Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Day 31 - changing

Photo by Michael S. Wright

It is weird to go through some changes at 40 years old. It might not be the most poetic way to express it, but right now it feels accurate. Today I noticed my sweat smells differently. I don't know how to sing anymore, or even how to speak, as my voice keeeps cracking. I am equal part excited and horrified, at the changes brought on by testosterone. Parts of me feel a little disoriented in this landscape. You see, I never hated my body, or even being a girl. I did not always understand the dissonance between my own sense of self, and how others saw me. Now, on a good day, I no longer care. I work on having plenty of good days. As my body becomes a more authentic expression of my queer gender identity, I ease into me, tranny fag ftw.

Sometimes though, there is loss. Like tonight, going to watch an hilarious movie ("Bridsemaids", yes, really), with two wonderful friends, and eating too much candy. Tonight I miss the sense of belonging within an easily identifiable category. Tonight I miss the camaraderie of women, even though it was never really mine to miss. I never fit into it. Maybe I just miss the illusion of belonging. Because, even as I write this, I know how fragile it was. I remember how hard I worked at creating femininity, and how odd it felt. And I wonder if it ever feels easy to anyone. Maybe that is why romantic comedies and 'chick flicks' are such a draw. Maybe we all like to imagine that this heteronormative dance we are expected to perform is easy for someone, even if it is only characters on a screen. Or maybe I just ate too many sweets and I feel odd, because today my sweat smells funny.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Day 30 - and the breath goes on

Photo by Michael S. Wright

It is hard not to shut down when I feel overwhelmed. I keep breathing, but no matter how much I breathe and center, the long to-do list persists. The only one who can magically shorten, or even dissipate it is me. There are many ways to do this: to act, to say no, to say no some more, and often. It is not easy, but the need to prune my commitments is becoming urgent. It is no longer sustainable to think that I can fit into my life all that I want to do, and all that I believe I should do. The trouble is, that it is not always easy to distinguish the 'want' from the 'should', when I am exhausted. The trouble is, that it is not so difficult, if I am honest with myself. And in the midst of all of this, all that I want is to not freak out, to stay open, to be present, to keep breathing, to know the tight sensation in the center of my chest and to say yes, I am right here in this moment. This week will require some effort, and much grounding, because there are tasks that simply must be done. After this, I am dedicating some time to figuring out how to make some room, to ensure that I keep living my life out of love and desire, and not fear, even when it comes to mundane work, and money. I am not yet sure if the adjustments will be subtle or not, but I don't need to figure that out right now. I just need to keep breathing, and opening, the rest will follow.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Day 29 - divine work

Photo by Michael S. Wright

There are so many thoughts clamoring for attention tonight. Over the past two days, I have spent several hours in a workshop on "Your Divine Work" with some lovely people, facilitated by the awesome T. Thorn Coyle. I have also played with my child, had conversations with my husband, when he wasn't coughing up a lung due to a really bad cold, watched movies, and exercised. Basically, the usual. Life happened, magic happened. I managed to show up as I was, as much as I could. There were moments when I felt that maybe I should be cooler, better, faster, stronger... You get the idea. I noticed and let them go, as much as I could, as soon as I was able. Tonight I would love to write a long, insightful post about purpose, intention, and the paramount importance of daily practice for core development. Instead, all I have is this practice. I showed up because this commitment I made is challenging, yet it tugs at me with persistent passion. I have no clearer an idea of where I am going now, than I had two days ago. However, I have a new spring in my step and I re-member, once again, who I am. Tomorrow, it will be time to tackle tasks on my to do list, and soon it will be time to think about some serious pruning and spring-cleaning in my life. Tonight, it is just time to publish this entry, read some more pages of my book and sleep. Tonight, I notice the thought that I should be 'more' right now. I breathe, let go, and embrace my divine work.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Days 21 to 28 - in the shell

 Photo by Michael S. Wright

It has been a week since my last post. At first I told myself I needed some sleep. Then the story was that taking a break is part of the process. On the third day I thought I had nothing to say. On the fourth, or maybe the fifth day, I wondered what I was hiding from. It wasn't just writing either. I didn't exercise for three days. I had superficial conversations with people. I retreated in the shell, and it took some cracks to notice. It is hard for me to know when rest becomes avoidance. I am great at denial, and rationalizing decisions. When things spin out of control, or emotions get overwhelming, I like to escape. It doesn't matter whether it is sleep, a book, movies, work, or even spiritual contemplation. As long as I stay in my head, and don't try to authentically relate to another human being, I can get quite cozy in there.

However, Wednesday was lunchtime yoga at work. I nearly didn't go, but something in me was wiser than that. Of course it was the day we worked on chest opening and lifting. I started to notice that maybe something was going on with me, and realized that I had avoided even Facebook for the past three days. Yesterday was Zumba, two whole hours of it, and today Bodyflow. By the end of Savasana, I had tears running down my cheeks. No major insight had been achieved in that moment, just the accumulation of flashes of realization, combined with the time to be still with myself, and be present to what had been going on.

