Bevin's Blog I'm blogging the relentless pursuit of my joy

2015-05-20

On Activism, Capacity and Seeing Yourself as “Enough”

I’ve been thinking a lot about capacity, self care and activism lately.

This morning I got one of my daily spiritual emails* that talked about directing our energies without regard to the need to be successful in an outward way. It told a story about Mother Teresa, who was asked why she devoted herself to such a massive problem as alleviating the suffering of the poor, when obviously she wasn’t going to solve poverty. Where did she get her dedication, “knowing that all the poverty and sickness would still be there long after she had died? Didn’t she realize she couldn’t win?”

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“Her explanation was simple: Of course she knew the task was immense, but “finishing” wasn’t her purpose.” Since Mother Teresa was a person of faith, she was willing to do what she believed was the right action for her, regardless of the outcome. She was focused on the task itself, not the completion of it.

This resonated with me today, as I’ve been focusing on learning my capacity for work, developing systems of self care, and thinking about activist burn out. I think the tendency as one is socialized in systems of oppression, is to give and give of oneself until there is nothing left. This is a value often taught to women, the idea that you have to put everyone else’s needs before your own.

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Activist movements, as in almost all things, can suck you dry—there is always more to be done, more people to reach out to, more actions to plan, more art to make, more reaching out. But at a certain point you have to be able to say, this is my limit. But we’re not socialized in a way to know what our limits are, to think thoughtfully about our capacity, and how to use self care in order to build our capacity. We’re not socialized to be able to say, “Enough, I can’t do this any longer.” I’ve seen it wear down on people until disease forces them to make big life changes.

I had to learn how to start saying no to things, how to learn how to ask folks for time to respond to them (I usually take at least 24 hours to say yes or no to volunteer work), and how to assess whether I wanted to continue working on things that were pulling a lot of my energy. I have flares of my chronic digestive disorder whenever I start getting really stressed out emotionally or with work.

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Today I went for a walk on Venice Beach. My partner is in LA for a work conference and I got to stay with her at the conference hotel. I’m so grateful for a super flexible day job where I can work remotely from a hotel! I took an hour and a half off for lunch and a drive to the beach. I was very charmed by the beach but so troubled by the amount of trash that was washing ashore. I grew up as a Girl Scout in Northern California and we were always doing eco events, picking up trash in wetlands and things like that. It’s a great way to have intimacy with nature and be of service.

Whenever I’m in nature I can’t help it, I just start picking up trash. I get so troubled by seeing it, imagining plastic wrappers wrapping around the necks of birds and things like that. I am 36 years old, I’ve been hearing about environmental conservationism my entire life. It feels so sad that beach clean-up and litter in the ocean is still an ongoing issue. And don’t get me started about the Pacific Trash Vortex. I can’t even.

17721574790_ee6a1b7bc8_zSome kind of corporate stress ball that looked like it could have been a jellyfish from afar. The weirdest trash I found today was an empty bottle of Patron Silver.

My brain is wired in this way where I just start to go there, I think about how big the problem is, how futile it feels for me to walk on the beach and pick up trash without a trash bag. Just gathering things in a found Starbucks cup or precariously clutching them in my paws. I had to think about what I was doing with my time. Was I going to spend my entire walk on the beach picking up litter? Or would I take the relaxing walk I had originally intended?

I decided to asses my capacity and go from there. So I focused with the intensity of a Capricorn for two ten minute bursts, and spend the rest of my thirty or so minutes on the beach in contemplation of birds in the surf and walking along. It felt like a great way to put into practice just doing something I felt called or compelled to do, without regards to the fact that my twenty minutes of litter removal was not even a drop in the bucket compared to trash island. I needed to see it as good enough and let go of the outcome.

17906139372_6e7f32ce97_zI’m obsessed with this bird. Did it ever find the fish it was looking for today? It didn’t the whole time I watched it but I hope it found something delicious later on.

I want to be the kind of person in the world who is of service, and also a person who enjoys life. I think that enjoying life and being person who is receptive to good in the world makes me better able to dismantle systems of oppression that say that fat people, queer people, and women, folks raised working class should not be free to enjoy their bodies. That by being a living example of a fat, embodied, sexually liberated person enjoying life is a form of activism. And that enjoying life is a way of increasing my capacity to do good.

I also know that I can use my privilege as a White person, a person with higher education, a cisgender person, temporarily able bodied, some level of “pretty privilege**,” and a person who has access to media privilege to help causes that are important to me. I never believed that by posting a blog post about Lyme Disease that I was going to somehow cure it. But I did know that by raising awareness of it, encouraging even one of my followers to watch that documentary about Lyme might make someone more sensitive to it and make the experience of Lyme for someone they know easier because someone “gets it.” That’s something. Or maybe just one of my readers has $50 to throw at my friend Jessica’s Lyme fund.

17288704433_242a2f15b2_zWhen I’m a rich lesbian I will have lots of money to give to all sorts of great organizations doing good in the world, and will create a foundation dedicated to funding projects that mainstream funders avoid–like fat stuff, radical queer stuff, sex worker organizing–and building capacity in those movements to make them more effective and support their self care matrixes. Also I will have a baller house on the beach and all those windows will have a giant mural that says “All bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are.”

It can feel so daunting to be an activist and want to work to make the world better. To get stuck in spirals of inactivity because you don’t feel effective. To get stuck in spirals of inactivity because you’re depressed, anxious, need to focus on making money or just survival and feeling so helpless. Getting used to seeing what you are doing as enough, learning that because you are human you are worthy of love and it’s not about what you “do” that matters it’s more about who you are.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the matrix of success lately, as I struggle through yet another round of letting go of my need to “accomplish” and “prove my worth.” I spent an entire session in therapy trying to talk about how I can get more done and my therapist arguing with me about how I am way too hard on myself. I have had to go through this so many times in my life and it usually ends up the same. I learn to let go of how much I accomplish, learn to feel worthy in spite of my ideas of success, and release blocks that enable me to find deep bursts of energy, creativity and the ability to work more effectively.

That airplane idea about putting your oxygen mask on first before helping others? I want to help create movements with folks where that is the norm and we help each other learn what our oxygen is.

17722918699_c035db8ea3_zLearning about my self care and what is effective self care has been really important for my journey to building my capacity and refilling my tank. Being at the beach really helps me. Such cleansing energy, with the wind (air), earth (sand), water (obvs) all that is missing is fire for a full four element cleanse.

*The one I am referring to is Today’s Gift from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which supports my work in a twelve step program for families and friends of alcoholics. I also get a daily email Note from the Universe which is super cute and whimsical.

**It feels really weird to say that you have pretty privilege when you are talking about yourself. I have so much to talk about in a subsequent post about that, but there’s definitely an element of being someone who has some level of conventional attractiveness that affects your privilege in the world, even as a fatty.

2015-04-20

We Need to Be Talking About Lyme Disease in the Queer Community

I’ve been trying to find a way to talk about Lyme Disease and how it affects the queer community. I grew up a woodsy outdoorswoman going to Girl Scout Camp in Northern California with signs that warn of deer ticks carrying Lyme disease. I saw the signs that told us to do tick checks, as a camp counselor I’ve coordinated big groups of young people in looking for ticks and being aware of them. I know to seek medical attention if you see a bullseye rash, especially if you get a fever or aches following exposure to a tick bite. (The CDC has a guide to symptoms of tickborne illness, if you’re lucky enough to know you got bitten.)

I’ve heard that only 20% of folks with Lyme Disease had a tick bite that was identifiable. It’s a disease that sneaks up on you, is vastly underreported and very difficult to test for. (It’s estimated that the cases of Lyme Disease are actually 10 times higher than what is reported.) Because of these factors it is really difficult to get a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Insurance companies and the US Government are both very unwilling to concede to the actual appropriate treatments for Lyme Disease, doctors lose their license for treating it effectively, paying out of pocket for treatments is wildly expensive… This is a very scary, very real and very deadly thing that is happening to more and more people.

Over the years I’ve known a few queers with Lyme Disease. I’ve connected with some about treatment as they’ve used a similar anti-inflammatory food plan as I have, or who have battled candida overgrowth like I did because of the mammoth amount of anti-biotics used to treat Lyme.

small_selfportrait_sunX400Photo of Leslie Feinberg from Advocate.com. Have you read Stone Butch Blues yet? You should.

Ever since Leslie Feinberg died from Lyme Disease, I’ve known we need to talk more about Lyme Disease in the queer community. I didn’t know how to have that conversation, so I just started to bone up and educate myself.

I watched the documentary Under Our Skin, free streaming on You Tube, which according to folks I know with Lyme, it is an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to seek treatment for Lyme Disease and it is shitty. It’s the kind of helpless I feel when I see really big world problems that need solutions. But I know what I do have control over and that’s learning more about it, asking questions and opening conversations.

Here’s the trailer for Under Our Skin:

Under Our Skin – Trailer from Open Eye Pictures on Vimeo.

Here’s a link to the whole documentary on you tube.

I also watched the Punk Singer, the Kathleen Hanna documentary by Sini Anderson. Kathleen opens up about her Lyme Disease and how it affects her life. It’s a really powerful double feature. The Punk Singer is available on Netflix and to buy on iTunes. (It’s great in addition to the Lyme content to hear about the Riot Grrrl movement, see great interviews with queer heroes like Lynnee Breedlove.)

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Here’s the trailer:

I may not know what to say about Lyme except, I’m here and I’m listening and reading about the disease and experiences of those with the disease. And I want more people to listen to folks with Lyme and hear them. And see them, and help them be part of the queer community even if they physically can’t be there.

4116744_1428627138.8138Photo from Jessica’s Lyme Treatment Fund.

My friend Jessica Scarlett and her wife Nik are fundraising $9,000 for her Lyme treatment. Maybe you have a few extra bucks for a stranger or maybe you know them from somewhere on the internet, like both of their really awesome art and etsy stores. NikScarlett.com
Jessica’s vintage collections and sales are the coolest.

