Tag Archives: identity

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 )


Adventures in identity

How do we explain ourselves to someone else? When do we feel  that’s necessary? I think the desire to be understood is a widespread thing and a basic human concern – many of us want the reassurance of making sense to someone else. It’s interesting to ask on what terms we do that. What are the most important things you want someone else to understand about you? How would you share that?

The capitalist colonialist structure in which many of us are caught tells us to express identity through branding. What we consume and how we display our consumption is presented as a way of expressing self. We are given a narrow bandwidth for potential identity, and we choose who we are and how we show that by paying for it.

We might share who we are by telling stories about ourselves. The urge to share stories is also a human one. But, the desire to tell another person who we are, to impose our story of self onto them is a complicated one. I’m always interested in the differences between people sharing stories about their experiences, and people who show up saying things like ‘I am this sort of person,’ not least because I so seldom agree with them!

The sharing of identity also functions to help us understand ourselves. There’s nothing like having someone else reflect back to you something of how they see you. The process of explaining ourselves to someone else can be a process of figuring out who we are, or who we want to be. Knowing how you wish to be seen can be quite telling, and the further it is from how you think you are, the more interesting it gets. Where the lines are between aspiration and untruth at this point, may be hard to define.

What does another person need to know about me in order to work with me, or co-operate with me in some way? What do I need other people to understand? Lockdown has meant I’ve not dealt much with people I do not know, but it’s also meant investing more time in online relationships, which in turn raises questions about what it is meaningful to share. Who am I? What of that can I meaningfully offer?

Mostly online I share what I’m interested in, because I find that works and is a good basis for interacting with people. I’ve experimented a bit with sharing my face, and other photos of me – which has been positive as an experience, but feels odd.

I’ve realised that I prefer to know people through what I can do with them.  At the moment my options are sorely limited on this score. But, I don’t think the best understanding of me is a story, or a set of assertions. I think it’s what can be known wordlessly by sharing the things I do. Sitting under the same tree. Wading into the same stream. Increasingly I don’t want to offer a narrative of who I am.  This is complicated online because blogs and social media alike encourage us to do exactly that, to tell ourselves to other people as carefully constructed stories.

When I get online to tell a story about myself, I can engage hundreds, potentially thousands of people with that story. When encountering me means walking through a wood with me or sitting on a hillside, I can only offer that to a very few people. I have to be very selective. I can only be properly real on a very small scale. I think that’s true of all of us, but it’s easy to lose sight of. Who we really are is not the drama of our biggest stories, it’s the moment to moment detail, the precise way in which we approach life.


Lessons from the crisis

Extreme circumstances always have the capacity to teach us. For the person who has never had their life upheaved in this way before and has never felt so powerless, those will be serious lessons. To be frozen and overwhelmed, unable to act or think when you have always assumed you would stay in control of yourself, is a hard lesson to learn. I hope as we move forward, more people will understand how it is that so many people freeze in response to domestic abuse and sexual violence. Freezing is a very human response to having no power.

We will all learn things about ourselves. What we do under pressure. What we miss and long for. How we handle fear, and what we fear. Most of us won’t be able to use this time to do the great project we always dreamed of – most of us will be hanging on by our fingernails at best. But we may find out what role other people’s creativity plays in our lives. If you are turning to Netflix, to books, films, games or music then you are using creativity to get you through. I hope people learn to value their creators, and the way the vast majority of creators are seriously underpaid becomes visible.

We’ve learned about who really matters in our societies, and that wage doesn’t come into it. We’ve learned that low paid folk in retail and in care homes are all that stands between us all and certain doom.

There may be lessons to come about the way busyness has filled our time and what the quiet of its absence looks like. The role of work in terms of our social interactions. How we really do with the people we live with. The terms that make our lives and relationships possible. For many of us, these weeks will bring into focus who it is that really matters. Who we need. Who we can’t bear to be parted from. No one knows who is going to survive this crisis, which for many of us means there is an urgency to dropping guard and telling people we love them. There may be no second chances.

We’re learning what it’s like to have quiet roads and clean air. We’re learning that a great many things we were told had to be done a certain way… don’t. There’s a lot more room for innovation than anyone was previously willing to admit. You don’t have to be in the building to be in the meeting. There’s a lot we can get done without consuming anything like as much energy or putting out anything like as much carbon.

