Author:Paul Gilmartin

Therapist Susan Hagen

The therapist who is also in recovery helps Paul and some listeners (via surveys) navigate their discomfort and confusion about their current issues.   They discuss the cliched but effective tools of self-parenting and inner-child work, as well as the line therapists draw regarding self-revelation to their clients.

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Vietnam Vet Randy Olea

A father/brother figure to Paul, the high-school teacher reflects on his Mexican heritage, violent upbringing, tour in Vietnam, stints as a bouncer at a Hell’s Angels bar, and a Club Med guide, his getting “struck sober” and how he has evolved into the man his father never was.

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Amber Tozer

The comedian (Last Comic Standing, Twitwits) talks about her and her father’s alcoholism, his awkward foray into lingerie photography, craving her mother’s acceptance and understanding her own fluid sexuality.

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My Gender Doesn’t Fit Into a Box: A Guest Blog by Kasey

[About the author: Kasey is a queer, polyamorous, genderqueer person finding their way in the world. They have a pet hedgehog, and aspire to be a librarian one day. You can read more of their writing, on gender issues, mental health, abuse, and so much more, at Valprehension (http://valprehension.wordpress.com/)]

 

Hi, I’m Kasey, and I’m genderqueer. And yes, that is a new word that bunch of weird (or rather, probably queer) people made up in the last decade or so. But it’s also an important word, at least for me, and for many others who feel the same way. So, I wanted to share with you all what it means, because the more people that know this stuff, the easier life will be for…well, I like to think that it’ll help everybody, really.

 

So, gender is a really complex thing, and it has a whole lot of different facets. Rather than talk for hours, though, I’m just going to show you something, and talk you through the less obvious parts of it. This is the Genderbread Person:

 

Genderbread-2.1

 

This little dude wants you to understand that sometimes our biological sex (or the gender we are assigned at birth by our parents and doctors) doesn’t line up with the gender we feel we actually belong to or have most in common with (this is what’s called a person’s gender identity). This means that not every male-bodied person is actually a man – some people with penises are really women. I think most of us are at least aware that transgender (or Trans*) people exist, so I hope this part is fairly simple to grasp.

 

But there’s another aspect that the Genderbread Person identifies: gender presentation. I think that this is the one that most gender lay-people don’t really think too much about, though it’s extremely important to most Trans* identified people. Gender presentation is all about what we look like to other people, based on our grooming choices and what we wear, as well as how we behave, what our voice sounds like… the list could go on. Trans* people talk about how their genders are “read” by the general public, and when a person decides to change the way they present themselves publicly, there is usually a progression, where they go from being read mostly as their birth-assigned gender, to being read sometimes one way and sometimes the other, until they finish “successfully” transitioning and are pretty consistently read as the gender they identify with.

 

It’s important to note, though, that gender presentation doesn’t have to reflect someone’s gender identity. I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of a butch lesbian. While I want to make it clear here that not all masculine-presenting women are necessarily lesbians, I find this example useful to point out that it is possible to identify as a woman, and to also prefer to put forth a masculine image to the world. And of course, the reverse is also true.

 

The Genderbread Person also includes the facet of sexuality, which isn’t actually all that relevant to gender. But it’s important to include it here, because the point is supposed to be that you can’t assume a person’s sexual preference based on knowing their biological sex or their gender identity (i.e. not everyone is straight), or based on their gender presentation (i.e. not everyone with a non-standard personal presentation is gay, or lesbian, or bisexual). These are four completely separate aspects, with unlimited possible combinations, and isn’t that just so exciting?

 

But yeah, what does any of this mean for me? I already said that I am genderqueer. What this means is that my gender identity is neither as a woman nor as man. I don’t feel comfortable with either category, and I decided I didn’t want to choose, so now I identify as none of the above. For the sake of clarity (though there’s really millions of ways that genderqueer people might fall on the spectra), I’ll help you out by defining myself according to the Genderbread categories:

 

Gender Identity: one of the example people in the image under this category is “genderqueer”, and I feel like it’s important to differentiate between this, and “nongendered” – the point here is that I can identify with some aspects of “woman-ness” (I was raised as female, and share a lot of experiences with women) and other aspects of “man-ness” (I brain sometimes works in ways that are considered to be more masculine) to the point where it makes no sense to me to pick a side. I should also say here: this means that I prefer not be called “he” or “she”. My preferred pronouns are they/them/their.

