Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mike Drop

The main reason I wanted my own apartment was to be able to spend my nights as a female without fear of judgement.
After sharing some old posts from my past (2011 and 2009), I thought I would continue that pattern and rewind back another two years.  These were two of my posts on my now-hidden-from-the-world LiveJournal page that I kept from 2002-2007.  Specifically, they were two of the last ones.

I've written about this time in my life here and here before, but was unaware of just how much stuff I had written back then until I went searching for it.  Behold, me nine years ago:

Monday, May 7, 2007 - my second to last Livejournal post.

This post is being posted a few days later than I intended to. If everything goes as I intend it, it will likely be the last post in here for quite awhile.

First of all - I haven't written anything for a few months now. There are a few reasons for this. I created [an account on a now-obsolete site], which I figured would be a good way to 'start over' with blogging. This didn't really catch on for me, so I started to analyze why I no longer felt the desire to post in blogs. I came to these conclusions:

  • A lot of people whose LJs I've enjoyed reading have stopped posting, which saps my desire to stay active with my own posting. 
  • A lot of the things I do on a day to day basis are neither interesting nor the business of the general public. 
  • I post a lot of stuff that I wouldn't want coworkers, family members, or random strangers reading. 
  • It no longer felt rewarding to have a daily recording of my life, nor did I feel like socializing on the internet, because I was depressed as hell. 
For those who have forgotten who I am and what I've been up to, in February I accidentally started a fire in my bedroom. This had a lot of impact - in addition to losing a majority of the stuff in my room and covering the house in soot, I put peoples' lives at risk as my landlords/fireman had to run into a burning room to try and contain it. This made me feel really bad, and was made infinitely worse when I spent the next month without 'my own' space. What this did for me was give me a lot of time to think about all sorts of aspects of my life, which at the time, was at a low point. Some things that I realized:
  • I had no plans for the future whatsoever. 
  • The thought of growing up and becoming an adult male didn't appeal to me in the slightest. 
  • There were triggers that would send me into a complete funk where I would absolutely hate myself. Basically, I was really embarrassed about wanting to be female, so anything that would remind me of my gender brought me down. Some examples included: walking past a dress store in a mall and being petrified to be seen, seeing friends happy in relationships and wondering if I'm destined to be alone forever, and having to deal with people tell their "so I saw this freaky guy who wants to be a girl" story every other month. These things all made me think of the rest of my life, where it would only get worse as time went on if I didn't change something.
  • A lot of my daily routine was an attempt to escape these triggers. I have spent a good year or more of my life sitting at home, smoking weed until I forgot how depressed I was, and then sitting in front of the computer playing Magic Online or watching downloaded TV shows or playing video games. I did (do) all of this to distract myself from thinking about where my life was going.
  • As I do when I'm depressed, I became anti-social. Unfortunately, as I didn't have my own room for that month, there were times that I was forced to be. 
  • In terms of social scenes, the Cambridge/Boston scene that I am a part of has been slowly dwindling away. Whereas there used to always been a lot of people around to do things with, I found myself doing things with more or less the same people all the time. 
  • I was horrendously lonely. I actually set up a blind date via Craigslist with a girl who seemed like she'd mesh with me, and it was pretty terrible. At no point was I really enthusiatsic about it, since a relationship pretty much means I have to be 'the guy' 24/7. I also realized that this had fact has forever sabotaged any shot I've ever had at a relationship. 
  • The way I felt was very similar to the way I felt in the months leading up to my leaving CT.

So long story short, it was a long month. Eventually, thanks to my landlords bringing help to repair the room despite the insurance company not coming through, I had a bedroom again. For a little while, I think setting it up was a nice enough distraction to get my spirits up.

At the end of March, I went to a birthday party for my brother that his wife had set up at a banquet hall in CT. I was already in a bad mental place due to the fire, but it was made much worse when I saw there was a girl's Sweet Sixteen party across the hall. Like I said, anything that reminds me of gender stuff can trigger depressive spells (and the alcohol certainly didn't help). I sat through the night, didn't really talk or socialize, and realized that I needed to take proactive measures to get through this kind of thing, because it was only going to get worse.

March 2007 - taken at Valentine on the night that I made the decision to seek gender therapy.

