What is identity?

Simply put, your identity is everything about you. Therefore, this comprises your sexuality, gender and gender expression. So what’s the difference between them?

Sexuality

Your sexuality involves what kind of people you are attracted to, sexually or just romantically (if you are only ever romantically attracted to someone, then you are asexual, which is a sexuality in itself). It also involves what stuff turns you on. Are you more into traditional stuff, or do you prefer to be more adventurous in that department. This is all personal, and as long as you are not harming yourself or the other person(s) then no one can tell you it’s wrong.

Gender 

This basically means what you identify as. Do you identify as male, female, non-binary, agender (no gender), bi-gender (2 genders), demi or whatever? All are legit. Once again this is private, and honestly, no one has to know your gender unless you tell them. Of course, it can be uncomfortable for people to just take a look at you and label you a gender or the other, but really, it’s up to you whether or not to tell them. Think about your safety first.

Gender Expression

This is basically how you project yourself to the world. For example, you may identify as male, but express yourself in more traditional feminine ways (such as being very sensitive and calming). You could also project yourself in the traditional way, for example, you identify as female and project your gender in traditionally feminine ways.

Other forms of gender expression can involve clothing – so wearing clothes which make you feel like you. 

For trans* and non-binary people who experience dysphoria, our gender expression can help us keep that dysphoria at bay. Because even if we are misgendered, at least with our clothing we are trying to tell the world what kind of people we are. Do we like cute things, or are we more hardcore, do we wear bright colours, or are we more nondescript. Even if you do not experience dysphoria, clothing and body language are the perfect ways to subtly express to people who you are…and if they are attentive, they will pick it up.

So with all of these things (and other stuff, like likes and dislikes etc) comprise your identity. For this reason, no one should look at one aspect of you (say your sexuality) and judge you – because it is not all that there is to you. So if someone actually does judge you because of one aspect of who you are, then they are not worth it. People should get to know your full identity first before they can make a judgement of how nice you are as a person.

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Keeping my Identity

One of the joys, and also pains, of knowing open-minded people, is that when you inform those people of your gender then they are more likely to accept you. The price for this acceptance, particularly for those people who don’t understand/never knew about non-binary or genderqueer etc is that they will be asking you questions. Which you should generally answer, because lets face it, at least they’re trying to learn more. And it’s way better to learn from you, rather than from a clap-trap source online.

Recently, I made friends with someone with quite a scientific mind. This means that this person is open minded, but even logical. And as most of us know, gender is not the most logical in the world, it’s a personal experience which we present and express in our own way. But I wanted to try teach this person about gender, because in this person’s field of work, chances are they would meet someone who is gender variant.

The issue is that this person has been following stereotypes. For example, if you like pink then you’re a girl, if you like wearing dresses you’re a girl. If you enjoy ties and fast cars you’re a guy. And then this person got more complicated. This person knew of women who for example: did not like pink and enjoyed playing sports, and so concluded that possibly I was more this way.

Naturally, I explained that no, my hobbies and interests don’t affect my gender, my gender is internal. Yet, this is still something which needs to be explained further.

This got me thinking about my gender and identity. If we look at the stereotypes, women and men generally perpetuate these stereotypes, and even if say, a woman enjoys sports, there’s still something feminine about her. So I started to reevaluate myself.

I evaluated my expression, my hobbies, likes and dislikes. And yes, there are some things which are effeminate, but there are others which are masculine too. However, since I am AFAB then instead of viewing these as masculine, then they merely view it as a sign of lesbianism. Which means that till this day, people still confuse sexuality and gender. And that is not a mentality which is easy to change.

In the end, I once again reached the acceptance that I am, in fact, non binary. Despite my likes and dislikes, the way I express myself, the way I walk and speak. None of that matters, cause my core is non-binary.

The rest is just me expressing myself. 

Mental Health Awareness Week

So it’s Mental Health Awareness Week until Sunday, and since I’ve been quite ‘off the radar’ I thought, what better time to come back than this week?

You see, the reason I’ve been AWOL is because I’ve been battling my anxiety for the past few months.

I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Probably even before then. I started self medicating from a young age. To spare you the messy details there was alcohol, smoking, drugs, self harm and suicidal ideation involved. But back then I had no idea that it was because of my anxiety, I just enjoyed the feeling of relief, those few moments when I managed to get out of my head.

Those moments were short lived, and so I started medicating more frequently, until I realised that I was going too far. Ok, I didn’t realise it by myself, I met someone who made me realise that self medication wasn’t the way to go.

