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May 28, 2012

A Mouthful of Chipped Teeth

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 3:27 pm

“Biting the bullet.” I’ve been thinking about it a lot. For philosophers, biting the bullet is the act of following your argument all the way to its logical conclusions even when those conclusions seem counter-intuitive, emotionally uncomfortable, or out-of-line with common sense. A lot of philosophers don’t like to do it. They’ll take a counter-intuitive conclusion as a sign that their argument must be flawed. They’ll spend time trying to find holes they missed or suggesting softer alternatives. But some philosophers are bullet biters; if they truly believe that their logical formula is sound, they’ll accept whatever conclusion it leads them to and then figure out how to deal with the consequences. I respect those dudes a lot.

Biting the bullet is the Radical Honesty of philosophy. I believe that biting the bullet — much like radical honesty — makes one’s life harder, more complicated, more authentic and ultimately more meaningful. This is especially true when it comes to our ethical philosophies. If we believe that something is wrong, and it follows from that belief that we’re doing something that’s wrong, we ought not try to hide from that uncomfortable reality through rhetorical trickery or sloppy self-serving logic.

It’s also important to remember that ethical theories are frameworks for thinking about our actions. We can use them as conceptual tools and calibration points, but not as recipes for actually living in the world. Our day-to-day decisions about how to interact with ourselves, each other, and the world should be like any other good engineering solution: In conversation with theory but not beholden to it and, in some ways, transcendent of it. It’s no more possible to live a purely ethical existence than it is to take your theoretical physics down to Radio Shack and buy an ideal voltage source.

Here’s a concrete example of what biting the bullet looks like: Peter Singer makes a very convincing argument for veganism. You can read about it if you Google his name plus “subject of a life.” His logic is so convincing to me that I have, in fact, been convinced by it for about ten years. You might disagree but, for the sake of the following example, just go with me on this point: I absolutely believe that using other living beings’ bodies as means to ends (e.g. food, clothing, physical labor) is less ethical than the alternative.

Also: I eat meat and cheese and pretty much anything else you put in front of me. Am I a hypocrite? No. I’m a person recovering from a long history of disordered eating. I choose not to make strict rules about what I can and can’t eat because doing so triggers self-destructive behavior. In a situation where I don’t feel that I can have my cake and eat it too, I choose to prioritize self-care in one sphere over ethical behavior in another. I’m allowed to do that. I own my life. It’s my prerogative to make unethical choices.

But here’s the kicker: Biting the bullet means that I don’t claim to be doing something else. It means acknowledging that the solution I’ve found to engineer myself a life worth living involves some unethical behavior on my part.

In fact, sometimes I’m required to make unethical choices, because I have two ethical principles that conflict and I have to make a decision about what to do before I have time to suss out and resolve the conflict between them. Not being in denial about this actually allows me more freedom to both live my life and pursue my values simultaneously. I don’t have to defend my omnivorous position because I don’t actually think it’s ethically defensible; it’s just what I need to be doing right now. This means I can simultaneously and without contradiction take care of my body’s current nutritional needs and retain my a belief in veganism as a guiding principle. This principal can dynamically inform an ongoing re-evaluation of my choices and actions as I grow and heal. I can make conscious efforts, whenever I have the wherewithal, to limit my consumption of animal products. I can hope for and work toward a future in which veganism is a realistic possibility for me. And, meanwhile, I can refrain from beating myself or anybody else up about the fact that we’re not there yet – while still being able to have honest conversations about the implications of our current choices.

What’s more, my conscious decision to be unethically omnivorous and non-defensive about it allows me to appreciate the people in my life who are vegan without feeling threatened or judged by their choices. I’m free to acknowledge that, yes, they are more ethical than me in this regard. That’s awesome. It’s so awesome that other people are able to be vegans, since it’s something I really believe in but am not capable of right now. How can I participate proximally by supporting those who are able to make that choice? Maybe I can know where the vegan restaurants are in town. Maybe I can get a vegan cookbook and learn to make meals my friends can eat. Maybe I can listen thoughtfully and non-defensively when they share their philosophies and experiences with me. Maybe I can simply become more conscious of my own assumptions about food. By not rejecting the possibility that veganism is more ethical than what I’m doing and, simultaneously, being compassionate with myself around the fact that I’m not doing it, I open myself up a huge amount of space in which to learn more about what veganism looks like in practice; to consider ways I might develop a relationship toward animal products that is more in line with my values yet still something I can realistically live with.

In other words, I can pick up practical skills and tools through biting the bullet and appreciating that other peoples’ behavior might be more ethical than my own – and then choosing to learn from them rather than getting all bogged down in guilt about how I’m not already doing whatever they’re doing. This is true for food; it’s true for sex; it’s true for the decisions we make about personal relationships, the natural environment, how we make money, our children and parents, who we vote for or whether we vote at all. The things I learn from people who are better at adhering to my own values than I am become concrete resources toward an engineering solution in which my lived practices and my ethical frameworks can be more closely aligned.

And, ironically, that’s really what biting the bullet of ethical theory is all about: It’s about being radically honest with ourselves about both who we are and what we want. It’s about acknowledging complication, intractability and human flawedness and not letting that get in the way of doing good work. It’s about simultaneously striving for perfection and realizing that, when we pretend perfection is possible, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

May 23, 2012

How Not to Get Fooled by a Sad Story About Yourself

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 3:14 pm

I’m playing with an idea. Tell me if this makes any sense:

This is for all the folks out there who think “kink” is a walled garden, regardless of which side of the wall you think you’re on.

I’ve always been squicked by stupid jokes about how comical two submissives trying to play together would be. People make similar jokes about dominant-on-dominant dynamics, but they’re not nearly as…derogatory. In fact, they generally seem to take the line that one of them would just “force” the other to submit and “well, that’s kinda hot.” Ugh. But with two submissives, gosh, what would they even DO?!

First of all, for the record, I just want to say that the few experiences I’ve had of being in a submissive space and playing with a partner who’s also in a submissive space have been deliciously sweet and sexy and anyone who thinks that’s hilarious can go cake themselves. Your erotic imagination is sad and shallow.

Second and more interestingly, however, I’m curious about the nature of the political relationship between dominant and submissive identities. It seems to me, insofar as we want to map an oppression-culture conscious understanding of domism to power dynamics on the micro-level, that “being submissive” is a way of being oriented toward the world, while “being dominant” is a way of being oriented toward other peoples’ submission. In other words, as an oppressor-identity in a power hierarchy, “dominance” only exists in opposition to being submissive — but the inverse is not true. In fact, what’s true about the other side of the coin is simply that submission is not a monolith. Much like “whiteness” as a cultural identity only exists in terms of being a supposed non-ethnicity; whereas the cultural identities of People of Color are based in actual histories and also often infused with traditions of resistance and resilience. Much as “straight” categorically means “not queer,” while “queer” means all this other delightful stuff that has very little to do with straightness.

This isn’t really that interesting. I’ve said this stuff before. But what occurred to me just now is that “dominance” is specifically defined around fetishizing others’ submission. In short, submissives are…not a monolith but dominants are, by definition, submissive-fetishists.

Where this takes me is right back around to the “jokes” at the beginning: In this context, the idea that there’s some kind of natural and necessary relationship between dominance and submission smacks, to me, of other arguments claiming that someone with a fetishized body/identity/orientation only has a chance to be meaningfully intimate with someone who fetishizes their identity.

Now, I’ve had long conversations with many loved ones about target-identity fetishism. (“Target-identity fetishism,” or being attracted to people because they’re members of a population that is oppressed by a population that you’re a member of, is different from being turned on by the fact that someone has an oppressed identity that you share; I’ll be more attracted to other queer folks because they’re queer all night and day and I think that’s just fine. Likewise, being more attracted to someone because of a privilege they have that you don’t is…a form of internalized oppression, but that’s a whole different essay.) I believe that target identity-fetishism is deeply ethically problematic and also that it’s a kink many people legitimately have. You all know I think YKINMKBYKIOK is bullshit; just because someone gets off on something doesn’t make it magically non-oppressive. At the same time, I’m certainly not going to automatically ostracize complex human beings who I love from my communities or my bedroom just because they have ethically problematic kinks. Hell, I have ethically problematic kinks in spades. Mine don’t happen to be target-identity fetishes. (I don’t think…) But they’re no less problematic, and I don’t think that means I’m undeserving of affection and fulfillment.

