Tag Archives: identity

The Walking Skirt

Skirts are not inherently impractical. For much of history, men have worn skirts – they may be called robes, or tunics, but they are basically a loose bit of fabric draped over the thighs. Longer, if you happen to be a Viking. However, all too often, modern skirts designed for the female body are inherently impractical. It encourages us to believe that being feminine also means being impractical.

If a skirt is made of delicate fabric, you can’t go through a bramble patch in it. If the fabric is light, it won’t keep you warm for being active outside. If the skirt is tight, it won’t let you move – no climbing stiles or getting on bicycles in that! If the important thing about the skirt is that it looks pretty and you are to look pretty wearing it, you can’t risk accident or dirt. How many girls are told not to do things because keeping the skirt looking nice is deemed to be the most important thing?

When it comes to making skirts for women, clothes designers usually focus on what is attractive – especially what is sexually attractive to the male gaze. This does not result in practical or useful clothing, and there tend not to be pockets.

I find that in cold weather, a skirt over leggings or trousers is the warmest option. I can move the bulk out of the way if I need to. The fabric keeps my thighs warm, but if the skirt is about knee length, it doesn’t get caught on things and the hem doesn’t get muddy. If the skirt is made of a substantial, heavy fabric, it really helps. However, the right fabric and the right weight is hard to find. So I made a walking skirt out of dead hoodies. It is warm, and practical, and allows me to do stuff.

Skirts are not gender identity. Lots of men have, historically, worn skirts. Some still do. If you want to wear a skirt as an expression of femininity, the skirt does not have to be limiting, or useless, or make you vulnerable or fragile. The skirt can be your friend. Clothes have a huge impact on sense of self, and when they limit what we can do, that impact really isn’t helping. Interrogate your wardrobe. Ask who your clothes are really serving. Learn to sew as an act of revolution, and make the clothes that serve you! Or modify the clothes you buy so that they work for you. Put pretty decoration on the practical stuff if you fancy that. Sew on extra pockets. Cut out the patriarchal bullshit hiding in your wardrobe.


Druidry and Identity

Druidry gives me a context for my sense of self. It teaches me that I am not separate from nature. I am part of the landscape I live in, and that landscape is also part of me. I am influenced not only by my ancestors of blood, but also by the ancestors who were in this landscape before me. I have chosen my ancestors of tradition – either as specific individuals, or as part of the traditions I engage with. This all contributes to my sense of self.

From the historical/Celtic side of Druidry I am gifted the importance of creativity, honour, courage and loyalty. I have done my best to weave these attributes into who I am, by making them part of how I do things. From the spiritual side of Druidry I get the call to service, the practice of gratitude, and honouring the natural world in my everyday life. Animism informs how I interact with the world.

I’ve been exploring Druidry for nearly two decades now, and a lot of it is in me and has become part of who I am. It’s also given me the focus to work on unpicking my actual self from the consequences of abuse, from ancestral wounding, family stories and the impact of the culture I live in. I have a lot of work to do still. Trying to find my authentic self amidst conditioning, cultural training, societal pressures, internalised patriarchy and colonialism…

This year has done an array of things to my sense of self. I’ve been able to test things that were only ever ideas before, and have found that who I thought I might be in the right context, is real. I’ve reclaimed my intuition and some sense of enchantment. I’ve gone back to beliefs that I had lost. I’ve become more aware of myself as someone with some very specific intellectual needs and have started trying to work out how to deal with that. I’m also having aspects of my sense of self knocked about by early stages of the menopause, by pain, stiffness, exhaustion and body challenges. I had my heart broken in a thorough, self altering sort of way and I still don’t know how to move past that or who I am in face of it.

Identity is not a fixed thing. We grow and change all the time – and much like trees, we put down our rings of memory for each year and grow, and sometimes we make stags heads and die back. We are cut down, and re-sprout from whatever is left. Or don’t. One thing that Druidry has certainly taught me is that I am a lot more able to be kind to myself if I think of myself as being like a tree.


Princess stories

Like most girls, I was exposed to a fair few stories about princesses while I was growing up. Many of them were awful. I’ve been thinking about the messages in those stories and how they impacted on my sense of self.

