The (Third) Elephant In The Room: Yet Another Gender Q&A

One reason why I’ve really enjoyed having a blog is being able to see how my views and self-insight have changed overtime. And this is why I’ve done a question & answer about my gender almost every year now — I want to demonstrate the ways in which gender can be fluid, and affirm that our ideas around identity and transition can shift or evolve (and yes, that’s totally okay!).

I’m a little late on this one (we’re like, halfway through 2017 now, can you believe it?), but if you’re new to the blog, this is something of a check-in to see where I’m at in my transition. And as always, if you have more questions, you can tweet me!

These are essentially the same questions as the last two years, with a few new ones thrown in that I’ve been coming across in my inbox lately. Here we go!

What is your gender? What pronouns do you use?

I’ve been pretty attached to the descriptors “non-binary gay boy.” I go with he/him pronouns, but I also respond to they/them.

What do those words mean to you?

“Non-binary,” for me, means that I don’t view my gender identity as being exclusively masculine or feminine. It gives me some latitude when expressing and exploring my gender.

The additional phrasing of “gay boy” kind of helps refine what I mean (non-binary is such a broad category, I think that’s why so many of us under this umbrella use multiple descriptors).

“Gay boy,” to me, acknowledges that I’m plugged into a specific subset of queer culture here in San Francisco (sometimes gendered language helps denote community ties, you know?).

It also pinpoints the gender role in society that I’m most comfortable occupying/being read as (in a binary world) without the expectation of cisnormative masculinity the way that “guy” or “man” gives off.

Have your self-descriptors changed since last year?

Yeah, definitely. This last year has been about confronting my relationship to masculinity. I’m not very invested in traditional, normative expressions of masculinity, so I’ve shifted to using language that better reflects that.

I use “genderqueer” less often and “non-binary” more often lately, though either is fine and both are accurate.

Are your gender identity (sense of self) and your gender expression (how you express it on the outside) the same? Different?

I’d say that they’re about the same! The cool thing about the language that I use is that it gives me a lot of room to experiment. My clothes are a little more masculine than I’d like them to be, but that’s because I haven’t had the money to replace my old stuff.

How did you know you were transgender?

I’m way less interested in this question than I have been in years past (I’ve answered it a few times, it’s out there on the internet if it’s important to you). I think gender is just forward motion, and this is my trajectory, whether I could anticipate it from the start or not.

“How did you know?” sometimes becomes a way to measure the authenticity of some trans people against others, and I think it’s worth restating that all trans people are valid regardless of their timeline. So that’s what I’ll leave you with.

Are you still taking testosterone? Do you have other plans for medical transition?

I’m offering up this information because I want to, not because I’ve been asked to (Riley has a great video on why this distinction is important).

I’ve been taking testosterone for… a year and a half now? I don’t think I look super different, but here are some photos for reference:

I have a lot more body hair (which I have pretty mixed feels about), my body proportions are different (narrow hips, broader shoulders), my voice has dropped a bit, and overall I think I read as a lot more androgynous which was my big goal when I went on T. My beard is also finally coming in — I have whiskers all over the place which might look silly to some people but I think it’s totally endearing.

As for surgery, I have my first consultation on July 10th. I should be overjoyed, but instead, I’m struggling with it. My future is kind of up in the air because I haven’t been able to secure a job here (and freelance writing just isn’t enough right now), so I’m not even sure if I’m staying in the Bay Area or moving out of state. Which means that my top surgery might end up delayed (again) if I’m forced to leave here.

Top surgery is vital for me — my greatest source of dysphoria is my chest. I don’t know what I’m going to do if it gets delayed again.

(If you want to help, becoming a Patron through my Patreon is a great way to support me. Hint hint, nudge nudge. I’m less active there than I should be, but I’m circling back, I promise.)

I’m trying to stay hopeful. But I’d be lying if I said it’s not really difficult right now.

How are you feeling about your transition so far?

I’ve written some pretty contentious articles talking about the complexities of transition. My favorite one is this narrative I published last April. Overall, I feel happy with where things are headed and I don’t have any regrets (which is good!). I also think it’s okay to feel conflicted or uncertain sometimes, too, and I’ve definitely been there on more than one occasion.

How does your sexual orientation factor into all this?

I’ve really appreciated seeing the word “gay” evolve a little bit to have multiple meanings. It’s not just men who are into men. For me, I’m “gay” in that I’m attracted to (sexually and romantically) folks of similar genders. So non-binary folks, genderfluid folks, the occasional masc person.

I also identify as greysexual (on the ace spectrum), which I haven’t talked about much. But sex itself is not a big priority or drive for me, and it’s not a significant part of my life. So while I have partners, those relationships focus on emotional intimacy and companionship, and I’m perfectly happy that way.

What’s been the most difficult part of being trans for you (since you last answered these questions)?