Target-identity fetishism is, essentially, being turned on by a loved one’s scars. And I can totally get that. Scars can be sexy. Some peoples’ scars are beautiful. But they’re beautiful scars — so let’s acknowledge that that’s complicated and try not to be assholes about it. The place of peace I’ve come to with lovers who are, for example, more attracted to me because I’m fat is something like this: “This is something I like about myself, because I do like myself, but it’s also something about me that has been a source of pain and a site of violence throughout my life. I’m proud of who I am and I can sit with — and, honestly, perhaps even appreciate — the fact that you find this thing about me attractive, but only if I know you understand that you’re being turned on by something that’s also complicated and painful for me.” It’s not about not feeling what you feel. It’s about not being in denial about what your feelings mean or how they impact me. And, more than anything, it’s about being thoughtful and patient with the incredible complexities of each others’ humanity.

That being said, let me go back to my original point: It’s ethically and politically complicated but totally legit and common for humans to choose to engage in intimacies in which one of them is fetishizing the other’s oppression. But it’s ludicrous to claim that this is the only kind of intimacy those oppressed people can or should ever have access to. The idea that there’s some kind of natural and necessary symbiotic relationship between submission and dominance perpetuates this myth. It says to submissive folks over and over again, “Nobody will ever want you (or appreciate who you really are, or be able to flirt with you, or know how to have sex with you in ways that feel good to you) because you’re submissive — unless the main reason they want you is because you’re submissive.” And that’s awful. And it’s a lie.

Our language is so polluted by the connotation of the “submissive/dominant” coupling, I almost want to reframe “submission” as “resilience” — but I won’t for a number of reasons: First of all, because resilience may be an element of submission for many folks, but it’s not the whole thing. Nor is it universal, since — broken record — submission is not a monolith. Secondly, I know that there have already been vast discussions amongst submissive-identified folks about whether it would be valuable to use a different word and there seems to have been general agreement that it wouldn’t. Finally, as someone with submissive experiences but not a submissive identity, I certainly don’t think I’m in a position to go around redefining “submission.” What I’m actually trying to do here is deconstruct dominance.

And, perhaps, what I’m specifically trying to deconstruct is the oppressive notion that’s on the other side of the submission-fetishization coin: The “chaser” myth. Chasers are not a myth; chasers are real and…don’t even get me started. But the chaser myth is that I can only be attracted to someone with a “deviant” body or sexuality if I a) am attracted to them in spite of their deviance or b) am attracted to them because of their deviance. A domist version of the chaser myth says: If I happen to find myself powerfully attracted to a submissive-identified person — unless I’m attracted to them in spite of their submissive identity (i.e. I wish they weren’t submissive) — that must mean I’m secretly some kind of fetishist. In other words: If I’m attracted to someone who’s submissive and I find their submissiveness sexy, that proves I’m “dominant” — and, thus, that I can only engage with a submissive-identified person by either “dominating” them or by not engaging with their submission at all.

And, y’know, I get why that story sounds reasonable. But it’s bullshit. I know because it even sounded reasonable to me for a minute. I found myself drawn to a human being who experiences submission in a way I’d never encountered before…and at some point, I realized that some part of me was relating to their being submissive as something “exotic” and wondering what it meant about me. And then I went, “Wait. What the fuck?” But I won’t disavow having that experience — and I also won’t deny how ethically complicated it feels to me.

Still, as a person who doesn’t identify with any BDSM roles, if I am attracted to someone who happens to be submissive and their submissiveness is one of many things about them that I like, that doesn’t mean I’m attracted to them because they’re submissive; it means I’m attracted to them because they’re amazing — and we get to make up our own rules about what to do with that, thanks.

And so do you.

ETA: Just to keep the analogy/analysis complete, I want to point out that regardless of how deconstructed and traitorous a rolequeer identity one might have, being read as “Dominant” or engaging in behaviors that are traditionally associated with dominance still carries privilege — whether that be in the “vanilla” world (which doesn’t use this language but does use domist tropes), in BDSM and Sex Positive Scene spaces, or even in a given scene or intimate interaction between people who’ve been socialized in a domist culture.

Disavowing a dominant identity isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card for being conscientious about the ways you’re interacting with other peoples’ submission or submissive-identities (or your own), and how you’re impacting them as individuals, your communities, and culture at large.

This is, obviously, a note to self. 😛

Something Short and Sweet on Wholesomeness

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 1:20 am

I just had successive sandwich dates with two of the most wholesome people in my life. Wholesomeness is one of the qualities I value most in humans. It’s right up there with integrity and grace. I think my understanding of wholesomeness differs from the traditional definition, though, which seems to have something to do with “innocence” or a lack of life-experience — particularly a lack of supposedly corrupting life-experiences involving things like drugs and sex. In my experience, wholesomeness is actually a sort of incorruptibility; the most wholesome people I know seem to approach sex, drugs and politics with the same unassuming openheartedness that they turn toward everything and everyone else in their life.

Most stunning to me, though, is that anything related to social status seems to roll right off of them. They might be admired and desired by many, and often are, but they don’t seem to understand that this is a form of power or have any inclination to use it as such. Somehow, they manage to interact with each person they meet as an individual, judging based on their own perceptions and experiences rather than on what influence (positive or negative) a relationship with that person, organization, cause, idea, etc might have on the way they are seen in others’ eyes. Wholesomeness might not always be nice, but it is sort of fundamentally…kind.

This blows me away because I struggle constantly and consciously against my social-status-oriented desire to be seen as one of The Cool Kids — a jealous craving that, I think, has lead to both some of the most self-destructive and some of the most un-compassionate behavior in my life. The feelings of inadequacy and shame that are triggered in me by Cool Kid culture are so deep, and the knee-jerk ways I compensate for them are not often ones I’m proud of. Part of me wants to play the game. Worse yet, part of me is good at the game. A large part of my recent lashing out against Scenes and their pernicious social hierarchies is rooted in a self-protective desire to burn bridges between myself and that temptation.

So, maybe the people I consider “wholesome” are those who seem to naturally lack my greatest vice: The desire to be seen as special at the expense of doing what I believe in. I feel so appreciative of these people in my life, not just because they’re unselfconsciously lovely but because they’re good influences who keep me grounded. They model the way I want to engage with my communities. And it’s always good to have friends to share sandwiches with. 🙂

May 21, 2012

Notes-to-Self Inbox Dump

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 7:23 pm

Snippets sent to my “Writing Notes” folder that may or may not ever get expanded into longer pieces:

. . .

On the Elixir: How do we learn to manage the chronic pain of despair such that we can continue to live our lives and do our work and love with our whole hearts and also be attentive enough to take good care of ourselves and live such that, on those rare and wonderful days when we wake up not in pain, we can really make the best of them?

. . .

I’m a fan of tough-as-nails motherfuckers who cry a lot.

. . .

Rape culture doesn’t just teach us rape is okay, it teaches us that it’s hot, desirable, that’s it’s preferable to be raped than to be be given a choice, that not only is rape sex/y but that it is the BEST kind of sex — the kind where you’re such a desirable object that you can’t be resisted.

. . .

On Scenes: Part of the structure of a bar is to have a bathroom. If you’ve spent any time at all in bars, you know how to find the bathroom and you have a pretty good idea what to expect when you get there. Bars are not a monolith either, but it’s still safe to assume that in any bar you find, there’s someone inside somewhere taking a shit.

. . .

“You have no idea how much privilege it takes to think it’s cool to dress poor.” – Sonya Renee to Andrea Gibson

. . .

On Oppressor Identities: Cops are ppl too. But the kind of ppl they are is COPS. It’s not abt saying ‘you chose to be a cop’ so you deserve to be hated on. That’s victim blaming. It’s about saying ‘what you’re doing right now is policing me and no matter who you are as a human being. It’s my right not to be policed. If you can be a cop w.o policing me, then sure, we’re cool. But you can’t because that’s not just what cops do, it’s what cops are: They’re the police. The only way for you to stop policing me is to give up being a cop. So, until you do that, we’re not cool. But hey, I’M not a cop and let me tell ya, not being a cop is great. You just don’t get to be a cop and not be a cop.”