First and foremost a princess had to be beautiful. I was exposed to a lot of stories where beauty was defined as blonde with blue eyes. There was a memorably awful one in which the princess who needed rescue turned out to be a big disappointment because she was a bit plump and had dark hair. That one haunted me. Dark haired, dark eyed and regularly fat shamed, it was clear that I wasn’t going to cut it.

Princess stories taught me that the ideal quality in a young woman was fragility. People are more likely to fall in love with you if they have to rescue you first and you function as some sort of beautiful prize. Being good, kind and lovely clearly matters, but that should manifest in a passive, domestic sort of way. You shouldn’t do anything. You should be so delicate and entitled that you complain about a pea under the mattress. I didn’t get much in the way of warrior princess stories until I was a lot older.

I also remember as a child having a moment of working out what life might be like with servants following you round, and not being able to do anything privately or for yourself, and I didn’t much fancy it. I had a fledgling feeling that to be doing nothing in a glamorous way while other people did the work wasn’t something to aspire to.

Princess stories are a key part of how western culture tells girls who they are supposed to be. I think it’s a lot better than it used to be – that the princesses are more diverse, more active, self rescuing. Child me could have done with the dark haired and highly capable Princess Leia, with Shrek’s Princess Fiona, and Nausica from Valley of the Wind. Child me would have been much happier in a reality where being a princess was something anyone, me included, could play with.

This summer, for the first time in my life, someone called me ‘princess’ as a term of affection. I was shocked by what this did to my inner child, who was never a princess. Stories are powerful things, and the ones that were told to us as children do a lot to inform who we think we are allowed to be.


Community and identity

The person who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of them is on a trajectory that will likely result in them behaving in selfish and antisocial ways. The person whose sense of self is defined by what one person thinks of them is quite likely in an abusive situation. Somewhere in between these two points lies mental health and social functionality.

Humans are social creatures. We grow up in contexts that shape us, one way or another. We define ourselves through our work, family and social roles. We find out who we are in no small part because of how other people respond to us. The feedback we get will inform our sense of self worth and our sense of social identity and belonging – or not belonging.

How your identity relates to your community may have everything to do with finding the right spaces to be in. It is so important to have somewhere to fit, people to connect with and a sense of belonging and involvement. Life without that is lonely, and the absence of community connection can really undermine self esteem and a sense of self. Most of us do not do well as lone wolves. It’s worth noting that lone wolves do not tend to do well as lone wolves either.

On the other side there’s the question of how much we sacrifice to fit in. How much do we need to mute ourselves to be socially acceptable? How much must be cut off, compromised, hidden or denied so a person can have a place in a community? Arguably if this stops you from being a menace, it may be a good thing! But if what you have to hide is your authentic sexual identity, your not being neuro-typical, or some other vital and intrinsic thing, the price of community is high. Many spaces don’t even recognise the barriers they put up to prevent authentic engagement by people who are not ‘normal’.

What kind of spaces do we create and hold for other people? How much room do we give them? What pressures might we create to have other people stay in line with our beliefs and expectations? How much room is there for difference? What differences are genuinely intolerable? It’s worth asking of your Druid communities, your family spaces, work spaces and social spaces. It’s worth asking what we can do to actively include those who are unkindly excluded, and what we do to deal with people who do not fit in.


Heart Lessons

Things I have learned about myself in recent weeks, shared in case it helps someone else.

I like me most when I can love fiercely, when I overcome fear and keep my heart open.

There are a great many difficult things that I can weather, but not being sure if I am loved is unspeakably hard. Trusting people to love me, and to stay heart-open to me is one of the things I find most difficult to do. Deciding to stay heart-open has been a real challenge, but I recognise that I have a choice here and do not have to be ruled by past experiences.

I really struggle with feeling powerless. I need to accept that there’s a great deal I can’t help with. Sometimes I can’t even meaningfully offer comfort. Wanting to ease pain does not translate into being able to. Waiting while other people take their own needful journeys is hard, but waiting and witnessing is the right thing to do. I need to recognise the work that is not mine to do, and not let my own feelings get in the way of people doing their needful things.