Not having access to what I need. My top surgery was delayed over, and over, and over again. I only own one chest binder, which was sent to me by a super generous friend. Most of the clothing I own is from four or five years ago, before I really knew my own style or identity. It’s hard to feel comfortable in your own skin when you can’t alter your body or appearance to push back against the dysphoria.

Being transgender costs money and it’s a price tag that I really can’t afford at this place in my life.

It’s worth saying that this being my biggest challenge is a manifestation of privilege in some ways. For the most part, I don’t move through the world fearing for my physical safety, especially since I’m white and perceived as masculine. I want to keep that in perspective not to invalidate the dysphoria I feel, but to highlight that within the trans community, our struggles have different consequences, different realities.

How was your first pride weekend?

OVERWHELMING. I documented it over on Instagram. I’d avoided Pride up until now because huge crowds of drunk people sounded like something out of a nightmare. But I did go to Trans March! I’d never seen so many trans folks in my life, and it was empowering (and exhausting, tbh) to march alongside them.

Trans march was excellent 🌈🎉💕☀️👍🏻

A post shared by Sam Dylan Finch (@samdylanfinch) on Jun 24, 2017 at 1:05pm PDT

 

It took me like, the whole weekend in bed to recover. But it was worth it for sure.

What’s next? What do you see for yourself in the coming year?

If I can just financially stabilize, I can stay in the Bay Area, keep my apartment, and get my surgery. Finding a stable job has been my sole focus right now. I don’t know what’s next, but I do know that I’m not going to give up.

The reality is, especially under this administration, there will always be obstacles for trans people. But we’re resilient. I’m resilient. So we keep going, even when things seem uncertain and even hopeless.

I hope that by the time I answer these questions next year, I’ll have had my surgery and I’ll have the safety that I need in my life. I’m not going to stop trying until I do.

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20 Mental Health Resolutions for 2017 (Because We Sure As Hell Need Them)

This time last year I wrote out some of my mental health resolutions for 2016. And I enjoyed – so much – the process of thinking through my resolutions, reflecting on the kind of precedent I wanted to set for my sanity, and then all the conversations we had together about what kind of year we wanted 2016 to be (this is a good time to mention our online Facebook community is a stellar place for dialogue).

And then, you know, 2016 actually happened.

For those following along at home, I kicked off 2016 with a psychiatric hospitalization and wrapped up 2016 with a relapse and a field trip to rehab. As far as mental health goes, it’s not been my finest year.

This doesn’t even touch on the fact that we’ve lost numerous pop culture icons – most recently mental health and addiction advocate/badass Carrie Fisher – and we elected an orange Voldemort to the highest office of the land after a grueling and painful election season.

I’m sure we can objectively say that this is not what we had in mind for a mentally healthy year. I’m also not going to be foolish enough this time around to suggest that 2017 will be your year or my year – it’s probably no one’s year, frankly, if a nuclear arms race breaks out, although, weird, Russia seems pretty stoked.

Do I sound bitter? Maybe I’m a little bitter.

Listen, it’s been a rough year. And my resolutions from last year by no means prevented the apocalypse from happening. They did remind me to focus on what’s important (i.e. keeping it together).

I believe if we’re going to survive this next year (and, y’know, the next four… or the next – ugh, I can’t say it), renewing our commitment to our self-care and sanity is never a bad idea.

I’m a fan of going into any transition in life with a lot of intention and mindfulness, so I’m bringing some of that intention into the new year.

That’s why, despite the catastrophe that was 2016, I’m going to once again share twenty resolutions I have for 2017.

Your mental health is more important than ever, and if there were ever a time to be vigilant about keeping all your marbles in the jar, it’s when apocalyptic headlines and subsequent panic attacks are always in abundance.

If resolutions are your thing, I hope that these inspire you to come up with your own (or steal mine, it’s all good!).

Sam’s 20 Magical Resolutions For 2017 To Be A Little Less Shitty

1. I want to go to more support groups. I know that what I need right now is community support. I have a tendency to isolate myself in my apartment and watch a lot of Law & Order, and while decompressing this way can be good, it can’t be the only way I deal with my shit.

2. I’m going to try opening up to someone that I don’t usually. I’ve already started on this a little early. I tend to unload on the same three or four friends when I’m struggling. Meanwhile, there are other new friends in my life who keep telling me that I can always count on them – yet I never do. Maybe it’s time to give other people a chance to support me, too, even if being vulnerable with a new friend is scary.

3. I want to find a new hobby. Someone told me that boredom is the enemy of sobriety. I’d expand that to say it’s the enemy of mental wellness sometimes, too. I want to find a hobby that makes me happy.

4. I’ll reconnect with an old hobby, too. There are so many things that I used to do that gave me a sense of fulfillment that I’ve lost over the years. Like music. I recently bought myself a keyboard and sheet music to try relearning piano. I tend to play the same chords and sing the same songs repeatedly. I’m terrible at it but you know what? I like it anyway.

