Friday, November 20, 2015

When feeling bad about yourself is good

I have really good self-esteem. Always have. It's a very useful thing that has served to protect me from some of life's most earnest attempts to crush my soul. Yet even with all this self-confidence floating around, I've still had times when I didn't like myself very much. And you know what? I was right.The times when I've felt the worst about myself have been the times I look back on and go "yep, I was not being a very good version of myself right then". My most frequented corners of the internet are saturated with messages of self-love and self-care, but they're all aimed at people who need them. I don't. I think they're actually bad for me.

When I feel bad about myself, it's usually because I should. It's usually because I'm doing something unhealthy (like not having friends and working in a call center), or I'm so busy and/or stressed that I'm losing track of the things that make me enjoy life and like myself. I feel bad about myself because the person I am right then is not who I want to be. In these cases, the answer is not to coddle myself* or to try and feel better about myself, it's to figure out why I feel bad and deal with the problem.

On the whole, I believe that such constant exposure to the culture of self-care has actually made me weaker, because on some level, I believe the messages I hear. When the internet says 'it's okay if you can't face all that work now', I believe it and take breaks I don't need and don't get things done.

The one tumblr affirmation I really take to heart is this:

I like it because rather than seeming assuring and comforting, it seems accusing. That cat doesn't want to soothe me, it's glaring at me with faint disdain. It's saying "What's the matter with you? You can do this. Pull yourself together." And often enough, that's really the message I need.

(Of course none of this means self-care is bad, unimportant, or people should stop talking about it. It just means I should look at it less.)

*I do not claim that self-care is inherently coddling. I claim that applying self-care practices when they are not needed or helpful is coddling.

Classification and Romance (again)

I'd pretty much given up on romance ever making sense as a concept, but there's been a new round of posts that's got me thinking again. Let me start with computers and work my way back around to romance.

One cool thing that AIs can do is classify things. You stuff in a bunch of things and go "here, classify these", and the AI groups them together into categories. It won't tell you how it's categorizing them, just make groups. This is useful in a variety of ways, categorization being important to learning about the world and all, and one interesting thing you can do with it is feed in data that humans have already classified and compare our categories to the groups the computer comes up with. For example, one study gave English words to an AI and provided example sentences using those words. The AI came up with groupings that matched our categories of 'noun', 'verb', etc. It would also have been interesting if the AI had come up with a different way of categorizing words. Maybe there's some arching commonality between words like "tree", "vertigo", and "conjugate" that we've never noticed.

This idea of categorizing without labeling is a useful one, and between my AI class and my ace blog readings, something coalesced. What if instead of examining my data (feelings, desires, etc.) against other peoples' definitions of romance, I just looked at all my data and tried to group it into meaningful categories, not worrying about what to call them?

When I did that there was a very obvious group of feelings which stood out. If I apply the name 'romance' to that category, it immediately gives me a rich vocabulary for explaining my experiences. I feel romantic love for Hats and Flowers. That awkward period of time with Flowers was awkward because they felt romantically about me, but I hadn't developed romantic feelings for them yet. I've had crushes. This is very useful.

Or rather, part of it is useful. What's useful about labeling my experiences that way isn't actually the label, it's grouping similar experiences together so I can understand them in the context of one another. The label is only useful if I want to talk about it, but I'm not so sure that 'romance' a good label to use for this category. Romance as a term comes with a lot of assumptions, many of which I don't like. It comes back to the same problem I had before: Are these experiences and feelings close enough to what other people mean by 'romance' that I want to describe them using that word?

I'm trying not to care. Whether that category is best labeled romantic or platonic or something else entirely, it's useful for me just to have identified its existence explicitly. I'll probably come back to worry away at it later. No matter how much I try to be content in my grey area, I always come back to the question "what is this relationship?" and my analytical brain can't stop trying to classify things.

Sunday, September 13, 2015


I found the following quote on tumblr:
If you aren’t aro or ace spectrum, your opinions on our terminology and definitions for the relationships we have literally do not matter
It annoys me.