Alongside that, I really do need to get better at expressing basic needs and asking for what is most important to me.  I don’t handle this well, and there are triggering issues around it for bonus complexity. I’m going to come back and blog about this in more detail when I’ve got a better handle on the mechanics.

I get excited about intellectual challenges, and if there aren’t enough of those of the right shape and nature, I feel sad and worn. I need to look at this because it’s one of those basic needs issues and I might do a better job around meeting it.

Falling in love with people is part of who I am. It doesn’t happen that often, but it happens. Sometimes those people love me in return, and aren’t afraid to be open and honest about that. They are my soul tribe, my most beloved ones, the people I cannot do without. If I don’t at least communicate with them fairly regularly, I struggle. I do not know who I am without them, and I find myself, my hope, my sense of direction in those closest and most important relationships. These relationships have all kinds of shapes, it’s the emotional intensity that is key for me, and what we share and exchange.

To have had a beloved fall silent for several weeks is really hard. It’s left me not knowing who I am – because I exist in a context. To be me, I need to be in relationship with my soul companions. It’s not a case of being completed, or someone else filling in the gaps in me – it is that first and foremost I exist in my interactions and in what I do, day to day. This absence has taught me a lot, and what I’ve managed to do and hold during it has opened me out in unexpected ways. I find myself doing intuition and belief as never before in my life, and these are surprising changes indeed.

One heart lesson in all of this for me is to put down the pernicious ideas about how we are all supposed to stand alone. I am a tree in a spinny, I stand because others stand with me. Tear one of us down and we are all more vulnerable to the next storm. I need roots that intertwine with other roots. I need to share my soil. I am not complete on my own because I cannot be myself entirely if I am not connecting with and sharing things with other people.


What does it mean to unpeel a monster?

The title of my latest poetry collection – How to Unpeel a Monster – reflects something that has lifelong significance for me. It comes from a story about a child born with too many skins, who is monstrous and must be unpeeled to reclaim their human self, and the first poem in the book reflects this.

I’ve spent most of my life feeling monstrous. Too much, too difficult, too demanding, too cold, too sensitive, too emotional, too unemotional – I’ve been called all of this and more. I’ve spent much of my life feeling that I do not properly qualify as a person. As a consequence, I often see myself as someone rigid with defensive layers. I find it hard to trust, to soften myself, to open up to people.

During the period I was working on these poems, my relationships with a number of people changed in significant ways. There were several friends who started making deliberate efforts to come in and unpeel me. Offering safe space and support, accepting me as I am and not finding me monstrous, they helped me change how I think about my monster skins.

I’m still working on that. I don’t know that I need to be entirely unpeeled to reclaim some more acceptable shape. There are days when I feel good enough as I am, and days when I even enjoy being me without feeling that I need to do a lot of work on fixing and improving myself. There are also days when all I can see are my own savage teeth and claws and my unreasonable, unacceptableness.

What do any of us need to change? And are those changes for our benefit, or to comfort, ease or appease someone else? How much pressure is there to take off the unacceptable aspects of self based on what other people will allow and not who you need to be? What if there could be room for me to be all of the things? Hard and soft, furred and feathered, red in tooth, claw and tenderness, monstrous and fragile, strong and vulnerable, broken and unbreakable…

The journey into dealing with what I find monstrous about myself is increasingly a journey of finding that I just need more room for who I am. More spaces where more of me is acceptable. More people who are excited about the aspects of me that people in my history have found too difficult. I need the people who can hold those spaces of acceptance for me. I know I have them. I’m starting to see what it might be like to be able to live as my whole self, unashamed of how messy and complicated some of that can be.

All of my skins are equally real and valid. It’s just a case of what I want to share, and who it makes sense to share that with. Unpeeling is always an option. So is putting on a new and different skin. A tough and protective hide is just as acceptable as a soft, tender underbelly. I have to make space for all of it, and I do not have to make space for the people who might want me to be smaller than I am.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of this journey, unpeeling the fear and making room for the skins.

More about the poetry in this post – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2020/08/08/how-to-unpeel-a-monster/


Identity and body chemistry

I am both fascinated by the way in which my biology functions, and cautious about what of me could or should be explained in purely chemical terms. However, my chemical identity has been a consideration for some years now. I started down the peri-menopausal track rather early – 39. I get the mood swings, and my menstrual cycle is changing.

