A Recent Dilemma

I think I’m having some kind of…existential motivation crisis?

Like, I was brought up to believe that my intelligence, talents and skills made me better than other people. Good grades, high test scores, admission to gifted programs, praise from teachers for my creativity and ingenuity, all meant that I was better than people who didn’t have those accomplishments.

There’s a lot of research that shows that “gifted” kids tend to grow up to be terrified perfectionists who would rather not try at all than fail or fall short of expectations. Which is as true of me as anyone else, and super fun times for sure.

But there’s another piece of it I’ve been noticing lately, which is that I don’t really believe in the IQ meritocracy I was raised in anymore. As an adult I’ve had enough engagement with disability politics and race/class divides to realize that I can’t separate what may or may not be my innate skills from my upbringing as a white kid with well-off parents, and that the whole idea of “intelligence” and the systems that recognize and codify it are massively flawed.

I’m NOT better just because I have a large vocabulary and enjoy linear algebra and write well and scored 99th percentile on standardized tests in middle and high school. Or whatever. I don’t automatically deserve special treatment because I meet certain definitions of smart.

And I think I’ve adjusted to that okay in terms of identity—like I don’t feel personally victimized by this change in worldview, I don’t feel inadequate as a person because of it, because the corollary of “I’m not that special” is “everyone deserves kindness and compassion and affirmation just for being human,” and that includes me.

But it makes it really hard to put myself forward for things like job opportunities. (It’s more than watching TV being more interesting than filling out applications, more than hating writing cover letters because no one likes those.) I’m not special, I’m not Better Than, so why should a company hire me over someone else? How can I ethically talk myself up and convince employers I’m awesome when I now know the whole system is based on a lie?

I really need a job, and I’m competent at plenty of things, but that’s true of lots of people—why me instead of them? Because that’s the kind of rig capitalism is: some win and many lose. Do I suck it up and play the game even though it makes me feel gross because that’s just how the world works right now? Is this just a type of Imposter Syndrome and I should get over it? Is there some other way I can think of this process that sidesteps the issue entirely?

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Values Statement

My life’s purpose is to tell compelling and meaningful stories; to make beautiful and useful things; to bring my truest self to all of my relationships; to serve my communities; and to live as an example of my core values.

My core values are Sovereignty, Connection, Expression, Growth, and Compassion.

My current roles in which to live those values are Individual, Scholar, Friend, Lover, Son/Brother, Creator, Activist, Employee, and Spiritual Human(ist).

As an individual, I promote sovereignty by voicing my needs, by bringing my truest self to all of my relationships, by taking care of my health first, and by not taking shortcuts; I promote connection by being honest about my thoughts and feelings, and by being someone I enjoy spending time with; I promote expression by being in tune with my environment and my body, by speaking my mind even if my voice shakes, and by presenting myself how it feels most right at the moment; I promote growth by being curious about myself and my patterns, by saying yes to the challenge, and keeping my commitments; and I promote compassion by treating myself and others with kindness, practicing self-forgiveness, and understanding that I am always whole and never broken.

As a scholar, I promote sovereignty by doing my own work with enthusiasm, and by saying yes to the challenge; I promote connection by speaking up in class to receive and share knowledge, and by learning from everyone I meet; I promote expression by focusing both inward and outward, and by speaking freely about challenging subjects; I promote growth by contributing new knowledge to my fields, and by learning something new every day; and I promote compassion by considering the impact knowledge production has on real people.

As a friend, I promote sovereignty by only giving advice if I am asked for it, and by supporting the choices of those I care about of whom they want in their lives; I promote connection by sharing my thoughts and feelings, by practicing active listening and empathy, by communicating regularly and promptly, and by revealing my vulnerabilities; I promote expression by attaching equal merit to laughing and crying in solidarity; I promote growth by allowing each of my relationships to find their own level, and by keeping my commitments; and I promote compassion by hearing my friends’ needs and doing my best to help them fill them.

