Spicy Dragon

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to Thursday! I nearly forgot it was Thursday today – I’ve been attending a virtual conference the past few days for work and it’s got my routine a bit out of whack.

I don’t have too much to report this week, except that on Friday, I got color added to my dragon tattoo, and I am SO EXCITED about it!

A bright red dragon clutches a purple and pink d20 and grins mischievously.

It turned out SO GOOD. It’s currently at a very gross stage of healing (the photo above is from when it was fresh), but I’m excited to get past that so I can show it off all the time.

While she was working on it, the artist was joking about this being a “spicy dragon” (by the end of the 3 hour session I was pretty sore), and that nickname has stuck, particularly since it was pretty tender for several days. They’ll get a better name eventually, but this spicy little dragon is bringing me a lot of joy this week.

I will have more news to report in the next few weeks (there are some big life changes afoot), but in the meantime, take care of yourselves and each other, keep wearing masks and washing your hands, GO GET VACCINATED if you haven’t yet.

A Holy Endeavor

Buckle up, dear readers, because this week I’m returning to the roots of this blog and talking about my life as a trans person.

This year, at least 28 states are voting on anti-trans legislation. There’s a lot that’s fucked up about this. Just this week in Arkansas, a bill was passed that bans gender-affirming healthcare for minors. The (Republican) governor vetoed the bill, calling it “vast government overreach.” The legislature overruled his veto with a dishearteningly large majority vote. Make no mistake – this bullshit that’s marketed as “protecting children” will actually do devastating harm. Taking away a trans child’s access to affirming healthcare isn’t going to make them not trans. It will just make them miserable. (I will again post this Twitter thread that makes some really good points about all of this.)

Today at work our Pride ERG hosted a half-hour hangout where people could come and sit with each other and with our feelings about what happened in Arkansas. I’m glad I went, and I appreciate the other people who showed up, but even as I felt seen in a way that was validating, I felt…exposed, in a way that was less comfortable. I am the only trans person I know of at my company, and I’m out as nonbinary there. Most people at work respect my pronouns (which are they/them, by the way, which is at least the third time my pronouns have shifted in the last decade, which I am not apologizing for, because identity is fluid and can be complicated) – no one is actively disrespecting my identity, but sometimes people forget. I do my best to educate people and stand up for myself and for the people around me. And it’s exhausting.

Inextricably tied to all of the feelings I’m having about trans identity being up for legislative debate are feelings around bodily autonomy. One of the hardest and most beautiful lessons I have learned in the ten years since I started coming to terms with the fact that I was not, in fact, cisgender, is that my body is my home. It’s a home that I struggled for years and years to relate to, until I realized it was mine to change and mold into a shelter I could feel comfortable in (at least some of the time). This has shown up in big ways – the changes from testosterone, and having gender-affirming top surgery – but it’s also shown up in smaller ways. I can paint my nails. I am currently sporting what feels like a super queer haircut that I love. In the middle space between those extreme examples, I can get tattoos.

I knew I wanted tattoos by the time I was in my teens, if not before. I got my first one eleven years ago this month, just a couple months before I turned 22. It’s a trinity knot on my right forearm. I wanted a reminder that the parts of myself that so often felt fractured – body, mind, and spirit – were all part of the singular being that was me. Four years later, I got three tarot cards tattooed on my left forearm: the Hermit (because I am an introvert and I believe in both finding my own truth and in lighting the way to help other people find theirs), the Ace of Wands (because I am a person with a lot of creative energy who finds joy in making beautiful things), and the Nine of Pentacles (which is my constant reminder that my body is the home that I am creating for myself). A couple of years after that I got a few more, which had less in-depth meanings, in some ways (there’s a leaf on my right ankle that I got because it was pretty; I have a classic Winnie-the-Pooh illustration on my right arm, and an earth/air alchemical symbol that reminds me to stay grounded and breathe under that), but all of them were ways to exercise my bodily autonomy.