I met Jess when I was a baaaaby gay in Sacramento, CA in the late nineties and Nik when I moved to Philly. They are a really cool couple and battling a really shitty disease.

I’ve also followed Fran Varian’s battle with late-stage Lyme Disease for years, as she is an incredible writer and femme so many folks I know have adored for a long time. The thank you letter up on her Help Heal Fran website is a poignant article about living as a queer with a chronic, expensive illness.

franindiPhoto of Fran Varian from HelpHealFran.org

The below passage from that piece really hit me. I think a lot of Femmes participate in queer community from a place of giving–but it is so hard to be Femme and in a place of needing help sometimes. We have this notion about ourselves as Femme that we have to be resilient warriors doing it on our own.

Before I knew that I was sick I was proud to be an activist. I worked for social justice in the health care industry and I donated my time to teach kids about poetry. I read and I performed at fund raiser after fund raiser. I wrote and spoke extensively with the earnest hope of making a difference in someone else’s life. Before I became sick I held a deeply-rooted belief that it is noble to give of one’s self and shameful to require gifting, though I never would have said that out loud.

Now I think differently. And because my body does not frequently cooperate and allow me to physically accomplish all of the things I want to I have a lot more time to think. Before late stage Lyme became my daily reality I allowed the pride I felt in being helpful and in giving to define me. I thought it said something about me. Unlearning that vanity has been almost as difficult as learning how to live each day with a daunting, progressive illness.

Avril Lavigne was on the cover of People Magazine last week coming out about her retreat from the spotlight while she underwent extensive Lyme Disease treatment. It’s awesome when celebrities bring awareness to it. Wealthy folks obviously have a different experience with treatment because they have access to funds for treatment insurance doesn’t cover. But still, the more awareness people have about it and the more we talk about it the more we can turn the tide of these awful insurance companies and maybe move closer to single payer healthcare/government run medical coverage for everyone.

Do you have an awesome Lyme resource to share? An article you read and resonated? A documentary, video, blog? Leave the link in the comments!

(I had some cool ones on my facebook fan page, but I’m still locked out of Facebook pending giving them a government id to their satisfaction).

2015-03-16

Florida Keys: Curating the Sunset

My second favorite thing we did on our trip to the Florida Keys was curating the sunset. I absolutely love doing this. By curating the sunset I mean, finding out when the sunset is going to start and finish in my vicinity and setting aside the time and effort to go enjoy it. This means not just noticing that the sunset is happening but finding the exact right place to watch it happen.

I call things like sunsets “God TV.” If it’s something naturally occurring that is interesting to watch, I call it “God TV.” I like watching the sky turn all the different colors, notice the changing shadows around me and finding a spot to watch it that affords a lot of great ambiance.

The Keys are ALL ABOUT THIS. Most notably there is a sunset ritual every single night in Key West. My pal Maura in a super helpful email to me about my impending visit to the Keys that watching the sunset from the Mallory Square sunset celebration was very Lez and woo in a satisfying way. I could not agree more.

16766270835_edcd34fe77_zStreet vendors and performers line the square. The sunset celebration is free, but Dara decided to jazz it up by buying this non-alcoholic frozen pineapple coconut juice concoction. Beautiful and delicious!

16558999917_1633abaf18_zHere you can see the big crowd just in front of us, it was pretty thick the length of Mallory Square by the time we got there.

I have not been in such a diverse crowd of collective rapt attention on something spiritual since I attended my Uncle’s ordination as a Deacon in the Catholic Church (it was a very long ceremony in a HUGE cathedral). Sure, lots of them probably just thought the sunset was pretty, but there was a significant payment of attention to something I felt very reverent about. It was churchy, even if it wasn’t a brick and mortar institution. No religion or belief necessary, just payment of attention. Crowded but not loud, at least during the 2 minutes or so the sun was really sinking.

4731417391_0f4900890d_zMy cousin Sooz (yes, I have a queer cousin, it rules) at her dad’s/my uncle’s ordination.

16765201512_95c905e4c0_zWe creeped up through the crowd to get a better view.

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16559009917_cb5388b3f9_zI was obsessed with all the creatures we met, and the different kinds of pelicans were a highlight.

Outside of Key West I found it pretty easy to pinpoint a good sunset spot. A quick yelp search of “Islamorada sunset” in the restaurant category got me to Lorelei’s Cantina, a spot on our road trip back up to the mainland to catch our flight home. It’s this huge outdoor bar and restaurant where you don’t even have to order anything, you can just grab a plastic chair and chillax watching the sunset while listening to live music. It was so beautiful and such a disappointment when the sunset was shrouded in a rain cloud.

16644041818_5ff227d273_zThis is the big mermaid that looks out on Southbound Interstate 1, the two lane Overseas Highway that connects all of the Keys. The parking lot was VERY crowded so this Escalade just decided to park blocking the sign.

16145663324_4eb599f559_zThe view was spectacular but sadly the clouds did not cooperate.

16560705517_461654b905_zI swear to the Goddess that while we were sitting watching the clouds covering the sunset the dude-fronted Jimmy Buffet style jam band that was playing did a Dolly Parton cover. I realized I knew all the words.

The same thing happened with bad weather luck when we went to see the sunset at a beach in Key West the night we had a hotel room in town. We were at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park’s beach, which is just off of old town Key West (the neighborhood with all the cutie pie wooden buildings). It was $2.50 for each of us because we came in on bicycle not car. We sat on the beach, I was so regretful I didn’t wear my bathing suit, the one day I didn’t just have it on under my dress, and I wished I could have gone swimming in the gorgeous clear blue water.

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We didn’t spend enough time at the beach during our vacation overall, which was my own fault. There were just so many fun things to do in the Keys that sitting still for a few hours a day was not a priority. We did a great amount of taking it easy and letting things flow in terms of planning so I never felt stressed, I just was so absorbed by my surroundings at all times that I didn’t ever crack that copy of Southern Living magazine I dragged all over the Keys.

But I got to the beach twice, both for sunsets. The time the sunset was a bust at Fort Taylor I still saw a couple of tiny schools of fish from my ankle-deep vantage point, and we watched an entire flock of seagulls leave their rock to go fish for dinner. Hundreds of birds taking off at once is a breathtaking vision you only get to see when you watch God TV or as intro cutaways on one of the coastal Real Housewives franchises.

16144219244_cd4c9d5459_zWater so clear I felt totally fine swimming in it. I get the creeps when I can’t see the bottom, even in the deep end of a dark pool.

The best sunset we saw was our first night in the Keys. It was about 10 minutes from our cabin on Big Pine Key, about 2 keys North of BPK. (Do they abbreviate in the Keys? I hope so.) Bahia Honda State Park has been voted one of the top 10 continental US beaches for several years. I heard this from a few sources. I’m not sure what this list is, or if we just happened to see it at a particularly sea grassy moment, but it wasn’t super amazing. It was cute, don’t get me wrong, but I kind of had big expectations for the beach.

16757039142_39611c34b5_zI saw this on the beach and because of the intense blue and plastic looking filmy bubble I thought surely this was manmade, like a condom or a plastic bag. I am the kind of person who appreciates nature AND picks up litter. (I was a Girl Scout for so many years this kind of habit never dies.) So to find out if it was litter to be picked up with a stick for the garbage can… I popped it. It was clear it was organic matter and I left it alone. Found a couple more on our beach walk. Thank Goddess I popped it with a stick because a later google search told me this is a Portuguese Man o’ War jellyfish and I could have gotten stung and gone to the hospital! The Wikipedia says that sometimes whole beaches close down when these appear on shore.

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We got there and the first place we went was SO seagrassy we didn’t want to sit in it, so we kept walking. Then we bailed on that beach and crossed the parking lot into the info center, who told us that they beach they’re known for is on a different part of the key. Which meant that to see the good sunset view (pointed East) we would not get to be on that super cute part of the beach. We did check out that super cute beach on the way out after sunset and it was quite pretty. We would like to go lay around on it on a later trip to the Keys.

Undeterred, I went out to a third beach of theirs, this one was Gulf Side (to think I walked from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico in just the span of minutes) and started following the shoreline. Dara followed dutifully along as I searched for something I couldn’t even fully articulate to her. “I want to watch the sunset,” I told her, not even sure myself what I was looking for but knowing that once I saw it I would realize what I was looking for.

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We walked the length of the beach and I took off through some palm trees up a nature trail that went under the abandoned railroad bridge. Dara had suggested a few spots on the beach that might be a little less crowded but gave up when she saw I was on a mission. I climbed under the railroad tracks, went to the chain link fence under the bridge to take a couple of photos, retraced my steps and went to the other side of the train tracks, back to the Atlantic but much further down than we could see from our original vantage point in the thicket of washed up sea grass.

16138168973_200ebb52d4_zThat road in the background is the Overseas Highway I’ve mentioned.

16135808124_de577ca163_zUnder the train track bridge.

I found an inlet of trees that looked like a great make-out spot, then went down a rock “scramble” onto a patch of nearly empty beach. With a perfect view of the sun, just about to start lowering. We took some photos and cute video in the surf and laid down to watch the sun take its journey. We soaked this in for a good thirty minutes before the incoming tide convinced us to move down the beach a bit. We did some yoga while watching the sun’s descent. It was so profoundly beautiful. Worth every bit of work to find the just right place to watch it. The curation of the moment was almost as fun as the moment itself.

16138173863_ae0ddc6128_zAs a fat person I’m used to being the one who is being coaxed down rock scrambles. But I have a lot more bravery for nature because of my scouting past, so I lead Dara in these matters. It’s a really interesting to have the table flipped and me being the brave one offering a hand to the person behind me. But I’d like to think knowing how uncertain a rock scramble can make me feel helps me be a more supportive partner when I lend the hand.