After I was able to fight off denial and procrastination, I finally made an appointment with a gender therapist. This was my saving grace. I got stuck in traffic and only got to see her for 40 minutes, but I learned some things, some of which was stuff I had sort of known but never really dissected:
  • I mention that, with one exception, I was petrified for anyone to see me in drag or shopping for female stuff. She asks me why. I tell her that it absolutely kills me to be seen as abnormal, and that I know people are looking at me and thinking all sorts of negative stuff about me. She asks me: "so what?"...and I realized she was right - there really is no reason to care. 
  • I tell her the exception - inhibition reducing drugs (alcohol and MDMA - the latter of which I've done perhaps 10 times in the last three years) give me the freedom to not be ruled by the fear of being judged. I would use these, perhaps somewhat transparently, to have some sort of a reprieve from what my brain was doing to me. Although it seems obvious in retrospect, she told me that the reason my inhibitions were dominating me so bad is that I was finding a workaround for my fear instead of facing it. 
  • I told her that I didn't really know how to describe myself. I've never really felt I was a transvestite, because the desire to be female goes way beyond sexual pleasure. I've never really felt like I was transgender, because I didn't feel 100% dysphoric with my body, and never felt positive about what I was. She told me that, based on what I told her, I certainly seemed more on the transgender side of the fence.. This was actually somewhat reassuring, because even to this day I've felt like it might all be in my head. 
  • I explained to her that I feel like I am always being judged or looked down upon by people at a distance. I had spent the last months convinced that people were talking about my (large list of) shortcomings when I wasn't around, and that it was breeding a full-fledged bout of low esteem + paranoia. This is something that she said we'd explore later. 
  • We made some more appointments (three more this month, in fact). I left feeling better about myself than I have in a long time. 
I started to think about how stupid it was to be to be afraid of people's reactions to my gender. The problem is that, even if I no longer feel trapped, the awkward fear would still be there. I decided to start pushing the boundaries a bit - I've started spending my time at home almost exclusively in female dress. I've started shopping for clothes (lord knows I've needed better ones, since most female clothes that I own were purchased with me grabbing something off of a shelf in a panic because I couldn't take being seen), and frankly, I don't know what the hell I was so nervous about.

I haven't talked with the therapist about my future yet. I really want to go full-time, with hormones and surgery and the like. This brings up challenges - telling my family, telling my job, finding the money to do this, working on my voice, getting laser hair removal, being able to take the fact that it could all go wrong and I could end up fucking up my body/appearance. I'm planning on telling my parents when they come up this weekend; my job will follow thereafter. If I do end up taking hormones, I will likely transition in Boston while keeping my job (since it's as open-minded a work environment as I can imagine), and then start a new life somewhere else when this chapter of my life is complete.

One last note for now - I was going to delete this livejournal, because I really don't feel connected to it anymore, but am leaving it up because there are five years of good memories in there. I am going to start a new blog at some point to document the coming year or two, and will let people know if it's the sort of thing that they're interested in reading.

Monday, September 10th, 2007 - my last Livejournal post

1. On September first, I moved to a new apartment. It's located conveniently up the street from the place ("Valentine") that I just moved out of, at the intersection of Brookline and Putnam Aves. in Cambridge. My new apartment ("Putnam") is next door to two restaurants, a laundromat, and a convenience store that sells alcohol. That, combined with proximity to my friends and a decent amount of space has made it a pretty nice location.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with it. Moving everything last weekend was a big pain in the ass, as was getting everything out of boxes and setting stuff up. There is, and probably always will be, stuff that I want to fix up or change to really customize it into a personal living space, but I'm definitely satisfied with the way it's coming so far. There's a leaky faucet and a loud refrigerator that I need to get the landlord to fix, and the blinds on the kitchen window don't close, but I can deal with it.

The biggest change is the fact that I'm living alone this time around. There were a couple of reasons that I wanted to do so. The most important is the space I gain, in both the physical and the mental aspects. From a square footage standpoint, I have a lot more room to spread my things out. At Valentine, I had always pretty much had all of my stuff in my room, and it would always get to the point where I had far too many things to place. In addition, there's a comfort in knowing that your actions are accountable to no one but yourself.

Actually, scratch that. Space is nice, but the most important thing is the change of lifestyle that I'm hoping to initiate here. I was falling into a dangerous trap at Valentine in regards to spending money on useless things, and this has given me a chance to correct those behaviors and improve my life. By moving here, I've effectively doubled my rent, so I'm pretty much forced to budget my money significantly tighter than I used to. I've started cooking meals at home, kept the apartment relatively in-shape, and stopped using money on Magic Online, so I'm on the right trail. I'm mostly just trying to take more initiative on things that I normally put off. Valentine was a tough place to try and start transitioning from male to female, because I'd always find myself worried about unexpected guests or visits from people that I had no plans of coming out to. Putnam is where I plan to actually start moving my life over to that of Michelle.