 

Gender expression: I’m all over the place on this one. I have short hair, and I’ve never worn make-up. I shave under my arms, but not my legs. Most of my clothes for now are pretty solidly feminine, because I don’t have much of a budget to get a new wardrobe, but I can get away with borrowing my (male) partner’s clothes, since we’re the same size). So, some days I just simply present female (which it’s easiest for me to do, as I haven’t been able to afford to get myself a binder for my chest or a packer (i.e. a codpiece designed for Trans-masculine folks)). Sometimes I aim to be read as masculine, though that’s a bit of a crapshoot, and usually most people still look at me and think they see a woman. Mostly I like to be androgynous – I want people to feel unsure, and possibly even uncomfortable, about my gender presentation, because I want to send the message that I can’t be put in those boxes.

 

Biological sex: this is the simple one, for me, though not for everyone. I have a vulva, and all of the parts that are traditionally associated with that. Although I haven’t tested the theory, I’m fairly certain that I am capable of growing a fetus inside me, and giving birth.

 

Attracted to: I’m attracted to people of all kinds of gender identity/expression combinations. I don’t identify as bisexual, because it seems kind of silly for me to identify my sexuality in terms of a gender binary when I’ve rejected the gender binary. I usually just identify as “queer,” because that’s suitably ambiguous for me tastes, but omnisexual might also work.

 

But, all of this is really analytical, and I’d also like to get more personal about this whole thing. The thing is that identifying as genderqueer can be really hard work, and emotionally draining in some ways.

 

In fact, sometimes I even feel like my whole gender identity thing is just really silly. Does it really matter what pronouns people use for me? In practice, it almost kind of doesn’t, since basically all strangers everywhere still use words that match my biological sex to address/talk about me, since I am almost always read as belonging to the ‘corresponding’ gender. The “best” I could aim for in my general interactions with the world at large would be to create a personal presentation that resulted in a healthy mix of masculine and feminine pronouns from different people – but that kind of straddling the line is dangerous and scary.

 

The thing is, I’m not super emotionally affected by whether people remember to use the “right” terms or not. And of course all of the people I’m out to about it are people who would never have judged me based on my gender anyway, or expected me to fit in some sort of gender box in the first place. Because they all are awesome like that. And the whole point that my desire for gender neutral pronouns is kind of intended to make is that the gender boxes our society naturalizes are silly, and constricting, and dumb, and they all pretty much know that.

 

But.

 

Gender fuckery can sometimes give me a really great sense of fulfillment. It makes me feel more centred and myself when I know that I’m with someone who is actively supporting my ongoing effort to reframe the way I conceptualize myself. Because ultimately, I think that’s what it’s about for me. When I think of myself as a woman, I have a sense that I am somehow failing at that – and while there’s all kinds of methods of dealing with this kind of problematized self-image, and lots of people defy gender boxes without changing the words they use to describe themselves (there’s plenty of comfortably female-identified but super butch women out there), this is really just what feels right for me, and what makes me feel most able to just be me. And that’s worth a lot.

 

I also think that a big part of the silliness I sometimes feel comes from a more generalized problem I have with being vulnerable to other people – I almost always feel similarly silly about asking for things I want sexually, for instance. Because I’m asking for something from someone else, and they could turn me down or laugh at me (not that this has ever really happened), and regardless of how legitimate or central to my sexuality the request may be, it always feels trivial in that moment for some reason.

 

So I guess, yeah, I totally acknowledge that every single one of us possesses our own combination of traits that society defines as feminine, and others that are defined as masculine, and I’m not trying to suggest I’m anything special in that regard; I’m really not. But I like the idea of making explicit the fact people don’t actually fit these categories – not least since so many people actually really think there’s something wrong with not fitting in certain ways.

 

My favorite comment I got in response to the various comings out I did last year was this: “…retraining neural pathways on gender & requiring frequent thinking about it seems inherently desirable, really.”

 

Yes. That.

 

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Baron Vaughn’s Fear and Love list

Since I spaced on doing a Fear Off and a Love Off with Baron, I thought I’d have him send his list to me and post it.

 

 

1F. I’m afraid I’m a fraud destined to become a jaded hermit.

1L. I love the smell of bacon on a saturday morning when I was 6.

