Mental Health Musings

So I’ve been thinking lately, as I do.  I completed my first semester of grad school at the School of Social Work, and as such I feel that I’m well on my way to achieving my goal of becoming a licensed clinical social worker.  I’ve wanted to be a therapist since high school, when my father kindly informed me that, should I wish to be a writer, I should also have a(nother) job so that I can actually make a living.  So here I am, eight years later, making this dream a reality slowly but surely.

I also have a field placement at Madison’s local Clubhouse, which is a part of Clubhouse International and utilizes the Clubhouse Model of Psychosocial Rehabilitation.  I’m a huge fan of both my placement and Clubhouse International, and I absolutely love being a student intern of sorts at my current location.  However, it’s given me the opportunity to puzzle over mental health and where, as a practitioner, I would draw a line.  What exactly separates me from the Clubhouse members I interact with twice a week for sixteen hours?  And when I’m actually an LCSW, what then?  Because in all reality, all it takes is a severe flare-up of symptoms conflated with bad circumstances and I, too, could become psychiatrically hospitalized, or be considered as having severe and persistent mental illness.

These thoughts then lead to this all-important question: how do I identify as a person with mental illness?  Do I even identify that way?  My diagnoses to date are Gender Identity Disorder (known as Gender Dysphoria in the current DSM); Major Depressive Episodes, recurrent; Dysthymia; and let’s throw in Anxiety Disorder, NOS just for kicks and giggles.  However, I’ve always approached my mental health from the standpoint of, “Well, I may have these diagnoses, but my mental health concerns aren’t as severe as [insert example here].”  And so I’ve never truly identified as someone with a mental illness.  In fact, I actively avoid using the term “mental illness” and try instead to talk about “mental health concerns”, as opposed to discussing mental health from an epidemiological framework.

So where does that place me on the spectrum of being an individual with mental illness?  A lot of the people I interact with at the Clubhouse identify as having mental illnesses and use this as a form of self-empowerment.  For more information, just look more into the history of the psychiatric survivors movement.  Individuals come to terms with their diagnoses, and can use this knowledge to help guide them in self-determination of what services from which they would benefit the most.

I’m thinking that stigma is the biggest factor in people — myself included — not wanting to identify as a person with a mental illness.  Overcoming this stigma is just one of the many civil rights movements facing the world today.  And it all starts with education and the desire to understand and accept others, regardless of who they are or where they’ve been.  Hopefully I’ll get there someday.

Awash in Sexy-ness

In case you didn’t know, I’m asexual.  I’ll pause for the inevitable gasps of horror and confusion.  And now I’ll continue:

I’m asexual, more specifically demisexual, and I’ve been having a very hard time lately reconciling my identity with the world around me.  Movies, songs, classroom lectures, and my friends all point to the fact that this society I live in is a sexual one.  A sexy culture, one in which the odd asexual out feels…well, like the odd one out.  And I do.  It’s gotten to the point where I police conversations for sexy content and then loudly and obnoxiously interrupt with, “Yeah, but don’t forget about the asexuals!” or “Well, some people don’t feel that way,” etcetera.  And in places where I feel that my identity as ace should be welcomed with open, accepting arms, I’m finding it’s generally ignored — and sometimes given a sarcastic look and a, “Really, Brannen, really?” kind of response.

I find this lack of openness to asexuality to be rather annoying, and worryingly disconcerting.  My friends know full well I’m asexual, yet I have no asexual friends.  So I would hope that the sexual folks I interact with on a daily basis (read: my close friends) could find it within themselves to express acceptance of my identity.  And sometimes this happens.  But often it is ignored, and at worse provoked with sexy comments to get a negative reaction out of me.  This leaves me with a feeling of hopelessness, thinking that the asexual community will never fully be recognized as a valid (a)sexual orientation, let alone that I may find people in my life who really, truly accept and embrace me for me; and yes, even the crazy asexy part of myself.  And on days like this I can’t help but wonder if having just one asexual friend would make a difference in my pessimism.

So if there are any asexuals in the Madison area, especially ones looking for asexual connections and conversation, hit me up.  Let me know in the comments, stalk me on Facebook, whatever…I’m always open for a nice chat over coffee or tea.  And cake.  Always cake.

Pronouns on Parade

Well, I’ve gone and stepped in it now.  The past week or so has seen me e-mailing all of my professors, and my bell choir director, and explaining that I’m trans and want to go by gender-neutral pronouns.  What’s more is that I’ve told people this in person; first my field seminar (a grand total of maybe twelve people), my friends, and my parents.  Well, the last group over Skype, but still.  It’s a huge step forward.  Reactions have ranged from positive to neutral (pun not entirely intended), and so far I’m feeling very happy about the results of my labors.  My favorite reaction was from my dad, who after a while admitted that this might be easier for him than trying to remember he/him/his versus she/her/hers.  And then we spent a while constructing ridiculous sentences involving they/them/their pronouns instead.  It was a very good feeling.