I'd go to the Dollar-a-Pound store, sneakily fill up a garbage bag with womens' clothes, and go home to try stuff on.

2. In the five months since the last time I've posted on LiveJournal, I've:
  • continued seeing my therapist 
  • come out to my family 
  • started going to BATS (a trans- support group) meetings at MIT, and enjoying them 
  • gone out in public presenting female a few times now, including shopping at the Natick Mall 
  • have probably been read (spotted as a transperson) twice, and to my surprise it was no big deal 
  • come out to pretty much everyone outside of my job 
  • been encouraging people to not worry about keeping it secret (other than at work, where one person knows) - I plan to be out to everyone at some point, and already I feel tired of bringing it up to people simply so that I don't awkwardly surprise them down the road. I know some old family friends now know, as well as some friends' parents and some friends-of-friends, everyone's been great so far. 
  • gotten a lot closer to my parents, even though they still drive me nuts sometimes :) 
  • gotten a more feminine haircut 
  • come out to my Primary Care Provider (doctor), who is cool with it, but relatively inexperienced 
  • scheduled an appointment with said doctor to discuss what services he'll need to be able to provide, and to schedule necessary bloodwork 
  • been recommended to an endocrinologist, with whom I will schedule an appointment after I meet with my doctor 
  • reconnected with people online that I had lost touch with, who have all been great 

3. I am going to go into more detail on the stuff listed above, but not here. I know it's the cliche thing to do. but I'm going to be taking my trans- related writing to another journal soon. As the days go on, this LiveJournal is going to be something I'm going to want less and less people to associate with me. I figure that I will have an easier time writing in something that isn't as tied to the person I used to be.

Whatever the new journal is, when I start it, I'm going to be writing as Michelle (with either no or a fake last name). I've already been encouraging some people to use that name/female pronouns when talking to me on AIM. I think that's easier on the computer, since both because people (a) don't see a male in front of them when they talk online, and (b) no one ever refers to the person they're talking to online in the third person anyways. I have a new email address ([redacted]) with a female name on it that I'm using more and more while using the old one less and less. Whereas I have always been conscious of the amount of people reading this journal, I plan to write the next one in the style of having comments disabled. Conceptually, it will be more of a place to record my thoughts so that I have a record of what my transition is/was like.
The blog that I referred to was the transition blog mentioned in my last post.

This is a long entry, so I'm not going to add too much more to it.  Suffice to say, when I look at the point in my life where I really started to grow up and challenge myself, 2007 is the year it all began.  Transitioning isn't an easy process by any stretch of the imagination, but nine years later I'm happy to have gone through it all because the lessons learned in the process (notably here and here) helped shape me into the person that I am today.

I constantly daydream about how great it would be to find a time machine and travel back in time to show past-me that everything turned out all right.  But when I think about it, past-me doesn't need that.  It's the people who, now, are considering transitioning and worried about all the bad stuff that might happen.  That fear is very real and can be downright terrifying at times.

Me, five minutes ago, trying desperately to pretend I'm not posing for a picture.
I can't honestly guarantee to other people that everything will be all right if they transition.  Relative to most other transpeople, I came from a place of privilege and it definitely had an impact on my outcome.  I'd never make the assumption that I know more about someone else's situation than they do.  But I can truthfully say that this is my writing from nine years ago, and that transitioning was the decision that changed me from the person who wrote the above to the person I am today.  That, and that I like the person who I am, and that I'm happier than I've ever been.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Portrait of the Past

"A life without pain; is a long endless chain; of errors repeated again and again" - Pain (band)

Nervous Tension
(written September 21, 2011)

I stopped writing in here for a long time. I’m not really sure why, but I’d say that there were a number of factors that ultimately contributed to it.
  1. Life, especially regarding my living situation, became a lot more stressful.
  2. Once I stopped, I lost momentum and no longer felt the motivation to keep writing.
  3. If I had kept writing, I think I realized that the content of this blog would have been overwhelmingly negative and I didn’t want to focus my thoughts in that direction.
Not writing was a mistake. This blog was something that had helped me gather my thoughts, and without it the negative thoughts that I mentioned in point #3 above became much more prominent. A few weeks ago, here's where I was:
  • crippling loneliness 
  • hating my job 
  • broke all the time 
  • suffering from gingivitis which hurt like hell 
  • living in an apartment with a mouse problem (I am afraid of mice) 
  • using partying as escapism and getting over-inebriated 
I think that happened three weeks ago, and life has for the most part been steadily improving. I went to the dentist and got my gums straightened out. I went to the landlord and was able to find the mouse hole that those damned rodents were entering from and eradicate them. Most importantly, I gave two weeks’ notice at my old job and put my nose to the grindstone in order to find new work. Thankfully for me, I succeeded, and I’m now about to celebrate my one-week anniversary working at a new job that is a much better fit for me. Tomorrow I’ll receive my last (tiny) paycheck from the old job, and come next Friday I’ll finally start making enough money to not only support myself but to actually accumulate some savings.