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16570745720_1560559ce6_zDara is such a wonderful partner in crime for adventure. I have so much fun with her. She’s instagramming now after this trip, @daremedara if you’re instagrammy.

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16550904177_52dd24bcf9_zThe moon rise on the other side of the beach was so pretty.

16572055289_1319b04a29_zMoney shot.

I rarely, if ever, curate a sunset in Brooklyn. There are so many variables here–it takes me 30 minutes to drive to a spot to get a good, clear view of a sunset, only if that’s the direction of the sun that time of year. Buildings that are in the way sometimes are not in the way other times. Weather is a huge variable. It is often cloudy. I make it a point in NYC that when I see the sunset colors in the sky I take a pause and notice them.

Out of town I make it my unspoken priority to ensure that we are exactly where we need to be to enjoy the best sunset possible. I love organizing my day around this. It feels so natural and cleansing and really meaningful. I came back from the Keys and I know, as I start working towards the next phase of my life, I want to make it a priority to have abundant access to beautiful sunset viewing options. I can see this ritual becoming a big part of my self care.

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2015-02-11

Half the Self Hate: Kama La Mackerel is Deconstructing Embodied Colonialism through Self Love and QTPOC Community

For years I’ve been noticing the People Magazine annual “Half Their Size” issue. It comes out around New Year’s Eve and the cover is always the same: before and after photos with big graphics about how much each person has lost. People Magazine devotes pages and pages of a feature story to readers who have lost over half their body weight. They ask them how they did it, what motivated them, what their “rock bottom” was as a fat person.

I kept thinking, What if we talked to people about how they lost more than half of their self-hatred? What would it look like? I find it so inspirational to hear how people have risen out of oppression and cultures that don’t value their bodies/identities and have learned to love themselves in spite of that.

I reached out to several artists and activists whose work and self love I admire to ask what practices they employ to love themselves and how they defy a culture that commodifies self hatred. I wanted to know what inspired them to work to reduce or eliminate their self hate.

This is a series about self love triumphing over self hate, and valuing yourself as a radical act of resistance.

The Half the Self Hate series continues Friday with my interview with gender activist, performer and legend Kate Bornstein.

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The Goddess smiled upon me when I met Kama La Mackerel when they stayed at my home while in New York City to perform. They are a sissy, poet, comedian, dancer, drag and visual artist based in Tio’tia:ke, on colonized Kanien’kehá:ka ​/​ Mohawk territory (aka Montreal, Canada). There are invisible fireworks radiating from Kama at all times and especially when they are on stage. When we first met we spoke about their work creating community spaces that celebrate self love for Queer and Trans* People of Color. I knew Kama would have some incredible insights into self love practice and the journey to value yourself. If you ever have the opportunity to see them perform I suggest you snap it up, and in the meantime am so grateful to welcome Kama to Half the Self Hate Week on QueerFatFemme.com!

How do you identify? ​ ​

TransPOC femme queer warrior mixed-race brown/black working class university-educated​ able-bodied​ displaced diasporic anti-colonial anti-racist survivor artist community organizer movement builder & lover…

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What does that identity mean to you? How do the intersections of it help you bloom? What are your struggles?

I deliberately decided to reply to the first question, “How do you identify?” with a list of words that string together a multiplicity of identities that all intersect in different light, at different moments, a bit like a kaleidoscope​; ​at any given moment, I am all of those ​identities​, and more, but at any given moment, I am also less than ​the totality of​ those words threaded together​.

​I strongly believe in intersectionality as a way of understanding ​ one​​self and processing the types of oppression one faces, and the type of privileges ​from which ​one benefits.​ I will, however, explain a couple of the words I use to self-identify:

TransPOC – ‘coz that’s just a fact: I am a person of color​. I can’t ever switch that one off. Not even in the most intimate moments, ‘coz that’s how deep white supremacy creeps in– it manages to crawl inside your skin and colonize the shit out of your own colored body. And TransPOC, “trans” and “POC” together, because my race is only policed vis-à-vis of my gender, and my gender is only policed vis-à-vis my race. Or as I like to call it #Colonialism101: controlling, policing, ridiculing, silencing, fetishizing, dissecting, sexualizing, selling, buying and trading colored bodies through the lens of western white supremacist gender binary.

The rest is fairly self-explanatory. I do want to point out that I am university educated and this has given me TREMENDOUS amounts of privilege in navigating the world. Just the fact that I have access to the English language, and to a particular type/register of English language testifies to this.

I will also point out that I conclude this string of words with the word “lover”– love is a force that is taking more and more space in my art, my organizing and my everyday life. I wouldn’t be able to do all the work I do if I didn’t centre love as the driving force in my life: love for myself, love for others, and love for justice.

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When you were younger did you have a period of self-hate? If so how did that affect you internally and in the ways you expressed yourself or interacted with others?

​Oh Goddess! I’ve been in a “period of self-hate” for most of my life now! As much as I have learnt to love myself, to care for myself, to value myself, and to be happy with who I am, and as much as I am now the happiest I have ever been in my life, this does not mean that I have conquered it all! This only means that I am still working through shit, I am still working through a lot of shaming and self-shaming, and I am still learning to love and value myself a little bit more, every single day.

I like to think of shaming as functioning in layers: living in a white supremacist world that values only particular types of bodies, we learn to feel ashamed of ourselves from a very young age, and through our family, school, the media, society, our communities, we internalize layers and layers of shame over the years, and by the time we’re 15, we’re all pretty much screwed… It is only a couple of years ago that I started to actively work through all those layers of internalized shame and self-hatred. I’m still working through it; I don’t think it will ever end: each time I work through one layer, another layer appears, and that’s the challenge and the beauty of doing this type of work.

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What helped you decide not to hate yourself? What were the circumstances, how old were you?

​Oh this was a process. This was a long, long, very long process and it is still ongoing. I will mention a few things here that helped me and that worked for me. First, having amazing, kind, challenging, honest and supportive networks/people in my life. I consider myself very blessed– I’ve had some really rough shit to deal with in my adult life, but I’ve always had solid people to hold me when I broke down. Those people loved/love me so much, even when I hated myself, and they thus pretty much taught me how to love myself. (If you’re reading this right now, you know who you are: <3) Things also changed when I started​ connecting with more POCs, when I started surrounding myself by QTPOCs, and loving them, desiring them & fucking them, and reading their zines, and spending afternoons with them in parks, and running workshops and organizing festivals with them! Doing all this helped me see beauty in them so I could love myself a bit more; and it helped me see beauty in me, so I could love them a bit more. Things also changed when I started spending long nights with Audre Lourde and metro rides with bell hooks, and all those other amazing Black feminists and women of color writers. They helped me ground myself, they helped me honor my legacy, and they taught me to centre love in my life, my art and my work. Things also changed when I stopped dating and/or fucking cis-white able-bodied dudes. Things did change when I made a commitment to watch only porn that features POCs and only POCs. Things started to change when I started looking for representations of myself and my people in the media that I consumed-- the books I read, the blogs I followed, the shows I watched... Things changed drastically when I started working on my internalized misogyny and my internalized racism. This was and still is, without a doubt, the hardest part of the work for me, and yet, this is the work that allows me to love myself a little bit more everyday... 16501533752_04a6973be9_z

Where has your journey to living a life geared towards self-love taken you? How has your work as an artist been influenced by this journey?

​I think, more than anything, that a journey towards self-love has allowed me to love others better. A journey towards loving myself allowed me to be a more caring human being, first towards myself, and then towards others, and that in turn has helped me to build community in more intentional and accountable ways.

This journey towards self-love has allowed me to embrace my femme identity, my skin, my thick curly hair, my history, my legacy… It has also allowed me to make art and to finally get over the fear of my own voice and to express my right to narrate.

It has also made me a better lover! Once I had started working through my layers of shame, I started seeing people with different bodies in different ways: I started dating and fucking individuals for whom I wouldn’t have previously felt much attraction, and that pretty much revolutionized my sex life!

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When we spoke in December I remember you were talking about creating intentional space for QTPOC to heal legacies of hatred through self love, can you talk about that?

​YES! As I like to say, the revolution will not happen in the streets. It will first happen around dinner tables, park benches and comfy couches where we will intentionally spend time together, talk about the generations of trauma that we carry in our bodies, and slowly work through our pain and heal collectively. Once we do that, we can go and burn the streets for all I know. But first, we need to create the spaces for us to love each other and care for each other, and heal.

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Is there anything you think you could say to your younger self to turn away from self hatred or do you think it was an inevitable path that had to run its course?

Interestingly enough, I never talk to my younger self and/or think about talking to my younger self. But my younger self talks to me pretty much all the time! Generally speaking, my younger self says: “Don’t worry, you got this! You’re winning at this, who’d have thought?!” And that allows my present self to breathe a little bit in moments of panic!

In that journey towards self-love, one of my biggest struggles has been with self-forgiveness– you know, forgiving myself for shitty things I did to my younger self, ‘coz I didn’t know better, and even when I knew better, I put myself in threatening situations just because of low self-esteem?

I still struggle with self-forgiveness and I sometimes hate myself for things I did to my younger self. But my younger self is pretty badass, and often talks to my present self and asks me to forgive myself and to embrace and love my younger self. (I’m still working through this one…)

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What’s your favorite self-care activity?

​WELL, MASTURBATING, OF COURSE!
My self-care activities are fairly standard (watching shows, spending time in bed, having good food etc.), so what about I talk about my favorite self-love practices instead? I love touching myself in multiple sensual, erotic and sexual ways, I love dressing up and celebrating my body through clothes and make-up, and I love gifting myself a great deal of alone time.
Making art is also a gift of self-love to myself. Given that I have a full-time job and other commitments in life, making time to make art is a deep act of self-love to me: making art and allowing my voice, my point of view and my experiences to speak through the creative process is, to me, an act of self-love. Also, making art brings so much joy to my life, and I like making myself happy!