I recently found myself sitting around a whiteboard with two other ace-spectrum folks, trying to map out some stuff, and it was hilarious. It was like we were doing friggin' anthropology.

On the one hand, I see where they're coming from. If someone's objecting to ace/aro terminology or definitions, it's probably because they're cantankerous and don't like it when people use words they don't understand. On the other hand, we're trying to define stuff by the absence of things we don't experience - things we can't possibly understand fully because we've never encountered them first-hand. So sometimes when allo folks object to our words, maybe it's because we're defining things badly, or making models that don't fit with how other people work. Allos have data, guys. Useful data. I'm not about to tell them all to shut up and sit down just because they're allos. If they start being a jerk about my words, then I'll tell them to shut up, but there's a lot of perspective out there - important, valuable perspective - which we'll miss if we only listen to people who see the world the same way we do.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Heavy Menstruation

Warning: Discussion of menstruation

Dear people who menstruate,

You know how the side of the tampon box has this little chart of absorbencies listed in helpful units like grams and ml, and how it's not helpful or useful in any way because those numbers mean nothing to you? Here's what they should put on there instead:

Seek medical help before your next scheduled exam if you experience... [v]aginal bleeding so heavy it soaks at least one pad or tampon an hour for more than a few hours.
Mayo Clinic
It absolutely boggles my mind that in all the books and talks on menstruation and puberty, this was not mentioned once*. Everyone was so focused on assuring the pre-teens that what they were experiencing was normal, that nobody bothered to tell us what isn't normal. As a result, there are many people struggling with heavy periods that limit their daily lives or cause medical problems, thinking that that's just a normal part of living with a uterus. That's garbage, so here's a list of things that indicate abnormally heavy menstrual flow (menorrhagia), lifted wholsale from the Mayo Clinic:
  • Soaking through one or more sanitary pads or tampons every hour for several consecutive hours
  • Needing to use double sanitary protection to control your menstrual flow
  • Needing to wake up to change sanitary protection during the night
  • Bleeding for longer than a week
  • Passing blood clots with menstrual flow for more than one day**
  • Restricting daily activities due to heavy menstrual flow
  • Symptoms of anemia, such as tiredness, fatigue or shortness of breath 
When to see a doctor
Seek medical help before your next scheduled exam if you experience:
  • Vaginal bleeding so heavy it soaks at least one pad or tampon an hour for more than a few hours
  • Bleeding between periods or irregular vaginal bleeding
  • Any vaginal bleeding after menopause 
So that's my little PSA on heavy menstruation. I'll leave you with an additional resource, and the thought that "heavy menstruation" would make for an interesting band name.

* Since writing this I have been informed that it was included in at least one of my books, but I guess it didn't make an impact at the time since I hadn't actually started menstruating.

** Everyday Health lists blood clots as a symptom unless they're smaller than the size of a quarter.

Pronouns Musing

When everyone switched their pronouns, I installed a subroutine in my brain* that shouts over everything else to provide the correct pronoun. This installation has been fairly successful. Now whenever I think about Hats or Flowers in a way that suggests a pronoun, the subroutine swoops in and, like a poorly altered memory in Harry Potter, fogs over whatever I might have been about to think and booms out "SHE" or "THEY" over top. It's effective, but it's very much a surface adjustment. It's taking while longer for the change to percolate down through the layers of my brain and become a normally integrated part of it.

I also have to import the new genders into different locations. I can think about Hats as female most of the time, but if we go somewhere and do something we haven't since she started transitioning, I find my thoughts defaulting back to the old version of her and I have to 'import' the new version to that place/situation.

Another thing that makes new pronouns hard is when everyone else gets them wrong. I was doing great with Flowers' 'they', but then I went up for a visit and all over the place there were people calling them 'she'. It's so much harder to stick with the correct pronouns when I keep hearing other people using the old ones.

