I Am Proud Of Myself For

I hate the concept of “humblebrag.” I can see how it might be irritating to see someone saying something positive about themselves but then covering it up as “no big deal” or as if it’s actually a negative or whatever, so in theory, I can see the purpose of this term. But in practice, I usually see it used as a way to shut down women and other people who haven’t historically had access to the idea of bragging in a positive context, or calling attention to themselves in any way that’s not considered shameful or out of place. So.

Further, there’s a cultural component to this. The idea that it’s generally a good thing to call attention to your accomplishments and express pride for them is a pretty Western idea. (Not to imply that all Westerners agree with it, obviously, just that it’s associated with individualistic cultures.) My upbringing discouraged me from expressing pride for myself, and not just because of gender. In my family we don’t feel “proud” of ourselves. We do what needs to be done, we achieve, we accept compliments graciously, but we certainly don’t express pride.

I had this illustrated to me at a pretty young age. I had a parent-teacher conference in elementary school and my teacher required me to tell my parents one thing I wanted to work on and one thing I was proud of myself for. I stumbled over the awkward English phrases, sensing that my parents found the exercise ridiculous.

And they did. For years after, at dinner parties and family gatherings, they mocked “these Americans” who asked me to do such a silly thing. “I am proud of myself for!” they mimicked, laughing. If wasn’t just unusual to them; it was so ridiculous they couldn’t relate the incident with straight faces. Of all the Russians they told that anecdote to, every one laughed.

Later on they would occasionally say “We are very proud of you” on certain occasions, like when I graduated from college or otherwise achieved something important. Although we speak almost entirely in Russian, that was a sentence they only ever said in English, almost tongue-in-cheek, always with the unspoken implication that this is what “these Americans” would say at such a moment, and, after all, we live in America now. They never said it in Russian. I don’t even know how to say it in Russian, because I’ve never heard it or read it in a book. I certainly don’t know how to say “I’m proud of myself,” either.

And I want to be clear: as much as my parents mocked the idea of stating your own self-pride, they never withheld actual love or pride for me. It was just expressed differently. And I was expected to show self-pride through confidence, assertiveness, and self-motivation, not with phrases like “I am proud of myself for.”

What y’all call “humblebragging” is what to us is just…talking about yourself. There is no other way. “Humility” is a word many Westerners use with a negative connotation, but for other people, it’s an essential trait. When I see the snarking about “humblebragging,” I see another reminder that you think that your values are the only valid ones. I resent the constant implication that I have to act exactly like you even though my heart rests in a home where your language is only used either to discuss computer problems or as a joke.

“I am proud of myself for.” It took years to even be able to understand the meaning of this phrase, and I’m glad I did. But yes, it’s hard to throw away my upbringing. I certainly won’t do it just to avoid the ridicule of some Facebook asshole.

I Will Probably Never Come Out To My Family And That’s Okay

#homophobia

Despite being a financially independent adult, I am not out to my parents or anyone in my extended family. There are two reasons for this. The primary reason is that I already know exactly what they think of people like me, and the secondary reason is that I just have no reason to tell them or to want them to know that about me.

A lot of it, both the homophobia and my need to keep close ties to my family and my resultant silence, is probably a cultural thing. If you think the homophobia is bad here, it’s much worse where my family is from. (But you probably know that already; that country’s terrible LGBT rights record lands it on the news all the time.) I think my family is actually quite progressive compared to most people over there. A relative of mine told me once that she visited home and people there were surprised to hear that she “allows” her (adult!) daughter to be friends with a gay man. Friends. With a gay man. She said she had to leave the conversation because of the way it was going.

In our culture family trumps everything. Absolutely everything. Your family, including your extended family, will help you in any way they can–give you a couch to crash on when you’re in town, let you stay in a spare room without paying rent when you have nowhere else to go, lend you money, give you free childcare, listen to you talk about your problems, and, of course, cook you many, many meals. Of course many American families will do many of these things, to varying extents, but having been a part of both cultures, I can attest to the fact that there’s something different.

