New Year’s resolutions.
If you’re anything like me, just reading that phrase made you roll your eyes or maybe feel a little sick to your stomach or possibly you felt a tiny bit of rage creeping up inside you. Lez be honest – if you’re really anything like me, all three of those things happened.
I’ve long resisted the notion that there should be a specific date and time when we “start over” and make a change in our lives. When it feels right, it feels right, so why not do it? And, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t fucking do it.
Beyond me being a stubborn fucker and immediately doing the opposite of what people tell me to do, New Year’s resolution lists, ads and articles tend to reek of fatphobia, heteronormativity, cisnormativity and racism. All of these messages bombarding us at the same time end up discouraging and othering queer, trans, fat and BIPOC folks.
There is nothing more shame inducing, more stressful or more defeating than being made to believe there’s something wrong with you simply for being who you are. Instead of being inspiring, the New Year can feel like an intense call to assimilate.
There is no such thing as The Borg. We do not have to assimilate.
I am not saying that we should abandon all aspirations to make changes in our lives. I mean at it’s core, life is change, right? What I’m saying is that we should be making changes on our own terms, in ways that feel right for us. Not in ways that will harm us emotionally or physically. And sure as hell not on some arbitrary day that has been determined to be a “clean slate” for us all.
What I’m about to do here may sort of look like a New Year’s resolution listicle. I know that’s what it looks like! What it actually is though are the things I’ve been doing this year in order to affirm and support who I truly am. They are the tools and practices I’ve picked up over the course of 2018 that have helped make this year one of the best years of my life so far.
Move my body…. for my mental health
Something I found out in early sobriety was that moving my body, especially walking or dancing, can help me access my feelings and move through a difficult emotional space. What I’ve also found throughout my life is that if I’m exercising with the intention of changing my body in any way, I will either push myself too hard, become obsessed or get discouraged and spiral into a bit of a depression.
This year I decided to try something new, I would only exercise (or move my body as I prefer to call it) for my mental health. Not on a set schedule, not to be more physically healthy, not because I need a “summer ready body” and not to attract women — just when I felt like I needed it. Emotionally.
I’ve long had a difficult time accessing and expressing my emotions, when I was a teen I coped by cutting myself before graduating to drinking in my early 20’s. While I have an emotional awareness now and am able to sit through or process most feelings, sometimes I still get overwhelmed. Being emotionally overwhelmed for me feels like a complete sensory overload in addition to my body feeling like a shaken-up can of fizzy water, ready to burst. The only way I’ve found that I can clear the overload and imminent explosion is for me to physically move it out.
Common activities that clear things out for me include: dancing around my living space, hiking, walking far and fast or, jogging in place if I don’t have the space or time for any of my other go-to activities.
Interrogate my gender and sexuality
In July of 2018 I came out as agender.
I had previously come out as a lesbian in the summer of 1997. That adds up to 21 years of me thinking that my identity as a cis lesbian was the only identity I could have. Even when it felt restricting. Even when everything felt off and I couldn’t tell why.
As I used more gender neutral language in my everyday life to ensure that I was including as many people as possible in what I was saying, I began to notice the visceral reaction I had when people used words like lady, woman and girl to refer to me. Without thinking about it, I stopped using those words to describe myself – falling into a natural, gender neutral state.
Interrogating my feelings around the language that was being used to describe me, the categories people put me in and how I really felt in my skin all lead me to the realization that I am not a woman. I probably knew that for a long time and just never really did much with the information because I’m also not a man. I’m not all genders or a combination of genders either. I’m just….. me.
I didn’t realize I could opt-out of gender all together. I can simply be a human and my body doesn’t have to have anything to do with my gender.
This self-interrogation is not an exercise that is limited to queer folks. Straights can benefit from this as well; check in with yourself from time to time and make sure you’re being honest with yourself about what you want and who you are. One of the greatest disservices we can do to ourselves is to assume out identity is static. We are constantly evolving and changing, that includes our gender and out sexuality. I intend to keep interrogating mine, to make sure I’m living my truest life possible. I mean, who wants to be something just because you always thought that’s the way it was?
Be willing to experience discomfort
Folks. I have been VERY uncomfortable this year. VERY.
I’m not talking about physical discomfort here — though my back did go out at least once and that was pretty uncomfortable. What I’m talking about is the discomfort of having an awakening, of being able to finally see that the reality you were taught to trust isn’t reality at all; it’s a violent lie.
Listen. I know that hearing about systemic racism, white supremacy, colonialism, homophobia, transphobia and all of the other ways folks are oppressed in this country isn’t fun. It disrupts the bubble of comfort we’ve grown accustomed to as white folks.
When that bubble bursts we feel guilt, shame, anger, hopelessness, and the desire to crawl back into the bubble. Comfort is tempting but I’ve found that comfort doesn’t do anything to help you grow. Comfort doesn’t change systems or help oppressed folks. Comfort is stagnating.
I’ve not only been open to discomfort this year, I’ve embraced it. Looking at discomfort when it shows up teaches me not only what I need to confront in myself but what I need to make sure I stand up for in public. What I talk to friends and family about. What I’ll tolerate and what I won’t.