May 19, 2012

So This Happened…

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 12:40 am

…in a private Facebook group recently. I told the people involved that I’d like to make it accessible to other communities who are having similar conversations complicating the rhetoric of the sex-positive movement. Everyone agreed to have their comments posted publicly. Comments are copied and pasted verbatim except where identifying details have been removed by request. Those who asked to be quoted anonymously have had their names replaced by a random gender-neutral name from this list, except the original poster who is referred to as Original Poster.

Three things that came out of this conversation for me (or that came up for me while I was having it) that I particularly wanted to highlight:

1. I’m kind of liking the idea of promoting “Sexual Agency”. I’ve heard other suggested descriptions for a politics that’s more inclusive (of e.g. asexuals, survivors, sex workers, ethical prudes, etc.) than the “sex is nice and pleasure is good for you” ethic of sex-positivity:

  • “Sexual Freedom” is somewhat widely used, but Elaan points out that it’s very reminiscent of “Free Love” — which, despite its roots in anarchism and turn-of-the-last-century anti-marriage feminism, isn’t very distinct in the popular imagination from 1960s street orgies. In other words, for many, “Sexual Freedom” might conjure up the same blithely pro-sex images that “Sex Positivity”.
  • “Sexual Liberation”, too, has mostly been co-opted to talk about women, birth-control, and the “sexual revolution” of the 60s and 70s.
  • And “Sexual Choice” gets at the right idea but, to my mind, still suggests a sort of sexuality-centric freedom to choose from a diverse banquet of e.g. partners, experiences, types of sex, sexual subcultures, flavors of lube, etc. Rather than a freedom from rape culture, oppression, repression, hypersexualization, compulsory heterosexuality, etc.

I like a politics of “Sexual Agency” because it suggests to me a culture of consent and diverse self-determination that isn’t pre-biased in the direction of either Boo! or Hooray!; it centers the discussion on individuals rather than environments (it’s hard for me to imagine a “Sexual Agency Scene” the way we think of the “Sex-Positive Scene”); and also because, for privileged and marginalized folks alike, achieving agency within the automaton-producing context of oppression culture is much a more complicated project than simply achieving choice, positivity, or even freedom. So, I think “Sexual Agency” gets at the difficulty of what we’re trying to do better than many of the other options.

It’s just an idea I’m playing with, though, so I’m totally open to other suggestions or challenges.

2. I believe there are a LOT of people who are more on board with a sexual agency-type agenda than an explicitly pro-sex agenda, and that many of these folks have grabbed onto the “sex-positive” label for lack of a better way to describe their politics. This leads to a frustrating conflation between the pro-sex Sex Positivity Movement and its adherents and a much more diverse population of self-described “sex-positive” people who, lacking another banner to organize around, are left sort of floundering and unheard inside a movement that started out with a very narrow political agenda (as a response to anti-pornography feminists of the 80s) and has developed into a still fairly narrow movement focused primarily on meeting the needs and empowering the sexualities of middle-class white women. I think this excerpt from the chapter linked above does an excellent job of pointing out some of the narrowness inherent in the Sex-Positive Movement’s agenda:

[W]hile the mainstream gay movement fights for gay marriage […] anti-assimilationist queers throw radical sex parties. But fighting Dworkinism and other forms of sexual conservative politics with a sex-positive agenda can also reproduce the racism inherent in the mainstream gay movement. The queer sex-positive political agenda claims a woman’s right to fuck who she wants to fuck, reclaims the word “slut,” challenges the idea that a woman has to remain pure or untouched, and fights against the idea that she can never have agency in sexual situations. It is also based in transgressing the ideals of white womanhood.

I wholeheartedly support queer women’s deisres to fuck without shame or stigma, and this is very much a part of the political agenda for queer people of color. But reclaiming the word “slut” and fighting to not be considered pure don’t work well when historically women of color have been on the receiving end of state violence in a way that has constructed us as always being sexually open; women of color can’t be raped because we’ve been considered sexually accessible throughout Amerika’s history of slavery and genocide.

– Priyank Jindal, Sites of Resistance or Sites of Racism?

I’m in no way claiming that middle-class white women who want to have more sex shouldn’t also be liberated to do that. But I believe that, for a lot of people who describe themselves as “sex-positive”, that wouldn’t be the number one thing on their agenda — and that many of them have a genuine interest in a broader and more inclusive politics than the Sex-Positive Movement currently offers or, perhaps, is even inherently capable of offering.

3. The main reason I wanted to post the conversation itself was because I appreciated hearing first-hand from several voices about the variety of ways that the promise of the sex-positive movement isn’t deliveriing for them as “sex-positive”-identified non-promiscuous folks, as survivors, as sex-workers, as people who don’t fall inside hegemonic standards for attractiveness, gender, desire, etc. As I mention in one of the comments of the thread, it’s so much more valuable to hear these things directly from individuals who are experiencing them, rather than folks like me sitting around positing the existence of underserved populations on our blogs. 😉

I also really appreciated seeing the responses from folks who the standard sex-positive agenda does serve — and one thing I appreciated about them was that they weren’t all exactly the same. In other words, I’d like to believe there are some folks who have just the right combination of privileges and marginalities to benefit significantly from sex-positivity but who are still ultimately more committed to am inclusive politics of sexual agency than to one that privileges their experience specifically. (And, of course, there are plenty of others who aren’t.)

Anyway, these are just my extrapolations and should be understood as my off-the-cuff analyses of this one microcosmic social interaction only. The conversation is long, there’s a lot of the usual commentary in it, not everything is a gem of unique insight (especially not my own rambling comments!); but I thought there were a couple of good points made, some voices that we don’t hear enough from publicly spoke up, and the above were just some thoughts based on the threads I personally found most interesting. This is just one illustrative instance of a conversation that hopefully is taking place in lots of different places. I’ll post the conversation itself here, so that others who are interested in thinking through some of this stuff can hear the participants’ own voices and draw their own conclusions. 🙂

Original Poster
After noticing a trend among the sex-positive community, I’m curious: Do you automatically associate the phrase “sex positive” with someone who has a high sex drive and actively seeks out numerous sex partners?

I ask this because I consider myself a sex positive person–I think any consensual expression of sexual desire is valid and worth celebrating. However, that doesn’t mean I’m *personally* interested in lots of sex with lots of people. I can’t tell you how often I’ve encountered the attitude that this means I can’t be sex positive, because to them, “sex positive” automatically means “wants lots of sex” or “frequently feels sexually charge/aroused.”

Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, so I thought I’d ask a) whether you lovely folks associate sex positivity with a person’s subjective feelings about / interest in *having* sex, and/or b) whether anyone else has been frustrated by the conflation of these two things.

The conversation continues with 47 comments below the cut…

(more…)

May 18, 2012

Epistolary Self-Talk

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 12:42 am

Dear Blog,

Hello. I just wanted to tell you that I’m glad you’re in my life. Honestly, I have to admit I’m surprised by how much time we’ve been spending together lately. I know that I take you for granted sometimes. “Oh, it’s just the Internet. Nobody reads this shit. Whatever.” But, y’know, cake the hierarchy of literary legitimacy sometimes. Someone told me the other day that I need to kill the Writing Cop inside my head. I’m sure they’re right, but I’m also pretty sure that he and I will be tussling for a while yet.

Still, right now I’m really glad that you’re around and that you encourage me to write as much and as often as I do. I could be a little more intentional about my relationship with you than I am. But I’m really not writing as an excuse to self-flagellate tonight. I do think you and I have done some good work together over the last several months. I hope we’re gonna keep hanging out for a while.

Yours,
– R

May 16, 2012

Operating Manual: How to Help Me When I’m Upset

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 11:27 pm

This is a spin-off from an idea of maymay’s: “#FreeIdea: make “self-care & personal guidebook” blog template w/OOTB page titles like ‘How to help when I’m upset.’” I don’t know how to set up a template but I really liked the idea, so I thought I’d play around a little bit with formatting and some thoughts on the sort of categories that might be included in a How to Help Me When I’m Upset reference. I’m hoping this will be a useful, continually in-progress reference for myself and people who care about me. I would love to have similar references for other people in my life!

In short: I built a simple framework with some basic info and context upfront, followed by a list of ways of “being upset” that commonly show up for me, each broken down into sub-categories of triggers (“What Might Bring It On”), symptoms (“How You Can Tell”), and kinds of support that I know to have worked well in the past (“What To Do”). This is very long and perhaps excessively comprehensive (I built it over the course of an 11 hour bus ride), but it was a good exercise for me to think through this stuff. I’ll continue to update this as thoughts come to me or as I learn more through paying attention to my own emotional responses, as well as thinking about ways I might make it more easily navigable and digestible to others.