Now, I am not saying the shell is bad, or that it doesn't have its uses. It has allowed me to live through unbearable moments, and given me some space to develop tools to manage trauma responses better, and to rest when healing was needed. However, I would like to choose when I retreat in the shell, rather than habitually crawl into it, tiny invisible step by tiny invisible step. I want to know what is going on with me, why my body is literally slowing down to a halt. I want to choose how to act, rather than react by snapping shut. I notice how much having developed a regular physical practice is helping disrupt this habit. Moving, and also being accountable through this project, and its tangible manifestation of this blog, cracked the shell quickly this time. That, and people around me. People who talked with me, and engaged, or just dropped a text to say hi. I wonder if I often realize how much impact we all have on each other, even through the most simple of gestures, whether we know the person we are interacting with, or not. I think if I really knew this in my bones, I would be much more mindful in my every interaction, not because I want to be perfect, but because I want to live with intention.

And my intention for this year is to open to vulnerability, get to know it, write about it, about me, on a public blog. Right? Yet I notice how much easier it is to draw a sketch, than to commit to a full painting. In this post I said nothing about why I was in the shell in the first place. I didn't talk about feeling scared at the prospect of telling my mom about my decision to take testosterone, even though I am 40 years old. I didn't share the daily anxiety about loosing my husband's desire for my body, as I start to notice small changes. I didn't write how tender my heart has been feeling, when dealing with intermittent emotional intimacy from someone I shared two months of daily contact, and growing feelings with. I didn't explain how it hurt, when I tried to reach out to someone I like, only to be politely deflected. I didn't show the melancholy brought on by memories of disappointment, and hopes I had shared with people my heart still beats fast for. But I guess I have said a little now. I am lucky. It only takes a small crack for the light to shine in.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Day 20 - validation

 Photo by Michael S. Wright

This morning I read a beautiful  blog entry by a wise friend about the value of silence. A few minutes later, I was already distracted from the beauty of her words and truth, because self-doubt decided this was a great entry point for the day. I rationally knew the blog post was about this person and her process, yet I started questioning my own blogging project, and my choice to commit to daily writing. Once again, I wondered what people thought of my entries, especially the ones when I am tired or feel like I don't want to share too much. Fortunately, I recognized my habit pretty quickly. I have been working for a while on shifting from external to internal validation. Of course we all need some external validation; it is always good to have feedback from others to keep balanced! However, some years ago I realized how much I relied on other people's approval, and how often I sacrificed my own truth, power and intuition, to ensure I would not meet disapproval. Cognitive understanding is a wonderful thing but it seems that shifting those emotional habits takes far longer, so here I am, fighting once again with this familiar demon.

This week I have been actually struggling with validation quite a bit. Maybe I felt tired because I am still fighting whatever bug gave me this incredible sore throat. Maybe I felt tender because of a couple of situations at work and with friends. What I know is that sometimes the ground underneath my feet can tremble at the mere fall of a single leaf, just out of habit. That is why I need to pay attention, to keep cultivating mindfulness, so that I can remember that the ground is indeed solid. I don't know if I will ever outgrow the habit of checking whether the ground is shaking, when I am unexpectedly startled by external movement. I don't know if I need to. Maybe it is enough to notice, to take a breath and say, 'Hey, I know you, aren't you the need for external validation when it is not necessary?' Then I can smile and greet my old demon/friend, knowing that, this time, we do not need to visit with each other for long.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Day 19 - hum it

I love music. I am not sure why, a few years back, I lost my habit to listen to it, sing it, dance it. Filling my life with music again happened at the same time as I let myself be vulnerable once more. It makes sense. It is hard for me to deny what I am feeling when there is music in the air. Recently, when I went through some tender-hearted times, I sang along to my Adele's CD until I felt a little more at peace. Music makes emotions more manageable somehow, and often takes the drama right out of the situation, exactly because it can be so melodramatic (or downright funny)! So, tonight, I share one of those timely songs that made me smile during this season of Glee.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Day 18 - irritability

 Photo by Michael S. Wright

Sometimes I tell myself that it is the pain but, to be quite honest, I can be a pretty irritable person. I used to be really invested in denying this fact. When you grow up around so much violence, anger seems a little suspicious and scary. However, eventually, and somewhat late in life, I have been making friends with all colors in the rainbow of my moods (corny, I know)! This morning I was cranky. There was nothing that anyone could say or do to turn the simmering down. I kept a pretty good lid on it, I think, until life decided to go from simmering to boil, courtesy of work. I wish I could say I was all Zen about it, breathed and embraced the moment. I wasn't. I was pissed off and I am sure the whole office knew, including my boss. I feel incredibly grateful for the compassion of my co-workers, including the ones who had the good grace to let me vent. Once I let my mood enjoy a good boil on high heat, it was easier to turn to the tasks at hand and move forward, even though not necessarily pleasant. Still, I am learning that vulnerability is not always about the warm and fuzzy feelings. Some days it is about knowing what a cranky bastard I am, trying to be as kind to myself and others as I can, appreciating those who like me nonetheless and looking forward to a cooler day (and fewer mixed metaphors).

