About Gender

Before, any attempt at femininity felt like a miserable impersonation of the woman I couldn’t actually be. As I am, there’s no more pretending. The clothes I wear aren’t a disguise, but just the things I wear when I feel like it.

First off: I’m nonbinary.

I’ve identified as nonbinary for years, and it’s never exactly been a secret.

Shown: the pinned tweet on my Twitter page for a long while now

What is Nonbinary?

For those unfamiliar, nonbinary can be a little bit confusing, because it’s the equivalent of checking the box that says “other” instead of “mr” or “ms”. It means I don’t fit neatly into the female-ness I was born into, or the male-ness that I assumed was my only alternative. And it’s confusing because every nonbinary person is going to have their (or indeed his or her or xir, etc) own experience with and relationship to gender. It’s as broad a category as “non-English speaker” and “non-bird”– there’s a whole lot that that can include. So with everything that follows, please understand it’s my experience, not one that speaks for all trans or nonbinary people.

For me, that means I generally use “she/her” pronouns to save time and energy; “they/them” are fine, too; “he/him” is amusing sometimes, but there’s no dysphoria or insult attached to it.

When I present, it’s generally in a fairly “neutral” way– t-shirt, jeans, no makeup, bra sometimes, shoes from the men’s section. These days that’s considered generally normal for women’s fashion; decades ago, I’d be a weirdo trying to dress like a man. Turns out clothes aren’t gendered. More on that later.

What I was before

In the past, I’d tried wearing makeup, but I always felt like a clown. When I wore skirts, I felt like an impostor– one who wasn’t fooling anybody. When other women would talk about their experiences, I was at a loss. My experience was nothing like theirs. Constantly I felt like I was Doing It Wrong. Like every step I took, every word I said, every breath and thought was an error. The harder I tried, the more Wrong I felt.

And I did my troubleshooting– maybe I was just really bad at makeup? But when it was put on me by professionals, it still felt wrong.

Maybe feminine clothes all felt wrong on me because I didn’t have the “right” body type? I bought dresses made specifically for me, and it felt the same– like a weird costume meant for somebody else. Even attempts to “girl up” in small ways wound up feeling false.

Some have argued that the real culprit was a misogynistic society: that to be a woman is to be uncomfortable, to feel ugly, to be an impostor. If I disliked feminine things, they said, it was because of internalized misogyny, or because of impractical standards set for women. And come on, everybody hates seeing themselves in photos.

So I wrestled with body positivity. I found every single aspect of myself and looked at it, really looked at it, on other women. I studied the way the parts added up to a whole– how every aspect of the person in the mirror was reflected so beautifully on the people around me. I loved the looks that other people put together with hair and makeup and clothes. So why did it feel so right on them and so wrong on me?

For a long time I just let that be the background radiation of my life: that constant feeling of Doing It Wrong.

Looking back, I realize that feeling is called Dysphoria. According to the American Psychiatric Association:

Gender dysphoria involves a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify. People with gender dysphoria may be very uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned, sometimes described as being uncomfortable with their body (particularly developments during puberty) or being uncomfortable with the expected roles of their assigned gender.

Kinda vague, isn’t it?

I’d heard of dysphoria in those kinds of terms– and with it the narrative of The Surgery, and the reflexive disgust when presented with one’s own anatomy, etc, the desperate need to be the “opposite” gender. But I didn’t want anything in those terms.

I spent some time thinking about it: do I want to be a boy? Do I want surgery? Do I want hormones? And resoundingly, the answer was no.

The term “nonbinary” was tossed around occasionally, but only as a vague idea, and only ever as a strict androgynous entity that used “they/them”. Do I feel my skin bristle when I’m called “she”? Do I prefer “they?”. Also no.

But then I started talking to more people and listening to more stories, I started noticing elements that resonated with my experiences and my feelings. And then I started learning that you can be androgynous-leaning-feminine or girl-and-sometimes-boy or “meh”. I learned that you can be a “she” but not a woman.

I took what was presented to me in those stories, and I tried that on for size. I put on the label “nonbinary” for a bit, and let it sit with me. And it felt right in a way that nothing had for a very long time.

A lot of my previous Wrongness started falling away. I stopped reflexively hating pictures of myself. I started feeling calmer, and it became easier to manage my temper. Without the thought of “what is she doing right that I’m doing wrong?” scraping at my mind, I found myself celebrating the women around me more often and more genuinely.

And here’s the other thing: as I got comfortable thinking of myself as nonbinary, I got a whole lot more comfortable with the rest. Dresses no longer feel like costumes, makeup no longer feels clownish, heels– well, heels are still hard to walk in, but that’s got more to do with my dexterity. Before, any attempt at femininity felt like a miserable impersonation of the woman I couldn’t actually be. As I am, there’s no more pretending. The clothes I wear aren’t a disguise, but just the things I wear when I feel like it.

It’s a feeling of rightness. Of being at peace.

And that’s really, really nice.

Why am I telling you this?

Maybe my narrative will resonate with some part of you. Maybe seeing one experience will make you think harder about your own. Maybe you’ll think about trying something new, or maybe you’ll find that you’re even more confident in where you stand right now.

May you find the best version of yourself, whatever that turns out to be.

Fun with concept art

A lot of writers I’ve spoken to at conventions swear by the little extras at their table– I already have pins and little polymer dragons, but they particularly talk about the power of concept art and maps.

Which resulted in the following conversation:

Me: “Hey, do we have room in the budget for concept art?”

