Sport stories

When I was little (probably five or six; must have been at least five, because we had already moved out of the flat I had been born in), I had ballet classes. Here’s what I remember about them:

  • I had a plain pink tutu, sensibly made of cotton and machine-washable. Some of the other girls had tutus with the skirt part made of that meshy plastic stuff that feels really nice when you rub it between two fingers, and one had a tutu made of some stretchy material that glittered. I was jealous.

  • We once had a show for parents and such in which we danced a robo-dance kind of thing, all edgy, isolated movements. (In hindsight, it doesn’t seem very ballet-y. I don’t know why we had a robo-dance.) My grandparents came to watch and later said that I was the only one who had occasionally paused to listen to the music and get back into the rhythm. I was very proud of that (and still kind of am).

  • I don’t remember a lot of what we actually did in class. I only remember one exercise that had us curl up really small on the floor, imagining we were flower seeds, and then growing upwards veeeery sloooooowly. It was boring as hell.

  • Once, my grandmother walked me to ballet class, and we passed a traffic sign I recognized as prohiting cars from parking, and lots of cars were parked behind it, and I made some horribly embarrassing pseudo-adult comment how typical that was, and she asked me to read what it said beneath the sign. It said “end”. But it said “end” in German, which is “Ende”, and I thought it said “Ente”, which means duck. My grandmother did not realize I had read “duck” and considered the matter settled. I did not understand what this had to do with cars and was very confused about it for the rest of the walk. This is not really related to ballet class, I’m just still embarrassed about it twenty years later and think of it in shame every time I think back to that ballet class.

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A brief life update

Good news, everybody: I’m still alive!

And I can barely remember where the past few weeks went, despite my time-tracking app: I was dimly aware I hadn’t logged in here, let alone written anything, for quite a while, but discovering I haven’t posted anything in almost three weeks was still a small shock.

I blame real life for much of it: there were roommate issues to deal with, a statistics program to wrestle, a paper to write, stuff to apply to, and some semblance of a social life to maintain.

The rest of it is mostly on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which I’ve been watching an unreasonable amount of, various other TV series that started again, internet happenings to keep up with, and the usual pure laziness and perfectionist inhibitions.

I fell out of the somewhat established writing habits I built up over the twenty days of challenge, partly due to a vacation right at the end and partly due to the aforementioned real life stuff and laziness, so that’s gone now. I want to fall back in, though, and even pretty badly – writing was and is fun. It’s just hard to start, as always.

Mindfulness meditation and me

When I was maybe twelve or thirteen, I went on a school trip to a Buddhist center. We were greeted by a nice, slightly chubby woman who showed us around, explained some basic tenants of Buddhism to us, answered questions, and guided us through a ten or fifteen-minute meditation towards the end of our trip. She bowed before entering the meditation room, and explained she did so to be aware and mindful of what she was doing. (I don’t remember if I bowed as well.)

Continue reading “Mindfulness meditation and me”

A little gender identity

[Guess who once again did not start writing today’s blog post in the morning? Me!]

For a long time, I thought that everyone would choose to be male if they were given a choice, and the only reason anyone would ever say differently was because it was a wrong thing to want and therefore a shameful thing to admit. Whether because it was in accordance with God’s plan or because one’s body was part of some “true” self, both my religious upbringing and more secular worldviews strongly pushed the idea that genuine happiness and peace could only come from accepting one’s body (and also the gender assigned on its basis).

Once, when I was a teenager (maybe fourteen, or fifteen) I stood with a group of teenage girls, and one of them actually asked whether we would rather be men. One after the other shook her head, looking to all the world like they really, truly meant it, maybe even slightly puzzled, as if they’d never had even a second of doubt and longing about the question.

When they looked at me expectantly, I quickly bit my tongue and shook my head. I had learned quite a while ago that outing oneself as a freak was not a good idea, and now this desire – one I’d considered ubiquitous, if taboo – was one more thing making me one.

(Strangely, I never had the same issues with being attracted to women. Despite a staunchly heteronormative religious community, I had no trouble at all with accepting the idea that people could fall in love with others regardless of their gender, and when I wondered about my own attractions, I didn’t feel like they made me a freak in the slightest.)

