Bunny Love: What My House Rabbit Teaches Me About Relationships

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Adoption Day Portrait by my human

I’m a real sucker for weirdos, both human and non-human. Last April, I arrived at the Humane Society’s rabbit adoption center thinking, “alright, this time, I’m going to adopt a ‘normal’ rabbit.*” After eight years with persnickety rabbits and two difficult years of lagomorphic elder care, I wanted an “easy” bun, a bun to snuggle on my lap, to offer affectionate licks, and to relax upon being picked up. I was shown such a rabbit, a soft gray buck that lay docile in his cage staring up at me with big black eyes.

But I was distracted. A large black bunny was going nuts in the exercise area, digging potential escape routes and sassily kicking up her heels. “She doesn’t get along with other bunnies; I don’t think she’ll ever be bonded,” the volunteer warned me. Diamond Diva had been overlooked for most of a year at the center, with a brief adoption failed due to her aggression towards other animals. This fierce beast was smart, the only bun at the center who could solve a wooden puzzle that rewarded treats. She was a weirdo disconnected from her warren. Intelligent, active, independent… it was love at first sight, no questions asked.

I get myself into these kinds of relationships often. The challenging, exhilarating ones. The ones that push growth through conflict and compromise. Perhaps I subconsciously seek them out, looking for my next puzzle to piece together, striving for solutions to a happy life. At any rate, when I adopted Major Kira Nerys Diamond Diva, I didn’t realize that I was bringing a new mentor into my life, a fuzzy cotton-tailed teacher to remind me how to act with love and respect.

As I was preparing for bunny (which involved months of fancy hutch-building!), I was falling in love with a new human in my life. Having come out of two serial monogamous relationships, I was enthusiastic about my new human’s interest in an open relationship. I had spent most of my twenties in polyamorous partnerships (or destroying monogamous ones before identifying my poly needs), so I was ready to get back on track. However, those three-ish years of monogamy confused my internal wiring. Because friends, family, and lovers saw me as a mainstream, monogamous heterosexual, I internalized the roles of Girlfriend and Future Wife, and all of the assumptions that go along with those identities. I started to see the harmful effects of these mainstream stereotypes in my new human relationship that was supposed to be autonomous, celebratory, and respectful. Much of our mutual pain was a result of insecurities relating to relationships and self. I felt overbearing, greedy, and hysterical as I tried to replicate what a mainstream, big-R Relationship was supposed to look like, even as I preached alternative lifestyles. These forced expectations were not welcome on behalf of my human.

In my recovering from monogamy, it took a rabbit to identify the reasons why the new human and I weren’t getting along. In my relationship with my rabbit, I do not identify us as Owner and Pet. We are co-conspirators; I tend to her needs as she communicates them to me, and through her I gain insight, accomplishment, and a really cute bunny to ogle across the room. I don’t look at her as if she owes me anything; she is a free agent. Some days, Kira is outright miserable: nipping at my clothes, growling at my approaching hands, and staying as far away from me as possible. But other days she binkies with joy to see me, nudges my feet for attention, and does her tooth-grinding purr as she settles in for a good petting. It’s me she looks to when frightened, me she seems to trust most in her world. Kira was not always this way. Over the period of a year, she slowly, cautiously warmed up to me in ways I never expected, and our relationship is still developing. How did I create an environment for us to grow in this way? Through respecting her boundaries, giving her what she asks for within my own limits, and being patient. It hit me hard when I realized that I was not doing the same for my human.

My human and I broke up one year into our Relationship. Breaking up was the best thing for us; I feel immensely closer to him since. From an outsider’s perspective, we still act like a Couple, and often do Couple-y things together: smooching, crying on each others’ shoulders, or going on dates. But escaping that mold of Boyfriend-and-Girlfriend made all the difference when it came to the conflicts that constantly strained our partnership. Since the breakup, we have reset our relationship the way we had wanted it in the first place, built on a foundation of mutual respect and interdependent autonomy. This partnership is somehow easier to navigate without defined terms to describe it.

