I’m queer and asexual. If that’s a problem, by all means, revoke my membership.

It’s Pride month. And for some, their idea of celebrating Pride is telling asexual folks that they can’t identify as queer. Nothing says “happy pride” quite like being pushed out of your own community, right?

I first came out as asexual to my close friends when I was about fifteen years old.

While friends excitedly shared their stories of making out underneath the bleachers, I had yet to feel even an iota of desire towards anyone. Everything I’d heard about “urges” in health class sounded made up to me. When I mentioned this in passing, my (very wonderful) best friend asked me if I’d read anything about asexuality.

What he told me made sense — I just didn’t want it to. I wanted to be like everyone else. What teenager doesn’t?

I felt like I was missing out on an important experience that I was supposed to be having. So I did what I figured I should do — I went out and got myself a boyfriend. I thought if I gave it a try, maybe a switch would flip in my brain. Instead, I hated kissing him so much that I started avoiding him at school. I pretended to have colds to dissuade him, but he stopped caring.

I broke up with him a few weeks later.

Maybe it was just that particular boy, though, I thought. When I found myself developing romantic feelings towards another boy in my grade, I figured this was my best shot at becoming a “normal” teenager. If nothing else, at least I’d know what everyone else was talking about.

But as that relationship went on, I again felt pressured to keep up the charade. The sexual relationship simply felt like the cost of admission — if I wanted emotional intimacy and romance, I had to offer something in return, didn’t I? I forced it. I desperately wish I hadn’t.

This is what “normal” relationships look like, I reasoned. This is what we’re supposed to do.

Like many asexual people who enter into sexual relationships this way, I lost any sense of boundaries and autonomy. I can’t articulate — maybe because it’s too painful — what it feels like to not have ownership over your body, simply because you feel it’s owed to someone else. I didn’t want to lose my partner, and I believed that as long as I kept pretending, he would stay.

I was in that relationship for three years until I finally couldn’t do it anymore. I walked away convinced something was wrong with me.

Should I be dating women? Was gender dysphoria making it too difficult to be close to people? Was I just depressed? I thought about the passion I’d seen in movies and read about in books, the fantasies and hookups my friends described over drinks, and I felt like a piece of me was missing.

When I met my partner Ray seven years ago, I was enamored. They were funny, brilliant, generous, patient, and quickly became my favorite person on the planet. I wanted to spend every waking minute with them.

They were the first person that didn’t treat physical intimacy like the “price” I had to pay to be with them, either. They supported me through my gender transition and I was there as they grappled with chronic illness. We showed up for each other time and time again.

I was never expected to be anything but myself, even if that meant that our Netflix nights only meant chilling in the literal sense. And for the first time, I had exactly what I wanted — a partner in life in the deepest emotional sense. Three years later, our queer asses got married under a rainbow flag. We drank ourselves silly and fell asleep that night, excited for the next chapter of our lives together.

Yes, a rainbow flag. The same flag that now hangs in our living room of our gay little apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bite me.

If I’m not queer, tell me what I am.

When a group of homophobic teenagers in Plymouth, Michigan, tried to run Ray and me over when we crossed the street, what were we then? When bigots pulled over on the road to yell at us as we held hands, what was that? When I wasn’t allowed to see Ray in the hospital because it was illegal to get married and I wasn’t considered “family,” what did that mean?

When society told me time and time again that I was broken because my relationships didn’t look the way that they “should,” what is that called?

When my heart pounded through my chest because I was afraid my family would reject me, does that sound straight to you? When I search the history books for someone who loves like I do and struggles like I did, and I can’t find a single footnote, does that sound like a privilege to you? When I take pride in resisting notions of “normalcy” and revel in my transgressions, what would you say that is?

Are you suggesting I let go of the one word that ever encompassed all these feelings?

Lately there’s been a lot of conversation in the queer community about whether or not asexual people “belong.”

When I hear this, I feel sick to my stomach. I spent years feeling like handing over my body to someone else was simply the “cost of admission,” the natural consequence if I wanted to feel like I belonged, if I wanted to feel loved, if I wanted to be accepted.

I’m now being told that having sex and losing my autonomy are a prerequisite for being queer, too. After spending years being violated just to feel less broken, people in my own community are asking me to do the same if I want to be in good standing and be accepted.

Take my “queer membership card,” then. In fact, I’ll gladly set it on fire and watch it burn before I ever let someone tell me — or any other asexual person — that access to our bodies is the price we pay to be queer.

“Queer” has, for a long time, been a banner under which folks who have been marginalized because of their sexual, romantic, and gender identities could find a sense of community.

If asexual people can’t identify as queer, where should they go when they feel broken? When they’re told that they owe access to their bodies to someone to be “fixed”? When clinicians suggest they need to be “cured”? When they struggle to find anyone like them to assure them that they’re enough exactly as they are? When they grow up wondering if something is wrong with them, the same way that I did?

The fact that ace folks are met with gatekeepers, even in a community that advocates for inclusion, makes it clear that asexuality is just as stigmatized as we’ve been telling you for years.

If my story sounds familiar to you as a queer person, then you know damn well that I’m queer.

And in my years of blogging and publishing about my experiences, not a single one of you questioned if I was part of your community. If you’re doing so now only because I’ve come out as ace, I ask that you reflect on why.

I’m asking you to believe me now, and believe all asexual people when we tell you who we are. When we choose to identify as queer, we do so with intention and purpose. Asexual (and aromantic folks, too) are not a threat to you. If anything, denying us community is what’s most threatening here.

Gatekeepers exist only to reinforce the idea that people don’t belong — and if you find yourself gatekeeping, you should ask yourself who it serves. Because the moment you ask marginalized people to assimilate, forcing them to choose between their identity and their chosen family, I have to wonder what queerness even means to you.

signature

heart

Appreciate the blog? Please consider becoming a patron! A dollar a month might seem small, but it helps keep this labor of love going.

