Trusting My Heart

I called off work today because I’m sick. Not being able to do much aside from lie in bed and drink tea provides the perfect opportunity for me to craft the first blog post I’ve written in weeks. Today’s topic: grad school.

The past several months have been a whirlwind of mostly incredible things. I was admitted to my first choice graduate program and secured the assistantship I wanted most. I graduated from Miami roughly a week and a half ago with a B.A. in Professional Writing and a minor in Marketing. Over-all, things were on the up-and-up.

Graduate assistantships are tremendously valued among Student Affairs programs; they’re how students gain a lot of practical experience in the field. My program at IU requires students to hold assistantships in order to remain in the program. While these types of positions benefit the institution by providing reduced-cost labor, students often receive things like tuition remission, stipends, housing, etc. as compensation for their work.

Finding my happiness during Outreach (interview days) at IU

The assistantship I accepted – a Resident Director position  – covers all of the above and more. I’m tremendously lucky to have so many expenses taken care of. The tuition remission takes care of the in-state portion of my tuition and I am responsible for the out-of-state part. I interviewed for and accepted the position knowing this, understanding that I would have to rely on loans and/or scholarships for some of the cost.

Despite telling my parents about the partial tuition waiver, I didn’t make clear enough that I would still need to cover the rest of IU’s tuition. It came up in conversation with my mom early last week and she was livid. My dad felt similarly and insisted I hadn’t told him about the tuition situation (even though I am certain I had).

The past week and a half have been rather tumultuous. I’ve become the verbal punching bag for my parents’ anxieties about my future. They’ve made it clear that they are no longer proud of me, that my decision was selfish and poorly-calculated. My mom keeps referring to it as my “big mess-up.”

I’m entirely responsible for my grad school expenses, but they’re afraid I’ll never be able to pay off any student loans or afford a comfortable lifestyle. Prior to this fiasco, I had faith that things would work out just fine, but now I share the same fears as my parents. I do not regret my decision in my program or assistantship, but I’m anxious at the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

My dad is the Dean of the College of Business at a public university in Ohio and (as my parents have reminded me several times this past week) I could have gone there for free. Or I could have chosen a different assistantship. Or I could have gotten a job instead of pursuing more school. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel guilty about not choosing these paths.

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Looking at the city I’ll soon call ‘home’

The nerves have taken a toll on me physically and emotionally and I’ve been incredibly stressed about money (my budget is so tight that I couldn’t purchase toilet paper when I ran out last week…luckily I had Kleenex on hand). I’m afraid of failing financially in a way that messes up my life forever.

But the reality is, I followed my heart. I went with the route I knew I wanted to go from the beginning and I don’t regret it. Throughout the course of this year, I realized that attending the institution where my dad works – and potentially living at home for two more years – was impossible because of my parents’ views on my sexuality and other things; it’s time to let myself thrive with the people and places I once only dreamed of getting to know. I couldn’t be more happy to start at Indiana this August and I’m excitedly counting down the days to my assistantship start date in July.

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My first visit to Marian where I’ll work as an RD starting this July

I got into my top choice program and landed a position that will surely bring amazing experiences and opportunities my way; I had to work really hard to get there. Despite my parents’ anger, disappointment, and nervousness, I’m proud of myself and looking forward to what’s to come.

Of course, words of assurance, financial success stories, personal tips, and anything that reaffirms that I’m headed in the right direction are welcome! However, I’m happy with my decisions and can’t wait to start anew in just 53 days.

 

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Stuff I’ve Been Reading Lately (+ My 2017 Summer Reading List)

Sunday was World Book Day, so this post is a tad late, but books are always important, right? I want to talk about some new additions to my bookshelf over the few months, as well as list some things I hope to read over the summer, but I’m not planning to create a detailed book review; I just want to share a few of the reasons I think these books were great.