It was not until I started reading blogs written by trans women years later that I started honestly considering that some people liked feminine-coded things not just despite their association with femininity, but in some cases and to some degree even because of it. That some people actually liked being female. That for some people, their femaleness was not something they had to grit their teeth to bear, but something they valued and wanted recognized and seen.
That someone could feel like maleness was a burden pressed upon them as much as I felt like femaleness was a burden pressed upon me.

It’s still not something I can genuinely understand without putting it through at least one layer of abstraction (by comparing it to my own feelings about gender, for example). And it’s not about the feminine-coded things themselves – I don’t have trouble understanding how people could like swooshy skirts, or dangling earrings, or colorfully painted nails, or eyes emphasized by eyeliner, or lips made shiny by gloss. I don’t have trouble understanding how someone could like feeling graceful, or being kind.
But the idea of myself as a woman in a swooshy skirt, rather than a man? A woman with artfully painted nails? A woman moving gracefully, or being kind?
Does not compute. Feels wrong, in an unnatural, stilted, awkward way, like trying to artificially construct an image of gracefulness or kindness or me in a swooshy skirt around a hollow core.

This is what I mean when I say I am male. There is a core part of me that clicks with maleness, and fails to do so with femaleness. All the frustratingly vague and uninformative definitions or explanations of what the term “gender identity” means are trying to get at this core, and yet there doesn’t seem to be a really good way to explain it.

Maybe try to frame it in a different way than by thinking about your gender – you might be so used to taking your gender for granted you can’t tell what it even is, or you might not have a very strong gender identity (or any gender identity at all). Imagine it’s you-but-not-you, imagine you’re wearing a mask that looks really very much like your face but is still off, imagine that feeling most people get sometimes when they leave their house that there’s something – some indefinable thing – they forgot, imagine a familiar music piece with the rhythm or the instruments or the tune just sounding wrong and strange without you being able to name what exactly is wrong. Maybe there’s some aspect of yourself you consider fundamental to who you are, a certain way of thinking, certain preferences, a certain way of viewing or interacting with the world: imagine one of those gone, or strangely foggy and murky and unreachable or hard to remember.

Does that make sense to anyone out there? I don’t know.

Even if it does, it might not make sense to you to that one of those fundamental aspects should be someone’s gender. It doesn’t make sense to me either. It seems weird that there should be an aspect of my identity that somehow naturally lines up with this very specific cultural concept.

On the other hand, there are parts of me I consider rather essential that don’t have words to describe them. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that this one happens to be one there’s a word for. (And it’s even arguable that there is a word for it – after all, maleness means quite different things to different people.)

Music Tuesday

I spent a lot of today organizing the sprawling mess my music library has become over the years, copying it to my new PC, importing it into Rhythmbox (iTunes, but for Linux) and trying to find my way around Rhythmbox (because it’s really not iTunes, even if it looks very similar, and completely different in how to handle it). My brain still feels clogged and numb with renaming and moving files.

But it was worth it – I have music now. Music is important to me. That feels slightly weird to say, considering I’m not even horribly musical and don’t play any instrument, but it’s true.

When I was ten or so, I had a few books with collections of Christian short stories, and one of them was about someone finding a huge archive of everything they had done in their life so far: files documenting all the books they’d read, all the people they’d talked to, all the sexual thoughts they’d ever had, and so on. The point of the story was the almost empty drawer containing a list of the (very few) people they had told about Jesus, but some time before that, they found a drawer of all the music they had ever listened to – I remember how excited I was about that drawer, and how much I wished I had such a drawer so I could look up all the titles of the music I’d ever heard without knowing their titles. The story’s protagonist then went on to say how ashamed they were of wasting so much time on music they could have used to get closer to God (or something like that). I remember well how utterly indignant I was – time spent listening to music was not wasted!

I pretty much still feel that way. Music is easy to combine with other activities (organizing music, for example, or transit, or brushing my teeth, or doing housework, and of course going for walks and working out), and it’s so versatile! Depending on the tracks I choose (or let shuffle choose for me), I can put myself into almost any emotional state: screaming defiance, mindfulness and wonder at the world, deep grief, steely determination, relaxation so complete all my muscles feel like liquid, comfort and solace, awe, energized defiance and rebellion, bubbling joy, and others I’ve forgotten to mention. It’s certainly a greater range of emotions, and more depth of each of them, than I usually experience in my non-musical day-to-day life.