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Can you tell me more about Qouleur​ and GENDER B(L)ENDER? What does 2015 have in store for both of them?

Qouleur is a QTPOC grassroots arts festival that I co-founded in 2012. It is typically a 10-day festival that seeks to highlight the lives, work and art of queer and trans racialized folks in Montreal, and it is packed with workshops, film screenings, talks, an art exhibit and a performance night. Qouleur started because QTPOCs felt that neither mainstream nor alternative/radical Montreal queer and feminist spaces had an anti-racist and anti-colonial analysis AND practice to them, and that if QTPOCs wanted to have access to safe and celebratory spaces, they would have to create it themselves. The festival will be running for a 4th year in 2015, with an amazing collective of committed and passionate volunteers. I have stepped away from Qouleur to work on other projects, but it is phenomenal to see the project change and evolve according to the vision of new folks getting involved! <3 ​ GENDER B(L)ENDER is a monthly queer open mic that I founded in May 2013, and that I host every last Friday of the month. The idea, really, is to allow anyone to have a stage where they can perform whatever they want, and they won’t get judged for the quality or nature of their performance. No oppressive language or behavior is tolerated in the space and this applies to both audience and performers– those are the only rules of the night! It’s a fun, kind, nurturing and supportive space where most of the performers are performing for the first time of their lives. And that is a beautiful moment of self-love to witness and celebrate every month!

​For the 3rd year in a row now, I am curating a performance night called The Self-Love Cabaret: l’amour se conjugue à la première personne. This is an amazing night ‘coz it happens on Feb 14th and it is actually an anti-Valentines artistic manifesto! With a queer, feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial mandate, artists take to the stage to celebrate self-love instead of celebrating capitalist notions of belonging and coupledom! This year, I have a line-up of six absolutely amazing Montreal-based QTPOC artists whom I can’t wait to introduce! ​

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Kama La Mackerel is so incredible! You can find out all about their work and keep up with them at their website, Tumblr and Facebook Fan page. Thank you so much for your kind words and reflection, Kama!

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Half the Self Hate Instagram and Twitter contest:
**Contest extended!!**
I want to know how you’ve lost half your self hate! Write a tweet or an Instagram post about one practice you have employed to lose half your self hate. Or commit to employing one practice to lose half your self hate! (You can borrow a practice you learned about in this blog series!)

Hashtag your post with #halftheselfhate and make the post by February 20th at midnight Eastern time. Two winners will be chosen by a random draw.

One winner will receive a $50 gift certificate from Self Serve Toys a queer-owned feminist sex toy shop in Albuquerque, NM with a great online store!

A second winner will receive a Vesper vibrator worth $79 from Sugar, a queer-owned feminist sex toy shop in Baltimore, MD which also has an online store!

Self Serve Toys and Sugar believe, as I do, that all bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are.

*To qualify to win your Instagram or Twitter needs to be public! The winner will be selected by random number generated by random.org of all entries to the contest between February 11th and February 20th February 24th Midnight Eastern time.

2014-03-10

March Astrology Self Care Road Map with Empowering Astrology

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When shit feels like it’s hitting the fan, I like to know if things are going on astrologically that are informing it. Sometimes it feels like such a relief to know I’m not alone and that there are others being hit in their deepest places. I’m certainly not the only person in my life who is having to deal with some super deep, core stuff right now.

My partnership with Katie Sweetman of Empowering Astrology continues this month. We’ve put together a road map of this month’s doozy of astrological wallops… Katie says this month is all about self care and she’s right. We need to get centered and focused on ourselves in order to get through all of the things the stars have in store for us, leading up to the Cardinal Grand Cross in April.

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We both wrote some great self empowerment and self care based activities for this month, which you can check out in this free download.

I’m also very inspired lately by Katie’s words on her Facebook page a couple of weeks ago. That in this time we can be guided by fear, or we can instead choose hope. I remember that as a very centering thought these days as folks are honking impatiently, scowling on the street and otherwise not being particularly kind. I work to remember that everyone is dealing with something that is hitting them deep, and that we all react in our own ways. The only thing I have influence to change right now is my own thinking, so I do my best to set my thoughts on positive things. To be kind wherever possible, even if I’m not getting credit for it. And to be kind to myself, first and foremost. I’m big into turning rage into productivity and sometimes that’s about working on compassion even when it’s hard and feels super unfair.

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Katie is prepping for an amazing Astrology Retreat to a private estate in Ocho Rios, Jamaica April 3-8, 2014. Workshops include strengthening your intuition and after dinner rituals! I was thinking how if I had the cash it would be a no-brainer for me, I would hop that flight and escape the last dregs of Winter here in NYC (and this one has been a doozy of cold, bad weather and bad vibes). In prepping this post I went through the photos from the one and only beach vacation I’ve taken during the Winter, to Vieques, Puerto Rico. It was a lovely trip and it’s been far too long since I’ve had the resources to do that. If it’s in your power to (wo)manifest a trip with some astrology powerhouses, take Katie up on the offer to escape and learn more about astrology!

Check out the January and February self development exercises!

2207972782_d5d91960c8_zYou can tell it was a long time ago because my hair is super short! I started growing it out when I got laid off from my day job in late 2008 and started paring down expenses… I get my hair cut like twice a year now, back then I had to keep it up every eight weeks or so.

2014-03-07

Self Care Recalibration with a Chronic Illness and a Baby

This post is part of my mini-blog series about self care. Click this self care week tag to read all the posts!

When I was thinking about folks whose self care priorities I admired greatly, my friend G immediately came to mind. G left me a comment that changed my life a couple of years ago. Researching for my Love for EveryBODY workshop, I wrote a Facebook post asking friends with gender non-conforming bodies and/or chronic illnesses how they worked to love their bodies. G said “Stress is a toxin.” I quote that all the time and it has helped me reconceive how I think about self care. I have known her for over a decade, since we were both baby queers in nearby metro areas, and was curious how self care changed during and after the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and now that G is a parent in her early thirties how it has changed, too.

photoMy friend G and adorable baby L!

1. When you were diagnosed with MS (at what age?), what was your process around assessing the kind of self care you needed as a person with a chronic illness? What kind of self care did you need to engage in?

I was diagnosed at 26. It was what seemed to me at the time a long time to figure out what kind of self care I needed. A diagnosis like that is SO overwhelming. I really think it was probably two years till all the major pieces of self-care are realized, and it’s an ongoing process of identifying how certain parts of my life need to change in order to enact the self care needs, including ending relationships with people or organizations that used to work for me but I might come to realize induce more stress than joy, for example. Those realizations are difficult and ongoing.

I think the “process” involved a lot of trial and error, and a LOT of re-evaluation of the truths/stories I had in my head about the kind of person I was and what I did with my life. For example, at the time I prided myself for being super scrappy and always landing on my feet, getting by with very little financial resources, always believing things would get better in the future and building a lot of financial and social/emotional debt in the present. I had to accept that I needed to read and buy into “west coast” woo-woo talk of mindfulness and do yoga and eat like a hippie. I needed massage and to drink tea and to calm down.

I came to realize these things out of desperation at first–I was so sick restorative yoga was about the only kind of movement exercise I could do, and I had always ran and ridden my bike everywhere. I could tell that gossiping or ranting about something till I was blue in the face only made me feel extra exhausted and didn’t help things.

When something happens like you get really sick, you end up with piles of bureaucratic BS, with a works that seems unfair and unable to accommodate your sick self, and when I fumed for days about the unfairness of the insurance company or a workplace policy, I would feel sicker, and saw that nothing productive got done anyway. So the calculations look different now. I could spend 4 hours on hold and arguing with Time Warner [an American cable and internet service provider] in order to maybe have them correct the $15 error, or I could think “Would I pay $15 not to feel like this?” and call it a loss and move on. Is that awesome? No. Does it hold that evil company accountable? No. Does it save my health? Yes. I had to really focus and choose my political battles, and I really think my targets have gotten clearer and the related actions more efficient. The same is true socially. My world of what and who I cared about got smaller, and that’s ok, (even though it’s sometimes lonely) because the quality of those fewer connections are better.

Also I came to figure our that, as a person who always took pride in my paid-work ethic, that in order to stay alive I had to treat my self-care like a job. I put “exercise” on my work calendar and held myself to it as if I was going to teach a class. Even if I only ended up walking when I had hoped to run. Even if I couldn’t do it as long as I wanted. Required. As was sleep time, as was not drinking alcohol. Things got very clear and firm.

2. What surprised you during that process?

I think what surprised me at first was the way in which some deep themes, like scarcity, or putting others’ needs first until I blew my lid, we’re not isolated to say, finances or romantic relationships. They were deep and everywhere. I had to show up for myself in a new and major way. And it was scary.

I was also surprised that eventually, I was happier. Again that was some “west coast woo” stuff that I was sure my Protestant Midwest working class cultural pride had no time for-that happiness linked to healthiness. But it was and is true. The happier I am the way healthier I am. Not that I don’t get sick anymore or don’t have MS. I do. But I thrive and shine much brighter in the times between flare ups.

3. How did your self care needs change when you had a baby? What was anticipated and what was something you had to adjust to?

Hahaha. Well. I have to say I still haven’t mastered this one. I draw from lessons when I was a non-parent with MS, but it requires a whole new mantra. Because if I had a TON of extra cash for daycare when I was not working (I work on my phd work 2 days during the week and stay home with our infant 3 days a week) I could maintain my self-care bar. I could schedule yoga 1 or 2 times a week, go on a run a couple times a week. But that’s not happened. Massage and acupuncture has been greatly reduced. One income and a baby is real tight. So I’ve had to modulate what gets me through (aside from the added joy of the miracle of my baby and the stellar support of my partner) is telling myself “It will not always be like this. It will end eventually.” And it does. The days of sitting in how position for hours and hours has passed. The days of not being able to do anything like pee without the baby in my sight has ended.