5. I want to sober up, for real. If you’re wondering about sobriety or if you might have a lousy relationship to substances, please read this thing I wrote. Alcohol and I have a rough relationship and I think it’s time to break things off. I don’t think it will be easy, but I’ll try my best.

6. I’ll try to start going new places by myself. My agoraphobia has made leaving my apartment extraordinarily difficult. But I also know that the only way I can live a functional life is if I don’t give up. I think many of us with mental illness can withdraw in unhealthy ways. It’s time to step out of our comfort zone, little by little.

7. I’m going to unplug from bad news as often as I need to. Being informed about the state of the world is valuable, but not if it comes as the expense of your sanity. I’m going to take a break when I need to. Delete the Facebook app, turn off the television, and go the fuck outside.

8. No more counterproductive arguments. Period. If I’m arguing online when I know it’s accomplishing nothing, I’m going to hand my phone to my partner and go take a shower. It’s one thing to educate, engage, or intervene as a marginalized person or ally. But I need to try harder to see the difference between a teachable moment and a troll.

9. I’m going to (consensually) hug, kiss, and cuddle my friends more. Lord knows we need more of that in the apocalypse.

10. I’m working on accepting my limitations in 2017. I recently had to step down from my full-time job for my recovery, and I’ll be returning in a smaller capacity more akin to what I can handle right now. 2017 is going to be the year where I’m realistic about what I can do, and I’m not going to beat myself up because it’s not where I would like to be.

11. I’ll demand better of my clinicians, always. If I don’t feel like I’m getting the care I deserve, I’ll say so. If I don’t like the solutions I’m being given, I’ll ask for better ones. If I don’t like my clinician, I’ll get a new clinician. Therapists, psychiatrists, case workers beware.

12. I’ll stop using my friends to avoid being proactive. Sometimes I rely on other people to catch me when I fall, instead of making sure I don’t fall in the first place. If they’re going to do their part as friends, I need to do my part and take care of myself. Am I using all the resources at my disposal? Keeping in touch with my clinicians? Taking all my medications? My friends are responsible to me, but they aren’t responsible for me.

13. I’ll go to the hospital or rehab when I need to – even if I don’t want to. Sometimes a crisis calls for a response I may not like or enjoy. No one likes hospitals and no one likes rehab. But it may also be exactly what I need to get better.

14. I’ll be more communicative when I’m struggling. I tend to only convey how bad things are when it’s already blown up in my face. I did this at my job, I do this with my loved ones. But so much could’ve been avoided if I had been honest about where I was at, and done so sooner. There’s nothing wrong with being honest.

15. I’m going to start dealing with my actual feelings, rather than how I think I “should” feel. My boss (who is brilliant) emphasizes this often. An example of this in my life was when I felt like I should be happy because I had everything I thought I wanted, without acknowledging that, even so, I was falling apart. Sometimes we miss the red flags with our mental health because we’re not giving ourselves permission to feel how we really feel. For me, this begins with understanding that you don’t need permission or justification to feel depression.

16. I’ll treat my relationship with myself as a priority. Do you ever go through a period of really low self-esteem, and you kind of let it fade to the background because it doesn’t seem important? I do that all the time. And yet in real life, if I had a rough patch with my partner or friend, fixing it would be my priority. If I don’t feel good about myself, I’ll commit to self-care and support until I can start to feel more positively about myself again. Because caring about myself IS urgent.

17. I’ll practice healthy boundaries. This means inviting my friends to support me rather than imposing my crisis on them. This means asking for what I need rather than expecting it. And above all, this means checking in and making sure my needs aren’t exceeding someone’s emotional capacity. Not because I’m a burden, but because we’re only human, and I would want someone to do the same for me!

18. I’m going to be proud each day that I survive. Being mentally ill is difficult as fuck. Any day that I manage to hang in there is a terrific accomplishment, and in 2017, I want to make sure I keep that in mind.

19. Self-care. More self-care. And even more self-care. Never apologizing for taking care of myself – lighting new candles, taking long showers, writing to my heart’s content, and getting cozy with a heating pad and a good book. These things will always be necessary, especially in the coming year.

20. I will stop basing my value off of what I do instead of who I am. So much of what I thought made me valuable had to do with my job at Everyday Feminism, the success of my blog, the lectures I’ve given, and what I had managed to accomplish. In 2017, I want to look in the mirror and say, “You are valuable because of your empathy, your humor, your tenderness, your strength, and your determination.” Who I am. Not what I do. And I think all of us could afford to take a minute or two to reflect on the difference.

These are my mental health resolutions for the year. A lot of hopes, a lot of feelings. But that’s what this holiday is for, right?

I sincerely hope that in taking some time to reflect on what’s important to you and what you need this coming year, you’ll be as ready as you can be to take on all the challenges ahead, even the ones you don’t expect – because if 2016 is any indication, 2017 will probably have a lot of those.

How Can We Include Non-Binary People in Gendered Spaces?

nbmeme

This meme is basically my life.

I think it’s interesting to be writing about my gender transition so publicly. I am not always given the luxury of uncertainty or ambiguity.