As a lover, I promote sovereignty by keeping my relationship agreements, by practicing the types of sex and affection that fulfill me and others, and by using “no” and “yes” with integrity; I promote connection by sharing joyful and intense experiences with my lovers, and by paying attention to my lovers’ needs; I promote expression by being sexually and emotionally free; I promote growth by exploring new sensual and romantic experiences, and by deepening the experiences I already have; and I promote compassion by meeting others where they are, and by forgoing or ending relationships whose pain has outlived their joy.

As a son/brother, I promote sovereignty by seeing myself as a separate individual within my family, and by working towards supporting myself; I promote connection by spending time with and talking to each family member regularly; I promote expression by reaching out to my family when I have both happy and sad news to share; I promote growth by supporting each family member in their individual journey, and by consciously discarding old patterns and replacing them with better ones; I promote compassion by practicing radical acceptance about my familial relationships, and by loving them with kindness no matter my circumstances or emotions.

As a creator, I promote sovereignty by staying true to my inner vision, and by building my dreams; I promote connection by participating in mentorship and resource-sharing in my creative communities; I promote expression by creating art daily, by telling compelling and meaningful stories, and by making beautiful and useful things; I promote growth by seeking opportunities to improve my skills, and by seeing beauty in chaos; I promote compassion by integrating my art with my ethics.

As an activist, I promote sovereignty by upholding the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process, and by standing for everyone’s right to self-determination; I promote connection by reaching out to those who are confused or in pain; I promote expression by being who I am to the fullest and supporting others’ ability to do the same; I promote growth by working towards world community with peace, liberty and justice for all; I promote compassion by lifting people up when others would tear us down, and serving my communities.

As an employee, I promote sovereignty by taking pride in my own work, by keeping punctual hours, and by setting appropriate boundaries at work; I promote connection by helping others at work, by communicating openly with my coworkers and supervisors, and by being friendly; I promote expression by being honest about my needs and limits, and by contributing my vision for the shared purpose and environment; I promote growth by challenging myself to improve; and I promote compassion by providing excellent service with kindness.

As a spiritual human(ist), I promote sovereignty by upholding the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and by living in ma’at to the best of my ability; I promote connection by communicating regularly with God through prayer, and by participating in my spiritual communities; I promote expression by being open about my personal beliefs and values, and by welcoming civil discussion of beliefs and values with others; I promote growth by pursuing a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, by saying yes to the challenge, and by listening to God; I promote compassion by approaching others in ma’at, and practicing justice and equity in human relationships.

Charm City Fetish Fair, Part 3

Read part 1 and part 2 of my Charm City Fetish Fair write-up.

Since I’d had so much trouble on Friday evening, I decided to wear the same outfit again for the party on Saturday. I didn’t get a good full-length picture of it to post, but I’m sure I’ll wear it again sometime. I wore a byzantium purple dress, matching nail polish, sparkly purple eyeshadow, black industrial net back-lined stockings, shiny black Mary Janes with medium heels, lacy black fingerless wrist-gloves, a long silver-white wig with bangs, and my leather jacket. I was rushing around to get food before the party so I forgot to get out the tiny black top hat I had worn the night before.

I had trouble getting out of my car again, because I slowed down to eat food and had to get up the nerve to go in again. I had expected the Captain to accompany me, but he bootblacked all day without much of a break so he decided to go home and sleep instead. I like having friends with me at kink parties, so it upped my anxiety to go alone. After steadying my nerves, I finally put on my game face and went in.

The party was cold. I stood awkwardly near the doorway for a few minutes, trying to get my bearings. Finally I snagged a chair and sat watching the scenes already in progress. A few people I remembered seeing earlier sat down near me and we started talking. From my bag I removed my equipment for my secret experiment and held it in my hand, smoothing the sheet of paper and bandana nervously over my lap. My conversation companions asked me what it was for, I explained, and then I set everything up and dove in.

I dragged my chair to the edge of the pool of light in the middle of the room, hung my leather jacket on the back of the chair, tied my pink bandana around my eyes, held up my sign, and waited. My sign read, “DDog’s Make Out Corner – All Genders Welcome – (Kiss Me I’m Queer).”