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Day 17 - practicing

Photo by Michael S. Wright

When I get sick, it is easy for me to think of vulnerability as weakness. When my body feels shaky, has a fever, or hurts so much that all I want to do is sleep, which pretty much describes my afternoon today, I find it hard to see how vulnerability could have anything in common with resilience. However, if I remember to listen, and if I can meet the needs that my body is trying to express, then I eventually get better, usually faster than when I fight with the above mentioned needs. It seems silly, but it surprises me every time.

Thinking about it some more, I am not sure it is so different when I feel emotionally vulnerable. When my heart is tender and emotions rise, it can be hard to remember how much easier it is to let them flow. Sure, there is that ripping, breathtaking moment when sadness, or even joy, may flood your being, but then there is flow. Whereas, when I am holding on, there is this dull ache that seems to fog everything that comes into view. Yet, no matter how many times I might have gone through this lesson, somehow the first knee-jerk response seems to be grasping rather than opening, pushing through rather than letting go. Of course I would feel very enlightened and Zen if my response could always, instinctively be an opening to vulnerability. I suppose that is why so many spiritual traditions talk about practice, and so many physical pursuits involve discipline.

I am still pretty unclear on what it means to have embraced vulnerability as a practice for 365 days. Today it meant listening to my body, and giving it the rest it needed to recuperate from illness. Yesterday it meant noticing how tender my heart was after a conversation with someone who unexpectedly got close again. It's a practice, and I am not even quite sure what I am practicing for, besides maybe the ability to be myself a little more each day.

Day 16 - don't you ever feel like you need a break?

Sick, and also tired tonight. Honestly I don't want to write about anything. Yet I also feel like I made a commitment to showing up to the page everyday. So, here I am. And then I came across this video and I thought, oh, how emo and, well, just perfect for tonight. Thank you Pink!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Day 15 - knowing when to rest

Photo by Michael S. Wright

I was one of those kids who was always on the go. The fact that there was little space in the flat I was brought up in might have contributed to this attitude. I loved spending holiday times in Sicily because there were spaces I could hide in and read, but I had a hard time with the enforced resting time in the afternoons, when it was considered too hot for anything but sleeping. I didn't change much over the years. When I needed to rest I would crash, sleep for a day or two and then start again.

In my 20s I started to get sick a lot, I came across late-onset asthma and eventually was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I really tried to slow my pace but I have not been incredibly successful so far. One of the challenges is that avoiding flare ups seems to require of me a delicate balance of exercise, attention to nutrition, self-care and rest. Often I don't know whether I should 'push myself through' one of those days or moments, or if I should be kinder to my body (well, that would be myself actually) and rest. Lately I am worried that I have leaned towards the former solution, rather than respecting what I need, that is more rest. One of the stories I have trouble challenging is that "maybe deep down I am lazy". No matter how much I know this not to be true, sometimes I think that maybe, if I push myself just a little bit more, then I will achieve whatever it is I am after (productivity, less pain, better gmail management, etc.).

It is such an easy trap to fall into. After all isn't that what so much overculture is about, especially here in the US? The message seems to be, if you work hard enough, you will be rewarded and achieve happiness (and wealth, get the girl/boy and live happily ever after). Right? If I am feeling sick, overwhelmed, or plain exhausted there must be something wrong with me. Suddenly, whatever I can contribute no longer seems to matter, if I cannot keep up with the absurd, ableist demands we place on ourselves and others. The problem is that sometimes I don't want to keep up, but rather I want to be respectful of the wisdom of my body, my own wisdom. I want to feel that I don't need to meet whatever standards I have set for myself to prove that I can keep up with non-disabled people. Before I can do that, though, there is so much internalized ableism that I need to challenge to finally know when to rest.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Days 12, 13 and 14 - every breath is a new opportunity

Photo by Michael S. Wright

Thursday night I got home late and blogger was down, then yesterday I left my house at 6.40am and didn't get back until nearly 1am. It has been a busy few days. Some of the time I have felt overwhelmed. Taking on 'too much' has always been a challenge for me, but, what exactly is that tipping point into 'too much' is something I have not figured out yet. It seems to shift and change all the time and, just as I think I have found some semblance of balance, life throws a ball out of left field.