Need a therapist? If you follow this nifty link, you can get $50 off your first month of therapy with Talkspace. Not a bad deal! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Read more about online therapy with Talkspace here.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

Walk, Don’t Run: 4 Things that Mental Illness Recovery Taught Me

The image features a road cutting through a forest of tall trees.

Sometimes the road is not as predictable as we’d hoped.

The first time I saw a psychologist was nearly a decade ago now. I was just fourteen years old, trapped under the fist of a heavy and unexpected depressive episode.

After bouncing around the mental health system for all of these years, I’m grateful to say that I emerged on the other side of all of this feeling whole and happy and fulfilled – all things that I never imagined were possible given the hand that I was dealt.

While not all neurodiverse people view their difference as an illness (which is 100% valid!), this framework has helped me personally in my healing; in this particular article, I am speaking to those who share that framework. However, everyone should use whatever language works best for them!

We have plenty of narratives about struggling with mental health, and while those are crucial stories to share, I think it’s also important to have conversations (often!) about recovery.

Because for many of us, we don’t know what to expect, what our recovery might look like, and how we can move forward with our lives after trauma that has often persisted for decades.

So in the spirit of shedding some light on this topic, I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned throughout the process. Here are four lessons (of many) that mental illness recovery has taught me:

 

1. Honor your own pace.

Mental illness can make a person impatient. This shouldn’t be surprising – for many of us, our episodes have persisted for months, even years, and at the first sign of light we’re eager to reclaim our lives and finally begin living instead of being stuck in survival mode.

This can often lead to us feeling more overwhelmed, intimidated, and downright exhausted. Ugh!

This is where the phrase “walk, don’t run” is critical. Because while it would be fantastic to address all of the neglected aspects of our lives after trauma – wilting relationships, weak finances, failing grades, returning to work – recovery gives zero fucks about your ambitions and only concerns itself with your ability at any given time.

And while you may have the urge to hit the ground running, in reality the best you may be able to do is sit up. That’s okay! Mental illness is trauma and trauma takes time to heal.

Be mindful of the pace that you’re setting for recovery. Are you pushing too hard? Are you punishing yourself for not reaching impossible goals? Are you setting yourself up for failure?

Keep realistic expectations and be kind with yourself as you navigate the initial recovery steps. You don’t need to take on the world right now. It’s true that this stuff takes a lot of patience, but giving yourself the time and space that you need will help make your recovery a more sustainable one. Trust me.

 

2. There is no such thing as “square one.”

This scenario might sound familiar to you. A lot of us, when we find ourselves struggling again after a period of relative stability, lament being “back at square one” and beat ourselves up about it.

I vote that we eliminate that phrase from our vocabulary effective immediately.

What the hell is square one? I don’t think it really exists. Because even if we find ourselves struggling again – whether it’s having suicidal thoughts after years of not considering it, or having a huge panic attack after effectively coping with anxiety for some time – I’m not sure how that negates the amount of work we’ve put into our recovery since the last time we struggled.

I used to beat myself up every time bipolar disorder or anxiety made a “guest appearance” in my life after being booted off the cast. This is problematic on a few fronts. First off, it suggests that I’m somehow at fault. And two, it dismisses all the self-care, therapy, and emotional investment I’ve put into my healing. It basically says, “I am an identical copy of the person I was years ago.” Not true.

No panic attack or depressive episode can take away all the skills, reflections, epiphanies, support systems, and tools we’ve gained in our recovery. There can be setbacks, to be sure, but it’s impossible to be exactly where you started by virtue of the work you’ve been putting in, big or small.

As a famous fish once said, “Just keep swimming.”

 

3. You are allowed to be angry.

When I reflect on the amount of time bipolar disorder and anxiety have robbed me of – years of fighting just to stay alive – I feel a kind of rage and grief that I can’t say I’ve ever felt about anything else. The sheer injustice of it makes me angry. To this day, despite mental illness having a very diminished impact on my life, I still have to take a moment from time to time to let myself feel that rage.

Give yourself the space to feel angry. That anger is necessary in confronting trauma.

You don’t have to pretend that you’re some kind of reformed, respectable survivor. While I do consider myself a survivor, I am, in equal parts, a victim. There’s this false dichotomy that we’ve created – you’re either a survivor, who has overcome mental illness and you are an inspiration to all, OR you’re a victim, wallowing in your own suffering with no intention of moving past it.

Why is it that victims get so much shit while survivors are celebrated? Is it because they don’t make as exciting or inspiring of a story?

Trauma is real. And we all need to give ourselves permission to grieve. We need to give ourselves permission to acknowledge our own pain, and yes, to even sit in it and wallow in it and acquaint ourselves with it. Anger can be part of healing, but not if we suppress it. If that makes us victims, so be it.

 

4. Recovery, in some ways, is harder than any episode you’ll ever have.

Depression, while it gutted my soul completely, in many ways felt safe to me. I knew what the rules were. I often knew what to expect. It was consistent, reliable even. Everything was easier without hope – because there was never disappointment, never unpredictability, never ups and downs.

I was surprised by how much more difficult, in some ways, recovery really was. Physically, because all the medications I was trying came with a host of wild side effects that came and went with no warning. Emotionally, because just when I thought I was making progress, I came crashing back down.

And intrinsically, too, recovery was hard because so much of who I was depended on my episodes – and when I was stripped of that, I came to realize that I didn’t know myself as well as I’d thought. So much of what I came to associate with “me” was actually just depression or mania talking. When I was no longer in the midst of it, I realized I had to start over and evaluate the very core of who I was.

So much energy went into just maintaining myself – when did I have the luxury of figuring out who I was apart from that? But when the noise quieted down, it felt like I was a stranger to myself.

The predictability of sickness – the flat line that we never depart from – in many ways allowed me to revert to auto-pilot. That ultimately meant not dealing with the unknowable and unpredictable aspects of life.

Sometimes it’s actually harder when you’re just healthy enough to feel a full spectrum of emotions and be fully present for it, but not yet equipped with the tools to cope.