If you’d like to make your own How To Help Me…, please feel free to snag any parts of the text or structure that are useful to you. 🙂

Operating Manual: How To Help Me When I’m Upset

Contents
1. Why this document?
2. The Basics
3. How I Ask for Help
4. Being a Safe Person
5. Some Ways I Get Upset:

6. And Finally…


. . .

1. Why this document?

I tend to be a pretty grounded and emotionally stable person. (Although reports vary widely. 😉 ) I generally make fairly clear-headed decisions and I’m good at taking care of myself on a day-to-day basis regardless of how I’m feeling. That said, I can also be very moody at times and it’s not unusual for me to experience extreme emotional and psychological states that suck for me and for everybody around me. This has been especially true lately as I’ve been processing a lot of long-buried stuff from my childhood and going through some big life transitions at the same time.

When I’m having a really hard time, I know it can feel overwhelming to people who want to support me but don’t know how. I wanted to create a reference for people in my life as well as a space for myself to keep track of what I’m learning about how to take good care of myself. Although I’ve tried to leave psychotherapeutic jargon out of it for a variety of personal and political reasons, this is essentially a catalog of coping mechanisms for when I’m too dysregulated to communicate clearly about what I need. They’ve been developed mostly via experiences with compassionate, patient loved ones who have helped me figure out what works through trial and error. It’s also worth noting that sometimes I get upset and want to continue being upset. This is a legitimate thing for me to choose. The only reason I’m able to talk as cogently about my feelings as I do in this document is because I’ve spent a lot of time, especially over the past year, actively sitting with various kinds of emotional discomfort to understand more about what they’re like. But if I’ve asked you for help, or am in some kind of emergency situation or otherwise don’t seem okay, here are some ideas for what to do.

Also: Those who know me well will note that this is probably the least political thing I’ve posted in a very long time. Trying to both catalogue my emotional self-care practices AND contextualize them within oppression culture was too much for me to handle all at once. But yes, there are kyriarchical components to each one of these situations. For example, in the Panic section, I could have listed “manifestations of the intersection between misogyny and sanism” under triggers, but I didn’t. In part, this is also because I intend this as a practical reference. By and large, I rarely find it supportive of my mental health to combine mental-health-support with talking about politics because, except with a very short list of people, it usually involves having to debate, defend, or explain my (admittedly discomfiting) political positions rather than just getting to use them as tools for processing a situation. If you “speak my language” enough to talk politics when I’m really upset, that is absolutely one of the best ways to help me ground — but the folks in my life who can do this effectively are probably limited to Becky, Dakota, Maymay, Asa…and maybe a couple of others. Otherwise, I will probably be much more comforted by a hug than by any articulation of how the System is or is not screwing me in this particular moment. (And even if you are one of the aforementioned folks, hugs are good too. 🙂 )

And also: There are a lot of different ways I could’ve organized this. I tried to focus on making it a resource for people who want to know what to do when I’m upset. So, I talk mostly, here, about what these experiences are like for me in the moment. Not so much about where I think they might come from or what narratives I tell myself to understand them. However, you can safely assume that every single list of triggers on this page could also include: Interacting with my mother.

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2. The Basics

This document is primarily about how to support me in the moment when I’ve been triggered. However, there is a short list of things that almost infallibly contribute to my mental health and emotional well-being. They’re also things that are difficult for me to do consistently because I’m pretty much allergic to routine. If I seem out-of-sorts, one of the best ways you can support me is by checking in with me about the things on this list, encouraging me to prioritize them, or offering to do them with me. #5, of course, is one I can’t do on my own:

  • Eat. Every 4 – 6 hours. Something other than cold flour tortillas.
  • Sleep. Yes, EVERY night. And preferably for 6 hrs or more.
  • Exercise. Hiking, swimming, or doing physical labor are the best, but even just going for a walk to the park or stretching 15 mins a day makes a real difference.
  • Write. Blog. Journal. E-mail my grandma. Anything, as long as I’m putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
  • Human touch. I am powered by hugs. I go a little nuts if I spend long periods of time without affectionate physical contact. (I actually think this is true for most humans – and the fact that most people don’t get touched at all, or only get touched in coercive or sexualized situations, might explain a lot about why contemporary society feels so fractured and unstable.) In a pinch, if I’m somewhere (like, say, Antarctica) where it’s really difficult for me access touch with people I trust, massage can have a similar if lesser impact to cuddles. In fact, given all the other benefits massage has, if you’re concerned about me but far away, one of the most effective ways you can emotionally support me is to somehow facilitate me getting a massage.
  • Read the Tao te Ching. My favorite version is the Stephen Mitchell translation and the full text is online here.

If you just want more-or-less universally applicable tips for The Care and Feeding of Rebeccas and not all the nitty-gritty specifics, you can probably stop here. 🙂

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3.How I Ask for Help

  • More often than not, I don’t.
  • Because I’m bad at asking for help, the most helpful thing you can do is just check in with me when you happen to think of it.
  • I often ask for help by asking you to do things with me that are supportive of my mental health but that I probably won’t do on my own e.g. go for a hike, have dinner, generally get out of the house.
  • If I know in advance that I’m going to do something potentially-triggering, I might ask you to hang around and be back-up in case things go badly.
  • When I’m really down, I’m more likely to reach out broadly via the Internet than to specific people. Although I’m getting better at this, I’m often afraid of “imposing” on specific people, so I try to make the fact I’m struggling public and let people choose their level of engagement. This doesn’t mean I don’t want you to call me. In fact, YOU might be exactly the person who I want to call me.
  • Except, y’know, don’t actually call me. Talking on the phone feels super awkward to me and I typically avoid it except with a very select group of people – especially when I’m upset. I’m much more comfortable with txting, IM, Skype, or meeting in person. (If you do call, please leave a voicemail.)
  • Viscerally expressing my feelings is a good sign. If I’m crying, pacing, talking rapidly, etc. that usually means I’m pretty much okay or about to be okay. I process fast and move through emotional states at what I think can sometimes be a disconcertingly rapid rate. If I’m crying one moment and fine the next, don’t worry, I really am fine for the moment. And I’ll probably be crying again later and that’s okay too.However, if I’m shut down, having trouble talking, or refusing to engage with you, that’s a red flag. If I get “catatonic” like this, please talk to me gently, remind me that you’re here, that you see what’s going on and that I matter to you. The sound of my own name is really grounding for me at times like this. Also, this is the only time when it’s okay to try and “snap me out of it” instead of just letting me process – because I am probably not processing, I am probably just locked up inside my own head telling myself a bunch of pernicious lies over and over and over again.
  • If I’m hovering around awkwardly for no apparent reason, I probably just need a hug that I don’t know how to ask for.

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4. Being a Safe Person

A “safe person”, to me, is someone with whom I feel like it’s okay to express strong emotions and process through trauma reactions without being deemed “crazy” or otherwise punished for it. The number one thing you can do to be a safe and supportive person is to have faith that I’ll be okay. I’m extremely resilient and I’ve probably made it through a lot worse than whatever I’m going through right now. I talk about suicide sometimes but it’s very unlikely that I’m going to do it. I made a deal with myself a while back in which I chose my commitment to being and building with my loved ones over my occasionally recurring desire to die. I don’t have the tools or knowhow to kill myself and I have consciously chosen not to research them. I have a standing agreement with a mental health professional who I trust that if I’m ever seriously considering it, I’ll call her first. I may not feel like I’m going to be okay in the moment, but I will be. Your belief that I’ll get through this bout of suffering safely helps support my own faith in myself.