On Tuesday, I got my sixth (or eighth, depending on if you count the tarot cards as one tattoo or three) tattoo:

D&D and other tabletop roleplaying games have been a big part of my life over the past few years – through them I’ve connected with people I might never have met otherwise, and I’ve found so much joy in collaborative storytelling and getting to play with my friends as an adult. Just in the last month I started DMing my first game, and it’s been a blast. I knew that I wanted a D&D-themed tattoo to capture some of that. I told the artist (who has now done the majority of my tattoos) that I wanted “some sort of dragon and dice situation,” and I could not be happier with what she came up with. This little dragon clutching its d20 is better than anything I’d envisioned ahead of time.

As I was chatting with the artist during the tattoo, I mentioned that as a teenager I had sketchbooks full of dragons. I drew them because no one could tell me “that’s not how a dragon looks” – it was one of the things I loved about fantasy. She asked me what drew me to dragons, and I honestly didn’t have an answer at the time, but I’ve continued to think about it since then. I think there’s something about the wildness of them that called to me. In all the fantasy novels I read, there was this sense that you couldn’t really tame a dragon. Even in the ones where dragons and humans got along, it was because the dragons chose to treat the humans gently. There was something about that power that was appealing, for a whole host of reasons I’m sure I could delve into with a little help from my therapist.

Last fall, I wrote an autobiographical song that I kind of set aside after that songwriting session was over, but the chorus has been stuck in my head the past couple of days:

I’m building this wondrous body, creating my home
Something more suited to housing my curious soul
I dress it up in ink, in wool, and in leather
I know this act of creation is a holy endeavor

I don’t know that I have a huge sweeping point in all of this, except to say that trans people (like all people) are sacred, and the act of self-determination and self-discovery is a holy endeavor. I was raised with the idea that humans are created in the image of the Divine, and while I have a lot of complicated feelings about the picture of Divinity I was raised on, I think trans people are every bit as much a reflection of the Divine as anyone else. I am angry and sad and disheartened that there are so many people in power in the world right now who refuse to see that.

Happy Thoughts for a Foggy Morning

I nearly forgot to write something for the blog this week – I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather, which has scrambled my brain enough that I’m a little more scattered than usual. But here I am, on the bus, riding through the fog, so let’s talk about a few happy things from the past week. 

  1. I started taking a guitar fingerpicking class last week. It’s kicking my ass already, but in a way that’s motivating me to practice more. I’m excited to add some new skills to my rather slapdash guitar-playing repertoire. 
  2. It’s starting to feel like fall. Granted, the next few days are supposed to get hot again, but generally the weather has been getting cooler. We’ve had several lovely days that have allowed me to pull some hand knit sweaters out. The only downside of fall is that my allergies tend to flare up again, so I’ve spent most of the week not sure if I’m getting sick or am just allergic to all of the outdoors. Still, it’s pretty, and I like not feeling disgusting every time I go outside. 
  3. My tattoo is healing nicely. I am still super happy with how it turned out. It makes me smile every time I look at my arm. 

Silly Old Bear

A few weeks ago, I emailed the artist who did my leaf tattoo about an idea I had been kicking around for another piece.

I have wanted a bear tattoo for a while (particularly since transitioning has turned me into a bit of one myself). Recently, my partner and I re-read Winnie-the-Pooh, and I was reminded of a) how much I adore Winnie-the-Pooh and b) how much I adore the original E. H. Shepard illustrations of him. I’ve been periodically doing Google image searches for old illustrations over the past couple of months, and I’d come across one of Pooh singing, which was too good to pass up.

Last week I heard back from her that she’d be delighted to do this tattoo for me, and that she had an opening on Saturday. So I went for it, and I’m so, so happy I did, because it turned out SO GOOD:

Winnie-the-Pooh singing "Cottleston Pie"

Seriously, how cute is he?

I could not be more thrilled with how this tattoo came out, and I’m excited for it to be fully healed so I can show it off more (it’s at the flaky stage of healing right now, so it’s a good thing the weather cooled off in Chicago this week, because I’ll be wearing long sleeves for a bit)!

