It’s An Exercise

The summer before my senior year of college I decided to live in a dorm at my school, and do a little bit of project work for my boss. It had been a rough year for me, but tempered with a lot of therapy and self-discovery. Therapy is great for self-discovery, but only if you don’t mind feeling like you’ve been ripped open at least once a week. It’s like losing the top layer of your skin; everything feels red and raw and it hurts if anything touches it, but it heals pretty cleanly.

One day I was working with my boss, when I made a joke to the effect of “lol I’m the worst.” You know, the kind of casual, self-deprecating humor that people use a thousand times a day. But my boss stopped me, and looked me in the eye and said “now say something nice about yourself.”

I was taken aback. Didn’t she know it was a joke? I didn’t actually think I was the worst. But I still couldn’t come up with one good thing to respond with.

I had never realized how those jokes could add up, until they became the lens in which I viewed myself. Someone who was annoying or loud, or generally the worst. The things I said in public became the thoughts that circled my mind, like vultures zeroing in on a kill. I’mtheworstI’mtheworstI’mtheworst.

I’m sure you’ve heard the idiom “no one can love you until you love yourself.” It’s been pointed out many times how harmful that line of thinking can be to someone with a mental health issues who doesn’t love themselves, to believe that then nobody can love them. But I think there is still some wisdom there. Until you learn how to appreciate the fact that you are worthy of love, it is hard to believe that anybody would truly love you.

I decided I would stop saying negative things about myself, or at the very least, I would counter it always with one good thing. I needed to break up the pattern of self-abuse, and start believing that I could be good enough.

A few months ago I was out with some of my old friends, when one of them started apologizing for being indecisive. I told her it was fine, we are all just people, and we have quirks that make us who we are. I suggested we all list one thing that we think of as a flaw about ourselves. Everyone could think of one easily. Then I said “now let’s do an exercise where we all say one nice thing about ourselves.”

Everyone got immediately uncomfortable. They fidgeted and made fun of me for being corny. Answers were tempered with “I guess I’m not that bad at….” and “maybe I’m okay at this.” Some refused to answer at first. One friend said in jest “I’m really good at tricking people into being friends with me.” This dragged out over many uncomfortable minutes because I didn’t want to let it go. I wanted everyone to find the thing in themselves that they were proud of.

These were smart, accomplished, funny, hard-working, beautiful women, some of whom I’d known and admired for most of my life. If they couldn’t think of one thing  that they felt proud of, who could?

Their experiences and mine don’t exist in a void. When you spend your whole life hearing you’re not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not smart or straight or white enough, not gender conforming enough or able-bodied enough, it becomes entrenched deep within your mind, until it feels impossible to untangle. Some days it always lurks at the top of your mind, and all you can think is “I suck I suck I suck.” Other days it comes as a surprise. “I thought I was past that, I thought that was healed.”

I don’t know if it ever quite heals. But as an exercise, I try to be actively being kind to myself. I try to not compare my accomplishments to others, because there was a time when my depression was so debilitating that I couldn’t  focus on much beyond “get out of bed” and “ask for help.” I do my best to feel proud of how far I have come and what I have accomplished. I try to reach out to friends who get it, so we can mutually complain or laugh or just feel understood. Community, I am learning, is an essential part of healing, and of living.

What if instead of downplaying our accomplishments, we let ourselves be proud of them? What if when we felt good about ourselves, we said it out loud? What if we told others that we are proud of them, or that  they are brilliant, interesting, and beautiful?

I think love is an exercise. It’s something we have to practice, until we get it right. It’s something that takes energy and time. And it’s something we have to do for ourselves, in addition to doing it for others.

Last week I put on my favorite blue dress and went for a walk with my wonderful girlfriend. I told her “I feel so pretty today.” She said “it’s nice that you like yourself so much.” It made me smile. Maybe it’s unusual to hear people compliment themselves, but I think it’s an exercise we should do more often.

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Queer Exhaustion

Recently I have started to believe I am suffering from a severe case of queer exhaustion.

