Yesterday I attended a mental health support group called Rational Thinking. The purpose of the group is to address issues with irrational thinking, and provide skills that will assist with reframing negative thought processes into positive ones. I pride myself in being able to identify my irrational thoughts and I work hard not to let them overrun my mind. For many that is no easy task so, again, I take pride in my skills.
The wonderful person leading the group had decided to try to address irrational thinking in a new creative way. She asked us to take an index card, write down an irrational thought, and place it in (anonymously) in a box. She would read them aloud once everyone was finished. I took two index cards. I understand the power of putting words to paper, so the chance of placing negative thoughts on paper and then giving them away wasn’t something I was going to pass up. I put my first irrational thought down, and then turned to the second card. What to write? I had been grappling, for weeks, with relationship insecurities, so I decided to write about that. However, I never expected the words that appeared in front of me to be what they were.
Yes, even writers can surprise themselves with their words. I expected something like “I won’t find someone because I’m ugly, overweight, etc.” But to see what I wrote staring back at me hit hard an a deep-seeded fear that I didn’t realize I had until that moment. “That I will never find a partner who will accept the fact that I’m androgynous and present as both genders.”
Gender roles, identity, relationship roles and expectations…these were issues that were rolling through my mind for months. Putting on a show because I thought it was what was expected out of my gender; being afraid to act upon how I truly felt was my true self. Years of social conditioning and abuse ran through my mind as I slipped the index card into the box, the last person to finish the exercise.
I waited, anxiously, for my card to be read. I cringed as the group moderator struggled with my handwriting, stopping myself from correcting her out of fear of outing myself as the author. There was no discussion of the cards, just a simple reading. I found myself wishing I had skipped attending this group.
Once the last card was read the moderator explained the second half of the exercise. Everyone was going to, randomly, pick a card from the box and reframe the irrational thought they selected into a rational, positive thought. I felt the nerves pulling against my heart. I had no idea what anyone would think about being in a room with someone who stated that they identified as both genders. I quickly responded to my card and waited, hoping my first irrational thought was selected instead of my second.
Fear. Fear for my safety. Fear of being outcasted and ridiculed. Fear that those in the room would react violently to my admission. I had been out of the proverbial closet in some shape or form since I was 12. I have seen this country yo-yo in the treatment of anyone within the LGBT+ community; grew up with the story of Matthew Shepard, of the Stonewall Riots, of violence and hatred. Even in today’s climate, my first instinct is to run if I cannot get a beat on the temperament of those around me in regards to sex and sexuality. In that room fear was irrational, but rationally speaking, my experiences and knowledge of how people react to people “like me” gives me the right to feel fear.
Like earlier, the moderator read the irrational fear, and then the positive reframing. I felt my throat tighten as she read my irrational thought again. I swallowed, and tried to hide my discomfort by helping her with the words she tripped over earlier. I knew it would give me away, but I needed to make sure she knew who the response was directed at. I was afraid. I needed to not be anonymous to her, in case the reframing wasn’t okay.
“I will find a partner that will accept me as a man and a women.”
I swallowed the lump I didn’t realize formed in my throat. The moderator stopped herself from moving onto the next response, asking if anyone had any response to cards. The room was silent, until I leaned forward, and pointed out the obvious that the irrational thought was mine. I admitted that I never thought anyone would reframe my thought in that way. I mean, it is simple right? It is an obvious way to reframe it, but I still wasn’t expecting it because I wasn’t expecting anyone to read between the lines. That I identified as both male and female. That I struggle with the fear of never finding anyone who would support me as I moved through the fluidity of my gender identity. I never expected the simple words, yet so powerful, that reframed my thought.
Can I emphasize the fact that someone used the phrase “accept me as a man and a woman.” I am both, and sometimes neither, and sometimes it is so overwhelming trying to explain how I feel dealing with a dual identity. So for someone to just, so simply, write down that I will find someone who will accept me as both is such an amazing feeling.
The discussion led to me stumbling into an explanation of the difference between gender and sex, and the difference between gender and sexuality, and how I fit along the spectrum. I was faced, once again, with someone telling me that they “knew” I was female based upon my looks, and had a friend defend me stating that in other clothing it is difficult to identify my sex ( which is a topic I will touch upon).
Nevertheless, I didn’t waver in explaining that as an androgyne, my gender isn’t male/female. That there are days where I feel wholly male, and other days wholly female, and even some days where I’m somewhere in the middle. That my gender has nothing to do with my sexuality. I didn’t explain that, on that day, I felt more masculine. That the only reason my female-ness was evident was because I was wearing form-fitting clothing. That I am uncomfortable with my breasts, but okay with having a vagina. It wasn’t the place for that conversation. But I was on cloud nine.
I then got my second surprise of the hour. I asked if it was okay to ask who wrote the response. Seeing the person raise his/her hand blew my mind, and harshly reminded me of my own biases and judgments I’ve placed on others based upon his/her appearances. But I will gladly eat the crow this assumption shoved down my throat, because it reminded me that the brightest of lights sometimes come from the most unlikely of sources. In the LBGT+ community, these lights save lives on a daily basis, and I could not stop the beaming smile I gave this person as I thanked him/her for his/her words. (Confidentiality…I will not reveal the person’s gender/sex.)
I then asked for the index cards. I’m not a positive affirmation kind of person. I don’t write self-affirming statements on my mirrors, and motivational posters make me want to shove hot coals into my eyes, but I wanted these cards. The moderator handed them to me with a smile, and as the room emptied we restarted the conversation we shelved in order to move the group through the rest of the exercise. Then I had my third surprise.
The moderator apologized to me. She had never thought to ask me about what pronouns I preferred. She never stopped to ask me more about my sexuality and my gender identity. I, for the first time, got to seriously answer that question. I mean, in the past, when was “mistaken” for a man, I simply laughed it off, and my friends just rolled with it because I was laughing. I never really explained I was laughing in pure joy. I just came up with my standard excuse of “my mother hated it so I find glee in it.”
So here I was standing, clutching these two cards, explaining that I respond to both genders. That some can’t understand why I chose my pseudonym to be Faith, because that was a “female” name. I got to discuss how Faith is a state of belief, of being. That I struggled because how many androgyne, pansexual people were out there? That there was a lot of confusion and mystery regarding anything outside of the binary genders because not many people were truly talking about it outside of transgender experiences. Because I’m not transgender, and if I’m not transgender, then what was I?
The moderator encouraged me to write, to voice my frustrations and to work on breaking down the confusion. We talked about my creative blog, and she suggested a new blog. That there was a need because here I was, clutching an irrational thought, because I felt marginalized within an already marginalized group.
So here I am, taking a leap into exploring my gender, my sexuality, sexuality and gender representation in general, and doing it during a time in this world where being different, even among those that are different, is sometimes dangerous. But it is worth it. It is worth the chance of changing a mind, on putting a face to the unknown, and changing an irrational thought, to a rational thought. Even if I have to do it, one positive note card after another.