Stuff I’ve Been Reading Lately

  1. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
    This fiction novel takes place in post-WWII Germany and involves a romance between a woman and a young boy. It’s scandalous, but not in the way it probably sounds on paper…there’s depth. It was part of Oprah’s Book Club, so it’s got some merit.
  2. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
    If you aren’t already a fan of Brené Brown, watch her TED Talk on “The power of vulnerability” and be enlightened. Brené is incredible. Whenever I meet another person who appreciates her work, it’s an opportunity for instant friendship. This book got me through the grad school interview process. Go read it. Now.
  3. Lavender by Christopher Poindexter
    Wonderful poetry. Unfortunately, it’s currently sold out on Amazon, but I suggest getting your hands on a copy ASAP. Selections from this book informed some of my recent poetry and I continue to look to Poindexter’s style for inspiration. A current student in the grad program I’m entering this fall recommended it to me during my interview days in Indiana and inadvertently got me started on a poetry kick.
  4. Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately by Alicia Cook
    Also amazing poetry. Also recommended to me by the same person who suggested Lavender. The poems are honest and emotional as Cook chronicles her journey through addiction recovery…and as if the poems themselves weren’t enough, Cook suggests a song for the reader to listen to with each one. Invest in some tissues.
  5. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
    I’ve read this book multiple times and it doesn’t get old. Cisneros writes from the perspective of a young Mexican-American girl caught between childhood and adolescence. It’s humorous at times, sad at others, and raw throughout. Like the poetry books, it’s a quick read that really packs a punch.

Stuff I Plan to Read this Summer (and know very little about)

  1. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
    Good poetry.
  2. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    While the author recently faced criticism for perpetuating transphobia (disguised as “feminism,” nonetheless), I’ve heard awesome things about this book and its commentary on the importance of feminism in contemporary society.
  3. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    This one connects current race issues in the United States with the country’s history and illustrates how race as a social construct has acted as a foundation of American society since the beginning. Coates focuses especially upon how race-based U.S. society disadvantages black people in particular.
  4. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    I honestly don’t know much about this novel other than that it highlights issues of race, immigration, and culture. It’s written by the same author as We Should All Be Feminists (above) and has received strong reviews.
  5. Behold the Dreamers: A Novel by Imbolo Mbue
    Written by a Cameroonian immigrant, about a family of Cameroonian immigrants, this fictional story illustrates the triumphs and challenges faced by immigrants in the U.S. during the 2007-2008 financial crisis.
  6. Nevada by Imogen Binnie
    I first saw this one at a cute little bookstore in Indianapolis in February and it’s been on my mind since. The protagonist is a queer trans woman in NYC, and while I don’t know much beyond that, it has some pretty solid reviews.
  7. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudie Rankine
    This one talks about seemingly small racist aggressions (aka microaggressions) as they appear in everyday life in the twenty-first century. Rankine explores the effects of racism in modern day society.

Me in a Dress?

I planned to write a post about wearing dresses to some end-of-semester events this spring. I was going to touch on how I felt about it (actually not as bad as expected), how this wasn’t me becoming somehow “less” queer, and how my gender identity was still valid when I wore a dress versus pants and a tie…even if I actually wanted to wear the dress.

Then, I realized I didn’t need to justify those things to anyone. The end.

Climbing

WordPress provides word-of-the-day prompts for blog posts, but I’ve never written a post based off the prompt before, so I’ve decided to give it a try…today’s word is “climbing.”

A fun fact about me is that I’m afraid of heights. Actually, terrified. I don’t do roller coasters, ferris wheels, or airplanes and I do my best to avoid bridges. My mom is the same way, so I blame genetics (…and a traumatizing bungie jumping experience I had at age 12).

Despite this, rock climbing – especially bouldering – excites me. Indoor bouldering does not involve reaching the same heights as regular rock climbing, but it requires some comfort with the idea of falling. If you slip or decide you can’t hold on any longer (which you will), the only option is to let yourself fall.

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Falling several feet onto a padded surface might not sound scary, but when trusting gravity is your only option, it can feel unsettling.