But truthfully, I am still getting to know who I am and, by extension, how my gender manifests in the world.

I’ve used a lot of words to describe myself: Genderqueer, non-binary, transmasculine, genderfluid, genderweird, androgynous, agender, even bigender to name a handful. I’ve used ze/hir pronouns, e/em pronouns, they/them pronouns, he/him pronouns.

I think of these labels as hats that I’ve tried on at different points in my life, searching for what fits, what suits me.

I’ve made no effort to hide the fact that I’m a gender explorer. I haven’t settled anywhere just yet – and I am comfortable in that fluid space. I dabble in femininity, masculinity, androgyny, and agender expressions and I’ve found happiness in liberating myself from prescribed boxes and letting myself roam.

I’m still figuring it out. This is why I most often refer to myself as “non-binary” – I am holding that space as I learn more and more about myself.

Recently, though, I realized that not everyone is willing to hold that space for non-binary people.

Last week, I was banned from an online group of femme and non-binary writers. A cisgender moderator determined that because I’d used the word “transmasculine” in the past and used he/him pronouns, I was not, in fact, “non-binary.”

I was booted without discussion or question, labelled a “misogynist” for taking up space as a “trans man,” and slandered in writing circles that I had previously held in high respect.

I debated if I would talk publicly about what happened. But I think this is a prime example of the many fundamental misunderstandings of non-binary people and their experiences, and raises two really important questions:

What is the place of non-binary and genderfluid people in explicitly gendered spaces? And how can we be inclusive of non-binary people in spaces like these?

So I’m going to talk about this.

First, I think we should pinpoint what it means to be non-binary. Non-binary refers to experiences of gender that are not exclusively masculine or feminine. It’s an umbrella of experiences.

I have identified as non-binary for five years. This is because my experience of gender is fluid – I have a fluid expression that I am still exploring, and I don’t identify as a man or a woman.

I use he/him pronouns not because I am a trans man or because I’m exclusively masculine. I actually respond to both “they” AND “him” (and if you’ll notice, many interviews and talks I’ve given have used these interchangeably).

However, “he” is easiest and my preference is not particularly strong, so I have defaulted to “he” overtime.

It’s also worth noting here that pronouns are also not necessarily linked to one’s gender. Pronouns are words first and foremost, and they can have deeply personal meanings to each individual.

Some of us use binary pronouns to keep us safe, to adapt in the face of trauma, or because the pronouns we desire are simply not accepted in a binary world.

This is why it’s really best not to assume someone’s identity on the basis of pronouns – it could be much more complicated than you realize.

This particular group, though, consisting almost exclusively of cisgender people made the assumption that “he” meant I could not be non-binary and consequently misgendered me as a “trans man.”

No questions asked, I was banned because I did not use the language that cisgender people wanted me to.

But here’s the thing: At the end of the day, it’s not up to cisgender people to decide the language non-binary people should use to describe themselves. It is not your experience nor your place.

It’s arrogant to assume that, as a binary person, you could possibly advise or understand. And if you are trying to build a space that is inclusive of non-binary people, it is your place to listen – not to assume, impose, or erase.

This kind of smug, violent assumption – that cisgender people somehow know what it means to be non-binary better than we do – is why many non-binary people do not feel welcome in these spaces in the first place.

It’s this bullshit that makes non-binary people feel silenced and excluded. Even when we try to articulate our experiences, so many cisgender people reject them and instead, take their binary framework of the world and impose it onto us.

I’ve said I am not a man. I’ve never called myself a man. So why call me one? Because you don’t believe me or because you are unwilling to hear me out on my experiences?

Transphobia. This is transphobia, plain and simple.

And this is erasure: Being so unwilling to tune in when we are talking about our experiences that you simply deny our identities altogether.

I think another fundamental misunderstanding of gender that came up during this situation was the idea that gender is somehow static.

When we create gendered spaces – spaces that are exclusively for folks of a certain expression or experience – it immediately assumes that all people have a fixed understanding of their gender.

This is patently untrue.

As non-binary, I fluidly move between expressions. There are countless bi/trigender and genderfluid people who do not occupy a fixed point on the spectrum.

And if we do not hold space for folks who are more fluid, how can we claim to be inclusive?

This group could not imagine a scenario in which a non-binary person might dabble in masculinity and still call themselves non-binary. They couldn’t imagine a scenario in which a non-binary person’s identity was not fixed like theirs.

Not only that, but they didn’t feel it was relevant or important to actually ask me how I experience my gender or believe me when I said I didn’t identify as a man or woman.

If you are looking to hold space for “non-binary people” without qualification, that means all non-binary people – even those who are questioning, even those who are fluid, even those who occupy multiple spaces simultaneously.

I think this comes back to the idea that many spaces that claim to be inclusive of non-binary people are actually just offering lip service.

They don’t bother to educate themselves, they don’t consult NB people when creating these spaces, and they don’t care to know about our lived experiences.

