Positive reinforcement isn’t positive…

plus signI play a game called Redecor on my phone. It’s a fun and relaxing game. They post colourless rooms and you need to “colour them in” with various materials such as fabrics, tiles, and wood. Then everyone is organized into groups of ten, we all can vote for which room we like the best (two at a time), and finally the top three people win prizes and we move onto the next room. Simple right?

Not so simple. I was fine with decorating the rooms and love choosing the colours and the materials (I’m absolutely in love with the Caribbean upholstery and the Peacock sequin cushions). It’s great hanging out in the Facebook groups too. And a friend of mine (the one I sing karaoke with) plays it too so that’s great. No, it was the easy peasy room judging that left me doing my breathing exercises and reassuring myself and I couldn’t figure out why.

First I’ll quickly explain how the judging works. You click on the judging and are shunted into two options. The first has you judge five sets of one current room (10 rooms in all). You see two rooms, no identifying information, and then you choose. Once you choose you see the same rooms but with the people’s screen names, the level they’ve completed this season, and their current score (out of five). The second has you judge ten sets of ten “design duel” rooms (so 20 in all). Everything else is the same except you see their score by percentage. Also, after you vote you get a prize, kind of a “thank you for voting” thing. It’s usually $75 for for first option and $150 for the second but I find you can get quite a bit more between 8 and 9pm. That being said, there’s nothing overtly scary about the judging. No punishments, you can’t vote “wrong”, it’s just a game. And I like flipping through and seeing all the pictures, at least until my chest starts tightening and it gets hard to breathe.

I think I inadvertently loosened something recently. I’m in a Storytelling group run by a mental health organization and, while my story about explaining non binary to Colin was well liked, everyone else dealt with big issues that had big feelings. So I thought that maybe I could talk about my early school years. I don’t know why. I’ve blocked most of those memories away then deadbolted them shut. But I thought… maybe??? And I remembered myself standing on a stout pipe that stuck out of the school, watching all the other kids playing together and wondering how they decided to be friends. Then I picked out one girl who looked friendly and a bit like me and went over to ask her… in front of her friends… and I mentioned that I thought we looked alike. I just remember the stunned disbelief and the laughter. I don’t remember what was said but it was enough to send me slinking back to the pipe. Enough that the next time I made friends with someone at that school, it was a tree.

But that memory was enough. I was sitting at the kitchen table late this morning and flipped the game over to judging. Soon the panic began to build but, this time, I could hear myself instead of just staticky panic.

C’mon Kath, you need to pick right. You need to pick the right one or else they’re going to take your reward away.

And, as soon as the word “reward” hit, I knew exactly what was going on. The reward is why positive reinforcement is supposed to be so good. There’s no punishment, you’re simply rewarding for good behaviour. Really? You ask a child who was promised a chocolate bar if they washed the dishes then missed a dish and didn’t get the chocolate bar if that’s a reward or a punishment. The child knows about the reward, it’s not a magical surprise that happens later, so if they don’t get it they know that too.

I find myself trying to pick the right rooms so I’m voting with everyone else so I don’t get stuck voting the wrong way. There isn’t a right way or wrong way in the game. And I’m often stymied by the lack of rules. People say beige and one pattern is the way to go and then someone will make a room with three bright colours and just as many patterns and get a great score. Then I end up blindly guessing until I recollect myself and assure myself that it’s alright to pick the room I like, that’s exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.

When I was a little girl I had undiagnosed autism, ADD, and dyscalculia. My coordination was horrible. I struggled to hold a pencil. I was also incredibly bright, talkative, and wrote well enough that the teachers were passing my stories around in the lunchroom because they were so cute and enjoyable. Basically I was a mixed bag and needed help. I also needed someone to realize I was trying and not dawdling around and daydreaming on purpose and my numbers didn’t drift because I was lazy. All kids want to do well and please the adults around them, if it’s not happening, we need to sort it out. I don’t know how, I just know that positive reinforcement isn’t the way.

The adults around me were trying to teach me but the way they were trying wasn’t working. I wasn’t getting it. That, to them, meant I wasn’t trying hard enough (note they never wondered about their own teaching skills). So, since I must know the subject since I’d been taught it enough, I was given assignments with positive reinforcements to encourage me. And what do you do when you know you have to answer like everyone else but have no idea what to do? When you have to answer no matter what? You guess of course. And I was left panicked because if I didn’t guess correctly I was going to lose my reward, through absolutely no fault of my own, even though I was trying to the best of my ability, because the adults around me couldn’t find a different way to teach me.