Slowly (sometimes so slowly that it seems I have come to a halt), I am learning to let go and open my hands rather than grasp so tight. I am trying to let go of expectations, fantasies of what I want something to be, and, mostly, I am trying to let go of the fear that there won't be enough, that if I don't get this, right here and now, there may never be this (whatever this might be in the moment) again. I can trace where the grasping comes from, but that doesn't matter. Sometimes, no matter how much I understand something with my rational brain, I need to understand from my bones. That is why I am also striving for kindness towards myself. There was a time when I kept berating myself when I held on tight, because I should know better. It didn't help. What I needed in those moments was acceptance and love, not a scalding. I have had enough pushing and shoving to last me for this lifetime. What I still need when I am scared is not to tell myself than I need to let go, to be brave and make myself unfurl my tight metaphorical fists. What I need in those moment is to see the fear, to tell myself that it is understandable and to know that it is ok. When I can do that, when I hold myself with love and compassion, that's when I know that there is always more, and that there is always enough, that is when my hands open, and I breathe into the discomfort to find so much more space than I could ever have dreamt of.

When I can do that, it doesn't matter if blogger is down, if I have not done all the things I wanted to do before a meeting, or if I get an unexpected text from a person who cracked my heart open again, not so long ago. When I know that there is always enough, and that there is always more than I could ever need or want, it doesn't matter that I am not perfect, or not even close to it. When I breathe into those moments, and my hands open, then my heart does too, and I know, deep in my gut and my bones, that all there is it's this perfect moment. This perfect, awkward, sometimes painful, sometimes joyous moment, which is gone already by the time I wish it away or grasp at it. All I have to do is show up, and be present to this moment before it's gone.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Day 11 - looking at her

Photo by Michael S. Wright

Apple-eating May,
happy mealworm has come home.
Caring daughter smiles.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Day 10 - remembering

Tonight I feel so many words, emotions, tears waiting to burst and yet not wanting to let them out. Knotted. Swirling. Dancing. And I wonder if some sentiments should be kept private, or whether it is fear dead-bolting the house again, wanting to play it safe and keep it quiet. And should the lock fail somehow, there are those tapes playing, the ones that make me wonder, who exactly do I think I am, laying it all bare for the world to see. Stirring trouble, remembering why it was so complicated at times to claim myself, my masculinity, all that seemed hurtful and dangerous to me in a world where there was no compass, no evening star to guide me home. Some nights, it does not take much to stir the trouble and memories right up. One movie, a scene where a woman walks on eggshells around him, where children are being held by their dad, and my body knows trouble is coming, even though my mind cannot quite accept it when they fall, when he lets them go, when he murders them. It was a movie, but my body is still shaking, even though I know I am safe now and that I am alive, that those stories have different roots and they are not like mine.

In my story I survive, even thrive, and yet I speak little of what I have seen. I don't often talk about why it hurts to see my father's face looking back at me, every day a little more, as I get older, as I transition. I don't speak of the fear of becoming unknown to myself, and to my sisters, not of blood, but of choice, spirit, legacy... My rational mind understands how violence shapes men too, how nobody leaves unscathed, no matter their gender. My body remembers in a different way, and sometimes I wonder how I can be myself and hold those stories, this knowledge, as the thread of sisterhood becomes so thin it can hardly be seen in daylight. Some nights though it does not take much to be back there, to know that vulnerability in my body, the one that seems to come from walking in the world with all the attributes that mark one as feminine. Then I remember that it doesn't even matter what those attributes might be, as long as it is femininity that is read on you, because that is enough to mark your body as weak, available, and disposable. Some nights, trouble stirs up easily from the knots. On those nights, I am real gentle with myself, breathe more carefully and maybe hug a pillow as I sleep. Tonight I let the words fly and I wonder how my dreams will look now.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Day 9 - perfection

  Photo by Michael S. Wright

I finally watched Black Swan. It was disturbing, beautiful and absorbing. It also reminded me when I believed that there might be sanctuary in perfection. This was not the Zen perfection of being present here and now, in the unity of body and mind. The perfection I was striving for was about control over myself, and circumstances. Maybe, if I could be perfect, than everything else would follow: safety, joy, wholeness, love... However, perfection is hard to attain, because the kind I was looking for was, by definition, attainable. No matter how good my grades were, whether I went to Mass everyday or ate the least amount of calories possible, there was always a new goal around the corner. Needless to say I did not find healing, safety, love or joy this way. I got lucky, though, very lucky and somehow I slowly stopped looking.

