Stepping Off the High Dive

Things have sort of gone off the rails a bit for me this last week.  I was told relapse sounded a bit harsh and that was not how it was meant so I may modify that to relearning some recent lessons.  I am learning to be more self-aware and more compassionate to myself.  I am learning to pay attention to what is going on in my body and mind and to take care of myself.  This awareness coupled with a real curiosity and tempered with compassion is how I have tried t approach the past week or so when I have been feeling more anxious, angry at times and stressed.  It would have been easy to dismiss this as being caused by some external trigger, of which there have been more than a fair share in the past week, but I somehow knew that wasn’t the answer in this case.  This morning my curiosity about this led me to ask myself when I have felt like this before and to really search for answers.  That is when it occurred to me, I am that little kid standing on the high dive a thousand feet (it really felt like it was that high) above the swimming pool.

The high dive and water do not scare me anymore.  On the contrary, I love the water and water sports.  I have been across the Pacific twice, survived typhoons, learned to sail a small boat in the middle of a big storm, kayaked, tried stand up paddle boarding and spent countless swimming in pools, lakes and oceans.  When I was a kid though, I was afraid of the water.  Eventually I learned to swim and found that water was at the same time exciting and a very calming force in my life.  I was a  bit shaky at first in the water.  That’s to be expected when you try something new and I have never been a natural athlete.  As I got stronger I realized that in order to really conquer my fear of the water I would have to jump off the high dive.

My first attempt saw me inch out to the edge of that springy board and stand there looking down with nothing to hold on to.  Only one person at a time was allowed on the board, so this was something I was going to have to face alone.  I couldn’t bring myself to step off the board the first time up.  I had to climb back down the ladder.  The second time was the same.  I was scared to step off but frustrated with myself because I wanted to prove I could do it.  I definitely was not as compassionate with myself then as I am learning to be now.  On my third time up the ladder I was just as scared as the two other times, but I knew this was something I was going to have to do.  No one was forcing me, but something in me knew that I wouldn’t let myself not do this.  On that third try, standing at the end of the board again, looking down from that three thousand foot height (it did get higher each time, really!), I figured I may as well do it this time.

The thought of jumping off the board was pure madness.  Why would I go even higher just to fall that much further.  I did manage to take a step out into nothingness though.  I can’t honestly say what went through my mind as I fell to the water.  I am sure a kid my age shouldn’t have those words in his head, though.  Of course i survived, but I really did much more than survive.  I enjoyed it.  I couldn’t wait to go back up and jump this time.  Suddenly the three thousand feet had shrunk considerably.  Isn’t there a board higher than this one?  Why not? Can you build one for next summer?

I am standing at the edge of that diving board once again.  I have no interest in jumping, but I am trying to get up the nerve to step off.  While I am trying to be compassionate with myself, I realize that I will not be satisfied with myself until I take the step.  It is so scary to step off into nothingness with no assurance as to what the result will be or what kind of landing you will have. I don’t have a lot of support, but I know there are one or two people in my ring  Their support is great, but at the end of the day it is all up to me to take the step.  They aren’t allowed on the board with me.

The step I have tried to take a few times and backed away from is authenticity.  Being the authentic me.  I dabble in it.  I was shaky when I first started learning and practicing, but I am starting to get stronger.  It is nice to stay near the edge of this pool where I have something to grab on to if I struggle a little.  It is getting harder and harder to not take that step off the board and dive into full blown authenticity, though.  I can’t even imagine what that would mean for me.  Authenticity means vulnerability, that is for sure.  It feels just as scary and vulnerable as a little kid at the top of the four thousand foot high dive.  When I step into authenticity, if I do, I will be stepping into a world where I have no safety measures to grab hold of.  I will be floating in empty air, towards a deep pool that offers no more hand holds than the five thousand foot drop.

This step will be worth it when I decide to take it.  Learning to swim and conquering the six thousand foot high dive, opened up a new world to me.  I can’t imagine my life without the excitement and peace that water brings me.  I have no way of knowing what authenticity will bring my way.  I am willing to bet that there will be moments of excitement mixed with peace and tranquility, too.  Facing our fears, whether internal or external, takes courage. Stepping into nothingness takes courage.  The only constant I am guaranteed, the only thing I really have to grab onto, is myself.  I was reminded of that yesterday and it didn’t really sink in until just now.  I will take this step off the high dive.  Whether it is today or next week or next year, I will take the step and I will be proud of myself for being me.  I am proud of myself right now for climbing all those steps and standing at the edge of the board.