It comes from being the only queer person in a room. Or being outed at work to some co-workers I don’t know that well. Or having a well-meaning straight person tell me repeatedly that her kid “definitely isn’t gay” but he really cares about “those issues.” Or reading news about anti-LGBT legislation, that seems to be growing everyday.

At a recent party I was joking with my one other queer coworker about Mean Girls, and how we were both “too gay to function.” A straight coworker who was standing there immediately replied to our laughter with “You know I never said gay as an insult, even when I was a kid.”

Okay? I thought. Congratulations, you’ve reached the most basic level of human decency by not using someone else’s identity as a slur. Then I realized, maybe he thought we were saying gay as a joke, to make fun of ourselves. Maybe our long hair had tricked him into thinking we were straight women, laughing at “the gays.” I’m still not sure what he meant.

All of these incidents are tiny and from people with good intentions, but they add up and take a toll on my spirit. I’m tired of being used by straight people to make them feel like they’re good people because they are nice to a queer person. I’m tired of being erased by people who don’t think a woman who dates women looks like me. I’m tired of feeling like I then have to explain to these people why what they said was hurtful in my work place, and in my personal life, and to strangers I just met.

I am incredibly grateful that I came out at my liberal, historically women’s college, where the queer population is large and varied. Being queer has first and foremost been a joyful identity for me. I love being queer. If I could go back in time and choose my sexual orientation, I would pick being queer every time. It is the lens in which I see the world, and the vehicle that has pushed me into being a more compassionate person, and the means through which I have found my amazing partner. It’s like finding out there is a fourth primary color that everyone knows about, but pretends doesn’t exist. I didn’t come out to people outside of my college, because I wanted to protect that feeling of joy. But then I decided I wouldn’t downplay the person I was in order to make other people comfortable.

One of the tenets of my femme identity has always been practicing compassion and empathy for others. Even before I knew what femme identity was, I liked to be someone who others knew they could go to with their feelings and not be judged. For me, the basis of all relationships is the ability to be vulnerable with another person and trust that you will be received with love. When I started to think about being femme, not just as a way of presenting my gender, but as a way of being, I started to think about how I can practice empathy, not just with folks I’m close to, but also with people who hurt me and disagree with me.

And it’s hard. I am trying to learn how to be compassionate with those who offend and also give myself the room to feel angry when I am erased or tokenized or when I give my trust to someone and feel let down. Sometimes it involves explaining to people why their good intentions can still cause pain. Often it involves retreating to my queer community, to be reassured that I’m not being “too sensitive.”

Right now I am trying to learn the boundaries between caring for myself and allowing other people room to make mistakes. It can be exhausting when those mistakes are made with something I hold dear, like my queer identity, but I believe it is ultimately worthwhile.

“Imagining the Future is a Kind of Nostalgia”

Shout out to John Green for this one line that has been haunting me for years.

Being in your twenties is like being in one continuous existential crisis. “What do I want??” you scribble in your journal and scream at your friends and at the universe and at your mom. Except at family events when you politely smile and try and sound like you have your shit together so you can feel like you’re doing better than your cousins.

In the attempt to try and understand what I want I have created several pinterest boards, an aesthetic tumblr blog, and a list of what I find fulfilling in a career. I’ve read about vision boards and thought to myself “huh that seems like a good idea.”

But honestly what is the point of all these things other than to imagine a future where things are rosier than they are now? The idea that in the future I will dress like this and my apartment will look like this and my dog will be this cute is actually just a fabrication, the image of a life where everything is neatly sorted and there is no mess. (Because of capitalism I often idealize my future through the objects I will consume. How fucked up is that?)

When I look back through pictures of the past few years I think to myself “look how happy I was! I enjoyed working with these people so much! My hair was so great then!” and I gloss over the nights I spent sobbing on the phone to friends, the interpersonal drama, the times at work when I felt so frustrated I wanted to scream.