As a non-binary person who writes for femme-centric magazines and holds space in communities that are femme-centric, my rule of thumb is to always ask who the spaces are intended for, and only enter into these spaces when I am invited.

It’s something that I hope all non-binary people do when weighing whether or not to be part of a particular community.

But I take serious issue with spaces that applaud themselves for being inclusive of non-binary people, but make no intentional effort to ensure that we are not erased.

NB folks often feel so grateful to be included and do not want to derail the focus of these groups that we feel helpless to advocate for ourselves. These spaces receive no pushback or accountability because NB people feel disempowered in spaces that are not designed with them in mind.

We are invited in word only, but never engaged with on a meaningful level. We’re not asked if we feel included; we are there as tokens and tokens only.

So as a non-binary person who is ridiculously fed up with spaces exploiting my community – by using us as props to hold up as proof of their “inclusiveness” – I want to offer some advice to communities, online and off, who are genuinely committed to holding space for non-binary people:

  1. Realize that not all non-binary people are cut from the same cloth. Some of us are mostly masculine with a femme edge; some of us are utterly androgynous or void of gender; some of us are demiboys or demigirls; some of us are genderfluid or gender-questioning or gender nonconforming. We are not a monolith. Don’t treat us like one.
  2. Be specific about who your space is for. If you want a group for feminine-of-center people, say so. If you want a group for masculine-of-center people, say so. NB people have varied experiences of power and privilege, so it’s important to qualify where needed. Don’t lump us all together and expect us to understand who your space is for.
  3. Believe us. Do not call into question what our gender is. Do not assume what our gender is. It is transphobic to disregard someone’s stated identity because they do not express themselves or articulate their experiences the way that you would prefer. Non-binary people don’t exist for your comfort and our genders are for us, and us alone, to declare.
  4. Let us speak for ourselves. Do not impose your narratives onto us. Do not try to place us within a binary framework to make it “easier” for you. We can discuss our experiences for ourselves. We are not men unless we say so. We are not women unless we say so. We are only what we say we are – so ask us if you’re unclear on what that means.
  5. Hold space for non-binary people to be uncertain. Recognize that because there are so few visible narratives or scripts for us to follow, we may still be in the process of questioning or trying to articulate our experiences. We may still be sorting this out. Keep this in mind if you are inviting us into your space.
  6. Do not make judgments on whether or not we belong based on our appearance. Non-binary people can express themselves in varied ways and may be expressing themselves a particular way for our own safety. This does not mean we are “faking” being non-binary.
  7. Do not use gendered language to refer to everyone in the space. This is a no-brainer – don’t invite non-binary people into your space and then refer to everyone as women or men.
  8. Don’t include us if you don’t plan on doing the work. If you aren’t committed to listening, educating yourself, and creating policies that ensure we are safe in your space, don’t bother. We do not want to be props in your social justice credibility game.

 

The conversation around non-binary inclusion is an important one. What happened to me is not uncommon – NB people are routinely erased or even banned from spaces by cis and trans folks alike who do not understand their experiences.

I write this not because being banned from this group was the end of the world (there are plenty of spaces that are designed with me in mind, spaces that I am infinitely grateful for), but because there are bigger questions at play here.

I write this because what happened to me exposes a serious systemic issue that exists in many social justice spaces – how non-binary people are “invited” to the table, but are driven away through erasure and transphobia the second they arrive.

If you are more interested in applauding yourself for inviting us instead of doing the work to include us, you are not socially just – you are simply the oppressors under another name.

If you claim to be a space that is inclusive of non-binary people, deliver on what you promise. Because we are done being your footnotes or afterthoughts.

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“Sam, Where Have You BEEN?” (Life Updates & Other Things You’ve Been Asking About!)

The image features the author, Sam Dylan Finch, wearing glasses and staring into the camera.

See? I told you! I’m still alive!

Alright, so I’m apologizing in advance if this is a really boring blog entry, but it seems kind of necessary at this point!

As you might have noticed, the amount of content I’m putting out into the world has decreased pretty noticeably. Some of you have been asking if I’m doing alright, and if the lack of articles on my part is a reflection of something negative going on in my life.

So first off, let me just say how much I appreciate the concern! I’m surprised that anybody noticed! And secondly… don’t panic, I’m actually okay – more than okay.

With all the confusion coming from readers, I decided we should talk about what that’s going on in my life as it relates to the work that I’m doing on this platform (and because, honestly, I just really enjoy chatting with you all!).

This past year, while I was attending graduate school, my blog took on a life of its own. With this momentum and the support of my readers, I made the decision to use my writing to supplement my student loans and earn income while I was pursuing my degree.

While LQTU was never monetized (we only receive money from donors through Patreon – PS I love you, Patreon donors!), I was able to secure other writing gigs that allowed me to pay my rent.

Writing professionally gave me so many new skills and experiences that I can honestly say were life-changing, and I was able to build an audience that, to this day, I feel so connected to.