It’s not just that losing the support of my family could be dangerous, if not physically then mentally. It’s also that, despite all the things they don’t know about me, I feel close to them in a way I don’t feel to anyone else. I’m comfortable around them in a way that nobody else can make me comfortable. I can tell them things I can’t tell anyone, not any of my partners or closest friends. They are the only people I can talk to when I’m extremely upset, though I usually choose not to because I can cope by myself. I’m pretty sure they would never abandon me, not even if I came out, but that would make things tense and difficult and painful.

Of course, there are already tensions. I’m tired of having to justify so many of my decisions to my family, including my choice of career, my choice of relationship styles, my choice of partners (namely, non-Jewish), and even, sometimes, my choice of friends (namely, I’m not interested in being friends with some of the people they want me to be friends with.) It’s exhausting, but it’s manageable. Because at least they don’t hate the thought of any of these things; they just happen to disagree with my decisions.

Queerness would make it much, much harder.

Despite the difficulties I have with my family, my experience with them is overwhelmingly positive. More so than with many other people with whom I’m much more politically aligned and open, to be honest.

It is difficult for fellow progressives to understand my decision about not coming out to my family, especially when they’re straight (but well-meaning) and have never had to grapple with this themselves.

The first annoying thing that people do is that they assume this is just the first or second stage of some “process.” You know, like “denial is the first stage” and all that. They claim, explicitly or implicitly, that there will come a time when I will understand that I need to come out to my family in order to be “fulfilled.”

Part of it is probably those bullshit models of Gay Identity Development or whatever that have “coming out” as the apex stage. Until you come out, to everyone, you are not a self-actualized queer person according to these models.

Needless to say, that’s a complete sack of turds. I am comfortable with my queerness. I relish it. I am joyfully open about it with my friends and acquaintances, and sometimes even classmates. I easily came out to my interviewers in my last job interview (it was relevant), and I got the job, so, you know, whatever. My desire to maintain a good relationship with my family has nothing to do with how I feel about or process my own queer identity. The problem is with them, not me, and I’m quite aware of it.

Another part of it is the possibility that coming out will be unavoidable. “But what if you end up marrying a woman?” people say to me. Well, yes, then I would probably come out rather than elope. But, honestly, that’s not very likely for me at this point. I don’t prioritize marriage very highly. I don’t prioritize integrating a long-term, serious partner into my biological family unless everyone is super into the idea, and since my partners are rarely Jewish, my biological family is rarely super into the idea. I do prioritize remaining close with and comfortable with my biological family, however, and I have always known that marrying a woman and/or coming out will probably destroy that forever.

Is marriage worth that? For many people, yeah, but not for me.

The second annoying thing people do is related to the first one, and it’s that they assume that my relationship with my family is suffering because of my decision not to come out to them, and that I am suffering too, because they don’t know Who I Really Am.

“How could you keep something so big from them?” they ask. “Don’t you want them to know who you really are?”

No, not really. There are plenty of things about me, important things, that my family does not know and hopefully never will. There are entire huge swaths of my life that are just blank spaces in their minds, unless they’ve filled them in with their imaginations. And that’s how I like it.

But also, it’s curious that people seem to universally assume that which types of people I happen to be attracted to is such an essential part of Who I Really Am, so much so that it would actually pain me not to be out to my family. Truthfully, the only reason I think about my sexual orientation at all is probably because this society forces me to, all the time. I adopt the label “queer” and I come out to most people I know (except my family) in order to intentionally push back against a structure that says that queerness is disgusting, bad, and morally suspect. In the absence of homophobia and heterocentricity, which is an absence that’s nearly impossible to imagine, I would probably have no need or reason to label my sexual attractions at all.

So, yes, it’s a part of who I am, but at the same time, it’s…not. It feels weird when my parents don’t know what I write about or what I love to do in my spare time, but it doesn’t feel weird that they don’t know I’m queer. Maybe that’s a self-defense mechanism I’ve cultivated, maybe not, but regardless, I have no burning desire to reveal My True Self to them in that way, and it’s condescending to assume otherwise.

The third annoying thing that people do is they concern-troll me about What Will Happen If I Get Outed. Yes, believe it or not, I have actually considered that possibility a lot, because, believe it or not, queers think about these things.

