Podcast: Keeping Mum

I’m excited to share this project in which I played a small role.

This beautiful podcast sensitively explores the largely untold story of the experience of children of LGBTIQ parents. It’s a lovely interview of the now adult child of a lesbian mother who navigated raising her family in a conservative community. The marriage equality plebiscite in Australia last year often aired concerns about the effect on children of being raised by queer parents. While there’s excellent research that shows these families are just as safe and nurturing, it’s also helpful to hear personal experiences and accounts.

Produced by Suzanne Reece who conceived the idea, conducted the interviews, edited, and created the sound scape.

I provided a voice over for Suzanne’s poem, some of the background chatter, and the illustration.

First aired on Radio Adelaide, you can find ‘Keeping Mum’ here. Please feel welcome to share it.

TEDx Talk & Art: Emotionally Safer Sex

Here it is at last. 🙂

It’s big, it’s scary (for me, hopefully not too much for you), and I’ve only watched it once because it’s the mother of all vulnerability hangovers and makes me tremble for hours.

But I’m so proud of it. I hope it feels safe, a friendly invitation to think differently about things and see safety and freedom and pleasure as interconnected. We can take better care of each other.

Please share it freely as a resource anywhere.

Free – find more of my writing about Emotionally Safer Sex.

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‘Haven’ embellished with 24 karat gold

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TEDx Video Launch: Emotionally Safer Sex

The video of my TEDx Adelaide talk is coming online! Happy dance!

SHINE SA have partnered with me to celebrate the launch, and everyone is invited!

There will be a screening of the video, and an exhibition of the beautiful artworks I created to illustrate the talk. There will be nibbles, wonderful people, and an opportunity to hear more about the topic and behind the scenes of the TEDx talk.

I would LOVE to see you there.

  • Friday, Feb 9, 5:30pm
  • SHINE SA, 57 Hyde St, Adelaide

Grab your free ticket here (to help me cater, I hate running out of lamingtons!)

Facebook Event here.

For those who can’t attend, I will be sharing the video online and popping some gorgeous prints up in my Etsy shop. 🙂

“I believe that just as there are ways we can prepare for sex that make it physically safer for ourselves and our partners, there are things we can do to make it emotionally safer, too.”

More info:

Summary of TEDx video
‘Safer sex’ can be about much more than preventing unwanted infections. For many people, sexual experiences risk leaving emotional bruises, and sometimes our struggles and differences can make good sex seem out of reach.

Sarah K Reece shares personal stories, beautiful artwork, and practical advice about how seeking to make sex emotionally safer has helped her navigate challenges such as a trauma history, anxiety, queer identity, mental illness, chronic pain, and physical disability.

Art Exhibition
This intimate exhibition of 8 ink paintings explores our physical relationship with our own bodies and our partners. The artworks are hand gilded with 24k gold embellishments and show very human, diverse experiences of the joys and sorrows of sex.

*The artwork does not display graphic sex acts, nudity, or abuse and is suitable for viewing by children.

Bio
Sarah K Reece is an artist, writer, trainer, and community development consultant, managing or contributing to projects with a wide range of communities such as prisoners, rural carers, queer youth, and psychiatric inpatients. Sarah specialises in working with people who are vulnerable due to experiences of adversity or diversity, and has founded local and international networks that support more than a thousand people.

My experience of self harm

Obviously this one is going to be totally unsuitable for some people. I talk about self harm frankly. I do not describe graphic accounts, but some methods are mentioned. There are no images. Please take care. 

I rea​d an article yesterday, called But Still, by Samantha Van Zveden. It reminded me of my own experiences, the fear, the ambivalence, the sense of compulsion, driving inexplicable need. It’s taken me most of my life, but it no longer has me by the throat. It’s an experience that bewilders people, and into the gap in our understandings pour myths, fears, and a kind of casual brutality that can still bring me screaming to my knees. 

They’re just doing it for attention. Doing it to be cool. Doing it for acceptance by other kids. Doing it to annoy her parents. Doing it because he doesn’t have enough to do. Doing it because it’s ‘in’. 

Falling far down the rabbit hole of trying to prove pain to people who do not believe you. Their belief, their compassion, their acceptance of your sincerity is an unwinnable thing. So many years and so much suffering poured out seeking it. Every day going down, deeper into self destruction, closer to death. I grew up in a world where pain was only real if someone else believed in it. Many people still live in that world. It took me a long time to escape it and reclaim my own mind.

Self harm is complex and full of contradictions. Something I often remind people is that it is common in the animal kingdom. Animals and birds experiencing inescapable pain – loneliness, captivity in an unsuitable cage: too small, too stressful, too close to predator species, overcrowded, or physically ill and suffering, many will head bang, pluck their own feathers, chew or lick off their skin, tear out nails and claws. On one level, self harm is a nearly universal response to certain kinds of suffering. This is the context, the broad picture. We are mammals, part of the world, nervous systems wired this way. 

Zooming right in, we get vast diversity in who, how, and why. Some find a single cause and many more a complex web of reasons, needs, struggles. 

Some harm to punish themselves. Some to break out of dissociation and stop feeling numb. Some to reclaim their own body. To mark important events, the way some cultures ritually scarify children becoming adults. To discharge suicidal distress and make it safely through the night. To trigger numbness when feelings are overwhelming. To push the boundaries of skin and self and rules of what is acceptable. To prove their pain to themselves or someone else who isn’t listening or doesn’t believe. To ease the screaming panic. To mark the empty days. To annihilate, piece by piece, every last bit of themselves. To get revenge on those who think they own us. To be ugly so we will not be desired and harmed. To make ourselves beautiful. To let out the badness. Because it simply, inexplicably, felt right. 

What it is not, and has never been, is the circle I hear so often. They self harm because they are mentally ill: we know they are mentally ill because they self harm. 

We self harm because something is wrong, because of pain, because it is the best way we’ve found to meet a need we don’t understand or accept or can’t express. 

I remember the first day I bought blades with the intention of self harming. I was suffering from severe PTSD and my world had become nightmares and panic and rage in a bed of grey, empty, exhausting apathy. I felt so utterly weak and damaged, all the time. Buying blades I felt powerful, defiant against all those who required that I show no sign of my suffering. That I should not be changed by my experiences. Breaking those rules felt like being true to myself. That link between owning my own pain and harming myself was powerful and took many years to understand and find an alternative for. Because for me, it clicked so strongly self harm immediately became an intense, consuming addiction. 

I experienced such relief from my anguish in self harm it was electric. Physical pain created an intense focus for my thoughts, it shifted me out of the mundane world into a deeply needed altered state and created a powerful sense of ownership over my body and proof of my pain to myself. It eased suicidal despair and sated my constant self loathing. For a short while the internal litany of how stupid, ugly, selfish, pathetic, and what a miserable freakish lonely failure I was would go quiet. It was peace. I felt strong instead of weak. I felt I’d proved something to myself. I felt like I could finally take off my armour and rest for a little while. 

The next morning I was drowning in shame, and the self loathing intensified beyond anything I’d previously experienced. The sight of the wounds would trigger rage at myself. Why was I so weak and pathetic? Such a drama queen. I sided with others brutal assessment of my character and motivation. 

Once the wounds healed and were less visible, I would feel panic. I needed to see them. I would desperately want new wounds. The longer I went without seeing my own blood, the more compelled I felt. I tried to meet this need in other ways, considering I have endometritis and adenomyosis and was bleeding heavily literally half of my life I couldn’t understand why that wasn’t enough blood, why it had to be this, too. 

So the experience, like all addictions, created the conditions to feed itself, becoming its own trigger and containing both the problem (shame, pain, self hate) and the remedy. Once inside the locked room I was trapped. The compulsion felt simultaneously too powerful to fight, and extremely minor, a mere suggestion that I was choosing to indulge. I could snap out of it anytime, stop anytime I wanted to. I felt divided.

When others reacted with intense anger, shaming, and minimising (you’re just copying someone else because you think it makes you interesting), I merely switched from my preferred methods of self harm to things that caused pain and distress but left no marks on my skin. They were a poor substitute for the rituals but not doing anything felt impossible. 

I read books and articles about it, talked to my doctor and shrinks. Nothing made the hunger go away. I tried ‘behavioural extinguishing’ where you simply refuse to engage the behaviour no matter what, and over time the urge will disappear. It did not. In 8 straight years of not harming at all I still struggled with the urge often. Some days it was louder and some quieter but always there. I often dreamed about it in terrifying ways, saw images of it unbidden in my mind when close to blades or while cooking, and when distressed or on seeing wounds or scars on others would intensely yearn for the release. 

I remember a friend confiding in me their teenage child had been self harming. I come home from the conversation to howl in bewildering agony – why do they get blades and not I? As if I was deprived of something essential to my survival. Part of my mind listening in, in absolute confusion and disgust. How could I be this messed up? 

I remember another friend confiding in me that they’d been to see a shrink and shared their awful compulsion to cut with them, and the shrink had brightly and inanely suggested wearing a rubber band on their wrist and flicking it when the urges come, to simulate the pain. It was like comparing a glass of water to a tsunami. I needed to scream so loud it tore my world apart, set the sky on fire, turned the rain to blood. I was drowning in unspeakable suffering, dying in plain sight, and the world of psychology offered a rubber band. My friend and I were mutually speechless at the gulf between our experiences and their understanding. The trivialising of the darkest hours of my life drove me further into darkness and further from understanding myself. What the hell is wrong with me?

I stayed away from medical care, aware that other’s responses fed the need on me, their callousness filled me with violent rage against myself, their compassion made me want to do it again to be treated with warmth and gentleness again. I listened to a young peer who turned up at ER one day, wild with pain and afraid she would self harm. They told her they would not admit her unless she had current wounds. So she walked out of the hospital and gave herself some, then walked back in. Then they admitted her. In that context, it was simply the admission fee for ‘care’. I noticed you often had to increase the dose over time to get a similar response from mental health staff. I called this ‘the language of symptoms’ and I fought not to speak it. With some peers, self harm was treated as the ultimate proof of your pain. It bypassed skepticism and got you into the club of people who had done it tough. I fought not to internalise this either. I read frightening books that made suicide seem the ultimate way to show other people you were genuinely hurting, and make them regret their indifference. I fought that framework too. 

I learned that for me, self harm was often about proving my pain, not only to other people in my world who were minimising my distress, but also to myself. It was a way of proving the suffering of the night before to whoever woke up the next morning. A kind of memo, written on my skin, that said: pay attention, we are hurting. Something that I could not ignore, could not find a positive light for or put a good spin on. Something animal and savage the intellectual part couldn’t explain away, something dark and forbidden the rule abiding part couldn’t condone or ignore. 

On bad days I spent hours in the bath, in self imposed quarenteen until I felt safe to walk past the knives in the kitchen. The longest bath like this I’ve taken was 9 hours. Letting out the cold water and adding more hot as my fingers and toes wrinkle. Waiting until the need reduces to manageable or the dissociation numbs it.

Substituting the need was my best approach. Less instant and complete, I learned to be patient with the alternatives and put up with partly met needs. It was by far the best relief I’d found. I developed Ink not Blood and discovered in a strange way that I was equally ashamed of simulated self harm as I was of actual wounds. The shame was more about the visibility of my pain than it was about the taboo of self harm. I felt deeply embarrassed I needed such a thing. Wrist poems continued to weave their way through my life as an alternative too. Talking to myself on my skin.

Psychosis resolved through body painting, full body art with simulated blood. Gold drips from my mouth, splashes of red across my hip. Simulated self harm and altered state on a massive scale with not a blade in sight. A wound in me heals, the need weakens. 

I read about the Bloggess, she discusses her self harm frankly, with neither pity not rage, simply that she ‘fell off the self harm wagon’. She dusts herself off and climbs back on. No one screams at her or takes her kids away. I can’t see anyone forcing her hands over to show mutilated wrists and dropping them with a lip curl of revulsion. I envy her. Self harm as a bad night, not a moral failing.

Then I’m pregnant and the proximity of children quietens the need. Star and Poppy arrive and it continues to fade away. The self hate stays, a near constant companion, the daily voice “I hate myself”. The nightmares of graphic self harm; dismemberment, self immolation, degloving, stop and don’t come back. The triggers lose their power, evoke a pang rather than a desperate thirst. I watch it drain out of my life with relief and confusion. I take less baths, wear less gloves and wrist cuffs, write fewer wrist poems. 

I still don’t entirely know why it’s gone, or if it’s ever coming back. Has it gone with some wild part of me I’m losing touch with? Is it a good thing that it’s eased? Has it been replaced by the depression, the sense of choking failure that haunts me? Health is not merely the absence of a symptom. Why didn’t it take the self loathing with it? What does it all mean? 

I don’t know. I’m glad not to be struggling with it, it was a many headed hydra that seemed to grow stronger the more heads I lopped off. Most days I’m glad my scars are so invisible. Some days I regret my restraint a little. I’m glad to have found that the symbol of harm, the imitation of it, has so much power for me, and learned that self harm is in itself a symbol of something else, a word in language you don’t yet speak but must learn to decipher. 

I don’t hurt like I used to hurt, stuffed full of secrets and bewildered by my pain. It’s in the open now and I have names for it (queer, trauma, multiple, altered state, creative). I’ve got other ways to scream and I don’t ignore myself so much. 

It’s such a victory, and yet, while the self hate remains it seems in many ways a hollow one. However far I go, it’s not enough. Have I won the war, or just stopped caring enough to bother fighting? Is it still a blessing if the screaming stops but the pain remains? I don’t know. I’m still working on it, feeling into it, trying to understand it. I’m glad to be out of the shame spiral, the snake vomiting its own tail. I’m glad my girls don’t live with it as a daily reality for their parent. I’m under no illusions though, I know exactly what it feels like to live with people who hate themselves and I try to be mindful of that, to decode it when I must and protect them as I can. 