Originally, I had planned to be naked and blindfolded, and when I do this again in the future that will be the case, but the room was just too cold for me to relish the thought of sitting there for an unspecified length of time without some protection. I held my post for roughly an hour and a half and received some very nice kisses from about a dozen people. Some of them were soft, others were more forceful. One person murmured that I was quite tempting but they were unable to kiss me, and ran their fingers up and down my arms instead. Near the end I received a simultaneous kiss from three people. Most of the time I just sat there quietly in the dark, listening to the sounds around me.

I’ve fantasized about variations on the theme of “I’m blindfolded and naked, unknown people do things to me” for awhile now, and this was the first time I’ve gotten to do it. The kissing was hot and I hope the next time I do this I will get more takers, but I’m also grateful for the experience of listening to a party without seeing it. I sometimes have a difficult time processing busy environments like that, and removing one of my senses was unexpectedly calming. It reminds me of an Isaac Asimov story, “Catch That Rabbit” where a robot in charge of six other robots acts strangely until one of the underling robots is removed and the head robot is fine again, because directing six robots was overloading its organizational capacity. I wonder whether noise-canceling headphones might be useful in situations where blindfolds are not appropriate or less practical. When I mentioned this on Twitter, @greenwillow77 recommended the Simply Noise white noise generator, which I will be trying out.

After I removed my blindfold, a few of the people who had kissed me introduced themselves, and it turned out to be the group I had given directions to lunch earlier in the day, and I had given them directions to the Playhouse the night before, and they remembered my demo-bottoming for Jay Wiseman‘s rope workshop at Sugar a few weeks ago, as well as a number of other events we had each attended but not crossed paths. So, yay for meeting kindred spirits! They also gave me head skritches and a shoulder and arm massage which was pretty spectacular.

Face to face, they had some questions about my gender. On the one hand, I didn’t mind answering them because I was hoping to make friends with them so getting the baseline education out of the way early is in my long-term self-interest, as well as my personal educational goals of making the world a better place for trans people through the basic information that so many otherwise-well-meaning people still don’t have. It’s also a far less stressful conversation to have while getting a massage! On the other hand, half the reason the setup of blindfold and sign is so attractive to me is so I don’t have to have these conversations in order to get kisses. It felt like I got to not be trans for an hour, and then I was trans again which I could tell because people were asking me questions and giving me advice about it. (Most accurately, it felt like I got to not be anything, but trans is the thing that yields the most friction for me in my daily life.) My dysphoria is peculiar and comes up most strongly when I am _aware_ of other people assuming I am a woman based on my appearance, and when I am explaining that actually that isn’t the case.

On the whole, I’ll call it a successful experiment. I’ll be doing another version at a party in May, and the most involved version of this experiment is forthcoming at Dark Odyssey: Fusion in June, which I’m very excited about.

Charm City Fetish Fair, Part 1

The Charm City Fetish Fair is my super-local kinky con, being held in Baltimore itself instead of DC or northern Maryland. It is entirely slave-run, which is unusual for these things; dominants and switches volunteer in various ways but do not hold positions of authority in the actual running of the thing. The brilliant orja and her hardworking associates put on a great, small con that brings together a decent mix of speakers, attendees, activities, vending, and play. This weekend was its fourth year, and I had also attended its first and second years.

I attempted to go to the mixer on Friday night, but had a bout of social anxiety and ended up hiding in the bathroom for most of it. It was frustrating because I had put together an outfit that I loved but made me unrecognizable to the few people that I knew so no one approached me, and I didn’t know any of those people well enough to feel comfortable approaching them. CCFF came out of the Baltimore Education and Social Society, one of Baltimore’s kinky discussion and learning groups, and I had not been especially involved with BESS in a few years. I know some of the members remember me, and others would probably remember if I showed up with Rainbowzia. Reminding them myself was beyond my social capacity that evening.

After it ended and I went back to my car, I just sat there crying for awhile. My friend Syr Kris passed away in August two years ago, and the last time I came to CCFF she gave me her vest to wear for the evening. I miss her.

I went home and went to bed. The Captain called at 2:45 AM so he could crash after the party he had been tapped to manage, so I stumbled blearily down the stairs to let him in. Then up at 7 AM. On a Saturday. (What was I thinking?) I decided to remix my “glam queer schoolboy” outfit that I sported at Momentumcon last month: burnt orange sweater over pinstriped white dress shirt with rainbow tie and Tie Clip of Rassilon, brown corduroy short pants, short black boots, and harvest rainbow thigh high socks.