The thing about bouldering is that both the climb and the fall are challenging. That’s why I sometimes spend long periods gripping the holds, even though it’s impossible to climb any farther. As humans, we are wired to avoid dangerous situations, even when there’s no “real” danger involved, so instinct tells me to keep holding on.

Like bouldering, life is a sequence of climbing and falling. We’re always working toward something – grabbing on and pushing off, strategizing and hoping and sometimes holding our breath as we get there. Occasionally, we have to force ourselves to let go, other times we jump willingly, and then there are times when the decision is made for us and we find ourselves in free fall without a chance to prepare.

And usually, we end up being okay after we fall. We get up, chalk our hands, and begin again, becoming stronger climbers and safer fallers with practice.

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Good Friday Reflection on Lent

I was raised Catholic and still consider myself to be Catholic, but prior to this year, I’d never really done Lent. As a child and teenager, I’d think of superficial (and often unimportant) things to give up, but the Lenten promises rarely lasted the entire forty days. Abstaining from meat on Fridays was usually the only practice I kept through the entire season.

Even though Catholic faith was always an important part of my life and my identity, Lent never felt particularly significant until recently.

As someone who struggled a lot with religion over the past few years, I wanted to reconnect with the Church and embrace the beliefs and practices that had been such constants in my youth. I really missed it, but was waiting for the right moment to jump back in. That moment came on Ash Wednesday.

It had been almost a year since I’d stepped foot in a church, but I felt excited about attending the afternoon mass and receiving ashes. Even though I’d only been to mass at St. Mary’s in Oxford one other time, the structure of the Catholic mass and the familiarity of the songs and prayers made me feel as though I’d just come home after a long time away.

I decided that instead of choosing to give up something for Lent, I would do something extra: I’d work to reunite with the faith I’d become so separate from. This promise included attending church weekly, praying often, and generally being intentional about practicing Catholicism and integrating it into my life.

I attended church every week, except for one during which I was very sick. I began wearing a cross necklace, which I hadn’t done in years. I paid attention to the readings and searched in the Bible for the ones I really liked so I could underline them and return to them in the future. I also worked to put more trust in God, be merciful, and understand how my queerness and Catholicism intertwined.

There’s still quite a bit of work to be done: I’m certainly not perfect at any of it and don’t expect that I ever will be. But I learned a lot about the Church, my faith, and myself in the process and realized that being Catholic is just as essential to my identity as any other facet of who I am.

In a lot of ways, coming back to the Church as an adult allowed me to develop a deeper appreciation for it and a new understanding of the traditions I took for granted as a kid. This year, the Lent, Holy Week, and Good Friday actually meant something to me. At mass on Sunday, chills crept down my back when we sung “Were You There” and I felt the significance of Christ’s death.

Sometimes, the thought of the past several weeks – and of the learning, richness, and discovery that lie ahead – causes me to tremble.

Being a Queer Ally as a Queer Person

A fair number of people have recently come out to me as queer. Ever since I began owning my queer identity in a more outspoken manner (especially since I started blogging), many people have reached out to disclose their identities and to ask questions or share concerns. Coming out can be terrifying – even if it’s to other queer people – so I’ve come to stress the importance of queer allyship to other people in the queer community.

The core philosophy is that everyone experiences queerness differently simply by the fact that we are different people. Being queer myself doesn’t give me a free pass to make assumptions about other queer people’s experiences; I still have to work to be a good ally.

So, what does this allyship look like when someone comes out to me as queer? I have a few basic dos and don’ts (or wills and won’ts) that I try to remain cognizant of always.