I’ve come a long way. I’m not done yet. Self harm, for me, met a need. It also fuelled that need. Finding other powerful ways to meet it broke the spiral. (you don’t break addictions, you replace them) It’s nothing to do with the drug of choice, and everything to do with the environment. I had to make very hard, very painful choices to change my environment. In some ways much more painful than merely cutting myself. It was a substitute, a symbol, a signal of how trapped I felt in that life. 

I left. I severed relationships and found new ones. Came out as multiple, then again as bisexual, and again as genderqueer. Made art. Nurtured others. Found self compassion. Stopped trying to find my salvation in my own blood. Learned to live with the scars and the places where there aren’t scars. Go home and scream when people tell me self harm is attention seeking, but in the moment try to validate their bewilderment and anxiety, gently correct attention seeking to connection seeking. Try to bridge the gap and make the incomprehensible make some kind of sense, engender some kind of compassion. Try to make people rethink their instinctive revulsion, to question their belief self harm is always fundamentally wrong, that it deserves involuntary disgust of the kind usually reserved for rapists.

Our skin, like our bodies and our lives, is our own. It’s shame that kills us. Loneliness that destroys our lives. Love that saves us, that makes the pain bearable and heals the screaming wounds. It’s not always enough, but is always necessary for life. 

Marriage equality vote: yes

Australia has returned a majority vote of yes to marriage equality! It doesn’t mean the legislation has changed, it doesn’t currently mean anything for our family. But the cultural change is clear. One day my daughters will live in a world where it is normal that their mothers can be married. We danced and cried and celebrated in the rain in the city after the announcement yesterday. 

Then we spoke with a reporter about how hard this has been and the road yet to come. It was published at InDaily as A bittersweet victory, after months of heartbreak.

 

Post TEDx and life is good!

TEDx was amazing. One of the most challenging experiences, akin to giving birth (but much quicker and with more laughing). I’d only managed to finalise my script a week beforehand and I knew in my bones that I was too rusty to have a 14 minute monologue memorised in that time. I did my best, but still had embarrassing blanks on the red dot. Fortunately it still went well!

The rehearsal was terrifying. My first time standing on the red dot I spoke the first page of my script until I blanked, then I had to sit down right there because I was about to faint and/or vomit. I felt like a needy, insecure diva, which was not particularly nice. I’m more used to being the person holding things together than the ‘talent’ in the middle and I was very conscious of that different role and found it a bit awkward. 

But it was also wonderful. I gave myself permission to soak up all that extra care and nurturing. I felt like a star! So much love came my way. Friends attending on the day, gift bags and flowers, my family putting up with the talk consuming everything else for the week. It felt extremely special to be in the middle of it all, and I realised that it’s not wrong or bad to be in the spotlight like that, is merely that everyone should get it some of the time. We are all the talent in some way, all experts in something. So I soaked it up and hope to share it around. 

On the night itself, complicated arrangements happened to look after Poppy, and I changed into my new dress, pinned the top shut, ran my lines one more time, got fitted with the mic, and went on stage. 

There’s a moment where you flip from terror to connection, and standing in front of nearly 1,000 people I could feel them all, like a warmth, the weight of their attention and the questions they are asking of me. Can you be trusted? Will you hurt us? Can you show us what you mean? Will you take us somewhere we haven’t been before? Can you bring us home again? And I say to them with word and hand and smile and joke, yes. Come into my world for a little while. And so we did. I talked about sex and being human, and I lost my place and blanked so badly Rose had to rescue me and call my lines out from the audience. We lived what I was sharing about: that it’s possible to be imperfect with grace and humour, that a great partnership can navigate tricky situations. That a sensitive discussion can feel safe. People seemed to really connect with it, nodding and paying close attention. I muddled through and made it safe to muddle.

I had a heckler, which I did not expect! I heard later the people seated around him were angry with him and shut him up quickly. Apparently someone told him people like him where why I was doing a talk like this. I feel so honoured to hear that, there was such a sense of unity, of common ground. 

The messages afterwards from people there or over email have been very affirming. All the way through I’ve done my best to hold tightly to my reasons for doing something so extraordinarily difficult – that it is meaningful and needed. I watched a lot of TED and TEDx talks about sex while preparing and most were what we are used to about this topic- clinical or research based. That’s valuable for sure, but when I’m sitting in a bed in my underpants there’s a big gap between that knowledge base and the conversation and experience I’m about to have. I could have written that talk and it’s a lot more removed and protected, a lot less intimate and exposing. But I have found there’s value in sharing and talking about this on a personal level, and it seems I’m not alone in that.

Poppy and I went off on a bus adventure yesterday! Here we are nibbling on plum leather from Grandma’s garden, and life is good.

I haven’t yet hit my anticipated post performance crash. I’m not sure why, I have some guesses…

  • It’s on its way but I’m still too excited currently. Maybe after the videos go up online? It doesn’t really feel over for me yet. 
  • I outsourced it. Rose had a couple of intense tired anxious feel awful days afterwards.
  • I did it before the performance. That sounds ridiculous, but to be honest the lead up was so difficult and since doing it my overwhelming emotion is relief. Intense, delightful relief! I did not enjoy the preparation much, but having gone through it I’m extremely glad and happy to have done it. I feel very fortunate and privileged. 

    We’ll have to wait and see what happens next! My awesome Office Manager suggested that I write down all the projects I could do next so I can start exploring my options, and it’s making my heart incredibly happy. I’ve had so many dreams for so many years and they all feel suddenly tangible and possible.

    I’ve so enjoyed taking the last few days off completely and absolutely soaking up my lovely family. Extra support and scheduling are making so much difference to my life. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the next projects. And I can’t wait to share the TEDx video with you all. 

    Come and sample TEDx for free

    I’ll be in Rundle Mall today with the TEDx team, as part of an open mic event (details here). 11.30am, free, come along to meet the speakers, get a taster of the talks, and pitch your idea worth idea sharing. 🙂 

    I have finally finished my script about Emotionally Safer Sex, and have whittled it down to within my time limit! I am very excited about this, it was starting to feel impossible. I have a suite of artworks ready for the PowerPoint and only one left to paint today. I’ve reassured myself that all the beautiful stories and ideas I had to cut out of the talk can go into a book at some stage. It’s been a huge project, and it’s coming together at last. Next step is to memorize the script and digitally process the artworks. Onwards!

    TEDx – Emotionally Safer Sex

    My topic for TEDx Adelaide is close to my heart. Personal, meaningful, at times uncomfortable and vulnerable, but very precious.

    POSTCARD

    This is not easy. A friend noted yesterday that there’s some irony in what I do – working to make difficult things feel safer for others, in a way that so often feels risky and stressful for me.

    It’s not easy but it is an amazing opportunity. I love sharing ideas that make a difference in the world, that help free people from ideas that were harming them. I love to give people permission to examine what they think they know. I love to validate people’s real, often unspoken experiences. I love to talk about complex concepts in plain language, and use words that describe experiences from the inside, not as a detached observer. I love to ease isolation and needless suffering, and to help people find ways to bear the pain that is the unavoidable cost of loving and being alive.

    I don’t believe I have the answers, the map, the definitive guide, the solutions. What I do have is the capacity and willingness to share my personal experiences, the ability to absorb and synthesise a lot of research and written knowledge, and the opportunity to gather feedback from others and add it to my ideas.

    I can’t tell you what what emotionally safer sex, or mental health, or connected relationships, or a meaningful life will look like for you.

    But I can start these conversations in a compassionate and authentic way, and invite you along.

    Let’s talk about sex.

    Join me at TEDx Adelaide.

     

    Poem: Marriage Equality

    Here, we are having a postal vote about marriage equality- equal rights for same sex couples. It’s been a nightmare, triggering abuse from strangers and bringing up terrible memories. Both Rose and myself come from backgrounds where who we are and how we love was not at all okay. There’s deep wounds there. It’s hard to understand what that feels like if you haven’t lived it. So here’s a small extract from my journal, recently. 

    I’ve no words for this, no words
    No persuasion, no speeches, no points strung together in sequence
    What I have is a strangled cry
    Tears I can’t weep
    I’m frozen and desiccated
    An old tree curled over itself
    Here is where my heart broke.

    This is me, as a child, curled on the floor
    Weeping and silently screaming as I beg god
    To make me other than how I feel.

    This is me, wanting to die
    In my body is still the memory of that shape
    Laying on the floor, wrapped around myself
    My hands like claws, the taste of vomit in my mouth.

    My body at night remembers the shape of that pain and returns to it
    I lay on my side, curled around a self hated so deep, a terror so profound
    I have no words or even tears, just the deep grieving in my bones
    The void in the pit of my gut
    The sickness in my heart, a kind of keening
    Oh, oh, ooh
    Let it not be
    Let it not be like this
    Let me keep my face turned from those days
    The voice in my head that tells me I’m worth less and should die
    Don’t make me look at the fear and loathing in your heart
    The darkness in your embrace, the disgust in your eye
    The purity of your sacrament that is not for me
    Let me keep my arms around the peices of my heart
    Don’t tear me open like this
    Don’t tear us open where
    All your hate falls out
    All your brokenness.
    How am I to bear it?

    I’m asked to speak
    To write, to share, to show
    We are normal/sane/loving/safe
    To lead from fear to hope but
    I’m not here anymore, I’m long gone
    I’m the little girl on the floor and I don’t have those words
    I’m stuffed with darkness and the night and the violence of your rejection that leaves no bruises
    I’m broken on the floor while the most sacred parts of my life
    The deepest and most beautiful things in my world
    My love, my beloved, my children, my friends
    Are tossed around me by
    People who are not choking on a memory of pain so vast
    It still reverberates in my mind and binds my tongue
    I’m still on the floor, screaming in fear.

    My little girl nurses at my breast
    Through the small hours where my sadness
    Demands company and keeps me awake
    She will not know this anguish
    It will be alien to her, outside of her
    One of your voices, perhaps, but not
    My voice
    Not her own voice
    Taken and used against her
    Not set into her blood or bone
    A wound from outside perhaps, but not
    Swallowed and poisoning from within.

    That is the world I want for her.
    No hand turned against itself
    No bloodletting agony or self flagellation.
    Where I know your rejection so intimately
    I want her to know only bewilderment, only confusion.
    To be outside of it,
    To have grace for it,
    To know for certain that she is loved.

    Sharing Beyond Gender Exhibition

    Gender is such a loaded concept, so embedded in our lives and self concept that it’s invisible to some of us, and profoundly, painfully important to others. As a multiple with male and female parts I identify as genderqueer. This has been a very hidden and at times painful aspect of my life, which I’ve only begun to explore and be open with over the past 5 or so years. Last year I was nervous but intrigued to be invited to be part of this group, creating art about gender in the context of social media.

    At times I’ve struggled to locate myself within the trans community, feeling like I’m intruding into territory where I have no right to be. So I attended the first meetup very nervously, feeling somewhat like an impostor, wondering if to disclose the multiplicity and confused about how to present myself with clothes. If I dress too female will I discredit myself? I always wrestle with my sense of people’s expectations and confusion when the trans story is usually understood as being binary and involving a clear transition. As always, the more I feel the pressure to conform to a story the more I want to pull back from it – so I don’t usually wear all black to goth events and I tend to wear some signifier of feminine identity to trans events, sometimes I dress more feminine for these than I usually do… simply because there is always someone else in our system also craving identity and recognition – no matter how much one thing we may appear to be, there is so often a counter story under the surface. And because there’s nothing in the world like a multiple system for tripping each other up and getting under each others feet.

    As usual, I’ve been able to claim my space by realising that I’m not the only one hiding in the wings and wondering if my experiences count. Trans identity as part of multiplicity is pretty common, and neither trans nor multiplicity resources tend to handle it particularly well. There’s tremendous tensions about visibility for trans people as well as for multiples, and in some ways I struggle with both. Being out in one area doesn’t make it easier for me to be out in another. In some ways it can be harder. So, I wrote some info about trans and multiplicity on the Dissociative Initiative website, started sharing a bit more about my experiences here on this blog, and turned up to this project.

    It was wonderful in a way to be the new nervous person again. I was vividly reminded of people’s intense anxiety about attending Bridges, the face to face group I ran for a couple of years for people experiencing dissociation and/or multiplicity. Remembering what that feels like is always, I think, a valuable thing, a reminder of what it feels like to be the people I try to create resources for. I wish I had been able to be more involved in this project, I found being pregnant a really challenging time and my system went underground for most of it, along with my sense of gender diversity and trans identity. We were very afraid that there might be changes in hormones when the males parts were around that could threaten the pregnancy, so everyone stayed in lockdown – and continuing to be part of this project felt too awkward to manage at the time.

    There are some amazing people involved in this exhibition, people I have deep respect for and feel very privileged to have met or worked alongside. Some I have since given talks with, or got to know more closely, or encountered at other events and I’m struck often by their courage and generosity. If you can attend I think you’ll find the same.

    Opening Night Friday

    28 Oct 2016
    5-8pm
    ‘Raj House’ Feast Hub Central, 54 Hyde St, Adelaide

    Facebook Invitation

    There are large prints of memes, digital art and prose, there will be DJ Marc Thomas, nibbles, drinks by Gill Kupsch… and gender-queer play as Brian North gets made-over as orange bearded Brenda. There is space for personal dress-ups if you are inspired!