That’s not to say that everything has been all peaches and rainbows, though. There’s still one aspect of my life that I’ve been having a lot of trouble figuring out – love. This extends to both romance (which I have never experienced) and sex (which I have recently experienced but have never enjoyed). In rough chronological order:

1 – I went to hang out with an old friend – someone who has known me for more than 10 years – and he made a move on me. I slept over his apartment on an air mattress in another room. I woke up to the sound of him opening the door and straight up climbing into bed with me. He started being grabby and kissing me, and without really knowing what to do I went along with it. I spent the whole time being afraid of what would happen if he actually wanted sex. I spent the whole time essentially panicking in my head, wanting it to end, until I eventually said “no” like 20 minutes into it. This shook me up really bad.

2 – Two weeks later, I took a road-trip that involved hanging out with a friend I had met earlier this summer at a music festival. The plan was to see a show at a club, and then to take the party back to his place. I really naively assumed that this would be done completely platonic – instead what happened was that he got me really drunk, and then started making moves on me right at the club. I took him outside and told him that I wasn't born female – he didn’t care. He asked me if I wanted to have sex, and between (a) being drunk and (b) being naturally predisposed to wanting to do what people want, I told him yes despite not really having any physical or emotional attraction to him. Much like in the case above, I realized a few minutes in that (a) it was a bad idea, (b) I wasn’t enjoying it at all, and (c) I wanted it to end. After awhile, I basically told him I couldn’t continue and fell asleep naked on his bed.

3 – The next week, we went to a music festival. I had broken off from the group to relax under some trees, when a guy came over and asked to join me. Much like in the other two cases, he made his intentions clear pretty quickly as he was touching my body almost immediately after meeting me. For the first time ever, I had the stones to tell him “I don’t want to do anything besides kissing” and he obliged – but I still couldn’t shake the feeling of “I don’t want him here but am too nice/polite/empathetic to tell him no”. I kept saying things like “Well, I’m going to go meet my friends” and he would reply with “Oooh, I’ll come with”, and for some reason I couldn’t tell him that I wasn’t interested. Instead I played up my intoxication and told him that we could go on a date at some point in the future. When I got home, I realized that I didn’t have any interest at all in dating him.

4 – Last weekend, I went to another festival. It was really weird – at this particular festival, I always have had the most fun by roaming out and meeting new people. My first experience with this was by a rather large bonfire. It was freezing out, so I had taken a seat by the bonfire next to a sleeping hippie. I was with some friends and likely tripping and conversing with them – I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but the guy sleeping next to me woke up and started massaging my shoulders or something. I don’t even know what he was doing – some form of touching me without making any effort to get to know me, and I did it again – I reciprocated and gave no indication that it bothered me, and then excused myself and left the scene, and then immediately felt upset that yet another guy was trying to use me essentially to fulfill urges instead of actually trying to make a connection with me.

This hasn’t done me well. It’s been really subtle, but I’ve slowly been losing my desire to meet new people. I don’t know if it’s trust issues or low self-esteem or what, but lately I’ve been finding it really hard to expand my social circle. When I go out with my friends, I have been steadfastly staying around people who I already know and socializing with them instead. And that’s fine and all – I did that for most of my pre-transition twenties – but lately the feeling of “why aren’t I making new friends?” is morphing into “what is wrong with me?”. I’m simultaneously lonely and uninterested in meeting new people – this is a recipe for unhappiness. Worse yet, I feel like the friends that I do have are slowly growing more distant from me, and I have been at a complete loss in trying to figure out what to do about that.

I made an appointment with my therapist. I’ve been planning on doing this for awhile, but it took her a really long time to get back to me. I’m going in on October 15th, earlier if someone else cancels first, and hopefully I can square away some of the issues I’ve been having. I haven’t felt this overwhelmingly negative about “Who am I?” since probably before I transitioned, and I need to find some way to fix that because I feel like I’m losing everything in my life that I do really like. I’ve had a few friends clearly show me that they’re sick of waiting for me to get my shit together and me acting like a lost child, which sometimes motivates me but more often than not just hurts.