The emotional labor that goes into recovery is very different from the upkeep that goes into survival when you’re dealing with a mental health crisis. It creates its own challenges – many of which we’re unprepared for.

But I consider these challenges to be growing pains. These are muscles that, after being out of use, will be stronger with time. The best advice I can give? Take it day by day, keeping in mind that any major life change – good or bad – can still be disruptive and difficult in its own ways.

* * *

Recovery is a bit of a misnomer – because while mental illness is treatable, for better or for worse, it doesn’t just disappear.

Really, I think of it more like rehabilitation after an injury; we have to learn and relearn skills to help us get back on our feet and get back to the living we were meant to do. We aren’t trying to pretend the trauma didn’t happen – we’re trying to become more adaptable in the face of that trauma.

It starts slow, with small victories and of course, the setbacks, too. But with persistence, we can build a better foundation that allows us to become more resilient in the face of our struggles.

I believe that as we share our stories – not just those of struggle but of healing, too – we can ensure that those who are on this journey will never have to feel alone, no matter where in that journey they are.

signature

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!

Planned Parenthood Stood With Us. Now Queer Folks Need to #StandWithPP.

My partner, who had waited for years to start testosterone as part of their transition, had exhausted nearly every option before finally turning to Planned Parenthood to start HRT.

Planned Parenthood had long been our provider of choice for many health care services because, as a low-income transgender couple, we needed care that was both affordable and queer-friendly.

The image features a pink sticker that says "Planned Parenthood" stuck to the sidewalk.

We need to stop pretending that this issue doesn’t affect us.

Planned Parenthood made us feel safe and respected, in contrast to the misgendering, interrogating of our identities, and ridiculing by nurses and doctors who didn’t understand what it meant to be trans, let alone how to treat trans patients.

They modeled for us what respectful, competent healthcare looks like when dealing with queer populations.

Planned Parenthood stood by us, and when we were ready, they were there for my partner to start their medical transition when everyone else shut the door in our face.

LGBTQ media has been notably silent when it comes to the attacks on sexual/reproductive healthcare and in particular, on Planned Parenthood. They assume, wrongfully so, that this isn’t a queer issue.

They seem to ignore that when you defund Planned Parenthood, you are denying access to important resources that queer folks rely on each and every day.

It’s the hormones that will save a trans person’s life; it’s the HIV test and the support that helps a queer youth; it’s the exam that detects cancer before it takes a life; it’s the miscarriage care that helps a lesbian couple when their world is turned upside-down; it’s the preventative vaccine that protects us down the road; it’s the LGBT youth group that helps queer teens feel less alone.

It’s care that we might not otherwise have access to because of socio-economic barriers. It’s care that my partner and I have relied on for years because Planned Parenthood was the only place we felt safe and, often times, the only place we could go.

Planned Parenthood stands with queer folks every day, and gives them a safe space to get the necessary support that they need to live healthy, fulfilling lives. So why aren’t we standing with them?

It’s horrifying that so many LGBTQ media platforms have had plenty of time to publish (multiple!) articles on Kim Davis but can’t seem to write a single word on Planned Parenthood, despite there being so much more at stake.

It’s disappointing that countless queer folks remain silent while our elected officials try to pull funding from an organization that supports us, as if this doesn’t affect us or our community.

And I’m frustrated by this idea that the attacks on Planned Parenthood are exclusively a “cis women’s issue,” as if queer folks of every stripe aren’t impacted when you strip us of the resources that we rely on for our sexual and/or reproductive health.

I’m proud of the folks who have openly and unapologetically stated their support. But they are too few and far between.

Our considerable silence on this issue is not just hurting Planned Parenthood. It’s hurting ourselves, our families, and our community.

It’s time for all of us to stand with Planned Parenthood. Because even if you haven’t stepped foot in one of their clinics, I can promise you that you know a queer person who has.

Visit Planned Parenthood Action to learn more and find out how you can help.

signature

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!

 

9 Affirmations You Deserve to Receive If You Have a Mental Illness

Originally posted at Everyday Feminism and shared here with permission.

The image features two people smiling at each other - one holding a coffee cup, the other holding a book.

“You are doing a good job.”

I remember the first time my therapist told me, “Sam, you’re doing a good job.”

I remember how overwhelmed with emotion I was. I had worked so hard to keep myself steady and had spent so much time just trying to survive, but I never got any credit for this invisible battle that I was fighting every single day.

For a moment, I couldn’t catch my breath as I repeated the phrase – you are doing a good job – in my head a few more times.

When she saw me – really looked at me and saw my pain, my struggle, my willpower – I felt like my whole soul was being nourished. I was being given something I didn’t even know that I needed until that moment: validation.

People with mental illness don’t get enough credit, enough affirmations, enough love. More often than not, the words we get can feel a little hollow.

In a world that tries to tell us that we are too crazy, too much – in a world that says we are less than in so many ways – I just wanted someone to say to me, “You are exactly enough, and yes, I see how hard you’re fighting.”

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you need someone to acknowledge you, especially when things get tough. So here are some of the affirmations that I wished I had, and that every person with a mental illness (or illnesses!) deserves.

1. You Are Worthy of Love

Yes, even on your worst days, you are absolutely worthy of love, care, and compassion.

Sometimes it can feel like the folks in our lives are doing us a favor by loving us, but this stems from a really problematic idea that we aren’t worthy of love in the first place.

Bullshit. We are. Struggling with our mental health doesn’t make us unlovable, no matter what our exes or so-called friends say.

That’s not to say that we’re perfect. No one is. But perfection is not a requirement for love. We have trauma to work through by virtue of the difficult journey that we’ve been on. But many of us, whether we have a mental illness or not, have things that we need to work on.

Just because you’ve got work to do, it doesn’t mean that you should deny yourself love, or goodness, or happiness.

Mental illness does not make you unlovable. Mental illness does not mean that anyone who loves you is doing you a favor. Mental illness is just one layer of a complicated, beautiful, and whole person.