So instead I immersed myself in meditation, spirituality, philosophy and learning. And that gave me temporary relief, but it was enough to get by. I still had no name for the emotions I was feeling.

It was only last year that I finally realised that what I was feeling wasn’t regular stress, but actual anxiety. I started having fainting spells because of all the stress and anxiety I was under, I stopped being able to sleep, my mind was making me see horrors in the dark. I became paranoid about the slightest thing. However, thankfully those moments would pass, and I would forget all about them. I figured that I was only experiencing the ‘normal’ amount of anxiety, and that once I did what had to be done, then the anxiety would go away. I still had no idea that what I had wasn’t ‘normal’ but an ‘extreme’.

Then from November till January I was under a lot of stress due to University work. I was constantly on the go. If I was on the bus I was working, when I got to work and I had nothing to do, I would be working on University things, or on work related to the student organization I was a member of. I was constantly on the go. And even though that gave me a lot of pleasure, I was constantly running on a high. It was as though I was running away from something. I lost touch with myself in the process.

After many restless nights, when the horror movies in my head became too much to handle, nights when I literally felt as though I was dying, I started to research. I realised that I definitely was not having a normal reaction to anxiety. It turned out I was having a normal reaction to anxiety, but it was my anxiety which was not normal.

I had a mental health issue.

But I didn’t accept it.

Yes, I could tell myself that I’m anxious, but I refused to seek help. I would handle it the way I always did. I started drinking again. I would tell myself that it helped me focus on my assignments, it was just a method to relax.

But the anxiety didn’t go away. Months started passing, and sometimes it would calm down, and I could sleep, and I wouldn’t keep checking over my shoulder to see if someone was following me.

But then it would just flare up again.

And finally, after about three nights in a row where I felt I was going to die, when my chest hurt and I would cry without control, and I finally admitted that yes, I needed help. I sent an email and made an appointment at the counselling unit the very next day.

Best decision of my life.

I’m still in therapy, but I already feel better. I still have anxiety, therapy doesn’t automatically take away the anxiety, take away that fear. But I’m starting to learn more about myself. I thought I was a very self aware person, but now I’m realising that the self medication was stopping me from being in touch with myself. And now I’m learning about myself, the good, the bad and the ugly. And I’m learning how to live with my anxiety, instead of expecting it to magically disappear.

So what’s my point? My point is that mental health is an important thing. One of the most important things we have. And it’s ok to have a mental health problem. It’s actually more common than you think. According to recent statistics, 1 in 4 of us have Anxiety, and 1 in 3 will have depression. So if you think of all the people you’ve met recently, you’ve definitely met someone who had anxiety, and another who had depression.

So during this week, please try find out as much as you can about mental health, particularly how you can help someone with a mental health problem. How to be there for someone. And if you have a mental health issue, then seek help. Find a friend you can confide in, or make an appointment at your nearest counselling unit. It’s actually not as scary as you think it is.

STOP the Stigma

I’m going to start this by saying that all extremism is bad, and possibly a sign of an unstable mental health.

But that’s not what I’m going to talk about. This post is about mental health…and more importantly, how the stigmatization of an unhealthy mental wellbeing is going to ruin us.

As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, a few days ago a plane crashed in the French Alps. The story goes that the co-pilot intentionally crashed the GermanWings plane, killing 150 people (including himself, obviously). When it crashed the plane was going at around 700km/hr. As to be expected, no one was saved, and the entire plane was in ruins.

All people cared about was whether or not it was a terrorist attack, and they were significantly relieved to find out that the co-pilot had made no mention of ‘Allah hu akbar’ (which is what Muslim extremists tend to say before launching an attack). Here I’d like to point out that no one assumed that he could be a Christian terrorist, or a Jewish one. But I digress again.

The next step, since he was white, was to start looking at his mental wellbeing. Words such as ‘suicidal’ and ‘depressive’ started being thrown about. And then, some very *smart* people said “He should have just killed himself if he was suicidal”. Now, I get that people are upset. And they have every right to be. 149 innocent people, including around 16 school children were killed in one of the most atrocious ways. The likelihood of their loved ones recovering from this is incredibly slight.

But by saying that you’re just looking at the short term. This reasoning goes like this: Person A dies so Situation B never happens.

But if it wasn’t Person A, there will be another person who will do this.

Telling someone to just kill themselves is never the answer. And frankly, if you think this way (even after reflection about what you said), then you’ve completely detached yourself from the human race and lack compassion. Yes, I will be blunt.

So what actually needs to be done? Stop stigmatizing mental health.