My experience of myself, month to month is informed by the blue days before I bleed. I usually bleed for six days and two of those are usually heavy and painful. My mood shifts around ovulation. This has been part of the rhythm of myself for some time. Who will I be without that? I’ve seen some fascinating stuff from Caitlin Moran recently about what fertility hormones do to women and what happens when those go away. How much will I change? Will I wake up one morning feeling angry and finding I need to do a PhD? It happens a lot, apparently, but seems unlikely in my case.

Right now I’m dealing with a lack of adrenaline in my body. Adrenal fatigue is not widely recognised as a condition and definitely isn’t recognised in the UK. I can say from personal experience that there does come a point where a body just can’t keep doing the adrenaline, and doesn’t, and it takes a while to recover. In the meantime, experiences of fear and panic result in something like being slapped in the face with a cold fish. It is weird and disorientating, and my emotional self has changed because my body can’t support what I was feeling.

Amusingly, I’m also having trouble with endorphins. Usually this is a diet/exercise issue, and problems mean more effort is required to support the body. But, I’ve been walking, trampolining, eating plenty of fruit and veg. I don’t even know why this system has crashed. It creates an interesting opportunity to look at who and how I am when this chemical aspect of me isn’t working.

How I think about things hasn’t changed. It doesn’t seem to matter much what’s going on with me chemically, my considered philosophical positions and chosen ways of being hold up passably well. Except where those ways of being depend on being able to show up in a body and feel stuff. At the moment it’s a bit like how I imagine being a brain in a jar would feel – disconnected and a tad unreal. Being in my body is hard at the best of times, right now, it is almost impossible to show up for anything other than pain.

There is however some comfort in knowing that I’m not going to have my sense of self washed away by the hormonal shifts of the menopause. Anything I’ve come to deliberately is likely to hold up, by the looks of things.

(This blog post is not a request for advice on how to medicate any of the above, nor any other kinds of interventions I might try. That’s in hand, this is only part of a story, and it wasn’t what I wanted to talk about today so please don’t come in with that sort of stuff as I find it tiring and it isn’t going to help right now. Thank you.)


Stories for us

I know this is a subject I’ve posted about before, but it is on my mind a lot at the moment. Stories are maps we hold to help us navigate. When you don’t have stories about the kind of person you are, then feelings of otherness and isolation are inevitable. For many of us, the only available stories are tragic.

There aren’t many good stories out there for polyamorous people. Most three (or more) sided relationship stories are rivalries, and do not end well for at least one person. Love triangles are usually stories about having to choose. Or one of the three people turning out not to be so good after all.

There are more good stories for queer people than there used to be. It is no longer the case that the only way you can have LGBT representation is if your queer characters die tragically. But still, there’s a lot of work to do here. We need more stories in which queer folk do stuff that isn’t about coming out or having a hard time for being queer.

The same issues exist for People of Colour – that good stories that go well and aren’t primarily about politics, struggle and race issues are not as numerous as they should be. Not even close. We need to stop restricting the kinds of stories Black and Ethnic Minority people are allowed to tell.

Then there are the characters who are outside of mainstream culture because they are clever, talented, gifted, brilliant, capable beyond what most people do. And outside of the super-hero genre, this doesn’t go well. The souls who are too good for this world who end up dead, or still alone while comparatively mediocre characters get to have a meaningful experience or a coming of age narrative. This makes me sad. I want to rescue all the manic pixie dream girls and give them stories that are about how they live out their awesomeness and are properly appreciated. I want the world to look at the people who are too good for this world and up its game so they do not have to be sacrificed.

I’d also like a new love story. I am tired of the earth-shattering life changing love affair that can only make sense if it lasts for a very short time frame. What we keep telling each other is that grand passions are not for the long haul. You can only have Romeo and Juliet levels of intensity if you only get a few days together and then you both die. It’s not true.

Obviously one of the answers is that I have to write these stories, and amplify other authors who are writing these stories. If you’re doing this kind of work and would like a signal boost from me, please let me know.


