able to drink regular coffee again! It had been about two years since I’d been able to handle that much caffeine. As I sit here and sip my coffee this morning, I am grateful for that.

Vote!

Hello, friends! I’ve been struggling to think about what to write this week, but the obvious answer is this: if you live in the United States, as I do, you (hopefully) know that the time has arrived to make your voice heard in politics. Election day is next Tuesday, November 6. In many places, early voting is already taking place.

I know it might seem like your voice doesn’t matter. I know voting can be overwhelming (and downright scary – I admittedly did not vote in the midterm election that happened just before I changed my name and got a new ID, because I was scared of what would happen if I brought myself to the polls and tried to vote under a name I wasn’t really using anymore). It can be hard to know who you’re voting for an why, particularly in a midterm. But if you’re able to, I am asking that you please, please, please get to your polling place or an early voting site. News aggregator theSkimm put together this helpful guide about why voting in this midterm election is so important. Please read it (or give it a listen here).

Additionally, here are some resources I have found incredibly helpful in figuring out my ballot:

BallotReady.org is my favorite. They have information on the platforms of basically every candidate who has a platform. And to fill in the gaps…

VoteForJudges.org has information on all the judges on your ballot that are up for retention – recommendations from various bar associations. This is super important to pay attention to – don’t just skip or blaze past this section of your ballot!

If you, like me, are in Cook County, here are some bonus resources:

InjusticeWatch.org has additional info on judges, taking into consideration more factors that just the bar association recommendations.

Girl I Guess: Progressive Voting Guide for November 2018 – this guide digs into the big races on our ballots, and gives you recommendations as well as the reasons behind them. It’s incredibly informative while also being accessible.

 

Looking for Light

I’ll be honest – I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say this week, and I’m still not totally sure that I’m saying what needs to be said, or that I’m saying what I am for the right reasons. But it is what it is.

I don’t often veer particularly political on this blog, but given recent events, it was really only a matter of time.

This seems to be one of those weeks that just feels so incredibly dark, not necessarily in my personal life, but in the world at large. People are being particularly horrible to each other, with notable examples in both states I have called home. I feel like every time I log into social media (which is where I get most of my news these days), there are more and more reasons to scream and feel really horrible about the state of humanity.

On the one hand, I don’t want to do anything to make light of the horrible things that are happening, and I think they deserve all the attention we can give them. On the other hand, I find myself looking around for reasons to believe that it’s not totally hopeless, because hopelessness is not a thing I can cope with right now.

It’s tempting to believe that the world is broken beyond repair. But you know, when I look into the darkness, that’s where I find the light.

I have friends protesting at the 4th precinct in Minneapolis (and supporting the protesters in innumerable ways), demanding #JusticeForJamar, facing arrest and police brutality as they stand up against corrupt power. I am so proud, and so in awe, of the incredible people I know, and I am well aware that I might not have that courage if I was in Minnesota right now. I know people who are facing off against incredible odds because they believe the world can be a better place, and they’re doing what needs to be done to make it so. Justice doesn’t come out of unjust situations on its own. It takes work to dismantle oppressive power structures, and I know people who are doing that work. They’re making me think about what concrete steps I can take to join them in that work. And they’re reminding me that as long as there are people willing and able to do the work, there’s a chance that the world won’t be such a horrible place forever.

Jamar Clark’s Family’s Fundraiser

#BlackLivesMatter Minneapolis Bail Fund

A Handful of Happy Thoughts

Suddenly, Thursday morning is here and I’m realizing I never wrote a blog for this week. Whoops! I’ve been rather stuck in my own head lately, working through some things, but here are a handful of reasons I’ve been smiling:

  • I finally have enough facial hair to experiment a little bit. I’ve had sideburns for a while now, but my chin whiskers have gotten a lot stronger recently, so I’ve been sporting a tiny goatee for the past week. My partner likes it, and (even more importantly) I like it, so I think it’s going to stick around a while.
  • We both got (long overdue) haircuts over the weekend. There are few things that make me feel really good about how I look, but getting a haircut is definitely one of them.
  • I’ve been working more on the friendships I have here in Chicago (instead of focusing all the time on how much I miss my friends in Minnesota), and I’m finally at a point where I’m starting to ditch the idea that these are all my partner’s friends and not mine, too (because he knew them all before I did). I generally feel like I’m not great at making friends, but I’m enjoying this attempt to be more intentionally social.
  • I knit tiny balloons over the weekend. They’re currently adorning my computer monitor at work, and they’re adorable.
  • My best friend is coming to visit this weekend. I haven’t been able to spend time with her in person in months, and I am so excited!