Forty-three years later and it’s still strong enough to trigger anxiety attacks. Don’t tell me positive reinforcement is positive.

Segregating Vegans

I settled down at the computer with my breakfast and dove into the “memories” section, hot chocolate in hand, to see what happened today on previous years. Some days the memories are funny, some days they’re poignant, and sometimes they kick you in your teeth. This was a kick you in your teeth day.

I had posted that I thought Sci Babe was being ridiculous for being against vegans who wanted a vegan option at In and Out burger. I also figured my friends would agree with me because, hey, what’s wrong with an extra item on the menu. It wasn’t like it would affect the rest of the food. I was wrong. Almost immediately one friend posted this…

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“Are you a vegan like the ones I described?” Seriously? What that really means is “just ignore me making nasty comments about vegans on your page… you’re different”. And, no, I’m not different. If I was in the States, I’d have been signing that In and Out petition for a burger too.

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This was someone I’d been friends with for years so her question surprised me to say the least. I was especially surprised she thought it would be okay to walk into a vegan restaurant and ask for a beef burger but couldn’t understand why a vegan would want a veggie burger in a meat based restaurant.

I figure it goes by can and can’t. Can a meat eater eat a veggie burger, fries, and salads? Yes. Can a vegan eat a beef burger, caesar salad, and french fries with gravy? No. So a veggie burger can be added to a meat based menu while a meat burger simply doesn’t go on a vegan list. It’s like asking someone with celiac disease to eat a wheat based slice of pizza. No, just plain no. But they can order a gluten free pizza at some restaurants. Flip side is you couldn’t order a wheat based anything at a gluten free store. It goes by who can eat what.

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When was the last time she was at a vegan restaurant? 1978? Every vegan restaurant I’ve been to has served pretty traditional meals. Burgers, soups, salads, fries, cupcakes. The closest one even serves “fish” and chips and poutine. But she didn’t want her bubble of ignorance burst so she blocked me instead. Blocked because I gave her a list of restaurants that serve vegan dishes.

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No, that’s not how it works. You don’t get to have a conversation about a minority of any type, especially one that puts them down, then claim it’s the minority’s fault for being upset. Saying I shouldn’t be able to eat at traditional restaurants with my family is not “a conversation”. Me explaining this isn’t an assumption. Funnily enough I haven’t missed her.

One thing I learned that day is you can think someone’s a friend but you won’t know for sure until you bring up something in your life that might be “controversial”. Fist bump to the friend who said it’s cool to ask for new products.

Something else I learned recently (not from this thread) is that the people who yell the loudest while defending you might not be yelling because they’re defending you. They might be yelling simply because they like yelling and controversy. I scrolled through my blog recently and found a post where a friend added a picture of herself eating a beef burger on a vegan thread I’d made then blocked everyone who disagreed with her. She had been a friend for years and one who vehemently supported me and the kids several times. But she turned just as quick and was just as vehement against me when her opinion was different.

That one was a hard one because I thought of her as a real friend. We’d messaged each other regularly for years, sharing thoughts, opinions, and pictures of our fur babies. She’d recently discovered a love of makeup and I sat through several makeup box openings because she deserved to have someone watch her happiness. I wear makeup maybe twice a year. And then she left, flinging insults as she blocked me. A friend said she’s like that, I wish I’d known in advance. But you can’t know everything.

And for those who aren’t shocked at the thought of eating vegan, here’s a curry recipe for you:

Vegan Indian Curry Recipe

4 medium onions, finely chopped
4 tbsps oil or cooking wine
1 1/4 cups Silk soy creamer
2 tbsps white wine vinegar
398mL can diced tomatoes (14oz)

2 tsps turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp tandoori masala
4 tsps coriander
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground ginger

2 tsps brown sugar
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 stock cube (or 1/2 tsp salt)
4 cups mixed vegetables, chopped (mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, sweet bell peppers etc)

Mix all the spices together. Cook the onions until translucent, adding more water as needed. Add the spices, reduce heat, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the milk and vinegar and stir well. Add the tomatoes, paste, sugar, and stock. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer very gently for 45 minutes. Add the vegetables and cook until tender – between 30 to 45 minutes. Serve over rice.

When bullying lingers…

20180515_154637.jpgIt was the day after Mother’s Day and Kait and I were in one of my absolute favourite stores, Icing. They sell just about anything sparkly and have glittered word art, a combo of two of my favourite things. All Kait needed was a wallet with a strap on it but she found two more things and there was a buy three, get three free deal going on that day. By the time we’d circled the small store at least twenty times, Kait was rapidly running out of possibilities and patience. She needed just one more thing and it had to be under $9, which, sadly, left out all the word art. Then I saw it, a sparkly pink butterfly clip, complete with tiny fake pearls. It was $6, which made it free with the deal and thus became my Mother’s Day present to go along with my glittery card.

