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 🙂

courage is a heart word

i’m in the thick of moving, yet have been intending to write a end/beginning of year post for the past week or so, so here i am.

“You cannot, you cannot use someone else’s fire. You can only use your own. And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe that you have it.”

— I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde

i was inspired by my friend marion to write a political accountability journal. marion writes: “every single one of us needs to enter 2017 as an activist. YES, YOU. ESPECIALLY YOU. IT IS NOT GUARANTEED THAT ANYONE ELSE WILL DO THIS WORK INSTEAD OF YOU SO IT IS UP TO YOU. and me. Please do this ESPECIALLY if you are a person with privilege and you’ve been feeling helpless hopeless sad complacent pessimistic. Consider choosing the same date each month to reflect back on what you’ve done and what your goals for the next month will be!” she posed some questions:

  • what do i believe in? what do i want to fight for?
  • what will my resistance look like?
  • what valuable skills do i have to offer?
  • how will i consistently go outside my comfort zone (because staying in it clearly isn’t working)? what sorts of activism make me uncomfortable, and why? how can I step into that discomfort?
  • which organizations will i join?
  • what will i initiate? how will i bring my people together with purpose? what community do i want to build?
  • what books will i read? how will i keep myself on track with my reading (internet articles do not count)?
  • where will i put my money?
  • how will i encounter feelings of helplessness or burnout? how will i resist slipping back to my comfort zone?
  • what privileges do i have? am i white? cis? male? able-bodied? educated? straight? employed? socially well-connected? etc? how will i acknowledge and check these privileges and simultaneously use them to weaken systems of unearned advantage?
  • how will I hold myself accountable?
  • who else will hold me accountable?
  • what is my plan to take care of myself so I can keep doing this work?

trump’s inauguration is imminent, and extremely basic rights and safety of muslims, immigrants, black folks, people of color, disabled folks, and queers is at risk more than ever. when he was elected, a conversation i was already having with myself was boosted to the forefront. if i am not a capital-O organizer, where do i fit into the movement? and what about all my friends and family, for whom it would be a big deal to even just show up to a meeting or a march? and what about my people for whom showing up is not accessible, most of whom’s rights and wellbeing are directly threatened by a right-wing government?

it feels true to me that it’s important we are all involved in the resistance against a fascist government and against neo-nazis who are growing more comfortable showing their stripes in the alt-right movement. what does this look like for me and for you? personally, i am embarking on a more intentional path of support. i intend to build budding skills like housekeeping, cooking, first aid and CPR, and navigating bureaucracy, to become a homecare worker for disabled folks, chronically ill folks, elders, and others who need help around the home. while this path will not likely impact any systemic change, building strong relationships with people isolated by systems of oppression has always felt powerful and meaningful to me. whatever is left of the optimist within my cynical and somewhat broken heart still believes that the change we inspire and the support we provide for each other can make waves that extend beyond our individual selves and relationships.

capitalism and near-constant microaggressions make it so easy to hunker down and get into survival mode. to avoid meaningful engagement with people who i could potentially build supportive community relationships with, or at least have interactions that challenge white supremacy, misogyny, and other systems of oppressions that impact us all.

my therapist will, who i deeply trust and value, recently shared the origins of the word courage with me. it’s from old french and latin and essentially means heart-ful, or from the heart. for me, hearing that affirms that it’s okay to be scared when pushing toward being the person i want to be, and fighting for what i believe is right. that while communication is important, i don’t have to be able to form an extremely articulate or academic argument to know what’s right. i want to approach challenges and relationships with courage, full of heart. it’s lofty, but it feels like the right place to start from in a moment where it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel incapable of impacting anything at all.

i’m apprehensive about what’s to come (both in my personal life and on a global scale) but i am committed to being present and courageous with myself and my people.

i think that’s all for now. thanks for reading. ’til next time.

xo freddie

photo-booth-dec-2016
ace hotel in portland, oregon, in the final days of 2016.