The Survey Says

I have my ideas about what I think other peoples views are around gender, but I wanted to see how accurate my ideas are.  I started a very non-scientific survey on Craigslist.  In the platonic section of the personals I have posted a few questions about gender using the title ‘Who Are You?’.  So far I have posted this in several Canadian and US cities.  The response has not been overwhelming, but I receive one or two responses from each city typically and it has been interesting enough that I think I will keep posting.  Here are the questions I ask:

  1. Do you have a gender and if so what is it?
  2. What is your definition of your gender from question 1?
  3. Are there any “rules” (social, religious, legal, etc.) you feel you have to follow because of your gender that you would like to break?
  4. Is it possible for someone to not have a gender?
  5. What city do you live in?

I asked the last question just to get an idea if there are differences based on geography or size of city.

I will do a better job of compiling the answers in another blog.  The one thing I have noticed though is that almost all of the answers so far have based gender on either biological sex or sexual orientation.  None of the people who have answered have been able to separate these three.  I think if anyone is going to have a good understanding of gender, some definitions is a good starting place.  Here is what Mirriam-Webster and Oxford have to say in their respective online dictionaries:

Gender

The behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex. (Mirriam-Webster)

The state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)  (Oxford)

Sex

The state of being male or female.  Men or male animals as a group or women or female animals as a group. (Mirriam-Webster)

Either of the two man categories (male and female) into which humans and most other living things are divided based on their reproductive functions. (Oxford)

Sexual Orientation

A person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted. (Oxford)

In the Oxford dictionary there is a usage section that further expands on gender and sex.  The first part of this section was about the grammatical use (gendered nouns) but here is what it had to say about the usage I am more concerned with: “…’the state of being male or female’ has been used since the 14th century, but this did not become common until the mid 20th century.  Although the words gender and sex both have the sense ‘the state of being male or female’, they are typically used in slightly different ways: sex tends to refer to biological differences, while gender refers to  cultural or social ones.”

I find it interesting that the division is into two groups only when, even in biological terms, there is a wider variety than this.  That is more of a side note for my purposes but I did want to recognize that using the binary classification leaves out a large number of people.

In future posts, I would like to look at this more in depth.  These three are interconnected but each is different and your biological sex does not have to determine your gender and neither have to determine your sexual orientation.  It seems, and the survey seems to reinforce, that some people at least have the misconception that their gender is determined by their biological sex.  I also received two responses that identified their gender by their sexual orientation.  Curiously enough, one response each was from someone who identified as male and female.  In both cases they knew their gender because their sexual attraction was for the opposite sex.  In the males case though he did admit to a desire to experiment sexually with a man dressed in female clothes.  By his own definition that would change his gender from male to something in between male and female.  I am not convinced he has really thought about it in those terms.

Relapse

This past week has been tough for me.  I thought everything was going great, then work suddenly got stressful, some of my old demons started popping up in my head and then when I was planning my weekend I stumbled onto some information on the internet about a person I didn’t really want to know.  It was like the classic train wreck situation, you don’t want to watch but can’t look away.  This is a person who I trusted with my secrets and she used those against me.  I was vulnerable to her and she responded by discarding me.  Not just discarding me, she actually did it through text not even 10 minutes after we were face to face talking.  She couldn’t tell me when we were talking, she had to text after she had left.  But no worries, she did text that she would always love me after she dumped me.  Two days later she was in a serious relationship with another person.

It has been about 5 months since I have had anything to do with her and I thought I was over it, but seeing that she is doing well with this new interest really bugged me.  I know it shouldn’t, my life and her life have gone different ways and one has nothing to do with the other.  It has brought up some old feelings that I thought I was moving past though. It’s not even that I want to be with her.  We were not good for each other and I am sure it is for the best that we are not together.  It’s not that I want the life she has now or at least the life I have built in my head based on a few tidbits of information.  It is not the kind of life I dream about and logically, I know what I have built her life to be in my head is probably not even close to the reality of it.