I put it on right away, before Kait even paid for it, and double checked that it was positioned perfectly before I headed out the door. It was a matter of seconds before anxiety began gnawing at my stomach and clawing at my chest. Suddenly I expected every person we passed to laugh at me, to point out my butterfly clip, to taunt me. I flinched when people drew close because what if they hit or punched me? No one paid a single bit of attention to me but that didn’t stop the fear. It was overwhelming… all encompassing. I tried to reassure myself. I’d got the butterfly from Icing for pete’s sake, it wasn’t like I pulled it out of the toddler section of a department store. No one was going to think I was that weird.

I managed to make it down the hall and even got in a brief run through Dollarama, another favourite store, but I didn’t start feeling better until after we left the mall and were standing in the open by the bus stop. My chest and stomach slowly started to relax although I had to inform my daughter there was no way I could cook dinner that night. My spoons were done and gone. Simply getting home was going to be challenge enough.

Kathleen in 1981It wasn’t until later that I realized the origin of my fear. School. The crowds plowing both ways through the hallway felt like the halls at school and, as soon as my heart took me there, fear followed.

If I’d been bullied the same way as an adult instead of as a kid, it would have been considered abusive or harassment but I’d been a student in the 70’s and 80’s, part of the ere where kids were expected to sort “school yard squabbles” out on their own, so nothing was done.

As far as I could tell I was a perfectly normal kid. I loved to read, especially Trixie Belden books, and adored my pet cat Spotty. I rode my bike, climbed trees, and loved to write. My favourite colour was green and I’d travelled most of the way across Canada twice. My bullies didn’t know any of this. In fact they didn’t know anything about me at all. That didn’t stop them from calling me a freak, a retard, a homo. That didn’t stop them from tripping and pushing me in the hallways and chasing me down on their bikes.

I quickly learned that if I hid in the convenience store, the store owner wouldn’t kick me out and my bullies would get bored and wander away. That if you were hiding behind a car, you had to hide behind a wheel, in case they look under for feet, and move along with them, hoping they wouldn’t take a second peek under the car when you were at the back and they were at the front. I learned to check my assigned seat for spit before I sat down and wipe it up quickly before the rest of the class arrived. I learned that people, no matter how kind they seemed to others, could be absolutely vicious even when they were unprovoked.

It’s been 34 years since elementary school (28 since the end of high school). It’s been decades since I’ve been chased, punched, or spat at and still, feeling a bit different, feeling a bit like I’m standing out, is enough to bring me back to being 11 years old, being attacked for no reason other than I didn’t quite fit in.

Most days I don’t think about it but on the days when fear is triggered, when my heart pounds, and my breath tastes metallic in my mouth, I wonder about my attackers. Do they ever think about how they acted as children? Do they ever feel any guilt or do they brush it off as something everyone did? Do they flip though their grade school yearbook with their kids and think “there’s Kathleen the freak” or do they think “shit we treated her badly”. I’ll never know the answers to those questions. To be honest, I never want to see any of them again.

As for me, I’ll keep rocking my butterfly hair clip and glittery tops and I’ll make sure to keep my trips to the mall on weekday mornings instead of busy afternoons. I know I don’t fit in and most of the days I’m fine with that. On the days I’m not, I’ll try to assure that small, scared part of myself that it’ll be okay.

 

Continuing education…

Colin was only six when he started in a special education class and it was a bad fit for him. Despite him not knowing his alphabet yet, his teacher decided to start in on spelling tests, telling me it would keep him with his peers and he’d pick up the alphabet on his own. Soon she was finding him inattentive and difficult, something that came as a complete surprise to me as his kindergarten teachers loved him. Although in hind sight, considering she wasn’t helping him catch up with his peers, I can understand. He must have been so bored and frustrated.

He moved from that class into a multiple exceptionality class in grade two and his teacher adored him. He worked hard and had all sorts of innovative ideas. He genuinely loved school and looked forward to attending.

And then came high school and that was an unmitigated disaster. His “innovative ideas” were seen as an attempt to control the class. In fact anything he did seemed to fall under that category. He couldn’t have a stress ball on his desk or a fidget toy because he was trying to control the class by distracting them. Note, he was squeezing them, not flinging them at classmates.