2. You Are Enough

Struggling with your mental health can sometimes make you feel inadequate as a person, like this so-called weakness makes you less than everybody else. If you’ve ever felt that way, I’m here to tell you something: You are absolutely, positively enough – exactly as you are.

No matter where you are in your recovery, no matter what struggle you’re dealing with, and no matter how many times you’ve broken down, I need you to know that you are enough. You don’t need to do anything extra or change who you are to be worthy of good things in your life.

Mental illness doesn’t mean that you’re somehow less important, less worthy, or less remarkable than other people.

I find myself beating myself up at times, wondering why I can’t get my shit together, wondering if these disorders say something about my character. I wonder if it’s a sign that I’m defective somehow. I wonder if it says something about my shortcomings. I wonder if my mental illnesses are a shortcoming.

But you and I are not defective. We are just people, with our own unique journeys and the struggles it took to get here.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

3. You Are Strong (Even On the Days When It Doesn’t Feel Like It)

You’re fucking tough. You know how I know that? You’re still here.

Don’t believe me? It’s summed up best by this Mary Anne Radmacher quote:

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

Every day that you choose to keep fighting is a testament to your strength. Every day that you keep trying, even when everything in you is resisting, is proof of your courage.

Every small victory – getting out of bed, making that phone call, preparing a meal, doing a load of laundry – is yet another example of how strong you are, despite the relentless grip of mental illness.

Give yourself some credit. You deserve it.

4. You Are Not Damaged Goods

Back when I was dating and I wasn’t open about my anxiety or bipolar, I felt like I was carrying around an enormously shameful secret. I felt like I was defective and that, sooner or later, the people that I cared about were going to discover that I, Sam Dylan Finch, was “damaged goods.”

But here’s what I’ve learned: Every one of us, in some way, is “damaged.” And moreover, those struggles, while they may have shaped who we’ve become, are not the entirety of who we are.

And whatever those struggles might be, they certainly don’t depreciate our value. We aren’t meat sitting in a freezer, slowly expiring until we’re tossed aside. We’re people – people that, like anyone else, have had our fair share of challenges to get to where we are today.

Anyone who says we’re less valuable because we’ve struggled in the past does not deserve a place in our present.

Besides, let’s be real. Deciding that someone is less worthwhile because of their disability? That says more about their lack of compassion than it does your value as a person, no?

5. You Don’t Need to Run Away

Sometimes when I’m scared that I’m too much of a burden for the people that love me, I feel this intense urge to just run away.

To turn off my phone, catch the next train and take it up the coast, to don a red trench coat and disappear a la Carmen San Diego. (Yes, this is a fantasy that has run through my head many, many times – and yes, I own the red coat.)

Years ago, I used to disappear abruptly for a day or two, sometimes even weeks at a time, much to the distress of my loved ones. I believed that I just wasn’t good company. I thought I only deserved to have friends when I was feeling good, and if I wasn’t, I deserved to be alone.

Let me save you the time (and money): You don’t need to run away. You are not a burden.

Your friends are your friends because they care about you, not because you’re a circus performer that exists solely for their entertainment. Friends are there on your good days, your bad days, and all the days in-between.

And it’s their responsibility to make sure they’re taking care of themselves, and that they communicate when they need space. It’s your responsibility to trust that, if they need space, they’ll take it.

Instead of running away, just be open about how you’ve been feeling. Give your friends the chance to prove you wrong or to take a step back if they need it. You don’t need to run away just to see who’s going to follow – all you need to do is tell them what’s really going on.

You’re not a burden. You’re a human being who has struggles from time to time. That doesn’t make you undeserving of friendship – if anything that means you need your friends now more than ever.

If your friend was going through a difficult time, I imagine you’d do your best to stand by them. Why is it so hard to believe that someone would do the same for you?

6. You Didn’t Do Anything to Deserve This

Sometimes my twisted bipolar brain would convince me that I somehow brought these illnesses onto myself, or did something to make them happen.

Gentle reminder: It’s not your fault.

And again, for emphasis: It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

If you had caused this, wouldn’t you have done everything in your power to undo it? Wouldn’t you change this if you could? And wouldn’t you have done that already?

I don’t know why mental illness likes to tell so many lies (what a jerk, right?), but take it from someone who knows: Mental illness doesn’t happen because an individual magically makes it so. It’s a complex combination of psychological, social, and biological factors.

Nothing you did on its own created this monster, I promise. Your first diet or binge didn’t “cause” your eating disorder. Your first cut didn’t “cause” your depression. Your disorganization didn’t “cause” your anxiety.

A dysfunctional response to stress is evidence that the problem existed long before you responded to it. Okay?

So don’t dwell on what you could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done. Instead, focus on your recovery. Be kind to yourself and be gentle.

7. Do Something Nice for Yourself

Self-care is vital. And if you aren’t making time for yourself, it’s time to make time.

Setting aside an intentional moment or two to nourish and take care of yourself isn’t just a luxury – it’s necessary for our mental health.

I wrote an article specifically about self-care for folks with anxiety, talking about how self-care is one tool that I use to help manage the distress that accompanies generalized anxiety, and what steps I take to practice self-care as a person with mental illness.

For many folks with mental illness, self-care is an invaluable coping tool to keep ourselves afloat.

You deserve nice things. You deserve to treat yourself and nurture yourself. The everyday wear and tear that comes with mental illness means that we have to invest in ourselves and our wellbeing. We need to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves to mitigate the impact that mental illness can have on our health.

And yes, even when we’re feeling great, we have to keep investing in our self-care to keep it that way.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s necessary. And if you haven’t been putting in the time, now is as good a time as any.

If you aren’t sure where to start, check out this amazing video and take a look at this list of articles here at Everyday Feminism!

8. You Don’t Have to Pretend to Be Okay

I spent so much time trying to hide what I was going through. I locked myself away and I kept people at an arm’s distance for so many years; I thought that I was protecting the people I loved, but in reality, I was hurting us both.