No Fucks Privilege

When it comes to appearance, I find increasingly that I have no more fucks to give about what other people think of me. This is something I’ve largely been able to do for myself – so it’s worth talking about because in theory anyone might gift themselves with this.

However, I’m conscious of the ways in which it is also a privilege. It doesn’t really matter how anyone else reads me. My safety does not depend on passing most of the time. Granted, as a tall, furry woman who might dress a bit masculine at times, I could end up on the wrong end of the people who think they can read trans status in someone else’s body. But I’m not, and I would be in a very different position to a trans woman if that happened to me.

I’m non-binary, but I don’t need anyone else to read me that way. My body is overtly female-presenting and I’m not going to make myself miserable fighting that to try and fit what someone else might think non-binary should look like. I look like me, it will do. But, I’m not looking for a partner, I don’t need to make it clear to the casual gaze what sort of person I am. I have advantages of age and a large friend network and also not needing anyone to see me in this regard. There are people who know. It is enough. I have no doubt there are people for whom this wouldn’t work at all. I have privilege.

I don’t think I read as poor – and I’m in an odd inbetween place with that anyway. I’m white and I sound educated and this will inform how people read me, and will inform it in my favour. So if I have no more fucks to give about how people read me, I also have every reason to think I can get away with that. My dress style tends towards the eccentric, not the sexual. I uphold the right of anyone regardless of age, gender, orientation or body shape to present as sexually attractive if they want to, and that everyone should be safe when doing that. In practice, to present as anything other than straight white male and sexual is risky and can be read in ways that are dangerous to you.

There are things intrinsic to being human that mean we want validation from other people. It’s very natural. We all want to be seen and approved of. Many of us are not seen. Many of us face disapproval. It helps being older. It helps being emotionally secure. It helps enormously that I am unlikely to be in much danger from how people read me. Apart from the way rapists read female-presenting people, but that’s not about anything I can control. That’s not about how I present, that’s about the decision to read sexually, and to assume entitlement to other people’s bodies.

If you can bless yourself with no fucks to give privilege, do it. Do it now. And the rest of the time, let’s see what we can do to help people who need to feel more understood when having their appearance read by others, and who need more room and more safety than they currently get.


My candle burns at both ends

If there are two ways a person is expected to be, I will usually be both of them. I need a great deal of introvert time, but I am also an extrovert and I need the spaces for that part of me. I’m really feeling that in the enforced quiet of lockdown. I’m a big fan of logical thinking, but increasingly I’m using the intuition that had been on hold for years. I’m rational and emotional – both of those things, intensely, often at the same time. I’m neurotic and stable and given that question set can usually say ‘both’ to any answer. I do it with gender identity too, and with attraction.

I do it with belief. I hold atheism and spirituality and the possibility of deity all at the same time.

How I think about it when I’m not dealing with anyone else, is just that I’m ambidextrous. I am also ambidextrous.

It’s tricky in that people seem to like tidying themselves up into these boxes, into personality type, and being mostly ambidextrous, I’m always on the outside of that. I don’t fit. I hate it when people try and pin me down and make me fit. I hate it even more if anyone tries to reassure me that I’m normal and that really I’m X,Y or Z. Some fifteen or more years after the event and  I am still cross about the person who tried to tell me that there was nothing wrong with my sexuality, and went on to affirm my straight femininity for me. It doesn’t help. I hate the boxes.

I minored in psychology, many years ago and I spent time with the way in which people like to divide people up into types and label them. I recognise this as part of how we identify people we have something in common with, and as coming from a desire to better understand how people operate. But, as someone who mostly doesn’t fit, I also find it alienating. There has never been a language in all of that to help me identify people who are all the things, and with whom I can share that.

I have a suspicion that a lot of non-binary folk are people who have also rejected this kind of binaryness too. I don’t like binaries, I don’t like the yes/no in/out us/them thinking that goes with it. I want more room. I want that broad spectrum of possibilities I can hold between my two ambidextrous hands.

If you too are ambidextrous and tired of the small boxes and the not belonging, I offer you solidarity. I don’t know if borrowing this word is going to be very useful, but I’ve found it comforting, so perhaps others will too.

(The title of this blog is a reference to a poem by Edna St Vincent Millay, which can be read as meaning bisexuality https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/14095/first-fig )