Funny thing is, once I stopped looking (at least for some of the time), perfection seemed to be everywhere. Today was one of those perfect days. I got up and exercised. I enjoyed driving back to the city, listening to my remarkable daughter chat away with her amazing friend. I ate fluffy pancakes, drank iced chai and sat in the sunshine in my favorite park. I noticed dandelions everywhere, and violets growing unexpectedly in my front yard. I tickled and hugged my child. I enjoyed sweet potato soup. I watched a movie with my beloved husband and I remembered that my life is, indeed, perfect and that I am a very fortunate bastard indeed. The house still needs cleaning and my emails are definitely ahead of my capacity to respond. There is always more to do than I seem able to keep up with and I am so grateful for this privilege, for this life and, right in this moment, for the bed I am about to rest in.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Day 8 - self-doubt

After the thaw, and the snow...
Photo by Michael S. Wright

Tonight I really did not want to write, but part of carrying out my project so publicly mean I feel kind of accountable so here I am. It was a long day with wonderful moments of tenderness, some amazing food, much laughter, a little rage at a group of 'dudes' and, procrastination. The latter was mostly about the blog and a little about the long list of emails patiently waiting in my gmail inbox.

When I first embarked on this project I was daunted by the commitment to focus on vulnerability daily, and also to write everyday. I thought I would run out of topics, yet that does not seem to be an issue. As I ask myself how I felt vulnerable today, there are stories already touched on, but the loudest reply seems to be about self-doubt. I didn't want to write tonight because I felt wobbly. Suddenly this project seemed self-indulgent, a navel-gazing activity that only someone with enough privilege (of time, Internet access, education, etc.) could undertake. More fundamental than that though I felt stupid. Would people see this endeavor as attention-seeking, even narcissistic? Could this be classified as exhibitionist behavior? As a therapist, I believe it is not necessarily unhealthy to ask myself those questions, but, as I write my fears and thoughts down, I also realize there is a familiarity here. When I am afraid my inner critic becomes loud. One of the things he knows about me is how quickly any labeling of my behavior as attention-seeking and/or stupid can shut me up.

I have only recently realized how deeply ingrained those messages are for me, and where they come from. There was a family vulnerability I learnt to defend through silence, and, no matter how much I rebelled against it over the years, it still rears its head in the way described. I also wonder though how much my, and my family's, avoidance of attention-seeking behaviors had to do with safety. I know that drawing attention to oneself was definitely not safe for my grandparents, both maternal and paternal for different reasons, including a fascist regime at one point in their life. I know that drawing attention to yourself when you are a working class family emigrated from Sicily to the 'continent', as the rest of Italy is called on my mom's island, is the last thing you want. You also don't want attention if you are beating your wife or your kids, or if you are afraid that attention might bring more hits, or possibly worse, tear your family apart. So maybe my inner critic has my best interests at heart and is using what he knows.

There are more stories to be told on self-doubt. I am still in the grips of it. I have no idea whether this seems like a pointless, self-absorbed exercise. However, I don't need to decide anything tonight. I have kept my commitment and I am present, once again, to the vulnerability of this moment. Maybe all I need to know right now is that it is time to go to sleep. Tomorrow, after all, is another day and, as one of my yoga teachers says, "a new opportunity for peace".

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Day 7 - Gender outlaw in Baxter

There are things that I would not necessarily embrace if I wasn't a parent. For example, a trip to a lodge in Baxter, which includes Paul Bunyan's Water Park. Now, don't get me wrong, I am a Pisces with Cancer rising and I simply love water. I also love arcades and we happen to have one a few doors down from our room. However, I am also an incredibly privileged trans person, who lives in a pretty safe and supportive town, in a queerborhood, and who does not need to deal with smaller towns, such as the one I happen to find myself in this weekend.

Fortunately being a parent encourages me to take risks and embark on new adventures. It was my daughter who cheered me on my first, and until today only, trip to our local swimming pool post top-surgery. It was thinking of my daughter and how much fun she would have that spurred me on to buy the deal for Brainerd Lodge, home of Paul Bunyan's Water Park. And this is how I came to be sitting in an outdoor hot tub this afternoon, in Baxter (MN) and later on to be enjoying playing air hockey in the arcade. Honestly, I am having a great time. It would be even better if some people didn't feel compelled to take a second, or possibly third look at me, especially if I dare to hold hands with my lovely husband. When they do, I take a breath and I smile. I might even casually engage in conversation, if this seems called for. No matter how fast my heart might race I want to believe that maybe, just maybe they'll see that I am just a person, living my life and next time, when they meet a trans or gender non-conforming person, they might not feel the urge to stare.

I want to make it clear though that I am not sure that I might have been able to do this if my kid, and some other amazing kids in my life, did not set the wonderful examples they do. I knew that my seven year old daughter was nervous this afternoon and, when I asked her about it, she said this wasn't our city and she could see people looking. Nevertheless, she took a breath, smiled and then played in the water with her wonderful friend, who we invited to come with us on this trip. Because, you see, her thirteen year old friend is just as amazing. When we went out for dinner, after the Water Park adventure, she was wearing her "Legalize Gay" t-shirt, and happily chatted away any worries that might have troubled our way. So here I am, a gender outlaw in Baxter, accompanied by an amazing crew and looking forward to some more time in the hot tub tomorrow, if I can ever get some excited kids to sleep!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Day 6 - Heart-opening communities