I am trying to embrace the idea that life will always be unexpected and messy. That when I ask the question “what will make me content?” the answer is probably lots of things. There is no proscribed program that I need to follow to happiness. Sometimes that is terrifying. It’s like Aziz Ansari quoting Sylvia Plath in Master of None:

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“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

I think when we feel we have control over our destinies, we get scared, because what if we pick the wrong thing? What if we don’t have a calling but just a job? What if there is no such thing as soul mates, but just people we choose to love, over and over again? What if we never learn quite how to forgive and forget, but rather have some regret about the interpersonal relationships that will never quite be what we had expected?

The concept is scary, but I’m trying to accept that it’s okay. To again quote John Green, “You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet.”

Inevitably there will be nights when I sob on the phone over the uncertainty and injustice of life, but I will also have laughter and love and friendship and community, like I do now. And if one decision doesn’t work out quite like I expected to, I imagine I will be able to find more figs.

Depression Sucks (and it’s okay to talk about it)

I think every person at some point in their life will be depressed.

You go through a hard break up, lose your job, experience the death of a loved one, or just go through a challenging transitional period that makes you feel scared and listless. Regardless of the reason, I don’t think having a depressed period of your life is that unusual. Life is scary and sad and then wonderful and brilliant by turns, and sometimes all that contradiction is hard to process, and I think a lot of people can relate when they read an article or watch a movie about depression, because everyone has felt a little hopeless and unhappy at one point or another.

Feeling depressed, however, is different than having depression.

When someone asks me when is the first time I felt depressed, I tend to think of the 7th grade. I had always been a good student, but for no reason I could understand, I just couldn’t find the energy to do my homework for my Social Studies class anymore. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have the time. I would just not do it, or forget. My teacher brought it up to my parents, but it wasn’t like I was trying to be a rebel or I didn’t understand it. I was a bright kid who just didn’t or couldn’t do her assignments. That pattern continued, and for just about every year after that there would always be one class I would drop the ball on. I always managed to not fail, and the rest of my grades were good, so it wasn’t something that could really be explained to other people by anything other than laziness. But I wasn’t purposefully being lazy. My senior year of high school I would stay up until 2 am with my textbook in my lap, not letting myself sleep unless I did something, but inevitably I would end up going to bed with nothing to turn in the next day. After graduating with the first failing grade of my life, I had to write a letter to my dream college explaining why I had received an “F” in the math class I had taken online (so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone). I was lucky, and Mount Holyoke decided to take me on anyway.  

Sometimes I still wake up from nightmares where I am about to graduate high school when I realize there is a class I somehow forgot to go to all year. The scariest thing is, it’s not that hard to believe.

I’ve spent most of my life with depression, sometimes so minor it was hard to notice, and sometimes so major that I would wish I could stop existing, without all the drama of dying. I would lie in the grass and wish I could just sink into the earth and become part of something else, so I wouldn’t have to be myself anymore. It never worked out though, and eventually I had to stand up.

And what better metaphor for recovery is there? Just the anti-climactic moment of getting up. Sometimes you feel a little wobbly and sit back down. Or flop back down and try again later.  It feels like it should be the easiest thing in the world but actually it took all the strength you had, and you can only hope that someone will meet you where you are, and help you go the rest of the way.

At some point in college I got up. I went to my school counselor who recommended me to a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist. After a few months I ditched the psychiatrist but stuck with the psychotherapist, and she helped me do the work that would allow me to get to a place of recovery. Thanks to my school’s no copay health insurance, I went to her twice a week. Sometimes I would drag myself to her office after two days, worn out and broken down, and try to use that hour to become buoyant again. Some days I would go in thinking I had nothing to say, and I would end up sobbing on the couch. My therapist would refer to that time as my “fifth class” and to be honest, it was a lot more work than any other course I took at Mount Holyoke.