Everyone has a mental health. And everyone can go through a tough time and get sick. Just like you can get a cold.

“I don’t stigmatise!”  I hear you say, or “I don’t feel stigmatized”. Well, 1. if a friend comes to you and tells you that they feel depressed, do you feel awkward and not know what to say? and try to cover up your feelings with humour without ever trying to take care of your friend? 2. Do you feel depressive, or are you self harming, but you hide it from the people you care about because you feel ashamed?

welllllllllllllll

that’s stigmatization

In an ideal world, people are comfortable and speak openly about their mental health. Visiting a psychologist or a counsellor wouldn’t be the walk of shame, something which needs to be hidden or whispered only to a very close friend. It should be something you can mention randomly, without anyone judging you. You wouldn’t judge your friend for catching the flu, so why  judge your friend for having anxiety?

In today’s world, no one can speak of their mental health issues, unless it’s anonymously online. Because it’s just not safe out there. Try telling your employer that you can get crippling anxiety when under a lot of stress. No matter how many times you tell him that you always pull through, he just wouldn’t hire you.

So what happens? People start hiding their problems. And people can get very good at hiding them. They learn how to function on a day-to-day basis, and no one would ever suspect otherwise. Because no one ever looks deep enough to see the cracks in these people’s armour.

And then what?

Well some people will keep on functioning until their natural death.

Otherwise will end their misery early. Because seeking help was never an option.

Some actually find the strength to seek help.

Others end their life in a tragic way which ends up on the news. Case in point, the GermanWings plane crash.

I’m not saying that the co-pilot was mentally ill. But the signs do point towards that. Why else would you deliberately crash a plane and kill all those people? Even if there was an ulterior motive, that motive would have been backed by an unstable mind.

The solution is not pushing mentally ill people to suicide. Quite the opposite. Push these people towards help. Towards support. Towards love.

Mind your language

This should come as no surprise, but language is a very strong tool. You can use to make someone feel great about themselves… or you can use it to break them. Most of the time, you may do the latter without even realising it.

This is especially true for people with gender identity disorder, also known as gender dysphoria.

Let’s take someone who was born biologically female and thus raised that way, but who does not identify as female. This person may identify as male, or non-binary or whatever. It doesn’t really matter at this point. The point is that that person’s gender identity does not correspond with the identity people keep trying shove down that person’s throat. [from here on I will use ‘she’ as a pronoun for simplicity’s sake]

And here I expect people to gasp and say, ‘I don’t do that!’ or ‘I’m very accepting!’ Well I’m sure you are. But say this person, for some reason or other, cannot be open about her identity. So instead, she tries to keep dysphoria at bay by dressing as androgynously as possible without people realising the truth about her gender.

So instead of binding, she cuts her hair short, she wears baggy pants and baggy shirts to cover up the curves she hates so much. And all is ok for a while. Until:

‘You would look so pretty in a dress!’

BAM! dysphoria. People are imagining her in a dress, she ends up imagining herself in a dress…and it’s awkward, and uncomfortable, and wrong.

She laughs it off and says ‘No, I prefer my pants’.

then:

‘Why don’t you wear make up?? You’d look so pretty!’

Again, dysphoria strikes back, and she wonders, why don’t I have facial hair? Why do people want me to wear make up? Isn’t the way I look enough?

then:

‘You should let your hair grow out, it would suit you more!’

She touches her shaved hair, and reminds herself why she doesn’t let it grow. Because long hair, flying in the wind makes her feel feminine, makes her look feminine.

You may be saying these things innocently. Maybe you *Care* about her, and you want her to look ‘pretty’. The thing is, you’re assuming that your view of what would make her attractive is the same as hers. Every time you ask her to wear a dress, or put on make up, you’re saying ‘you are not enough, the way you look is not something I like. Please change’.

You may not realise it, but every time you make a person feel inadequate, not only is that verbal bullying, but if it’s a trans* person then you’re basically triggering off dysphoria. Stop obsessing over these makeover shows, you have no right to dictate how a person looks.

So the question is, but how will I know if I’m going to cross the line ? Fair question. You’ll know if you pay attention. Is your friend always in pants? then assume that they’re not gonna wear a dress. If they want to wear a dress, then they will. They don’t need you to tell them.

Same with make up, same with skirts, same with contacts vs. glasses, same with hair length.

Unless the person comes to you for advice, don’t give it.

Things I learnt after being in a relationship for 3 years (and counting)

This is going to be another personal post, so please bear with me. I hope that I can impart some of the things I learnt as a nonbinary person in a relationship with a cis female.