Hats is now out to everyone, but for a while I was playing the pronoun game, where I tried to never have to use a pronoun to refer to her. It was surprisingly easy once I got going. I always thought it would be terribly difficult to avoid pronouns.

*I am not a robot, but I frequently find it helpful to describe myself as though I am one. This is one of the great benefits of studying computer science: It gives you a bunch of cool ways of thinking about how you think.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Gender bias

Click to make big
I keep catching myself having dumb thoughts like this and then being really surprised and displeased to find that I have in fact not managed to avoid internalizing the sexism/heteronormativity/etc. in the world. I did know that on some level (it's kind of unavoidable), but it's never been so clear to me how deeply embedded my gender thought-biases are. But now I know they're in there, and I can hunt them down and poke them sharply and tell them to shape up.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Spare Boobs

With Hats transitioning, she's got some synthetic boobs. She has four of them. This means that, at any given time, there are at least two spare boobs lying around the house! Think of all the uses....

(The person depicted is Hats, even though she isn't wearing a hat.)
Spare Boob Use #1: potholder
(Text: "Dang, where's that other potholder?" *rummage rummage*)

Spare Boob Use #2: ergonomic wrist support
Spare Boob Use #3: eye pillows

Spare Boob Use #4: cup lid (heh, "cup")

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pro strategy

Hats is still closeted to her family, and one of her big worries is that they'll somehow find out about her being trans (or at least hear that she's 'going around in drag' [*wince*]) from some source other than her, and that one day she'll just go to visit the grandparents and it'll be "SO, I heard an interesting thing about you", at which point the world would end. She didn't seem to have any game plan for this scenario beyond being absolutely devastated, so I suggested one:

Print out a big stack of business cards all bearing some short message along the lines of "You weren't supposed to find out like this!" and possibly also "I'm female!" and just carry them around all the time. Then if a relative springs it on her, she can throw the whole lot of them into the air like a smoke bomb and flee before the relatives know what's hit 'em. Hats endorses this plan.

I have designed the cards. Aren't they lovely?

After I designed the cards, the website proceeded to suggest numerous other items with my "company name" on them. Including this:

Random person: "Excuse me, sir, do you know the way to the beach?"
Hats: "I do. Can I see your hand?"
Random: "Sure, why-" KACHUNK

Surely this is the most gentle, tactful, and subtle way to correct people on your gender.


It would be cool if lightly headbutting people in the shoulder was a more widely acknowledged form of expressing affection.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Content Warnings

A quick word on the usefulness of trigger/content warnings, even for people without triggers.
(CW: mentions of suicide)

I'm not a big fan of drama as a genre, but I do like to have drama in my stories. What I mean by that is I like the way the extreme nature of the circumstances in stories pushes people into situations I don't experience in my everyday life. It lets me vicariously experience all the heightened emotions they do, and wonder what I would do in that situation. It's catharsis in its old Greek-tragedy meaning.

It used to be that suicide was one of those dramatic devices that was interesting and entertaining for me. It pushed all the right buttons of letting me slip into a scenario and play with it a little. It was never comfortable, because it always ended up with me thinking about how I would feel if someone I loved killed themselves, but it was stimulating and cathartic, as intended.

Then Flowers tried to kill themself. To everyone's unending relief they did not succeed, and are doing much better now, but suicide is no longer a topic I can brush by or have fun with. It's way too real. When I see it in play or in a movie, it's no longer idle catharsis or "I wonder how I'd react to that", it's "It could have gone that way. That could have been us." and it's "That could still happen to us one day." Thinking about people you care for killing themselves is never comfortable, but it's a very different kind of uncomfortable when it's an actual founded concern that you worry about. Way too real.

I definitely wouldn't say I'm triggered by suicide scenes, but it's no longer something I can encounter lightly in my media. It instantly trips the switch from "oh the tragedy, how delicious" to "this isn't fun anymore". I don't go out of my way to avoid it - in fact it can sometimes be useful for me to read about it and think about - but I like to know it's there. I don't like having it sprung on me when I'm trying to enjoy myself. That's why content warnings are useful to me.