Depression took up so much of my time and energy, that I feel like I am still trying to figure out what vital information I missed while I was under it’s spell. I’ve had to be taught how to clean effectively, as opposed to letting my clothes build piles on the floor, and allowing dust to cover my nightstand and the corners of my room. It took months to be able to promptly reply to emails, because they made me feel anxious and exposed. Even though I’ve been able to cook for myself since I was 9 or 10, it’s just last week that I learned to make pasta, because I’ve always relied on a couple of comfort foods. Sometimes I wish more than anything that I could do college while in recovery, so I could have gotten better grades and gotten more out of my education, but I also know it wouldn’t have been possible before. I doubt I could have done all that work anywhere other than Mount Holyoke.

I’ve had depression for so long, and unfortunately I can’t say I’m rid of it. In the dark months of January (even a mild one like this), I find myself falling back into old habits: lying in bed for hours willing myself to get up, eating even when I’m not hungry, feeling relieved when plans fall through so I can go back to bed. I sleep more and get annoyed easily. It’s terrifying to feel like I am falling back down that hole of despair. However, because of the work I did in therapy, I find it easier to reach out, and sometimes I am lucky, and people talk me through where I am.

Other times, however, what I hear are the platitudes we’ve learned to associate with mental health. “Self care!” “Take a shower!” “Write in a journal!”

Self care is a great thing, and I’ve done a lot to make sure my lifestyle is more conducive to positive mental health than it used to be. I do my best to walk outside, take vitamins, and eat a little bit healthier. I write more and don’t let anxiety stop me from pursuing things I enjoy. I make plans with my friends and do my best to follow through on them. I have a wonderful partner who reminds me to follow through on these steps, and who supports me when I make choices that I believe will make me happier.

But while things like taking a shower can be enough to get you out of bed and improve your day, in my experience, they don’t keep depression at bay for very long. Without talking about what it feels like, and where it’s coming from, depression can’t be worked through. It makes me uncomfortable when I go to someone else to talk about my feelings and instead I am brushed off with advice. It makes me feel like someone who has been depressed is trying to condescend to me about how to treat my long history of depression.

Self care is more than a mug of tea and a night of netflix. It’s challenging yourself to face your anxieties, and having someone to hold your hand when the fear makes it feel impossible. It’s working every day to combat your self destructive behaviors, like insisting on getting out of bed when you’re sick, or constant negative self-talk. It’s forgiving yourself for the things you had to do to survive, and not blaming yourself for not being as successful as your friend with the great job because you had depression and you couldn’t work towards your aspirations. It’s allowing yourself to reach out to your friends when you need someone to listen.

It’s allowing yourself to be angry when you’ve been hurt, instead of turning all that anger inwards at yourself.   

Those who are depressed can benefit from a lot of the same treatments as those who have depression. Many of the feelings are similar. Both are hard to admit to and scary to talk about. Counselling is beneficial to pretty much everyone, in my biased opinion. The difference for me is that feeling depressed is a short term condition, and having depression isn’t. Maybe journaling and moisturizing is more effective if your depression is short term. I wouldn’t know. In my experience, however, most people benefit more if someone who is authentically listening to them, rather than repeating some memorized advice.  

I’m grateful to my friends with depression, for their ability to say “that sucks,” “I understand,” and reminding me that there are things that I can’t heal with the power of positive thinking. It is incredibly validating, and keeps me in a place where I can do the good work towards taking care of my mental health. I am a better person because of it. 

If you’re struggling with depression and reading this, I want you to know that it is hard, but you are a valuable person, and your depression does not have to control your life. I am not a mental health expert, so if you have questions or are looking for resources, check out the links below.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counselling

GLBT National Help Center

The Trevor Project

 

Our Selfies, Ourselves

It may sound strange, but sometimes I forget I have a body.

Sure, I use it everyday. It’s part of everything I do. Without it I could not walk or type or even think. But often I forget about it.

(This is a privilege. You better believe I remember my body when it stops working the way I want it to, or when I’m suddenly faced with a world not designed for me. During the two weeks I spent on crutches after spraining my ankle in college, I was constantly aware of my body. And hills. And the insurmountable distance between my bed and the dining hall).