Like Owner and Pet, the title of Couple is loaded with expectations I am not actually interested in living up to. At this point in my life, I don’t want to get married, I don’t want kids, and I don’t want to feel obligated to a partner’s family or vice versa. I don’t want it to be assumed that a partner and I will share a bed every night, or that we’ll spend our mutual days off together. And I don’t want to be asked in small-talk banter, “So how’s your human doing?” assuming I’m in constant communication with them. The Couple title seemed too much for me to navigate when talking with friends, family, and coworkers who are more conservative or mainstream. The power of this one word, this one concept, seemed to negate my experiences past, present, and future.

What I do want is intimacy, security, and support, and all of these things need not come from a single person. I wish to foster these conditions using all of my relationships, not only lovers, but friends, family, housemates, coworkers, and animal familiars. I want to establish relationships based on particular shared visions with individuals, not governed by what the latest TV dramas, blog articles, or dreamy Instagram photos assume I should be doing at 31 years old.

As with my bunny, I am very close to my human. I strive to treat him as I do with any other animal companion: to give him space when he needs it, to give him special treats, to enjoy the experiences we share together, and to celebrate interests of his that lay outside of our relationship. There is little obligation beyond basic care and respect, and this seems to work well for my bunny, my human, and myself. Through ensuring their general comfort, I’ve found confidence in communicating my own needs to them. In house rabbit care, there are times I need to invade Kira’s space to clean up messes. She is upset, but this assertion on my part leaves us both in a healthier, safer space. I can only hope that the times I’ve brought conflict to my human will prepare us for healthier, safer spaces into the future, for as long as we keep our un-Coupled conspiracy active.

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Major Kira Nerys Diamond Diva

 

 

* We all know “normal” is a construct that doesn’t actually exist, right?

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Detangler and Patience

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This tangle of hair,
a rat’s nest of memories
of speculation
of self-doubt in the face of
carefully constructed conversations.

This blonde hair
needs never met;

A brown hair our meeting, mingling
flesh on flesh;

This pink hair a frazzled friendship
trust torn from the scalp;

And the long, curly hair found under your blankets.

I wallowed in heavy curtains of human hair
yours, mine, hers
a keratin coffin
concealing, encasing
suppressing, oppressing
for Too Long.

How to trust again?
How to love?
With conditioner and comb,
I pick mats apart strand by strand
sometimes scratching too hard at the scabs of your scalping
flakes falling on pillows
for lovers to see.

Detangler and patience.

Bile-soaked hairballs
still threaten to choke when they catch in my throat
As I sweep dusty split ends under the rug.

Welcome to Ponyville

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Unashamed, pretty pretty ponies.

I attended my first My Little Pony convention this weekend.  It’d been about a decade since I’d been to a less-academic, cartoon-based fan convention, and I felt rather wary as to what to expect.  Various blogs and documentaries report conflicting messages about brony culture, and being on the outskirts of the fandom (i.e., not as obsessive as some), I wondered if my n00b would be showing.  Would I get harassed as a female cosplayer?  Are furries as creepy as some people make them out to be?  Would I be shunned for discussing feminism at my panel?  Hours after returning home from a very pony weekend, I find myself reluctant to remove my pegasus hoodie, suffering those distressing “post-con blues.” ‘Cause, damn, I had a good time!

Let’s go back to see when this all started…. [Insert wavy lines here.]  While healing from a rather difficult illness in Spring 2013, I decided watching cartoons was the most my cloudy mind and bedridden body could handle.  I settled on the latest My Little Pony reboot, Friendship is Magic, after hearing good things about the show.  Two episodes in, I was hooked.  Those bright, adorable ponies and their girl-powered adventures and wholesome lessons made me forget my pains and focus on positive things we should all strive for: love, community, mutual aid, and adventure.  No wonder so many adults were falling in love with these peppy equines.