The teachers responded in bizarre ways. Colin loves math, always has, and asked for math class regularly. His grade school teacher loved his enthusiasm and rewarded it. His high school teachers went out of their way to avoid having math class when he was there. If Colin was sick or suspended they would have math class, something the other students would promptly inform him when he returned. One day Colin had felt sick but recovered then walked to school. The teacher watched him enter the class the immediately erased “math” off the day’s schedule.

When Colin came out as trans, he came out as non-binary first. He wasn’t sure what pronouns to use so I googled pronouns and came up with a chart. We sounded out each one then he decided to use the same pronouns as my then friend Lenny; zie and zir. I looked up the district’s policy on trans students and their pronouns and found this quote (bolding is mine):

“Suggestions to enhance the school learning environment for trans youth follow. This list is illustrative and not exhaustive. We encourage you to develop and share with your staff and the Durham District School Board other gender inclusive ideas and protocols you may develop.

PREFERRED WAYS OF ADDRESSING TRANSGENDER PEOPLE
Transsexual females—identified as male at birth To be addressed as ‘she’
Transsexual males—identified female at birth To be addressed as ‘he’
When you are in doubt of an individual’s gender Address an individual as ‘they’”

Colin’s teachers and the other team members insisted they could not use zie and zir because it was against school rules. They could only use she, he, and they as the diagram showed. I pointed out the “illustrative and not exhaustive” part and they insisted that meant again that they could only use the diagram. Sigh, that’s not what the sentence means.

I had to go over their heads and, thanks to PFLAG, found someone on the school board to explain the guidelines. Which worked well in paper but not so much in real life. In real life they continued to use he and him. In meetings they’d, oops forget, 9 times out of 10. You don’t forget pronouns that much unless you never use them in the first place. And, to make matters worse, the teachers were actively teasing Colin over his pronouns. Separating the class into boys and girls then telling Colin he’d never get to be first in line for a treat because he’d “chosen” not to be male or female (among other instances).

At the end of grade 12 both Colin and I were so done with his school. He could have continued in a “bridge to work” programme but we figured it would be more of the same. More of them refusing to allow him into mainstream classes, more refusals to have harder work, especially in math, and more antagonising behaviour.

Colin has loved computers and electronics as soon as he was aware of them and has wanted to work with them for as long as I can remember. It was in high school that his dream job focused on robotics. Now that he was out of high school, he set out to realize his dreams.

He couldn’t start at college, even with support, as he didn’t have nearly enough education. So he called continuing education, who also told him he didn’t have enough education. He only had one high school credit and needed more. Then he tried Durham Alternative Secondary Education and was told the same thing. Same with the Catholic School Board. Finally, in desperation, I suggested the John Howard Society and, bingo, we had a winner.

Soon Colin was in school from Monday to Thursday and loving it. He attended right though summer and only missed days for doctor’s appointments. Then one day recently, he came home and told me he was only going to school on Friday now and was going to be taking school at Durham College. Soon I found him working on a computer he set up on our kitchen table (so not the place I’d have chosen) with two monitors and a calculator so he could finish his work and get it emailed in.

Colin smiling on his balcony

One proud smile

And then came last Wednesday when Colin proudly informed me he’s now going to College Prep classes. He’s attending school from Monday through Thursday again but this time with an eye towards him entering college as a student, albeit one with special needs. Finally his chance of going to school for robotics is in sight.

Colin has always been a smart kid, he’s struggled due to learning disabilities and autism, but he’s smart. I am so glad to see that educators are finally seeing this and are giving him a chance not just to survive but thrive.

Way to go Colin! You’ve earned this!!!

Me too…

CW: sexual assault

My grade eight teacher was particularly strict. We had rules for how to line our paper and we had rules for how to line up before class (in order of height). There was always a bit of a jumble as kids found their spaces in line. This day I was standing a bit away from the other kids when it happened. Lloyd reached over and grabbed my breast in front of everyone.

The teacher came out with the resulting noise and asked what happened. So I told him. He immediately got Lloyd and I then took us down the hall. My stop was first. I got put into the little room beside the science room. It was probably designed as a photo lab but all it had was a stool, which I perched on.

The teacher told me to stay in there and wait until he came back. Then he left. I had no idea what was going on or why I’d been put there. I felt like I’d done something wrong. I sat there, staring at the blacked out window, and wondered what was going to happen to me. All the while I could feel Lloyd’s hand touching me.

Eventually the teacher came and led me back to class. No adults asked me any questions or even mentioned the incident to me. I sat in silence, trying not to look at any other kids.