Thinking of Spring

We have once again reached that delightful time of year when I am frequently overcome by the beauty of nature (read: watery-eyed, sniffly, exhausted, and allergic to every blessed thing outdoors). As obnoxious as spring allergies are, though, I am thoroughly enjoying the warmer (but not-too-warm) weather, the sunlight we’ve had so far, the longer daylight hours…perhaps it’s just a function of the enthusiastic reproductive efforts of the local flora (and fauna, I suppose), but there seems to be a renewed sense of vitality after the drabness of winter.

I am finally getting around to dealing with some personal things that I have been avoiding for several months. I haven’t had a huge increase in energy, but some things that seem impossible during the grey and dreary times of year become possible when the sun and the green start to come through again.

This weekend, we have a friend coming to visit us from Minnesota. They are one of those friends whose company we don’t get to enjoy often enough, one of those rare souls who leaves me feeling emptied, renewed, and refueled after contact. The weekend promises to be intense and exhausting in some of the best ways, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

I’ve been thinking about relationships lately, and the defining characteristics of the various relationships I’m in with people, from my partner to my friends to my family. This season of renewal and rebirth has me contemplating a sort of social spring cleaning – not necessarily cutting people out of my life completely, but working on strengthening healthy boundaries when dealing with dysfunction, and taking stock of where I am most supported and most relied-on for support, so that I can balance the two. I think I spend too much time wondering how in the world to make new friends, and not enough time cultivating the friendships I already have.

I guess changes in weather bring out my contemplative side. There’s a lot of planning going on, and some big things coming down the pike this summer. It seems it is time to come out of hibernation so that I can enjoy the relative calm before life picks up again. If only I could do it without sniffling…

On Visibility and Being Seen

This past Tuesday, March 31, was Trans Day of Visibility. I posted this on my Facebook Tuesday evening:

I have mixed feelings about Trans Day of Visibility: mostly, I think safety should come first and no one should feel pressure to be more out than they want to/can safely be. I am a white trans man; this means that it is safer for me to be visibly trans than it is for my trans sisters, and particularly for my trans sisters of color.

I also believe that it is important for those of us who can make the choice to safely be visible to do so, though: to show the world that we exist, but more specifically to show the ones who are still hiding that they’re not alone. I feel particularly driven to be visibly trans as a trans adult: trans kids need to know there’s a future out there for them. So often our stories end in tragedy. We need more examples of trans folks who are not only surviving (which is super important on its own), but also thriving.

Besides this, as a white trans man, I have found myself landing in a world of privilege. The way the world works, white male voices are heard when many others aren’t. It is my responsibility to speak up and clear the stage for those whose voices are too often shouted down, and to use my voice for good when it’s the only one someone will listen to.

I didn’t fit it into the Facebook post, but something I’ve been thinking a lot about since then is the importance, not necessarily of visibility, but of being seen.

I remember the first time a stranger read me as male. I was picking up lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings with my then-roommate. She finished relaying her order to the man behind the counter, and he turned to me and said, “And for you, sir?” I felt my chest swell involuntarily; I squared my shoulders and widened my stance.

I did not identify as a man then, or even as genderqueer. I identified as queer and as “a gentleman, just maybe not so much the man part,” but that was as far as I’d gotten in exploring my gender identity. And I’m certain that the man behind the counter was simply responding to the contrast between my femme roommate and me, in my baggy sweatshirt with the hood up. But that “sir” called out to a part of me that hadn’t yet been recognized elsewhere.

About a year later, two months into my relationship with my partner and a few months away from coming out as genderqueer, I was in Costa Rica visiting my aunt and uncle. My aunt took me along on one of her regular visits to a local nursing home. When she introduced me to one of the residents, the conversation went something like this:

Es su nieto? (Is this your grandson?)