When I imagine myself, the details are blurred. Often I am a bit thinner and taller. When I look in the mirror, sometimes I feel jolted. I am surprised by the face that looks back at me. Who is that?

There are a lot of reasons I imagine. I’m a cerebral person, I tell myself. Having anxiety means that sometimes my brain can’t stop thinking, there is a whole universe of worst case scenarios and alternate endings in my head. I imagine it to be like a a highway of flying cars, like in The Jetsons. The thoughts swirl around in empty space, and sometimes collide without clear street signs. I can feel them in the space right beneath the spot where my forehead meets the bridge of my nose, a knot of twisted metal.

Thinking of myself in those terms rests the blame squarely on my own shoulders. It was inevitable. My brain is hardwired this way. Maybe if I just thought less.

But there is something else. As far back as I can remember my body has been under observation. Being called fat as a second grader. My older brother’s friend telling me he “liked a curvy girl” when I was in the fifth grade. Finishing my lunch in my seventh grade math class and a boy mocking me for “always eating.” My mom once asking me why I always wore my dad’s hoodies. They weren’t flattering. She didn’t understand that I had to cover my body up, hide it. It was too big. I was too big.

And this: I can only eat certain foods. It’s not an allergy or OCD, as has been suggested. Since I was a toddler I simply have not been able eat certain things without throwing them back up. There have been doctors and nutritionists, and half-baked theories picked up from Yahoo News and TLC’s “Freaky Eaters.” (Flattering title TLC, good going). The only thing that has stuck with me is something a school counselor told me in college. “Most eating issues that originate in early childhood are based in a lack of control over one’s own body.”

 

 

Sometimes I wonder what could make a toddler feel their lack of agency so acutely that they would take it out in such a drastic way. I don’t know if it started as a preference or if I always had a physical reaction to new foods. I am missing some of my own narrative. I don’t know how to tell this story without it’s beginning, but I don’t know if it matters that much.

The truth is that no matter how unique my reaction might feel, I’m not the only little girl who ever felt like she didn’t have control over her body. I’m not the only person to feel disassociated from their own body. I’m not the only person who has taken drastic measures to get that control back.

Which brings me to the selfie. Omnipresent on social media, derided by many think pieces mocking millenials, the selfie is one of those things that “teen girls like.” Other things include boy bands and fanfiction (both of which I think are invaluable to young people trying to safely explore their sexuality and identity, but more on that another time).

Given the ubiquitous presence of technology in the U.S, I think it’s easy to forget that smartphones/webcams/ipads are relatively new, and have given most people an unprecedented access to cameras. Before the millennial generation getting your picture taken was a process that either involved expensive digital cameras, or developing film (not being able to see a picture before it printed!), and if you wanted a picture of yourself, someone else usually had to take it. It’s only in past decade or so that the subject of a picture could really be the photographer. No more “say cheese,” the selfie is not beholden to the gaze of someone else. A person can look at themselves and decide how they want to be seen.

I have been known to spend 10 minutes setting up the perfect selfie, then filtering it appropriately for social media. (Not photoshopping you’ll notice. The subject here is my own face, not an imaginary face). It may seem silly, but it allows me to have some control over this body of mine, and reminds me that it exists. It takes the time I need to be deliberate with my body. I test the shapes my face can make. I see how I look in motion through the mirror-like front-facing lens of my phone’s camera.

(To me selfie taking is an art form. A good selfie is one that takes time. There is staging and lighting to choose. This may seem artificial, but I think a bad picture is like pausing Netflix while a character is in the middle of moving. They don’t actually look like that you guys).

Through the art of taking a selfie I make something beautiful where once I only saw something ugly. The image in my head becomes that picture I took.

I’d like to be able to say I love my body all the time, but the fact is, I need help a lot of the time. I don’t always remember that my body is a part of myself. We’re more like awkward roommates. When I can use a selfie to show how I feel it feels like we’ve successfully merged, even for a moment.