    We have some words from Harry Coulthard-Dare, Jenny Scott, Natalya Gee and Tammy Franks. You can buy one of our zines to prompt more reflection later… or get a raffle ticket to go in the running for a beautiful work of art by Amanda Lee Angel.

    If you can’t make it you might like to come Saturday between 10-6 or attend our artists’ talk from 330-430. We’ll be drawing the raffle and awarding 3 participants with digital devices then too!

    If you live too far away to visit you can see a lot of our creative activism on the inter-web at www.storiesbeyondgender.com

    IDAHOT Picnic & 28 weeks pregnant

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    I volunteered to cut the rainbow cake. I usually do this at family events – I took over from my grandpa when I was a young teen, because he used to do that cut a random size slice and then another random size slice thing, and we’d all pass the slices around the table as he went… thin slices got passed on quickly, thick slices were lingered over like a game of musical chairs but with cake. Inevitably some were deeply disappointed with the slice that settled on them. A quick head count and a little math solves that issue!

    IDAHOT is the international day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. I waddled up following a morning at the printer and framer putting in the final orders for my exhibition, which comes down this Friday! It was a good, fun event and nice to see friends there I haven’t caught up with for awhile. Rose stayed home and used the time to get lots of homework done on my computer. I stayed out and pretended I’m not possessive and territorial about my computer. I’ve coped pretty well with sharing the rest of my home with everyone else, but my computer and studio (ie table) do bring a slightly crazed one-eyed barky critter out in me.

    There was a cool badge maker there so I made this for Rose:
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    Pain levels are still very high, I’ve been re-reading Explaining Pain which was a good refresher, but woke at 3am to cry about how hard this is, and sad, and all the wasted years being sick and swamped by pain. Sometimes even the encouraging and helpful triggers such grief and regret. Bubs is head down most of the time, which is causing bad sciatica, hip pain is bad, and heartburn is bad. I have finally put a bit of weight on this pregnancy though, which is great news. Fibro is a bitch, I’m getting bad facial pain, a twitchy bladder (not the same as pregnancy needing to pee every few minutes), muscle cramps in my calves, chronically irritated skin, and fun new sensitivities. I’ve asked for a referral to the psych team at the hospital as I’m getting nervous about how well I’ll recover from birth and worried about being stuck in hospital needing support. The psych team are the only ones who can override the usual rules about partners being kicked out overnight. The prospect of being forced to be left alone overnight in severe pain with our little baby to care for as well as me is a bit harrowing. If anything has gone wrong and I’m feeling emotionally fragile too, hospital is a horrible environment for me. I recall once waking to find night nurse trying to do obs in the small hours of the morning following my appendix being removed. She touched me while I was sleeping and I woke the whole ward with a blood curdling scream and had clawed my way to the far side of the bed before I’d even opened my eyes. When I did I found I was perched on the edge of the bed about to fall/leap out, and the poor nurse was flattened against the far wall. Following that was the slow wail of all the infants in the ward protesting. I don’t know what adding a small baby I feel intensely protective about might do to that reaction but I suspect ‘downgrade it’ isn’t the usual answer.

    Baby is growing well, I’ve been doing finger-prick tests and my results are all great re gestational diabetes, and there’s loads of movement and kicks. We’re into the countdown now and I’m looking forward to having more of the house and sheds sorted ready for arrival. In other news, having made us wait an extra 6 or so weeks for our assigned midwife to come back to work, it turns out she’ll be on maternity leave when our baby is due, so we’re being reassigned anyway. There’s a strange sense of hype and disappointment about the whole process with our hospital. We’ve only had two appointments with our midwife so far, the first we spent talking about delivery options and preferences and worries, the second we discovered she’s not going to be here anyway. It’s odd, because I know that we’re very, very lucky to have access to the healthcare we do here in Australia, but there’s this sense of indifference that’s unpleasant, being very small parts of a much larger machine and having very few choices and little power to influence anything. It makes me want to run away and give birth in the bush.

    On the plus side though, my appt with the hospital anaesthologist was surprisingly excellent. I’ve never had a good appt with an anaesthetic doctor before, usually they don’t beleive me about my allergies, or they freak out and make me undergo procedures like endoscopies without any. This guy was excellent, he listened, asked intelligent questions, gave me good information about options and how to get the most out of them (did you know gas and air works best if you start it at the beginning of a contraction, count through them, and stop it about 2 breaths before the peak? This allows it time to be effective but lets you ride the last of it without having much in your system for the rest periods, which reduces the chance of side effects). We wound up talking about self hypnosis and he walked me through a short technique for self hypnosis which I took to. It was a good appointment to follow the others with, I felt like there was actually a point to turning up and that in among the grinding machinery of a big public hospital, the endless waiting and being shunted from service to service, there were little treasures of useful information and ideas. Hooray for those.

    In memory of our Tam

    Tamlorn was due today.

    It seems so much died with them. A fork in the road and a different path forced upon us. I don’t know how that can be but it seems it is. Somewhere out there, in a different universe, two happy ladies are so bouyed by the pregnancy the work stress doesn’t tip one of them into ptsd. We don’t lose our donor, we go to the pregnancy expo full of excitement, we don’t push the business hard and wind up falling down a hole of broken expectations and pressure. Such a little thing and yet our whole year is different. Our whole world.

    My sense of faith or meaning about life and death, any possible afterlife, has splintered. Sometimes we comfort each other that if they all still exist somewhere, Leanne and Amanda and Grandma would take excellent care of Tamlorn. I can’t imagine three people with more love and skills and care and humour. And maybe all the others I didn’t know so well would help too; Bethy, Tash, Nana, Bradbury, Pratchett… Somehow every possible answer seems to hurt more than it comforts. This loss makes me need a certainty about death I simply can’t have.

    We are still trying to get pregnant, and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It seems so little, but it’s so consuming! The roller-coaster emotions make me feel crazy and I work hard to hide and suppress them. Rose and I are so gentle with each other, constantly making room for both hope and grief, reminding ourselves life is still wonderful without a child, that whatever the outcome is we have each other, and yet it’s like trying to calm a storm by talking to it. Beyond our power by far! It consumes everything. Our whole world becomes balanced on pinnacles between ecstacy and devastation.

    I’m always trying to manage fear. I’m frightened of losing our donor again, frightened Tam was my one and only baby, frightened of getting pregnant and losing another one by miscarriage or stillbirth or leukaemia at 3 years old. Life feels like a lottery and the bland reassurance of those who’ve won and spun it into some kind of ‘just world’ (don’t worry, of course it will work out) is balanced by the raw pain of those who’ve lost and are childless following eleven miscarriages or other patterns of tragedy and loss.

    The best feeling in my world is that moment before getting up to do a pregnancy test. Everything glows with possibility. Our bodies fit together, skin warm and soft, and the morning is gauzy with the film of dreams. We promise not to be devastated, that it’s early days only, that it’s okay to grieve, we can do this. We feel strong and settled and ready.

    The worst feeling is another negative test. Coming up with all the reasons we might still be pregnant anyway. Trying not to feel that empty pit inside. Patting each other – it’s okay to be disappointed, we’ll be okay, we’ll try again, while inside we’re both dying. Wastelands and ruin and fears that we can’t counter that perhaps all this is futile. It might be. The only thing that would be harder than trying, is stopping trying. What started in joy begins to feel like a trap. We can’t let go of the dream but the dream is all fire and pain. We surface from misery briefly to remind each other that life will still be worth living if we can’t have children of our own.

    We claw for balance, serenity, perspective, and it’s a veneer only over so much shameful intensity. We glory in our roles as aunties of others children, come home feeling blessed to be trusted and embraced, remind each other it’s significant and meaningful and worth putting effort into. And cry as quietly as possible when we’re alone, trying not to be ungrateful. We try to protect each other from our anguish and find gulfs open between us that we have to work hard to bridge with something other than raw hurt.

    The very worst of it – worse even than platitudes or instructions to worry less or being told it will happen if we’re really meant to be parents – like a divine benediction, like the gods blessing the ascension of kings – the worst of it is feeling so alone and ashamed by how incredibly hard it is, so disinclined to let anyone know because it seems crazy, and if we seem crazy maybe we shouldn’t be parents after all. The pain of longing reinterpreted to prove our lack of worth and fitness. We’re not so far into this that I can’t recall my own bafflement at ‘baby-crazy women’ and wonder why they can’t just live their life and let it happens if it happens. It so seemed like such needless fuss, such obsession, but on this side of the fence it’s the dream that drives you and it burns.

    On bad days I’m glad of a negative pregnancy test because at least that means I won’t miscarry again, or break our hearts with a stillbirth, or lose an infant to an accident. I like to take risks where I feel I can survive them not working out and I’m beyond that place at the moment. I can’t bear the thought of another loss and I don’t know how I’ll find any contentment in the moment or belief that things can work out. I read of women who’ve suffered catastrophic losses and their stories leave me gasping for air, completely unable to fathom such grief. I reach out to Rose and she tells me we’ll take this one miscarriage at a time if we must and my throat closes over and I can’t breathe at all.

    What helps is sitting in the night with Tamlorn’s ashes or going to stand by their tree. What helps is spending time with other people who have walked this road or walked roads like it and seeing that the trauma and pain and sense of being crazy and need to hide it are nearly universal. They are normal responses, not well understood by those who’ve not been there usually, but very much the norm, especially for those of us with losses, fertility issues, a donor, and a culture that can be harsh about queer parents. Our sense of fear and vulnerability and exposure is strong. Our need for swift blessings to show the benediction of the universe is much higher.

    The pressure on us to be highly emotionally invested but at the same look calm, balanced, and even slightly indifferent, is high. We feel crazy counting days and tracking cycles and collecting clothes, and we’re aware we mustn’t look crazy because it’s only recently that queer parents were even allowed to live openly together, to both call ourselves mothers of our children, and that is still being argued in courts of public opinion that talk about deviance and harm to innocents. (homosexuality was only decriminalised 40 years ago in South Australia) We’re still being held accountable for other people bullying our kids because of us. We still get looks of revulsion when we walk hand in hand. And we are some of the luckiest queer women in the world!

    We lost so much with Tam, far more than I realised at first. My cycle is still unpredictable, which apparently is common following a miscarriage. We can’t track it accurately at all – on one set of tests I apparently never ovulate or produce any hormone surges, on another I’m about to ovulate constantly – we gave up testing after 9 positive days in a row. My cycle is now a different length each month. We guess the relevant week and scatter insems through it and hope, and try not to think about it. I try to imagine a future where things work out okay, and I stop reading the anguish of the women in my miscarriage support group. Being pregnant was the most wonderful experience. Trying to get pregnant has been a kind of hell. Normally dreams sustain me and only hurt when they fail. This one cuts deep as you hold it, brings life and death unbearably close, gives me joy and takes my breath away with pain.

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    White poppy

    On Monday this one white poppy bloomed in the sea of red in our garden. Rose found some comfort in taking it as a token of Tam’s nearness. We talk back and forth to our garden, to Tam’s tree. It bloomed with a thousand blossoms, none of which set fruit. Red poppies in memorial, white poppies for peace. Today we’ll take flowers down to the ocean and set them in the water. (we hold hands like widows over graves)

    Oh darling Tam. Do we mourn you or ourselves? You were loved every moment of your short life, we tell each other that. At times I think all the ills of the world could be righted if we could but love it and each other the way we loved Tam. In my minds eye I see myself as a bringer of death, my womb as a coffin, a portal through which souls come into the world to die, and there’s a stream of dead babies flowing away from me to the afterlife. My soul is twisted under the weight of knowing I’m not supposed to care this much, think this way, feel these things – and of not wanting to, either. Spare me the burning intensity, the clinging awareness, the cloying emotions. Spare me 3am and nameless dread. The stakes are high, the bets are placed, and each month the dice rattle in the cup like old bones; I wear a scarlet dress to hide the blood.

    Darling Tam, who sometimes seems so close, when I close my eyes I can almost see us together in another world. You are nested between our bodies, fat and pink and milk-drunk, with eyelashes soft as moth wings. Our hearts are like ripe grapes on the vine after rain, overfilled and torn open. It’s a sweet pain.

    Dearest Tam, tell my people that I love them. Love them fiercely from this side of the valley. Forgive us that we could not keep you here or hold you longer. Help our hearts tear open with love and heal again with the same love, every day. Happy birthday, darling unborn. I hope you are at peace. May we find some too.

    Everything is New

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    My beautiful, kind, lovely sister broke up with her partner this week and urgently needed somewhere to stay. Rose and I have welcomed her with us. My family rallied and gathered to pack and move her and we now have three people, four cats, and a dog living in our 2 bedroom semi detached unit! It’s a little cramped but it’s also rather wonderful to have the chance to live together again. We all get along well and Rose and I have put a lot of time into our family culture, it’s healthy and strong and flexible, and probably just what my sister needs to recuperate.

    Yesterday we overhauled the sheds, dug out our washing machine, and shifted a lot of my art supplies into drawers in the new shed. We’ve also been doing lots of caring and calming things to settle the nerves, the raw emotional pain of a breakup, and the bad memories that get unsettled. Camp-fires, games nights, online gaming, good home cooked food, music. It’s been beautiful to see in action.

    Rose and I were talking about the sudden change in our circumstances and laughing that if we couldn’t deal with suddenly being a three person household we had no business trying to get pregnant, and that if we couldn’t handle sudden plan changes gracefully we were never going to cope with teenagers! 😉

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    One of our new residents: this is my sister’s lovely cat. She is so sweet and relaxed and right at home already. Zoe is desperately excited, Tonks is chilled out, Bebe is sulking a bit, and Sarsaparilla hasn’t come far enough into the house to have met her yet. He loves sleeping in the lounge room by the heater in this weather. (it’s freezing in Adelaide)

    Her name is Kaylee with an Irish spelling I wouldn’t attempt unless I had it written down! She’s adorable.