First of all, whenever I have friends or partners who are going to meet my family, I ask them beforehand, awkward and hopefully unnecessarily as it is, to make sure not to mention anything about me being queer or anything about my non-male partners to my family. So that takes care of accidental outing by friendly agents.

As for non-accidental outing by non-friendly agents, that’s even assuming that these hypothetical people are able to find my parents, and assuming that my parents believe some spiteful tattling rando they’ve never heard of. This seems highly unlikely. But if it happens, my response will be, “I think it’s pretty creepy that this person seems so obsessed with my private life,” and leave it at that.

And if my parents somehow stumble upon the information themselves, well, I know them well enough to know that they’d be too embarrassed and disturbed to bring it up with me, and it would probably never be mentioned at all. Sometimes I idly wonder if this has actually already happened.

Regardless, if asked directly, I will be honest. I don’t like to lie. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to open the can of worms myself.

The final annoying thing that people do is “YEAH WELL IF THEY WON’T ACCEPT YOU FOR WHO YOU REALLY ARE THEN FUCK ‘EM YOU DON’T NEED THAT IN YOUR LIFE.”

I don’t want to even dignify this ignorance with a response, but I will, just to say this: yes, I need them in my life. No, I don’t need to justify or defend that to anyone.

So yeah, you know, it’s annoying to hear my parents say things like “Do you have a boyfriend?” or “You should _____ if you want guys to like you” (the second is annoying for a multitude of reasons), but they’d do that even if I came out. Because most likely, they’d just refuse to believe me and then ignore the new information as though I never told it to them. Or they’d just start including little stinging microaggressions in every statement (“We’ll pass those clothes down to you when you have children…assuming you even can…“). Or they’ll never speak to me in any sort of normal parent-to-adult-child way ever again.

What’s the point?

If there’s anything I would want people to take from this, especially straight people, it’s that we should recognize the fact that there are uncountably many different queer experiences and not all of them are centered on the idea of coming out, and not all of them are “unfulfilled” or “full of shame” or “sad” just because they include neither that Ultimate Hallmark Family Coming Out Moment nor the Brave Self-Actualized Cutting Off Of Family Ties that sometimes follows coming out.

I don’t want or need either of those in my life. I wish I could come out, but only because I wish my family were not homophobic. Given that they are, this is the right decision for me.

No True Lover

I was trying to explain polyamory to my mother a few nights ago (not for the first time) and we kept getting stuck on the same things.

She kept saying, “But wouldn’t he feel disgusted knowing that his girlfriend had just slept with someone else and now she’s sleeping with him?”

I said, well, anyone who feels that disgusted about it probably won’t be trying polyamory anytime soon. The people I know who practice it do not find that disgusting.

“But they should.”

Why?

“Because it’s just disgusting.”

To you. But not to them.

“Then there’s something wrong with them.”

Why is there something wrong with them?

“Because if there wasn’t, they would think it’s disgusting.”

And on and on it went.

This is something I notice otherwise rational people a lot, this circuitous post-facto justification of opinions that are actually based on one’s personal feelings about something. A lot of people think polyamory is Wrong because they personally find the thought of it unpleasant. I used to, too.

When I presented her with a few stories of people who had been happily living in polyamorous relationships/marriages for years, seemingly without feeling disgusted every time one of their partners came back from spending time with a metamour, she changed her argument.

“They don’t truly love anyone, then.”

Why not?

“Because if they loved someone, they wouldn’t even think of sleeping with someone else.”

What about people who cheat?

“Well, their partners aren’t okay with that.”

So if they are okay with it, then they’re not in love?

“Right.”

I asked her what it would mean if someone who feels themselves to be in love with their partner nevertheless wants to sleep with other people, too, and is completely okay with their partner doing the same. Not just a grudging acceptance, but an eager agreement, even a joyful encouragement.

“Then they must not really love them. Then you have never truly loved anyone.”

But what if I feel that I love them?

“Then you’re feeling something else and you’re calling it love.”