That year, I devoured the rest of the television series, but didn’t find many fellow fans in my friend circles with whom to geek out. My partner, my coworkers, and my friends and family were a bit weirded out by my new interest, which I proclaimed, then defended to each. I was vaguely aware of brony fandom through a documentary I happened across on Netflix called Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Male Fans of My Little Pony.  The most I contributed to this fanbase was writing a review of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic for a political geek blog I help maintain. It wasn’t until the following year, when I had the fortune of meeting a pony fan who would become my best friend, that I was able to start seriously geeking out, our newbie-level interests building on each other.

That being said, I’m nowhere close to competing with many of the bronies out there as far as knowledge of the My Little Pony universe and the elements of its fandom, which extends to art, comic books, card games, music, cosplay, fanfiction, video parodies, and beyond.  But I soon found myself drawing my own fan art, creating an OC (original character, a pony of my own creation), and having in-depth conversations about fictional pony culture and pony identities.  And, yes, a plushie Pinkie Pie made its way to my workbench at the bike shop.

Earlier this year, on a whim, I decided to look up brony conventions, and lo and behold! the neighboring city of Milwaukee was hosting Ponyville Ciderfest in November!  An easy bus ride away!  My curiosity and enthusiasm took over, and I registered.  I even offered to host a panel and facilitate a game.  I had second thoughts, mind you.  And third thoughts, and fourth thoughts.  I discussed attendance with my brony friend J, who also wavered between excitement and skepticism.  Honestly, we were both unsure what to expect from fellow fans, and some of the pseudo-sexualized pony mascots, well, they freaked us the fuck out.

It wasn’t until we started working on our costumes that our excitement outweighed our anxiety.  Wearing costumes at conventions is not required (unless you’re attending a immersive event like Madison’s Teslacon), but many people dress up as their favorite characters for enjoyment and theatrical, role-playing aspects.  (This is called cosplay in nerd terms; think Renaissance Festival, but for your fiction of choice.)  I used to perform in cosplay at anime conventions a decade ago, and have since enjoyed costuming at more historical-based events.  It’s been ages since I cosplayed a specific character, and so putting together a punk version of the timid, animal-loving pony Fluttershy was a real delight!  For J, this would be his first convention cosplay, and it was heartwarming to see his enthusiasm grow as his unicorn costume came together.  There’s just something about putting on another skin for a night or a weekend, exploring your identity through that character, and creating something others appreciate….  But I digress.

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J carving a unicorn horn from crafting foam.

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My favorite detail of my “Flutterpunk” costume.

In the weeks leading up to Ponyville Ciderfest, I frantically worked on the two events I had volunteered for: a panel exploring feminism in My Little Pony, and a customized tabletop role-playing game I would facilitate.  After a frightening visit to the mall for costume pieces, a crafting night or two, and some fretting over game print-outs, we were on the bus to Milwaukee!

My events were scheduled for Friday afternoon and evening, which didn’t leave us much time to explore the convention and get a “feel” for what brony culture was all about.  After checking into the hotel where the con was hosted, J and I donned our costumes and dived right in.  Breezing through a minor fiasco with registration (our panel badges were nowhere to be seen), we explored the vendor/artist room and fell in love with half of the exhibitors there.  SO MANY CUTE THINGS. And talented artists!   There were plush dolls, embroidered patches, charms, clothing, accessories, posters, terrariums, and more. Only a small portion of the fanart was mildly disquieting to us (the pseudo-sexualization thing again).  The convention was family-friendly, and more lascivious art was not allowed.  Good move, Ciderfest. Good move.

Dodging between six-year-olds on the pony-music dance floor and tables full of bronies playing the My Little Pony collectible card game, J and I made our way to the panel we were hosting.  I roped J in last-minute, and he ended up being a fantastic boon to the conversation and facilitation of the panel.  Usually a “panel” consists of three or more people well-versed on the topic at hand, discussing questions from a facilitator and/or audience.  However most panels I attended, including mine, had one person behind the panel table, as the convention did not offer help in finding others to join panels.  (I have no idea how other cons do this, save for the long-running WisCon which is so accommodating in so many ways, I probably shouldn’t compare it to others, especially first-year cons like Ciderfest!)  Many of these one-person panels transformed into group discussions with audience member participation.