I think selfies have the opportunity to be helpful in this kind of personal healing. They encourage us to be a little sillier, to find the beauty in ourselves, and to share this moment in a world constantly telling women, queer people, people of color, people with disabilities, and every intersection therein to take up less space. It can be brave to put yourself into the world and say “I am beautiful and I deserve to be here.”

There is a downside to selfies of course. They are fighting against the pressure to appear “perfect” on social media, showcasing only our best attributes. So much of our social life takes place online, another place we are disembodied, shrunk down to a profile picture or an avatar, where we can curate our own lives. It’s easy to start defining our value in terms of number of likes.

I don’t have any easy solution to that. I do think it’s easy to forget that the people we interact with online are real people. I think there is value in placing parts of our vulnerable selves online, and recognizing that as being a strong and hard thing to do. On more than one occasion I have been moved to tears by the kind notes I have received from friends on my Facebook wall or in my Instagram comments. I know firsthand the power that social media has for meaningful connection. I think there is also space for intentionally positive online communities that encourage us to support one another as well as ourselves, like #BlackoutDay and College Compliments Pages.

I do think the pros out-weigh the cons. Speaking for myself, as a queer femme woman I often feel like the expectations of how my body should be are completely unrealistic, or catering to someone else’s gaze. I spent years being afraid of being feminine because I didn’t want to be sexualized and then because I didn’t think I could be feminine and queer. Taking selfies gives me my agency back over this body which sometimes rebels against me, and which I often neglect. It reminds me to look at myself through my own eyes. I am not the subject of anyone else’s gaze but my own. My selfie, myself.

Proust Questionnaire for the New Year

Hello friends, Happy New Year! We hope you are having a restful and restorative beginning of your year. To start off this year we’ve decided to have a little existential fun and do a variation on The Proust Questionnaire. You can tell this was Hannah’s idea as our resident francophile.

Marcel Proust
Check out the mustache on this guy^^

We stole our version of the survey from Amy Poehler’s interview with Vanity Fair which you can find HERE. These were some big questions, and we challenge you to give them a skim, and thing about some of the big questions in your life!

Femme problems: the first person to get to the blog post gets to write in purple. Boo you Hannah! 

1.) What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Hannah: Love

Marnie: Love, Friendship, Security, Creative fulfillment.

2.) What is your greatest fear?

Hannah: Loneliness

Marnie: Losing the people I love.

3.) What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Hannah: Neediness

Marnie: Laziness

4.) What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Hannah: Indifference

Marnie: Arrogance

5.) Which living person do you most admire?

Hannah: Aunt Jo

Marnie: Ah so many people! Of the people I personally know probably my former boss and mentor Kris. Kris, if you’re reading this, I see you there blushing. 

6.) What is your greatest extravagance?

Hannah: Whiskey

Marnie: Clothes! 

7.) What is your current state of mind?

Hannah: Pensive

Marnie: Sleepy. Why do people stay up so late on New Years?

8.) What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Hannah: Humility

Marnie: Stoic-ness? Is that the word? Anyway the idea that you can put aside your emotions.

9.) On what occasion do you lie?

Hannah: When I’ve been hurt and I don’t want to admit it

Marnie: When I forgot to send an email and I’m pretending it was stuck in my drafts folder. #classicmillenial

10.) What do you most dislike about your appearance?

Hannah: My hair grows too fast and I always have to cut it

Marnie: You know what, no. I’m cute as hell.

11.) Which living person do you most despise?

Hannah: I could name a few, but I won’t

Marnie: I have to agree with Hannah, I can’t use names here. But I do occasionally refer to this person as Literal Human Garbage. #sorrynotsorry

12.) What is the quality you most like in a person?