When I got home, my Mom sat me down and explained how Lloyd was having a hard time. His Dad had died recently, crushed under the car he was repairing. Lloyd was the one to find him. I should have some sympathy for him. He had a lot on his plate.

I didn’t want to here this. I wanted “I love you”, “I’m sorry this happened to you”, “It wasn’t your fault”.

Lloyd was back several days later. I noticed him in French class and made sure to sit as far away from him as possible. The teacher told us to put our finished work on the back table. I placed mine down then a body pushed and ground himself against me. Lloyd whispered harshly, “If you tell on me ever again I will fuck you up the ass.” I’d learned my lesson. No one would do anything. I didn’t tell.

Soon after he invented a song, “Ah Kath-a-leen, ah Kath-a-leen. She’s my honey, my Playboy Bunny. Ah Kath-a-leen”. The song made me feel horrible inside but there was noone to tell. Yard supervisors ignored it and I didn’t think anyone else would care. This went on for months.

I also figured they wouldn’t care about the lies the boys were loudly telling. Claims of what I’d done to them the night before. Some things went right over my head. The rest were horribly embarrassing.

I have face blindness and struggle to recognize people. Which made the next stage of abuse even harder. Boys would walk up to me and touch me somewhere, usually my shoulder but sometimes my backside, and tell me what I was going to do to them that night. Then they’d slip away into the crowd. I didn’t know who I could trust because I didn’t know which boys were involved.

As we all aged the form of abuse changed. Now they had cars. I’d be walking home from school, or just around the neighbourhood, when someone would scream my name and what I’d supposedly done that night with him. I still jump if someone yells from a car and that happened in the 1980’s.

The day before yesterday I watched as my Facebook newsfeed filled with statuses and comments reading “me too”. I’d held this secret for so long, only my ex-boyfriend Lenny knew. But I wasn’t the only one assaulted, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Remember, if you were sexually assaulted, you have value, meaning, self-worth, and dignity. They took nothing from you. You matter so very much and people care about you. I care about you.

They didn’t take anything from you. You are still you. You are still whole. You will recover. We are phoenixes. We will burn into ashes and rise again even stronger.

Standing up…

When Jeremy was little, he was mistaken for a girl on a regular basis.jeremy-easter-2010

“What a cute little girl!”
“You’ve got such a lovely daughter?”
“How old is she?”
“What’s her name?”
“She’s so sweet!”

I didn’t bother to correct them. Jeremy didn’t mind and it simply embarrassed people. Besides, he was cute, lovely, adorable, and sweet. Even when his hair was short, he still got “such a lovely girl” comments. He was sweet.

Back then I knew nothing about trans people. I wondered why Jeremy only played girl characters in his games and played dress up right into his preteens with his sister but figured he was just imaginative and liked the way the dresses felt.

jeremy-in-2014Then he became a teenager and started experimenting more with his hair and, to a lesser extent, his clothes. The comments changed slightly to include “ma’am” and he was still, to the mildly unobservant, feminine.

He still didn’t mind being called her and she, in fact, sometimes it seemed to bring him joy. And I still had no idea what that could mean.

Now he’s almost 20 years old with mitts for hands, size 12 men’s feet, and a deep bass voice. Now he’s talking about transitioning. And I’m so scared. I belong to enough groups to know people aren’t kind to 6ft 3in women with deep voices and adam’s apples. I read the posts on Facebook. I know there’s been seven trans women (and one colin-and-laratrans man) killed so far in the States this year alone. I haven’t heard any statistics for Canada.

Jeremy talks happily about buying a bikini with a skirt and how he’s always wanted a frilly dress with lots of floofy layers. I will do everything I can to help him achieve his dreams but I can’t do everything.

Please be kind when you see my child on the street. For all that he’s 19 years old, he’s still my child. He bought a Minecraft book today and jelly beans then laughed over bathroom humour in a YouTube video.  He’s still young. He’s not a joke. He’s not a freak. He’s a person with feelings and thoughts.

One day he’s going to be stepping out that door in the dress of his dreams. You might see him or, more likely, you will see someone like him. Someone who, for whatever reason, just isn’t fitting in 100%. Please be kind, be helpful, and let him come home safely with his heart intact. Stand up for him. Stand up with him. Don’t let him feel alone against the bullies and please, please don’t let him be a statistic.

Take Back The Night!

She bent down… just like this. It was obvious she was doing it for me. Then she said “I’m not that kind of girl”.

I’d dressed up a bit for this event. Put on make up, wore a sparkly shirt, I even added a rainbow bead necklace a friend just gave me. Listening to the two men talking nearby made me wish I could scrub off my face and put on something a little more ugly… a lot more invisible.