And also self care right now looks like “good enough.” The day has ended and the dirty dishes cover every inch of my kitchen? I did good enough. Sit down in the couch with your wife for one hour of no-responsibility chill time. I can’t get a vigorous run or yoga session in? I make the baby’s nap time a sleep in the Ergo [a baby carrier that straps to a big human] while I take a 4 mile walk. It’s a lot of approximation and survival. And it has to be good enough for now.

Really it’s an extension of the major learning curve when I was first diagnosed, which is self-forgiveness. I was do disappointed in myself for having the disease, for being able to do less. I still have to practice self-forgiveness for not doing “enough” self care, or for not getting “enough” of my work done or not being a present enough parent the day I felt like crap. And I found that this practice allowed me to have a lot more compassion and generosity towards others.

4. How to you manage self care priorities as a parent with a chronic illness?

See above I think re: good enough and self forgiveness. Also, my wife is really amazing and if she hears me have a tired MS cough she sends me to bed or calls one of her besties over to our house to watch the baby so I can rest when I wouldn’t have done so myself.

5. How do you deal with “missing days” and let yourself off the hook for them?

See self-forgiveness. Also–scaled expectations. I have very long term goals. They are not made or broken in one bad day. I have had to accept that if they are, with the exception of having to push through one big presentation or deadline or something, they are not environments I want to be in. Like, if I am unable to think one day I had planned on reading a ton, then I do something mindless like delete emails, then rest. If my whole career as an academic crumbles because I strategically read the introduction of each book the day before class, it’s not a sustainable career. Also I’ve had to let go of the over-achiever image of myself I’ve had since I was little. I am not going to win 1,000 awards in grad school for service, teaching, and research. I have prioritized my health, stability in my family life, long-term involvement with political movements, and research. My work in the world is not to win awards. It’s to, as I think of that Alice Walker quote all the time, find my work in the world and do it. I will raise supported, loving, engaged children. I will have a robust and happy life-long loving relationship with my sweetie. I will produce research that changes the tides of the homelessness-industrial-complex. I will be a part if meaningful political change. I am doing it, and it us bigger than one day.

6. You told me once you treat stress like a toxin and nix it in the bud right away. How did you realize stress was a toxin and what are your body/mind/emotional warning signs that you’re feeling stressed? What do you do to nix it in the bud?

I can be a super intense person and I tend to recognize stress if something becomes invasive thinking that I can’t stop looping back to, can’t seem to let go of, or if something is taking a lot of my time when it shouldn’t be. Those are the “quantitative” things if you will (the things I can count, recognize, and reason).

Physically/emotionally I notice that I feel anxious and spent. Both exhausted and amped up. I tend to shut down, then suddenly come out of the shut down place very angry and upset. These kinds of things.

Some things, like when my daughter was in the ER last week, are necessarily stressful and they can only be mitigated–ask our friends to bring us dinner in the ER, be kind to and find the joy in my wife and baby even though it’s stressful and my body is tanked by it, cancel our weekend plans so we can just rest.

Other things, like people who are drama, involve not engaging, or being real clear like “our interactions do nothing but stress me out so I am not doing this anymore. I wish you well.” Some things, like undue stress when teaching, involve setting up really clear boundaries from the get go–I don’t check email between 5pm and 10am. Don’t expect me to. I don’t haggle about grades. Period.

Actually, I find email in general, or really any communication devices that are “input” a no-go after 5 or 6. I can’t have stress if I don’t know about it, and I tend to be most tired and ineffective after 5, and stress interferes with sleep, and 8 hrs of sleep is a requirement. So even though I am not working for wages right now I tend to avoid email or lots of texting or going places in the evening. It is time to take care of my and my fam’s bodily needs and go to bed. It sounds so boring on paper, but it’s really great. I love routine, I love slow, quality interactions with friends coming over for dinner. Getting MS is stressful and has been terrible, but it’s given me the impetus to have so much discipline and perspective in making my life center around what’s important, and at a fairly young age for our culture. Thank the Goddess. I am blessed.

Thank you so much G for this interview, this was amazing and gave me so much to think about. We don’t often learn how to distill our core priorities in life and then how to align our time spent with those priorities.

2014-03-05

Self Care Stretches Time and Creates Resilience

This post is part of my mini-blog series about self care. Click this self care week tag to read all the posts!

Self care is like driving a stick shift car in the city. Once you think you’ve got your gear set and you’re really rolling something comes up and you have to downshift or brake. There are a lot of moving parts to coordinate and things don’t go as expected. Self care is this constant balancing act. I want to make myself happy but I also don’t want to make myself suffer as a result of that happiness.

This morning, for example, I deeply craved a flavored black tea. I’m tea obsessed, and lately my jam has been complex, delicious, sweet black teas. Love Tea #7 from David’s Tea is perfect for this. But as I walked to the kitchen to start up the electric tea kettle I checked in with my body. My body is tense. I’ve been dealing with some mounting anxiety issues and I knew my body was going through it today especially. I sighed as I realized the better choice for me, in the moment, was to go for my “Feelings Tea,” a blend I create myself that is high on herbs that help calm down my anxiety (chamomile, lavender, catnip, along with oatstraw and hawthorne berries for emotional TLC).

I wondered in that moment if the self loving thing would be to give myself the pleasure I wanted by succumbing to the craving or if it was to take care of my body in the long-run and set my day up for more success than a rush of caffeine could offer?

That answer is sometimes both.
24383_379486228748_5305803_nI wasn’t sure what photos to use in this post so I decided to include photos of awesome people I ran into today on my way to a dentist appointment. This is Becca Blackwell, full of stories from the 90s, and who rules.

“Self care” is a bit of a buzzword nowadays, but the concept is fairly simple. I would define it as anything you do to take care of yourself.

Think of a parent, caring for a child. The kind of care that parent gives the child would vary depending on the child’s age, needs and parent’s inclination. The same goes for taking care of ourselves, the level of care we give ourselves depends on our needs, inclinations and how much attention we are paying.

Once we age out of someone else caring for us (or many of us never had someone providing all of the care we actually needed) suddenly we’re in the business of self care without a real roadmap for what that means.

In my post on how I deal with anxiety I talked about running a diagnostic on your body, mind and spirit to find out what it is that you need in order to take care of yourself. In my experience I do this by journaling to see what is coming up and just trying new self care out to see how it works. It’s imperfect, but generally I can tell when I haven’t been doing enough self care because I get my own warning lights. My chronic digestive disease starts acting up, my anxiety is flaring, I’m snapping at my loved ones. When I’m doing the right amount of self care often I feel in my flow–like I am in synergy with the universe.

We’re in a society that commodifies insecurity and privileges people who are constantly “busy.” When you ask someone “How are you doing?” they often reply, “Oh I’m so busy!” Being busy is a status symbol, and being busy is often the number one excuse folks have for not spending the time needed to take care of themselves.

Being a body liberation activist I believe everyone deserves to love themselves and their bodies. And part of loving your body is knowing what it needs, and what you need, to take exquisite care of yourself. It’s really important to me that I am in touch with my body. How can I teach other people to love themselves if I’m not doing things to love my own self?

Self care is a hassle, but the rewards are infinite. In the words of my friend Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s therapist, “Self care stretches time.” If you really are one of those constantly busy people, self care might be just the ticket for settling yourself down enough to create the time, identify and manage your priorities in order to live the life that you want.

tangerinejonesedbarnasI ran into Tangerine Jones, burlesque legend and incredible person. Check out the article she wrote in 21st Century Burlesque, Backlash Blues. Photo by Ed Barnas.

Self care is allowing yourself the time to digest what is going on in your life. Processing emotions and mental experiences are as important as rest periods when you’re training for a marathon. It’s that time when your muscles start to heal and become bigger–that’s what self care enables you to do with the mental and emotional stimulation going on.

So what constitutes excellent self care? That’s a highly personal question. Something as simple as brushing your teeth every day is self care. I’ve literally known people who were so strung out worrying about other people that they let their own hygiene fall by the wayside.

The more I’ve gotten to know myself and my body, the more I understand about what kind of self care I need. The more I’ve learned about what kind of care I need, the more of a priority I make it. This is a slow-going process of realization and eventual prioritization.

I’m also a recovering perfectionist. If I were to do “perfect” self-care I basically could do nothing else. I could shove my day full of yoga, meditation, soothing time in a bath tub, reiki, writing in my journal, going to meetings, going to the gym, and on and on. Once I started making self care a priority I would turn it into a whole cycle of “never enough” tapes in my head and I had to get myself to come correct and stop punishing myself for not caring for myself enough. How’s that for a difficult cycle to break?

I treat self care as a job, but I also work hard to not get obsessed with not doing it enough. I give myself a threshold of about 5-7 self care tasks every day, not including day to day stuff like hygiene and eating. (Many of these 5-7 daily self care tasks only take about 1-5 minutes and some can happen while I’m doing other things.) This is a lot, but I’ve been focused on my own self care for about three and a half years, adding things slowly to that list. I watched a great video by Cheryl Richardson where she suggests only focusing on one self care activity at a time, and the rest falls into place.

In the Winter I am confronted with some significant issues with seasonal depression, so I know if I want to avoid a February and March downward spiral, I need to start in October working on my Winter Care Regimen, a beefed up version of what I do every day.

8332_157396603748_4263703_nI met Becca during our time vying for the title of Miss LEZ. Photo by Maro Hagopian for the Village Voice.

Self care is about creating resilience. When you’re living in marginalized identities there is a lot of criticism and oppression to weather, and I do it a lot better when I’m on my self care game. This is especially true as I step more and more into the public eye.

Self care is about the more you have the more you can give.

Self care requires a constant diligence recalibrating. When you get sick or tired you have to stop and rethink, add more or delete other things going on in your life that are taking away from your ability to care for yourself.