Also: If I’m talking to you calmly about intense subjects like suicide, death, despair or grief but I seem engaged and talkative, I’m probably okay. I think about these subjects a LOT because they’re part of my life, but also because they’re part of my work and I have an intellectual and political interest in exploring them that goes beyond simply tormenting myself with visions of my dead loved ones. 😛

Here are a few other basics Dos and Don’ts that help me feel safe being vulnerable around someone:

  • DO check in and ask me questions about where I’m at emotionally.
  • DON’T give me advice or try to “fix it” unless I specifically ask you to do so.
  • It’s okay to tell me about things that have worked for you/people you know in similar situations, as long as it’s framed as you sharing your own experience, not telling me about mine.
  • DO coordinate with other people who I’m close to. I want folks in my network to know what’s going on with me. I also know that supporting someone through their trauma is hard work, and that the people doing that support need support themselves.
  • Please DON’T gossip about my emotional state. There’s a difference between, “Rebecca’s having kind of a rough week. I bet she’d appreciate an e-mail” vs. “Man, I walked in on Rebecca yesterday and she was just crying her eyes out. I think something must be really wrong with her…”
  • In short: It’s okay to share details with others who you know I trust, especially in terms of how interacting with me is making you feel. I’d appreciate you using discretion when sharing details with people in your support network who aren’t a part of mine.
  • DO listen and trust me when I talk about my experiences. Even if you think I have a distorted perception of reality, I really am feeling the feelings I’m feeling. Challenging or trying to help me refocus my perspective when I’m lucid and processing later can be really helpful, but trying to “snap me out of” an acute emotional state will probably just make me feel unsupported, unsafe, and angry with you.
  • DO trust what I tell you about my needs in the moment. At the same time, try to stay conscious that I may be trying to protect you from the intensity of my feelings, especially if we don’t have an established rapport around mutually supporting each other.
  • DON’T make my feelings about you unless I’ve specifically told you they’re about you. This triggers my Caretaker/Damage Control mode and encourages me to focus on making you okay instead of making myself okay. (Giving me someone else’s problems to focus on instead of my own can be an effective way to short-circuit a meltdown in a high-stakes situation, but otherwise, please be careful with it.)
  • DO prioritize taking care of yourself and make sure you feel emotionally safe and supported enough to be supporting me.
  • For what it’s worth, you absolutely DON’T have to do any of this alone. In fact, I tend to feel the most comfortable, easy, supported and safe in groups of three people. So, y’know, bring a friend. (But probably not two friends. That seems like a lot of people to cry in front of.)
  • IF YOU CAN make me laugh, especially at myself, while not feeling like you’re making fun of me, you win a gold star. 🙂

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5. Some Ways I Get Upset

If You Find Me Crying

I cry for lots of reasons. I cry easily in casual conversation and it’s normally okay just to let me cry. Occasionally, you may come across me somewhere privately just having a total sobbing meltdown. This is usually an indication that I’m processing some trauma and the best thing you can do is just be present with me without trying to “fix it”. If you’re someone with whom I have an existing physical-touch relationship, it’s okay to ask if I want to be touched and, if I say yes, then hold me, touch my hair, rub my back. I can use small words like “I love you”, or “I’m right here”, or “It’s okay”…but I probably don’t want to talk and I especially don’t want to (and probably can’t) talk about why I’m crying. When I’ve calmed down, make space for me to share what triggered me with you — I might or I might not. My nose runs like crazy when I cry. I always need Kleenex.

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If I’m Depressed
I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to “snap out of” depression. This mostly just leads to prolonging it and taking it out on people around me who I love. Over the years, I’ve tried learning to take it more seriously and to take as good care of myself when I’m depressed as I would if I were physically ill. (Although I don’t take as good care of myself as I should, then, either. ;P) Bottom line: If you do the same sort of things for me when I’m depressed that you would if I had the flu, I will hugely appreciate you.

Low-level lethargic bleary depression, as much as I hate to admit it, seems to correlate directly with how much time I spend on the Internet — but I never know if that’s a cause or a symptom or both. But it tends to show up more acutely for me in three major ways and each one looks somewhat different:

EXISTENTIAL ANGST (Depression)

How You Can Tell

  • Eh. This is pretty classic. It manifests as fear of sickness and death, inchoate despair, feelings of meaninglessness, hyper-consciousness of mortality (my own and other peoples’), etc.
  • I walk around spouting cliches like, “What’s wrong with me?” “What the fuck am I doing with my life??”
  • I weep a whole lot randomly throughout the day but don’t usually have the kind of massive emotional releases I do with other kinds of depression.
  • This one also feels the most trivial, possibly because it’s so abstract and I have a lot of intellectual resources around it. This is just sort of, like, me hanging out with despair on a very casual basis.

What Might Bring it On

  • I don’t really know what triggers this. It just seems to happen at random intervals. Sometimes I can sort of tell it’s coming and give people a heads up about it.

What to Do

  • Don’t worry. I’ll probably get over it.
  • The best cure for existential angst is, ironically, existentialism. 😉 If you’re familiar with existentialist philosophies, talk to me about them! I find their pull-no-punches attitude incredibly hopeful without being cloying or polyanna. If you’re not, you can just remind me that we’re all going to die and that’s okay – in fact, that it’s pretty amazing. Buddhist Psych seems to be good for this, too.
  • Anything you can do to help me be in the present moment is great. Ask me questions about what’s around me, how my body feels, etc. Invite me to meditate with you.
  • Remind me why I’m valuable to you. Especially if I’m a real mess, it’s mostly because I’m feeling worthless and like there’s no good reason for me to be here.
  • Having structure and responsibilities I can’t get out of really help me manage this. Often, the only responsibilities I reallyfeel obligated to involve taking care of or hanging out with other peoples’ kids, so asking me to pick your child up at the bus stop or something is a pretty guaranteed way to help me manage depression. And hanging out with other peoples’ kids is often a great antidote for angst in general.
  • Existential Angst is such a widely caricatured experience of depression that it’s usually pretty easy for me to laugh at myself in this state.

BODY DYSPHORIA (Depression)

How You Can Tell

What Might Bring it On

  • Going long periods without eating.
  • Diet talk. Talk about eating disorders. Oppressive body-policing language and bullshit.
  • Changes in my body that make my clothes fit uncomfortably.
  • Being described as “feminine”, “maternal”, or a “goddess”.
  • Menstrual cramps etc.
  • Anything to do with pregnancy. (My own, not other peoples’. Usually.)
  • Being physically sick, injured, or otherwise in pain that I didn’t intentionally cause.
  • Team sports.
  • A lot of stuff related to sex and particularly compulsory heterosexuality.
  • A million other things I can’t process right now.

What to Do

  • What’s most helpful is someone to just listen non-judgmentally and not try to make me feel better. The other day, Dakota listened to me talk about the pros and cons of surgery and just…listened. Nobody’s ever done that for me before and it felt really amazing.
  • If you have your own experiences with body dysphoria, feeling disconnected from your body, or hurting or hating your body and you can empathize with me around them, that helps me feel less alone.
  • I probably don’t want to be touched.
  • Please don’t tell me I’m beautiful, or that you love my body or anything about physical attractiveness. Not right now. It generates an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance where I’m trying to reconcile other peoples’ perceptions of my body as a desirable object with my own experience of my body as an enemy combatant – and the depression aspect of my war with my body is more-or-less not about what other people think of how it looks; it’s about how gross it feels to be made of flesh.
  • Don’t just tell me that having a body is a good thing or that it’s the reason I’m alive or whatever. I already know that. It doesn’t matter. I can’t thinkmy way out of this feeling.
  • Encourage me to move. Stretch. Walk. Swim. Whatever. Come with me.

THE WELL OF LONELINESS (Depression)

How You Can Tell

  • I am convinced that nobody loves me. Nobody understands me. All my relationships are a lie and I am a naïve, desperate, clinging fool. All my creative work is crap. I’m completely alone in the world. Nobody is going to care when I die. In fact, they’ll probably be relieved.
  • I fluctuate between being extremely clingy and avoiding human contact.
  • I write long e-mails or send barrages of text messages telling people how strongly I feel about them and then try to take it all back immediately afterwards.
  • My “masochistic misanthropic” streak comes out: I hate everybody. Fuck ’em. (If they’re all going to reject me I’m just gonna reject them first.) I get very taciturn and quiet (for me) in public places.
  • I try to do “relationship processing” that feels more like picking a fight, or I try to convince people to “prove” that they care about me even though I won’t believe them when they do.
  • Crying a lot while writing; gasping, choking-for-air sorts of sobs; silent screaming into my hands or a pillow.
  • This feeling is pretty acutely painful but the most painful part doesn’t usually last more than a few hours at a time — unlike the other two which can drag on at a low level for weeks or months.