The only trouble I can forsee is people not automatically using neutral pronouns and just using he/him/his.  I think I need advice as far as how I should handle that.  Additionally, some people — my bell choir director, to name an example — didn’t really express whether or not they would use neutral pronouns for me.  I need to come up with some kind of way to reinforce this with people who seem ambivalent or blatantly avoid talking about the issue.  But I guess I’ll cross those bridges when I get there.

GLAAD Media Reference Guide

In many of my readings for my social work courses I’ve come across the term “transgendered.”  I’m horribly disheartened by this particularly in a 2007 article published by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).  I found a PDF of it online, and can give it to anyone interested in it.  It’s called “Bending Gender, Ending Gender: Theoretical Foundations for Social Work Practice with the Transgender Community” by Barb Burdge.  Clearly the NASW is not practicing diversity and cultural competency as properly as it expects its students to do.  Thankfully there’s this to help them out.  Thank you GLAAD for making this reference.  I will definitely add this to my list of resources.

Midnight Musings (or, Pronoun Problems)

Well, it’s 4:21am, but Midnight Musings sounded better than “I should be fucking asleep o’clock in the morning.”

Anyways.

I’ve been thinking lately.  You know, that thing I do sometimes.  It’s been many, many months in the making, probably since before top surgery but not properly made aware of until afterwards.  As I’ve mentioned in numerous videos on my Youtube page, and probably on here as well, I started my transition not because I identified as a man trapped in a woman’s body, or because I felt like I was FTM, or a trans man, or any of that stuff that falls on the gender binary.  No, I transitioned because I was stifled, suffocating under a name and body that were far too easily labeled as one or the other — in my case, as female.  I chose a “boy” name that I modified to look more neutral (and I personally think “Brannen” sounds fairly neutral, too), and my middle name was chosen purely for gender neutrality reasons.  And it sounded pretty, but I digress.  So I socially transitioned from Stephanie Michelle to Brannen Skyler the morning of — and many mornings after — graduating from college.  Overall this was well-received by my family and friends; I only have one set of friends who I do not speak with, and my girlfriend’s family does not (for the most part) recognize our relationship or my actual identity.  But so it goes.

When I moved to Illinois I was in such a rush to just start physically transitioning to something, anything other than so overtly female that I forgot myself a little.  Or rather, a lot.  I fell into the trap that many trans folk find themselves in: I went to the other end of the spectrum to the extreme.  And granted, my extreme isn’t becoming a miniature beefcake stud-muffin manly man, but I still did it.  I was on a standard dose of testosterone for maybe one and a half years, and especially in that half year I was so focused on top surgery — my true goal for physical transition — that I forgot about almost all of my identity.  In short, I lost myself to my transition.  Do I regret it?  Minorly, but it happens.  I’m only human, after all.  A gender neutral, transgender person-type-thing of a human, but a human nonetheless.  And shit happens.

By this point, now that I’m in Madison and in school, I’ve recaptured another part of my identity, which is being a student.  I’ve missed that part of myself tremendously.  And I’ve also missed my silly gender neutral part of myself.  It flies under the radar, because I grew up purposefully trying to do so.  It was probably subconscious on my part, knowing that my differentness would somehow not be accepted by mainstream society.  But the more I sit here and mull over myself and where I want to be, the more I realize that I might not be able to fly under the radar for my own well-being and general sanity.  I can’t just shove my gender neutral identity to the side and subsume a purely transgender identity, but rather they need to merge into one another.

And so comes the penultimate point of this post: pronouns.  I started going by masculine (he/him/his/himself) pronouns once I started socially transitioning.  I’ve been thinking, even when I was in Illinois, that I might want to go by gender neutral pronouns.  Honestly, I’d rather people just use no pronouns at all and use my name (because I picked it myself and I’m oh so proud of it), but realistically I know this is asking a lot of people.  So I really feel I need to go with the lesser of all potential evils and decide which pronouns I’d rather people use when they’re just not up to avoiding pronouns altogether.  And I’m increasingly feeling like singular they (they/them/their/themself) would suit my identity and my comfort level the best of all possible pronouns, gender neutral or otherwise.

I just don’t know how to go about asking people to switch pronouns again.  My girlfriend pointed out that this would probably be an even more difficult adjustment for people to get used to.  On the other hand, they’ve already accepted a “girl” becoming a guy-like individual…although to be honest, there wasn’t all that much further for me to go in that regard.  If they can wrap their heads around that concept, then wouldn’t using neutral pronouns almost help any lingering confusion?  I don’t know what to do at this point in time, and it scares me.  Plain and simple, I’m scared, but cautiously optimistic.  You know, that thing I do sometimes.