Why do we look at other people and think their life is so much better than ours?  I am sure I am not the only one who does it.  Once again, I make up this whole story in my head based on incomplete information, but this becomes my reality.  Even if I am completely right, what should that matter to me?  Am I waiting on someone to come into my life to make it better?  Sometimes I am, but I know that is not the answer I need.

I am the one who can make my life better, but it is not always that easy to believe.  Right now I am feeling like the martyr again.  I gave up a lot to be with her and she abandoned me.  Of course I am not a martyr, but the feelings are real and I am trying to treat with them compassion and awareness but not get caught up in them.  What are they trying to tell me about myself?  I am too busy getting caught up in my feelings this mornign to learn from them.

Gender is a cause I feel very strongly about, but it is also something that separates me from a large segment of society.  When I have the feelings I am having now, I just want to fit in with people and have connection.  Something I found out about her at the end of our relationship was that she pretends to be different people depending on who she is around.  She pretended to be ok with my gender issues until the pretending didn’t serve her anymore then she attacked me because I question gender.  I don’t want to be one of those people who acts a certain way to just fit in, but I want to fit n somewhere and not be lonely.  I am not exactly sure what I believe about a higher power, but surely there is some order to the universe and maybe there is a plan for my life and I just have to be patient and the good will come.  Patience really sucks.  It isn’t easy right now.

Maybe karma will come back to bite her?  That makes me smile a little, but at the same time rejoicing over someone else’s misery is not who I am, no matter who that person is.

I will survive this weekend and these feelings.  Maybe I will be able to see through them and find the lessons in them.  I hope so.  What I know for sure, though, is that five months ago I wouldn’t have been asking the same questions.  The pain I feel is no different, but more self-awareness has at least gotten me to shift my focus a bit from the external situation to the internal.  This road I am may have just taken a switchback and gone backwards for a while, but maybe I am not all the way back to square one.  Mixed in with all the old feelings are the new questions and awareness.  It really isn’t her, it has more to do with my perception and something going on inside me that I need to answer.  I don’t have to beat myself up over it either.

Maybe I will relapse for a bit.  Maybe I will take the toenail paint off for the day so I don’t have to answer any questions and have the whole gender discussion.  Maybe that is what I need for a little while, just to be “normal” and find someone to connect with to help these lonely feelings.  I think that is ok.  I know gender is something that will not go away, my feelings about that are very real and I can’t hide from them for very long.  True happiness will not come from pretending to be something I am not, but maybe right now my energy will best be used recognizing some other demons I obviously need to look at.  Self-awareness is a really good thing.  Even though some of the feelings are the same, I have come a long ways from where I was and I can be proud of that.  I am better equipped now to deal with these feelings.  Life isn’t always going to be easy, I guess, but I don’t have to grab for things or people who will hurt me just so I have an anchor or a place to belong.  The old me would have been desperate for that and maybe the new me will look for that for a time, but the new me will definitely recognize how unhealthy that is and compassionately turn myself to a new path.

A World Without Gender

I don’t think most of us can really imagine a world without gender.  I am not sure I can.  Gender is such a part of our society and so pervasive in our everyday lives that it is almost unimaginable to not have it.  What would a world without gender look like?

There will always be differences among people.  A world without gender would just be taking away a label and the social expectations that go along with the label.  What we now define as masculine and feminine traits will still be present in people, but they would hopefully not feel as pressured to display one or the other based on their genitalia.  Doing away with the gender labels would free people to be themselves and take away the social pressure to conform.  The new meaning of conform would hopefully be authenticity in all people.

If you picture a world without gender, do you picture a world of androgynous people?  maybe this is the worry of some people who defend gender so vigorously.  I personally can’t see that happening at all.  There is such a wide range of feelings within the biological sexes that would be able to be expressed in a world without gender.  I think instead of creating a more homogeneous society, it would in fact do the opposite.  There would be a much wider spectrum of expression within the biological sexes.  Instead of spending so much effort trying to differentiate between the supposed two genders like we do now, each individual would be free to express themselves individually in a more honest way with the worries of societal pressure.

In my view, a wider range of individuality would be something to celebrate and would benefit the world as a whole.  Doing away with gender norms could end the oppression certain groups face now and lead to a freer and happier world.