I’m writing this blog post write before a planned house meeting for tonight. We’ve often talked about doing this, but it’s never actually happened before. When I moved into this apartment in June, it was an absolute certainty to me that I was moving in with my three best friends. Lately, though, the level of communication in my household has been at an all-time low. I take a good amount of responsibility for this – when I don’t feel like my life is going well, I tend to withdraw from other people. This whole summer has been following a pattern of me being largely unhappy most of the time with a few moments (festivals, concerts, parties, gatherings) where I am really happy, and it hasn’t been working. I’m hopeful that things will improve after tonight but terrified that what is actually going to happen is people attacking my character and telling me how bad of a person I am. I can’t even believe that I’m writing that because a month ago I wouldn’t have thought that train of thought to be possible coming from me, but it’s the honest truth.

Now that I’ve gotten the ball rolling on this blog again, hopefully I will continue with the posting. Getting the things in this post out of my thought process has certainly helped to some degree. The concrete things in my life – such as my job, finances, health, and rodent issues are all fine – it’s just the crazy emotional stuff that has gotten out of my control. Thanks to this blog for helping with it a bit!

I showed Cody the old blog post above and he drew this picture of me dealing with mice in the apartment.

At the time I wrote the blog post above, I never intended to share it for an audience.  I've edited it a little bit, both to cut down on details and fix some grammatical flaws, but I think it gives a pretty insightful look at where I was in my life back then.  As I've mentioned in the past, this isn't my first blog - it's simply the first successful case of my keeping up with a writing project instead of abandoning it when things got hard.  It's a little bit weird for me to share that post with an audience, but I'm embracing it in the spirit of "Make Yourself Uncomfortable" knowing there's really nothing to worry about.  My past is my past and I'm willing to own it.

I was in a conversation with an online friend of mine earlier today about what my life was like before I met Cody.  We were specifically talking about dating, and I realized that anyone who has met me recently probably has no idea of just how much time I spent struggling with the idea of sex and relationships and the fear that I was destined to be alone.  I decided to search out an old blog post from that time where I knew I detailed some personal stories and share it with her so I could properly show just where my head was at. 

And then, to my complete surprise, I realized something - I wrote it almost five years ago to the day. Crazy, right?

All pictures in this blog post come from Wormtown 2011, which was also five years ago today according to Facebook.

Earlier in the week, I was given the following writing prompt:

"How does a person who loves writing get started with a proper about-themselves blog?"

I love this question.  It's never really dawned on me that I'm qualified to answer something like this.  But why not?  Best case scenario, my advice helps someone who wants to share their point of view with the world and more people embrace the idea of putting genuine effort into how they use social media.  Worst case scenario, I still think it's an interesting thing to reflect on so I'll still have fun either way.

I feel like that old blog post tells the story well enough, so I don't really need to analyze the content here.  I'll sum it up in Flowerspeak:  I was a lot lower level back then.

Here are the things that I felt after rereading that screenshot from my past:
  • I was able to recall that feeling of loneliness and self-doubt in my head, as one would expect from an extremely vivid and detailed out memory.  It's like a photograph of an emotion, and I appreciate being able to reflect on how I felt when things weren't quite as clear.  It's like reading a sad work of fiction, except I wrote it and it's about me.  For me, blog posts are like emotional photographs - even with sad ones, it's still nice to reminisce about the past.
  • I immediately reflected on the lessons those experiences taught me.  In that case, I was so scared of rejection that I was shutting down emotionally instead of taking accountability for the mistakes I was making.  It's good for me to think about that, because it's made me a much more proactive person when I feel like there's something that needs to be fixed in my life.
  • I feel nearly certain that there are people out there who struggle with similar things that I did, and I'd take genuine pleasure if the stories of my past are helpful for anyone else.  It's clear at this point that I want to make "personal growth" a theme of this blog, and I feel like the only way I can preach about it in good conscience is to show the world the path I took to get to where I am.
  • After getting the initial embarrassment of talking about bad sexual encounters, I realized that it feels good to share stories like that.  I used to have a lot of internalized shame that came with some of those old encounters, and by telling those tales to the world I feel like I'm taking ownership of those experiences.  Click the top video I link below for an amazing explanation of why this is.
So to go back and answer the writing prompt - how should someone interested in blogging get started?  To answer that question, I'm going to turn to more Flowerspeak:  "Success creates motivation, Motivation creates success".