First session of the day, “Designing Practical Protocols” with Master Griffin and slave ann, the Northeast Master/slave couple for 2011. They had outline handouts on the chairs so I snagged one in a bright orange folder—I’m predictable like that. My main takeaway from the class was that effective protocols mean something to the people using them. An arbitrary protocol is much less likely to be remembered or enforced than one that serves the needs of the relationship. Sometimes that need might simply be creating a submissive or dominant headspace, reminding each person of their role when the outside world intrudes. They mentioned the importance of writing your protocols down so you can remember them, but not letting that keep you from remaining flexible and changing things if they aren’t working. Context can also be important; one’s standard protocols might be modulated to be more subtle or more intense based on environment and desire.

They also talked about not dominants not wasting their resources, in particular their submissive’s brain. Most M/s relationships may not be a democracy, but the dominant can request the submissive’s input and take advantage of their skills. Humiliation play notwithstanding, healthy people don’t enter into relationships where they think one or more people involved are worthless. The dominant should also take into account the submissive’s needs, because you shouldn’t break a toy you expect to continue playing with. Just because a submissive has given a dominant power to push their boundaries, doesn’t mean the dominant should do so without carefully considering the consequences, which might be anything from an unhappy submissive to friction with other people in the household to loss of the relationship to jail time on the negative side, or from a deeper bond to a strengthened relationship to more confidence on the positive side.

After sitting in this class, I understand the purpose of protocols better. I had heard of things like “high protocol dinner” and not really understood what the point was, but the appeal makes more sense to me now. I also have a clearer idea of how protocols might function in a relationship, whether it involves power exchange or not. One comment that stood out to me was that some people have protocols for themselves, either in preparation for having an M/s or D/s relationship in the future, or just for their own well-being and discipline. I’m still not sure if M/s or D/s are for me, but I might want to explore setting up some protocols for myself as a way of strengthening my relationship with me.

  • “I think most doms have frozen knee syndrome.”
  • “The bathroom thing isn’t so much about him controlling my bladder, because at my age no one controls my bladder.”
  • “Submissives can be very powerful scary people when they’re not happy.”
  • “Sometimes I come home with groceries and I will say to him with my arms full, ‘I’m kneeling, Sir!'”
  • “Are you allowed to say no?” “…only if it pleases you, Sir.”

The second session I attended was called “So You Have a Sub…Now What?” I was delighted to discover that the presenter was a submissive, Divetta. She started out with the differences among the perceptions, expectations, fantasies, and reality of D/s lifestyles, and how feelings of frustration, anger, overwhelm, and pressure are normal when confronted with those differences. As an illustration of the effects of perception, she asked the audience what our initial impressions of her were, with her enthusiastic manner and light grey business suit; she received answers like “professional,” “passionate,” “attractive,” “dominant.” She then began to remove her clothing, and the impressions called out began to change as she revealed a black leather corset over black leggings and finally asked her dominant to put on her collar: “brave,” “kinky,” “like you belong here,” “submissive.”

Divetta emphasized the “why” much like Griffin and ann had. What appeals to you about the rules, or having rules at all? What are your expectations, and your partner’s? What do you want to get out of being dominant? What do you want to communicate with your name? She also spoke about exploring your personas, so you can play with them instead of them controlling you. What is your style as a dominant? She proposed three roles a dominant might occupy, the Villain (“you’re a bad boy”), the Hero (“I’ll take care of you”), and the Victim (“why do I have to do all the work?”); a dominant might thrive in Villain or Hero but without an understanding of their motivation and capacity will eventually burn out into Victim. On the other side of that, much like some people prefer submission because they’re in charge all the time in the other parts of their lives, some people enjoy dominance because they feel powerless elsewhere.

