Tag Archives: identity

Half Human – fiction

It is a half human.
Half female.
Perfect prayer to make balance.
No bad, No good, JUST exist.

Do you see me? Do you see my otherness, my difference, or is what speaks to you the parts of me that are resonant, similar? Can you forgive my non-human half in recognition of the ways in which we are akin? Only half human, only half female, can you make that be enough?

How generous of you!

And you wonder why I do not rejoice.

Where is the being who can look at me and see wholeness, not fragments? Who is the person for whom I too would seem fully a person? Can you look at my many parts and see perfection? For I am whole in myself, I am true and real, and not a creature of pieces. My facets are not brokenness, this is not contradiction, it is a completeness that your apparent humanness cannot embrace.

I do not want your pity.

Don’t bring me kindness and tell me you understand how hard it must be for me.

Bring me the wild wonder of recognising my existence.

(First text piece and art by Dr Abbey)


Non-Binary Parent

In my twenties, the best term I had found was ‘psychologically androgenous’. I entered ‘motherhood’ and only then discovered that I was experiencing distress and horror around the way a gender identity was being assumed for me. I fought not to have my name replaced by ‘mummy’ – profoundly uncomfortable that adults in my life now thought I should be called that when speaking to my child. I didn’t want to go to mother and baby groups. I didn’t want a social life based on interacting with other mummies.

There’s nothing like giving birth for getting you shoved unceremoniously into other people’s gender ideas. We attach a lot of meaning to ‘motherhood’. After I gave birth, members of my own family took to sending me Mother’s Day cards, which made me feel bodily sick. I had no way of explaining what was happening to me or why it was all so difficult. I did not want all the cultural gender baggage of being a mummy. I just wanted to be a parent. It’s only in recent years that I’ve found any of the language to express this.

Gender identity isn’t a conscious choice. It’s only when your gender identity is out of kilter with how people treat you that you are likely to notice how what goes on inside does not match with social expectations. When inner experiences match how you are treated, you are likely to find your gender identity seems normal, natural and inevitable. When your inner experiences don’t match how you are treated, this can be confusing, distressing, and can make you feel very much an outsider, an ‘other’. 

 I spent my early years as a parent struggling with other people’s language, expectations and treatment of me. I struggled with assumptions about what my parent-status meant in terms who I was and what I was doing. “You don’t need to tell me what you’re doing,” my mother said. “I know what you’re doing.” At that point, the baby in my life was not the only thing going on. I’d stepped onto the Druid path and become active in my local Pagan community and that mattered too. She didn’t know what I was doing, and that my life did not 100% revolve around the child was unthinkable. I never wanted ‘parent’ to be the biggest part of my identity, I certainly never wanted ‘mother’ to be my identity.

Generally speaking our culture allows men to be parents and to also do other things. Men are not expected to give up their work, their hobbies, their social lives, to parent. Women can be under a lot of pressure to do any and all of that, and to make the child the centre of their being. My desire for children did not include a desire to mother them, or to sacrifice my life for theirs. I parented, and I kept working, and kept doing music and hanging out with people and did my best to have a life. 

I’m a person who was pregnant. I’m a person who has a womb, and for that matter a cervix. I’m a parent. I find it difficult when public discourse around gender insists that you can’t be a pregnant person, or a person with a womb, that these conditions mean woman, and mother. It feels like running face first into a wall. I have no desire to stop anyone else from identifying with femininity, womanhood,  motherhood or whatever else speaks to them. I struggle with the idea that my own discomfort with these terms somehow erases people who prefer to be identified as women.


Social identity and not fitting in

I’m trying to make sense of myself to figure out how to navigate life in ways that are more comfortable for me. In recent years, I’ve had quite a few people suggest to me that I might be autistic, and it’s something I’ve been looking at, because there are certainly areas of overlap.

I struggle with social situations. As a child I could see there were rules for interaction but had no idea what they were. As a teen I did a bit better in geek spaces, and favoured spaces where music or dance dominated, because these are things I can do. I’m fine if the structure is overt – as in a class or a folk club. I’m fine running a space because then I know who to be and what to do. Curiously, the social spaces I don’t find stressful are steampunk ones, and that may have given me the key to unlocking this, because at the same time, spaces dominated by straight women terrify me.

I have never known how to perform femininity. I wasn’t taught how to do it as a child, or given any of the usual props – no pretty shoes, no toys targeted at girls etc. My mother and grandmother did not perform femininity either so I didn’t learn it from my environment. All of the gender based aspects of social interaction made no sense to me as a child, but I also didn’t know that was something I was struggling with. I also wasn’t a tomboy, I didn’t have any idea how to perform ‘boy’ either. 

Many of the unspoken rules for social spaces involve gender performance. Those performances change over time for young humans, especially around how your gender is supposed to interact with the other gender. The child who cannot perform gender appears weird and incomprehensible to the children whose sense of self already has a strong gender identity wired in, and a strong binary sense of what gender means. I didn’t want the things little girls were supposed to want, or the things the little boys were supposed to want. I had missed all the gender stereotyping memos. I had no idea how to interact with anyone else.