What Can Bring it On

    • Again, I really don’t know. All the same stuff that brings on other kinds of depression, plus something to do with feeling socially overloaded and spending too much time in Extrovert-Mode.
    • Also: Scenes. Everything about any kind of scene or cool-kid culture brings this feeling up in me hardcore.
    • But sometimes spending a lot of time by myself can bring it up, too.

What To Do

  • There’s really nothing anyone can do about this in the moment, because its nature is that I feel disconnected from people in a way that makes me distrust everybody’s motives. The best thing you can do is not take anything I say to you personally and wait for it to pass.
  • Counter-intuitive as it sounds, the number one thing I need to do when I feel this way is spend time alone. This might result in me getting up in the middle of the night to go sleep on the couch or something. Again, please don’t take it personally.
  • I have a suspicion that, more than anything else, this kind of depression is going to stick with me for the rest of my life — and it never gets any easier. I’ve seeded my environment with symbolic anchors to help me weather it, including some things I’ve written and my exploding heart tattoo.
  • When I’m in this state, I’m convinced that nobody even remembers I exist when they’re not with me – so reminders like small gifts, cards, sweet txt messages I’ve saved etc. that loved ones have sent me out of the blue help remind me that people think of me when I’m not around. There might not be much a supportive friend can do when I’m feeling this way, but if you happen to think of me sometime when I’m not around and let me know, that might help me out the next time I’m down.

A Few Things I’ve Written About This

04.22.2012 – Remedies for Hollowness
02.04.2012 – Ache.
01.17.2012 – “Yeah. ‘Cause existing is such a curse,” – Everett Piper
04.14.2010 – Folks What Loves Me

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If I’m Grieving

How You Can Tell

  • It’s hard to describe the difference between depression and grief, because they can look similar on paper and sometimes bleed into each other. The best I can say right now is that depression seems to be a lie about meaninglessness, while grief is an authentic communion with despair.
  • Lots of crying. Difficulty talking. Spending lots of time alone.
  • I don’t come out of grief as easily as I do other “upset” states, but I also tend to be relatively lucid when I’m in it – so you can probably just ask me.

What Might Bring It On

  • Actual loss –- past or present, my own or other peoples’.

What to Do

  • Grief is REALLY good for me. I have a lot to grieve and I’ve kept it bottled up for most of my life. Help me make space to feel this feeling and remind me that it’s painful but important. Express support for me feeling it fully.
  • If I’m grieving, I probably want to share stories about who or what I’m grieving for. Ask me about it. Encourage me to write.
  • Share your own experiences of loss with me. Even better if we can share our losses symbolically over food or wine.
  • Grieving is the only extreme emotional state in which it’s a good idea for me to get drunk.
  • Make me laugh. Humor is the grace of grief.
  • Please help me remember to eat.

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If I’m Stressed Out

How You Can Tell

  • Pulling my hair or scratching my head incessantly
  • Making lots of lists, especially by hand
  • Seeming constantly disconnected and distracted when I’m around other people
  • Talking about how I have SO much to do then spending hours on Facebook etc.
  • Talking really frantically about the nitty-gritty details of things. Repeating things over and over. Crying with frustration.
  • Trouble getting up in the morning. Just lying wide awake staring at the ceiling for a long time.

What Might Bring it On

  • Overcommitting myself
  • Feeling insecure about the prosaic aspects of my life
  • Money stuff, house stuff, etc.

What To Do

  • Help me organize. My physical space has a HUGE impact on my mental state when I’m stressed – but I get kind of deer-in-headlights by how overwhelmed I am and can’t start anything. Help me clean my room, do the dishes, etc. Just sit with me while I budget or deal with tax bullshit.
  • Remind me that I don’t HAVE to do everything – or probably almost anything – that I feel like I have to do.
  • And, like almost everything else, encourage me to move

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. . .

If I’m “All Wound-Up”

I’m always hesitant to use the word “manic” because it’s a much more clinical and less colloquial description than something like feeling “depressed” or “stressed out”. People who are clinically diagnosed as manic have to deal with a lot of shit I don’t, such as all the complications of having one’s mental states diagnosedby an institution, so I don’t want to appropriate the language that refers to that experience — even if the mental state I’m describing might be somewhere along a similar spectrum. I like the term Lafe uses for when he’s feeling, well, manic: “All Wound-Up!” So, I’m using that.

(I really have no idea where any of these states I’m describing fall along their concomitant institutionalized-psychiatric-medicine “mental disorder” spectra. Sometimes my mental health stuff feels totally debilitating and like it impacts every aspect of my life; other times it feels like a total non-issue and like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill by, say, writing about it on the Internet. For a number of reasons, I’ve never pursued a diagnosis, and I’ve been privileged enough not to have one forced upon me. So, I really don’t know. I’m just going to keep trying to talk about it in ways that work for me and try not to get too wrapped up trying to figure out where I fit in some kind of mental-health hierarchy of legitimacy.)

So, this a weird one because it often feels really good to me, especially if I’m indulging in it with other people. It isn’t exactly a way of “being upset.” But I understand that it throws my life out of whack (which is totally fine sometimes) and, more importantly, if I indulge in it too far it’ll often tip me into depression, stress, or panic that is no fun at all. I’d like to be able to harness it as a creative force without totally blowing out my ability to take care of myself…I’m still working on that.How You Can Tell

  • Not sleeping. Staying up late to write, waking up early and seeming energetic.
  • Constant hypergraphic scribbling or texting myself incessantly.
  • Feverish e-mails or oral dissertations about really complex, grandiose, political/theoretical ideas that I’m confused you don’t understand or aren’t as excited about as I am.
  • Just talking really fast in general.
  • Paying a huge amount of attention to how I dress, makeup, etc. (WoundUp!Me looks stellar most of the time.)
  • The kind of cleaning sprees where I completely dismantle the stove, etc.
  • I used to go on shopping sprees, usually with the aim of totally transforming my house, my wardrobe, my body — y’know, whatever magical conversion was going to Make Everything Better. Not so much anymore ’cause, y’know, I can’t afford that shit.
  • Super bounciness!

What Might Bring It On

  • Again, with this one, I have no idea. It just seems to happen. Something to pay more attention to…
  • Interacting with other people who are manic
  • Intense intellectual stimulation
  • Chemical stimulants
  • Anything related to Occupy used to get me so wound-up that I had to quit going to GAs…for whatever that’s worth.

What to Do

  • When I’m wound-up, self-care goes out the window because I don’t feel like I need it. It helps to be reminded to eat, try to sleep, stretch, breathe, etc.
  • Offering to sleep next to me. My tendency is to stay up all night, but if I know someone is waiting in bed for me, I’ll choose to go to sleep at some point.
  • For some reason, things that make me warm seem to help me come down: Hot showers, hot baths, hot tea, hot food, hot weather, heating pads, being held and cuddled really tightly while I fidget. Maybe my body associates warmth with slowness?
  • Often, it takes me a while to even notice this one is happening. Point it out to me (gently, please) when you see it. Not, “I think you’re really manic,” but rather, “This specific thing you’re doing is causing trouble for me in this particular way.” Or maybe just, “You seem really distracted lately. I miss you.” Most other things on this list are things I’d happily stop feeling if I could, so being told about how they’re making you miserable just makes me feel guilty – I’m already obsessing about how miserable I’m probably making you, anyway. But being “wound-up” is something that it helps to have community calibration around.

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If I Panic

This is the big one. My anxiety isn’t a fear that I’m about to die; it’s a fear that I’m about to go completely off-the-deep-end bad-acid-trip batshit insane. So, this is the scary one where I vividly imagine horror movie fears like swarms of beetles coming out of the sink drain and that my lover has turned into a possessed shark-toothed zombie in bed with me. It’s also the scariest one for others to watch, I think, because there’s no way for me to communicate what’s going on in the moment if you don’t already know. Every other emotional state on this list I can see some redeeming value in that balances out the ways that it’s uncomfortable. But panic attacks (or whatever), as far as I’m concerned, can fucking die and burn in a fire. I don’t care if they give me access to my deep subconscious or something. If that’s true, my subconscious is a terrible, terrible place and I do not want to know what’s going on there. I am seriously down to reorganize my entire life so that I never have to have them again. But I probably will do, so…

How You Can Tell

  • Flinching. Jumping. Flailing and random gestures.
  • Hyperventilating or sometimes screaming.
  • Talking to myself/the walls/the air in front of me, saying things like, “No. No. No. STOP. NOT NOW.”
  • Erratic dodging movements.
  • Turning lights out and then scrambling to turn them back on.
  • Apparent fear of touching physical objects AND random touching of walls or knocking on things.
  • Wide-eyed. Bursting into tears.
  • Basically, if it’s happening in the moment, I probably look like I’m being attacked by something. If I’m just afraid it’s about to happen, I might look a little nervous or obsessive-compulsive.