For “Equestria as Feminist Utopia: What Can We Learn,” I came prepared for a group discussion on feminism, utopias, and other -isms in the realm of ponies.  I was pleasantly surprised to find many of the 20-some audience members excited to talk about these issues within our favorite fictional world.  Occasionally, the conversation was nearly derailed by obscure fact references (“Well actually, in the So-and-So episode, this pony does THIS, refuting your claim that all ponies something-something.” #notallponies).  This is where J was my savior, roping conversation back in and offering a feminist perspective from a male, the gender expression of choice among audience members.  (I can’t say if the unicorn horn helped; perhaps J was using magic.)  Many perspectives were candidly shared, then discussed by those with differing or similar perspectives.  No one raised their voice, called anyone “wrong,” or acted aggressively in any way.  Honestly, activist organizations could learn a lot from this group of bronies.

In our hour-long panel, we touched on tough topics including the term “feminism,” race, class, gender, and power depicted in the series, and how My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has helped us relate to the “real world” in terms of change for the better.  It was pretty rad, albeit a little nerve-wracking for a Fluttershy to facilitate in previously unknown territory.  I was happy to get compliments from audience members and to make “friends” early in the convention.

Next up: facilitating my tabletop role-playing game!  I’m a huge fan of the 3-hour, self-facilitated game of Fiasco by Bully Pulpit Games.  The game’s creators encourage fans to craft their own “playsets,” or worlds in which to play.  I’d been itching to try my hand at building a playset, and itching to role-play ponies with other fans of the series.  Honestly, that was a big pull for me to attend Ponyville Ciderfest: tabletop gaming.

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Gaming at the convention!

All went well for My Little Pony Fiasco despite my only registered player not showing up!  We were joined by two pick-up players, known only to me as their Fiasco character names Lightblade and Dubstep Moneybags.  Hilarity, destruction, and mayhem ensued, as the game is designed.  Highlights of our shared story were boysenberry lava flows, cultist-bakers, and magical cookbooks.  Need I say more?

With my responsibilities behind me, I enjoyed the second day of the con by attending panels, buying gifts for friends and family, gaming, and drinking cider.  Leading up to the convention, I grew more and more curious about furry culture, as brony and furry culture often overlap.  For those not in-the-know, furries are fans who enjoy anthropomorphized animal characters.  Think Donald Duck, Disney’s Robin Hood, or the Muppets.  Furries, like bronies, often create original characters or identities, and will wear tails, ears, and even full fur-covered suits similar to those you see sports mascots wear.  Furries end up being the butt of people’s jokes more often than not, and the media likes to grab hold of and exaggerate the sexually deviant, fetishized parts of furry culture.  I’ve found myself making these hateful jokes and conflating furry fandom with sexuality, and I’m currently working on understanding, respecting, and celebrating furries as creative, caring individuals.  This internal work is what led me to a panel Saturday morning called “Are Bronies Furries?”, hoping to learn more about both cultures.  As with my panel, the audience participated very candidly and liberally, and I listened to interesting perspectives on how furries are treated by both mainstream society and other fandoms.  I also discovered that a lot of people consider bronies furries, and so if I’m going to be a pony fan, I better teach myself more about these intersectionalities.

Another panel I enjoyed wasn’t a panel at all; it had been cancelled!  But due to poor communication, 20 bronies found themselves in a room waiting for an academic to show up to discuss his research on brony fandom and gender.  After 15 minutes, we decided to push our chairs into a circle and facilitate our own discussion based on anecdotes, observations, and personal experiences involving gender within brony culture.  It was absolutely fantastic, and, again, I was massively impressed by bronies’ abilities to self-facilitate with respect and open minds.  Can I bring y’all to my housing cooperative, please?