I was hurting them because, in truth, they wanted to help me. They were more hurt that I didn’t trust them or ask them for help when I needed it. And I was hurting myself because it meant that I was battling these illnesses alone – something that I just couldn’t do by myself, no matter how hard I tried.

I’m going to issue a challenge to you: Stop pretending to be okay when you aren’t. You don’t need to be “okay” all the time or even most of the time.

I’m giving you permission to struggle. I’m giving you permission to be sad. I’m giving you permission to be angry. Feel whatever it is you’re feeling, and let the people in your life who want to be there for you actually be there.

Let people in. It’s okay to not be okay. You don’t have to do this alone.

9. You’re Doing a Good Job

You knew I was going to say it, and here it is: Yes, you’re doing a good job.

Living with mental illness(es) can be hard work. And we seldom get any credit for the work that goes into keeping ourselves alive.

On the outside, it seems like what we’re doing is very simple – getting out of bed, cooking ourselves a meal, and maybe dragging ourselves to work. But with disabilities like ours, simple tasks can require a monumental effort.

I see that effort. I know that it’s hard work. And I want to tell you that you’re doing a good job. You’re doing an amazing job. Despite every obstacle that is standing in your way, you’re still doing the best that you can.

I am so, so proud of you for the work that you do, day in and day out, to keep going.

If I could, I’d teleport over to you right now and give you a trophy. I’d also bake you a cake. And then we’d watch Netflix together – because who has the energy for anything else?

I know that it might not always seem like you’re making much progress, especially on the days when you can’t do much other than sleep (I’ve been there, trust me). But even on those days, knowing what you’re up against, it’s a miracle that you’re still around and I’m so happy that you’re here.

Keep taking it one day at a time. And every step of the way, don’t forget to pause and acknowledge the hard work that you’ve done to get where you are.

If you can’t, just tweet me and I’ll do it for you (seriously).

signature

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!

 

5 Things I Learned When I Blogged Every Week For An Entire Year

My blog turned one year old and I have SO MANY FEELINGS.

When I reflect back on this last year, my heart swells ten sizes and I feel the urge to hug every single one of my readers.

I can still remember being that twentysomething who had just graduated from undergrad with those degrees (you know the ones – the ones that everyone says will not result in any kind of job… haha, joke’s on you). At the time, I had no idea what to do with myself and felt completely unprepared to enter into the world as a college grad.

Not yet ready to be a grownup working 9-5, I did what plenty of people in my situation do – I went to graduate school.

I left everything behind and took a flight from Detroit, MI, all the way to the San Francisco Bay Area to go to my dream school. And realizing I still had a few months to go before classes actually started, I decided to take up blogging as my hobby.

This surprises most people. For some reason, people think that in creating this blog, I had a master plan to become a lucrative, famous blogger. But in reality, I was just anxious to be living in a new place, and had a lot of time on my hands.

Like, so much time on my hands, because I couldn’t figure out how the train system worked (which train will take me downtown? UGH I GIVE UP), so I stayed in my apartment and ate ice cream and watched Netflix.

With an abundance of time and nervous energy, I figured I might as well be writing. After all, my Facebook statuses were turning into novels, and I think my friends will agree that I was in desperate need of a soap box so I could stop preaching to them all the time.

I honestly believed back then that my blog was going to be a space where a couple of dedicated friends (and their creepy mutual friends) decided to read my weird opinions about politics and pop culture.

Almost 6 million views later, all I can really say is, “Whoops.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I’ve learned a lot in this last year of blogging and it seems fitting, on the birthday of Let’s Queer Things Up!, to share some of those magical lessons with the readers who made this platform possible.

Then afterward, we’re going to hug it out, okay?

Please?

  1. Maybe, just maybe, one person can change the world – or at least shift the conversation.

The image features a student standing on a desk saying,  When I started blogging, I had no idea that writers like myself had the ability to make things happen. I always figured blogging was primarily shouting into the void, especially for newbies who haven’t built an audience yet. But I can tell you, without a doubt, that just one voice is enough to make an impact.

In October of 2014, I wrote an article, “Amanda Bynes, Robin Williams, and the Spectacle of Mental Illness.” I was fed up with the way people with mental illnesses were treated, and it frightened me that this kind of ableism was on display for the whole world to see.

I had seen headline after headline about celebrity breakdowns, and I was tired of the complete and utter lack of compassion for folks who were struggling.

Up until that point, my blog was averaging, at most, 1000 views per week. But I woke up one morning to find that my blog had amassed half a million views before breakfast. I didn’t think it was possible but, lo and behold, a virtually unknown blogger had gone viral.

After that, the headlines did a complete 180. Suddenly every major news outlet was singing a different tune – one of compassion and understanding for Amanda Bynes. The conversation had shifted. Not long after that, Bynes came out and told the world via Twitter that she was grappling with bipolar disorder.

Boom.

I didn’t single-handedly cause this, to be sure. But I was a part of the shift in this international conversation that challenged people to be more compassionate. I was part of a movement to humanize people with mental illness. My voice alone reached millions of people and, yes, it made a difference.

I know now that sometimes all it takes is one courageous person, just one, standing up for what’s right. That person can be me, that person can be you. So why not us?

 

  1. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

I’ve had to deal with my fair share of jerks on the internet. I could be saying something so sincere, so earnest… and still get that ugly tweet telling me how I’m apparently the worst human that ever lived. And as a sensitive people-pleaser who writes from a really vulnerable place, it can be difficult to cope with the negativity.

I never want to suggest that we should just roll over and accept online harassment. I also don’t take it as a sign that I’m “doing something right,” as if this is an expected and even desirable outcome of speaking my mind.

But I will say that it’s helped me to keep in mind that some folks on the internet will always have something shitty to say, no matter how brilliant or witty you are (I like to think I’m a little bit of both, but I could be wrong).