Hannah: Emotional intelligence

Marnie: Emotional generosity

13.) Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Hannah: “The patriarchy”

Marnie: I go through phases of dumb slang. Right now it’s saying the letter “v” instead of the word very. For a while it was “I’m picking up what you’re putting down” and before that “what I/you/they bring to the table”

14.) What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Hannah: ___________

Marnie: Ahh I’m so lucky to be very rich in love. Of course my wonderful girlfriend is #1, but I also want to shoutout to my wonderful, kind, beautiful friends, who I won’t list because if I forgot a name I would feel so guilty, and also my tiny puppy Ceilidh who is so cute sometimes I cry looking at her. 

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15.) When and where were you happiest?

Hannah: See answer to question #14

Marnie: I don’t think there is one answer to this. In college I was so happy to live within a 10 minute walking distance from most of the important people in my life. In work I have enjoyed working with a great team that worked well and had fun together. In love, I am happiest right now! 

16.) Which talent would you most like to have?

Hannah: Painting

Marnie: Playing an instrument

17.) If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Hannah: My inability to confront people 

Marnie: I think you can change lots of things about yourself if you really want to! That being said, I could probably live without the depression. 

18.) What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Hannah: This blog, obviously

Marnie: Honestly the work I did in therapy. I could never be where I am now without the time I spent working on myself.

19.) If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

Hannah: An alpine forget-me-not

Marnie: A whale! Or a mermaid.

20.) Where would you most like to live?

Hannah: The Queer Arts Commune (QAC), location TBD

Marnie: Near the ocean. 

21.) What is your most treasured possession?

Hannah: My collection of journals and letters

Marnie: I must agree with Hannah, I keep all the letters and cards I receive that say more than two words, and they mean so much to me.

22.) What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Hannah: To be unloved

Marnie: Grief. Depression. 

23.) What is your favorite occupation?

Hannah: Reading

Marnie: Talking! 

24.) What is your most marked characteristic?

Hannah: I wear my heart on my sleeve

Marnie: My sassiness.

25.) What do you most value in your friends?

Hannah: Honesty

Marnie: Kindness, generosity, flexibility, curiosity 

26.) Who are your favorite writers?

Hannah: Hahaha as if I could fit my list on this page

Marnie: So hard! Right now it would be Bell Hooks, Margaret Atwood, Jhumpa Lahiri, Cheryl Strayed, Neil Gaiman, Junot Diaz, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Jeanette Winterson.

27.) Who is your hero of fiction?

Hannah: Okay I’m going to try to be good and give the first answer that comes to mind: Scout Finch

Marnie: Ooh tough! Maybe Jonas from The Giver?

28.) Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Hannah: Whatever answer I give is just going to sound pretentious

Marnie: I don’t know if I identify with her, but one of my favorite historical women is Boudica

29.) Who are your heroes in real life?

Hannah: The women in my family

Marnie: Folks who use their influence to work towards justice and liberation

30.) What are your favorite names?

Hannah: Josephine and Eugene

Marnie: I think my name is pretty good

31.) What is it that you most dislike?

Hannah: Rooms without windows

Marnie: Willful ignorance and mean people

32.) What is your greatest regret?

Hannah: See answer to question #14

Marnie: Letting myself be treated poorly and blaming myself for it. 

33.) How would you like to die?

Hannah: Old and happy and loved

Marnie: Same ^^

34.) What is your motto?

Hannah: Speak the truth, from the heart, with love

Marnie: Wear short skirts, kick ass.

Happy New Year, look for more of our regular posts in 2016!

Femme-ily

Tonight, sifting through my old belongings in my childhood home I came across an old teddy bear that I used to carry with me everywhere I went. A tiny, barely stuffed scrap of fabric with a rattle in her belly, I remember I use to squeeze her into my barbie’s bathing suit and take her swimming with me in my neighbor’s pool. Holding her again, I was transported back to the feeling of being a little girl, needing the companionship of something constant, and always loving.

For me and so many others, being home for the holidays is bittersweet. My hometown is the most beautiful place on earth and when I am away I constantly long for the local restaurants, my little dog, and more than anything the proximity to the sea. I feel the absence of it acutely, like a dull pain in my chest, an irresistible pull to the place that was my home for so long.