"Being" vs. "Doing"

Lately I've been thinking about the difference between being x, and doing x. Take being gay. The way it's usually modeled now, homosexual is a thing that you are, an inborn quality that cannot be changed. But it wasn't always that way. It used to be modeled as something that you did. Anyone could do a 'homosexual act', but it didn't mean that they were anything.*

Both of these models have upsides and downsides. One set that I see is when homosexuality is seen as a bad thing. If it's modeled as something people do, then anti-homosexuality says that people shouldn't do the bad thing and people who do it should be punished. If it's modeled as something people are, then anti-homosexuality says that those people are bad people and bad things should happen to them. That may not seem like much of a difference in practice, but I think it's a very fundamental one with subtle effects only some of which I can unpack on my own. This is something I can only see from a distance, so to speak, so I'd be very interested to hear other perspectives.

Another place where I see both models of being x and of doing x is polyamory. People argue over whether poly is an orientation - something innate that you're born with, or a relationship philosophy,lifestyle etc, and it just strikes me as really silly. To me at least, it's obvious that they're each true for different people. Some people are innately driven to have multiple intimate relationships at once. Flowers is like that. They're very happy with Hats, but they actively want to have additional partners. I'd say they they are poly. Hats and I, on the other hand, just sort of ended up in a relationship set that was poly through happenstance. I'd say we do poly. In the abstract I'd be fine having just one partner, it's just that that's totally not how my life is shaping up right now.

I find instances of this being x vs. doing x distinction all around gender and sexuality, but the concept is even further generalizable. I do art. I'm not an artist. Artists express themselves through their medium; I just make stuff that looks nice. Sometimes my work is meaningful, but usually not. I still see myself as a crafter, or, better and more generally, a maker than an artist.

* I'm playing fast and loose with history here. I'm making it sound simple and linear which it wasn't (isn't), but for the sake of my point the loose version will do.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


"All models are wrong, but some are useful."
George E. P. Box

I do a lot of modeling of complicated and muddy emotions and stuff, but I think it's very important to remember that what I'm doing is just that - modeling - and that each and every one of my models, while useful, is flawed, misleading, and wrong. I'm building a web of models to help me understand the world, but I must take care to not become too attached to my models and convictions, lest I miss something else just as important and valid. My current ways of thinking must not blind me to new information and new ways of thinking. I must also guard against the idea that my definitions and ways of looking at concepts are the 'right' ones. They work for me, and for many of the people I'm trying to communicate with, but to expect them to definitively describe all human experience would be a pinnacle of hubris.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Jealousy is Useful

The first pass at jealousy goes like this: It's a negative emotion and we shouldn't have it. Jealousy will ruin our relationships, so we should try not to be jealous ever.

The second pass goes like this: Jealousy is an emotional reaction to something that's going on. Like anger and disappointment, it's an emotional indication that not all is right, and one that's common in relationships of all sorts. If we can figure out the root cause of it, we can address the problem and fix the symptom and all will be well again. We don't have to be afraid of being jealous on occasion as long as we deal with it and don't let it be a caustic thing, or handle it badly if/when it comes up. Denying that we feel jealousy if we do could be very destructive, because it would put off addressing the underlying issue(s).

This second pass is what I see around polyamory websites, and I find it very valuable. Me being me, I have a third pass, which pulls jealousy apart into two sub-categories.

One kind of jealousy I see is "That is mine and you can't have it.", or alternately "I don't have that and you do and I wish to take it from you (so I have it and you don't)". It's what could be called possessive jealousy. It's the kid on the playground lusting after the toy his brother is playing with. It's seeing your partner holding hands with someone and being consumed by possessive green envy. It is "this should be mine and only mine."

Possessive Jealousy

The second kind is gentler, though not necessarily any less intense. It's "I see that you have this and I want it too". It's the kid on the playground seeing other kids with ice cream and begging his mother to get him some too. It's seeing your partner holding hands with someone and going "wow, can she do that with me sometime?" The key difference is that with this kind of jealousy, you want to have something, but you don't need everyone else to stop having it so you can. I'm going to call this suggestive jealousy.