  1. I will listen actively and I won’t dominate the conversation. I get really freaking excited when someone comes out to me and there’s sometimes an urge to word vomit all of my thoughts and emotions onto the poor person who just came out. However, the conversation is about them, not me. I will absolutely express gratitude toward someone’s decision to tell me and will let them know that they can ask questions, but I no longer dive into a monologue. Coming out is a significant experience for many people and it’s not fair to overshadow someone else’s coming out with my own feelings and words. My role as an ally is to meet other people where they are, listen, and provide support as needed.
  2. I won’t tell you how to be queer. Ever. When I first started coming out, I was met with a lot of responses along the lines of “I’ll teach you how to be gay,” from other queer people. There’s no single way to be queer. In fact, there are as many ways to be queer as there are queer people because everyone approaches life a little differently. Queer people are just as varied and diverse as straight people, but I honestly didn’t know that as a newly out queer person. While I didn’t have the language to describe it at the time, I felt like other people were trying to take control of my personal journey and it was incredibly invalidating. I believed I had to rush to fit other people’s “queer” molds and prove that I was truly one of them.

    I may offer (or decide) to teach people about queer culture, if they seem interested, but I will never suggest that someone should partake in any parts of the culture that they aren’t entirely comfortable with. I think it’s good for queer women to know about flannel and U-Hauls for social purposes (ya know, to get the jokes), but I’m not about to take someone shopping for rainbow flannel in a U-Haul…unless of course, they ask. Queerness isn’t contingent upon appearance, interests, hobbies, religion, or outness and I will not tell someone to do any of these things differently just because they’re queer.

    One other deviation from this promise is if someone asks or – seems to express interest in – learning more about a particular “queer” thing. Example: If you’re an AFAB trans person and want clothing brand or sizing recommendations for menswear, I’ll happily provide them. If you need to borrow a binder for a day to test it out, I’ll lend out one of mine. If you want a buddy to accompany you to Pride or to a queer organization meeting, I’ll do my best to be that buddy. However, I will never force (or even coerce) anyone into doing queer things that they don’t want to do.

  3. I will share my personal experiences. When people have questions, I do my best to answer them openly and honestly from my personal experiences, or from the experiences of friends who are comfortable with me sharing. I will never make my or someone else’s experience out to be the end-all-be-all or even the “standard” queer experience…because there isn’t one.

    When sharing, I won’t sugarcoat stuff. For me, being queer hasn’t always been easy and I won’t try to make it out to be. However, I will make it clear that there are infinite queer experiences and that mine is only one of them. I’m also happy to point people toward other individuals and resources that may be helpful in answering their questions.

  4. I will respect the validity your identity. Biphobia, panphobia, and all the other phobias run rampant within the lesbian and gay communities. There’s this odd idea that queer people who don’t identify exclusively as gay or lesbian are not 100% queer. Again, you’re either queer or you’re not. While sexuality exists on a spectrum, a bisexual person is no less queer than a gay person.
  5. I will use whatever terms you want me to use in reference to your identity. The way that you choose to label your experience is your own and I am in no position to judge or decide otherwise. If you’re a woman who is exclusively attracted to other women, but prefers to be called “gay” over “lesbian,” then I will always refer to you as gay. I know people who identify as pan, but refer to themselves as bi for the sake of not having to explain pansexuality to people who haven’t heard of it. Some people simply use terms like “queer” or “not straight” and that is okay, too. Of course, you don’t need my approval to be called whatever you want to be called, but it’s important to let people know that I’ll respect that. Your identity is your own and I am not here to tell you what or what not to say in reference to yourself.
  6. I will not out you. Period. I’ve been on both ends of the equation: I’ve been outed and I’ve outed people and neither one feels good. I still regret all of the times I disclosed people’s identities in the past without their express permission and refraining from doing so is now my top priority when someone comes out to me. Of all of the things that could go wrong in disclosing your identity to another person, being outed is pretty terrible. Some people really don’t mind, but for others, the consequences can be devastating. You deserve to be in total control of when, where, and to whom you talk about your queerness.