What Might Bring it On

  • Lack of sleep, physical stress
  • Any reference to swarms of insects or infestation. (Even the word ‘infestation’ can be triggering.)
  • Unidentified buzzing noises
  • Thinking about overpopulation
  • Talking or thinking about panic attacks
  • Being in water – including baths, showers, pools, hot tubs, etc.
  • Horror movies, books about torture, being alone in my house on in the middle of a windstorm with no power, or anything classically “spooky”
  • Places where I’ve had panic attacks before
  • Most often, it just comes out of fucking nowhere with no warning

What to Do

Before an Attack

  • If you’re familiar with my triggers and we’re in a situation or conversation where you can see some of them coming, I always appreciate when people steer the conversation in another direction, or give me a heads up or, at the very least, explain what’s going on to other people if I get up and leave abruptly with no explanation.
  • This isn’t funny. Please don’t fuck with me about it. Don’t try and encourage me to “face my fears.” If we’re talking about something and I’ve been looking uncomfortable for a little while and I ask you to change the subject, for god’s sake, please just change the fucking subject.

During an Attack

  • DO NOT TOUCH ME. I know I look terrified and you want to reassure me, but please don’t try to hug me. If you’re comfortable with it, though, you might stand close enough that I can choose to touch you. Understand that if I am panicking in your vicinity, I am probably imagining something really terrible happening to you, like you are being eaten alive by ants or something. The thought of you touching me may be terrifying to me, but it can help me to be able to touch you and reassure myself that you’re real.
  • Eye contact, if I’ll make it.
  • Talk to me calmly. Don’t expect me to respond. Just keep talking. Tell me it’ll be okay, that it’s not real, that I’m not going crazy.
  • Hearing my name can help sometimes.
  • Help me take deep breaths. Remind me to breathe. Breathe with me. Fully in/out yoga breaths with pauses halfway through each one.
  • If you’re okay with hearing about it, encourage me to describe what I’m seeing. Sometimes saying it outloud will help it dissipate.
  • Remind me that it’s not real, but you can also validate that it feels real and that it’s scary.
  • Sometimes it helps if you can hold space for it to just be okay/safe for me to freak out. I’m fighting to control the panic, partly because I’m afraid of it and partly because I don’t want to scare  you. But sometimes it goes faster and easier if I can just ride it out.

After an Attack

  • Hold me as soon as I’ll let you. Let me flinch, push away, and come back as I need to.
  • After a bad panic attack, I’m usually kind of a zombie for several hours to days following. I may need a shoulder to cry on. It helps to have art materials and be able to draw or other forms of non-verbal processing. It’s good for me to spend time in the sun.

There’s a special case here: What happens if I panic during sex. This isn’t something that comes up for me very often anymore, mostly because I’ve made a conscious effort to try and stop having the kinds of sex that tend to trigger anxiety. What those triggers are and what to do if they come up are things that I’ll talk specifically about with lovers, not in the public domain. But I wanted to put this here because the most helpful thing a partner can do around this is be aware that it’s a possibility going into sex with me and have conversations with me beforehand about it — so that, if it does happen, we don’t have to deal with the double-edged sword of both the panic itself and me feeling guilty and shitty for springing a panic attack on you out of nowhere while we’re in bed together.

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. . .

If I’m Angry

If I’m angry at the world
Just let me be angry. Visceral anger is the most taboo emotion in my universe. I so rarely get to feel it, get to turn it out onto the world rather than into the soft parts of my own body. It’s so freeing to be able to just scream FUCK EVERYTHING! sometimes and not have to explain myself. It’s a good feeling be MAD at somebody or something, to be able to vent and rant and howl. I’m clever and funny when I’m angry. Hell, get angry with me!

If I’m angry at you
Give me space. I’m probably hurting a lot. I’m hurting because I hate being angry at people I care about. And, for this reason, I’m conflict-avoidant to a fault in my personal relationships. It’s something I’m working on. I feel more comfortable communicating about why I’m angry through writing than in person, but it’s generally more productive for me to do it in person, because I don’t obfuscate my feelings as much. But give me some space first, let me work through the rawness with someone else first, and then…

And then, I don’t know. I think that depends on the individual relationship and what your communication about anger looks like, also. I suppose every relationship should probably have its own set of custom guidelines around What Happens When We’re Angry At Each Other — because this isn’t really a “How to Help Me When I’m Upset” thing, so much as it’s a relationship communication thing.

If I’m angry at someone else
It depends a lot on why I’m angry. Love all the people; hate all the systems. I don’t get angry at humans for political reasons; I get angry at institutions, structural positions, cultural practices and oppressive expectations. So if I’m ranting about someone I don’t know very well and how their politics are totally busted, see: If I’m angry at the world.

On the other hand, if I’m angry at someone with whom I have a meaningful relationship and all I can talk about is how their politics are busted, chances are I’m obfuscating because I don’t want to deal with my actual feelings about whatever they did that actually hurt me. Now, someone might’ve hurt me because of something related to their politics, positionality, etc. and I can start there. But I’m not angry at their politics, I’m angry about what they did and how it felt. Just let me talk through it with you. I probably don’t need you to defend the person or try and explain their side of things unless I ask; otherwise, I’ll feel the need to defend myself and “prove” why they’re a jerk — and that doesn’t help me or them. Since this is someone I care about, my default once I calm down is already going to be to give them the benefit of the doubt, and I can probably sift down through the layers myself until I figure out why I’m really hurting. Sometimes just reminding me that I’m talking about someone I love can help a lot. But really, just listening is most of what I need.

If I’m angry at myself
I don’t really know what to say here. Just remind me that you care about me, I guess. I’m angry at myself a lot. It’s at the base of most of this stuff. I try not to let on too much.

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6. And Finally…

Finally: Stuffed animals. Seriously. I know it sounds silly and regressive or whatever, but with almost every kind of upset I can feel, having some cute fuzzy plush object to squish will help me calm down and make me feel more okay.

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Addenda:

– I’m curious to think about what other pages and categories would go in a larger Self-Care and Personal Guidebook type template.
– If possible, it might be useful to add links to specific things I’ve written to provide people with context for specific triggers or experiences I’m having.
– Since most of the people reading this will probably be folks who have hung out with me through a rough patch or two, I’m open to also hearing your suggestions for ways to help that I may have not noticed or that I’ve missed or forgotten about. This is totally a working document and a lot of it is just guess-work.

If you actually read this whole thing, I’d be curious to know that — just to know who, y’know, knows what about me. 😉
(Hm. Apparently, Katelyn says she tried posting a comment a couple of times and it doesn’t seem to be working. I wonder what’s up with that.)

May 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 11:18 am

So it doesn’t get lost this time. A friend of mine posted the following on Facebook:

QUEER FRIENDS – an older straight guy asked me to tell him the difference between ‘lesbian’ and ‘queer.’ I’d love input on my response. I hate to dismiss teaching moments by saying ‘it’s too complicated’ so having a few key examples of difference would be great. tell me what you think:


in brief, ‘lesbians’ are just like heterosexual women except that they have relationships with women and not men. they have a lot of rigid rules in their heads about gender roles, and put a lot of stock into appearance (like, ‘workboots + jeans = butch = the aggressor in bed’ and ‘floral skirt + jewelry = femme = passive in bed’). they go on gay cruises and send money to democrats and spend a lot of time trying to prove that they are ‘just like everyone else’. on the other hand, ‘queers’ are more politically radical and believe that sexuality is fluid, gender roles are inherently fucked up, and that anyone can dress ‘butch’ or ‘femme’ or a combination thereof and it doesn’t signal that they are confused or weird, just that each of us has a myriad of personality traits and rigid boxes that don’t let us ‘play’ are soul-crushing. we don’t get all pissy if one of our friends comes out as transgender and asks to be called he instead of she, because how other people live is not a threat to our selves. we don’t send money to democrats because we see them as being just as terrible on issues of war and poverty as republicans. in short, queers are awesome and lesbians are boring 😉

This kicked off a huge thread, as you can imagine, mostly with people defending lesbians with an “I know some and they’re not all THAT bad!” I wrote a whole long response talking about how, even though the ways that a “lesbian” identity is complicated are worth exploring, I think it’s problematic to caricaturize lesbian-identified people as a mix between RadFems and white middle-class monogamous homonormative couples who want to get married because of ways that erases the identities of a diversity of lesbian-identified people with far less privilege than we have as mostly white middle-class queers — or, at the very least, makes some fairly privileged assumptions about peoples’ politics and degree of “radical”ness (dude). But whatever, Facebook ate it. So, I’m posting my hastily re-typed and less long-winded response here, so that I don’t lose it again:

Argh. I wrote a whole long reply to this (before I posted that link) and for some reason Facebook ate it. 😦 I really don’t want to re-type the whole thing, but basically I just felt like it was important for me to put in a word for some of the incredibly radical lesbian-identified trans women in my life, for many of whom their lesbian and even “lesbian separatist” identity is part of a radical gender politics — even though, at the same time, acknowledging that transphobia, biphobia and queerphobia continue to be problems in many (perhaps all) lesbian communities.