When she breaks up with her boyfriend, I’m totally going for her.

There was no indication that he saw her as a person in her own right. She moved solely for him and, when her boyfriend was done it was going to be his turn to have her.

But let me ask u this then let’s say I ask u to a dance and it’s a dream I really wanted and u tell me no and I go on a killing spree what would you say was the trigger point to my anger.

~ actual question asked to a friend ~

The Take Back the Night event started in an auditorium full of people… young and old… male and female. There were booths around the room where I got candy, a pen, and an apple. A Metis drumming group played at the front. I admired one lady’s sequined hat and then it was time to sit.

#webelieveyou

Story after story, in video and in person, of women who’d been raped, assaulted, molested, and beaten. Story after story where they were disbelieved because he wouldn’t do that. Story after story where women went to the police to be empowered and take back their right to bodily autonomy, only to have the police fail them too.

take-back-the-night

I was photobombed 🙂

My ex had a favourite position, one which made it so I couldn’t speak and couldn’t push him away. I couldn’t change my mind midway because “no” wasn’t an option. I told him this in tears and suggested a hand touch which would mean “no”. He ignored it… twice. That was when I realized the ignoring was deliberate, he liked that I was struggling… that I couldn’t stop him. I refused to get into that position after that and he sulked like a small child being told “no” to seconds of dessert. I’m a person, not a serving of cake.

Whatever we wear
Where ever we go
Yes means yes
And no means no!

We spilled out of the auditorium, a large jubilant, defiant crowd… hemmed in by a strip of yellow caution tape and guarded by police. Pouring onto the road, chanting almost incomprehensible words. Did we want safety or ice cream? The echoes sounded like both.

Two, four, six, eight
No more violence
No more rape!

I walked home after the event with a neighbour. Cheers and laughter erupted ahead of us, followed by a faint “no-oo”. My heart felt like it was slamming against my ribs and I rocked as I walked. What could we do against a crowd? Both our phones were dead and he’s shorter and more slight than me. The soccer field ahead was lit; it soon became apparent a goal had been scored. My relief was instantaneous.

There were children scattered through the walk, blowing whistles and waving hand made signs. For now it’s just fun. How long will it take for the message to sink in? Will they be the change for the future? Are there enough of them?

Michelle? You go out for walks on your own? Do you really think it’s safe?

I used to. Maybe someday I will again.

I will not apologize for being me…

Pain is a powerful deterrent. The emotional pain of seeing every adult look over at me with patronizing expressions and knowing nods because, once again, I was doing something that was normal to me and odd to everyone else. The physical pain after school when my classmates ran after me or chased me down on bikes because I was an easy target since I stood out. The humiliation of being ostracized repeatedly because no one else wanted to be tarnished by my presence.

So I shrunk myself small and hid myself close in an attempt to fit… and was still seen as odd.

I married the first person to date me. Years of thinking no one would ever want to date someone as weird as me turned into worries that this would be my only chance at marriage and children. Which is so not a good base for a relationship. Then I had kids and worried that my weirdness would hold them back from making friends. If the parents thought I was too weird, would their children be allowed to come over? And I shrunk even more.

Then came work. I needed a job to raise the kids and needed not to stand out, so I put on the most normal mask I could make and tried to be quiet but productive. I tried my hardest and hid until I could no longer find myself. And I never really noticed. It took a year before I noticed I’d lost interest in reading. Me, who read a book a day for years. I spent a year and a half without writing. I’ve been known to write for 12 hours at a time and carried a notebook and pen with me.

I never noticed when my shrinking turned into apologizing for everything that I did oddly, until I was apologizing for my mere existence. For using the air the more normal people needed to breathe.

I never really noticed until I found myself standing on the ledge to my balcony pondering how long it would take to fall and how quickly the pain would stop. My mask broke then and it’s never going back on again.

I will not apologize for loving bright colours and glitter
I will not apologize for loving stuffed animals and butterflies and rainbows
I will not apologize for hand flapping
I will not apologize for squeeing when I’m happy
I will not apologize for singing (yes, even in the grocery store)
I will not apologize for caring
I will not apologize for my thoughts being a step off from expectations

If I continue to apologize for being born autistic in a neurotypical world what am I teaching my autistic offspring? I’ve told my kids for years that, as long as I pay my bills, it doesn’t matter how weird I act. It’s time for me to believe that. My life depends on me believing that.

hand drawn daisy

I drew this at the hospital. The perspective’s not the best but I also haven’t drawn anything in twenty-five years.