2F. I have a fear of airplanes crashing through my window. Every time I hear a plane overhead, I pause and wait to see if it’s coming at my building.

2L. I love the sound of the ocean, but the beach can go fuck itself.

3F. I’m afraid that not only is there no getting out of my current financial slump, but I don’t deserve to get out of it.

4L: I love rising to a challenge and digging myself out of a hole just to see that I can do it.

4F: I’m afraid I’ve dulled the tools I need to dig myself out of a hole and am incapable of rising to any challenge anymore.

5L: I love when I find a genuinely good hearted person living their lives with dignity like that bouncer TJ that works at that place in Chicago where the “Comedians You Should Know” show takes place.

5F: I’m afraid that I’m misunderstood by the misunderstood, that I’m too hard for the soft, too soft for the hard, or just plain boring.

6L: I love to question things we’re taught to default value, to rethink, reexamine, read, relearn, and apply.

6F: Sometimes I do those things to a fault, and fear that I have misinterpreted fucking everything.

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Baron Vaughn

The actor/comedian (Conan, Jimmy Fallon, Comedy Central) talks about his struggle to feel “authentically black” without betraying who he is, the state of comedy in the black community, honing his artistic voice, and his  nerdish, turbulent childhood especially with his alcoholic mother.

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Email of the Day: Listener Ryan on coping with his trauma

Paul

 

I am 40 yrs old. My last memory of feeling normal was at about age 5. That day a neighbor asked me if i wanted to come see his train set, and i naturally obliged. Not until age 26 did i start to remember. Although the actual sexual events by this pedophile remain murky in my mind, the terror or trauma  that seemed to displace my real self is very memorable. Escaping from the situation and then being confronted again and being told by my abuser that he would kill my mom if i told anyone. I still feel the disassociation, murky grey,mind haziness from that day. I believe this was the genesis of at one point disabling depression that would hit me about 5 years later.  From about age 10 onwards i was abused at school, and emotionally “tortured” by a couple of relatives—the perfect storm—at too young an age—the recipe for mental disaster. I was no angel either all the time, but i tried to be good to everyone and please them.  For many years starting in my late teens i read books etc, and worked out daily to relieve this anxiety stress i always felt. Shortly after high school, having no friends, and anxiety, bi polar depression – i though i would end it by taking up smoking and drinking as a life habit as i felt no where, with no hope and no chance for hope, except in substances. Being too prideful to ask for help, i unknowingly, by trying to solve it on my own, became paranoid, defensive, angrier and happy to be my own worst enemy. Putting cigarettes out on my hands felt good. Cutting my face so people at work would ask me what happened made me feel good. Telling myself ugly things about myself felt good. I told myself for years that i am alive because of alcohol-the only thing releasing me from my pain. I eventually worked to what i thought was a more balanced person. Yet, no one would have anything to do with me and if they did, i quickly destroyed it. My depression felt being locked in a steel box, chained to the floor with a pin hole of light i would see maybe once a month or so. I would use positive visualization etc to no avail. The only thing was alcohol. It was my best friend. I have destroyed to date all potential / relationships outside of family-even my extended family does not like me. I didn’t like me.

All this buried stuff i guess came to ahead last year as i suffered the most terrifying experience that made 30 yrs of depression look like a vacation in comparison. I cracked and now heard a voice telling me to do horrific things. Images of demons and faces in my minds eye appearing from no where. Anxiety in full bloom i took to Internet where my fears of being possessed threw me over the edge. No sleep for days, total disassociation. Feeling the same again as that abused little kid.

I have been on klonopin for some time and still drinking. Seroquel also helps to. Progress. I am doing better now after some research and having been in therapy. The biggest help has been to realize that the initial trauma as a boy, launched my brain into rewiring itself. I am not my thoughts, my brain, and certainly not the false self-aka the ego. I didn’t even know i had an ego and how much of a prick it is-wanting to protect but too dumb to help. Since age 5, i have been living as my false self- under total control of ego, one i never knew existed. Since making this realization i would have to say i feel much less depressed and anxious. I now KNOW i have been re-enforcing my brains neurological pathways for some time, and i know it will take time, work, and perhaps more medication, to return to my real state. The only thing real in the universe, is love, i think. How that manifests into we know materially etc – only the source of it knows- and its love. With ocd thoughts, i know they originate from an anxiety ridden brain, from associations of the past. Time to forgive and be grateful and realistic and know that if it doesn’t come from love-its not real, it doesn’t exist.  I know people have been through much more horrific things than i have and have made it thru. Thank you for being an inspiration.