I think a lot about fleeting pleasure versus contentment. Sometimes choosing the pleasure of the caffeinated flavor tea is not a sacrifice of my overall serenity, but I’ve learned how to drive my body well enough to know when that choice will have been like hitting a pothole. I can weather that pothole sometimes, and sometimes I can’t. Caring for myself means I need to lighten up a bit. These days emotional care nachos are a big choice during my girlfriend’s chemo treatment, in spite of my tricky digestive reaction to queso.

I’m compiling an epic self care post to go up this week as my mini series on self care continues! Comment with your self care ideas on my Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook Fan Page!

2014-03-04

Seven Strategies to Curb Anxiety

Towards the end of January I had a little bit of a break-down. I just felt completely overwhelmed and anxious. I wasn’t sure why. I had spent most of the weekend doing self care activities and was walking home from the gym on the phone with Jacqueline saying, “I just don’t know why out of nowhere I feel so anxious and it won’t go away!” And Jacqueline wisely told me that sometimes when she does self care like yoga or something very relaxing she ends up with more anxiety. That resonated with me. It feels like when I don’t acknowledge my feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, it’s like a cork that releases all this pent up stuff I haven’t been looking at and poof! I can’t get away from it.

As a result of this little mini-breakdown, I am obsessed with self care right now. I’m talking to people about their self care regimens, being more methodical about what I need from myself in order to be the person I want to be in the world. I now acknowledge that when it comes to taking care of others, the more I have the more I can give. My well has to be 100% full in order for me to give water to anyone else, and I’m in the role of primary caregiver to my girlfriend (yeah, we went there) who is going through chemo treatment for breast cancer right now.

12417512173_a30b444fb5_zI went away for a birthday retreat with my friends in February and it was all about finding a place with a hot tub. I love to meditate in a hot tub when it’s cold outside.

I am going to do a mini-blog series about self care and in this first post I detail what I do to handle anxiety when it comes. There are lots of ways to deal with anxiety, of course, but this is what has worked for me and what works for some of my pals. Obviously, there are varying degrees of anxiety and some folks should consider seeing a mental health professional, but for those who have kind of spotty occurring anxiety like me, hopefully these tips will help.

1. Pay attention and course correct.

I treat feelings of anxiety and overwhelm as warning signs. They’re my own personal “check engine light,” some kind of acknowledgement my body, mind and/or spirit needs attention. If I’m having anxiety come up more often than usual than I know something is wrong and I need to do the work to assess what’s going on in my life and where the imbalance is. If I were on Car Talk and talking about running a diagnostic, I would do the things I know to do when I need to diagnose what’s going on with me. Journal, phone a trusted friend, stop and look at what’s going on in my life. In the January example, I knew what was going on–I had three friends and one of my cats pass away in a three week span in December on top of being primary caregiver for someone with cancer. Any one of those things is a lot! I needed to be gentle with myself and take care of myself and the check engine light came on!

When I’m feeling anxiety, it’s hard to know in the moment that I need to do something differently, in the moment all I can do is think “Fuck, how can I make this stop?” Then I turn to more immediate solutions.

2. Drink stress relieving tea.

Over my Christmas trip to visit my mom and grandmother I woke up feeling intense anxiety one morning. (I think this was another moment where I was relaxing and the cork popped out and all the grief and anxiety I was feeling came out.) I didn’t have anything that could cut the anxiety in the moment, so I went rummaging through Grandmother’s tea cabinet to see if she had any chamomile. Lo and behold, she still had the tea sampler I created as a hostess gift for my cross country road trip two years ago. Fully intact, it held in it four kinds of loose tea including “Stressed Out Tea.” It was like a gift to myself from the past. I drank that tea like I was chain smoking, one cup after another and within a couple of hours it started to work.

I bought the Stressed Out Tea from PS Coffee and Tea in Park Slope, but here are the ingredients if you want to create it yourself. Stressed Out Tea (blend of lots of herbs to calm down including rosemary, peppermint, chamomile, lady slipper, catnip, violet, feverfew, wood bettany herb, blessed thistle herb, white willow bark, stevia herb, raspberry leaf and flavored with peppermint oil).

841322_156802627802561_896072570_oPhoto by Katrina Del Mar.

3. Treat self care like a job.

Self care is a really important aspect of my anti-anxiety routine. The best thing I can do for my anxiety is to prevent it from happening. I like to say self care is a full time job, which it kind of can be, especially in the Winter when we have all the Winter Feelings and seasonal depression.

The other day I was staying with friends and they told me, “We go to bed at 9:30.” Which is an amazing example of prioritizing getting the sleep they need and having a mellow, unrushed morning. I have so much admiration for people who prioritize their self care.

Since my breakdown in January I have been very strict about doing all the core self care things I do every single day. I knew I hadn’t been doing the things I usually do every day, I was skipping some. I was in love jail, snuggled up with my sweetie in Winter and mistaking those temporary good feelings with the things I need to do for my own sanity in the long run.

4. Cut the caffeine.

Eliminating caffeine from my diet has been great for keeping my anxiety at bay. Some days I have none, some days I have a little, but I keep it in check as much as possible. I started the Lesbian Tea Basket web series when I gave up coffee for digestive reasons. Replacing my passion for coffee with tea wasn’t exactly a substitute (I still dearly, desperately, love coffee) but I do now feel very passionately for tea in a way I didn’t expect. I think the herbal aspects of tea are medicinally great but I also think the ritual of brewing and consuming a hot beverage is very soothing.

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5. Exercise.

It’s such a hassle sometimes, but exercise is so crucial to my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It soothes everything for me. If I can keep it up at least twice a week it’s great to keep me from getting depressed or anxious.

6. Medicate.

There are a lot of people I know who medicate for anxiety. I’ve never gotten a prescription for anything mental health related, but haven’t ruled out the possibility. There’s so much stigma associated with mental health prescriptions but honestly, I think stigmas around what people need to do for their mental health are bullshit. If you have a headache you take an advil, if you have anxiety and a pill will help, maybe take the pill? I’m definitely a follower of the Kate Bornstein philosophy of living:

Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living. Anything at all. It can be illegal, immoral, unethical, self-destructive… anything at all if it makes your life more worth living. There’s only one rule to follow to make that kind of blanket permission work: Don’t be mean.

I just got some Rescue Remedy to see if an herb tincture (they also have pastilles/candy and gum) could help me in those moments where in emergency I need to break glass. So far it seems to work though I’ve only done it a couple of times when I was mildly stressed and haven’t had a major anxiety bout since I got the tincture.

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I have some friends who medicate with klonipin (one of them just nibbles a little on a pill to take the edge off an anxiety episode), ativan, and xanax. Obviously you’ll go see a mental health professional or general practitioner who can advise about prescription meds.

Other friends I know with chronic anxiety use medical marijuana. For those who don’t know there are like a billion kinds of marijuana and there are lots of different ways to use it. Depending on your body chemistry there are kinds that just take the edge off the anxiety and you can still function (“cleaning the kitchen” weed) or others that make you want to sit on the couch. I am into watching documentaries about the medical marijuana dispensaries on Netflix and what it can do for folks. Again, this is totally something to go talk to a professional about if you’re in a jurisdiction that has the medical marijuana.

7. Meditation.

I am a shitty, inconsistent meditator. However, if I can take a minute to stare at some birds and ponder what they are up to, look up at the sky for thirty seconds, or close my eyes and just notice what sounds I hear, that will do me as much good as sitting in a chair with my eyes closed trying really hard to think about nothing. It’s really not much more for me than a way to ground myself in the present and remind myself that I am safe. When I’m feeling anxious I am not feeling safe.

12919812773_f0c6e5949d_zThis bird feeder was right next to the hot tub at the house we stayed at!

I hope this not comprehensive list helps out when folks are feeling frustrated by bouts of anxiety. Leave your tips in the comments!

2014-02-20

Five Things I do Every Winter to Avoid Seasonal Depression

This post is part of my mini-blog series about self care. Click this self care week tag to read all the posts!

When I was a teenager living in sunny Northern California I completely resented the sunlight for being so cheerful. I was a surly, depressed and unhappy teenager who had been relentlessly bullied in my childhood and middle school years. I think it was to be expected.

11534524226_e726da4816_oThis is the present-day backyard at my mom’s house. My teenage bedroom window is on the right. It’s waaaaaay nicer in the backyard than it was 20 years ago. When I was home for Christmas I spent each morning of my 2 day stay in the hot tub.

What I didn’t realize that upbringing was doing to me was making me unsuited to any other climate. The first few years I was living on the East Coast I wasn’t really in touch with myself and my emotional well-being to understand that what was happening to me in February and March was seasonal depression, but as I’ve learned more about it and developed coping strategies I actually can see when it creeps up and I know how to stave it off.

Seasonal depression is about lack of sunlight. I am a creature who comes alive in the sun, even though I used to resent it so much and I can get wickedly sunburnt. But I sincerely appreciate it and definitely need it for my own well-being.

I was hanging out with someone who was so delighted by the warmish, bright day we had on Monday that she pumped up the heat in her apartment, threw open her window and laid down in the sunbeam. Naked. (The UV rays won’t penetrate glass so you need the exposure to the direct light.) I thought that was the most delicious way I’d heard to combat seasonal affective disorder.

12663409293_09c60c005a_z When I was visiting my mom for Christmas we went on a hike at Point Reyes for my birthday (which is Christmas Eve).

I thought it would be helpful to share my Winter regimen, which has five main components:

1. UV Therapy Light–I use a UV lamp (aka “Happy Lamp”) every single day for at least 15 minutes but usually 30. I flick it on first thing in the morning when I do my journaling and I sit right next to it. If I’m not journaling I’ll read or sit on my computer. It really works. The one I have now was a hand me down from a friend and I’m thinking of getting a travel one because mine is kind of big and hard to move around. I start my UV light work in late November and lasts until it feels like Spring is really happening. Here’s a version from Amazon that looks handy and small.