So I’m reconnecting with myself. Writing poetry, reading, scrapbooking, sketching, and editing my novel. I’m singing again. To Jeremy, to the cats, and most of all to me.

Tomorrow I have errands to run, appointments to attend, and a cake to decorate. Then Jeremy and I are joining my parents for a family camping trip. I’m going to be 100% myself, even in front of the rest of the family. It will be fabulous!

don't shrink yourself

 

Words kill…

It could have been me.

I’ve seen these words written so many times this week. And it’s true, it could have been me. Not at the Pulse; the chances of me being in a club are nil, especially at 2am. I’m more of the ‘cuddle and read at the library’ type (seriously, someone needs to make a cuddle and read club). But the LA pride parade was a target as well and, beyond that, where else? Is it safe to attend pride days at amusement parks? PFLAG meetings? The Trans Night of Remembrance services?

Jeremy and I were on the bus to our local Orlando vigil on Monday when zie turned to me and said, “I bet someone’s going to shoot up one of the vigils.”

“It won’t be ours,” I assured zir. “Our city’s too small.”

Not the best reassurance but it was all I had. Then we got there and zie saw the crowds. Instantly Jeremy became agitated, snapping at me for not knowing exactly what was going on and terrified I was going disappear and leave zir alone in the crowd.

“I can’t do this,” Jeremy admitted a few minutes later. “I’m scared I’m going to be too loud and stand out too much and look different. I’m too anxious. I really need to go home now. Please can I go home?”

I tried to get zir to watch videos on zir phone until zie calmed down and offered a breathing app but Jeremy was too scared. Zie blamed zir high school teachers for picking at zir every time zie stood out in some way and I agree that didn’t help. But I also blame every single person who blatantly stared at zir at the store and on the sidewalk. Every rude comment yelled from cars. Every conversation and discussion that treated zir rights as different and a bit less. Each month my peacock of a teen fades a bit more. And in this space, where Jeremy should have felt zir safest, zie was scared.

Words kill in a myriad of ways.

I have spent my whole life being labelled as different, weird, strange, odd, quirky, freak, a loner. I sat in a therapist’s office yesterday and detailed the bullying I remembered from school, from the little I actually remember about school. I’ve blocked so much of it. She’s been a therapist for years. I figured she’d heard just about everything. Besides, what I went through wasn’t that bad. I’m struggling because I’m weak. I’m sure people have been through a lot worse. Then I watched as her face registered shock and horror. At the end, she went through all the paperwork I’d filled out and tallied the results. Severe depression. Severe anxiety. Extreme risk of suicide.

“Mom, there’s only two times you’re allowed to jump off our balcony.” Jeremy told me. Zir voice was serious. “If you learn how to fly or if there’s a zombie right behind you.”

I stay because there’s family who love me and friends who care and three snuggly cats I’d confuse and upset. Maybe someday I’ll stay because I matter, maybe someday those words will mean something. But that’s not today. I’m tired right down in my soul… in the deepest part of myself. I’m tired of always being a few steps off. Even in the LGBTQ community, I don’t exactly fit. I’m ace. I got married long before I’d ever heard the word asexual and long before I’d ever fallen in love.

If you’ve never been in love, how do you know what it is? How much stronger is it than friendship? What if you’re friends and he loves you? I figured it must be love and tried my hardest… but it wasn’t. And then I fell in love with my best friend, who was non-binary at the time and then male. I always figured I was straight because I look at pictures of men and think they’re cute and cuddly but don’t feel the same urge to snuggle with women. But I also think androgynous people are cute… and friends. I’m sexually adverse to the thought of a vulva but sexually indifferent to the thought of a penis and in both cases would much rather snuggle. And how do you sort out sexual orientation when you’ve only been in love once? That’s about when I figure, fuck it, I’ll just get another cat instead of dating.

They were offering free pins for LGBTQ people and allies at the vigil on Monday. I searched through but nothing really fit me. What I needed was a “confused as hell but still here” pin. Which pretty much sums up my whole life.

Words kill in another way. Sometimes the hatred blows outwards instead of in.

People are baffled by how or why the shooter could have shot up the bar he frequented. Who knows why? Well, maybe it’s because he lived in a culture that considers LGBTQ people to be lesser and regularly talks about shooting them. I’ve lost count of the number of quotes I’ve seen this month alone that read along the lines of “If I see some freak in the washroom with my wife/daughter, I’ll shoot them!”