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    We’re a family! We’re trying to get pregnant again the end of this month! And my business is blossoming! I have my first ever art prints back from the printer and they are so beautiful I cried! I have a buyer for one of my favourite paintings. I have mental health talks booking in. I have safe communities to nestle into – I’ve been getting to know the wonderful people in Community Health Onkaparinga, and I’ve just joined a trans and gender queer social activism group which was… Well it was like being in Bridges, the face to face group for people with dissociation and multiplicity I ran for a couple of years. It was magic, like being home, like being among my own kind, diverse as they are. I felt my heart open up and knew these are the places I need to be. This is where I put my energy.

    College starts again today – a class on Installation Art that I’m so excited about I can hardly think straight!

    I have overhauled my online home too, not as a finished product but to try and better reflect where I’m at and where things are going… Go and explore the menu, I’ve added new pages and rewritten old ones and nested a lot of my paid work information on this site with great care and caution and I’ll see how it goes. Tell me what you think?

    I’m so bursting with excitement I got hardly any sleep last night. I feel like stars are burning so brightly in my chest that there’s almost no room for my heart. Someone wants to cry out with joy, loud! To weep with it. To pour it out of us like a river. My life is unbearably beautiful and I’m drunk on hope.

    And someone else wants to be still. To sit and watch the bees in the basil. To sit under the cold winter sun and feel the wind on our skin. There’s children playing up the street, and the wind chimes outside our window singing softly. The breeze tugs a lace curtain into a kind of dance, puffs it up as if it’s a gown over a body so translucent I cannot see her, fae and trembling she stands by my window and drinks the breeze, and dances.

    I love my sister very dearly and it’s hurt my heart to watch her struggle in a home where she was not well loved. I feel a fierce, deep joy to have her home, for a little while, to hold her close and cook for her and try to help her taste and feel again – this is what being loved feels like. So she can be nourished, so she has the sense of it alive in her, guiding her. It shouldn’t take such courage or cost such pain to pull back from places where we are not loved well. She, none of us, should have to be that strong. We should be well loved by those around us so the dance we must do around each others broken places is a movement from light to light, from home to home, from warmth to warmth, never fleeing into the night and the darkness, never broken by the cost. Always free. She’ll fly on again but we have a precious time where we’ll make our home together, where I can share the home I’ve been blessed with.

    I’m not the only one sharing. I have been overwhelmed with donations the last month, often little amounts that I KNOW are costly to give, are, percentage of your income wise, very big indeed. I am buying resources for the networks, and paying for prints, and husbanding every dollar with care. A Blog reader contacted me recently to offer a regular gift of money over the next nine months. I took to bed and wept, Rose holding me gently. How overwhelming it is to receive such support, to feel such… Connection… Gratitude… Such belief in what I’m doing. You share my dreams! And like my art! And read my blog… And help with my networks.

    I had a dream, back when I started this. To be useful in the world, and to express myself creatively. I have come through so much and learned so much in the pursuit of that dream. And Rose changed everything! Suddenly I’m dreaming of family and a baby too, my own tiny community within my much larger community. So I started dreaming a new dream, of being useful in the world, and expressing myself creatively, in an ethical and sustainable way. Transitioning my business and networks from a charity model to one of mutuality. I give and I receive, and together, we thrive, we dream, we bring more kindness and honesty and hope into the world.

    Stand with me, please

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    Well, I’m here at the conference. Well… In the vicinity of the conference anyway. I’m in the lobby trying to coax breakfast down me. It’s a very nice breakfast, but I feel particularly ill.

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    Cold water and porridge with stewed apples. Good slow burning carbs and not too rich. I’m doing my best to pay close attention to what my body needs on this trip. I’ve put myself under considerable physical pressure – very long drives, long hours of sitting, cold weather, and often missed meals, and very little sleep. That last one is a killer. Sleep deprivation and fibro do to me what an all weekend bender does to a 60 year old.

    My hotel room was beautiful but I’ve only had a couple hours of sleep again – cold weather, many many hours of sitting, and then sudden flurries of rushing around are pretty much a recipe for disaster with fibromyalgia. By 2am the pain my knees and ankle was severe. I wound up spending a lot of the night in hot showers and doing stretches trying to open up the joints again.

    This morning I feel badly hungover, with nausea, slight tremors, body aches, that cold sweat, especially on my face and lip, a bad headache, and really heavy head. The only hangover symptoms I don’t get are the thick saliva and fuzzy mouth because there’s no dehydration component to fibro. (unless I’ve also forgotten to drink, obviously)

    So I’m moving very slowly. I’ve taken a couple of ibuprofen which is as strong as my pain relief can get due to my drug allergies, I’m sipping cool water and gently spooning mouthfuls of porridge into me as I feel I can keep it down. I’m resting but also walking around and slowly pacing when I can to ease the body pain. Massaging the trigger points above my eyes gently.

    Pink Floyd comes on the radio “did you exchange a walk on part in the war, for a lead role in a cage?”. And then Neil Finn. Familiar music, my music. Something knotted eases a little inside me. So much of this weekend is about being in a different culture, the minority stress of being queer, multiple, alternative, a stranger, a long way from home. People are being kind, which helps. One new friend is indigenous and she gets it instinctively: like her  I’m a long way from home. I have no idea what is like to be her but we’re united by own experiences of constantly being the minority representative in a dominant culture that doesn’t understand, or particularly value a lot of what we do. The pervasive indefinable heart ache that comes with speaking in a different language too much, too long, being the alien. It’s a big Gap. I’m grateful and deeply moved by such acceptance – as Brene Brown puts it in her book, not fitting in but belonging. Different but accepted. There’s been a lot of love around this training, and I’m grateful I’ve been doing all that work on accepting and connecting because I’ve been able to hug and connect and let people be kind – to be genuinely reciprocal, which is beautiful.

    Mentally I feel mazed. It’s hard to focus my eyes and I can’t take in what’s going on around me very well. I’m thankful I know so much about fibro and dissociation these days. I know what’s happening and I know what I need to do. How many years it’s taken me to be able to do this! And it’s still hard, days like today. And – all my friends with a disability will get this – there’s a slight reluctance to tell anyone how rough I am in case they think I can’t handle conferences and don’t invite me again, or try to exclude me and caretake in intrusive ways. So I’m doing what always do when I feel that pressure to keep quiet – I’m here, telling the world. You guys, and this platform, keep me sane. Keep me free from the lead role in the cage. Thankyou.

    I’ve set up some artwork, our ‘healthy multiplicity’ poster for the DI, postcards for the DI and HVNSA, and a grounding kit for the conference attendees to try out. I’m here representing my tribe; artists, people with lived experience, peer workers, people who have been through trauma, freelancers, people who are poor, queer people, people with a disability, social entrepreneurs, multiples, counter culture people… I hope I’m doing right by each of these communities. I’m doing my best.

    Most of us never get a voice at events like this, and everything I’m going through is why. It’s almost impossible. So I’m here, being present, holding a space, representing us. Unpaid, unelected, with all the usual risks: that my voice because a substitute for your voice, that I go native in the dominant culture, or that I burn out. Be with me, all of you. Help me do this. Help my message be – not just my voice but many voices, not my experience alone but the experiences of my tribes. Hold me, I’m so weak. Stand with me. I’m building friendships and powerful alliances that will enrich us and connect us and bridge those Gaps.

    But I’m so vulnerable. Help me stay human. Witness me. Love me. I love you. I’m in the clinical mental health sector holding a space that love is the essential response to human suffering, and that dignity and freedom are fundamental human needs that services often accidentally destroy. You know how much we need that message in this culture! And I’m not the only one, I don’t mean to sound like a lone hero. There’s thousands of us trying to build a better culture. But we’re struggling to hear each other and understand each other, and people like me don’t often get a voice or a presence – and without people like me – the ones so often in need of services, those with good intentions but no intuitive understanding of my life will keep pouring out their hearts, our money, and their lifetimes of effort to still not speak my language or create a genuinely safe, mutual, dignified systemic response to human suffering. The gatekeepers don’t understand us and we need them to, because they have the power and the resources. They are dehumanised by these systems too, in subtle ways they can’t see but that threaten their humanity as much as – perhaps more than the threat to service users. No more, please. No more. All voices, all cultures present. All tribes heard.

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    Looking for a donor – part 2.

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    We’re looking for a donor again. We’re ready to try again for a bub, but the donor who helped us get pregnant with Tamlorn has had a change in circumstances. We were very lucky to get pregnant very quickly with Tamlorn – in just three cycles (months) of trying. Unfortunately they died in utero at only 9 weeks.

    My body has had some time to recover, as has our hearts, and we’re ready to try again and just need to find someone willing.

    In our original ideas about donors (which has a lot more information about us and the process) we were keen for a known donor if possible – someone with an ongoing friendship with our family. We’re more open now to a range of preferences, really the most important to thing to us is that you are free of STI’s, major genetic issues, and can be honest and communicate clearly with us. Bringing a child into the world is a journey – sometimes an ordeal – and it can take you places you never expected emotionally.

    Sex will not be involved under any circumstances, but apart from that we’re happy to talk with you about what would suit best – discussions ranging from totally anonymous through to very involved are welcome. Each family defines the donor relationship differently. We don’t mind what nationality, sexuality, or gender identity you are, but you do need to be between 25 and 40.

    So, if you’ve ever thought about being a donor, or know someone who might be appropriate – please share this and get in touch.

    skreece1@gmail.com or facebook: sarah.k.reece

    Buck Angel – trans and diversity

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    This awesome dude is Buck Angel. He was in Adelaide recently doing a number of shows at part of our Feast Festival, which is our annual queer pride event. I was fortunate enough to get along to several of them. I first met Buck as an amazing life size golden statue of him by artist Marc Quinn, that’s in our Art Gallery of South Australia.
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    Photo from this blog.

    I was blown away when I first saw it, that confidence, the way his tattoos have been carved deeply into the statue… So beautiful. To display his unusual body (Buck went through ‘top’ but not ‘bottom’ surgery) with such a sense of contentment and certainty about who he is just blew me away. Apparently it’s not unusual for people to be deeply moved, particularly trans folk.  Then I heard the subject was coming here and I got to hear some of his life story, his transitioning, to hear about how this statue was made and brought all the way to SA. It’s been amazing.

    I talked with him a little about the overlap between the trans and multiple communities, the need for more understanding and acceptance. I’ve been building more links between these communities in my work on the Dissociative Initiative. My experience has been that there’s a lot of trans people who experience multiplicity, and a lot of people with multiplicity who have trans parts/personalities. The mental health and the trans supports however, don’t always get along.

    Buck got it. His messages of loving your body, and embracing your identity, and not letting the world tell you you have look a certain way or have certain body parts to be who you know you are is a powerful one, especially for trans members of multiple systems. Some of us transition and some, like me, never will. (More about my experiences in What is a man?) I live as a male in a system full of female personalities and a body identified as female. Learning to be comfortable with this is so much easier when you have a hyper masculine, “I love my vagina”, pro diversity role model like Buck.

    We talked a little about the massive changes legally and socially that have happened, just in the time since he’s transitioned. It makes me hopeful that things are going to change for those us with multiplicity, who currently are seen as mentally ill, treated as dangerous, or the punch line of a joke. There’s a whole community of trans people who can relate to our experiences around those issues! These are people who understand fears of being outed, how our relationships, housing, and jobs can be at risk, the pressure of trying to pass so no one will know we are different. That’s the reason I’m public about being multiple, to start that change happening. We shouldn’t have to hide! We can find ally’s in communities like this and support each other.

    Buck told me – it doesn’t take many of us speaking up to change things. Just a few voices make a difference. I believe that.

    Trans Day of Remembrance

    Today was trans day of remembrance, all around people are lighting candles and holding events to remember those trans people who have lost their lives.

    You may be trans or have friends or family who are. You may know a little about it or nothing at all. You might understand it intimately or find it deeply strange and unfamiliar. It doesn’t matter, you don’t need an in depth knowledge of gender to get that violence against this community is wrong. Horrifyingly common and deeply wrong.

    When trans people are constantly ‘othered’- treated as freaks rather than people, when they’re talked about in the media in a sensational way, when they’re always the serial killer, always the punch line of the joke, when the worst thing in the world that could happen is discovering the person you’re out on a date with is trans, we set the context in which this violence occurs. People are bullied, harassed, beaten. More subtle but just as devastating, finding and keeping employment, safe housing, maintaining connection to family, all can be so much more difficult. Rates of homelessness, mental illness, and suicide are frighteningly high. In healthy, inclusive, safe environments, they’re not! But so many trans people have to live in anything but safe places.

    So, be aware. You don’t have to understand a lot if you don’t want to, that’s fine. But notice the sense of threat, fear, and revulsion that underlie the jokes and ridicule… They’re the same things that feed the violence. People are hurt, and every year, people die. Help your spaces; your family, your college, your church, your playgroup, your workspaces, be safer. These people are not victims or freaks. Trans people are highly diverse, just like all people, ranging from angels to scumbags. But no one deserves to be killed for using the ‘wrong’ toilet. We can do better.

    Looking for a donor

    Not since I once sat in a church, covered in rat piss and hoping desperately to fit in with my new lesbian friends, have I felt so damn awkward. Searching for a donor is an astonishingly strange process. It involves using the word ‘sperm’ in conversation more frequently than I have in the entire rest of my life. It’s nerve wracking and vulnerable and exciting and sad and weirdly similar to dating, if dating involved no sex and unusually frequent references to sperm.