I feel like there’s a little bit of trans misogyny in the suggestion that lesbians are always all about rigid gender roles, because it seems to imply (although I know you didn’t actually say it) either that lesbians are also always cis women or that trans lesbians are always doing gender (or have gender politics) in some way that’s automatically less radical than queer-identified folks. I also felt sad for some of my badass radical working class lesbian friends who, when they have the money to do it, certainly aren’t spending it on gay cruises and the Democratic party. (And many of whom often have their shit together around, for example, issues of race and class and disability in ways that many of us white middle-class queer-identified folks don’t.) None of them are “just like heterosexual women” by a long-shot.

I agree that lesbian is, in some ways, a privileged identity and one that relies on the existence of a gender-binary. As a queer person who’s committed to deconstructing that binary, I totally think it’s worth exploring that issue and its intersections with various feminisms. I also think (as the author of that Tumblr post points out) that queerness is often kind of a scene and, as anyone who’s spent time in that scene knows, there can be just as many “right” and “wrong” ways to be queer as there are ways to be a lesbian. 😉

That’s all.

And here’s a link to the Tumblr post in question: Fuck Queer, I’m a Lesbian?

Worth noting: Nobody who actually identifies as a lesbian has posted on the thread.

May 9, 2012

The Kind of Bachelor I Am

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 11:03 pm

Whoa. What if I just blogged in concrete and explicit language about what’s going on in my life right now? I mean literally right now?

So here I am, in the kitchen, and my roommate’s boyfriend is telling me stories about tripping at the hot springs and I’m half paying attention and half thinking about whether I can get away with not putting clean sheets back on my bed tonight and I’m absentmindedly making myself dinner which means boxed macaroni and cheese and boiled hot dogs at ten o’clock at night because that’s the kind of bachelor I am. The first two hot dogs were cooked and chopped and just about to be tipped into the potful of endearingly bunny-and-carrot-shaped noodles when my roommate said, “Um, hon, don’t use those, they’ve gone bad. I can smell them from across the room.” If I didn’t have roommates, by the way, I’d be the kind of bachelor whose fridge contained nothing but ketchup. (But I’d damn well have some ketchup in there because, seriously, what is the deal with people who don’t keep ketchup around?) When roommate and boyfriend go to bed, I drink their pineapple orange mango juice straight out of the carton and I don’t feel bad except for a second because I didn’t wipe off the lip.

And it’s strange, this thing. This thing where I’m in a greater number of intimate, significant, committed, loving relationships concurrently than most people will go through sequentially in a lifetime. For some definition of “relationship”. One that seems to involve very little sex and very little domesticity and even more rarely the two simultaneously, so that occasionally even I wonder what the hell I mean when I say that I’m “in a relationship with”…except that I don’t, really. Wonder. Because, while I have no idea what it means to be “in a relationship” categorically, I know exactly what it feels like to be in each of the relationships I am in and what’s special about them and why they matter to me and how they structurally support and enrich and ground my life and I also know that I’m not going to count them and fuck you very much for asking “how many people I’m dating, anyway.” Because it’s not like that. It’s not like anything you understand as a “relationship structure” even in your wildest polywhateverous fantasies. It’s just like…being with people. And that being really important but not a big deal.

But it is like this: Sometimes, even though I share a house with two partners, it’s like having no one to come home to. And sometimes it’s like not having anything resembling sex for months. It’s like having total control over all my time and how I spend it but feeling far away from almost everyone I’d want to spend it on. It’s phone calls instead of goodnight kisses and goodnight kisses instead of being held when I have nightmares. Sometimes it’s so spacious that it just feels lonely, this dedicated bachelor’s tao.

But not tonight. Tonight it feels like being bordered by deep, complex, irreplaceable, interconnected threads of love all along the periphery of time and space and like, right here in front of me, enough mac ‘n’ cheese to have leftovers for breakfast and time to myself to write.

I like it a lot.

May 8, 2012

What does allyship have to do with psychonautics?

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 10:02 am

Allyship is the art of learning how to appreciate being told to fuck off. Allyship is also about having meaningful relationships with individual people, not with groups or populations or abstract ideas of people. It stands to reason, then, that perhaps the crux of allyship is learning how to appreciate being told to fuck off by individual people with whom you are in meaningful relationships.

Which is why I think that, when people talk about “being allies,” we mostly have no idea what we’re getting ourselves into. Because that particular piece of work is ridiculously challenging for most folks, myself included. “Radical activist” scene rhetorics are prone to treating allyship like a list of behaviors that can be applied to social situations using a fairly broad brush, with a contextual tweak here and there. But allyship is an cognitive and emotional project that is so much harder than just keeping up with the latest fashions in language, or reblogging the right things on Tumblr, or even being self-educated, informed, thoughtful and courteous to everyone you meet all the time. (Although all those things can be a part of a process, for sure.)

Allyship requires not just a critical or radically resistant but, in fact, a traitorous orientation toward the very System of beliefs and concepts that tell us about our identities. It is deeply painful to sit with the realization that, as someone with certain privileged identities that are rooted in structures of domination, people I love really can be hurt and damaged not only by things I do but simply by things about who I am. It’s even harder to give up defending those aspects of myself, especially if they feel like aspects that define me. Learning to welcome being told, “Fuck off. I hate you. No, really, I hate YOU!” by the people we love most — learning to listen to what that actually means for them; and it will mean something different for every individual and in each situation — requires, I suspect, some serious ego destruction.

Which is why allyship can’t just be an intellectual process or even an emotional process. I suspect that allyship necessitates — or, at the very least, is strongly supported by — a mutually interdependent relationship with some form of meditation or other psychonautical practice (or several) aimed toward dissolving the experience of a unitary and consistent selfhood.

Allyship, in other words, is not just a political stance; it is a mind-altering experience — and it’s the kind you can’t come back from. So, while it remains a life’s mission of mine to facilitate deeper and more genuine allyship in the world around me, I also want to remain mindful the ways in which this thing I’m asking people and myself to do is a big fucking deal. This doesn’t mean not doing it. Not for a second. It just means taking it seriously and taking very good care of ourselves and each other while we do.

In short: If I’m conscientious about how I construct the psycho-emotional space in which I trip mushrooms, I should be ten times as conscientious about how I construct the psycho-emotional space in which I practice allyship. ‘Cause I might only be on boomers for the next eight hours. I’m hopefully gonna be doing allyship — by which I mean I’m hopefully going to be consciously working on having the backs of the people I love — for the rest of my life.

ETA: I want to be clear that, when I talk about “welcoming being told to fuck off”, I’m not advocating a sort of “enlightened” Teflon detachment where we don’t feel hurt when people we love reject us. There’s a danger of this sort of, “Your feelings are about you, not about me” attitude that can be incredibly patronizing. If someone who lacks privileges you have tells you that your privileges are hurting them, that is absolutely about you. And if they’re expressing that in an angry way, it’s likely because they want you to feel something. So, for god’s sake, feel something. This is someone you love. What I’m advocating is not letting those feelings turn into beliefs about the person, yourself, or your relationship that block you from being able to hear what they’re actually trying to say. ‘Cause what they’re actually trying to say might be life or death.

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