None of us really know who we are until circumstances test us. We might not like what we see in ourselves as these challenges unfold. We might not be as good, or heroic, or worthy as we thought we were. But, if you don’t know where you are, it’s difficult to make good choices around where you need to go. Discomfort is also a powerful teacher.


Performing your online identity

The internet, and social media especially, encourages us to perform. We record and perform our lives to a watchful audience that may judge us on a scale that most humans have never had to deal with before. The pressure to look good performing can have a distorting effect on what we do, what we value and what we think is useful. We’re all caught up in this and mostly need to be kinder to ourselves about it. However, here are some things I’ve noticed that I think need mentioning.

Performance activism puts the performer centre stage. Not the issue, or the afflicted people. It’s not about raising awareness or solving problems, it is a performance piece to show how good you are. It’s important to focus on what will help and make a difference, and to put the issues centre stage.

The performance ally works in much the same way – putting themselves centre stage. It’s important not to speak for or speak over the people you are supposedly helping. This is of course tricky when you’re not sure who else is present – so often the way of it online. There can be a lot of diversity in experiences and what helps one person feel supported may offend another.

Performance friendship. The fine art of making big claims, promises and declarations in public spaces. It might look good in the short term, but when you can’t follow through on it, the harm done is considerable.

Success performance. When you only talk about the good things and paint your life as perfect, you can undermine your own wellbeing. It’s hard to ask for help if you keep telling everyone that everything is great. If we get into displaying our success through images of objects, this can fuel consumerism and doesn’t help the planet. The kind of performances we put on around health, weight and diet could often stand some scrutiny too. The idea that weight loss is success needs care and careful thinking.

Warrior performances. It’s easy to be an online warrior, to shout people down, pull them apart, pick holes in their work and criticise them. This achieves nothing. Making real change requires real work and a good deal more effort. A warrior performance may help you feel good about yourself and persuade you that you’re doing something useful, but the odds are that no real good comes of it at all.

Misery performances. If you know plenty of nice people then misery performances will win you care, support, warmth, affection and positive reinforcements. Now, I think it’s really important that we all have space to share our struggles and issues – it’s an important counter to those relentless success performances as well. However, if all you do is act out misery, it isn’t good for everyone else, or for you. It is better all round to try and find some small good to share as well. The odds are if you can get online that you have some resources and your life isn’t just shit, and focusing on the good bits when you can will help you.

None of us are real online. Being here is an act of creativity and construction. We all make deliberate choices about what we share and how we do it. But, because those choices are so deliberate, we all get chance to choose what kind of performances we will share. I believe that our most authentic selves are the ones we most deliberately and consistently choose to be. So, while no one is truly real online and everything we share is partial and performed, at the same time, anyone can consciously choose to be the person they want to be – and thus manifest their most authentic self.


Conforming to group identities

For a group identity to make any sense, there have to be edges that define it. There are many questions we should be asking of those edges in any groups we encounter.

Who gets to define the boundaries? Usually it will be the people with the most power and privilege. Sometimes it will be people outside of the group itself. When this happens, it is often to silence or dismiss people who are inconvenient to a majority, or to a dominant world view. The way in which non-Zionist Jews are excluded when non-Jewish people talk (ominously, I feel) about The Jews at the moment is a case in point, and a deeply unsettling one.

What happens to people who are pushed out? Do any options exist for them? To be unable to stay in a local community space because it’s full of sexist dinosaurs is horrible, but probably liveable with. To be unable to access medical support because your provider won’t deal with trans people, is a disaster.

What happens to people who cannot fit in the boundaries? Are they punished for this? Are they pushed out further if they don’t go along with the group narrative? How much diversity does the group tolerate? How much conformity is demanded? Who gets to decide who should be conforming to what, and how do they wield that power? Who gets to control the narrative of the group identity?

There is power in defining the narrative. It is also an opportunity that is available to the most powerful. People who have least power are most likely to be pushed to the edges by people who have the most power. What happens when someone from outside the group takes on an identity to try and distort the boundaries and norms of the group? This does seem to happen online, and happens for political reasons.

How do we hold our edges? What are we protecting and what are we willing to make room for? What do we do when we’re pushed to the margins, and what do we do if we see someone else being pushed out? When is that justified, and when does it need resisting? These are not questions with simple answers, but ones to keep asking any time we engage in group dynamics.