    Let me take you through the process so far. Rose and I need a donor as neither of us produce sperm. Plenty of couples find themselves in this boat for many reasons. Our first idea was to cross the genetic lines of our families – as we are both keen to carry a child, to ask for support from male relatives on both sides. Sadly that hasn’t worked out for us. Our second idea is to find a known donor that we are already friends with, or whom we become friends with, to help us have a child – maybe more than one with the same guy if that works out. Anonymous donation doesn’t appeal to us. There’s upsides, for sure! A total lack of drama for one. Less anxiety about relationships fragmenting. But Rose has never known her father. We know what it feels like to have a big empty space in your biological history. We don’t want that for for our kids. We’d love someone who we can point to and say ‘that’s the guy’. This is your donor. He’s not your parent, he’s not responsible for you, he doesn’t pay your medical bills or sit up with you when an assignment is due the next morning, but he’s a family friend. You can ask him questions. You can figure out how you want to relate to each other over the years. We’re not scared of him or threatened by him and we don’t want to hide him or pretend he didn’t exist. He’s part of the story of how you came into the world. There’s no shame in that. In fact, he’s a pretty awesome guy. We chose him, just like we chose to have you.

    Being a known donor is a big ask. It’s a weird role. The closest parallel I’ve been able to come up with is that of an uncle. You’re involved in the child’s life to some extent, there’s a recognised relationship that may be closer or distant. There’s a biological tie. There’s no legal or social responsibility or rights. A fight with the parents could see you on the out. You’re kind of invested but also in a vulnerable position. If things go wildly wrong you may one day be asked to see if you’re a match for bone marrow for a kid that’s not yours. For many guys this role is a really poor fit. They want to become a donor anonymously and stay distant, or they really want to be a father, not a donor, and they’ll be intrusive and suffer greatly if their access to the child or their desire to relate as a parent is limited in any way. It’s a pretty unique kind of situation and it doesn’t fit everyone.

    So Rose and I have been casting our net wider, so to speak. We’ve put up profiles on local dating websites, and we’re sharing our search with friends and contacts. We’re moving slowly and seeking to have a good foundation of friendship in place before we start trying to conceive. Talking with strangers on the net about donors has been… Illuminating, entertaining, bizarre, funny, and creepy. We’ve met some really lovely guys. We’ve deleted a lot of wildly unsuitable ones. We’ve explained that sex is not involved in being a donor, a LOT.

    As I said, it’s oddly similar to dating. You get neurotic easily (am I talking too much? Too little? Am I mentioning the donor thing too often? Not often enough?). You get excited quickly and dream a whole future that dies a deeply disappointing death when things derail. You’re flooring the accelerator with excitement and hitting the brakes with anxiety at the same time. You’re keen for no one person to feel under pressure, so you’re still talking to other new possible guys, but that also feels weirdly like cheating or snubbing the ones you do like who have expressed interest in being involved. Communication is a challenge. Them reading this blog and having to process a whole bunch of stuff about someone fairly out of the norm is a challenge. Them worrying about being exposed when interacting with someone who lives a very public life is a challenge. The whole process is rather strange and fragile.

    So, this is our online profile:

    About Me

    Female 31 Australia

    We are 2 awesome ladies who have been together for nearly 2 years and are looking for someone fantastic to help us to have kids. We’re 29/31 and looking at starting within the next couple of years. We work in Youth Work/Alternative Education, Mental Health, and do face painting work on the weekends at kids parties. We’re smart, creative, silly, and a bit nerdy. Love reading, cooking, camping, card nights, and hanging out with our mates.

    Seeking Criteria

    • Members anywhere in South Australia.
    • Friendship with a man or a woman.
    • Between 25 and 40 years of age.
    • Members who speak English.

    What I’m Looking For

    Someone awesome to be a sperm donor and help us start our family. We don’t mind what nationality, sexuality, or gender identity you are but you do need to be between 25 and 40. Single or part of a couple is welcome. What’s important to us is that you don’t carry any known major genetic illnesses, that you’re happy to be tested so we all know that everything is safe, and that you’re a great person with similar values to us and excellent communication skills. We’d love to have a long friendship with our donor, and to have our kids know you and know their genetic history, so our first preference is to go down the DIY road rather than anonymous donation.We are also open to talking about supporting you to have children if you are gay or your partner is unable to bear children. We’re not in a rush, we’d love to meet up, get to know each other, talk things through, and make sure everyone is comfortable and on the same page.

    Also happy just to make some new friends. 🙂

    The process of donation involves coordinating with each other to pass along a sperm sample during the most fertile time of the month. Happy to talk about that in more detail. 🙂 Sex is not involved!

    It can be a little awkward to start conversations about being a donor dad, so we’ll leave the first move to you. It just feels a little odd to say to a stranger – hey you seem nice, can we have your sperm? Feel free to strike up a conversation if you’d like to chat! 🙂

    I’ve also taken to having the following spiel saved in a word document so I can copy and paste, seeing as it comes up in every conversation. It’s the basic run down of the process for when you’re using artificial insemination (AI) at home.

    The first step is making friends. Donating can be a bit of a process and it’s best if everyone gets along and feels comfortable with each other.

    The next step is getting tested. Sperm samples can contain STI’s such as HIV, so it’s super important to know no one will get sick.

    So once everyone has the all clear, some paperwork is signed to say that this is a donor relationship, and no sex is happening. That protects the guy from being sought after for child support, and allows us to try and get both of us legally recognised as parents on the birth certificate.

    The process of donating is quite simple. A couple of times a month the donor and we arrange a time that suits everyone on the days we know the biological mum is most fertile. The donor puts a sperm sample into a sterile cup that we provide. Then within one hour we arrange a handover – he drops it off or we pick it up.

    Sperm dies really fast outside of the body, so that bit can be tricky to arrange, especially if the donor and us don’t live close.

    But basically that’s it. This goes on every month until a pregnancy occurs, then if we’re lucky, all goes well and a baby is born. 

    Please be aware if you’re thinking of going down this road yourself that there’s some important considerations to keep in mind! Firstly, someone can have HIV but not show up as HIV positive in testing for a couple of months. So a clear STI test doesn’t always mean you are safe. When you’re using donor sperm and a clinic, the usual practice is for the clinic to freeze the donor sperm for 3 months or longer, with an HIV test for the donor at the start and end of that time. If both are clean, then the sperm is considered safe to use. Obviously you can’t do this at home, so you need good, honest conversations with a donor you trust about their risk of contracting HIV. Despite popular belief, the health of the donor is also very relevant to the chance of conception and a healthy pregnancy. It’s probably far more important to look at factors such as current drug use rather than education level or eye colour when you’re choosing a donor.

    Another important thing to consider is the laws where you live about donors and parental rights. Everywhere is different. Don’t assume that just because you’ve used AI instead of had sex that you’re all safe and legally protected. Not all the laws recognise donors outside of a clinic, and not all the laws recognise that a same sex couple can both be parents. There are occasional horror stories about donors being pursued by the state to pay child support, or a non-biological partner being denied access to their own children following the death of the biological parent, or breakdown of their relationship. Do your homework! You may need to lodge forms, sign stat decs, and jump through various bureaucratic hoops to make sure your relationships are all legally recognised the ways you’re setting them up. If you are trying to set up a poly relationship or clan with more than two parents being recognised legally, you need advice from a specialist lawyer because this is extraordinarily difficult to pull off within current legal frameworks. It’s also important to mention that, all jokes aside, please don’t use regular household items such as your kitchen baster for DIY insemination. You can buy single use, sterile medical supplies online discretely through sites like DIY Baby. The last thing anyone needs is infection at early stages of pregnancy.

    Another consideration is that around half of all fertilized eggs are lost to very early miscarriage. Women who conceive through sex are often not aware they were even pregnant because it happens so early in the process. But for those us using donors, we’re watching the whole process and often confirming pregnancy very early. So while our chances of miscarriage may not be any higher than anyone else’s, we can be aware of early losses other people aren’t and this can be very painful. It’s worth keeping this in mind and remembering that sadly, losses are to be expected as part of the process. (just as a side note, this is not what has happened with Rose, all her losses have been later, hence our care to go through fertility testing and work on pre-conception care to reduce our risks) There are things you and a donor can do (such as not smoking) to reduce your risks of miscarriage, but the base-line stats even for healthy people with low risk factors are still a lot higher than most people realise, and this can be a shock, both for you and your donor.

    Lastly, even with the best of care in tracking your fertile window each month, it can take a while before conception and pregnancy result. When you’re inexperienced and excited it’s easy to think of a sperm sample as being a magic ticket to a baby – especially so if you have friends who’ve been more fertile than they wanted and had pregnancies on the pill, or when you’ve all spent your whole adult lives being super careful to avoid getting pregnant and worrying that the smallest mishap will inevitably result in an unwanted pregnancy. Both you and your donor need to be prepared that this could take a little while, and that’s normal. You may be lucky, so be ready, but you may also spend months arranging collection of samples with a donor who needs to remain a low HIV & miscarriage risk throughout that time. It can be a lot more drawn out and inconvenient than anyone was expecting. It may be worth having conversations at the outset about how you will approach things if someone’s circumstances changes and they want to stop. Donors have lives, sometimes their kid gets sick, or they get an interstate work offer, or start a new relationship, and what was a wonderful idea six months ago has become a stressful imposition. Sometimes too, your circumstances change and you change your timetable, perhaps you need time to grieve after losses, or you suddenly have to move house, or find yourself caring for a sick parent. Putting this on the table at the outset can help those important conversations to happen early and calmly if they need to. This is doubly important if you have a reciprocal arrangement with a donor – ie two families assisting each other to have children via sperm donation and surrogacy. There’s a lot of opportunity for heartbreak and hurt in these situations, as well as connection and joy.

    If you’re curious to learn more about different family structures, including families with a known donor, I recommend (and own) the book Baby Makes More. There’s a wonderful range of families who have shared the good, bad, and ugly of their choices, their struggles for acceptance, and their efforts to find a language to communicate about their relationships. The legal trend is gearing generally in the direction of known donors after many years of anonymous donation. Some children born with the help of an anonymous donor experience the kind of dislocation that children born in closed, secret adoptions do, and go searching for information and history as they get older. In recognition of this, legislation is beginning to change in places and enforce that more information needs to be disclosed for secret donor arrangements, and that adult children conceived with a donor should be able to access identifying information. This is not to shame or judge those who have chosen to use an anonymous donor, merely to point out that we are moving in this direction culturally and we need to find more comfortable language for families and relationships like this. Where once it was thought that secrecy helped people, that children were more secure if they didn’t know their ‘big sister’ was really their biological mother, or that people would cope better with sickness if they were not told how bad it was, things are swinging more in the direction of disclosure and openness being essential to trust and a healthy sense of self. It’s no guarantee, and there’s certainly downsides, but we are starting to embrace that family comes in many forms, and that these complex ties of love and blood are part of all our lives – for good and ill.

    Motherhood with Rose

    Rose and I talk a lot about having kids. When, how, child raising values, options for donors, financial pressures, housing challenges, and the unique concerns and possibilities afforded by a pair of women in a relationship. (we are by far luckier than a pair of guys in South Australia trying to start a family – sorting out a donor is a lot easier than finding a surrogate) Financial is a messy, tricky one. I don’t want to raise kids in poverty. On the other hand, our poverty, here in Australia, is comparable to some pretty serious wealth in many other parts of the world. It’s a weird one. We’re working on various options for long term financial survival despite health and disability issues. Rose’s job is a blessing in this respect, and I’m trying to juggle my health, my business plans, study, and home life. Some days it feels like it’s all working out, others I’m buried by it all.

    I recently discovered that if Rose and I have a child together, that we cannot have both of us on the birth certificate as parents. I’m crushed. I’d been told that this was possible now in South Australia. Apparently there’s a time factor. Both same-sex parents can only go on the birth certificate if they have been legally recognised as defacto partners for several years. This seems arbitrary and ridiculous to me. One night stands resulting in pregnancy are recognised, while both of us loving and planning and being cautious about living together before we’re ready have to go to such lengths to prove we are parents. I hate it.

    One of the challenges I find is that culturally we have this idea of the real Mum. A lot of us don’t fit it. A step mum isn’t a real Mum. A transwoman can’t be a real Mum. An adoptive mother isn’t a real Mum. And the first time someone asked Rose which one of us was going to be the real Mum, I realised that we weren’t going to fit it either. One of us, the one who carries the child, is seem as the real Mum. The other of us will be the other mother, an oddly dispensable role, and one with eerie echoes of the creepy bad character from Coraline. The person who isn’t on the birth certificate, who has no automatic legal recognition, and who is often seen as a kind of watered down, inadequate father, or an unnecessary duplicate. A kind of spare Mum, in case something happens to the real one.

    Gender roles can be a real headache. I hate them when I’m in a relationship with a man. I hate them when I’m in a relationship with a woman. I hate being asked ‘which one of us is the man’ as if being male and being the ‘dominant’ partner are synonymous, and as if every partnership must have a man or a man substitute in it to be legitimate. I find it deeply offensive to be told that ‘all relationships, even gay ones, have a male and a female in them’, and Rose and I have encountered this idea more than once! Or to be asked which of us is the ‘butch’ one, or which is the man of the household. (obviously, that’s my cat, Sarsaparilla) One of the funnest things for me about dating a woman is that there are no clear social roles. Who pays at dinner? Do you open doors for each other? Who cooks the BBQ’s? You get to define all these between the two of you to be whatever you like. This is awesome! You can figure out what suits you with a whole lot less social friction around defying traditional gender roles. Unless of course, you’re in networks who need women to be ‘girly’, or need one of you to be clearly defined as the ‘manly one’.