I also know some folks who go tanning (the bed kind, not the spray kind) and have said it is mood altering, but of course there is the skin cancer risk…

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2. Vitamin D–I start taking a Vitamin D supplement in October. Just one additional pill on top of my multi-vitamin.

3. Walking–I walk for 20 minutes every day and I try for that walk to be around noon when the sun is at it’s highest. Even in the snow. I try to do this all year long but I have a heavy emphasis on this in the Winter months. I have a dog so that really acts as an impetus to walking.

4. Exercise–I exercise year round as a way to assist my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. It’s the best thing I can do to take care of myself and in the Winter ideally I go to the gym three times a week. In October my gym buddy Avory and I were talking about upping our gym regimen because “Winter is coming…”

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5. Keep the blinds open. Part of my morning ritual is opening the curtains up in my room. I’m on the second floor, which is great for birdwatching but not so great for light, but those little bits of sunlight that occasionally peek through are important to me and it reminds me that there is a world turning outside and it’s not perpetual darkness.

I hope these help. It’s not too little too late, when I find myself off the bandwagon within a couple of weeks I can feel the effects of my seasonal depression strategies at work again.

2014-02-13

My Second Session of Relationship Coaching with the Lesbian Love Guru

This is the second entry in a series about my experience Relationship Coaching with Christine Dunn-Cunningham, the Lesbian Love Guru. Follow the lesbian love guru tag on the blog to catch all the entries!

My not-yet girlfriend and I had our second session of relationship coaching the week after we began. Christine suggested we continue our coaching separately. It’s counterintuitive to how I pictured this coaching would occur; I imagined we’d both be together on skype with Christine, but instead we each take thirty minute separate calls with her. Since we tend to be together when it happens, the other hangs out in the living room with music playing.

Being out of earshot enables real talk with Christine about what’s happening. Often if you explained a problem in your relationship to a third party, you would use really different language than if you were together. I find it a relief not to think about Dara’s feelings when I’m explaining something. I feel like I can get right to the solution without spending extra time sugar coating an issue.
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Prior to the second session we had each filled out intake forms for coaching and sent them to her as well as one another. The intake form reinforces Christine’s confidentiality agreement.

The issue of confidentiality is paramount to this [coaching] relationship. My understanding is that nothing in this [coaching] relationship is to be discussed outside of our conversations. There are times when references to others may be helpful, however I would not ever mention a name or person that would lead someone to infer the discussion was about you as a client.

The rest of the intake forms were about our future visioning, setting out goals and what we think is limiting us. I liked that we shared them with each other because sometimes it’s good to see what the your sweetie is expressing in terms of goals for an ideal love life and how they see their future. What if your big goals are really incompatible? That’s important to talk about!

In my one-on-one session with Christine we focused on what was going on for me at that moment. This had a little less to do with my relationship and more to do with how I was feeling with my own time management. One of my goals this year is to get more structured about how I use my time. I am also really worried about caregiver fatigue because Dara has breast cancer and I’m her primary caregiver. Time management is important because I need to make sure I prioritize my self-care, which is easy to let fall by the wayside when you’re only dealing with things that are “bleeding.”

20140213_124617At her first chemo appointment, as the awesome nurse Erin at Sloan-Kettering was “pushing” the first dose of chemo poison, Dara sang Alice Cooper’s “Poison.” I would have gone with Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” which might do more to explain our communication issues than anything else.

Even though caregiving isn’t all that taxing (yet), it is a lot of time. After her surgeries was a lot of letting her rest and heal while I took on the lion’s share of the housework. Making sure we’re eating whole, healthy foods is another thing I’ve taken on 90% of the time. Her cancer diet is pretty restrictive, which means most of what I make is from scratch. Add to that we both work to only eat humane meats, which requires special trips to the butcher. I feel extremely grateful for my work from home lifestyle because when I plan well I can be cooking while working. But my time management can really use some improvement so that the planning part of that intention actually happens!

20140212_203059I highly suggest this infinitely customizable pizza casserole recipe, passed along to me by my dear friend JLV.

Christine suggested a Tony Robbins tool called “Rapid Planning,” which helps to ensure what you’re doing is in line with your priorities. I’ve begun implementing it in stages and so far it is helping me be mindful of my priorities. Just because something is urgent (bleeding) doesn’t mean it’s important and I need to remember that.

She also taught me a grounding exercise. When I got on the phone I told her I was feeling really spazzy and she did a meditation with me that was really quick and powerful. She’s offering an MP3 of the grounding meditation on her website for free if you click the link. I love a guided meditation and am totally keeping this on my phone for when I need a 30 second reminder that I’m right here, right now, one with the universe.

Dara and I usually talk about our sessions afterward–highlights and tools. She got a tool to work on for homework about how she responds to my emotions. I have really Big Feelings sometimes* and my face is a billboard–I usually don’t want to express myself right away but I can’t help it! Often what I feel immediately isn’t what I feel ultimately once I’ve had time to digest my reaction. My emotional reactions have historically been very difficult for Dara to handle, as she hates disappointing me or hurting my feelings. This has been difficult for many of my past loves.

20140213_111246I thought it was important to wear something cute to chemo.

Christine suggested a tool she calls “Holding the Bucket” where Dara doesn’t actually have to do anything but witness and recognize my feelings. She doesn’t need to take them on or feel bad for hurting me. I actually love this tool because it gives me a chance to have my Big Feelings and later apply the tools I have to respond instead of react and engage in my process without worrying about her reaction.

“Holding the Bucket” helped Dara prepare for a difficult conversation she wanted to have with me that we did some more work on getting geared up for during our third session. Dara said it helped her see that she didn’t have to take my feelings so personally, since they were about me and my process not necessarily about Dara.

Dara also told me she had been triggered by something that happened between us the night before this session. It was a relief to be able to talk to someone who was such an impartial party and a great listener.

I am really enjoying my experience working on my relationship with Christine’s help. I was pleasantly surprised at how skilled she is at working with folks on an individual level. She works with singles, couples and poly permutations. Experiencing how she is able to guide me one-on-one, though it’s centered on things coming up in my relationship, definitely enforces how awesome she is with singles looking to break down their limitations on finding and experiencing the love relationships they want.

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Christine offers a limited number of free introductory thirty minute calls every month. Twelve of you signed up last month. If you want to try her out, click here and sign-up! You’ll get to know Christine and find out if she’s a good fit for you, as a single, couple or poly permutation! (Even though she’s a “Lesbian” Love Guru she actually works with all gendered folks on all parts of the gender and sexuality continuums.)

*In my natal chart I have a Scorpio Moon.

2014-01-24

Five Ways to Begin to Love Your Body Right Now

In my interview with Amy McDonald at the Happy Healthy Lesbian Telesummit, she asked me for five tips people can employ to love their body more right now. I wanted to write these up and share them with readers who didn’t get a chance to hear the interview and for new readers who want to remember them from the interview. (If you missed the interview and want to listen to it–along with several other incredible talks with lesbian and queer folks talking about money, love, bodies, nutrition, travel, it’s available as a download. Click here to view more details.)

You don’t have to wait to have a good relationship with your body. Not after you lose weight or start going back to the gym or get a lover. Whatever space you’re in with it, you can start making peace right now.

1. Remember that you are not alone.

Everyone has a hard time with their body at some point or another. My friend Glenn Marla says, “There’s no wrong way to have a body.” And everyone can do better at loving their bodies right where they are at.

We’re in a society that commodifies insecurity–it serves the billion dollar beauty and diet industries if we hate ourselves so we buy all of their stuff. If you could really solve your own body hatred by buying something it would totally work but it doesn’t.

Even the most ardent body positive activist has “bad fat days,” and the struggle with our very human bodies is part of being human.

2. Be honest about your yucky feelings.

I am a big believer in naming our hard feelings and getting them out of ourselves. It helps expell shame. So if you feel complicated about a body part, be honest about it.

An exercise I’m a big fan of for a body part you feel complicated about is to talk to it. First, touch it, softly. If this were my stomach I’d rest my hands on it. Then I would talk to it. “Hey stomach, I’m feeling really complicated about you. X, Y and Z are making me feel really hard today.” Then, after you name the hard feelings, start thanking it for what it does do for you. “I know I feel complicated about you today, but I want to tell you thank you for being a soft place for my dog to rest, filling out my dresses, being a great canvass for a tattoo, etc…”

rp_7611841844_73be89d6d6.jpgFrom a Rebel Cupcake a couple of years ago. I felt sooooo complicated about that outfit.

3. Take excellent care of yourself.

When you don’t feel good about your body it is really hard to have the motivation to take care of it. Self care is really important for mental, physical, emotional and spiritual help, though, and it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle, negatively and positively. The more you don’t take care of your body the more you start hating it and the reverse is true, too.

Once you start taking care of your body by doing things like getting enough sleep or learning intuitive eating, it starts helping you feel more comfortable in your body.

It’s taken me years to learn how to take care of myself and I’m still learning. I just said to Jacqueline the other day, “I’m 35 years old and I just realized that I absolutely need to eat lunch within a couple hours of breakfast. As soon as I leave the house I end up in this spiraling vortex of not being able to get the food I need and I get hangry and want to kill someone.” It is so weird because my logic brain is just like, “I shouldn’t be hungry yet,” except that I actually usually get hungry and should just pay attention to my body.

Is there something for your body you could do to take good care of it today? Like an extra hour of sleep? A long bath or shower? Self care stretches time, according to Kelli Jean Drinkwater, and it really goes a long way.

rp_6051297793_7ca8fb97d1.jpgEveryone has a body! With the Miracle Whips.