Photo by Michael S. Wright

Right now I feel so grateful for community. Earlier on I met with some amazing people to work on a CDC grant, then I attended the Lavender Celebration & Awards Ceremony and once I am done blogging I am off dancing at Soul Friday for the first time and there will be awesome friends there. I feel lucky, blessed and abundant even though the physical soreness is still present. It wasn't always this way though. When I first moved to Minneapolis (USA), I felt isolated. I kept complaining to my very patient therapist of how I knew people but didn't really have friends I could call when I felt down... Finally (and, believe me, it took me longer than I would care to admit), I realized that the isolation I felt was my own fabrication. I had been so busy protecting my tender heart, which had been a little bruised by a major relationship break-up, spiritual initiation and a major geographical move, that I had not noticed that nobody could scale the walls I had built! Just as well I am a lucky bastard though, and I still had friends by the time I noticed, friends that had been patiently waiting for me to be ready to open up, and see the abundance of love in my life.

It was so easy to get bogged down in the pain, the changes and the fear but it was so very lonely there. That's why I am grateful for community because that's where my heart began to peek around the walls and see what a fabulous landscape was waiting for me, if I could at least crack a window! So tonight I dance because community is worth shaking it for. Happy Freya/r's Day peeps, I hope you are having heart-opening delight tonight!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Day 5 - Sore muscles, tender heart

Today it was hard to get up and keep going. This is not unusual for me, so I breathed, gratefully accepted my family's patience and got my act together enough to go to work. Over the years, I have become far more gentle with myself, more able to remember that there will be other days when I will feel far more productive and that my (dis)ability does not mean that I am "less than" someone who maybe physically struggles a little less to get through the day. Nevertheless, as much as I can somewhat accept the soreness of my body, I still find it challenging to embrace the emotional impact of days like this.

You see, when my body feels like I have been run over by a ten-ton truck several times, and my mind is stepping slowly through treacle, my moods are also affected. I am more prone to negative thoughts, mood swings, and irritability becomes a constant companion. Most terrifying of all possibly, my heart feels open, tender, and vulnerable. Today was one of those days. In the past I folded the tenderness in thick layers of anger and aggression, so scared to become a target that I did not realize that it was unlikely that anyone else could be as harsh as I was towards myself. Today was one of those days but I did not hide my tender heart away. As I sit here writing, I am aware that I am starting to cry and, as the good narrative therapist I am, I wonder what my tears are saying. I wonder if they are for all those moments when I don't tend to myself as well as I could. The times when I don't sit down because I don't want to appear weak, when I don't leave a meeting early because I don't want to seem uncaring, when I give myself the message that my needs don't count as much as other people's perceptions, as my commitments or as much as other people's needs.

Today was one of those days and I tried to listen to my tender heart. I wasn't perfect. I am tired, I still need to eat dinner and I have not had a moment to myself yet, apart from writing this blog. Today was one of those days when I am still smiling because although I might have still made some of the same choices, and not given into the soreness, the tenderness, the need to just be held and looked after, I listened and I chose, with intention and awareness. Maybe next time I will be a little gentler, meet my needs better, but today I celebrate how far I have come. I shed tears for the legacy of violence I perpetuated against myself by driving my body and heart harder than they were able to stand at times, and I shed tears of joy for the healing, love and connection that is never far away if I just dare to listen to my tender heart. Today was one of those days and it was a good day.

Day 4 - T-day

This morning I was struck by the commitment I had made to blog daily for 365 days. What would I find to write about everyday? Tonight I struggled to pick a topic from the many opportunities to open to vulnerability that I encountered during the day. However, pick a topic I did, as you can see from the title. Today I took my prescription and went to the pharmacy to pick up testosterone, even though I will have to wait until Friday for my first shot, since I am not ready to inject myself. The pharmacist was awesome and even got my preferred first name in the system and on the label for my prescription. I was, and still am, a mixture of excitement and nerves. Don't get me wrong. This is what I want but that does not mean that there are no complex feelings surrounding my decision.

I have lived with my body as it is for the first 40 years of my life. Sure, we have gone through some changes: a pregnancy and birth, aging, binding and, in December, top surgery. Yet the changes to come are both exhilarating and terrifying. What will my voice be like? I can't wait for it to be deeper and not to give me away so readily every time I open my mouth in public but, will I still have a good singing voice? How much will my hair grow and where? Will I get acne? What will happen to my moods, my sex drive, and my bones? There is so much unknown to face on the physical side alone! And then there is the political side. Am I selling out to the pervasive gender binary of the over-culture by further modifying my body? How do I feel as a feminist and a pagan in a tradition where the body of the Goddess is revered and possibly idolized as ideal? Not to speak of the personal, intimate fears. Will my life partner, who after all used to be kind of a straight guy when we first met 11 years ago, still find me attractive? Will anybody find me attractive ever again? Will my mom finally freak out and stop speaking to me? How will my kid react to more physical changes? Will I still recognize myself in the mirror?