Unfortunately, J and I had to book it outta there to join in another tabletop role-playing game, My Little Paranoia: Friendship is Mandatory.  I had been anticipating this game since I read the description a month before.  The game-master (GM) had developed a custom game of Paranoia in which players are ponies living in a dystopian society reminiscent of 1984, but ridiculous rather than depressing.  I had studied my character sheet and flipped through a .PDF of the rulebook online.  I was ready!  ….And so were 13 other people.  Yes, I played a tabletop role-playing game with 14 players and one GM.  It was a lot of fun at first, with each character having space to do their thing, fun props on the table, a boisterous and theatrical GM, and plenty of great ideas floating around.  But as the story developed, mayhem at the table reflected mayhem within the game.  There were a lot of side-comments, derailments, and pointless banter that half of the players really enjoyed, and half of the players were… well, it was difficult to read.  I got pretty exhausted keeping up with it all and bowed out early.  I would love to revisit the game and the GM’s pony modifications with a smaller group of people.

Another point of enjoyment at the convention was the video gaming room.  I hadn’t played dancing games since college, and so I was thrilled to see an arcade version of In the Groove with custom pony songs. (I still have a techno-remix of the Cutie Mark Crusaders song stuck in my head….)  There, too, was a fantastic player-versus-player fighting game featuring the Mane 6 ponies; think Mortal Kombat but with special moves involving confetti canons and aggressive bunny rabbits.

Saturday night was filled with cider-sipping and listening to pony-music at the PON3 Dance, which I had hoped would be a rave with electronic base-dropping wub-wub-wubs, but instead involved a lot of poppy pony vocals.  I tried dancing, but alas, my body mostly wanted to sleep.

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Pony dance party!

Sunday morning, J and I half-assed the con, as we had a bus to catch midday.  A morning’s panel on older bronies had discussed post-convention depression, and we both scoffed at the idea of us suffering such a fate.  Yet as we walked to our respective homes after returning to Madison, it hit us.  Hard.  Conventions can provide safe, welcoming, and warm space for all of us outsiders, weirdos, and freaks to come and celebrate our shared obsessions the rest of the world just doesn’t “get.”  Ponyville Ciderfest, despite some rough edges of it being a first-year con, did a fantastic job of providing a space in which bronies could grow and thrive, if only for three glorious, pony-filled days.

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Flutterpunk giving “The Stare” to all you naysayers out there.

 

 

 

As an afterthought and conclusion written a day later, I want to reiterate the enjoyment I had this past weekend.  It was by no means perfect, as no fandom ever is. There are things I don’t understand (namely, psuedo-sexual anthropomorphism and macho-competitiveness around pony trivia).  Overall, I’m really glad I’ve gotten to experience brony culture firsthand and meet extreme fans.  Many bronies (including myself) seem to be a little (or more than a little) socially awkward: nervous ticks, different ways of relating to strangers, and peculiar methods of expressing themselves.  I saw adult men carrying around pony dolls proudly, furries thrilled to share their newest digs with a welcoming audience, and countless people forming and fostering what could be extremely important relationships and communities within their individual lives.  The atmosphere was full of acceptance and warm welcomes, a culture embracing each fan no matter their levels of commitment, their anxieties, their eccentricities, or their identities.  In retrospect, that was what hurt the most when leaving that space.  Bronies take to heart the six Elements of Harmony described by their favorite show:  loyalty, honesty, generosity, laughter, kindness, and yes, magic. I wish the real world could do these things better. Bronies, overall, have given me sparks of hope for a more accepting, more magical world.

A Bunny Obituary

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I said goodbye today, to a furry friend of many years.  Ms. Stanley “Stannis Bunratheon” Bunny has been with me since I moved to Madison in 2006.  She is survived by her previous adopted parent Sara D., papa Kurt, Grandbunparents Mary Ann and Steve, and step-dad Jon.

A lot can happen in a bunny’s life in 16 years, and I am happy to have been around for half of it.  She was a stalwart character in the many places I’ve lived with her.  Always feisty, always disapproving, always excited for popcorn, greens, and yogurt drops.  In the years since her bunny friend Alfalfa passed, she’s slowed down, chilled out, and started relying on me for cleaning, comfort, and safety.  In return, she would lick the tears from my eyes when I was sad, or show concern by thumping when I was *ahem* violently ill.  Stanley was a fan of digging holes in the dirt and relaxing under broad-leafed chard in the garden.  She loved her dark, enclosed hiding-place under my desk, the most difficult to extract her from when it came time to put her back in her cage.