Post-script for the curious: the image comes from the story In Which Eeyore Has a Birthday and Gets Two Presents, and depicts Pooh singing Cottleston Pie, which my partner and I discovered was given a tune by the Muppets in this hilarious video:

I did not realize this until after I got the tattoo, but I love it all the more for this context. And I’ve had the little song running through my head all week.

Where Did the Week Go?

It’s been a busy week. Possibly not much busier than weeks usually are, but the fact that it’s been in the upper 80s and humid in Chicago the past couple of days has made everything feels pretty overwhelming. In any case, here are a few of the highlights from the past week, complete with photos:

  • I got a tattoo on Saturday! An apprentice tattooer I’ve been following on Instagram had posted some flash that I thought looked great, and now I have a happy little plant on my ankle:

    Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 7.28.23 PM

    It’s my first color tattoo, and the first one somewhere other than my forearms. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out, and it’s healing nicely.

  • We got to see one of our favorite folk duos twice last week! Wednesday night, we went to a songwriting workshop put on by Mouths of Babes titled The Political is Personal. It was inspiring and got me halfway to finishing my assignment for my regular songwriting class. Then on Sunday, we got to see them play at SPACE in Evanston. It was (predictably) a fabulous show.

    Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 7.33.35 PM

  • I finished another nearly-two-year-old knitting project, though this one was much smaller than a sweater. A couple of summers ago, I bought a tiny owl kit from MochiMochiLand at our local yarn store. I knit the body of one owl at knit night the evening I bought it, and hadn’t picked it back up since. Over the weekend, I dug it out. I finished the first owl, and then started on another one:

    Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 7.37.05 PM

    I finished the second owl last night, and found a spot for them with my favorite old wooden owl (that used to belong to my grandparents) on the shelf we refer to as our owlery:

    Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 7.39.19 PM

    They were a lot of fun to knit, and I’m glad to finally have them done!

Reminders of Wholeness

According to Facebook, six years ago today was the day I got my first tattoo, on the inside of my right forearm:

FirstTattoo

I’d wanted a tattoo for as long as I could remember, and this symbol in particular since high school, and in a mid-semester fit of mania, decided to go for it my second-to-last semester of college. I went to someone a former roommate had recommended. It took about 45 minutes, and by the time I left I was shaking, slightly queasy, and not sure I’d ever be able to do it again. Twenty-four hours later, I couldn’t stop thinking about getting more.

I didn’t tell my parents ahead of time that I was getting a tattoo. I didn’t really have a plan for how that would go down. As it turned out, my mother called me as I was driving home from the appointment. She asked what I’d been up to that afternoon. I figured then was as good a time as any, so I told her. There was a long pause. “I don’t know how you expected me to respond to that,” she finally answered. “Neither do I,” was all I could come up with in response.

There are a lot of opinions on the internet regarding what the triquetra, or trinity knot, symbolizes. The idea that it could symbolize the Christian Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit softened the blow a bit to disapproving family members. The meaning that stuck with me, though, was the idea of the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit. I had finally been diagnosed as bipolar about a year before, and had spent a lot of time since then learning how to ride the waves of mania and depression, which often left me feeling pretty fractured. The knot on my arm served as a reminder that I was a complete person, even when my brain felt like it wanted to jump ship.

It was about a year after getting this tattoo that I started exploring the idea that I might not be a cisgender woman after all, and the idea of wholeness started becoming even more important as I started to consciously wrestle with dysphoria on top of the dysmorphia I’d struggled with most of my life.

I am not defined by any one part of my being, but by my interpretation of the interconnected whole. And regardless of what the darker parts of my brain or the crueller parts of the world might try to tell me, I am whole. Yes, there are times when parts of me need healing, but at my core, I am not a broken thing in need of rescue and resuscitation.

So today, amidst feeling a little frazzled and anxious about the weeks ahead, I’m going to take a minute or two to pause and appreciate the reminder that past-me had permanently written into my skin.