When I started this blog, the first thing I did was to try to understand my motivation.  What specifically is it that I hope to get out of writing?  For me the answer was that I feel like I have a unique point of view and that I want to share it with the world in a way that has a positive impact.  As I grow older, I've realized that my life experiences are the thing that really make me who I am, and so I'm motivated by a desire to record and share those aspects of my life with anyone who might be interested.  I like the idea that even if something happens to me, my experiences and observations about my life can be shared and taken in and made to be worth something.

It's good to have a goal.  It's hard to move forward if you don't know what direction you want to go in.

"Dear Past Self, things are going to get better from here. Stay optimistic!  Sincerely, Future Self"
And then came the hard part.  I wrote out some blog posts and I made a conscious effort to share the link with an audience.  The actual writing itself wasn't all that difficult so much as (a) advertising my work to other people knowing that they might not like it, and (b) keeping at it during the stretches in life when I wasn't necessarily in the mood to write.  I think it's kind of by design that if you're going to create something and want it to represent an accurate picture of yourself, it should require effort and be a little bit tough to do at times.  If it isn't, you're not putting enough of yourself into it, and you can do better.

Those first few bits of positive feedback from friends who liked me work helped reinforce that I was moving in the direction of my goal.  In other words, I started to taste success.  And from there, the positive feedback loop was formed - every time I post something that I feel people respond warmly to, it makes me want to write even more.  Starting up the Patreon and being able to connect with DanceSafe have been other examples that help me feel like I'm moving in the right direction.

So really, the only advice I can give regarding how to start a blog is to just reflect on why you want to do it, and then let that motivate you to get started.  If you find it's what you truly want to do, you'll keep at it.  And if you don't keep at it, that's fine - it just frees you up to continue searching for what it is you really want to do.

That's the advice I give to anyone who wants to try their hand at blogging.  And, perhaps not coincidentally, it's the advice I would give to me five years ago:  "Fill your life with things that make you want to share your thoughts and feelings with the world, and then share them".

Thank goodness I blogged about that period of my life, otherwise pictures like this would be all I'd have to go on.

Before I end this post:

There are three videos on YouTube that I recommend everyone watch attentively.  These three videos have all made a tangible positive impact on how I approach my life.  They are:
They're going to be the topic of a future blog post and I can't recommend them enough.  I'm bringing them up because re-reading that old blog post has made me appreciate that I've grown a lot as a person since then, and I think that those three videos were all instrumental in inspiring me to keep up with this blog.

Monday, September 5, 2016

I Can Only Be Me

Thanks to everyone who reached out wondering where the hell I've been.  Apparently people have figured out that when I've gone silent, it's usually a sign that I'm stressed out and don't want to blog about the thing that is stressing me out.  I've gotten a few "I haven't heard anything lately, what's up?" messages that I genuinely appreciate.

To build on the "life is an RPG" analogy, when I'm not writing it's because I ran out of MP.

To those people - you've been right.  It's been a stressful few weeks for me.  I'm sure I'll probably write more about that in a future post, but for now all I'll say about the matter is that my homestead living arrangement is being dissolved into a more standard individual-contract-per-bedroom style one.  I was struggling a lot with how to share the story of why this is happening with my blog - on one hand, I want to be honest and open about my life; on the other, I want to respect peoples' privacy and I really don't gain any enjoyment from talking about drama.

In reflecting on it, I've realized that I've known the best way to handle it all along.

I have a policy for when I give people advice: give generic advice to specific problems.  I don't like telling other people what to do - to me, it's the troubleshooting equivalent of giving a man a fish.  When people ask me for help with their personal life, I never feel like it's my place to give orders.  In my experience, I can usually come up with a fortune-cookie style nugget of wisdom that helps people look at things in new ways.

Let me be clear - I love giving people advice.  I love connecting with other people and I love troubleshooting problems, and so listening to other people's issues feels like most natural fit for a "life's purpose" for me.  If you're reading this and you're stressed about something, consider this blog post as an open invite to reach out to me :)

And I saw her face... I am a beaver...
Shelly Flowerspeak:  A Glossary

Main Ideas
  • Do Whatever You Want, As Long As You Will Own It.  Then, Own It.
  • Connecting With Others Is the Most Rewarding Life Experience.
  • Go On Quests and Gain Levels.

Basically, I think those three concepts are the best way to summarize why I make the decisions that I make. This blog is my attempt to follow those three tenants - I want to share my truth with as many people as there are who want to hear it, and in doing so want to make a tangibly positive impact on as many people as possible.