4. Get value-neutral about your body.

I heard a spiritual thought leader say that the body was just a vessel for the soul. I have found that idea very helpful in coming to terms with my body changing when I don’t ask it to. It’s similar to the sentiment I expressed about How to be a Good Ally to Fat People Who Appear to Have Lost Weight. It’s just a body, in a different form.

Sometimes our bodies are doing things that frustrate us, as in a period of lessened mobility, or sometimes our bodies may feel absolutely great. Being really attached to one kind of outcome or another is a vicious cycle of not enough or worry about things changing. Weight naturally fluctuates a little bit, skin gets saggy when it gets older. It just changes, but it doesn’t have to change how much unconditional love you have for your body.

Part of learning to be body positive for me was learning my body was not my worth. The acceptance of your body without judgment is really powerful. It takes baby steps but repeating mantras of, “It’s just my body.”

5. Stop negative talk about other people’s bodies.

I absolutely love the expression, “When you point your finger you have three pointing back at yourself.” I have had to do a lot of work to stop judging other people’s bodies. When I hear myself begin to judge I stop and I change it to noticing. It’s a subtle difference but it does actually work. “I’m noticing that that person has amazing boobs. I’m noticing that that other person is very thin.”

We are conditioned in our diet/scarcity/commodified insecurity culture to judge other people’s bodies but that is actually not our job. So if I work to stop buying into that in my own head, and externally with my friends and family, I’m doing the work to change the culture I see as so damaging. I believe that change begins with me and I want to do my work to make the world more loving of all bodies.

I also think that we are our own worst critics. Whenever someone spends the time to say something really hateful I wonder what they are saying to themselves, alone, when no one is around. People who are terrible critics of other bodies are saying nastier things to themselves.

And the good news is as you get more value-neutral, compassionate and understanding about other people’s bodies it really helps to become compassionate about yours.

2014-01-23

I Got Back Together with My Ex and Started Relationship Coaching with the Lesbian Love Guru

This is the first entry in a series about my experience with Relationship Coaching with Christine Dunn-Cunningham, the Lesbian Love Guru. Follow the lesbian love guru tag on the blog to catch all the entries!

In November of 2012 I started dating someone who I thought was just going to be a friend with benefits. That turned into a super deep connection I wasn’t expecting. Neither of us did. I went with it and we fell into a “thing” we were calling “keeping company,” a delightfully old fashioned term she picked up from her uncle’s description of his courtship of her aunt thirty plus years ago. We had a lot of fun together but ran into a lot of static around a few areas, including communication. It took me until months after it ended to realize that how disparate our semantics often were. She would be saying one thing, using the same words I would use, but mean something completely differently than I was understanding. Like we’re both calling something an apple but really I mean a peach.

8868390850_f762dea0b1_oLast May. Photo by Grace Chu.

Things ended at the end of March when the fact that she didn’t want to be in a relationship, and hadn’t wanted to be in one in the first place, meant we needed to break-up. In our first iteration, things were just always so hard for us together emotionally, and when you don’t want to be in a relationship you don’t want to do the work to be together. She was also preparing for an epic, possibly forever, road trip. Selling all of her possessions, getting some part time consulting she could do remotely, and staying with loved ones a few weeks at a time. A life in an RV I’ve been visioning for a long time, a tiny version of which I took in 2011, but she was going solo.

I had thought we could eventually transition to long distance in some way, and we fell back into an “ambiguous” relationship status within three weeks of breaking up. Eventually that fell apart, too, she left town and I thought I’d never talk to her again. By the end of that ambiguous period I had my own reasons for not wanting to be in a relationship with her. Our mutual frustration lapsed into a long period of radio silence.

I recognized that the grief I was feeling about the break-up was incommensurate with the loss. I started doing some spiritual work through the help of Katie at Empowering Astrology. She helped me cut emotional cords and end what she described as a karmic cycle Dara and I were in.

Cut to October, when we had a pretty organic reconnection. She was back in NYC for a couple of weeks and we met-up and made peace. I thought maybe we could try “benefits without friends,” as a way to just focus on what always worked with us. (Sex.) I could slot her into my life the way a few treasured friends have; when we’re in the same town we sleep together if our relationship statuses allow for it and the rest of the time we’re just casual friends that text every now and again. This was a mildly complicated idea for me because I knew I was still in love with her I just couldn’t be in a relationship with her.

8867777135_1606770681_bPhoto by Grace Chu.

Life threw us a giant curve ball because when Dara was in town she happened to visit her GYN for her annual exam and they found a lump. She was diagnosed with breast cancer after she had gone back to LA (where she was at the time) from her NYC visit. (She’s been video blogging her experience with cancer.)

What does it mean when your ex gets diagnosed with breast cancer? I didn’t know. I knew I was still in love with her, that had never changed. I knew I didn’t want her to be my girlfriend because I’m really dedicated to loving unconditionally and to want her to be my girlfriend would mean I would require her to change… and I didn’t want to do that. So I resolved myself to just be there for her as much as I could be. “Open heart and good boundaries,” became my mantra. A witchy friend even prescribed a tincture of Ocitillo which I serendipitously found in a South Brooklyn apothecary.

We hung out when she got back to NYC to start treatment. It was really great and really easy. We hung out again. And then another time. The quality of conversation, the ease at which we were able to tread topics that would have been hard or hurty before was surprising. I was able to do the things that I liked to do to support her–cooking nourishing meals, being sweet to her, giving massages. As well as encouraging her to relax and do self-care, two things she is now learning how to do post-diagnosis that she’s never prioritized before. The ways in which I thought I needed her to change kind of melted away, and somehow I was different, too.

I was a little confused. I mean, when does your ex become your lover again? She has breast cancer and sex is life affirming. And all the in between moments were so magical. I kept telling my friends I felt like Dara and I were in a different dimension.

There was other stuff, too. I kind of thought I could be there for her but there’s no way she could show up for me, having cancer. And then my December 2013 took hold, three friends passed away in the span of two weeks and the week before Christmas I unexpectedly and quickly had to put my beloved cat ALF to sleep just six months after his brother Bear passed. And through it all Dara was a champion–supporting me, handling logistics, making sure I could bring Macy with me to the vet when I had to rush ALF to the kitty ER for his final moment. After my fiance and I broke up I swore I wouldn’t get serious about someone again until we had gone through a crisis together. Being with Dara in this iteration feels like we’re running a gauntlet–except we’re laughing, holding hands and getting through it in this hopeful and happy way I never knew was possible. Like if we can be this good in a crisis how nice will life be when we can just work and travel together?

1497957_10201768063297968_397615989_oAfter her first lumpectomy surgery (she had to go back in for a reexcision lumpectomy two and a half weeks later) I was in the recovery room with her and we made a game about how silly of a photo we could create with found hospital objects. Together we conceived her Rudolph look.

With the heady mix of old intimacy and new relationship energy, I suggested we might want to get relationship coaching. In fact, neither of us is willing to call each other “girlfriend” yet because we want to eliminate fears of slipping back into old communication patterns and the stuff that was so hard before. It hasn’t happened yet, we’ve done a great job of communicating through rough spots; often we just stop a conversation that feels like it could get sticky and awkwardly back out of it. But it could happen, and a professional might help us set the kind of foundation we never had before.

Enter Christine Dunn-Cunningham, the Lesbian Love Guru, who I met over the summer. I was thinking of working with her as a single person who wanted to open myself up to finding the future Mx. Branlandingham. When Dara and I were starting to become a “thing” again, I read some of the Lesbian Love Guru blog entries (full of incredible tips) and this one about High Quality Quality Time totally helped me. In the entry she suggested having a conversation where you figure out which activities create the deepest sense of connection between both of you. So I had that conversation with Dara one day cuddled up in bed. Thinking about what I needed in a connected moment helped me ask for that the next time we were both having a rough day. (The connected activity for me was praying together, by the way.)

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Hanging out in this week’s blizzard.

The success I had with applying the tips from the blog entry definitely told me that Christine would make a great coach for us. And there’s a huge difference from following advice in a blog and working directly with someone to create a program for you. That’s why I love coaching!

We corresponded via email and she offered me one of her free introductory sessions.

I talked to her on the phone during the session and she explained that her coaching can take different forms. Sometimes she works just with one of the people in a relationship, who then takes the work back and applies it to the relationship. Sometimes she works with both partners separately and sometimes she works with them together. I had originally envisioned the two of us on Skype with Christine building capacity for our communication, but she said she would want to start with a session where the two of us spoke to her on our own to get our perspectives.

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Christine also has experience coaching folks in polyamory, which was great for us because some of our stickiness is around establishing a foundation where we can create some kind of non-monogamy or polyamory that works for both of us. I’ve never successfully done non-monogamy in a primary relationship and Dara has been practicing polyamory for twenty years.

Even though she’s called the “lesbian” love guru, Christine actually coaches folks of all genders, on the trans spectrum and some straight couples. Because at the end of the day, relationships are relationships.

During the first session where we each spoke separately, Christine asked us for each of our versions of our first iteration, what areas of growth we wanted in our relationship and what we were hoping for out of coaching. Dara remarked afterward that she felt “heard” about our first iteration for the first time ever. Christine is really easy to talk to and is great at asking the right questions to open you up.

I’m excited to work with Christine moving forward. I’ll be blogging about the experience so stay tuned!

Christine is offering a limited number of free introductory sessions to readers of my blog (with folks later in the game on a waiting list). The first session is great–it’s a great way to see if she’s a match for what you want. Again, Christine works with established couples and single folks and people of all genders and sexualities (even though the landing page is geared towards women specifically). She’s really great and in that introductory call you’ll walk away with tangible stuff you can apply to your life to help you open yourself up to a great relationship.

Also, this week Christine and I were both featured in the Happy Healthy Lesbian Telesummit. Hopefully you got to catch our interviews when they were released, but if you missed them you can download them as a package (along with a slew of other great interviews about money, nutrition, love, travel, healing and body love). Click here to view more details

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