People who oppose polyamory with these sorts of justifications–not that it’s morally wrong in any sense (my mother is not religious), but that it’s a sign of something wrong with you–define their own feelings and their own sense of what is mentally normal in opposition to the behavior of others. A “normal” person feels disgusted at the thought of their partner having sex with someone else. Therefore, a person who does not feel disgusted at this thought is abnormal. A person who is in love does not want to have sex with anyone else. Therefore, a person who wants to have sex with someone besides their partner is not in love with that partner.

What I perceive love to be doesn’t matter.

In fact, I am quite certain that I have loved several people, and even though some of those relationships were monogamous (some never even reached the relationship stage at all), I don’t think I was ever able or willing to commit to a lifetime without so much as a kiss with someone else.

Some (including, most likely, my mother) would say that that’s mainly a consequence of my age, even though plenty of people have gotten married at my age or younger, and that at my age it is impossible to “truly” love someone.

(Again, defining things as is most convenient for you.)

I love, and I have loved. Maybe by my mother’s definition, it isn’t really love. Maybe I am incapable of feeling love like that. Maybe there is something horribly wrong with me. Maybe I am a broken person. Maybe my brain is wrong. Maybe I am missing out on a wondrous, unimaginable (to me) experience that humans have longed for throughout the millennia, written songs and novels and plays about, painted paintings of, suffered over, killed for, died for.

I have entertained all of these possibilities.

And to them, I say:

So what?

I like the way I feel when I love someone. What I call love, I experience in several varieties that all feel irreplaceably different. I don’t love all of my partners in the same ways. I don’t love all of my friends in the same ways. I don’t love all of the people I’m not sure whether to call “partner” or “friend” in the same ways.

I don’t really care if what I call love is what other people call love. If my partners love me back, I don’t care if their subjective experience of that love is the same as mine. Things like that used to concern me an awful lot–who loves the other “more,” who cares “more,” who loves the other “how,” all that other rubbish my depression filled my brain with–but nowadays I rarely think about it.

I hope that when my partners think about me they think about comfort, joy, lust, respect, admiration, gratitude, appreciation, beauty, fun. That’s what love basically is to me, with varying amounts of each of these depending on the person. With my boyfriend, the ones that jump out the most are comfort, lust, respect, and fun. With my best friend, it’s comfort, admiration, and gratitude. But they’re all there.

If this isn’t The Real Love Referenced In Famous Films And Novels, well, whatever. I’ll take what I’ve got, without the monogamy, the jealousy, the fights about what does and doesn’t count as cheating, the worries about trying to be everything the other has ever wanted sexually, the suspicion of ex-partners and relevantly gendered friends.

So I’ve never Really Loved anyone and never will. Fine by me.

Feelings of Hopelessness

#depression #mentalillness #suicide

One commonly cited symptom of major depression and persistent depressive disorder (formerly known as dysthymia) is “feelings of hopelessness.”

“Hope,” and by extension “hopelessness,” is one of those vague concept-nouns that most English-speaking people “just know” the meaning of, but it’s probably difficult to imagine what it’s actually like to have no hope. How that looks. How that feels.

I am one of those people about whom others speak using phrases like “bright future” and “high achieving.” When I graduated from college and joked that my diploma is the most expensive piece of paper I will ever have, my brother said, “But what about the deed to a house?” He said it with a tone like it’s self-evident that I will someday own a house.

I don’t think I will own a house. I don’t think I’ll ever own anything that costs more than a few thousand dollars at most, but that’s okay. That’s not really the issue.

I’m sure that the reason people are so optimistic about my future is part privilege and part the fact that I genuinely do come across as a capable person who works hard and accomplishes things. It doesn’t really matter. I don’t see what they see.

On “good” days, I just don’t give a fuck about what happens to me more than about six months out. It’s not anything I have any interest in. I’m sure it won’t be especially great or happy or fulfilling, so I have no reason to think about it.