With all of that said - the following ten guidelines represent the top ten most common solutions to peoples' personal problems.  Obviously, all of this is just my own opinion and isn't meant as hard science; that said, they've all worked for me.

1.  There's More Than One "i" in "Communication", and
2.  Make a Conscious Effort to Build Trust With Others

People often say that I seem to find it really easy to get along well with others.  Allow me to share with you my secret - I ask people questions about themselves that I think are interesting, and do my best to care about the answers.  And when people do the same for me, I try to be willing to share everything, as honestly and authentically as possible.

Really.  That's it.

I define trust as "the state of genuinely caring about another persons' best interests, and having them feel the same for you".  Trust is the condition in which communication flourishes, and the best way to establish it with someone else is to show genuine interest in who they are and what they want.

Trust builds communication, communication builds trust.  When I talk about "connection", that interaction is basically the thing I'm talking about.  The more you share yourself with others and allow others to do the same, the more you will connect, and the stronger your relationships will grow.  People notice when they're being shown respect, and they almost always will reciprocate in turn.

It might not sound like much, but when I look at the thing that has truly brought me the most happiness in life, it's been forming close personal bonds with other people.  I grew up with a supportive family and found my soulmate in Cody and have some of the best friends I could ask for - when all is said and done, my happiest moments have all come from creating good memories with people I love.

My biggest fear growing up - loneliness - is what happens when you don't form connections with others. And for anyone who struggles with it, I highly recommend this video as a launching point.

Dance like no one's watchin'..
3.  Make a Conscious Effort to See the World Through the Eyes of Others
4.  Don't Try and Solve Problems While You're Angry

Have you ever noticed exactly what an argument is?  It's basically just two sides reacting to feeling like their opinion isn't being heard.  Exchanges grow loud and heated, each party gets angry, and then the conversation becomes less about solving a problem and more about winning a fight.

The best way to truly win an argument is to make a conscious effort to listen to the other side.  If you're not willing to do this, how can you expect your opponent to?  More often than not, the best thing you can do to turn an argument into productive communication is to take the high road and show that you're willing to hear what they're saying.

When people relay conflict situations to me, I can usually tell when I'm only being fed one side of a story. In these cases, I like asking people questions that will force them to empathize with their opponent.  Something like "if a newspaper were interviewing the other person about the situation you describe, what would they say?", or "if you were to write a short story from the point of view of the other person, what would it look like?".

It can be extremely difficult to do this, especially if you don't trust the other person.

~surrender to the flow~
5.  Make Decisions That Will Make You Happy...
6.  ...(because) You're the Only Person You Can Count On 100%

I was once talking to a friend of mine who was having issues dealing with his ex-girlfriend.  He was frustrated because she was always calling him up, asking for favors, even though she had dumped him for another guy who she was currently dating.  He felt like she was being selfish and not respecting his feelings.  He told me this on the day she asked him to go to the DMV for her to register her car since she was two hours away and couldn't do it.

I asked him why he even talked to her at all.  He said it was because she needed his help, and that he was concerned that without him her life would fall apart.  He told me how he always dated women like that, and how it was something he struggled with but just couldn't help.


I told him that as long as he truly knew that keeping her in his life was making him happy, that I was all in favor of it.  But with that said,  he needed to stop and ask himself exactly what he was getting out of it. Obviously there was something that kept him coming back (wanting to "rescue" her?  hoping she'd want to date him again?  fulfilling a sense of purpose?) and he needed to figure out exactly what that was so he could truly decide if keeping up contact was worth it.

Sure, she had her faults and they sounded pretty annoying to deal with.  But ultimately the decision to keep talking to her came right down to him.  He thought that "her changing her ways" would make him happy, but didn't stop to consider that (a) she might not ever change, (b) he didn't really have the right to demand that of her, and (c) he had the ability not to be bothered by it.

There's one thing I always say to people who come to me with relationship issues:  "You both deserve to be with someone who will make you happy".  If that's what the relationship is, or at least if that's what it can be, great!  But if that's not the case, all that staying together does is prevent each person from finding the better fit that they each deserve.

I purchased this sweatshirt for a quarter at a thrift store.  I'm not sure how to feel about that.

7.  You Get To Control How Valuable Others' Opinions Are

I once got outed as transgender on a jamband-related message board without realizing the impact it was going to have.  At the time I was keeping a blog about my transition, and I didn't think it would be a big deal to put a link to my blog in my profile.  I made a post asking about a ride-share for a concert that was coming up in the near future, and all of a sudden someone posted "uhhh has anyone read his (sic) blog?" and then all of a sudden it was pages of internet hippies making fun of me.

