Who the Frag Am I?

February 23, 2010

On Imaginary Virtue

Filed under: Identity — wtfmi @ 8:37 pm

I’ve known my whole life that I’m different. And except for occasional struggles with depression, I’ve been proud of that fact.

For example: I never bought into the whole passel of silly requirements that most girls and women feel they have to meet. I’ve never tried to strictly control my weight. I’ve never worn the kinds of shoes that destroy your feet and legs. I’ve never spent too much money on clothes. (I own six pairs of identical jeans, one pair of sneakers and one pair of sandals, and something like ten shirts.) I don’t style my hair or blow-dry it, and I get it cut once or twice a year when it gets too long. I only wear make-up on job interviews and first dates, and for those I only blot some powder on my face so I don’t look oily. I stopped shaving my legs in college because really, it’s just a waste of time.

And I was inordinately proud of these things: “Look at me! I’m too smart to fall for all that misogynistic bullshit!”

But I was rationalizing.

I don’t avoid high heels because I know the damage they can cause. I do it because they hurt my feet.

I don’t skip the diets because I believe that enforced starvation is one way that our patriarchal culture keeps women from thinking about serious things (like why we make 77 cents on the male dollar). I do it because food tastes good and not eating gives me a nasty headache.

I don’t eschew clothes shopping because excess consumption is morally or ethically wrong. I do it because I don’t really understand the interactions involved in shopping and the lack of a script makes me very anxious. Also, I can’t handle the crowds.

I didn’t stop shaving my legs because it’s an excellent way to weed out ill-fitting potential partners. I did it because it hurt my skin.

So while it’s true that I don’t buy into the whole silly feminine ideal thing, it’s more or less an accident of genetics. I find the feminine ideal silly not because I’ve evaluated it with an analytical eye and made a rational decision, but because it’s painful and boring and it just doesn’t interest me. And if something doesn’t interest me, it might as well not even exist.

If I were more neurotypical I would probably find many of these activities less painful and possibly more rewarding. I hope that I would still evaluate them rationally and come to a rational decision about their place in our culture and in my life. But I am not neurotypical and I really have no idea what I would be like if I were.

So no, I’m not virtuous. I’m just lucky that this is who I am.

February 12, 2010

On the First Steps in My Journey

Filed under: Identity — wtfmi @ 2:49 am

This is all Hillary Clinton’s fault.

A couple years ago I was stressed out, depressed, and having a hard time holding it all together — pretty much like I’ve always been. So it didn’t mean much to me.

As it happened, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were both running for the Democratic presidential nomination, which I found to be neat in a resigned sort of way. (“Cool! But shouldn’t this have happened, like, decades ago?”)

Then I started to notice (what was to me) a very obvious difference in how people were treating the two candidates, both directly and when discussing them with others. I talked to my husband about it and found, rather to my dismay, that he didn’t see it t all. He thought I was reading too much into things, that I was over-reacting, that I was getting just a touch hysterical on the subject.

I went ballistic. This pushed buttons I didn’t even realize I had.

Direct sexism has only rarely annoyed me because I only rarely think of myself as female. (I am biologically female and I identify as female-gendered when asked because it’s easier, but my grasp on gender has always been rather weak.) But not being taken seriously, not being believed, not being trusted with my own experiences … yeah. That’s a sore spot.

So for perhaps the first time I felt a thread of connection with feminists, and by extension with other women. I’ve never liked other women, probably due to neuro-atypicality. (Been attracted to them, yes. Been friends with them, no.) But I became interested in feminism and all its tropes, and when I am interested in something I study it exhaustively.

I went through a series of important realizations very quickly: that I harbor a lot of sexist attitudes; that sexism has affected me in many ways; that feminism has a lot to offer me; that feminists really annoy me.

And then I turned the question (of the primary) around and looked at it from the other side … and realized that I was profoundly uncomfortable about questions of race. So off I went to study racism. (This one I am still having trouble with. But more on that later.)

Along the way, I ran (back) into fat acceptance. (I’d wandered into fat acceptance many years ago via the BBW community, but I was at the time rather creeped out by a particular BBW-aficionado in my life and gave the whole thing a pass.) This time I came in through the research side of things — which left me with a deep distrust of medical press releases but a much better appreciation for my physical body.

One of the most startling thoughts that came out of learning about fat acceptance, though, was that not only is it none of your business if I am fat, but that it’s not any of your business whether or not I am healthy either. I’ll repeat that: My health is none of your business.

That one just blew me out of the water.

And that led me to reading about disability. And just in time … because right about then, my chronic and largely untreated depression got worse. Again. And I decided that it was time to start taking my mental health seriously. This wasn’t easy for me because I had long believed that my depression (and all of my other peculiarities) were weakness, pure and simple. If I were better, I wouldn’t have these problems.

The generic depression-and-anxiety diagnosis became bipolar disorder with a side of autism. I freaked out. I still am, to some extent. But I am beginning to feel my way through.

So if it wasn’t for Hillary Clinton, I would still be trundling along the same old way: stressed out, depressed, barely holding it all together, and blaming myself every step of the way. But instead I have a metric shit-tonne of new knowledge and tools rumbling about in my head, helping me — finally! — to understand myself just a little bit better.

February 9, 2010

On Identity

Filed under: Identity — wtfmi @ 8:20 pm

When I was seeing a therapist for severe depression, she asked me one day to describe myself — not my demographics, but my core self.

I was unable to do this.

I can just barely, in my mind, feel out a concept that encompasses the totality of my core self, but I completely lack the words to describe it. In fact, I don’t think there are words to describe it. (Or colors, or shapes, or smells.) And considering how reliant I am upon words, how fond I am of using them to denote exact shades of meaning … yeah.

So then my therapist asked me to list the five to ten adjectives that best describe me. (I’m not sure how this was different from asking me to describe myself. Perhaps because it was a list.) And again, I couldn’t do it.

But I wanted to show willing, so I asked if she could suggest some adjectives, and then I would tell her exactly how well and in what way they applied to me. “Give me an adjective, any adjective, and I’ll tell you how it fits. And it will fit in one way or another,” I said.

She looked at me with the oddest expression, like she wasn’t sure what to do with me.

I read somewhere — although I can’t find it now and it’s quite possible that I misunderstood anyway — that people on the autism spectrum sometimes have problems with self-identification. Apparently some of us don’t easily separate the ‘inside’ of our identity from the ‘outside’ of the world.

This makes a lot of sense to me: how you could possibly separate who you are from what you’ve experienced? Even if you try to keep the discussion strictly biological, i.e. “I have genetic predispositions to mood disorders,” or “I was born with autism,” you are still talking about a specific expression of the genes which is based on your (biochemical) environment.

Anyway. So I can’t accurately describe myself outside of space and time. But I’m going to spend time and space here, on this blog, considering the question of who I am right now.

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