No, es mi sobrina. (No, this is my niece.)

Ah, su sobrino! (Oh, your nephew!)

I just smiled and nodded.

Now, nearly sixteen months into testosterone therapy, I am read as male quite consistently (the sideburns are likely a major contributing factor to this). It’s not a given, though I sometimes forget this – just this week someone called me “she” out of the blue (and somehow, the less frequently it happens, the more it stings when it does) – and I still find that being called “sir” causes that unconscious squaring of shoulders. Because being seen for what we really are is empowering, particularly in a world where people (sometimes even people who are supposed to be on our side) insist that we do not exist.

As a dude who knits and wears a lot of purple, I would likely be read as queer by the world at large even if I wasn’t. And I’m out and proud in many areas of my life – I was so visibly “other” for a while that I reached a point where I could either live in constant shame or be loud and proud, and I went with the latter. But being visible so often amounts to being seen as “other,” as some sort of departure from the “acceptable” norms of society. And while it’s true that I do live outside those boundaries, and that I like it better out here anyway, being regarded by the world at large as a freak is tiring.

Being seen, on the other hand…validation is so important. It’s not that I need the validation of others to know who I am – I get to define that for myself and ultimately my validation of myself is what matters most. But where the pressure of visibility is exhausting, being seen is a relief from that pressure. It’s energizing and empowering and encouraging. And that’s something that we could all use more of, particularly those of us who belong to marginalized groups – and if this is true for me, who experiences oppression on a very small scale that is counterbalanced by a whole lot of privilege, it is even more true for those who don’t have those oft-unrecognized free passes that privilege offers.

Being told you don’t exist is an incredibly painful experience. Having your existence recognized and validated doesn’t make the pain go away, but the more frequently it happens, the easier it becomes to let go of those painful moments. If we started treating each person as the expert on their own identity, this world would be a much gentler place.

March Mayhem

I am, at the core, a homebody. Given the choice, I could spend days on end in my house, curled up with books, movies, and knitting (although if I’m forced to stay in my house due to illness, injury, or inclement weather, I do go a little stir crazy). There are a number of other personality traits at play here – I am an introvert, and have a tendency toward laziness. But mostly, I just really love being in my own space.

This aspect of who I am is often at war with another part of me – the one that wants to do ALL THE THINGS. This month, this latter part appears to be winning.

As of this week, aside from my usual 37.5 hours of work, I will have, on a weekly basis:

  • Guitar classes Monday evenings, and an approximate 10:45pm return home,
  • Songwriting classes Tuesday evenings, arriving home around 11pm,
  • My volunteer gig at the Old Town School of Folk Music‘s Resource Center Wednesday evenings, arriving home around 10:30pm, and
  • Knit Night at Windy Knitty Thursday evenings, arriving home anywhere between 9:15 and 10pm.

On top of all of this, I decided this week to start getting up at 5:30am each morning and attempt to do some sort of home workout – Pilates, weights, stretches, that sort of thing. I fully believe that “health” is a pretty nebulous concept, and it’s absolutely not my goal to hit some arbitrary numeric value that a doctor will deem “healthy”. However, I am increasingly frustrated with how quickly I tire out, how hard it is for me to keep up with people, and how frequently my back goes out due to a lack of core strength. I also know from past experience that being more physically active is better for my mental health. So, I’m easing into increased activity.

I also need to work practicing guitar and writing a song into each week. Plus the things that need to get done around the house.

I will be honest: last week I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, in light of the battle I was having with DepressedBrain. I ended up needing to leave the office early on Friday to avoid having a total meltdown at work. Thankfully, Friday evening brought with it the arrival of a new binder, which helped to mitigate some of the dysphoria that was making a significant contribution to DepressedBrain. (The binder, by the way, was ordered from these guys and is amazing – equivalent binding power to an Underworks 997, but replacing the fear of permanent ribcage damage (which was the reason I had to switch to the much less effective 982 a while back) with something so comfortable I almost forget I’m wearing it – and may warrant an extra blog post for a review at some point in the near future.)

