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")