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Giving Up Her Baby – Valerie

Valerie, a listener talks about the painful decision she made to give her only son up for adoption years ago when she was 18 and living with her Catholic, divorced mother.  Recorded via Skype so the audio quality isn’t optimal.  First half of the show is the interview, second half is surveys.

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My Horrifying Intrusive Thoughts: A guest blog by Michelle

I was about to take a bite of pancake when he asked me if I had any past traumas he should know about. I paused, caught off guard. It was a blunt question, but I also didn’t know how to answer it. We’d only been seeing each other for about a month. I don’t like subterfuge or insincerity. But something told me that it wasn’t a great time to dust off the ol’ “I was afraid I wanted to fuck my dad, my brother, and every older male figure in my life for most of my childhood” anecdote. I suddenly didn’t want pancakes anymore.

 

A couple reasons for my hesitation. The obvious one is that you assume the person hearing these thoughts is going to be disgusted and high-tail it promptly after your admission. The other: I questioned if it was even fair for me to consider those moments “traumatic”. As far as I know, unless I suppressed memories of molestation somewhere down the line, these intrusive thoughts came out of nowhere when I was a kid (roughly around 10-12 years old) and have persisted ever since, to varying degrees of severity. How presumptuous of me to wear that word – trauma – as if I earned it. I’m just a fucking freak with a fucked up mind. No one did this to me. I did this to me, somehow. As if it’s a rotting part of me that I can’t control but am still responsible for, like a misbehaving child.

 

And that’s how I’ve begun to think of it. As a child. The first time I did this, I was in my therapist’s office. He was encouraging me to consider the possibility that my brain wasn’t just a vindictive, manipulative piece of shit. He suggested these thoughts and my severe anxiety were – at one time – a defense mechanism for me. An old machine with some faulty, mismatched wires. He encouraged me to personify my anxiety. If I could put a face on the part of my brain producing these thoughts, what would it look like?

 

Out walked 10-year-old me. She came and sat in my lap. She was sort of oblivious that anything was wrong, but she wanted to be held. 23-year-old me started to cry. Is that what this has been all along? That scared little girl never went away? The one that cried in the shower, the vice of anxiety around her chest, begging God to take away these thoughts – that she would do anything if he would take the thoughts away? Is this her way of calling for help? I felt, for a brief moment, like I understood myself.

 

Then two weeks later I watched a violent movie and now I can’t tell if I’m turned on by gore and death or if my brain is idly sending signals to my genitals. Fucking 10-year-old. It doesn’t matter how many articles I read about intrusive sexual thoughts. It doesn’t matter if a doctor explains to me that the brain can produce sensation anywhere in the body if it focuses enough. I suddenly forget what actual arousal feels like. I can’t tell the difference. I’m a monster again. I want people to suffer so I can get off. That’s who I am.

 

By that token, I’m also a pedophile, a homophobe (but I’m also lesbian sometimes, apparently), violently racist, incestuous, I’m into bestiality and necrophilia, and once I was afraid that I might be a holocaust denier. You’d think that was something you would just know about yourself, but that’s the funny thing about intrusive thoughts. In reality, you would know if you were any of those things, with certainty, if they were true. But your brain seeds doubt like it was telling you to breathe. You lose objectivity. So you tell yourself that you need to know if these thoughts are really you. There has to be a way to figure it out.

 

“I know!” you decide. “If I think about these things, and I don’t get aroused, then I’m home free! I’ll just test it.”

 

Remember that thing about the brain producing sensation anywhere it wants? Now you have all the evidence you need. You’re a fucking monster, and you’re sure of it now.

 

Except, that isn’t how it works. Some part of you knows that. Just like 10-year-old version of you is relentlessly hitting the panic button, 25-year-old version of you is helplessly screaming at you that you are not your thoughts, and for god’s sake you know the holocaust happened where the hell did that one come from?

 

Sometimes you win. Sometimes the kid wins. As a general rule, the kid’s victory is always more prolonged. But fuck if I don’t try to be kind to her. I sometimes pretend she’s my daughter, hoping that’ll evoke some sort of motherly instinct of compassion and protection that will quell my anxiety.

 

Trouble is, moms are supposed to love their daughters.

 

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