It was really awkward at first.  It was the first time I had experienced any real rejection that came from having transitioned.  They weren't nice about it either - it mostly schoolyard-level insults about my genitals - and it was tough to read at first.  Thankfully, a handful of people wrote out to me, apologizing for the other people poking fun and assuring me that there are lots of cool people in the scene.  They told me that they liked my blog and respected my transition, and I ended up making a handful of friends out of it at a time where I really needed some.

It taught me a lesson.  Let's say that 100 people responded to me, and that 95 of them were insults and 5 were complimentary.  Sure, that hurts at first.  But two days later, I had made five friends out of it, and never talked to any of the jerks again.  As far as I'm concerned, that's a win.

Early on in my transition, I was scared to go out in public presenting as female.  I hated the way I looked and felt like entering the public eye was inviting myself to be humiliated.  I still remember where I was the first time I noticed someone do a double-take to play "guess my gender" when I was walking around the mall, and that flushed feeling of embarrassment knowing that I didn't pass.

It lasted about ten seconds.  And then I asked myself why I cared about that person's opinion.  In all likelihood, I would never find out who they were or see them again.  It was a powerful moment - I realized that all my fears of rejection were unfounded because the opinion of strangers held no value in my life.

The same goes for situations where people don't like me.  I always try my best to be liked, but I don't think anyone can accomplish that 100%.  In the cases where I don't get along with someone - I just try not to think about them.  There's no use in harping over the fact that someone doesn't gel well with me - I wish them all the best, but there are enough people with whom I connect that there's no need to try to please everyone.  My door is almost always open, but I'll never try to push anyone through it.

I'm running out of pictures for this blog!  If you have any pictures of me that you don't think I know about please email me!

8.  Consider Risk Versus Reward When Making Decisions
9.  Understand the Difference Between Safety and Comfort, and Make Yourself Uncomfortable

When I look back at the thought process between "should I transition or should I just kill myself?", it kind of blows my mind that I was actually so afraid of rejection that I was willing to go to lengths that extreme to avoid it.  In my head, not transitioning was the safe play - as long as I didn't do it, I didn't need to worry about all of the bad things that might come along with it.

But it wasn't really the safe play.  The fact that I was willing to kill myself at the time over it tells me that.  Not transitioning was actually just decision that allowed me to stay within my comfort zone.  As long as I never let people see my true self, I wouldn't have to worry about getting rejected for it.

That kind of logic is what keeps people from making the decisions that will ultimately make them happy.  You should always try and keep yourself safe, because as far as we know this is our only chance at living and we should see it as a privilege.  But why keep yourself comfortable?  What good does that get you?

The only way to expand your comfort zone is to consciously try to step outside of it.  I say this as someone who leaves the house every day looking like an androgynous wizard in a poncho with flowy pants and rainbow dreadlocks - once you no longer fear people thinking you're weird, you become free to do whatever you want.

Go out and take risks.  Ask people out that you think are out of your league.  Apply for a job you're not qualified for, or create art for an audience knowing they might criticize you.  Some of my best experiences came from going into new social scenes alone and forcing myself to make friends - it wasn't easy, but doing so taught me how to be confident around strangers and ultimately paid off.

"Don't write checks your ass can't cash" - a lesson taught to Rich Pelkie over a game of Smash Brothers.

10.  Be Accountable For Your Mistakes, and Learn From Them

I used to self-identify as "someone who hates conflict and confrontation", and I would avoid them like the plague.  In doing so, I became something of a doormat.  People would ask me favors and I'd say "yes" even though I wanted to say no, because the idea of being honest made me more awkward than just doing the favor and not saying anything.

I used to think that was just part of who I am.  And it got to the point where it caused me real-life tension, when I would start to get angry with other people and not know any way to express myself.

Eventually, I realized that I can't just write myself off as "someone who can't engage in confrontation".  That isn't a core characteristic of my identity - that's just me trying to rationalize a flaw so that I didn't feel bad about not trying to improve it.

The same can be said for laziness.  Sometimes, I will put off work to the point where it becomes an annoyance for those who live with me.  I used to say that's just who I am - and those closest to me have rightfully called me out for it.  Sure, it's one of my weaknesses and even now at age 36 I can sometimes be oblivious to the fact that I'm not pulling my weight - but at least I do my best to not fall into my old habits.

Sure, everyone has their faults, and fixing them is sometimes near-impossible.  That's why they're faults.  But that doesn't mean it's not worth trying to improve ourselves, because ultimately that's how we grow.