These are just some of the ways I work to be an ally to other queer people, but this model isn’t one-size-fits-all. Allyship looks different for everybody, so these are really just ideas or prompts to get the wheels turning. Additionally, what everyone needs from an ally differs from person to person, so it’s important to pay attention to each individual you act as an ally toward (hint: it doesn’t have to be guesswork; you can ask upfront, “What do you need from me as an ally?” and you should get some pretty informative answers). Regardless, I firmly believe it’s necessary for queer people to be allies to other queer people. While we don’t share a single story, we’re all in this together.

Embracing Impermanence

Last year, in the throws of my identity crisis (Part I), my therapist told me it was possible to find stability in fluidity. I didn’t believe her one bit. I’m a person who appreciates stillness in every sense. Too much activity in one moment makes me panic; too much change has the same effect. My therapist may have been right about some people, but I only knew how to find stability in stability.

Enter identity crisis (Part II). I came out as gay five years ago – though it seems like an eternity – and came out publicly as a genderqueer just a few weeks ago. The responses I received after my most recent coming out were nothing but supportive and encouraging and I am thankful for the incredible people who have come into my life over the past several years.

However, shortly after I blasted the gender announcement on Facebook, I found myself re-questioning things. I’m still comfortable with the non-binary identity, but I realized that despite years of forethought, I wasn’t 100% sure of anything.

Simultaneously, I began questioning my sexuality. Suddenly, I was back in the same place I’d been mid-high school when I began making sense of things. I’m so comfortable with identifying as “gay.” The identity has become such an integral part of myself that it feels unnatural to imagine being otherwise. Though I am still absolutely attracted to women (cis and trans), I have also had feelings for trans men and non-binary folks. I shuddered at the idea of coming out…as not completely gay.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I identify in either regard. Gay works, but it doesn’t tell the entire story. Bi? No. Straight? Nope. Pan? Maybe. Queer? Absolutely.

As I grappled with the idea of entering the re-identification process, I received a photo from an amazing human. The photo featured a sign perched among some rocks and sand before a beach in Puerto Rico. The sign read “Embrace Impermanence.” Sometimes, God sends the perfect messages right when we need them most.

“Embrace Impermanence” has been my mantra for the past couple of weeks. I made it the lock screen on my phone so I see it countless times every day.

Of course, embracing impermanence (something I generally don’t enjoy) has been a struggle. I’ve made an effort not to be quick to assign labels to my identities or anything else, but even that is difficult as I love attaching words to things. A huge part of my obsession with labels stems from the idea of building community with people who identify similarly. If you don’t have a specific word to call yourself, it’s hard to find others who share your experience. As a person who lacks parental support of my identities, the community building piece is huge.

On the other hand, letting go of labels has allowed me to examine identity from an entirely different side of the lens. Rather than calling myself gay and trying to make myself fit that mold (not that there should be a mold in the first place, but society), I’ve been able to analyze my experience in fragments and decide what it means from there. This goes for everything from identity to emotions. Instead of focusing on the name, I observe physical sensations and thoughts as they pass through and make a mental note. Nothing more, nothing less.

That being said, I’m far from perfect at doing all of this. I often make observations and immediately try to label them, but that’s okay; at the very least, I’m more aware of this tendency.

With the effort not to label myself, I’ve realized that things have changed since I first came out so long ago; I’ve had countless opportunities to form a clearer picture of who I am and bits of that have changed with time. This is also okay. So many parts of ourselves evolve with us, so why shouldn’t sexuality and gender identity?

I have some hesitations in writing this post: I’m scared of doing a disservice to the LGBTQ+ community by depicting queer and trans identities as phases or by diminishing the reality that some people’s identities are truly very static. It’s important to mention that I do not speak for the entirety of the community and am only sharing my personal experience. However, I want to stress that such an experience is valid.

Impermanence can be difficult for anyone under a plethora of circumstances (changing jobs, moving, turning a year older), but it’s a very real component of being human. I have many more thoughts, so look for a follow-up post to appear in the near future. Until then, I’ll be working to wrap my arms around the seemingly un-huggable thing that is impermanence. I’m becoming more comfortable with it already.