A bad version of a _ insert gender here _

In this podcast, Emme Porter DeWitt talks about their experience of being agender while also identifying as transgender, non-binary, queer and demisexual.

The phrase they use when describing their childhood is a feeling or sense of being “a bad version of a girl”.

This resonated.

I grew up thinking that everyone else is doing the <gender> better.

I wonder if part of my non-binary-ness is the evident non-fitting-in-ness of my upbringing in terms of gender. Around me it seemed all the guys knew who they were, or at least what they were aiming for. Even if not good at sports, even if awkward and geeky, they knew which guy was what they were aiming for. For the girls, they had the popular hierarchy to lead the way; the fashions and trends and which sports or music personality they were meant to be attracted to.

For me, I just didn’t fit with either, and didn’t want to compete to fit in. I tried it so many times. I hated it. I was even invited into the cool club once or twice and ran away. I knew I didn’t fit, and I didn’t want to play by those rules.

I covered everything up and tried to pass. I pretended to have fandom for a person or a crush on a person and put their posters on my childhood walls, but really I wanted to be like them, look like them – not completely, but at least to morph some way towards the way they looked and the confident way they (seemed) to present themselves to the world.

There was nothing and no one back then that one would identify today as “non-binary” – in culture or image. There was little enough content or public image of the thing called “gay” and what there was I clung on to desperately.

Today there is so much trans and non-binary stuff out there I don’t even know where to begin. I feel overwhelmingly like it might take me the next 20 years to work it all out and that thought is daunting and somewhat tiring.

I wonder what a good version of a < non- binary human > could look like.

Perfectionism vs. satisficing

The problem with perfectionism is that it becomes very binary, very quickly. Yes, the irony is not lost on me.

With a perfectionist attitude, everything one does is either executed perfectly or a failure. There is no in between. And that failure triggers a shame response, which is an excess of emotion, which can cause a failure in coping skills.

What does perfectionism look like?

For me, perfectionism can look like:

  • Crippling fear of making mistakes
  • Overthinking everything to the point of indecision, inaction or paralysis
  • Endless rumination and worrying about the future – including disaster-planning every possible negative outcome.
  • Workaholism – not from love of work but as an attempt to make failure impossible – if I just throw everything I can at it, I can’t fail.
  • Inability to finish any task, ever. Because if it’s not perfect, don’t do it.. and if there’s a sign it’s not going to be perfect, I won’t finish it therefore I won’t fail.
  • Trapped inside own head – overthinking, overthinking, overthinking
  • Living with regret or predicting regret and shame – I should, I have to statements..

This all comes down to that deep in-built shame response of “I’m not good enough”.

If guilt is “I did a bad thing” and shame is “I am a bad thing”, then perfectionism is the hamster wheel of self-correction. You cannot win and you cannot stop unless you get off the wheel.

What shall I try doing to break this cycle?

There are two things in play for me – quality and quantity. But if my choices are doing enough, doing it well enough, or doing nothing at all due to crippling self doubt, then let’s just start with getting something done.

In the long term, I want to reach a place of pre-emptive forgiveness or satisficing. That’s quality and that’s the hard one.

Quantity, or how much I’m getting done is easier, so for now, I am going to try doing things that are by default good enough; things at which I cannot objectively or rationally “fail” if I just complete them.

All of the following will contain everything I’ve got now with an obvious end point, and can have more added later:

  • Run until I can run no further
  • Write a draft blog post until I have nothing else to say
  • Read until I fall asleep

All of these are time-limited, where someone else sets what “completion” means:

  • Listen to a friend until they have nothing more to share
  • Do a 10 minute guided meditation (where someone else sets and limits the activity)
  • Complete one module of any online course

All of these are good enough on the basis of being complete.

Replacing alcohol with “something else”

The wisdom of the internet (bloggers, podcasters etc) all seem to agree – it is not enough to quit drinking; one has to replace it with “something else”.

Now, assuming that the intention of this statement is to send everyone to AA – well that’s not something I’m going to do. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has all the usual AA meetings resistance, plus a big dollop of social anxiety that would prevent me from going through with it.

So given that I’m not so far gone that AA is my only choice, what else can my “something else” be?

Currently, everything seems like work. I have day job work, and house work work, and family responsibilities work, and side hustle/income work. Even things that I used to or could enjoy have become “work”.

And work, in large quantities, after a while makes me resentful.

Again, I don’t have the answer yet, but there is going to have to be something that I can do that gives me focus and structure, without adding more anxiety or a sense of “work”.

For the last few years, given covid and other life pressures, I’ve had to look for ways of monetising almost everything I spend my time on. But for this new “something else”, I’m going to say that it has, for now, to not include any pursuit of financial reward, otherwise it will just become another job – aka – work.