Partner: “For which book?”

Me: “I was thinking a map and some characters for the one I’m working on now… but maybe start with Urban Dragon? Arkay, Rosa, maybe Meph?”

Partner: “…If you add Terry to that list, by god I will make room in the budget.”

Sometimes it slips my mind just how much he loves Terry.

For those who don’t remember, Terry is the groundskeeper of the Hoarde’s secret base– a multidimensional amorphous conglomeration of eyes, teeth, bones, and miscellaneous viscera, who accumulated all those various bits and pieces from the trespassers they’ve devoured over the years.

They’re also an insatiable gossip and an utter drama queen.

Really, most of the Urban Dragon series can be boiled down to “mix one part sinister and one part silly, and add a bit of gore for good measure”.

I kept getting reminded of that trying to explain my characters to the artist. Arkay and Rosa are easy enough– I’ve described them to cover artists enough times that I’ve got that part down.

I spent a whole lot of time describing Meph’s physical features like he’s some kind of action hero, and then I tried to sum up his vibe: “he takes himself way too seriously, which usually results in him being either very flustered or very confused, especially when he’s around Arkay.”

I can’t wait to see how the art turns out, but I’m really most excited to see what this artist does with Terry.

My beloved eldritch abomination is either going to be a whole lot of fun for them, or else they’re going to be an absolute nightmare.

All my love to you

I’m taking some time off this week, because today is my tenth wedding anniversary, and I want to spend it celebrating.

My partner has been a constant source of encouragement and support, and I can’t imagine doing any of this without him in my life.

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So while I’m off enjoying ten years with the love of my life, I hope you find someone who means a lot to you– romantically or otherwise– and you tell them how much they mean to you.

A walk in the woods

A few months back, I went to a convention that had a fairly unusual layout compared to the rest of my experiences. Instead of me sitting alone at my little table hawking books to passersby, the author’s alley was like a little bookstore featuring all of the guest authors, with volunteers there to tell anyone who came in about all of us and the things we’d created. We were free to hang out in the author’s alley and sign books or just chat, but we were also free to leave whenever we wanted. It was incredibly liberating and relaxing compared to what I was used to.

While I was hanging out, one of the other authors mentioned that there was an abandoned amusement park less than a mile from the hotel– mostly torn down, though supposedly a lone roller coaster was still standing. As my insanity is fairly predictable, I was entranced. Continue reading “A walk in the woods”

Monsters and Metaphor, Part 2

To recap the previous post:

There are a lot of horror stories that like to use monsters as a metaphor for people with mental illnesses. I prefer to think of the monsters as the mental illnesses themselves, whereas the people dealing with them are more the Buffy-esque badasses who deal with them.

An unrelated conversation got me pondering a fairly common question: “Why do kids these days have to put a label on everything?”

Well, since I’ve already got the metaphor onhand, let’s talk about the thing:

Continue reading “Monsters and Metaphor, Part 2”

November 9, 2016

 

I spent today looking around at the beautiful city I live in and wondering how things got this way.

I look around at the amazing and diverse people who make this city what it is, and my heart breaks for them. How many of their rights are at risk? Their safety? Their lives? And I truly don’t know anymore. Because right now, we’re all going into the unknown.

For the next four years, we will fear the worst and hope for the best, but a lot of things will be beyond our control.

But here’s one thing you can control:

Take care of yourselves, and to take care of each other. The future is uncertain, so make sure the ones you love know that you’re someone they can trust to have their back– and surround yourself with people you know will have yours.

Whatever comes our way, we can handle it, so long as we don’t lose that.

Podcast Rec: The Penumbra

No matter who you are, if you’re living in the USA (or in any of the many many countries that’s going to be heavily affected by the USA’s policies), this election cycle has been a long and very trying one, but it’s almost over.

Whether you did your voting early, you’re standing in line, or you can’t vote and are forced to watch from the sidelines, we’re all in for a lot of really stressful waiting until the votes are all in, tallied, and posted.

So here’s something to help lessen the stress.

If you’re a fan of the Urban Dragon series, you’re going to love The Penumbra Podcast. It’s gonna have all the same things you loved from the series:

  • Canonically, actively LGBT protagonists who are as angsty as they are awesome
  • Confident rogues who will charm the pants off you (and the head off your shoulders)
  • The darkest back alleys of a city so impressive it might as well be its own character
  • Strippers (because who doesn’t love strippers?)
  • Exciting genre stories that dabble in gore without getting torture-porn-y
  • And just plain wonderful characters and settings and writing.

In short, I had a lot of fun with it. And at the moment, dreams of queer noir in a far-future Mars is giving me hope that the world won’t end tonight.

 

Invisible monsters

People are afraid of mental illness. They see the mentally ill in every deranged killer on the screen, every act of violence on the news they can’t explain, every action whose logic is not immediately apparent. When we make no effort to understand mental illness, all people who are mentally ill are unknowns. And we fear the unknown.

Stigmatization of mental illness and the people who have it has led to sufferers being ostracized, demonized, attacked and even killed– and consequently, those who do suffer from mental illness are often reluctant to acknowledge it or seek the help they need for fear of the consequences.

And yes, mental illness is scary. It doesn’t turn you into a monster– more often, it’s like a monster living inside your own head. It’s like a vampire that looks normal to everybody else, except you’ve noticed that it doesn’t have a reflection, and you try to keep it out but it’s too late—without even thinking, you’ve already invited it in. Continue reading “Invisible monsters”