But as my first year in my graduate program came to a close last May, I realized that I felt far more passion for the writing that I was doing online than I did for the MFA program I had signed on for. I also felt no sense of support or community, and instead I felt like an outsider in my program. It became clear to me that grad school was no longer for me.

I made the surprisingly easy decision to walk away from graduate school and the master’s degree that I had once ascribed so much importance to. I decided to defer for a year, and focus on my career and my gender transition.

The decision was easy because I have never felt a greater sense of purpose than I do when I am publishing articles and connecting with readers like you.

But walking away from this program comes at a cost – a financial cost. I had spent the last year in the most expensive part of the country, trying to survive with an astonishingly low income while supporting not just myself, but my disabled partner. Without student loans, I could now no longer afford my rent. At times, this took a very serious toll on my mental health.

Freelancing was not lucrative by any means, and while I was passionate, that passion alone was not enough to support us.

After one too many months of just barely scraping by, I decided to start looking for full-time work. I had been itching to build on new skills and try something new, anyway, so the timing seemed right. And after searching, I was lucky enough to secure a really exciting position at a non-profit.

As you can probably guess now, this sudden decrease in my online presence isn’t because I’m struggling – it’s actually because I have a lot less time than I did before to write and publish! But do not fret: Yes, I’ll still be writing at LQTU and Everyday Feminism. Yes, you’ll even see me writing elsewhere!

I just decided to scale back this fall while I adjust to my new work schedule. Because, uh, I’m still trying to figure out how to work 9-5 and not fall asleep the second I get home.

But that’s not the only reason I’ve been writing less. And this is a reason I think you’ll all be pretty stoked about: I’m in the process of filming a pilot for a new YouTube series that I’m going to be a part of.

I’m teaming up with Ravishly to put out video content about queer issues – which I’m super excited about! – but it’s, unsurprisingly, taking up a lot of time as we script, film, edit, and develop this new project.

This is super cool because that means you’ll not only be able to read my articles… you’ll soon have video content to enjoy, too!

There will be a more official announcement coming in the next few months, so stay tuned. 🙂

And because my life apparently isn’t chaotic enough, I’m moving to a new apartment, I have multiple speaking engagements happening within the next ten weeks, and testosterone may finally be on the horizon!

I can honestly say I’ve never been happier, nor have I ever been so busy. And I think I would be going bananas right now if it weren’t for this awesome online community that continues to support me, check in with me, and encourage me.

So I want to thank you for everything – all of the thoughtful emails, the encouraging tweets and comments, and just for reading my work. Because your support is not only what gets me through the bad days, but it’s also what gave me the courage to walk away from what wasn’t working and to commit to what I’m really passionate about.

Prior to this last year, I never imagined making writing my career, but here we are. And without your conviction and belief in my voice, I don’t know if I would be where I am right now.

And where am I? The happiest and healthiest place I’ve ever been. And I owe that to all of you.

I can’t wait to start creating new content – both articles and videos – and building an even stronger community together.

But for now… I think I’m going to take a breather!

You’ll be getting your usual articles from me here at LQTU (most likely every weekend, either Saturday or Sunday), but don’t be alarmed if I’m not as active or prolific in publishing as I was before. I promise I’ll get back into the swing of things – but it might take me a little bit!

Thanks in advance for your understanding and support and patience. I couldn’t do it without you!

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Visibility Matters: Why Sharing Our Stories Will Change the World

Around this time last week, I was a procrastinating graduate student, managing a small blog, with a following of wonderful friends and friends-of-friends who found my writing to be interesting.

As I write to you this week, I’m a writer with a blog that has readers from over 180 countries around the world, and 2.4 million page views this past week alone.

Full-disclosure: I am just a weirdo, living in California, spending too much money at Trader Joe’s, adding too much sugar to my coffee, and hanging out with a pet chinchilla. Sometimes I microwave tortilla chips with shredded cheese and call it nachos. Sometimes I’m too lazy to untie my shoes and I slip them on instead. Sometimes I forget to return my library books.

In other words, I am one person who in so many respects, is very ordinary, and probably a lot like you.

But somehow, I managed to write something that touched people. When I posted the Amanda Bynes piece, your stories came pouring in, and I was set adrift in a sea of voices. Your courage, your strength, and your passion overwhelmed me. It became obvious that struggles with mental health truly reside in every community, in every corner of the world – and that there are so many powerful voices that are waiting to tell their stories, voices that are just as important as mine.

And then I realized: If my voice could be heard around the world, just imagine for a moment what would happen if we ALL used our voices and shared our stories. Imagine the collective power we have when we choose to be vulnerable – when we take this narrative of shame and, standing in contradiction, we use our testimonies to rewrite the story.

The stigma, I believe, cannot survive when so many of us are living proof that there is no shame in mental illness.

I wanted to take the chance to tell you – before the viral hubbub dies down, and we all return to our normal lives – that your voice, and your life, MATTERS. And to all of you who shared your struggle, don’t let the momentum end here. Just like me, you have a story to tell.