1. Be honest, not afraid

Ok yes this is a cliche. But it’s a true one. Don’t hide your true self because you’re afraid your other half won’t understand or accept you, if they really care about you (and love you) then they’ll do their utmost to understand and accept you as you are. After all, they fell in love with you already, the least you can do is be honest about your feelings and about who you are.

2. Solve fights 

Everyone fights. Frankly, I’m pretty sure you fought with your pet once or twice, so why should a relationship be any different? When you love someone fighting will end up coming naturally. You’ll disagree on whose turn it was to wash the dishes or fold the laundry, you’ll fight because you forgot that they had a really important date planned and you were late.. again. 

The trick to a healthy relationship is what happens after the fight … how well do you solve it? Communication is key. Talk it out with each other, have a good cry, kiss and move on (but make an effort to not make the same mistake twice). If you’re just going to mope about and remain angry with your partner then you’re not really going to achieve anything (except maybe a break up).

3. Laugh

Laughter makes the world go round, it unites people in ways nothing else can. Make your partner laugh as much as possible and they’ll be fooled into thinking that you’re the best thing on this planet. So be silly, dance in the rain, sing at the top of your lungs in the middle of an empty street. These are the memories you want them to cherish.

4. Touch each other as much as possible

Not (just) in the sexual way. Hold hands, hug, kiss, touch their face often. Hugging for long periods of time will release hormones which build the feeling of trust and safety in people. So make use of this trick and get hugging!

Besides, sometimes, words will never be enough, and a touch will be what your partner really needs from you to know you’re there.

5. Family is important, but don’t dwell on it

As most people in queer relationships know, acceptance isn’t easy to come by. While our straight and cisgender counterparts rarely have an issue in the parental/familial department, it is an all-too-often issue in ours. But the thing is, family isn’t everything. Normally your family will want what’s best for you. But the thing is, what they think is best for you is just their opinion. They will see your ‘lifestyle’ as too difficult, and wonder why you can’t just be ‘normal’ and have an easier life. Thing is, life is never easy, so at least you can go through this difficult life with the person you love. 

So respect your family, but don’t let it come between you and the person you love. At the end of the day, you know what’s best for you as well.

6. Take some alone time

Ah new relationships… when you just want to spend every moment together. It’s one of the most amazing things of a new relationship. Just don’t forget yourself. You may be in a relationship, but you’re also an individual. And to be an individual you need time to reflect on yourself and grow. In other words, do your own thing.

From a relationship point of view – one of the best ways to keep a relationship from becoming stagnant is to have exciting things to talk about. If you’re both spending every second of every day together, there isn’t much you can talk about is there?

7. Do stuff together

Ok yes I just said to do stuff alone… but do stuff together as well! The best way to get to know someone is to do things with them. Do they get frustrated or bored in queues ? Do they get road rage when driving? Do they laugh at the most inappropriate moments in a play?

Knowing someone’s past is extremely important, but knowing who they are as a person is possibly the most important thing of all.

8. Meet friends and have dates

A balance between a social life and a relationship is essential. Of course it depends on the two people involved in the relationship to determine how much weight to give the social circle and how much weight to give to date time. From experience, meeting friends is a good distraction for those bad phases and it’s also a good way for you guys to laugh together. But dates are important to just be romantic and sweet and are useful to reconnect with your partner.

9. Be Romantic

Sometimes a look in your eyes is enough to tell your special someone how much  you care, but other times, an over the top romantic gesture is what you truly need. Plan a surprise for your loved one, whisk them away to another city/island/whatever for a romantic day just with each other. And when you’re on a tight budget, switch off your phone and just cuddle with each other on a sofa. Quality time without the distractions of modern day technology can really tell someone that you care about them more than checking your facebook or tumblr for the millionth time.

10. Fall in love again, day after day. 

This may come as a shock to those who probably haven’t been in a relationship for long, but you will fall out of love. Sometimes the routine and daily life will grind you down and you stop appreciating the wonderful person you have with you. Pause yourself for a second, and take the time to realise what a great partner you have, make sure to appreciate them and every little thing they do for you. Like give you the last bite of cake, or take you to your favourite restaurant even though they may not have felt like Chinese food that night.

When a relationship lasts long, it means that the people involved manage to keep falling in love with each other, most of the time, they end up falling deeper and deeper in love every single day.


And this brings a close to this overly-mushy article/advice post! It’s obviously dedicated to the love of my life, who also happens to be my fiancee.