Whenever I come back, though, I feel the person I am collide with the person I used to be, and I know that this place will never comfortably be my home again.

Traveling home for the holidays can be very emotionally charged for us queer folk. Although I am grateful to be able to return to my family and my home, when I am here I feel I can only be part of myself. I have to reign myself in to keep conversations civil and for my life to be comprehensible to some of the important people in my life. I also have to do it to protect myself from the experience of having the life I have built with intention be rejected by those I love.

When I first started therapy I told my therapist that I had a charmed childhood. She was very skeptical of that, and she was right to be. I hadn’t been able to understand or accept the many ways my emotions and my body were being put down for being “too much.” I didn’t understand how harmful it was as a young girl to be told that my body was too large, that the food I ate was unacceptable, that the feelings I had were overreactions. I thought my depression didn’t have a root, and rather struck indiscriminately. I didn’t realize my thought patterns went so far back that I couldn’t tell you when they began. I blamed myself for so much and I held a lot of shame. It has been my first instinct for so long, and it has taken a lot of time and hard work with a therapist to figure out where those patterns came from and how I can change them. It takes so much energy to be able to look at the dynamics in my home and believe that they are not my fault.

If you are reading this and you are a child of a tumultuous home, I want you to know that it is not your fault. You don’t have to apologize for the ways you have chosen to survive. You can love your family and also know that you have been hurt by them in ways that will take a long time to heal. Your healing can mean that you choose when and how you interact with them.

Many of us queer folk know what it means to build a chosen family out of necessity. These are the people who see and love us fully. They have no obligation to be a part of our lives, but they choose to because they value who we are, and because we have done the work to cultivate those relationships. They can help us unlearn all the lies we believe about ourselves and our lovability. They actively help us disrupt our old patterns, and create new, more honest and compassionate ones. When we feel alone they remind us, maybe with texts or letters or long walks, that we have valuable and long-lasting connections, that will always carry us through our grief. It’s important to take a moment to realize that we made these connections happen.

My family began with this tiny bear many years ago, an ally through everything, a witness to my anger and my sadness and my joy. It has since grown into many beautiful, loving relationships, that buoy me daily, and remind me that I am loved, and more importantly: that I deserve to be loved. I am forever grateful for it.

Happy Holidays, and I wish you so much love in 2016.

Thoughts on love and sunsets

On these crisp November evenings, the light sits low, sinking slowly in shades of gold, red and pink.  The light dies early.  Darkness comes before the heart even has time to awaken.

I am alone again.  A phrase which has become like a mantra to me lately.  Alone again, I sing to myself, as if saying the words will somehow make the profane sacred again.

I am not sad.  I am not happy either.  I am just… alone.

I walk past the window in the living room.  I have a long list of things to do, of ways to make this day useful to someone, to something, beyond myself.  I have papers to write, friends to call, plans to make.

But when I see the sunset, I realize I cannot watch this sunset with – or for – anyone but myself.  A truth that breaks my heart.

I am reminded, though I wish I wasn’t, of all the sunsets I shared in love.  I am reminded of one evening in particular, when we held hands and witnessed the entire event of a mid-winter sunset, from its glorious bursts of orange to its soft murmurs of pink – together.  I am reminded of the way I gently cried, squeezing her hand.  Of the way my heart broke, even in a state of such fullness, fearing that this love, like the sunset, would not last.

I choose to write about this moment because being a femme is not just a way of presenting, it is a way of loving.  It is a way of loving others, but most of all it is a way of loving yourself.

Tonight, nothing can make up for the heartache of what I have lost.  But though I may not have a hand to hold, I can still love myself enough to cry.  I can love myself enough to be vulnerable with this pain, to be vulnerable with this fear and sadness.  I can love myself enough to let it hurt.

Love after Love

by Derek Walcott

The time will come 
when, with elation 
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror 
and each will smile at the other’s welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 

all your life, whom you ignored 
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life.