Suggestive Jealousy

Both of these responses are natural and useful. Possessive jealousy is good for pointing out problems that need to be addressed. This site explains that very well, so I'll leave you with that link and move on. What I really want to talk about is suggestive jealousy, and how useful I've been finding it.

Suggestive jealousy is useful because it shows me what I want. I've had this problem where I want something, but I don't know exactly what it is that I want. Specifically, I want physical intimacy with Hats (and, to a lesser and fluctuating extent, Flowers), but I don't know what specific actions will satisfy that desire and also be comfortable for us and our relationship. This isn't a case of not knowing if it would be okay to do a particular thing, it's a case of having a nebulous craving and not knowing which particular things will fulfill it.

What does this feel like? Say that you've never heard of cookies, but you want something sweet to eat. Candy? No, you want something baked. Pie? No, that's too mushy. Cake? No, you really want something chewy that you can hold in your hand and take bites out of. Like Candy?, you guess cake is really what you want, even though it's kinda big and messy. So you have a piece of cake and try to convince yourself that that's what you wanted, because its the thing that fits your criteria the best. You couldn't say 'No, I want cookies' because you'd never heard of cookies. But if you saw a cookie, you would immediately realize that that's exactly what you wanted to eat.

I see three ways to go from this situation. First is the lazy option. You eat the cake and try to convince yourself that you're satisfied, because that's the thing that's closest to what you wanted, right? But as anyone who's ever had a food craving knows, that may work some of the time, but it's not the most satisfying solution.

Second is the very effort-intensive option. You bust out the apron and bake batch after batch of sugary messes, trying to invent a cookie without knowing what it looks like or how its done. Eventually, if you are persistent, you will emerge triumphant with your new creation, and that will be pretty awesome, but that takes a lot of work and a LOT of failed batches of cookies which you must scrape sheepishly into the compost, or force yourself to eat even though they are really sub-par.

The third option is a middle ground between laziness and effort. You take tours of bakeries, peering at all the shelves and sniffing the air until one day you spot in the back corner a rack of cookies and go 'AHAH! That's what I want!'. This is what I am trying to do with touch. There are a lot of ways to be physically intimate out there. Just in my everyday life and in my chosen media, I see dozens of examples of affectionate/intimate touch. This is me wandering around the bakery. So how do I pick out the things I like? Suggestive jealousy. It would take an enormous amount of thought-energy and reflective patience to carefully analyze each instance of physical affection to determine whether it's something I want. Fortunately, suggestive jealousy is the feelings equivalent of a big flashing neon sign in a bakery, pointing at a plate of cookies and mouthing 'over here'. It makes me perk up and go 'yes, that!'.

So when I watch Hats kiss the top of Flowers' head, or see the two of them cuddle in a new configuration, I am jealous, but it's not that I want them to stop doing that, or that seeing those actions makes me feel bad. It makes me feel good, both because they're happy, and because it points out to me something that I want, which I can then articulate, which I can (probably) then get. It's actively useful to me. They're happy, I'm happy, and I don't have to do all the work of figuring out intimacy from scratch. Everybody wins.

Note: I originally wrote this post when I was living near Hats and Flowers and seeing them very often. I tweaked it a tiny bit for tenses and to use the new names, but nothing more. This active process of figuring out touch is on hold while I'm away at school and out of touch-range, but the suggestive jealousy has turned up in a different light. Now it serves as a good measure of how touch-starved I am. I've found that I miss touch quite a lot when I'm away at school, and how much I miss it varies depending on my stress level, how long it's been since I visited Hats and Flowers or talked to them, the weather, and so on. Watching how jealous I am when other people hug each other is a good way to keep track of it.