Here is my priority list:

• Something that is not work

• Something that is not done in exchange for money

• Something that is good for me either physically or mentally

• Something with structure

• Something I can build over time

• Something that connects me with other humans, without increasing stress

• Something that does no harm to myself or others

• Something that is not an overwhelming obligation

So until I work out what the answer is, let’s say it’s this blog. Not that anyone is going to read it, but that’s kind of the point right now.

Workplace discrimination and more anger

Part of my sinking over the last year or two has been as a result of discrimination at work. I work for a large company that officially has policies in place to protect LGBT & trans people but in reality does not.

I had a manager who would openly discriminate in terms of comments and what projects I was allowed to work on. It was known by my peers and junior colleagues that I was excluded on this basis. I wasn’t even overtly “out” as non-binary, and yet this manager seemed to sense a weakness that could be exploited for his gain.

At one point I raised the issue to a higher up and was told “no comment”.

Now, years later, that manager has moved on to another role but I still work there and I’m still angry. I am only just beginning to process this. I’m getting angrier each week.

I had a conversation with our HR department about it (unofficially) and apart from an initial verbal apology nothing has been done. This makes me even more angry.

Part of my current sobriety has involved not going too deeply into those past experiences in case I get overwhelmed and lose my fragile coping skills.

I have no answers for this as yet.

Yes, I could have moved to another job but frankly covid + gender insecurity + ptsd from years of taking abuse has left me lacking in confidence to pursue other opportunities. The familiarity of having at least some team members around me who accept who I am has been something worth holding on to, for now.

As soon as I find some stability (physical and emotional) I will consider moving on and starting again. The issue then will be how much of me I present to the world and how I can do it safely.

Coping with emotions

Everything is a potential trigger, but all of it comes down to the critical interaction of:

event > reaction > coping (or not) > behaviour.

The event occurs, there is a physiological response which flags to brain that there is a threat, the threat level is assessed, then whether or not there is sufficient coping skills or mechanism in place to counteract the threat. More often than not, either the threat is over-rated, or the coping skills are too low. Sometimes I’m catapaulted into the behavioural response before there is even time to realise it is happening.

How can we pause?

When we are young, a caregiver intercedes and says “look at your responses, look at what is really happening, is that the right level of reaction?”. Ideally that is.

As an adult, we have either already learned this, or we plough on through life, having a series of inappropriate or destructive reactions to every or most situations.

The current work for me: if at all possible is:

  1. Spot events coming
  2. Identify physiological response
  3. Attempt to pause or remove self from the environment in order to
  4. Buy time to process.

Above all, do not default to finding the next possible opportunity to simply drown all thinking and feeling.

An NB shrink, for an NB journey

OK so big news – I now have a therapist who specialises in gender identity and is also non-binary. I say also, as if I have any idea what that is, or who I am.

Normally, going into therapy would be somewhat reassuring – I know from experience and study that people generally look for a shrink who is like them in some way, in order to make the whole thing less terrifying and to have a chance at being understood.

• Same city

• Same culture/race/ethnicity

• Same gender (lol)

• Same sexuality (or at least lgbt-friendly and trained)

• Experienced in <insert malady here>

For me, I have found someone who has a similar gender identity as I may have. The reason I find this less simple is that I don’t yet know what this means in any detail. I haven’t examined this part of my psyche in great detail. I have always passed for binary apart from the odd occasion where a shopkeeper wasn’t paying attention (LINK)

So how do I know or will I know that this person “gets” what it’s like to be me, when I don’t even know what that is yet?

How will I be reassured that I am understood? I know that in reality one can never know, but I find that I don’t even have the assumption to fall back on, until I begin and realise that actually, we’re all very different and one can never know the reality of someone else’s reality.

Still, I wish I had at least the illusion of safety.

What is this?

I have two fun challenges that I am currently dealing with.

  1. I am not only gay but nonbinary. I came out as the former 20 years ago and never really dealt with the latter because it wasn’t a thing, unless one really wanted to transition ftm or mtf.
  2. I have recently started my journey to sobriety. I have been on a slope for years that is going in the wrong direction.

In addition, essentially no one knows that I am dealing with either of these things. So let’s see if writing about them for strangers in a lost and remote area of the internet will help me.

It can’t possibly make it any worse.

There is so much in my head and so very much absolutely no one to talk to about it. I now find myself being drawn into an identity I know nothing about.

And yet, I am a grown up and I am visible. Or at least, some part of me is visible. And so I have some kind of responsibility to others to be present in the world and to fight for rights and recognition in a way I haven’t had to since I was a teenager.

I have a lot to learn and process. So let us begin.