There are so many questions and fears, and yet there is no doubt that this is what I want. I smile when I think of my first shot and then the wonder and curiosity take over. The questions transform into an adventure that I can hardly wait to embark upon. Yet it is unnerving to talk about the unknown because I feel that so many might be far too eager to point and say: "see, that is not how a 'true' trans guy should feel right now" or "see, I knew trans people were way more fucked up than they let on, look at this guy". But I wonder whether any non-trans person has ever made a major decision without questions, fears, and a little hesitancy before stepping into the unknown. If so, was their mental health questioned, their identity inspected with a magnifying glass and fine tooth combs, turning every possible paradox into proof? Possibly, depending on what color their skin is, what first language they speak, what gender they are read to be or how old they are. My human experience, just like any other human experience, does not exist in a sociopolitical vacuum. Neither does my decision to start taking T.

So, here I am: sleepy, nervous, excited and smiling. It will be a great adventure, as off I go into the unknown.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Day 3 - new moon, new beginnings

It has been a very long day so my thoughts might not be incredibly coherent tonight. It is also a New Moon. My friend, awesome astrologer Teri Parsley Starnes, writes with insight and knowledge about this in her blog, so I won't even try to address this in any detail here, apart from saying how much her words resonated for me. Deep recuperation from personal and global crisis sounds exactly what the soft animal of my body is yearning for right now... There seems to be so much to be engaged with in the world. So much that I often forget the need to stay engaged with myself. I have been doing a pretty decent job of feeding my body wholesome, nutritious food. I have re-established a regular exercise routine and, when I am not in too much pain from the fibromyalgia, I even get enough sleep. Well, it is simply not enough. As I think about the needs of my body during this New Moon, I know in my bones that I need rest, the kind that comes from the ability to treat myself as a precious beloved.

Sometimes I get glimpses of what that looks like: I give myself a break from the 'shoulds' and 'musts' that pepper my days, I smile at my image in the mirror and remember that I am a precious human being, just because. I need more of that. I need to ground this sense of worth deep in my bones so that it can settle there for those days when I feel that doing is all I am and yet I have no strength to do anything. Because, you see, at the bottom of my story, there is this fear of being seen and found inadequate, and that is what so many of the walls are for. My actions, my achievements, even my words can create an edifice in which to hide my vulnerability, my deeply human fear of being found to be imperfect and maybe even unlovable. Yet, as Mary Oliver says (and I am so grateful to Teri for reminding me), I do not have to be good to find my place "in the family of things". So tonight I breathe, and soon I will go to bed. It was a good day. There was exercise, there was work, there were projects dear to my heart, there was a doctor's visit, blood work and there is a prescription for testosterone in my pocket. New adventures await, new beginnings of the same story. Yet all that matters right now is the call to rest, to be present to the tiredness of the soft animal of my body and to know the rightness of tending to this moment.

Photo by Michael S. Wright

Monday, 2 May 2011

Day 2 - Embracing vulnerability to increase my capacity for joy

It has been a long day after a long weekend but a commitment has been made so here I am again. I promised yesterday that I would talk about my relationship with vulnerability in a more personal way, after posting Brene Brown's talk last night. This is, you might have guessed, far more uncomfortable than sticking with the academic argument of how great vulnerability is. Therefore, I hope you will forgive the clumsy attempt. I will get plenty of practice on becoming more articulate on this subject over the next 363 days!

One of the things I love about the talk I posted yesterday is how she frames vulnerability as essential not just to connection but to resilience. I have vague memories of not being scared of vulnerability as a child. I know that, somehow, no matter how scared I felt, something kept open even as a teenager. Maybe it was my desire for connection or authenticity. Maybe it was a survival mechanism. Whatever it was, part of me managed to stay in touch with vulnerability. However, over the years, I also learnt that the over-culture does not always have an easy relationship with vulnerability. As I moved within more Anglo-American cultural contexts in my late adolescence (mostly through literature and music), eventually physically relocating to the UK at 22, I picked up other messages about vulnerability. Vulnerability seemed to be read as weakness. This seemed applicable to both physical and emotional vulnerability. Furthermore who I was seemed to be associated negatively with vulnerability by several people. At the time, I was a femme presenting person and this seemed to somehow imply some interesting messages: an expectation of grace, fragility, muted tones, passivity, receptivity, and possibly a need to be rescued by a knight in shining armor. Please understand that this is not what I believe to be true about femininity but rather it was part of my experience as I started to navigate adulthood and relationships, initially with heterosexual men and later with butches and some femme-identified women. I am also not saying that Italy has an easier relationship with vulnerability, especially when it comes to constructions of masculinity and femininity! This is just my current understanding of how some of those contexts shaped my relationship with vulnerability, as well as with emotions. There are many contexts and many stories, which I have not touched on at all for this post, such as how coming from a working class background shaped my beliefs about vulnerability as a luxury or how white-flighting to me meant distancing myself from passion and strong emotions and how those two contexts intersect to create stories of shame and fear. But I won't tell all those stories in this post because I am trying to give a broad strokes overview of why I chose this project.