    The same gender role issues happen when you start planning a family. I don’t like being seen as a castrated father to a child Rose carries and delivers. I am a real mother. The clearly defined roles of mother and father that have been inherited from a terrifyingly rigid 1950’s model, get instead broken down and parcelled out to each parent, each aunt and uncle and family friend and godparent and grandparent. Everyone brings something different, something unique, to the life of a child they care about. We’ve spent so much time in our culture having arguments about gender and how being a mother and being a father is different, more or less important to a child. Gender is important, if for no other reason than it is an intensely key aspect of how our society thinks about and treats people. But, like relationships, parenting roles work best when they’re fitted to skills, interests, and passions, rather assigned based on gender.

    People are often baffled or weirdly thrilled when Rose and I tell them we each hope to carry a child. On the one hand, this fits us neatly into the gender roles of female. On the other, it defies the belief that even queer relationships have strictly separate male and female roles. And here’s the real kicker – to both be legally recognised as parent of our own children, we would have to be living together in a defacto relationships for a number of years – which is assessed by welfare and would radically reduce my pension without considerably reducing our expenses. This doesn’t happen for any other type of relationship. I could live with my sister or any other family member, any friends, anyone else in the world, provided we’re not having sex. We could raise children together, share household responsibilities, in all other ways be a family… we could even be ex’s or one could be full time providing care for the other through sickness or disability. But if we are currently in a sexual relationship, I become immediately forced to be financially dependant on Rose, and both of us struggle to pay the bills. You know what – I realise that we’re so used to this idea it seems ‘normal’ to us, that we have spent a very long time building our notion of family around a sexual relationship between a single couple, but I’m repulsed by this. It makes me feel like my government is prostituting me. Rose and I could support each other as straight single Mums, raising each other’s kids together, we could relate as sisters, we could build our own family on any number of wonderful different ways, but sex is different. Sex means I can’t maintain my financial independence, my own balance of power, my separate self. We’re a halfway secular country still running on ideas of ‘becoming one flesh’. This makes people like me highly vulnerable. I have watched so many people, often but not always women (that’s another post!), become so vulnerable because of our ideas around housing, finances, and sex. It’s time for change. If we want to stop the merry go round of vulnerable people winding back up on the streets or in shelters, we need to make it much, much easier for them to explore new relationships without losing their housing or income! This bizarre privileging/excluding of sexual/romantic relationships apart from all other kinds of relationships is so unnecessary. Families come in many different formats. Love is what binds us together. There are platonic flatmates out there with 1,000 times the compassion and devotion to each other than exists between some mothers and their children, or some husbands and wives. Sex with someone should not collapse you into a single legal entity, financially or in any other way. We are beyond this now, thankfully, here at least. We are not property. We are not resources to be sold or bargained over. Marital rape is a real thing. Domestic violence is a real thing. Queer relationships are no longer illegal or mental illnesses. Fostering, adopting, kinship care, and step families are part of our normal family make-up now, as are extended communities of ‘family’ we may have no blood or marriage ties to. More than one sexual partner in our lifetime, casual sex, poly relationships, and defacto relationships are happening all the time. When our laws around tax, marriage, lineage, and legal standing haven’t caught up with the social changes, people are highly vulnerable, such as trans people having their marriages dissolved whatever their wishes. People get hurt!

    So, Rose and I live in separate houses, because it has worked for us. It keeps us both independent financially, it gives us each a sense of secure home that isn’t threatened by hitting a rocky patch in our relationship, (because we have not got our shit together around housing and homelessness in this culture!), it holds onto my public housing unit while we try to decide if we’re financially secure enough to let it go, and stops our cats from killing each other. We’ve made it work for us. We love our little commune of close friends. It’s unusual but not unheard of, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived in adjoining houses, as do/did Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter. We’ve taken the challenges and found a way to make them work for us. We’re now faced with the bizarre scenario that the only way we can both be entered onto the birth certificate of our child (and therefore legally recognised as joint parents) is to trek across state borders towards the end of pregnancy, and make sure that we give birth to any children in Victoria, where the laws are different. The only alternative is to give up on the birth certificate and pay lawyers a lot of money to draft parenting agreements. But that empty box on the birth certificate, it’s haunting.

    We’ll figure it out. We’ll be okay. We’ll make it into an adventure, a wild story to tell, I hope. We are so damn fortunate, we have so much protection and so many rights, bought through much struggle and courage by people who have come before us. We have some of the most beautiful friends and family in the world, people who see us as people rather than living embodiments of gender roles. People we love as family, who are excited for us and supporting of us. We are blessed indeed. But this mess around both of us being recognised as mothers makes me very angry. We deserve better.

    Deviant

    So, yesterday Rose and I are hanging out at a medical centre, waiting for an ultrasound. They’re running late and I am starting to worry I’m about to pee on the carpet. I had remembered many years ago going for an ultrasound and being told I must not have drunk enough, so they made me drink another litre and hang about the waiting room for an extra hour and a half. I may have gone a little overboard as a result, it felt like I had a watermelon in my bladder!

    They start on the top of my tummy. My bladder looms like a huge black lump on the screen and the technician tells me that I’ve definitely drunk more than enough. Rose and I keep getting the giggles and I have to keep telling her to shut up or this is going to get awkward! The tech, we agree later, is very sensitive and professional, and rather cute in a very straight way. I was surprised that she was taking pictures so close to my pubic bone. After seeing all those images of disembodied reproductive organs, mentally I’d kind of strung mine out and looped them all through my stomach. She said lots of people make that mistake, they’re actually only a couple of inches big. Things you learn!

    She has quite a bit of trouble taking some images internally, and I ask if having a retroverted uterus makes that job trickier. At which point she tells me that my uterus isn’t so much retroverted as deviated, and Rose and I get the giggles so badly she can’t take any more pictures for a few minutes. I’m a deviant! Medically confirmed. Septum (bit in your nose) AND uterus.

    That’s almost as funny as the graffiti we found scratched into the back of Rose’s car the other day – dyke. Misspelled. ‘Dike’. As if pointing out that she’s into women would surprise, confuse, or shame her! It’s no more offensive than someone writing ‘woman’ on my door, or yelling ‘hey, she has feet!’ when I walk past them. Although a friend pointed out its hard to tell with the barely literate, they may have been going for ‘dick’.

    Life is so much better when you have a sense of humour.

    My experience of sexual health counselling

    A few years ago, I took myself off to see a counsellor at my local sexual health clinic. I was anxious as all hell, looking for some support while I grappled with my sexual orientation and dysfunction after previous distressing sexual experiences. What I thought was going to be a brief fix to my anxiety, sending me on my way with some reassurance, has turned out to be some of the most useful and powerful therapy I’ve done. This is completely at odds with everything that says that people with DID need intensive therapy by experts in dissociation and multiplicity. To be honest I manage a lot of that side of my life pretty independently. But help in some areas, such as sexual health, has been invaluable for me.

    I didn’t see the counsellor very frequently, often we had a month or two between appointments, but the conversations have changed my life. I developed a routine for sessions, I’d follow them with a trip to the Shine SA resource library and borrow books about bisexuality, sexual dysfunction, sexual development, sexual health in seniors, feminism, gender, and culture, essays about being the children of gay parents, and so on, then I’d head over to a cafĂ© to sit and ponder the session, write in my journal and sometimes cry into a my chai latte.

    What I’ve learned is that sex isn’t a side issue the way we think it is. It’s treated as a specialist topic, quite separate from other issues such as trauma recovery or mental health. But for me, it’s not an issue off to the side of my life, it’s part of my foundations. My experiences and beliefs about sex impact my sense of self, my approach to life, my ideas about relationships. Conversations about identity, power, communication, relationship, love, consent, and desire have had a profound impact upon most aspects of my life and health.

    I started with thorny confusion about things like: I think I’m into women, but what if I’m wrong? What if I start dating, some lovely woman falls in love with me, and I break her heart? What if my attraction to women is caused by abuse? What if I’m just trying to piss off my father? …Or conversely, what if I only think I’m attracted to some guys because I’ve been culturally conditioned to think that’s normal? Or because of abuse? (if abuse can make a straight person think they’re gay, can’t it also make a gay person think they’re straight?) Does God hate me? Is this about lust or love? Can it be both? Does what happened to me ‘count’ as abuse? Does my history mean I might abuse other people? How do we define abuse? How do we engage as sexual adults when we’ve been traumatised as children? Does abuse really destroy you forever? Is it possible to have a great sex life after trauma and abuse? How do I navigate coming out late in life?

    I have never been able to discuss most of these things with other therapists. Even those who specifically work in the area of trauma and child sexual abuse have not been comfortable discussing sexual matters explicitly and matter of factly. We would talk in generalities, but never openly. Usually the therapist would look deeply uncomfortable and change the topic.

    In this therapy, all things were discussed, without shame. There was space for frank discussion, it was respectful, appropriate, and very real. I remember one session starting with the therapist looking me in the eye and saying “so let’s talk about masturbation”, as I blushed with embarrassment and laughed with relief that here, the taboos could be spoken of. (obviously we had a rapport at this point) What use is therapy, if not for the discussion of things you can’t speak about?

    These conversations have touched on crucial issues that have helped me to understand so many other areas of my life, such as key experiences that drive my intense self hate, my distress and confusion about the exercise of power, and my tangled and painful sexual development and struggle to reconcile myself to my sexual orientation. More importantly, they’ve helped to free me from them.

    A while ago, I said thank you and goodbye. I was sad and grateful and looking to the future. I have navigated coming out as bisexual, and found myself a comfortable place under the umbrella term queer. I have started dating and fallen in love with a beautiful and complex woman, Rose. I have gently ended seven years of celibacy and discovered it is possible to have a wonderful sex life despite having an abuse history and issues with trauma. I have learned a vocabulary I am comfortable with to think, read, and talk about sexual matters. I have overcome sexual dysfunction. I used to suffer from vaginismus, an involuntary flinch reaction due, in my case, to traumatic experiences. While I still don’t like them, I can usually handle medical interventions such as gynaecological exams. I no longer sob with some undefinable, overwhelmingly intense grief every time I masturbate. I’m learning to embrace the diverse gender identity within our system. I have a context for pain and confusion in my childhood. I have begun to understand the cost of family secrets and cultural norms that I inherited, to find ways to face and understand legacies of shame and fear. I no longer think that I was a monster as a child. I am beginning to understand just how little we do understand about sex and sexual development. I am facing my demons and finding some frameworks that make sense. I am looking to the future and thinking about how I engage the world as a parent.

    I’m not finished. I’m still living with trauma. I’m still living with the devastation of a family divided by abuse, shame, secrets, and fear. I’m still living in a culture that treats sex as a commodity, that confuses love with narcissism, that struggles to understand consent, that traps victims of abuse in a place of disconnection, silencing, and the expectation of permanent dysfunction, and groups all offenders, those fearful they could be offenders, sadists, the abused, children, criminals, people in breakdowns, pimps, into one box marked ‘inhuman, evil, kill on sight’. I still have questions, losses to grieve, things to understand. But I don’t look at the world, or myself through the old frameworks any more. On the one hand I have a powerful legacy of trauma, distress, self hate, and confusion. On the other hand, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me and never was. I don’t need to hate myself or to fear sex.

    Our ideas about child abuse are often inadequate and ill informed. In the same way that I hear so often often from people struggling with multiplicity who “are not a real DID” (their words, not mine), we don’t have a good understanding of the diversity of people’s experiences that cause pain and suffering. Each creates its own ‘Gap’. There are those who experienced the horrible, sordid stories we are familiar with, who understand how effortlessly lives are split into day and night, the things we speak of and the secrets we keep. There are those who’s stories sit further down spectrums of torture, victims of organised crime or isolated with inventive sadists and debased in ways that defy our sense of hope in humanity. There are also those who experienced harm in contexts that left them wondering if they had any right to claim refuge under the term ‘abuse’, cousins on the farm making grotesque comments about animals mating, a teacher who stood too close and arranged too many private conversations and spoke about his sex life but never touched, an aunt who left porn lying around the house. There are also people who’s harm was not exposure to sexual contact but to silence and fear and shame about anything sexual; menstruation, nocturnal emission, infatuation. People who have never been sexually abused but who have been told they are ugly and repulsive for years, who find this makes sex an experience of painful exposure and deep shame. People who were told they were lucky because they were only ‘almost raped’, or because they were beaten instead of molested. People who struggle to make sense of their experiences and untangle their unique combination of terror, numbness, excitement, shame, curiosity, self loathing, comfort, and loneliness. Some stories have a familiar anguished simplicity to them, the brutality of a more powerful person taking from a more vulnerable. Others are paralysingly complex, people who found some comfort in the sexual experiences when the other parent was so terrifyingly violent, or children who re-enacted sexual abuse in games with each other without realising their gravity. We tend to want to rank traumas but my experience has been that anything that makes you feel disconnected from yourself and the world around you, any story you can’t share and own, anything that makes you hate yourself, has the power to kill you.

