Checking in on 2013 Goals

I started the year with 6 goals, and reflecting on how they’ve gone so far is an interesting exercise. Here’s the lay of the land:

1) Daily Bible readings in a Bible-in-a-year plan
2) Three hours of reading a week

These have gone spectacularly. I have an app for the daily Bible readings, and have kept up nicely (with only a little catch-up here and there). I’m reading stuff that I really can’t remember reading before. If I actually did read, say, Proverbs, it was with such speed and busyness in grad school that it might as well have never happened. (Of course, I was so bored this time during Proverbs in particular that I’m not certain I retained any more information). Most of this reading has been enriching and satisfying in multiple ways, though there’s no time to pause and study more in depth. I’d like to continue the daily reading after this plan is done, either through another yearly plan (perhaps chronologically by estimated writing date, instead of this year’s canonical plan) or shorter focused studies.

The weekly time goal for reading has also stuck as a habit, to the point that I don’t keep up anymore with adding up minutes, as it’s obvious by week’s end that I’ve done at least three hours. This is my first time focusing on time as a goal, rather than focusing on number of books completed, and it really removes a lot of my reading anxiety. I suspect that my reading project for the year — reading only authors that aren’t entirely ciswhitehetmales — has also sparked a lot of reading interest for me this year too. I’ve just found the most amazing stuff. For comparison’s sake, I’ve read 33 books this year so far. In all of 2012 I read 15.

3) Give something away each month

This has met with some success so far, in developing as a habit. The vagueness of it actually gets my imagination going. It’s encouraged me in particular so far to let go of good clothing in my closet, and to look for ways to purchase new needed items for other folks. I haven’t successfully fulfilled this goal each and every month. But I’m hoping the rest of the year will include me shaping this habit further.

4) 10 intense workouts each month
5) Trying a new exercise this month

I was steadily *almost* making these each month, until my pain started in May. Since then, my health has not allowed for these.

They’re good goals for me, in another circumstance, and I’ll hold them in reserve until I can work with them again. The “intense” definition allows for a lot of flexibility (long cardio, weightlifting, etc) and I can make that work for me.

6) Train and run/walk a half-marathon in December, bringing my time down under 4 hours

I won’t be able to do this. It would not be good for me, and I can’t in good conscience pursue it, because of a diagnosis I received this month where such training could lead to painful and problematic scarring.

I may be able to run/racewalk later in my life. But it’s not the best focus for me now. I’m very sad about that. But I know I’ll find other ways to enjoy moving. That goal #5 will help with this, when the time comes. I have also changed my gym situation so that, as soon as I am able, I have a variety of free yoga classes available to me, which I’m very excited about.

Published in: on July 27, 2013 at 10:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

I Have A New Diagnosis

Some of you are aware that I’ve been dealing with genital pain and swelling, centered on my clit and labia minora, for about 2.5 months. I had mobility issues (both in walking and in sitting in most chairs), and had to take time off work for that and for multiple visits to three separate doctor’s offices. There were tests, and a lot of wondering what was wrong, and a lot of ruling out of things.

At one point I tested positive for a yeast infection, and we thought all of the trouble might be traced back to some kind of stubborn fungus. I took a lot of antifungals and I began to adjust myself to the idea that I’d be fighting recurring fungal infections for the long-term. But, it turns out, that was not what was causing most of the symptoms.

The biopsy of my labia done on Monday came back positive on Friday, for something called lichen sclerosis. Lichen sclerosis is an autoimmune-related inflammation of the skin, usually of the genitals. It can happen in bodies that have vaginas, penises, or any combination, at any age, but most often happens in folks with uteri and vaginas after cessation of menstrual cycles (I’m not there yet, but I’m probably early perimenopausal). Lichen sclerosis symptoms often include recurrent itching and pain, and thinning and wrinkling of the genital skin. There’s potential for easy breakage of the skin, the labia shrinking in size, and for the build-up of significant scar tissue.

I’m still learning what this means for me. There’s no way to know for sure now what my LS will look like over the years. The debilitating pain I’ve had these months is from *untreated* LS, and now we *know* what it is. I’m feeling both sadness and relief about this. Our next treatment goal is to get the uncontrolled inflammation under control, with daily use of steroid cream. After some weeks/months of that, we hope to be able to taper me down to maintenance levels of various medications. There are hormone creams that can help with the skin thinning, and should there eventually be scar tissue build-up, there are laser and cryo procedures that may address that well. It’s a chronic illness, that may cause trouble for short or long periods of time, and/or may go into remission for years. I will be dealing with the possibility of LS flaring up and causing pain and changes to my genitals for the rest of my life, and I will make daily decisions to either address it if symptoms are present or minimize the possibility of flare-up if they’re not. My family and docs and I will need to keep a closer eye out for certain vulvar cancers, which I have some elevated risk for. The LS will undoubtedly have a long-term impact on my sex life, at the very least giving us pause to decide what activities are best for me at any given time. Hopefully, though, the complete moratorium on any action between my legs that I’ve had for the last 10 weeks won’t be the norm. I may also soon have fewer times of profoundly reduced mobility; if they come again, they should be at least much fewer and farther between.