Internet haunts

Today I have a brief grumble about polyamorous blogging. When we started discussing having a multi-person partnership, I started poking around some polyamorous corners of the internet, with varying degrees of success. I keep running into one of three problems:
1.  The site is crusty and old and full of broken links (Has nobody talked about polyamory on the internet since 2000?) 
2.  The content and/or advertising is highly sex-oriented (Yes, I want to learn about alternative relationship structures. No, I do not want to purchase sex toys.) 
3.  The site/people talk almost exclusively about couples 'opening up' their relationship and bringing in someone new (Not at all my situation.)
I've also found the topics of conversation to be more limited than in ace circles. There doesn't seem to be as much interest in deconstructing assumptions, which is my specialty and fascination.
My perception. I'd like to think it's wrong, but...well....
On the one hand, I'm a bit disappointed by my findings. I strongly suspect that I'm just looking in the wrong places. Anyone have good site recommendations?

On the other hand, asexual blogs/AVEN are rockin' places to discuss sexuality, relationships, gender, and so on. Flowers has enjoyed the new wealth of vocabulary and concepts they've discovered here. I think the asexual community has a lot to offer (to anyone, not just asexuals) because of how much careful dissection we've done. It's not that often that you find a place to talk about sexuality where critical thinking is the norm.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Updates all around

Hello, blog. It's been a year. Much has changed, and much has stayed the same. Let me get you up to speed.

Hat Guy? Not a guy! She's moving towards female identity and presentation, and using she/her pronouns. This is exciting and is making her sooo happy and I'm so glad that she's figuring out all this stuff about how to be a self-version that she likes and which feels genuine and good. I'll call her Hats here.

Flower Lady? Not a lady! At least not all of the time! They've ID'd as genderfluid as long as I've known them, but mostly always presented female. Now they're moving more aggressively toward rad androgyny and using they/them pronouns. Yaaaay, happy self-vesions all around! I'm gonna call them Flowers here.

Me? Yeah, I'm still a girl.

Flowers and Hats are getting married this July! Hats and I still love each other. Flowers and I are still friendly and figuring out what to be to each other. We still want to live together, although not necessarily under the same roof. We're thinking the optimal setup would be if I had a tiny house (tiny house!) and planted it in their yard.

There have been some pretty large ups and downs over the course of the last year+ and a lot of side-to-side, which seems to be par for the course (the course here being relationships period). There's also been some additional poly happenings with Hats and Flowers (as in, additional parters/date-friends).

My parents moved, so I now have to go visit Hats and Flowers* intentionally rather than seeing them by default whenever I go home. My concept of 'home', always very particular and meaningful, has gotten rather weird. 'Home' is now, in no particular order:
   (1) where my parents live
   (2) the place where I used to live, which I love
   (3) where Hats and Flowers live (conveniently the same as #2)
   (4) my dorm room at school.

I'm still in school (or rather, in school again after a break), with one year left until graduation. It's pretty great, although I don't like being away from Hats and Flowers for so long at a stretch. Hats is still in school, or rather, going back to school in the fall after break. Last semester she was absolutely flat out awful busy (the kind of busy where you don't have time to eat or sleep, never mind talk to your fiance who lives with you, never mind email your GreyWanders), which sucked for everyone, so now she's taking a semester of rest. Flowers is also going back to school in the fall, after a few years working.

Now what?
I will continue to post things sporadically when the urge strikes. The blog never died, I just didn't have anything relevant I wanted to talk about publicly in the last year. Now I do. I've been lurking around ace blogs the whole time, and while there's been a lot of stuff I don't have much to say about, recently there's been some more of the kind of discussion I go in for, so that's got me perked up. Also, I know ace people! In real life! Talking to them gives me food for though which may end up here as well. It's mostly shorter stuff though. Anecdotes, observations, thoughts, little comics, and so on. Long thought-out posts may still happen from time to time; we'll see! Also, I've been thinking a lot about trans and gender stuffs, so that will make it's presence known.

*Hats and Flowers sounds like a very cute little shop in an old brick storefront nestled in the historic downtown.