I mean, go to any of your favorite public figure’s Twitter mentions. How can someone talk shit to Margaret Cho, for example? How can you tell Lorde or Betty White that they suck? But people do this! Because haters gonna hate.

So I just shake it off, I shake it off.

 

  1. Your struggles can be your strengths.

When people talk about my work, the first thing they usually mention is how open I’ve been about a lot of difficult struggles that I’ve had in my life. Folks wonder why anyone would choose to be so vulnerable on the internet. And I’ll admit, it is a really scary thing. But it’s also been the most empowering decision I’ve ever made.

Taking my scars and using them to teach and empower others has been an amazing way to reclaim my struggles. I took what used to haunt me and I made it into something that can set me free. It feels amazing.

I stood up and said, “Yes, I am trans. Yes, I have bipolar disorder and anxiety. I am not ashamed. And you don’t need to be ashamed, either.”

If you had told me years ago that I would be sharing this journey with millions of people, I’m not sure that I would’ve believed you. But now, in being honest and embracing myself, I’ve found so much strength in being unapologetic about who I am.

And to think – my journey could be affirming for someone else! My words could be a teachable moment to make someone else’s road a little easier to travel! That’s a privilege and an unexpected gift.

Writing a really good article that helps people basically feels like Christmas every damn week. I’m able to give something to the community that has given so much to me.

So no, I don’t regret wearing my heart on my sleeve. It’s scary as hell but it’s so worth it.

 

  1. You are not alone.

The image features Ariana Grande saying,

The thousands of emails I received in this last year have convinced me that we – trans folks, neuroatypical folks, marginalized folks of every sort – are not alone. We often feel alone, because we find ourselves isolated and disconnected from the larger community.

But actually, there are a lot of us. Like, millions of us, waiting to connect with each other.

On the days when I’m feeling particularly despondent, I remind myself that there are countless activists and organizations that are working, day in and day out, to make this world a better place. And if I’m feeling isolated, many of these folks are just a click away.

On a bad day, I’ll let myself fall into this rabbit hole of affirmation, inspiration, and support. I read Jes Baker’s blog and suddenly my body is more marvelous to me than ever before; I read an article by Melissa Fabello and suddenly the gospel of Feminism is as electric as ever; I explore Genderfork and am reminded of the diverse beauty in my own community; I read something at Everyday Feminism and I realize just how many people are fighting for good in this world.

Isn’t the internet a magical fucking place?

Nowadays, I go to bed at night feeling comforted, knowing that these folks exist and that I’m not alone in all this.

There are a lot of jokes about “Tumblr feminism” and “social justice warriors” but, y’all, I’ve seen the life-changing stuff that happens when people use their voice for good in this world. I’m completely sold on internet activism. Changing the world from behind a computer screen is not only possible, but it’s also one of the most accessible ways to reach people when they need us most.

A year ago, I felt so isolated in my struggles; now, I feel connected to an entire web of amazing people doing amazing things, including you, readers, who remind me of why this work is so important and are doing AMAZING work of your own.

We’re in this together!

If you’re ever finding yourself crushed by the weight of the world, poke around the net. Your people are out there. And they’re waiting for you, I promise.

 

  1. You can’t count yourself out just yet.

The image features Amy Poehler exclaiming,

I find it hard to believe that just a few years ago, I had hit rock-bottom with my depression, and was convinced that my life would never be meaningful or worthwhile.

To say I had “had it” is an understatement. I was on my way out.

Sometimes when we’re bogged down by depression and it’s all we’ve ever known, we count ourselves out – we think that we’re destined for a life of failure, desperation, hurt.

I’m not here to tell you that “things get better,” because I really can’t say for sure. But I will tell you that for many folks, we count ourselves out before we ever truly had the chance to shine or even live. We convince ourselves that we already know what the future looks like and that the future is set in stone.

It may be. But it isn’t always.

If I had let that despondent voice dictate what I did with my life, I wouldn’t be here today. And I definitely wouldn’t be doing the work that I’m doing now – writing for magazines, connecting with folks who need support, and educating people on the issues that really matter.

I never saw it coming – not in a million years – but I’m grateful every single day that I survived, that I hung in there, that I gave my future self the chance to experience all of this. I never thought I would make a difference. But against all odds, I have.

You never know what life has in store. I hate to be a bucket of exhausting, useless clichés, but seriously, none of us can see the future and sometimes, that future will surprise us.

So don’t count yourself out just yet.

* * *

This past year has been, far and away, one of the most unexpectedly awesome years of my life. While I entered into this project completely unsure of myself, I stand before you (well, sit before you I guess, behind this computer) a much happier and more self-assured person.

Being able to share my thoughts, however weird and ranty they were, with such a caring and curious audience has been an absolute honor. I have no idea what the future holds for LQTU, but this is a journey that I’m so grateful to have undertaken and thrilled to continue.

So I want to wrap up this entry by saying “thank you.” Thank you to the readers who supported the site, either through donations or with your encouraging comments and critically important feedback. Though most of us have not (yet) met in person, I am glad that I can call so many of you my friends.

The lessons I’ve learned have been invaluable and are lessons I will carry with me for a lifetime. And I’m excited – so, so excited – for everything I have yet to learn as we continue queering things up here on the site and beyond (see what I did there?).

I hope this entry could give you a little inspiration and a little more insight into the story behind the blog. If for nothing else, I hope it’s a reminder of how powerful we are when we work together. Look at this brilliant thing we’ve built together! I’m so proud of us.

The image features two people hugging.

Phew. Now that I’ve gotten all that off of my chest… group hug?

signature

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!

You Are Not a Burden, and 4 Other Things I Wish I’d Known About Mental Illness

The image features an androgynous person, trapped inside a pill bottle, looking at a map that says

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

This might as well be part two, because quite a while back, I wrote a pretty exhaustive list of things that newly-diagnosed folks with bipolar might want to know. This might just be an ongoing series where readers have the privilege of learning from my mistakes, because I’ve made more than a few along the way. Lucky you!