Perceptions

Yesterday I was leaving an office building on a busy street just outside of the downtown core of Vancouver.  It was evening and the rush hour traffic had calmed.  People were strolling, some with purpose, some not so much in the nice evening sun.  Across the street, a couple caught my eye.  They were an older couple and wearing matching shirts.  The shirts were a mix of bright colors, so they really caught my eye.  My first thought was, I never want to be one of “those” couples that wears matching cloths.  In an instant, I thought, that was quite judgmental and I may not want to be one of those couples, but good for these two to obviously share such a close bond and be comfortable enough with each other that the rest of the world didn’t matter.

As I started walking to catch my bus home, I noticed a group of young people in the same shirts the couple had been in.  Now I thought maybe it was some sort of group fitness class that had just let out.  My judgement on this was not as harsh towards them but more directed at myself.  Maybe I should sign up for a fitness class and get in better shape.  I don’t look nearly as athletic as these young people.  Maybe their class wouldn’t be right for me, but I am sure I could find a class that is.

Now I am at the bus stop and actually notice that a large percentage of the people on the street are in these shirts or similar colored shirts and look, there is a guy with a US flag painted on his chest.  Then it hits me, there is a large FIFA soccer tournament in town.  There must be or had been a game this evening.  These colors represent the country the fans are cheering for.  I am not a big sports fan and soccer was not even on my radar.  I had no clue until this moment that there was a big game that evening.

Self-awareness is something that is still really new to me and it is very fascinating for me.  It amazed me how I could see the same situation in three different ways with just a little more information.  The information I had did not change anyone else’s reality except mine.  I was also able to take these situations and learn a little more about myself.  I am glad I am learning to do this, it is changing my perceptions of the world around me little by little.  I learned that I can be quick to judge but also compassionate enough with myself to not be harsh and gently correct myself.  I learned that no matter what my reality is and no matter what I want for my life, those people had a different perspective and because of that can be quite happy doing something that would not make me happy.

I am much more complex than my outer appearance would suggest.  People that get to know me can see this.  It is true for all of us.  If someone judges me because of my pink toenails (or whatever color they are this week) chances are they are not coming to the right conclusions about me.  I judged these people based solely on outer appearance, without asking them why they wore matching shirts.  I drew my conclusions based on my life experience, not theirs.  The shirts do not change their essential self, just like my toes do not change my essential self.  If someone would disregard everything else they know about me and reject me because I don’t follow traditional gender norms, that comes from their experiences and their perception, not mine.  I have more work to do within myself but I think awareness coupled with compassion is one of the keys for me.  It can change how I experience the world and therefore it can change my perception of the world around me and allow me to see it in a less judgmental light.  I am thankful for that and that is why this is such an amazing journey for me.

Non-Traditional

I was walking down the street this morning and the person in front of me was explaining to a companion the intricacies of the latest hot topic in Vancouver.  You see, Vancouver is a city that can really get behind an issue and debate the pros and cons, hold rallies and even the occasional riot. (Not something the city should be proud of.)  It seems the latest issue is of the utmost social importance and has the whole city talking, like the couple in front of me this morning.  The issue of the most social importance at the moment, it seems, is whether or not a bridge in the city should be shut down for a day so Vancouverites can lay out their mats on the hard, hot and smelly asphalt and practice yoga on the bridge.

This issue honestly doesn’t bother me one way or the other.  What struck me is that I have heard so many more people talking about that this weekend than about a group of grade 12 students gathering downtown Saturday to collect signatures for a petition for equal rights and protection for transgender people in Canada.  Which issue will matter the most 6 months from now?

Another social issue that really does matter and has been in the news all over North America for the last few years is the right for two people to get married.  There have been numerous stories about groups and individuals defending “traditional” marriage.  Being a person who finds it unnecessary to adhere to traditional gender expression just because I am expected to, tradition is becoming an interesting topic for me.

Tradition seems to be another very subjective term used to serve certain causes when it is convenient, much like masculine or feminine are subjective terms not always used consistently. Who decides what is tradition and what is not?  How long must something be in place for it to become a tradition?

North America has a relatively short history compared to other parts of the world if you only look at from the time of the first European settlers.  If we want to maintain the traditions older than that on this continent, our current way of life will be even more radically changed, but I need to focus on my main concern so I won’t breach that topic.  The earliest European traditions in North America are probably not the the idea models to follow, but who decides which traditions we adopt and which we conveniently forget about?  I can’t imagine the earliest explorers were extremely domesticated like they seem in the movies.  If they were, they probably wouldn’t have been out exploring the unknown world.