And being able to have music for all those emotions of course also means I can manage them, or at least manage them better than without music: I can find an angry, fast song to cope with my anger, indulge in it for the five minutes or so it lasts, and then feel cleansed and more grounded than before, without blowing up at anyone or anything or bottling it up inside me. I can feel desperate and alone and find a song expressing either the same emotion or a complementary one (comfort, kindness, warmth), and either will make me feel calmer, supported, understood and validated.

In sum, music is good.

And it seems fitting to end this post with some music, but choosing a single song seems impossible, so I’ll leave you with five choices:

The right direction

[I wrote this yesterday, but had connection troubles and therefore couldn’t post it. Technology seems to have conspired against me lately.]

I have trouble with left and right.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate: I am fine with left and right. I just have trouble with “left” and “right”.

Ask me which hand I write with, and my right hand will shoot up without hesitation. Ask me which of my feet points downhill when I’m strapped to my snowboard, and I’ll indicate my left as soon as you’ve finished the question. Ask me which side a horse is supposed to walk on when you’re leading it, or which hands of two riders are supposed to meet when they’re passing one another, and I’ll point to my right or raise my left hand with perfect confidence.
But tell me to turn right at the next traffic light, and suddenly my brain will stutter and stumble into darkness and have to feel for stepping stones to use: okay, they said right, I am right-handed, that means I write with my right hand, that’s this hand, okay, so this is right, I need to turn into this direction!
Ask me to answer any of the above questions in words rather than gestures and I’ll have to follow the same steps back, with my reaction time suffering accordingly. When I was a child, I used a small red spot on my left thumb to help me, and when I got older I moved on to slightly more abstract (and less visible) stepping stones like the ones above, but it never became easier or more automatic. I still use the same strategy to match simple, one-syllable words I’ve known all my life (or at least most of it) to the corresponding directions.

I’ve never really thought about it until a few months when a blogger described how a friend of hers could not tell left from right, and so when they were driving, she’d say “my window” and “your window” instead of “left” and “right”.
Since then, my mind has been blown. Both because that’s a really brilliant strategy that I really really need to adopt (and tell all my potential passengers to adopt, because it might greatly enhance our chances of reaching our destination), and because the whole issue seemed so weird once I thought about it in more detail. “My window” and “right” mean the exact same thing in this case (so much so that I knew which direction was which without further explanation), and yet one delivers a result quickly and without conscious thought, and the other one makes me seek out my mental stepping stones.

In most cases, whether one uses “left” or some other term/phrase doesn’t matter much: as long as there is some shared representation of the corresponding direction (whether it’s a car surrounding us both, shared knowledge of horse-riding etiquette, or something else), we can communicate effectively and efficiently without “left” and “right”. In some cases, it might even be more effective overall: if we’re standing in my room facing each other, “turn to the window” is a far more efficient way to communicate than a term for relative directions, since we don’t share the relative directions in this case.
In any case, using alternative terms definitely benefits those of us for whom “left” and “right” are slippery.  Insisting that they are the correct ways to describe directions and therefore no others should ever be used seems nonsensical and needlessly antagonistic to me: language exists to put names to concepts (objects, experiences,…) and communicate with others regarding said concepts (objects, experiences,…), and when it doesn’t fulfill one of these purposes (and/or fulfills the other one only inadequately) in a given situation, there is no good reason to cling to it rather than discard it in favor of better alternatives.

A brief update and links to book reviews

I don’t have the necessary time and peace to write a longer post today, so have another short one for a change!

Writing yesterday’s post made me think about what influenced my childhood views on abortion, in particular, books I’ve read that were connected to the topic in some way. One of them was Francine Rivers’  “The Atonement Child”, a work of fiction in which a young woman is raped, becomes pregnant, must decide whether to have an abortion, and ultimately (“correctly”, that is, in accordance with God’s will) decides against it.

We had a few more books of hers lying around at home (most in English, although “The Atonement Child” was available in German too). The one I remember best is “Redeeming Love” – I think it was actually one of the very first “real” books I’ve read in English, that is, books not specifically written or edited for people still learning English (and/or children).

I wondered what it would be like to re-read some of them now, and as fortune has it, I can read “Redeeming Love” vicariously through a review by blogger Samantha Field (which I found out today through Libby Anne, who just started reviewing “A Voice in the Wind”, a Rivers book I haven’t read personally).

So, as soon as my real life is a bit quieter again, I’ll have a bunch of blog posts to read and a few past memories to relive. (I might comment on some of them here, I might not.)