Maybe he felt trapped. Trapped by a society that sees gay people as different and by a state that fights for less protections… less rights. Trapped by a family who based his worth on the wife he needed to produce the son who’d carry his name. Maybe he felt worthless because of everything he read, saw and observed over the years. Countless school yard slurs, jokes, and manly put downs. Maybe he was angry because he went to the bar and saw everyone else having a good time… and how dare they be allowed to be open and themselves while he couldn’t. He couldn’t know their stories… their families… their pasts… but he could see their happiness. I have yet to see an article which talks about him being happy. He couldn’t change society or his family but he could buy a gun. And the society that taught him to hate handed him one. I don’t have much sympathy for someone who destroyed so many lives but I do want society to stop producing more of him.

Words kill. We need to stop telling people… telling children… that they need to be tougher, stronger, and braver. That they’re hurting until their souls bleed because they’re too weak. We need to fix society, just like Leelah asked a year and a half ago. How many more will die before we succeed?

vigil bags

Rage…

In some ways my friend is pretty average. She has a house, three kids, a dog and a cat in small town America. Her children go to public school and are actively involved in sports. They camp, climb trees, swim, and love to get messy.

In other way’s she’s not. My friend is pansexual and non-binary, her oldest is gay, and her daughter is trans. Small town America doesn’t like them very much. And it shows. Her daughter has a diagnosis of gender dysphoria by a reputable paediatrician; she was told to follow her daughter’s lead and let her be herself. She’s bought enough clothing, from both sides of the children’s department, to open a clothing store and I’m reasonably sure she’s cleared out Target’s toy department as well. Their pantry is well stocked, the children attend school regularly, they’re clean and unbruised with that confident and slightly cocky attitude children have when they know they have a parent who is going to listen and support them. Meanwhile children’s protective services might as well have a revolving door installed on their front porch.

Children’s protective services removed her children for several months a year ago and allowed her daughter both to be beaten and have hot sauce and vinegar poured on her tongue for daring to say she was a girl. What’s a little pain now if it cures her? This preschool aged child spent months surrounded by so called professionals who berated her for saying she was a girl and insisted she had to go by her boy’s name. And now they’re back. This time claiming that if she really was a girl, she’d say so persistently and wouldn’t be scared to announce it. Once again this child, who’s biggest worry should be remembering if n comes after m, has to worry about her physical safety from the people who vowed to protect her.

My friend gets to comfort her sobbing child who wishes she could cut off her own penis and die. I don’t know what the worker gets out of it. Maybe the self satisfaction of not allowing the liberals to ruin her country.

I go on Facebook and see a veritable flood of articles about bathroom bills in various States. They all contain arguments from people who insist that there is nothing but male and female and that both are readily defined and recognizable. These people know they’re right, after all it’s obvious. There’s only been male and female forever. Won’t anyone think of the children?

Then they proceed to ignore the facts laid before them. All the various combinations of X and Y which make up people’s chromosomes. The prevalence of intersex people. All the various cultures who have and do recognize more than two genders. Studies that map how prenatal hormones shape the brain in regards to gender (most of which I’ve discussed here). They don’t need to read anyone else’s information because it’s their opinion, which they’re allowed to have, and no one can tell them otherwise.

It’s easy to shrug them off as unimportant, nothing more than wilfully ignorant trolls, except they’re not. They’re the caseworkers my friend has to deal with, the parents of her daughter’s classmates, and the coaches in their teams. They’re the people my adult friends hand their resumes to, who look at their ID then their face before filing the resume in the trash. They’re doctors and teachers and politicians. The people who won’t allow my friends to have ID that matches their gender. They’re people who have a gun and hatred and a burning need to show what they’ll do to protect the children.

They’re very eager to protect the children. Just not all the children. Not the little girl who’s being forced to hold hot sauce in her mouth until she recants and promises she’s really a boy… just please make it stop hurting. Not the six year olds with bladder infections from holding it in because they want to use the “wrong bathroom”. Not the children who get told by adults that they should kill themselves for being different. No one will miss you. They only want to protect children who were never in any danger in the first place, from a threat they made up to incite hatred.

My arms aren’t big enough to hug my friend who’s so very tired of reading articles and posts detailing society’s hatred of her… and my friend who’s positive there’s no one in the world who cares… and my friend who feels like no man will ever love her for herself… and my friends who are terrified for their children’s safety (children who are still young enough to be tucked in with a bedtime story and a kiss)… for my friend who’s growing increasingly tempted to cut off their own breasts because surgery is far too expensive in “the land of the free”… for the young artist who receives scores of hate mail every single day because she draws cartoons that depict her life.

And then some one else complains their free speech is being trampled because how dare some damn liberal disagree.

And my friend rocks her sobbing daughter to sleep.