If we all use our voices to speak out against this stigma – this attitude that mental illness is a mark of shame, a personal failing, an entertaining spectacle – and instead, use our lived experience to educate and enlighten those around us, it is my sincere conviction that we will change the world.

If for nothing else, we will reach those who suffer alone, and act as reminders that the journey they are on is not one that they take in solitude.

Together, the powerful and imposing sound of our voices, in every community where we reside, will be an undeniable force.

For those who do not understand, our experiences will be a direct contradiction to the media messages that try to strip us of our dignity. Together, by reclaiming our narratives, we will demand compassion and respect. And further, by asserting our humanity, we can advocate for the resources, the awareness, and the assistance necessary, so that no one will suffer needlessly, or die at the hands of these illnesses.

I am just one person. But my voice was heard in Canada, and Malta, and South Africa, and Chile, and China – my voice was heard on nearly every continent. And if my voice could extend so far, and my words could touch so many hearts, just imagine what we can do together.

This is my call to action for you. Do not let your voices end here. Do not let your stories sit in the comments section of this website, or in an email to me, but never be heard anywhere else. Use your words. Assert your dignity. Do not hide. Do not let one more person tell you that you should suffer in silence, because it is silence that takes our lives and the lives of those we love. USE YOUR VOICE! You may not realize the impact it can have on someone else.

And whenever possible, let’s amplify the voices of those who are speaking – continue to share these messages far and wide. Let’s not forget those who are imprisoned, because the system doesn’t know what to do with us other than to lock us up; let’s not forget the black and brown bodies who disproportionately carry the weight of those incarcerations; let’s not forget those who are thrown out of hospitals, because we weren’t sick enough or rich enough for help.

And let’s not forget all the lives that have been lost to these illnesses by suicide – a rate which exceeds the number of lives lost to homicide and war combined – because the options for people with mental illnesses are so limited and restricted, that there may as well be no choices at all.

Do not let this conversation stop here. And do not forget that your voice, and your story, could make all the difference. If the media insists on dehumanizing us, let’s speak louder. Let’s speak so loud that they can no longer deny our presence. Let’s make so much noise that they cannot forget that we are here, and that we aren’t going anywhere.

I commend all my readers for their bravery in the face of such serious struggles. You inspire me to continue doing what I’m doing. And if I was able to inspire you, let me tell you, there is no greater privilege than that.

I believe, sincerely, that your voice matters. I hope that you will make it count.

Sam Dylan Finch is a freelance writer and queer activist, currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, a queer and feminist perspective on current events and politics.

Visit his official website: www.samdylanfinch.com

Amanda Bynes, Robin Williams, and the Spectacle of Mental Illness

Internet, we need to have a talk.

I’ve had a number of readers ask why I’ve neglected to write about Amanda Bynes this last year. It’s simple, really. I don’t believe that celebrities are “fair game,” and that, when they have very human and very difficult struggles, I should capitalize on those things by writing an article, however well-intentioned. I believe they are deserving of privacy and respect, by virtue of their being people.

However, I’m making an exception here, because in the midst of the negative and callous press that Bynes has received, I think it’s time we had a chat about it from a different perspective. And then, after we’re done, I think it’s time we stop speculating about it altogether. Deal?

First and foremost, there is no way for us to know what, if anything, Bynes has been diagnosed with. The family has denied schizophrenia and bipolar diagnoses. And when I write this article about Bynes, I am only operating on the possibility – not the assumption – that these diagnoses are true.

Until Amanda Bynes comes out and self-identifies this way, it is not our place to make an assumption about her mental state. Most of us are not psychiatrists, and even if we were, none of us can make a diagnosis based on a Twitter feed. And it is Bynes’ prerogative to keep certain aspects of her life, including her health care, private.

For the sake of argument, we’re going to roll with the possibility, not the assumption, that Bynes may have bipolar and schizophrenia.

And on that note, I’m going to offer you a sobering statistic:

People with co-occurring bipolar and schizophrenia have one of the highest suicide attempt rates of any group. 70.6% of these individuals will attempt suicide in their lifetime.

You would think this would frighten us, and that we would be offering Bynes compassion on the mere basis that what she may be facing is, without a doubt, deadly.

Yet the vast majority of press and articles surrounding Bynes’ mental state seems to ignore the stark reality of her struggle, and instead, opt to mock her erratic and unusual behavior. Rather than recognizing that she may have an illness, they have turned mental illness into a spectacle to watch, enjoy, and ridicule.

We, as a culture, are alarmingly desensitized to the seriousness of mental illness, particularly when it affects celebrities. Whenever a famous person has a “breakdown,” or goes off to rehab, there is always a sensationalized headline and a gawking that we collectively do. We treat it like a performance to consume and be shocked by, to laugh at, to enjoy.

We have made mental illness into a form of entertainment, and this is reflected in the articles that have been written about Amanda Bynes as of late.