My 20s was also the time when I encountered therapy and starting to unpack some vulnerability around having survived domestic violence, first as a child, then as an adult. It was the time when my health started to deteriorate and I was eventually diagnosed first with adult-onset asthma and then with fibromyalgia syndrome (although the latter took nearly 5 years of doctors' appointment and self-advocacy). I felt physically and emotionally vulnerable and I equated this with weakness and associated it with danger. I was also experiencing an increasing sense of alienation as an Italian transplant to England, an emotionally colder cultural context. The latter in many ways created the privacy I had craved for and in other ways judged my 'passionate, emotional' nature as somewhat less evolved. The therapist who helped me through a heartbreak,  the decision to move to the States and the early stages of coming out as trans, found it incredibly funny and interesting that I would choose to move to Minnesota while reflecting on the impact of 15 years of living in an emotionally constipated climate! But I digress. It would take far too many hours of writing, and probably some editing, to unpack how my relationship with vulnerability was shaped through my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. For this post, suffice to say, it was an uneasy relationship and ultimately I judged vulnerability as my weakness, possibly a wound and definitely a nuisance.

In my late 30s my relationship to vulnerability began to change. I realized that I had compartmentalized my emotions somewhat and that my ability to only be vulnerable with some people and in some contexts was not leading me towards a balanced life, or the connection and authenticity I craved in my relationships. Rather, it was fueling an increasing sense of alienation, where I often felt alone in the proverbial crowd of acquaintances who could not be friends, because they really had no idea of who I was, although they might have known my politics and opinions pretty well. My walls were firm and tall, even though they were painted in pretty, friendly colors. I started to understand that my framing of vulnerability as a problem was at odds with my beliefs, hopes and dreams, which were all about authentic and intentional relationships in the world and between worlds. So the rebuilding of the relationship with myself began, the slow process of trusting myself, listening, and being able to be vulnerable with myself began. I am getting tired, and I want to be able to listen to my body as I will need to rely on having enough energy for boot camp at the YWCA at 6am tomorrow morning, so I will cut a long story short. Somehow, along the way, and thanks to so many people, my relationship with Mystery, parenting and community, I realized that vulnerability was one of my strengths. It always had been and it had been patiently waiting for me to notice, being there when I needed it the most to survive. I also realized that changing my relationship to vulnerability was increasing my capacity for joy. As I became more able to be present to the whole of myself, my tolerance for the whole range of emotions expanded and my life became more deeply rooted in joy. Not the singing robins, everything-is-picture-perfect kind of joy but the kind of joy that knows that everything passes and yet somehow what is authentic remains and feeds us. The joy rooted in my connection to wholeness, and to others and to myself. And that is why I think it is worth embarking in this process of opening to vulnerability, including the slightly public commitment to blogging, because I can certainly do with more of this kind of joy.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

365 days of opening to vulnerability: a project

Today is May Day, also known by many Pagans as Beltane. It is a meaningful date for me for so many reasons. It is International Workers' Day: a memorable date for someone brought up by a father active in the trade union movement and the communist party in Italy (this was before communism fell apart in a myriad of ways). It is also a day when Pagan celebrate fertility, abundance and creation. And, for the past three years, I have lived in Minneapolis (MN, USA), where May Day is celebrated in community, with both political awareness and joyous creativity, welcoming back the sun after a long, cold winter. Therefore, it seems apt to start a new project on this day, especially one that I hope it will last a whole year.

Several friends have 365 projects and my own neighborhood has a photographic project so I am definitely not original in my endeavor. Rather, I have found myself inspired by those projects, seduced by the idea of committing to an enterprise for a whole year and here I am. As I considered what I wanted to focus on and bring forth, many ideas sprang to mind. I thought about devoting 365 days to embodiment, since much of my recent personal work has centered around the body and movement. I thought about celebrating 365 days of pleasure and delight, as I find it so important to live a joyous life as a trans-identified, queer person when still too many would prefer to see us bleeding and lonely. Yet, as I woke up this morning I knew that vulnerability was what I needed to open up to for the next year. It has been a long day and I will save telling you my personal reasons for choosing to open to vulnerability for a whole year tomorrow. For tonight, I wanted to get started, to take that first step on the path, to make that commitment to myself. Yet, I do want to share a video, which originally was suggested by a friend a few weeks ago, and that led to this moment of realization, to this knowing that this was the key to another layer of healing, opening, listening and connecting. Here it is, Brene Brown's TED talk on vulnerability and why it matters. Good night.