I’m a bit terrified, and right now I’m quite sad. But I’m relieved – we’re ALL relieved – to finally know what we’re dealing with. I am optimistic that this can be managed well. It sounds like a lot of people respond well to the treatments and procedures available. It also seems that I found a knowledgeable doctor that caught this much earlier in the scarring process than is common. Maybe there was an upside to this starting near my clit, and causing such a high level of pain so quickly directly from inflammation, rather than low level vulvar itching and scarring happening over a longer period of time.

I’m so tremendously thankful for a family that’s supportive and encouraging and funny and loving. I’m thankful that creativity is already a major element of my sex life, which makes a satisfying future sex life a lot easier to imagine. I’m thankful that’s it’s not a more dangerous problem. I’m thankful that my job is flexible enough to not have been threatened by these difficult few weeks. We’re lucky to have the resources to pay for my medical care out of pocket (I have no insurance). I’m tired and sad and in pain still. But I’m better than I have been for weeks.

Published in: on July 13, 2013 at 2:31 pm  Comments (1)  

The Mustard Seeds and the Empire

Queer like a freedom too strange to be conquered. – Brandon Wint (found on tumblr)

From youth, people have constantly attacked me—
let Israel now repeat!—
from youth people have constantly attacked me—
but they haven’t beaten me!
They plowed my back like farmers;
they made their furrows deep.
But the Lord is righteous—
God cut me free from the ropes of the wicked!
— Psalms 129:1-4 CEB

Anti-oppression work is really important to me. And it’s important to me to keep doing it, whether or not I get any results or get any good at it. It’s the hoping and doing that’s important. It keeps me alive by actively respecting the ways that we are all connected as human beings.

And anti-oppression work right now is centered around seeing certain structures in place in our world. These structures involve systemic racism, sexism, cissexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, and all the other ways that human lives are compared to one another in order to find someone lacking and less valuable and someone else as more valuable or “whole”. I will call this deeply embedded system Empire. It’s vital to me to keep trying to understand Empire.

Specifically being able to locate Empire has led to having more freedom in my life. It’s led to more connection as I understand how Empire affects each of us uniquely, and as I yearn for all of us together to be free of it.

When Christ saw suffering, he felt it deep in his guts. It overwhelmed him. I’m nowhere near that skilled at compassion, but I still got overwhelmed by others’ suffering at an early age. I was never taught how to manage that – as no one around me really valued those feelings in the first place – and a fair portion of decisions in my life have probably been decided from a place of trying to manage that empathy. And I think this level of empathy is common in a lot of us who do anti-oppression work. Sometimes we do whatever we do to fight Empire for ourselves or our friends and neighbors. Sometimes we do what we do because seeing others’ pain reminds us of moments of pain in our lives, or reminds us of our own luck, or frailty. Sometimes we do it because suffering isn’t ever that far away from us in our own heads, and being of some use to another or easing someone else’s pain can help us all stay alive.

As I said before, it’s vital to me to keep trying to understand Empire. But it can be easy to forget that there’s no life force in Empire. Plants grow toward the sun that feeds them, but there’s nothing in Empire that feeds. I need to make sure and get fed elsewhere. I need to remember to find structures that *nourish*, that don’t destroy. I need to remember to stay very near those things that make life worth living.

To borrow phrasing from Kate Bornstein: the key is to find where Empire *is*, and then go *someplace else.* (She uses this idea to leave gender, not Empire. But I think there’s truth in my sentence too.) I need to keep in mind that I’m learning about Empire not to get closer to it, but specifically to know exactly where it is, so that I can go exist someplace else.

Now, when I say “someplace else”, I’m not talking geographically. There’s no nation somewhere devoid of Empire… at least not for long. But there’s mental spaces and emotional spaces and spiritual spaces and fleshy spaces where Empire *can’t* go. And I must remember this, and not forget. Empire loves to condense the universe down to only the places it can reach. But there are planes of existence that Empire cannot comprehend and cannot enter. Some are broad expanses in the opposite direction from Empire. And some are whole universes hidden just adjacent to Empire, in the cracks Empire leaves.

That time you have felt the freest you’ve ever felt? That’s still somewhere in you… in some bones or some squishy parts somewhere. You will always carry that knowledge in your body, and Empire will never understand how to be inside that freedom. It’s a freedom too strange to be conquered. The times we’ve connected with others in ways that made us feel bigger and truer… those realities are inside us and a part of us too. Empire has no idea how to be in those places. The times when you and I have loved and been loved… every single ounce of love and care and nourishment poured into or out of us, whether we realized it or not… all of that is still in us. Whether the person stayed in our lives a long time or a short time. Whether the person was us or someone else. Every moment of true care given to us or by us shines in us. It multiplies the substance of our self and feeds us and holds us up. It makes us real and strong. Empire is left lost and impotent at the thinnest presence of love.

This is what the kingdom of God is like, to me. It’s paradoxical. It’s not subject to the laws of physics. It’s the realm of the Creator of the entire universe, and it’s tiny, like a mustard seed. It cannot sweep in like a military general and force itself into this world; it’s hidden. And yet, it is as prevalent as water, as yeast and bread, and as the earth we travel upon. It is poetic and truthful, and defies description. It is the force of new life bringing itself forth. It is craving and passion and creativity within us. It is our own desire for freedom, for self-expression and self-determination.