We spend our whole lives trying to avoid discomfort but, when I truly embraced it is when I started really feeling like I could step into the work I need to do in my life.
Learn the history of my people
As a queer and trans folks, our history is not taught to us in schools or, in most cases, by our parents. It’s something we need to actively seek out on our own.
I’ve known basic LGBTQ history for ages, you know: stonewall, liberation marches, pride parades, aids, military service and marriage equality. The bulk of the history that’s easily accessible to the general public is focused on cis men, often white cis men.
In my sobriety, I’ve been on the look-out for the stories of other queer folks and, especially, lesbians. This summer I found the book Out from Under: Sober Dykes and Our Friends, which is a compilation of stories from sober lesbians, edited by Jean Swallow. This book was published in 1983 and I was able to relate to it in a way I hadn’t been able to relate to other sobriety books or memoirs. It opened my eyes to the fact that, for my entire life, I had been missing out on the voices of lesbians and queer/trans BIPOC telling their side of history.
The realization of what I’ve been missing ignited a curiosity about the lesbians and queer women and trans folk and the BIPOC who are also a part of queer history. I’m in the very early stages of all of this with so much left to explore and learn — book and documentary recommendations welcome!
Be open to learning from people who are different from me
I love learning new things. For a long time I would have told you that I was also very open to new ideas and people who held different beliefs than me, and I would have thought I was telling you the truth.
In getting comfortable with discomfort, I’ve also accepted that I need to be able to truly listen to folks I don’t 100% agree with. To be clear: I’m not talking about debating or defending my humanity to people who think that my queerness makes me less worthy than them and I’m not talking about giving equal consideration to racist or white supremacist ideas. What I’m talking about is being open when people are talking about spirituality or religion or other topics I habitually close myself off from.
Historically, if there has been one way for someone to get me to stop listening to them, it has been by bringing up anything religious or spiritual. For me, religion has long been a vehicle of hate and a way to invalidate my humanity. I just wasn’t ever having anything to do with it.
And then, I got sober.
No, sobriety didn’t bring about a faith in god or a higher power. What sobriety did for me was teach me how to be open. Open to new ideas and concepts, open to the idea that not all religious or spiritual folks were interested in oppressing me.
So, now I get to listen to my friends when they talk about their spirituality and really gain something from it. I get to read books by people who believe in god and learn from them, even if they talk about god in their book. Even then!
Being willing to listen to what people are saying and possibly learn something while letting the rest flow right past me is an important skill to gain access to. I’m at a total beginner level, but I’m already reaping the rewards.
I’ve spent most of my life afraid. Afraid of what might happen, of what people might think, of doing the wrong things, of annoying people, of being too much, of being not enough.
This year I decided to take risks.
Well, decided is a strong word. I went into 2018 with no job; my company had gone out of business and my intention was to take a little break to focus on…. Myself? This blog? Figuring out what I want to do? I’m not sure exactly, but that break has turned into a year of me just doing the next right thing.
I’ve worked when opportunities presented themselves, I’ve quit jobs when they didn’t feel right; I learned my worth isn’t tied to how much I produce. I took a month to travel around the Northeast of the United States with no real agenda and discovered I needed to be there. I began using my voice in order to let other sober queer folks they weren’t alone and have connected with so many amazing humans in the process.
I’m currently living in a basement, with no car and no real source of income. That’s the risk I’m in right now, and the one I’ve been training for all year. It’s the most in-between I’ve ever been and it’s HARD but, I know I’m in the right place. Even if other people can’t see it or are confused by it.
Sometimes that right thing doesn’t make sense to other people, or the way things “should” be done but, so far I’m more content that I’ve ever been in my whole life.
At the very end of July, a friend texted me to see if I wanted to do a gratitude practice with her, “Get the book, read it and let me know if you’re in.”
The book she was talking about is Make Miracles in Forty Days by Melody Beattie. The basic premise is this: you pick a partner and send a daily list to each other that includes everything you’re thankful for that day. The catch is that you also include shitty things or things that you would normally not be thankful for. In doing so, you free up the space that would otherwise be taken up by focusing on the negative. In freeing up that space, you’re able to actually get the shit done you want to get done.
I was nervous to begin this practice, beyond the fact that I don’t even know if I believe in miracles, it’s terrifying to be so open about who you are to someone. So vulnerable.
This is an area where I had to incorporate a few of the practices above in order for this to all work: I had to be open to learning from something I may not even believe in, I had to risk showing my real self to my friend – the good, the bad and the ugly.
So I did it. Even though I was scared. And, you know what? It changed everything. My friend and I are in the middle of our third 40 day cycle and our relationship is more than I ever imagined it could be. I’m also learning to access my feelings in a way I never dreamed possible. Things are happening, my life is shifting, are they miracles? I don’t know. But, this is a practice that I hope to keep in my life for a very long time.
Those are the things I’ve incorporated into my life throughout 2018 that have changed me and made my year better than any other year of my life so far. They aren’t one and done tasks I completed to change myself into who I think I “should” be, they are the things I’ve begun in order for me to uncover and accept who I actually am as a human. Every day has been an opportunity to be open to and be curious about myself.
The only kind of “new me” I’m interested in is the version of me I’ve been hiding from all of these years.