It was difficult towards the end, having to provide hospice care for the old lady, the Energizer Bunny who was so stubborn as to defy death time and time again.  She refused to be still, practically dragging her arthritic legs just so she could keep exploring, to reach those tasty dandelion leaves a few inches away.  I learned a lot from her undying spirit.

I will miss coming home and singing to her, her snuffling snoring sneezing sounds, the feel of her infinitely-shedding fur between my fingers as I groomed her.  She was a good bunny.

Stanley and Alfalfa, on one of our first nights together (2006).

Stanley and Alfalfa, on one of our first nights together (2006).

Uncle Joshua reading to the bunnies shortly after moving into the Anthill (2010).

Uncle Joshua reading to the bunnies shortly after moving into the Anthill (2010).

Stanley's 16th birthday, celebrated at Topskurtistan (2013).

Stanley’s 16th birthday, celebrated at Topskurtistan (2013).

Masculinity and Survival

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A handful of years ago, perhaps 2010, I wrote the following essay for a genderqueer zine that never came to fruition. Since then, it’s been included in a Madison-based music and feminism zine series called Crucial Twat. I thought I’d share it here, too, ’cause why not? I tend to cringe a few times when I re-read it, primarily with use of the terms “female-bodied” and “male-bodied,” which are rather un-PC in 2014, and probably were in specific circles in 2010 when I wrote it. It’s difficult to keep up with the terms, and I hope readers understand my good intentions in stimulating gender discussion. Language irritates me in its limitations and the ease with which it can hurt more sensitive members of our communities. In any case, here’s my story:

Masculinity and Survival

A few years ago, one of my housemates told me of a conversation that he and a close friend shared about masculinity among their peers. In this conversation, the two of them agreed that I was the most masculine person in our five-person house, which is made up of a mix of genders and sexes. When I heard this, I was at first amused and proud, being the genderqueer, female-bodied lady I am, and interested in what qualities they thought I possessed to give me this handsome title. Further contemplation invoked images of the negative and oppressive behaviors associated with masculinity, and, being the “most masculine” in the house suddenly brought forth anxiety and insecurity. Thinking of the gender-presentation hierarchies polluting some queer cultures, I panicked even more; I don’t want to be the abusive, insensitive asshole receiving praise and attention for my masculinity because I’m somehow “succeeding” in the sport of gender-fucking.

I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around the masculine/feminine binary. I was fortunate enough to be raised by parents who are somewhat gender non-conforming. Mom was the “tough love” type, reading science texts, and usually the first to discipline my brother and me. Dad was more reserved, cooking our meals, bathing us when we were little, and serving as a teacher in a lot of practical skills and life lessons. Both also performed cis-gendered roles, with Mom doing the laundry and Dad chopping the wood. My parents were my two most prominent role models as I grew up, and the blurred boundaries between masculine and feminine as performed (or not) by them are what has helped shaped my own gender fluidity.

Thinking more deeply of my own struggles with gender growing up, I realized I built some pretty strong defenses during my coming of age to shield myself from anything that could potentially hurt me. That’s where my masculinity came into play – masculinity as a survival tactic against the insecurity that plagues most young women (and young people in general) in this society. I didn’t want to be subjected to what I perceived to be the consequences of femininity: weakness, oppression, and victimization. I wanted to be like TV heroines Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, whose strength protected them from becoming victims, and whose power grabbed others’ attention and admiration. I also wanted to be like and liked by my dad, who possessed a lot of knowledge and skills that I admired, hoping that would help me become a strong and independent woman.

