a few words on caregiving and a lot of words on gender

it’s the time of the year when the changing of the seasons is so tangible — full of blossoming and blooming, warm and sometimes hot days, and i want to push all my obligations to the back burner to go to the beach. the time of the year when my northeastern friends’ instagram pictures of their snowy, icy streets just don’t register to me and i am so grateful to be in california!

i am a few months in to my in-home caregiving work. it’s a steep learning curve, in spite of my informal caregiving experience with friends and family. i was fortunate to be able to attend an introductory mindful caregiving course with the zen hospice project in SF. my goal in seeking out this resource was to increase the quality of care i provide, while also increasing my capacity to caregive and make the work as emotionally sustainable for me as possible. some of my takeaways i am continuing to integrate into my work include:

  • actively listening and being present is generally much more healing and needed than bustling around and seeking solutions to one’s suffering. wrapped up in that is letting go of the perception that one’s current state is some kind of problem.
  • in hospice care, much of one’s suffering may come from the discrepancy between who someone was throughout their life, and who they are today. (someone’s physical and mental capacities changing, friends/community dying or otherwise being gone, hobbies/activities no longer being an option or otherwise having serious obstacles, autonomy shifting and sometimes being diminished)
  • ‘bringing my whole self’ is important for making the work sustainable on both ends. while it may not always be feasible or desired to share where i’m at emotionally, it’s important to do some internal checks, even if all i’m able to do for myself in moments of struggle is acknowledge what i’m experiencing and take a deep breath.
  • staying open by cultivating humility and a sense of curiosity are powerful tools. “in the expert’s mind, possibilities are very limited.” when i seek to let go of answers or actions i think are worthwhile or ‘right,’ and more intentionally listen and ask questions to hear from the people i’m working with, i immediately notice shifts in ease, openness, and softness between us.

if you are in the bay and interested in caregiving work and hospice care (either in a professional or personal sense), i highly recommend looking into the zen hospice project! they were able to offer me a discounted course fee upon request.

lots of trials, tribulations, and also sweet and exciting developments in gender land these days. i’ve been on a low dose of testosterone for four months now and while the changes ebb and flow in intensity and expression, they are occurring. i’m fully in the realm of my second puberty and while i have many more tools and resources available to me than when i was 13, it still has its challenges and dramatics! i am working on being both gentle with myself and vigilant in living up to who i want to be, in recognizing my feeling and experiences are both super real and also hormonal. i am feeling affirmed in myself and my decisions and my body. i am seeking to cultivate deeper patience and slowness, for that is what feels most called for in my personal life and in my caregiving work, and that is what i am feeling short on. i very recently ‘lost’ my ability to sing along with taylor swift in her same octave, and she was my go-to alone in the car belt-it-out music. i am experiencing these changes as loss and seeking to grieve them, while also recognizing that in this case creation, rebirth, and discovery necessitate loss. even where there is grief and discomfort, loss doesn’t have to feel like a negative thing.

since writing my february post (“action idea: write a letter to your high school”), i have been engaged in conversations with my old high school, alumni, and other members of those communities around protecting and supporting transgender and gender non-conforming students. it has been heartening to connect with other queer folks who were also closeted at our high school, to see what’s shifting culturally in micro and macro ways, and to come together to push forward the very necessary changes that need to occur in order for truly take a stand for LGBTQ students. this may be a long-haul process, as privately-funded institutions may face many barriers to introducing progressive changes, but i am committed to it and grateful to be working with others who feel similarly.

meanwhile in the bay area, i had the pleasure of going into several classes at rosa parks elementary school in berkeley to sing a song about gender and talk with them about their own experiences, perceptions, and ideas. kids are so much more ready to accept and embrace fluid and creative identities and expressions of gender than adults (myself included) and it is beautiful. these particular kids kept getting hung up on the part of the song in which is the narrator expresses anxiety around being told to line up ‘as boys and girls’ — because this school has done away with that kind of needless gender segregation, and in one kid’s words, “that’s just messed up.” while i’m aware the bay area is more open and progressive than many other regions, it was a super heartening, hopeful, and inspiring experience for me! (ps — i was gifted this amazing kid’s book written by a staff member and parent of a non-binary kid: who are you? the kid’s guide to gender identity. highly recommended!)

just a couple days after my experiences in the classroom, i had “the locker room moment” i’ve always feared and known was coming. while i was minding my own business getting dressed in the locker room, two women began pointing and yelling, “you don’t belong here!” someone fetched a staff member who came in, saw what was happening, and thanked me for my ‘openness’ before leaving without confronting the harassers. as i gathered my things and got up to leave i calmly said in spite of my shakiness and fear: “you don’t get to tell me where i belong.” one of the women doubled down and continued to tell me i didn’t belong there. another person saw what was happening and said to me, “i’m fine with you being here.” i left shaking and in tears. it was a scary and jarring experience for me. thankfully and to their credit, the ymca staff have been supportive and proactive in taking steps to learn more about accommodating trans/gender non-conforming members. my impression is that they are hoping to develop clear policies and practices around this.

it’s important to note that trans women and transfeminine folks experience the brunt of harassment as well as physical violence in bathroom and locker room spaces, and those experiences should be centered when we talk about how to address this violence and make change. also, trans people of color are at higher risk for harassment and violence in these spaces because as a generalization, white women perceive black and brown bodies as more threatening, and white people feel entitled to police where black and brown bodies can be. i am sharing my story here both because i feel i deserve an outlet to express my own experiences, and because i imagine it might be illuminating for some people in my life who might not personally know other trans people.

i want to share one more thing i am realizing the need to clarify. going by he/him pronouns and/or going on testosterone does not make anyone a trans man, or trans guy. this includes me. i am not a trans man or guy. sometimes transmasculine is a word i use to describe myself, but that also feels limiting. a funny thing happens even in queer community, when people go out of their way to call me ‘dude’ or do other codeswitch-y things. i don’t bring attention to these moments often because i recognize most people who do this are attempting to affirm me and it’s not really worth it to me to correct them. so, this is a declaration that i am not a man, and we should all do our very best to never make assumptions about how someone identifies, even based on their pronouns or gender expression.

this was so many words on gender, but it happens.

’til next time,

xo freddie

ps – i wrote this in my last ‘top 5’ music post but feel so strongly that everyone should enjoy this song and watch this broadway-style music video 🙂

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