While I’m writing from the perspective of someone who grapples with bipolar and generalized anxiety, I feel like much of this could be applied to other mental health struggles as well. I hope this is helpful to anyone who needs it.

Lastly, a content warning: There is some discussion about sexual assault and consent, so if that could be traumatizing for you, feel free to skip over #2.

So let’s chat! Here are some things I wish I’d known about having a mental illness:

 —

1. You are not a burden.

Biggest lie ever told. Not just by others but by the nasty voice in my head that likes to encourage me to do the exact opposite of what I need to do when I’m depressed. It’s the same voice that tells me I’m worthless, the same voice that tells me to stop taking my meds, the same voice that tells me to skip town… you get the idea.

It’s not really a voice that I should trust. And neither should you.

Mental illness, or any kind of struggle with mental health, does not make you a burden. If people offer their support, compassion, and love, take it. And if you’re worried that you might be asking too much of them, have a conversation about boundaries.

“I’m in a rough place right now, and I don’t want to overburden you. Can I trust you to let me know if you need space?”

Don’t push people away assuming that you know what’s best for them. Respect their autonomy and allow them to dictate the capacity in which they’ll be involved in your healing. As long as you’ve had a conversation about how to best support each other, it isn’t your place to decide for them what they can handle and what they can’t.

When I’m depressed, I have to fight every urge to self-isolate. But I know that being alone is often the worst thing for me. Let the people who want to stand by you be there for you. If they truly care for you, you’ll be anything but a burden. I promise you this.

 —

2. You may not be able to consent to sex while manic.

First of all: Why the fuck aren’t we talking about this? Time for me to get up on my soapbox for a minute.

I’m not sure how the law weighs in on this, because the idea of “insanity” from a legal standpoint is a complicated (and often oppressive) idea.

But I can tell you from personal experience, there may be times when your inhibitions are so low from a manic state that there is no way – I repeat, no way – that you can reasonably consent to sex with another human, no matter how riled up you both are.

As a teenager, I had unprotected sex that, when stable, I consistently refused and would never have engaged in. There are acts that I said “no” to emphatically while sane, but enthusiastically said “yes” to when I was manic or experiencing dissociation.

This is one way in which an “enthusiastic yes” model of consent fails many folks with mental illness.

It’s a painful thing for me to talk about, but it needs to be said: There may be people in this world who will knowingly take advantage of you because they are convinced that mania is fun and not at all dangerous.

Some people will argue that manic sex is just regrettable sex, or that manic sex is just acting on impulses that you’re too prude to act on otherwise.

But I call bullshit on that. More specifically, I say that this is just a larger part of rape culture and victim-blaming. If I’ve said “no” a thousand times while sane, that “no” still applies if I’m not sane, just like that “no” still applies if I’m drunk.

I know now that if I am especially manic, I cannot give consent. And now, the partners that I have know this too. I only wish I had realized this much, much sooner.

Maybe this applies to you, or maybe it doesn’t. Regardless, this is why having conversations about consent, boundaries, and the like are crucial so that everyone is on the same page and the boundaries are made explicit. Sex should be safe, sane, and consensual – always.

 —

3. You may be the last to notice the progress that you’ve been making.

Sometimes, when we’re in therapy or we’re trying out new medications, the progress we’re making is so incremental that we don’t notice it as it’s happening.

It can be tempting to call it quits when we aren’t seeing the magical transformation we want to be achieving. However, in my experience, sometimes I’m the last one to notice just how much progress I’m really making.

For example, when I was dealing with really intense depression, I was so focused on the sadness that I felt that I hadn’t even noticed that this new medication I was taking was helping immensely with anger and irritation.

But my parents definitely noticed. My friends noticed. And they didn’t hesitate to remind me that while I may not have noticed, things were definitely changing.

They were right. After a few more weeks on this medication, I began to notice some really significant progress.

This applies to any kind of healing work, whether it is psychiatric, therapy, self-love, or outside of the realm of Western medicine. When we’re in the midst of it, sometimes we’re actually the last to notice our own progress.

It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s a very real phenomenon.

 —

4. To hell with anyone who tells you that your pain isn’t important, valid, or real.

Literally. They should be consumed by a bath of fire. Cut them out of your life. Run far, far away and very fast (if you can).

If you couldn’t tell, I have really strong feelings about this. That’s because I’ve been told by people in my life, folks that I cared deeply about, that my disorder was made up, that I was “playing the victim,” or otherwise invalidating my trauma.

Instead of lending any credibility to what they’re saying, listen to me: Your suffering? It matters. Your pain? It’s real.

You need to surround yourself with people who validate your struggles – not folks who try to tell you what YOUR lived experience is, what YOUR trauma is like, what YOUR burden feels like when you have to shoulder it each and every day.

They aren’t you. They haven’t lived through it.

No one can know what it’s like to be you. But if you’re anything like me, grappling with mental illness, we both know that it can be devastatingly painful, and leave us at our wit’s end. It’s the kind of hell that is inescapable because it’s happening inside our minds.

You deserve compassion and respect, as someone who is brave enough to continue living, each and every day, with something as difficult as this.

Fuck anyone who says otherwise.

 —

5. You may feel like you can’t trust in yourself or in anything that’s good. But you need to rebuild that trust.

I’ve often said that living with mental illness has created a chronic condition of “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Sometimes, I don’t trust that the good things in my life are here to stay. Sometimes, I don’t trust myself to make big decisions (like transitioning or going to grad school) because I’m afraid that I don’t have clear judgment. I don’t trust my own happiness because I fear I might be hypomanic.

Bipolar disorder (and mental illness more generally) has left me with some serious trust issues.

After going through so many episodes of depression, and losing many of the good things I had in the process, in recovery I still find myself terrified that nothing good is permanent or safe.

No one told me that I’d have this kind of perpetual mistrust of all things good, but I kind of wish they had. I also wish I could say I’ve overcome it and impart my super awesome wisdom to you.