    There are not many in my past who did wrong with the intention to harm me. Some of my bad experiences for example, were by a peer, then also a child, who had themselves been terribly abused. Sadism is present in my story, but it doesn’t dominate it. Most of my ‘monsters’ were themselves profoundly damaged and abused, which is in some ways easier to process and understand, and in other ways harder. Part of my pain was stories told and secrets that were shared that needed keeping still, and part of it was also being forced to observe sexually abusive behaviour between other people in my personal life. Self hate and a profound conviction that I was evil, and myself a monster, stemmed not only from abusive experiences, but from confusion about my own culpability as a young child, from appalling frameworks that made it impossible to develop any interest in sex without being framed as a monster, creep, unfeminine, dirty, or unholy. Frameworks where being queer, multiple, having a complex relationship to gender, and being attracted to other women were all seen as sickness, sin, and depravity. Frameworks where I was not allowed to control my own body, not allowed to say no to touch that made me uncomfortable, where I must play a role and obey social convention. Frameworks where my body belonged to someone else for their pleasure, where the stakes were astonishingly high and the risks of failure to be perfect and behave as I was required to could not just impact my life but damn my eternal soul. (this is not to suggest that all religions have harmful attitudes towards sex, or that all non-religious cultures are sex-positive)

    Like my experiences with bullying, the incidences of contact we think of when we talk about child abuse are not really where the most damage was done to me. There was a much more mundane, insidious harm. The cultures of ignorance, secrecy, shame, confusion, and victim blaming is where I suffered. These cultures can harm people without any direct abuse ever taking place. When we make all the conversations about trauma, and a narrow definition of trauma at that, so many people with struggles miss out on support and resources. I remember once asking a psychologist I was seeing if I could attend the ‘sexual abuse support group for women’ he was facilitating. He told me that my none of my experiences of trauma really qualified as abuse, and that would make the other women feel uncomfortable. It’s been cold comfort to later piece together the complex jigsaw of my life and determine that some of my experiences certainly did fall within that definition.

    Like many of us with bad experiences, I’m still grappling with how to translate my knowledge into something that is an asset rather than a poison for my own children, into wisdom and courage instead of paranoia and shame. How can we bear it, those of us who know exactly how vulnerable children can be, and how dark the world but can get? I cannot go forward with the belief that I can control everything and prevent terrible things from ever happening. I can hope that my familiarity with this particular underworld may have sharpened my senses. I put my faith in all the learning that tells us it is not so much the act of being touched that does such harm, it is the lack of support and love, it is the world shattered by secrets, it is the stories we tell to and about children who’ve been hurt, and the stories the abusers tell them, and the stories children tell to themselves. Terrible things sometimes happen to children. This knowledge makes me want to scream at a pitch that will shatter the world. But people also heal, and they heal very well when they know that the world can be terrible, when they can speak about their pain, and when they have love and support and skills to navigate trauma. Many, many cultures in this world who have been destroyed by war, famine, poverty, crime, earthquakes, and the horrific sex crimes that often accompany crisis and social breakdown would attest to this. Resilient cultures mourn and rebuild. I will try and figure out how to be part of a resilient culture, and how to support my children to be resilient. I will try to make sure the frameworks are good, healthy, sex-positive ones. Between the rage and the terror, I will try to accept my limitations in making the world a safe place for my children. I will fight and be aware and do everything in my power, and then I will try to have faith in our capacity to grieve and heal.

    I am less afraid. I can speak now. I can read books, search the net, look for information when I’m lost and confused. I’ve found that I’m not alone. Conversations about sex happen everywhere in my life now, and there’s so many people struggling. People with abuse histories, with disabilities, mental illness, with orientations, identities, or desires that mean they don’t fit in the majority, people with anxiety and confusion about sexual health, desire, love, consent. The need is so much greater than me, which is why I started writing my series about emotionally safer sex. I’ve not been struggling and confused because there was something wrong with me. I was struggling and confused because the whole world is conflicted. Mixed messages, terrible advice, wild assumptions, misinformation, disconnection, disappointment, grief, and confusion are everywhere. We confuse privacy with shame, bragging with honesty, coercion with romance, obsession with love.

    In sexual health counselling, I found what I needed to be able to engage with this part of the world, and this part of adult life. I don’t have all the answers, but I have a place to stand. The most useful part of this counselling for me, when I drown in shame, confusion, and silence, is the very clear memory of someone speaking with me with compassion, without disgust, without fear. Conversations that untangled sex from shame, and desire from destruction. My hope is that, in some small way, sharing such a personal experience with you will help you also to find this place within yourself, or to be a gentler and more loving support to someone else who hasn’t found it yet.

    “When sex gets hard’ – Sex & disability forum

    Content warning for explicit but not gratuitous discussion about sex.

    I was lucky to attend this forum recently, and promised to blog my notes for all those interested parties who couldn’t attend. This is not an exact record of the event, I scribbled notes as quickly as I could but none can be considered true quotes. I have paraphrased and may have misunderstood or mis-attributed in places. This was a forum arranged by the Society of Australian Sexologists. It’s a topic close to my heart but difficult to find training in, so I was really pleased to hear about it at the last minute and be able to squeeze in. It was an excellent, wide ranging conversation and I came home even more enthused about being part of cultural changes and a movement towards more freedom and joy in sex for people who have traditionally been marginalised. The panel was made up of:

    • Assoc Prof Greg Crawford, a Palliative Care Physician who works with people and sexuality in the context of end of life care
    • Dr Tabitha Healy, a Medical Oncologist who works with sex in the context of cancer and cancer treatments – she’s become known as the ‘dry vagina doctor’
    • Assoc Prof Sharon Lawn, a Mental Health Academic who described herself as being married to a lovely man with paranoid schizophrenia
    • Dr Jane Elliott, a GP who specialises in treating women who are struggling with menopause
    • Sonia Scharfbillig, a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist – this is working with the muscles of and around the pelvis to help restore function, elasticity, sensitivity, or ease problems such as chronic pain
    • Naomi Hutchings, a Sexologist who has worked with SHineSA, and in youth work
    • Nick Schumi, also a youth worker, and representing the views of those with a lived experience of disability
    • Kelly Vincent, member for Dignity for Disability, partnered with Nick, and likewise representing lived experience, with additional interests in sex abuse, and sex work

    Q: Why don’t doctors talk about sex more?
    Greg: Doctors often don’t like to talk about sex. There are cultural issues with many doctors and nurses coming from Asian backgrounds who are very uncomfortable with the topic. There’s a lack of training provided.

    Tabitha: Oncologists don’t talk to patients about sex for three main reasons:

    1. I don’t know enough about sex to feel comfortable discussing it
    2. There’s not enough time to bring it up
    3. Isn’t that topic someone else’s problem?

    Meetings like this tend to preach to the converted. Training must be compulsory or those who are most vulnerable or anxious will never learn the skills.

    Sharon: Mental health clinicians don’t discuss it because they don’t want to open the ‘child sex abuse’ box, because they don’t know what to do once it’s open. Sexuality itself is often pathologised in mental health, especially for young men with psychosis. All their sexual behaviour is interpreted as part of their disorder, and possibly dangerous. Delusions about being pedophiles or rapists are common with such young men, and it’s not hard to trace where the ideas have come from. There are also issues with overmedication when people only have support from mental health teams. Because this often causes sexual dysfunction, then we see non-compliance and often then treatment orders. It’s a big problem.

    Kelly: There’s a lot of issues in the disability sector too with people being unwilling to acknowledge that a person with a disability can be sexual or want to have sex… It also helps to ignore cultural ideas about what ‘real sex’ is (ie penetrative sex) to be able to relax and enjoy whatever sexual activities people really want and feel ready for. There are a lot of unhelpful myths about what sex is.

    Naomi: There are a lot of issues with doctors not disclosing that mental health medications can kill the libido.

    Jane: On the other side of ‘not acknowledging that people want a sex life’ is that if women weren’t ‘distressed by their symptom’ (low libido) they don’t have a problem. Women are sent to me by husbands and whoever to be ‘fixed’. Problems with dry vagina can be resolved by using oestrogen in the vagina. Fixing menopausal symptoms can fix sex issues just by allowing everyone to get more sleep and be less stressed. Testosterone can ‘turn up’ sexual feelings a bit for women where everything else is alright. It won’t overpower depression. Low doses only are safe. High dose patches etc have been taken off the market for good reasons.

    Naomi: There can be troubles with partners who have a desire mismatch. Sometimes women come to see me for help because their libido is improving after treatment and they’re excited, but their partner is very unhappy – they were actually content with the low amounts of sex they were previously having.

    Sharon: There can be issues with partners wanting people to stop taking their meds so that mania would happen and they would have lots of sex. People can be very vulnerable.

    Q. How can we better support people who are having sexual problems due to disability eg. stroke etc. ?

    Naomi: Unpacking penis-in-vagina as the only form of sex is helpful but so complex! There are huge cultural issues – emasculation issues – some men feel anxious about not using their penis the way they’re used to. I talk to people about having more ideas and opening up more options. You don’t have to orgasm! Presenting this as an expanding of experiences, not a loss of options. A freely available resource is the Masters and Johnson sensate focus exercises. I start the conversation – what do you think sex is? “If my penis didn’t work today, I’m not a good lover” – well, there’s thighs! And hands, and eyes, and so on. Being sex positive. Exploring what you can do – especially for people with physical disability. Learn what your limitations are. It’s not about what you do, but how it makes you feel. There’s an adjustment process to illness or disability – “This is not the end”. Another suggested resource “Sexuality Reborn” a DVD about disability and spinal injuries and sex, contains suggestions for comfortable positions and so on. Available from the SHineSA resource library.

    Kelly: It’s about using bodies in alternative ways. Many women especially are taught that masturbation is masculine and selfish. The reality is that trying to live up to a partner’s expectations while learning about your own body can be exhausting.

    Greg: You know the Old Testament story of Onan – who incurred the wrath of God for spilling his seed on the ground? In the hospice, they have a budgie called Onan.

    Sharon: Carers, especially those caring for people who have had strokes, or war vets and so on are striving for relationship and dignity with their partner. Systems often focus on the burden of caring, helping you with your tasks. Carers themselves want support with intimacy, connection, maintaining dignity.

    Sonia: Working with pain. My role is often about the mechanics – being able to achieve or tolerate penetrative sex. Often women are motivated only by love for their partner, not personal desire. Women are often at their wit’s end and don’t want a bar of sex. Mine is a very clinical approach, stretches, relaxation – taking the sexual side away from it and approaching it like you would any other group of muscles. In my work I differentiate between ‘intercourse’ and ‘outercourse’. I refer to sexologists such as Naomi for the psychological aspects.

    Naomi: It helps to de-medicalise issues like vaginismus. The process is often:

    1. Take penetration off the table for now
    2. Work on communication
    3. Rebuild normal patterns of arousal and pleasure
    4. Undo the aversion

    It’s important to find time to feel sexual that’s normal and not medical.

    Jane: The importance of understanding limerance, that sexual desire changes as relationships develop. A loss of libido can be about unrealistic expectations about desire. Sometimes ‘decision driven sex’ can be a key resource – Rosie King, Where Did My Libido Go?

    Kelly: With disability those expectations are often reversed. For example, I was once phoned by the head of the support agency who provided care for me, after sex at 22, in my own home. They were smirking. I told them the phone call wasn’t appropriate. Their response was “We thought you were a good girl”. My agency called the residential care agency who provided support to the man in question (who had an acquired brain injury). They discussed the situation and decided to resolve it by no longer providing transport support for the man to visit me. It was only many years later that I discovered this breach of my confidentiality and collusion by two support agencies to prevent a sexual relationship between consenting adults.

    Nick: I was once working in consultation with SHineSA in a supported accommodation situation, providing education about ‘safe sex’. Young men were taught to put condoms on by using broomsticks as an example. One night, two of the young people got together. The workers discovered them in the same bed, with two broomsticks in the room with condoms fitted to them! It’s important to educate in relevant ways so people understand! Just because you do have to educate in different ways, shouldn’t mean people get excluded.

    Tabitha: Porn can be a huge issue in that it sets up expectations and distorts the sexual norms. Young men are now often confused by pubic hair on women. There is an expectation of penetrative anal sex. The accessibility of porn and lower age of sexual onset can cause problems. The most effective recommendation I have to support people’s sexual functioning is exercise. It boosts oxytocin and serotonin, the happy hormones. Exercise has been shown to have extraordinary outcomes for cancer, health, mental health, sexual health. It is more effective than antidepressants by far in trails. It’s also good for body image and so on. There’s debate about radical mastectomy vs breast conservation surgeries. All women have different relationships to their breasts and sense of femininity and sexuality. The biggest single factor that impacts on a woman’s health, body image, and happiness post mastectomy is their partner’s response to the surgery. Weight gain associated with chemotherapy and hormone therapy is often more deleterious than mastectomy to body image. It’s important to ask questions, identify problems, and refer to a useful network. None of us can ‘do it all’ or be the one answer.

    Sonia: For men with prostate cancer, physio can help hugely with bad pain. Anatomically, men are similar to women with regards to their pelvic floor. Pain can cause a pelvic spasm that perpetuate pain. Relaxation and sometimes dilators can help. Retraining the brain about responses to pain – to prevent the muscle tension. Pelvic Floor Physiotherapists work in private practice and through public hospitals – they are available at Flinders, the RAH, Lyell Mac and so on.

    Greg: Men going through prostate cancer often have to deal with a life threatening illness, plus feminisation by the meds, plus loss of libido (due to anti-androgens). Many of the meds cause terribly side effects such as fecal incontinence and so on.

    Tabitha: The psychology is important – masculinity, erections, identity, sense of self, and confidence all have a relationship. Men who undertook a structured exercise program had 50% improved erectile function – for much better outcomes this must be started as early as possible post treatment, and also to maintain erections via masturbation. Women going through radiotherapy are often not told that their vagina can seal shut if they do not use it – with dilator etc. There is a real ‘use it or lose it’ aspect to this.