Despite my brother having a penis and me having a vagina, I’m the one that spent the most time doing things outdoors with Dad. (My brother, like my mom, was more of the indoor type. Funny how these binaries carry through generations.) I was always out hiking, hunting, and trapping with Dad. In most of my early photos, I’m helping Dad garden, do demolition work, process deer meat, and other manly feats for a four-year-old. Throughout childhood, I recall Dad praising me for my masculine and tomboyish traits, and often ignoring or criticizing me if I took interest in anything particularly girly. I was commended for my interest in science and the natural world, for my intelligence and strength. I got attention, from my dad especially, not for being pretty or nurturing, but for being tough and opinionated. When I decided to stop shaving my legs and armpits, Dad applauded me for casting aside frivolous female fancies. When all of my best friends were guys, Dad considered it a success, as it would be easier for me to find a [traditional] life partner if I was able to relate well with males. In my first romantic relationships, I was the more dominant partner and usually the heartbreaker; I never felt like I didn’t have my share of control in a relationship. My dad indirectly taught me that my masculinity was something to be proud of, and that it would ensure my survival, both physically and emotionally.

Of course, my peers, teen magazines, and television also taught me that I needed to be careful, to not appear too masculine or else suffer the consequences of being (gasp!) “different.” So as I practiced all of these masculine personality traits, I never tried to conceal my feminine qualities. I always looked and dressed like a girl, and besides sometimes wishing I had a penis so that I could pee standing up, I never wanted to be anything but a girl. I wore makeup, went to Lilith Fair and prom, and choreographed Spice Girls songs with my neighbor (who happened to be a boy, I should add). Not until more recently have I become a more introspective being, noticing that my masculinity, which can be perceived as a wall I’ve built up to protect my ego and hide away my insecurity, has its disadvantages.

Whereas my insecurities in childhood included fear of feminine weakness and foolishness, much of my current insecurities stem from my masculine traits – dominance, insensitivity, impatience, and critical nature. I go back and forth between feeling strong and weak, insecure and confident, lady-like and manly, thriving and failing. Most of my personal struggles involve navigating these dualities, and the limitations of language keep me disoriented. I’m learning to let go of language and just be myself, irrespective of labels. This is pretty difficult for someone raised in a culture that needs a name for everything in order to separate and segregate, to rate and rank. Yet, without these words, how would we be able to communicate thoughts on gender and identity, or find others similarly engrossed in identity struggle?

I’ve had some gender discussions with my dad in the past few years, and he still seems to value masculinity above all else, whether it’s projected by what he perceives to be a female body or a male body. He has criticized my male partners for not being macho enough, and encourages me to find a partner who is as “strong” as I am. He was surprisingly accepting of my trans housemate and their use of neutral pronouns, although I doubt he’d feel the same if they were a male-bodied person displaying feminine traits and not vice versa. I see a lot of my dad’s masculine-favoring personality traits in myself, and I’m trying to figure out what that means to me and those I interact with.

Being raised in a patriarchal, sexist society that values masculinity over femininity, many individuals must adopt a masculine front in order to survive, to stand up against the macho bullies, to come out a “winner” in competitive situations. The dominant culture isn’t set up to support a balanced gender scheme, or systems of cooperation and reciprocity, even though, in reality, I believe that it’s the people who can articulate both masculinity and femininity fluidly who are most well-equipped to survive this society as it destroys itself. My dad, who believes in individualism and capitalism, encouraged me to build up a masculine front in order to protect myself in conflict, take care of loved ones, and thus ensure a secure and happy future. He used masculinity to set me up as a “winner” in a patriarchal world.

In my youth, I was surviving feminine insecurity and disempowerment by becoming more masculine. Now, I feel like I’m trying to survive my masculinity so that it doesn’t completely overtake my being, as I don’t want to become some dickhead/bitch stereotype, nor do I wish to be a part of this society’s obsession with competition. I feel grateful for my close friends who endure my machismo and overconfidence, and part of me wonders if they would be as patient with me if I didn’t have a vagina. In any case, I strive to be well-balanced, accountable, and nurturing in my own particular way, without compromising who I am somewhere down deep.