I think my faith asks me to be two different bodies at once, in the same flesh — my compassionate body and my kingdom body. Christ suffered and felt the suffering of others. And I believe as a Christian I’m called to be present to my own suffering and others’ as much as I am able to — and honestly, sometimes I can’t do one, or the other, or both. That’s okay. I’m never going to hold it all. I’ve tried. Sometimes I still try. And Empire is built to make me feel like a failure, and make itself feel inevitable. Inevitable because I’m human and limited, and we’re all human and limited. And we won’t ever make Empire go away.

I’m never going to be able to hold all of humanity or all of suffering or all of Empire in this body, not entirely. I’m not meant to. There’s something else far more important to hold in this flesh too: the kingdom. The reality of all the times I’ve been loved, or been free, or been truthful about who I am. All the times I’ve been happy or joyous or ecstatic. All the times people I love have been near me. All the times I feel God. Those are all, always present in me. With each one of these experiences the kingdom grows, in this body and in this world. The more time I spend in this space, the more I exist and the fuller I grow. The more time I spend exploring and creating this mental, spiritual and/or physical space, the more it is available to all of us, regardless of common physical constrictions.

The point of understanding Empire is to know right where it is, so that we can go someplace else — above or underneath or around back of Empire. Between or through or behind Empire.

There’s plenty of things that the kingdom is like. The kingdom of God is like a zine. The kingdom of God is like a tumblr account. The kingdom of God is like the kitchen dance of people cooking something together. The kingdom of God is like the way you identify your gender today.

Do these two bodies, these two fleshy existences coexist? Absolutely. Are they opposites? Not at all. For where there is suffering, there is God also.

But I have to remind myself that my human mind cannot simultaneously focus on Empire and on the kingdom. I must lead myself to one or the other. I study the former not as an end unto itself, but only to better understand the latter. And that perhaps for each hour I spend studying Empire, I need to spend some amount of time seeking the kingdom. For it is there where we are all truly valued, and replenished, and loved.

Published in: on July 10, 2013 at 6:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Racist and Anti-Racist

I’m white/European-American and recently added “racist and anti-racist” to my Twitter bio. I’m writing about that not because it’s a great feat of any sort. But it’s a reflection of something important to me and something I want to write down here… just in case anyone asks what the hell I’m getting at. It’s a reflection of an identity I’m trying to own.

I’m not even sure how to talk about this. My language, knowledge and training are profoundly inadequate.

I’ve been expanding my Twitter timeline more actively lately, and I’ve found several people saying really important things on vital, life-giving subjects. Some directly engage race issues, like Bruce Reyes-Chow, who just came out with the book But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race, and Cristina Cleveland, who does work around understanding privilege, and rooting out white supremacy in the body of Christ, making space for Christians to truly value diversity. I follow Janet Mock, an advocate for trans folk and for trans people of color especially, educating our culture regarding some of the challenges faced at the intersection of gender and race. They are authors and activists putting themselves out there as touchpoints for conversations that need to happen. So, I know I’m actively invited to follow them even as I’m often challenged and intimidated by what they say and the good work they do.

I follow other strangers that simply come from a different racial background than me, and others who are white but get caught up in certain race-related issues. I’ve recently followed several Muslim women of different racial backgrounds, and I learn from them about their lives, and about Islam and the intersections of race, ethnicity and religion. I have no personal connection to Islam, though, and a little secondhand knowledge of it. Gaining knowledge is part of the reason I’m following their Twitter accounts, and my understanding is that I’m invited (in general, not individually) to follow their thoughts. I’m not unwelcome, I don’t think, or I’d leave. Mostly, I shut up and listen/read. I do worry sometimes though, especially when they say something I want to retweet, if a RT functions as a respectful notation/passing along of ideas… or if it takes certain information, filtered through my interests/desires, out of context in disrespectful ways.

And I wonder in interacting with all of them, their Twitter lives and insights and work and persons, how I can best do that without being a douchebag.

I’ve spent most of my life exploring justice issues, but it’s been years since I’ve directly studied race issues, their effect on me and my impact on issues of race. This reality is directly tied to the enormous amount of white privilege I have. I have benefitted every day of my life from racist structures. I have had the luxury of going weeks, months or years without thinking much about my race if I don’t want to. I know I was trained to be racist, and that I still am, and that I will continue to be even as I hate being racist and try not to be.

I’m looking for ways to understand my privilege, and learn more about what I don’t know. I’m looking to understand my own culture better, and how it differs from other cultures, so I don’t project it or its standards onto other people (or, if that’s impossible, do it less). I’m looking for that balance of speaking up when I can accomplish something that lessens oppression in the world, and shutting up when my input would increase oppressive control over others. I hope to keep learning about other folks’ lives and lived cultural connections without simplifying, colonizing or appropriating (if that’s possible).

So, in case you were wondering, that’s what I mean when I say I’m racist and antiracist.

Published in: on July 6, 2013 at 7:25 pm  Leave a Comment