Again, not having a submissive myself or knowing if I want one, I still have a lot to think about after this session. There was a worksheet with some exploratory questions relating to persona, role, communication, and expectations which I may use in stone skipping. I think Robin Hood would be one of my ideal dominant personae (social justice ethic, pack loyalty and support, mutual service, fealty, non-icky chivalry), but I’m afraid to tap into that side of myself because I don’t want to end up as Prince John or the Sheriff instead. Other people might be totally fine going to that place, but I still have a lot of things to work through before I can be comfortable risking it. It’s possible that because I strictly avoid the negotiable, consensual monster, those impulses still come out but in unhealthy ways, which only makes me hold on to them tighter, continuing the cycle.

  • “I just gave you Communication 101 in like fifteen minutes. Good luck with that!”
  • “If you’re inconsistent all the time, you can never do a mindfuck.”
  • “Boy, the more [rules] you have, the harder it is to enforce, and that’s your job.”
  • “I outsmarted my parents for god’s sake. I don’t want that to happen again. I don’t want to relive my childhood!”

For lunch I walked a few blocks to Carma’s, a cafe I adore for its Icelandic style yogurt and veggie meatball sub. That day, however, they had a special of a Belgian waffle with lemon curd and whipped cream, so of course I had to have that instead of my usual. I have been experimenting with externalizing my menu indecision by asking servers for a recommendation between the two things I can narrow my choice down to, and it has been going quite well. It also helps me practice making connections by showing vulnerability in low-risk situations. I suggested Carma’s to a few attendees that complimented me on my socks before I left the hotel, and I was happy to hear afterwards that they had a delicious experience too.

Continue to Part 2.

Notes from the Monster Manual

Remember the Monster Manual I mentioned in a post forever ago? I finally got it. It is really a lovely piece of work, and just the kind of thing I enjoy doing. Many of the monsters in it are quite familiar to me, and I appreciate learning new ways to talk to them. Havi’s approach to lots of things is fascinating, because it often goes in the opposite direction that one might expect from previous attempts, methods, and advice to get unstuck, and it’s been growing on me more and more over the last year and a half.

After I finished reading the Manual, I sat down with the coloring book and my “You don’t want to fail horribly and fall on your face LIKE YOU DID LAST TIME DO YOU REALLY WANT THAT TO HAPPEN AGAIN DO YOU DO YOU DO YOU” monster, who has been making itself known loudly lately. For somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes, I played with colored pencils and talked out loud with this monster. It was exhausting, and informative, and helpful, and relieving.

I think the most helpful concrete thing that came out of the convocoloring was the idea of taking my class notes as if I were doing it for someone else. I worked in my university’s student support services office last semester, which among other things connects students with disabilities with other students who can give them copies of their notes. None of my own classes needed notetakers (I was an office assistant instead), but thinking about things I could do to help this monster not give me so much anxiety about failing again, I realized that I often do better, more focused, more aware work on things that are for other people, instead of myself, as a result on my feelings of worthlessness and unimportance.

As my mood fluctuates I am often working on something else in class, only paying half attention, or not showing up at all. Obviously, the results of these “strategies” are usually poor. I can’t actually sleepwalk through my classes; it’s tough material that requires a lot of thought, making connections to previous work, puzzling things out with other people, and interpreting new information through my own life; I need to actually show up and pay attention if I want to succeed. If someone else‘s success depended on me showing up and taking clear and concise notes, that might help me actually do it, even if I couldn’t do it for myself. It might tap into my inclinations for service and sidestep the “why even bother?” monster and the “you’re not worth the time” monster, by making it not about me.

However, I’m a little wary of doing everything for other people and never for myself as a way to avoid that particular monster. In my experience, it leaves me vulnerable to being taken advantage of by others, it only makes that monster louder the next time because it now has extra evidence to use, and it reinforces the very seductive “you must take what you need RIGHT NOW because you’ll never have another chance” monster. I’m getting closer though—there’s something important in this thought.

Then I remembered Slightly Future Me. He’s me…but in the future. He might be me-of-next-week when I have to write a discussion response to this week’s reading assignment. He might be me-of-next-month when I have to write a midterm paper incorporating all the assignments up to that point. He might be me-of-early-May who is writing his final paper and will be so glad to have good notes and robust drafts to work from. There are things Me Now can do for Slightly Future Me that are basically pretty easy for me to accomplish in the present that will deliver exponentially different (better!) results in the future.