I was feeling rather better Monday morning, but I have to admit, I still didn’t really believe I was going to be able to handle this schedule until shortly before I started writing this post yesterday afternoon. I was absolutely exhausted by the time I got home Monday and Tuesday, and yesterday I had a hell of a time getting myself out of bed. As the day wore on, I was pretty sleepy, but I think I hit the point where I started to remember how to work through the fatigue. I am convinced that, eventually, being more active will mean that I will have more energy. I just need to stick with it long enough.

Part of me continues to wonder what on earth I’ve gotten myself into. But mostly, I’m feeling optimistic. And that’s a nice change from the past few weeks.

Happy Anyway

I’m sick. I tried for a while to convince myself it was just fall allergies, and maybe it started that way. But it’s become evident in the last few days that I do, in fact, have a cold (which may turn into something even less fun today, since I got my flu shot yesterday).

On top of that, it’s been pretty overcast the past few days. Yesterday’s dreariness in particular made me acutely aware of how much my mood and general ability to be an adult are influenced by the weather. When it’s cloudy for more than about 24 hours, all I want to do is hide in a giant blanket nest and not come out again until it’s sunny.

But you know what?

I’m still pretty happy.

Because, really, life is pretty good. I might be feeling under the weather, but there are still reasons to smile:

Tomorrow is Halloween. It also marks three years since I first tried on the name Alyx and found that it fit. It fit so well that it was briefly terrifying, because I knew exactly what sort of precipice I was stepping over. But the terror quickly gave way, because it felt so…easy. Comfortable. Right. Pronouns may still be a weird thing for me to navigate, and I’m not always sure exactly what is going on with my relationship to my body, but my name? That’s mine. There are no questions there.

In a few weeks, I will legally become Alyxander. I will have an ID card that matches my actual identity. And HR now knows and has told me what they need from me to change things over in their systems. I have all of the prerequisite paperwork together; it’s just a matter of waiting, now. I’m nervous, but mostly, I’m excited.

And, though it’s an exceedingly silly thing, I bought aftershave for the first time this week. It smells kind of like it belongs to a curmudgeonly old man, and I love it. This may be the thing that pushes me into shaving more than once a week. (Not that I don’t like shaving, because I actually do: I have a wonderful double-edged safety razor that I bought myself as a “yay, I started testosterone” present, and a brush and some great soap that I got from my partner as a Christmas gift last year, and I find the whole ritual kind of soothing. I’m just lazy. Not so lazy that I won’t link to all of my shaving gear in a blog post, apparently, but lazy enough that I only end up shaving when I look really scruffy, which takes about a week these days.)

Three Things on My Mind

After last week’s monster post of gratitude, this week has been pretty quiet. So here’s a glimpse at what’s going on in my brain:

  1. I really, really want to get out of debt. I’ve managed to accumulate a fair bit of credit card debt in the past couple of years (due in large part to being underemployed for the first nine months we lived in Chicago, but in larger part to the fact that I like to spend money…it’s a problem). It’s been hanging over my head and I’m sick of it. So starting in October (because this month I have to worry about paying for the name change), I am going to begin aggressively paying down the balance on my credit card, with a goal of having the whole thing paid off by next October. It’s a big goal, and I’m going to have to seriously cut back on frivolous spending, but I think it’ll be worth it. I’m also going to try to start building my savings (which currently amounts to approximately $20).
  2. For the first time since college, I’m starting to think about and plan for my future. When I started college, I had this ridiculous five-year plan that involved getting both my BA and my MSW and becoming a social worker. For many reasons (including the fact that it just wasn’t a good plan for me), that all went up in flames…and I never really replaced my dreams with something new. It’s been years since I planned for much of anything more than six months out. But that’s starting to change. The future is more enticing than terrifying, and there are wonderful things on the horizon.
  3. I’ve been thinking about faith a lot lately. I was raised believing that salvation was this deeply personal, unshakable thing that had very little to do with one’s own merit or power. I personally can’t believe in a God who would send people to hell for asking questions (or worse, for dying oblivious to the existence of some “perfect” religion). I believe that grace extends to everyone, regardless of where they were on life’s journey when they reached their finish line. I may call myself “functionally agnostic”; I may not belong to a church. But that doesn’t mean I lack a spiritual life.