If no one has explained this to you, let me be the first to say that it is morally repugnant that we, as a society, are mocking mentally ill people.

If it is indeed true that Amanda Bynes has both bipolar and schizophrenia, she faces an uphill battle. These are both diseases with high mortality rates, and devastating symptoms that are difficult to treat. And while she faces these illnesses, the entire world is watching. To have the audacity of laughing and poking fun as she struggles with these painful disorders is truly disgusting.

It’s all fun and games until someone dies, as was the case with Robin Williams. When celebrities have very public “breakdowns,” we find them entertaining, sensational, intriguing. When celebrities die from these illnesses, however, we grieve for them, celebrate their lives, and profess our sympathy for their struggle.

Amanda Bynes may be battling two illnesses that could very easily kill her. Why is she not receiving the same level of respect, tact, and compassion that we afford those who have already died at the hands of these same illnesses?

Are we only deserving of dignity and respect if we die?

Does Amanda Bynes need to die by suicide before we will start valuing her life? How fucked up is that?

No matter what Bynes posts on twitter, or what wigs she wears, what we need to understand as outsiders is that something very difficult and frightening is happening to Amanda Bynes — and it is irresponsible to talk about it any other way, whether it’s to poke fun at it, or reduce it to her being “crazy.” In either scenario, it diminishes her personhood.

Why this reminder needs to happen is beyond me, but apparently it does: Bynes needs compassion, not ridicule, not laughter. Her struggles, whatever they may be, do not exist for your enjoyment.

Anyone who thinks an involuntary psychiatric hold is fun or amusing is horribly misguided. Anyone who thinks psychosis or paranoia is a walk in the park has clearly never been there. Anyone who thinks schizophrenia or bipolar is hilarious has never had their life devastated by these disorders.

I have. And I can tell you – there’s no pain on earth quite like it.

Anyone who has forgotten that Amanda Bynes is a human being first and foremost needs to step back, and do some serious soul-searching.

Any journalist or columnist who thinks Bynes’ behavior is great material for a lighthearted article needs to reexamine their motivations, and decide for themselves what kind of writer they want to be. Someone who profits off of someone’s pain? Or someone with integrity?

As someone with bipolar disorder, I want to offer a reminder to those who do not suffer from the disorder that making a mockery out of our struggle is dehumanizing. This should go without saying, but apparently it must be said: Mental illness is not a joke. Mental illness is not funny. Mental illness does not exist to amuse you.

If Amanda Bynes has taught us anything, it’s that mental illness can, in fact, touch anyone. It exists in every community, every city, every race, every social class, every gender. Celebrities are not immune to these devastating disorders. In fact, 13.6 million Americans live with a serious mental illness, and if Amanda Bynes is among them, she will need support and compassion to get through it.

What message are we sending, as journalists, bloggers, and writers, if we treat mental illness with the same brevity and amusement as writing about Kim Kardashian’s ass?

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Did you cry when Robin Williams died, but laugh when Amanda Bynes was taken to the hospital? Why is that? I’m challenging you to really think about the ways that we treat folks with mental illness.

When we make these disorders into a joke, we become complicit in creating a culture where mentally ill people are taught to feel ashamed, isolated, and broken. And when we uphold that stigma instead of challenging it, it’s not surprising that so many people with these illnesses opt to take their own lives.

We need to do better. Not just for Amanda Bynes, but for all the people worldwide who suffer from these disorders.

It’s not a spectacle. It’s a goddamn illness.

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UPDATE (10/20/14): Due to the confusion surrounding the title, the article has been renamed from “It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Dies: Amanda Bynes, Robin Williams, and the Spectacle of Mental Illness,” to omit the first portion. The intent of the original title was to compare and contrast the treatment of celebrities before and after they die — never to suggest that Bynes had passed away.

UPDATE (10/22/14): A new article has been written in response to this piece going viral.

UPDATE (11/9/14): Commenters have pointed out that co-occurring bipolar and schizophrenia is commonly referred to as “schizoaffective disorder.”

UPDATE (11/14/14): There is now an animated version of this article!

As of 11/15, comments have been disabled on this article.

 

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I didn’t vanish! I promise!

First of all, I wanted to share my professional website with all my followers:

samdylanfinch.com

This is new and exciting, and a great place to visit every once in a while to see what I’m up to!

Secondly, Let’s Queer Things Up! has been an incredibly fun project so far; however, I took a small hiatus to update the blog, as well as work on my professional site.

I should be back and posting in the next week or so.

Keep checking my website for updates and news!

Thanks so much for the support; I’ve really enjoyed interacting with all of you and sharing my passions with you. I’m excited for what the future holds!

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PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING AS LITTLE AS $1 PER MONTH TO MY PATREON CAMPAIGN TO HELP FUND MORE FREE RESOURCES LIKE THESE, AND ACCESS EXCLUSIVE CONTENT WHEN YOU DO!