On bad days, I’m actively afraid and horrified about my future. I don’t think I’ll ever find a stable relationship close to home. If I decide I want children, I will not have anyone to have them with, nor the money to give them a good life. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford to live anywhere I’d actually enjoy living. I think that my job, if I manage to find one after I finish my degree, will be awful, dreary, boring, low-paid, even abusive. (Sadly, this does seem to describe many jobs in my field, though certainly not all of them.) I think that my friends will start their own families and largely forget about me. I think that my own family will always be just out of reach, an expensive plane ticket away, growing older without me there.

I think about the frankly ridiculous notion that you can either have a low-paid but fulfilling job or a high-paid but unfulfilling one, and my friends’ frankly useless reassurances that “Well, at least you’ll be doing something you love, right?”, and I just know that I’ll be stuck with a low-paid and unfulfilling job for life, miserable while at work but with no money to do anything pleasant while outside of it.

Tell me truthfully–if you were certain that your future was going to look like this, would you be all that interested in seeing it happen?

Although I’m not suicidal at the moment, I have been in the past, and I can say that this profound sense of hopelessness influenced it. (There are other factors that contribute to suicidality, obviously, such as feeling like a burden to your loved ones, being in so much pain you can’t stand it, etc.) If the endpoints of the spectrum of my feelings about my future are “meh I don’t give a flying fuck” and “oh god please don’t make me,” well, what really is the point?

For now, the point is that I’ve managed to convince myself that my hopelessness does not follow from the evidence. There are reasons to be worried, yes, maybe not too terribly optimistic given the economy and the political climate and the profession I chose and the city I want to live in, but there is no reason to believe that I will never, ever, have anything I want in any domain of my life, be it family or finances or friendship or romance or career or location or leisure. That just doesn’t make any sense. Nobody with as much privilege as I have, and as many social resources, gets fucked that badly.

Right?

“I’m not hungry.” “Good!”

#eatingdisorders #mentalillness #bodyimage #weight #food

There was a point in my life–the point at which my body started “developing,” as they euphemistically put it–that food suddenly became Bad rather than Good for me at home.

If you have children or have been a child with attentive parents, you probably remember the squabbles over eating. “But I’m not hungry.” “Sweetie, you need to eat. How else are you going to grow?” “I don’t want any more.” “Just one more bite, and then you can have ice cream.”

I also had these conversations as a child, once.

Then it all changed seemingly overnight.

“I don’t want any more.” “Good!” “I can’t, I lost my appetite.” “Good!”

It must’ve taken a few years, but by the time I was in high school, the implications were clear: not eating is virtually always good. Any reason or excuse or motivation you can find within yourself to not eat, or eat less, is good.

“Wow, I was so engrossed in this book that I totally forgot about dinner.” “Good!”

I hate feeling hungry. Always have, still do. So it wasn’t that I wanted to “go hungry,” as it were. But lived for those things that made me forget about eating or to lose my appetite: distraction, sickness, tricks played by certain foods.

“I only had an apple and some almonds today!” “Good!”

Nowadays I don’t do that sort of restriction anymore. I try to eat at least two full meals a day, though sometimes that’s impossible because I’m busy and can’t cook and end up eating energy bars or pretzels instead. I eat bagels with cream cheese and chocolate and macaroni (sometimes with cheese) and ice cream and pizza and other Bad Things, usually without thinking about calories.

I also don’t think I’m fat or ugly; I don’t like everything about my body but overall I’m fine with it the way it is. I’m comfortable with the curves and folds that I have. Buying clothes does still cause frustration, anxiety, and even panic, but I recognize that that’s more because of the bullshit idea that humans can all discretely fit into categories like Extra Small, Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large, and Extra Extra Large with neither overflow nor empty space.

But my actual attitudes about food haven’t really changed. When I’m sick or when I realize I’ve been too busy writing to remember to eat, I still reflexively think, “Good!” When I get hungry, I think, “Fuck, again?” Although I don’t normally think of it this way, I “practice” eating normally several times a day, and I enjoy eating–I love the taste and feel of food–but I can’t stop wishing I didn’t need it.

I’m so much better off than I could be, given how dangerous and tenacious eating disorders are. But it’s not just about the symptoms. It’s about the ways in which certain thought patterns–entire belief systems, really–take root in your brain, seemingly for good.