We can move through the years and look at the various traditions.  They seem to change from generation to generation.  Some move in the right direction and some don’t seem to.  Women have been afforded more rights, are more represented int eh work place and can safely wear pants in public.  I acknowledge that there is still a ways to go, but I just wanted to point to some of the changing traditions.

At one time on this continent it was fashionable for well to do men to wear powdered wigs.  Not so long ago, pink was the appropriate color for male babies because it was closer to red (a power color) and therefore more suited for males and blue more suited for females.  It was also not frowned upon or laughed at, at one time, for males to play female parts in plays.

The defenders of tradition paint the picture that the way things are are the way they have always been and were meant to be.  That is not the case.  Our world has been changing since the beginning of recorded history and most likely before that.  Hopefully, one day, what we consider non-traditional gender expression will be looked at as normal.  I can’t imagine there ever being gender equality as long as there are two opposing poles.  Traditional gender expression and gender roles just serve to reinforce this opposition.  Maybe by becoming a little more non-traditional we can move towards true equality by being able to express ourselves as the unique individuals we are without the confines of a gender label.  Maybe, one day, the new tradition will be a lack of gender labels and inequality.  Wouldn’t it be nice if closing a street for yoga honestly was one of the more serious social issues we faced?

Distinctions

I do realize that there are two dominant genders in our culture.  Just because I am choosing not to choose on or the other doesn’t mean I deny the existing gender system.  There is a binary system well entrenched in our society that a majority of the people probably participate in.  While not denying that this system is here and very real, I do not think we have to participate in it without questioning why.

So there is a binary gender system that is alive and well.  I wonder how many people who participate in it actually really understand what they are participating in.  It seems that there are many people out there that equate their gender with their biological sex.  Gender and sex are two very different things.  Biological sex is defined by your genitalia, chromosomes and hormones for a very simplified explanation.  Gender is based on how you feel inside instead of some physical marker.  Gender is expressed in very physical ways though with our behavior and dress.

I have asked some people what their gender is and how they know.  The definitions I have seen for masculine and feminine have been a bit ambiguous and confusing to me.  The best definition I have found so far is that feminine and masculine are defined by current social norms that tell us what it is to be a typical woman or man.  This, of course, can change and has changed through the years.  I think a person’s gender can also change through their lifetime.

So society is telling us what it is to be a woman or man and our biology is telling us which of these labels we should fit into.  A nice neat system for dividing people into two opposing camps has been provided for us and on the surface seems to fit our experiences.  You really don’t have to go too far under the surface to see some of the problems with this system though.

Because of my genitalia, I am told I am a man.  As far as I know, my chromosomes have never been tested, so I am not sure if I could stand up to that definition, though.  Have you ever checked your chromosomes, or do you assume they are in line with your genitalia?  Not everyone fits into the neat boxes of XX or XY.

Ok, lets assume my chromosomes match my genitalia.  It’s not a big leap to assume this because I have lived my whole life assuming this,  Now society has this idea of what masculinity is and what it takes for me to be a man.  This is really the main place things start to fall apart in this system for me.  If we listed masculine and feminine traits and came up with the idea man and woman and compared that to actual people, how many would fall neatly into the category they were expected to fall into?  How many ideal men and ideal women are actually walking around our streets?

There is such a diversity of people and there really is more of a variance within each gender than there is between the genders.  It does not seem any more natural to me to divide people based on their sex than it does to divide them based on their hair color.  It seems like a totally random way to create a class system that has been reinforced and adhered to through the years to the point that it seems natural to us now.  This class system serves to give one group power over the other and almost forces people to adopt behaviors in order to fit into one group or the other.

I try to accept people for who they are and I think I am successful for the most part.  My intention here is not to try to get anyone else to make the decisions I am making.  I would just like people to question something that is not often questioned, at least not publicly, by a large percentage of people.  If you are comfortable participating in a binary gender system, that is great.  I just want you to look a little deeper and ask why you are comfortable with it, why we need the binary system and what membership in it means to you?  Can there truly be equality of the genders if we maintain a binary system or will the two poles always be in opposition?  Are there really that many differences between the genders?  Are most of the differences created by society and more artificial than genuine?  Whatever you decide for yourself, I think awareness and knowledge makes that a better choice than just following norms blindly.