    From the audience: As mental health workers we are witnessing sexual exploitation, abuse, risk taking, but we’re not supposed to talk with our clients about it. We’ve been told us talking to them about sex is akin to prostitution. We’re not allowed to discuss safer sex. Clients are not supposed to be having sex.

    Sharon: The Mental Health system is obsessed with risk. There are huge issues with risk management marginalising people, othering people, and increasing risks. Many other issues compound for people, such as poverty, grief, abuse, low self esteem.

    Kelly: Often the problem (refusing to discuss sex, othering the client) doesn’t come from the workers, it comes from the bosses.

    Q: How to support people dealing with chronic illnesses, where low energy levels impact on libido?
    Tabitha: Fibromyalgia is common in cancer. Reconditioning program – twice a week in a gym with a personal trainer for 6 weeks – the difference is extraordinary. We talk about “A new self in chronic illness” – it’s key to reset expectations. Being chronically stuck in a world where you’re trying to be who you used to be is horrific, people become distraught and self destructive. Guided programs are key! People are too sick and overwhelmed to do this on their own.

    Sharon: Start early! Exercise after de conditioning and weight gain is much harder for people.

    Kelly: Exhaustion and muscle fatigue are limiting. Nick and I have found working activities that help with energy and muscles into the sexual wind up process eg stretches, massages, some forms of exercise – become part of sex. We take a very physiotherapy approach to the nits and bolts of muscles and energy. There are many resources available on the net and youtube! For example, if you need resources about having sex for a client in a wheelchair, google wheelchair sex positions, you will get a lot of information. This kind of sharing of lived experience is very valuable for people.

    Q. Kelly, where do things stand with the decriminalisation of sex work in South Australia?
    Kelly: Stef Key from the Labor Party was recently involved in drafting bills to protect rights. It didn’t pass. For more information about sex work and disability, there’s an organisation in NSW called Touching Base. Touching base was started by Rachel Waters to teach sex workers how to engage with clients with a disability. SIN (Sex Industry Network) also do good work in this area. People with disabilities may seek out sex workers for different reasons – and some absolutely do not want it, or it would have detrimental effects on self esteem and so on. It’s a complex story with many different aspects. Choice is important. There is some danger in looking at sex work only through a disability perspective.

    Someone mentions that clinic 257 (the STD clinic at the RAH) codes sex work as a community service. Kelly argues against this, using the example of sheltered workshops being moved out of industrial relations and into the community services bracket – that this creates a damaging view of disability.

    The wrap up – that it’s helpful to build a vocabulary to have these conversations. Redefining our ideas about ‘normal sex’ is also crucial. And that our obsession with normality makes us slaves to our cultures.

    This was an exciting forum, very encouraging in light of the work I’ve been doing regarding Emotionally Safer Sex. I’ve also recently completed some work with SHineSA, supporting the development of training about sexual health specifically for mental health work. I’m looking forward to seeing the first round of training offered later this year and hope that this goes some way towards busting stigma and starting good conversations for people. I’ve also decided to share my own experience of sexual health counselling. There is much yet to be done!

    What is a man?

    Happiness is trying on men’s clothes at a second hand shop with your queer girlfriend.

    At least, that was yesterday’s definition over in my world.

    Some multiples have parts who have a different sense of gender. I’ve touched on this before in About Transgender. This can be a challenge. We have one who doesn’t identify as male or female, but who doesn’t come out very much. We also have a couple of guys in a female – dominated system, and a female body. We’ve struggled with this. The neat and simple thing to do is to accept and welcome and move on with life. Some multiples manage this really well. We, for various reasons, haven’t. It’s not neat or simple or easy at all for us. Gender is a loaded concept for us, with lots of baggage. So we’ve suppressed and hoped we didn’t have to engage. Why have male parts? Why are they here? Why continue to be here? Can’t they let go of their sense of male identity? What is a male identity anyway? Why do they feel so different from our ‘tomboy’ parts, those who tend to reject the feminine while still feeling female. How do we create a safe space for them when most people don’t cope with parts on any level?

    When we first started to make sense of the mutliplicity itself, we were so suspicious about it all. Like a lawyer, we attacked every aspect of it – how do I know I’m multiple? Have we invented it to please the shrink? Is it iatrogenic? Do we just want to be ‘special’? What if we’re mistaken? I find the same suspicion about the trans parts. Do you have to be this bloody complicated? Can’t you just all identify as female? Do you have to have recognition externally, isn’t it fine if people just think you’re butch? Aren’t you just trying to alienate yourself/piss off your father/prove something? Wouldn’t you have to let go of your sense of identity to integrate anyway? You’re holding us back. You’re making us vulnerable. Go away.

    You’re not a real guy.

    You’re not a real trans either.

    There can be a powerful sense of being an imposter when you’re a trans part. I don’t belong to the trans community because I’m only a part. And most of my system is female and out a lot more than I am. We’re never going to transition. But what makes a guy, anyway? It can’t just be about bits. It can’t be about a bit of flesh in my hand, or being able to pee standing. It can’t just be hating my breasts and thinking I’m ugly and weak. It can’t be rejecting the feminine, I like poetry and reading and have a system full of women and girls I think of as my sisters. I’m not into misogyny or rejection. But I know being called a woman makes me angry enough to spit. I know that the thought of my girlfriend recoiling from me in fear or disgust makes me want to die. I know that I want to be a better man than my father. I know that the cultural ideas of masculinity seem like grotesque parodies of the tenderness and strength and complexity I admire in good men.

    I now know that having Rose take me shopping to buy guy clothes, to laugh at the shop assistant who looked at us in disgust, to go home with a bag of trousers that are too long in the leg and tshirts with collars on them and guy shoes makes up for the glitter nail polish on our hands and the nose piercing and the way we are always identified as lesbians when we hold hands in public.

    What makes one belief acceptable and another one psychotic? If I thought I was a rabbit or an astronaut instead of a guy, what then?

    I’ll never forget watching a movie, many years ago. The main characters kiss. We switch back and forth, one moment the woman feeling his stubble graze her skin, another the man, tasting lipstick and the sweet drink on her breath. Co-consciousness can be mind bending at times.

    I think of Jung’s ideas of anima and animus, the male and female aspect in all of us. I think of an old boyfriend, when I was young, pointing to the ground – here is male, and across from it is female. Then in a diagonal cross – and here I am, and here you are. Both and neither. Different but connected by our inability to relate entirely to one or the other. I remember borrowing his clothes to wear some days/

    With suppression comes shame and loneliness. There’s been a kind of hope that without a place in the world, we would quietly unravel, unknit back to yarn, the raw stuff of self. Let go of shape and identity. It hasn’t worked. I can’t answer the question ‘Why am I here?’, but maybe I hold the key to some of the self hate. ‘What would you tell someone else in your situation?’ Rose asks me. Your approach isn’t working for you, try something else. 

    It is what it is. There’s glitter on my nails. Rose holds my hand, unthreatened, unafraid. The words and labels are only ways to describe and explain things that are far deeper than words. She pays for a bag of clothes for us, makes a space in the world for us, tries to use the right pronouns. I’m part of a whole, and most of that is female. I refuse to be afraid of that.

    About Transgender

    For those of us who are a bit new to the idea and language around what it is to be trans, it can be a bit confusing or intimidating. Some of us are just baffled, some of us are trying to engage but worried about getting it wrong and being offensive. Some of us are loud and offensive about being baffled.

    Some cultures cope just fine with the idea that some people have a strong sense of gender that is different to their body. On the whole, Western culture has not. We divide our world by gender starting at or before birth, and people who find their bodies place them on the wrong side of that divide are highly vulnerable to ridicule, disgust, and violence. This divide also causes strife for gay people, partly because the idea behind it is that all boys and all girls have more in common with their own gender than with each other, and that safety and discretion are obtained by separating them for private acts such as toileting, changing clothes, sports, and medical care. When we think that our young girls are made safe from feeling exposed by segregation from boys, having a gay girl (or a girl who is thought to be gay) in the class can trigger a powerful sense of threat, and with that fear often comes rejection or even violence. The same goes for when a young trans girl (ie a girl with a male body) uses the girl’s facilities – or the boy’s facilities. These minority gender and sexual identities are often highly vulnerable and don’t have a safe place in a world divided by gender and assuming that everyone is straight.

    So what is trans? A quick guide to the language – someone who is trans has a sense of gender identity that is different to their body. Those of us who have a gender identity that is the same as our body are not called ‘normal’, but rather cis-gendered. This is because it is normal for some people in every community to be trans. Some people with a female body have a strong sense of being male. This is different to feeling like you are female but masculine (or male but feminine) – I have tomboy girls in my system and their sense of themselves is completely different to the guy parts. Being trans doesn’t mean you’re gay. There’s a difference between gender identity and gender expression, and also with our connection to the traits we’ve bound up in our ideas about what is feminine and masculine. They are all connected, certainly, but also distinct. Some trans people are gay, or bi, some are straight. (I touch on this is my post What bisexuality is and 9 things it isn’t) Some trans people take hormones or have surgeries to help themselves look and feel more like their real gender. Some trans people don’t have the money or social support to come out. The rates of suicide and violence against trans people are far higher than average.

    In some ways and areas the trans community has been able to get legal supports more quickly than the gay community, in areas of recognition such as legal documents and relationships. In other areas the trans community is still far more vulnerable and at risk, particularly when it comes to social acceptance. Part of the struggle for this is that many gay people are willing to openly identify as gay, and want their lives and love and families to be visible. Many trans people do not identify as trans, they identify as male or female, and what they desire is to be accepted and to ‘pass’ for being their real gender. For many people, being trans is a source of shame, and being identified as trans is humiliating. This means that there are not many trans people willing to become activists to help to raise awareness and further the cause of social justice. So the community is very vulnerable. This is changing more and more, as is the traditional either/or binary of identifying as male/female. Some people identify as both, or as neither, or feel different on different days. There’s nothing wrong with any of this!

    Trans issues and needs are highly relevant in my own work with people who have parts, because it’s quite common for different parts to have a different gender identity. This can be tough for people, sometimes trans supports aren’t multiple friendly and want people to choose to be either male or female all the time. Sometimes multiple supports aren’t trans friendly and treat being multiple as if that means it’s never healthy to access trans supports or to want to identify as trans. The reality of course, is more complex. Sometimes multiple systems want to transition because their primary part or parts who run the day to day life are trans. Sometimes one part is trans and wants to know about temporary devices and supports (such as prosthetics, makeup, or breast binding) to be able to be out as their gender and go to a movie or out to dinner. Many multiples who are gender diverse have great difficulty with things like using public, gender specific toilets, or engaging with gendered communities and activities such as sports. Sometimes supporting a trans part can be as simple as buying a pair of guys or girls shoes for them to wear, or having a partner willing to use the correct gender pronoun when they’re out. Sometimes trans parts in a girl body will find it easier that they can wear male clothing in the western culture and this is pretty normal for girls today, sometimes being seen as a tomboy rather than a guy just makes them feel painfully invisible. Sometimes trans parts in a guy body find that the rest of their system feels so threatened by being seen as female that it’s very hard to get any gestures of being female accepted.

    I have male parts in my own system and we’re still struggling to figure out how to engage this positively. One of mine is a black humoured cross dresser who wears more makeup than most of the girls in my system and finds it deeply amusing that he can go to work in drag without anyone being the wiser. Another is a gentle and shy gay guy who is so lonely and quiet that I know almost nothing about him. I come from a background where women were run down and the feminine was treated with disgust and disdain. Being female was equated with being weak. The only women who were treated with respect were highly masculine. I remember the courage it took to tell people that I wanted children, that I felt highly maternal. It took a lot of processing to embrace being female, to find strength and beauty in it. It took possibly even more to reconcile myself to some aspects of the feminine, and to my attraction to women. So it’s been highly threatening to process that some parts of us feel male. And even more confusing to us, that they are not necessarily particularly masculine guys at that. We’re working on it, gently. In our culture, gender can bring out a deep sense of threat and fear even in those of us who consider ourselves to be very accepting.

    So, let’s work to make more room in our lives for diversity in gender. Let’s embrace the trans people in our communities, in our own systems, in our schools and workplaces. Let’s stop trying to force people to ‘choose a side’ when their real, authentic state at the moment is confused, ambivalent, both, or neither. Some trans people find that after years of only identifying as their real gender, through all the hell of outing themselves and transitioning, they are finally safe to acknowledge that they like some activities, or qualities, or have some skills or interests that are traditionally seen as being of the other gender, and that’s okay. So do most cis-gendered people. 🙂 Let’s be honest about fear and threat and work to make everyone feel safer, and be safer. Let’s make it possible for trans people who want more than anything to pass, to not have their trans identity subsume all the rest of who they are, and to not have to live in fear of being outed. Let’s support the trans activists and people who live openly and answer questions and humanise, and remind us of the painful, awful statistics that show we have such a long way to go for social acceptance of trans people.

    If you’d like to read some more about trans issues or find some support, here are a few links I’ve come across recently that I liked. If you’d like to add any other links or thoughts, particularly if you’re trans and feel I’ve misrepresented you in some way, please comment or email me. 🙂 As I’ve said, this isn’t my ‘home turf’, I’m somewhat new to the topic and might step on toes or repeat myths without being aware of it. Wherever you stand, I hope this article has given you some food for thought.

    Readers’ Top 10 Transgender Stories of 2013 | Courtney O’Donnell.

    All About Trans | Encouraging better understanding of trans people in the UK.

    From bullied child to transgender woman: my coming of age | Paris Lees | Society | The Guardian.

    35 Trans Women I Had #Herocrushes On In 2013 | Autostraddle.