A Farewell to my Twenties

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Today I turn 30.  I’m not big on counting numbers or playing by the unspoken rules of society’s standards. Although I’m just starting to enter middle age, I like to think I keep a certain vigor and optimism about me often associated with youth, even with the cynicism creeping in.  I strive to be energetic, yet chill, spontaneous, yet responsible, impulsive, yet cautious.  I love defying people’s expectations at every turn.

On this third of April, I wish to share feats both large and small accomplished in my twenties.  It was certainly a decade of coming-of-age, of change, of finding my own feet and taking off running.  And stumbling, picking myself up, and running in some other direction.  I’m a person of motion, of adventure, and of new experiences, and I look forward to what a new decade will bring for this little Hobbit.

Twenty-nine Triumphs & Turmoils of Tops’ Twenties:

  1. Science!  I used to be a research assistant in genetics, and I’ve even had some work published.
  2. I wrote several songs on my guitar, possibly at least one about Harry Potter.
  3. Rock-climbing and contra dancing.
  4. Anarchism and biocentrism.
  5. Polyamory, and many lovely & not-as-lovely relationships.  I learned how to have good sex.
  6. Bicycle mechanics!  I built my first bike and my first wheelset.  Haven’t had to true those wheels since!  Seriously.
  7. I graduated college with a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Biological Sciences, minoring in Chemistry.  I attended graduate school in a PhD program for Genetics.  I dropped out when my passions waned.
  8. I went on my first cross-country road trip, with my dad.  Best memory: waking up on a bare mattress in the middle of the badlands surrounded by a herd of buffalo.
  9. I rode and helped organize my first alleycat races in Pittsburgh and Madison: the War-Haul, Rub-a-Dub, Pussy Cat, Madtown Maidens, Scaredy-Cat, and many more.
  10. I moved to Wisconsin!  Cheese, beer, brats, and old-fashioneds!  I still miss Pittsburgh pierogies, though.
  11. Hitchhiking.
  12. Bunnies and chickens.
  13. I got involved with many community/activism groups: FreeWheel Community Bike Shop, Drumlin Farm, Food Not Bombs, Madison Infoshop, Critical Mass, GrassRoutes Caravan, Beehive Design Collective, Madison Free Skool, Muffin Club, Grassroots Leadership College, Groundwork, Bash Back! support, and the list goes on….
  14. Fertility Awareness.
  15. I wrote a few zines, including “Poly Oly Oxen Free: a zine about polyamory,” which was used in workshops around the country.
  16. I was arrested twice.  Once as a zombie, once naked.
  17. I spent half of a decade working with teens at DreamBikes, and found the work rewarding and fun.
  18. I visited a prison in my “neighborhood,” and started writing letters to some of those within.
  19. I participated in an entrepreneur program and wrote a viable business plan for a small bicycle repair shop.  I also started an Etsy store for bicycle cross stitch and bike zines, a store which I still occasionally maintain.  How capitalist of me.
  20. Bicycle tours: Madison to the Twin Cities with 40 people, Milwaukee and back, Iowa and back, the Maine coast, Seattle to the Mississippi River, and many shorter trips around southern Wisconsin.
  21. Celebrating my inner nerd: WisCon, steampunk, Ring Game, Harry Potter, and too many costumes to count.
  22. I lived in the small rural town of Ashland, Wisconsin for almost two months.
  23. I learned how to better manage my anger, mood swings, and occasional obsessive/compulsive behavior.  Or maybe I just grew out of that emo phase….
  24. I lived collectively in various anarchist-oriented houses.  Dishes were always a problem.
  25. I maintained semi-successful vegetable gardens, and learned how to put food by: pickling, fermenting, canning, and freezing.
  26. I tanned deer hides and started hunting again, slowly learning traditional archery.
  27. I finally got my drivers license and even owned a car for a year.
  28. I saw my widdle brother get married, becoming the most loving husband I’ve ever known.  What a guy he is!
  29. So many good friends, many of whom live all over the country now, one of whom has passed away, and all of whom I miss dearly.