Steampunk spaces are remarkably uninformed by gender. People wear what they like, enthuse about whatever they like, there’s not much social performance of gender, no expectation based on apparent gender. You might think with the dresses and corsets that there would be, but mostly, there isn’t. How I present socially actually works in a steampunk space.

I recognise and empathise with things autistic people say about navigating neurotypical spaces and the stress this causes. But I think for me the issue has been the way in which so much social interaction is underpinned by the expectation of, and performance of binary gender identities. I never understood what the rules might be, to be honest I still don’t really get how any of it works. I have no idea whether social interactions based on gender binaries are intrinsic for some people, or just constructs that they get along with – and perhaps it doesn’t matter. What I need for my own wellbeing are the spaces where gender performance isn’t a key part of social interaction, and if I’ve got that, I’m good.


Nature, culture and healing

What makes you feel like yourself? What do you do that gives you a sense of being fully present, alive and acting from a place of authenticity? Conversely, how much time do you spend in spaces where you have to pretend to be other than you are? What do you do that robs you of identity and leaves you numb, disengaged and dysfunctional?

One of the truly great things about being outside and alone is that you don’t have to perform. The elements do not require you to be other than you are. If your sense of self has been crushed by pressures and expectations, this time alone might be your best hope of healing and finding yourself. We don’t lose ourselves anything like as much as we have our identities taken from us.

We can end up feeling that we are the roles we are obliged to perform. If our work, our usefulness, our family identity is the only thing anyone else sees and interacts with, the result can be lonely and demoralising. We all need the room to be more than the utility we provide to others.

Running off into the wilderness can be a tempting antidote to this. But, humans put a lot of pressure on what wild nature remains. It might be more productive to stop looking to nature to heal us and start looking to human culture not to ravage us in the first place. A better work-life balance would do a lot to restore many people to themselves. A kinder, more inclusive, supportive and spacious society would really help too.


Adventures in body chemistry

It’s a curious question to ask how much of your sense of self pertains simply to hormones and body chemistry. I had my first serious run-in with this issue in my twenties, when I learned how much my attraction to a specific person had been based on how they smelled, and when that changed, the attraction vanished. It was a disorientating experience.

As I waft about in the weirdness that is the menopause, my hormones are doing all sorts of exciting things. I get surges at night, that feel like being hit by some sort of massive wave of emotions that are just body chemistry and not otherwise caused by anything. These can leave me weeping, or overwhelmed with anxiety. Again it’s disorientating because it doesn’t relate to anything else that is happening.

I’m fairly confident at this point that I used to produce a lot more testosterone than I do now. I was a tougher, pushier, more enthusiastic, more driven sort of person when younger. I miss my fighting spirit. I miss my ambition and determination, but it just isn’t there at the moment, and the trade-off seems to be less leg hair, and I’m not entirely persuaded it’s a good trade!

I know all sorts of things influence my mood. Blood sugar levels can be highly influential. Temperature has a big impact on me. 

What I experience as ‘me’ is the chemistry in my body. It’s informed by what I do and what I eat, and by the process of aging and the strange tides of fertility. I am a cluster of haunted molecules, and the molecules are at least as influential as whatever’s doing the haunting. It’s making me look hard at who I think I am, and what I think defines me. For all of the chemical chaos, I am still able to make a lot of choices and I still think that who I choose to be is the most authentic part of who I am. The chemical adventures are intrinsic to being me right now, but its what I do around that which will define me most to myself.


A sense of self

This is me, onstage at Festival at the Edge this summer. The photo was taken by Allan Price, and I was there doing a Hopeless Maine set (more of that over here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2021/07/20/ominous-folk/ )

I love being on stage. There’s a bit of me missing when performance isn’t part of what I do. I freely admit to craving the applause. More than that, though, I want to surprise, delight, amuse and inspire. I’m happier in myself when I can get out there and entertain people.

During lockdown I’ve done a lot of soul searching. I’ve not felt like myself, and part of that has been about not having the sort of engagement with people that I can have in person. Being on a stage again, I’ve felt more like myself. 

It’s rare for me to have a photo that captures something of how I want to be seen, but this one does. I am clearly ridiculous, with my sparkly horns. I’m wearing the waistcoat I made and embroidered – an act of creativity I am deeply proud of. Eccentric, and unapologetic about that. I didn’t put this outfit together with the aim of looking non-binary, but in many ways it captures that side of myself too. I’m still trying to figure out what I need to look like to feel comfortable, and this is the first time I feel I’ve nailed it. Being fluid and shifty, I will clearly also need to look like other things.

Who we are is such a curious mix of things. What we seem like on the inside, what we deliberately present or hide, how people interpret that, how we feel about those responses, and what we do. So much of my sense of self depends on what I do, what I put into the world. In theory ‘be yourself’ sounds like it should be the easiest option. Trying to figure out what that would mean remains an important area of exploration for me. In this photo at least, I’ve seen someone I recognise and feel comfortable with, and that’s unusual for me.


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.