I may not feel like I’m worth spending time on, but Slightly Future Me is also Slightly Less Stuck Me and that definitely is worth spending time on. He’s a new man! Who is me. Bingo.

A Very Personal Ad: Awesome Person-who-does-work Looking for Equally Awesome Way-to-make-money

Ever since Sinclair Sexsmith linked to Havi Brooks’ Coloring Book for Monsters, I’ve been reading her blog. She’s got an interesting style (her business partner is a duck) and helpful things to say, and all her posts are intricately hyperlinked so reading “just one post” is a little like reading “just one entry” on TV Tropes. A tool of hers that intrigues me is writing “very personal ads.” She originally wrote one for her dream house, and ended up finding it.

I’ve already got the housing I need right now (I’ll write a post about the awesome place I’m in the process of moving into this month later), and the thing I do need is a job. So here’s my very personal ad for employment.

What I want:

I’m looking for a way to make enough money to pay for 6-9 credits of tuition for the next two semesters, school books, my monthly bus pass, rent, utilities, food, camping once a month for the summer, and student loan interest, with some extra for savings and emergencies. If there’s enough to do some traveling and conventions too, that would be great!

I want this way-to-make-money to pay me sufficiently for doing something I’m good at, as well as teach me new skills. Things I am good at include writing, helping people, working with books, doing research, queer activism, web design and creation in HTML and CSS, working with children older than six, taking care of animals, teaching, cleaning, admin work, and making art and crafts. I would love to get better at any of these things, learn new things that are related to any of these areas, or learn something completely new that builds on my skills.

This way-to-make-money might be a traditional job that I get up and go to, or it might not. I want a way-to-make-money that will not require that I compromise my principles in order to remain employed; I would prefer a way-to-make-money that is supportive of queer and trans people, but I need one that is at least friendly to such. I want most of the people I work with in this way-to-make-money to be pleasant and courteous and not give me stress and maybe make friends with me, and if there is a boss or supervisor involved I want them to treat me kindly but fairly. I’m okay with a dress code, as long as I am able to follow the men’s dress code if there is a difference.

During the school semesters this way-to-make-money needs to be part-time so I can attend classes, but I could work full-time during the summer. I would prefer this way-to-make-money be accessible by public transport in Baltimore, MD, or something I could do at home; I could work somewhere in Washington, D.C., accessible by public transport from Baltimore, but only during the summer or a few days per week during the semester. A local or community-owned business would be great! I would be able to leave the Baltimore area for way-to-make-money only during the summer, and only if I did not have to pay any extra money to live there during that time.

I would like to be able to keep my current job at my school’s library because it is a good job for me, but if there is a way-to-make-money out there for me that is perfect except I would not be able to keep my current job that would still be good. Or if this awesome way-t0-make-money could only be gotten to by car, I could make that work too.

Ways this could work:

Someone could read this blog post and know of the pefect job for me, and leave a comment here or send me an email or a message on Twitter to let me know.

I could find a job listing on Craigslist or other job advertisement location that fits me and is not a scam.

A business I admire could be currently hiring and somehow that information would find itself to me.

A friend who has a great job could let me know there’s a position available at their workplace.

I could set up my Etsy store with products I like making that people would want to buy.

I could get a scholarship for school or win a contest with prize money.

I could sell my writing.

I could tutor younger students in math, English, Japanese, or gender studies.

My parents could decide they want to help me with school again.

My commitment:

I will remember that there is work I need to put into this desire in order for it to succeed.

I will search for job listings on Craigslist and the like every day, and respond promptly to appropriate listings that I find.

I will ask friends if there are any openings at their workplaces that I could apply for.

I will make a list of local businesses I know I would like to work for that are on bus routes, and contact them to see if they are hiring anyone.

I will have confidence in myself and my skills and present myself as well as I can at interviews, even when I’m nervous.

I will work on my stuff so I can stay organized and be on time to my current job, and continue to be on time to my new way-to-make-money if it is something that requires being somewhere or doing something at a certain time.

I think that’s about it. I know there is a way-to-make-money, that will pay my bills and let me start a chunk of savings and let me be proud of the work I do, out there for me somewhere. I hope this very personal ad helps it find me!