The best I’ve been able to do is talk about it – with people I love, with a therapist, or sometimes I just talk through it alone in my shower. Being aware of the ways that I question or mistrust the good stuff has helped me to recognize when it’s happening.

I eventually end up asking myself the same question, “Who’s going to make this decision? Me, or my fears?”

Knowing when my chronic mistrust is creeping up on me allows me to see it for what it really is: a learned condition after years of trauma. So I tread carefully, holding myself in compassion and moving forward knowing that I cannot allow fear to rule my life.

 —

I kind of wish that, after a diagnosis, we were given a guidebook for how to deal. Sadly, we’re usually just given a prescription and a reminder to call if there’s an emergency. Often times, we have to be our own advocates and teachers as we figure out how to manage these illnesses.

Part of why I and so many others write is because we’re trying, little by little, to create the resources that we really wish had existed for ourselves. Resources by the community and for the community are often the best ones; we have the scars and the lived experience that can be so invaluable for those of us who are in the midst of it.

I hope that showing you some of my scars can help you to heal.

As always, I am wishing you the very best. Comment with questions, more advice, or just drop in and say hello!

signature

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!

No Justice, No Peace: Why Civil Rights Doesn’t End With Baltimore

Let’s Queer Things Up! is proud to present its very first guest post, written by Melissa Monier.

melissaBlack, White, Transfeminine, Queer.

I live in a world where two movements are happening simultaneously.

And I am told, as the future of my marriage waits on the line, that I need to be on the “right side of history.” There are people celebrating love, marriage, and equality; there are people mourning the loss of another man that was turned into a criminal to justify his murder.

I am tired of having to choose a side.

I want to talk about race. I want to talk about Baltimore. I want to talk about black lives, and queer lives. I want to talk about the lives that America likes to pretend don’t exist.

Lives like mine. People like me.

People aren’t listening to the communities that are hurting, and now isn’t the time for apologies. Communities want action, families want justice. And I think it’s time we started listening.

Black America is hurting.

But somehow you turn a blind eye because it is easier than to confront your privilege.

You are able to turn to any outlet and find a representation of yourself, your friends, your families, your relationships; you are told by the government, by the media, by society that you matter.

But do I?

Yesterday, six police officers were charged with the murder of Freddy Gray. And yet, this won’t really change the climate for queer people of color across the country.

This movement is as diverse as the people out on the front lines speaking out against injustice, for their rights, for what’s right. To ignore the intersectionality of the citizens of Baltimore supports the structures and institutions that continue to silence their voices.

This is the boiling point, and it has been reached through the neglect to acknowledge the intersectionality of race, class, gender, sexuality, American citizenship, and how those facets of identity have left citizens in New York, Baltimore, Ferguson, Detroit, and many others marginalized and oppressed.

I am not a cisgender black man. But my life matters and my life is at stake.

I have participated in protests; I have participated in die-ins, sit-ins, and marches. And I can tell you that there is not one moment that I didn’t look at a police officer and fear for my life.

And to those that believe that this will all be solved by protesting peacefully, I advise you to check your privilege. Being able to walk openly in the streets and speak your mind is not a privilege allotted to all of us – some of us have much more at stake.

You are supporting the structures keeping people subordinate. You are working against their movement, and supporting the status quo that is killing people on the streets.

How long can you peacefully exist within the system, because “white people are scared?” White America sees “thugs” destroying their own cities. They shake their heads and call people in Baltimore “animals” and preach respectability as a means to rise above their conditions.

But I see broken communities disowning the very structures, the physical representations of the institutions keeping them subordinate.

This country was never built to support black or brown people; it was never built to support women, and it certainly was not meant to support queer people. But that does not mean that we should accept our place as subordinate, living in a nation that refuses to acknowledge our existence.

I will not stand for forced assimilation because America does not want to change.

I want marriage equality, but I also want the world to know that it’s not a solution.

I want to make sure it’s safe for me to walk down the street before walking down the aisle without hearing racial slurs or being misgendered.

I want medical protection, and my insurance to cover the possibility of transitioning, or starting a family.

I want my relationship to be recognized.

I want legal protection from discrimination.

I want to raise a family without fearing that they won’t come home because someone abused their power, because someone truly believed that the life of a child was worth less than their own.

I want to exist in a space where I don’t have to unlearn everything I know about my culture to assimilate into white spaces, for my voice to be heard, for my body to be respected.

I want change. I want police to be trained in sensitivity, I want them to take rape, trans issues, and the lives of colored children seriously.

This is not just an issue of race, and those that believe it is are also a part of the problem. This is an issue of class, race, economic status, political systems, citizenship, and gender.

This is intersectional, and this is important.

This is about the structures that have been put in place that have yet to change, that have yet to treat people of color and other marginalized folks as equal. Sadly, the benefit of privilege is not knowing that these systems are still in place, because they don’t affect you.

But they affect me.

I am tired of having to justify my existence to white America. I am tired of having to prove that I’m hurting, or that my pain is valid.

Your privilege is not an excuse for your ignorance. Your apologies do not excuse you from educating yourself on issues even if they do not directly impact your life.

The reality is, these fights aren’t over. We need to educate ourselves and be aware of our privileges, and use them to advocate, NOT speak for our marginalized brothers and sisters and siblings.

We need to create safe spaces to let the silenced speak. We need to continue to stand with Baltimore. We need to stand with our queer, trans, black, brown communities, even when the protests stop.

We need to stand together in solidarity.

Melissa Monier is a 21-year old Queer blogger, feminist, and gender, sexual, and racial justice advocate from Metro Detroit. She spends her free time drinking way too much coffee, writing shitty poetry, finding new reasons to fall in love with her home-city every day, and loves her dog more than most people. She is a Communications major and WGST minor at the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Visit her blog at lalavandemenace.tumblr.com

Help keep this blog free, accessible, and queer as hell!

Click the banner below to donate as little as $1 per month, and unlock some pretty cool exclusive content when you do:

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!